Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘joan petersilia

Web Resources: Joan Petersilia Explains California’s Realignment Policy

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I have lamented many times on this blog that the media has not been entirely accurate in its reporting on California’s “realignment” policy that went into effect in October 2011 (e.g. here and here). Luckily, there is no reason to be misinformed about realignment anymore because expert criminologist Joan Petersilia, who probably knows more about California parole and reentry than anyone and has advised California governors on criminal justice policy, has recently given an interview the Berkeley Law “Criminal Justice Conversations” podcast series. Listen here!

Unfortunately, and as evidenced by the numerous comments that keep streaming in on an earlier post I did on realignment, there seems to be widespread confusion not just in the media, but also on the ground about how realignment is being interpreted and applied in particular counties. Perhaps this is because the state and/or the counties are not doing a good job of communicating the policy to the public, or because the policy itself has some gaps, or simply isn’t working well (or isn’t working as well everywhere), or… etc. Whatever the reason for the confusion, this makes it all the more problematic that, as Petersilia notes in the podcast, the realignment bill did not set aside funds for evaluating its implementation:

You know it’s so disheartening, I can hardly voice it to you, to be honest with you. It goes against every other trend in every other state, and as you said, at the federal government, but it also goes against California’s recent history. Every other major initiative in modern history in California has had a set-aside, that if you’re going to spend all of this money to do things differently, somebody should be accountable and report back to the legislature about how well it worked. Realignment, we’re investing much more then any of these previous initiatives, and yet isn’t it rather odd that we didn’t set aside any money for evaluation?

“Prison Without Walls” and the Special Case of California

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The Atlantic has an interesting article called “Prison Without Walls,”* on supervised release programs like parole and probation, and the rise of GPS tracking and other ways of keeping track of “prisoners on the outside” — what Graeme Wood calls, in the article, “Panopticon justice.” As a California-based observer of prison law and policy, I only have one quibble with the article. Wood describes his subject as follows:

An underappreciated fact of our penitentiary system is that of all Americans “serving time” at any given moment, only a third are actually behind bars. The rest—some 5 million of them—are circulating among the free on conditional supervised release either as parolees, who are freed from prison before their sentences conclude, or as probationers, who walk free in lieu of jail time. These prisoners-on-the-outside have in fact outnumbered the incarcerated for decades.

This traditional definition of parolees — men and women “freed from prison before their sentences conclude” — is not accurate as applied to California, the nation’s largest prison system. While California does have a small population of prisoners sentenced to variable-to-life terms and thus theoretically eligible for parole in the sense of early release, California also uses its parole system to supervise the 95% of its prisoners who serve determinate sentences. From 1979 through this past January, every determinately sentenced offender in California faced a mandatory post-release parole supervision period of up to 3 years; as of January 2010, about 85% do, and even those not on full parole can still be kept on “banked parole,” meaning they can be searched without a warrant at any time. (I summarized California parole, and linked to some helpful overviews of the system, in a post back in January. Another good overview was recently published by the Bay Citizen. In light of the widespread confusion, I’ve also asked a couple of times if California shouldn’t change the name of parole supervision altogether.) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

August 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Is the U.S. Law School Curriculum (Partly) to Blame for Mass Incarceration?

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Let’s say you want to learn more about the recent history of mass incarceration in the United States, but you only have time for one book. Although there are many excellent candidates, one that I’d recommend is The Prison and the Gallows, by Marie Gottschalk (Cambridge UP, 2006). Gottschalk synthesizes a lot of scholarly literature to provide a one-volume chronicle of the explosive growth of the U.S. prison population in the past 30 years. She seeks to explain the uniquely American social and political forces that enabled this development, juxtaposing the U.S. against all the other Western nations which did not experience similar growth in the penal system. I found particularly useful Gottschalk’s chapter on why the rhetoric of “victims’ rights” gained such political force in the United States as a justification for passing harsher sentencing laws. Short answer: Our tradition of prosecutorial discretion, combined with federalism. (Longer but still oversimplified answer below.)

On top of those factors, Gottschalk argues, “Differences in the legal training, professional norms, and career paths of prosecutors, judges, and other judicial administrators are another reason why the U.S. criminal justice system has been more vulnerable to political winds whipped up by politicians and social movements” (98). I thought I’d highlight one passage in which Gottschalk compares German and American legal training: Read the rest of this entry »

“Truly Appalling”

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California Institution for Men (Chino, Calif.), August 2006. Courtesy California CDCR

That’s how one expert has described the housing conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons — where inmates sleep in triple bunks, in beds crammed into gymnasiums, and two to a one-person-sized cell. “In more than 35 years of prison work experience, I have never seen anything like it,” he continued. The expert in question? Not someone unfamiliar with prison conditions, or stereotypically “soft on crime.” Rather, these observations come from the former head of corrections for the state of Texas. (Quotation from Coleman v. Schwarzenegger/Plata v. Schwarzenegger opinion order, p. 71.)

As many readers of this blog are surely more than familiar, this week a new state law went into effect to reduce California’s prison population by 6,500 inmates over the next year. Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) provides a balanced overview of the issues raised by the reforms, interviewing the LAPD union chief, who predicts the plan will undermine public safety by releasing dangerous offenders back into communities, as well as Stanford Professor Joan Petersilia, who argues that the plan will actually make Californians safer by better focusing resources on high-risk offenders. Meanwhile, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s floating a proposal to start sending inmates to Mexico, and a local sheriff pleads: “Local jails cannot bear burden of housing state prison inmates.” Of course, the California Corrections Crisis blog, run by professors and students at the UC Hastings law school, remains an indispensable resource for following these and other developments in the Golden State.

Since many of my readers are far more expert than I on these issues, I won’t belabor the details here, but after the jump, I’ll provide a bit of background for readers less familiar with California’s prison system. Read the rest of this entry »

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