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Race and Ethnicity - "three Strikes" Laws

percent offenders black incarceration

Following a rise in crime rates through the 1980s and early 1990s twenty-four states and the federal government passed legislation known as "three-strikes" laws between 1993 and 1995. The purpose was to get tough on repeat or habitual offenders. Lengthy prison sentences were required on the third felony conviction of an offender. One major effect of the laws was a substantial increase in the incarceration of minorities.

California was one of the first states to pass a three-strikes law. Some 26,000 offenders were incarcerated under the law in its first three years. Black Americans comprised 43 percent of those incarcerated even though they represented only 20 percent of felony arrests and only 7 percent of the state's population. The incarceration rate was thirteen times higher than for whites. In Georgia 98 percent of offenders serving life sentences under their law were black. National studies showed that prosecutors were 50 percent more likely to file charges under the three-strikes laws for black offenders than for white.

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