Prison Realignment’s Impact on Parole and Probation-Joan Petersilia-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, the respected Dr. Joan Petersilia – – one of the best-known and respected criminologists in the United States. I’ll read very quickly from her bio. Dr. Joan Petersilia has spent more than 25 years studying the performance of U.S. criminal justice agencies and has been instrumental in affecting sentencing and correctional reform in California and throughout the United States.  She is the author of 11 books about crime and public policy, and her research on parole reform, prisoner reintegration, and sentencing policy has fueled changes in policies throughout the nation. A criminologist with a background in empirical research and social science, Dr. Petersilia is a Faculty Co-Director for the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. The topic today is going to be the extraordinary penal experiment, correctional experiment currently happening in the state of California, commonly known to the rest of us as Realignment. Joan Petersilia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: You know, this is the biggest penal experiment in modern history, and it’s something that most of us within the criminal justice system throughout the country are completely unaware of. This may be the biggest correctional experiment in the last quarter of a century anywhere throughout the United States and possibly anywhere throughout the world. So what I’m going to do is ask you to start off with a basic overview of what’s happened in the state of California.  Before going to that, I wanted to tell the listeners that this has every bit of importance for parole and probation and local jails as it does for mainstream corrects. So can you give me a sense, Joan, as to a basic, fundamental understanding of the California Criminal Justice Realignment Act?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Certainly, and don’t apologize for the fact that you don’t know about it. I think what’s the most interesting thing is most Californians are just now, 18 months after it started, just kind of finding out about it. It happened very, very fast here in California. Last May, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs here in California that were arguing that California’s prisons were too overcrowded to provide Constitutional health and mental health care. This was the result of two long-standing class-action lawsuits that began in 1990 here in California urging the state to reduce its prison population in order to be able to treat the mentally ill, the suicidal, and then it turned into overall medical care, getting people medications, seeing doctors, etc.  So that case was going on in the state for nearly 20 years. The plaintiffs felt the state was not reducing prison staff enough. They took it all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ordered California in May of 2011 to reduce its prison population. At the time it ruled, California’s prison population was 172,000, and they ruled that California had to get its prison population down to about 120,000 by this June, of June 2013.

Len Sipes: That’s a 50,000 reduction in population.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: 50,000 reductions. They decided that California had to reach 137.5% of design capacity which California had two choices: either build up capacity – we have 33 prisons here in California. One choice our Legislature could have made is if instead of reducing the prison population because it was all about you must maintain 137.5% of design capacity, which given the current prison population when they ruled meant we could only house about 120,000 prisoners.  So California faced the issue of whether or not it should expand. It had several choices: one, it could expand its out-of-state contracts with private providers; and it chose to do that for about 10,000 prisoners; or it could start a building construction program which we simply didn’t have the money to do. At the time the Supreme Court issued its ruling, California was 26 billion dollars in deficit in terms of its state budget.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: So the legislature then signed a bill very, very quickly. It in fact was signed within 24 hours of being introduced with basically no public comment.  It was signed, passed in May of 2011, and it basically is called California Public Safety Realignment. What it does, in a word, people say that “realignment,” it kind of was by design so that kind of nobody would realize what was going on because it sounds like something you might have done at the chiropractor or something. I mean, people just didn’t understand this was about prisons and about prison reduction at a massive scale. But what the word “realignment” meant was that prison after October 1st – so it was signed in May, it went into full-fledged; anybody’s sentence after October 1st was sentenced in a new penal code regime. 500 felonies, some of them quite serious actually, most drug possession, most drug sale, auto theft, forgery, identity theft, domestic violence, child abuse, things that were lesser levels of all of those crimes, in fact previously that offender would have gone to prison if sentenced for one of those 500 crimes – after October 1st of 2011, they could no longer be sentenced to prison. So if they were convicted of that crime, they had to stay in the county jail, and importantly, it didn’t change the actual length of time that they could serve in jail, it just changed the place where they had to serve the sentence.

Len Sipes: So jails now become the focal point of both people coming out of the prison system and people being sentenced.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Right. Jails in a very huge way now, jails, kind of the workhorse and the unexamined part of the criminal justice has now become a huge focal point in California, as does probation. So the first part of realignment changed the penal code, sent about 30% of historical people who would have gone to prison, they now can’t go to prison. The second major thing they did, which is something that I think everybody across the nation had watched and I personally worked on, I worked on the drafting of this legislation, that if you are violated for a probation or parole, technical violation, you can no longer go back to California prisons. That was a huge—

Len Sipes: You can’t go back to prison.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: You cannot go back to California prisons as of October of 2011 if you are violated for a technical parole violation unless you’re a lifer prisoner. So, for 99% of people, they no longer faced prison at a technical parole violation. For them too, the maximum sentence was a jail term and in this case, the legislature basically did impose a sentence. They could not serve greater than six months in jail where they had, on average, served at least one or two years in state prison. That was a major change. The third major change that realignment did is that California, prior to realignment, was the only state that put everybody on post-parole supervision, and they put pretty much everybody on post-parole supervision for three years. Realignment changed that, and it said, “You’ll only go on state parole if your current conviction is a violent or serious crime,” which was about 40% of all people going out. “The 60% of you are going to be realigned, and you’re going to go to county probation for supervision instead”  And so if you think about the combination of these three things – new felony convictions, probation and parole violators don’t go back to prison, and many of those coming out, 60%, no longer go on parole – you see how the prison population would dramatically decline, and it did. So today, from that height of 172,000 people, we have about 123,000 people locked up today.

Len Sipes: And you’re no longer number one in the country. Texas now becomes the largest penal system in the United States, and California is number two.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Right. And so, when you introduce the subject of the most massive experiment, California in essence has shut down or let out, when you think about 40,000 to 50,000 prisoners, and in California, that equals the size of eight prisons, has basically declined, and the parole population, because of what I just told you on the third element, the parole population has declined by 60%. And so we have now, in terms of state control over the California criminal justice population, basically we’ve reduced it by half, if you add probation and parolees, of who is in charge of criminal defendants, and there’s a lot of reasons we could talk about why that was so important for the legislator to construct it like that.  Part of it was that California’s Correctional Guard Union had in fact priced themselves out of the market. It was so expensive for the state to continue to house prisoners, under all of the litigation and the health care costs that they had agreed to over the years that the cost right prior to it, and it still is the cost of housing an inmate in California, is $54,000 a year per inmate.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing. That is amazing.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: So our litigation costs and the costs of the personnel in California had made that the legislature basically had to downsize the state system in order to save money, if nothing else. So what they decided to do is to take half of the savings – so if you had $54,000 for that prisoner and you would have spent them to house him in state prison, the state basically told the counties, “We’ll give you half of that. We’ll give you $25,000 for each prisoner that historically this county sent to prison, and we’ll give it back to you in terms of a blank check.”

Len Sipes: And that’s either to house them or provide rehabilitation programs.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: So what they did, which is also the most amazing thing that has ever happened, is they didn’t tell the counties how to spend that money. They basically said, “You need to come up with a committee,” and they said, “the committee contains the nine key criminal justice actors in your county.” We have 58 counties in California. They said, “You’ve got to have the police, you’ve got to have the sheriff on it, the public defender, the DA,” so they dictated in the legislation this group that came together, and they basically will have authority to spend the check that you’re going to get, and as I said, in the first year it was $1 billion, in the second year it’s an additional $1 billion. So we are now 18 months into this experiment and $2 billion has been given to the California local criminal justice communities to spend in whatever way they think will best serve their needs.

Len Sipes: All right. For the listeners, what I want to do is just summarize and get on to some policy issues in terms of all of this. Let me see if I can summarize and see if I’m somewhere in the ball park. You’re talking about a reduction of 172,000 offenders behind bars in the state prison systems down to 120,000; that the court ruling had to be 137% of design capacity. This was dealing with the constitutionality of the prison systems, specifically dealing with medical care. It is a prison issue, a jail issue, and a community supervision issue.  But every state in the United States – and this is why I want to broaden the discussion – every state in the United States is having some issue to some degree with the same issues that are going on in California, which is why what we’re discussing has implications for every state in the United States. Every state out there is saying that we can no longer afford the level of incarceration that we currently have, and every state out there is talking about downsizing to some degree. I do realize that prison populations have gone up in some states but not many. Generally speaking, they’ve either leveled off or decreased, so this has issues for the entire country. What are the policy implications of all this?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I think you’re absolutely right that this is not California-centric. This is, as we know, 19 states have closed prisons. I think public opinion is that the public is now forcefully voting to get kind of the lower level, particularly offenders who were involved with drugs, out of prison. We’re redesigning penal codes across this country for those kind of downsizing in the penal code. You know, we upsized and now we’re going to downsize, not only in a population but who we think deserves prison.  And so for me the question has always been, and I think this is the question that the whole nation needs to be asking as criminologists and policy-makers: “If not prison, what?” And that to me, we don’t have a good answer to, and we know we don’t like prisons. I mean, I think everybody is now pretty much of the opinion that prisons serve an incapacitation view purpose, and that for some people, we need that, and that’s enough, and we need to keep prison for violent and serious offenders for incapacitation, but we no longer believe that it serves as a rehabilitation or a particular harsh deterrent, and we no longer believe that it’s restorative and serves re-entry, so I think everybody’s got that message.  So now the question is; we’ve got the message; the prisoners are coming home; we think re-entry is important; we don’t have the money to fund re-entry well. The first step is let’s just get people out of the criminal justice system who are low-risk and got caught up in the drug war, and we should just get out of their lives and they’ll do just fine. I was also very involved in kind of, and here at Stanford Law School, we led the Prop 36 Three Strikes Reform that just passed in California, and so we also have people that were kind of caught up in the fervor of these very, very long sentences across the country, and I think states are letting those out.  So on the one hand this is a national story but it’s a story that the ending has not yet been written because if not prison – which we all believe we shouldn’t have so much of – what should we have for kind of the lower level offender, for if we don’t do something, rehabilitation, deterrents, we could take any aspect of law, retribution. What about victims and what they deserve? What is the right appropriate level of punishment to serve the other purposes that we have for the criminal justice system?

Len Sipes: In another program, we talked about the problem of over-promising and under-delivering within the terms of community corrections, and I do want to talk a little bit about that, but I want to reintroduce you. Dr. Joan Petersilia, I am so honored to have her today: Joan Petersilia, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, and she is also a Faculty Co-Director of Stanford Criminal Justice Center.  Joan, we talked on another program about the danger of this whole pendulum can easily swing back because we could have a release of individuals from the prison system if we don’t have a good plan in place in terms of dealing with them. If they go out, if they commit a series of violent crimes, if they commit a series of homicides, it becomes a political issue, and then we’re suddenly right back to where we were 10 years ago, so there’s a bit of a danger in terms of all this. You know, it may be wonderful that the experiment is going on and we’re trying different things but unless we get our act together quickly in terms of community corrections, it could blow up in our faces.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, and you’re so right. We have a Republican candidate who just announced this week that he is running for governor against Governor Brown, and his key issue is to repeal Realignment and build up capacity and start building prisons, and so what goes down can certainly come back up, and we’ve got to think about what’s the pressure. Why has the nation kind of lost its luster with prisons? I mean, some of us, I think might say, “Well, prisons didn’t work. We know all the criminogenic effects of prison,” but, for other people, it’s a cost/benefit analysis, and prisons have become so expensive, that in state facing budget deficits, as they have to kind of decide whether to hire a prison guard or a teacher, it’s an easy call.  But the economy is starting to improve and so I think at least again, I’m watching this play out in California. I thought it would take a little longer. I mean, we’re 18 months into Realignment, and we have the first candidate coming out, and we have pictures in the paper. He’s holding a press conference next week. He is now going across the state saying he will appeal Realignment, and he is using those horror stories that you just said that they will use because, of course, people released will commit bad acts. So the question is how to you prepare for that. We all know it’s coming. We’ve lived long enough to know that this is the pendulum swing that we all – how do we kind of fad-proof kind of this better policy that we think makes sense?

Len Sipes: But is part of all of this our fault within the criminal justice system that we have not laid down very clear-cut guidelines for the practitioner community, backed up by very good research and giving them, you know, clear-cut instructions in terms of what works and what doesn’t work? I know the Department of Justice has done this, the Office of Justice programs. I know that others along the lines of Urban Institute certainly are moving in that direction, but practitioners often times will say to me, “Leonard, there is no clear-cut plan. Why in the name of heavens isn’t there a clear-cut plan in terms of those of us doing corrections, community corrections, telling us specifically what to do, how to do it, when to do it, who to do it with?”

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, and you know, we can blame the research community but it’s wrongly placed. We spend not enough much – you know, people complain that we don’t spend enough on programs. We spend even less on research, and so the National Institute of Justice budget, for example, spends about $10 million a year on outcome evaluations for all of criminal justice. That is juvenile, adult, probation, parole, in prison, communities, on and on. That is the annual budget of the National Institute of Dentistry that does evaluations of what causes a toothache, so we have our biggest social problem, a mismatch, with kind of the research that in fact would be helpful to these practitioners.

They’re absolutely right. There is no body. If you came into my office today, I couldn’t pull out off my shelf solid, good evaluations to tell a probationer or parole chief what they should be doing with different risk people, and so if you peel back the onion, if you go beyond just kind of risk responsivity and dosage and some of, you know, motivational, some of that – if you go beyond just the boiler plate of that, you know, there’s not much there, and so I think that is the frustration but it’s not that the research community wouldn’t want to be responsive. They’re facing the same problem as people who are trying to direct a good programming.

Len Sipes: So what’s happening at the ground level in California amongst the practitioner community and the 50 or so counties there in California? Are they coming together? Are they discussing this? Are they coming up with a consensus? Are they moving in a unified direction?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, to even buttress the comment that I just made, California passed this law – $2 billion, as I told you, and not one dollar devoted to a statewide evaluation to look at how this is happening. Now, we were very lucky here at Stanford. I actually have four research grants from private foundations in the National Institute of Justice to look at how this is going, and really it is going to be, I think, an amazing story to tell a couple of years out. If we look at things though from the first year, I think it has been, um – disaster might be too hard a word to say but it has not gone well for the first year.

Len Sipes: Chaotic.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: I think it has been chaotic; that’s a better word, thank you. Partly as the communities were ill prepared for the influx of the serious kinds of offenders that hit probation, and I think people were scrambling to get programs in place, risk-assessment tools. They were scrambling to get vendors funded so that they could provide services. The second year is looking quite a bit more optimistic. We’re seeing community collaborations come together – probation, the sheriff, the police chief, and the department of mental health, four key people that are starting to emerge as spokesmen for their individual communities – and I think we’re getting something that I think is going to begin in some of the smaller communities but hopefully, I mean the real problem in California is of course, L.A. county. It’s a third of all offenders and they also have the most serious offenders coming home.  But I think we’re going to find some smaller and medium-sized counties that will show us how to do this but it will be a story that we need to have a little patience with, and unfortunately, we’re not doing really outcome evaluations, so what I’m doing is just process evaluations, so we’ll still be struggling to find out how this impacted the individual offender.

Len Sipes: But the sense that I get from reading the literature and reading the materials that you sent before we did this program is that you can almost compare them to falling off the life boat, and now they’re swimming and now they’re trying, all together as one to get out of the water and to help each other and to come to a consensus and work with each other because this is a very pivotal moment in not just California’s correctional history but the entire country’s correctional history. If they can all get together, all agree to some sense of standards and practices, and learn from each other and prosper; this may be something that will have an extraordinarily significant impact for the rest of us throughout the country. They seem to be coming together; am I right or wrong?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I very much think so, and we have a really dedicated; I mean, even though we’re all kind of, none of us have money, everybody, I mean, I’m amazed at how the research community has come together in California to try to help these counties. I just published an article that came out a couple of weeks ago that I would urge anybody who wants to know kind of how things are going. It’s called “Looking Past the Hype: Ten Questions Everybody Should be Asking about California’s Realignment,” and it’s kind of a progress report It basically says that Realignment – of course if you’re not following this closely, all you’re looking at is the Supreme Court and whether or not we’re going to meet that Supreme Court mandate with prison reductions, but that to me is not where we should be focused solely.  We need to focus on what this is doing to communities, what it’s doing to crime rate, what it’s doing to the culture of probation. I find that a fascinating question. You know, one of the things that’s happening is some probation officers are starting to be armed. We’re training officers to deal with a much more violent offender because now, of course, much of their caseload has been to prison. What does that do to a culture of rehabilitation which probation was the only agency that had that as their mission? What does it do to offenders? Are they getting involved in more treatment? Are they being discharged? What is it doing to jails? We now have jails that are no longer serving short-termers. We now have an offender who’s serving a 45-year sentence in a county jail.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing, and the county jails weren’t built for that.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: And what does it do to litigation? Will the litigation problems of the state now fall to the county jails? In fact, four of our counties are now facing lawsuits under the exact same condition, which led to Realignment.

Len Sipes: The medical issues, yes.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: The whole medical issues, and you know, how much is this going to cost us? So these are the issues that I think drive crime policy nationally, and I think, well certainly California will serve as a test case.

Len Sipes: Only a couple minutes left. On another program you mentioned that sheriffs are now taking the lead in terms of community corrections, so now you have spokespeople before community corrections for the first time in California, locally elected officials who are now getting up and standing up for community corrections. That’s a C-change.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: It is a C-change, and it was a surprise to me because I think the credibility that the sheriff, the county sheriff has, which is an elected position, and they are seen as the chief spokesmen for public safety. When they get behind probation programs, it’s a whole different message to the public, and I’m seeing them be able to garner attention. I’m seeing them be able to – they’re starting to run some of their own programs. They’re starting to be much more engaged in treatment, and what they tell me, we’ve now interviewed over 100 leaders in California who are responsible for implementing Realignment, and what sheriffs constantly tell us, “These were our people. We always knew they were coming home. We basically know how to handle them best, and this is our responsibility. Give us the money. The state never could do it well,” and I think that is what we’re going to see whether or not they can. Can a local community do it better?

Len Sipes: Instead of just throwing it off on the state and saying it’s their responsibility, they’re now saying they’re our offenders; they’re our responsibility, and that would be a huge difference.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Right, right.

Len Sipes: Where do we go to from here? We only have about a minute left in the program. What should we be looking for over the course of the next year in terms of an evaluation and a policy assessment?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I think you’re going to start seeing reports starting to come out. I know our first report we will start publishing at the end of this summer on how things are going. We are actually starting at Stanford. The first meeting is in a couple of weeks, an executive session on Realignment where the 20 key actors in California will participate in a two-year process at Stanford Law School, similar to the Harvard Executive Sessions on Policing. We want a place where we’re going to try to create a body that will speak for how Realignment should continue in the future, guided by research and best practice, but also taking into account the practitioner voice. And so I think California’s going to be an incredibly exciting place over the next couple of years for correctional issues.

Len Sipes: And Joan, I’m going to leave that as your final word. Ladies and gentlemen, Joan Petersilia, and she is with Stanford as a Co-Director for the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. Heavens, I really appreciate the conversations that we’ve had, clarifying this extraordinarily important piece of research and issues. I’ll put the document that Joan mentioned within the show notes.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we appreciate even your criticisms, and we want you to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Evidence Based Community Corrections-Joan Petersilia-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very proud to bring you Dr. Joan Petersilia. She is in essence one of the best-known and best-respected criminologists in the United States. I’ll quickly read her background from the website there at Stanford.  Dr. Joan Petersilia has spent more than 25 years studying the performance of U.S. criminal justice agencies and has been instrumental in effecting sentencing and corrections reform in California and throughout the United States. She is the author of 11 books about crime and public policy, and her research on parole reform, prisoner reintegration, and sentencing policy has fueled changes in policies throughout the nation. A criminologist with a background in empirical research and social science, Dr. Petersilia is also a faculty co-director for the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, focusing on policies related to crime control, sentencing, and corrections, and developing non-partisan analysis for recommendations intended to aid public officials, legal practitioners, and the public in understanding criminal justice policy in the state and national levels, and like I said, in essence one of the best-known and most-respected criminologists in the United States. Dr. Joan Petersilia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: My pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: I am just absolutely thrilled to have you before our microphones. I want to start off with the quote. Now, I saw this in terms of the National Institute of Justice speech that you gave, and I’m reading from a document, and I’ll read from this, and then I promise the entire program will go over to you. Let me read a quote, “There’s a long history of over-promising and under-delivering that has contributed to the constant pendulum swings in punishment practices. There is nothing in our history of over 100 years of reform that says that we know how to reduce recidivism by more than 15% to 20%. To achieve those rather modest outcomes, you have to get everything right. The right staff delivering the right programs at the right time in the offender’s life, and in a supportive community environment, and we have to be honest about that. – And my sense is that we have not been publicly forthcoming because we’ve assumed that we would not win public support with modest results.” Joan, can we start off with that quote and get a sense as to why you wanted to say what you said?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I’ve been around the criminal justice policy world since the 1970s, and, in the 1980s, 1990s, and now 2000 and the next decade, we have seen these huge shifts in terms of endorsing tough-on-crime and building up prisons or endorsing probation and community alternatives, and we just seem to go back-and-forth and back-and-forth. And I know that I think most of us, and in fact most of us in the public but certainly, I think, your listeners, practitioners, academics favor non-incarceration if at all possible. And so, you know, we’re kind of trying to get there. We’re trying to get evidence and public opinion to support the notion of community corrections but when I say we over-promise and we under-deliver, that’s really what I’m talking about, but I’m also talking about we over-promise and under-deliver in terms of the impacts of prison. So I think for both sides of the coin, if you think about the coin being this pendulum swing – community corrections, soft-on-crime versus prisons, tough-on-crime – we just simply go back-and-forth because we don’t really have solid evidence that would allow us to choose one option over the other. And so I think, you know, my hope, and I think we’re really primed to deliver a decade now, which can be different. You know, I think about the decarceration period, which we’re now going through, and we are at a space in U.S. crime policy which, literally, we have not been in ever, where we are closing prisons. We’re reducing prison budgets. We’re reducing incarceration populations at all levels, and we’re discharging probationers and parolees in some instances. So we are downsizing correctional control at all levels, and that’s an amazing story to tell, and I don’t think that most people who aren’t involved in criminal justice realize that that is now a major policy change that we’re having. And the question for us who care about this issue is will we be able to keep the population down or will we simply have another pendulum swing when all those people we have decarcerated, decriminalized, discharged, etcetera, don’t behave well?  And so how can we set the stage – and this to me is the $64,000 question for all of us in crime control policy – how can we do better this time around so that pendulum does in fact not swing back to the kind of building-up of prison capacity that we saw when we tried this exact same experiment in the 1980s?

Len Sipes: I talk to a lot of criminal justice practitioners, Joan, and they remain a bit frustrated. What they’re saying is that we hear from the research community a lot of different things about what it is we should be doing. Number one, we really don’t have the money to do all the different things that people are asking us to do. Number two, the research seems to be murky; it doesn’t seem to be crystal clear, and sometimes the folks in the academic community are a bit more, they come from advocacy more than they do research.  And so they feel comfortable with where we are regarding re-entry. They want re-entry to work. They want people who are released from the prison system to succeed. Everybody seems to be dedicated to that but different people are coming along and saying, and some states have said, “We’re getting 30% reductions, 35% reductions, 50% reductions,” and then they back off those statements. So the practitioner community is confused by the lack of guidance and the lack of clarity in terms of what works, what doesn’t work, what is meant by evidence-based, and how you implement that. That gets to the heart and soul of your over-promising and under-delivering continuum, correct?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Yes, and I actually think they have every right to be confused. If you ask the question, which is what they’re asking, is what works and what can the research offer them in terms of program design in order to get what works, and this is really complicated because the research community offers a number of things. What we often hear about is kind of the risk-responsivity program, you know, kind of the evidence-based corrections, which is driven from a psychological model.  Let me just state that what it basically tells people to do is in a risk assessment, it is an individual approach which highlights cognitive or therapeutic approaches. It is a psychological model. Now that model actually is one way of doing things, and certainly, as we know from the literature, that might work with some people particularly who are moderate and high-risk individuals, and that we get some. There are some re-entry programs and there are some good programs that do that. That individualized model is very, very expensive and so when we tell practitioners to take that individualized, which is really therapeutic model. It is an individual, psychological, counseling-based model, highly expensive. – And not only is that not appropriate for many offenders, it also is not, in some ways, the kinds of models that also practitioners believe really work.  And let me contrast it with a community-based model which I think doesn’t get nearly, because it’s so difficult to evaluate, but I think it doesn’t get nearly the kind of respect that it should, and I’m talking about the programs that I actually have seen work in my own 30 plus years. It involves much more than just an individual probation officer speaking with a probationer. It involves getting those community-based organizations to be the effective hand-off or collaborator to effective interventions, and I think what we do when we sell the cognitive behavioral approach and the evidence-based approach, we’re forgetting what I think academics have proven time and time again is that formal social control, such as that a probationer or parole agent can do, is probably only the jumpstart of real reform for an individual.  It’s going to take connecting that person eventually with family, churches, work, housing, and of course that individual counseling model doesn’t really get to any of those additional things, which are life skills. You know, at some level, they do. They talk to the person about motivational therapy, and they try to get him confident and all of that, or her.

Len Sipes: Right. Making the right decisions.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: But it’s just not enough, and I think that’s the frustration that practitioners often feel. They know that these community-based programs are often some of the best programs they operate. They’re very expensive. There’s actually very little data because, as I said, it’s very hard to evaluate, but I think that’s the frustration. In their heart they know one type of program works and yet what they’re being told is kind of evidence-based, is this much more narrow but easy-to-evaluate programs, and I think there’s a tension there.

Len Sipes: Though some people have said that, “Look, I was told that evidence-based was drug test everybody and now we’re drug-testing all of these offenders at the lower level and we’re bringing them back into the criminal justice system but they don’t pose a risk to public safety, but we were told that drug testing everybody was evidence-based.” They will say that, “We’re told to get people into programs in the community but the programs in the community are being cut, and we’re told to work on a collaborative basis,” and I believe that. I mean, I thoroughly believe that it should be done on a collaborative basis with community organizations, but community organizations are stretched to the limit.  So that leaves practitioners with a sense of what truly is evidence-based and what isn’t, and certainly there’s a certain point where, to do these well, these programs should be funded and funded in such a way that we control the budget so we can make sure that we get the biggest bang for our buck because if they’re turning them over to a local community-based organization, they’re basically ceding control of that individual to the community-based organization, and so when they go out and commit a robbery or a homicide, and people start pointing fingers at the criminal justice system, they can say, “Well, we simply don’t have the money to do this as comprehensively as we would like.” Again, the frustration.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, and I think it even has another aspect that we’re going to see for the first time that I think we have never seen in that the pressure to actually discharge. So now, if you don’t want that responsibility, I think you’re absolutely right. Nobody believes that they are investing in exactly the kinds of programs that would lead to long-term success, these kind of broad-based, community-based initiatives, so what they often can invest in is kind of these much more narrow programs, and I’m not sure that they even think they have the money to invest in those.  So I’m seeing at least here in California, and I think this is happening elsewhere, because of the budget crisis, we are discharging people much faster, and part of us are thinking, “Well, that’s a good thing.” I think, personally, we over-expanded who we put on probation and parole, etcetera, and we kept people involved in community corrections for perhaps longer than they needed to be but now we’re doing exactly the opposite, and because the state doesn’t want to be responsible for them and doesn’t have the money to really provide them the services that they know they need, the best way they can do to not be responsible is to simply discharge somebody.  Let me just give you an example for California that I don’t think that maybe your readers have realized but in California, in just the last 18 months, our prison population – average daily prison population – has declined by 25,000, and since 2007, we’ve actually reduced our prison population by 42,000.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: 42,000 people that were in prison just in 2007 are not in prison, and on parole, the decline has even been more dramatic. Just in the last 18 months, we’ve down-sized our prison population by two-thirds. We used to have 120,000 people on parole in California; today we have about 60,000. The question is, and many people are celebrating this huge decline, but the question I ask myself, as somebody who really celebrated the pressure for decline, is where have all those individuals gone? And many of them are now discharged.  We used to discharge people at 3 years. We’re now discharging parolees at 6 months, and I’m now getting calls from parolees who ask a question I never thought I would ever hear which is, “How do I get back on supervision because I really need those services.” And I don’t think any of us who were advocates for the decline of kind of government and correctional control understood that that wasn’t the endgame. The endgame was not to simply downsize without services. It was to downsize with a plan, and I think that there is some problem with the academic community because I think that some of us were advocating the downsizing of prisons as if that was the endgame, and I think it’s not.

Len Sipes: You’ve called it the biggest penal experiment in modern history in terms of a recent article. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re more than halfway through the program. Dr. Joan Petersilia is before our microphones, and she is an Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law there at Stanford University. She is a faculty Co-Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, and again, as I summarized at the beginning of the program, one of the most respected criminologists in the United States.  Joan, here’s my fear. My fear is that there are elements there within California that are now contesting what California calls realignment that has just as many implications for parole and probation as it does for mainstream corrections as it does for jails. Now they’re beginning to say that what’s happening is beginning to add to the crime problem in California, which is at historic lows, and so the fear that I have is that because we over-promise sometimes in terms of what we can do and in terms of community corrections, that individuals will be caught up in crime, the crimes will be extraordinarily well-publicized, and somebody will come along and reverse all of this, and then the pendulum will swing, as you said, in terms of your comment, in terms of over-promising and under-delivering, that the pendulum will swing and will go back in the opposite direction and this wonderful opportunity to provide services, although services are being provided, that’s part of the budget there in California, but the question is are they being provided systematically? Are they using evidence-based practices? Are they doing enough to make sure that they’re reducing recidivism by as much as humanly possible? Those are a lot of issues, and much depends upon it because some people say as California goes, the rest of the country goes.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I do think you’re right in that we are running here in California the biggest criminal justice experiment, I think, that has ever been undertaken in this country, and part of what makes it so unique is that California has invested, already in just the last 18 months, invested $2 billion in terms of giving communities discretion about how to use their criminal justice dollars. So the state basically put out funding with a formula, depending on how many people you would have sent to prison prior to this realignment law, and they sent the county a check, and they basically said, “We want you to use this on evidence-based corrections but we trust the local community enough to you decide what program would best work. So we’re sending you the check and we’re now closing the doors. You can’t send this certain class of prisoner who would have gone to prison historically – the door is shut.” Over 500 felonies in California were changed as a result of realignment, where they used to go to prison and now the maximum penalty for those 500 crimes is a jail sentence.

Len Sipes: A jail sentence of six months?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: A jail sentence of up to one year with time served will equal six months, and so counties were said, “You can send them all to jail if you want, and if you can afford the capacity and if you have the capacity, or we’re giving you money to invest in community-based alternatives.” We’ve got 58 counties here in California that are running every experiment imaginable. Some are investing in expanding their jail capacity. Some are investing in electronic monitoring. Some are doing day reporting center. Basically $2 billion being spent over just 18 months, and it will continue, and it’s now constitutionally-guaranteed. That money will now, it’s in our state constitution, will fund this community-based experiment. Counties, I think the first year, honestly, I think it was too much, too fast. We here at Stanford have four grants to look at the impact of this realignment experiment across California, and what I’m really noticing, after the first year, which honestly I thought really was – the counties were just unprepared, and their first knee-jerk reaction was to send everybody that used to go to prison, just send them to jail. Now, they’re starting to actually do some really important and interesting experiments. They’re funding non-profits; they’re bringing in sheriffs.  One of the most interesting things that I’m observing in California is that sheriffs are taking the lead for community corrections. They are starting to operate their own programs. They’re working closely with probation and parole. They are becoming the spokesmen for an effective community-based correction. And what we saw in the last intermediate sanctions movement which was kind of in the 1980s and 1990s which I wrote about in those periods; about kind of what did we learn from that whole decade?  The one thing we learned is that community corrections didn’t have a really credible spokesperson. Nobody kind of believed or took seriously what a probation chief said because they were seen as too pro-offender. But you’ve got the sheriff saying the exact same thing in many of these counties now, and now people are listening, and I think that is going to be the real promise in some of our counties where they are really trying some of, I think, the most innovative things we will see, and of course our evaluation which will continue for the next several years will try to highlight some of these best practices that we will in fact see as California does this downsizing.

Len Sipes: Whether people within the practitioner community throughout the rest of the country or the general public realize it or not, the biggest correctional experiment in this country’s history, possibly one of the biggest correctional experiments that the world has known, is currently happening right now in California. So the bottom line is that there is a consensus, correct, that done correctly, somewhere between 10% and 20% is what we can expect in terms of the reduction of recidivism, of people coming back to the criminal justice system. That does seem to be a consensus amongst the criminological community, correct?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Yes, that is definitely a consensus, and we need to make everyone know that because we’re setting programs up for failure when we say that recidivism can be reduced by 50%, per se. Never in the history of corrections, here in the United States or anywhere, has recidivism ever been reduced in a serious population by 50%, so right off the bat we’re making false promises, and we will never be able to deliver. So I think one of the first things we can do with radio shows like this is set our expectations at a realistic level.

Len Sipes: Now, what we can do in terms of the provision of evidence-based practices plus with good evaluations to really hammer away at what works and what doesn’t work, there is the possibility of increasing it beyond 20% but it’s not going to be 50%, it’s not going to be 40%. We can tweak it and get it above 20%, done well and rigorously evaluated, correct?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Correct, and the other big thing is who are you dealing with, and so people also, it’s not just the program element; it’s what’s the target population. We’re talking about youth, first offenders, adult probationers, adult felons, adult parolees, they all represent quite different populations and they’re harder to treat and harder to get those large reductions in recidivism. So those two things together – it’s not just the program model and the community it’s all about, but we’ve got to overlay that with what’s the target population.

Len Sipes: Part of the discussion on the target population and what is evidence-base is that there is a segment of that population that we shouldn’t bother with at all. Bringing them into the criminal justice system, my example a little while ago of drug testing everybody, bringing them back into the criminal justice system serves no purpose. If you use an objective risk instrument, which I understand is certainly not perfect, but an objective risk instrument, if they score in the lower categories, then maybe we should not be interacting with them vigorously at all to marshal whatever resources we have to look at higher-risk offenders. Are we correct or incorrect?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: We’re very correct at that, and one of the things that we now do that I think has been the biggest advance in the last 10 years in criminology is solid, good, risk-prediction instruments. If we have just one more moment, I’d like to make what I think is an important point —

Len Sipes: Please.

Dr. Joan Petersilia:  — on this evidence-based – you know, we’re all wanting evidence-based programs, and in fact in our California realignment legislation, it says people should be funding with these dollars evidence-based corrections. What is a practitioner to do? Where are they to find what are programs that are evidence-based? It’s the definition of evidence-based that I also think confuses practitioners, and if we don’t have a body of evidence that shows a program works, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It simply means we haven’t an evaluation that shows that it works.

And let me say this again because I think people will go up to or any of the websites that have a listing of programs that have been show in the past through rigorous evaluation to reduce recidivism, but 99% of all programs in criminal justice that we are doing today or have done historically have ever been subject to re-evaluation, to any evaluation, and so I think this is also the frustration with practitioners. They say, “Well, my program, the ones that I know work best, aren’t on that approved list of programs.”  And so if you in fact say that you have to fund programs that are on that approved list, you’re only picking from like 1% of programs that just happen to have an evaluation attached to them, and we know that funding for drug program treatments has always been the most evaluated program because they get major sources of funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, so the regular garden-variety, criminal justice intervention doesn’t show up often in those lists of evidence-based programs.

Len Sipes: But that’s what confuses them because the Washington State Public Policy Institute, I always screw that up, came along with an overview of substance abuse programs within the criminal justice system. They gave recidivism reduction rates of reductions of 4% to 9%. So that’s, again, what they’re saying, “Well, gee, where are the big reductions?” So that’s the confusion. Is there a point where people within the criminological community of your stature need to come together and lay out specific guidelines for the rest of us in terms of how we should be proceeding?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I think that would certainly, you know, I could imagine that helping. What I do in my own world here, and I think what the research community needs to do, is pick a state, pick a county, pick a location. I think that this stuff is so complicated that I’ve now, for at least the last five to seven years, focused solely on helping California, and I think that the research community cannot really speak as one voice because across the states we have different sentencing structures. We have different prisons. Certainly some prisons are therapeutic in themselves, have a lot of programming, some have re-entry. The communities that greet people are different. Everything is so, you know, we don’t have a national system of sentencing and corrections so it’s very hard for any national body, I think, to speak truth to power, if you will, because unless you know that system and the details of that system, you’re just talking at generalities.  So my hope is that academics who care about this issue will attach themselves to kind of their own local situation, and particularly I think where the game is now for academics is in-state legislatures. They need help. They’re facing budget crisis. They want crime solutions. We need to be much more forceful at getting what we know to those people who have to pass legislation, have to understand what do we mean by evidence-based, and then we have to attach evaluations to kind of legislation that gets passed, and so that would be my wish.

Len Sipes: For the final minute of the program, I’ll give one example. A practitioner comes to me and says, “Alright, I understand that objective risk instruments would certainly help us figure out who to deliver services to. What is the best objective risk instrument out there?” My response: “I have no idea.”

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, there are some excellent risk assessment tools. There are several. I also think that no risk assessment tool, unless validated with your population, is going to be sufficient.

Len Sipes: Agreed, but my only point was that neither one of us knew where to go for that list of objective risk instruments so he could begin his assessment.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Hmm. Hmm. Well, I don’t want to endorse any particular, because now they’re all proprietary. That’s the other thing is that now you have to pay an arm and a leg, and what I would tell people is yes, there are some well-known that now everybody uses but I tell people here in California —

Len Sipes: About 30 seconds.

Dr. Joan Petersilia:  — until it’s validated on a California population, I wouldn’t trust it.

Len Sipes: I hear you. Dr. Petersilia, you have got the final word. Joan Petersilia, ladies and gentlemen, has been our guest today. It’s been a real honor, again, one of the best-known and respected criminologists in the country.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all the comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want you to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]