Copyright (c) 1997 Northwestern School of Law
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology
CRIMINAL LAW: THREE STRIKES: CAN WE RETURN TO RATIONALITY?
87 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 395
MICHAEL VITIELLO *
California's widely publicized "Three Strikes" 1 legislation was the culmination of over a decade of "get tough on crime" legislation. 2 The story surrounding Three Strikes is symptomatic of the excesses of our nation's crime prevention policy during the 1980s and 1990s.
Despite a threefold increase in the nation's prison population between 1980 and 1994, 3 most Americans felt more vulnerable to violent crime than they did a decade earlier. 4 At a time when crime rates were declining modestly, 5 politicians in several states seized on the fear of crime as a powerful political issue. For example, in a close gubernatorial race, Governor Pete Wilson's support of Three Strikes provides a case study of sound-bite electioneering substituting for careful analysis of frustratingly complex social and penological problems. 6
Two years of experience with Three Strikes in California has not quieted debate about the efficacy of the law. Proponents claim victory based on lower crime rates since its passage 7 while opponents point to widely reported cases, involving minor third strikes, leading to grossly disproportionate prison terms. 8
While a number of jurisdictions have recently adopted multiple offender statutes, California's is the most draconian. 9 Section II of this article examines the key elements of California's Three Strikes legislation and the events that led to its adoption. 10 Section III then considers a significant and rapid change in penological theory that has taken place in less than a decade. During the 1960s through the mid-1980s, legislatures, judges and ...
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