NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

California's Three Strikes Law Is Effective

April 13, 2000

A recent study co-authored by Frankline E. Zimring, a Berkeley professor, purported to show that California's three strikes law -- which requires judges to give enhanced sentences to second- and third-time felons -- has not played a major role in reducing crime. But other experts question that conclusion, as well as the methodology used to reach it.

More than 50,000 felons have been given enhanced sentences since the new law was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 1994. The Attorney General's Crime Index reports that crime rates in California plummeted 13.2 percent last year alone.

Here are some of the flaws critics detect in the Zimring study:

  • Zimring contends that crime rates in California had already begun to decline in 1991 and that there is no evidence the rate of decline was any greater because of the law; but critics note that the rate of decline was a significantly greater during 1995-99 than before the three strikes law.
  • Prior to the law, homicides were rising 1.57 percent annually -- but afterward the average annual decline from 1995 to 1999 was 12 percent.
  • The Zimring study ends in 1996, even though the most important effects of the law could not have begun to appear before 1997 -- because the new law kept felons in prison who would otherwise have been paroled beginning in 1997.

Critics who believe the three strikes law has proved to be an effective deterrent to crime charge that Zimring is using statistics to bolster his ideological antipathy to laws which provide certain punishment for criminals and hold them individually responsible for their crimes.

Source: Edward J. Erler (California State University-San Bernardino and the Claremont Institute) and Brian P. Janiskee (California State University-San Bernardino), "California's Three Strikes Is Not a Failure; It Is Working Better Than Hoped," Investor's Business Daily, April 13, 2000.


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