Three Strikes Is Good Criminal Justice Policy

Article excerpt

In California, violent crime has been decreasing faster than the national average. In fact, all crime in this state has been decreasing at a record pace over the past three years. When asked to explain why, most law enforcement officials, from the attorney general down to the cop on the beat, cite the state's tough "three strikes" law that was signed by Gov. Pete Wilson in March 1994.

This law, which imposes a 25-years-to-life sentence on anyone convicted of a third felony (violent or nonviolent), is working in California.

As of April 30, 1996, more than 1,600 three-time felons with serious or violent criminal histories, and nearly 16,700 two-time felons with similar backgrounds, have been taken off the streets because of this law.

A recent Sacramento Bee study of the two-year-old law found that 84 percent of the third strike inmates had been convicted at least once for a violent offense and an average of five felonies overall.

News reports and interviews with parolees indicate that criminals in California are getting the message. They are scared of committing a third strike, leading many of them to go straight or leave the state when they are paroled. It's hard to argue with this kind of success. But there are those who do.

Since the three strikes law went into effect, inmate rights advocates and defense attorneys have been warning us of explosive prison costs and overloaded courts, and predicting little benefits from this tough-on-crime law. They are wrong.

The National Institute of Justice recently released a report that estimated the national cost of crime at $450 billion a year. That's nearly $1,500 a year for every man, woman and child in this country. If California counts for even 10 percent of this figure with its 32 million residents, that means our state is losing $45 billion a year to crime.

Several studies conducted by such respected groups as the Rand Corporation, National Institute of Justice, Brookings Review, Council on Crime in America, Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI), and Governor's Office of Planning and Research have said that incarcerating career criminals is a sound investment for state government.

For example, PRI's report said, "Californians can look forward to a savings of $10 billion to $14 billion (a year), simply from incapacitating criminals" under the three strikes law.

Yes, prisons in the long term will cost more money to build and maintain. …