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Three Strikes, You're Out

By Ed Mead

Those short sighted anti-crime proponents in Washington state are at it again. This time the conservatives are circulating a citizen's initiative, The Persistent Offender Accountability Act (Initiative 590) that would provide two major changes to punishment: mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for so-called persistent offenders; and no earned good time reductions for offenders convicted of murder one, assault one, assault of a child one, or rape one.

The offenders affected by the proposed changes would be those designated as a "persistent offender," someone convicted of a "most serious offense" who has at least two prior convictions on different occasions for a "most serious offense." Juvenile adjudications and offenses that have "washed out" are not considered. According to recent statistics by the Sentencing Guideline Commission (SGC), the most common categories of current conviction offense is robbery (34 percent) followed by sex offenses (26 percent) and assault (16 percent). Of the 16,554 adult felony offenders sentenced in Fiscal Year 1992, Dr. Fallen of the SGC estimated that 63 of them would have met the definition of "persistent offender." Seeing what the state did with the civil commitment law, the overly broad implementation of such definitions, we can guess that the number of potential victims of this draconian law would be significantly higher.

The SGC can't measure the potential impact of mandatory sentences of life imprisonment for alleged persistent offenders because, according to the minutes of a recent meeting, "good recidivism data is needed but does not exist." (This probably is not the time to comment on why an industry, be it a correctional facility or industrial enterprise, does not maintain adequate records on the return or defect rate of the product it processes.) In any case the general feeling of the SCG was that if the initiative was passed into law, the impact on the prison system would not be felt for around seven to nine years. That impact would of course be even more overcrowded prisons.

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