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.

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.

*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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