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Over one year into Realignment, local justice stakeholders across the state remain challenged by the responsibility of serving an increased number of offenders. Some jurisdictions approach this new era as an opportunity for innovation and creativity, whereas others view it as the state skirting its responsibility. 

San Francisco, in keeping with its history of self-reliance, approached Realignment as a chance to implement community-based practices that support rehabilitation while achieving long-term public safety. What is perhaps even more unique to the county’s approach is the extent of innovation exhibited throughout the county departments involved in the Community Correctional Partnership. For example, the Adult Probation Department’s new Community Assessment and Services Center will connect justice-involved adults with a full range of community-based services, including mental health, parenting, and employment, to help build self-sufficiency and reduce recidivism. 

One of the local leaders demonstrating a commitment to a new approach to criminal justice practice and policy is San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. 

So, what is DA Gascón’s office doing different? The minimal Realignment dollars received by the department were utilized to create an Alternative Sentencing Planner position. This position, filled by a social worker, is responsible for presenting the district attorney with alternative sentencing options, such as community-based treatment programs in conjunction with mandatory supervision. As a result of this position, the DA’s office has seen greater use of community-based services. Additionally, these cases are often expedited through the court process, saving the county’s limited fiscal resources. 

In creating this unconventional staff position, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón stepped outside the box and helped San Francisco quickly reshape its criminal justice system. Gascón has approached Realignment as an opportunity for change, recently stating: 

Realignment challenges us to think differently at a time when the criminal justice system is failing us. We must rise to the challenge; take on the serious policy changes that are needed to do our job effectively.”

This strong leadership and willingness to challenge the status quo has shown the criminal justice community that unconventional ideas are necessary to implement long-standing system-based reforms. District attorney offices across the state should consider replicating this approach, as it is a cost-effective measure while achieving the goals of long-term public safety.