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In 1990, the federal justice system of the United States enacted a controversial policy that would become known as the Three Strikes law. Under this policy, courts are required to apply mandatory incarceration – often for periods extended a great deal further than would be found in similar situations of incarceration – for those convicted of a serious criminal offense on three separate occasions. The theory behind the implementation of the Three Strikes law is that pervasive criminal activity is the sign of chronic criminality that normal methods of correction are ineffective in dealing with. Thus, these pervasive criminals are jailed for more lengthy periods as a way to uphold public safety. Naturally, critics of the Three Strikes law are vocal in their dissent. Ultimately, they argue, these laws are incapable of considering issues of circumstantial justice in which a judge can uniquely consider certain cases on internal merit rather than being directed and, in many ways, involuntarily compelled by external forces. This flexibility for judges, it is argued, is necessary as not all repeat offenders threaten public safety inherently. Further, many point that these policies only serve to perpetuate a criminal’s offenses due to the highly politicized nature of the Three Strikes law. Often in an attempt to appear harder on crime, politicians will react to high-profile cases with a feeling of extreme prejudice, nearly to Draconian practices. As a result more minor cases are afflicted with harsher punishments as a result of this same “hard on crime” stance. Failure to incorporate or even consider aspects of rehabilitation perpetuate a cycle of crime in which the punishment no longer fits the deed.It is important to consider the impacts of Three Strikes law and potential reform because of its innately flawed nature. At its core, the law has begun to target offenders who have no history of violent crime and receive obscene sentences for relatively petty
offenses. However, it is not simply this fact that puts a strike against the Three Strikes law. We must also consider the unequal treatment of criminals within the system due to the Three Strikes law. Often, repeat offenders do not commit crimes multiple times due to an innate desire to commit pervasive crime, but rather due to societal constructs that generate citizens prone to commit crimes more than once. These repeat offenders are typically members of a minority class – often African-American – rarely possess a high school education, live at or below the poverty line, and often receive poor defense or corrupt prosecution in trial1. Studies have shown that criminals from this group are most prone to reform mechanisms due to the fact that their activity is not innately criminal, but simply learns toward unlawful activity due to lack of access2. Thus, policies of reform should be at the forefront of the concern so as to alleviate the problem of underserved citizenry. And this is the core of why considering Three Strikes law reform is important.