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Three Strikes and You're Out, Again

Their baaack! And this time with both barrels. Ida (now Republican state representative from Mercer Island) Ballasiotes and her fellow victims' rights cronies have reintroduced the so-called "three strikes and you're out" initiative. In addition to Citizens' Initiative 593, this group and a bunch of reactionary legislators have introduced House Bill 1139, a proposed new law that contains the exact same language as Initiative 593. If the legislators don't implement this draconian law, they hope the voters will. At this point, given the anti-crime hysteria whipped up in the public's mind by the bourgeois media, it is likely that one of these avenues of passage will be successful. Washington state prisoners and their families should be aware of the probable shape of things to come.

The three-strike initiative campaign was launched last year, but failed to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot. This was not due to a lack of public support for the concept of the law, but rather because the signature gathering process had been started too late. This year the victims' rights lobby has hit the ground running. The official ballot summary states:
"This initiative requires persons convicted of `most serious offenses' on three occasions be sentenced to life imprisonment without early release, community custody, furloughs or parole. `Most serious offenses' includes class A felonies (violent offenses); and extortion, indecent liberties, manslaughter, vehicular assault or homicide, incest with a child under 14, felony with a deadly weapon, exploiting children for pornography, coerced prostitution, controlled substance homicide; second degree assault, child molestation, kidnapping, robbery, child assault, and third degree rape."

If the state legislature does not pass this law, initiative workers will need to get 183,000 signatures by July 1st. If they are able to acquire the necessary number of signatures, the proposed law will be placed on the general ballot during the November elections.

The list of offenses contained in the above quoted ballot summary isn't complete. The proposed new law would also contain such vague crimes as "leading organized crime" and "sexual exploitation." A couple of catch all sections could include nearly all felons, such as any class B felony with a sexual motivation (stealing a box full of pornographic magazines?) and the commission of any other felony with a deadly weapon verdict (poaching?).

So all of the above crimes, along with many others, are to be called "most serious offenses." Committing one of the listed crimes, and having prior convictions in this state or elsewhere for them on two separate occasions, qualifies you as a "persistent offender." According to the proposed law, "a persistent offender shall be sentenced to a term of total confinement for life without the possibility of parole..."

The people who have introduced and who support this law are sincere but short-sighted individuals who believe in the efficiency of punishment. Its endorsers include the Washington Council of Police Officers, the King County Police Officers' Guild, Friends of Diane, Tennis Shoe Brigade, Coalition of Victim Advocates, Washington State Grange and so on. Rather than examine the root causes of crime, they focus all of their attention on the offender; they treat the symptom and not the illness. And the medicine they prescribe, like every tyrant in history, is ever increasing doses of repression.

The SRA was enacted in order to get tough on violent crime. Since its adoption in 1984, the legislature has increased the SRA guideline sentencing ranges for violent offenses every year. Yet the rate of violent crime continues to grow faster than the increase in population. Their response is of course more of what clearly hasn't worked. This year it comes to us in the form of HB-1139 and Initiative 593. Historically, this process ends when such modest behavior as picking a pocket or chopping down a tree on a public lane become capital crimes (as was the case in feudal England), and what generally puts an end to this process is revolution.

What can you do in the here-and-now to oppose this law? Not very much. You and your friends can write and obtain a copy (or better yet several copies) of Initiative 593 from:
Washington Citizens For Justice
223 - 105th NE, Suite 201
Seattle, WA 98004

Write something like "get a life" on the signature section of it and mail it back to them, with a three cent stamp so they will have to pay postage due. Folks on the outside can dial their toll-free (800) 775-3201 number, often, if they'd like more details on all this. If there's to be any serious effort to oppose the house bill and the initiative, however, it will have to come from the family members and loved ones of prisoners on the outside. They can vote and can work to defeat law makers who advocate taking these easy ways out of complex social problems. It would be nice if the initiative process could be used to generate a genuine public debate on the subject of crime and punishment.

So far we have been unable to find any criminal justice issue around which ex-cons or our loved ones on the outside would be willing to organize. We'd hoped opposition to the parole board would be the key, but personality conflicts and such prevented any real unity from developing. If you have some ideas on how to proceed in this area, we are certainly willing to listen. While I'm not optimistic that the threat of life without parole will motivate this state's readers to action, I at least hope this article has been informative. The young minorities who will be the primary victims of this proposed law are going to need all the information they can get.

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