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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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As the chart illustrates, when the Three Strikes Law was passed in 1994 crime rates were already falling and had been at low levels for a number of years before as well. It could be argued that law enforcement labor unions saw this decline andfelt compelledto mount a campaign to make themselves important in the eyes of the taxpayers and to be able to get their politicians elected to office.

The campaign was driven by politicians building their careers to appear "tough on crime" and was backed by the dollars and votes of CCPOA, the prison guard's union. Republican Peter Wilson taught the State how to profit off the suffering of mentally and medically ill people and today our entire legislature and bureaucracyare in large part funded by this shameful practice. The law is still in force due to apathy of voters and ignorance about how the system works by the three million people related to state prisoners, who are mostly uneducated and very poor.

Every attempt for reform is blocked by those who profit off the prison industry, particularly Conservatives who have told additional lies and caused other harsh laws to be passed.We now have"One Strike

Laws", and twice as many incarcerated under "Two Strike Laws" as we have those condemned under Three Strikes. This has all resulted in our financial devastation but fear mongering and posturing "tough on crime" works in heated political campaignsand the unscrupulous politicians employ it often.

We trusted those in power to do the right thing by us but they clearly were untrustworthy and we are still paying the very high price. There were no funding sources for a series of laws passed with little girls' names as the justification, so billions are coming out of human services and education budgets. Our elderly and disabled peoplecannot get dental and eye care, thousands of public school teachers have been fired and the students are marching in the streets because they are being denied an education in order to pay huge salaries to prison guards.

Entire neighborhoods in our once golden state have been wiped out and the downward spiral created by breaking up so many families and overflowing our foster care system will be felt for generations to come. Billions of human services and education dollars so critical to effective crime prevention have been wasted and a prison guard with a G.E.D. is far more valuable thana teacherin California. The statehas eliminated rehabilitation and education for the inmates, and most of the chaplains and prison teachers have been fired.

Even after all the massive waste of taxpayer dollars spent on a law far worse than those of any other state in America, California's overall crime rate is well above the national average, particularly violentcrime whichis ll% higher than the national average according to the National Institute of Corrections. Our prisons are so mismanaged that a prisoner dies every day and the state has had to spend millions defending itself from wrongful death and abuse lawsuits, which no one factors into the costs of these blood houses.

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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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