With changes to California’s “three strikes” law approved by voters in November, the state prison system has identified 27 inmates who could be eligible for resentencing in Santa Barbara County.
Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act, imposes shorter sentences for some third-strikers, and allows some current three-strikes inmates to be resentenced by the courts.
Third-strikers with two or more serious and/or violent felony convictions will be sentenced to a doubled term, instead of 25 years to life, if the new offense is nonserious or nonviolent — with some exceptions.
Some current inmates are eligible for resentencing and already have filed motions for a hearing, according to District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
If inmates have ever committed crimes such as rape, murder and robbery, they are not eligible for resentencing. Dudley said they’re also ineligible if their third offense was serious and/or violent, if the crime intended to commit great bodily injury, or they were armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon.
Solicitation to commit murder, for example, isn’t considered serious or violent under the three-strikes law, but it clearly shows intent to commit great bodily injury, Dudley noted.
Courts also can consider the person’s entire criminal history — including his or her “C file,” records while in custody — and anything else they deem relevant. Much like a parole hearing, the courts consider whether the person would be an unreasonable risk to public safety.
“That’s where it’s going to be very interesting ... it’s the nature of not only that offense, but the entire criminal career — they get to look at the whole person now,” Dudley said. “I wish I had a crystal ball so I would know who was going to recidivate and who was going to commit that horrendous horrible crime; it’s easier, if your only concern is public safety, to say lock them all up forever, but that’s not justice.”
Dudley said she believes the revised law is more what voters intended.
“According to CDCR (California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation), since I have been DA, no three-striker was prosecuted as such unless his or her last strike was serious or violent,” Dudley said.
Her office is still working on getting the custody files, which have to be found and scanned.
There are probably issues of privacy with psychiatric records and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in those files, but Dudley said she can’t make a call on whether people should be considered for resentencing without seeing them.
“I can’t argue against what I don’t know, and I can’t support anybody getting out without knowing what’s in their psychiatric records,” she said.
The law change is expected to have a limited impact on the County Jail.
The state prison inmates who are brought back to the county for legal proceedings will be housed at the jail during court proceedings, said Sheriff Bill Brown, adding that “strikers” are ineligible for county custody, even with realignment.
As to the law changes, he said, “I believe that used appropriately, it’s an extremely important tool that removes career criminals from the community and prevents them from preying on future victims. Even with the new modification in the law, I think it will continue to be very effective in doing just that.”
The county Probation Department is likely to have a role in the resentencing process, too.
It’s unclear whether the inmates will have to be supervised, even if they’re released with the resentencing hearings, because of time already served.
“If the judge does want some post-release supervision, we believe it falls into the county Probation Department area,” said Tanja Heitman, deputy chief probation officer. “With realignment programs, we believe these offenders will kind of slide into the programs and services we have in place already.”
According to Dudley, inmates released under Proposition 36 could have up to three years of supervision.
“But note that this post-release supervision period can be served in prison,” she said. “This means that inmates who are resentenced under the initiative, and who have already served their entire sentence plus three years, will not have any supervised release/parole period. Depending on how inmates are resentenced, some inmates will have zero supervision period, some will have some fraction of three years, and some will have the full three-year period.”
The Three Strikes Reform Act is expected to save $70 million annually, although it will cost money for the state and counties to go through the resentencing process for eligible offenders.
The prison system has 137,000 total inmates as of May, and is budgeted for almost $9 billion this year.
In March, there were 33,000 second-striker inmates and 9,000 third-strikers, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.