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Hope For A Broken System

Publication Date: 
December 17, 2009
Daily Journal
Greg Katz

Professor Joan Petersilia was interviewed for this Daily Journal report on changes to California's parole system:

After a decade of complaints by corrections experts that the state's parole system is overloading the state's prisons while failing to reform ex-convicts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally pushed through a reform package this year, promising it would reduce the strain on the state's battered budget.

But the changes, which take effect in late January, only address a slice of what reformers have said is wrong with the system, and their ultimate impact is still unclear.

By limiting who will be on traditionally strict parole, the new laws aim both to reduce parole agent caseloads and send fewer minor offenders back to prison for parole violations.


Backers of the changes, like Stanford Law School criminologist Joan Petersilia, predict they will reduce recidivism and shrink the prison population, though she also acknowledges that some details of the new system remain unclear.

"It's pretty major what's going to be happening to parole in California, which basically has not undergone major changes in 30 years," said Petersilia, who has written extensively on parole and advised Schwarzenegger on parole policy.


The consensus that parole has been overused in California began to emerge a decade ago. It has been bolstered by at least a dozen major reports, including one backed by the U.S. Department of Justice last year that Petersilia helmed.


"There should be a decrease in what is going through the parole revocation process held by CDCR and the parole commissioners, and there should be an increase in cases going through the prosecutors' offices for criminal convictions," said Petersilia, the Stanford criminologist. "But nobody knows the extent to which those will occur."