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Fear of the First Strike: The Full Deterrent Effect of California's Two- and Three-Strikes Legislation


  • Shepherd, Joanna M


Many states have 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 of 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 2 years of the legislation, approximately eight 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. Copyright 2002 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Shepherd, Joanna M, 2002. "Fear of the First Strike: The Full Deterrent Effect of California's Two- and Three-Strikes Legislation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(1), pages 159-201, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:31:y:2002:i:1:p:159-201
    DOI: 10.1086/324660

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    Cited by:

    1. Ben Vollaard, 2013. "Preventing crime through selective incapacitation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 123(567), pages 262-284, March.
    2. John J. Donohue III & Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," NBER Working Papers 11982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Steven N. Durlauf & Daniel S. Nagin, 2010. "The Deterrent Effect of Imprisonment," NBER Chapters, in: Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs, pages 43-94, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Jonathan Klick & Alexander Tabarrok, 2010. "Police, Prisons, and Punishment: The Empirical Evidence on Crime Deterrence," Chapters, in: Bruce L. Benson & Paul R. Zimmerman (ed.), Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 6, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    5. Bjerk, David J., 2016. "Mandatory Minimum Policy Reform and the Sentencing of Crack Cocaine Defendants: An Analysis of the Fair Sentencing Act," IZA Discussion Papers 10237, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Tabarrok Alexander & Helland Eric, 2009. "Measuring Criminal Spillovers: Evidence from Three Strikes," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 251-268, May.
    7. Philip A. Curry & Anindya Sen & George Orlov, 2016. "Crime, apprehension and clearance rates: Panel data evidence from Canadian provinces," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 49(2), pages 481-514, May.
    8. Worrall, John L. & Schram, Pamela & Hays, Eric & Newman, Matthew, 2004. "An analysis of the relationship between probation caseloads and property crime rates in California counties," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 231-241.
    9. John L. Worrall, 2004. "Funding Collaborative Juvenile Crime Prevention Programs," Evaluation Review, , vol. 28(6), pages 471-501, December.
    10. Isaac Ehrlich, 2010. "The Market Model of Crime: A Short Review and New Directions," Chapters, in: Bruce L. Benson & Paul R. Zimmerman (ed.), Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 1, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    11. Christine Horne & Heiko Rauhut, 2013. "Using laboratory experiments to study law and crime," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 47(3), pages 1639-1655, April.
    12. Robert B. Ekelund & John D. Jackson & Rand W. Ressler & Robert D. Tollison, 2006. "Marginal Deterrence and Multiple Murders," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 72(3), pages 521-541, January.
    13. Miceli Thomas J. & Bucci Catherine, 2005. "A Simple Theory of Increasing Penalties for Repeat Offenders," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 71-80, April.
    14. Douglas N. VanDerwerken & Jacek Rothert & Brice M. Nguelifack, 2018. "Does the Threat of Suspension Curb Dangerous Behavior in Soccer? A Case Study From the Premier League," Journal of Sports Economics, , vol. 19(6), pages 759-785, August.
    15. Detotto, Claudio & McCannon, Bryan C. & Vannini, Marco, 2015. "Evidence of marginal deterrence: Kidnapping and murder in Italy," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 63-67.
    16. Ross, Amanda, 2012. "Crime, police, and truth-in-sentencing: The impact of state sentencing policy on local communities," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 144-152.
    17. 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.
    18. Ayelet Israeli, 2018. "Online MAP Enforcement: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 37(5), pages 710-732, September.
    19. Miceli Thomas J., 2012. "Deterred or Detained? A Unified Model of Criminal Punishment," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-20, March.
    20. Shepherd, Joanna M, 2002. "Police, Prosecutors, Criminals, and Determinate Sentencing: The Truth about Truth-in-Sentencing Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 509-534, October.
    21. Bjerk, David, 2005. "Making the Crime Fit the Penalty: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion under Mandatory Minimum Sentencing," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(2), pages 591-625, October.
    22. 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.
    23. C. Detotto & BC. McCannon & M. Vannini, 2013. "A Note on Marginal Deterrence: Evidence," Working Paper CRENoS 201310, Centre for North South Economic Research, University of Cagliari and Sassari, Sardinia.

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