How One County Became a Lab for California’s Prison Reform
As they braced themselves, county officials set up a system of collaborative courts to help former prisoners find jobs, housing and treatment for mental health and addiction problems. They pioneered a program that uses sophisticated risk assessments rather than cash bail to decide which defendants were safe to release before trial. And local officials launched an array of novel anti-crime programs, including one aimed at building trust between police and residents and another that gives stipends to young people considered at risk of committing gun violence.
What happened next surprised many.
While overall crime in California increased slightly after 2011, San Joaquin County’s dropped 20 percent and hit a decades-old low last year. The county’s jail, which had been under court-ordered monitoring because of dangerous overcrowding, now has empty beds. Participation in specialized drug courts has increased and recidivism among newly released offenders has dropped.