California voters passed Proposition 36 [official website; official ballot guide] on Tuesday, modifying the state's "three strikes" law [California Penal Code § 667] to apply a mandatory life sentence only if the third strike is a serious or violent crime. Before the referendum, the three strikes law would mandate a life sentence for a third conviction after two convictions for violent felonies. In practice, this resulted in a number of life sentences for "third strike" convictions that were lesser, often non-violent, felonies. It is estimated there are 3,500 inmates in California serving life sentences due to non-violent felony convictions. With the passage of Proposition 36, "third strikes" will result in twice the minimum sentence of the non-violent felony for which the citizen is convicted. Proposition 36 passed with 68 percent [state election materials] of the vote.
California voters also declined to repeal the death penalty by rejecting Proposition 34 [official ballot guide]. Proposition 34 would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. It garnered 47 percent of the vote. California has had several issues guaranteeing human rights for its prison population, including issues with prison isolation units and solitary confinement [JURIST reports]. In May 2011 the US Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population [JURIST report]. As of August it appears that California will be unable to fulfill that mandate [JURIST report].