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Crime and PoliticsBig Government's Erratic Campaign for Law and Order$
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Ted Gest

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195103434

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195103432.001.0001

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Three Strikes : Baseball to Crime

Three Strikes : Baseball to Crime

(p.189) Chapter 9 Three Strikes : Baseball to Crime
Crime and Politics

Ted Gest (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Much of the increase in crime that hit the US in the 1980s and 1990s was blamed on habitual offenders. For many years, prison wardens and parole boards had decided when most inmates would be released. Legislators came to believe that this system was too lenient and enacted tougher penalties. When even these extended terms behind bars did not seem to work, activists came up with a new formulation, “three strikes and you’re out,” meaning that a third serious crime would bring a life term. Commentator John Carlson started a campaign for such a scheme in Washington State in the 1980s; it was enacted in 1993, the height of modern‐day crime totals. The concept quickly spread in California after the infamous kidnapping and killing of 12‐year‐old Polly Klaas that same year. President Bill Clinton embraced the idea for federal crimes, and at least two dozen states adopted some form of it. Experts disputed how much three strikes or any other tough sentencing laws affected the crime declines of the 1990s. Still, prison building continued at a high rate during the 1990s, with the combined population in prisons and jails approaching 2 million. Critics argued that three strikes and ‘mandatory minimum’ prison term laws were incarcerating far too many low‐level offenders who would end up back on the streets committing more crimes after years of imprisonment with little vocational or educational training. As the costs of running prisons mounted, some policymakers were seriously rethinking the punitive practices of the late 20th century, but no dramatic turnaround was in sight.

Keywords:   John Carlson, Bill Clinton, habitual offenders, Polly Klaas, mandatory minimum, parole, prison population, prisons, sentencing laws, three strikes

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