Two takes on 'three strikes'

California passed the nation's toughest 'three strikes' law five yearsago. Experts disagree about its effects. Two recent studies show how widelyopinions vary.

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According to one by Secretary of State Bill Jones, since the law was passed:

*Violent crime has decreased by 38 percent.

*More than 1 million crimes have been prevented, saving some $21.7 billion in related costs.

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*There have been 5,700 fewer murders, 6,900 fewer rapes, 172,000 fewer robberies, 111,200 fewer aggravated assaults, 454,700 fewer burglaries, and 339,100 fewer motor-vehicle thefts.

Another study, by the Justice Policy Institute found no correlation between the drops in crime and the 'three-strikes' law:

*Of the state's 12 largest counties, those that that vigorously enforced the law didn't see a bigger drop in crime than those that didn't.

*San Francisco, the county that most sparingly used 'three strikes,' witnessed a greater decline in violent crime and homicides than counties that enforced it heavily.

*Crime actually increased among the over-30 age group. Proponents had predicted the law would cut crime in this group in particular.

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