Pulitzer Recognition for Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out Articles

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.

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5 responses to “Pulitzer Recognition for Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out Articles

  1. Notice the WaPo didn’t do a story in 1991-92 exposing Bill Clinton’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) treatment of Juanita Broddrick. Instead, it endorsed him for President. But then, the Clintons are Democrats.

  2. Hmmm, 1982. That would be right after the 1981 D sweep election of the Robb-Davis-Baliles ticket. The total GOP representation in the Assembly was probably 40 or so seats out of 140. The era when Speaker Philpott was very clear that no substantive Republican bill passed if he could help it. (We had him on tape saying so a few years later.)

    At the time, as I recall, the three strikes law was wildly popular with the public. I didn’t read the story, but I assume these were people sentenced under it before the later changes made by Republican Governor Allen (also working with a Democratic legislature) to the sentencing and parole system. The sentences they were given under the old law could not reduced by Allen’s reforms, which only dealt with cases that followed.

    That story represents real reporting. Giving the Post that award for printing the gossip assembled and delivered to it all wrapped up by oppo research teams, well that demeans the Pulitizer. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I don’t doubt Moore is one major scuzball, but it was handed to them.

    • And don’t get me wrong, oppo research is a vital part of our political process. I’ve done it for candidates (pre-Internet times!), and seen it done unto my candidates. Maybe the Post really did find those accusers on its own, but I’ll take that bet.

  3. Three strikes is an example of just how easily the voting public can be influenced to believe and support mind-numbingly stupid things that
    harm not only the victims of it but the wider public and taxpayers.

    It almost always emanates from the likes of the GOP and folks like George Allen…

  4. Yet I just reported (and I was around) that the three-strikes bill was adopted and sustained by an overwhelmingly Democratic power structure, and it was Republican Allen who had a better idea with his “truth in sentencing/no parole” approach about 12 years later. But you did say “almost always” to cover yourself, right? You didn’t say always. So you can keep your partisan prejudice intact….

    At the GA these issues sometimes break down R vs. D, but more often the debate pits the defense bar vs. prosecutors and those who want to look tough on crime. Likewise on civil litigation – not always a partisan divide at all. Bad bills seldom escape the courts committees.

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