“Three Strikes Law” in California: Policy Analysis

Free «Three Strikes Law in California: Policy Analysis» Essay Sample

In American jurisprudence, “Three Strikes” laws are also known as “habitual offender laws” (White, 2006) that embody a set of criminal laws adopted at the official level of a particular US state and provide the opportunity for the state courts to sentence those who committed three serious offenses to a long imprisonment. Such state policy of condemnation of repeat offenders has become quite popular in the United States since the end of the 20th century. A title of the law arose from the baseball rules, where a batter may miss two strikes before retiring from the game, conceding a third strike. Practice shows that “Three Strikes Law” is an important and effective law that needs, however, to be improved because it does not always objectively assess the situation and makes it possible to severely condemn a person for minor offenses.

Historical Development of the Policy

Conviction practice of imposing longer prison sentences on repeat criminal than on a first-time offender is not new (White, 2006). For example, in New York State such kind of law has been acting since the late 19th century. However, its implementation is not mandatory. Therefore, judges in each case have a right to determine the scope of the researched policy effect and could determine the term of imprisonment of criminals on their own, in a fairly wide range (“Three Strikes Laws,” n.d.).

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The first mandatory “Three Strikes Law” was passed in 1993 in Washington State in a referendum. A year later, a similar law was approved by the residents of the state of California with the score of 72% “for,” and 28% “against.” Californian law is called “Three Strikes – and You’re Out” because of judges’ stern approach. For this reason, an offender having committed three crimes is sentenced, in fact, to a life imprisonment. Similar laws have been passed soon in many other states, but none of them is as tough as in California. By 2004, “Three Strikes” laws were adopted in 26 states as well as by authorities at the federal level; namely, third offense entails life imprisonment without any possibility of parole for a long time or a more common variant that includes a 25-year prison sentence (“California Three Strikes Law,” n.d.).

Forces that Influenced the Development of the Policy

Social, political, legal, and economic forces that influenced the development and emergence of the policy are evident. The discussed law is an attempt of the government on both the official and local levels to protect law-abiding civilians. It deals predominantly with repeat offenders. There are a number of citizens who are building a criminal career. Official authorities have decided to strictly judge those persons who commit three violent crimes to prevent further possible misdeeds.


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From a political point of view, this approach should reduce a number of potential criminals and improve the crime situation in the whole country. Thus, during the period of 15 years before the introduction of the “Three Strikes Law,” the total number of serious crimes mounted to 9,559,079 (“15 Years of “Three Strikes,” n.d.). Moreover, for 10 years before the adoption of the law, the number of prisoners in California increased by 400% (“3-Strikes 1994 to 2004,” n.d.). Consequently, it became an obvious burden on the US economy. It gave all the legal bases for approval of the policy in most states. It is also significant to note that a a horrible precedent was a main force for the law adoption. The law was tabled after the murder of Sharon and Michael Reynolds’ daughter in 1992. The girl was killed by two men who were supposed to be in jail.

Efficacy and Unanticipated Consequences Associated with the Policy

According to the records of the Department of Justice and the California Department of Corrections, the number of such crimes as murder, rape, robbery, armed assault, and vehicle theft during 15 years after the implementation of the “Three Strikes Law” have decreased to 6,990,057 (“15 Years of “Three Strikes,” n.d.). However, the downward trend in a number of offenses was observed at this time across the whole United States, even where such laws were not introduced.

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There is a widespread opposition to the application of the discussed law that explores a strain, which “Three Strikes” put on the already overcrowded prisons. Nevertheless, comparing with 400% increase of prisoners before 1994, the number of punished criminals was only 25.5% during 10 years of the law enforcement (“3-Strikes 1994 to 2004,” n.d.). It stresses a significant reduction in the rate of growth.

A number of researchers believe that the adoption of the “Three Strikes Law” will require a construction of a number of new prisons. Although 19 new prisons were built during a decade before the enforcement of the law in California, there was none created for 10 years after the implementation of the law (“3-Strikes 1994 to 2004,” n.d.). At the same time, we cannot but note that the number of prisoners increased; thus, a situation with overcrowding became even worse (Thompson, 2008).

Finally, there is a concern that the perpetrators who commit a third offense have more reasons to try to avoid a punishment. It is especially relevant for the state of California, where the law is particularly severe. This state of affairs suggests the possibility of increasing the number of attacks on police, but it is unknown whether the aforementioned criminals will become more aggressive and whether they will seek to kill police officers.

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Effects of the Policy Implementation

Evaluating the effects of policy implementation, we should refer to official data. It shows that during the 15 years after the judicial system’s conversion to the law in 1994, $54 billion were saved by means of reduced crime rate, 3 million fewer victims of crime were recorded, the growth in prison construction reduced, and nearly 10,000 fewer murders were registered (“15 Years of “Three Strikes,” n.d.).

Solution to the Problems in the Current Structure of the Policy

According to our perspective, one of the best solutions of the current problems could be the reassessment of the gravity of the third crimes. De facto, in California an offender can be sentenced to 25 years, even if the third offense was a miserable one (as petty theft of nine videotapes, or four cheap chocolate chip cookies). It is necessary to establish a clear definition of serious offense and exercise leniency in the case of minor crimes. It can be just and effective for educational purposes. There are situations when a person commits an offense under duress. If he/she feels the understanding of society and gets its forgiveness, it can really help fix the consequences of misdeed and make amends.

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In 2004, in California there was an attempt to accept the amendment to the law. It stated that the last offense should be serious or violent to condemn a person to a 25-year sentence or life imprisonment. However, with 47.3% being “for” and 52.7% voting “against”), the amendment was not passed (Couzens & Bigelow, 2015). We believe that it should be adopted in every US state which exercised the “Three Strikes Law.”

Relevant Research Methods and Applications

Considering the “Three Strikes Law,” it is necessary to apply a systematic method of analysis that helps assess the impact of the law in a combination of factors. Social, economic, and political agents are dialectically interrelated. For this reason, pardoning the criminals’ miserable misdemeanor and imposing of proper penalties will economize more money and promote humanism in society at the same time.


The researched “Three Strikes Law” is a tough but effective law that requires improvements. It is really able to protect civilians from repeat offenders as well as break someone’s life in case of committing a nonessential third offense. For this case, its core problem is the use of biases. Establishing a clear framework for the researched law application, the state authorities are able to turn it into a significant instrument of justice through the adoption of amendments.

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