3 Strikes Targets Less Violent - Older Offenders

3 Strikes Targets Less Violent - Older Offenders
Posted by FoM on August 23, 2001 at 13:27:20 PT
By Greg Krikorian, Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times
A study released today concludes that California's controversial three-strikes law has contributed significantly to the aging of the state's prison population--a trend that could have significant implications for crime rates and the costs of the justice system. The report by the Sentencing Project of Washington, D.C., a liberal think tank, states that in the first five years after the 1994 law took effect, the median age of male inmates rose from 29 to 31. It had previously taken almost a quarter-century for the median age of inmates to increase from 26 to 29.
In nearly six of 10 cases in which offenders were imprisoned for 25 years to life, their third conviction was for a property, drug or other nonviolent crime. Similarly, 69% of defendants convicted of a second-strike offense, which doubles their sentences, were found guilty of nonviolent crimes. As a result, the report says, third-strike convictions have had no major impact on serious crime while costing taxpayers sums that could rise to $750 million a year by 2026."The fact of the matter is . . . we do not see any significant impact on crime," said Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project. "Yet we do see a ticking time bomb in terms of . . . the number of prisoners and the targeting of the wrong age group and the wrong kind of offenders."The findings were disputed by Secretary of State Bill Jones, who co-wrote the three-strikes law in 1994 and credits it for California's big drop in crime ever since."The truth is you only get to the third strike if you have already committed two or more serious crimes, and many of those who get to that point have more crimes than that in their background," Jones said. "So when you are talking about affecting the crime rate, we decided with three strikes to go after the 6% or so of criminals who do 60% of the crime."Since the law took effect March 7, 1994, we have had a 41% drop in crime--an estimated 1.5 million crime victims--and [criminals] got the message," Jones said.According to the report, the crime rate in New York, which does not have such a law, also plummeted by 40.9% during the same period. With crime rates dropping significantly in states across the nation, the authors conclude, there is "little evidence" that California's three-strike law has had a major impact.Among the other conclusions:* Though the three-strikes law by itself has not increased the state's prison population, it has significantly changed the demographic makeup of inmates. Racial disparities have been exacerbated, for example, with blacks, who make up 31% of the prison population, accounting for 44% of the third-strike convictions.* Felony admissions of inmates above age 40 have increased dramatically: from 15.3% in 1994 to 23.1% in 1999. That occurred even as admissions declined for those between 20 and 35 years old. If the current third-strike conviction rate of 1,200 defendants a year continues, an estimated 30,000 third-strike inmates will be serving sentences of 25 years to life--83% of them over age 40--in 2026.* With a greater number of older inmates serving longer terms, the cost of incarceration will increase because of such factors as increased expenses for health care.Margot Bach, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said the agency concluded in 1999 that the number of inmates over age 60 would rise from 1,860 to 7,100 by 2025 for several reasons, including the longer sentences mandated by three strikes.Though no cost projections were available, she said, "We know that tougher sentencing laws will commit more people for longer periods of time. And that will put the responsibility on the Department of Corrections to provide the needed care for these older inmates."In the last decade, 26 states have adopted three-strike mandatory sentencing laws but few have resulted in more than 100 convictions, according to the report. California's use of the law has eclipsed that of other states. By mid-1998, California had convicted 40,511 inmates on second and third strikes; Georgia, in second place, had sentenced 942 inmates under its law.As of last May, the report adds, more than 50,000 California inmates had received long prison sentences under the law. The total included 6,721 for third-strike terms of 25 years to life and 43,800 for second-strike convictions that double the sentence normally handed down.Three-Strikes Impact:A new study concludes that California's three-strikes law has not fulfilled its principal mission: to significantly reduce crime.California's crime rate dropped 41% between 1993 and 1999, but other jurisdictions without three-strikes laws also showed significant declines:*--*California 41% New York 40.9% Massachusetts 33.3% Washington, D.C. 31.4% New Jersey 29.2%*--*California is one of 26 states with a three-strikes law but has used it far more extensively than any other state. The states with the most such convictions as of mid-1998:*--*California 40,511 Georgia 942 South Carolina 825 Nevada 304 Washington 121 Florida 116*--*Justice: The state's policy has had little effect on crime, the report by a liberal think tank says.Source: The Sentencing Project, Washington, D.C. -- Title: 3 Strikes Targets Less Violent, Older Offenders, Study Finds Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)Author: Greg Krikorian, Times Staff WriterPublished: August 23, 2001Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comWebsite: Articles:Justice: Federal Drug Charges Rise Drug Users Get Treatment, Not Jail
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Comment #2 posted by Sam Adams on August 23, 2001 at 14:38:20 PT
terrible policy
Yes Dr. Russo, it's been a spectular failure. CA's 3 strikes and NY's Rockefeller drug laws are the most egregious criminal justice disasters in recent history. More people have been sentenced to 3 strikes in CA for marijuana offenses than for any other crime. The first person sentenced to 25 years under the program was convicted of larceny - stealing a 24-oz beer from a convenience store freezer. No shit.
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on August 23, 2001 at 13:42:13 PT:
More Feelgood Politics
The whole concept of 3 strikes was sold by politicians running on planks of being tough on crime. It was never based on science or sociology, but was rather driven by an increasingly powerful military-incarceration complex whose lobbying force is formidable.Dubya's tax refunds are in the mail, Social Security is in trouble, and government is wasting your money on this nonsense. Prison is for violent people who cannot be integrated into society--nothing else. Learn something from all those sociology PhD's for a change.
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