District Attorney George Gascón, a major supporter of the proposed ballot initiative to reform California’s perennially controversial three-strikes law, calls the proposal “conservative” and claims it will save the state billions of dollars without turning soft on crime.
The proposal, which was submitted to election officials last month for consideration on the November ballot, would lessen prison sentences for offenders whose third strike wasn’t serious or violent.
Under current law adopted in 1994, a person with two or more serious or violent felonies who commits a third felony — even if the latest offense was as minor as shoplifting — receives a minimum of 25 years to life in prison.
The law’s intent is to deter criminal behavior and keep violent repeat offenders off the streets. For years, however, opponents have said the law is too harsh and costly.
The proposed revision would keep the 25-to-life mandate for offenders whose third strike was serious or violent.
However, those with less serious third felonies would instead face double the typical sentence for a crime.
The initiative also would allow eligible three-strikers who are currently in prison to apply for a reduced sentence.
Gascón has been tapped to lead the reform effort in Northern
He said the reforms make both moral and financial sense. About 3,600 of the approximately 8,800 third-strike inmates in California’s prisons committed a third strike that was not violent or serious, he said.
Those 3,600 felons cost taxpayers $100 million annually, he said, while medical costs for them over their lifetimes cost $4.7 billion.
“This is not about soft-on-crime,” the district attorney said. “The hardcore violent offenders will continue to be dealt with very harshly according to three strikes.”
Gascón said it might not be easy to persuade his colleagues across the state to back the initiative. But he is hopeful.
“If you look at the traditional law- and-order community, they feel that this is somehow a slippery slope,” Gascón said.
“This by itself is a very conservative, very thoughtful, very tightly crafted reform to three strikes and one that is sensible from a law enforcement point of view and a financial point of view.”