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The Failure of 3 Strikes: Disparate Outcomes

by: Brian Leubitz

Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 11:19:33 AM PST

Counties differed widely on strike offenses

by Brian Leubitz

Prop 36 made some pretty logical tweaks to California's Three Strike policy, and will hopefully eliminate some of the worst injustices that have resulted. But it is worth a look back to see how that policy went awry. The Chronicle took a look at the SF Bay Area counties for some background:

Of Bay Area counties, Santa Clara County had by far the most inmates become eligible for more lenient terms because their most recent convictions were for offenses that weren't serious or violent. San Francisco, by contrast, had three.

It's an indication that the three strikes law that California voters originally approved in 1994 hasn't been enforced evenly among counties in the Bay Area or throughout the state. In some places, defendants whose third strikes were minor - in extreme examples, for stealing a bicycle or even a pizza - were more likely to have the book thrown at them. (SF Chronicle)

They also have a nice graphic if you go to that link, but the bottom line was that Santa Clara had 120 non-violent three strikes prisoners, while San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa didn't even hit 20. The original measure and the associated criminal justice processes gave prosecutors some discretion on how to charge, and whether an offense would count as a strike. And, rather unsurprisingly, they came away with very different results.

Steve Cooley, the now retired LA County DA that strongly supported Prop 36's passage pointed out just this issue. Santa Clara wasn't particularly special, there was a large variance between the counties across the state, not just the Bay Area.  And new Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen endorsed the measure. But the disparity was a perverse outcome of the law, and hardly compatible with the fair administration of justice.

Prop 36 just passed a few months ago, and the process to review the sentences is just playing out now. And the Chronicle article has a good description of how that's proceeding for the time being in Santa Clara. Prop 36 was a good start and, with time, we should get a better idea of how the system is going to work out.

California still has a lot of work left to do on the more general question of sentencing reform. (Take a look at a recent report from the Sentencing Project to see how 2012 broke down nationally on that subject.) But maybe the people of California are ready to lead the way.

Brian Leubitz :: The Failure of 3 Strikes: Disparate Outcomes
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DRY your Weeping Eyes !!! (2.00 / 1)
DRY your Weeping Eyes !!!

You seem to be saying that career criminals are losing their freedom to practice their 'lifestyle choice'
That career criminals are in imminent danger of being imprisoned

All they have to do is move to San Francisco or Oakland
We won't press 'Three Strikes penalites' upon them

There have always been sentencing differentials in different counties
How is Three Strikes different

San Francisco and Oakland are 'Soft on Crime'
They always have been.
Look where that's gotten the City of Oakland
Is THAT what you want for the State of California ???

Prop 36 passed because 3 Strikes working so well (0.00 / 0)
I think it strange (and inaccurate) to characterize the differential application of 3rd strikes by Bay Area counties as a "failure".

Each County implements the Law as it can to secure the convictions, plea deals, etc. to protect it's people.  That some counties were more aggressive at getting 3rd strike convictions is to be expected, just as some counties have higher conviction rates. In my town, in the residential area, where the speed limit is 25, someone going 30 may be stopped.  If they show a drivers license from the town, they probably get a warning.  In a neighboring town, my drivers license address gets me a ticket for the same offense.  Is that a failure of speed limit laws?  No, just "community policing".

I supported Prop 36.  I think it is a good, and needed, improvement to 3 Strikes.  That 222 convicted Bay Area criminals may have a chance to demonstrate their changed ways is good news.  That the majority of these people are in Santa Clara County means nothing to me. I'm glad that 2800 statewide may get a judicial review- independent of which county convicted them.

I think it only fair to also point out that since 3 Strikes passed in 1994, violent crime (indexed for population) has decreased by 59%!  The number of murders in California in 2011 was the lowest since 1972 (when we had 17 million fewer residents). Is this due to 3 Strikes? Probably not... but keeping repeat violent criminals (even if it's only 6000 of them) away from us certainly can't hurt, eh?

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