Edgeler on Three Strikes

Graeme Edgeler has looked at offending and re-offending rates before and after the three strikes law.

First offending:

Between 1 June 2005 and 31 May 2010, 6809 people received convictions for strike offences that occurred between 1 June 2005 and 31 May 2010.

Between 1 June 2010 and 31 May 2015, 5422 people received convictions for strike offences that occurred between 1 June 2010 and 31 May 2015.

So strike crime is down around 20% since three strikes came into effect. Claiming cause and effect over something like that is the type of intractable debate that you get into over the effect of longer prison sentences.

A 20% reduction in serious violent and sexual offences is a good thing, as that means 20% fewer people have been bashed, raped, assaulted or killed.

I agree with Graeme that you can’t claim the reduction is caused by three strikes. There are lost of factors involved. I would note though the following trend for violent (non lethal) offending.

  • Fairly constant from 1996 to 2004
  • Increased from a rate of 77.9 to 105.1 from 2004 to 2009
  • Has reduced since 2009 from 105.1 to 87.8

It is not true that the violent crime rate has been decreasing for 20 years. Overall crime yes, but not violent.

Anyway onto the most interesting aspect – reoffending:

But what we are looking at is not the general deterrent effect of three strikes (fear of punishment in the public at large), but specific deterrence: fear of punishment by those who have a conviction for strike offending who have been personally warned by a judge that further strike offending is treated very seriously.

The idea being that when a judge tells you the next serious offence will mean no parole, it may deter you.

We know there were 81 second strikes in the first five years of three strikes. These are people who have been convicted for committing a strike offence after the law came into force, and subsequent to that conviction, been convicted of a further strike offence, itself committed after their earlier conviction occurred. The pre-strike comparison therefore needs to be people convicted of an offence committed after 1 June 2005 (but before 31 May 2010), who were then convicted before 31 May 2010 of a further offence committed after that conviction.

So this is comparing apples with apples. Both the offence and the conviction had to occur within the same five year period.

And it turn out that that number is a lot higher. Had the three strikes law been in place on 1 June 2005, the following five years would have seen 256 offenders receive second strikes.

Now, strike crime is down in general, but the ~20% fall in strike offending is dwarfed by the ~62% fall in strike recidivism.

A 62% drop in serious violent and sexual reoffending is terrific – both for victims, and for perpetrators.

Some will claim this drop has nothing to do with three strikes, and it is because we’ve just magically got better at rehabilitating serious offenders.

But I suspect those people will never accept any evidence that contradicts their world view.

Labour and Greens are vowing to scrap three strikes. I have no hope that anything would convince the Greens to change their minds, but hopefully Labour will see sense and not scrap a law which has seen serious violent and sexual reoffending rates drop 62%.

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