Three strikes law, also known as the “law of the three crimes” is a legislation enacted at the State level in the United States, on the basis of which the State courts are to sentence to long prison terms those who have committed three serious crimes. This form of condemning offenders has become very popular in the United States since the end of the 20th century.
In American jurisprudence, these laws are also known as habitual offender laws. The name of these laws has emerged from the rules of the game of baseball where the batter can miss three strikes before he retire from the game.
Unlike the common idea, these laws are intended not so much to “fight against recidivism” than to enclose and exclude offenders from society for very long periods (parole is sometimes excluded), in accordance with the so-called theory of selective incapacitation that a low number of persons having trouble with justice are responsible for the vast majority of crimes and offences.
Three strikes law does not aim especially serious crimes, but more prosaically some thefts or burglaries, and for this reason affects disproportionately drug addicts arrested for theft, and more heavily sentenced for the drug use. By definition, these laws abandon any effort of reintegration and rehabilitation.
California changed its three strikes law by referendum on November 6, 2012. From that moment on, little serious crimes and non-violent offences are excluded from it. There are statutes other than the three strikes law that are actually lengthening sentences for repeat offences. Massachusetts and Virginia have laws of this kind dating back to before the independence declaration; there were some in England of the 16th century. Many other States adopted similar laws during from the 1920s to 1945. By the mid-XX century, more than 20 States, as well as the federal Government, had the laws that either allowed or required the judge to declare the sentence of life in prison, sometimes for the second recurrence (third offence – model of the three strikes law), sometimes for the third or fourth recurrence (fourth or fifth offence). They called them Baums laws, after the law of 1926 passed in the State of New York by Governor Caleb H. Baumes. In 1980, 40 States had such laws, as well as the federal Government, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, which passed to 47 at the end of the 20th century.
More than 80% of these laws provide life imprisonment and a majority of them exclude any conditional release (parole).
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