Three Strikes Law

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Three Strikes Law-Criminology Paper

Cost Comparisons of the Three-Strikes Law
Over the past several years, considerable debate has been centered on the well-publicized “three strikes and you’re out” policy. This law was put into place in the hopes of striking fear into the hearts of criminals by mandating harsher penalties. If these criminals are found guilty, they will be expected to serve a mandatory prison term of 25-years to life. Proponents (Mike’s Corner, 2006; Methvin 1997), of the three-strikes law, argue that it has been effective in reducing serious crime and that the reduction has had huge financial awards. Some studies (RAND, 2005) point toward other alternatives that could be more cost effective and keep the three-strikes law to only hardened criminals.

Having researched and studied different views and alternatives, I believe that the intent of this law has fallen short of it’s goals. The money to finance this law puts tremendous strain on our society’s quality of life. The three-strikes law will double the fraction of the general fund consumed by the Department of Corrections (RAND, 2005). This law will put enormous pressure on everything else the state spends money on, which will include education, environmental pollution, fighting brush fires, and regulating insurance's and other industries. Because over half of all prisoners sentenced under this law are for nonviolent crimes, I think an alternative law is necessary in order to ensure that only serious criminals are charged and prosecuted.

A study by the RAND Corporation has researched the three-strikes law and believes that legislators should reconsider a new law and, perhaps, favor an alternative mandatory-sentencing measure. RAND researchers constructed and ran analytic models taking advantage of data on arrest rates, time served, prison populations, and length of criminals’ careers. Using data on these populations, the researchers determined crime rates and costs. The findings show that both the benefits and costs of a new law would be substantial and that alternatives could be devised that would achieve most or all of the benefits at less cost. RAND analysis showed that, more often than not, the third-strike will accrue for a minor felony, such as motor vehicle theft, as opposed to one of the serious crimes for which this law was intended. RAND proposes a new law that would reduce serious felonies, committed by adults in California, between 22 and 24 percent. About a third of the felonies eliminated would be violent crimes such as murder, rape and assault causing great bodily injury. The other two-thirds would be felonies that are less violent or nonviolent but still serious, including less injurious assaults, more robberies, and burglaries of residences. This reduction in crime would be bought at a cost of an extra 4.5 billion to 6.5 billion per year in current dollars. The intent of the three-strikes law, of course, is to lock up repeat offenders longer, and that requires the construction and operation of more prisons. Some police and court costs may be saved in not having to deal so often with such offenders once they are locked up, but greater prison costs overwhelm such savings. This new law would get rid of “strikes” and instead guarantee that those convicted of a serious crime serve their full sentence. What if we adopted a law that sends all those convicted of a serious felony to prison, eliminate “good time” to ensure full sentence, and shift some minor felons from prison to probation (RAND, 2005)?

With an increase in prisoners, from the three-strikes law, comes an economic financial burden. The cost of keeping a shoplifter in prison for a minimum of 25 years costs approximately $22,000 per year (Mike’s Corner, 2006). The actual cost is estimated to be much higher for long term inmates, due to increased security and medical costs for aging prisoners. It is estimated that the three-strikes law will add an...
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