Public Safety

Study Finds Probation Program Lowers Recidivism

Teenage girl listening to a counselor in a circle with others. Image Credit: Shutterstock

San Diego County Probation youth completing Alternatives to Detention, a program designed to address their underlying needs, have fewer risks of reoffending, according to research recently released by the San Diego Association of Governments.

“This study reaffirms San Diego County Probation’s commitment to this approach. Evidence has shown, and the results are clear here, that youth are more successful in rehabilitation when they can stay integrated in their families and communities,” said San Diego County Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales. “Ninety-one percent of youth participating in Alternatives to Detention successfully completed the program with no new bookings during program participation.”

Additionally, Probation saved $10.3 million by significantly reducing the number of days in detention for an Alternatives to Detention youth group who received treatment as compared to a youth group who remained detained. The Alternatives to Detention group spent 22 days in detention at a cost of $8.3 million as compared to 83 days for the comparison group at a cost of $18.7 million.

The Alternatives to Detention Initiative is a partnership between the San Diego County Probation Department and community-based organizations. Together they provide a continuum of prevention and intervention services for youth in the justice system and their families. Probation added an Alternatives to Detention staff member to help other Probation staff assess youth who are arrested and evaluate whether they are at risk of re-offending and could benefit from the program. Youth who are a potential danger to the community or a flight risk are ineligible. Law enforcement, court, District Attorney and Public Defender staff can also refer youth to the program.

Rather than detaining youths involved in low-level criminal activity, Probation assigns them to community-based treatment and services. By doing this, the youths can continue with education and work, if employed, while receiving treatment. The treatment is tailored for the individual’s underlying needs which may include counseling for drug or alcohol addiction, gang intervention, anger management, life skills, shelter and housing, family counseling or assistance with education.

Youth are enrolled in a three-month-long intensive case management program that provides “cool beds,” a temporary shelter in a licensed foster care home, if needed, to support youth and families and a safe return home.

The SANDAG study looks at the program in a three-year period from 2015-2017 during which Probation and its partners received a grant to expand the Alternatives to Detention pilot project from the southern and central regions of San Diego County to all regions of the county.

In the nearly three-year study period, 1,268 youth were enrolled in Alternatives to Detention. Nine of 10 completed the program successfully without arrest resulting in detention during the treatment.

To see the full study, visit SANDAG.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact