California’s Three-Strikes Prison Law May Be Reformed

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From the NY Times:

One day last fall, Norman Williams sat drinking hot chocolate with his lawyer, Michael Romano, at a Peet’s coffee in Palo Alto, Calif. At an outdoor table, Williams began to talk about how he’d gone from serving a life sentence at Folsom State Prison to sitting there in the sun. “After being shut down for so many years. I didn’t believe it,” he said of the judge’s decision to release him in April 2009.

Williams, who is 46, was a homeless drug addict in 1997 when he was convicted of petty theft, for stealing a floor jack from a tow truck. It was the last step on his path to serving life. In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled. Still, for the theft of the floor jack, Williams was sentenced to life in prison under California’s repeat-offender law: three strikes and you’re out.

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In 2000, three years after Williams went to prison, Steve Cooley became the district attorney for Los Angeles County. Cooley is a Republican career prosecutor, but he campaigned against the excesses of three strikes. “Fix it or lose it,” he says of the law. In 2005, Cooley ordered a review of cases, to identify three-strikes inmates who had not committed violent crimes and whose life sentences a judge might deem worthy of second looks. His staff came up with a list of more than 60 names, including Norman Williams’s.

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