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No evidence to support Three Strikes

No evidence to support Three Strikes – Rethinking Crime and Punishment

“The government’s rationale for Three Strikes exists within an evidential vacuum” says Kim Workman, Rethinking Crime and Punishment. “So far we have heard three reasons for introducing three strikes legislation.

Reason One: It will act as a deterrent offenders i.e. crims will think twice before they commit a serous crime

The Reality: Serious offenders don’t even think once. The notion of deterrence assumes a rational link between human behaviour and punishment, and the idea that a potential offender can rationally weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a given behaviour and choose a course of action based on this deliberation. Most of the serious offending that takes place is driven by drug or alcohol dependency, by people with serious personality disorders, mental health issues and so on. A large number of studies have found no clear correlation between sanction severity and levels of offending. This is a myth. It’s not enough for the government to say it believes in the value of deterrence. Let’s have the proof that it works.

Reason Two: Some prisoners can’t be rehabilitated.

The Reality: It is not yet possible to predict who will be the high frequency offenders in the future; therefore targeting them for increased prison sentences is impossible. Such strategies run the risk of focusing considerable resources on incapacitating “false positives” (i.e. individuals who would not have re-offended). World expert, Michael Tonry puts it this way Three strikes policies often, and expensively, targets the wrong people”.

Reason Three: We have a duty to keep victims safe, and preserve public safety. Nor do we want victims having to go to Parole Board hearings year after year.

The Reality: There is no compelling evidence either way, to show that three strikes legislation impacts on criminal offending. On the contrary, there are a number of unintended consequences that are likely to increase criminal offending. In our efforts to make one offender’s victim feel safe, we often create more victims within the wider public, e.g. through releasing offenders straight into the community without Parole Board oversight. The longer one is in prison, the more likely they are to reoffend.

Under Section 49 (4) of the Parole Act 2002, victims of offenders are notified of Parole Board hearings, and can choose to attend. It is not obligatory. While it is true that in the case of determinate sentencing, victims will benefit through increased certainty around prison terms and parole, the percentage of victims of crime advantaged by this provision is tiny.


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