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The Washington State Three-Strikes Law

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The Washington State Three-Strikes Law

It is difficult to determine whether the three-strikes law in Washington is an effective form of legislation. In 1993, Washington was the first state in the nation to adopt three-strikes legislation which imposed a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for persons convicted for a third specific violent felony. The action was fueled by the highly publicized death of Diane Ballasiotes, who was raped and murdered by a convicted rapist who had been released from prison. Voters, who were overcome with emotion over the atrocious acts committed by a released felon, passed the bill by a three to one margin. California followed suit, passing similar legislation in 1994. By 1999, 26 states in the nation had approved comparable laws. Although similar there are variations in the specifics, such as which offenses qualify as a strike and the number of strikes needed to be "out". In twenty states three strikes are required. In one state, a mandatory life is imposed after the second strike.

The driving force behind "three-strikes" legislation in Washington, were politicians wanting to "get tough on crime". The reasoning behind the law was to reduce recidivism and get violent offenders off the street. I think that the legislation was merely a response to public outcry rather than a well thought out strategy to actually reduce crime. Advocates say that after "three-strikes" laws were adopted across the country there was a drastic reduction in crime in general. They also argue that once a person has committed a his second "strike" and knows that he faces a life sentence if convicted again will think twice before committing another crime. These arguments are fallacies. Finally what supporters fail to point out is that these three-strike laws target minorities over whites in a severely disproportionate amount.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, between it's implementation in 1993 and 1998, violent crime in Washington State alone dropped nearly 17 percent. Homicides dropped 24 percent, forcible rapes dropped 25 percent, robbery dropped 16 percent and aggravated assault dropped 15 percent. But do these number reflect the effect of the three-strike law or do they reflect an overall drop in crime across the country? During this time frame, the total FBI Crime Index reported a drop of 13 percent across the country. Violent crime was down nearly 22 percent, homicide was down 31 percent, forcible rapes dropped 15 percent and aggravated assault was down 16 percent. These numbers reflect the entire country. With only half (twenty-six) of the states having three-strike legislation, how can supporters claim this drastic reduction in crime was due to three-strikes? They can't.

Advocates also attempt to claim that three-strikes laws have a deterrent effect on criminals. In reality, most violent crimes committed are crimes committed in anger or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and are not premeditated. Most criminals are not rational thinkers to begin with, but when overcome with anger or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are thinking even less sensibly. They do not weigh the consequences of their actions and what penalties they face if caught. Moreover, most people who commit crimes do not believe they will be caught. So declaring that the three-strikes law acts as a deterrent is a ridiculous and useless argument.

Racial discrimination in the criminal justice system is a topic all in its own. Everyone knows that minorities are targeted



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