Explaining Florida’s Three Strikes Law: How It Works and Its Implications

To say that recidivism, which is when a former prisoner goes on to commit another crime after release, is an issue in the United States is something of an understatement.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2011, the average national rate of repeat offenders among released prisoners is a staggering 43.3%. A separate study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that roughly 68% of 405,000 examined prisoners across 30 states were arrested for a second crime within three years of their release.

It was with statistics like these in mind that “Three Strikes” laws, also commonly referred to as “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws, were enacted across the country beginning in the early 1990s.

What is the Three Strikes Law?

Florida’s “Three Strikes” law operates similarly to others around the United States. When a repeat violent offender commits a third crime after their initial release, a severe prison sentence for the third felony conviction becomes mandatory.

Florida’s law is also notable for severe penalties for even second offenses depending on the severity of the crime. If a felon uses a gun to commit a crime on a second offense, for example, they will serve at least ten years in prison.

If that gun was actually fired during the crime, the sentence increases to 20 years. If the gun was fired and a victim was shot, the sentence increases to 25 years to life. These are all in addition to the professional consequences that someone might receive.

The Three Strikes Law and Convictions

According to a study conducted by the University of Florida, the state’s “Three Strikes” law hasn’t been nearly as effective as officials likely hoped it would be.

While it is true that Florida has experienced a drop in crime, much of this is attributable to a national decline in crime that actually started before Florida’s law went into effect.

From 1994 to 1990, which is before the law was passed, crime across Florida declined by 16%. In the years immediately after the law went into effect, from 2000 to 2004, crime only declined 13%.

The Pros and Cons of the Three Strikes Law for Floridians

The biggest advantage of the “Three Strikes” law for Florida residents is that it does help keep repeat, violent offenders off the streets—at least theoretically. While it’s true that “Three Strikes” rules have not had an appreciable affect on overall crime rates, there have still been convictions in that have directly targeted the larger problem of recidivism. This goes a long way towards keeping communities across the state as safe as possible.

However, the story of Florida’s “Three Strikes” law unfortunately does not end there. The two biggest disadvantages money and perspective. Offenders are being put into very expensive facilities for very long periods of time, which ends up costing taxpayers in the state millions of dollars.

Additionally, it has long been established that crime increases and decreases for incredibly complex reasons. Assuming that a single policy like the “Three Strikes” law was overwhelmingly effective (or even ineffective) oversimplifies the situation. While it may be a temporary “Band-Aid” on a problem, it is not in and of itself a solution. It takes the emphasis off of more important social and economic forces that contribute to increases in crime, which would be much more effective challenges to address in the long-term.