The Need To Divert From Three Strikes Law


In America, the criminal justice system is a group of agencies that are established by the government to control individuals who violate the law. The main systems are at the State and Federal level. At the state level the courts handle crimes committed with in the state boundaries. This means that each jurisdiction has different laws and ways of handling the legal process.

During prison reform the government sought to address the issues surrounding an increasing crime rate in America. The courts switched form indeterminate sentencing, where the judge has more discretion to a determinate sentencing, where the judge has limited to no discretion over a case. From discretion sentencing, the “Three-Strikes” law was developed. The “Three-Strikes” statue started in California. The statue argues that once an individual has committed three criminal offenses, he or she is no longer able to be “reformed” (Cullen, 2018). Laws similar to the “Three-Strikes” have lead to mass incarceration and the government spending about $500,000 a year to incarcerate a person.

Recently courts have switched from punishment to treatment first. Diversion courts such as drug courts and mental health courts were designed to address behaviors that lead to criminal activities. For example, the past decade there has been an increase of drug courts across the United States. Equally, courts that address issues of mental health (or dual diagnoses) are on the rise. These courts are designed not only to address behavioral problems; however, these diversion programs are meant to reduce recidivism rates.

Negative impacts of “Three-Strikes” Laws

In the United States, habitual offenders’ laws arose in the 1990s. These laws were commonly known as the “Three-Strike Laws”. The “Three-Strikes” statues provides mandatory life sentences for individuals who have been convicted of “serious drug or violent crimes” such as armed robbery, sex offense, or drug trafficking. The law was developed on the idea that most felony offenses were committed by a small percentage of “hard core” felons. In order to decrease criminal activity, the court system must eliminate these “hard core” criminals. Roughly twenty-eight states have adopted the “Three- Strikes” statue or have implemented similar laws. Although the statue is designed to address issues surrounding violent felons, the law has negative consequences.

In the 1990s the federal government and congress passed the “Three- Strikes” statue. This was the direct response to the growing concern of crime rates in America. The law was designed to reduce criminal activities from taking place in the communities. This ruling assumed that people will not commit crimes because of the fear of punishment.

One of the limitations of the law depends on identifying who will become career offenders at an early age. It is difficult to identify who will continue to commit crimes in society as an adult. According to Kelly Richards (2011) most juvenile offenders will essentially “grow out” of criminal behavior and become law abiding citizens. Kelly argues juveniles lack of maturity, they need to be accepted by peers, and other factors can cause minors to have contact with the criminal justice system. However, this does not mean that the juvenile will carry this behavior over into his or her adult life. In Psychosocial Maturity, argues when as a teen ages he or she is less likely to commit crimes because of the development of impulse control and more abstract thought.

Equally, the law has had little impact on the reduction of crime. According to Kovandzic (2004) the statue had little effect on criminal activity because most criminals were receiving enhanced pentalities prior to the law being enacted. Moreover the ruling had little effect on reducing violent crimes. For example in the state of Florida, Petit theft is considered to be an enhancemnt crime. Once an individual has commited this crime three times, the crime becomes a third degree felony. This means the individual could serve a maxium of five years in prison. Thus, undeminding the need of the “Three-Strike” statue. Equally one of the most noted cases against the law took place in Califonia. A California man was sentenced to life in prison for stealing videotapes from a store. This crime is a misdemeanor and would carry a few months to a year in jail. Because the man had two prior felony offenses; the minor theft was his third strike. The statue has removed judicial discretion; thus, not allowing the judge to offer punishment(s)based on the crime. This has led to mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Some of the major issues that have arose out of the “Three-Strikes” laws and similar laws, is the social problems of incarcerations such as: overcrowding, overspending, and racial disparities. Prisons have seen an increase number of inmates that may never leave. The United States has one of the highest rates of incarcerations. The economic consequences of the prison system are costing states and taxpayers millions of dollars. Roughly one in five people incarcerated is in prison due to some type of non-violent drug offense (Wagner, Kopf 2015). According Chauncey Bailey, people of color are more likely to be arrested and sentenced to harsher punishments (2005). Minorites are twenty-eight more time to be third strikers when compared to their whites (Ehlers, 2004). These racial disparities in incarceration rate perpetuate the idea that the criminal justice system is “unfair”.

Importance of Diversion Programs

The goal of the penial system is to reform. However, the “Three- Strike” statue eliminates the chance to reform offenders. The idea that all three-time offenders are harden criminals is oversimplifies the problem. Laws like “Three-Strikes” and other determinate sentencing does not take into consideration other factors such as mental health and addictions. Because there has been a focus on prison reform and reducing the amount of arrest, legislation is now spending more money on programs that will negate individuals from entering into the criminal justice system. Society is in a paradigm shift. Instead of focusing on punishment and or imprisonment as the only solution, States are now pushing for individual(s) to seek treatment first. This ideology has increased the need for diversion programs in the judicial system in an effort to reduce recidivism rates.

A diversion program is a form of sentencing in which the defendant enters a rehabilitation setting. These programs are designed to address behaviors that lead to the criminal offense. These courses can address and treat mental health issue and/or addiction. Moreover, these programs are designed to divert people from entering into the criminal justice system. For example, in Gainesville, Florida the “Co-Responder Model” is designed to respond to emergency call that may have a mental health competent. The model consists of one police officer and one clinician. When responding to the call it is the job of both the officer and the clinician to determine if an individual need to go to a mental health crisis unit. Not only does this program link individuals with resource but it also develops the relationship between officers and the community.

In 2016 roughly 64 percent of inmates suffered from mental health issues (Bell, 2013). Because of the rise of mental health and/or addiction issues among inmates, there has been programs developed to address these specific needs. It is believed most inmates suffer from mental illness and or addiction. According to the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, jail diversion is a public health and safety strategy to assist in stabilizing individuals with mental health and addiction problems. These programs would result in a reduction of arrests, lower charge level for subsequent arrests, fewer jail days for the program beneficiaries (Getting Inside the Black Box, 2010). Moreover, these programs are beneficial to the community and the individual’s family. For example, family members may not be able to recognize when someone is suffering from a mental illness; thus, they may not understand that the criminal behavior is a direct result of the illness. Studies show that individuals who participate in mental health court were “26% less likely to obtain new charges and 56% less likely to obtain violent charge” (Landess J. &., 2017).


Although jail diversion programs vary from state to state, it is important that the government continues to fund these programs. It is important to note that these programs are not “get out of jail” cards for offenders. However, these programs are designed to address criminal behavior. Research has found that these programs work in reducing recidivism rates. Moreover, these programs have a more positive impact on the community. Programs like drug courts and mental health courts are beneficial to the community. These programs tend to have a greater impact on and individual. Equally, these programs are more cost effective then policies like “Three-Strikes”. It is important that we make the accessibility to jail diversion programs more attainable.


  • Bailey, C. (2005). Three strikes law hits people of color hardest. Crisis, 1-9.
  • Bell, V. D. (2013). Jail Diversion: Boom or Bust? American Jails, 33-38.
  • Cullen, J. (2018, October 5). Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved from Sentencing Laws and How They Contribute to Mass Incarceration:
  • Ehlers, S. V. (2004). Racial Divide: An Examination of the Impact of California's Three Strikes Law on African Americans and Latinos. Justice Policy Institute, 1-29.
  • Granholm, E. A. (2003). Brief Integrated Outpatient Dual-diagnosis Treatment Reduces Psychiatric Hospitalizations. American Journal on Addictions, 306-313.
  • Kovandzic, T. V. (2004). Striking out as Crime Reduction Policy: The Impact of Three Strikes Laws on Crime Rates in U.S. Cities. ustice Quarterly, 209-239.
  • Landess, J. &. (2017). Mental health courts and forensic assertive community treatment teams as correctional diversion programs. Behavioral sciences & the law, 501-511.
  • Landess, J., & Holoyda, B. (2017). Mental health courts and forensic assertive community treatment teams as correctional diversion programs. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 501-511.
  • Mitchell, O., Wilson, D. B., Eggers, A., & MacKenzie, D. L. (2012). Assessing the effectiveness of drug courts on recidivism: A meta-analytic review oftraditional and non-traditional drug courts. Journal of Criminal Justice, 60-71.
  • Richards, K. (2011). What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders? Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice.
  • Steinberg, L. D. (2015). Psychosocial maturity and desistance from crime in a sample of serious juvenile offenders.
  • Sue, S. Z. (2009). The Case for Cultural Competency in Psychotherapeutic Interventions. Annual review of psychology, 525-548.
  • Weisburd, D., & White, C. (2018). A Co-Responder Model for Policing Mental Health Problems at Crime Hot Spots: Findings from a Pilot Project. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 194–209.
16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now