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Parole Holds Key To California Prison Overcrowding

Publication Date: 
September 27, 2009
The Christian Science Monitor
Michael B. Farrell

Professor Joan Petersilia is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor on how parole reform could help cut prison populations:

Standing in a dim prison gymnasium that's been converted into a vast cell to house 300 inmates, Phillip Nelson talks about how he's spent much of his adult life incarcerated. He's been in and out of the Deuel Vocational Institution, a 1950s-era penitentiary that is now California's most overcrowded prison, partly due to parole violations since being convicted of receiving stolen property in the 1980s.

"I wouldn't be in prison if it weren't for the parole system," says Mr. Nelson, who was most recently sent back to prison for violating the terms of his parole because, he claims, he missed a "class."

Many of his fellow inmates, who sleep in cots lined up in rows stretching the width of the gym, also say they returned to prison for parole violations.

That is set to change. California has made sweeping changes to its parole system that experts and government officials say are key to reducing dangerously high populations in the nation's largest correctional system.


"Until we get parole under control, we can't get prison crowding under control," says Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford University who has written extensively on California's parole system.


Efforts to change the state's parole system have met fierce resistance for years from tough-on-crime advocates, says Ms. Petersilia. This time, too, concerns about relaxing parole rules were raised after the arrest of Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender and parolee, for the abduction of Jaycee Lee Dugard.