Current examples of realignment/reinvestment systems reform approaches—including those from criminal justice and mental health—offer a number of important lessons. In almost every case, it is apparent that reform and organizational change take time and energy; they require building relationships and trust and the continuing engagement and education of stakeholders and decision makers. Additionally, documented assurance and measured outcomes that ensure that resources will be reinvested in the intended manner seem to be critical for successful reform. For example, legislatures of some states in the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative program did not mandate reinvestment of criminal justice spending due to budgetary or political concerns. As a result, cost savings from the program were not reinvested in community-based justice programs and interventions (Austin et al., 2013; LaVigne et al., 2014). Reform can also be hampered by staff and policy-maker turnover, lack of public support, and high-profile incidents that undermine the goals of reform (LaVigne et al., 2014). Political compromises can water down reforms and hamper their implementation (Austin et al., 2013).
In the mental health field, evaluations of reforms have shown tempered success. Goldman and colleagues (2000) concluded that since experimental studies have not detected positive clinical outcomes in the presence of continuity-of-care initiatives, reorganization of service systems may increase organizational cooperation but may be only as effective as the clinical services, programs, and practices instituted as part of the reform. Scheffler and colleagues (2001) found that the effects of realignment in California’s mental health system were not consistent across the state, which they thought was likely due to socioeconomic and political difference among local mental health authorities, prompting them to conclude that economic differences among regions can affect the success and equity of realignment programs. In the juvenile justice field, an early evaluation of California’s recent judicial realignment noted similar concerns regarding the availability of programs throughout the state, as some counties are at the forefront of instituting reforms while others, for historical or cultural reasons, lag behind (Rappaport, 2013).
Given these early findings, the committee thinks that the success of realignment and reinvestment will probably rest on the uniform development of community alternative services. OJJDP can play a role in the juvenile justice field by guiding the development and incorporation of alternatives to confinement. OJJDP can also advance the state of knowledge on these strategies by inviting competitive proposals for conducting further research into realignment and reinvestment approaches. OJJDP can assess and evaluate the implementation of these strategies and assemble lessons learned. This evaluation would include focusing on system reform outcomes, incentives for changing practices, and consolidation of the data efforts. In addition, OJJDP could provide assistance to states engaged in or seeking to use these strategies, to ensure that they are implementing a developmental approach to their reform and decision making.