NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Critical Of Tough Sentencing

November 10, 1999

A new study of criminal sentences in three large California cities concludes that the state's "three strikes" law has not been a deterrent to crime.

Franklin Zimring, a University of California - Berkeley law professor, said his analysis of arrest records of 3,500 criminal defendants in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco before and after California enacted the 1994 law found no evidence that it had any statistically significant impact on the conduct of criminals.

  • The three strikes law -- doubling sentences for a second felony conviction and imposing 25 years to life for a third conviction -- was enacted in March 1994.
  • But the crime rate had been declining for 2 1/2 years before that date, and it continued downward after three strikes at roughly the same rate, Zimring said.
  • And the percentage of felony defendants facing three-strikes sentences, the real measure of its value as a deterrent, only declined from 13.9 percent during the 2 1/2 years before three strikes to 12.8 percent in the same time period after.

"If California's crime decline were a three-strikes effect, we would expect to see the drop in arrests concentrated among the target groups. Instead, the decline is spread evenly" among both three-strikes and first and second-time offenders, Zimring said.

Source: Doug Willis, "Study Critical of Tough Sentencing," Associated Press, November 8, 1999.


Browse more articles on Government Issues