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The Three-Strikes Law: Is It Effective?

American citizens have good reason to possess the concern they have for crime in the country. The crime rate is surging in many cities, and some citizens feel the only safe option for them is to remain in their homes. The approach taken by the legal system in response to this problem over the last 20 years is aggressive arrest policies and harsh sentences for convicted criminals. But many people believe that Americans are no safer than before this approach even though the country leads most of the world in incarceration rates.

One aspect of these harsh sentencing practices is the three-strikes laws embraced by legislators. These laws are popular with officials from local city councils to the executive branch of the federal government. Three strikes laws impose mandatory life sentences on repeat offenders who commit certain types of crimes. But many people doubt whether this policy does much to deter crime and keep Americans safe.

Crime Deterrence

The main benefit cited by supporters of three-strikes laws is the ability to deter violent criminals from criminal actions. But many people believe this proposed benefit of three-strikes laws does not exist [source].

It is important to remember that most violent crimes in America are impulse actions. The perpetrators of these crimes are often angry people under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And while the thought of a lifetime in prison may deter criminals who premeditate their crimes, these thoughts will likely not cross the mind of a person who has lost control of their emotions.

Some people do not believe three-strikes laws are an effective deterrent for career criminals. The rationale behind this argument is repeat offenders often do not think they will get caught committing their next crime. This fact minimizes the effect that thoughts of consequences for their actions can have on their decision-making.

Lack of Discretion in Sentencing

Three-strike laws make the predetermination that an offender will serve life in prison. This fact prevents judges from considering mitigating factors regarding a criminal offense. Many people believe one of the best aspects of the U.S. justice system is the judicial discretion judges to observe people as individuals.

Incarceration Costs

Three-strikes laws not only increase the number of people in prison. But these laws may prove able to create a population of elderly inmates for whom care is much more difficult to deliver. The cost to incarcerate the average inmate now costs $20,000. The cost to incarcerate elderly prisoners is triple the average number at $60,000 annually.

People in favor of harsh sentencing argue that the cost of incarceration is worth it if the person represents a significant threat to the public. However, age is the most significant factor for reducing crime. People aged 60 years and older are responsible for only 1% of the crime in America.

Effect on Minority Offenders

There is no way to get around the racial bias that taints the criminal justice system. African American men bear the brunt of much of this bias. Black men are commonly overrepresented in several key statistics that include:

  • Criminal arrests
  • Incarceration length
  • Executions
  • Criminal victimization

A major reason for this disparity is the “war on drugs.” While most studies show that the rate of drug use for Americans is similar regardless of race, black people in America face drug arrests more often than other groups. Many three-strikes laws include drug arrest as “strikes.” This situation makes it much more likely for African-Americans to receive a life term in prison due to a third strike.

The Bottom Line

Politicians and law enforcement officials often prefer a firm stance against the crime affecting American cities. Many jurisdictions have three-strikes laws in place that make life sentences mandatory for repeat offenders of certain crimes. But many people feel that after decades of these practices, the problems associated with three-strikes laws outweigh the benefits. Individuals who find themselves facing the consequences of three-strikes laws will benefit from speaking with a criminal defense lawyer.

Irma C. Dengler
With a BA in communications and paralegal experience, Irma C. Dengler decided to combine her skills. In the past, when she was involved in proceedings of her own, she witnessed firsthand the weight of legal language. A convoluted terminology can easily disarm the average American. Therefore, she set off to empower her readers by making the law more accessible to them. Although she has covered all areas of civil and criminal law, insurance-related issues, and her area of specialty are personal injury cases.

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