When California legislators passed the Three Strikes law in 1994, its intent was sentencing habitual violent offenders to long-term prison sentences. Under the law, a defendant convicted of a violent felony offense for the third time must serve a sentence of at least 25 years, according to the Judicial Council of California. Since its passage, however, opponents have argued that it is unconstitutional and that it discriminates against mentally ill repeat offenders.

Some offenders are serving life sentences even though they have not committed three serious violent felonies. Serious drug crimes, such as possessing opiates with the intent to distribute, could count toward the three strikes. Theft and fraud charges may also result in a nonviolent offender serving a life sentence. An individual may require a strong defense when facing his or her third criminal charge.

Senate Bill 394 promotes programs over prison

Because the Three Strikes law has resulted in overcrowding the Golden State’s prison population, legislators have passed new laws intended to reform its criminal justice system. As reported by USA Today, Senate Bill 394 provides parents and the primary caregivers of children an opportunity to participate in a program as an alternative to prison. Parents convicted of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies may be eligible to participate in an alternative program instead of carrying out a full sentence in prison.

California prisons are housing inmates at 135% of the capacity the system in its original design intended to hold. Through legal reforms, rehabilitation programs and credits for good behavior, officials expect to see an average reduction of 10,600 inmates each day over the next three years. While not every offender is eligible to participate in a program, the ones who are may have a more positive outcome in their sentencing.