When a career criminal kidnapped a 12-year-old Polly Klaas in a slumber party in their home in 1993, he murdered him in cold blood. The resultant effect of this criminal act of a serial offender triggered the legislature to pass a law with the intention of ensuring that serial offenders are not released after incarceration. Specifically, the Three Strikes law was passed in the following year 1994 with the intention of stopping the criminal actions of violent recidivist offenders.
This law required the defendant if convicted of any new felony, and having been previously convicted of a serious felony, be sentenced to jail for twice the jail term that is otherwise stipulated under the Californian Penal Code. Additionally, if the defendant was to be convicted of any new felony with prior two or more strikes, he/she should be convicted for a jail term of at least 25 years, which could be extended to life imprisonment. This law passed in 1994 subsequently underwent an amendment in 2012 giving the defendant the leave to appeal to the court to reduce their third term to the second strike. This law was passed by the legislature and approved by the Californian citizens via a popular initiative. Since it was passed, this piece of legislation has been applauded and criticized in equal measure. The following are the notable pros and cons of the three strikes law. However, the criticisms outweigh the benefits. As such, the law should be repealed.
Pros of Californias Three Strikes law
The citizens of California approved this law because they were aware of the advantages that the provisions of the legislation contained. Since its passage, the crime rates in California have reduced marginally. This has been necessitated by the rate of deterrence that the law offers to serial offenders. Additionally, many of those criminals who are life offenders have been put behind bars hence leading to the safety of the citizens. When criminals or other people who might contemplate executing any criminal acts that might amount to felony become aware of the provisions of the law, they are deterred as they face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in prison. Additionally, putting behind bars those who are repeat offenders ensures that the society is cleansed from those characters that endanger its safety and security. As a result, there has been relative peace since the inception of the Three Strikes law in 1994. Specifically, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office, the violent crime rates in California reduced by a whopping rate of 51% from 1991 to 2003, which is far much higher compared t the national crime reduction rate of 31%. The felony criminals in 2002 were relatively fewer than in 1993 despite the rapid growth in the population between the two periods.
The relative peace that the residents of California enjoyed after the enactment of the Three Strikes law is another advantage that came along with its implementation. As such, they are able to conduct their businesses with ease knowing that the violent criminals will not ambush them. Additionally, their businesses have thrived as they have worked with great calm. More importantly, the cases of kidnappings have decreased as those who are responsible for these felonies have been jailed. This relative peace has increased the happiness of families and the freedom of the citizens. Before, they could not mingle freely for the fear of any criminal acts being perpetrated on them, their families, relatives, or friends. The ultimate beneficiary of this peace and security is the government. In this regard, due to the thriving businesses, the economy grew as well. Eventually, the livelihood of the citizens was improved. Parents now sent their children out in the streets without the worry of them being abducted and killed.
The reduction in the number of crimes and criminal as well has been a good thing for the law enforcement officers. In this regard, the police have now had enough time to deal with pother cases of insecurity other than the actions of the career offenders. Specifically, the law enforcement officers have had to concentrate on a small number of offenders who have been left in the society. Due to the reduction in the number of violent crimes committed between 1994 and 2003, the other crimes have also reduced, as the officers are able to concentrate on ensuring that those other misdemeanors do not threaten the peace and security of the citizens. The police are not now at risk of being subdued by the violent criminals who had sophisticated weapons. On the contrary, the maintenance of peace and order in the society by the police has been easier due to the enactment of the Three Strikes law.
The passage of the Three Strikes law has saved the society some costs in a way. Specifically, the costs of investigating and prosecuting the career offenders every time they commit a felony have been saved. Notably, there were investigators who had to secure the crime scene and combine the evidence that could be used to show that the career offenders are responsible for the commission of a particular felony. Additionally, they spent a lot of time investigating and are, therefore, compensated by the use of public funds. As such, the law saves the citizens those unnecessary costs. The costs that have also been saved are those of human suffering. In this regard, those parents whose children were being kidnapped as well as the relatives of the victims of the criminal acts suffered a lot from trauma and fear. This law reduced all those costs and brought happiness to the people.
Cons of the Californias Three Strikes law
Despite the advantages and the benefits that the passage and implementation of the Three Strikes has had, it has been widely criticized on several grounds. The laws have been viewed as bringing injustice to the repeat offenders instead of justice. Specifically, there are those criminals how have been put behind bars for more than 25 years for petty offences. In this regard, some committed the offences of shoplifting and petty theft while others who have committed other bigger offences and have been let scot-free. The law was meant to eliminate the career offenders from the society. However, the law enforcement officers, investigators, and prosecutors victimize those who have been previously found guilty of an offence. As such, many people have been victims of the Three Strikes law are otherwise supposed to be free. Similarly, there are others roaming the streets who are supposed to be behind bars.
The application of the three strikes law has led to prison overcrowding. Considering the number of serial offenders who have been sentenced to life and other long sentences in prison, the prisons are not able to withstand those large numbers. The facilities and infrastructure in the prisons have been strained, as they cannot cater for the large number of prisoners being sent for jail terms. Life in the prisons has been unbearable, as they have to share the limited resources that are available. The Californian authorities have not reviewed the number of inmates and thereby, not considered increasing the facilities to cater for the increasing number of prisoners. Due to overcrowding in prisons, the Supreme Court at some point ordered that the more than 30,000 non-violent criminals be released as the housing units in the prisons had become very cruel and another unusual form of punishment.
The costs that are involved in maintaining the high number of inmates have been a burden on the taxpayers. Notably, the prisoners have to eat, bath and sleep like other citizens. However, unlike other free citizens they cannot earn a living and are, thereby, funded by the government. Keeping those inmates in prison has costed the government a lot of money. Notably, the increasing number means that the budgetary allocations to the prisons department is increased every single financial year. The resultant effect is that the citizens of California have to dig deep into their pockets to shoulder these costs. Specifically, it takes an amount in the region of $45000 to keep one inmate in prison for a year. As such, keeping more than 10,000 is surely very costly for the citizens who have to pay more taxes.
The Three Strikes law does not give room for the use of other methods of non-custodial sentence and rehabilitation. Its focus is on ensuring that the violent criminals are imprisoned for more than 25 years for their third strike. However, these people can find hope in ensuring that they are well rehabilitated instead of dimming their hopes of living like other normal citizens. The chances for any hopes and redemption for the inmates are distinguished when The Three Strikes laws are invoked. This makes the laws disadvantageous in the criminal justice system.
To summarize, the Californias Three Strikes law required career offenders to be sentenced to twice the sentence for a particular crime if they are found to have committed that crime for the second time. Additionally, when they do so for the third time, the laws require the offender to be sentenced to a prison sentence of a minimum of 25 years to life imprisonment. These laws when implemented led to the reduction of crimes by 51% in the period between 1993 and 2003. Additionally, they led to increased peace and security for the citizens. However, the costs that are involved in the maintenance of the large number of offenders in prison is high for the citizens. Additionally, the laws lead to injustice as the police unfairly target some of the offenders. More importantly, the laws do not give room for rehabilitation offenders. As a result, these laws should be reviewed so that they can be refined to achieve justice, give room for rehabilitation, and hope for the inmates.
Lynch, M. (2011). Mass incarceration, legal change, and locale. Criminology & Public Policy, 10(3), 673-698.
Romano, M. (2009). Divining the spirit of California's three strikes law. Fed. Sent'g Rep., 22, 171.Sutton, J. R. (2013). Symbol and Substance: Effects of California's Three Strikes Law on Felony Sentencing. Law & Society Review, 47(1), 37-72.
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