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

Three Strikes and You're In: The Effect of Ewing v. California and Three Strikes Legislation on Prison Population and Resource Management

NCJ Number
Justice Policy Journal Volume: 3 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2006 Pages: 1-35
Kelly Ann Cheeseman; Rolando V. del Carmen; Robert Worley
Date Published
35 pages
This paper examines the legal history of "three strikes" legislation (laws that provide for more severe sentences for individuals convicted of three felonies of specified types) and explores the impact these laws have on the criminal justice system, particularly prison populations, correctional budgets, and the percentage of elderly inmates.
The authors conclude that the intent of "three strikes" laws--namely, to increase the incapacitation period for habitual, dangerous offenders and thus reduce the level of violent and serious crime--has not been achieved after almost a decade and a half. Although it may still be too early to make a final judgment on the effectiveness of these laws, what is needed are more studies to determine whether such laws are having their intended effects; and if not, whether they should be modified or abolished. This paper traces the legal history and court rulings regarding habitual-offender and three strikes laws, followed by a review of current pertinent legislation, with attention to variations in State and Federal laws. A review of research on the impact of such laws does not show as many "three strikers" in the prison population as originally projected. This is due largely to prosecutors' and judges' use of their discretion to dismiss prior "strikes" and the use of diversion programs for drug offenders. According to a 2003 study by the Justice Policy Institute, of those "three strikers" who are imprisoned for longer periods than a third felony would typically draw, 57 percent were given a 25-years-to-life sentence for a nonviolent third offense. More "third strikers" were serving such a sentence for drug possession than for second-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and rape combined. 62 references