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<strong>By Emily Ling</strong>
By Emily Ling
“Three strikes” is not just associated with the sport of baseball. “Three strikes laws” are also statutes enacted by state governments. They require state courts to hand down a mandatory and extended period of incarceration to people who have been convicted of a serious offense on three or more separate occasions. In California, the three strikes law, enacted in 1994, makes the punishment for committing the third strike a 25 years to life sentence in jail.

California, like many states, is so focused on locking away its criminals that it forgets the rehabilitation part. The “three strikes law” in California counts any minor felony as a third strike. This means that people are, depending on their previous convictions, being locked away for a long time because they were caught in possession of a little marijuana. Although it may be argued that the “three strikes laws” has reduced crime in California, some people have lost their right to freedom for a long period of time because they committed a small crime.

States need to weigh these two side when considering whether or nor they should keep the law. However, even if they should decide to keep the law, judges need to consider the specific nature of the third and final strike for every person before handing the sentence. Is it really ideal for people to be put away for 25 years to life for small felonies committed on their third strike? The judges should take the time to think this through. The judge has someone’s life in his hands. The three strikes law needs to be redefined to separate those who are committing less harmful crimes and those who definitely need to be locked up.

At the same time, the state need to make more of an effort to rehabilitate all but the most hardened of criminals. Instead of leaving ex-convicts to wait and be charged with their third strike, the government needs programs that help prevent people from even reaching that point.

Unfortunately due to the budget cuts, these programs are becoming more and more scarce. It would be in the state’s best interest to reach offenders early on in their “criminal careers” and steer their life in another direction. We should be allocating our budget more toward these programs instead of paying the equivalent cost of a college education for each prisoner’s annual room and board. The state’s budget for locking up prisoners rises by nine percent annually, compared to the state’s budget on education, which only rises by five percent. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, California will spend 15.4 billion incarcerating prisoners as opposed to 15.3 billion educating children.

If more money is spent on helping ex-convicts in the long run we will hopefully have less people entering the prison system, lower crime rates and have to spend less money on the prison system in general. The Californian government should not focus on penalizing people for wrongdoing. Instead, they should also dedicate time and money to educate first-time offenders on how to live successful lives and make a living without succumbing to a life of crime.

In jail, and after jail, there should more programs that teach prisoners how to exist and be part of the working world. Currently, prison environments educate offenders how to better commit crimes. Because prison is completely different from outside life, when prisoners finally get out of jail they often find it difficult to adapt to life in the real world. They find it nearly impossible to find jobs and support themselves, especially because many businesses refuse to hire ex-convicts. This is especially true in the horrible economy we are living in right now.

In other cases, when prisoners leave prison, they find that they can’t pay their bills with the petty jobs available to them, especially when compared to the money that they could make if they returned to illegal activities. This leads them to turn back to their previous lifestyle that landed them in jail in the first place.

Programs that teach prisoners on how to be contributing members of society need to be funded by the state. The state should have jobs set aside specifically for ex-convicts that offer them a fair salary while also training them in the process. The Orange County Public Defender’s Office runs a “New Leaf Program,” which assists those who are seeking a fresh start and improved opportunities for employment, professional licensing or consumer credit. This is exactly the kind of program that we need to endorse in order to assist these prisoners to help them cross the bridge into the real world.

The major concern is that people who are committing a minor third felony will have their lives stripped away from them. Extreme attention needs to be paid to criminals facing their third strike in making sure a just punishment is applied to them. States such as California need to spend money in rehabilitation programs in order to stop people from falling into a cycle of crime and arm ex-convicts with the tools that will ensure a successful life.

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