COMMENTS REGARDING 2004 JUSTICE POLICY INSTITUTE 10 YEAR REPORT ON CALIFORNIA 3 STRIKES

Note: This is a 5 year old study that attempts to counter the 10 Year Report on 3 Strikes and its impact on crime.

It should be also noted that this organization has titled itself to look like an official government agency; in fact it is no more than a liberal think tank that has historically opposed “get tough laws.”

Let’s take their report point by point.

Most strikers are in prison for nonviolent offenses. True, however 100% have prior convictions for serious or violent felonies. Some mention should be made of the difference between serious and violent felonies. With the exception of residential burglary in the serious category nearly all other violent crime appears in both sets of crime codes and it’s just a matter of how the charges were filed.

In other words you can have a convicted murderer who you can honestly say has never been convicted of a violent crime and it would be true if the conviction was under the serious felony codes.

RESPONSES TO 6 FINDINGS IN THIS STUDY

#1 – The law has impacted the size and scope of the California prison system.

We agree on this point, except the impact has been positive, not negative. In the 10 years prior to 1994 and the passage of 3 Strikes, the California prison system grew by 400% and built 19 new prisons. During the 10 years after 1994 California funded and built 1 new prison and grew 25% in population, far less than the 400% growth in the previous 10 years and most importantly far less than the predicted 100% growth that was officially estimated for the years between 1994 and 2004. In fact California prison population has moved from between 160,000 to 170,000 for 10 years straight. It should be also noted that last year, 2008, actually saw a 1,000 decrease in second striker inmates. Third strikers are adding less than 250 inmates per year for the last 10 years.

#2 – The law disproportionately affects offenders convicted of nonviolent offenses.

While the trigger strikes may be a nonviolent nonserious offense, by definition to be a striker you must have two prior serious or violent felony convictions.

Creditable studies have shown that a very high percentage of crime is, in fact, committed by a rather small percentage of criminals. These offenders are called “recidivist” or “repeat offenders.” This has been the focus of the 3 Strikes effort. The crime reductions have been historical and beyond explanation to the economy, population and growth, education change or other possible or explicable causes. The county by county study done by this group was an early on study over 1 or 2 years not the entire 10 year span. If they had the results would have been exactly as one would predict. Less use of the law results in higher crime in low use counties.

#3 The law disproportionately targets Blacks and Latinos.

The ugly truth is violent crime impacts black and Latino California citizens at a far greater rate than any other segment of society.

Example: Blacks represent approximately 6.5% of California’s overall population, but they also represent 25% of our murder victims. In simple terms, 1 in every 18 Californians is black. In every 4 murder victims is black.

Most people are murder by someone they know and in most cases it is blacks killing blacks, Latinos killing Latinos, whites killing whites. When someone calls 911 the operator does not ask what the race of the victim or killer is before they dispatch the police. It should be noted that when murder rates go up or down the groups that sees the greatest change is in the minority community.

#4 The law has no impact on crime.

This group has set the cost at $6 billion per year. California’s Legislative Analyst sets the cost at closer to $1/2 billion.

What one forgets that cost, in this case the cost of incarceration must also be weighed against any savings, such as the cost of a new crime, harm or death to the victim, costs to law enforcement, the courts, public defender and prosecutor. These costs are defined and estimated by the United States Department of Justice. The reduced crime that California has seen over the last 15 years has saved nearly $60 billion, over a million fewer victims and like this law or not, Californians have only one-half the chance of being a victims of a violent crime as they did prior to 3 Strikes. (see our 10 and 15 Year Reports at the Studies Page)

#6 The law has had implications for children of strikers.

Here, too, I agree – only positive influences.

The greatest influence on a child’s life is mom and dad. When that influence is a bad one then you will see a child’s role model become one that also brings him or her down to a level equal to or surpassing the example he sees in mom and dad.

How often do we see spouse abuse from homes where this was common? Child molesters nearly always claim they were victims as children. Many third strikers are in fact serving time for violence against their own family.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

There is no issue without its supporters and detractors and it is clear this group is struggling to find some evidence to support their position of opposition. The studies used in this report were too brief and are premature not spanning the 10 year period for which a law must be evaluated.

The study using other states and their 3 Strikes laws also totally misses the obvious – this is about California and its 3 Strikes law. While 24 states have some sort of 3 Strikes law, only California has aggressively pursued them and thus has seen the crime dropping results.