1. University of Washington Law Societies & Justice Program, 2015. Life Without Parole Sentences in Washington State. Dakota Blagg, et al.

    Authors conclude from an analysis of Washington State Superior Court sentencing data provided to Dr. Katherine Beckett by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council that a total of 3,364 total lifers (1,383 serving LWOP and 1,981 serving life with parole) are currently in Washington State prisons. That represents over 19% of the state's total prison population.

    Authors further conclude that Washington State is spending about $2.7 billion extra by imposing LWOP sentences, as the per-person cost of an LWOP sentence is estimated to be $1.4 million higher, in today's dollars, than historical life sentences.

    These costs would be justified if the widespread imposition of LWOPs significantly enhanced public safety. However, any public safety gains associated with this trend are minimal, and therefore do not offset the fiscal costs associated with LWOP sentences. Criminological experts overwhelmingly agree that age is the most consistent predictor of recidivism. A large body of evidence shows that individuals age out of crime. That is, older prisoners are much less likely to reoffend than are younger prisoners. While prisoners under 25 have a re-offense rate of over 34%, those over age 50 have a re-offense rate of only 10%. Moreover, prisoners over age 55 have a recidivism rate of less than 2%.

    Authors also note that, although the SRA intended to "reduce disparities among prisoners who are sentenced for similar crimes and have similar criminal histories", that outcome has not occurred for people serving LWOP. Racial disproportionality remains high among Washington's prison population - and especially so for people serving LWOP. Additionally, there is a high "trial penalty" paid by "defendants who choose to exercise their right to trial after rejecting a plea deal". These defendants receive significantly longer sentences, an outcome that suggests the possibility that there is a pattern of prosecutorial vindictiveness against people who go to trial.

    Nationally, the POAA (Washington's 3-Strikes law) was the first legislation of its kind, and its enactment it has significantly increased Washington's population of prisoners serving official life without parole sentences. Of the 731 official life without parole sentences, half are "three strikers" who received their LWOP sentences through this legislation.


    1. Reintegrate rehabilitation. Washington State should reevaluate the "just deserts" punishment model embodied by the SRA. A first step would be for Washington's Department of Corrections' mission statement to be updated to reflect the centrality of rehabilitative goals. Washington State should significantly expand both pre- and post-release rehabilitative programs, emphasizing cognitive therapy while incarcerated, addiction and anger management therapy, education opportunities, and assistance securing housing upon release.

    2. Create a Possible Release Evaluation Process (PREP) that would encompass both pre- and post-release rehabilitative services and provide for evaluation of prisoners by a review board. The aim would be to usher in a formal departure from the determinant sentencing structure mandated in the Sentencing Reform Act, which de-prioritized rehabilitation. People serving LWOP would be eligible for review through this process after serving 13 years and 4 months (Washington's historical definition of the minimum duration of confinement for a person serving a life sentence.) Programs and processes before, during, and after release must adequately prepare prisoners for the challenges of life beyond prison walls. In addition, the authors call for the creation and implementation of a wraparound service for prisoner reentry that incorporate an array of programming opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals reentering society.

    3. Repeal The Persistent Offender Accountability Act (3-Strikes) and the Hard Time for Armed Crime Act.

  2. National Research Council, Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western, Editors. 2014. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, National Academies Press.

    This comprehensive (464 page) report of The Committee on the Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration in the United States was prepared at the request of National Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

    The growth in incarceration rates in the United States over the past 40 years is "historically unprecedented and internationally unique". (p. 2)

    The primary cause since 1990 of the increase in the U.S. incarceration rate is the increasing length of prison sentences. This is a product of the proliferation in nearly every state and in the federal system of laws and guidelines providing for lengthy prison sentences for drug and violent crimes and repeat offenses, and the enactment in more than half the states and in the federal system of three strikes and truth-in-sentencing laws. (p. 70 - paraphrase)

    Mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws have little or no effect on crime rates, shift sentencing power from judges to prosecutors, often result in the imposition of sentences that practitioners believe to be unjustly severe, and for those reasons foster widespread circumvention. (p. 83)

    The ostensible primary rationale for mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws is deterrence. The overwhelming weight of the evidence, however, shows that they have few if any deterrent effects. (p. 83)

    Truth-in-sentencing and mandatory minimum sentence (including three strikes) laws are difficult to reconcile with any mainstream, or even coherent, theory of punishment. Many of the laws require sentences that are highly disproportionate to sentences received by prisoners convicted of other offenses and ... cannot be justified on the basis of their crime prevention effects. (p. 85)

    Mandatory minimum sentence, truth-in-sentencing, and three strikes laws requiring decades-long sentences inevitably have a "sleeper" effect on the number of people in prison. For many years, newly admitted prisoners accumulate; their numbers are not offset by others being released. Their impact on the number of people in prison, therefore, is not felt until years after enactment - and then increases at an accelerating rate. (p. 82 - paraphrase)

    The emergence of high incarceration rates has broad significance for U.S. society. The meaning and consequences of this new reality cannot be separated from issues of social inequality and the quality of citizenship of the nation's racial and ethnic minorities. (p. 5)

    From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with incarcerated fathers increased from about 350,000 to 2.1 million - about 3 percent of all U.S. children. From 1991 to 2007, the number of children with a father or mother in prison increased 77 percent and 131 percent, respectively. (p. 6)

    Among recent cohorts of African American men, 68 percent of those who dropped out of school served time in state or federal prison. For these men with very little schooling, serving time in state or federal prison had become a normal life event. Although imprisonment was less pervasive among low-educated whites and Hispanic men, the figures are still striking. Among recent cohorts of male dropouts, 28 percent of whites and 20 percent of Hispanics (who had dropped out of school) had a prison record by the peak of the prison boom. (p 68)

    Even under the best conditions, incarceration can do great harm - not only to those who are imprisoned, but also more broadly to families, communities, and society as a whole. Moreover, the forcible deprivation of liberty through incarceration is vulnerable to misuse, threatening the basic principles that underpin the legitimacy of prisons. (p. 8)

    In the committee's view, the nation's policy choices that increased the incarceration rate to unprecedented levels violated traditional jurisprudential principles, disregarded research evidence that highlighted the ineffectiveness and iatrogenic effects of some of those policies, and exacerbated racial disparities in the nation's criminal justice system. (p. 71)

    Given the small crime prevention effects of long prison sentences and the possibly high financial, social, and human costs of incarceration, federal and state policy makers should revise current criminal justice policies to significantly reduce the rate of incarceration in the United States. In particular, they should reexamine policies regarding mandatory prison sentences and long sentences. Policy makers should also take steps to improve the experience of incarcerated men and women and reduce unnecessary harm to their families and their communities. (p. 9)

  3. The Sentencing Project. Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America, 11/15/2013.

    This report details the rise of the lifer population in America's prisons, now standing at nearly 160,000, with almost 50,000 people serving life sentences without parole (LWOP). The data comes from a survey of persons serving life sentences in the corrections systems in all 50 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons during 2012. The use of life sentences continues to grow even though serious, violent crime has been declining for the past 20 years and little public safety benefit has been demonstrated to correlate with increasingly lengthy sentences.

    The report includes data on life sentences in Washington State. Washington is one of only seven states where more than 15% of the prison population is sentenced to life. Nationally, the average - which has quadrupled since 1984 - is 9%. Nearly half of Washington's Life Without Parole (LWOP) population is serving for non-homicide crimes. In this statistic, we trail only one state in the nation, Idaho. Our three strikes law is largely responsible for this trend.

  4. Columbia Legal Services, Melissa Lee, Beth Cogan. Washington's Three Strikes Law: Public Safety & Cost Implications of Life Without Parole, 2011.

    "This report examines the three strikes law in Washington and those sentenced under it to determine how Washington's limited criminal justice resources are best deployed. It relies on empirical data and meta-analyses conducted on both the state and national levels, as well as information about the 229 people who, as of 2009, are serving life in prison without the possibility of parole in Washington under the three strikes law. Such information provides guidance on areas of need in the prevention arena, including services related to mental illness, chemical dependency, homelessness, and education. The report concludes that, without sacrificing public safety and in fact while actually improving it, Washington's criminal justice resources can and should be re-allocated to focus more on prevention and rehabilitation measures and less on the high-cost, low-return life sentences for certain offenders."

  5. Chen, Elsa Y. Impacts of "Three Strikes and You're Out" on Crime Trends in California and Throughout the United States. Santa Clara University. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2008.

    Reviews and summarizes the prior literature and examines the effects of Three Strikes on crime in California and throughout the nation using state-level data for all 50 states from 1986 to 2005 measuring both deterrence and incapacitation effects, and controlling for preexisting crime trends and economic, demographic, and policy factors. The presence of a Three Strikes law appears to be associated with slightly but significantly faster rates of decline in robbery (3%), burglary (1.8%), larceny (1.1%), and motor vehicle theft (2%) .. but a 10-12.9% slower decline in murder rates ..." The modest decline in some crime rates may be attributable to other causes. The effects on crime in California, which where approximately 100,000 people are serving under Three Strikes are "mostly undetectable" and not different from the effects measurable in states, such as Washington, with many fewer Three Strikes convictions. The author cites "tremendous monetary and social costs" and concludes that "the toughest sentencing policy is not necessarily the most effective option."

  6. Helland, Eric and Tabarrak, Alex. "Does Three Strikes Deter? A Non-Parametric Estimation, Journal of Human Resources , 22: 309-330, 2007.

    Compares the post-sentencing criminal activity of people convicted in California of a second strikeable offense with those who were tried for a second strikeable offense but convicted of a non-strikeable offense. The study concludes that California's three strike legislation has a significant deterrance effect, reducing felony arrest rates among people with two strikes by 17-20 percent. The authors ask if 3-Strikes in California is cost effective relative to other ways of reducing crime. They estimate the cost of third strike incarcerations in California as $4.6 billion and cite recent studies estimating that $4.6 billion of new police hiring could reduce national crime by around one million crimes, far in excess of the total estimated crime reduction in California due to three strikes... Alternatively we could imagine holding prison costs constant but reallocating from old to young prisoners. Since crime rates decline with age, imprisoning two twenty year olds for ten years each may create more crime reduction than imprisoning one forty year old for twenty years."

  7. Johnson, L. Jeffry, Michelle A. Saint-Germain. "Officer Down: Implications of Three Strikes for Public Safety." Criminal Justice Policy Review. Vol. 16 p. 443, 2005.

    The authors evaluated data collected from six major police agencies and district attorney offices in California between 1990 and 2001, including total arrests, resisting arrest charges, assault on peace officer, officer injuries or deaths, use of force incidents, officer-involved shootings, vehicle pursuits, and three-strikes case filings. The resulting analysis did not evidence a statewide increase or trend. However, in the Los Angeles area, where there is a higher concentration of repeat offenders and three-strikes prosecutions have been more actively pursued, there was a notable increase in arrest rates, resisting and assaulting officers, and significant increase (113% between 1996 and 2001) in two and three strikes crimes with a police officer victim.

  8. Justice Policy Institute, An examination of the impact of 3-Strike laws 10 years after their enactment, Policy Brief, 2005

    This research brief examined two indicators of Three Strikes' impact: What has been the impact of the respective states' laws on their incarcerated populations and have Three Strikes states realized any greater reductions in crime than non-strikes states. The authors conclude that Three Strikes laws have had a negligible impact on states' imprisoned populations, with the notable exceptions of California, Florida, and Georgia.

    Analysis of ten years of FBI Uniform Crime Report data found that Three Strikes states fared no better than states that did not adopt strikes laws. The largest non-strike state, New York, experienced a 53.9% decrease in violent crime from 1993-2002. The largest strike state, California, experienced a 44.9% decrease in violent crime during the same years. Strike states had slightly better declines in serious crime rates (26.8% vs. 22.3%) driven by slightly greater declines in property crime (25.9% vs. 20.4%). Non-strike states had marginally better declines in violent crime (34.3% vs. 33.0%) and greater declines in homicides (43.9% vs. 38.2%). Within-state analysis revealed further details of 3-Strikes' impact. For example, Florida and Georgia, whose strikes laws are targeted exclusively at people convicted of violent offenses, also experienced a drop in the rate of property offenses, while experiencing a smaller decline in violent crime rates than their non-strike neighbor Alabama. Counties within California that had higher rates of sending people to prison under Three Strikes had experienced no greater reductions in their crime rates than counties that used Three Strikes less frequently.

  9. Kovandzic, Tomislav V; John J Sloan III, Lynne M Vieraitis. ""STRIKING OUT" AS CRIME REDUCTION POLICY: THE IMPACT OF "THREE STRIKES" LAWS ON CRIME RATES IN U.S. CITIES. " Justice Quarterly : JQ 21.2 (2004): 207-239.

    Summarizes several studies showing that homicide rates have declined at a 10-12% slower rate in jurisdictions with 3-Strikes laws.

  10. Moody, Carlisle E., Thomas B. Marvell, Robert J. Kaminski. "Unintended Consequences: Three-Strikes Laws and the Murders of Police Officers", National Institute of Justice, 01/11/2002.

    "Twenty-four States enacted (Three Strikes) laws that went into effect during a period of 25 months, between December 1993 and January 1996. The few studies that have explored the question of deterrence find that the laws have neither reduced crime nor increased prison population. The theoretical exploration of criminals' reactions to the laws is more complex. Criminals might try to reduce expected costs by taking evasive actions, such as moving to other jurisdictions, switching to crimes that involve less risk of apprehension, and bribing police. This study explored the fact that criminals that believe that they face three-strikes penalties might murder police in order to escape arrest. The dataset was a pooled time series and cross section of 50 States for the period of 1973 to 1998. The dependent variable was the number of law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty. The target variable was a dummy variable that took the unit value in years following the passage of a three-strikes law. The results show an estimated impact of 44 percent more murders in years following the laws. In the average state there were 1.2 police murders per year in the 1990's; so the typical three-strikes law led to an additional police murder roughly every other year. This means that approximately 0.0006 percent of arrests for major violent crimes in three-strike States involve police murders that would not have occurred without the laws. Several other criminal justice policies that might affect police murders were evaluated by the pooled regression model. Laws requiring sentencing enhancements for crimes committed with firearms appear to reduce police killings by roughly 18 percent. The size of the prison population, the number of executions, and the presence of right-to-carry concealed weapons have no discernible impact."

  11. Marvell, T., Moody, C. (2001). The lethal effects of three strikes law. Journal of Legal Studies, 30 (1): 89-106.
    Finds that Three Strikes laws have had a minimal impact on reducing the levels of crime and through deterrence or incapacitation but that they are associated with 10%-12% more homicides in the short run and 23%-29% more in the long run in almost all 24 states examined with Three Strikes laws.
  12. Turner, Susan. (2000). Impact of Truth in Sentencing and Three-Strikes Legislation on Crime. Crime and Justice Atlas 2000, NCJRS, p.10-11. Available online: URL:

    Finds that, according to studies done by RAND, "three strikes" and "truth-in-sentencing" laws have had little impact on crime and arrest rates. In addition, UCR reports showed that states that did not have "three strikes" or "truth in sentencing" laws had lower index crime rates than those that had both types of "get-tough" laws.

  13. Beres, L., Griffith, T. Do three strikes laws make sense? Habitual offender statutes and criminal incapacitation. Georgetown Law Journal, 87 (1): 103-138, 1998.

    Analyzes the relationship between incapacitation and the crime rate and finds that there is no evidence that it is possible to predict which defendants are likely to commit serious offenses in the future at a level of accuracy that is ethically or fiscally defensible.

  14. Stolzenberg, L., D'Alessio, S. (1997). "Three strikes and you're out": The impact of California's new mandatory sentencing law on serious crime rates. Crime & Delinquency, 43 (4): 457-469.

    Examines the impact of California's Three Strikes law in the 10 largest cities within the state and concludes that that the "three strikes" law did not decrease serious crime or petty theft rates.

  15. Rand Corporation. Research Brief: California's New Three-Strikes Law: Benefits, Costs, and Alternatives. 1994.

    Rand Corporation analyzes California's new law in terms of its effectiveness at reducing crime and its cost effectiveness. It estimates that the new law will reduce serious felonies in California between 22 and 34 per cent at a cost of $4.5 to $6.5 billion. It finds that alternatives can be devised that would achieve most or all of the benefits at less cost and that California's budget is so constrained that it is unlikely that the new law will be fully implemented.

    Specifically, Rand found the law's effectiveness to be diminished relative to its cost because "it does not crack down on first-time serious offenders. Instead, it expends large amounts of money keeping older criminals - including many convicted of minor offenses - locked up. Data on criminal careers suggest that the term of imprisonment for many of these older offenders will last beyond the point at which they would resume a life of crime if released, meaning that costs will be incurred for no crime-reduction benefit."