Three strikes law and criminal justice

Judge and witness in courtroom with defendant and his lawyer

The three strikes law has been a subject of much debate since its introduction as an actual regulation in 1993. Since then, about half of the U.S. states have implemented the law, but even more have debated it. Students in criminal justice programs may learn about the law and the arguments for and against it during their courses. However, the resources below should be a good start to give them a better understanding of the law.

Understanding the three strikes law

While not a new concept, three strikes laws are not a proven method of crime deterrence. The law states that any person convicted of three or more serious crimes may be interred for a life sentence, usually with possibility for parole.

Three strikes and you’re out – The three strikes law is designed to increase the prison sentence of repeat offenders. By doing so, many states feel that they can deter criminals from committing additional felonies.

Understanding three strikes in 1995 – Early in the law’s adoption in the U.S., many states examined it before choosing whether or not to implement it. Initial views of the law encouraged its adoption to fight violent crime and serious drug offenses.

The impact of three strikes after a decade – California, a state whose three strikes law is widely recognized as being the broadest and most controversial, reexamined the law in 2004, about 10 years after adopting it. While voters decided not to change the law, a large percentage of citizens favored doing so, showing that it may not be working as well as they initially hoped in 1994.

Three strikes reform in 2012 – Today, California is again reexamining the three strikes law and considering changing it.

Pros of the three strikes law

There are people and organizations who support the three strikes law, although not without some hesitancy. Many feel the three strikes law helps reduce crime and arrest rates, potentially deterring criminals with the threat of increased incarceration. Students earning criminal justice degrees should understand both sides the argument in order to better understand it.

Three strikes laws reduce felony arrest rates – A study by two economists on whether the three strikes law is a deterrent to criminals found that it has, in fact, reduced felony arrest rates in California by 17 to 20 percent.

NPR discusses three strikes – NPR hosted a discussion on the three strikes law in California in 2009. The news radio organization found that all of the people it spoke with approved of the three strikes law, but felt that some revisions to it would be appropriate.

Cons of the three strikes law

While the evidence against the three strikes law outweighs the evidence supporting it, many courts are still torn over the law. There is not enough evidence on one side or the other to support or detract from the law; however, some experts agree that even if the law is not done away with, it should be changed. Criminal justice programs may explore both the positive and negative effects of the laws in different states.

Strikes against three strikes law – An article in the San Francisco Chronicle advocated vast reforms to the three strikes law, citing that many of those sentenced to life in prison did not commit violent crimes, but minor ones, for their third offense, and that no civilized society should imprison its citizens for such lengths for petty crimes, regardless of past offenses.

Does the three strikes law reduce crime? – In 2001, a study found that the three strikes law had not reduced violent crime rates in California. This contradicts other evidence presented by experts previously. This study was performed by a research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Three strikes vs. truth in sentencing laws – Another set of laws, called Truth in Sentencing (TIS), work differently than the three strikes regulations, but are similar. These laws require violent offenders to spend more of their sentence in prison, rather than allowing for early parole. The study found that TIS may have been more successful than three strikes in fighting against violent crimes.

Los Angeles reevaluates three strikes – The state of California has examined its three strikes law on multiple occasions, and while it has yet to make any changes to it, many of its citizens feel it should be changed, primarily to readdress what constitutes a felony.

Non-violent offenders and three strikes – Some experts feel that three strikes laws should not be changed, but the types of crimes that invoke them should be. Increasing sentences for those who have committed  many crimes makes sense; however, it depends on the type of crime, these criminal justice degree holders say.

Amending the three strikes sentencing law in California - In 2012, voters approved Proposition 36 which amended the 1994 Three Strikes sentencing law. Two provisions were put into place, one to change the way that violent offenders were sentenced and a second to allow those currently convicted the ability to petition for a reduction of their sentence.