Issue Brief

The Impact of California's Probation Incentive Program

Probation Failure Rate, Corrections Spending Down in Wake of Incentive Funding Legislation

For over a decade, California has grappled with a growing prison population and soaring corrections costs. In 2011, with prisons operating at around 200 percent capacity, the Supreme Court ruled that the state had to reduce its number of inmates by 30,000.

The probation system has been a major driver of prison admissions. 40 percent of new prison admissions from 2008 to 2009 were revocations from probation, according to an estimate from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Probation is administered in California at the county level. Until 2009, county probation departments had few resources and little incentive to improve community supervision. Probation violators could be revoked to state prison, which relieved the counties of the cost of supervising them.

In 2009, California created an incentive funding program that awards counties that successfully reduce the rate at which they send probationers to state prison. The program works by sending the county 40-45 percent of the savings the state gets from not housing revoked offenders.  County probation departments are then required to reinvest their share of savings in practices that are scientifically proven to reduce recidivism.

Early analysis suggests that California has successfully improved probation outcomes and reduced corrections spending. The California Department of Finance estimated that the state generated savings of $179 million after one year of the program.

Learn more about performance incentive funding

Media Contact

Christina Zurla

Manager, Communications