Southern California breaking news and trends

A ballot initiative that could reduce the number of lifers in California prisons qualified for November's elections

Solano Prison

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / EPA

Some credit Three Strikes with helping overcrowd California's prisons with aging inmates.

Come November, Californians will revisit one of the most controversial criminal laws of all time in the state: Three Strikes. California's Secretary of State Monday certified an initiative for the ballot that would ammend the law. 

Three Strikes came to being in 1994 (through a ballot initiative) and increased prison times for repeat offenders. Specifically, if a person already has one "strike" — meaning a serious or violent felony — getting convicted of any second felony (not necessarily a serious or violent felony) makes the offender eligible for twice the prison time. 

A third striker — someone with two serious or violent felony convictions whose convicted of any third felony — gets 25 years to life in prison.

In 2011, there were about 32,000 second strikers and 9,000 third strikers in California prisons. Some of those third strikers are in prison on serious felonies like rape and murder, but there are a number (and the data is not available as to exactly how many) who're serving life in prison for things like shoplifting and drug possession.