The Green Party has always opposed California's Three Strikes law.
In 1994 the Green Party opposed the original 'three strikes law': Prop 184 'Increased Sentences. Repeat Offenders (Three Strikes), that California voters passed that year. Since then, the Green Party has consistently supported efforts to amend Prop 184, including via Prop 66, which was unsuccessful at the ballot box in 2004.
This year the Green Party endorses Prop 36 'Three Strikes Reform Act', as needed, positive reform.
The multiple problems with the original Three Strikes law that the Green Party warned about have come to pass - our prisons contains thousands of people serving sentences up to life imprisonment for non-violent (and other often relatively minor) 'third strike' crimes. Stories of injustice in sentencing resulting from the present law are legendary.
The law as written is costly, ineffective and unjust. Out of 7,575 inmates serving time for a third strike, 46% were convicted of a nonviolent or non-serious offense, according to a 2005 report from the Legislative Analyst's Office. More people are incarcerated for life under the three strikes law for shop lifting and petty theft under $400, than there are inmates who have been sentenced to similar terms for rape and second degree murder combined.
In a state struggling to fund health, welfare and education, the state's Department of Corrections annual budget is over $8 billion. It costs $43,000 per year to house a 'third-striker' in a maximum security prison (not including medical costs which estimated to be in excess of $60,000 per year for prisoners over the age of 55) and $113,000 per hospital bed to build in a maximum security prison.
Two-thirds of those convicted of third strikes are African-American or Latino. The Rand Corporation estimates that 15 times the amount of crime would be reduced if money were spent on treatment programs rather than prisons.
By contrast, Prop 36 is an enormous improvement over the present Three Strikes law. It inserts the words “violent and serious” before the word “felony” when referring to any of the three convictions being considered for sentencing. As a result, no longer will citizens face indeterminate lifetime sentences for having committed three low level felonies in the course of their lives. Only three violent and serious strikes will result in life sentences. The initiative also allows present three strike prisoners who had committed a non serious non violent crime on the third strike to request re-sentencing consideration to be determined by a judge.
The initiative does, however, exclude some citizens from benefiting from the changes its passage will bring. If either of the first two convictions included a murder, rape, child molestation, or selling cocaine or heroin to minors, the third felony, no matter how minor or how many years subsequent to the prior conviction, will result in a sentence unchanged by this initiative. Many people mature throughout the decades of their lives, and a minor incident in middle age can ruin an otherwise rehabilitated person’s life, due to crimes for which time has years since been served.
Despite these limitations, passage of Prop 36 will result in less injustice on a major scale and is worthy of a strong Green Party endorsement.
More on Proposition 36 from the California Official Voter Information Guide: