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Students in a seminar on Criminal Law and Public Policy

Students in Professor Joan Petersilia's advanced seminar on Criminal Law and Public Policy have conducted research that provides answers to difficult policy questions. In March 2013, they will brief Gov. Jerry Brown on their findings. PHOTO: Judith Romero.

$650,000 in Grants to Support Stanford Research on Prison Reform

Winter 2013

California has the largest prison system in the country and, in recent years, it has adopted significant reforms. The Public Safety Realignment Legislation—which transfers authority for convicted felons from the state prison and parole system to local counties—is a dramatic change in sentencing and corrections policy. What will be the effect of shifting responsibility and discretion from the state to the counties? How will realignment alter rates of incarceration, probation supervision, and community programs?

Research by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) is helping California effectively undertake and assess realignment, with the goal of capturing best practices and informing subsequent policies. The center is conducting four studies that examine the approaches California's 58 counties have taken in implementing realignment, and explore the activities and views of key criminal justice officials, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, sheriffs, and probation officers.

This research is funded by grants totaling $650,000 from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), a program of the U.S. Department of Justice; the James Irvine Foundation; and the Public Welfare Foundation. Each organization supports SCJC because of its reputation for strong criminal justice policy research at all levels of government.

"California's realignment legislation can be considered one of the biggest state penal experiments in modern history," says Angela Moore, division director of justice systems research at NIJ. "Given the high financial and social costs of incarceration, it's crucial to assess potentially viable alternatives to state incarceration that will secure public safety at significantly lower cost. Realignment has strong implications for other states as they attempt to manage already strained budgets. In light of the national implications and concern for public safety, NIJ seeks to fund rigorous analyses of the short- and long-term costs and benefits of realignment. Stanford most definitely delivers that kind of analysis."

With national incarceration rates growing dramatically over the past three decades, states and counties are focusing on "front-end" solutions—those that reduce the number of people going to jail in the first place. "Stanford's inclusion of research on pre-trial detention policy is in alignment with the work we've been doing at the Public Welfare Foundation," says Seema Gajwani, a criminal justice program officer at PWF. "We wanted very credible experts working on this issue, and that's why we decided to support the Criminal Justice Center's efforts."

These grants result from research projects begun in Professor Joan Petersilia's advanced seminar on Criminal Law and Public Policy, where students work in teams on real-world policy reform goals. Students research current issues in criminal justice for "clients"—such as the California attorney general and other interested parties. Matt Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, agreed to be a client during the fall 2012 seminar, giving SLS students the opportunity to examine empirically several policy issues critical to the state's prison system.

"Joan Petersilia is one of the top researchers in the criminal justice field," says Amy Dominguez-Arms, California Democracy program director at the James Irvine Foundation. "We're pleased to support this project, as it aligns with our goal to improve public policy decision making on critical issues for California."

Throughout 2013, SCJC researchers expect to share findings with key policymakers, including the Board of State and Community Corrections, the California State Legislature, the California attorney general, and the Office of the Governor. The SCJC will also share research findings that identify model realignment practices with counties and other findings with groups and agencies such as the Chief Probation Officers of California, the Partnership for Community Excellence, and the California State Association of Counties.