Mental Illness Reduces Chances Of Three Strikes Sentence Reduction


Publish Date:
April 9, 2014
Daily Journal
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Michael Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project, spoke with the Daily Journal’s Hamed Aleaziz on how mental illness plays a factor in reduced sentencing. 

Seventeen months after voters agreed to amend California’s three strikes law, 95 percent of eligible inmates who petitioned the court have seen their sentences reduced.

A recent study by Stanford’s Three Strikes Project has shed some light on the other 5 percent: Three-quarters of them have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

And there might be another issue, they say. “This suggests that prosecutors and courts are, consciously or not, believing that nonviolent mentally ill prisoners are more dangerous to the community,” said Michael Romano, director of the Stanford project.

Romano helped write an initiative that passed in November 2012 and limits sentences of 25 years to life to those whose third conviction is a serious or violent felony.

Still, Romano said he believes judges tasked with handling Prop. 36 petitions should pay extra attention to the impact of overcrowding on mentally ill inmates. They should also take the current legal challenge to the prison’s disciplinary process into account, he said.

“We are really doing an incredible disservice to this population and to the public safety that pays the price for our mistakes.”