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Three strikes and you’re out: not a new idea

Take this letter to the Times from 2 June 1913:

I submit that the only effective way of dealing with these habitual and professional criminals is to expel them from the community against which they wager incessant war. A third conviction at assizes, or at quarter sessions, should entail the offender’s loss of personal liberty for the rest of his life. He should be deported to some island and reduced to a state of industrial serfdom…


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17 comments to Three strikes and you’re out: not a new idea

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Not necessarily a bad idea, although the modern practice of calling real-world misdemeanors felonies can make it one. And people do change as they age, so maybe twenty years instead of life? That cuts down on the “You’ll never take me alive, copper!” factor, too.

  • Diego de la Vega

    Such a place of exile used to be called “Coventry”. In fact, R. A. Heinlein wrote a story entitled, oddly, Coventry in the 50’s. I haven’t read it in years, but I’m sure it can be found online.

  • bloke in spain

    ” He should be deported to some island and reduced to a state of industrial serfdom…”
    Just trying to work out what it was you were all guilty of got you the sentence you’re currently serving ;o)

  • Paul Marks

    I believe that punishment should be in proportion to the crime – this gets me called either a “Fascist” or a weak willed liberal (depending on whether the current fashion is to hardly punish criminals at all, or to punish petty theft by life imprisonment).

    Perhaps the wild swings in fashion concering punishment (from hardly punishing criminals at all – to punishing people in a wildly diproportionate way) are caused by consequietialism – with people interested in the consequences of this or that “criminal justice policy”. I am not really that interested in the consequenes – to me justice demands punishment, and punishment in proportion to the crime.

    “But for whst purpose” – no you do not understand, for me the proportionate punishment is an end-in-its-self I am not really that interested in the consequences.

  • I might show interest in such an approach when all the victimless, political, environmental and purely moral crimes have been taken off the statutes.

    However, this would reduce the criminal code to a pamphlet…

    All the better to see you with my dear…

  • RAB

    When I worked in the Lord Chancellor’s Office, Crown Court, it was not uncommon for along with the depositions in a case, came the defendant’s antecedents (rap sheet for Americans), to find that the defendant had been in Court easily up to 90 times for crimes such as Burglary, ABH, Car theft, etc and had never seen the inside of a Nick in their entire criminal career. 9 months suspended for 2 years and Community Service orders were the worst they’d had to suffer.

    Then you see this…


    Our Justice system is just so fucked it’s beyond belief! They are Europeanising it you see. Common Law, Magna Carta and Habeus Corpus are just dim and distant memories.

  • @John Galt. As I understand it, in those days guns and drugs were more or less entirely legal. Bigamy and homosexual acts less so. Come to think of it, bigamy is still illegal. Isn’t it?

  • Laird

    In the US (federal courts) there are formal sentencing guidelines which take into account prior convictions (note: not mere charges, so simply being haled into court doesn’t count against you), the severity of the offense, etc. These were implemented some years ago to at least partly eliminate wildly differing sentences meted out by different judges. Not a bad idea, and although there are still flaws I think it works reasonably well. The only real problem I have is with our vast panoply of “victimless” crimes. Take them out of the equasion and the system would be OK.

    But as long as they’re a part of it I have a big problem with “three strikes and you’re out”, especially for life. That should only apply with respect to serious felonies involving injury to person or significant property theft; no drug crimes, no prostitution convictions, etc.

    Anyway, the real solution isn’t stronger sentencing, it’s the restoration of the ancient concept of outlawry. You reject the tenets of civil society and that society rejects you. Which means you don’t get any of its protections, and are truly on your own, fair game for anyone with a mind to take you on. Pretty simple, really.

  • James Waterton

    Hrm, leaving aside the ‘three strikes’ bit, the Brits had a pretty good system of depositing crims on “some island…reduced to a state of industrial serfdom”. That benighted island prospered – to the extent that a land yoked with such low-grade stock can prosper, of course – to the point that it boasts a prestigious rural-based learning institution which pays homage to the same philosopher as Mr Lilly, who I’m sure was well aware that Immanuel Kant was a bit of a pissant.

  • Mr Ed

    I understand that in certain US States the right of self defence coupled with availability of firearms results in a strong Darwinian selective pressure against domestic burglary and crime rates reflect this, put simply, domestic burglars do not prosper.

    It should be uncontroversial for the UK for convicted burglars to lose all benefits, state housing, State healthcare, legal aid or other assistance and then the viability of the criminal way of life would be reduced.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The common objection to a three-strikes rule is how some mope is sentenced to life for a relatively minor theft.

    What is overlooked is that the mope wouldn’t be getting slammed if

    a) he hadn’t committed at least two previous felonies.

    b) he hadn’t, knowing that he was liable under the third-strike rule, committed an additional felony.

    IOW, a repeat criminal who won’t stop.

    Diego de la Vega @June 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm
    Such a place of exile used to be called “Coventry”. In fact, R. A. Heinlein wrote a story entitled, oddly, Coventry in the 50′s.

    “Coventry” appeared in 1940.

    The premise was a future civilization in which all citizens are subject to a Covenant. Any violation of the Covenant, such as violence against another person, incurs either psychological reconditioning, or exile to “Coventry”, a tract of land surrounded by a “force field”.

    The protagonist goes to Coventry, but first denounces (at length) the mind-meddling and psychoregulatory practices of the society. Eventually, though, he learns better.

    Note that in 1940, Heinlein was no libertarian; in fact he was semi-prominent in the California Democratic Party.

    I haven’t read it in years, but I’m sure it can be found online.

    Heinlein’s work is all under copyright. One might be able to buy it for Kindle or Nook, but it’s not out there free.

  • Mr Ed

    @ RAB, sadly true that the Common Law system is fading. It should be a rule that no one may be sent to prison, even on remand (before trial) without the consent of a jury.

    A system of petty impeachment before a jury for judicial officers might also be a useful shield.

    Three strikes with jury nullification does not seem unreasonable to me, but would it be that the last 2 strikes follow conviction for or commission of an offence? Surely conviction, as then the offender can know the peril he runs.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Well, you can’t have Australia! Well, not mainland Australia! Tasmania has always been a bit of a problem, so we might just drop convicts in there- for a fee! How much will each criminal be worth?

  • Paul Marks

    A lot of good comments here.

    I am always a bit shamefaced to see one of Nick (nice-guy) comments – as I once insanely ranted at him (mistaking him for someone else who had attacked me).

    At least I have not been without sleep for a few days this time.

    Mr Ed, Laird and RAB all make good points.

    As does John Galt.

    And Patrick is right – the intrusion of the criminal law into moral matters (such as homosexual acts) was clearly wrong (the statutes go back to the Tudors I believe – a state usurpation of Church matters, a fruit of the Reformation?).

    Although the Church (long corrupted – going back to the alliance with the Emperor Constantine and the later theology of Augustine) was not above using force itself.

    The differance was that formal Church Courts were wary of using the death penality.

    Even the Spanish Inquisition was actually outside the formal Church structure (it was created by Ferdinand the Dark – and he was after money, and blood).

    Of course it is wrong for the Church to use violence at all. One “can not save souls by coercing bodies”.

    But (contrary to Hollywood) in England at least you were much better off in a Church court than the Royal court.

    They (the Churchmen) were far less likely to kill or mutilate you.

    Especially if you gamed the system – i.e. fall on your knees and beg for the forgiveness of God, and the moral guidence of the learned judges (who are priests after all) in your future conduct

    In a Royal Court that is basically a waste of time (apart from you having just confessed your guilt – which means they can kill you, and take your stuff), but in a Church court all the princples of Cannon Law then kick in your favour….

    Perhaps not a good thing in a criminal case. I.E. a real crime – a violation of property in person or possessions.

  • Maximo Macaroni

    A society that allows sodomy and prostitution is not civilized. Thousands of years have convinced hundreds of generations of men of this simple truth. Suppresson of violent conduct is much more difficult if the moral causes of this conduct are ignored or winked at.

  • Laird

    A society which presumes that it has the right, and takes it upon itself, to prohibit consensual sodomy or prostitution is not civilized. It’s a society of officious, meddling busybodies.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Maximo Macaroni:

    A society that allows sodomy and prostitution is not civilized. Thousands of years have convinced hundreds of generations of men of this simple truth. Suppresson of violent conduct is much more difficult if the moral causes of this conduct are ignored or winked at.

    You do not say whether this is a statement of opinion or an argument for banning sodomy and prostitution.
    If it is the former, then fair enough, but if you intended it as a rational argument, then it would seem to be badly flawed. It would seem to contain a false premise supported by at least one, if not two, logical fallacies:
    (a) argumentum ad populum (appeal to the people/consensus, popular sentiment – appeal to the majority; appeal to loyalty).
    (b) argumentum ad verecundiam (appeal to authority; conventional propriety).

    Anything else you might say that is intended to follow on from this fallacious reasoning would be equally invalid/irrational (a non sequitur).
    I just thought I’d point that out in case it might not have occurred to you.