"We can't afford it"
States across the country are revisiting three-strikes laws and other tough mandatory minimum sentencing laws, particularly for low-level drug crimes. Of the 24 states that passed three-strikes laws in the early 1990s, at least 16 have since modified them to give judges more discretion in sentencing or narrow the types of crimes that count as a “strike,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
At least 14 states in recent years also either eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders, or gave judges more discretion to consider alternatives to incarceration, according to the NCSL.
The changes are part of a broader rethinking of many of the “tough on crime” sentencing policies that dominated the country for decades. Driven largely by the flagging economy, states have embraced a variety of reforms to rein in the cost of high prison populations, including diverting low-level drug offenders into treatment; reforming the parole system; and granting early release to certain inmates.
Harris, who prosecuted Larry Williams, concedes the sentence would have been far less harsh if Williams were tried today, in part because of the statewide debate about the cost of maintaining California’s prison system, one of the nation’s most crowded.
“No judge would do that now where the third strike is possession of stolen property,” he says. “We can’t afford it.”
People did try to point out that this was a huge waste of money at the time. But nobody listened --- there was bloodlust in the air and whole lot of nonsense being bandied about regarding "super-predators" and the like (which turned out to be made-up) so we decided as a society to throw millions of people in jail even though it was hugely expensive, cruel and ineffective. (Of course that was a feature, not a bug. )
Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Unfortunately, at least in California, one of the primary obstacles to reform is ---- the prison guard unions. Ain't life a bitch.