During County Government Month in April, CSAC is presenting blogs and short video features on 13 award-winning programs from nine counties that demonstrate effective, original and cost-conscious ways counties are serving their citizens.
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What if… It’s the phrase that started off a sea change in Sacramento County Superior Court. What if we could lessen the time it takes to get a court hearing without infringing on defendants’ rights? What if we could reduce jail overcrowding safely? What if we could spend more time on the most complex cases?  What if we could save the county money and relieve strain on the justice system in Sacramento? The answer to the “what if” came in the creation of Violation of Probation In Lieu Night Court: a collaborative project of  the Sacramento Superior Court, District Attorney, Public Defender, Probation and Sheriff Departments that has saved the county $12.6 million over the past two years.

Sacramento County has taken the approach of holding night court to handle cases that can be deemed violations of felony probation.  The new system has moved more than 2,000 cases out of the overburdened court system and the cases get settled in one or two court appearances. What used to take several weeks can get settled in a matter of days. VOP In Lieu Court frees up the calendar for more complex cases, reduces the length of time a probationer is in jail awaiting a hearing and metes out the same justice that the more standard hearing process would deliver.

As I conducted the interviews with the separate county departments, one theme came out over and over: This is a fair process.  It goes the collaborative nature of the program when a public defender and district attorney both agree that the violators are being held appropriately accountable for their actions and their rights are being protected.  It is a program that has great potential for replication in other counties that have a high number of probation violations in their court system.

A simple “what if” started the conversations that led to an award winning program that ensures justice is served efficiently in Sacramento County.

County government works, which is why Californians prefer to have programs and services managed and operated at the local level. The county programs featured by CSAC during County Government Month are 2011 CSAC Challenge Award recipients. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Call for Entries for the 2012 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month.

Erin Treadwell is CSAC’s Communication Coordinator. She can be reached at etreadwell(at)counties.org.