Another day, another noteworthy NPR piece, this time from national correspondent Ina Jaffe, about one mother’s fight against California’s ludicrous “Three Strikes Law” after she unwittingly helped put her son in prison for life.
Shane Reams, now 44, was sentenced to 25 years to life in 1996 after he was found guilty of being involved in the sale of a $20 rock of cocaine. (See, I told you it was ludicrous.) This was his third and final “strike” because he had two prior convictions for burglary– not because the police nabbed him, but because his mother, Sue, had urged him to turn himself in when she found out he was a thief.
But Sue had no idea what she was getting her son into. She says she was concerned with getting Shane help, not putting him in prison.
She told him: “Maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program.”
Yes, he probably did. And he got it– that is, if you count seventeen years in state prison “treatment.” Shane admits that it was only when he saw a glimmer of hope for his release that he concentrated on getting clean.
(You don’t say! The prospect of a life sentence doesn’t necessarily motivate people to get clean on their own?)
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown wisely approved a new sentencing guideline that gives convicted criminals the chance to participate in alternative rehabilitative services in lieu of prison time. And in the 2012 elections, voters passed Proposition 36, which, according to the NYT, “authorizes the courts to re-sentence thousands of people who were sent away for low-level third offenses and who present no danger to the public.”
From that NYT piece (which, I should add, is actually an op-ed by Brent Staples):
Three strikes created a cruel, Kafkaesque criminal justice system that lost all sense of proportion, doling out life sentences disproportionately to black defendants. Under the statute, the third offense that could result in a life sentence could be any number of low-level felony convictions, like stealing a jack from the back of a tow truck, shoplifting a pair of work gloves from a department store, pilfering small change from a parked car or passing a bad check. In addition to being unfairly punitive, the law drove up prison costs.
Yes, yes, and yes.
RELATED: “California was required to ‘come up a plan’ two years ago and it clearly has failed to do so, “ (article/quote from The Atlantic)