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Three Strikes and You're Out: The Implementation and Impact of Strike Laws

NCJ Number
Date Published
114 pages
This report reviews the impact on crime and the criminal justice system of “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws.
Over the past few years 24 States and Congress have passed legislation under the slogan of “Three Strikes and You’re Out.” As part of the general political thrust to mandate increasingly tough prison terms for repeat offenders, this form of legislation seeks to ensure that habitual offenders receive the toughest sentence available to the state absent the death penalty: life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. With the noted exception of California, there has been virtually no impact on the courts, local jails, or State prisons; nor does there appear to have been an impact on crime rates. It would appear that California’s law has had a major impact. As of 1998, more than 40,000 offenders have been sentenced to California’s prisons under two- or three-strikes provisions. However, the projected effects of the law have not been realized as the State’s local criminal justice system (the courts in particular) have found ways to circumvent the law and use it along local political and organizational interests. The report suggests that this form of legislation was carefully crafted to be largely symbolic. The impact of three strikes has been less than anticipated, as the courts, and in particular the prosecutors, have taken steps to minimize the new laws’ potential effects. Notes, tables, figures

Date Published: January 1, 1999