WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1997202/307-0703


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A review of "three strikes and you're out" laws passed in 24 states between 1993 and 1995 found that the impact of these laws varied considerably from state to state, according to a report released today by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The study assesses each state's provisions on repeat offender sentencing and specifically evaluates three-strikes legislation in Washington and California, the first states to enact such laws, for impact on local courts, jails and state prisons.

"Although many states have 'three-strikes' statutes on their books, the scope and application of these laws differ significantly across the country," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "The impact of three-strikes legislation on local jails and courts and state corrections has not been as severe as previously projected in either California or Washington."

All three-strikes laws examined in this study authorize or mandate longer periods of incarceration for those convicted of violent crimes. All of the three-strikes statutes increased the period of incarceration for violent crime, expanded the number of crimes included in the violent crime category or did both. With the exception of Kansas, all states reviewed in the study had enacted provisions for enhanced penalties for repeat offenders before they passed three-strikes legislation.

In addition, in Los Angeles County, which has the largest number of two- and three-strikes inmates, the number of two- and three-strikes cases filed has been declining.

In Washington, 40 to 75 persons were expected to fall under three-strikes provisions each year, but only 85 three-strikes offenders have been admitted to the Washington State prison system since the law took effect almost four years ago in December 1993. This early evidence suggests that three-strikes laws may have minimal impact on their respective criminal justice systems, most probably because these laws mostly apply to violent repeat offenders who already received lengthy sentences under pre-existing statutes.

The most noticeable difference about three-strikes legislation is that no common definitions exist for the terms "three," "strike" or "out" across the states. Generally, a strike offense is a violent felony, but some states add other charges, such as the sale of drugs or other drug-related offenses.

While three strikes are required to be "out" in 20 states, 7 also have enhanced sentences for two strikes. In South Carolina, a person convicted for the second time of a strike offense is sentenced to life without parole -- there is no third strike. States also differ as to sanctions imposed for accumulated strikes. Mandatory life sentences with no possibility of parole are imposed when a person is "out" in 12 states, while parole is possible in three states, but only after serving a 25- to 40-year prison term.

. The report was prepared from research conducted under a grant from NIJ to John Clark, a Senior Associate at the Pretrial Services Resource Center, James Austin, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and D. Alan Henry, Executive Director of the Pretrial Services Resource Center.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the Department of Justice, is the primary sponsor of criminal justice research and evaluations of programs to reduce crime. For general information about NIJ, the Internet address is General information about the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is available at

Copies of the report are available from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) by calling toll-free, 1-800/851-3420.

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NIJ 97-110

After hours contact: James Phillips at 888/582-6750