Violent Crimes Reduction

     The actual "law" has five major moving parts. First there is the ballot
initiative (i.e. Proposition 184), then there is the actual statute that was
passed, and then there are three other code sections that identify the types of
violations that count as "strikes" against you. Those other types of
sections are labeled juvenile felonies, serious felonies, or violent felonies.

In 1997 the Wisconsin State Assembly voted 86-8 to approve what many supporters
call a "truth- in- sentencing" bill. The bill proposed that convicts should
serve no less than 100 percent of their sentences as a get-tough-on-crime
measure. The bill also would require prisoners to be under community supervision
for at least 25 percent of their prison time after they are released. Wisconsin
prisoners would stay behind bars for their entire sentence without any chance
for parole. Both Three Strikes and Truth In Sentencing legislation have been
advocated as punitive and deterrence strategies for reducing violent crime
within our communities. Three Strikes laws impose long prison sentences for
third felony convictions. These laws are designed to curb repetitive serious
criminal behavior. Washington State enacted the first law of this type in 1993.

Since then, more than two-dozen states and the federal government have enacted
three strikes laws. The state of Minnesota doesn't have an official three
strikes law, although it does have a law mandating a life sentence for certain
sexual offenders who commit a third sexual offense. Minnesota requires a
mandatory sentence of "at least the length of the presumptive sentence
under the sentencing guidelines" for persons convicted of two or more prior
felony convictions for violent crimes. Also, Minnesota's heinous crimes law
requires the court to sentence an offender convicted of second-or-third-degree
murder to the statutory maximum sentence if the offender was discharged from a
prior "heinous crime" sentence within the past ten years . Robbery,
theft, assault, and motor vehicle theft continues to decline. Is there a
relationship between these types of crimes and those who are now incarcerated?

It is generally recognized that a minority of criminals commit a majority of the
crimes; therefore, one offender may be responsible for multiple incidents within
a type of crime. In defending the three strikes legislation, California Governor

Pete Wilson stated that two-thirds of violent crime perpetrated by less than 10%
of convicted felons. He further related that during the first three years of the
law, 2,900 violent criminals were imprisoned, while overall crime dropped 20%,
with violent crime down 9.3% and property crimes down 14% . Most states have
initiated tougher sentencing for habitual offenders and for crimes that have a
link to additional criminal acts. Since 1990, the number of people in custody
has risen more than 577,100 or 1,708 inmates per week. Today, more than 1.7
million people are confined in state, federal, and local correctional
facilities. As the repeat offenders are taken off the streets, it is reasonable
to expect that the repeatable crimes should significantly decline. In the

1980ís, crime in Texas jumped 29% creating a ratio of eight crimes for every

100 citizens. During the 1990ís, after the creation of additional prison space
and a concerted effort to fill it with repeat offenders, the rate dropped to 5.6
crimes per 100, the lowest since 1973 . Some of the benefits and costs of the
new law are that if fully implemented, the new law will reduce serious felonies
committed by adults in California between 22 and 34 percent. This reduction in
crime will be bought at a cost of an extra $4.5 billion to $6.5 billion per year
in current dollars . The intent of the three-strikes law is, of course, to lock
up repeat offenders longer, and that requires the construction and operation of
more prisons. Some police and court costs may be saved in not having to deal so
often with such offenders once they are locked up, but greater prison costs
overwhelm such savings. Many questions arise when getting the new law all
squared away such as alternatives. What would happen if the state got rid of"strikes" and instead guaranteed that those convicted of a serious crime
serve their full sentence? In other words, what about adopting a law that sends
those convicted of a serious felony to prison, eliminates "good time" for
such felons so that they must serve their full term, and shifts some minor
felons from prison to probation? It is necessary to compare the benefits and
costs of the new law and these alternatives, relative to the old law. But for
all the alternatives to the new law, the cost would drop more than the
effectiveness. For example, applying the new lawís penalties only to violent
felonies would save half its extra cost but retain two-thirds if its
effectiveness . Cost effectiveness is not necessarily the most important
criterion. To some people, a reduction in serious crime on the order of 30
percent would be attractive no matter what the cost. The new three strikes law
does not crack down on first-time serious offenders. Instead, it expends large
amounts of money keeping older criminals, including many convicted of minor
offenses, locked up. The money to finance three strikes will have to come from
somewhere. Health and welfare costs have been going up for a long time and show
no sign of leveling off. The new three strikes law will double the fraction of
the general fund consumed by the Department of Corrections. Consequently, these
increases will put enormous pressure on everything else the state spends money
on. According to Clear, a mandatory sentence is a sentence stipulating that
minimum period of incarceration must be served by people convicted of selected
crimes, regardless of background or circumstance. The "three strikes and
youíre out" laws are examples of mandatory sentencing. In California, where
they are most commonly used, the laws have resulted in clogging the courts,
lowering rates of plea bargaining, and causing desperate offenders to violently
resist arrest . As with all laws, there are the pros and cons that consequently
follow them. One study has showed that the law did not have a large impact on
the reduction in rates of serious crimes or petty theft. Research in Los Angeles
has shown that the impact of the law hits African Americans the hardest.

According to statistics, during the first six months 57% of those charged under
the new law were African American, which happened to be 17 times the rate of

Whites. One California study reported that 84% of a sample of three-strike
offenders "had been convicted at least once for a violent crime," as well as
and average of five felonies a piece. This was revealed after it was argued that
these laws unfairly affect nonviolent offenders. The three-strikes law is like a
double-edges sword in that while it is successful at obtaining its objectives,
it also has a flipside. Does the three-strikes law really make a difference, and
affect the crime rate? The following, according to Clear are the pros and cons
regarding the laws in California. The law does incapacitate habitual offenders
(its main objective), but there is no hard evidence that the law has had a
deterrent effect on crime commission. The California law targets repeat felons
but captures mostly nonviolent offenders. Three strike defendants decline plea
bargains and crowd jails, which in turn leads to the early release of other
offenders. Prison problems are exacerbated by demand for space, high costs of
building and staffing, safety and health concerns for inmates and employees, and
an escalation of geriatric inmate health care costs. Through the experience of
other mandatory sentencing laws and the impact expected by them, it served as a
model for the three strikes law. In 1973, when New York imposed tough mandatory
sentences for drug dealers, prosecutors had to reduce charges to get guilty
please because the sentences raised the stakes for the defendant so high . Forty
states employ some version of a truth-in sentencing law, and since 1996 the

Department of Justice has provided more than $1.3 billion in the incentives
grants programs. This has stirred up so much attention that the federal
government has allocated most of the $10 billion for prison construction only to
those states that adopt truth-in sentencing . Critics of Truth In Sentencing say
the measure strains the already overcrowded state prison system. Others say the
billís costs, with one estimate into the hundreds of millions, were not
scrutinized enough by lawmakers. "When it comes to this, we can buy a pig in a
poke with no consideration of the fiscal effect because we want to be
crime-fighters," said Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids. Majority of
the people, support the bill and say that its costs are worth the money. "I
think that this bill is not about costs. I think this is about saving money by
locking up criminals," Rep. Tom Sykora, R-Chippewa Falls. Gov. Tommy Thompson
of Wisconsin signed the bill and said that the new law will provide more peace
of mind for the public and assure crime victims that assailants will not be back
on the streets quickly. "When you get 10 years in prison, you stay in prison

10 years. Not one day less," he said. The law also requires the state to
review its criminal code and determine whether to revise penalties for crimes.

One of the major is that juries in aggravated murder cases now have a fourth
option to consider in sentencing, to send a convicted killer to prison for life.

That choice joins the other three options in capital cases: life with 30 full
years served, life with 20 full years, and death. When asked if the new
life-without-parole option result in fewer death sentences, David Diroll,
executive director of the criminal sentencing commission said, "Perhaps,
itís a tough call". While the new law lengthens prison terms, it also
accents the importance of programs designed to reduce the recidivism rate. When
it comes to developing new laws that potentially do so much good and obtain all
their objectives, the question of funding inevitably arises. It seems unlikely
that Californians will put up with drastic reduction in governmental services,
but increased taxes are decidedly unpopular. Clearly, somethingís got to give.

It may be the three-strike law itself. Criminal justice officials may simply not
have the money to fully implement it. If thatís the case, lesser effective
alternatives might need to be employed. Whatever the case may be three strikes
and truth in sentencing legislation are deterrent strategies that could
potentially be very successful in reducing violent crime in our communities.