The actual ?law? has five major moving parts. First there is the ballot initiative (i.e. Proposition 184) then there is the actual statute that was passed and then there are three other code sections that identify the types of violations that count as ?strikes? against you. Those other types of sections are labeled juvenile felonies serious felonies or violent felonies. In 1997 the Wisconsin State Assembly voted 86-8 to approve what many supporters call a ?truth- in- sentencing? bill. The bill proposed that convicts should serve no less than 100 percent of their sentences as a get-tough-on-crime measure. The bill also would require prisoners to be under community supervision for at least 25 percent of their prison time after they are released. Wisconsin prisoners would stay behind bars for their entire sentence without any chance for parole. Both Three Strikes and Truth In Sentencing legislation have been advocated as punitive and deterrence strategies for reducing violent crime within our communities.
Three Strikes laws impose long prison sentences for third felony convictions. These laws are designed to curb repetitive serious criminal behavior. Washington State enacted the first law of this type in 1993. Since then more than two-dozen states and the federal government have enacted three strikes laws. The state of Minnesota doesn’t have an official three strikes law although it does have a law mandating a life sentence for certain sexual offenders who commit a third sexual offense. Minnesota requires a mandatory sentence of “at least the length of the presumptive sentence under the sentencing guidelines” for persons convicted of two or more prior felony convictions for violent crimes. Also Minnesota’s heinous crimes law requires the court to sentence an offender convicted of second-or-third-degree murder to the statutory maximum sentence if the offender was discharged from a prior “heinous crime” sentence within the past ten years . Robbery theft assault and motor vehicle theft continues to decline. Is there a relationship between these types of crimes and those who are now incarcerated? It is generally recognized that a minority of criminals commit a majority of the crimes; therefore one offender may be responsible for multiple incidents within a type of crime. In defending the three strikes legislation California Governor Pete Wilson stated that two-thirds of violent crime perpetrated by less than 10% of convicted felons. He further related that during the first three years of the law 2 900 violent criminals were imprisoned while overall crime dropped 20% with violent crime down 9.3% and property crimes down 14% . Most states have initiated tougher sentencing for habitual offenders and for crimes that have a link to additional criminal acts. Since 1990 the number of people in custody has risen more than 577 100 or 1 708 inmates per week. Today more than 1.7 million people are confined in state federal and local correctional facilities. As the repeat offenders are taken off the streets it is reasonable to expect that the repeatable crimes should significantly decline. In the 1980?s crime in Texas jumped 29% creating a ratio of eight crimes for every 100 citizens. During the 1990?s after the creation of additional prison space and a concerted effort to fill it with repeat offenders the rate dropped to 5.6 crimes per 100 the lowest since 1973 .
Some of the benefits and costs of the new law are that if fully implemented the new law will reduce serious felonies committed by adults in California between 22 and 34 percent. This reduction in crime will be bought at a cost of an extra $4.5 billion to $6.5 billion per year in current dollars . The intent of the three-strikes law is of course to lock up repeat offenders longer and that requires the construction and operation of more prisons. Some police and court costs may be saved in not having to deal so often with such offenders once they are locked up but greater prison costs overwhelm such savings.
Many questions arise when getting the new law all squared away such as alternatives. What would happen if the state got rid of ?strikes? and instead guaranteed that those convicted of a serious crime serve their full sentence? In other words what about adopting a law that sends those convicted of a serious felony to prison eliminates ?good time? for such felons so that they must serve their full term and shifts some minor felons from prison to probation? It is necessary to compare the benefits and costs of the new law and these alternatives relative to the old law. But for all the alternatives to the new law the cost would drop more than the effectiveness. For example applying the new law?s penalties only to violent felonies would save half its extra cost but retain two-thirds if its effectiveness . Cost effectiveness is not necessarily the most important criterion. To some people a reduction in serious crime on the order of 30 percent would be attractive no matter what the cost. The new three strikes law does not crack down on first-time serious offenders. Instead it expends large amounts of money keeping older criminals including many convicted of minor offenses locked up.
The money to finance three strikes will have to come from somewhere. Health and welfare costs have been going up for a long time and show no sign of leveling off. The new three strikes law will double the fraction of the general fund consumed by the Department of Corrections. Consequently these increases will put enormous pressure on everything else the state spends money on.
According to Clear a mandatory sentence is a sentence stipulating that minimum period of incarceration must be served by people convicted of selected crimes regardless of background or circumstance. The ?three strikes and you?re out? laws are examples of mandatory sentencing. In California where they are most commonly used the laws have resulted in clogging the courts lowering rates of plea bargaining and causing desperate offenders to violently resist arrest . As with all laws there are the pros and cons that consequently follow them. One study has showed that the law did not have a large impact on the reduction in rates of serious crimes or petty theft. Research in Los Angeles has shown that the impact of the law hits African Americans the hardest. According to statistics during the first six months 57% of those charged under the new law were African American which happened to be 17 times the rate of Whites. One California study reported that 84% of a sample of three-strike offenders ?had been convicted at least once for a violent crime ? as well as and average of five felonies a piece. This was revealed after it was argued that these laws unfairly affect nonviolent offenders. The three-strikes law is like a double-edges sword in that while it is successful at obtaining its objectives it also has a flipside. Does the three-strikes law really make a difference and affect the crime rate? The following according to Clear are the pros and cons regarding the laws in California. The law does incapacitate habitual offenders (its main objective) but there is no hard evidence that the law has had a deterrent effect on crime commission. The California law targets repeat felons but captures mostly nonviolent offenders. Three strike defendants decline plea bargains and crowd jails which in turn leads to the early release of other offenders. Prison problems are exacerbated by demand for space high costs of building and staffing safety and health concerns for inmates and employees and an escalation of geriatric inmate health care costs. Through the experience of other mandatory sentencing laws and the impact expected by them it served as a model for the three strikes law. In 1973 when New York imposed tough mandatory sentences for drug dealers prosecutors had to reduce charges to get guilty please because the sentences raised the stakes for the defendant so high .
Forty states employ some version of a truth-in sentencing law and since 1996 the Department of Justice has provided more than $1.3 billion in the incentives grants programs. This has stirred up so much attention that the federal government has allocated most of the $10 billion for prison construction only to those states that adopt truth-in sentencing . Critics of Truth In Sentencing say the measure strains the already overcrowded state prison system. Others say the bill?s costs with one estimate into the hundreds of millions were not scrutinized enough by lawmakers. ?When it comes to this we can buy a pig in a poke with no consideration of the fiscal effect because we want to be crime-fighters ? said Rep. Marlin Schneider D-Wisconsin Rapids. Majority of the people support the bill and say that its costs are worth the money. ?I think that this bill is not about costs. I think this is about saving money by locking up criminals ? Rep. Tom Sykora R-Chippewa Falls. Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin signed the bill and said that the new law will provide more peace of mind for the public and assure crime victims that assailants will not be back on the streets quickly. ?When you get 10 years in prison you stay in prison 10 years. Not one day less ? he said. The law also requires the state to review its criminal code and determine whether to revise penalties for crimes. One of the major is that juries in aggravated murder cases now have a fourth option to consider in sentencing to send a convicted killer to prison for life. That choice joins the other three options in capital cases: life with 30 full years served life with 20 full years and death. When asked if the new life-without-parole option result in fewer death sentences David Diroll executive director of the criminal sentencing commission said ?Perhaps it?s a tough call?. While the new law lengthens prison terms it also accents the importance of programs designed to reduce the recidivism rate.
When it comes to developing new laws that potentially do so much good and obtain all their objectives the question of funding inevitably arises. It seems unlikely that Californians will put up with drastic reduction in governmental services but increased taxes are decidedly unpopular. Clearly something?s got to give. It may be the three-strike law itself. Criminal justice officials may simply not have the money to fully implement it. If that?s the case lesser effective alternatives might need to be employed. Whatever the case may be three strikes and truth in sentencing legislation are deterrent strategies that could potentially be very successful in reducing violent crime in our communities.