A new study published by Robert Nash Parker, a sociologist and director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of California at Riverside, argues that the California Three Strikes Law has had absolutely no impact on reducing violent crime is California. In fact, all it has done is overcrowded California prisons, and increased spending to impossible levels. Parker does not talk of morality or justice. His focus is purely statistical in nature.
Proponents of the Three Strikes argue that violent crime has dropped, and the law thus has achieved its goals. To state otherwise is to fly in the face of statistics that show a decrease in violent crime.
Parker dismisses these arguments, however, stating that violent crime has dropped equally in states that have Three Strikes legislation and in those that do not. The State of Washington, for example, has a very similar drop in violent crime as does The State of California. Yet California incarcerates 300 times more people than does Washington, but has a population that is only 5.5 times that of the other state. Moreover, the drop in violence in California had started two years prior to the passing of the Three Strikes Law. The real reason violent crime has declined in the country as a whole is the decline in alcohol consumption.
Since the 1930′s statistical data suggests that a decline in homicide rates is preceded by a drop in alcohol consumption approximately two years earlier. A rise in homicide rates is preceded by a rise in alcohol consumption approximately two year before.
So if Three Strikes is a failure, if violent crime is decreasing on its own simply due to lower alcohol consumption nationwide, do we need to continue with the status quo? If we do, our prisons will overflow even more than now, and the money we spend on housing, feeding and guarding these inmates will go through the roof. In 1985, California spent 11% of its budget on higher education and only 4% on prison funding. Today, higher education receives 6% and prison spending has risen to 10% of the annual budget. We literally are throwing money away.
If the Three Strikes had actually worked, we could justify the argument that it’s continued existence is a necessary evil. Given this new analysis by Parker, however, it makes absolutely no sense to keep Three Strikes in place. The immediate savings to California would be somewhere around $1.3 billion. That will pay for a lot of higher education as well as other state programs that need rescue.