California's Crime Policy Way off Base

Article excerpt

Regarding the opinion-page article " `Three Strikes': A Step Closer to Zero Tolerance of Crime," May 2: The author, a member of the California State Assembly and cosponsor of this state's "Three Strikes" legislation, presents a superficial justification.

By his own admission, criminal sentence enhancement is a serious constitutional issue when juveniles are convicted without having had the due process benefit of a jury trial. Moreover, contrary to his belief, society has merely become exasperated, not more tolerant of criminality. Nor are "liberals" blaming society for the commission of criminal acts. Observers are, however, endeavoring to direct national attention to the factors contributing to crime: abuse, lack of employment, poor housing, inadequate health facilities, and educational disarray.

Ultimately, society has no alternative but to assign the individual responsibility for his or her criminal behavior. Yet one should acknowledge that this exercise is part fiction. Penologists have long noted the confluence of social and economic conditions and how these affect criminality. Also, much crime is attributable to the use of drugs.

"Three Strikes" may make this legislator's constituents feel better, but it is unlikely to diminish criminality. Elliot A. Cohen, New York California's Crime Policy Way off Base

This article demonstrates precisely what is wrongheaded about California's odious "Three Strikes" statute. The statute completely abandons a core principle of justice: proportionality. The author argues that although "some crimes horrify us more than others ... that does not mean some crimes are more tolerable than others." The issue, however, is not tolerance of crime but treatment of criminals.

Under the new law, a person who, having committed two residential burglaries, decides to commit a third will receive exactly the same punishment as a person who, also having committed two residential burglaries, decides to commit a forcible rape. In essence, the policy of "Three Strikes" is that all felonies (except those for which death can be imposed) should be punished equally.

The question for all Americans is not whether we should "begin moving toward zero tolerance of crime. …