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Still Striking Out: Ten Years of California's Three Strikes

NCJ Number
Scott Ehlers; Vincent Schiraldi; Jason Ziedenberg
Date Published
March 2004
34 pages
This report analyzes the impact of California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law at its 10 year anniversary.
While many States passed habitual offender laws during the early-to mid-1990’s, California’s “Three Strikes” law is much more punitive because it doubles the sentence for any felony conviction when the offender has one prior serious conviction for a felony offense or it requires a mandatory 25 year-to-life sentence for any felony offense when they offender has committed two prior serious or violent felony offenses. Additionally, offenders sentenced under this law are not eligible for parole until they have served at least 80 percent of their sentence. Since the passage of the “Three Strikes” law, more than one in four prisoners are serving a doubled sentence or a 25-year-to-life sentence in California; and most are serving time for nonviolent offenses. The extremely punitive nature of California’s law brings up questions concerning its actual impact on crime in the State. As such, this report summarizes and analyzes findings from a variety of criminal justice and research agencies that have researched California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law. Six main findings emerged from this analysis: (1) the law has impacted the size and scope of the California prison system; (2) the law has disproportionately effected people convicted of nonviolent offenses; (3) the law has disproportionately effected African-Americans and Latinos; (4) the law has not been associated with large drops in crime; (5) the law has had a significant financial impact on California; and (6) the law has had implications for the children of California’s prisoners. Each finding is discussed in turn and current legislation that would limit the application of the “Three Strikes” law to only serious or violent felonies is explored. The authors assert that with California’s current budgetary woes, coupled with the evidence that the “Three Strikes” law has not reduced crime and functions in a discriminatory manner, California’s citizens would do well to consider major changes to the “Three Strikes” law. Figures, endnotes