Three Strikes Analysis: Strike Population by Offense

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 de nitions of “serious” or “violent.” Although this initiative passed with an overwhelming majority, growing controversy over the disproportionate impact on defendants who had committed minor crimes led to several reforms over the years. Prior to Three Strikes, the California prison system had more than doubled its population in just fourteen years and was the target of a prisoner class-action suit that alleged that the overcrowded conditions constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Concern over prison overcrowding, along with concern that some sentences seemed to be overly punitive, led voters to pass Proposition 36 in 2012. This initiative eliminated signi cantly narrowed the qualifying felonies that could trigger a three-strikes sentence to those that are non-serious or non-violent.

This research project builds a database, using reports published by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to examine the type of sender typically sentenced under the Three Strikes law. In our analysis, we look at the distribution of the second and third striker population across different crime categories from 2001 to 2015. Examining the crime categories (Crimes Against Persons, Property Crimes, Drug Crimes, and Other Crimes) allows us to analyze how Three Strikes treatment differs for serious crimes and less serious crimes. We expect to find that there are more second strikers than three strikers incarcerated for less serious offenses, since punishment for a second strike is shorter and less severe.

Professor Jennifer Walsh directed student researchers Andrew Nam ’15, and Jessica Jin ’16 for this Rose Institute publication.

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