An initiative petition has been filed to repeal California’s Three Strikes Law. It now needs enough voter signatures by April 30 to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.
The petition was filed by Earlonne Woods, co-creator and co-host of the San Quentin podcast Ear Hustle.
“There’s a 50/50 chance — it can go either way,” Woods said in an interview. “I strongly believe that we will be victorious in 2022.”
A committee that includes attorney Michael Romano and State Sen. Nancy Skinner found the Three Strikes Law to be unproductive and oppressive. They recommend that it be repealed. However, Romano believes amending the law will be easier than convincing voters to abolish it completely.
“Because we appreciate that this is a difficult goal, the committee offers the following secondary reforms: 1. Establish a five-year washout period, after which prior offenses cannot be counted as strikes; 2. Establish that juvenile adjudications cannot be counted as strikes; and 3. Disallow the doubling of sentences for prior strikes when the new offense is not serious or violent.”
Woods isn’t compromising. He experienced the Three Strikes Law personally, after a judge sentenced him to 31 years to life for attempted robbery and for assault with a deadly weapon. He qualified for a strike out because a kidnap/robbery he committed as a teen against one victim counted as two strikes. He’s been trying to get the law overturned since 2006.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown commuted Woods’ life sentence in 2018. Now off parole, he still hasn’t forgotten those he left behind.
“The Three Strikes Law is the most oppressive law since slavery was legal,” Woods said. “We have constantly experienced the Three Strikes repeal being put on the shelf every time something else comes up as if it’s someone’s pet project, but in reality, these are people’s lives.”
Fanon Figgers and John “Yahya” Johnson, who were also formerly incarcerated under the Three Strikes Law at San Quentin, are working with Woods’ organization, CHOOSE1 (Could Hip-hop Overthrow Oppressive Sentencing Enactments), along with The Repeal California Three Strikes Coalition.
Statistics show that the law has been disproportionately used against Black people. Black people make up 6% of California’s population but account for approximately 30% of the state’s prison population, according to data compiled by Public Policy Institute of California.
Of the 33,000 people in prison under Three Strikes Law sentences, 7,400 people have current convictions that are neither serious nor violent. Eighty percent of people sentenced under the Three Strikes Law are people of color, according to the Annual Report and Recommendations Committee on Revision of Penal Code 2021.
The Three Strikes Law has been amended a few times but harsh aspects of the law remain. For instance, there is no limit on how old a prior conviction can be to be used as a strike — even an offense committed as a juvenile and adjudicated without a trial counts. Additionally, a prior strike doubles the punishment for a current conviction, even if the offense isn’t considered serious or violent.
About 25 percent of people in prison for second strike cases are in for “wobblers,” which are misdemeanors treated like felonies, according to the committee.
“Eliminating or substantially limiting the use of the Three Strikes Law would recognize the law’s failure to make California safer, and would be a significant step towards reducing racial disparities in our criminal legal system,” the committee said. “For those reasons, any changes to the law should be applied retroactively, as California has done for many of its most significant sentence reforms.”
Woods is calling on everyone to help repeal the Three Strikes Law. CHOOSE1 is in talks with Grassroots Law and podcaster Shawn King about spreading the word.
One-million signatures (over 632,000 plus additional signatures for margin of error) are needed by April 30 to make the 2022 ballot, according to Woods.
“If we were thinking about raising funds the traditional way, we’d be out of time,” Woods said. “But we’re tapping into the power of our people united.”
People can donate at www.CHOOSE1.org and they can sign up to volunteer or leave their info. Donors can also mail checks to Deane & Company Political Reporting and Campaign Treasury Services, 1787 Tribute Road, Suite K, Sacramento, CA 95815. Make checks payable to: Repeal California’s Three Strikes Law Coalition.
Editor’s Note: Rahsaan Thomas works with Earlonne Woods co-hosting and co-producing the Ear Hustle podcast.