SB 678 Research Brief & Reports


California’s justice system is changing. For the first time in a generation, California’s county jail and probation populations are growing faster than its state prison population. After decades of severe prison overcrowding and high recidivism rates, California leaders passed a series of laws to increase local agencies’ responsibility for managing individuals in the justice system and reducing the number of people sent to state prison.

Embedded in these changes is an important opportunity: If California can build out effective community corrections at the county level, the state can increase public safety while reducing the cost of corrections. Most Californians agree that bloated prisons are unnecessary and unsustainable, depleting resources from prevention, education and health at a time of limited budgets. As the state grapples with solutions, effective community corrections models can provide a roadmap for safety and savings.

During this period of transition, county leaders have already learned important lessons. While the 2011 “Public Safety Realignment” law has garnered the most attention for reducing the state’s prison population, a precursor to Realignment – Senate Bill 678, the Performance Incentive Act of 2009 – had a profound impact on probation practices across the state and laid the foundation for a new, more effective approach to public safety.

This brief explores the impact of SB 678 on strengthening community corrections in California, highlights certain counties’ practices and applies the lessons of SB 678 to a post-Realignment era. In sum, SB 678 has demonstrated three key lessons that should be considered in future decision-making on public safety policy:

  1. Investing in county probation departments can provide a strong return, both in dollars and in increased public safety;
  2. Evidence-based probation practices have proven to be effective at reducing recidivism across the state; and
  3. Performance-based or “incentives” funding can greatly improve justice system outcomes and save money.

More than ever, local public safety practices matter. What happens in California’s counties will significantly impact whether the state can break with unsustainable justice practices of the past, including costly incarceration and high recidivism rates – and invest in smart justice strategies that increase safety and reduce costs.