Current Three Strikes law:

  • California’s current “Three Strikes” law imposes a life sentence for almost any crime—including petty theft or simple possession of drugs, no matter how small the amount—if a defendant has two prior convictions for crimes designated as “serious” or “violent” by statute.
  • According to the official ballot materials supporting passage of the Three Strikes statute in 1994, the law was intended to “keep career criminals who rape women, molest innocent children, and commit murder behind bars where they belong.” In fact, a most of the inmates serving life sentences under the Three Strikes were sentenced for non-violent third-strike crimes.
  • Over 3,500 inmates are currently serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law for non-serious, non-violent crimes.

Proposition 36:

  • Prop. 36 restores the original intent of the Three Strikes law by requiring that life sentences be imposed for serious or violent crimes.
  • Repeat offenders who commit minor, non-violent crimes will receive double the ordinary sentence instead of life.
  • Inmates currently serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent crimes can apply for a new sentence, but the sentence can only be reduced if a judge determines that they are no longer an unreasonable threat to public safety.
  • No rapists, murders, or child molesters will benefit from Prop. 36. The initiative includes a safety clause that prohibits anyone who has past convictions for very violent crimes from receiving any benefit of the change in law, no matter how minor the defendant’s third strike offense.
  • Prop. 36 does not change the definition of burglary or alter the list of serious or violent crimes. Nor does Prop. 36 have any impact on so-called “second strike” sentences.
  • The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office projects that the Reform Act may save the state over $70-100 million annually.


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