Do 'Three Strikes' Laws Make Sense? Habitual Offender Statutes and Criminal Incapacitation
Posted: 3 Sep 1997
Date Written: June 1997
Supporters of "Three Strikes" laws argue that a small group of high-rate offenders commit most of the serious crimes. Thus, they argue, "Three Strikes" laws can have a large impact on the crime rate by sentencing such offenders to very long prison terms. This article shows, however, that even a modest prison term will remove high-rate offenders from the streets for most of their criminal careers, even if they face a low probability of incarceration each time they commit a crime. The article also shows that although the average crimes prevented per inmate will be greater if a small number of criminals commit most of the crimes, the marginal crimes prevented by adding an additional inmate will be smaller if the prison population is large. Offender retirement also reduces sharply the incapacitative effect of long-term incarceration. If the five to ten year estimates of the length of the average criminal career are accurate, the last five years of long prison sentences will have little incapacitative effect because most of the inmates serving such sentences would no longer be active offenders if released.
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation