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Impacts of "Three Strikes and You're Out" on Crime Trends in California and Throughout the United States

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 24 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2008 Pages: 345-370
Elsa Y. Chen
Date Published
November 2008
26 pages
Using cross-sectional time series analysis of State-level data from 1986 to 2005, the impacts of “Three Strikes and You’re Out” on crime in California and throughout the United States are analyzed.
“Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws have been adopted by half of the American States, but California’s policy is much broader than the corresponding habitual offender laws adopted elsewhere. More than 100,000 convictions have resulted from under California’s Three Strikes law. Yet, the approach taken in California has not been dramatically more effective at controlling crime than other States’ efforts. The reasons for why a law of this scale and scope has not had a greater impact on crime deserve further examination by researchers. Despite the limited use of Three Strikes statutes in States other than California, the laws presence throughout the United States is associated with accelerated rates of decline for robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, all of which are potentially deterrable offenses. This finding, in conjunction with the data on the relatively few inmates incarcerated under Three Strikes policies in most States, suggests that any crime reduction associated with the presence of Three Strikes outside California should probably be attributed to deterrence effects rather than incarceration effects. One clear conclusion from this analysis is that the toughest sentencing policy is not necessarily the most effective option. Between the years 1993 and 1997, the “Three Strikes You’re Out” sentencing laws were passed in 24 American States and the Federal justice system. Three Strikes laws mandate long sentences for certain habitual offenders, usually 25 years to life in prison for third-time violent offenders. The broadest and farthest-reaching Three Strikes law was enacted by the State of California in 1994. Tables, notes, and references