Fear of the First Strike: The Full Deterrent Effect of California's Two- and Three-Strikes Legislation
Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1, Part 1
Posted: 13 Mar 2002
Many states recently enacted three-strikes laws to increase punishment for frequent offenders. However, only California actively enforces its three-strikes legislation. Existing studies of the impact on crime in California consider only partial deterrence: the deterrence of offenders committing their last strike. The only study addressing full deterrence, the deterrence of all potential offenders, examines the impact across all states in a model that does not consider the simultaneity between crime and the passage of three-strikes laws. I offer a theoretical model that shows that strike laws should deter all offenders and that partial deterrence measurements underestimate the laws' benefits. Theory-based empirical results indicate that strike sentences generally deter the crimes covered by the laws. During the first two years of the legislation, approximately 8 murders, 3,952 aggravated assaults, 10,672 robberies, and 384,488 burglaries were deterred in California; however, larcenies increased by 17,700 during this period.
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