SKELTON: Prop. 36 and small-time crime

  • Marc Klaas points his finger like a gun while telling the story of the murdered Kimber Reynolds as he outlines his opposition to Prop 36 during the "Changing Criminal Justice in California" forum at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, October 14, 2012. Klaas is joined by Prop 36 supporter Steve Fabian, and forum moderator and District Attorney of Sonoma County Jill Ravitch.(BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

One guy stole a loaf of bread. Another was caught with a speck of meth. Somebody grabbed $1 in change from a parked car.

These men all had one thing in common besides being losers. They were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for their crime.

Not under Taliban law in some backward, oppressive society. They were administered that severe punishment here in enlightened California under our three-strikes law.<WC> <WC1>Proposition 36 on the Nov. 6 ballot would apply some balance, prudence and logic to the sentencing of career criminals.

<WC>"<WC1>There would be proportionate justice evenly applied while still preserving the essence of a very powerful sentencing tool,<WC>"<WC1> says Los Angeles County Dis<WC>trict Attorney <WC1>Steve Cooley, one of Prop<WC>osition<WC1> 36's leading advocates.

The three-strikes law was enacted in 1994 in the wake of the L.A. riots and the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in Petaluma.<WC> <WC1>But Fresno portrait photographer Mike Reynolds was the driving force. His 18-year-old daughter Kimber had been murdered by two career criminals on a stolen motorcycle trying to snatch her purse.<WC> <WC1>Reynolds was <WC>— <WC1>is <WC>—<WC1> articulate, energetic, committed and street-smart. He got rolling on a ballot initiative to lock up repeat offenders before they could wreak more havoc. He also simultaneously pushed a bill in the Legislature.

<WC>"<WC1>Better get the hell out of the way,<WC>"<WC1> then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown advised Democrats. They did.

The bill sailed through the Legislature. And Reynolds<WC>'<WC1> identical ballot initiative <WC>—<WC1> Pro<WC>position<WC1> 184 <WC>—<WC1> was embraced by 72<WC> percent<WC1> of voters.

The official ballot argument for Prop<WC>osition <WC1>184 promised it would <WC>"<WC1>keep career criminals, who rape women, molest innocent children and commit murder, behind bars where they belong.<WC>"<WC1> Three-strikes has helped do that. But it also has done much more. It has kept locked up for life decrepit old men whose last crime may have been shoplifting a pair of work gloves.

It's not that three-time losers shouldn't be shoved back into the slammer. But for 25 years to life? This state can no longer afford that, if it ever could. Moreover, the punishment should fit the crime.

Here's how three-strikes works: A felon who has two prior convictions for a violent or serious crime <WC>—<WC1> rape, for example, or assault with intent to rob <WC>—<WC1> is subject to a 25-to-life sentence, regardless of the latest offense. It could be pilfering food.

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