Congratulations to Tim Eberly with the Virginian-Pilot for winning recognition as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his investigative reporting on Virginia’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out law. He was up against some stiff competition — the Washington Post won the award for its investigation of Senate candidate Roy Moore’s history of sexual harassment of teenage girls.
Here’s the kick-off of Eberly’s Nov. 17, 2017, story:
Virginia bureaucrats are keeping nonviolent convicts in prison longer than murderers
Snagged by a short-lived state law, some Virginia inmates have served more time behind bars than many murderers, even though they harmed no one in their crimes and had never been in prison before.
In some cases, their prison terms will stretch far longer than those of convicts who fatally shot, stabbed or bludgeoned people, a Virginian-Pilot investigation has found.
This disparity stems from a 1982 “three-strikes” law that, largely during a 12-year period, has caught inmates in its clutches for decades.
Young men barely old enough to vote went from first-time offender to three-striker in one swift motion. They weren’t the career criminals for which three-strikes laws are generally written. More often than not, their crimes were committed in a single spree. And plenty of them had little or no prior criminal history.
Virginia enacted the law when the state, like the rest of the U.S., was awash in a rising tide of crime and the public was sick and tired of convicted criminals being released back onto the streets with a judicial slap of the wrist. At the time, the idea of three-strikes-and-you’re-out seemed to me like a good idea. And one could argue (although many will disagree) that the law did help stem crime by the expedient of taking criminals out of circulation.
But as Eberly revealed, the law was arbitrary, and it created new injustices. Now that crime rates have fallen dramatically and the populace is no longer gripped by fear, we are pained far more by those injustices than we once were.