Sociology Index

Three Strikes Law

General Deterrence, Incapacitation, Specific Deterrence

Three-strikes laws are enacted by state governments which mandate state courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. The name borrows from baseball a game in which batter is permitted two strikes before striking out on the third.

The three-strikes law increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of a felony and who have been previously convicted of two or more serious felonies. The three-strikes law limits the ability of such offenders to receive a punishment other than a life sentence.

Dangerousness and Incapacitation: A Predictive Evaluation of Sentencing Policy Reform in California - Kathleen Auerhahn - Sponsoring Agency: US Dept of Justice, National Institute of Justice, United States.

This predictive evaluation of sentencing policy reform in California concludes that the State's "Three Strikes" law will not be effective in incapacitating dangerous offenders, and it recommends alternatives to guide policymakers in constructing and implementing sentencing policies that will effectively target and incapacitate dangerous offenders.

Abstract: Sentencing policies that claim to enhance public safety by selectively incapacitating dangerous offenders must make clear the characteristics of a dangerous offender and must ensure that these dangerous offenders are actually the ones targeted for selective incapacitation. In discussing the history of efforts to predict "dangerousness," this study notes the limited success of these endeavors. Sentencing innovations such as Three Strikes and Truth in Sentencing aim to select the most dangerous offenders for lengthy incarceration, thereby isolating them from society; however, due to structural constraints, the net effect of these laws may be a reduction in the aggregate level of dangerous offenders in the prison population, as more dangerous offenders who are not subject to mandatory minimum sentences are released to make room for "Three Strikes" and other mandatorily sentenced offenders. The principal trends were the aging of incarcerated populations and the increased influx of drug offenders into the system. The first two of the scenarios accept the fact of an aging prison population and examine ways to focus the Three Strikes law more narrowly on particular types of offenders (those who have shown a capacity for violence either in the past or in the current offense). The third alternative would implement a program of geriatric release in California prisons.