Rapid diffusion and policy reform: The adoption and modification of three strikes laws

Andrew Karch, Matthew Cravens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Despite many important recent advances in the study of policy diffusion, this research has devoted limited attention to what happens after the adoption decision. This article attempts to fill this gap in diffusion research by examining the adoption and subsequent modification of “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws in the American states. Its analysis suggests that distinct political forces affected state-level outcomes at these two stages of the policymaking process. The rapid spread of Three Strikes laws in the 1990s seems to have occurred because states with more conservative leanings and higher proportions of African-American residents gravitated to a salient and visible policy. In contrast, the modification of Three Strikes laws appears to have been encouraged by financial necessity and shifting ideological environments but hindered by the mobilization of stakeholders with an interest in preserving the status quo, including private prison operators and prison officer unions. The contrast illustrates the usefulness of treating policy diffusion as a multistage process, and the stakeholder mobilization results provide empirical support for recent theorizing about policy feedback effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-491
Number of pages31
JournalState Politics and Policy Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, The Author(s)


  • Crime policy
  • Policy implementation
  • Policy innovation/diffusion
  • Policy process
  • Privatization
  • Public policy
  • Racial policy


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