Reporting to the Governor: Students Explore Policy 
Implications of Realignment

A group of Stanford Law School students had the opportunity to experience policy work at a very high level when they presented their research findings on the implementation and impact of California’s Public Safety 
Realignment legislation (AB 109) and key aspects of the parole process for 
California “lifer” inmates directly to Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. at a special meeting in March. (See photo below.) The presentations topped off a unique course, Advanced Seminar on Criminal Law and Public Policy: A Research Practicum, created by Joan Petersilia, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, in conjunction with the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC), which Petersilia co-directs along with Robert Weisberg, JD ’79, the Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law. Research from the class is intended to help people charged with implementing the law to understand the effects of the new policy—in real time.

“California’s realignment is the biggest penal experiment in modern history, but little has been done to consider its impact broadly or to evaluate its statewide impact on crime, incarceration, justice agencies, or offender recidivism,” says Petersilia.

Students approached the class as if they were working in a policy institute, with the state as their client. They worked closely with the governor’s top agencies, in turn gaining very real and relevant feedback. Much of their research involved listening—conducting interviews across 12 counties with 90 practitioners in the field about how AB 109 has affected their daily work. They interviewed staff in the offices of the district attorney, public defender, probation chief, judiciary, sheriff, police, parole, and victim-witness services. In addition, they collected detailed data on each of California’s 58 counties, pre- and post-realignment.

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Five students delivered summarized reports and, in all, 17 students were on hand to answer tough, detailed questions from the governor and his accompanying staff, Gabriel Sanchez, deputy legal affairs secretary, and Anne Gust Brown (BA ’80), special counsel to the governor and California’s first lady.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Petersilia said, “Governor, these students are among the state’s experts on the implementation of realignment and on the parole of California’s ‘lifer’ population—and all at no cost to the taxpayer!”

“This class has provided me and my classmates with a unique educational opportunity to see how a major piece of criminal justice legislation plays out on the ground,” says Mark Feldman, JD ’14. “It is not often that, as a law student, you get to feel that your research is serving a public interest need or that it will be read and considered by policymakers and practitioners around the state.”

On behalf of Governor Brown, Steve Acquisto, chief deputy legal affairs secretary, praised the research, saying, “These areas often don’t get the attention or analysis they deserve, which makes the research your students have performed especially valuable.” In an earlier pilot of this course, Petersilia and her students worked with California State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Santa Clara County’s Community Corrections Partnership (CCP).

“This practicum is a perfect example of the extraordinary research opportunities available to Stanford Law School students,” says M. Elizabeth Magill, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “What’s quite exceptional is that our students are able to have a real impact on public policy while they are still in school.”

SCJC’s research on California’s Public Safety Realignment legislation is supported by grants from the U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice; The James Irvine Foundation; and the Public Welfare Foundation. SL