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They Changed Their Minds on Three Strikes. Can They Change the Voters'?

Cover story

Ten years ago, these men wanted to see three strikes become the law in California. Now they're leading the fight to reform it.

September 19, 2004|Joe Domanick | Joe Domanick last wrote for the magazine about Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. He is a Senior Fellow at USC Annenberg's Institute for Justice and Journalism, and the author of "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State."

"The phone is ringing off the wall," Clauder says, and he is "breathing fire," fielding calls from people who, like him, are unhappy that the final version of Proposition 66 doesn't apply retroactively to second-strikers. He's still actively supporting the proposition, but he has now formed his own organization, "Yes on 66." Its major mission will be to influence the debate so that when Proposition 66 is adjudicated--should it pass--a judge might rule that including second-strikers was the voters' intent.

Jim Benson, meanwhile, is working with Joe Klaas on the campaign. So far, the proposition's supporters include the California Federation of Labor and the California State Employees Assn. Newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News and San Diego Union-Tribune have published editorials in favor of it.

In August, Klaas had what he thought was a heart attack during a meeting in Monterey. Doctors couldn't find anything wrong, and he is now attributing it to work "overload." "I'm 84, and everybody I knew who should be 84 is dead," he says.

Jerry Keenan says he is only "among the people who have financed" a new organization called "Fix Three Strikes, Yes on 66," designed to pull together several organizations supporting the proposition. "Fix Three Strikes" also is discussing raising several million dollars--in addition to the $1.6 million that Keenan already has donated--to buy television ads when the campaign reaches its apex in the fall. They've hired the top-gun political consulting and advertising firm Zimmerman and Markman--which produced a number of anti-Bush television commercials for MoveOn.org--to create the ads.

Jerry and Cynthia Keenan visit their son every weekend at the minimum-security Folsom prison ranch, a vast improvement from the three years of hard time he served. "The other side fought against Richard serving his time at the ranch, but he's doing much better now," Keenan says.

As for the 57% of prisoners whose third strike was for a nonviolent crime, they wait for the voters of California to decide whether or not they'll be spending the rest of their lives in prison.

Researcher Jessica Gelt contributed to this story.

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