Mike Responds to Elizabeth Hill’s Faults and Shortcomings of Her 2005 Analysis of 3 Strikes

Legislative Analyst’s Office
Elizabeth Hill
925 L Street, Suite 1000
Sacramento, CA 95814

1 November 2005

Upon review of your 3-Strikes report, upon which much labor was undoubtedly applied, I would like to make a few corrections and comments to its contents.

Bill Jones and Jim Costa authored the AB971 3-Strikes bill signed into law in March of 1994.

Strikes can be struck not only for “the interest of justice” but also lack of evidence.

Also notably missing was the Claremont-McKenna Dept. of Economics study by Tabarrok of some 38,000 felons and the impact of 3-Strikes. This study was from information at a federal level yet California specific and is not available at the California Dept. of Corrections due to inadequate computer data. It will show the re-arrest rate of offenders with strikes compared to non-strikers, validating the deterrent effect.

Also not touched on, or perhaps overlooked was the fact that the tax burden of medical care for older inmates would be on the shoulders of taxpayers if they are in prison or on the streets and on welfare, MediCal or MediCare.

I would also like to make a brief comment on the county-to-county study showing differences from one to the next. Certainly you understand different counties have different crime problems and report crimes in different ways. To expect a uniform result in all 58 counties is not realistic. San Francisco has always been the “show off” county that not only doesn’t use 3-Strikes but also has the lowest conviction rate in California at 34% – in the real world the biggest crime in San Francisco is the cost of living – law abiding citizens can’t afford to live there let alone criminals. Criminals commute in and out just like most of the people in San Francisco do every day.

You will find San Francisco has enjoyed the benefit of other county’s prosecuting their criminals including 3-Strikers.

Since the county-by-county report was completed, San Francisco crime has been on the rise and clearly that comparison would not be valid today. Also note this is the same “Justice Policy Institute” that said 3-Strikes was costing billions per year.

You also give credit and credibility to Frank Zimmering and his Berkeley study on 3-Strikes. This study has been largely discredited by the Chicago study and the Claremont McKenna study takes both into consideration. Zimmering also has been a long time critic of longer sentencing in general and 3-Strikes in particular. The success of 3-Strikes certainly undermines his life long personal beliefs and theories. Any study with his name on it raises an eyebrow of objectivity.

I also must touch on Peter Greenwood’s Rand study. Peter has been a long time vocal opponent of 3-Strikes and brings his prejudice to the study by trying to make the argument “it would be better to give an education than a prison term.” The only problem is you can’t give a person an education – they must earn it. When it comes to repeat offenders, the only thing they earn is more strikes. Everything else they take. The one thing this report did well was in concealing its primary purpose in revealing that 3-Strikes costs $½ billion per year, which is only 1/6th of the $3 billion projected in 1994 in annual prison costs. And, of course, the $20 billion projected in new prison construction – which never happened, but was also framed in a way to distract from the fact that California built 19 new prisons 10 years before 3-Strikes and that only 1 prison had been built in the 10 years after 3-Strikes.

The most closely held, and deeply buried secret in California, is the projected inmate growth and prison construction needs estimated prior to 3-Strikes.

That would be nice to tack on to your next report and makes 3-Strikes look like a bargain.

As to this law’s effectiveness, you forgot to check with law enforcement, prosecutors and former California criminals who have hands on experience with 3-Strikes.

In closing, and referring to your conclusion as to why your projections did not manifest, you cited fewer prosecutions due to judicial discretion as the reason.

The real reason was historically less crime. When California crime is cut nearly in half in just 5 years that translates into 50% fewer criminals that would have been responsible for those crimes – if they had happened. Thus less crime equals fewer criminals and fewer criminals means reduced incarcerations. This has been reinforced by the reduced arrest rate per 100 thousand published by California DOJ, and is counter to what the large numbers of additional police officers added the last 10 years, along with an additional 8 million more California residents, would be expected to reflect.

Using population demographics alone and 600 felons per 100,000 population with an 8 million person increase in California’s population in the last 10 years should reflect an increase of 48,000 inmates. Where are they? Prior to 3-Strikes, prison population was increasing at a rate of over 10% per year. With the exception of a most recent modest increase, prison population has hovered at 160,000 for the last 5 years.

I am disappointed with this report.

  1. It did not show the original projection amounts in prison construction ($20 billion) compared to actual expenditures
  2. It did not show the projected annual operation costs by 2003 ($3 billion per year) compared to the actual costs at one-half billion dollars.
  3. It basically turned what should be a very positive report into a negative with the use of old and discredited studies from ultra liberal think tanks.
  4. No credit was given to savings from reduced crime from offenders who would otherwise be on the street, and was a consideration in your original analysis.

From a department that prides itself on its objectivity and neutrality, I would have expected more.

Mike Reynolds