A California social justice advocacy group is hoping to bring relief to a section of the state’s prison population the group says was left behind by recent criminal justice reform efforts. “We The People Org,” founded by long-time California criminal defense attorney Tom Loversky, is gathering signatures in an effort to get the “Fair Sentencing and Public Safety Act of 2018” onto the November ballot.
The initiative would be a further step toward dismantling the State’s “Three Strikes Law,” Loversky said. If approved by voters, the initiative would require a “Third Strike” in most cases to stem from a violent offense and would require inmates serving life sentences for a non-violent third strike to be re-sentenced.
Loversky said the initiative is designed to fill in some of the gaps left by recent reform efforts, such as Proposition 57 and Proposition 36, which helped reduce the state’s swelling prison population.
“Prop 57 was passed by the voters with the intention of doing that, but what happened is there were some loopholes that were taken advantage of so that a great many non-violent offenders have still been kept in custody and are doing life sentences,” Loversky said.
Specifically, Loversky is referring to “Third Strikers” serving life sentences because of a non-violent third strike. Prop 57 ended up not being applied to “Third Strikers,” and Prop 36, which removed a third strike for certain non-violent offenses, did not affect inmates with a “serious,” but non-violent third strike.
“People are being held for long, long periods of time without the ability to go back into the public even though they’ve been rehabilitated,” Loversky said. “So we’re hoping to change that.”
Kevin Chatman, originally given more life sentences than he could count on one hand after receiving a third strike for a non-violent crime, was released after serving six years because of Prop 36. He’s now working with We the People Org to further reform efforts.
“’Three Strikes’ is a terrible law and we need to get rid of the ‘Three Strikes’ law,” Chatman said. “Prop 36 was very good for it and did a lot of things, but it didn’t get everything.”
Chatman said most of the nearly 3,000 inmates serving life sentences for a non-violent third strike have been rehabilitated and would be good, law-abiding citizens if given the opportunity.
“We want an opportunity to have a good job, pay our bills, be tax-paying citizens, and be good neighbors,” he said.
Releasing non-violent third strikers would amount to significant cost-savings for the state, Loversky said. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that in time, savings could exceed $100 million annually, although counties would end up incurring additional costs upwards of $10 million because of increased “county community supervision populations.”
According to Loversky, the money saved by the state would be shifted towardrehabilitation efforts, juvenile offender prevention programs, and tuition relief in higher education.
The initiative would not apply to certain inmates, however, including those whose third strike is for certain sex crimes, a firearms-related offense, or if a prior offense was for rape, child molestation, or murder.
Loversky said he’s confident that if passed, most inmates released as part of the initiative would stay out of trouble.
“There is good, solid rehabilitation going within the Department of Corrections [and Rehabilitation], so when these people get released, they’re not going out and committing more crimes,” Loversky said.