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Three-Strikes Law Has Little Effect, Study Says

March 05, 2004|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Replicating research done for a 1996 study commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice, the Justice Policy Institute estimated that, as of last September, the three-strike prisoners added to the state's penal system since March 1994 had or would cost California an additional $8.1 billion to incarcerate.

And more than half that amount -- about $4.7 billion -- is directly attributable to longer prison terms for those convicted of nonviolent crimes, the report states.

The researchers conclude that state officials should reexamine both the costs and criminal justice consequences of the law so they can decide whether it should be amended or abolished.

Given the variety of other factors, including the economy, that have contributed to the past decade's decline in crime, Jack Riley, director of Rand's Public Safety and Justice Program, agreed that a new look at the state's three-strikes law was warranted.

"If there was ever a place where three strikes was going to work, it was California because the California version of the law was broad in terms of the felonies it covers and deep because it has the potential to cover an awful lot of people," Riley said.

"But I don't think you can call three strikes a clear home run in terms of cost-effectiveness," Riley said. "It may have had an effect on the margins of the crime rate. But given that it is not a clear home run, you have to ask ... whether there are better ways to spend those public resources."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX) Impact of three-strikes law

A comparison of California's 12 largest counties concluded that those with the most three-strikes imprisonments from 1993 to 2002 had no better crime trends than the counties with the fewest.

Most imprisonments: San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Fresno

Three-strikes imprisonments 87 (per 1,000 felony arrests)

Changes in crime rates

Homicide -51% Violent crime -40 Property crime -46

Least imprisonments: Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco

Three-strikes imprisonments 42 (per 1,000 felony arrests)

Changes in crime rates

Homicide -53% Violent crime -50 Property crime -43

Source: California attorney general's office

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