California's Crime Policy Way off Base

Regarding the opinion-page article `` `Three Strikes': A Step Closer to Zero Tolerance of Crime,'' May 2: The author, a member of the California State Assembly and cosponsor of this state's ``Three Strikes'' legislation, presents a superficial justification.

By his own admission, criminal sentence enhancement is a serious constitutional issue when juveniles are convicted without having had the due process benefit of a jury trial. Moreover, contrary to his belief, society has merely become exasperated, not more tolerant of criminality. Nor are ``liberals'' blaming society for the commission of criminal acts. Observers are, however, endeavoring to direct national attention to the factors contributing to crime: abuse, lack of employment, poor housing, inadequate health facilities, and educational disarray.

Ultimately, society has no alternative but to assign the individual responsibility for his or her criminal behavior. Yet one should acknowledge that this exercise is part fiction. Penologists have long noted the confluence of social and economic conditions and how these affect criminality. Also, much crime is attributable to the use of drugs.

``Three Strikes'' may make this legislator's constituents feel better, but it is unlikely to diminish criminality. Elliot A. Cohen, New York

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published, and none acknowledged. Letters should be addressed to ``Readers Write,'' and can be sent by Internet E-mail (200 word maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115

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