Three Strikes: a View From Inside

Political tough talk should be matched with prevention, education

AS an inmate in Soledad State Prison I have a unique view of California's crime problem - of convicted criminals serving their sentences. I see fear, confusion, and anger on some faces because of the proposed ``three strikes and you are out'' law. Many inmates realize continued criminal behavior will no longer be tolerated; society will punish them with a mandatory life sentence.

I think mandatory life sentences are both good and bad. Violent criminals do the worst damage to society; their victims suffer long-term effects. Three violent felonies is more than enough damage for any one person to commit, myself included.

My argument against the proposal is this: If California lawmakers feel compelled to send career criminals away for life, then they have a greater responsibility to include prevention in their get-tough legislation. I hear a lot of ``tough talk'' from politicians, but very little about early helping those individuals who later commit crimes.

Government spends up to $30,000 a year to incarcerate an adult. It costs about $5,000 a year to send a child to school. The get-tough legislation ignores education; its effect will further the spending gap between inmate and student. If ``three strikes'' does pass, more and more students of today will become the inmates of tomorrow. Education will fail through a lack of funds.

Six percent of the criminals commit 70 percent of violent crime. The new law that will focus on 6 percent of the criminals is not going to solve California's complex and seemingly out-of-control crime problem. In the last 15 years California has more than doubled its number of prisons. Yet crime continues to soar.

Instead of thinking through some feasible solutions to California's huge problem, our leaders, in a bipartisan panic, have joined forces to pass ``three strikes and you're out'' to placate voters. The authors of this legislation, and the politicians that support it, are either lying or self-deceived if they believe their get-tough legislation will genuinely reduce crime. Actually, this is a short-term appeasement for a long-term problem.

I am a firm believer in education as the catalyst to rehabilitation. Education is the key to fixing society's problems. I am against only revamping California's criminal laws while education is ignored. For every $1 spent to punish, $10 should be spent on educational development.

The inmate-to-student spending ratio is way off balance. California's leaders should stop wasting tax dollars trying to out tough-talk each other. They should fix the problem instead of being part of it. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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