GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Reintroducing Three Strikes Legislation: Why it is not a good idea.


“Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws, based on the idea that criminals would think about the consequences of their crime before they committed them, originated in California in 1994.The idea was to promote victims’ rights by stripping judges and the Parole Board of the discretion to impose lenient sentences on serious recidivist offenders.

In 2010 the fifth National led government followed suit when it introduced Three Strikes legislation under Sentencing and Parole Reform Act.

In 2012 California ended its failed experiment because it did not demonstrably reduce the serious crime rate and some studies even suggested that it might increase the rates of more serious crimes, such as murdering witnesses, because once an offender had committed a “third strike”, then why not carry on.

It would take 12 years for New Zealand to realise that taking sentencing discretion away from  Judges was a really bad idea. At the time it repealed  the legislation in 2022 the evidence brief supplied by Corrections, Police and the Ministry of Justice found there was no substantial evidence on the effect of the three strikes law, either domestically or overseas.

“Based on the data alone, there is no distinct indication that the three strikes legislation is deterring individuals from committing qualifying offences,” it said.

So is taking away sentencing discretion away from Judges for serious crimes a good idea?


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The circumstances of every case is different so Judges need to have lee-way at sentencing .

And if you want to be coldly financial about it the Three Strikes laws that compulsorily extended sentences cost the tax payers of California and New Zealand millions and millions of dollars in prison costs for no measurable social benefit.

Three strikes sounds like a simple solution to serious offending but you just have to look into some of these crimes of violence, as I have, to realise the roots of criminal behaviour are complex and violent behaviour is very often linked to terrible events in  the offender’s childhood and/or adolescence.

So it is at the beginning  of life’s journey  – the early years – that we need to be spending money and resources, not in building bigger prisons.

The most generous view of the reintroduction of the Three Strikes rule is that is misguided. In my view it’s dog whistle politics



Bryan Bruce is one of New Zealand’s most important and respected documentary makers. His work is available on


  1. If the proposed law isn’t amended, it’s barely going capture many offenders. The 24 month hurdle is going to let many offenders off.

  2. The third strike should be the guillotine! If you haven’t already leant your lesson by the third strike, it’s time for lights out.

  3. In my view the reintroduction of 3 Strikes fits the political definition of insanity.

    It has been proven a demonstrable failure. An American idea that will not work in Aotearoa. And yet, here we are.

    A lady I follow on Twitter is an ex corrections and said many prisoners when told that they
    are on 2nd Strike deliberately do something they know will ensure a 3rd Strike.

    How is that good?

  4. Criminals actually thought before they committed crimes, they’d either be very successful criminals, or not criminals at all. This is just Laura Norder virtue signalling.

  5. Yes, but the problem is that Three Strikes has good optics. It may be a load of populist tripe, but it sounds convincing and that’s the problem. A lot more convincing than the ridiculous glorified sumptuary law that is the current regime’s war against gang insignia while it fuels meth labs through restoring pseudoephedrine to pharmacist shelves, encouraging ram raids on those outlets and consequently, an uptick in police P busts. And then there’s the question of security requirements for certain semi-automatic weapons.

    Without adequate and balanced focus on evidence-based rehabilitation programmes, though, what Three Strikes does is warehouse the problem. It means that while the government is seen as tough on crime, they defer the outcome until the violent offender is released, gets into trouble again and a new group of victims is traumatised in the process. It doesn’t make sense from the ‘victims rights’ perspective in this context. Someone in the criminology field needs to do some longitudinal research on the outcomes of Three Strikes prisoners to verify the suspicion I’ve voiced above.

  6. Bryan – El Salvador locked up lots of criminals, and now the country is happy, safe, and enjoying life…

    • Nathan: ‘The US Department of State currently recommends US citizens Reconsider Travel to El Salvador due to crime’ (Wiki)
      Happy and safe hey?

      • Justine Kase – US State Department also currently recommends US citizens reconsider travel to NZ due to tectonic activity…this statement was released 3 years ago

  7. Nathan, you are aware that El Salvador locks up women for having ‘suspicious’ miscarriages, aren’t you?

    • Craig Young – That’s one side of the story…the other side, is she is a career criminal, that El Salvador wanted off the streets…they, El Salvador, has changed that law

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