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High crime rates are a societal problem that has changed the manner in which society functions. Recognizing the adverse effects that crime has on communities the state of California has implemented a three strikes law designed to deter crime particularly as it pertains to repeat offenders. The propose research will examine the effectiveness of California's three strike law as it pertains to deterring recidivism. Statistical data concerning crime rates and rates of recidivism following the enactment of the law will be analyzed and compared to the same statistic prior to the passage of the law. The results will examine the extent to which the deterrence effect has been effective as it pertains to the three strikes law.
Crime is a major social problem throughout the country. More specifically criminals who are repeat offenders make up a substantial number of the individuals that commit crime. With this understood many, states throughout the nation have developed programs that attempt to deter people from becoming habitual criminals. These programs are based on the deterrence theory of crime. This particular theory asserts that
"the more certain and severe the perceived punishment for a particular crime, the more likely individuals are to believe that the crime is not in their best interest. Therefore, they will not engage the act. In this sense, deterrence theory may be placed beneath the umbrella of the theory of reasoned action and its extension, the theory of planned behavior (e.g., Ajzen, 1991). These theories seek to explain intention to behave in a general sense, whereas deterrence theory aims to predict a specific set of intentions; that is, those directed at lawbreaking (Strelan & Boeckmann 2006, 2912)."
The state of California implemented the three strikes law in March of 1994 as a type of legislation designed to deter criminals from repeatedly committing crimes. This legislation "was enacted as Chapter 12, Statutes of 1994 (AB 971, Jones) by the Legislature and by the electorate in Proposition 184 (A Primer: Three Strikes - The Impact After More Than a Decade, 2005)." Under this law there is a minimum sentence of 25 years to life for individuals who are three-time repeat offenders. The law pertains to individuals who have previous serious or violent felony convictions (A Primer: Three Strikes - The Impact After More Than a Decade, 2005). The Three Strikes law has been controversial because it drastically increases the sentences that some repeat offenders are given. For instance, "a defendant who has prior convictions for assault on a police officer and burglary of a residence, both considered serious or violent crimes. " This defendant is also arrested for receiving stolen property, a nonserious and nonviolent felony. Prior to the implementation of the Three Strikes law, he would have served a two-year sentence for the property offense. However as a result of the law, he would receive a life sentence (A Primer: Three Strikes - The Impact After More Than a Decade, 2005).
Goodno, (2007) explains that within the state of California the three strikes law was implemented as a response to the murders of young girls by career criminals. Indeed, in the early part of the 1990's the murder of two young girls increased the awareness of the citizens of California's to the problems of criminal recidivism. The first of the two murder occurred in 1992 when eighteen-year-old Kimber Reynolds was killed during an attempted robbery. The person who murdered her was a paroled felon whose criminal record included gun and drug charges. Following the death of Kimber, her father began to encourage legislators to implement more stringent sentencing for repeat criminals (Goodno, 2007).
In an effort to get tougher legislation passed Reynolds testified in front of the California Legislature in support of a bill involving the three strikes composition for habitual criminals. The bill called for sentencing of 25 years to life for repeat offenders. At the time the bill did not become law. However a few months after the bill was struck down Polly Klaas, who was twelve years old, was also murdered by an individual will a long criminal history. Eventually the Klaas murder became a major catalyst for the development and implementation of the three strikes legislation in California.
Since implementing the legislation, questions as to whether this program is working as a deterrent have persisted. Many argue that this program is too stringent and has done nothing more than increase the prison population. Many also assert that the problem of crime in California has only been decreased by a minimal amount and that such decreases would have been realized even if the state had not implemented the three strikes law.
Review of literature
Kovandzic, Sloan & Vieraitis (2004) report that between the years of 1993 and 1996 a total of 25 states and the federal government implemented three strikes and you're out laws. Of the states that implemented such laws, California has been the most persistent in enforcing these laws. In the years since the implementation of the tree strikes laws in California there have been several studies aimed at determining whether or not the law has been successful at deterring crime.
Theoretical Goals of Three Strikes accomplished through three strikes
Goodno (2007) reports that there are two primary theoretical principles associated with the three strikes law. In addition to the deterrence effect already discussed, the law is also based on the incapacitation effect (Goodno, 2007). The incapacitation effect involves the idea of repeat offenders being detained for longer amounts of time, during this time of incarceration offenders are incapable of committing new crimes. Additionally, proponents of the law asserted that it would have a deterrent effect. This simply means that possible criminal activity would be deterred because of the potential for longer as a result of the Three Strikes law (Goodno, 2007). Goodno (2007) asserts that studies conducted in the years since the implementation of the three strikes law have shown that the law has an effect on incapacitation and deterrence.
As it pertains to the Incapacitation Effect, observations have found that since the inception of the three strikes law the amount of sentenced third-strikers decreased every year from 1996 until 2003. Goodno (2007) also notes a similar decrease involving second-strike offenders. However, 'some claim that the drop in capital sentences since 2000 may be linked to the Three Strikes law. One possible interpretation of this decline is that there are fewer strikers every year because the law is doing its job. In other words, defendants who are habitual offenders are incapacitated and cannot commit any additional crimes while serving the longer sentence (Goodno, 2007, 9)."
Goodno, (2007) also reports that prisoners with strikes have usually committed more serious crimes than those who don't have any strikes. This is a significant issue to take into consideration because it demonstrates that the law is functioning in the manner that it was intended to function. That is the law serves the purpose of incapacitating felons who, are usually more prone than others to engage in criminal activity (Goodno, 2007).
Goodno, (2007) also contends that the law has also had a deterrent effect. This deterrent effect is most evident as it pertains to the decrease in the crime rate since the law was first implemented in 1994. Goodno, (2007) reports the finding so a 1999 study conducted by the FBIwhich suggested that
"[s]ince California enacted its three strikes law in 1994, crime has dropped 26.9%, which translates to 815,000 fewer crimes. While numerous social and economic factors underlie crime rates, the correlation between the drop in California's crime rate and the enactment of the Three Strikes law is notable. One interpretation of this correlation is that potential offenders may be deterred from committing crimes because of the possibility of serving longer sentences (Goodno, 2007)."
In addition many studies have confirmed the deterrent effect of California's three strike law. Goodno (2007 explains that in one survey most juvenile offenders questions responded that they were aware that they would be sentenced to 25 years to life they would not commit a serious or violent crime. Additionally other studies have found that the three strikes model has a deterrent effect because it "reduces felony arrests rates among the class of criminals with 1 strike by 29 to 48% & #8230; and among the class of criminals with 2 strikes by 12.5% (Goodno 2007, )." Goodno (2007) also reports that when utilizing an economic model, another study found that the Three Strikes law continues to deter offenders from committing crimes that would qualify for a first strike (Goodno 2007, ).
In addition to decreases in crime rates in California, the deterrence effect can also be observed as it relates to the parole statistics (Goodno, 2007). Goodno (2007), reports that more parolees have left the state of California than have come into the state. When giving the opinion for Ewing v. California, Justice O'Connor asserted that as "[a]n unintended but positive consequence of 'Three Strikes' has been the impact on parolees leaving…[continue]
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