Research Proposal: Three Strikes High Crime Rates

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[. . .] More California parolees are now leaving the state than parolees from other jurisdictions entering California. This striking turnaround started in 1994 (Goodno, 2007)." The trend demonstrates that parolees who are more likely to leave California because they are aware that if they continue with criminal activity they will face tougher penalties in California (Goodno, 2007).

According to Chen (2008) soon after the law was implemented, supporters asserted that there were significant decreases in crime rates as a result of the law's passage (Ardaiz, 2000; Lungren, 1996, 1997; Reynolds, 1995). The effectiveness of the law was also revisited in 2005. Reynolds (2005) reported a 46% decline in the index crime rate from 1992 to 2002. In the report Reynolds asserts "The reduction in crime that occurred after the passage of 3-Strikes speaks for itself . . . any objective assessment would credit 3-Strikes with playing a major role in California's record crimes [sic] drops (Reynolds, 2005 quoted in Chen 2008 )."

In addition, a study of the three strikes law conducted by the California Attorney General's (CAG) Office in 1996 found that the implementation of the law resulted in a million fewer criminal victimizations and a decrease in murders by 5000. However, Helland & Tabarrok (2007) explain that these figures are not accurate because the CAG only "compared the drop in crime in CA between 1994 and 1996 to the drop in crime in other states and concluded that the difference represented the effect of the law. Even a simple improvement in methods such as an examination of before and after trends finds much smaller and generally insignificant effects (Helland & Tabarrok 2007)"

Helland & Tabarrok 2007 also point out that Shepherd (2002) has the most accurate study as it pertains to the impact of the law on crime rates in California. This assertion of accuracy is made because Shepherd (2002) utilized a structural model and the data were compared with county level data and county fixed effects. As a result of using this method Shepherd found that during the two years following the implementation of the three strike law murders were decreased by 8, there were several thousand fewer aggravated assaults, and four hundred thousand fewer burglaries.

The method used by Helland & Tabarrok 2007 is quite different from any previous effort. Instead of investigating the aggregate crime rates and connecting them to a measure of three strikes law the authors follow a large group of criminals released from prison in CA during the same year that the three strikes rule was implemented. The authors then determined the deterrent effect by "comparing the subsequent arrest profiles of criminals who were released with 1 and 2 strikes to criminals released with 0 and 1 strike respectively...Through utilization of this method the authors found California's three strike legislation significantly reduces felony arrests rates among the class of criminals with 1 strike by 48% and among the class of criminals with 2 strikes by 12.5% (Helland & Tabarrok 2007, 309)."

Although many studies showed that the three strikes worked as a deterrent and assisted in the reduction of crime rates. There are also many studies that have found that the three strikes law has not acted as a deterrent or resulted in a decrease in the number of crimes committed in California. According to Walsh (2007) many opponents of three strikes laws contend that they are unfair because the sentences given to offenders are severe when compared to the triggering offense. They also assert that such laws are ineffective as it pertains to crime reduction. It has also been argued that such laws result in negative outcomes for the criminal justice system in the form of courtroom back logs and overcrowded detention facilities.

An article entitled "Three Strikes Law Ineffective in Curbing Drug Crimes" asserts that the three strikes law in California is ineffective in deterring people from committing certain types of crime including drug related crimes. According to article, a study carried out by a group of the Claremont colleges, found that the three strikes policy in California has not decreased drug sales and possession because there is such a high demand for drugs. With this understood, when drug traffickers are jailed, new traffickers take their place on the streets. The article further explains that

"Apparently, when one drug offender is jailed, there is another, and perhaps more than just one other, ready to take his or her place," said William Crano, who led the study for the Claremont Graduate University. "Even imprisoning the most high-rate drug offenders for long periods of time does not appear to have affected the commission of such crimes ("Three Strikes Law Ineffective in Curbing Drug Crimes")."

In addition Walsh (2002) reports that the three strikes law can be ineffective because judges and prosecutors are allowed to show a certain amount of discretion as it relates to the application of the law. This means that first strike offenses can be dismissed. Walsh (2004) explains that "Data from urban jurisdictions indicate that approximately 25-45% of eligible three-strike offenders will have a prior strike dismissed by either the prosecutor or the judge and thus will receive a corresponding sentence reduction (Walsh 2004, 1)." Walsh (2004) also explains that only about 5% prison inmates are three-strike offenders. This is surprising because it was anticipated that the law would add thousands of new three-strikers to detention facilities each year. On the contrary, the joint total of two- and three-strike criminals only compose one quarter of all people incarcerated in California (Walsh 2004).

Determining deterrence

A common problem that arises when studying the effects of crime control legislation is being able to distinguish between deterrence and incapacitation. Although the three strikes law is based on both of these distinctions, it is still important to be able to distinguish between the two phenomena. In fact, Kessler and Levitt (1999) discovered,

"most empirical tests of deterrence are, in practice, joint tests of deterrence and incapacitation." Using an example, they argued that reductions in crime associated with increased arrest rates were consistent with deterrence (people stop offending out of fear of getting caught) and incapacitation (more people end up in prison because of the increased arrest rates and cannot continue to offend). They concluded that "[g]iven the strong evidence in support of incapacitative effects [of crime control legislation], caution is warranting in attributing a causal role to deterrence in such contexts." (p. 344)

As a way to distinguish between deterrence effect and incapacitative effect Kessler and Levitt (1999) created an alternative that was used by Shepherd (2002). This alternative involved studying the crime rate immediately after the passage of crime control legislation, because incapacitation does not usually have an effect on crime in the short run since offenders are still in prison as a result of existing sanctions. As such deterrence is the only reason why the three strikes law would result in a decrease in criminal activity. Therefore, when focusing on "sentence enhancement" laws, Kessler and Levitt asserted that "initially such laws may have a deterrent effect but will not have any impact on the amount of incapacitation." (p. 345)

Even though this method was useful, it was also faulty. The fault associated with the method was associated with studying the effect of legislation in the period directly after its implementation did not assist in gaining an understanding of the effect of the legislation in the long run. As such it might be the case that a deterrent effect may occur right after the implementation of the law but decreases over time, and may also be combined with the incapacitative effect. That is, the proposed design of Kessler and Levitt (1999) sentencing enhancements study allowed for the study of deterrence and not incapacitation. The author further explains that

"In response to this limitation, Marvell and Moody (2001) entered an "incapacitation" variable into their regression model. While they acknowledged that their technique was somewhat "crude," it permitted the study of deterrence and incapacitation in the same model. Since the present study contained data for seven years past the enactment of California's three strikes provision, it adopted Marvell and Moody's (2001) method of detecting both the deterrent and incapacitative effects of three-strikes legislation."

Making such distinctions is vitally important to understanding the real impact of the three strikes law.


Research Questions

1. Has there been a marked decrease in the number of crimes committed by people with criminal records?

2. Has recidivism decreased in the state of California as a result of the three strikes law?

3. Is the Three strikes law more effective in deterring certain types of crimes?

4. Is the deterrence effect significant enough to justify the continuation the three strikes law?

These research questions are geared toward discovering whether or not California's three strikes law serves as an effective deterrent against recidivism. The questions will more specifically examine the deterrence effect. The questions are also designed to determine whether or not the three strikes law is more effective at… [END OF PREVIEW]

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