• Print
  • Email author
  • Bookmark and Share

A decade later, most states barely use "3 Strikes"

23rd September 2004

Washington, DC: According to a new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a decade after their much touted enactment, most states rarely use "Three Strikes and You're Out" laws. The report also found that, even though Strikes laws were aimed at violent offenders, violent crime dropped more in states not enacting Three Strikes laws than in states with Three Strikes.

The report found that 23 states have Three Strikes laws.  Most of those (10 states and federal government) were enacted a decade ago in 1994 when fear of crime in public opinion polls peaked; the rest were enacted within a few years of 1994.  Imprisonment data was available for 21 of those states. According to the data, fourteen states had fewer than 100 people imprisoned under Three Strikes laws; and only California (42,322), Florida (1,628) and Georgia (7,631) had more than 400 Three Strikes prisoners.

"With all the fanfare behind the implementation of Three-Strikes ten years ago, it's ironic that most states find little use for them with the notable exception of California, which has fallen into the ocean in terms of its Three Strikes rate.  For the most part, the monstrous offenders politicians told us they'd lock up wound up to be few and far between," said Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute and report co-author. "Despite early predictions of Three Strikes as a violent crime panacea, strikes states had slightly smaller declines in violent crime than non-strikes states," Schiraldi added.

The report also found that California, the only state in which any felony can trigger a life sentence as a third strike, out-strikes all the other states combined four-fold. With a population of 35 million, California imprisons 42,322 people under its Three Strikes laws; the other 20 states for which data were available have a combined population of 112 million and only incarcerate 10,624 people under their strikes laws.

"Fear of crime was at such a fever pitch in 1994 in California that many people failed to realize that the sweeping nature of the law would put thousands of nonviolent men and women in prison for twenty-five years to life, for crimes as minor as shoplifting about $2 worth of batteries, forging a check for $94, or attempting to buy a macadamia nut disguised as a $5 rock of cocaine," said Joe Domanick, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School and author of Cruel Justice, Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State.

Data from the FBI Uniform Crime report revealed that Three-Strike states had less of a decline in homicides and violent crime than non-strike states.  Strikes states saw a 33.0% decline in violent crime and a 38.2% decline in homicides versus a 34.3% decline in violent crime and a 43.9% decline in homicides, respectively, in non-strike states, between 1993 and 2002.  Three Strikes states had greater declines in index crime, driven by greater overall declines in property crime, than non-strike states.

Similarly, Florida and Georgia, the other heavy using Three-Strike states, had less of a decline in violent crime and murder than neighboring, non-strike Alabama, but greater declines in index crime driven by greater declines in property crime.

California, a large Three-Strikes state, and New York a large non-strike state, were responsible for nearly half of the decline in crime in the strike and non-strike states, respectively.  The two states offered a stark basis for comparison because New York experienced a 5.7% decline in its incarceration rate from 1993 to 2002, compared to California's 17.7% increase.

Despite non-strike New York's declining incarceration rate, from 1993-2002, New York saw its index crime rate drop 27.2% more than strike-heavy California's (49.6% vs. 38.8%); New York's violent crime rate dropped 19.8% more than California's (53.9% vs. 44.9%).

Citing data from JPI's previous report that showed that African Americans were 10 times as likely to be sentenced under Three Strikes as whites in California, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) stated "I've worked especially hard, first to stop, and now to repeal, the "three strikes" legislation that is responsible for unfairly locking up so many African-American and Latino males. Over 65 % of the people being locked up under Three-Strikes are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, which is draining our state's budget of millions that could be used for education and alternatives to incarceration."

"This study shows that, on Three Strikes, California is far out of step with the rest of the country. We can change this, and we must change this," added Lee.

 © Justice Policy Institute

Three Strikes and You're Out: An Examination of the Impact of Strikes Laws 10 years after their Enactment was authored by Vincent Schiraldi, executive director, Jason Colburn, research assistant and Eric Lotke, research director at the Justice Policy Institute.  A copy of the report can be obtained at www.justicepolicy.org

viewed here