Three strikes raises important questions about how sentencing laws need to achieve public safety. How are such laws made? Who do they target? And why did Michael Reynolds and Mark Klaas start out as allies and end up as bitter political rivals. Over the last two decades (1980-2000), the US prison population has increased 450%. California has led the nation in prison growth since the early 1980s, and it incarcerated a higher percentage of its population than any nation on earth by 1994. The same year California enacted a controversial sentencing law that will drive prison growth for decades to come.
This is the story of that law. Mark Klaas: It starts with a phone call that Polly’s been kidnapped and everything changed. Then things changed again when we found out she was dead then somehow or another we were absolutely and totally thrust into the political arena which we did not necessarily want any part of. Kimber Reynolds in 1992 and the merger later of Narrator: the murder of 18 year-old Kimber Reynolds in 1992 and the murder a year later of Polly class shattered the lives of two California families. ut unlike thousands of senseless killings whose only legacy is anguish these two murders led to the enactment of the toughest determinant sentencing law known as three strikes and you’re out this law began accruing criminal justice reform movement and has spread across the country and around the world drafted by Mike Reynolds, California’s three strikes law dramatically increases prison sentences for tens of thousands of repeat felons it profoundly alters the balance of power in the courtroom and in the decade ahead will force California to finance the largest prison construction program in American history. hree strikes raises important questions about how sentencing laws are used to achieve public safety. how are such laws made? What do they cost? who do they target? And why did Mark Klass and Mike Reynolds start out as allies and end up as bitter political rivals? Mike Reynolds: Statistics don’t mean a whole lot until a person becomes one of them… why was this man out on parole committing more crime? The state’s responsibility is what we’re talking about here one unindicted perpetrator commits murder. Klaas Grandfather: The biggest media hunt for the missing person in the history of the world
Mike Reynolds: If we can put one on the books, how would we best direct it at the problem of the re-release of the same criminals over and over again? How would we best take care of that? Jeff Long, Legislative Analyst: The first time it came around we never really did any fiscal assessment of it because it didn’t pass the so-called giggle test and it wasn’t worth the effort. It wasn’t in a go anywhere it was so patently stupid. Vince Schiraldi, Prison Alternative Advocate: they got Sen. Jones to carry it. And it went nowhere largely because it was a dog it was a bad piece of legislation.
None of the legislative leaders would promote it. Even Sen. Jones did not push it that hard. I felt strongly that they would have a very difficult time or I would have a difficult time as their author in trying to move that legislation out of the policy committee and state assembly based on the historic nature of that committee killing very tough criminal justice laws such as what was then the concept of three strikes. To qualify the three strikes initiative for California’s ballot Reynolds had 150 days to collect signatures from 5% of California voters over 400,000 ignatures in all. With no financial backing Reynolds and a small group of supporters set out gather signatures on their own. Mike Reynolds: Initiatives are expensive. They’re tough. If you’re from a community that represents only 2% of the state’s population as Fresno does you have almost 0 chance of getting this up and running. But we were going to give it a try and nothing was going to stop us. He did a great job of not just discussing the possibility of the initiative but also drafting it, promoting it, and moving it out, and getting the signatures.
After all that work I remember at the end of 2 1/2 weeks we only had 15,000 signatures and we needed 400,000 in 150 days. 39-year-old Richard Allen Davis was arrested on November 30, 1993 and charged with the kidnapping of Polly Klaas. Davis had prior convictions for rape, kidnapping, and assault. Richard Allen Davis was the poster child for the initiative. He had been in and out of jail many times. He was a man who demonstrated the capacity of his violence not only on this occasion but on previous ones. And suddenly we had an issue.
Suddenly people started calling in to the initiative because Richard Allen Davis had confessed to killing Polly Klaas and the media attention around his confession and indictment by the FBI caused a wave of calls come into the initiative. They had just found the body of Polly Klaas. Mark Klaas: three days later we started hearing about this three strikes business. KGO Radio Station owner: People were really into this Polly Klaas case. They understood how this affected their own lives and we had to move really quickly to make sure we didn’t lose that momentum.
Mike Reynolds: We had people standing 200 deep to sign petitions many of them with their children. Three strikes was a law that would’ve done something about this. Mark klaas: we were hearing more and more about three strikes. Three strikes as a way to deal with violent offenders, keep violent offenders like Richard Allen Davis off the streets and keep them off the streets. I was put in contact with Mike Reynolds who explained to me on the telephone he had this initiative that in fact was what three strikes was about and what I supported and of course I said without hesitation I would support it.
Our phone lines down here in Fresno were ringing at 1000 calls at the time. 18 operators in the course of the next 10 days received 90,000 calls and those were all petitions that went out and were mailed. Davis was a three-time offender. Some of them looked at him and said why is he on the streets. And that rage immediately had a vehicle and they said what can I do? I can sign this petition and they couldn’t print petitions fast enough. He was released because we have this determinant sentence law which was a change in 1977 put in primarily by prosecution people that allows people to get out after fixed sentences.
Determinant sentencing means that the defendant when convicted gets a definitive time in prison. Indeterminant leaves that definitive time out meaning that it’s more up to the judge to determine what exactly is the time that this person is going to serve based upon a number of factors. In other words there was more discretion with the indeterminant sentencing. Someone who’s charged with the Polly Klaas case would never have been released with his background and record had we had an indeterminant sentencing. The Legislature did this to say that judges were in a tell you all because we don’t think you’re doing the job well enough.
We are going to tell you how long people should be imprisoned. We are not going to leave it up to you at all. We quadrupled our tripled the penalties for persons committing crimes in the state and that was a 15 year period between 1980 and 1995 in 1980 18,000 people went to state prison. Now 120,000 are going to state prison. people are staying there for much much longer sentences. We are becoming California perhaps the most punitive jurisdiction in the world. Driving California’s prison growth were over 1200 determinant sentencing laws, all enacted since 1977.
Yet while the states prison population skyrocketed, California’s crime rate remained flat, leading some legislators to balk at more punitive laws. Barbara Lee, Assembly Member: When I was serving on the public safety committee when I was first elected to the assembly, I first started to review the three strikes measures that were coming before the committee. This was in the early 90s even prior to the Polly Klaas tragedy but of course I was completely against it and so I continued to vote no and other members of the committee voted no and it never got out of committee.
Radio KFI in Los Angeles: Three Bay Area legislators were stacked in the public safety committee. Willie Brown had appointed them to make sure that no tough crime bills get out alive. Bates Burton and Lee. The John and Ken show and those guys got their phone numbers and every hour they would put another person’s phone number on-air from the public safety committee and say call John Burton and tell him what you think of voting three strikes. They were getting calls and driving them crazy. Radio Host: We generated so many calls that we brought down the office switchboard in Sacramento. We shut down some of the offices of the ssemblyman themselves. They couldn’t make a call out. They couldn’t get business done. It was such an easy call. He had a dead 12-year-old child strangled maybe even sexually abused. And you had this beast this monster Richard Allen Davis that we caught how many times before, how many times was he arrested and convicted and then released to prey upon this little girl. Now who who is going to be against the law that would put this guy away forever. For a few weeks Polly Klaas was part of the family. Polly Klaas with our collective daughter and we had to do something about the guy who killed her. Is as
Barbara Lee: people actually called my office and accused me that I was responsible for the tragic death of Polly Klaas. It got to be very scary because people believe that based on these talk shows pumping up that kind of rhetoric throughout the state. The governor was calling for a special session on crime. There was unprecedented stuff happening. People were falling all over themselves to pass legislation and the usual people who said wait a minute let’s be reasonable let’s back off a little were not. When Marc Klaas was supporting three strikes he was the most energetically supporting it when he was angry.
When I saw him TV he was conjuring up what happened to his daughter and Richard Allen Davis and putting those two things together and basically supporting three strikes you’re out. Mark Klaas: our research center became a three strikes center. Mike Reynolds pursued three strikes with a vengeance and he would not be deterred. And I completely understood. So we did make some appearances. There was no sleep, there was no food, there was nothing but anger at the person that committed the crime against Polly and the system that had allowed him to be in a position to do something like that.
And that was what had to be corrected. And we were going to use anger to correct it. Mike Reynolds: Suddenly this became the fastest qualifying initiative in the history of California. Regardless enough signatures to not only qualify those 400,000 that we needed, but we had also gathered over 800,000 signatures. Mark Klaas: very soon after that I think the politicians saw the writing on the wall and they started jumping on the three stripes bandwagon as well. And it was all in response to what happened to Polly. So in a sense she was the three strikes poster child.
The beauty of three strikes and Mike’s thinking on it was not that the law was simple though it is fairly brief and to the point. It was well thought out but the concept was simple enough both for the public to support and the criminals that is aimed at to understand that they have three chances and after they’ve committed two of those that are serious or violent really the third one anything can send them 25 years to life in prison. Mike Reynolds: All were talking about his violent felons. Let’s silence this violence. It’s insanity. Mark Klaas: that was the only message that was ever given out.
That three strikes was a way to get violent offenders off the streets. Beginning of argument end of argument. Klaas grandfather: weeks later I began to get suspicious. What is a serious felony and I found out it includes residential burglary. Well that horrified me. Mike Reynolds tried to point out to me that Polly was kidnapped by residential burglar and I said it was a kidnapper. Phil Isenberg, State Sen. : residential burglary are burglaries of homes that are unoccupied. Do you think that anyone makes that distinction? You think anyone that steals a bicycle out of a garage when the door is open.
I’m sorry that’s a felony that’s a burglary in California. Mike Reynolds: I don’t know how they can say that. Their daughter was kidnapped by a burglar. The first thing he did was a burglary before he did anything else. Klaas grandfather: there’s a difference between a person that goes in to an unoccupied house to steal the stereo system as someone who goes with ropes and gag’s at night to steal a child. There’s quite a bit of difference I’ve had grandchild stolen and a stereo stolen; there’s no comparison. I think it’s obscene to equate stealing a stereo and stealing a child and giving the same penalty for both.
Mike Reynolds: burglary would suddenly become an island of immunity from prosecution for second third strikers. Suddenly they can go in to the burglary business and never have to worry about three strikes. Just who are these people who are going to the burglary business? These are people with one and two strikes. The absolute dregs of society. Judge LaDoris H. Cordell, Superior Court Judge: there are over 500 crimes in California classified as felonies and they range from murder and violent assaults to writing a bad check of second conviction for shoplifting or possession for a small amount of drugs.
Now if the defendant has one strike under the three strikes sentencing formula conviction of another felony no matter what the felony effectively results in a tripling of the time served in prison for the crime. If the defendant has two strikes and is convicted of another felony for example a usable amount of cocaine the punishment must be 25 years to life. That’s it. That’s the three strikes law. Klaas grandfather: my first appearance against three strikes was on that town hall put on by Channel 5 in San Francisco the night before the crime Summit.
All I heard from everybody that spoke, they were all in favor of three strikes for reasons of violence. Not one person mentioned even the remote possibility that any nonviolent crime could come through the aegis of the three strikes law. Finally I just couldn’t stand it anymore. And I spoke angrily. A month ago I was in favor of three strikes. I thought it dealt with violent criminals. It does not. It deals with 19 nonviolent criminals for every violent criminal. Mark Klaas: my dad has very strong opinions and he’s very radicalized in those opinions. And he’s very set in those opinions. And he’s been around he process a lot longer than I have. I have respected my dad for his integrity, for the love he showed for his family, and for his ability to see through a lot of crap and understand the reality of certain issues. And this is one of those issues that he seemed to figure out pretty early. Klaas grandfather: I said I don’t think that’s right. And I try to talk to my son about it and he went through the roof. Mark Klaas: And we had some pretty violent conversations and arguments over three strikes but he kept saying this is not just going after violent people. It’s going after nonviolent people as well
Mike Reynolds: when the state of California is turning loose violent offenders are leaving the door open to the cage for the animals to come and get us. Mark Klaas: I understand what drives Mike. We have been affected by the same thing. Our daughters were murdered by people who shouldn’t have been able to murder children. Mike Reynolds: if three strikes had been law my daughter and his daughter would be alive today. That’s a tough argument. Klaas grandfather: but you don’t have to put half the population of the state in prison to get people like Davis. What you have to do is get people like Davis.
Mark Klaas: ironically the thing that moved me away from three strikes was Gov. Wilson. Gov. Wilson suggested that maybe three strikes was not the best solution to this violent crime problem. Perhaps there were other alternatives out there and one of the pieces of proposed legislation he suggested I look at it was something called the rainy bill. What the rainy bill did was offer a commonsense alternative to three strikes that went after only violent offenders. It had truth in sentencing, 100% time served it had very strong enhancements for second and third strike violent felony. It also had a one strike law for people who molest children.
It had everything that we were looking for. Bill Jones Secretary of State: there were a number of competing bills that people presented that were not the same as our Bill and there was a lot of support among the legislators for these competing bills but were not as tough in my opinion as the original three strikes that I was carrying or the initiative. Marc Klaas: here I have these two figures; on the one hand I have the governor’s state saying maybe there’s another way and I have my father on the other side unrelentingly saying we’re going to wrong way Mark, you’re looking at the wrong stuff.
Finally between those forces I was finally I was convinced that there was something else to look at. Maybe three strikes was not the ultimate answer. Klaas grandfather: that afternoon as my son is leaving the Petaluma Polly Klaas foundation Center to go down as a guest of the governor to the crimes summit where he is going to be traveling with Mike Reynolds my son calls me into the office at the center and says dad I want to tell you this, “I’ve decided to come out against three strikes. Marc Klaas: it was an obvious choice; get behind the rainy bill. That’s what we did in February of 1994. But from that point on I was going more and more towards this piece of legislation called the rainy bill and from that point on Gov. Wilson seem to be going more and more towards three strikes to the point where within weeks he totally embraced three strikes. Mike Reynolds: it’s interesting to see what happens to politicians once it’s for sure that the legislation is going to pass.
Many times even though they would not ever vote for this on a good day if it’s going to go down what they will do is change their vote over so it looks like they voted on the right side of the issue, on the winning side of an issue. Marc Klaas: the Atty. Gen. Lungren came out for it, Gov. Wilson came out for it, Kathleen Brown came out for it, Huffington came out for it, Feinstein came out for it. Almost every politician who was running in California had to take a stand and support three strikes and you’re out.
Narrator: with the primary election three months away and popular support for three strikes polling at 83%, the mood in Sacramento had changed. Reynolds signatures guaranteed his three strikes initiative a place the ballot. With this leverage Bill Jones now introduced a legislative version of three strikes AB971. Mike Reynolds: and when we went up there the second time it was a different story. The first time they pat us on the head and sent us home. The second time we went up there we were saluted.
Jeff long legislative analyst: then we broke our pick trying to figure out how much this would cost but I’ll tell you the ship had left its dock. It didn’t matter what we said it cost. This thing was gone. Phil Isenberg State Sen. : we started to get information from the Department of Corrections this is Gov. Pete Wilson’s prisons and they tried to predict and project the cost of three strikes which means they had to evaluate how many people would come into the prison and how long they would be there for.
Well the Department of Corrections said look two thirds of the people affected by three strikes will be guilty not of violent crime but of nonviolent crimes. And they said the cost is astronomical. Stuart Rappaport public defender: it costs about $25,000 a year today to keep and inmate in the state prison, which means if you send them away for 25 years which is the minimum on these cases but is usually longer you are talking about 600,000 in today’s money. Phil Isenberg State Sen. : first change was why don’t you restrict three strikes to violent crime, crimes against people, rape robbery murder.
Why don’t you just get those people first as the state of Washington did instead of having a net that is so broad that you are going to bring in tens of thousands of people who arguably you want to punish but you don’t want to send them to state prison as costly as that is for the rest of their lives. Well the sponsors would not change. Barbara Lee assemblywoman: we tried to debate educational issues, healthcare reform, childcare issues, transportation issues, costs of what drives the debate and how much is this going to cost and if it costs too much we can do it.
On this debate it was who cares how much it costs. we were going to do it. Klaas grandfather: Mark finally realized that he had been on the wrong side and that he was going to create an incredible debt for the taxpayers of California if his name was continued to be used to support this draconian measure. Just to slap everyone behind bars forever just to get the few. He felt guilty. Mark Klaas: it seemed at the time because of lies that three strikes made sense of her death and would give meaning to her life.
Or give meaning to her death. And that’s what we latched onto we latched onto anything that would keep it alive. Klaas grandfather: but we figured if we’re enlightened now we owe it to the public to enlighten the public. And Mark felt that way very deeply and he went up to Sacramento and he tried to get the governor to pull out on the three strikes bill. The governor looked at him and he said Mark you don’t understand how the victims feel.
Barbara Lee assemblywoman: they didn’t realize that maybe they knew little bit more because they were legislators and this was the time to lead and say no we are up here and we know this public policy we know what the laws are and we know how to make the laws tougher and this is not to correct the situation we’re trying to correct. Jeff Long: the big bills around here you’re fighting them all year as a battle and there’s a skirmish in your mapping out and you’re getting your witnesses you are getting your opponents you are getting your coalitions you’re working the ad boards you’re making your calls and your taking the pictures.
You could not get your film developed before this thing passed. Bill Jones: as we took it up to the Senate floor and we passed it around March and sent it to the governor. The other bills competing were held. And we had a bill signing ceremony that the governor had down in Los Angeles. Mike Reynolds: we started in Fresno and we got a plane that one of the department stores had loaned us, a King Air, and was a little older I might add, and they flew us to Los Angeles for the signing of three strikes.
Marc Klaas: and we had to distance ourselves as much as we could from this three strikes legislation to because we could see the ramifications we could see the end result of this because it was explained to us by some very bright people who understood the law. Narrator: the three strikes law enacted by the legislature was identical to the proposed initiative with one important exception; laws made by the Legislature can be altered with a simple majority.
The initiative, were it to pass, would require a two thirds vote by both houses to amend or repeal. Leo McElroy campaign consultant: it takes away any ability to say you know maybe we made a slight mistake on this. Barbara Lee assemblywoman: they want to make sure this was like nail in the coffin so they went full steam ahead and said to heck with this were going to do a double whammy and that’s what they did and I’m telling you that was very hard to convince people not to vote for the three strikes initiative.
I think there were several agendas behind the move to three strikes one of those was Mike Huffington’s agenda the largest fundraiser for third strike. Mike Reynolds had always said that if the governor signs three strikes I will not go forward and put this on the November ballot. Mike Huffington put $300,000 and essentially bought him the co chairmanship of the three strikes and you’re out committee. He certainly didn’t want to see that investment die on March 7. He was going to run against Dianne Feinstein in November.
Mike Reynolds: he needed a little more visibility and we were able to have him help us financially and he could carry the three strikes torch and by the same token he helps us financially he helped himself more visibility. Klaas grandfather: another were all against him they come on the air with spots done in the voices of Mike Reynolds and Mike Huffington and Michael Huffington in his own voice knowing that the Klaas family was opposed to the three strikes bill asked listeners every hour of every station for two weeks to send money for Polly to the three strikes your out initiative committee.
Mike Reynolds: at that time we were on this exact same wavelength with Mark and the Klaas people. The assumption was that they campaigned with us that they would certainly support this. Klaas grandfather: it doesn’t take much to make the father of a murdered child angry and to hear his daughter’s name being misused like that made them very angry. Marc Klaas: we called up Mr. Huffington and his office in Southern California and said we were aware that Polly was being used in commercials supporting Mr.
Huffington and his stance on three strikes and would they please no longer do that. And they didn’t stop doing it. Mike Reynolds never stop talking about Polly. Mike Reynolds: Polly had no choice about who her dad was and poly didn’t have anything to do with this. She’s been cited over and over again and I think she liked the chance to speak for herself I think is just like a chance to live she just like a chance to be. Mark Klaas: it happens to the best of us we all get duped.
What we can do once we have been had is we can admit that and we can do whatever we can to correct it. We did everything we could to correct it. And they were trying to use this marvelous little person and try to have her stand for putting everyone in jail. Polly would’ve never stood for it. we wanted to reestablish Polly’s image as someone who stood for truth and justice and not someone who stood for for the big lie the big vengeance. We then worked together as a team to do the no on three strikes campaign.
I felt as the philosophical opposition I could never say die I wasn’t willing to say that die. Leo McElroy campaign consultant: my concern was to get a strongly articulated point of view that might somewhere down the line affect public policy enough to enable us to make changes in this and if we do nothing more than to say to people may be this is a mistake maybe there’s something here we that we ought to look at maybe this isn’t really the greatest thing since sliced bread then we would have accomplished something.
Marc Klaas: Leo put into motion who would be going where and doing what and why which wasn’t too difficult because there was only three or four of us in the whole state apparently that were opposed to the three strikes to the point that we are willing to spend any of our personal time speaking against it. We attacked it with heart we attacked it with what we felt was the truth and we are very committed to what we believed that’s really the only way you can get into something like this when you’re so overwhelmed. I really think we didn’t pay that much attention to the odds we were going against it I really thought we could move the mountain.
Grandfather Klaas: and we were used to being put in front of cameras we were used to being on shows we were used to speaking everywhere and so everywhere we went we spoke against it. Narrator: Three strikes was now a formidable campaign with the nearly $1. 5 million war chest. Donations came mostly from large interest groups, like California’s Republican Party, which gave $422,000. Michael Huffington contributed $350,000. The California prison guard union the CCPOA gave $100,000 as did three strikes first sponsor the National Rifle Association. The other major agenda was National Rifle Association agenda.
There’d been a mass killing at 101 California St. office in San Francisco where the guy had access to semi automatic weapons that by any rational standard should be banned. I think then the NRA was legitimately and rightly afraid there was going to be a wave of anti-gun legislation those can occur if they didn’t do something. They got behind three strikes they push their motto guns don’t kill people people kill people. Mike Reynolds: we gave them the opportunity to kind of put them money where their mouth is. If you really think that, then put your money behind tough laws that will put away criminals.
And if criminals are doing a crime than help us lock up criminals. The Legislature’s attention was diverted onto three strikes and several gun control bills were defeated during the governor’s special session on crime. Astonishing but very successful. Jones: while this was going on I made a decision in November in December of 93 to run for Secretary of State of California. I had to run a dual campaign which was for my campaign for the Secretary of State and the effort to secure support for three strikes in a legislature and on the ballot.
I tried some extent keep those two issues separate because I did not want my partisan political race to impact on the nonpartisan nature of three strikes. Everywhere we would turn they would have a conference they would have a press conference a press release. In addition to Mike Reynolds they had Bill Jones running for Secretary of State almost full-time on this issue. I actually never during the year heard Bill Jones talk about the Secretary of State position, not once. I heard him talk about 30 times maybe on three strikes you’re out. That was clearly his campaign for secretary of state.
These other folks were insurance Commissioner who were not talking about insurance, and they were not talking about schools even though they were running for Superintendent of schools; they were talking about three strikes you’re out Leo McElroy: the man from an agricultural district who had never been particularly involved with criminal justice legislation suddenly becomes the author of this thing and they made him a leading voice on three strikes you’re out and we had to say was he running for attorney general. What does this have to do with keeping California’s elections clean.
You hearing three strikes three strikes three strikes and you’re always hearing a positive. We didn’t have anyone running for office I’m running for office because I’m against three strikes. Mike Reynolds: they have an opportunity to sign on as a co-author so when they go out politicking for office they say they are the co-author a three strikes. I never even met the guy. I’d find myself standing for photos with people that I’ve never met before and never see again. I didn’t know if the guy was Jack the Ripper. Klaas grandfather: They were all running on three strikes bill and they were all running commercials.
Now those did not show up in the three strikes committee. They were from funds spent by candidates who are taking credit for the three strikes bill. Leo McElroy: on the one side of this issue you have stacked the Republican Party, and you realize why was put on there as a wedge issue. You had the NRA needing a major national drive to promote a three strikes you’re out policy. You have the CCPOA who are pushing very hard for this policy which would mean additional prison construction which would mean additional jobs for guards which was a way of expressing growing political power that the union had over policy in California
Willie Brown assembly Speaker: at the time that I served as the speaker of the legislature California went from 35,000 people under lock and key to 121,000 people under lock and key. California went from financing public education at the higher education level handsomely to doing it marginally while at the same time spending more money for prisons and keeping people locked up than at any other time in history and far more per person than the higher education system.
Bill Jones: the average person will tell you they want a strong educational system but they want to make sure that if they put their child out the front door, they can walk to school without being mugged it doesn’t do any good to have a school down the street if the child can get to the school without getting mugged. So Child safety has become the number one requirement it is not competing with education. In the last 10 years we built 19 prisons in California and only one State University.
During that same 10 year period we added 25,000 employees to the Department of Corrections and reduced the workforce in higher education by 10,000 people. the 25,000 employees we added two corrections are more than all the other state employees combined. By the year 2000 there will be approximately hundred and 156,000 students in our university system here in California and there will be over 242,000 inmates in California State prison. Right now I know we can’t come to an agreement on how many new universities we want to build yet they have agreed to 14 new prisons. The university system really drove our economic boom.
High-tech industry established itself in California because there was a huge concentration of people who could deal with the high-tech industry. What is it saying about our state when prisons supplant that kind of economy? What kind of industry are we going to be when we’re dominated more and more by prisons in less and less by an educated workforce. Bill Jones: we will be educating people from a distance now through the ability of the television without building all the bricks and mortars that we used to build because we had to have a professor and a PhD in every single town.
That’s changed so you can’t equate them the same. By the same token we will not now allow that 6% to affect everyone else in society because they will not be coming in and out of prisons. Barbara Lee: everything tanked around this country as shown if we invest these resources early on in children’s education your prison population will be greatly reduced and your prison budget will be greatly reduced and so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that. Here in California it’s a major industry it’s a moneymaker and so you have to have criminal justice policies to justify the prison construction industry.
There’s plenty of money in building prisons, there is no money in not building prisons. There is no interest that is going to stand up and say I’m going to chunk down half a million to you guys because I could really make a big killing if this thing fails. But lots of people were lined up to say this thing passes in my political or economic advantage. So we didn’t have any money we had heart and soul but we didn’t have any money. Mark Klaas: so we would fly a economy fares to the various locations in the state.
Do our debates hit the editorial board, and then return home so we would have a place to sleep at night. That was a campaign against three strikes. Mark Reynolds: we had a front guy go ahead of us and he had this big banner three strikes sign. He would set them all up and put sticks out there get the podium ready and get the microphone ready. And get all the elected officials lined up and he would call up on the cell phone and say were all set. And we’d come in screaming in there with a big RV that says three strikes on the side. I would make a big grand entrance as best I could.
And we would do that just one stop after the other. We had a network of pilots that would fly me into these little airports and have some volunteer I never met before picked me up in God knows what kind of vehicle until me off to some kind of speech that I had no idea who I was speaking to. We didn’t even have a campaign headquarters we didn’t have enough money to have letterhead printed. They tried to paint all these people like they were violent criminals like Richard Allen Davis type criminals and that was really disingenuous from day ne they knew that the majority of people who would I come in under this law would be under nonviolent charges and they never allowed for that during the course of the debates. Marc Klaas: everyone was told that by Mike Reynolds and by all the politicians. All the proponents of three strikes said violent crime and Polly Klaas. This is how we get the violence off the street. I work with real defendants. I met real people. I met a guy first three strikes guy I met was Kendall Cook down and San Diego was facing a life sentence for stealing a can of beer from a 7-Eleven store.
Klaas grandfather: one guy got 25 years to life for making a false statement on an application for real estate loan. This is happened. Judge: the concern I have is that the three strikes law does apply to those people who have not committed violent crimes. Or may have committed a violent crime twice 25 years ago or when a person was a juvenile more than 25 years ago and their crime is one that is not violent and in some circumstances a victimless crime and that person is incarcerated basically for life. I think particularly communities of color are going to be devastated by this law.
We already have an all out war against young black males in America and in California. One out of three young African-American men in California is under some form of criminal justice control. Barbara Lee: over 40% of the inmates now are incarcerated under three strikes are African-American and yet in California less than 3% of the population his African-American males. It kind of makes a mockery of the whole notion that we need to get tough. If toughness was the answer you’d have virtually no crime coming out of young African-American men.
He could scarcely do any more than one out of three under some form of criminal justice control but we will do more now with three strikes that will I think in the not-too-distant future more than two of that number and when you start to talk about half of the black men in their 20s being under some sentence you’re talking about just crippling a whole generation of people. Narrator: as election Day neared reports on three strike convictions since the law’s enactment in March were released but received only minor coverage in the news.
These reports confirmed what criminal justice professionals had been predicting. Judge: what I find astonishing is that 90% of people that we judges sentenced to state prison under the three strikes law are not three strikers at all. They have one strike. And the second felony that brings them before us in most cases isn’t even a strike. It is a conviction either for theft offense or a drug offense. I think we really need to admit to ourselves that if the dominant demographic of the average California state prison is a young 20-year-old white kid then we would not be passing three strike laws.
We would not be building new prisons. We certainly wouldn’t be taking money from higher education to do so. We would be scratching our heads and saying what’s going on with these kids are they boosting cars are they dealing $10 rocks of cocaine and what can we help them to stop doing it. Is a job program should we get them jobs. Do they need drug treatment. Do they need better educations? We’d be having that kind of discussion and debate but because it is young African-American and Latino men I think it’s easier for us to consign them to prisons in massive numbers.
It is easier for us that’s pretty much the behavior we expect from them anyway and we pretty much know what the policy solution is for that behavior; the big house. Mark Klaas: I thought we were doing great I thought we had a shot. Mike Reynolds: I’m convinced that this change the makeup of the Legislature. When people went to the polls they wanted real change in the guard up there. For the first time in 40 years the assembly went to the power the Republicans. Phil Isenberg: you need prisons.
There are some people that are simply out of control there’s some people who are too evil and this word ought be used in this debate. There are simply evil people in the world and they ought to be locked away forever. But we’re stupid we don’t concentrate on evil. We concentrate on any crime and say if you steal a sixpack you are as evil is a murder. But they do say that but that’s the impact arguably of the law we just passed. And that is just wrong the California public would not have supported a law that said that clearly.
Three strikes says I don’t care what the issues are, I do not want to know anything I want to get rid of the problem; and let’s lock them all away. I don’t want to think about anymore. Life is too complicated we have to think about we have to look at each individual situation on an individual basis and make a rational decision on the case when we stop doing that we stop being rational we stop being a just people. Judge: a fair system of justice, one that works, is one which has to take into consideration the individual who is before the court for sentencing as well as the victims as well as the overall protection of the people.
A system which fails to do that which fails to look at that particular individual standing before me to be punished is a system that in my opinion fails everybody. And indeed if we have such a system we don’t need judges we don’t need us at all because that is a system that is completely subject computerization. Just plug in a number and send personal way. Justice may be blind but it shouldn’t be unreasonable so I don’t know exactly what justice is. Justice for Polly is too late. Just as for the rest of the kids in this country is to make a better place for them to live.
Not just a place with bigger and better prisons. Three strikes campaign outspent opponents of the initiative 58 to 1. Violent crime in California declined 15% in three years after the three strikes became law. Violent crime in states without three strikes law decline by comparable amounts during the same period with some states experiencing greater declines in violent crime than California. By June 1998 one in five California inmates were sentenced under the three strikes law. 90% of those sentenced had only one prior “strike” and were sentenced for nonviolent crimes in 80% of the cases.