When the people of California overwhelmingly voted for the 1994 "three strikes" law, many had no idea what they were approving. The official ballot argument in favor of what Newsweek called "the toughest law in the nation" kept it simple: "Three strikes keeps career criminals who rape women, molest children and commit murder behind bars where they belong." What few people realized, however, was that the sweeping nature of the law would put thousands of nonviolent men and women in prison for twenty-five years to life, for crimes as minor as shoplifting $2.69 worth of AA batteries, forging a check for $94.94, or attempting to buy a macadamia nut disguised as a $5 rock of cocaine. In his riveting, well-documented book, Joe Domanick reveals the drama of the shattered lives involved with the law. Focusing on personal stories, Cruel Justice expands to tell the larger tale of how the law came into existence; how it has played out; what political, social, and economic forces lie behind it; and how the politics of crime and fear work in America. Domanick demonstrates how laws passed in haste, without deliberation, and in reaction to public hysteria can have unforeseen consequences as tragic as those they were designed to thwart. Domanick draws powerful portraits of the two innocent young girls—Kimber Reynolds and Polly Klaas—whose murders were the catalyst for the three strikes law; of the men who killed them; of the fathers who sought their revenge; and especially of the many people serving lengthy prison terms who are victims of the three strikes law itself.
Part One. Senseless Acts
1. Kimber Reynolds: Outside the Daily Planet
2. The Natural: Mike Reynolds Finds a Vocation
3. Justice Seldom Seen in America
4. Mike Reynolds’s World
Part Two. The Steamroller
5. Mike Reynolds’s Law
6. A Menace to Society
7. Child of the '50s
8. Roots of the Backlash
9. Talk Radio: The New Yellow Press
10. Tough Love: Sue Reams and Her Boy
11."Weird Ducks and Blind Fools"
Part Three. The Poster Child and Willie Horton
12. Right Out of Her Own Bedroom
13. Another Piercing Scream
14. "Guns Don’t Kill People"
15. The Prince of "J" Street: Don Novey Comes on Board
16. Polly Klaas: America’s Child
17. Happily Shaking Fate’s Sorry Hand
18. Checking the Weather Vane
Part Four. Rocks the Size of Peas: Three Strikes in Operation
19. The "Lookout" Gets Life
20. Say Hello to Hitler, Dahmer, and Bundy
21. Pizza Face
22. Another Reynolds Bill: "Ten, Twenty, Life"
23. Jean Valjean Redux
Part Five. The Counterrevolution (Sort Of)
24. The More Committed Executioner
25. Lenny, Drug Court, and Three Strikes
26. The Modification
27. The Trip to Pleasant Valley
28. A "Taliban-Type" Law
Joe Domanick is an award-winning investigative journalist and author, described in the Los Angeles Times as "one of the most outspoken of the breed . . . a muckraking journalist . . . [who] continues to pound away at police officials . . . and other civic center hotshots. In pen and in person he’s got a tough and hungry manner that makes them uncomfortable." He is a Senior Fellow in Criminal Justice at the University of Southern California Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism. His last book, To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams (1994), won the 1995 Edgar Award for Best True Fact Crime.
"Let me risk a prediction: history will remember the 'Three Strikes' panic as a discredited nightmare like McCarthyism, Japanese internment camps, and the Salem witch trials. Joe Domanick's book informs the court of public opinion about the scapegoats, the scoundrels, the cowards, and the few brave citizens who fought back against an era in which justice and cruelty were often indistinguishable."—Tom Hayden, former California state senator and author of Rebel: A Personal History of the 1960s
"A brave and utterly compelling response to the lynch mob mentality that has done so much damage to the moral fabric of California life. Domanick might be our Zola."—Mike Davis, author of Dead Cities
"With his last book, To Protect and to Serve, Joe Domanick produced a seminal work on big city policing and mispolicing. He's now zeroed in on the politics of crime and punishment in America with Cruel Justice—a brilliant analysis of the dirty little secrets that drive America's criminal justice system—secrets that nobody wants to look at."—Robert Scheer, writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times and is a Clinical Professor at the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California