Stanford Criminal Justice Center Awarded Major Grants to Fund Its Research on the Effects of California's Prison Realignment

Research is intended to inform public policies related to California’s Public Safety Realignment Act

Stanford Criminal Justice Center faculty
Stanford Criminal Justice Center (left to right): Professor Joan Petersilia, Professor Robert Weisberg, Executive Director Debbie Mukamal

Stanford, Calif., October 29, 2012 — The Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) has been awarded grants totaling $650,000 to support its research on the implementation and impact of California’s Public Safety Realignment Legislation — which went into effect one year ago this month, and transfers authority for convicted felons from the state prison and parole system to local counties. The grants are from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice; the James Irvine Foundation; and the Public Welfare Foundation.

The center has been at the forefront of studying both the implementation of California’s Public Safety Realignment Act as well as the parole release process for individuals serving life sentences with the possibility of parole in California.

“The SCJC is well-known for its important work on criminal justice policy at all levels of government,” said Stanford Law School Dean M. Elizabeth Magill. “In recent years its research has provided invaluable help to public officials who are struggling with difficult criminal justice issues in the state of California. These grants will allow the center to continue that work, which is critical to the future of the state.”

The grants will directly support four related research projects, which will enable researchers to assess the effects of California’s effort to downsize state prisons through the Public Safety Realignment legislation and to make recommendations for reforming the front-end of the system (such as re-entry).

“Realignment puts the onus back on counties to make decisions about how they wish to punish their local convicted offenders,” said Joan Petersilia, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “Counties can decide to expand jail capacity. They can expand drug treatment programs or mental health courts. They can hire new staff. They can expand the ranks of probation officers or sheriff’s deputies. We want to know what approaches are working best in California counties and why.”

The goal of the center’s research is to inform subsequent legislation and policies related to Realignment. To that end, SCJC researchers expect to be able to share findings starting late Summer 2013 through Fall 2013 with key policymakers including the Board of State and Community Corrections, the California State Legislature, the California Attorney General, and the Office of the Governor. The SCJC will also share research findings that identify model Realignment practices with counties and other findings with stakeholder groups and agencies such as the Chief Probation Officers of California, the Partnership for Community Excellence, and the California Association of Counties to enlist any technical assistance that they can provide.

The four research projects are:

  • Analysis of 58 County Approaches to Realignment: Center researchers are collecting data and analyzing the different approaches that California’s 58 counties have taken in implementing Realignment.
  • County Case Studies: SCJC researchers are interviewing key criminal justice officials (prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, sheriffs, probation officers) within a small sampling of counties to deeply study their implementation of Realignment. The counties comprise a representative model of the State; they are: Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Solano, and San Joaquin.
  • Statewide Judges and Prosecutors Discretion Study: Using approaches from the fields of criminology, law, and economics and the development of hypothetical survey instruments, SCJC researchers are polling prosecutors and judges across California to determine how their decisions on charges and sentencing have changed post-Realignment.

  • Front-end Effects and Best Practices: The SCJC research team is studying the impact of Realignment on the front-end of the criminal justice system through the convening of executive sessions, development of white papers, and writing of a report that synthesizes the major front-end issues created by Realignment, identifies policy recommendations, and highlights best practices among California’s 58 counties to address those issues.

“California has the largest prison system in the country,” said Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “And California Realignment represents the biggest change in sentencing and corrections in the last six decades. Through our research, we want the data to tell us exactly what the effects are of shifting responsibility and discretion from the state to the county­— how that impacts rates of incarceration versus probation supervision versus community programs, and so on. We want our research to help California get Realignment right.”

(The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice is number 2012-IJ-CX-0002.)

About the Stanford Criminal Justice Center

The Stanford Criminal Justice Center promotes and coordinates the study of criminal law and the criminal justice system, including legal and interdisciplinary research, policy analysis, curriculum development, and preparation of law students for careers in criminal law. The center is headed by faculty co-directors Robert Weisberg and Joan Petersilia, and executive director Debbie Mukamal.

SCJC’s areas of interest include criminal trial practice and procedure, institutional examination of the police and correctional systems, social science study of the origins of criminal behavior and methods of punishment, and criminal legislation and enforcement in areas ranging from drug crimes to federal white collar crimes.

One major goal of the center is to operate as a public service consultant to public officials at all levels of government, and to encourage collaborative criminal justice policy by forging partnerships with government entities in the criminal justice arena that can benefit from social science research to develop empirically-validated, data-driven criminal justice programs and policies.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School ( is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.

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