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 how San Bernardino County is meeting the challenges of public-safety realignment, click here.


Crime doesn’t pay — it costs. Anyone who has ever been a crime victim can tell you that, but so can county sheriffs and probation chiefs who are responsible for keeping track of many of the people who commit crimes in California. They will tell you that it is far more expensive to keep someone in jail than it is to supervise them in the community. The corollary to that is it is far less expensive to help someone so they don’t break the law again, than it is to have to put them back in jail if they do. And if they aren’t committing more crimes, they aren’t creating anymore victims either.

With that in mind, San Bernardino County is at the forefront of a growing trend in criminal justice: meeting the needs of low-risk offenders so they don’t reoffend and get sent back to jail.  Under “2011 public safety realignment” counties have responsibility for more non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual offenders.  The state, working with counties, passed AB 109, which assigns responsibility for these people to the counties and also provides the money to cover the cost of supervising them. The law gives counties the authority to spend the money in the way that makes sense for their situation.

San Bernardino County hired more probation officers and expanded evidence-based programs that keep people out of jail. That includes expanding their presence with local law enforcement, and making more unannounced visits at some offenders’ homes. But it also means assessing each offender to find out what their specific risk factors are and offering them treatment and services to overcome that risk.

Substance abuse is a big issue, so treatment programs that help offenders stay clean and sober also help them function better in the community and stay out of jail. Others may need job training and placement or help getting a GED. For some, a simple bus pass so they can get to work and their probation meetings is the difference between being a functioning member of society and possibly going back to jail.

San Bernardino takes that concept a step further—putting all of those services in the same place, a Day Reporting Center—so offenders can meet with their probation officer and access other services at the same time. It appears to be working.

Since realignment took effect in fall of 2011, the recidivism rate has dropped from about 80 percent to about 37 percent. That saves money, leaves room in the jail for more serious offenders, and can help offenders get back on their feet and become productive citizens. That’s what Smart Justice is all about in San Bernardino County.

Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.