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Los Angeles County and "3 Strikes"

By FREDRICK M. MUIR, Los Angeles Times 9/14/94

Jails: Block, Garcetti and judges say a recent buildup of felony cases indicates that the legal system could soon be overwhelmed.

Los Angeles County jails and courts could soon be overwhelmed by a flood accused criminals fighting prosecution under the state's tough new "three strikes" law , officials warned the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The rapid buildup of felony cases since the controversial sentencing law was enacted six months ago is evidence that the costs of prosecution, administration, and incarceration under that law could be extraordinary", said Sheriff Sherman Block, District Attorney Gil Gareetti and a panel of Superior and Municipal Court judges.

Applying the law and paying for it could require severe cutbacks in other public services or lead to new or higher taxes, the officials warned. And although the law was meant to clear the streets of career criminals. the gridlock it is causing could force officials to let thousands of petty criminals go free as the wheels of justice grind to a halt. they said.

As a first step Garcetti asked the Board of Supervisors to immediately give him the authority to hire 40 additional prosecutors and support staff and to begin building a financial reserve to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of trials.

The new law requires a sentence of 25 years life in prison for criminals convicted of a third felony after two other serious felony convictions. The prospect of a lengthy term eliminates much of the incentive for defendants to plea-bargain. Leading to the upsurge in jury trials, officials said.

Block said there could soon be no room left for sentenced criminals in the county's jails as defendants awaiting trial under the "three strikes" law fill every cell.

The law added 1700 inmates to county jails during its first six months, Block said. And because county jails are under a court order to eliminate crowding, that means an equal number of convicted or accused criminals had to be let go to make room, he said.

"We're sending a message that petty crime won't get jail time," said Supervisor Ed Edelman. who opposed the "three strikes" law as ill-conceived election year politicking.

But Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a supporter of the law, said "it sends the message that if you commit a (serious) crime, you will be going away for a long time."

About the new law, Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke said: "We're all for fighting crime, but shouldn't we know how much it is going to cost?"

According to the experts. it's about to cost more at every juncture of the justice system.

For instance, the cost of guarding "three strikes" lnmates, considered high-security prisoners, is much higher than that of incarcerating the general jail population.

Letters to the Editors - Los Angeles Times 9/14/94
Drug Offenders

It is good to see The Times supporting drug courts as an alternative to incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders at taxpayers' expense (editorial. Aug. 31). Will you now review your longstanding and indefensible opposition to marijuana legalization?

Reasonable analysis shows that smoking marijuana, the flowering tops of the hemp plant, is far safer for most individuals than using alcohol or tobacco, driving a car, or having sex. The social costs would be less, too, if, as a society, we reserved our jails for violent criminals and stopped locking up otherwise law-abiding people for smoking or growing God's green herb. JOHN T. BALTIC, Topanga

The Aug. 30 story about the sentencing of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' son to 10 years in prison for selling one-eighth of an ounce of cocaine to an undercover police officer is extremely depressing. Even if nothing else was involved, the idea of putting away a young man for 10 years when he hurt no one, while rapists and muggers are given much lighter sentences, is a terrible indictment of our "justice" system. But given that the young man was arrested five months after the sale, on a warrant issued a week after his mother dared to suggest that the government study legalization of drugs, it is clear that it was a setup to get at the surgeon general. Her son is truly a political prisoner, and I hope The Times pursues the issue.

The same edition of your paper told of "three more former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies" being convicted for seizing drug peddlers' money for themselves -- yet another example of the widespread corrupting effect and suffering brought upon our society by the criminalization of drugs and by the misnamed War on Drugs. Its actually a war on the American people and a war on civil liberties.

William Blum, Hollywood End

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