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"Three strikes" law: fair or Foul?. (Debate).

Should someone spend 50 years in prison for stealing videos worth $ 153? A California man recently got that sentence under the state's "three strikes" law. Under three strikes laws, offenders face long mandatory sentences if convicted of a felony (serious crime) three times.

Twenty-six states have three strikes laws, but California's is the toughest. It allows a minor crime to be treated as a felony after a third offense. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if California's law violates the Constitution's protection against "cruel and unusual punishment." Is California's three strikes law fair?


Three strikes laws may sound cruel. But it is unfair, and possibly dangerous, to let career criminals stay on the streets where they can commit more crimes.

California's law helps to keep offenders from committing additional crimes. California Secretary of State Bill Jones, who helped to sponsor the law in 1994, says that since then, California's crime rate has declined 41 percent--more than twice the national average. "We clearly focused the law on that small percentage of the criminal population that commits the vast majority of the crime in our society," said Jones.

California's law is fair because people know what will happen if they commit three crimes. If an individual wants to avoid prison, he or she can do what law-abiding citizens do all the time--the right thing. California's law sends a clear message: Crime doesn't pay.


California's three strikes law is unfair. Gary Ewing stole golf clubs worth $1,200. Normally, he'd get a one-year sentence for such a crime. But because of California's harsh three strikes law, he got 25 years. That's too much. Long sentences for such crimes amount to "cruel and unusual" punishment--a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Locking up people for minor crimes doesn't work. Being in prison teaches petty thieves to become hardened criminals. Furthermore, it is a waste of money. The U.S., which has less than five percent of the world's population, has one fourth of the world's prison population. Keeping a prisoner in jail for 25 years costs about $1.5 million.

That money would be better spent on schools--which help people avoid a life of crime. As the Reverend Jesse Jackson said, "We are increasingly becoming a nation of first-class jails and second-class schools."
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Title Annotation:mandatory sentencing law in California
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 6, 2002
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