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Three Strikes and You're Out: A Review of State Legislation, Research in Brief

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 1997
16 pages
Publication Series

Between 1993 and 1995, 24 States added three-strikes laws to already existing laws that enhanced sentencing for repeat offenders.


The rapid expansion of such laws reflects perceptions that existing laws were not sufficiently protective of public safety in their application and/or outcome, that new laws were needed to address exceptional incidents, or that the intent of existing laws was being frustrated by other factors. An analysis of the three-strikes law in Washington indicates planners expected between 40 and 75 persons would fall under three-strikes provisions each year. However, more than 3 years after the law took effect, only 85 offenders have been admitted to the State prison system under the law. All but one of these 85 offenders have been sentenced for crimes against persons. California's prison system has admitted many more three-strikes offenders than any other State since April 1994, more than 26,000 as of December 1996. Most three strikes inmates in California have been sentenced under the two-strikes provision and for nonviolent crimes. The analysis of three-strikes laws in the 24 States reveals States have authorized longer periods of incarceration for those convicted of violent crimes, what constitutes a strike and under what conditions varies among States, and States differ as to what sanction will be imposed when sufficient strikes have accumulated. Early evidence shows that, with the exception of California, most three-strikes laws will have minimal impact on State prison systems because they were drafted to apply to only the most violent repeat offenders. 20 notes and 10 exhibits

Date Published: September 1, 1997