Breaking the Cycle of Harm

Use a scalpel, not a sledge hammer. A growing and diverse number of leaders agree: incarceration as a one-size-fits-all crime response is imbalanced, ineffective and unsafe. Breaking the cycle of harm requires a broader, problem-solving approach that prevents crime in the first place. Graduated responses can hold people accountable, address underlying crime drivers to reduce recidivism and prepare people leaving the justice system for stable reentry. Breaking the cycle of harm must be rooted in balanced consideration of 1) the individual’s risk of reoffending, 2) the severity of harm caused and 3) the response to underlying needs that must be addressed to prevent future crime.

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1. safety

Embrace Risk+Harm+Need Decision-Making

Risk+harm+need decision-making is a new model that incorporates the risk of reoffending, the severity of harm caused and the underlying needs that have to be addressed to prevent future crime.

Why do we need it?

Traditional justice systems primarily base their responses to crime on the severity of the offenses, failing to take into account what most victims want: to make sure the crime doesn’t happen again.

How does it help?

By assessing the severity of the crime, the risk of reoffending and the needs that must be addressed to reduce that risk, this graduated approach provides a much more sophisticated and targeted model for responding to crime. It reserves incarceration for high-risk/high-harm situations and recognizes that people who commit low-level offenses are often at high risk of committing other crimes, but are better served through diversion or alternative sentencing.

Questions To Ask

  • How are law enforcement officers trained to incorporate risk into decisions about whether to divert, cite or detain?
  • How are we assessing and addressing behavioral health and risk-related needs?
  • What diversion options do police have for low-risk/high-need individuals?
  • What protocols are in place to address language barriers and ensure cultural relevance?
Forty-two out of 58 counties in California report using some form of a pretrial risk assessment tool.

What does it take to implement?

  • Develop a decision-making matrix that identifies graduated responses based on severity of risk+harm+need.
  • Incorporate a validated process for assessing risk into each decision point.
  • Train law enforcement on the role of implicit bias in decision-making.
  • Develop an integrated process to assess and address risk-related needs and behavioral health.
  • Commit to keeping low-risk/low-harm individuals out of the system.
  • Stop using automatic policies that do not assess risk, such as “cite and release” for misdemeanors.

Outcome Measures

  • Improved assessment by risk and need for each criminal justice decision point.
  • Reduction in low-risk individuals in custody and high-risk individuals released pretrial.
  • Greater percentage of individuals eligible for and offered community-based sentencing.
  • Lowered percentage of individuals referred to diversion who are subsequently cited or detained.
Examples
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2. safety

Develop Problem-Solving Models to Deter Crime

What if we could stop crime before it happens? Communities that have prioritized crime prevention and deterrence are proving it can be done – even with serious and violent crimes.

Why do we need it?

Responding to crime after the fact is not enough to keep communities safe. In some cases it can do more harm than good, creating collateral consequences that rupture families while failing to address the social and environmental factors that foster crime in the first place.

How does it help?

When law enforcement and community organizations collaborate on a problem-solving approach that deters crime and supports the priorities and needs of residents, trust is restored and the community is more resilient and safer.

Questions To Ask

  • What are the most important recurring crime problems?
  • Are all community partners engaged in our problem-solving effort?
  • What services and supports are necessary to assist residents, and what are the barriers to access?
  • How can we ensure that deterrence does not lead to more arrests or displacement?
The first drug market intervention reduced crime by 57% over four years, shuttering the open-air drug markets in the neighborhood for good.

What does it take to implement?

  • Create a collaborative partnership with a project lead to identify a specific crime or problem area. Analyze data and community knowledge to tailor solutions.
  • Identify specific strategies such as environmental changes (e.g., street lights), activities (e.g., neighborhood events) or supports (eg., trauma-informed outreach) to address the targeted problem.
  • For focused deterrence strategies, ensure community buy-in and that services are in place before notifying targeted individuals.
  • If your intervention focuses on specific high-risk individuals, guarantee swift, certain and fair rewards and sanctions.

Outcome Measures

  • Reduction in rate of specified offenses in targeted and nearby areas, without displacement or an increase in the corresponding arrest rates.
  • Increase in the percentage of impacted individuals accessing services.
  • Increase in quality of life for residents.
Examples
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3. safety

Maximize Diversion and Community Corrections

More Californians are on probation than are in jails and prisons combined. Fully supporting community corrections as a viable alternative to incarceration can reduce recidivism and be cost-saving.

Why do we need it?

For too long, California’s overreliance on incarceration has sidelined investments in probation and other cost-saving sentencing alternatives that address the root causes and risks factors associated with crime while keeping lower-risk individuals connected to their communities instead of behind bars.

How does it help?

A comprehensive risk+harm+need model that incorporates a robust array of graduated responses provides decision-makers a range of programs and supervision levels that hold individuals accountable while reducing their risk of committing other crimes.

Questions To Ask

  • What percentage of our jail population is low­-risk or jailed because they couldn’t afford bail?
  • Are we maximizing use of diversion and community-based sentences?
  • Are we meeting the risk-related and behavioral health needs of supervised individuals?
  • What protocols ensure culturally relevant, multilingual screening and assessment processes?
  • Are probation terms set and adjusted based on risk level?
On average, over 60% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing.

What does it take to implement?

  • Integrate risk assessments into all decisions, including booking, release and supervision.
  • Guard against “net-widening” by keeping low-risk individuals out of the system.
  • Implement evidence-based pretrial practices to reserve jail beds for highest-risk/highest-harm individuals.
  • Invest in a graduated range of pre- and post-arraignment options, such as diversion, deferred entry of judgment and collaborative courts using risk+harm+needs decision-making.
  • Make probation supervision conditions based on risk and needs, and create incentives for early termination. Use swift, certain and fair responses, and recognize relapse as part of treatment.

Outcome Measures

  • Reduced number of low-risk individuals in jail or under criminal justice supervision.
  • Increase in successful completion rates for community-based sentencing alternatives.
  • Reduction in probation violations.
Examples
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4. safety

Abandon Harmful Practices, Reduce Recidivism

Many traditional criminal justice practices perpetuate the cycle of harm rather than keep communities safe. Breaking the cycle means breaking from practices that don’t work and replacing them with ones that do.

Why do we need it?

Studies show that criminalizing low-risk individuals or incarcerating someone without rehabilitation actually increases the likelihood of their committing additional crimes. But programs that help people land on their feet and reduce recidivism should be taken to scale.

How does it help?

If we stop spending precious resources on practices that don’t work, we can spend more on critical community needs, such as housing, employment opportunities and healthcare.

Questions To Ask

  • Are our locally imposed fines, fees and suspensions posing an undue burden on low-income individuals or inadvertently dragging them into the justice system?
  • Do we release people from jail with a viable reentry plan?
  • Do we spend more money on behavioral health treatment inside of jail than outside?
Over 4 million Californians (17%) have suspended driver’s licenses for failing to appear or because they cannot pay fines and fees.

What does it take to implement?

  • Examine how current practices–inside and outside of the criminal justice system – may be driving individuals deeper into the justice system.
  • Stop disproportionately penalizing low-income people through fines, penalties and suspended licenses.
  • Do not wait until someone is under criminal justice supervision to provide behavioral health treatment.
  • End the practice of releasing people from jail or prison without a viable plan for reentry.
  • Measure the impact of each intervention with respect to “net-widening” and recidivism reduction.

Outcome Measures

  • Reduced number of individuals with uncollected fines, fees and suspended driver’s licenses.
  • Reduced percentage of people with mental illness in jail.
  • Increased percentage of individuals who leave custody with ID and benefits.
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5. safety

Eliminate Barriers to Second Chances

Once a Shared Safety approach has been adopted, barriers that prevent people from turning their lives around must be removed.

Why do we need it?

Californians with felony convictions face over 4,800 restrictions, including barriers to securing housing and employment. And it’s not just felony convictions that create barriers; even unpaid fees and fines for minor infractions can spiral into penalties that upset lives.

How does it help?

Removing these barriers and ensuring that individuals with felony convictions can participate equally in society creates opportunities to successfully reintegrate, restores families and fosters well-being. It also reduces the likelihood they will reoffend.

Questions To Ask

  • How can we eliminate the barriers people with felony convictions face? What about minor infractions or misdemeanors?
  • What’s the process for clearing one’s record? How long does it take?
  • Do people with criminal records have legal support to help secure jobs and housing? How can we reduce the backlog of petitions for records?
California has more than 4,800 restrictions for people with felony convictions: 58% are job-related and 73% are lifetime bans.

What does it take to implement?

  • Engage your collaborative partnership, including the private sector, in removing barriers to employment and reducing stigma.
  • Revise locally imposed fines and fees that disproportionately impact poor people.
  • Minimize barriers by public housing agencies and ensure an appeals process.
  • Release holds on driver’s licenses for people seeking employment and adjust child support payments during periods of no income.

Outcome Measures

  • Increased percentage of eligible individuals notified about their right to clear their records.
  • Shorter length of time required to have a record cleared in court.
  • Decreased number of appeals filed for inaccurate background checks.
  • Increased percentage of individuals returning from incarceration who have access to stable housing, living-wage jobs and healthcare.
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Blueprint Overview