California's 2011 Public Safety Realignment created an unprecedented policy experiment by transferring the authority over lower-level felony offenders from the state correctional system to fifty-eight county jail and probation systems. While centered in California, these changes are reflective of an ongoing national conversation about the appropriate level of government at which to focus crime control efforts. In this article, we first situate Realignment in criminological and sociolegal literatures, showing how the reform offers opportunities to further inquiry as to the effectiveness of a wide variety of correctional strategies, implementation, and local variation in correctional law and policy. We then review early research focused on the statewide effect of Realignment on recidivism, which has produced mixed findings depending on the measure of recidivism applied. We then examine variation in recidivism outcomes across county sites and present findings that indicate there is an important relationship between local Realignment implementation strategies and recidivism outcomes. Throughout, we focus on two overarching themes. The first is the challenge of disentangling the roles of offender behavior from justice system response in meaningfully interpreting changes in recidivism outcomes. The second is the challenge of evaluating the effects of policy or practice changes under limited data. Although the need for better and more expansive data is a common theme, we highlight it here in the context of a larger data collection that we have under way.
We use a unique data set on post-release behavior of former Italian inmates to estimate the effect of prison conditions on recidivism. By combining different sources of data we exploit variation in prison conditions measured by: 1) the extent of overcrowding at the prison level, 2) the number of deaths in the facility of detention during an inmate's stay and 3) the distance of the prison from the chief town of the province where the prison is located. By considering inmates who served their sentence in a jurisdiction different from the hometown in which they live after release, we can include province of residence fixed effects and account for the main source of unobserved heterogeneity correlated to prison conditions. We find that a harsher prison treatment does not reduce former inmates' criminal activity. The extent of overcrowding and the number of deaths do not decrease the probability to be re-arrested. Instead, we find evidence that the degree of isolation measured by distance from the prison of detention to the chief town of the province where the prison is located increases recidivism.