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California's Three-Strikes Law: The First Six Years

NCJ Number
Corrections Management Quarterly Volume: 4 Issue: 4 Dated: Fall 2000 Pages: 22-33
Kevin E. Meehan
Date Published
12 pages
After reviewing the history and content of California's "three-strikes" law, this article presents research findings on the law's impact on the State's political, criminal justice, educational, human services, and budgetary systems.
The intent of California's "three-strikes" law is to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses. Although the common perception is that the three-strikes law was designed exclusively to deal with serious and violent offenses, an individual who has committed one of the prohibited offenses can be subject to the enhanced sentences under the law for any second felony. More importantly, those felons who have committed two serious or violent offenses can find that their third strike may occur as the result of any felony offense. This application of the three-strikes law has meant that most second and third "strikers" are committed to lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent property or drug crimes. More than 50,000 "strike" cases have been processed in the first 6 years of the law; 5,887 of these cases involved three strikes. Research to date has questioned the crime control capabilities of the law and raised concerns regarding future problems (e.g., geriatric inmates and budgetary battles). Budgetary battles involve the taking of money from such State enterprises as education in order to fund expanding prison populations occasioned by longer sentences under the three-strikes law. A grassroots movement has emerged to amend the three-strikes law to deal entirely with "serious" and "violent" offenders as originally intended by the law. 7 tables and 31 references