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Criminal Justice Policy Making Matrix
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Three Strikes Policy
The Three Strikes Policy is a criminal policy designed to respond more harshly to repeat felony offenders. This policy originated in the state of Washington but has been a policy established in over half of the states in the nation. Other states have enacted repeat offender laws at the urging of the federal government. In America there are three branches of government at every level with the most power being the federal government. The federal government consists of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The state governments are also based on a similar three branch of government structure while local governments are far less formal.
The Three Strike laws developed out of a need to address the high recidivism rates in many states. Prison had become like a revolving door with criminals going to jail and then being released on good behavior only to commit further felony offenses. Citizens fed up with repeat felony offenders getting out of jail only to kill again or sexually assault an innocent child began to urge lawmakers to create a law to address the behavior of repeat felony offenders. In 1993 the state past the first Three Strike Law which requires criminal offenders convicted of a third felony strike to receive a life sentence. In 1994 California enacted a similar law.
Once the state of Washington’s response to repeat felony offenders caught on and was enacted in over half the states in the nation the federal government began to develop repeat offender laws the federal government responded with the Violent Crime Act which awards states with federal funding if they enact laws to address repeat violent crimes. As a result many states followed Washington and the federal government and eliminate parole for violent offenders. Under the new federal law, enacted by the legislation, parole was eliminated for violent offenders. Violent offenders committing their second offense will receive a double the sentence for the crime and third time violent offenders receive a life sentence.
In order for the Violent Crime Control Act to pass it was created and enacted by the legislation. Just with any other law the violent crime control act was a response to a problem in society. Violent crime was becoming a major problem in society when the federal government enacted a new law to address the growing crime problem. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 represent the bipartisan product of six years of hard work (DOJ, 2007). What this means is democrats and republicans as well as special interest groups were invested in seeing this law pass.
Once legislators established the law and it travelled through subcommittees in the House of Representatives were it was approved it next had to travel and be approved in subcommittees in the Senate. Once the subcommittees approved the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act it went in front of the Senate for a vote. In 1994 the law was approved by Senate and was sent to the executive branch of the government for approval. The executive branch, in this case President Bush, approved the bill and it became law. Based on the new law states creating violent crime laws would receive federal funding and over 10,000 more federal police were hired.
The new act approved $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and $6.1 billion in funding for prevention programs (DOJ, 2007). Law enforcement agencies also received funding in order to hire additional officers to respond to violent crime. Under the Violent Crime Control Act criminal receive harsher prison sentences for repeat violent or serious crimes, crime involving assault weapons, adult prosecution of juveniles, and three strikes policy for repeat felony offenders. Under the federal Three Strike Policy repeat offenders will receive a mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole for Federal offenders with three or more convictions for serious violent felonies or drug trafficking crimes (DOJ, 2007). Unlike in many state the offender does not receive a 25 years to life sentence but an automatic life sentence on their third conviction.
Once a law is enacted under the federal government the judicial branch is responsible for ensuring the sentencing guidelines enacted with the law are imposed on the criminal offender. If the law is questioned for its constitutionality it will be presented to the judicial branch for review. If the judicial branch finds the law is unconstitutional it can be struck from the law books. The judicial branch has final say over laws enacted by the legislation and approved by the President.
When the Three Strike Law was enacted in Washington State it went through a similar process as the enactment of the Violent Crime Control Act. In order for the Three Strike Policy to become law it must first be brought to the attention of key stakeholders and supported by members of the public. At first the probe must be explained and brought to the attention of politicians, special interest groups, and the public. Once the problem becomes a specific policy it will be reviewed and approved by the legislative branch before going in front of the executive branch which in this case is the governor.
In the state of Washington to ensure the violent offender did not get out for early behavior they receive a potential life sentence. The initiative specified that it did not reduce or eliminate the governor’s power to grant a pardon or clemency to offenders on an individual case-by-case basis (McCarthy, 2009). Once the governor approves the law it will be administered by the criminal justice systems in local courts systems. Judges in local courts will be responsible for sentencing criminal offenders based on the sentencing guidelines established by the states.
The local courts and correctional system will need to make the necessary changes to ensure the three strike laws become law. Once the three strikes reach the court the courts will be responsible for imposing a 25 years to life prison sentence for criminal offenders found guilty of their third felony offense. When a criminal offender is sentenced to twenty five years to life they are able to appeal the case through the state and federal appeals courts. The courts will make a determination if the law is constitutional.
In the state of Washington the law was called into question because initially the felony offenders having been found guilty of a third offense was sentenced to an automatic life sentence. This created many appeals based on an 8th Amendment violation so the state changed the sentencing for a third offense to an automatic 25 years to life sentence. In California there were countless appeals of the state’s Three Strike Laws due to the fact the three strikes included any felony no matter how minor for the third offense.
As a result a large number of offenders have appealed their prison sentence and despite the potential 8th amendment violation the Supreme Court has previously refused to rule on the constitutionality of the sentencing structure. In 2012 California changed the sentencing structure and now has a similar three strike policy to Washington State been the third felony must be serious or violent (LaCourse, 1997). Every time a case was appealed the law was being tested for its constitutionality or the potential violation of the constitutional rights of the criminal defendant.
The Three Strike Law has been enacted at every level of government from local courts to state courts to the federal government. While less than half of the states having three strike laws other states have enacted repeat offenders laws and have embraced the guidelines in the Violent Crime Control Act in order to receive federal funding. When a crime policy is enacted at every level of law; federal, state, and local, it becomes an important aspect of society. The Three Strikes policy was enacted to address a real crime need in American society.
In every state in the nation and the federal government violent criminals and repeat felony offenders were committing crimes only to be released early on parole. Through the new get tough on violent crime laws the opportunity for parole for repeat offenders has been eliminated. Repeat felony offenders are sentenced to a harsh prison sentence if they continue to commit crimes despite being punished and violent offenders are locked up for longer period of time. No longer are rapists let out of jail early while the drug user serves a longer and more severe prisons term.
LaCourse, R. (1997). Three Strikes, You’re Out: A Review. Retrieved October 21, 2013 from
McCarthy, K. (2009). Recent developments on Washington state’s “three strikes” law. Retrieved
October 20, 2013 from http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/rpt/2009-R-0006.htm
U.S. Department of Justice. (2007).Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
Retrieved October 20, 2013 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt