Fighting to reform three strikes law

"Keep the Flame Alive" hosted by Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS) organization marked the 11th anniversary of the Three-Strikes Law issued in 1993 last Thursday. Residents as well as locals gathered together at Jesse Brewer Park in Los Angeles in support of those who have been victims of California's Three Strikes Law. A six- foot cross was displayed in the center of the gathering in representations of the strikers at the candlelight vigil.

"The crosses represent one tenth of the strikers imprisoned for nonviolent offenses," said Geri Silva, Executive Director of FACTS. Members of the FACTS organization were encouraged to speak about their own experiences with the Three Strikes Law, either from a personal standpoint or through an experience of a loved one.

This law effects not only a broad audience but also fellow students on campus that have families who are affected by this law, "It's good under different situations, but my homeboy, he has a kid and is trying to do right by going to school. To me if he did his time for the first crime I don't believe his second or third crime should have anything to do with his first crime," said Paul Frazier Santa Monica College student.

The law works in a manner that if an individual is convicted of two violent or serious felonies, the person may face a 25-to-life sentence if convicted of any other felony. The law also doubles the sentence of anyone convicted of a felony that has one prior violent or serious felony.

The Three-Strikes Law was issued to protect law-abiding citizens by enhancing the sentences of repeated offenders who have committed serious and/or violent felonies. According to a FACTS handout sheet distributed at the vigil, the following four of the 42 violent felonies include murder or voluntary manslaughter; rape; lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 years, any felony which on the first offense is punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison for life.

The law was originally passed in the state of Washington in late December of 1993, which took effect due to a voter's initiative. Less than six months later Gov. Wilson and Reynolds passed the law in California without any amendments. Since 1994 4,200 non-violent prisoners have or are currently serving life-sentences for petty crimes. In the November 2004 elections the 3-strikes law was open for voting under Prop 66 but was denied amendment in Los Angeles with a vote 50.4 % to 49.6%

The enactment Prop 66 has been used to enhance the sentences of more than 35,000 persons who did not commit a violent crime against another person. Which then lead to an increased cost of taxpayers of more than $ 800 million per year.

"Politicians and lawmakers are out to make a shipload of money," said Dennis Duncan, LA Chapter President. During Duncan's speech he chanted, "we may be small in number but mighty in voice."

Proposition 66 is designed to work against the Three Strikes law. If the law were to be amended it would prohibit increased sentences for those convicted of non-serious or nonviolent felonies. The law also redefines some felonies and would allow more than 4,000 third- strike inmates to have a re-sentencing hearing.

The debate on whether or not the Three Strikes law is an effective way to send longtime lawbreakers to prison for good, or constitutes cruel and unusual punishment for drug addicts and shoplifters remained open for discussion.

Some of the victims' mothers spoke in relation to a loved ones incarceration, in which most of the charges received were for minor offenses including theft, and drug possession.

"It's a categorical exclusion, anything short of abolishing a law is a compromise" said Silva. Apparently California is the only state that imprisons individuals due to nonviolent minor offenses in which most believe should not have severe punishments.

There are leaders of several communities that also take part in work in informing the public about the severity of the Three Strikes law. Gene Buhr, priest of St. Joseph Church in Hawthorne, and Deacon Tom Moske have organized a signature gathering for a petition to amend Prop. 66 in their perish one and a half years ago.