What Three-Strikes Laws Teach Us About Governance

Robert Nash Parker has proven that the three-strikes policy has not had any effect on crime rates, and has only resulted in further problems. These include but are not limited to far greater expense of jailing and feeding a larger criminal population and some absurd miscarriages of justice where people have gotten prison sentences vastly disproportionate to their crimes.  Some of Parker’s analyses are still questionable (he compares California and Washington states’ rates of imprisonment without taking into account differences in SES and other factors) but the general premise seems to be valid: The three strikes law has not improved the situation, only caused more problems.

The question I raise, is will anyone care? Will legislators, even ones who bother to read the works of and learn from academics, actually roll back a law? It seems to go against the nature of governments to reverse laws and policies, even when they are proven to be useless and harmful.  So perhaps, the lesson we should learn from this, is that most laws should be temporary.  Any law that gets voted into existence should come with a trial period.  At the end of the trial period it should be evaluated to see if it has produced the desired outcomes, undesired outcomes and unexpected outcomes (both positive and negative).  Based on study a vote should be held about whether the law should be continued or not.

Who should do this analysis? Sociologists! Of course! 😉


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