The “three strikes” you’re out law, in particular with three-strike cases of non-violent crime (resulting, sometimes, in life imprisonment without parole), has been very controversial in the United States.

The three strikes sentencing of offenders who have committed a number of violent crimes has rarely drawn much criticism. Concerns about the fairness and proportionality of the law have been raised when an offender is sent to prison for 25 years for shoplifting or some other minor property crime. Critics note that a 25-year sentence for a third strike shoplifting offense is the same sentence meted out to those who commit murder. Long sentences for relatively minor offenses, they contend, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is barred by the Eighth Amendment.

And here are some controversial results from wikipedia.

I mention the policy only because I was reminded of the law when I read the following early paragraph in Sworn On The Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson, by Edwin Gaustad.

To ensure that Anglicanism (the Church of England) would become the “formally established religion of the colony” and all other “forms of religion would be discouraged or driven out”:

“Severe legislation passed in Jamestown [Virginia] in 1610 [founded 1607, and generally considered the first white settlement in the so-called New World] provided that all the people attend morning and evening prayer and that those who “shall often and willingly absent themselves” from divine services be punished according to the law: lose a day’s provisions for the first offense, be whipped for the second, and for the third be condemned to the oceangoing galleys for six months.”

Draconian, to be sure—yet historically interesting, I thought. Speaking of draconian, take the case of Curtis Wilkerson in California. From Sociology Magazine 69:

The three strikes rule in California is not without fault. Take the situation of Curtis Wilkerson. In 1981, when he was only nineteen years old, Wilkerson was convicted of abetting two robberies. When he stole a two-and-a-half dollar pair of socks, Wilkerson was sentenced to life in prison as this was his third strike. This simply defies reason.

Supposedly, according to the Economist magazine, he’s still incarcerated today. The world’s most expensive socks, to be sure. Sociology magazine goes on to say:

In addition to the socks stealer, the Stanford group has clients who have stolen a dollar in loose change and stole some tools from a parked truck. In fact, well over half of the third strikers are in prison for petty theft, drug, or lesser offenses.

A California study determined that crime rates had already begun to decline prior to enactment of the three strikes rule. Further, there was no marked difference between the rates of counties who used it more than those who didn’t. Additionally, the law has increased the age of inmates and increased prison spending by five hundred million dollars per year.

Here’s to love, logic and justice, learning to work together…

Pete xo


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