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SEN. ROMERO’S THREE STRIKES REFORM ACT SHELVED

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Local Advocates Denounce Fear Mongering and Election Politics 

California

By Chris Levister
Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) accuses the California District Attorneys Association and some Senators of blatantly misrepresenting the contents of Senate Bill 1642 aimed at reforming the state’s highly controversial “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law.
“I’m disgusted.” said Romero, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on California’s Correctional System and serves on the Senate Public Safety Committee.

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The bipartisan bill supported by Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and the California NAACP was shelved by the Senate June 2.  SB 1642 would require that a third strike be a violent or serious felony.

The measure designed to increase sentencing consistency and restore the Three Strikes law to voters’ intent cleared its first hurdle the Senate Public Safety Committee in April. Romero says despite new opposition claims, the measure does not redefine any felonies.

“Some who oppose this bill are spreading the myth that it does.” The bill states, a non-serious or non-violent felony would qualify as a third strike, if a defendant had a prior conviction for: Sexual violence, child molestation, murder, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or any offense punishable by life imprisonment or if there were allegations of drug trafficking, certain sex crimes, possession of a firearm or deadly weapon or intent to cause great bodily injury.

“While several reasons were given for not supporting SB 1642, no one can dismiss the influence of the June 6 election.” said Romero. “Senators didn’t want to appear soft on crime. SB 1642 was drafted as a very moderate and narrow reform of Three Strikes.”

“With ever increasing strains on our courts and prisons, we also need to be smart on crime and enable prosecutors and judges to make the punishments fit the crimes,” she said.

Also known as the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006, SB 1642 addresses only the third strike of the original Three Strikes law which was approved by voters in 1994. It would place an initiative on the 2008 statewide ballot making an estimated 2,100 California inmates eligible to petition their sentencing court for a hearing (compared to the estimated 30,000 analysts say Prop 66 would have automatically released.)

There would be no retroactivity; any inmate eligible under SB 1642 would have to petition for re-sentencing and the re-sentencing would be at the discretion of the sentencing judge. About 43,000 inmates are currently serving time under Three Strikes.

While SB 1642 is a far cry from the sweeping reform promised in Prop 66 which was defeated by voters in 2004, it’s a promising start says Barbara Ellis, executive director of Families of Incarcerated Loved Ones (FILO).

“As it stands, Three Strikes is a human and economic disaster.” Ellis says SB 1642 is a positive step toward restoring Three Strikes policy to what voters intended.

“The current interpretation is shamefully unfair and costing taxpayers billions to lockup too many individuals over often petty offenses.”

Statistics show woman, Blacks and Hispanics account for the fastest growing Three Strikes population.

Ellis cites a 2005 Legislative Analyst’s Office report: One year for each inmate costs the state $33,152. If you jail that individual for 30 years, the costs reach upward of $1 million dollars per inmate. The cost to house California’s three strikers (not including soaring medical costs for the state’s aging inmate population) is $1.5 billion a year, according to the report.

Ellis denounces a recent report claiming that nearly 16,000 of the inmates released early from LA county jails were charged with committing new crimes – including 16 murders and hundreds of assaults, robberies and sex crimes – when they otherwise would have been in jail.

Ellis says such convenient campaign rhetoric is designed to get votes and scare the public. “This is fear mongering at its best much like the eleventh hour anti Proposition 66 campaign in 2004 that scared voters into believing thousands of violent three strike criminals would be roaming the streets attacking little old ladies and children.”

Ellis, Romero and a growing chorus of voters say the Three Strikes law must be restored to reflect the original intent of California voters.

Ellis says, “We are not advocating a free ticket out of jail. This is about fighting against discriminatory practice in favor of judicial fairness. Three Strikes is cruel and unusual punishment.”

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