Should Drug Rehab Replace California’s Three Strikes?
New data states that inmates who are convicted under the state’s Three Strikes law are more likely to be addicted to alcohol and drugs than to be violent criminals.
Thousands of psychological and substance abuse profiles compiled by the state and analyzed by The San Francisco Chronicle and California Watch indicate that the majority of prisoners who were convicted of a third strike had a substance abuse disorder when they started their sentence. About one third of them are serving sentences for drug crimes or “non-serious” property crimes.
The Three Strikes law (named for the phrase “three strikes and you’re out”) was approved by an overwhelming majority of California voters in 1994. The law requires offenders who have served time for at least two serious or violent felony crimes to be given a sentence of 25 years to life for their third conviction. The Los Angeles times reports that there are currently about 8,900 prisoners serving three-strike sentences. According to prison data, nearly 70 percent of inmates with a three-strike conviction show a high need for substance abuse treatment compared to about 50 percent of the general prison population.
This fall, California voters will have the opportunity to modify the Three Strikes law. Proposition 36 would end life sentences for prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes. Instead, third-strikers would receive double the sentence they would normally receive. This means that a third-striker convicted of nonviolent theft would be sentence to four years in prison (double the normal two year sentence). Under the current Three Strikes Law, the sentence would be 25 years to life.
A poll taken by the Los Angeles Times shows that voters favor modification of the Three Strikes law by a margin of 3 to 1. In addition to reducing sentences for future three-strikers, the proposition would allow judges to reduce the sentences for inmates currently serving 25 years to life for nonviolent and nonserious offenses who don’t appear to pose a threat to the public. In terms of drug offenses, prisoners serving time for their third strike who were found guilty of major drug dealing would not be eligible for reduced sentences.
Experts contacted by The Chronicle have suggested that the number of California inmates serving long prison terms could be reduced if they underwent alcohol or drug treatment after being convicted of two strikes. Those who favor prison reform say the state prison data shows a need for additional funding for drug treatment programs to reduce the likelihood that an inmate will be re-arrested.