Changed My Mind: Three Strikes Laws
I’ve been challenged on a few occasions, as one tends to be if one is a fairly strong adherent of one end of the political spectrum or another, as to whether I’ve ever changed my mind on anything to a position contrary to the standard conservative one. And so, an example:
When a three strikes law was put on the ballot in California (where I lived at the time) I was a strong supporter. California was one of the first states to pass a three strikes law, and there was huge support for it because California was suffering badly from the 90s crime wave. The case for it seemed simple: If you’ve committed three felonies, you’re clearly not learning your lesson, and 25-life will take you off the streets and prevent you from continuing to be a danger to society. Support for the bill was heavily fueled by frustration with a justice system which seemed to act far too much like a revolving door, with rapists and murderers often being back on the streets within 5-8 years, and proceeding to commit similar crimes again. With the judiciary and prison system seemingly unwilling to do their job in keeping criminals off the streets, the case seemed strong for citizens to pass legislation forcing them to, and the three strikes law seemed like an obvious way to do it.
However, it’s not just in regards to economics and welfare that top down attempts at control end up doing stupid things in individual circumstances. The one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing soon ended up producing absurdities in which someone with an undeniably criminal background committed some fairly minor third offense which was nonetheless classified as a felony (in part due to Californians fed up with failure to enforce the law having made an awful lot of things felonies in past years) and landing himself in prison for 25-life. In 2000, 60% of California voters supported an initiative to stop sending people up for 25-life for felony possession of a controlled substance, sending them to drug treatment programs instead. But even so, while I continue to deeply sympathize with the motives behind supporting the three strikes law, it’s continued enforcement does still result in unjust sentences being handed down on comparatively minor crimes.
While I think that laxity and mismanagement in the judicial and prison systems were much to blame for the sentiments that put Three Strikes in place, and I continue to think it’s important for the justice system to enforce the law rather than operating a revolving door policy, I think that the Three Strikes law was, in the end, a bad choice, and I would support repealing it.