Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Three Strike Laws Based On the Deterrence Theory

Subject: Law
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 10
Word count: 2798
Topics: Criminal Justice, Crime, Criminology, Government, Law Enforcement


Mandatory minimum laws and the three strike laws are legislature oriented sentences meant to regulate the sentencing process and reduce the likelihood of irregularities in jurisdictions. They mainly target people involved with serious crimes that tend to pass a threat to the life of other individuals. The three strike laws specifically require that the accused who has been found guilty of a crime for the third time to be given a sentence of about 25 years. The deterrence theory states that most people avoid breaking the laws because they are not ready to suffer the consequences of being punished. This paper, therefore, will investigate whether the mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws work based on the Deterrence theory. However, it is clear that mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws have worked since they were introduced and implemented.

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Literature review

It has been observed that by implementing harsh punishment, people who are likely to commit crimes tend to avoid committing the crimes because they fear the punishments hence they commit no crimes. Therefore, the consequences put under mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws tends to prevent some people from engaging in criminal activities. Various criminology research that has been conducted reveal that deterrence theory is effective in mandatory minimum laws and the three strike laws. Research done by The Criminology Department at Cambridge University showed that implementing harsh punishments and deterrence was associated with a decline in the rate of crimes. This supports the Deterrence Theory, thus proving that the mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws work. Findings by Criminology scholars Daniel S. Nagin on Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century also proved that most people tend to consider consequences of engaging in a crime, before engaging in it thus most of them are likely to avoid the crimes  (Nagin, 2013). A research report by the criminology using college students found out that by increasing the likelihood of being punished for drinking and driving, reduced the crime rates by 3.5%. The same concept works on the Deterrence Theory as applied in Mandatory Minimum laws and Three Strike Laws (Lee & McCrary, 2017).

Another evidence which proved that the Three Strikes laws worked based on the Deterrence theory, was its implementation in the United States of America. The office of Attorney General reported that the crime rate dropped by about 27% within four years of its implementation   (Tonry, 2013). This is what contributed to American state has a 7% drop in crime in the year 1995 while the overall national crime rate dropped by only 1%. This can be explained by the fact that the harsh terms in the three strike laws made most potential offenders to weigh the consequences of being caught, thus avoided committing the crimes at all  (Tonry, 2017). In doing so, it fulfills the Deterrence theory. The reduced crime rate in America as a result of three strike laws is a clear proof that the policies could work based on the Deterrence theory. Additionally, research conducted by the University of Chicago on the significance of the American sentencing policy indicates that the policy is fairer and consistency with the mandatory minimum policy principles and three strike laws. The research further provides that the American sentencing policy is tough, harsher to provide rehabilitative conditions on the offenders and other restorative programs objected at individualizing the sentences and programs. Another research conducted by Chalfin and McCrary reveal that deterrence is being supported by incapacitation  (Lee & McCrary, 2017). This research further reveals that incapacitation greatly aids in crime reduction because it involves pretrial; detention of the offenders thus preventing crimes by incapacitating individuals. Therefore sanctions on crime are directly evident that offenders will be responsive to the certainty and severity. A series of research show that the mandatory minimum policy and the three strike laws work on reducing crime as Chalfin and McCrary reveal. They state that prison population about crime’ elasticity concerning the criminal sanction to reduce crime rates.

Moreover, a study conducted by  Kaplan et al., reveals that many states that never establish crime sanction such as the mandatory minimum policy and 3-strike laws experienced a high rate of crimes (Kaplan, Weisberg, & Binder, 2014).This report stated that after the results of high rates of crimes, many of the states have recently begun adopting the mandatory sentencing and three strike laws based on the deterrence theory because the number of crimes covered under the laws is equivalent to the harshness of the minimum sentences. The applied conditions and severity of punishment, however, vary from each state to another. Over the years, many of these states have imposed laws such as the 3-strike laws to work together with the mandatory minimums to enhance sentences for the habitual offenders (Chalfin & McCrary, 2017).Therefore, through the literature reviews is quite evident that mandatory minimums policy have, and three strike laws based on deterrence theory have worked in preventing crimes despite that many states are pursuing determinacy approaches of some efforts to make sentencing policies more punitive to ensure decline of crime rates in the society.  


Based on the deterrence theory, the mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws work especially for criminals who have been convicted of the first degree of crimes. After facing the consequences of their crimes and being released, most of the first time offenders fear to commit second and third crimes for fear of suffering the consequences which are often harsher than the previous ones. These consequences mostly include life sentences.  This has resulted in offenders changing their state of residence, thus proving that the laws work based on the theory of deterrence.

Apart from deterrence theory, there are other several theories which support the mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws. One of the theories is that severe sentence enhances public safety. This is applied especially in three strike laws where a third degree, criminal is given a long jail sentence. This is because in theory, the longer the criminal stays in jail, then there are no chances crimes being committed. This greatly works especially in crimes such as drug production or trafficking, murder, rape and sexually related violence among other crimes.  This is because when perpetrators of the criminal activities are being locked up, the likelihood of the crimes taking place is reduced greatly. 

Another theory behind the mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws is that criminal behavior is rational. The meaning of the theory is that any potential offenders weigh the costs, benefits, and effects of a committing a crime before getting engaged into it. The theory assists in preventing situational crimes. Therefore, the mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws were meant to reduce crime by making a crime more difficult and risky by implementing harsh laws for committing a certain crime. Therefore, most criminals weight the consequences of being found committing a crime or being guilty versus the benefits and at the end see that the consequences are too high, hence, postponing engage with unlawful activities. The rational theory also considers other factors such as human beings are viewing themselves self-interested beings likely to suffer from choices of their actions. Thus they tend to choose actions which are rewarding than criminal offenses which are likely to be harsh such as three strike laws’ consequences.  For instance, before a person chooses to use Marijuana, he or she considers being caught by the authorities, the consequences of being found guilty or shame as a result being caught and the cost of using Marijuana. The same person would relate to the benefits or gains of using the drug. Some of the benefits would be due to the pleasure and approval gained. The potential user would then weight and make the decisions. Under this theory, the Mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws work because by increasing the consequences of committing a crime, most people tend to avoid committing a crime at all.

Punish should fit the crime theory supports the three strike laws and it is also behind the mandatory minimum concept. Under this theory, every offender should suffer his or her consequences based on their crimes.  The theory applies to three strike laws where the higher the number of times a criminal repeats a crime, the higher or, the harsher the punishment becomes. Therefore this instills fear of being found committing a crime or fear of increasing the chances of being found guilty in more times because of the harsher consequences befalling the crime.  Most offenders tend to avoid committing crimes, hence supporting the mandatory minimum and three strike laws. Thus proving that they work under should fit the crimes theory.

The deterrence theory is classified into two, general deterrence and specific deterrence. General deterrence is where a person who has never been convicted of a crime, fears to engage in a crime because he or she is afraid of the punishment likely to be received if found committing the crime. Specific deterrence is where a person who has first served a sentence fears to commit an offense because he or she is afraid of going back to prison again. These two categories have aide greatly in reducing crimes in the society both on habitual offenders and first-time offenders.

Cesare Beccaria theory is another theory under which various policies in criminology work including mandatory minimum policies and three strike laws. The theory states that every human being has free will, a rational manner and can be influenced or manipulated. This means people can make their choices at their own will, look to satisfy their satisfaction and the third means, that human beings can be controlled. The relationship between this theory and mandatory minimum policy and three strike laws is that; with the correct punishment put in place against any criminal activities, the human beings can be controlled and forced to perform freewill acts which adhere to the setup laws hence being forced to be rational. Therefore, the policies work because human beings can be controlled to perform acts which are of their level best interests, and the best of their interest is not fall into the wrong hands of the law. The theory furthermore tends to explain the amount of punishment necessary and that each crime must have a stated punishment. Individuals are forced to stop engaging in crimes because they will have to weigh the benefits of crime versus the consensus of committing the crime, which is normally higher than the pleasure achieved for committing the crime.

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Incapacitation principle has supported the deterrence theory to see the success of the mandatory minimums policy and three strike laws. This involves using mandatory sentencing to prevent crimes by stopping criminals from continuing with their unlawful activities by predicting their likelihood of them performing another offense using the past criminal activities. Reports have shown that putting criminals into incapacitation by predicting their chances of committing another crime has greatly contributed to reducing crimes rates. The process involves identifying criminals who may continue to commit crimes. This is the principle behind the introduction of mandatory minimum policy and three strike laws, where the past criminal records of a criminal are considered. If they to be risky or pose a threat of committing another crime, they are put into incapacitation

Another reason why mandatory minimum policy and three strike laws have worked under the deterrence theory is that they provide consistency in criminal sentencing and prevent discretion in the judiciary system. This is achieved because the mandatory minimum and three strike laws impose equal punishment to all offenders. Therefore the likelihood of the criminals with similar crimes having different punishment as in the case of judiciary system is reduced to zero. The fact that mandatory minimum and strike laws provide consistency then means that judges and the judiciary system as a whole have reduced work in determining the sentences since they are already predefined in the policies. Individuals are also quite aware of the punishments they are going to face since they are already stated in the policies.  Therefore, the role of the mandatory minimum policy and three strike laws was to enhance the deterrence theory by making individuals aware of the actual consequences they are likely to face in case they violate the laws. The laws also have provided consistently in the prevention of crime and execution of punishment, hence holding the principles of the deterrence theory.

Democratic arguments play a role in determining the deterrence theory which the principles of mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws are based on. This has made it very easy for the legislature to enact the policies thus facilitating the work of the principles. Since the theory is based on democratic arguments, then the concerns of the society such as fears and distress as a result of criminal activities are taken care of. This is evident because since the introduction and implementation of the mandatory minim policy and three strike laws majority of the citizens have been contented with the reduced crimes rate and the prevailing peace. The fact that these laws are also fair is the reason why it has received majority backing in the legislature and the citizens. Therefore mandatory minimum and three strike laws have worked because the deterrence theory is based on democratic arguments.

Use of mandatory minimum policy and three strike laws basing on the deterrence theory have greatly worked in reducing the cost of combating crimes. This is because by introducing of harsh punishments in the mandatory minimum policy and three strike laws most fear crimes because they are afraid of the consequences of the new harsh punishments. This is what has resulted in declining of the crime rates as witnessed in the American State after the implementation of the three strike laws. Therefore, few crimes have committed resulting which has resulted in reducing the burden on security agencies and judiciary systems. Therefore it is clear that the mandatory minimum has and three strike laws work as based on deterrence theory which has reduced the cost spent in combating crimes. 

The deterrence theory through sentencing has explained that the prevention of crimes has enhanced the work of mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws. Through this hypothesis, it is found that increasing harshness on severity punishments, for example, increasing jail sentence for a second-time offender as in three strike laws works efficiently in reducing crimes.   Therefore, the research shows that through the hypothesis, increasing the severity of punishments reduces crimes. This is linear to the impacts of the likelihood of the crime rates in the society. Furthermore, the DTS hypothesis has shown that, for the deterrence theory to work in policies, then the punishments must be harsher or very severe than the benefits of committing the crime. Through the DTS hypothesis, it has been clear that deterrence theory indeed facilitates the working of policies such as the mandatory minimum and the three strike laws.

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The mandatory minimum laws and three strike laws have been proved to work based on the deterrence theory and other criminology theories. These crime sanctions in the society have been enacted to reduce the crime rates. This is quite very evident in many states including the USA where the sentencing policy has proved to reduce crimes based on the deterrence theory. This is because most people do fear to commit crimes because of the severity of the punishments or the consequences and the already convicted criminals who have encountered the harsh punishments thus the fear of the consequences that are stated in the Deterrence theory and other criminology theories. Other theories that have worked together to support the deterrence theory on the implementation of the mandatory minimums and three strike laws are Cesare Beccaria theory, should fit crime theory and that crime is rational theories. They have supported the mandatory sentencing thus resulting into reducing crime in the society, thus proving that the mandatory minimums and strike laws based on deterrence theory and other criminology theories have worked in reducing crime rates in the society being supported by sentencing principles such incapacitation and democratic arguments.

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  1. Chalfin, A., & McCrary, J. (2017). Criminal deterrence: A review of the literature. Journal of Economic Literature, 55(1), 5–48.
  2. Kaplan, J., Weisberg, R., & Binder, G. (2014). Criminal law: Cases and materials. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.
  3. Lee, D. S., & McCrary, J. (2017). The deterrence effect of prison: Dynamic theory and evidence. In Regression Discontinuity Designs: Theory and Applications (pp. 73–146). Emerald Publishing Limited.
  4. Nagin, D. S. (2013). Deterrence in the twenty-first century. Crime and Justice, 42(1), 199–263.
  5. Tonry, M. (2013). Sentencing in America, 1975–2025. Crime and Justice, 42(1), 141–198.
  6. Tonry, M. (2017). Making American Sentencing Just, Humane, and Effective. Crime and Justice, 46(1), 441–504.
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