UC Riverside Professor of Sociology Robert Nash Parker has released research findings in which he asserts the failure of California’s three-strikes law in deterring crime. The three-strikes law, which imposes stricter sentences for individuals convicted of three serious criminal acts, is labeled by Parker as a burden which results in the overcrowding of the state prison system. The study stands in opposition to the positions held by politicians and law enforcement who assert that the three-strikes law has decreased the levels of violent crime in California.
“By the most simple and basic rule of the logic of causality, three-strikes fails to pass muster: that is, the drop in violence that California’s political and law enforcement leaders claim was caused by three-strikes actually began two years before the law was passed and implemented,” stated Parker in his research paper.
The co-director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies has published numerous studies that shed light on the role of alcohol access on violent crime rates and gang activity. In the present study, Parker found that alcohol consumption increased a year or two before an upturn in homicide rates and where alcohol consumption has decreased so did homicide rates. “Political leaders, activists, law enforcement personnel and elected officials in California believe the state’s three-strikes law is the cause of this magnificent decline in violence. That is not the case. Three-strikes has had nothing whatsoever to do with the drop in violent crime,” stated Parker in an interview with UCR Today. “My analysis suggests that alcohol policy designed to reduce overall consumption in California may be more effective at reducing violence than three-strikes or other criminal justice policy initiatives.”
Supporters of the three-strikes law, however, insist that the law places a reasonable punishment for repeat offenders. “I like the three-strikes law only because there needs to be some limitation on violent crimes that a single individual can really commit,” stated fourth-year UC Riverside student Matthew Barrera, who also expressed his disbelief with the alcohol-crime relationship. “I don’t necessarily believe that alcohol consumption relates to crime rate because most crimes do not happen when an individual is under the influence. I think most crimes are [premeditated],” concluded Barrera.
Parker addressed the fact that the three-strikes law disproportionately harms low-income individuals, especially the unemployed, who can face life sentences for non-violent crimes such as burglary. Parker hopes to see the law modified so that if focuses on individuals with a history of violent crimes. Furthermore, he argues that a risk assessment test should be given to current inmates to determine whether they should be freed for non-violent acts. Those inmates deemed only a low threat would be released from state prison with social support to help them make a successful transition.
Parker first came to California in 1991 and witnessed the events that lead to the passage of the three-strikes law. Ever since beginning his term with the Presley Center in 1996, Parker has believed that this law would have negative long-term implications for California. “I went to Sacramento and was introduced to Legislators, and I told them at the time, 1997, that my prediction was that in the future the state prison system would be paying millions and millions for health care for an aging inmate population,” said Professor Parker in an interview with the Highlander. “I wish I had published that prediction somewhere, because it came true in a monumental way.”
“We could release about 40,000 prisoners directly and save billions of dollars right now,” noted Parker, but this does not necessarily mean elected officials in Sacramento will respond to such a financial incentive. “Politicians only like working with professors when the professors say something that already agrees with the political stance the politician has already decided to take,” stated Parker.