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Stanford Law Students Take On Real Policy Issues

Publication Date: 
November 18, 2011
Daily Journal
Kevin Lee

Professor Joan Petersilia spoke with Kevin Lee of the Daily Journal on the "applied law" class she created to help students experience how law, politics and real-world issues intersect.

The criminal law course taught at Stanford Law School this fall is different than most other research classes.

Rather than discussing mock situations, students are dissecting the real and controversial issue of realignment, California's historic effort to redistribute prisoners from state facilities to county jails.


Third-year law student Malaina Freedman said students are like researchers at a realignment think tank, with the course's professor, Joan Petersilia directing the research and Harris as the think tank's primary client.

"Instead of reading about cases or history, we are getting a chance to be a part of one of the biggest changes to California's criminal justice system," she said.


Harris collaborated with Petersilia on creating the realignment course and visited Stanford Law School on a warm October day to address the 13-student class and a crowd of 100 other students and professors.


If Harris is the political name and star power behind the course, Petersilia is its backbone. The professor is a nationally recognized corrections expert who served as a special adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now with the state on the cusp of systematic change throughout its corrections facilities, she has the ear of the state's top cop.

Petersilia created what she calls an "applied law" class to help students experience how law, politics and real-world issues intersect.

"The students were kind of seeing a disconnect between what they were learning if they went into criminal law and what the world out there needed help on," she said.