"People are frightened, people are real frightened," said legendary Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. He spoke as his fellow Democrats, fearful of being branded soft on crime, clamored to revive the three strikes legislation and enact it into law. "You're talking about a group of people of zero courage," Brown said at one point. "Not even Willie Brown, regardless of his persuasive powers, could turn that around or alter that course. I would be shouting in the wind." Within hours of Brown's remarks, the measure was passed and placed on Wilson's desk. He signed it exactly 10 years ago Friday. Reynolds went ahead with the initiative and voters ratified it by a large margin later in the year. As three strikes was being debated in political circles, there were widely divergent predictions on what effect it would have. While Reynolds and other advocates argued that it would reduce crime by making felons fearful of committing multiple offenses, critics said it would pack the prisons with inmates whose third strike crimes were relatively petty. A decade later, the debate has not lessened. Reynolds and his organization maintain that the law has lowered California's crime index. In fact, they contend that 2 million fewer major felonies were committed in the 10 years since the law's enactment than in the prior decade, including nearly 7,000 fewer homicides. "It has had a huge impact on crime, and the biggest benefits have been on minorities," Reynolds said Thursday - reacting to contentions of critics that the law has exacerbated the disproportionate incarceration of nonwhite Californians. Reynolds also notes that the 1994 predictions that the prison population would soar beyond 200,000 and that courts would be clogged with three strikes trials have proven false. While the prison population did not reach the level widely predicted in 1994, it did jump by nearly 25 percent during the period to more than 150,000. But the liberal Justice Policy Institute, in its own review of the law entitled "Still Striking Out," says it's been a failure, contending that the inmates serving enhanced sentences for second and third strike crimes are overwhelmingly blacks and Latinos, while New York, which doesn't have a three strikes law, has enjoyed a steeper crime decline. "With California facing a $15 billion budget gap this year, and with little evidence that three strikes is providing the kind of crime control impact its backers had hoped, California policymakers should seriously consider ending their 10-year experiment with the nation's most costly and punitive three strikes law," Vince Schiraldi, executive director of the institute, says in a statement accompanying the review. Ideologically, a liberal Legislature probably would agree with Schiraldi. Politically, however, it's a dead issue.