On November 6, California voters will decide whether the state should revise it's tough-on-crime three strikes law. If passed, Proposition 36 would reduce sentences for second and third strike offenders. Opponents of the measure warn that doing so will lead to an increase in violent crime. San Francisco State University film students Owen Wesson, Aaron Firestone, Marine Gautier, and Daniel Casillas took to the road this fall to collect a range of perspectives on a thorny, emotionally-charged issue that questions how best to handle crime prevention and fairly administer justice in California.
In 1992, 18-year-old Kimber Reynolds was attacked by two men who attempted to steal her purse outside a restaurant in Fresno. One of the men shot her in the head. She died 26 hours later. The 25-year-old shooter - who was killed shortly thereafter in a police standoff - was described by police as a hardcore drug user who had been repeatably jailed on gun and drug charges, and who just two months earlier had been released from state prison where he served a sentence for auto theft.
After his daughter's death, Mike Reynolds began fighting for a statewide tough-on-crime policy to keep potentially violent criminals off the streets. His effort gained widespread support following the kidnapping, rape and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas just eighteen months later.
In 1994, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 184, known as the "Three Strikes and You're Out Law," which Reynolds helped author. In effect ever since, the law has significantly increased the length of prison sentences for second and third time offenders who had a serious or violent original conviction Even if repeat convictions are minor - such as petty theft or drug possession - a second strike offense now results in double the normal prison term. A third strike gets a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life. Of the roughly 24 states with a three strikes type law, California's is widely considered the harshest.
Californians remain sharply divided over three strikes. Advocates like Mike Reynolds are quick to note the dramatic decrease in crime statewide since it was enacted: by 2004, the statewide violent crime rate had gone down by half.