Have “Three-Strikes” Laws been Effective and Should they be Continued?

Table of Contents


Three Strikes Laws are legislation implemented by various states that aim at punishing offenders who commit the same crimes again. Kenneth (2000, p. 457-469) indicates that the significant of the law is to secure the society from those who repeatedly commit felonies that put the individuals at risk. Three Strikes Laws count critical crimes for the first two strikes, but place a lower punishment for the third time.

Three Strikes Laws heightens the prison terms of individuals charged with crimes, and have been recently punished. Thus, it limits the capability of these offenders to get other penalty rather than a prison sentence.

Because Three Strikes laws are enacted to decrease crime through deterrence and incapacitation, studies have shown that they ought to test for both effects independently before determining if the laws are effective. The paper will focus on the thesis that has three-strikes laws been effective and should they be allowed to continue despite their ineffectiveness.

Deterrent and incapacitation

According to Schafer and Vitiello (2002, p.311), the deterrent impact can be used to measure how the three-strike law affected the offenders in California. Since California implemented the law in 1994, crime has declined by 26.9 percent that amount to decline of offenses to 815000 (Walsh, 2007, p.131).

Schafer and Vitiello (2002, p. 312) indicate that three strikes laws have shown to have little deterrent effect because its jurisdictions are positively related to homicide rates than that did not.

Schultz (2000, p. 557) indicates that separating how much of the reduction in crime is attributable to deterrence and how much has been caused by incapacitation is a formidable action. If the studies find that, there is no incapacitation effect, then the policy of incarcerating offenders for long periods would be ineffective, and an unwise way to use valuable state resources.

Schafer and Vitiello (2002, p.311), the Three Strikes laws have only an incapacitation impact that prevents current habitual offenders from committing new crimes, but nothing to discourage a new wave of criminals. Incapacitating these criminals for a lengthy period is not expected to have a considerable impact on the crime rate because they have already slowed their rates of reoffending.

Meanwhile, the Three Strikes criminals are unconcerned with being caught or inability of thinking about the consequences of their actions because they are under the influence of drugs.

Walsh (2007, p.135) claims that the state implementing the legislation has already been sentencing enhancements available to use against repeat offenders. Thus, the increase in punishments is not essential enough to produce a measurable deterrent or incapacitation effect in the society.

Costs and its effects

The key function of California DCR is to ensure individual safety via secure and incarceration of criminals. To achieve it mission, effective supervision of offenders and rehabilitation strategies successfully reintegrate criminals into society is required. There are fundamental expenses that corrections of offenders do not have clear information on their costs (Walsh, 2007, p.121).

In California, it was reported that there are a total of 172,008 inmates in state institutions costing, on average, $35,587 per inmate. These costs are as result of increased workload due to medical guarding and transportation that is covered through overtime.

California taxpayers spend almost $1.5 billion as a direct result of the three-strike law yet the crime rate has shown no development as it is in other countries. They focused on its high cost of its implementation, absence of evaluation components, discrimination effect on an individual of color and consensus of opposition among criminal justice (Samaha, 2010, p.82).

For instance, Three Strikes laws like Tennessee had chosen not to implement the legislation at all because they are ineffective and discriminate by equating vastly different criminal charges (Schultz, 2000, p.557). Meanwhile, these policies of warehousing inmates to decrease crime are also likely to be regarded a costly and ineffective use of resources.

In additional, many of the offenders affected by the law are older and already have a relatively low rate of offending. Samaha (2010, p.85) indicate that three strikes require a significant minimum sentence that can be reduced by 20 percent for a considerable period; however, this is not the case since some sentences are lengthy.

Three Strikes Law and Society

Three Strikes laws aim at the youths who are most at risk for taking part in illegal, and most of them are illiterate and unemployed upon arrest. According to Kenneth (2000, p. 457-469), these offenders require education and training for productive employment rather than arrest and incarceration in nonproductive prisons.

Moreover, opponents of proposition 184 argued that the relative irreversibility of the Three Strikes laws takes a constitutional amendment to change the law. Thus; they severely limit judicial discretion based on the scope and severity of the people felony.

Their aim is to fill prisons with hopeless criminals, who are caught repeatedly, but who contribute little to the crime rates in the society. Thus, the law might even increase crime due to the Three Strikes offenders who fill the prisons to the extent that the sentence terms for other criminals are reduced.

According to Kenneth (2000, 457-469), the states that practices the Three Strike laws has no discernable impact on crime, expect that they produce a large increase in homicides. Thus, criminals eliminate witnesses so that they can escape the three strike penalties.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Auerhahn did a research on the capability of California’s Three Strikes law to capture the most critical criminals in the society. Schafer and Vitiello (2002, p.308) indicate that one of the California mission is to lock up violent felons before they could commit crimes again, and target the offenders who accumulated convictions that are more serious.

Therefore, if the strategy is effective, then criminals who are still left in society should be less dangerous than those who have been incarcerated under the legislation. Thus, after her experiment, she concluded that there is no incapacitation effect attributed to the law in society.


The law is ineffective because criminals with the same offense history but diversity ordering of crime commission face different sentencing eligibility on offender activity.

The law requires that the offenders commit a provoking offense so that to activate eligibility for Three Strikes law penalty. According to the law, offenders face different potential sentences than those who committed the crime and provoked the offence; thus, not fair in imposing the punishment.

Compulsory minimum sentencing laws requires judges to impose a nondiscretionary minimum amount of prison time that all offenders have to serve (Samaha, 2010, p.57). Meanwhile, when a state agrees to enact the three strikes laws, it should make judgment to protect the public safety via incapacitating offenders of their violent crimes.

Although, the three strikes laws show ineffectiveness, in various occasion it proved a significant tool of the crime control in the societies. Finally, the three strikes laws should be implemented wisely because they can condemn an offender to a lifetime in prison for a crime that might be minor in society. Three strikes laws have proven themselves economically unstable, ineffective criminal deterrents and violators of constitutional rights of various states.


Kenneth W. M. (2000). Habitual Offender Laws: Three Strikes and You’re out. Crime and Delinquency. Vol. 43: pp. 457-469.

Samaha, J. (2010). Criminal Law. New York: Cengage Brain Inc.

Schafer, R., Vitiello, M. (2002). Do “Three Strikes” Sentencing Laws Help to Reduce Serious Crime? Journal of Human Right. no. 12: pp. 308-322.

Schultz, D. (2000). “No Joy in Mudville Tonight: The Impact of Three Strike Laws on State and Federal Corrections Policy, Resources, and Crime Control.” Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. no. 9: pp. 557.

Walsh, J. (2007). Three strikes laws. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.

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