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Three-Strikes Laws and The Hunt for the Holy Grail


I’ve always said that the smaller the footnote or the simpler the question, the more time it will take to find the footnote’s supporting document or a citable document to answer the question.

We were recently asked how many states have three-strikes laws. Now, you would think this would be straightforward, but it’s not. There are many studies, many articles, many commentators, and many, many assumptions.

We find reports from a few years ago, tons of stuff from California on their recent legislation, some excellent research out of Hawaii on their 2009 legislative action to repeal their 3-strikes law, but nothing that can be used as a reliable current citation for all 50 states. I have charts from 2000, writers and journalists who say there were 23 states in 2004, 26 states in 2004 (Wikipedia, unfootnoted), and a fairly reliable study from 2006 that says 25 states. But nothing actually or even relatively official or authoritative (e.g. government or think-tank or nonprofit) from 2007 forward.

I’ve tried various databases of government criminal justice statistics sources and websites (from NCJRS, Dept Corrections, NIJ, NCSL, Sourcebook of CJ Stats, etc.). Maybe it’s just too darn hot and all data, and librarians, have melted.

What I need is something very recent, and citable, that says, x states have three-strikes (types of) laws as of 2008 or 2009. The two best reports I have found, and that will serve my needs for the present, are a Professor Ronald Wright article 20 Law & Policy 450 (1998) and a political science grad student’s master’s thesis from 2006 (found using Clusty), which has an excellent table too. (Lisa Dillon, “Three-Strikes Legislation and the Evolution of the Liberal Conception of Justice,” Marshall University, thesis, May 2006).

(Update: I just found a news story (from the Star Bulletin, 5/6/06) saying that Hawaii became the 26th state with a three-strikes law, which updates Ms. Dillon’s excellent three-strikes laws grid.)

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