Between 1993 and 1995, 26 states and the federal government passed the “Three Strikes” Law. “Under this law, a person who is convicted of three felonies is given a mandatory 25-to-life sentence. A felony is defined as any crime punishable by 1 year or more in prison” (Messerli, 2006). This law was passed in reaction to the murder of 12 year old, Polly Klass. She was kidnapped and murdered by a paroled repeat offender.
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“Unlike the federal laws, the three-strikes laws vary by quite a bit from state to state. However, under all federal and state three-strikes law if someone is convicted of a crime three times, there is no judiciary discretion in sentencing these repeat offenders” (Unknown). This means that in all cases the offender must go to jail for 25 years to life if convicted of three felonies, no matter the seriousness crime.
“Under the statute, a serious violent felony includes murder, manslaughter, sex offenses, kidnapping, robbery, and any offense punishable by 10 years or more which includes as an element the use of force or that, by its nature, involves a significant risk of force. The statute also enumerates certain non-qualifying felonies, including unarmed robbery offenses and arsons that posed no threat to human life” (Unknown).
“The purpose of the three-strikes law is to put criminals out of society to keep them from committing future crimes” (Roy, 2010).
Pros and Cons
While researching this topic I have found multiple pros and cons of the three strikes law. Some of the pros that were mentioned include: repeat offenders will stay in prison; can deter offenders who have had two felony convictions from committing another crime; and it only applies to convictions.
The first pro of the Three Strikes law is that repeat offenders will stay in prison for at least 25 years after their third conviction. If criminals choose to continue to break the law then will have to pay for their crimes. These criminals will not have a fourth chance to break the law. The Three Strikes law is a way to ensure justice and to stop criminals from committing more crimes. According to Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project (2008), There is no question that putting violent and chronic offenders behind bars lowers the crime rate and provides punishment that is well deserved.
The second pro of the Three Strikes law is that it might deter offenders who have been convicted two felonies from committing a third crime. This law is known by all, especially by criminals. Criminals will know the punishment before they decide to commit crimes. The hope is that this will discourage criminals from committing any crimes major and minor, from armed robbery and rape to burglary. “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 43 percent of felony probationer and 62 percent of the parolees will be rearrested within three years after beginning supervision” (Unknown, 2010).
The third pro of the Three Strikes law is that it applies only to convictions. This law does not apply to arrests of a person is found not guilty. However, three convictions will send criminals to prison for 25 years to life. Chances are that these criminals have committed more than three crimes, but for whatever reason they were never convicted.
There are also multiple arguments against the Three Strikes law. Some of the cons that were mentioned include: a one-size-fits all form of justice; it can be considered unjust depending on the particular crime; and it “arguably violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution” (Kitchen, 2009).
The first con of the Three Strikes law is that some see this as a “one size fits all form of justice” (Kitchen, 2009). Some believe that this law destroys the flexibility of the courts and the judge. It is no longer up to the judge to decide if the offender can be rehabilitated. Under the Three Strikes law, the offender will automatically go to prison after the third conviction. “Criminal rehabilitation has many positive benefits and can impact the lives of many inmates as well as their families” (Wright, 2007).
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The second con of the Three Strikes law is that it can be considered unjust depending on the particular crime. In some cases the third conviction may not be a violent crime but if they are convicted of a third felony they would receive the same 25 years to life sentence as if the crime were a violent act. Some believe that this punishment does not fit the crime. “If a newly convicted criminal has a record of two prior felony (serious crime) convictions, the judge had to impose the maximum sentence for the third crime (Driscoll, 2003).
The third con of the Three Strikes law is that it arguably violates the Eighth Amendment. The Eight Amendment prohibits the use of “Cruel and unjust punishment” by the state. Many argue that certain clients’ prosecutions violate this amendment. According to N.C. Aizenman at the Washington Post (2008), when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by nonviolent criminals- who make up about half of the incarcerated population- alternative punishments such as community supervision and mandatory drug counseling that are far less expensive may prove just as or more effective than jail time.
The fourth and final con of the Three Strikes Law is the expense. Prisons are already overcrowded and some argue that there is not enough room to house additional inmates. Prison is expensive. There are also trial and court fees that many times must be covered by the state and its taxpayers. “It cost as average of $23,876 to imprison someone in 2005” (Aizenman, 2008). This includes costs for food, shelter, prison staff and many other items.
In my opinion, this is a great program and the pros far outweigh the cons. People should refrain from breaking the law if they do not want to spend the next 25 years of their life if prison.
There are many arguments that the Three Strikes law does not have any effect on the crime rate. However, most crimes are committed by previous felons. Without this law I believe that these criminals will continue to break the law until they are stopped. This law may be the only thing that will stop them. How many people need to get hurt before we have the right to put these criminals in prison where they belong?
According to Mike Reynolds (2006) “California’s total crime rate in 1993, the year prior to adoption of Three Strikes, was fourth highest among all states. By 1999, California’s total crime rate dropped to 29th among the states. During the same period, California’s homicide rate dropped from fourth highest to 19th among the states. These statistics clearly suggest that California’s falling crime rate was not just part of a national trend, or a result of demographics or economic factors – as opponents have suggested.”
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