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The three strikes law has passed in California with the intention of removing career criminals from the streets for good. Three felony convictions earn the defendant a sentence of life in prison, with little chance of receiving parole. While some believe that these measures are necessary, there are others who do not see the benefit. The three strikes policy is controversial because a person convicted of a minor felony can receive a life sentence. “Research shows that habitual offender sentencing laws have little effect on crime rates, and some research indicates they may actually increase crime rates, hardly the desired effect.” (Sean Rosenmerkel, Matthew Durose, and Donald Farole, Jr., Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2006).
Pro #1: Habitual Offenders Are Discouraged.
If a criminal knows that they face life in prison if they continue to live a certain lifestyle, the three strikes law can serve as a motivating factor to clean up their act. There is no opportunity to commit the same crimes over and over again, as the judge eventually removes the person from society altogether.
Con #1: Prison Costs Go Up.
The more felony cases that are prosecuted, the higher the costs are to the state’s court system. The more felony cases that result in a conviction, the higher the costs of maintaining state prisons become. Who ends up footing the bill for these added expenditures? The taxpayers. Prison overpopulation also becomes an issue, necessitating the building of extra prisons.
Pro # 2: Crime Rates Are Reduced.
When criminals are removed from the street on a regular basis, the crime rates for the area are significantly reduced. This is due to the imprisonment of habitual offenders and also can be attributed to the fear that the three strikes law puts into the heart of those who are considering a life of crime.
Con #2: Most third strikers are not incarcerated for serious or violent offenses.
“In California, 59% of those serving a second strike sentence were incarcerated for a non-serious offense. 46% of third strikers can say the same. This accounts for more than 24,000 prisoners in just one state.” Lombardo, C. (2015, September 22). Pros and Cons of Three Strikes Law. Retrieved February 02, 2018, from http://visionlaunch.com/pros-and-cons-of-three-strikes-law/#
Pro #3: Citizens Enjoy Peace of Mind.
Citizens are able to rest easy under the three strikes law, knowing that their governing bodies are doing everything they can to keep the streets safe. They can send their children out to play with no worries and have no issues with traveling to any neighborhoods during the late-night hours.
Con #3: It doesn’t allow for individual variability.
Standardized sentencing doesn’t take into account any circumstances when there’s a third strike. If a guilty verdict occurs, the sentence is automatic. There are several examples in the US for 20+ year sentences being handed down for being in possession of less than 1g of an illicit drug.
The pros and cons of the three strikes law show that in theory, it could be a beneficial system. In reality, however, more prisoners who have committed non-serious offenses are serving extended sentences simply because of a repeat offense. When the costs of housing prisoners are considered, these key points must be carefully evaluated.
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