Gary Johnson urges NM State Senate to reject three-strikes bill

GaryJohnson  2012As reported by the Sante Fe New Mexican:

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, read the letter [from former Gov. Gary Johnson] today on the Senate floor. Here’s what it said:

We are all shocked and angered when a violent repeat offender harms or murders someone in our state. After all, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world among developed nations — and New Mexico is no exception. How is it, then, that a habitual violent offender returns to the streets to do grave harm?

There are a number of reasons: Overcrowded jails. Parole practices. Bad decisions by judges and corrections personnel. Or sometimes, it may just be a mistake. The sad reality of any judicial system is that it is not perfect.

New Mexico’s crime rate is too high. We have seen some horrific violent crimes recently, and we want to do something about it. That is as it should be.

But doing something and solving the problem are not always the same. I understand the desire to “crack down” on violent repeat offenders. In fact, when I first ran for Governor, getting crime under control was a major part of my platform. I get incensed when a guy walks out of prison and proceeds to hurt or kill someone. And I certainly understand the pressure on legislators, the Governor, and law enforcement to “do something”. I’ve been there.

However, when I was Governor, I witnessed — and probably participated in — some flawed attempts to solve problems. I vetoed literally hundreds of bills that were clearly well-intended, but that, in my judgement, would do more harm than good, or at a minimum, would have unintended consequences.

Just such a bill is before the New Mexico legislature right now. House Bill 56 would substantially expand the state’s three strikes law, increasing the number of crimes included under the state’s habitual offender law.

Contrary to their intent, mandatory minimum laws like “three strikes” do little to reduce crime. They do, however, help drive prison overcrowding and demand substantial increases in corrections spending. Those are among the key reasons conservatives in several other states are reforming “three strikes” laws to restore discretion to judges and reduce the number of prisoners being warehoused not because they are dangerous, but because mandatory sentences require it.

More important, after years of experience, legislators and policy-makers across the country are recognizing these one-size-fit- all laws don’t increase public safety. In Alabama — hardly a liberal stronghold, lawmakers revisited their harsh sentencing policies last year and expanded parole to reduce recidivism. Legislators in Mississippi scaled back that state’s mandatory sentencing scheme for violent offenses to address prison overcrowding. Georgia’s Governor has championed several criminal justice reforms including reduced sentences and addressing collateral consequences for ex-offenders.

Yet, some in New Mexico want to take us in the opposite direction.

Legislators should reject the “three strikes” proposal. Real criminal justice reform should allow law enforcement, judicial and corrections resources to be devoted to keeping violent, dangerous criminals off the streets — rather than clogging up the system with nonviolent offenders whose “crimes” do not merit incarceration.

It is tempting to believe mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes” laws will make us safer. And we want and need to be safer. But in reality, there is little evidence to show that such laws accomplish that. To the contrary, studies suggest that recidivism may actually increase with longer sentences. Likewise, there is the very real concern that “three strikes” laws have the unintended consequence of creating an incentive toward violence for the repeat offender who has nothing to lose by harming a cop or a witness to escape that third strike.

New Mexico shouldn’t spend millions to meet the requirements of a law that won’t work.

6 thoughts on “Gary Johnson urges NM State Senate to reject three-strikes bill

  1. Joe Wendt

    So, he’ll write a letter criticizing legislation, but won’t debate other prominent LP Presidential candidates on a nationally televised debate on Fox News. Anybody But Gary!!!

  2. Thomas L. Knapp

    Nicely done. Since it’s Johnson, I have to find SOMETHING wrong with it, but frankly the only thing that stands out is a comma where a dash belongs. So there, I made the obligatory gripe. Nicely done, Mr. Johnson.

    Joe, as of the moment I’ve seen no evidence that “a nationally televised debate” was ever on the table. At least neither of Petersen’s releases say so. Stossel offered to moderate a debate in front of an SFL student audience, and he offered to have the candidates on his show, but so far there’s no reason to believe that he meant he was going to change the length and format of his show to accommodate televising the actual debate itself.

    It was a mistake for McAfee’s campaign to let themselves get tricked into participating in one of Petersen’s scammy little publicity plays. A forgivable mistake, especially if McAfee’s supporters move on and let it get forgotten instead of compounding the mistake, but a mistake.

  3. NewFederalist

    Joe- The proposed “debate” or debate was to be on Fox Business not Fox News. There is a pretty big difference between the two in viewership.

  4. Thomas L. Knapp

    I don’t know why it’s so hard to find actual viewership numbers. For Stossel’s show, the only set I’ve come across is the debut episode, which was apparently ballyhooed as the successor to a departing Glenn Beck. That episode had about 250k viewers.

  5. Art Olivier

    If he passes, it will be hard to get rid of it.

    Long Beach Press-Telegram Editorial, March 23, 1999

    Three strikes law

    Wanting to feel safe again, I along with the majority of Californians supported the 3-strikes law that would send professional criminal predators to prison for at least 25 years. On the surface, it seems to be an overwhelming success. Crime in the last five years since 3-strikes was passed, is down. Serious crimes in Bellflower are down by an impressive 36%.

    How much the reduction in crime is attributable to 3-strikes can be debated. Other factors that have most certainly contributed are; an almost doubling in law enforcement expenditures by our city, the expansion of our marvelously successful neighborhood watch program, and a short-term nationwide reduction in the number of people who are most likely to commit crimes, that being males between the ages of 16 to 24.

    Most people support putting away violent criminals for as long as possible. Unfortunately, that is not all the 3-strikes law is doing. Far too many people are going to prison for 25 years for possession of an illegal drug or other non-violent and non-serious crime. A third strike drug offender can serve three times as long in prison as a one-time murderer.

    Some counties, such as San Francisco, are not enforcing the 3-strikes law against non-violent and non-serious offenders while other counties such as Los Angeles do. The Justice Policy Institute concluded in a study that there is no difference in the crime rates between the counties that enforce 3-strikes against non-violent and non-serious offenders and those that do not.

    Definite problems have arisen from the implementation of 3-strikes. Faced with the possibility of spending the best years of their lives in prison, there is the threat that normally non-violent criminals will murder potential witnesses and law enforcement personnel to stay out of jail. When they are caught, they will not plea-bargain because the law does not allow leniency. Instead they fight as hard as they can, which clogs our court system, delaying other important cases from going to trial. If convicted, a third striker will cost over one half million dollars to house him in prison for the next 25 years.

    Then there is also the often-ignored human aspect of putting so many people in prison. These people are the sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers of thousands of Californians. Many children will grow up in poverty and resent society for depriving them of their father.

    The solution is to limit 3-strikes to violent and/or serious criminals. By doing so, our justice system can concentrate on protecting us from the people we need protection from, the professional criminal predators.

    Mayor Art Olivier


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