The Impact of State-Mandated “Three-Strike” Policies

Hill 3

TheImpact of State-Mandated “Three-Strike” Policies

TheImpact of State-Mandated “Three-Strike” Policies

Manystates implemented “three-strike” policies in an effort to detercriminal activities that was on the rise in their cities. The three–strike policies mandate the courts to give severe sentences topersistent or habitual offenders who are condemned of three or moregrim criminal acts. While the effort may have been rooted inpromoting societal welfare, the effects have been unfair in treatmentof the minority population. The minority racial populations includingthe blacks and Hispanics have suffered greatly under the judicialsystem in the United States, a situation that has been heightened bylaws such as the three-strike policies. Research concerning theunfair treatment of minorities resulting from state-mandated“three-strike” policies has shown that at both the state andfederal levels minorities are more likely than the general populationof whites to be given mandatory sentences or receive sentences thathave been enhanced under habitual offender laws such as“three-strike” policies (Joseph and Taylor 2003). Certainconditions of state-mandated “three-strike” policies should notbe considered fair because they can cause an overrepresentation ofminorities in the justice system, distrust for law enforcement inminority communities, and a facilitation of a cycle of imprisonmentwithin the minority population.

State-mandated“three-strike” policies should not be considered fair becausethey can cause an overrepresentation of minorities in the justicesystem. Racial minorities are significantly overrepresented in thejustice system resulting in clear racial disparity. Usually, racialprofiling in the U.S has seen more minorities end in jail than whitecounterparts. Stop searches on the roads for example target blackdrivers more than whites. In addition the war on drugs largelyfocused on blacks. According to Human Rights Watch (2002), in theyear 1996 alone, of all the drug offenders taken to state prisons inthe country, more than 62 percent were blacks. Consequently, in 2002,Blacks and Latinos made up 63% of the incarcerated adult populationeven though they collectively only represented 25% of the nationalpopulation (Human Rights Watch 2002). “Three-Strike” policiesheavily influenced sentencing for drug offenses, whichdisproportionately affected minorities. For example the longer jailterms passed for crack and powder cocaine, created disparity inincarceration, which negatively affected minorities at a ratio of100:1 (Human Rights Watch 2002). “Three-strike” sentencingpolicies made minorities a target for law enforcement. Racialprofiling as well as other forms of unequal treatment of minoritiesin the judicial system further led to overrepresentation of theminority. Youths from minority groups are usually suffer in the handsof law enforcement agencies than their white counterparts.

State-mandated“three-strike” policies can cause distrust for law enforcement inminority communities, hence are not fair. The interactions thatpeople have with law enforcement are important in maintaining law andorder. This is actually the foundation of community policing. Peoplegenerally define their trust of law enforcement based on theirpersonal interactions or known interactions of others with lawenforcement in their communities (Tyler and Huo 2002). The minoritygroups in the U.S in particular the black and Hispanic communitieshave had an unpleasant experience with the law enforcement agencies,hence a distorted relationship that lead to mistrust of this arm ofgovernment. The impact of “three-strike” policies on minoritytrust is therefore significant. While public opinion polls show adecrease in the distrust of police and courts by the public, a racialdivide shows greater degree of distrust by minorities than whites(Tyler and Huo 2002). The distrust that minorities have on lawenforcement is facilitated by racial profiling of minorities,mistreatment of the minorities by law enforcement agencies and highincarceration rates among the minorities.

State-mandated“three-strike” policies encourage a cycle of imprisonment withinthe minority population, hence should be disregarded. There is aperception within the minority community that contact with thejustice system will result in additional contact in future. Thisbelief has resulted from the high rate of incarceration of theminorities as compared to the rest of the population. In addition,recidivism rates are highest amongst the minority population (Josephand Taylor 2003). The cycle of imprisonment is perpetuated by lawenforcement behavior via an unjust focus on race, which see majorityof the minorities in prison. The use of racial profiling by lawenforcement professionals has recently been met with large-scalecontroversy as the prevalence and consequence of its use has becomebetter understood (Joseph and Taylor 2003).While the unfair effectsof “three-strike” legislation are clear, proponents of thesepolicies argue that they are necessary. However, it is clear thatthere is a lot of prejudice in the application of the three-strikepolicies in different states which are reining havoc across theminority population.

Proponentsof “three-strike” policies states that the disproportionateimpact that they have is warranted. In Human Rights Watch (2002) forinstance, it is noted that this disparities are justified in that, insome areas, the minorities are concentrated in urban areas wherethere is higher crime rates and greater law enforcement activities.In addition, the proponents argue that minorities are more dangerousthan non-minorities, thus racial profiling and “three-strike”policies are warranted regardless of their unfair impact. Cited asevidence of this position is the arrest rate of minorities which haveremained high over the years, even before the implementation of thethree-strike laws.

Circularlogic cannot be validly used to support the unfair effects of“three-strike” policies. This is just an excuse by proponents ofthis policy to continue oppressing minorities in the guise ofreducing crime. Besides, there is no proof that minorities are moredangerous than non-minorities especially considering that the primarycrime category for which minorities are incarcerated is drug offense.With majority minorities representing over 60 percent of prisonpopulation, then one would expect a decline in crime since themajority of population outside is white. Unfortunately crime rateremains the same which shows that, minorities are just victims of thethree-strike laws.

Inconclusion, Certain conditions of state-mandated “three-strike”policies should not be considered fair because they can cause anoverrepresentation of minorities in the justice system, distrust forlaw enforcement in minority communities, and a facilitation of acycle of imprisonment within the minority population. Racialprofiling and drug war which increased incarceration for crack andpowder cocaine possession all enhanced the three-strike policies.Ultimately, law enforcement entities and especially the criminaljustice system should engage the population including the minoritiesin fighting crime. With sour public relations in the criminal system,it will be difficult to fight crime even with the three-strikepolicies in place. Therefore, they should be repealed and betterapproaches put in place.


HumanRights Watch. Backgrounders:Race and Incarceration in the United States.2002. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Joseph,J., and D. Taylor, eds. WithJustice for All: Minorities and Women in Criminal

Justice.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Tyler,T. and Y. Huo. EncouragingPublic Cooperation with the Police and Courts. 2002.Web. 16Nov. 2014.