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California’s Three Strikes Law Revisited: Assessing the Long-Term Effects of the Law

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  • Anusua Datta

    () (Philadelphia University)

Abstract

Previous studies on the three strikes legislation in California draw conclusions based on data immediately following the passage of the law, which cannot account for the full deterrent effect of the law. Moreover, they do not account for the incapacitation effect. Distinguishing between deterrence and incapacitation is important for determining the efficacy of the law. Using data from 1991 to 2009, this paper is the first to examine the long-run effects. Our results show that the law had a significant deterrent effect on all crimes, including non-triggering offenses. Overall, the incapacitation effect is less significant. Further, enhanced penalties cause some felons to substitute between violent crimes and property crimes which carry a lower sentence. However, there is little evidence of substitution within crime categories. Surprisingly however, the added deterrent effect of the third strike is significantly smaller than for the second strike. The small marginal deterrence from the third strike also raises questions about the justification for such extreme severity of punishment.

Suggested Citation

  • Anusua Datta, 2017. "California’s Three Strikes Law Revisited: Assessing the Long-Term Effects of the Law," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 45(2), pages 225-249, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:atlecj:v:45:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s11293-017-9544-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s11293-017-9544-8
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kessler, Daniel P & Levitt, Steven D, 1999. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 343-363, April.
    2. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2009. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(2), pages 257-280, April.
    3. Eric Helland & Alexander Tabarrok, 2007. "Does Three Strikes Deter?: A Nonparametric Estimation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(2).
    4. Levitt, Steven D, 1998. "Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(3), pages 353-372, July.
    5. Emily G. Owens, 2009. "More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 551-579, August.
    6. Worrall, John L., 2004. "The effect of three-strikes legislation on serious crime in California," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 283-296.
    7. Radha Iyengar, 2008. "I'd rather be Hanged for a Sheep than a Lamb: The Unintended Consequences of 'Three-Strikes' Laws," NBER Working Papers 13784, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Marvell, Thomas B & Moody, Carlisle E, 2001. "The Lethal Effects of Three-Strikes Laws," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 89-106, January.
    9. Rucker Johnson & Steven Raphael, 2012. "How Much Crime Reduction Does the Marginal Prisoner Buy?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(2), pages 275-310.
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    Keywords

    Three strikes; Deterrence; Incapacitation;

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