The good ‘ole USA has always been numero uno, right brother? Number one! What exactly are we number one at, though? I’m pretty sure we got that diabetes thing on lock down, but what else? It turns out there is another strange statistic that we dominate at: incarceration. The U.S. leads the world in prison inmates at 2.3 million criminals behind bars. That means one in every 100 Americans is locked up. And now we have a proposition on the ballot that could knock us off this number one spot? I say go for it, I’m tired of being number one. We have held this ranking for too long.
Under the current three-strikes law, a person convicted of a felony who has two or more serious or violent felonies is sentenced to 25-to-life, regardless of the latest crime. Proposition 36 revises the three-strikes law so that you must be convicted of a serious or violent third felony to be given life in prison. It will offer re-sentencing for offenders serving life sentences if their third-strike conviction was not serious or violent. Convicts that commit felonies involving firearms along with serious or violent crimes still fall under the three-strikes law and it will be upheld to them.
According to the LA Times, Scott Andrew Hove, who has an arrest record of burglary, drug possession and theft charges, was arrested last year at a Lake Elsinore Home Depot for stealing $20.94 worth of merchandise. Because of California’s current three-strikes law he is now looking at life in prison. Hove is 45 years-old and according to KPBS, keeping an inmate in prison from the age of 37 to 77 will cost California taxpayers $4 million dollars. Justice is served, though! We caught this hardened criminal stealing a whopping 20 bucks!
Prop 36 has been designed specifically for this reason. The only harm this man is causing to California is the fact that we have to pay to keep him incarcerated. I’m all for having murderers and rapists locked behind bars but this is outrageous—a man steals $20 of merchandise and now we have to shell out $4 million? All while cities in California like San Bernardino are seeking out bankruptcy protection. We need to prioritize where taxpayer money is going.
By reducing the amount of non-violent offenders, this revision to the three-strikes law can save California anywhere from $100 to $200 million every single year. Rather than putting in repeat drug offenders we can create drug programs with the saved money to get them treatment rather than incarceration. This prop would, at the same time, save the state money and also reduce the ever growing population problems within our prison institutions.
If Prop 36 is approved by voters, 3,000 convicted felons who are serving life terms, whose third strike was a nonviolent crime, would be eligible to reduce their sentence; right off the bat that is saving us $100 million dollars in the first year. This means getting more nonviolent offenders out of our prison system to make room for the people that should really be locked up like murderers, rapists and child molesters.
These 3,000 inmates make up almost half of Californian prisoners serving life in prison. By enacting this single proposition we make a great step forward in reducing the prison population and getting us back on track at not being number one. It gives us a chance to rid the moniker or being the most incarcerated country in the world.
I know there is worry about the releasing of these inmates. I’m sure many people argue to vote no after the thought of releasing many multiple convicted inmates onto the streets just like that. These are hardened criminals and having them on the streets again can scare many people. A lot of the criminals that would be getting reduced sentences or released, however, are ones who had a third strike involving things like drug possession, minor burglary and theft. We are not just tossing murderers, rapists and child molesters into the streets. We’re just letting that pothead with dreadlocks who got busted for marijuana possession back onto the streets and out of our wallets. The money that we will be saving from releasing inmates can go towards helping them adjust to civilian life and even help ramp up police forces that are constantly struggling for money. It might seem scary letting prison inmates out of prison but this isn’t creating total anarchy and the country isn’t turning into the movie Mad Max. The way things are going for the U.S, today, doesn’t leave a perfect set plan of attack. We are in an age of compromises.
ABC News states that the nation’s inmate population is at an all-time high. From June of 2005 to July of 2006, the U.S. incarcerated more than 2.2 million people, overfilling prisons by more than 10 percent above capacity. Furthermore, facilities in California and Texas house two-thirds of all offenders in the prison system. California can make a step forward in reducing the amount of U.S. inmates by approving Prop 36. With California sharing two-thirds of all offenders in the U.S we can take a large chunk out of the amount of nonviolent offenders and make room for the serious and violent ones. This not only saves space but saves an incredible amount of money for California.
Bloomberg Magazine stated that in a 2010 study of 15-year-olds, U.S. kids ranked 25th in math and scored in the middle in science and reading tests out of 34 other countries. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the results show that the U.S. students must improve to compete in a global economy. Now we aren’t even able to compete in a global economy? Maybe if we can take the money we are wasting on non-violent offenders we can get to work on our schools and get us back on top.
There is no doubt that we have witnessed an almost unheard of financial crisis to the U.S. in these past few years. There is no telling how long it will be before we can feel like we are back on our own two feet. Passing Prop 36 can do tremendous efforts at saving the state money, while reducing the grizzly number of inmates that the U.S. currently holds. This can help us shed the shame of being number one when it comes to incarceration. Vote yes on 36.