Study: California ‘three strikes’ law fails to reduce crime
WASHINGTON (AP) – A new study of California’s ”three strikes” law says it is causing a rapid aging of the prison population with no discernible effect on crime.
Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, said Wednesday the group’s study of the 50,000 prisoners convicted under the seven-year-old law found no link to the state’s precipitous drop in crime over the same period.
At the same time, Mauer said, the state is spending more money to house an aging prison population that is ”moving beyond crime production age.”
California Secretary of State Bill Jones, who sponsored the bill while a member of the state Assembly, challenged the study, noting a 41 percent drop in crime that is twice the national average.
”Three strikes has proven without a doubt that we have delivered what we promised back in 1994,” said Jones, a Republican candidate for governor.
The three strikes law, which doubles sentences for a second felony conviction and imposes 25 years to life for a third conviction, was enacted in March 1994.
The study compares the crime rate in California to the rate in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., jurisdictions where crime has fallen markedly with no ”three strikes” laws. It concludes that crime declined in the 1990s for several reasons, including a good economy, a drop in gang activity and use of community policing.
Mauer said the California law also leads to vastly different sentences for the same crimes, since prosecutors have discretion in using the law.
He pointed out that California voters in November approved Proposition 36, which gives first- and second-time drug offenders a chance to receive probation and treatment rather than jail sentences. The law took effect July 1 but has been challenged in courts across the state and interpreted differently by individual judges.
”It’s almost like there are countervailing trends in California,” Mauer said. ”There is public support for non-prison alternatives to deal with substance abuse. And at the same time, there is a growing population of three strikes offenders, many of whom committed nonviolent offenses.”
On the Net: The Sentencing Project report on California’s ”three strikes” law: http://www.sentencingproject.org/pubs/3strikesnew.pdf
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