NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Three Strikes" For Kids?

June 11, 1996

The California Supreme Court will decide as early as next month whether to apply "three strikes and you're out" laws to juveniles. A law it's reviewing mandates 25 years to life for a third felony.

Study after study confirms that repeat offenders commit much, if not most, of predatory violent crimes. And many juvenile offenders are becoming violent at earlier ages.

  • Around 1900, the juvenile court system was established to provide special treatment for young people in trouble -- usually for running away from home, truancy and petty theft.
  • By the 1950s and '60s, stealing hubcaps, brawls and drinking had replaced the relatively innocent crimes of that earlier era.
  • By the 1960s, perhaps well-intended social program had unintended results -- including a dramatic rise in out-of-wedlock births and a new generation, morally illiterate and ripe for crime.
  • By 1974, nearly half of all serious crime in America was committed by offenders under 18.

By 1984, juveniles were committing 1,130 acts of murder, and accounting for 592,372 arrests for serious felonies such as rape, robbery, aggravated assault and arson.

Today, while homicides committed by adults have declined 18 percent over the past four years, murders by juveniles are up 22 percent and an even more horrendous juvenile crime situation is predicted over the next decade.

Proponents of applying the "three strikes" law to juveniles and subjecting them to adult justice contend that a felony is a felony and should be used to increase sentencing.

Source: Joseph Sorrentino (Los Angeles criminal prosecutor), "A Felony's a Felony, Whether You're a Kid or Adult," USA Today, June 11, 1996.


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