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Aging Behind Bars: "Three Strikes" Seven Years Later

NCJ Number
Ryan S. King; Marc Mauer
Date Published
August 2001
13 pages
This article reports on the impact of California's "three strikes" law on the State prison population and on its effect on the State crime rate.
This article refutes recent reports that California's "three strikes" law has reduced crime rates and yet has not resulted in an overcrowding of the State's correctional facilities. In March of 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson signed into law the "Three Strikes and You're Out" legislation. This law doubles an offender's sentence for a second felony conviction and raises the penalty for a third felony conviction to 25 years to life. The authors contend that this law has resulted in an aging prison population, which will lead to a crisis in funding as older prisoners require more State funds to keep incarcerated. Additionally, the authors point out that recent reports on the efficiency of the "three strikes" law on reducing California's crime rate are overblown. They report on research showing that California, as well as the rest of the Nation, experienced a downturn in crime rates before the law was passed, therefore assertions that the drop in crime is due to the new law is inaccurate. The article argues that, in fact, the "three strikes" law does not reduce crime at all based on the fact that it keeps prisons filled with aging inmates who are statistically less likely to commit crimes because of their increasing age. The authors conclude by reiterating that the "three strikes" law has not operated in its proposed manner, rather the law has resulted in a disproportionate number of nonviolent offenders being sentenced to unusually long prison terms at the great expense of the taxpayers of California.