03 Dec 2012

3 Strikes Law Pros And Cons

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In weighing up the 3 strikes law pros and cons I thought it would be best to discuss the latest research project which has looked at this very issue. According to an article in Security Magazine, research by criminologist, Robert Nash Parker, Sociology Professor at University of California, Riverside concludes that “3 Strikes Laws” have not had any effect upon crime rates in California. He states “There is not a single shred of evidence, research or data to show that three strikes have caused a 100 percent decline in violence in California, or anywhere else in the past twenty years.” He adds that other researchers who have studied crime in California cities and counties have reached the same conclusion.

3 Strikes Law Pros And Cons – Defining Success

In considering Professor Parker’s conclusions, one must first look at what his definition of a successful law is. A 100 percent success ratio when dealing with human activity is on its face an unrealistic standard. Speaking from both personal and professional experience, some people simply cannot be rehabilitated to a successful, law abiding citizenship level, either due to chronic mental illness, substance abusers unwilling or unable to stop using or hardened, permanently ingrained criminal mentality. Professor Parker touches on the complexity of criminality when he observes the correlation between alcohol consumption and violence in society, as well as the effects of high unemployment. He focuses on the costs of incarceration and California budget woes as onerous and too focused on “over punishment”.

To be sure, indiscriminate and inconsistent application of a policy renders any policy ineffective; however, to dismiss part of a complex approach to crime is much like throwing out a computer because a driver has been corrupted. While research is a valuable tool to ensure best practices are developed and that tax dollars are most effectively utilized, it must be carefully evaluated as to what the evidence is actually saying. In this case, it can be concluded that by itself, three strikes is ineffective in crime deterrence. It does not, however, demonstrate that three strikes is not a useful tool when combined with other criminal justice programs.

For example, Professor Parker cites the prohibitive costs of incarceration of violent criminals, ostensibly, criminals that have previously been through diversion and other alternate attempts at rehabilitating them. There is no corresponding analysis of the costs to the state of continued victimization of citizens by an individual violent offender, comparing the costs of incarceration, to the loss of life, disability, medical costs, loss of employment and resultant tax revenue, not to mention the costs of rising contempt for the rule of law among those entering into the realm of criminal activity.

3 Strikes Law Pros And Cons – My Experience

There is very little that disrupts the morale and motivation of a law enforcement professional more than to see a repeat offender released into society and perpetrate additional, often horrific crimes against new victims. One of the headlines that are guaranteed to raise my ire is a driver convicted of 10 or more DUI’s out driving again while intoxicated and killing law abiding citizens or a convicted child molester placed on an ankle bracelet monitor, only to cut it off and disappear until caught molesting another child, often with increasing violence.

While economic factors in the incarceration of criminals are an important consideration, the costs to the state by not incarcerating repeat offenders must also be considered. I was assigned to provide security for “drug court” an alternative to incarceration for petty crimes involving substance abuse. This multidisciplinary approach was encouragingly effective in quite a few cases that would have otherwise resulted in continued substance abuse and reoffending. That said, there were some that simply could not or would not respond to this approach. On occasion, standard incarceration in line with the offense was sufficiently harsh to motivate behavior changes, but there were still those that defied every effort to stop criminal offending.

Recommendations for improvement

In my view, there needs to be a further refinement in dealing with repeat offenders to best utilize the three strikes law. For those with intractable mental health or substance abuse issues, policy and legal guidelines need to be revamped in the mental health profession to commit these individuals in a secure facility to prevent them from continuing to endanger public safety, with regular evaluations of the person’s treatment status. This is preferable to standard incarceration. The complete dismantling of mental wards without an effective strategy to deal with those who simply cannot be successfully restored to community integration is a great example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

That said, one of the complicating factors in dealing with violent offenders is the over emphasis placed on mitigation, such as a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. While those factors should be considered in any decision dealing with criminal activity, it must not be lost that millions of individuals have survived these kinds of abuse without resulting in criminal behavior. Having observed criminal trials over several years, the inconsistent application of mitigation, some judges being “hanging judges” and others using mitigation to absolve any criminal responsibility, has led to a dysfunctional, chaotic criminal justice framework.

Finally, no discussion of effective criminal justice policy would be complete without discussing the role of families, communities and neighborhoods. Family and community social pressure is at the forefront of intervening and deterring early on in criminal behavior. Supporting and complementing these efforts should be placed at the forefront of criminal justice policy and strategy. Simply put, there is no single “magic bullet” that will eliminate or even deter criminal behavior and there is plenty of evidence that states, especially California, must do a better job of prioritizing government activities, services and spending. For those individuals that simply cannot be rehabilitated or deterred, three strikes laws are an effective means of ensuring the law abiding public is protected from these criminals.

Do you see “Three Strikes” as an effective tool to stop the criminal acts of an individual or simply an ineffective deterrence? What do you see as an effective approach to crime? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

About

Juli Adcock served as a patrol deputy with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a Rape Crisis Center and in victim's advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org), a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen, as well as basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership.
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