News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Parole Violations Feed Prison's Revolving Door

Publication Date: 
August 11, 2010
The Bay Citizen
Robert Rogers

Professor Joan Petersilia is quoted in The Bay Citizen on California sentencing and parole reforms and prisoner reintegration. Robert Rogers reports:

He was free, again. But Anthony Woods’ days outside the walls would be numbered.

Three months after being imprisoned for missing parole appointments and failing drug tests, a corrections bus scooped him up from San Quentin State Prison and dumped him a few blocks from his mother’s home in Richmond, just off Cutting Boulevard. He looked down as he walked at first, watching one foot step in front of the other. It didn’t take long to slip.


“They go in, they spend on average about two months, they continue to get released, they’re out about an average of four to six months, they’re back in,” said Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford. “Prisoners on the inside refer to this as ‘doing life on the installment plan.’”


“It’s estimated that about 10,000 people who would have gone to prison last year will not go to prison this year,” Petersilia said.

Meanwhile, those who do go to prison continue to face lengthy sentences, Petersilia said.

Before the mid-1970s, prison sentences were indeterminate, Petersilia said, so inmates could be released earlier than their original sentence if they completed vocational or academic classes in addition to good behavior.

Now, sentencing reforms have resulted in “determinant” sentences, Petersilia said, which has resulted in inmates receiving guaranteed release dates, despite cuts in rehabilitation programs leaving them ill-prepared to return to society.


Recidivism has been a major driver of skyrocketing corrections costs, which gobble up about 11 percent of the state budget, or roughly $8 billion — more than the state spends on higher education. The state spends about $49,500 per year to house a prisoner, Petersilia said.