Amid a heated debate over reducing California’s prison population, LDF and Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project have released a report that analyzes the impact of the historic Three Strikes Reform Act passed by California voters last November.

Proposition 36 was the nation’s first ballot measure that reduced sentences of prisoners currently behind bars.  It passed overwhelmingly with 69.3% of the vote, winning majority support in every one of California’s 58 counties.

The report provides critical information for decision-makers interested in making responsible reductions to the State’s prison population.  The release of the report coincides with the release of the 1,000th inmate originally sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent crime.

The report finds that while Judges have reduced sentences for over 1,000 people, more than 2,000 additional Prop 36 cases are currently pending in Superior Courts throughout the state.  In Los Angeles alone, over 850 cases filed under Proposition 36 are waiting to be heard.

The recidivism rate of the 1,000 inmates released so far under Prop 36 is well below state and national averages.  Fewer than 2 percent of the prisoners released under Proposition 36 have been charged with new crime.  By comparison, the average recidivism rate for non-Proposition 36 inmates leaving California prisons is 16 percent over a similar time period.

Proposition 36 has already generated significant financial savings and freed up prison capacity for truly dangerous and violent prisoners. Proposition 36 has saved the California prison system over $12.5 million, a figure that will grow exponentially in the years to come.

As a result of these and other findings, the report makes three key recommendations:

  1. California should commit more resources to expedite review and end unnecessary further delay of over 2,000 cases currently pending under Proposition 36.
  2. Courts should ensure consistent application of Proposition 36 throughout the state with uniform standards of review and rules of evidence.
  3. More public and private resources should be committed to provide services to inmates released under Proposition 36 to assist their reentry to the community and maintain their low recidivism rate.

“The historic passage of Prop. 36 overturned long-held conventional wisdom and proved that it is possible to fix our most extreme and unjust crime laws,” said Stanford Professor David Mills, who founded Three Strikes Project and sits on LDF’s Board of Directors.“Thousands of lives have been changed, millions of dollars have been saved, and California is safer, fairer, and more just – but there’s much more to be done.”