California’s Three Strikes Law was enacted in 1994 in response to the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas. Since then, crime rates have gone down and defenders of the Three Strikes Law ask; why mess with success? But proponents of Proposition 36 argue their initiative will remedy the unintended consequences of Three Strikes, which they say include unjust incarceration and prison overcrowding.

George Gascon, district attorney for the City and County of San Francisco
Bob Doyle, sheriff of Marin County
Mike Romano, lecturer at the Stanford Law School and founder and supervising attorney of the Stanford Three Strikes Project
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit public interest law organization dedicated to the rights of crime victims and the criminally accused

  • Firouzeh Foroutan

    So happy you are covering this subject. It is really time to change the injustice that has resulted as a result of the three-strikes law! It is hard to believe that when people voted for this law 18 years ago, they could have foreseen that thousands of men without a violent criminal record would end up in prison for the rest of their lives for having stolen a slice of pizza or children’s medicine.

  • Victor

    Contrary to your guest Mike Romano’s on-air statement, possession of one joint of marijuana cannot be a thrid strike under the current Three Strikes law, because it is not a felony.

  • Firouzeh Foroutan

    Mr. Rushford is misleading the listeners by making it seem as though people with prior violent crimes on their record would not serve a life sentence under Prop 36 since there would be no discretion for non-serious non-violent crimes. However, as he knows, this is not correct. Mr. Romano very clearly stated earlier that those with past violent crimes would still be subject to discretion regardless of the seriousness of their third stike. It is time to stop misleading people by playing with their emotions!

  • Brian

    If we don’t attempt to rehabilitate on the first and second strike, we have failed crime victims, as well as our state and society. Instead of addressing that, we have chosen to warehouse those we’ve failed once they, not surprisingly, re-offend. The economic costs pale in comparison to the negative message that we’re sending to our state’s citizens and children. We’re telling ourselves and them that we are writing off a growing percentage of our society.

  • Richard

    My fiancee was murdered in Dallas TX in 1997. The murderer had only a DUI as a matter of public record prior. During the investigation, police were able to close a cold case proving that this same person murdered a store owner for cash register money. He also had assaulted a couple but this crime had not been previously reported or prosecuted. I agree with Mr. Rushford – hard to have any sympathy, and we should not protect – 3 time felons. We don’t know how many crimes a person has otherwise committed who actually gets caught for a third time. And, a third non-violent felony demonstrates a capacity for felonious conduct which easily escalates into murder, rape.

  • Jessica

    Is there something magical about a 3rd offense? Is there data that suggests after 3 strikes one is incorrigible? Why not 2 or 5?

  • Max

    Is Mr Rushford intentionally trying to mislead us? He repeatedly offered examples that would STILL have enhanced sentencing under Prop 36 as was clearly outlined by Mr Romano. It is historically clear that the threat of punishment is not a deterrent to criminals as they expect to get away with it. Prop 36 would give judges and prosecutors GREATER prosecutorial judgment, let them apply greater sentencing to those that deserve it. Finally, as a society we are dedicated to Justice, and that is for both perpetrators and victims. No one has asked us to feel sorry for rapists serving life, but we also should not be using prisons as human storage lockers. Prop 36 brings Three Strikes up to our standards as a society.

  • Susan

    What about the role of aging and maturity? It doesn’t make sense to lock up someone for life at age 18, who will be a totally different person at 50. Obviously, some crimes warrant a life sentence, but prop 36 isn’t addressing those. 18-24 year-olds are a high-risk-taking population. They care a lot about impressing their friends, they are more likely to be in a gang, they have poorer judgment overall. By the time those same people turn 50, their priorities are different, their perspective is different. Many people grow up enough by their 40’s and 50’s to make different choices.

  • Peter

    That 3 strikes came along, throwing more people in prison longer, just at the same time that prisons and prison services became privatized, was not just a coincidence..
    When prisons stop being a “business”, we can have a serious conversation about 3 strikes.

  • Chemist150

    Unfortunately, some find an outlet for their sociapathic behavior through law enforcement. We should take that guy against rehab and treat him like he would treat a prisoner for a year and see if he changes.
    Those who reduce people to an idiology instead of recognizing that they are real people are dagerous and should not be allowed in law enforcement.

  • Bess

    Mr. Rushford’s comments about rehabilitation being naive and basically improbable makes me really rethink 3 strikes altogether! I will definitely vote for Prop 36 now. Did we pass this law because of one man’s hate and inability to find peace and forgiveness? I am sorry about what happened to him, and maybe his work seems positive to him, but I know others who lost a child in similar circumstances and found ways to find the good in humanity, not decide that all people are basically evil.

  • Matthew

    PLEASE READ. First, the caller from Berkeley was totally led off base from what he was saying. He said that he DIDN’T think about getting a third strike before he committed his “third strike” crime. He was saying that it WASN’T a deterrent for him. He said he only cleaned up after he was facing his possible LIFE sentence for burglary. The fact that he even COULD have received a life sentence for this is a glowing problem with this law. Second, the email that was sent in about juries was derailed. What the person was trying to say was that juries are not made privy to the fact if a defendant has strikes against them. So if you are delivering a guilty verdict to a defendant who stole a slice of pizza, you have no way of knowing if you could be sentencing them to LIFE IN PRISON with your verdict. And last, I think so many people are missing the point with this law. In our legal system we are all supposed to be innocent until PROVEN guilty. This DISCRETION we give to the courts with the three strikes law allows them to PREDICT, GUESS if a person MIGHT commit crimes in the future. Do people understand that? We are allowing them look into a crystal ball and PREDICT THE FUTURE. To predict whether a person might change or not. Last time I checked that’s impossible. And lets be clear, a criminal is still going to be punished for their crime regardless if the three strikes law were to exist. Don’t we still believe that a punishment should fit the crime? Oh and one last point, if any District Attorneys, people whose job it is to PUT AWAY criminals, are against the three strike law and in support of prop 36, you KNOW that there are serious problems with it and it needs to be changed.

  • tall dark stranger

    Prisons are big business. Follow the money, and you will have your eyes opened. The Justice system is a failed system because it too is driven by funding, and “money” politics.The criminal element is manipulated by systems that care only for the survival of those systems. Justice is all that is important.

    • Bill Walster

      It is much worse than you suspect. Google Catherine Austin Fitts and read as much as you can to obtain context regarding our corrupt prison system

  • Dr. G. William Walster, Ph. D.

    I was shocked by the lack of context provided for a serious discussion of our corrupt prison system in general and Three Strikes in particular. If this topic is ever addressed again on Forum, I suggest that Catherine Austin Fitts should be a guest.

    In the meantime, I recommend her book ”

    Dillon Read & Co. and the Aristocracy of Stock Profits”

    The .pdf is here

    If you prefer to read it on line, the url is

    Also see:

  • danclau

    I think 3 strikes should only be used with murder of any kind, burglary with a weapon or any form of device used to injure the victim, sexual crimes where the victim is minor or raped mentally or physically. It should not be for victimless crimes or drug possession because most of the possessors are addicts themselves. In other words, 3 strikes should be used for violent crimes of any kind and only violent crimes. There are two many people in prison for stealing a bicycle for example because he stole it 3 times. But the rest of the law should not be tampered with.

  • snowflake

    I am very disappointed in Mr. Romano’s comments. He acted as though he was an impartial presenter of how Three Strikes works. He was not impartial at all. I have respect for both sides of the issue, but I when someone is presented as impartial, they ought to be impartial! Shame on both Mr. Romano and KQED for misleading listeners. For example, Mr. Romano stated that any crime could be a third strike. That is not true. A misdemeanor cannot send a person to prison for life (or even at all, unless it also happens to be that the person is on parole or felony probation). Under California law, simple possession of marijuana under an ounce (and a joint over an ounce is a pretty big joint!) is an INFRACTION (please see Health & Safety Code section 11357(b)) – akin to a speeding ticket. Up until recently, it was a misdemeanor but it is now only an infraction. Also, judges currently have discretion in striking the “strike.’ It is called a “Romero motion.”
    I hope that people who truly are interested in this issue will find out the facts for themselves. Check out the Penal Code’s list of what legally qualifies as a “serious” or “violent” felony. These are actual lists of crimes. A person needs two prior “serious” or “violent” felonies in order for his/her newest felony to be a “third strike.”
    The law also provides for many opportunities for drug treatment, although it seems that the state keeps taking money from these programs.

    • snowflake

      I wish to clarify a statement – one who is on probation or parole who commits a misdemeanor goes to prison for the misdemeanor only to finish out the time they previously had not already served for the crime for which they are on probation. A person does not get a ‘new’ prison term for the misdemeanor. I realized after I re-read my comment that I had been a little confusing.

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