FAQs

What is the current Three Strikes law?

The current Three Strikes law imposes a life sentence for any felony — even minor nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting or simple drug possession — if the defendant has two prior serious or violent felony convictions.

How will Prop. 36 reform the Three Strikes law?

Prop. 36 will close a loophole in the Three Strikes law so that it reflects voters' original intent to put violent and dangerous criminals behind bars forever. In the current system, defendants can receive life sentences for almost any crime. People have been sentenced to life in prison for shoplifting a pair of socks or stealing bread. Under Prop 36, repeat criminals will get life in prison for serious or violent third strike crimes, and double the ordinary sentence if the third strike is not serious or violent. Prop 36 brings California in line with other states’ repeat offender laws.

Are there any exceptions?

Defendants who have ever been convicted of an extremely violent crime — such as rape, murder, or child molestation — will receive a life sentence no matter how minor their third strike crime. These dangerous criminals will receive no benefit whatsoever from Prop 36.

How will Prop 36 impact crime and prisons?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered California's overflowing prisons to release tens of thousands of inmates. Under Prop 36, prisoners currently serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent third strikes could have their life sentences reduced to a term of years no less than double an ordinary sentence if a judge determines that there is no risk to public safety. This will help ensure that there is room in our prisons for truly dangerous criminals and that the punishment fits the crime for non-violent offenses. Los Angeles' District Attorney has effectively implemented this reform for a decade and crime rates in Los Angeles have dropped to historic lows.

What will be the fiscal impact?

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office calculated that Prop 36 could save over $100 million every year to fund schools, prevent crime, and decrease the need for tax increases by reducing the costs of incarcerating and providing health care for aging non-violent inmates.

What about so-called "second strikers"?

Prop 36 will not change the law for people convicted of a second strike.

What sentence will be imposed for minor third strikes?

Twice the ordinary sentence.

Who's behind it?

Prop 36 is supported by a broad bipartisan group of law enforcement leaders, academics, taxpayer advocates, civil rights organizations, and retired judges and prosecutors. The Initiative was drafted by lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Stanford Law School, in consultation with top law enforcement officers in the state. The legislation was modeled after the sentencing policy implemented in Los Angeles County by District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Resources

Stanford Three Strikes Project — Three Strikes Basics

California's "Three Strikes and You're Out" Law was passed by both the California state legislature and the people of California through a voter initiative in 1994. California was one of the first states to pass such a sentencing scheme, which is now viewed as the harshest (non-capital) sentencing law in the United States. According to official ballot materials promoting the law, the Three Strikes scheme was intended to "keep murders, rapists, and child molesters behind bars, where they belong." However, today, more than half of inmates sentenced under the law are serving sentences for nonviolent crime. The Three Strikes Project exclusively represents these individuals.

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Legislative Analyst's Report

The LAO estimates that the reform could save more than $100 million per year: State savings related to prison and parole operations that potentially range in the high tens of millions of dollars annually in the short run, possibly exceeding $100 million annually in the long run.

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California State Auditor Report

The California State Auditor projects the state will pay at least $4.8 billion to house and pay health care costs for the current contingent of non-violent three strikes inmates. And, the state found that non-violent three strikes inmates are the least likely to commit new crimes if released; they are also the biggest financial strain on the prison because of their age and increasing health care costs.

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