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Three Strikes and the Prison Industrial Complex under Review

Does enforcing “Three Strikes” have greater reduction in crime?

by Rose Davis

The Prison Industrial Complex came under the scrutiny of the regions most esteemed enforcement officials scholars and journlaists. A two day brain storm- ing session took place at a symposium sponsored by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the University of Southern California. According to studies conducted by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, California counties have radical- ly different rates of sentencing under the “Three Strikes” law. At the end of 2010, the sentencing rate ranged from 13 “strikers” (2nd or 3rd strike offenders) in prison per 1,000 annual adult felony arrests in Kings County. The highest strike-sentencing counties invoked the law at rates 10 times to 25 times more than the lowest-sentencing counties. Of all 58 counties, higher rates of impris- onments for all strikes or third strikes were not associated with any significant reductions in all felonies or violent felonies. This is true also for the 40 counties with more than 1,000 annual adult felony arrests and for the 16 coun- ties with 2000 or more adult felony arrests annually. In fact, the correlations were very near to zero in all cases, indi- cating strike sentencing levels have no measurable effect on crime trends. Instutionalized racism within the police-court-prison and its impact it has on the poor African-American, Latino, and Native communities created a lively discussion at the conference of experts guided by center director Stephen Handelman and Joe Domanick, the associate director. The issue of how to report the long and repetitive controver- sy over California’s three-strikes law, approved by the voters in 1994. The


While Americans may be celebrating the death of “the most infamous terrorist of our time,” seeing it as a fitting act of retribution for the innocent lives lost on 9/11, the war effort is far from over. Indeed, America’s military response to 9/11 has spawned such blowback in the Middle East that we now find ourselves in a permanent state of war. As a result, the war machine will con- tinue unimpeded and the civilian death toll will rise higher with every passing day. All the while, most Americans, com- forted by expressions of patriotism and

pride in their military, distracted by mindless entertainment, technological gadgets and materialistic pursuits, and relatively insulated from the devastation being wrought overseas, seem to be unconcerned about the escalating costs of war — in dollars and lives. Even as these endless wars drag America to the brink of bankruptcy, both financially and morally, most Americans continue to live in a state of denial about the part we have played — are playing — in this bloody tragedy.

John W. Whitehead

law imposes a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life for anyone convicted of a felony if that person has two previous felony convictions. The third strikes sen- tence has been imposed for nonvio- lent offenses — such as stealing videos, golf clubs or even a pizza — permitted by the law to be raised to felony status.

Racism was the underlying issue of discussion. It and has always been a power-

Of all 58 counties, higher rates of imprisonments for all strikes or third strikes were not associated with any significant reductions in all felonies or violent felonies.

ful influence running though the net- work of police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards and wardens who make up the criminal justice system. Beginning in the 1980s the war on drugs made it worse, with repeated raids on poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods while the cops and prosecutors generally ignored eco- nomically better-off whites using cocaine in the safety of their homes. Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney with the Advancement Project had the most compelling message. She has fought for racial justice by police, prosecutors and the courts, as well as in the schools and other institutions. She told the journal- ists the war on drugs was based on crime suppression in poor, minority areas. Cops stop young men and arrest them when they suspect drug posses- sion. Arrests add up over the years to a third strike.

Atty Rice agreed with the findings of

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law, that Three Strikes focuses dispro- portionately on African-Americans and Latinos. Thirtyseven percent of such inmates are African-Americans and 33 percent are Latinos. These statistics are in line with national figures showing that African-Americans and Latinos out-

number whites in prison by a margin of almost 2-to-1. Tom Hayden activist emphasized the lack of jobs confronting convicts when they leave prison. A one- striker, returned to the old neighborhood unemployed and with- out prospects, is just a crime away from being a two-striker and then committing the third. “Deindustrialization has eliminated jobs people took after prison,” he said. The journalists’ were chal-

lenged to find solutions while creating a meaningful and factual story. Although the conference which took place under the watchful eye of Felix the Cat logo peering in from the win- dow from the car dealership across the street provided no immediate solutions to correcting the Three Strike inequity, a consensus was reached that the underlying issue is clearly political and economic.

See Photos on page 8

Indian Voices • May 2011

We Draw The Lines Reservation Indian Urged Become Involved.

In 2008 California voters amended the

California constitution to to take away the responsibility of redistricting from the state legislature and give it to a “Citizens Redistricting Commission.” The 14 com- missioners will define the geographic boundaries for 80 Assembly districts, Mchael Ward, one of the appointed com- missioners and current chairman of the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC), is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the only Native representation on the commission. Selected from a pool of over 30,000 applicants, Commissioner Ward is among the first Choctaw Nation members to be appointed to California state government. Ward is a chiropractic and sports medi- cine physician in Fullerton, and served as a decorated Air Force Officer. In California, an historic experiment is taking place of which Ward is a part. For the first time, the fully independent CRC has been given the authority through prepositional mandate to create all the boundaries governing California’s Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly, and State Board of Equalization districts to reflect new population data in a process known as redistricting. The goal of redistricting is to make sure that every

SEE We Draw the Line, page 5

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