Friday, September 24, 2004

Community News

NCLR Supports Report Showing that "Three-Strikes" Laws Fail to Control Crime

Washington, D.C. - The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., welcomes the report released today by the Justice Policy Institute demonstrating that the "three-strikes" mandatory sentencing laws are highly ineffective. This report, Three Strikes and You're Out: An Examination of the Impact of 3-Strike Laws 10 Years After their Enactment, is a timely analysis of these laws which have been adopted by approximately two dozen states and the federal government in the last ten years.

NCLR has expressed great concern with "three-strikes" laws because, in addition to being ineffective, these laws impose unduly harsh sentences on people who commit minor, non-serious crimes, such as shoplifting, and waste resources that could be invested in better methods for reducing crime. Given the data in reports such as this one, it is clear that "three-strikes" laws give the public a false sense of safety and do not make good on their promise of reducing violent crime.

The "three-strikes" laws put into place in the past decade had two primary goals: to reduce crime by incarcerating repeat offenders for long periods of time and to dissuade individuals with criminal records from committing new crimes. "Three-strikes" laws were designed to make communities safe by reducing violent crime. However, violence has not decreased at a faster rate in the states that have implemented these laws as compared to the states that do not have "three-strikes" laws.

"Tough-on-crime" measures, like the "three-strikes" laws, result in the incarceration of tens of thousands of petty criminals for life, while not reducing crime and wasting billions of dollars. Instead, those resources would be better invested in education and job training, as well as prevention and treatment programs for people with substance abuse and mental health problems.

For example, while 31% of California's population is Latino, nearly 40% of prisoners in the state are Hispanic. In this state, a person could conceivably receive a 25-year-to-life sentence, under the "three-strikes" laws, for shoplifting. Thus, approximately a quarter of the total prison population is serving time as a result of this punitive measure. This overreliance on incarceration causes a strain on the state budget and dries up resources needed for community programs.

The Latino community believes that the punishment needs to fit the crime; severe prison sentences should be reserved for violent repeat criminals and not for nonviolent minor offenders. "Three-strikes" laws offer a "cookie-cutter" solution to crime. NCLR urges the states and the federal government to look for smart approaches to public safety and crime reduction, which yield results and address the root cause of the problem.


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