This is the seventh part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

A Tough Proposition

Proposition 36 is a tough proposition. There’s a strong case for voting yes on this proposition. Out of all the proposition recommendations made in this blog, this one is made with the most hesitancy.

Proposition 36 substantially weakens the Three Strikes Law. This is a famous tough-on-crime California law derived from another proposition (on a side note: there are way too many propositions out there). A serious or violent felon, if convicted of a new felony, gets twice the sentence. A two-time serious or violent felon, if convicted of a new felony, gets life. The Three Strikes Law is one of the toughest (if not the toughest) in the nation.

Under normal circumstances, this blog would unstintingly argue against voting yes on Proposition 36. Voters should never approve propositions that make big changes in subtle, complex things such as the length of prison sentences. Even if a change would be for the better, that is a job best left to the normal process. There is a reason why a legislature exists, after all: to draft laws. Legislators spend their entire lives on these issues. Voters spend a couple of hours or seconds reading a crazily complicated proposition that makes huge changes in the state. Generally, propositions on complex issues should only be approved if they fix a crisis.

Unfortunately, the normal way doesn’t work in this case. The legislature does not have the power to change the Three Strikes Law. This is because the proposition which approved the law explicitly prohibited this. So California voters are left in the unattractive position of deciding felony prison sentence lengths themselves.

There is also something quite wrong with California’s prison system, for which the description “crisis” would not be ill-fitted. They are famously overcrowded and a recent Supreme Court decision ordered California to reduce the population. The Three Strikes Law has certainly contributed to this negative situation. Finally, the proposition would save California several tens of millions of dollars per year – not something to laugh about during a budget crisis.

Nevertheless, there is also something good to say about the Three Strikes Law. California’s crime level over the past decade and a half has substantially decreased over the past two decades after the enactment of the law. Other states in the country have also followed California’s Three Strikes Law, and overall crime in the nation has been steadily declining for the past two decades. Of course, a number of other factors were behind this as well. But the Three Strikes Law’s aim was to reduce crime – and crime has indeed decreased.

More fundamentally, this proposition still would change the very complicated issue of felony prison sentences. That’s an issue that the vast majority of people are not qualified to deal with. The last clause definitely includes this blogger as well. That’s why this blog recommends a qualified “No” on Proposition 36.

–inoljt