Three Strikes Analysis: Demographic Characteristics of Strike Offenders

The career criminal sentencing law known as “Three Strikes and You’re Out” was enacted in California in 1994. The law doubled the minimum sentence for serious or violent felons convicted of a second felony offense and imposed a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25-years-to-life for serious or violent felons upon conviction of a third felony offense. By isolating and incapacitating repeat offenders through long prison sentences, lawmakers hoped to lower the crime rate in California.

Although crime rates did fall after the Three Strikes law went into effect, analysts expressed concern that statute might negatively impact racial and ethnic minority groups. Men and racial and ethnic minorities are overrepresented in California’s correctional system when compared with the general population and it was unknown whether the Three Strikes law would exacerbate this effect. In the following report, we seek to assess whether Three Strikes contributes to the overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities and whether the racial/ ethnic characteristics of the second and third strike offenders have changed over time.

Professor Jennifer Walsh directed student researchers Francesca Hidalgo’17 and Jessica Jin’16 for this Rose Institute publication.

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