California, distinguished among other ways by having the country’s most “indiscriminately punitive” three-strikes law, has allowed a ballot initiative to go forward that would modify it to exempt non-violent criminals. This welcome change is largely financially motivated: the state’s economy is a well-acknowledged growing disaster and the state auditor estimates the cost of imprisoning nonviolent three-strikes offenders for 25 years is $4.8 billion; further, California must reduce its prison population from roughly 135,000 inmates to 110,000 two years from now to comply with the Court order on overcrowding after Brown v. Plata (see prior posts, here and here). Nonetheless, the editors of Bloomberg news warn us here that this effort will face powerful opposition from the correction-officers union, many California prosecutors, and politicians fearful of the political consequences of supporting it.

Here is a little context from the article that makes the fact that we can expect controversy over this initiative seem truly remarkable: the state has imposed sentences of 25 years to life for third strikes such as shoplifting a pair of socks and prying open the door to a church food pantry; further, “California will spend roughly $10 billion on prisons this year — more than it spends on its once-renowned higher education system” (ouch).