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Research Practicum in Collaboration with California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Santa Clara County Community Corrections Partnership

Transforming Legal Education

Photo of class "Advanced Seminar on Criminal Law & Public Policy: A Research Practicum" w/Attorney General Kamala Harris

California Attorney General Kamala Harris (center) and the students in the practicum with Professor Joan Petersilia during the AG's visit October 27, 2011.

This Autumn quarter, Professor Joan Petersilia is teaching a criminal law course in collaboration with California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Santa Clara County called Advanced Seminar on Criminal Law & Public Policy: A Research Practicum.

Dr. Petersilia is the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

The course provides students with a rare opportunity to engage in real-world crime policy analysis, both as a way to use some of the skills they have learned in previous Stanford Law School courses, and to help them learn about the political and practical issues involved in constructing public policies.

The class is organized as a provisional policy think-tank or, if you prefer, a makeshift policy institute or short-term consulting group. As such, this practice-oriented course has both teaching and real-world policy reform goals.

Each quarter that the course is taught, students will work with a client agency or organization in the crime policy sector to carry out a policy-related research and analysis project. For Autumn 2011, the clients for the course are California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Santa Clara County Community Corrections Partnership.

Attorney General Harris is the author of the 2009 book, “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer,” and is seeking new approaches to reforming the state’s prison system. During the Autumn quarter, the class will be testing some of her ideas in Santa Clara County (SCC), as they move to implement the state’s new public safety realignment legislation, A.B. 109. The new law goes into effect Oct 1, 2011 bringing thousands of state prisoners back to county jails and probation departments. SCC must now determine how to best supervise these felons in the community.

Students will work in teams of two to three on projects related to the clients’ needs and student interests. Topics currently under discussion include:

  • How to empirically assess the recidivism risk of convicted felons;
  • How the state’s realignment efforts will impact local court system (e.g., resources, plea bargaining, sentencing);
  • How population shifts may impact district attorney/public defender responsibilities associated with revocation;
  • What the most pressing housing, healthcare, and job barriers are for returning prisoners;
  • How parole supervision changes when authority is transferred from the state to the county;
  • What the costs and benefits are of using community-based sanctions of different types;
  • How a county can best work with volunteers, faith-based organizations, and business leaders to improve programs;
  • How drug enforcement is optimized under a realigned corrections system;
  • And what the costs and benefits are of specialized mental health, reentry, and drug courts.

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