'Struck by Justice:' Polly Klaas murder led to harsher sentences. Is that the answer to crime?

Watch the ABC7 Originals documentary "Struck by Justice: The Impact of Polly Klaas" wherever you stream ABC7

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Monday, March 11, 2024
'Struck by Justice: The Impact of Polly Klaas'
Is harsher punishment the answer to rising crime? Here's what we can learn from the murder of Polly Klaas and the adoption of the Three Strikes Law.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- This month, California marks 30 years since the adoption of the Three Strikes and You're Out Law.

POLLY KLAAS CASE: Here's how 1993 Bay Area murder of 12-year-old transformed criminal justice system

It was enacted a few months after the murder of Polly Klaas in Petaluma, a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped and killed by Richard Allen Davis, an intruder with a long criminal record who has just been released early from prison a few months earlier.

Outrage over the crime led to the swift passage of the Three Strikes Law, which doubled an offender's sentence for a second felony conviction and required mandatory prison sentences of 25 years to life for a third conviction.

It was the start of tough on crime policies that swept across the nation and led to mass incarceration.

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At the national level, President Bill Clinton signed the 1994 Crime Bill, which allocated $10 billion for prisons, eliminated higher education grants for inmates, gave incentives to states to implement mandatory sentencing and imposed life sentences for people convicted of certain felonies.

As criminal justice reform gained momentum in the last decade, some of the more punitive aspects of the Three Strikes Law have been rolled back.

Ten years ago, California voters approved Proposition 47, which made some non-violent property crimes misdemeanors.

But now, as car break-ins and retail store theft rise, critics of criminal justice reform are calling for a return to harsher sentencing and pushing back on prosecutors who back restorative justice over longer prison sentences.

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In San Francisco, former District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled for prioritizing restorative justice programs over longer prison sentences, and in Alameda County, progressive District Attorney Pamela Price is facing a recall for adopting policies that move away from sentencing enhancements for certain crimes.

A new ABC7 News Originals video "Struck by Justice: The Impact of Polly Klaas" looks at how the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas brought about an era of tough on crime policies, mass incarceration and eventually criminal justice reform.

Watch the ABC7 Originals documentary "Struck by Justice: The Impact of Polly Klaas" in the player above, on the ABC7 News app, or by downloading the ABC7 Bay Area App to watch on Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple and Google TV.