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For Three Strike, Northern Irish photographer Adam Patterson made portraits of men who had been sentenced to term-to-life sentences under Three Strikes Laws. The men have in common the fact all their releases were secured due to the work of the Stanford Three Strikes Project.

Patterson writes, “In 1997, William Anderson stole a dollar in loose change from a parked car. He was arrested and sentenced under California’s voter-approved “three strikes and you’re out” law. Mr Anderson’s two previous convictions of daylight residential burglary in 1985 now accounted for his first two strikes, allowing his petty theft from the car to trigger the hammer blow—the third strike. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison. A number of states in the US have the three strikes law, under which criminals who persistently offend are given increasing penalties. Yet in California there remains one glaring difference that many believe is a catalyst for continued injustice. While the first two strikes must be “serious or violent” crimes, the third strike does not. This discrepancy has allowed criminal prosecutors to press for a variety of life-crippling sentences for the most minor of offences.”

Three Strike is four images.


Journalists Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway‘s must-see multimedia documentary Three Strikes Of Injustice appeared on the New York Times website recently.

Three Strikes Of Injustice opens with an apology by Judge Howard Broadman, made to Shane Taylor. Broadman sentenced Taylor to 25-to-life for a non-violent offense fifteen years ago. It was Taylor’s third conviction. Taylor speaks from prison over the telephone and his family is interviewed. It’s very hard to disagree with Taylor’s tearful 19-year-old daughter who observes the absurdity of a 25-to-life sentence.

Duane and Galloway had long standing interest interest in prisons (they released Prison Town in 2007) but like Patterson was drawn to the work of the Stanford Three Strikes Project and specifically their 2010 study that showed that more than 4,000 inmates in California are serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses under the three-strikes law.


Adam Patterson (b. 1982), received a postgraduate bursary in 2008 from the Royal Photographic Society to undertake a project on youth gang culture in London. He holds an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the London College of Communication. He has worked with the BBC Panorama documentary team in Dubai, Chile and the UK and on documentary projects addressing issues such as the slave labor trade in Dubai and the rise of cheap heroin in Wales. He helped smuggle a digital camera to Chilean miner Edison Pena, who then photographed underground conditions while trapped during the Copiapó mining accident between August and October 2010,

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Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway received the best documentary screenplay award this year from the Writers Guild of America, West, and the Gotham Independent Film Award for best documentary last year, for their film Better This World.

Three Strikes Of Injustice was partly funded by David W. Mills, a Stanford law professor who supports Proposition 36 and has advocated reform of California’s three-strikes law.

The CDCr has just released REPORT 2009-107.2 SUMMARY – MAY 2010. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Inmates Sentenced Under the Three Strikes Law and a Small Number of Inmates Receiving Specialty Health Care Represent Significant Costs

The report states the obvious. Three Strikes is expensive (and I’d add it is no deterrent) and health care costs are huge and dominated by a minority (aging) group. To quote:

Our review of California’s increasing prison cost as a proportion of the state budget and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (Corrections) operations revealed the  following:

Inmates incarcerated under the three strikes law (striker inmates):
– Make up 25 percent of the inmate population as of April 2009.
– Receive sentences that are, on average, nine years longer-resulting in about $19.2 billion in additional costs over the duration of their incarceration.
– Include many individuals currently convicted for an offense that is not a strike, were convicted of committing multiple serious or violent offenses on the same day, and some that committed strikeable offenses as a juvenile.

Inmate health care costs are significant to the cost of housing inmates. In fiscal year 2007-08, $529 million was incurred for contracted services by specialty health care providers. Additionally:
– 30 percent of the inmates receiving such care cost more than $427 million.

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While stresses on the prison system in California are particularly acute, they are not untypical. Three Strikes laws have been a failure across the US, and still exist in the 24 states that enacted them in the mid-nineties.


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