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Calif. Prison Reformers: Don't be suckered by sound bites and statistics New Zealanders

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Message B. Cayenne Bird
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California's Three Strikes law is irrational, unsustainable and at the core of the prison and budget woes that have devastated the state. There are no academic statistics anywhere that prove it has done one thing to reduce crime. Ourviolent crime rate is still 11% above the national average, while New York, who has used opposite methods of rehabilitationhas fallen dramatically well below national averages. Why is New Zealand using a failed model instead of a successful one?

Rev. Ron Givens and his wife Kirsten of Sacramento have returned from their human rights mission to warn New Zealanders not to pass any version of the three strikes law. In only five days, they spoke at dozens of meetings and press conferences on behalf of the California families of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect (UNION) whose lives have been devastated by those who profit off the human bondage industry in California. Rev. Givens shared a truth-telling PowerPoint presentation which included graphs from official websites and pictures of the humanitarian overcrowding crisis taking place in California's prisons.

Even the Guard's Union in New Zealand, CANZ, does not support Three Strikes and members of that union reportedly were threatened by David Garrett, A.C.T. (New Zealand's Conservative Party head) for speaking out against it. Givens met many members of Parliament during his visit and was driven around by them including the Honorable Russell Marshal who is now the president of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs. He spoke to policymakers and ordinary citizens about the complete destruction of our state due in large part to the expensive Three Strikes Law.

The message that Givens brought is that California voters were suckered with sound bites and statistics in 1994 to pass the Three Strikes Law, which sounded logical, but caused our prisons and criminal justice system to spiral out of control.

We were lied to about what the Three Strikes Law would do to reduce crime and promises were made which 15 years later have never come to pass. We, too, thought that the law would apply only to the most violent offenders because it was inconceivable that non-violent people would be given prison for life. But that's precisely what happened. Politicians used emotive campaigning of the tragic murder of an innocent little girl, Polly Klass, during an election season.

Our governor at the time, Republican Peter Wilson, wanted to build a platform of being "tough on crime" so that he could run for the U.S. presidency. He took our prisons population from about 20,000 people to 150,000 in a few short years because declining crime rates would mean fewer jobs for law enforcement. But it was all based on lies. Our crime rates had already been falling before the three strikes law was passed but the fear mongering politicians, backed by the media, took the Klass families' personal tragedy and turned it into a nightmare for our entire state. Polly's grandfather, Joe Klass, spoke out many times and said that the harsh law did not honor his granddaughter, but he was always ignored by the lawmakers.

The evidence that crime had been falling well before the Three Strikes Law was passed is abundantly available in public records, but it is rarely mentioned.

Changes in the California Crime Index 1988-1993 Uniform Crime Reports, FBI

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B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in (more...)

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