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Over the course of 18 months, DC Design worked side-by-side with Santa Clara County to improve their re-entry process for inmates and reduce jail populations. By engaging so closely with government, community-based organizations, and those who have been incarcerated, we helped facilitate cross-departmental collaboration and built a process to identify the gaps in the system. These are entities that work on the front lines of criminal justice. Yet, often so focused on their specific tasks, they miss linkages that would make it easier for inmates leaving jail and looking to rebuild their lives. That’s where DC Design stepped in: to provide a clearer view of how the criminal justice system operates in the county, pinpoint areas of improvement, and build a strategy for Santa Clara that would ensure long-term success.


End the silos, and work more collaboratively to bring about changes. A paradigm shift in how Santa Clara runs re-entry programs and designs social systems.





Throughout this client-centered effort, DC Design’s ability to work across systems to facilitate and assess change was a significant success factor. Working with DC Design was an asset to our ability to plan for a more effective countywide reentry system.
— Javier Aguirre, Director of the Office of Re-Entry Services, Santa Clara County



Overcrowding in prisons led the state of California to reshuffle inmates from prisons to jails in 2011, transferring the responsibility to local jurisdictions. Though counties were given funding to accommodate these new inmates, this didn’t solve the ultimate problem --- too many individuals in incarceration without a clear path to rehabilitation.  

Santa Clara County took a bold step in investing these funds in rehabilitation, instead of increasing jail capacities. In 2012, they established the Re-entry Resource Center, a “one-stop shop” that offered a host of services to inmates: mental health and substance abuse treatment, housing assistance, employment connections, etc. Between 2012 and 2018, the program worked with more than 10,000 individuals. But that was not enough. The county wanted to learn how it could improve its outcomes and reduce recidivism further while increasing public safety and building a system of care that truly addressed more of the needs of this population.

DC Design took up this challenge to identify where inmates were left underserved in order to create a more human-centered approach to reducing recidivism.


HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN: In 2017, The Office of Re-entry Services chose to pause, assess, and determine where improvements could be made. Thus, they hired on DC Design to utilize the human-centered design approach, interview all the stakeholders involved, and develop a more comprehensive outlook on the issue.

THE RETREAT: It started with strategy facilitation. In April 2017, DC Design led the Re-Entry Network Retreat. The goal was to gather preliminary answers to three fundamental questions from the “Re-Entry Network,” which is made up of leaders of 27 departments and organizations:

1. “What challenges still remain when it comes to serving the re-entry client?”
2. “How could the Re-entry Network strengthen collaboration going forward?”
3. “What can we do to affect “No Entry” efforts?”

Prior to the retreat, DC Design conducted interviews and collated feedback to answer the most critical question: “Where do we go from here?”

During the retreat, the group generated 131 challenges. DC Design organized these challenges into 12 categories, such as: Basic Needs/Housing, Employment, Transportation & Food, Employee Efficacy, Consumer Support, Family Support, and Substance Abuse.

These 12 categories were just the beginning. Because of the potential our approach had for innovative solutions, Santa Clara County asked DC Design to work on a long-term plan and consult them on building a more robust system.


In November 2017, DC Design took on a long-term project to update the County’s Adult Re-entry Strategic Plan. This meant engaging with a more expansive and diverse set of stakeholders across the county, particularly re-entry clients, learning about their challenges, and developing strategies to move forward. DC Design interviewed and documented the perspectives of 207 stakeholders through:

  • Focus groups

  • One-on-one interviews

  • Workshop-style strategy sessions with staff

  • Speaking with individuals outside of the jail as they were being released


DC Design developed a six-point strategic framework to categorize all this data and info. This unique framework enabled DC Design to guide county employees through a process of contribution and collaboration, incorporating their voices into DC Design’s final recommendations and ultimately Santa Clara’s updated strategic plan, alongside the voices of formerly incarcerated individuals and other stakeholders. This strategic framework ensured that the county’s solutions were grounded in long-term sustainability.

In addition, DC Design developed a Client Journey Map to identify weaknesses in the system and as a visual aid for stakeholders to see the complexities of the system.

This map shows many of the interaction points that a client could have with the county as he or she moves through from arrest to post-release.


Most importantly, DC Design categorized all the data into 6 categories of Paradigm Shifts needed to truly transform the system. We made the following recommendations in a detailed strategy report and presentation to the Re-Entry Network. In fact, the county saw so much potential in the recommendations that they used the same language for their official strategic plan update and asked us to be co-authors.

  1. Secure Housing: Lack of housing was the number one complaint we heard from clients. In its next phase, the county will make finding housing easier for clients so that they don’t end up in troublesome environments by increasing record expungement efforts, creating transition plans during halfway house stays (instead of just during incarceration), and making the housing waitlist easier to navigate.

  2. Employment and Income Generation: Without financial stability, clients are more likely to end up incarcerated again. Santa Clara will foster a community of employers who are willing to take on individuals with criminal records to ensure that clients have work when they leave jail.

  3. Client Release Preparedness: Many clients we spoke with did not know their next steps after release. At our recommendation the county is exploring low-cost, self-generated transition plans for each client that will be put into place before release. By having clients write and share plans, the county can avoid some legal barriers around sharing between departments, and can empower the client to be an active participant in determining which resources they’ll use.

  4. Service Navigation: County departments need to be able to share data about clients across offices more readily, and employees want to better understand the variety of services available to clients so they can make appropriate referrals. Among DC Design’s recommendations is including clients in key committees to assess the health of re-entry programs.

  5. Systems Integration: County staff cannot use data generated in other departments to place clients in community treatment programs, creating a bottleneck. A data enterprise platform will serve as a seamless way to upload, request, and share information, providing the data any employee needs when they need it.

  6. Data Integration: Currently, there’s a lack of consensus on what metrics can be used to determine success. The county will identify key metrics to track beyond recidivism, write data access and sharing agreements, and obtain buy-in from the appropriate authorities to codify a system for ongoing cross-collaboration between departments.

DC Design's interviews with clients, guiding of work groups, and engagement with focus groups has led to greater clarity around which steps should be taken next to benefit stakeholders across Santa Clara County and reduce recidivism. For years Santa Clara County has chosen to respond in innovative ways to address the root causes of incarceration and recidivism. The recommendations made by DC Design will carry forward and accelerate the county’s efforts to improve outcomes for re-entry clients and those indirectly impacted by the criminal justice system. DC Design believes that if those focused on improving re-entry can continue to imagine what is possible before deciding new approaches are impossible, there would be no doubt that Santa Clara County would serve as a beacon in the criminal justice arena when it comes to truly addressing the needs of the re-entry population.