Monday, January 21, 2013

Afghanistan: The Abyss Deepens

By William Fisher

Speaking to the press just before Christmas, President Obama confidently predicted that the US would achieve its goals in the Afghan War effort.
Following the release of the US annual strategy review which noted an increase in attacks by the Taliban and groups with which it is allied, the review said that al-Qaeda's leadership was at its weakest since 2001.

The President has said on numerous occasions that US-NATO strategy is working, despite the view of many senior US diplomats and journalists that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is “increasingly erratic and even paranoid.” The Karzai government has done little to stem years of charges of financial corruption and election misconduct.

Among those US senior diplomats is Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He has been visiting and lecturing in Asia since the 1960s, and is a Senior Advisor to the US-Asia Institute.

Cordesman has emerged as one of the harshest critics of the Afghan operation. In a report entitled “Going in Transition: US Military and Aid Spending: FY2002-2013,” he has estimated that at the end of 2013 – the announced date for the completion of the US and NATO – these Afghan allies will have spent $641.7 billion.

Cordesman says, “This is an incredible amount of money to have spent with so few controls, so few plans, so little auditing, and almost no credible measures of effectiveness.”

It is surprisingly difficult to get a meaningful estimate of the total cost of the Afghan conflict, total spending on Afghan forces and total spending on various forms of aid, he adds.

The Cordesman report addresses the cost to the US of the Afghan War from FY2000-FY2013. It provides estimates of total cost, cost to the Department of Defense, and aid costs to State, USAID, and other federal agencies. It also reports on the total cost of international aid when this takes the form of integrated aid to Afghan development and Afghan forces – a fraction of total aid spending.

No reliable estimate exists of total international aid to Afghanistan, since so much of this aid has been direct and has not passed through the Afghan Central government.

The resulting figures show that:

· The vast majority of aid went to the Afghan security forces and not development. President Obama has consistently stressed the importance of economic development in Afghanistan, while denying that “nation-building” was a major US objective.

· Most aid was very erratic in annual levels of effort, making it extremely difficult to plan the most effective use of the money and ensuring that program continuity was not possible.

· The bulk of the total spending and aid has been allocated since FY2009, and came after the insurgency had reached high levels. It is a clear case of too much, too late.

· The surge in aid spending creates the irony that the maximum actual cash flow – “disbursements” – is only occurring now that transition is in place and major cuts are coming between 2012 and 2014.

· The data only tell the amount of money made available on a total category basis. They do not tell how much money actually reached Afghanistan, they do not tie spending to any clear objectives, they do not reflect any effective contracting and auditing system, and there are no measures of effectiveness or success.

· Not only did the money come far too late to prevent the rise of a major insurgency, when it did come, it came in areas where there were no effective overall planning, management, and contacting systems. No adequate fiscal controls, and no real measures of effectiveness. The system virtually invited waste, fraud, and abuse.

Cordesman cautions that it is important to note that reforms have taken place in many areas of contracting, and there is now better auditing. The Afghan government has also promised important reforms in its control of spending and efforts to reduce corruption.

A total of $641.7 billion, of which $198.2 billion – or over 30% – will be spent in FY2012 and FY2013. Cordesnman says, “This is an incredible amount of money to have spent with so few controls, so few plans, so little auditing, and almost no credible measures of effectiveness.”

He also charges that “the end effect has been to sharply raise the threshold of corruption in Afghanistan, to make transition planning far more difficult, and raise the risk that sudden funding cuts will undermine the Afghan government’s ability to maintain a viable economy and effective security forces.”

Cordesman explains that four sets of funds are involved with a total value of $58.6 billion in appropriations and pledges as of March 2012. The largest is the US Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) that provides the ANSF with equipment, supplies, services, and training, as well as facility and infrastructure repair, renovation, and construction.

Meantime, a separate audit by the State Department's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported little change in the cavalcade of management disasters that has plagued the Afghan operation since its inception.

SIGAR reported that “almost $13 million in equipment designed to upgrade Afghanistan's creaking power grid has been left mothballed in storage for lack of an installation plan.”

In addition, the agency discovered that a contractor was paid $5.76 million to help the Afghan national power utility, but most of the work was never carried out.

"Almost $12.8 million in equipment purchased to meet urgent needs in support of the counterinsurgency strategy is sitting unused in storage... without a clear plan for installation," said the report by Inspector General John Sopko.

The equipment was dispatched in March, but has been stored at a US Army Corps of Engineers base in the southern city of Kandahar on wooden palettes as they ponder what to do with it, pending a clear installation plan.

A further concern is that the manufacturer's two-year warranty on the electricity meters could run out before the equipment is installed.

Sopko said in a letter to General John Allen, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that he had audited US efforts to help the Afghan power utility.
He also highlighted that millions of dollars were paid to contractor Louis Berger Group Inc/Black & Veatch to provide training and technical assistance to the utility.

But 76 percent of the work was never completed, including "a draft and final meter installation plan, procurement and installation of 231 boundary meters, and a transition manual and handover plan."

The two findings "warrant immediate attention prior to issuing a final report in early 2013," Sopko wrote.

Since 2009, the US has spent some $88 million to help improve and modernize the Afghan power grid, and a further $157 million are pledged between 2013-2016.

Afghanistan, which never had a fully developed power grid, is trying to rebuild after more than three decades of war.

The SIGAR report recommended that US commanders determine whether the equipment can be used in Kandahar, and draw up a plan.

It said the head of the US Agency for International Development mission in Afghanistan should assess the work done by the contractor LBG/BV and seek any reimbursement of funds due.

Finally, Paul D. Shinkman, a national security reporter at U.S. News & World Report, predicted that the facilities for security in Afghanistan will not last after (the) allied drawdown. Afghanistan won't be ready to maintain the infrastructure for its security forces following the kind of drawdown that both candidates for president prescribed (during the recent campaign,) his report finds.

He writes that “a low hiring rate, few technical skills, an inefficient procurement process and a lack of preparedness are among the reasons the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction believes that country won't be able to operate and maintain its own security forces' facilities after the U.S. and coalition troops begin withdrawing in 2014.”

Shinkman writes that his report follows up on the $800 million the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a firm named Exelis, a Virginia-based contractor, in 2010, to ensure (that) Afghan security forces in both the northern and southern parts of the country would be able to maintain their facilities.

In a memo included in the report, the corps officials state Exelis was not performing sufficient quality control on the services it was contracted to supply.

The Afghan government has hired far less than 40 percent of its positions for operations and management, or O&M, of security facilities, according to the report. Apparently a discrepancy in salary between these positions and those in the private sector (is) are to blame for the lack of interest.

There are also very few people who have the technical skills necessary to maintain these facilities, such as managing drinking water, wastewater and power generation.

The government's Ministry of Defense has been dragging its feet on providing its army with supplies, the report states, and the Ministry of the Interior did not allocate O&M money for police facilities until March of this year.

Exelis was hiring a project operations manager in support of this project in Afghanistan as of Oct. 16 to oversee 258 separate contract locations in the northern region of Afghanistan, as well as 2,400 employees and subcontractors.

The stability of Afghanistan's security forces is a central tenet of American hopes to withdraw its troops within two years. The current condition of those forces leaves some worried for the future.

"There are police who don't even know the meaning of the word 'police,'" said the National Police Academy's director Mullah Dad Pazoish in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "We have generals who have no training. They are the jihadi commanders."

Many worry that the police force, which is largely illiterate, will fall apart if Western forces leave, Shinkman reports.

All of which brings to mind the probably apocryphal question said to have been raised by a Russian soldier as his forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89.”

“What,” he asked, “were we supposed to be doing here anyway?”

Our New Double-Standard for Justice

By William Fisher

I received an urgent email last week from Khalil Meek, the Executive Director of the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA).

What Khalil was busting out to tell me (and hopefully several thousand others) was Glenn Greenwald’s conclusion that a New York Court of Appeals case containing “a fascinating new ruling (that) unwittingly illustrates the separate system of 'justice' invented for Muslims in the US after 9/11."

Intriguing, right? Read on!

The case involved a “gang-related murder trial in which prosecutors charged the defendant with terrorism. The alleged gang member was convicted, but the New York Court of Appeals completely threw out the terrorism and non-terrorism convictions because, they said:

· Terrorism charges do not apply because the defendant and his acts do not meet the ‘collective understanding’ of what terrorism is (in other words "violence committed by Arabs or Muslims against the west"), and

· Trials that involve terrorism charges allow for otherwise inadmissible evidence that prejudices juries in favor of the prosecution (in other words, terrorism trials are rigged to be unfair, to deny Muslims their legal rights, and to ease the way for convictions).”

Got that? Once more, with feeling:

“We now have it on the books: terrorism charges are reserved primarily for Muslims, and the rules of trials involving terrorism charges are different than non-terrorism trials -- the main difference being that terrorism trials are designed to be unfair so that prosecutors can easily get convictions.”

Is this true? Most non-lawyers – and many lawyers – remain unaware that this metamorphosis is taking place “in plain sight.” Here’s proof:

Listen to the editorial page editor of The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, writing about Liberty and Justice.

He says, "It's rarely acknowledged that the 9/11 attacks have also led to what's essentially a separate justice system for Muslims. In this system, the principle of due process is twisted and selectively applied, if it is applied at all."

In order to understand the significance of this case, it’s necessary to get down in the weeds a bit. Here’s how the New York Times presented it:

“Last month, New York State’s highest court ruled that the Bronx district attorney’s office erred in "trying to use a state terrorism charge to prosecute street gangs."
The Bronx district attorney, had “argued that Mr. Morales’s gang, the St. James Boys, met the somewhat vague definition of ‘terror’ in the state statute because it sought to intimidate or coerce the entire Mexican-American population" around St. James Park.

“In a unanimous decision, the six judges on the top court ruled that adopting the prosecution’s broad definition would allow other prosecutors to ‘invoke the specter of terrorism’ every time a Blood assaults a Crip or an organized crime family orchestrates the murder of a rival syndicate’s soldier.

But the judges ruled that the concept of terrorism “has a unique meaning and its implications risk being trivialized if the terminology is applied loosely in situations that do not match our collective understanding of what constitutes a terrorist act.”

So what definition of ‘terrorism’is this court using? Well, it never does say. It simply says, ‘we have looked at the crime and it is not terrorism.”

Which tracks the never-to-be-forgotten words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1978. When asked in an obscenity case, ‘What is porn?’ Justice Potter simply said, ‘I know it when I see it.”

Gabor Rona, the International Legal Director of advocacy group

Human Rights First, provides another nail in the coffin of due process.

He says, “One pernicious aspect of prosecutions these days is that terrorism charges are increasingly being used for things that are not terrorism, in order to inflame juries. What makes this easy is the flexible definition of terrorism used in the criminal justice system.

“It takes a garden variety crime, say assault or murder, and turns it into something even more frightening by reference to the motive of the accused, rather than the act, itself. Even more attenuated from a balanced view of reality and justice is the leverage prosecutors have to charge conspiracy to commit terrorism, which, like all conspiracy charges, does not require any underlying crime to have been committed at all.

“This phenomenon is not limited to Muslim and Arab targets. Indeed, the ever-expansive use of terrorism in the prosecutor's toolbox, be it in the form of terrorism itself, conspiracy to commit terrorism, or "material support" to terrorism, puts virtually any political activism in the crosshairs of law enforcement.

“Fear of Muslims and Arabs may have given rise to this phenomenon, but authorities have successfully capitalized on it to take down tree huggers and to justify intrusive investigations of Occupy Movement activists.

“But another, equally disturbing manifestation of the creeping security state does involve mostly Muslims and Arabs. It's the disintegration of constitutional protections against entrapment.

“In theory, the law has not changed and the successful entrapment defense has always been rare. The government can supply virtually everything -- encouragement, incentives, materials, training, facilities -- to facilitate the crime, and still get a conviction. But it does have to prove that the accused was ‘pre-disposed’ to commit the crime. Even more than ‘motive’, predisposition is an amorphous concept, easily manipulated to prey on the fears and prejudices of juries who most certainly are not the ‘peers’ of the accused.

His conclusion is that ”prejudice does play an important role in the disintegration of due process, but once prosecutors hit upon a shiny new tool, they will naturally seek to expand its use wherever and whenever they can. To dial back this trend is virtually impossible at any time, let alone one where few judges or legislators can expect to survive the accusation: ‘soft on terrorism’."

Kathy Manley is an Albany (NY) Criminal defense attorney and the VP of the Capital Region Chapter of the NYCLU.

“By saying, as the NY court did, that ‘we know terrorism when we see it’, and then giving as examples cases involving Muslims, the decision shows this very clearly,” she says. “I think the court reached the right result here, but unintentionally made the double standard in the Muslim cases extremely clear,” she added.

“The case of my client, Yassin Aref, is a similar story but like so many other Muslim cases, it involved a sting operation,” she said. “A Kurdish Iraqi imam, Yassin came to Albany, NY as a UN refugee, and was soon targeted by the FBI for some reason. (As he discovered through a recent FOIA request, it appears they had him mixed up with an Al Qaeda operative who was later killed in 2010, after which Yassin was moved to a low security prison for the first time.)

“They sent a criminal con artist – Shahed Hussain, also used in the Newburgh 4 case - to befriend a co-founder of the mosque where Yassin was imam. This man, Mohammed Hossain, ran a struggling pizza business and needed money, so he was happy to be offered a loan by the provocateur, who said he was a rich importer who wanted to help his Muslim brothers. At one point he showed Mohammed a missile tube and said this was one of the things he imported. Mohammed was shocked and refused to help transport the missile, but he didn’t think it was connected to his loan, and he still wanted the money.

“Yassin was only brought in to witness the loan transaction as set forth in the Quran, something he often did for mosque members, who couldn’t use banks because their religious beliefs forbade them from paying or charging interest.

“Yassin never saw the missile, and had no idea the loan he was witnessing was connected to terrorism. The government recorded 50 hours of conversations between the three men, and Yassin never said anything showing he understood this. Yet, because he was charged with material support for terrorism, the government was able to bring into his 2006 trial Yassin’s 1999 diary and some speeches he made in Iraq in 1994, both of which showed Yassin’s Islamist beliefs and contained criticisms of the West as immoral.

’While nothing there connected Yassin to terrorism, the evidence was damning in the post-911 environment of Islamophobia. Worse, there was a mountain of secret evidence (likely the erroneous FBI reports alleging Yassin was a member of Al Qaeda) which was all given to the judge, but which even the security cleared defense attorneys were not permitted to see. This resulted in the judge telling the jury that the government had “good and valid reasons” for targeting Yassin. While acquitting him of most of the charges, I believe the jury was afraid to let him go completely, and convicted him of a few charges.
“As for what can be done, there needs to be much more awareness of all this, and how it is destroying innocent families and terrorizing the Muslim community. The government strategy is spreading beyond Muslims too, as we have seen sting operations used against Occupy and peace activists, who have also been targeted in material support for terrorism investigations.
“Such abuses always begin by targeting the most vulnerable and, if not stopped there, they are applied to others and eventually to everyone. Professor Francis A. Boyle, the firebrand law professor from the University of Illinois, summed up the situation this way:

In post 9/11 America, if you are an Arab or a Muslim facing a terrorism charge, the American legal system functionally presumes you to be guilty as charged instead of innocent as constitutionally required.

The Law Strikes Out!

By William Fisher

One could just about hear the loud low anguished cry of Ohoooooooooooooo from the folks who sat through the trial as the judge read out the sentence.

The sentence: 70 years in prison without the possibility of parole under the so-called “3-Strikes” law. In other words, Life.

The Crimes: Two break-ins counted as his third and fourth strike (his priors were also burglary and coming into possession of stolen goods) stealing jewelry.

The Prisoner: Jeremy Stewart, 25, father of two small children.

Why? Sadhbh Walshe of the Guardian Newspaper explains:

“In January of this year, I wrote about Jeremy Stewart. In his case, the normal 25-to-life sentence was doubled to 50-to-life, and the judge threw in an extra 20 years for no reason anyone can explain to me – apparently, just to make absolutely sure this young man (who was struggling with drug addiction) never gets to see his children outside a prison visiting room again.”

Since Stewart’s conviction, Californians have finally amended their Draconian 3-strikes law. With the change voted in by referendum 36 – 18 years in coming – the “third strike” will result in a life-without-parole sentence only when that strike is a violent crime and/or when the third felony offense is serious or violent, as defined in state law. It also authorizes the courts to resentence thousands of people who were sent away for low-level third offenses and who present no danger to the public.

Listen to Walshe, “Jeremy's mother tells me that his 70-year sentence was upheld recently in an appeals hearing, and Jeremy will not be eligible for any reduction of his sentence under Prop 36 because burglary counts as a serious felony.”

One of the results of Prop 36 will be the re-sentencing of thousands of prisoners. The Stanford Innocence Project says the resentencing process “is shaping up as a kind of referendum on the state’s barbaric treatment of mentally ill defendants, who make up a substantial number of those with life sentences under the three-strikes rule. It is likely that many were too mentally impaired to assist their lawyers at the time of trial. Mentally ill inmates are nearly always jailed for behaviors related to their illness. Nationally, they account for about one-sixth of the prison population.”

The introduction of mental illness adds a serious new dimension to sentencing – with the ratio of mentally ill prisoners apparently higher among three-strike lifers in California. According to a 2011 analysis of state data by Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, nearly 40 percent of these inmates qualify as mentally ill and are receiving psychiatric services behind bars.

Even before the recent ballot initiative, “the clinic’s law students had overturned the life sentences of 26 people, based on newly discovered evidence or inadequate assistance of counsel, as when defense lawyers failed to present evidence of a client’s mental illness.”

Michael Romano, director of the Stanford project, said, “In my experience, every person who has been sentenced to life in prison for a nonserious, nonviolent crime like petty theft suffers from some kind of mental illness or impairment — from organic brain disorders, to schizophrenia, to mental retardation, to severe P.T.S.D.,” or post-traumatic stress disorder. Nearly all had been abused as children, he pointed out.” All had been homeless for extended periods, and many were illiterate. None had graduated from high school.”

He added, “In other words, these were discarded people who could be made to bear the brunt of this brutal law without risk of public backlash.”

The Stanford Three Strikes Project is the only legal organization in the country devoted to representing individuals serving life sentences under California's Three Strikes law. The Project represents defendants charged under the Three Strikes law with minor, non-violent felonies at every stage of the criminal process: at trial, on appeal, and in state and federal post-conviction habeas corpus proceedings. The Project also works, on behalf of its clients in collaboration with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to reform the harshest aspects of the Three Strikes law.

The history of California’s 3-Strikes law is a nightmare of prison mismanagement. The Stanford Three Strikes Project is the only legal organization in the country devoted to representing individuals serving life sentences under California's Three Strikes law.

The Project represents defendants charged under the Three Strikes law with minor, non-violent felonies at every stage of the criminal process: at trial, on appeal, and in state and federal post-conviction habeas corpus proceedings. The Project also works, on behalf of its clients in collaboration with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to reform the harshest aspects of the Three Strikes law.

Brent Staples wrote in the New York Times: “Among the more horrifying cases investigated by the Three Strikes Project is that of 55-year-old Dale Curtis Gaines, who suffers from both mental retardation and mental illness. He has never committed a violent crime, but is serving a life sentence for receiving stolen property. His first two strikes, daytime burglaries of empty homes during which he was unarmed, appear to have involved thefts valued at little more than pocket change.”

Staples says, “According to court documents, Mr. Gaines’s early childhood was a nightmare, filled with the most savage forms of abuse. His grandmother, a primary care giver, is said to have beaten him when he urinated or defecated in bed — and forced him to eat his feces as punishment. Later, as often happens with mentally impaired adolescents, he began to skip school because he was ashamed that he could not keep up with his classmates. He was often homeless. While serving time for his second crime, he was diagnosed by the prison system itself as both mentally disabled and schizophrenic.”

Staples adds: “He was clearly too impaired to help with his defense, and at one point simply put a blanket over his head and declined to speak to a doctor who was questioning him. His ability to read is comparable to that of a kindergartner.”

The Times concludes: At the time of his third strike, for receiving stolen computer equipment, Mr. Gaines was getting Social Security and disability benefits because of mental illness and retardation. His mental health history, readily available in the prison record, would probably have been recognized as a mitigating factor and prevented him from being so harshly sentenced.

But, according to court documents, his public defender presented no evidence about his disability. In 2010, 12 years after Mr. Gaines was convicted, the prosecutor who handled the case but by then had left the district attorney’s office wrote to him in prison, expressing regret and offering help if he wished to appeal. The Stanford students also noticed his case and are now trying to free him.
Mr. Gaines’s story is not unique. The Times’ Staples says, “As more cases unfold in court, judges, lawyers and Californians should look back with shame at the injustice the state inflicted on a vulnerable population that often presented little or no danger to the public.”

Nor is California’s 3-strikes story unique. According to, beginning in the early 1990s, states began to enact mandatory sentencing laws for repeat criminal offenders. These statutes came to be known as "three strikes laws," because they were invoked when offenders committed their third offense.

By 2003 over half the states and the federal government had enacted three strikes laws. The belief behind the laws was that getting career criminals off the streets was good public policy. However, the laws have their critics, who charge that sentences are often disproportionate to the crimes committed and that incarceration of three strikes inmates for 25 years to life would drive up correctional costs. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld three strikes laws and has rejected the argument that they amount to Cruel and Unusual Punishment.”

Washington state's legislature was the first to respond, passing its 3-strike legislation in 1993. The law mandates life in prison after conviction on any three of about 40 felonies, ranging from murder to robbery and vehicular assault. Defendants convicted under this law are not eligible for parole, nor may their sentence be suspended or shortened.

California and 11 other states passed similar laws in 1994. Nine more states were added to the list a year later. By the year 2000 more than 24 states had adopted laws of their own.

Georgia took matters a step further, enacting a "Two Strikes and You're Out" law. Felons convicted of the state's most serious crimes only twice are sentenced to life in prison without parole. Known as "the seven deadly sins," these crimes are murder, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, aggravated Sodomy, aggravated Child Molestation, and aggravated sexual Battery.

Despite their popularity in the early 1990s, the laws came under severe attack in the late 1990s. Four studies were largely responsible for driving the debate: one by the Rand Institute, one by the National Institute of Justice, one by the Justice Policy Institute, and one by the Campaign for Effective Crime Policy, a nonpartisan group comprised of wardens, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials.

The studies revealed two kinds of results. In most states, little had changed. Washington had convicted 66 people under its 3-strike law. Arkansas had 12 convictions and Alaska, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Jersey had no more than six. Wisconsin had invoked its law only once, while no one in Utah, Virginia, Montana, Tennessee, New Mexico, or Colorado had ever been prosecuted for a third-strike offense.

The results were vastly different in California and Georgia. Over 4,000 inmates in California are serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law for non-violent crimes. Past and current project clients have been given life sentences for minor offenses including stealing one dollar in loose change from a parked car, possessing less than a gram of narcotics, and attempting to break into a soup kitchen.

In addition the state also identified more than 40,000 second-strike offenders who would await such a sentence were they subsequently convicted for any one of roughly 500 crimes.

Georgia had sent approximately 1,000 defendants to prison for life without parole under its two strikes law and identified another 1,000 offenders eligible for that fate were they to subsequently commit one of the "seven deadly sins."

And according to new research, California's controversial and costly three-strikes law has done nothing to deter crime despite expanding the state's prison population, according to a new study. In fact, violent crime began falling almost two years before the law was enacted in 1994, statistics show. The study pegs that the decrease in crime to lower alcohol consumption and unemployment, which was largely in decline before the current economic downturn.

These studies did more than arm opponents of 3-strike laws with evidence of disparate results. They suggested that the laws had been enforced more often against minority offenders than against white offenders. In California only 1,237 of the more than 4,800 defendants sentenced for a third strike were white; 2,138 were African American, 1,262 were Latino, and 201 were classified as "other."

The studies further indicated that these minority offenders were mostly being punished for nonviolent third strikes. Statistics demonstrated that more than twice as many defendants' third-strike offenses were for drug possession or petty theft as for murder, rape, or kidnapping. Some of these nonviolent third strikes included seemingly innocuous offenses, such as shoplifting, stealing packages of steak, and drinking alcohol at a liquor store without paying for it.

Though critics of the law were disappointed by the findings, they argued that the economic cost of incarcerating three strikes inmates may ultimately lead to the repeal of such laws. In California it will cost an estimated $700 million per year to incarcerate these offenders, and over a billion dollars to construct new prisons to house the escalating number of inmates. As the state contends with caring for an aging prison population it will be forced to decide whether it wants to allocate limited resources to maintain the three strikes law.
Michael Romano, the Stanford University law professor who founded the Three Strikes Project, says many of the people sentenced to life are the homeless, guilty of petty theft or drug use. These convicts take up precious jail space and cost taxpayers millions, when their third strike might involve something as minor as stealing $20 worth of gloves from Home Depot or breaking into a parked car.

The nation’s 3-Strike laws are still with us. A few have undergone minor modifications over time. But as more research is completed, it appears clear is that they have helped drive prison costs off the charts, produced dangerous overcrowding, and continued to convict African Americans at a rate out of all proportion to the size of their race.