An Interview with Joan Petersilia

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    • 00:00

      JODI LANE: Hello.I'm Jodi Lane.I'm a professor at the University of Florida.We're at the ASC meetings in November of 2012,and I'm here to interview Joan Petersilia for the oral historyproject.And just as an introduction to her,she was my chair, my dissertation,as well as many others.And she was very influential in my life.And I'm very happy to do this for her.

    • 00:22

      JODI LANE [continued]: She is one of the most well-known criminologistsin the field.She worked at Rand, at Irvine, and is nowcurrently Adelbert H. Sweet Professorof Law at Stanford Law School.She has earned her PhD in 1990 from the Universityof California, Irvine.She's won many awards from many organizations,including the ASC, the Academy of Experimental Criminology,

    • 00:44

      JODI LANE [continued]: and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.She served as a consultant and on boardsof many organizations, including the National Student Justice,the National Research Council.And she recently served as chair of Governor Schwarzenegger'sRehabilitation Strike Team in California.She's published over 100 articles and bookchapters in 11 books.Throughout her career, she's been one of the key scholars

    • 01:06

      JODI LANE [continued]: to improve criminal justice practicethrough her hands-on work with policy makersand practitioners, especially in corrections.She may be most famous for her National Institute of Justicefunded five-year experiment in the fieldwith Susan Turner on intensive supervision probation.And she most recently has focusedon issues relevant to re-entry, especially in California.

    • 01:28

      JODI LANE [continued]: So I'm going to start with questions on her history.Joan, how did you become a criminologist?

    • 01:32

      JOAN PETERSILIA: Well, first let me thank Jodi for doing thisand I'm honored to be included.How did I first become a criminologist?I went to Ohio State, planning to be a sociologist.And I just happened to be in a classwith Simon Dinitz, who at the current timewas president of the ASC.

    • 01:52

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And he actually had heart trouble during our Introto Criminology class.And as a TA, he asked, could I become more involved.He asked all the TAs that we had to really kind of take overin a much more significant way.And so we did.I taught a couple of lectures for him in that large class.And then I was hooked.He made the topic of criminology just come alive,

    • 02:15

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: and I knew that I wanted to be a criminologist ratherthan a sociologist after that.

    • 02:20

      JODI LANE: So why do you choose to focusyour work on practical issues ratherthan more scholarly, theoretical intensive sorts of things?Why are you out in the field?

    • 02:30

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I guess my interest in criminologywas never academic.I grew up, and I think we're all a product of our context,and when I was in graduate school, it was the Vietnam War,people were out there protesting.It just seemed like the world was just going awry.And so I think I grew up in a family

    • 02:52

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: that my mother was a nurse, my dad was an Air Force general,and it was all about giving up as we were growing up.And then when I went to college, it was all about giving back.And I never wanted to be an academic for academics' sake,but I did think that academia couldinfluence the world around me.And that's always motivated me.When I was in graduate school, I actually

    • 03:13

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: started volunteering at a women's halfway house.And so helping another graduate student do their research,I got very involved in corrections,probably at the age of 23 or 24, when I was getting my Master's.And it's been that love that of real world and searchthat I think has motivated me.

    • 03:33

      JODI LANE: And so were there any critical events?The halfway house, was that the main thing that said,this is really what I want to do?Were there other things that really said,this is absolutely what points me towards--

    • 03:43

      JOAN PETERSILIA: You know, I thinkworking at the halfway house was kindof a watershed event for me.Because my job there was to pick people up from prisonand transport them to the halfway house,and then live at the halfway house for a couple of nightsa week, collecting data about their transition home.And I became quite fascinated about that transition

    • 04:08

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: and how we take away people's liberty and the way in which wedo or do not try to re-integrate them.And I think that that interest, if Ithink that I did that at 24, and here I am 40 years later,still fascinated by the same topic.So I think that really did influence me.

    • 04:24

      JODI LANE: Was there anything in your personal lifeseparate from academia or universitywork that pushed you towards this,or was it just your interest and experience?

    • 04:32

      JOAN PETERSILIA: You know, I don'thave any-- I wish I had some wonderful story about a familymember who had been incarcerated or something.But no, I grew up very middle class.And if I hadn't become a criminologist,I wanted to be a social worker.So I think that that was kind of the way I originallygot into the field was just kind of this helping orientation.I think over time, my work has become less of that.

    • 04:56

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: But that was initially, when I was young,was just trying to figure out what difference I could make.

    • 05:01

      JODI LANE: What do you think are your mostimportant contributions to the academic field?

    • 05:06

      JOAN PETERSILIA: After graduate school,I was lucky enough to be hired as a research assistantat the Rand Corporation.And I had just had a Master's.They were thinking of starting a criminal justice program.And I was lucky enough to be hired as this lowest levelresearch assistant.And they said, you know, we're notsure if it's really going to work or not.And I remember they were going to pay me $11,000 a year.

    • 05:27

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And that seemed like a good deal to me at the time.And so I went to work with Peter Greenwood,and together we founded and developed a criminal justiceprogram.And I think that's what I'm most proud of.The hallmark of what we were doing in those dayswas to work with agency personnel, first, police, thendistrict attorneys, then corrections officials,

    • 05:49

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: to design real world experiments,to really test the ideas that they thought would work.And so I think experimentation, early experimentationof doing large scale field experiments,is probably what I'm most proud of.

    • 06:03

      JODI LANE: What about specificallyfor the practitioner of criminal justice field?Is there anything specifically that you're most proud of,that you made a difference in?

    • 06:12

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I guess it's my whole body of work.I think that probably for the last 30 years, if there'sbeen one thing that I've tried is to in every projectmake sure that I'm not only at the table,but sitting around the table are practitioners.I've never done a project that only involves academics.I think I would find that not particularly gratifying.

    • 06:36

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I want from start to finish those practitioners to tell mewhat's important, what they think works.And then I'm going to go out and test it with the mostrigorous models I can.And then I want to get back to them.So I think it's that partnership that, to me, is what I'mprobably most interested in.

    • 06:54

      JODI LANE: What would you like to be most remembered for?

    • 06:57

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I think it is that.It is that you can have both.You can be a very rigorous experimental criminologistand do real world practical things.And I think we often think that it's one or the other,that you're either a theoretical, rigorous, runningfancy models, and you go on in academics

    • 07:19

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: and you publish in only the best journals,or you work with practitioners.And that's kind of always been seen as kind of a lower levelactivity.I think that the challenge is to make those two things marryone another, rigorous and real world practitioner.That's what I guess I'd most like to be remembered for.

    • 07:37

      JODI LANE: OK.What have you been most praised for?

    • 07:41

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I think it is probably that,that when I've heard any compliments, if I ever get any,it is that I don't try to speak above the practitionercommunity.I think when they've invited me back,they know that I'm really paying attention.I think it's quite arrogant of usas academics and criminologists to think

    • 08:02

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: that we have the answers.I think they actually have the answers in many instances.And what we bring to the table is testing their gut intuition.And I think that practitioners often tell methat they feel that from me.And I hope they do, because that would bewhat I would be most proud of.

    • 08:19

      JODI LANE: What have you been most criticized for?

    • 08:24

      JOAN PETERSILIA: Probably it's along those same lines.I think some of my academic colleaguesthink that I get muddied, that I get too into the real world,that perhaps my embededness clouds my judgment.So I think if there were criticisms of my work,it is the same thing that I'm most proud of.And I think both things are actually true.

    • 08:48

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I'm sure I do get influenced by those I work with.But I like that influence.I think that if we continue to conduct criminologyin an ivory tower, we just publish and we don'taffect the real world policies.And there's so much that needs to be affected.To me, there's such a need.So I guess I'm criticized for not muddying it up and not

    • 09:12

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: being as rigorous, maybe, as some of my colleagueswhen you hit the real world.But I guess I'm just kind of proud of that, anyways.

    • 09:18

      JODI LANE: How have you respondedwhen they've criticized you?

    • 09:22

      JOAN PETERSILIA: Kind of each of us have a role to play.This is my role.I've been in the field long enough that I no longer take itpersonally.I think all things, if you want to bea theoretical criminologist, more power to you.And if you never want to work with a real world, more powerto you.But for my career, that's just not what I'm about.

    • 09:44

      JODI LANE: Is there anything about your careerthat you would change, if you could?

    • 09:52

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I don't think.But I actually think every prior periodhas led me to the later period.And so as my career, I've kind ofhad three different major jobs.I went to the Rand Corporation, where I stayed 20 years,where there's only one product, whichis working in policy analysis.

    • 10:13

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I think there I got my love of policy analysis.But I'd never taught.And so then I went to UC Irvine.I loved trying to infuse studentswith that love of policy.And you're a great example of a student whotook what I had to offer and maybelooked at their career a little differently.And so I had 20 great years of bringing

    • 10:37

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: that applied criminology to a wonderful criminologydepartment, started a center therewhich was modeled after the Rand Corporation work I did there.My third career is now moving to a law school.And I've developed a center thereand I'm trying to bring that same policy analysisto now the study of law.

    • 10:58

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And so to me, it's just been a fascinating and incrediblyrewarding career.

    • 11:02

      JODI LANE: What are your thoughts about your impacton your mentees over the years?

    • 11:07

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I hear from many of themthat at least I've opened up an area of somethingthat they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.I think my classes tended to be a littledifferent than the regular academic criminology classes.I probably don't focus as much on theory as I should have,and I probably focus a whole lot more on practical implications.

    • 11:30

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I always bring in to every class I teachrepresentatives of that world.So I bring in police chiefs, parole officials, ex-offenders,victims, to try to get the students to understandthe real world applications of what we're studying.I take them into prisons.

    • 11:51

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I just try to bring in that.And I think people who've been in my classes, at least,of course, I have a selection bias,right, I only hear from the ones who enjoyed that kind of focus.But I hear back, at least for some of them,that that was very meaningful.

    • 12:06

      JODI LANE: And do you have any advicefor young scholars in terms of building their own careers?

    • 12:13

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I think my advice would be to focus more.I think that young scholars, because of the internet,because of the easy access to data,because of the pressure to publish,I think they don't have the luxury of taking a topicand sticking with it.I think you've got to pick a topic that you are just

    • 12:36

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: intellectually curious and fascinated about.I've been in this field for now over 30 years,and I'm absolutely still as fascinated about the topicthat I study, sentencing and corrections,as I was on day one.In fact, I actually am more excited about itthan I was on day one.

    • 12:57

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I've been always fascinated by what happens after conviction.So I'm not a prevention person.I'm not a policing person on the streets.I'm really particularly interested in whendoes government decide to take liberty away after conviction.How do we make those decisions?Who goes to prison?

    • 13:17

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: Who goes to jail?Who goes back to probation?Who goes back to families?What kind of social support?And tracking those people beyond thosedispositions, beyond that particular dispositioninto their long-term criminal or non-criminal careers.So it's a very narrow part of the criminal justice

    • 13:38

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: system to me.But having focused on just that what happens after conviction.It's a big issue, in some ways, but it'sa small issue relative to the whole of criminology.But it's allowed me to, I think, be very specialized in that onearea and to become an expert in that one area.The other thing that I would advise young people to do

    • 13:59

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: is work locally, especially if youwant to do the work that I do, which isinteracting with practitioners.Locally, I mean, for example, for the last five to sevenyears, I've worked totally in California.In fact, most of my career has beendoing studies of California.

    • 14:20

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And I think that's really allowed meto-- up and down the state, California's10% of the US population, and I've worked therefor 30 years-- that I can pretty much now walk into a policedepartment or a DA's office or a probation or the prison system,and they will have known of my work in some capacity.And that gets me into circles I never would have previously.

    • 14:42

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: So my advice for young people is pick a topicand pick a geography that you want to really invest in.Because the other advice is, it's all about relationships.We learn this in our personal lives,but we fail to recognize its importancein our professional lives.

    • 15:03

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: They're not going to be able to read everything you've written.Your reputation is going to precede you.And so if you have treated those practitioners well,they will open the door for you in the future.And I just think that, I guess to some, it's-- to me,it's about focus on it, and not all over the place.I just think people that don't get that early on lose

    • 15:25

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: a lot of benefit.

    • 15:26

      JODI LANE: What do you see as the future of the field?

    • 15:31

      JOAN PETERSILIA: You know, I think it's going in two ways.I think we're stronger than we've ever been.Criminology continues to advance.We have more journals, more participants.It's one of the fastest growing majors,both as undergraduate and in graduate studies.And I think our methods are better.

    • 15:53

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I think if you want to study crime, we are the place.I love our interdisciplinary focus.I think we're now bringing that to fruition,although we've talked about it in the field forever.We now have people from all different kindsof backgrounds in our field coming to these meetings.And so I think we have the potential

    • 16:14

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: to really be a home of major policy and program innovation.I think the downside is a problem thatI've spoken about before, is that our academic institutionsoften don't reward the kinds of thingsthat I think allow us to really matter.

    • 16:35

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: When you think the problems that we're dealing with,let's just take one, crime was going down for the last 20years, and now there's suggestionsthat it's perhaps going up.Prison populations were going up in the last 20 years.Now they're coming down for the first time.Major issue not just about criminologists, but whatdoes it do to public safety?

    • 16:56

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: What does it do to state budgets?We're in a huge economic recession.How can you marry the decline of prison populationswith the uptick, perhaps, in crime, the down tickin budgets to fund programs?To me, the issues are more importantthan they've ever been.And there's no other home that should

    • 17:17

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: be looking at, except for the people thatbelong to criminology.So this kind of mismatch between our skill setand the need for what we have to offer, yet in the areasthat most of us work, which is in academia,there's not a whole lot of rewardsfor going out and trying to create those bridges.

    • 17:39

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And so I still think that's a huge, huge problemof how we make that better.

    • 17:45

      JODI LANE: What would you like your impact of your own workto be on future scholars, like down the road, decades later?

    • 17:52

      JOAN PETERSILIA: I guess I would just like,when I'm no longer here anymore, that peoplewould have said, gosh, well, she did her career that way.She clearly made it.She was on the fence between academia and public policy.She had a successful career.So maybe it's possible.

    • 18:13

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I'd like to think that I could be a role model for studentsthat are thinking that maybe they do want to do somethingthat's impactful.I get a sense, like me, that young criminologistsare anxious to do something useful with their lives.I think everybody wants to have an impact.We want to find meaning, and often

    • 18:35

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: feel kind of hamstrung in a current,especially as a young scholar, an assistant professor,how can I both publish so that I movethrough the academic tenure processand also work with practitioners, which involvesa lot of meetings, a lot of hand-holding,a lot of commissioned work that doesn't fit anywhereon a resume?

    • 18:57

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And so I often feel that young people have a desireto do what I did, but aren't quite sure how to makeit work in their own lives.And so I guess I'd like them to kind of look at my careerand say, well, she had that desire, she was frustrated,she kind of did it, and she had some success.

    • 19:17

      JODI LANE: What do you hope scholarswill do in the future in the field of criminal justicepractice and corrections?What do you hope their efforts will beand the difference that they will make?What do you hope the field's going to go toward?

    • 19:29

      JOAN PETERSILIA: Well, I guess we allwant people to reproduce our own careers, right,because we found it interesting and they were so rewarding.After 35 years, I'd love for studentsto say, gosh, she's still excited about the fieldafter 35 years.There must have been something there that turned her on.And so I'd like people to again understand

    • 19:50

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: that there's a huge need.I remember Elliott Curry once said,criminologists fiddle with equationswhile the cities burn.He wrote that in the '70s.And I read that and I thought, that so speaks to me.How can I be sitting in a classroomwhen there's a world out there that needs the lessons I'm

    • 20:10

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: learning in these classes?Who gets involved in crime?Who gets arrested for crime?Who gets sentenced to imprison?What's the impact of the prison?These hugely important issues that Iwas learning about in class, and could Ifigure out some way to connect with judges and prosecutorsthat needed to know what I was learning.And so I think that I just hope that young people figure out,

    • 20:35

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: and other people figure out, how to make those bridges.And I think the best way is to work locally and statewide.Because I think eventually, those partnerships--this is the practical side of me--those partnerships will allow you to get grants.Those grants ultimately will be valued by your university.

    • 20:56

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: And those grants, in fact, will ultimatelylead to publications.But you've got to do the homework.You've got to work on the ground,making those relationships.I think those partnerships have powerthat academics and universities, particularly that are hurting,will in fact recognize more.They certainly have in my own career.

    • 21:17

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: When I can bring those partnershipsinto the university, in terms of money,then I have something that everybody's in favor of.

    • 21:27

      JODI LANE: That's all the questions I had.Is there anything else you want to share with us?

    • 21:32

      JOAN PETERSILIA: Well, you haven't mentioneda whole other area of my work, whichhas to do with offenders with disabilities.And that, I guess, is another lesson, I think,for young people is to kind of go where your heart goes, too.You'll get opportunities.This was one.It was when I was president of the ASC.

    • 21:53

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I got a call from a senator.He was Senator DeWine in Ohio.And he said, I'm calling because you're president of the ASCand we have some legislative interestin looking at victims who are disabled whowere victimized by crime.And that was in 1985, I got that call.

    • 22:16

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: He didn't know anything about me,except that my name was on the letterhead of the ASC.And he said, is there any criminologistthat is studying persons with developmental disabilitiesin the criminal justice system?And I said, you know, Senator, I don't know of any,but let me check.But I was struck by the call, because I

    • 22:37

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: have two children with disabilities,developmental disabilities.And I looked around.I remember hanging up.And I thought, if not me, who?There was nobody studying that topic.And I decided to take it on.I've published now four or five reports on that area.I've looked at victims with disabilities.I've looked at offenders with disabilities.

    • 22:58

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: I then chaired a National Research Council workshopon persons with developmental disabilities.I'm now the state's expert in the California prison systemon implementation of the ADA within the prison systemfor persons with both physical and mental handicaps.That was an area I never planned to work in.But I think you've also kind of got

    • 23:19

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: to jump on things that you're called upon to do.And so it's not all going to be planned.It's going to kind of be a little bit haphazard,in some ways.But I also think that there are thingswe are called to do that we can't say no to.And that was one area that I continue

    • 23:40

      JOAN PETERSILIA [continued]: to train law enforcement.I continue to talk to rape crisis centers.I've worked with physicians on howyou take a rape statement for a person who'sintellectually challenged.So that's a whole other area of my workthat I'm really very proud of.

    • 23:55

      JODI LANE: Thank you.

    • 23:55

      JOAN PETERSILIA: My pleasure.

An Interview with Joan Petersilia

View Segments Segment :


Professors Jodi Lane and Joan Petersilia discuss Petersilia's career in applied criminology. She specializes in post-conviction criminology, looking at how and why the system decides to punish offenders in various ways. She also works extensively with criminal justice practitioners, and with offenders and victims who have disabilities.

An Interview with Joan Petersilia

Professors Jodi Lane and Joan Petersilia discuss Petersilia's career in applied criminology. She specializes in post-conviction criminology, looking at how and why the system decides to punish offenders in various ways. She also works extensively with criminal justice practitioners, and with offenders and victims who have disabilities.

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