What is the Three Strikes Law?

In the United States, there are a number of laws relating to crime and drug use. Some are applicable in specific states while others are applicable on the federal level. One of  the most divisive and controversial law on the books is the Three Strikes Law. Learn more about the law and how it might unfairly target those struggling with addiction, as well as what can be done to avoid jail time and prosecution under Three Strikes.

What is Three Strikes?

Three Strikes is a law that has been in place since 1994 under former President Bill Clinton. The law stipulates that a person convicted of a crime who already has two felonies will be subject to life in prison. This is accompanied by no parole possibility for a minimum of 25 years.

This is, without question, one of the harshest and most punitive laws on the books in the United States today. It reduces the ability of judges and juries to take individual circumstances into consideration, and it unfairly punishes drug users and those who are struggling with the legitimate illness of addiction.

How Three Strikes Impacts Those Struggling with Addiction

A staggering number of felonies committed in the United States are related to drugs. It is important to realize, however, that not all felonies impact society the same way. Unfortunately, some felony charges are treated in the same way as violent crime, which may not seem logical to anyone familiar with the classification of addiction as a disease.

Examples of drug-related felonies can include things like possession of a controlled substance or abuse of prescription drugs. While these things are crimes, it seems highly unusual to treat them in the same way as other felonies, which include things like robbery, domestic violence or motor vehicle theft. While it can be argued that those who hold and use drugs are dealing with an addiction, it is hard to find an excuse for other types of felony behavior.

Clearly, Three Strikes puts an unnecessary burden on those struggling with addiction, and it does so in multiple ways. To start, it criminalizes behavior that is the direct result of an illness, addiction. A person under the influence of an addiction can’t choose to stop taking or buying drugs, and therefore will be subject to penal regulations that are unfair.

In addition, Three Strikes punishes even those individuals who have already sought treatment and have conquered addiction. Picture, for example, a person who has two felonies in the past for drug possession. Today, they may be sober for a decade. If they so much as steal a bicycle or a candy bar, however, they could be sent to prison for a lifetime.

This might seem illogical and unjust, but it is the reality of Three Strikes. By taking power out of the hands of judges, it can result in punitive and unnecessarily harsh punishments for people who don’t deserve it, and particularly those struggling with addiction.

Why Three Strikes is Viewed Unfavorably by Many

It is not just those concerned with addiction that oppose Three Strikes. Some of the many reasons it is opposed include the fact that the law won’t deter most violent crimes, it can clog the courts, it increases taxpayer spending and fills prisons, it reduces the potency of judges and it goes against the constitution of the United States.

There is no question that because of Three Strikes, there are more court cases being held across the country. There is also more of the country’s budget going to prosecuting and housing individuals who are both awaiting trial and permanently incarcerated. Furthermore, Three Strikes increases the population of prisons, with many of those who are incarcerated only there on relatively minor drug possession charges.

Since 1994, Three Strikes has actually done little to reduce violent crime. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Criminals who are facing arrest, and who will be subject to Three Strikes, are more likely to lash out at arresting officers rather than face a lifetime in prison. Sadly, this leads to extreme action that could be prevented if the punishment fit the crime.

Furthermore, Three Strikes reduces the power of judges to act according to the facts of the case. It is silly in so many ways to think that a person arrested for stealing $20 will be prosecuted in the same way as a person who commits battery or steals a car.

The U.S. Constitution stipulates that punishment should be proportional to the crime. Three Strikes, however, eliminates this directive. Based on a person’s past actions or medical history, as is the case when it comes to addiction, sentences can increase punitively. This goes against the constitution and limits the freedoms and rights to which  Americans are entitled.

Thankfully, some states are seeing the light. In California, for example, individuals convicted of drug possession may seek treatment for addiction rather than the far harsher Three Strikes penalty.

The Importance of Treatment in View of Three Strikes

Treatment is key for all who struggle with addiction. In light of Three Strikes, it becomes even more important that those addicted to drugs seek help immediately. Through treatment, individuals can avoid criminal activity, such as drug possession or the abuse of prescription drugs, that can lead to harsh sentencing and the potential for life in prison without parole.

Seeking treatment starts with determining what treatment methods will be most effective. The evidence-tested approaches with a history of success include things like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, dual diagnosis and group counseling. These approaches can create healthy behavior and address any mental health conditions that could be contributing to an addiction.

In addition, consider the types of programs and levels of care available in a facility. Residential rehab, detox and even outpatient therapy are all options that can be effective for certain patients. Finding appropriate treatment is vital in order to be successful at maintaining sobriety and avoiding the consequences of Three Strikes.

The Three Strikes Law is largely unfavorable, and it clearly targets those struggling with addiction. The best course of action for those dealing with addiction, however, is to seek treatment to avoid any potential felonies related to drug use.