Dr. Joan Petersilia spent over 30 years studying the performance of U.S. criminal justice agencies and was instrumental in affecting sentencing and corrections reform in California and throughout the United States. She was the author of 11 books about crime and public policy, and her research on parole reform, prisoner reintegration, and sentencing policy fueled changes in policies throughout the nation. A criminologist with a background in empirical research and social science, Dr. Petersilia was also faculty co-director for the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC), focusing on policies related to crime control, sentencing, and corrections, and developing nonpartisan analyses and recommendations intended to aid public officials, legal practitioners, and the public in understanding criminal justice policy at the state and national levels. She taught classes at Stanford Law School on juvenile justice, prisons, community corrections, policy analysis, research methods, and criminal sentencing.
Professor Petersilia was honored with the prestigious Stockholm Prize in Criminology (the Nobel Prize in criminology) for her work on prisoner reentry and supporting ex-offenders following release from prison. As the most prestigious award that a criminologist can receive, the Stockholm Prize is awarded for outstanding achievements in criminological research conducted for the reduction of crime and the advancement of human rights. Dr. Petersilia was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Policy by the Pardee RAND Graduate School in 2014, and was chosen by Stanford University as the recipient of the 2013 Roland Volunteer Service Prize. The Roland prize recognizes a single Stanford faculty member annually who involves students in integrating academic scholarship with significant volunteer service to society. She also served on the Faculty Steering Committee for Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service.
Before joining the Stanford Law School faculty, Dr. Petersilia was a professor of criminology, law and society in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, and director of UCI’s Center for Evidence-Based Corrections. She had also served as a special advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, helping to reorganize juvenile and adult corrections and working with the California State Legislature to implement prison and parole reform. She chaired Governor Schwarzenegger’s Rehabilitation Strike Team and was co-chair of California’s Expert Panel on Offender Programs. She advised the California legislature on matters related to California’s Public Safety Realignment Law of 2011 (A.B. 109), the state’s historic attempt to downsize prisons and enhance rehabilitation, and was the co-principal investigator of four research grants designed to assess the impacts of A.B. 109. Results from those research projects were published in November 2013 and can be found on Stanford’s Criminal Justice Center website.
Dr. Petersilia had been a director of the Criminal Justice Program at the RAND Corporation; president of the American Society of Criminology; president of the California Association for Criminal Justice Research; co-director of the National Research Council’s study on Community Supervision and Desistance from Crime; director of the National Research Council’s study on Crime Victims with Developmental Disabilities; and co-editor of The Annual Review of Criminology. In 2010, she was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to be a member of the Department of Justice Scientific Advisory Board.
She received her PhD in in Criminology from the University of California-Irvine.