Under New Law, Three Strikes Offenders Released With $200, But No Hope for a New Life


Under California's old "three strikes" law, many repeat offenders were sentenced to life terms after their third felony–regardless of whether that felony was stealing laptops or killing someone. In November, Californians passed Prop. 36, a ballot intiative that prohibits judges from giving out life sentences for minor felonies. As a result, roughly 3,000 California inmates are eligible for early release.

Naturally, there's already a problem. After the language for Prop. 36 was set in stone, California legislators decided to shift the burden of supervising nonviolent offenders from the state government to local governments. The Contra Costa Times reports on the problems those decisions are creating: 

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state's tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison "gate money" and the clothes on their backs.

"I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing," said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

Because of the way the state's complex sentencing laws work, many of those strikers have already been locked up longer than their newly calculated terms and usual period of parole, leaving many to fend for themselves without supervision or assistance once they are released.

Under California's realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Three strikes alumni aren't being funnelled into shelters, halfway houses, employment programs, or drug treatment–all of which have been shown to reduce recidivism. Instead, they get their old clothes, $200, a criminal record, and the implicit promise of readmission if they don't make the best of their newfound freedom. 

Sadly, we should expect more problems like these as the U.S. slowly steers away from decades of over-incarceration. South Carolina, to take another example, passed a sentencing reform bill in 2010 to reduce its prison population. While that population is indeed shrinking, the probation and parole population–because reducing penalties is not the same as eliminating them–is now growing

Agents at the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon services now are supervising 1,409 more offenders than they were two years ago. Each probation agent supervises an average of 97 cases, far above the national average of 50 cases.

To help, Gov. Nikki Haley wants to give the agency $1.2 million in additional money next year to hire 25 new probation agents. It is part of the probation department's three-year plan to hire 156 new agents to bring the average caseload down to 80 cases per agent.

State lawmakers have $263 million in "new" money – money that should recur in future budget years – to spend in the 2013-14 budget. But nearly all of that will be gobbled up by the state's Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled, and increases in the cost of state employees' health insurance.

Shortsightedness on the part of legislators is one problem. The fact that state and local governments are loathe to spend money "helping" criminals is another (also see drug courts, which receive the bulk of their funding from federal grants). But the biggest problem is that none of the "Smart on Crime" or "Smart Justice" strategies currently en vogue involve repealing prohibition, which is the underlying driver of prison growth. 

(H/t Dara) 

NEXT: Global Extinction Rates Have Likely Been Exaggerated

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
    that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
    Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
    and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard

  2. …after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco…

    Laptops didn’t exist 13 years ago. I smell a rat.

    Allow me to recount a similar concern voiced in my favorite Oscar contender (they didn’t have the Oscars yet, did they?) Lincoln. There were legislators who were against slavery but yet fretted over how the country was going to care for any newly freed slaves. Here, you can’t really wipe criminal records; employers have a right to choose workers with all the facts. And you can’t keep shoveling taxpayer money out to people. So I don’t know what we’re asking here.

    1. My take is that Riggs wants bigger government involvement and more government spending. This is after all a Libertarian website.

      1. Seems like government ends up paying either way. If they go back to jail… yay! more union jobs!

      2. Riggs just wants to go to cocktail parties and smoke blunts with Jon Favreau.

    2. How about wiping their records clean? And the government made this mess by locking so many people up. It ought to have to clean it up.

      1. If I’m an employer, I want to make a hiring decision with all the facts. I like my laptops. (I suppose that’s a form of government involvement, asking them to tell me who they had locked up.)

        I understand it’s a raw deal. Three strikes was crap. But these are still people convicted of criminal offenses.

        1. That is nice and all. But we are creating a permanent underclass. Especially with the endless supply of cheap labor from Mexico, these people will never be gainfully employed again. Ever. As a society we are not going to leave them to starve. So what are we going to do?

          1. “But we are creating a permanent underclass.”

            Oh fuck off you collectivist twit.

            The only thing “we” are doing wrong is locking people up for victimless crimes. For the REAL criminals? Fuck ’em! Respect other people’s rights and you won’t find yourself in this situation.

            1. Fuck you Kpres, You are the type of simple minded moron who gives Libertarians a bad name. You are so fucking stupid that you think that any call to action, any effort problem that doesn’t solve itself is a call for government action;.l

              Thank you for reaffirming the stereotype that Libertarians are dipshit assholes who think the whole world thinks like them and revel in the misery of others.

              Go fuck yourself with a hammer and then die in a fire. Your breathing my air is getting offensive.

              1. I’m not soiling your rep, John. Everybody knows you’re not a libertarian.

            2. Stealing isn’t a victimless crime.

          2. “these people will never be gainfully employed again.”

            Get rid of the minimum wage and they’ll find a job.

            1. No they won’t. They are fucked for life. And the government thanks to criminalizing everything fucked them. But hey, you go ahead and pretend the government locking up and screwing for life millions of people is not a problem you will ever have to worry about. And be sure that hammer doesn’t hurt your head because your ass must be awfully crowded these days.

              1. Sure, but this Greg Wilks is a pretty terrible example to use to make this case, though. He stole a Corvette TWICE for his first two strikes. Fuck him, seriously.

                1. He is a fuck up who commits petty crimes and can’t stay out of jail. We have those. But eventually even fuck ups decide to do better. It is in everyone’s interest that they get the opportunity.

                  1. Okay, but a lot of employers may decide it’s not in their interest to hire a kleptomaniac. I can’t really blame them for that. If that means he’s fucked for life, well, I guess that sucks, but he did it to himself. There are people who are much more deserving of sympathy than he is, and through no fault of their own.

                    1. That was for John @12:32PM

                  2. Well, no, the kind of fuck-up who steals enough to go to prison three times usually doesn’t “decide to do better”.

                    What’s in my interest is that he never come anywhere near anything I own. I don’t care if he lives or dies, so long as that condition’s met.

              2. Bullshit. I own a small business. I’d bring on ex-cons. Here’s the stipulation:

                1. I’ll offer them $0.00/hour to start.
                2. They’ll be on camera the whole time and they won’t be allowed to interact with the other employees.
                3. At any time they wish, they can ask for a raise and threaten of leave. If at that point I find their labor more valuable than not, I’ll give them the raise. The less of a threat they’ve proven to be, the more likely that is.
                4. If after a little while they want to look for a better job, I’ll wish them the best of luck and give them an honest recommendation.

                1. Well you are just a regular God damned St. Theresa there Kpres. Some day when you are an excon thanks to some bullshit regulatory crime, I hope someone is as charitable as you.

                  Being all law and order fuck all the cons is great, when you live in a society with a sane legal system.

                  1. Why are you talking about some small regulatory infraction? That’s not going to keep you from getting a job after your release. Don’t pretend like I don’t have any perspective. If you can’t get a job, that means you’ve done something bad enough, and recent enough, that people can’t trust you.

                  2. You think if you go to prison for, say, shooting an endangered bird, or illegally draining a wetland, or any of that other nonsense, that you can’t get a job when you get out? Oh please.

          3. “Especially with the endless supply of cheap labor from Mexico”

            Wonderful. Better that honest Mexicans be turned away at the border so our criminals can live the good life.

            1. Former criminals.

          4. Government only imprisoned them for too long in most of these cases, so their status is the same as it would be if they had shorter sentences. Wiping their records clean isn’t the right option. The churches need to put their money where their mouths are and provide some care to these lost souls.

            1. Why? They paid their debt to society. Fuck, lets just brand them or cut off their hands that way we won’t have to worry about the system not properly stigmatize them.

              1. I’m saying their unofficial status as “underclass” would be no different had the state not imprisoned them as long as they had. For all released prisoners that require assistance, I think charities should do what charities do. I don’t see why the government should eliminate their records, because as others have mentioned, they want to hire with the facts when possible. If I’m an employer and a guy has a record of “three convictions of marijuana possession with intent to sell” or “three convictions of rape” I can decide to hire the drug possessor over the rapist. Both are convicted felons. The rapist (a legitimate felon) should not have his record wiped clean even if I think the drug possessor should. The record should state what the crime was and let the employer (or landlord or whatever) decide who they are willing to hire, lease to, etc. That’s my point. You’re acting as if these are all innocent people. The thief might be a thief a fourth time. An informed decision is better than an uninformed decision.

                1. Bones,

                  But no one will hire these people. The result of this system is once people make a mistake they can never recover from it and end up homeless or back in jail. I think people should be punished for crimes just as much as the next person. But I also think that committing a single crime should not be a life sentence to unemployment and dependency. And that is what our current system is giving us.

                  1. Forced hiring – how about quotas? You are appearing to argue for the state to force these people to be hired by someone. To whom would you direct this ‘you have to give them a break.’?

              2. Part of the payment of that debt was that they forfeited the right to be treated like responsible or respectable citizens.

                That’s why we don’t let rapists vote or carry a gun, even after we decide to let them out of prison.

          5. What is the solution? If only there was a solution that would finally solve this problem. Yes, some sort of a final solution…

            1. You know who else had a final solution…?

          6. The government has made hiring people a complicated, expensive, and risky prospect for employers. Fix that.

            1. Yes and only lock people up for actual crimes. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

              1. Theft, rape, battery, forgery, fraud – those real enough? The fellow featured in this article is a three time convicted thief – whom would you compel to hire him?

    3. Laptops didn’t exist 13 years ago. I smell a rat.

      Wait, what? The ThinkPad came out in ’92.


      1. Finally, proof someone reads my comments.

        1. I just let it go. I figured you were just an idiot or something.

          1. I don’t understand why more people don’t do that.

      2. My company was buying Gateway laptops in the mid 90s at $4000 a pop.

    4. Laptops did not exist in 1999? How are you posting here from North Korea?

    5. “Laptops didn’t exist 13 years ago.”

      Er… I bought my kid sister a used laptop for Christmas in 1998.

  3. This actually does seem like a good opportunity for private enterprise. Something like an apprenticeship program for recently released convicts.

    1. Indentured servitude, which is legal for convicted felons.

      1. They’re interns.

        1. No, that’s wrong. If I understand things correctly.

  4. Let me ask a bigger question. How does everyone feel about three strike rules?

    I put it to you that after the third time someone violates the rights of others, they are probably going to do it for the rest of their lives. I don’t want to live among people like that. Not sure I have a problem with throwing away the key. After the THIRD time, I don’t care if it was murder, laptops or a piece of bubblegum. That individual is a piece of shit.


    1. In a world where we all commit three felonies a day, I don’t like it at all.

      1. Point taken.

        Let’s assume we are talking about legitimate felonies, with a victim.

        1. “Legitimate” as defined by you, or defined by the government? Tell me what you mean by that.

          Three separate murders or rapes, sure.

          Three instances of stealing a loaf of bread gets you into Les Miserables territory.

          1. Okay, let’s bound it as a thief. Someone who habitually steals. Not someone doing it to survive, but someone who intentionally and habitually steals private property.

            1. How about reforming the parole system first? That might obviate the need for 3 strikes.

              If you’ve committed a violent crime, you can forget about any parole. Get comfy, since you’ll be staying a while.

            2. All thieves can claim they do it to survive. I don’t like the three strikes rule. I rarely like any mandatory sentencing just like Zero Tolerance rules suck ass. Common sense and a real evaluation should be taken into account given the circumstances. If the third time someone steals, the judge/jury determines this person cannot and will not stop stealing, let them make that decision. A hard and fast mandatory sentence is problematic.

              1. I don’t like mandatory sentencing either. But perhaps a trigger. After the third felony the judge/jury has the option of sending you away for life?

                1. After the third felony the judge/jury has the option of sending you away for life?

                  Criminal records are considered prejudicial for trial, but IIRC, it can be considered a factor in sentencing. I’m OK with that.

                  But, why are we in such a hurry to give the state even more power to imprison people?

                  1. It’s a legitimate function of government.

                    Tenet 2:

                    The ONLY legitimate function of government is to protect the rights of the individual.

                    1. It’s a legitimate function of government.

                      Not arguing that it’s not.

                      That aside, I don’t see any reason to argue in favor of *greater* state power to throw you in jail to rot.

                    2. I, personally, WANT the shitbags in jail. Provided they are, indeed, shitbags.

                      The problem is, they’ve passed laws that call people who aren’t shitbags, shitbags.

                      For as much as I hate government, I try not to let my hatred negatively impact them for doing the things they are supposed to do.

                    3. The problem is, they’ve passed laws that call people who aren’t shitbags, shitbags.

                      You’re making my point for me.

                      Give the state the minimum amount of power needed to perform it’s duties, not a grab-ass free for all of power. Dissolve it when it begins to stray from the minimums and start over.

            3. See, this is the problem. We keep having to re-qualify the nature of the crimes, the severity of the crimes, and the intentions of the criminals. The whole problem with the three strikes law is the legislature created a giant murky pool of law. Sometimes it is ethically and morally reprehensible to sentence someone under that law. Because it is murky, It’s application can be uneven. I bet I can commit three felonies, and not go to prison for life (I’m a white guy, I’d get a good lawyer). But someone else, may not have the resources, or savvy that I do, and will end up in jail for life for three relatively low-consequence felonies. The whole concept is problematic.

        2. Let’s assume we are talking about legitimate felonies, with a victim.

          I probably wouldn’t mind if the “three strikes” involved murder, rape, felonious assault, GBH, etc. But I do have a problem with locking someone away for life for boosting a car, kiting an $800 check, and stealing a laptop from Best Buy. I agree that there are victims in each of those crimes, but there are remedies available to the victims of those crimes. Crimes that harm an individual can’t be “made right” in the same way, so I have no problem treating those crimes more severely.

          1. Why not theft?

            Example. I got taken by a contractor while building my house for about $30K. (Long story, and partially my fault for not checking on him as thoroughly as I should.)

            Turns out this POS has done it to like 10 other people. He’s essentially a con-man who lives his life at the expense of others. Does a person like that have the right to live among decent society?

            1. Then his circumstance can justify a greater prison term. You don’t need a uniform-for-all three strikes rule to get that.

              1. Stealing $10K isn’t a crime I’d put someone away for life for. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances….

                Stealing $10K three times just tells me you are a piece of shit who is going to continue to violate the rights of others as long as you have the ability to.

                I’m not sure, where there are no three strike rules, is sentencing potential increased with repeat offenses, or can you only sentence based upon the one particular crime?


                1. I don’t understand why we can’t have a simple eye-for-an-eye reasoning in the justice system. If you stole $10K, you owe somebody $10K plus interest. I realize it won’t always work out so neatly, but if you base the reasoning on that, you’re much more likely to get punishments that fit the crime.

                  1. If you stole $10K and got caught, odds are you stole $10K several times and got caught once.

                    If the sole punishment is $10K plus interest for the one time you got caught, that is hardly a disincentive, more like a minor cost of doing a lucrative business.

                    1. As we know from the regulatory clusterfuck, incentivizing and disincentivizing activity isn’t a business the state should be in. Not to mention doing so looks a lot like “pre-emptive” punishments.

                  2. If you stole $10K, you owe somebody $10K plus interest.

                    So if I can’t secure a loan, I can steal it, hide out for a while until I can pay it back and everybody’s good?

                    1. “So if I can’t secure a loan, I can steal it, hide out for a while until I can pay it back and everybody’s good?”

                      How about this: Tack on the price of your apprehension. So if it took one cop a week to nab you, you owe his salary in addition to the theft.

                2. In IL, if you have prior felony convictions, they can (if they are severe enough) trigger “enhanced sentencing” – for example a Class X felony can be enhanced from 6-30 to 12-60.

            2. Does a person like that have the right to live among decent society?

              No, the guy should go to prison. But, should the guy stay in prison for the rest of his life?

              This is exactly the problem with mandatory sentencing and specifically “three strikes”. We can just go round and round, and both sides of our argument are completely valid.

              But the question is, it it moral to imprison someone for life for committing three non-physically-violent crimes?

              1. But the question is, it it moral to imprison someone for life for committing three non-physically-violent crimes?

                If the jury believes he will commit another…I’d say yes.

                Admittedly, I might not feel this way had I not gotten fucked in the ass by such a person.

        3. One additional problem is that if someone has 2 strikes, and they aren’t 100% clean, then swiping a pack of gum and murder will carry the same penalty for them.

          If they are still doing anything that’s against the law, they have an incentive to be as brutal as possible to avoid getting caught.

          1. That’s a good point BP. But the same could be said for a guy who commits an heinous murder. Know’s he’s going to get death anyway so why not take a bunch with him.

            Not sure we should be setting policy based upon what other illegal acts the bad guy might do because the punishment is too stiff.

            1. Most murders are either crimes of passion or done in furtherance / commission of another, separate crime. It’s the latter I’d be seeking to avoid, since you’re removing the motivation to limit this.

              The heinous murder guy isn’t likely to kill 20 more people unless he’s already a psycho because there’s no motivation. Someone caught shoplifting might consider killing the witness if they realize they’re going to get life – for shoplifting

    2. I agree. Furthermore I hate the term “victimless crime” and I think it’s rich coming from libertarians. Apparently stealing is only wrong when our government does it.

      1. Furthermore I hate the term “victimless crime” and I think it’s rich coming from libertarians.

        Because, apparently, you don’t understand the term.

        A victimless crime is one where there is no victim. An example would be smoking pot or prostitution. The only thing that makes it a crime is the legislation outlawing it. These laws are immoral.

        Stealing is NOT a victimless crime as the person being stolen from has had his rights violated.

        1. Don’t bother talking to her.

          1. Mary?

    3. Previous offenses should certainly be admissible evidence, especially in sentencing, but I think that’s more properly a decision for a judge and jury with access to the facts, than for a legislature making a one-size-fits-all law.

      1. Exactly. And petty theft should never have been a felony in the first place.

        1. Stealing a car isn’t a “petty crime”. A laptop isn’t very petty either.

          1. Does it matter whether it was outright theft, a joyride, or unauthorized use?

          2. It is not a felony. A felony, in saner times was anything that carried the death penalty. Anything short of systematic theft like identity theft or violent crimes should not be a felony.

            1. I don’t define “giving the largest criminal gang around the power to kill people (aka “the death penalty”) an example of “saner times”.

            2. “A felony, in saner times was anything that carried the death penalty.”

              Well, sure, but do remember that simple theft often did carry the death penalty. Mr. Laptop Thief up there in the news article would have been swinging from a rope, quite possibly.

      2. You’re talking crazy again ProL. Judging things based on facts?

        1. Juries and judges sort of do that. Legislatures don’t do it at all.

    4. I don’t mind escalating penalties for continuting/multiple offenses but there is a problem with the number of laws and the things that are considered felonies that shouldn’t be.

    5. Depends on the felony. If three strikes were limited to violent and property crime then I’m with you.

      To me, the *first* time you commit rape, murder, or even burglary, you need to be cut out of society permanently. The problem I have is that I don’t trust courts to do a good job of separating the innocent from the guilty. I don’t want us locking innocent men away forever.

      But by the third time? I’m sorry, but if you’re on your third felony conviction you did at least ONE of ’em. And one’s enough for me.

  5. Naturally, there’s already a problem.

    FFS Riggs, nothing is perfect. If getting let out of jail with $200 and the clothes on your back is not what you want, well, you always know how to get back into jail.

    I’m not saying that this is the right way. But I am saying that you shouldn’t piss all over this just because it’s not perfect, because it sure as shit is at least a step better.

  6. I don’t have a problem with giving prisoners their freedom, and just enough money so they have an incentive to find a job — any job — right away.

    The alternative is to steal money from other people — non-criminals — to give the freed prisoners more time to contemplate what to do next.

    Should we give them $100K? $10K? How much stolen money does Mr. Riggs think is the right amount to give to freed people convicted of multiple crimes?

    1. How do you define “just enough”?

      Would you personally give a criminal $200 from your wallet, or is it better when it’s spread out among the non-consenting taxpayers?

      1. I wouldn’t give a criminal $200 from my wallet, but then I’m an anarchist.

        I would make all taxes voluntary. Let bleeding heart liberals voluntarily contribute money towards this $200 (or more, or less) pocket money. If nobody gives voluntarily towards such a pool of money, then fine.

  7. Obviously we need a new Botany Bay.

    I think I’m joking, but I’m not sure.

    1. You are not joking. That was a great way to give people who committed crimes a fresh start without putting your society at risk. Sadly, we have run out of space to do that.

      1. Why do we need a new Botany Bay? Something wrong with the old one?

    2. Bryan, Bryan, Bryan… save your strength. These people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born.

  8. While I feel sorry for them, at the same time, what about people who make mistakes in their have and want a second chance, but haven’t actually committed any crimes? They don’t get squat, so why should criminals?

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can argue that it would reduce the criminals propensity to commit future crimes. But that’s the easy solution, throwing money at it, which in the long run isn’t really a solution.

    The real answer is to make it easier for anyone to find a job, or to afford further education.

  9. “Loathe” is not “loath” … You used the word for “despise” rather than the one for “disinclined.” It’s only a misdemeanor, though.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.