Effects Of Change In California Criminal Justice System Difficult To Discern
Professor Joan Petersilia spoke with the Sacramento Bee's Heather Tirado Gilligan about California's prison realignment policy and how determining whether it's working depends on "where you are looking."
Critics of a year-old law shifting responsibility for thousands of convicted felons to the counties have seized on the brutal beating of a San Joaquin County woman – allegedly by a man released from jail just days before the attack – as evidence that the law is eroding public safety.
But criminal justice experts say that understanding the law's effects will take more time and more information than a few headline-grabbing cases can provide.
But determining the effect of a single policy on crime rates is difficult, said Joan Petersilia, professor of law at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.
"That is one of the hardest questions to answer in crime," Petersilia said.
Factors that influence crime rates range from the economy and the unemployment rate to family life, Petersilia said.
There are, however, factors besides the crime rate that demonstrate the effects of realignment, Petersilia said. Those include changes in arrest rates, prosecution rates, shifts in the jail population, whether or not victims think the new system is working, the impact of having more offenders in the community and the impact on community resources, including drug treatment programs and hospitals.
"Whether or not realignment works depends on where you are looking," Petersilia said.
Nuanced analysis is essential to understanding the effects of realignment, Petersilia said. "We do a great disservice when we ask if it is working and only look at one measure."
"Whether or not realignment works depends on where you are looking." Joan Petersilia, professor of law at Stanford and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.