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Stanford Students Fill A Gap In Jails Research

Publication Date: 
May 18, 2012
Daily Journal - New Lawyer
Henry Meier

Professor Joan Petersilia spoke with Henry Meier of the Daily Journal - New Lawyer on the California prison system and what three of her students are doing to address the county-by-county differences in the housing of criminal offenders.

A trio of researchers have spent six months painstakingly evaluating how all 58 of California's counties grapple with the drastic shift under way in housing criminal offenders. But they're not experts or even lawyers - yet.

The three women are law students at Stanford who saw a gap and filled it.

When the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 109 last spring - setting the stage for so-called realignment of California's criminal justice system - many critics noted the lack of research or monitoring requirements in the bill. Such a massive shift, some said, would fail to improve the prisons because programs and policies in the counties wouldn't be subject to rigorous and objective statistical analysis and comparison.


The group initially got involved researching the county realignment plans as part of Stanford law professor Joan Petersilia's Advanced Criminal Justice Policy Seminar last fall. In the wake of AB 109's passage, Petersilia had her students pick an aspect of realignment to research and report on.

The results of the projects have been beyond her expectations but haven't exactly lightened her workload, she joked.

"They were all pretty amazing, to be perfectly honest," she said. "Beware what you ask a group of smart and motivated students to do."


"I didn't realize how much diversity there was across the counties," Petersilia said. "They all got the same marching orders and dollars per offender, so the differences [the group found] were surprising."