Ted Westerman's Sept. 28 Column Right continues the misinformation campaign that duped the voters into enacting the three-strikes law to begin with. The bottom line: Three strikes is predominantly filling the prisons with petty crime and drug offenders, for life sentences, and pilfering taxpayer dollars. Judges and district attorneys are imposing the full brunt of the law for political self-interest reasons rather than fairness considerations.
Westerman argues that three-strikes opponents are misinformed when they claim the new crimes for which offenders are doing life sentences are nonviolent crimes. Irrefutable statistics show about two-thirds of third strikers are in prison for nonviolent offenses. Whether marijuana possession and petty theft qualify as felonies is irrelevant. Any new petty theft with a theft-related prior can be filed as a felony--e.g. the pizza man case.
He claims there is evidence that the three-strikes law is responsible for a reduction in crime. There is no definitive proof. Counties that impose the strike law more leniently than L.A. have seen the same or more dramatic reductions in crime.
L.A. Deputy Public Defender
Crime was already headed down prior to passing of three-strikes laws in California. As far as the idea of professional felons, certainly there are many. You could include many politicians (cocaine users in L.A.) and business persons (tobacco industry, for example) in that group. In dollar figures or in numbers of people affected, their crimes are far more numerous and far more costly than other more recognized criminals.
A look back over the past 50 years would tell us that the crime rates in the U.S. have not risen at the pace of the population or poverty, or other factors known to contribute to crime.
A look at today would tell us that three strikes may be tough on crime but that it has not dealt with the root causes of crime. Let's take a more proactive and less reactive approach to criminal justice issues and toward salvaging human lives before they are spent behind bars. We must punish, but we have a responsibility to punish wisely and fairly, lest we become more like the criminals and less like citizens.
HANK LAMB, Exec. Dir.
Pros & Cons Project