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Looking Back To See the Future of Prison Downsizing in America - Keynote Address at the 2012 NIJ Conference

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2012
13 pages
This video and its transcript cover the keynote address by Joan Petersilia at the 2012 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Conference, which focused on the reasons for and process of prison downsizing in favor of community-based alternatives to incarceration, with attention to lessons learned from this effort in California.
The reasons for prison downsizing relate to the massive cost of housing large numbers of prisoners, coupled with declining revenues and government policies of mandatory prison sentences, three-strikes laws, and an increase in sentences of life without the possibility of parole. California addressed the issue of prison downsizing largely under the impetus of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that required the State to reduce its prison population in order to meet the cost of providing sufficient inmate medical services. California did this by prohibiting incarceration for low-level felonies. Now only violent offenders, sex offenders, and certain habitual offenders can be imprisoned. All other offenders must be managed at the county level in California. County probation officers now supervise former State parolees. In most cases prisoners are being discharged without parole, because counties do not have the money for large-scale parole supervision. In addition, parole and probation violators are not sent to prison unless a qualifying new offense is committed. Funding for county-based community corrections is partially supported by what the State saves in reducing the costs of incarceration. There are still problems to be addressed in this massive shift of corrections resources from imprisonment to community-based correctional programming. Cost-effectiveness is a top priority, which is being aided by evidence-based programming that assists in directing resources to programs and treatment methods that have proven they reduce recidivism.

Date Published: June 1, 2012