The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Santa Cruz County

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Santa Cruz 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 July 2018 to reflect progress in the county. 

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.


Santa Cruz is one of the most active California counties with respect to using evidence to inform decision-making. The county has participated in numerous initiatives, such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, George Mason University’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence program, and the Judicial Council of California’s Risk Assessment Pilot Project. These efforts have helped the county consider systemwide changes based on research. In October 2013, the board of supervisors unanimously approved the county’s participation in Results First and submitted a formal letter securing its commitment. Santa Cruz County is using the Results First approach to help officials select and evaluate programs to serve offenders, reduce future crime, inform budget considerations, and coordinate and bolster its portfolio of evidence-based ventures.


In June 2014, the Santa Cruz Results First team, led by the Probation Department, released a progress report summarizing work accomplished to date and highlighting successes. The process enabled the team to calculate long-term recidivism rates for the first time and to improve data sharing across criminal justice agencies. The team completed a comprehensive inventory of adult criminal justice programs and implemented the Santa Cruz model in late 2014, then presented a report summarizing its findings and proposed next steps to the county board of supervisors.

After working to incorporate its analysis and the Results First approach into adult criminal justice work, the county then expanded its evidence-based policymaking efforts to examine investments in juvenile justice. Following a completed program inventory and customized cost-benefit model, the Probation Department presented its final report and recommendations to the board of supervisors in February 2018.


The adult and juvenile justice reports highlighted a number of key findings:

  • Evidence-based treatment and intervention services for adults in the local criminal justice system have an average cost-benefit ratio of 2.85, meaning that for every dollar invested in criminal justice programs, the county anticipates approximately $2.85 in benefits related to avoided system costs and victimizations.
  • Of several programs projected to be cost-beneficial, Aggression Replacement Training stood out with its projected return of $14 for every dollar invested, with benefits coming from increases in earnings, decreases in crime, and avoided costs in health care, education, and employment.
  • Juvenile alternatives to detention saved 3,135 bed days in juvenile hall during 2016 alone.

Policy impact

Policymakers have embraced this approach and the report’s findings, resulting in a number of notable policy changes. Using its cost-benefit model, policymakers determined that one of the county’s most widely used programs, cognitive behavioral therapy for adults, was predicted to avoid $418,950 in costs and reduce recidivism in participants by 13.4 percent. They used this information to justify their recommendation to increase funding for the program in the fiscal year 2016-17 budget. Working with providers, Santa Cruz County rebid its contracts for community-based services and made several key improvements, including the prioritization of funding for effective evidence-based programs. Contracts now require service providers to track and report outcomes, submit data to allow for program evaluation, and describe how each program will ensure fidelity to its design.

The findings also led to the Probation Department’s support of the Human Services Department’s development of a request for proposal (RFP) for its Collective of Results and Evidence-based (CORE) program investments that will “fund community-based organizations to provide evidence-based safety net services that will collectively impact the well-being of the community’s most vulnerable people.” In order to maximize the effect of this $4.1 million per year investment, the RFP defined tiers of evidence and contracts require a demonstration that the provider will deliver an evidence-based program and collect capacity and outcome data for future evaluation.

Building on the success of improvements in adult criminal justice and the innovative CORE investments strategy, the county used its juvenile justice analysis to structure a new RFP that would help ensure that it was investing in high-quality evidence-based programs that are aligned with the needs of the county’s juvenile justice population.

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

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