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Selective Incapacitation, Three Strikes, and the Problem of Aging Prison Populations: Using Simulation Modeling to See the Future

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 1 Issue: 3 Dated: 2002 Pages: 353-388
Kathleen Auerhahn
Date Published
36 pages
This article explores the potential consequences of California’s Three Strikes law and the aging of the prison population.
California has the largest criminal justice system in the United States. One of the most dramatic changes to California sentencing policy was the passage of the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” Law, a reaction to two publicized crimes committed by career criminals. This law has been used to sentence nearly 50,000 offenders. This is due to two features. The first is the “second strike” provision, which mandates doubling the presumptive sentence for a second felony conviction. These second-strike offenses account for the majority of Three Strikes prison admissions. The second feature is that the “strike zone” is more inclusive than that of any other State and includes many common felonies, such as drug violations and residential burglary. The Three Strikes laws have resulted in an offender pool that is substantially older than is the average offender committed to prison. Given that these older offenders are subject to long mandatory terms, the implementation of these laws is likely to increase the average age of prison populations. This results in higher health care costs in prison, the fastest growing segment of corrections budgets. The dynamic systems simulation modeling is the technique used to examine the long-term effects of sentencing reform on the California prison population. It is based on the integration of system flows over time. The system flows comprise the movement of individuals through the States of the criminal justice system. These analyses indicate that the effects of recent reforms may not be as dramatic as some observers have predicted, but they suggest that the consideration of alternatives to incarceration for elderly offenders is warranted from the standpoint of cost considerations and selective incapacitation. 4 figures, 4 tables, 19 footnotes, 78 references


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