California to fund prison research center at UC Irvine

07/20/05

Center will evaluate effectiveness of state corrections programs



Joan Petersilia

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Irvine, Calif., July 20, 2005 -- In an effort to put science before politics when managing state prisons, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will provide $1.95 million over three years for corrections research at a new UC Irvine center.

The Center for Evidence-Based Corrections will tap the research power of the University of California to evaluate juvenile and adult prison programs -- including rehabilitation, parole and reentry programs -- and provide information that helps corrections officials make policy decisions based on scientific evidence.

The center will be directed by Joan Petersilia, professor of criminology, law and society, and author of "When Prisoners Come Home: Prisoner Parole and Reentry." Petersilia has been advising state Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman for more than a year as he works to reform the state's juvenile justice and adult prison system.

"We are in desperate need of independent, high-quality research to guide our program investments," said Hickman. "For too long in California we have failed to systematically evaluate program impacts, and we have funded programs based on opinions and anecdotes rather than scientific evidence. Partnering with Dr. Petersilia and the faculty at UCI represents a significant step to change that."

The mission of the recently reorganized corrections system is to bring a scientific, evidence-based approach to corrections programs, and the UCI center -- the only university center to be funded by the CDCR -- will play a key role.

Petersilia, a longtime advocate of using research to inform corrections policy, said, "At the end of the day, this is about improving public safety. With the center, the state will be able to evaluate whether programs are working or failing, and keep only the programs that work."

The center will coordinate and fund research on issues where the CDCR wants additional help and evaluation. As topics are chosen, researchers at UCI and other California public universities will then be eligible to apply for funding to conduct the research. Topics for initial research projects include:

  • Evaluating the state's new global positioning system for violent sex offenders,
  • The development of community-based options (e.g., electronic monitoring, halfway houses) for parolees with technical violations, and
  • Examining whether the state's policy of racially segregating inmates in reception centers is actually necessary (an issue raised in U.S. Supreme Court Case Johnson v. California).

Helping Petersilia run the center will be associate director Susan Turner, newly appointed professor of criminology, law and society at UCI. For more than 20 years, Turner has conducted criminological research for RAND Corp. in Santa Monica.

The center will be part of the School of Social Ecology, where several faculty members already are involved in prison- and parole-research projects exploring issues ranging from prison rape to the mental health of juveniles.

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