Proposition 184, passed in Nov. 1994, introduced the "three-strikes" law to California. It substantially lengthened prison sentences for persons who had previously been convicted of a violent or serious crime. Specifically, a person who committed one prior violent or serious offense and who committed any new felony could receive twice the normal prison sentence for the new felony (the "second strike"). A person who committed two or more prior violent or serious offences and then committed any new felony would automatically receive 25 years to life in prison (the "third strike").
Criticism of Proposition 184 has centered on its cost. Large increases in the prison population and prison expenditures followed the law's implementation. By September 1999 almost 50,000 inmates were imprisoned as second and third strikers, according to a report from the Legislative Analyst. From 1983 to 2004 the prison system budget increased from $1 billion to nearly $6 billion, a fact that many consider at least partially attributable to Proposition 184. Critics of the law also note that the majority of persons imprisoned under the law are second strikers who have committed non-violent felonies such as property crime and drug offences, and that the system has led to excessive incarceration rates. Some claim that the law was written to give the impression that its focus was violent offenders and didn't fairly convey its impact on all felons.
Assessments of Proposition 184's impact on the crime rate vary. Some conclude that major crime in California has decreased by 50% or more since the law's implementation, making it an obvious success. They say the law is effective against repeat criminal activity because it keeps dangerous habitual criminals behind bars. They say further that by reducing repeat criminal activity, the law reduces public expenditures on law enforcement and criminal justice. Opponents claim that crime rates decreased nationally for reasons other than the "Three-Strikes" law, such as a stronger economy in the 1990's and increased incarceration under other laws. They also say that the law unfairly sentences minor felons and costs California billions of dollars every year that could be better spent in other areas.
Proposition 36 would reduce some prison sentences served under the three strikes law by mandating resentencing for non-violent felonies. An offender who has two or more prior serious or violent felony convictions who has been newly convicted of a nonserious crime would receive a prison sentence that is twice the usual term for the new offense. Exceptions to these shorter sentences are for offenders whose new or prior offense is related to specific gun, sex, or drug felonies. They would receive a life sentence as mandated under Proposition 184.
Offenders who meet certain criteria and are currently serving under their third strike would have the ability to apply for resentencing by the courts. The measure limits resentencing to offenders who are serving their third strike for nonserious, non-violent offenses and who have not committed specified prior offenses related to guns, sex, or drug felonies. Courts who conduct resentencing hearings would be required to determine if the offender's criminal history makes them eligibile for resentencing. The court would also consider whether or not re-sentencing the offender would pose a risk to public safety by examining the offender's criminal history, behavior in prison, and cooperation with rehabilitation programs. The measure requires resentenced offenders to receive twice the usual term for their most recent crime instead of the sentence imposed. Offenders whose are denied resentencing by the courts would be required to serve out their life terms as they were originally sentenced.
Proposition 36 would impact the state's correctional system in several ways. With fewer new inmates serving long sentences under the Three Strikes law, the inmate population and accompanying costs would be reduced significantly. Existing offenders who are resentenced would result in a lower inmate population. State parole system would have reduced costs as offenders affected by this program would be guilty of nonserious and non-violent offenses and would therefore by supervised by county probation rather than state parole. California's Legislative Analyst estimates that the correctional system would save around $70 million annually with higher savings over the next few decades. Costs could be lower depending upon the number of third strikers resentenced and the rate at which the board of parole releases these offenders.
Proposition 36 would increase court caseloads which would results in additional costs for district attorneys and public defenders and court staff. County jails would have increased costs to house inmates during resentencing process. Offenders who have been resentenced and violate the terms of their parole would receive court hearings and jail sentences with accompanying costs. Government-paid health care for resentenced convicts could result in additional costs as well as the impact of resentenced offenders entering the workforce.