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Three Strikes Analysis: Comparison of Offense Types in Urban Counties

In 1994 California voters enacted the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” initiative in response to the murder of Kimber Reynolds. Spearheaded by Reynolds’ father, the initiative focused on imposing life sentences for crimes if the defendant had two prior convictions that fell under California Penal Code definitions of “serious” or “violent.” Although this initiative passed with an overwhelming majority, growing controversy over the disproportionate impact on defendants who had committed low-level felonies prompted voters to enact Proposition 36 in 2012. This initiative eliminated a major feature of the law that triggered strike sentences for non-serious and non-violent felonies.

The purpose of this report is to analyze the data we have compiled to determine which county among the top ten most populous is responsible for the most two and three strikers (as a percentage of the population) for each offense category. This allows us to examine whether there are observable differences in how the Three Strikes sentencing law is distributed across urban jurisdictions. In addition, we examine the short-term effects of Proposition 36 on the distribution of offense types within the two- and three-strikes population.

Professor Jennifer Walsh directed student researchers Jessica Jin’16 and Katie Hill’18 for this Rose Institute publication.

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