28 Oct 2009

More 3-Strikes Horror Stories

All Posts No Comments

Many states have “three strikes” laws, where you have to do serve huge mandatory prison sentences once you’re convicted of your third felony. The rationale for such a rule is obvious: “Liberal activist judges” weren’t obeying the law, and were letting repeat offenders back on the streets after a slap on the wrist. Lock those rapists and murderers up and throw away the key! And pass me the red meat.

The problem is that there are all sorts of felonious crimes that really aren’t so awful in the grand scheme of things. For example, some kids brought in smoke bombs for high school graduation and that was one strike right there.

NPR is doing a series on California’s “three strikes” rule, passed fifteen years ago. (My understanding is that California is the only state in which the “third strike” need not be violent. However, I believe that in all the states, the first two strikes need not be violent.) Anyway, check out this case:

[Sue Reams’] son Shane is in prison, doing 25 years to life for being with a friend when the friend sold $20 worth of cocaine to an undercover cop.

“They considered my son the lookout,” Reams says.

And that was Shane’s third strike. He’s one of 3,000 people doing 25 years to life for nonviolent crimes, such as shoplifting, auto theft or possessing small amounts of drugs. And each of those prisoners costs the state more than $48,000 a year.

Shane’s third strike came about partly because of a decision his mother made years before when she noticed some things missing from her house — her husband’s antique model cars, money, jewelry.

She figured that Shane took the stuff to get money for drugs. He’d had a problem with that since his teens. And Reams tried to deal with it by practicing tough love.

“Tough love tells you that you take a stand,” she says. “So I, I took a stand.”

And she called the police. Shane had also stolen some stuff from a neighbor’s house and Reams persuaded her neighbor to press charges as well. Then she gave Shane the news.

“And I said, ‘You need to turn yourself in, maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program,’ ” she says. “I drove him to the Irvine Police Department and he went in and told them what he had done.”

But instead of getting a drug program, Shane was charged with two counts of residential burglary. He did some time in prison. And years later, when he got picked up on that drug charge, the burglary convictions counted as his first two strikes.

“I’m angry with myself,” Reams says. “I feel terribly guilty. I guess that’s why I’ve worked so long to try and change the law.”

If you go read the story, you can see the viewpoint of the people who support the law, including the guy whose daughter was shot and killed by a repeat offender, and who made a deathbed promise to her that he would do everything he could to change the system and make sure her fate didn’t happen to other kids.

This is just another classic example of why GOVERNMENT MONOPOLIES ARE AWFUL. The government doesn’t keep murderers and child molesters locked up, and then to “fix” that mistake the government gives minor criminals sentences of 25-to-life.

We wouldn’t dream of letting the government run restaurants or computer companies. So why do we trust them with protecting society from violent criminals?

If you are open-minded but can’t imagine any other way, try this [.pdf].

Comments are closed.