This blog posting and video are part of a series being produced by CSAC to highlight county best practices through our annual Challenge Awards. 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 Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2012 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2013 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 28, 2013. 

To review a video about San Benito County’s “Booked in a Different Way/Grow Strong San Benito” program, click here.


San Benito County Librarian Nora Conte calls them “magical moments” – those opportunities a parent has to impact their child’s life in a positive way. And she has seen a number of them through the Grow Strong Benito program.

Chief Probation Officer Brent Cardall likes to call the program, “Booked in a Different Way,” which really does sum up the intent – and success—of the program.

The program helps rehabilitate first-time drug offenders and intervenes in multi-generational cycles of crime and drug abuse by supporting the literacy and educational success of potential at-risk children. Program participants are referred to the county library by the Probation Department and taught family literacy skills through weekly on-site activities.  According to Chief Probation Officer Cardall, the program is hitting at the root of the problem, focusing on offenders’ children who could be at risk. The program’s goal is to stop that before it starts and in effect, change generations for the better.

“Booked in a Different Way” is a collaborative effort between the County Library, Probation Department and Courts.  “It’s a wonderful program because it brings the strengths of three county departments together for the betterment of the community,” Nora explains. “The collaboration carries a wallop; it tries to stop the high level of illiteracy because it is a vicious cycle that continues to repeat itself.  And it starts in the home, it starts with the parent.”

And by all accounts, Grow Strong San Benito is working.  Probation staff points out the change in attitude among ex-offenders as they move through this program and see its true value. “We are the people that get them to go, but it’s their children that get them to come back. The offenders start to understand how important the program is, how important their role is in their children’s education. Once that light bulb goes off, you see a big change,” describes Kylie Sheppard, Supervising Deputy Probation Officer.

“Parents are the first teacher, the home is the first classroom and reading is the first subject,” Nora says.  “Through the course of this program, attendees begin to truly understand this concept.  And these children will do the same with their children – because children do what they see.”

San Benito County Superior Court Judge Steve Sanders and his wife Fran created the program concept.  Judge Sanders sums up the challenge of reducing recidivism: “There’s not one single magic bullet to solve the problem of recidivism, so we have to implement small programs that target specific segments and look at the next generation so we don’t keep repeating the mistakes of the past.”

In the case of the Grow Strong San Benito, one small program is making a big difference in the lives of probationers and their families.

David Liebler is the Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at