Voices from PFS Pioneers: Alameda County Justice Restoration Project (ACJRP)

Published Monday, May 7, 2018 | by Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, La Familia Counseling Service

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Nonprofit Finance Fund spoke with Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and La Familia Counseling Service about the Alameda County Justice Restoration Project. This blog is part of an interview series with selected project partners from our Social Innovation Fund transaction structuring competition.

What challenges are faced by the participants who will be served by this project, and what positive outcomes do you work toward?  What are your organizational strengths/capacities that best enable you to achieve these outcomes? 

Alameda DA Office: The Alameda County Justice Restoration Project (ACJRP) is a Pay for Success project that is developing a community-based approach to reentry service delivery to reduce the high rate of recidivism among low-level felony offenders in Alameda County who have a history of committing “non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offender crimes.”

As individuals step out of the physical barrier of a jail cell, they often encounter challenges, many of which they do not anticipate nor understand how to best address or navigate. These barriers often include housing instability, as was the case with 92% of the participants in our pilot program, and unemployment, which was cited as a barrier for 83% of participants at intake. In addition to these two fundamental needs, substance abuse, mental health challenges, complex trauma, and poverty make community re-entry challenging. Services exist in the County to address many of these needs, and ACJRP will create a plan and opportunity to strengthen the connection between returning citizens and available services. ACJRP will provide all participants with an individualized opportunity to achieve their goals for successful re-entry. Each participant will work with his or her coach to achieve a better life and a better future, beyond just avoiding recidivism.

La Familia: We hire staff who are bicultural and bilingual, live in the same community as participants, and have similar lived experiences. ACJRP participants receive individual and group therapy from a clinical therapist and outreach, counseling, and case management from a peer, or re-entry Coach. The re-entry Coaches have lived experience from the justice system and understand first-hand the challenges and obstacles participants face, as well as how to navigate social service systems and advocate for resources. This multi-disciplinary team creates a powerful parallel learning process: re-entry Coaches learn evidence-based interventions from therapists and therapists learn from Coaches about participant needs and how to most effectively communicate with them.

Our goal is to work with the participants and their support system to identify the barriers that currently exist for them and the strengths they have to help them forge their way onto a new life path. ACJRP’s success will be measured by recidivism avoidance; however, the goal of ACJRP is to achieve and measure positive outcomes in mental health, employment, family relationships, and other important life domains.

What motivated you and your partners to pursue Pay for Success as a means of delivering the outcomes you have talked about?

Alameda DA Office: Alameda County has a long tradition of creating and sustaining successful innovative programs that benefit participants in the programs and our community as a whole. These programs, such as the Alameda Family Justice Center, the DA’s Justice Academy, H.E.A.T. Watch, and Backlog Elimination Watch, are often models for California, and sometimes even the nation. Alameda County was immediately attracted to Pay for Success as a way of increasing our ability to be innovative and to accelerate help for our community by providing individuals with pathways for success. The program has been developed and spearheaded by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in collaboration with the Probation Department, the County Administrator’s Office, and the Sheriff’s Office, among other county partners. Through ACJRP, the guiding principles are focused on successful outcomes for young adults who have been charged with certain felony crimes. Not only does the project focus on reducing and eliminating recidivism, but also on providing the resources and processes for individuals to build bright futures.

La Familia: We have supported system-involved youth, adults, and families for over 20 years, and we saw Pay for Success as an opportunity to scale up the services that have been most effective. We also saw an opportunity to strengthen public-private sector partnerships to address the needs of justice-involved transitional age youth and adults, and to bolster support for the expansion of holistic re-entry services. This has been proven in other communities to reduce recidivism and result in significant fiscal and social cost savings.

What concerns, challenges or surprises have you experienced, either specific to pursuit of PFS or more generally related to delivering on outcomes? How have these experiences influenced the development of the project or the work of your organization?

La Familia: One major challenge has been data sharing between partners, all of whom have different data collection and reporting systems and processes in place. We have worked together to develop appropriate data sharing agreements as well as a database that can be used for enrollment and pertinent participant information. This database will allow us to better connect with referrals, coordinate service delivery, and evaluate outcomes. We have also made a concerted effort to incorporate data collection points that assess quality of life factors that impact participants and their families as they progress through the project.

Another challenge is connecting participants to a continuum of care given differences in eligibility for other community-based programs. For example, individuals served through Pay for Success can receive mental health and case management services, but many of them are unable to access other state employment and housing programs. We are thankful that we have passionate government partners on the Pay for Success project that are committed to working towards a systemic resolution to overcome these challenges.