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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 27th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 25 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 25

Santa Barbara County supervisors look 
at an innovative recidivism reform program

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

It’s sort of a strange concept: Private investors pay for county programs and only get cash back from the county if those programs are successful.

It’s called Pay for Success. Santa Barbara County is looking at how, and if, it would work to address inmate recidivism—going back to jail—rates in the county jail system. The Rikers Island jail complex in New York, N.Y., is the only jail in the country currently using the model.

Some speakers at the Aug. 27 Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting said if it works for recidivism rates, the method could also be used to fund other programs, such as health-care initiatives and public housing projects.

But that’s jumping ahead of the horse a bit, as supervisors voted unanimously just to look into the feasibility of a Pay for Success model. In that same motion, the supervisors also authorized staffers to proceed with something called the Results First Initiative.

It’s a Pew Research Center-designed initiative that looks at the costs and benefits of criminal justice intervention programs and provides guidance on which programs to grow and which to get rid of. The thought is that once the facts are gathered about what works and what doesn’t, private investors can see where they want to put their money.

The state of Washington has been using the Results First Initiative since the mid-1990s, CEO Chandra Waller explained in a presentation during the meeting. She went on to say that since then, Washington’s crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates have dropped below the national average. The program also saved the state $2.7 billion.

Santa Barbara County jails are currently operating at 120 percent of capacity—the status quo for two decades. As a result, county supervisors earlier this year authorized spending $60 million to help build a new jail in North County.

“We believe that the new jail alone will not be enough,” Waller told supervisors during her presentation.

Waller said the new North County Jail will only address one of two recommendations made by the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Jail Overcrowding in 2008. One suggestion was to provide additional inmate housing; the other was a recommendation to invest sufficient funds in recidivism reduction programs. Coupling the initiative with a Pay for Success model is something Waller said could help fit that second piece of the overcrowding puzzle.

“This is definitely way outside the box,” 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said during the meeting. “I like it because people don’t get paid unless there are results.”

Santa Barbara is one of just three counties in California—Santa Cruz and Fresno are the other two—that Pew has chosen to pilot the initiative. Sheriff Bill Brown spoke at the meeting in favor of the program. He said combining the Results First Initiative and Pay for Success with the Transitions from Jail to Community project would be a big step for reducing recidivism and overcrowding.

The transitions program has already proven itself successful in a small pilot project that was funded by a grant from the National Department of Corrections. That being said, Brown added that there’s a need to be working on all fronts—recidivism reduction, incarceration, and enforcement—to address the overcrowding situation.

“Investment in recidivism reduction programs will pay off handsomely down the line,” Brown said. “We have to achieve the right balance.”