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Report: Senate Bill 678 delivers on its promises

In July the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) released it's second year report on the effectiveness of Senate Bill 678 , a well-designed piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Mark Leno in 2009. Adapted from a successful model in Arizona, SB 678 created a system of performance-based funding that incentivizes county probation departments to implement and sustain data-driven model practices in adult felony probation supervision.   If county probation departments demonstrated success in decreasing adult probation revocations, thereby sending fewer felony probationers to state prison, then the state split the costs savings with the counties 50%-50%.  A one-time allocation of stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, 2009) assisted counties with the initial implementation of these new practices and programs.

It is commonly known in policymaking that, unfortunately, not every piece of legislation achieves its intended objectives.  Thus far, SB 678 stands apart as a compelling illustration of well-designed legislation that actually changed systemic practices; through a mixture of ongoing fiscal incentives for counties as well as front-end funding.  The two-year results speak for themselves. From the AOC report:

"In 2011, the second calendar year of SB 678 implementation, California probation departments successfully diverted an average daily population of over 9,500 offenders from going to state prison. This action resulted in a statewide savings of approximately $277.8 million. In fiscal year (FY) 2012--2013, more than $136 million dollars of SB 678 savings will be distributed to the counties to reinvest in local probation department efforts to continue their successful supervision practices."

The report also found that statewide, probation revocation rates fell by 32% over a two-year period through the implementation of best practices, from 7.9% to 5.4%.  This reduced revocation rate corresponded with a significant decrease in both violent and property crime from 2010 to 2011. Reductions in violent crime occurred at a rate 25% greater than the average reductions nationwide.  

Through the front-end and ongoing fiscal incentives, a number of counties demonstrated bold innovation and implementation of model practices. The AOC report notes that:

"¢    80% of probation departments are now using validated risk assessments.  
"¢    66% of counties report using needs-based assessment for probationers.
"¢    87% of counties have trained more than 75% of their case-carrying officers in Motivational Interviewing.
"¢    22% of counties have more than 75% of their case-carrying officers trained in Cognitive Behavioral Treatment.

This report demonstrates that when counties use model practices for supervising felony probationers, they are seeing decreases in recidivism that correspond with significant improvements to public safety in local communities.  The performance-based incentives model established by SB 678 created a virtuous cycle of innovation and success that is keeping fewer individuals out of state prison, reducing costs to taxpayers, while increasing long-term public safety.

For advocates of juvenile justice reform, SB 678 serves as a legislative model for solving such intractable problems as increasing county capacity to serve more 707(b) youthful offenders locally, through the implementation of best practices.  This legislation makes it clear that counties probation departments respond positively to fiscal incentives for improving their local practices, rather than uniform statewide mandates.  The implementation of model practices is essential in both juvenile and adult justice systems in order to ensure the greatest possibility for rehabilitation, rather than the ongoing state and county overreliance on incarceration.  Senate Bill 678 shows California the path forward.

Keywords: best practices, Brian Heller de Leon, SB 678

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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