| 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.