The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in California Counties

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The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in California Counties


A 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling required California to resolve its overcrowded prison system. In response, Governor Jerry Brown 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 incarcerated individuals from the state to its 58 counties and required the counties to develop facilities, policies, and programs to serve this population.

County leaders needed a way to identify effective, cost-efficient programs. At the 2012 Public Safety Realignment Conference—a statewide convening of law enforcement, probation, and corrections professionals—many found a promising approach. During the conference, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative shared tools it had developed to help state governments assess the evidence behind their adult criminal justice programs and calculate their likely return on investment.

Four California counties became the first counties in the country to adapt the Results First state approach at the local level. Results First partnered with Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Kern, and Fresno to address the effects of Realignment. Later, other counties, including Santa Clara and Ventura, adopted the Results First approach, leading the way in adapting state-specific evidence-based policymaking strategies to the county level.

County-level results

The experience of these counties demonstrated the value of using evidence and county-specific cost-benefit analysis to inform funding decisions in adult criminal justice. For example:

  • In Santa Barbara, county leaders used the results of their analysis to expand cost-beneficial programs and replace cost-prohibitive ones. Additionally, they systematically incorporated evidence into funding decisions, requiring agencies and prospective providers to use a criminal justice funding opportunity form to request money for their programs.
  • For Santa Cruz, the Results First approach helped the Probation Department calculate long-term recidivism rates and improve data-sharing across public safety agencies. Furthermore, the county rebid its contracts for community-based services and made several key improvements, including prioritizing funding for effective evidence-based programs.

CSAC-Results First Partnership

As more and more California counties expressed interest in evidence-based policymaking, Results First partnered with the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) to launch the CSAC Support Hub for Criminal Justice Programming. This hub provides local communities with tools, trainings, and resources on evidence-based programs in criminal justice and continues Results First’s work with counties in the state by providing:

  • Tools to conduct recidivism analysis.
  • Materials to develop logic models and to map and streamline systemwide processes.
  • Training on how to navigate the Results First Clearinghouse Database, as well as continued support for implementing the Results First approach.

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