SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) -- California voters reined in the nation's harshest three strikes law Tuesday with the passage of a ballot measure that allows for shorter sentences for some third-time offenders.
Fewer repeat offenders will now qualify for a three-strikes sentence of 25-years-to life, while some 2,800 prisoners serving that term can now apply for sentence reductions.
Until now, a person convicted of two violent and serious felonies would automatically be sentenced to 25-years-to-life if convicted of a third crime, regardless of its severity.
California was the only state of 24 with three-strikes law to have that provision.
Now, the third conviction must be a serious and violent crime as well.
"The historic passage of Prop. 36 overturns the long-held conventional wisdom that it's impossible to fix our most extreme and unjust crime laws," said Stanford University law professor David Mills, who helped write the measure and was one of its biggest donors. Mills contributed nearly $1 million to the measure.
"My most sincere hope is that this victory serves as a turning point that inspires others to advocate for more sane and humane criminal justice policies," Mills said.
Proposition 36 divided law enforcement officials throughout the campaign.
Several police union contributed to the opposition and the measure was opposed by the California District Attorneys Association, the Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs' Association. In the end, however, supporters outspent those aligned against Proposition 36 roughly $3 million to $1 million.
The opponents argued that the country's strictest Three Strikes law was on the books for a good reason—to lock up the state's most violent repeat offenders—and no changes were necessary.
"The current Three Strikes law has directly and significantly acted to reduce crime in California," the California District Attorneys Association wrote in a position paper opposing the initiative. "The Three Strikes law is a valuable, essential, and proven tool in the fight against crime."
Backed by billionaire George Soros $1 million donation, supporters argued the state will at least $100 million a year by cutting down on the number of parole hearings and shortening long prison sentences and will see a population decrease in California's overcrowded prisons. They say the reforms will also prevent criminals from serving unfairly long prison sentences for relatively minor crimes.
Supporters aired statewide television ads featuring Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and San Francisco District Attorney George GascDon, all of whom back the initiative.
"The state should not allow the misallocation of limited penal resources by having life prison sentences for those who do not pose a serious criminal threat to society," Cooley said. "The punishment should fit the crime."
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