California’s Three Strikes law is often referred to as one of the toughest in the nation. That designation comes in large part from our approach to the second strike in the process. Under California’s version of the popular law, those who have one strike–meaning one serious or violent felony conviction–can earn a second strike for any new felony, whether serious or not. That means that if a prosecutor successfully seeks a “second strike” conviction, the offender’s sentence for the new crime is automatically doubled.
Today, over at the SF Chronicle, Marisa Lagos reports that 32,390 inmates in California prisons are second strikers. And according to those interviewed for the piece, these inmates are a major barrier to reducing prison costs and prison overcrowding for several reasons:
- They don’t qualify for realignment. Those serving “strike” terms–whether for serious or violent felonies or not–cannot be shuffled to the counties, unlike their non-striker counterparts. This means that almost 20 percent of those in prison, destined for long sentences, are unmovable.
- Second strikers are older, and therefore more expensive to incarcerate. Moreover, as these prisoners age–and prison tends to accelerate the aging process–their medical costs will skyrocket.
- In summary, “people sentenced under the law receive a sentence nine years longer than they would have without three strikes, at a cost of $19.2 billion to taxpayers. Nearly half of that additional cost, $7.5 billion, is spent on people whose most recent strike is for a nonviolent felony.”
As reported here by the Prison Law Blog’s Sara Mayeux, a ballot initiative to reform Three Strikes is in the works for 2012.