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Originally published February 10, 2009 at 4:34 PM | Page modified February 10, 2009 at 4:50 PM

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Guest columnist

Don't go soft on Washington's "Three Strikes" law

Washington's "three strikes" law is working well and should not be weakened by a proposal to remove second-degree robbery from the list of offenses considered strikes, argues state Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy. The state's crime rate has decreased in part because of the threat of a life sentence if a criminal is convicted of violent felonies.

Special to The Times

AFTER reading the Feb. 8 Times editorial in support of eliminating second-degree robbery as a strike ("Mend 'three strikes,' " Opinion), I feel compelled to address why it should be left alone.

In short, it works well now.

The law as proposed in my original 1993 bill, House Bill 1139, carefully made all strikes only violent offenses. Crimes such as rape, murder, assault and robbery were prime examples. Nonviolent offenses such as check fraud, identity theft, and others that are serious yet nonviolent were not. The dire predictions of large numbers of geriatric prisoners have not come true. In fact, The Times own editorial listed only 81 "three strike" offenders that would be affected by such a change.

Ever since the people adopted the subsequent initiative by a supermajority of 73 percent, violent crimes have dropped precipitously, thanks in no small part to the "three strikes" law. Back then, 6 to 7 percent of criminals were estimated to be responsible for approximately 60 percent of violent crime. Once removed after three separate judicial findings of guilt involving violent crimes, that person would no longer prey upon our citizenry. I strongly believe those assumptions are just as accurate today.

I am sensitive to the concern that nonviolent criminals should not be placed in prison. That's why I supported legislation in 2003 that allowed nonviolent drug offenders an early release from prison. They should not have been sent there in the first place. I believe our resources should be spent on turning around first-time offenders. The best chance we have to help make them productive and law-abiding citizens is to provide them with drug and alcohol rehabilitation as well as work-force training opportunities. These are the troubled people we have a reasonable chance to rescue from a dismal future.

Though not used frequently, the governor's constitutional powers are designed as an outlet to insure appropriate justice. In case of an injustice, the governor has the power to pardon and address any unfairness by the system.

My greater concern is for those who have gone voiceless during this debate to better the lot for career violent criminals — their victims. It is sad that they and their families who live with the scars of rape, serious assault, murder and other violent crimes are an afterthought at best. By letting these criminals out to further their anti-social and violent behavior is a further insult to all they have harmed.

For all the above reasons, I will resist any weakening of the "three strikes" law, allowing these violent criminals to return once again to savage or communities and neighbors. By committing multiple violent crimes, they have had ample opportunities to reform themselves. Our state is a better and safer place with them removed, permanently.

Republican Rep. Tom Campbell of Roy represents Washington's 2nd Legislative District.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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