History of the 3 Strikes Law

Arnulfo T. Garcia

Prison is designed to break you, not to make you better. Our prison system takes people who have had traumatic lives and puts them in circumstances that expose them to even more trauma—like living in a cage with a stranger, or being subjected to riots, or having live ammunition fired by correctional officers in order to break up fights involving weapons, or being isolated from family, friends and significant others.

People are placed in traumatic worlds —a place where they’ve already demonstrated not being able to handle trauma well, and it hardens them in order to survive. While in prison, people are not provided incentive or opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. Then the system kicks them back out into society, where they find themselves further behind than when they left the streets. When they re-offend, the system puts them in prison for life, under the Three Strikes Law.

When you commit criminal acts, you inflict pain and suffering on others. You lose your connection to the mainstream of humanity. Once that connection is lost, the connected to ourselves, to someone else, to our family, to our community–all these feelings–are lost.

The disconnection and separation created more pain. When we acted out in unskillful ways from that pain, we lost our rightful connection in the larger community, because we forgot who we really are. I know today that we can reclaim our identity and gather the resources to stay true to ourselves. Remembering where we came from begins with remembering whom we affected by our past actions, as well as keeping in the forefront of our minds those that will benefit from our commitment to heal and be of service.

This process can take effect with the plan that CHOOSE 1 has put together by saving taxpayers millions of dollars through releasing all those who have already done their time before 1994. With the passing of the Three Strikes Law in March of 1994, thousands of prisoners began serving long sentences for crimes that they paid for already.

It’s been 21 years since the passing of three strikes and most who would be released under this reform bill will be older and wiser. If we don’t address the mistakes of three strikes, then count on it to continue to increase the prison population, and the prison budget, now more than $10 billion, will only continue to grow.

There is an urgent need to change the injustice that’s been going on for decades. As former attorney general Eric Holder says, “Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. And many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems, rather than alleviate them. As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver outcomes that deter and punish crime, keep us safe, and ensure that those who have paid their debts have the chance to become productive citizens.” Former President Bill Clinton says, “We basically took a shotgun to a problem that needed a .22. We took a shotgun to it and just sent everybody to jail for too long.”

Actually, Clinton is wrong. We didn’t need a gun at all; what we needed was true rehabilitation. Crime is a symptom of society’s ills. Most criminals aren’t born evil; they are broken people, mentally ill people or desperate people. Therapy gets to the root of the problem and heals the person. Therapy also provides people with the tools to handle stressful situations. Along with education and vocational training, people are given the skill to secure meaningful job opportunities. An offender doesn’t need a life sentence to stop offending; he or she needs the space and opportunity to better themselves. These investments would allow offenders to become assets to the community, instead of liabilities costing society more and more. CHOOSE 1 aims to secure the money saved by releasing the aging three strike population in order to spread rehabilitative services to all California prisons and lower tuition for college students. 

By: Arnulfo T. Garcia

Richard Richardson

My name is Richard Richardson, and I am a 42-year-old “second strike” offender. I’m also a father of four and a grandfather of three. At age 18, I and a few so-called friends thought it was a good idea to shoot at Modesto Police Officer David Robinson. Thankfully, Officer Robinson was not injured during this horrific event. I was granted a six-year plea agreement for assault on a police officer with a firearm because I was not the actual shooter, but I was just as guilty. Had real rehabilitation programs been in place, I would have had a better chance reintegrating back into my community successfully. But I was not rehabilitated upon parole, and at 21, I had not acquired any vocational trade or educational training to prepare me for success.

At 24 I was arrested again for a home invasion robbery of Sarah Hodges in Modesto and received 47 years as a second-strike offense. I’ve been incarcerated for 18 years now and will be eligible for release at age 65 in 2038. If someone murdered a person today and receive a 25- years-to-life sentence, he or she would be eligible for parole before I get out of prison, even if I were to earn time credit for good behavior. Nonetheless, for the past 18 years I’ve completed several self-help programs, a vocational trade, an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and am working toward a Bachelor’s degree. I am the Vice-President of a social justice group, Alliance for Change, a mentor to children in an advocacy group, SQUIRES and the Design Editor for a newspaper aimed towards rehabilitation, the San Quentin News. If this initiative were to pass, millions of dollars from this Act would be directed to high poverty middle schools and high schools in California, California Community Colleges and the University of California to offset students’ tuition. Thankfully, underprivileged kids would have an opportunity to break this cycle of school-to-prison pipeline and earn an education. These opportunities were not available to me. If they had been, I might have had a meaningful second chance at life to contribute to society as a tax-paying law-abiding citizen and help rebuild my community.

Juan Moreno Haines

The Three Strikes Law went into effect in 1994. What people don’t know is that more than two decades later, many of the nearly 10,000 prisoners still serving time under the law are over the age of 50. The age of an incarcerated person is important because there are numerous studies and reports that show when someone has been behind bars for say, 10, 15, 20 years and are in their 50s, the threat they pose to public safety falls dramatically, meaning they are not likely to commit future crimes.

In view of this evidence, spending $65,000 a year to lock up people who are no longer a danger to public safety is a waste of taxpayer dollars—if public safety is truly the objective.

Here’s the stark reality: If taxpayers are willing to spend $65,000 a year to punish a criminal for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, then expect to spend in the neighborhood of $1.3 million- $2.6 million for each and every one of the 10,000 three strikers and the thousands of two-strikers in California prisons. It is not out of the question that the Three-Strikes Law could cost taxpayers upwards of $25 billion.

Do taxpayers want to spend billions of dollars to punish aging felons with no end in sight? Or are there better ways to spend limited public resources, for example on higher education, after-school programs, job-training , parks and libraries, or programs that show measurable crime reduction?

Two decades of experience indicate that taxpayers have spent enough on a law that has not made our streets safer. Californians have a chance to correct the 1994 mistake and find better solutions to crime and punishment than locking up people and throwing away the key.

Take it from former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, “The idea that we lock people up, throw them away, never give them a chance at redemption, is not what America is about. Being able to give someone a second chance is very important.”

Sign the petition that would put Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 on the ballot. Tell your friends about it, and this coming November vote it into law.

Juan Moreno Haines

“CHOOSE1 is undoubtedly the solution that will right the injustices done to so many incarcerated Californians under California’s Three Strikes Law. CHOOSE1 restores the initiative California Three Strikes Law back to the original intent of the voters who voted for the law in 1994, with a more sensible version that saves money and continues to maintain public safety.”

-John Yahya Johnson E-89817


“CHOOSE1 took further steps to change the Three Strikes Law once again to help those that were left behind. As of this day people have not shown the much needed support to make this change a reality. It’s a shame all those who speak of ending mass incarceration have not come forward to help CHOOSE1. Now is not the time to sit idle.”

-Gene Atkins

“The 8th Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment, however The Three Strikes Law is in direct violation of the spirit of the constitution despite what the United States Supreme Court ruled and our stories are evidence of this. They can’t explain that away because it contradicts the life breathing document rhetoric they try to shove down our throats. Like when Rodney King was being beat to death and the lawyers told the jury what your looking at isn’t what you actually see. We insult their intelligence when we demonstrate that we comprehend the constitution and understand that they are frauds for telling us what we are reading doesn’t really mean what it says.”

-Unidentified Three Striker