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California, In Financial Crisis, Opens Prison Doors

Publication Date: 
March 23, 2010
The New York Times
Randal C. Archibold

Professor Joan Petersilia, an expert on prison reform and prisoner reintegration, is quoted on proposed reforms to California's prison system. Randal C. Archibold of the New York Times reports:

The California budget crisis has forced the state to address a problem that expert panels and judges have wrangled over for decades: how to reduce prison overcrowding.

The state has begun in recent weeks the most significant changes since the 1970s to reduce overcrowding — and chip away at an astonishing 70 percent recidivism rate, the highest in the country — as the prison population becomes a major drag on the state’s crippled finances.

Many in the state still advocate a tough approach, with long sentences served in full, and some early problems with released inmates have given critics reason to complain. But fiscal reality, coupled with a court-ordered reduction in the prison population, is pouring cold water on old solutions like building more prisons.


The effort represents a “seismic shift,” said Joan Petersilia, a criminologist at Stanford Law School and a longtime scholar of the state’s prisons.


California is the only state that places all prisoners on parole at release, no matter the offense, Professor Petersilia said, and usually for one to three years. If a parolee is arrested or fails a drug test or misses an appointment with a parole officer, the offender lands back in prison.