California Three-Strikes Law Not Cutting Crime
GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
Published On: August 28, 2001
Updated On: September 01, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001
These Books, Videos, & Manuals On Relapse
GORSKI-CENAPS Books - www.relapse.org 1-800-767-8181
& Consultation: www.tgorski.com,
Gorski-CENAPS, 17900 Dixie Hwy, Homewood, IL 60430, 708-799-5000
California Three-Strikes Law Not Cutting Crime
August 28, 2001
A new study criticized California's three-strikes law for being
ineffective and not helping nonviolent offenders with addictions, the Associated Press reported
on August 22, 2001.
The study by the Sentencing Project concluded that the state's
seven-year-old three-strikes law had no connection to the decline in crime
over the same period. On the other hand, the study showed that the state is spending more to house an aging prison population as a result of the
The research compared the crime rate in California to that of New York,
Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. The four other states also
saw a decline in crime rates, but do not have three-strikes laws in place.
Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, said the study
showed that a drop in crime is related to a variety of factors, including a good economy, a decline in gang activity, and use of community policing.
Under the three-strikes law, prison sentences for a second felony conviction are doubled, while a third conviction calls for a
25-years-to-life sentence. Because prosecutors have discretion in using the California three-strikes law, however, the study found vastly
different sentences being given for the same crimes.
Citng the July 1 implementation of Proposition 36, which mandates probation and treatment rather than jail for first- and second-time
nonviolent drug offenders, Mauer added, "It's almost like there are countervailing trends in California. There is public support for
non-prison alternatives to deal with substance abuse. And at the same time, there is a growing population of three-strikes offenders, many of
whom committed nonviolent offenses."
But California Secretary of State Bill Jones, who sponsored the bill while
a member of the state Assembly, challenged the study, stating that California's 41 percent decline in crime is twice the national average.
"Three strikes has proven without a doubt that we have delivered what we
promised back in 1994," said Jones, a Republican candidate for governor.
|New Report from The Sentencing
Project looks at California's "three-strikes" law seven years
and 50,000 prisoners after its enactment
The report Aging
Behind Bars: "Three Strikes" Seven Years Later, examines a
wide range of data and concludes that the law has not contributed to the
reduction of crime in California to any significant extent - contrary to
the claims of the law's supporters.
The study also shows that "three-strikes" has increased the
number and severity of sentences for nonviolent offenders, who now make up
two-thirds of the state’s second and third "strike" sentences.
California includes any of 500 felonies as a "third strike,"
carrying 25-years-to-life. Public support for the law, the study shows,
falls off dramatically regarding the practice of severe sentencing for
The "three-strikes" law, the report shows, is rapidly
expanding an aging and costly prison population—without the benefit of
cutting violent crime, funnelling a growing share of resources to
offenders who are moving beyond crime production age. Only 22% of arrests
in the state are of offenders above age 39 and only 5% of arrests are
above age 50. The study projects that by 2026, 30,000 offenders will be
imprisoned for a third strike with 25-years-to-life sentences, costing
$750 million per year. Fully 83% of them will be at least 40 years old.
California's considerable drop in crime between 1993 and 1999 (-41%)
was, much like national crime reductions the study cites, based on a
number of factors—an improved economy, declines in gang and drug
activity, community policing, the aging of prime crime populations. No
relationship, however, has been shown between crime rate drops and the use
of "three-strikes" laws, the report states, citing numerous
additional studies with the same conclusion. In fact, other jurisdictions
have had similar crime rate declines without instituting
"three-strikes": New York (-40.9%); Massachusetts (-33.3%); and
Washington, D.C. (-31.4%).
Examples of extreme sentencing disparities are not hard to find:
• Scott Benscoter, now a three-striker,
had two prior felony convictions for residential burglary when he was
sentenced to 25 years to life for the theft of a pair of sneakers.
• Gregory Taylor, homeless, was sentenced
to 25 years to life for trying to jimmy a church kitchen door for
• Arthur Gibson sentenced to 25 years to
life for crack possession, had last been convicted of a violent
offense in the 1960s.
The report is available on
line or via regular mail from The Sentencing Project -- call (202)
628-0871 to order.
|Find this article useful? You'll find 35,000 more just like it on JoinTogether Online (
http://www.jointogether.org ). Or, get the news via
email. Subscribe for free at http://www.jointogether.org/jtodirect
Reproduction or distribution of this information is encouraged! Join Together, a project of the Boston University School of Public Health, is a
national resource for communities working to reduce substance abuse and gun violence. For information, send email to