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Taylor & Francis


A hierarchical logistic model is used to analyze data on Three Strikes-eligible offenders in California and the counties in which they are sentenced. The analysis finds that discretion is widely exercised by elected prosecutors and judges in the administration of Three Strikes. Discretion functions as a “safety valve” and preserves some sentencing proportionality, but may also allow political concerns to influence sentencing decisions. A more conservative political environment is strongly associated with stricter application of the law. Consistent with racial threat theory, eligible felons are more likely to receive Three Strikes sentences in counties with larger Latino populations. However, the size of the black population has no significant effect. Higher unemployment rates are associated with more stringent application of the law. Prosecutorial and judicial discretion benefits offenders unequally. Controlling for legally relevant factors, black offenders are more likely to receive Three Strikes sentences, while younger ones are less likely.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Justice Quarterly in July 2014, available online:



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