The California Policy Lab pairs
trusted experts from UCLA and UC Berkeley with policymakers to solve our most
urgent social problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime, and education
In October 2017, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office piloted the Pre-Trial Release Unit (PRU) to enhance access to pre-arraignment legal representation for indigent arrestees. Using data provided by the Office, this study finds the pilot program doubled the likelihood of release at arraignment – from 14% to 28% for arrestees who received arrest-responsive interventions from the PRU. The intervention is projected to save approximately 11,200 jail bed-days per year at an annual cost of approximately $335,000. Furthermore, the PRU’s efforts to advocate for the dismissal of parole holds reduced pre-trial incarceration by 44%, or an average of 9.5 days, among eligible parolees who were held in custody for violation of their parole orders.
In the admissions cycle that began in November 2016, UC Berkeley carried out the second year of a pilot experiment with letters of recommendation. Unlike other highly selective universities, Berkeley has never previously asked applicants to submit letters from teachers and guidance counselors. This may limit the information available for use in holistic review, and some at Berkeley think that as the university gets more selective it is getting harder to make informed decisions with the evidence available. Others, however, are concerned that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have access to adults who can write strong letters, and that the use of letters will further disadvantage these students.
In the pilot experiment, a subset of applicants was invited to submit letters of recommendation if they wished. Any submitted letters were incorporated into the “second read” evaluations of their applications. I evaluate the impact of this on the outcomes of applicants from four groups underrepresented among successful applicants to Berkeley: students from families with low incomes, students whose parents did not attend college, students from low-scoring high schools, and students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. I use a variety of methods, including a within-subject design that compares application scores when readers had access to letters with scores from a parallel process that suppressed the letters and a regression discontinuity design that exploits sharp distinctions between otherwise similar students in the selection of students to be invited to submit letters.
The top one percent of arrestees in San Francisco (“high users”) account for approximately seven percent of all arrests. Property crimes, both felony and misdemeanor, are the most frequent charge in both high user arrests and cases filed by the District Attorney. High users are predominantly male and fall between 30 and 50 years old. African Americans, though 6% of San Francisco’s population, constitute almost 50% of the high user cohort. San Francisco’s high user cohort also faces significant economic insecurity: more than half accessed safety-net benefits from the Human Services Agency during the study period.
Using data from the Los Angeles Unified School District, we find that attending a newly constructed school yields improvements in test scores, attendance, and teacher-reported measures of student effort. These results suggest attending a newly constructed school for four years can eliminate almost half of the math achievement gap between LAUSD students and the state average, and almost 20% of the English gap.
In 2014, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began a demonstration of theEnhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program at 11 prisons in California. Using data provided bythe Department, this study finds that the intensive version of the program yielded a 23% decline in failurerates of random drug tests over the period studied, and a reduction in the number of cellphone violations,but that these same institutions experienced increased levels of drug-related rules violations. Themoderate program had no discernable impact on drug abuse in the prisons in which it was tested.
In 2014, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began a demonstration of the Enhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program at 11 prisons in California. Using data provided by the Department, this study finds that the intensive version of the program yielded a 23% decline in failure rates of random drug tests over the period studied, and a reduction in the number of cellphone violations, but that these same institutions experienced increased levels of drug-related rules violations. The moderate program had no discernable impact on drug abuse in the prisons in which it was tested.