The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Santa Barbara County

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Santa Barbara County

This page was updated in March 2020 to note the conclusion of the county’s work with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, and in March 2018 to reflect new developments in the state. 

A 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling required California to reduce crowding in its prison system. In response, Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law Assembly Bill 109, establishing a set of policies that are commonly known as Realignment. The legislation transferred responsibility for more than 60,000 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.


Santa Barbara County has a long history of participating in national evidence-based initiatives that have enabled criminal justice stakeholders to assess systemwide challenges and develop effective solutions. Reflecting this commitment, Santa Barbara officials were the first county leaders in California to express interest in using the Results First approach. In August 2013, the Board of Supervisors formally invited Results First to partner with the county to ensure fiscal responsibility, accountability to the community, and recidivism reduction.


Implementation of the Santa Barbara Results First work was housed within the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP), led by the county Probation Department and the chief probation officer. Members of the partnership executed memorandums of understanding among stakeholder agencies to formalize the membership, timelines, and deliverables for the project’s working group. The chief probation officer oversaw the development of the Santa Barbara Results First tools and guided a technical team that included leadership and staff from the Probation Department; Superior Court; the offices of the public defender, district attorney, and sheriff; and area police departments.

The team completed development of the model and presented preliminary findings to the Santa Barbara CCP in December 2014. This first report outlined the rate and cost of recidivism in the county and highlighted several program options that could save money and reduce recidivism. In the winter of 2015, the team presented a comprehensive report to the Board of Supervisors that included findings and recommended program changes in the county’s Realignment Plan, which annually documents the county’s implementation of Realignment. The CCP continues to update the cost-benefit analyses of criminal justice programs and publish findings and program changes in the plan.

In 2017, the team published a comprehensive inventory of programs provided to the county’s adult criminal justice population, organized by tiers of evidence. The inventory is continually updated as program changes occur.

Policy impact

County leaders used the results of their analysis to support additional funding for cost-beneficial programs, including a cognitive behavioral therapy program, Reasoning and Rehabilitation, which is expected to produce a return on investment of almost 20-to-1. The Results First findings have also been used to inform decision-making about replacing a long-standing substance abuse treatment program that was evidence-based and effective but was too expensive to break even on the county’s investment. To achieve better outcomes at lower costs, the leaders replaced it with a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention, Moral Reconation Therapy, that is projected to produce a higher rate of return on investment.

As part of the county’s efforts to incorporate evidence into funding decisions systematically, Santa Barbara County leaders created a protocol for the application and review of requests for criminal justice funding. Agencies and prospective providers must complete the Criminal Justice Funding Opportunity form, which requires a detailed description of the program, target population, criminogenic need addressed, desired program outcomes, and evidence demonstrating that the program is likely to be effective. The form also requests cost-benefit analysis, using the Santa Barbara Results First model, where available. When cost-benefit analysis is not possible, the form requires program cost details that allow reviewers to calculate the outcomes needed for the county to break even on the investment. Santa Barbara County’s new protocol provides decision-makers with a clear summary of available evidence and helps them to assess whether a proposal is likely to be an effective use of resources.

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) now supports California counties’ evidence-based policymaking work.