11/12/2012 05:00 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Prop 36: A Victory for American Values

On November 6, 2012 advocates for Three Strikes reform experienced a landmark victory with the passing of Proposition 36.

For years our state wasted taxpayer's dollars upon this measure, and incarcerated individuals who committed petty crimes with harsh penalties.

If we go back in time, we'll see that in 1994, the criminal justice system in California took a turn for the worse when then the California voting population decided to approve Three Strikes Law.

The statute was developed after the public noticed an increase in the amount of crimes that were being committed by recidivists, such as in the case of the murders of Kimber Reynolds and Polly Klaas.

While these deaths were a tragedy to the victim's family, friends and surrounding community, what was perhaps just as tragic was the negative impact left behind by the implementation of Three Strikes.

From a fiscal standpoint, Three Strikes was costing taxpayers up to $500 million a year. This means that in 25 years, we would have spent $4.8 billion on the incarceration of nonviolent third strikers. Categorically speaking, these are individuals who have not committed rape, murder or any other crime that would be classified as violent.

While there are 26 other states that have a version of "Three Strikes," California's version was probably the harshest, since any felony, including petty theft with a prior offense, would constitute as a third strike. If proven guilty under such circumstances, such as in the case of the man who stole a slice a pizza, one could easily face 25 to life.

Currently, the numbers show that as of June 2012 there are over 9,000 inmates serving third strike sentences for property, drug and other nonviolent crimes. With the passing of Proposition 36, there is finally new hope for early releases or shorter sentences.

Truthfully, it never made any sense that Three Strikes could've given a person so much time behind bars, when compared to sentencing guidelines for crimes such as rape (which gives a maximum sentencing of eight years, not including kidnapping), or 15 to life for second-degree murder.

The fact that this initiative passed goes to show that Californians are finally starting to reconsider definitions of "smart spending" outside of the traditionally debated areas.

While Three Strikes is a move in the right direction, there is still much work to be done in the areas of prison expansion, growing incarceration rates, and the death penalty (Proposition 34, which did not pass).

I believe that the results of Proposition 36 in this past election have not only taught us that Californians are becoming aware of unnecessary spending in our justice system, for indeed this is a serious matter given our current economic climate, but also that they are also discovering another important fact: that harsh laws like Three Strikes are an example that we have deviated from something that as Americans we all value, namely, the ideal of a fair and objective government.