The three-strike program in place in California for nearly two decades and recent spin-offs such as Louisiana’s four-strike system have been unreasonably unpopular since their implementation. The programs compound punishments for non-violent felons based on their number of previous offenses. By the third strike (or fourth in Louisiana’s case), these offenders could face up to a life sentence in jail.
Most opposition to such programs has been directed at their costliness and supposed lack of fairness. Both are invalid concerns.
In California’s case, about 3,600 people are in jail for non-violent offenses under the three-strikes law. It must be noted, though, that the program has been in place since 1994. Over 20 years, in other words, an average of 180 felons per year have been brought to prison under the three-strikes rule.
Obviously, it is impossible to predict the number of potential felons deterred from crime by this policy (mostly because crime rates across the nation have been declining over the past two decades so it is impossible to attribute the decline in felonies to the three-strikes policy). However, it is not a stretch to argue that the law could have deterred up to 1,000 Californians from pursuing felonies each year because of the harsher sentences they would face.
In that case, the amount of money saved from court cases on felonies would more than make up for the costs of housing more prisoners upon their third strike.
Some, unconvinced by the economic prudence of the three-strikes policy, challenge its morality instead. They argue that the law threatens the delicate balance of retribution and rehabilitation inherent in the justice system.
However, in democracies, policies ultimately step from the desires of the people. When it comes to criminal justice issues, the majority of voters are non-offenders and are therefore unlikely to support rehabilitation for them. Instead, they support long prison sentences, corporal punishment, and other methods of punishing criminals as harshly as possible. The three-strikes policy is merely a continuation of this same line of thinking.
In fact, the only reason why democracies are somewhat moderate in their criminal justice systems is because the non-offending voters fear that they will one day be on the wrong side of the law. However, it is unlikely for them to ever foresee themselves on the wrong side of the law three times- and thus they are able to support harsher punishments for reoffenders.
Since the three strikes program is in the best interests of the majority of society, the non-offenders, it does not matter whether or not it is fair to the offenders.
Even if fairness was an important principle though, by giving harsher penalties only to reoffenders, the policy actually allows felons the chance to reform upon their first conviction. This is unquestionably fair.
By fulfilling both moral and economic benefits to society, the three strikes program should continue and expand to the rest of the nation- and world- to provide these same benefits to societies on a broader scale.