Masters Thesis

Prison overcrowding in California as a result of the Three strikes law

Since 1994, California‟s three strikes law has been the most far-reaching of all the three strikes laws in the nation. While designed to incapacitate and deter violent habitual offenders from committing further violent crimes, the breadth of the law has led to more than that. It allows for third strike convictions for any of some 500 felonies, even offenses considered „wobblers‟ or offenses that could be charged as a felony or misdemeanor (Freedburg, 2004). Conviction of a second strike also allows for sentences which could be up to double what they would be if the offense was not considered as a strike. Oftentimes, these offenses counted as strikes are non-serious and non-violent. Convictions under this particular law have contributed heavily to California‟s current prison population crises. „Striker inmates‟ or those convicted under the „three strikes‟ law, make up one quarter (25%) of the total California prison population (California State Auditor, 2010). The costs associated with these incarcerations are continuing to cause tension when California is already in an uncertain financial situation. Reviewing the origins of the law to include the „tough on crime‟ approach to Proposition 184‟s passage and what has been done since then, provides some background leading to the current situation. An assessment of the three strikes law‟s current state gives support to the rationale that it should be changed. This is in order to both address the high number of incarcerated offenders convicted of non-violent, non-serious offenses and reduce the costs related to their incarceration. Three policy alternatives were examined; the ‘do nothing’ or no difference option, refining the definition of a strike to include only violent or serious offenses and the option of enhanced community supervision. After an analysis of the alternatives and application of criteria, the alternative of refining the definition of a strike to include only violent or serious offenses proved to be the most likely to succeed. This is because it met the criteria of effectiveness, feasibility, efficiency and adequacy.

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