NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Group Sees Little Benefit from Three-Strikes Law

August 23, 2001

A new study by the Sentencing Project, a legal reform group, claims that after seven years California's three-strikes law has contributed to the aging of the state's prison population -- but has played no significant role in the state's decline in crime.

The law requires that those convicted of any three felonies be sentenced to 25 years to life. A two-strike provision requires that those convicted of a second felony receive a doubled sentence.

  • As of May 2001, the study found, California had 6,721 prisoners sentenced under the three-strike law and 43,800 second-strike convictions.
  • The majority of second- and third-strike convictions in California are for property, drug or other nonviolent offenses.
  • Marc Mauer, one of the study's authors, says crime in California had been declining for several years prior to enactment of the law -- and it continues to decline nationwide, even in states without such a law.
  • Nationally, he says, about half the states have passed some form of three-strikes legislation -- but in most states, only violent felonies are included.

A spokesman for Bill Lockyer, California's attorney general, counters that the law incapacitates people who have serious or violent habitual criminal records. While there is room for legitimate debate over whether the net in California is too wide, the spokesman added, there is no question that when habitual criminals are taken off the street, it has an effect on crime.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "Three-Strikes Law Is Overrated in California, Study Finds," New York Times, August 23, 2001; based on Ryan S. King and Marc Mauer, "Aging Behind Bars: 'Three Strikes' Seven Years Later," August 2001, Sentencing Project, 514 - 10th Street, N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20004, (202) 628-0871.


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