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December 11, 2002 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Three Strikes Laws May Increase Murder Rates A recent article in the journal Criminology & Public Policy suggests that the politically popular "three strikes" laws may have the perverse effect of causing more murders. Because the sentences for murders and "third strikes" are the same, criminals have an incentive to change their M.O. to murder witnesses and police officers. Maybe using baseball metaphors in determining crime policy isn't such a good idea after all.
posted by jonp72 (16 comments total)

 
Ah, if it only it was fear of prosecution that kept me from offing the useless idiots and annoyances I run across each day.
posted by willnot at 2:54 PM on December 11, 2002


So, I guess this means we just need a broader death penalty to restore the proper incentives.
posted by MattD at 3:05 PM on December 11, 2002


criminals have an incentive to change their M.O. to murder witnesses and police officers.

Or maybe it will stop them from committing the crime in the first place, fearing life in prison...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2002


Recently there was a murder in Seattle where the criminal said the reason he killed the babysitter was because of the 3-strikes law specifically. In general, the only form of effective deterence to repeat offenders is actual death. And then you're just opening yourself up for a cheesy 80's horror flick return of the dead criminal.

But seriously, when someone's only means of support is crime, no penalty will be effective.
posted by nomisxid at 3:43 PM on December 11, 2002


Or maybe it will stop them from committing the crime in the first place, fearing life in prison...

This law evidently has the power to turn conservatives into optimists. I'm impressed!

Also skeptical, to put it mildly. The thing to remember about criminals is that the vast majority of them are too dumb to be believed -- dumb enough to commit crimes and then dumb enough to get caught. I'm impressed that some of them appear to be able to count to three.
posted by Epenthesis at 4:11 PM on December 11, 2002


Or maybe it will stop them from committing the crime in the first place, fearing life in prison...

I'm not sure you caught this, steve, but this article is actually about an unintended consequence of the three-strikes law--that it may, in some cases, result in an increase in the number of murders committed. But you did a fine job of stating the obvious--the original intent behind instituting the law--and you should be commended. I've been watching you for some time, and you're getting very, very good at this.

Oh, wait, no you're not.
posted by jpoulos at 6:45 PM on December 11, 2002


Right, well those hypothetical "unintended murders" happen during the "third-strike" (i.e. I am robbing a bank and I know I am going to jail for life, if caught, so I shoot the guards and kill them whereas before I wouldn't have shot them... But if that "third-strike" never happens (i.e. I was going to rob a bank, but then thought "Holy Shit I could goto jail for the rest of my life" and that was not a risk I was willing to take) those hypothetical "unintended murder" don't happen either...

But hey, I am sure that lighter sentences are a big incentive to not commit crimes.... So hey, party on!
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:41 PM on December 11, 2002


The problem, Steve, is that most people who committ crimes don't think through the consequences carefully.

Robbing a bank is never a rational decision, and simply upping the punishment to life in prison because you've done it twice before isn't going to deter someone who's not being rational anyway.

Most crimes are committed by a small minority of hardcore criminals. Murderers tend to be an especially hard-to-deter lot, because they either don't think before they pull the trigger, or because they're sick and they don't care. This is evinced by the fact that the death penalty is no deterrent, let alone life in prison.

So: if you've got someone who is being irrational, who is the kind of person who thinks it's a good idea to rob a bank in the first place, and who is stupid/sick enough to be willing to kill someone, and you present him with two options - 1) get caught and go to jail for the rest of his life because he's identified or 2) knock off the witnesses to lessen the chance of 1) and if he's caught the punishment is no worse (he's not thinking about the death penalty, because he's impulsive/in the right State) - he might well take the second.

I guess the point here is that knee-jerk get-tough solutions sometimes backfire, so maybe we should think before passing bills that send guys who've ripped off three convenience stores to jail for the rest of their lives.
posted by Dasein at 8:29 PM on December 11, 2002


I cannot figure out why we need three strikes for criminals who show they have a propensity towards violence. If a crime is committed using a deadly weapon, they should be locked up and stay locked up for a very long time. Perhaps long enough for them to possibly be too old to commit the crime a second or third time...period. I think prisons should be to protect us from violent people. Instead our prisons are overcrowded with people who are there to protect them from themselves, drug crimes for example. If you commit a crime, for example even drunk driving, you should be locked up for a good long while as you potentially took someone else's life into your own hands. They are an endangerment to my well being. Same long, long sentences for rape, kidnapping, pedophilia, armed robbery etc. People are not safe with you on the streets so away you go! With the recidivism rate of these kinds of people, its the only way to deter crime. It wouldn't eliminate it , granted, but it would sure bring the rates way down.
posted by SweetIceT at 11:39 PM on December 11, 2002


Sure. Let's lock up everyone. Then we can have a crime rate of zero!
posted by salmacis at 1:26 AM on December 12, 2002


But hey, I am sure that lighter sentences are a big incentive to not commit crimes.... So hey, party on!

The important point here is that the criticism of three strikes is not so much a demand for "lighter sentences," but a demand for proportionality in sentencing. If society wants to say that murder is the worst possible crime, then it should not receive the same sentence as armed robbery, burglary, or other lesser crimes. Equating the sentence given to murder with the sentences for less serious offenses somehow cheapens the importance of punishing murder. (This point was said best by Joe Klaas, grandfather of murder victim Polly Klaas, who said that while he lost a stereo system and a grandchild to crime, the losses can never be equated. Interestingly, Joe Klaas opposes California's 3-strike law.)

Or maybe it will stop them from committing the crime in the first place, fearing life in prison...

I don't consider this argument valid in shoring up support for 3 strikes, but I think the point is more subtle than it first appears. You can argue that, even if 3-strikes leads to higher murder rates, it is the fault of the criminals, not policymakers for the increased rates. My retort is that, regardless of who you blame for the higher murder rates, the increased number of victims that result aren't any less dead. Even though moral outrage may make it difficult to give a narrow group of criminals "easier" sentences, the empirical evidence suggests that the prudent and pragmatic course is the one that consistently leads to less death.
posted by jonp72 at 2:55 AM on December 12, 2002


Do these results surprise anyone? Its not exactly an untested hypothesis - where did politicians thing the phrase 'As well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb' comes from? They can even show this with econo-speak.
posted by biffa at 5:34 AM on December 12, 2002


---
Sure. Let's lock up everyone. Then we can have a crime rate of zero!
---

I like the sound of that idea...
posted by digiboy at 5:42 AM on December 12, 2002


No, let's lock up everyone but me. Still have a crime rate of zero, but have one less person in prison.
posted by tolkhan at 5:59 AM on December 12, 2002


No, let's lock up everyone but me. Still have a crime rate of zero, but have one less person in prison.

But what about the tax rate you would have to pay to feed and clothe the rest of us?
posted by TedW at 8:05 AM on December 12, 2002


Who said anything about food or clothing?
posted by digiboy at 11:33 AM on December 12, 2002


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