Because of California's Three Strikes law, a man from Redondo Beach, Calif. was sentenced to 25 years to life for stealing a slice of pizza.
Due to public outcry, he was released after five years, but his case has become a symbol for the problems of this law, which gives individuals a life sentence on their third felony. Right now, non-violent drug felonies are a common "third strike."
Californians are voting Tuesday on Prop 36, which would revise the law to impose life sentence only when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent."
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki came to California to advocate for Prop 36 and was on HuffPost Live (video above) on Monday. He said the US criminal and prison system is a money-making business that preys on the poor and often on African Americans.
"Fourteen percent of America is black. Fourteen percent of crack users are black ... The majority of crack users in the United States of America are white. So why aren’t they the people we see in the federal court houses?" Jarecki asked.
"That has to do with where we police. I have lots of friends who take drugs. They never see a policeman. They can barely find a cop when they need one," he continued.
Cheryl Contee, co-founder of blog Jack & Jill Politics, reiterated the racial justice issue. "The federal government found that in 2006, 2.5 million whites sold drugs as opposed to 700,000 blacks. Yet blacks are 11 to 12 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug abuse," she said.
In a late Oct. poll, 67 percent of polled Californians said they were in favor of Prop 36. And perhaps the strongest reason for this is the fiscal argument that, with less inmates incarcerated, California would save over $100 million.
Jarecki's hope is that if California passes Prop 36, the rest of the nation will also shorten sentences for non-violent crimes, particularly drug crimes.
"What we want to do is start a movement that makes 'tough on crime' and the 'war on drugs' ideas of the past," Jarecki said.
Jarecki's latest documentary, "The House I Live In," came out last month and takes a critical look at the U.S. war on drugs.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Prop 30: Gov. Jerry Brown's Tax Initiative
<strong>YES vote: </strong> There will be an increase in state income taxes on the wealthy (those who make over $250,000) for seven years. Sales taxes will increase by ¼ cent for four years. Its passage will stave off $6 billion in automatic “trigger cuts” -- mainly to K-12 schools and state universities -- that Gov. Jerry Brown wrote into the 2012-2013 budget. <strong>NO vote: </strong> State income taxes and sales taxes are not increased, and California's education budget will be gutted in accordance with Brown's "trigger cut" budget. <em>California Gov. Jerry Brown joins students at a rally promoting Prop. 30 in the upcoming election in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. Prop 30 would raise taxes, directing the money toward education. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)</em>
Prop 31: Two-Year Budget Cycle
<strong>YES vote: </strong> All bills will be made public at least three days before coming to a vote before the legislature, lengthen the state's budgeting cycle from one to two years, mandate the identification of funding sources for all new programs costing over $25 million and allow local governments to create "regional collaboration" bodies possessing the ability to supersede state laws. <strong>NO vote: </strong> There will be no change to the California legislature and governor's fiscal responsibilities.
Prop 32: Ban On Corporate & Union Contributions
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Unions and corporations cannot use money automatically deducted from employee checks for political donations. <strong>NO vote: </strong> There will be no change to the laws that currently allow unions and corporations to use money automatically deducted from their employees' pay checks for political purposes.
Prop 33: Auto Insurance Histories
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Auto insurance companies will take into account a customer's car insurance history, even if it spans different companies. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Auto insurance companies will continue to be prohibited from giving customers discounts based on their histories with other companies.
Prop 34: Repeal Of The Death Penalty
<strong>YES vote: </strong> The death penalty will end in California. <strong>NO vote: </strong> California's death penalty sentence remains intact.
Prop 35: Human Trafficking Penalties
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Prosecutors will be able to seek harsher penalties (fines and prison sentences) for convicted human traffickers. <strong>NO vote: </strong> The laws currently in place about sentencing convicted human traffickers will remain intact.
Prop 36: Repeal Of The 'Three Strikes' Law
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Convicts with two prior convictions who commit a third, nonserious or non-violent crime will not be sentenced to life in prison. Those who are currently in jail with a life sentence for a nonserious or non-violent crime could be given shorter prison sentences. <strong>NO vote: </strong> California's "Three Strikes Law," in which felons could receive life imprisonment for their third conviction, remains intact. Those already in jail for their third felony will remain.
Prop 37: GMO Labeling
<strong>YES vote: </strong> Companies will be required to put labels on all food with GMOs (genetically modified organisms). <strong>NO vote: </strong> Genetically engineered foods will continue to remain unlabeled.
Prop 38: Molly Munger's Tax Initiative
<strong>YES vote: </strong> All Californians will have a higher rates of personal income taxes, the revenues of which get routed to local K-12 schools and early childhood programs. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Californians continue with their current personal state income tax rates. Schools get no extra money. <em>Molly Munger, a wealthy attorney and civil rights advocate, listens to a reporters question regarding her proposed ballot initiative to raise income taxes for school funding following her appearance at the California Parent Teacher Association's annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)</em>
Prop 39: Income Tax Increases For Multistate Businesses
<strong>YES vote: </strong> All businesses will be forced to calculate their taxes based exclusively on in-state sales. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Businesses will continue to choose whether to calculate their state taxes based on either the sales they make in the state or a combination of sales, property and employees in the state.
Prop 40: Referendum On State Senate Redistricting Plan
<strong>YES vote: </strong> California will continue to use the new Senate district boundaries that were drawn and certified by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011. <strong>NO vote: </strong> The California Supreme Court will appoint a special master to determine new state senate districts.