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Can The Wrongs In California's Criminal Justice System Be Righted?

Publication Date: 
September 04, 2009
Los Angeles Times
Sandy Banks

Professor Joan Petersilia, an expert in parole reform, talks to Sandy Banks of the LA Times about flaws in California's sentencing and parole system:

I don't blame Buena Park police for being disappointed when their prime suspect in the death of model Jasmine Fiore hanged himself in a Canadian motel before they could capture him and try him for murder.

"The sadness of this all is that Mr. Jenkins will not stand before an Orange County jury for his crimes," a police lieutenant told reporters, implying that suspected killer Ryan Jenkins cheated the criminal justice system by committing suicide while on the run.

But I didn't feel cheated; I felt oddly relieved when Jenkins' body was discovered last month. He had saved us the trouble and expense of a likely murder trial.

That feeling makes me uncomfortable because I've never subscribed to "lock 'em up and let 'em rot."


In fact, California is nationally known "for having the most dysfunctional sentencing and parole system" in the country, according to Stanford University professor Joan Petersilia, a criminologist who has spent years working with state officials trying to implement reforms.

"We're too harsh and too lenient. Simultaneously," Petersilia said.


"The public doesn't understand how illogical the whole system has become," Petersilia said. "We think that somehow we've created something that is able to call out the most dangerous people, send them to prison and keep them in for a very long time.

"And the public is willing to pay whatever it takes to get that type of crime policy."


That may generate safety risks, but it also creates an opportunity to introduce prison and parole reforms that might make us safer down the line, Petersilia said.

"There are some people who should never come out" of prison, she said.