As the state Legislature considers passing a so-called “three strikes” law, a number of local groups will hold a town-hall meeting tonight, Feb. 23, to discuss the controversial proposal.
The bill, which was passed by the House and Senate late last year, would tighten parole eligibility for “habitual offenders,” defined as people convicted of at least three felonies. In some cases, the length of time they would have to serve before applying for parole would increase; in other cases, the person would never be eligible for parole. While proponents call the law a way to ensure that dangerous, repeat criminals are kept off the streets, critics say it’s an overly broad and costly bill that would worsen the state’s prison overcrowding.
Tonight’s forum will be held at the Rebecca Johnson School, at 55 Catharine St., at 6 p.m. Panelists will include Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, who will talk about the effect of “school zone” penalties in urban areas; ; Michaelann Bewsee of Arise for Social Justice; and Aron Goldman of the Springfield Institute. The Rev. Talbert Swan II, president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, will moderate.
“People are worried, and rightly so,” organizers of the event say, noting how quickly the bill has moved forward, with minimal public debate.
Right now the bill is on hold, as Statehouse leaders consider how to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. While the former focuses exclusively on parole eligibility for habitual offenders, the latter addresses broader criminal-justice reforms, some of which are supported by activists opposed to the three-strikes component.