Three-strikes law costly and ineffective, study says
California's controversial and costly three-strikes law has done nothing to deter crime despite expanding the state's prison population, according to a new study.
In fact, violent crime began falling almost two years before the law was enacted in 1994, statistics show. The study pegs that the decrease in crime to lower alcohol consumption and unemployment, which was largely in decline before the current economic downturn.
The study was written by Robert Parker, director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at UC Riverside, and it is scheduled to be published in the spring issue of the California Journal of Politics and Policy. Parker says the three-strikes law should be repealed.
“If this very expensive policy isn’t really impacting crime, what are we doing?” he said. “Why are we spending all of this money, why are we cutting health, welfare and education repeatedly to fund an expensive system that doesn’t deliver on what its promises were?”
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), the former state parole chairman, disagreed with the study and said the three strikes rule has been successful.
"I have looked these individuals in the eye," he said. "I am convinced in all my heart that it is absolutely a deterrent."
Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles) is pushing legislation that would ask voters to ease the three strikes law in a November 2014 ballot measure. Davis wants to limit harsh prison sentences to offenders whose third conviction is for a violent or serious crime rather than any felony. Out of 7,575 inmates serving time for a third strike, 46% were convicted of a nonviolent or non-serious offense, according to a 2005 report from the Legislative Analyst's Office.
The bill passed the Assembly last month and is headed to the state Senate. Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) criticized the bill in a statement, saying, "It's outrageous that Democrats used California's budget problems as an excuse to chip away at a critical measure that has lowered crime rates significantly."
The three-strikes law, which gives harsher sentences to previously violent felons who commit a third crime, was overwhelmingly enacted by voters in 1994. But a poll last year said residents would rather loosen the rules than pay more for prisons.
-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Photo: An inmate watches television in a California prison dorm set aside for older inmates. Thanks in part to the three-strikes law, the population of older inmates has increased significantly. Credit: Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times