The “three-strikes law” in California states that anyone convicted of a serious felony would have his or her sentence doubled if they had been convicted of a previous felony. If convicted twice before, the defendant can be sentenced up to 25 years to life in prison.
That practice is being challenged by a small group that stopped in Fresno last week to speak about reforming the law with a new initiative: The People’s Fair Sentencing and Public Safety Act of 2018.
We The People director Victoria Johnson said her organization sees the “three strikes” as one of the leading causes of mass incarceration in America.
The organization held a rally and a press conference in front of the Fresno County Jail last week to protest the law.
“It’s a big industry, where the correctional department [is] making a lot of money by incarcerating the minorities and the poor,” Johnson said.
The rally was small, with 11 people attending. But there was a goal of a larger scale: to get the message out about the mission of the group, which Johnson hopes can grow.
Rally participants chanted “No justice, no peace,” as well as holding signs that read “Concrete walls and steel bars worsen scars” and “Invest in people, job opportunities, rehabilitation.”
The messages, Johnson hoped, were clear.
“We’re here to stand up and say enough is enough, and let our people go,” Johnson said. “We need policy changes to help the people.”
Her husband was imprisoned under the “three-strikes” law, Johnson said. His incarceration is the driving force behind all of her efforts. She has traveled across the country clamoring for change.
The group is seeking more members and volunteers to gather signatures in favor of The People’s Fair Sentencing and Public Safety Act of 2018. People can join through the group’s website.
The group’s Fresno stop included a 45-minute press conference, where, the organization’s initiative was announced and discussed.
If the initiative succeeds offenders deemed nonviolent would no longer be classified under the same category as violent offenders and would therefore be exempt from the law, according to the organization’s website.
“We’re trying to create a line between violent and nonviolent offenders,” said Nicholas Palomarez, who is in charge of university outreach for We The People.
Johnson stated that, under the initiative, the savings from reducing incarceration would go toward school tuition, crime prevention and rehabilitation programs. Palomarez added that the savings would be split 50/50 between education and crime prevention.
“We’re doing this because of the request of the people. We’ve had so many people wanting to see what we could do about the “three-strikes” law, Johnson said.
Anita Wills and Lupita Meraz both have family members incarcerated for life. They spoke at the rally.
For Wills, whose son, Kerry Baxter Jr., is serving a life prison sentence, joining the effort to challenge the law is about more than just helping her son.
“I’m fighting for his freedom. I’m fighting for justice. I’m fighting for the homeless and any other person who is headed to prison,” Wills said.
Meraz echoed those sentiments. Her husband, Jesse Meraz, is also imprisoned for life.