California, the state that launched a national get-tough-on-crime movement with its "three strikes, you're out" measure in 1994, is poised to reconsider whether to ease the stiffest provision of its landmark law: locking up third-time offenders for the rest of their lives.
Two ballot initiatives - both led by Los Angeles area prosecutors - are aiming to put more flexibility in the three-strikes law, in a bid to address concerns that it is imprisoning too many nonviolent criminals at too great a cost to taxpayers. The measures would come before California voters in November if they qualify for the ballot.
"The public has expressed legitimate concerns about [the law's] use against those who commit new, nonviolent, not serious offenses," says Steve Cooley, L.A. County district attorney and coauthor of one of the initiatives, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006. "We think that if we don't fix the law, we may lose it to those who would weaken it so much it would lose its teeth."