A ballot measure reforming California's Three Strikes Law was approved by a significant majority of California voters Tuesday, passing by the wide margin of 68.6 percent to 31.4 percent.
Before Tuesday's vote, state law allowed the imposition of a life sentence on an individual's third felony conviction. The revised law would require that the third offense be of a serious or violent nature--not something as minor as writing a bad check or, in a much-cited example, stealing a pair of socks.
"Tonight's vote on Proposition 36 sends a powerful message to policymakers in California and across the country that taxpayers are ready for a new direction in criminal justice,'' Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, told the San Jose Mercury News. "States that have already made some changes to their sentencing laws may be inspired to take a second look, and states that haven't made significant changes yet may start."
In addition to altering the sentencing guidelines for future convicts, Prop 36 also creates a pathway for nearly 3,000 inmates currently serving life sentences under the Three Strikes Law to petition for a reduced term.
California imposed its Three Strikes law in 1994 and it is widely considered one of the toughest such laws in the country. In the years since the law's initial passing, the state's prion population has swelled to unprecedented proportions: we now spend a larger percentage of its budget on prisons than on higher education.
Estimates have Prop 36 saving the state up to $90 million per year. As such, the measure was supported by both the San Francisco Green Party and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
Mike Reynolds, the author of the original Three Strikes law whose daughter was murdered by two habitual offenders, expressed concern that changes in the law would lead to increased crime. "It's a big day for criminals and their attorneys," Reynolds told the San Francisco Chronicle.
California voters amended the state's Three Strikes Law once before in 2000, passing a ballot measure directing certain non-violent drug offenders to treatment programs instead of prison terms.
Check out how all the other California ballot measures fared: