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Deliberate strategies in Santa Cruz alleviate jail space

California has seen a dramatic increase in state and local incarceration rates since the 1970's.  The current crisis confronting state and county justice systems is the product of what is now recognized as poorly conceived correctional policy and decision making primarily at the state level.  The massive rate of incarceration was avoidable.  A CJCJ recent analysis , conducted with the support and collaboration of the Santa Cruz County Probation and Sheriff Departments and the County's Superior Court, demonstrates a data-driven decision making approach to criminal justice can produce good public safety outcomes while utilizing local dollars efficiently.

Governor Brown implemented Assembly Bill 109 (commonly referred to as Realignment) as a measure to address the state prison overcrowding crisis.  Through Realignment counties assumed the responsibility for low-risk offenders that are no longer eligible for state prison commitments.  This has been a daunting task for many of the state's counties that responded with intent to construct more jails .  The ACLU, other researchers, and practitioners have presented alternative approaches to Realignment that do not rely on increasing the state's jail bed space.  In fact, a handful of self-reliant counties have presented Realignment plans that enhance local community-based services and other alternatives to incarceration.

Santa Cruz County is one of these counties.  Over the past two decades, through strong leadership the county has invested in deliberate strategies to reduce the county's reliance on incarceration.  Strategies such as Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and expansion of the Pre-trial Services Unit have redesigned the county's approach to juvenile and criminal justice.  As a result of these interventions, Santa Cruz County has demonstrated significant reductions in local incarcerated populations.  For example, the county's non-sentenced jail population remains well below the state average of 71.4% at 53.8% in 2010.  Moreover, this has not been at the expense of public safety.  Analysis of Santa Cruz's criminal justice trends finds that,
 
"As the county expanded by 32,000 new residents over the last two decades, arrests dropped, jail and prison populations plummeted, probation caseloads rose, and streets became safer (as measured by crimes reported to law enforcement)."

Santa Cruz County demonstrates that positive results are achievable through intentional efforts by local justice administrators.  This county's story provides a replicable approach that California counties can utilize to cultivate systems change.  As the implementation of Realignment progresses, California counties need to invest in alternatives to incarceration that promote long-term public safety.  Otherwise the future of our local jail systems may bear a striking similarity to that of the state prison system.

Keywords: jails, Kate McCracken, population management, pretrial, Santa Cruz County

Posted in Blog, Realignment, Technical Assistance

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