Kevin Holder, 41, of Lincoln, Ne., has been arrested 226 times, says the Chicago Tribune. He’s been to state prison three times and the county jail more times than he can remember. Yet his 12-page, single-spaced rap sheet doesn’t even qualify him for Lincoln’s top-10 list of most-arrested criminals. He’s only No. 41. The had 652 arrests before he died in 2004. Across the nation, police departments deal with similar cases daily: serial offenders who cycle through the criminal justice system hundreds of times, only to end up back on the street to be arrested all over again. It’s a phenomenon that persists despite the near-universality of “three strikes” laws that are supposed to keep habitual criminals behind bars.
It’s not something police departments are eager to Ipublicize, so most don’t even try to compile the data. In a world of three-strikes laws few are counting the at-bats. “I think the public would be very shocked to find out how much of this is going on,” said Sgt. Steve Copeland of the Houston Police Department’s major offenders division. “But if you publicized a list like that, you would have a hard time explaining how these guys keep getting out to commit these crimes.” Arrests are a crude measure of criminality, yet as an indicator of an individual’s criminal proclivities, a long rap sheet can be telling, which is why the Lincoln Police Department finds it useful to keep track. Why can’t Lincoln police keep a criminal with 200 or more arrests off the streets even longer? The answer lies in the nature of the offenses committed, the pressures on an overburdened justice system, and the mood of individual judges on any particular day.