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Three strikes, you're in (for life)


Many three-strikes prisoners are getting a second chance in California since the passage of Prop 36. Back in November, 69 percent of Californians voted yes on the proposition to change the Three Strikes Law, which was enacted in 1994. It sentenced offenders with three or more felony convictions to 25 years to life in prison -- and comparatively minor crimes could qualify as the third strike. 

Prop 36 changed that: the third offense would have to be “serious or violent”. About 10,000 Californians are imprisoned on three-strikes convictions, and an estimated 3,000 could qualify for release under Prop 36. The cost of implementing the changes is projected to be a few million dollars over a couple of years, while the projected savings of housing fewer inmates is up to $70 million annually. One of the groups who are active proponents of prop 36 is the Stanford Three Strikes Project, which also represents prisoners currently imprisoned under the Three Strikes law. 

KALW’s Ben Trefny sat down with Susan Champion, a fellow at the Three Strikes Project at Stanford University. He asked her to tell  him about some of the crimes that have landed people in prison for life.

SUSAN CHAMPION: A lot of the families of people I know that were in prison for these minor crimes -- said, 'I voted for the three strikes law! Because I thought it would take these horrible criminals off the street! I didn't realize it was going to take my son who has a drug problem.'  He's now being given a life sentence for something like taking a jack out of a garage. There is not another state in this union that would put someone in prison for life for taking a candy bar. It just wouldn't happen. And that's what I think people recognized in California. They recognized it was just unjust.

Click the audio player above to hear the complete interview. 

Ben was hired as Interim Executive Director of KALW in November, 2021.