A 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling required California to resolve its overcrowded prison system. In response, Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law Assembly Bill 109, establishing a set of policies that are commonly referred to as Realignment. This legislation transferred responsibility for more than 60,000 low-risk inmates from the state to its 58 counties and required them to develop facilities, policies, and programs to serve this population. To help identify the most effective and cost-beneficial adult criminal justice programs, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative partnered with California counties to implement the Results First approach at the local government level.
Since Realignment, Kern County has begun a culture shift in the way its leaders consider evidence in decision-making. In May 2014, the board of supervisors unanimously approved the county’s participation in the Results First Initiative, securing the partnership with a letter of support and invitation. The Kern County Community Corrections Partnership, chaired by the chief probation officer, devoted staff time and other resources to the development of the Kern program inventory and Results First cost-benefit model. Using these tools, officials aim to identify current investments in adult criminal justice programs and the extent to which they are evidence-based, consider alternative strategies for improving outcomes at lower costs, and shift program funds to those that are proved to reduce recidivism.
Housed within the Kern County Probation Office, a department analyst oversees the work. A technical working group comprising leadership and staff from across criminal justice agencies—including the sheriff’s office, courts, and Mental Health Department—support the county’s Results First work. The Kern team completed model implementation and presented its preliminary findings in May 2015. It also developed a comprehensive inventory of county-funded criminal justice programming to help the county understand the full range of services it offers, their costs, and the evidence of effectiveness for each program. The team released a formal report and presented its official findings to the Community Corrections Partnership in December 2015.
The Kern County project team plans to use Results First as an organizing principle for long-term strategic planning. The sheriff’s office is already using the Results First Clearinghouse Database to inform decisions about jail programming. This process includes replacing ineffective programs with those that are evidence-based and adding additional proven interventions to the treatment portfolio. In an effort to track program quality and performance to ensure the success of its investments, the county is developing contracting standards for providers that will incorporate performance measures and monitoring. Kern County leaders are also developing a framework for using their cost-benefit analysis and program inventory resources when developing or expanding programs.