New Program Tries to Help Second Strikers

Parole agents doing their best to forestall third strikes.

The Sacramento Bee
Published June 30, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Before joining the ranks of “third strikers” who serve state prison sentences of 25 years to life, lawbreakers are second strikers first.

Though they’re just one step away from committing another crime and spending dozens of years behind bars, little attention has been paid to the state’s growing numbers of second strikers.

Under a new Department of Corrections policy, parole agents statewide are taking a harder look at second strikers who have been let out of prison, a population that’s considered particularly dangerous to public safety.

They’re hounding them and increasingly showing up at their homes unannounced. They’re sending them to job training classes and to drug rehabilitation programs.

In short, they’re doing what they can to keep second strikers from committing a third strike.

“We’re really trying to interrupt criminal behavior,” said Bonnie Long-Oliver, the regional parole administrator for the area that includes Sacramento and stretches from Bakersfield to the Oregon border. “We believe that if we see these parolees more and provide them with additional services, we will be able, hopefully, to keep them in the community.”

The new $12.4 million program marks the first time that second strikers have been separated from other parolees and treated as a unique caseload with specific needs. There are about 12,625 parolees statewide who qualify as second strikers.

Under the state’s “three strikes” sentencing law, the first two strikes must be serious or violent felonies, which include everything from murder to first-degree burglary, which usually involves breaking into an unoccupied house, and some drug offenses.

The third strike, however, can be any felony, including less serious offenses such as second-degree burglary — stealing a car stereo, for instance — shoplifting with a previous petty theft conviction or simple drug possession.

“We’re addressing a group of parolees that are probably the most dangerous to public safety and also the biggest drain on public resources if they’re returned with a third strike to the institution,” Long-Oliver said.

To keep second-striker parolees from offending again, the program provides about $2 million a year for beefing up services they can tap into, such as vocational and literacy training.

In addition to being watchdogs after criminals are released from prison, parole agents help their wards assimilate into society, fight addictions and find a job.