U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Effect of Three-Strikes Legislation on Serious Crime in California

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: July/August 2004 Pages: 283-296
John L. Worrall
Kent B. Joscelyn
Date Published
July 2004
14 pages
Building on previous research, this study explored the deterrent and incapacitative effects of California’s three-strikes law on serious crime.
In the mid-1990's, California adopted the three-strikes legislation to remove repeat offenders from society for long periods of time. Despite the competing views on the utility of three-strikes legislation, little research existed concerning its effect on crime. In an effort to improve on existing knowledge, this study explored the effect of three-strikes legislation on serious crime using county-level data from California for the years 1989-2000. The study used economic, demographic-oriented regressors in a series of fixed effects regression models. The study also modeled the incapacitative effect of three-strikes legislation and spatial autocorrelation in the dependent variable. Findings indicate that the deterrent effect of three-strikes legislation was fairly weak, contrary to previous research. It also did not appear that three-strikes caused certain crimes, such as homicide to increase as previously reported. With regard to three-strikes' incapacitative effect, it appeared that all index crimes were reduced when more three-strikes were committed to prison. More importantly, three-strikes appeared to have virtually no deterrent or incapacitative effects on serious crime. In conclusion, it does not appear that three-strikes in California has had a significant deterrent or incapacitiative effect on crime, even after controlling for how likely criminals are to be sentenced under three-strikes and after controlling for county-specific trends and other variables. Three-strikes in California has had no discernible positive or negative effects in terms of crime. References