Reentry Court Myths and Realities

IMG_0999Sometimes you need to break away from writing drug court history and blow some Island Jazz. This article was written in 2011 and has received its share of compliments. In case you missed it the first time, here it is again, MYTHS AND REALITIES OF REENTRY COURTS

MYTH #1: There’s not much interest nationally in federal funding for Reentry Courts

Local jurisdictions often have neither the jurisdiction nor the resources to deal with parolees, a traditional state responsibility. However a growing number of states are actively developing state wide, locally run, reentry court systems, as they realize the value of these community-based courts. (IN, OH, MO, TX, and CA have taken the lead in developing state-wide systems). The DOJ can provide resources, information and educational opportunities to assist interested states.

MYTH #2: Reentry Court is just like Drug Court with a different population.

Reentry Court turns out to be a very different animal than Drug Court. Its population is made up of high-risk offenders, who have been institutionalized for substantial periods of time. The most significant realization I’ve made as San Francisco’s Reentry Court Judge, is that parolees require far more services, incentives, and flexibility than traditional Drug Courts; that creating a community among court staff and participants is critical to parolees who have lost most sense of belonging. (over the initial 12 weekly sessions, participants failed to appear for court 1% of time)

MYTH #3: Reentry Courts detect violations, responding with sanctions and return to prison

The purpose of the Reentry Court is to keep the offender from reoffending and returning to prison. We are only peripherally engaged in the creation of model citizens. A heavy-handed approach to technical violations and minor offenses (including drug abuse) does not work well with this population. Encouragement from the bench, incentives, and the creation of court-based communities provide a far more effective approach. This still requires the active engagement of the parolee in community-based activities (job training, education, volunteer service, substance abuse and cognitive behavioral treatments) from the day they enter the reentry court. Professor Ed Latessa of the University of Cincinatti, (Dean of reentry research), warns that parolees need to be engaged in structured activity for 40 to 70% of their day, and that those programs that address 4 or more of the criminogenic needs of the offender do twice as well as those that don’t.

MYTH #4: Reentry Court success means substantially reducing drug abuse among parolees.

If we successfully deal with a criminal’s substance abuse problem, we may end up with a clean and sober criminal. Research suggests that less than 50% of parolees have a substantial drug abuse problem, so dealing with substance abuse as the main focus of Reentry Court may be  a mistake. According to the research, drug abuse is not in the first tier of criminogenic needs for the high-risk offender. Dealing with Criminal Attitudes, Criminal Personality, Criminal Friends and Associates, and Family and Parenting issues are generally considered the most important treatment needs. Unfortunately, the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, that have proved to be most successful in treating these issues, is lacking across much of the nation.

Pew Poll: Overwhelming Support for Decriminalizing Use

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A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 67% of Americans say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Just 26% think the government’s focus should be on prosecuting users of such hard drugs.

[For a PDF of the report, please click on image on the left]

The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults noted,” As a growing number of states ease penalties for drug possession, the public expresses increasingly positive views of the move away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes. By nearly two-to-one (63% to 32%), more say it is a good thing than a bad thing that some states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders. In 2001, Americans were evenly divided over the move by some states to abandon mandatory drug terms.”

 

 

Abamacare may be path to drug treatment as prison alternative

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The Justice Department estimates suggest that with the expansion of Medicaid, millions of ex-offenders could get the health care they need. They claim is predicated on the exoffender accessing the medical services now available to them.

A Newsweek Cover Article states that  ”President Ronald Reagan defunded federal mental health programs, dropping total mental health spending by over 30 percent. As a result, many of the nation’s mentally ill lost what was essentially their home and place of work, and many ended up on the street.Today, a good portion of those make their beds in prisons and jails. The last major study on mental health in prisons, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that 64 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons met the criteria for mental illness at the time of their booking or during the twelve months leading up to their arrest. For comparison, the rate of mental disorders among U.S. citizens stands at around 25 percent, according to the NIH. Sixty-nine percent of the country’s prison population was addicted to drugs or alcohol prior to incarceration.”

Grim statistics, but the article argues that the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid will reach those with mental health and drug abuse for the first time as an alternative to incarceration.

“Essentially, Medicaid left out poor, single, male adults without dependant children. – the same demographic most likely to end up arrested and incarcerated. Starting in January 2014, however, the categories have been eliminated (at least in the states that have chosen to take the medicaid expansion – it is an optional aspect of the ACA). “That means that a lot of people who are going to jail for mental illness or substance abuse related crimes could potentially avoid jail,” says Marsha Regenstein, a professor of health policy at George Washington University.

 

 

Prison Numbers Drop while Crime Rates Drop!.

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Recent statistics from across the nation suggest that criminal justice reform has become a win-win proposition. The Pew Trust, a highly respected authority, has examined data from all fifty states and concluded that morel than half of the states have reductions in both rates of imprisonnmet and crime over the past five years.

Breaking the data down further , PEW  shows even more impressive results:

  • The crime rate went down in all but four of the 31 states that reduced their imprisonment rates. It went up in one of the 15 states that increased their imprisonment rates.
  • The 10 states with the largest decreases in imprisonment rates had a 12 percent average reduction in their crime rates, and, in the 10 states with the largest imprisonment rate increases, crime rates fell an average of 10 percent (see table below).
  • Crime was down in states that continued with (and paid for) rapid prison growth, as well as those that did not. For example, crime rates in both Arizona and Maryland fell 21 percent from 2007 to 2012. Over the same period, Arizona’s imprisonment rate grew 4 percent while Maryland’s declined 11 percent.

PEW claims that the results reflect several factors; bipartisan support for reduced imprisonment and accompanying reduced prison budgets; strong public support for elimination of imprisonment for non-violent offenders; and evidence based alternatives to prison that have had significant success.

The success of reducing imprisonment and reliance on evidence based alternative to imprisonment are srong indicators that we’re moving in the right direction, and need to increase our embrace of criminal justice reform.

[The PEW article that this story is based on can be found by clicking on the Table above]

 

DOJ: small drop in fed. prison pop.

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According to the Department of Justice Prisons Director Charles Samuels, there has been an “unprecedented” fall in prison numbers. He made the statement to a meeting of the US Sentencing Commission in Washington this week to consider across-the-board cuts to penalty guidelines for drug crime.

The Guardian reported this week “ The commission projects that downgrading the lengths of sentences in this way will eventually allow the Bureau of Prisons – the largest corrections department in the country – to reduce its population by 6,550 inmates at the end of five years.

“Though the numbers are small relative to the federal prison population of 216,000, and the 1.3m in state prisons, they suggest that shifts in prosecutions policy are already bringing an end to the long-running boom in prison numbers, particularly for more serious crimes tried in federal courts. There are more than 2 million Americans behind bars when county jails are included. While the total prison population has been declining for three years, the federal prison population had continued to grow.”

Federal prison populations going down is obviously good news. But it would be a mistake to view a onepercent drop in federal prison numbers as a substantial movement toward reform  when the number of federal prisoners has increased astronomically over the past thirty years.

According to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the federal prison population has jumped from 25,000 to 219,000 inmates, an increase of nearly 790 percent over that thirty year period.

That is not to denigrate this adminstration efforts towards reform, but it points to the difficult path required to have a major impact on the number of federal prisoners..

 

Cal counties increase prison sentences

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California is seeing a real increase in the number of offenders sent to its prisons, according to a recent article  by the Associated Press, “Counties, where prosecutors have discretion in filing such charges, sent nearly 5,500 people with second felony convictions to state prisons during the 2013-14 fiscal year, a 33 percent increase over the previous year and the most since California enacted the nation’s first three-strikes law in 1994 that required life sentences for offenders convicted of three felonies.”"

This is an unwelcome consequence to prison reform that required less serious offenders remain in-county, to be dealt with by county jails and supervision. Depending who you talk to you will hear different explanations. Prosecutors blame it on an increase in crime. Sheriff’s offices claim that serious offenders who should have been sent to prison in the first place, are getting their due.  Public Defenders claim that their clients are the victim of local economics and a lack of space in local jails.

The numbers seem to favor  the latter view, with counties that have traditionally sent the most offenders to prison (often with the most limited supervision and jail resources), returning to their pattern  of moving criminals out  of county to be paid for by state taxpayers. “Merced County more than tripled the number of second-strikers, from 23 to 79. The number doubled in Placer and San Joaquin counties and climbed 88 percent in Stanislaus County.”

Judges appear to be at the center of the prison reform reversal,  According to the AP story, “Judges are imposing longer prison sentences for drug, property and other nonviolent crimes since criminal justice realignment became law, according to an analysis by the corrections department. Those sentences are increasing even as the length of sentences for violent crimes declined, leading to a net increase of 3.3 months in the average prison sentence since realignment.”

But this is a story with no clear culprit. D.A.s and judges are limited to six month jail terms (actually 90 days with credits) for jailed prisoners who violate their conditions of parole. Some claim that D.A.s and the courts are reacting to the lack of significant sanctions for less serious offenses. If so, local attitudes and economics may make prison reduction harder than anyone expected.

DOJ Budgets $173 million for Reform

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March 2, 2014

Eric Holder is making good on his promise  to double down on funding for criminal justice reform. Holder’s budget — $122 million above the 2014 enacted level — includes $173 million in targeted investments for criminal justice reform efforts.

As reported in the Washington Post, “The DOJ budget requests funding for Holder’s “smart on crime” initiative to reduce the number of low-level drug offenders in prison and reduce recidivism rates by expanding drug treatment programs.”

It requests $15 million for U.S. attorneys, including prevention and reentry work and promoting alternatives to incarceration such as the establishment of drug courts and veteran courts.

Another $15 million would go towards expanding the federal residential drug abuse program, and $14 million would assist inmates with reentering society and reducing the population of individuals who return to prison after being released. An additional $14 million would expand the residential substance abuse treatment program at the state and local levels.

The DOJ budget also requests $115 million for the Second Chance Act grant program to reduce recidivism and help ex-offenders return to productive lives.

“Each dollar spent on prevention and reentry has the potential to save several dollars in incarceration costs,” Holder said in a statement.

“These wise investments can help make our criminal justice system more effective and efficient.”

Penn Prison Chief tells it like it is

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Political leaders across the nation should take note of Pennsylvania’s Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, a straight talker who is willing to tell it like it is.

Responding to legislators concerned about increased numbers of Pensylvania prisoners, the following is a summary of his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on February 12, is reported in the Patriot News (he best speaks for himself).

“You say you want change, but you keep passing the same bills,” Wetzel told the lawmakers.

Since adopting the prison reform legislation aimed at reducing the prison population, he said, the House has passed no fewer than 23 bills that will likely increase it – either through the creation of new criminal offenses, or lengthening the sentences for existing crimes. No one bill could break the reform, but the small impact of multiple bills combine to a formidable threat. Wetzel called it “death by a thousand paper cuts.”

” Wetzel said every budget season he goes to the Capitol to explain corrections policy to lawmakers, “and then they forget about it until the next year.” Correctional Policy, Wetzel said, should have two goals: the response should be equal to the crime and the response should yield results; in other words, the offender should be less likely to commit another crime when he exits the criminal justice system”

. “You can’t say that about some of our current laws and corrections policies,” said Wetzel. He said, “No less than 23 bills have passed the House, every one of which has the potential to increase prison populations,” but legislators have done little to counteract the effect of those legislative efforts through legislation aimed at reducing crime and prolonged incarceration.”

I think we should to keep an eye out for further comments from Corrections Secretary Wetzel.

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February 17, 2014

The federal Government has recently doubled down on their investment in drug courts. What was once a  $6 million federal program has grown to a major government project amounting to approximately one hundred million dollars.

As described in the Grant Publication,”The goal of the Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program is to build and/or expand drug court capacity at the state, local and tribal levels to reduce crime and substance abuse among high-risk, high need offenders. States, Local courts, Counties, Units of local government, and Indian tribal nations are eligible for 60 grants.

States that are looking to improve, expand or enhance drug court services statewide and/or financially support drug courts in local jurisdictions  are eligible for grants of up to $1.5 million over a three year period.

While not directly aimed at court-focused prison reform, it would not be difficult to design a grant project that would use its resources on offenders who were otherwise heading for prison. State agencies should take a long look at the money available under this and other federal programs, that can be used to reduce prison populations, drug abuse, and criminality in their communities.

“States applying for funding under this subcategory must demonstrate a statewide, data-driven strategy for reaching and expanding capacity of drug court options and services for nonviolent substance-abusing offenders, which may include: implementing new drug courts; reaching capacity of existing drug courts; and expanding/enhancing capacity of existing drug courts to reach specific or emerging offender populations with drug treatment needs. The support provided through such statewide awards must also be consistent with the evidence-based principles outlined above” (Drug Court Funding)

 All applications are due by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on March 18, 2014. 

 

 

Brown gets 2 year extension to reduce prison pop.

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A three judge Federal Panel that has been demanding the reduction in  California prison overcrowding has decided to give Governor Brown one last opportunity to reduce prison overcrowding under  a new state plan.

The order from the three-judge panel delayed an April deadline to reduce the prison population to about 112,000 inmates. California remains more than 5,000 inmates over a limit set by the courts, even though the state has reduced its prison population by 25,000 by shifting less serious prisoners to county jails over the last two years

Seen as a major win for Brown and the democratic legislature,  Monday’s order instructed the state to immediately carry out a series of measures to either release or move inmates from state prisons. These include: increase credits for nonviolent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates; set earlier parole eligibility for some nonviolent offenders; ease parole for inmates who are older than 60 and have already served at least 25 years in prison; and expand alternative custody programs for female inmates.

The judges also backed a state proposal to appoint a compliance officer to ensure California is on track to comply with the inmate population cap.As part of the order, the court barred prison officials from exceeding the current 8,900 inmates in out-of-state prisons, limiting a tactic the Brown administration has used to lessen overcrowding in California’s prisons.

In a statement, Brown called the order “encouraging.”

“The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” the governor said. Brown has committed the state to spend $80 million over the next two year on rehabilitation and reentry programs that will increase the number of successful reentries into society.

 

AG Holder’s push for systemic clemency program

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The Washington Pst reports that the  Obama administration is stepping up its efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, called Thursday for the early release of more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders from federal prisons.

“Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, speaking to the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, said the administration wants to free inmates who no longer pose a threat to public safety and whose long-term incarceration “harms our criminal justice system.” He appealed to defense lawyers to identify candidates for clemency”.

Urban Institue reports on “Justice Reinvestment Initiative”

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The Urban Institute has issued a positive report on seventeen states that have adopted the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative”and issued the following statement,

“Seventeen Justice Reinvestment Initiative states are projected to save as much as $4.6 billion through reforms that increase the efficiency of their criminal justice systems. Eight states that had JRI policies in effect for at least one year – Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina – reduced their prison populations. Through the Initiative, states receive federal dollars to assess and improve their criminal justice systems while enhancing public safety. This report chronicles 17 states as they enacted comprehensive criminal justice reforms relying on bipartisan and interbranch collaboration. The studynotes common factors that drove prison growth and costs and documents how each state responded with targeted policies.”

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report was written by Nancy La Vigne, the project’s principal investigator, along with a team of researchers from the Urban Institute (click on image on left for PDF).

[See Justice Reinvestment Initiative"Leads Prison Reform]

 

 

 

Most of Cal. Realignment funds go to Jail Expansion

January 20,2013

It’s disheartening to see the negligible amount of money that has been made available for rehabilitation and reentry programs under California’s Realignment Reform. Most of the state’s money comes from a discretionary realignment fund that counties can use to fund realignment projects as they see fit.

According to a report last year by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, criminal justice critics say county leaders could have spent more of their new money on rehabilitation. In the first year of realignment, counties budgeted 16 percent of the $367 million they received from the state for services such as mental health and drug treatmentScreen shot 2012-11-04 at 6.14.22 PM (Sacramento Bee, Jan 14,2013).

“Leaders at the California State Association of Counties, the Chief Probation Officers of California and the California State Sheriffs’ Association say they need more money for job training, mental health care and substance abuse treatment.” But still the state overwhelmingly supports funding jail expansion at the expense of treatment and rehabilitation dollars. California’s new budget proposal plans to give counties $500 million for new jail space, on top of $500 million that is now being distributed through a competitive grant program.

Part of the problem is that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation historically has not emphasized rehabilitation,  Just 5 percent of department spending goes to programs and services for offenders,

And part of the problem is that counties are fearful of the political consequences of crimes committed by offenders serving prison sentences in jail facilities. According to the Sacramento Bee article,” Sixty percent of parolees released to counties from October 2011 through September 2012 were arrested for new offenses within 12 months of leaving prison, the same rate as a comparable population of parolees managed by the state the year before the law took effect.”

There are several promising provisions in the Governors new state budget that may have a substantial impact on those statistics. The budget proposal authorizes  $81 million to go toward re-entry centers, mental health services and drug treatment for offenders.

Most significantly, the Budget  proposal would require that all felony sentences served in county jails be split between jail time and mandatory supervision, unless a judge concludes that a split sentence is not in the interest of justice. That last provision promises to reverse the current trend, where judges across the state are overwhelmingly sentencing felons to county jail  under AB109 for straight time (straight time may not include “mandatory supervision, basically community based supervision or probation).

Until the counties meet their responsibility to provide substantial rehabilitation resources and monitoring for prisoners released from jail under P.C. AB109, we are unlikely to see significant benefits from the transfer of felons from state prisons to county jails.