"Today when I think of reentry court, I am reminded that nearly every offender sentenced to time in custody will return to the community from whence they came. And thus, every sentencing court is in fact, a reentry court, creating a pathway for the offender’s reentry into society." -Jeff Tauber

No. 4 in a Series: Invited to a Fijian Prison’s Kava Ceremony

June 30, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 9.13.57 PM

I had always wanted to visit the South Sea Islands. When elected to be an Oakland Judge, I had over six months before I took office in January 1989. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to travel somewhere I had always wanted to, the south sea islands. Fiji was my first destination, as it was pretty much all I knew of the south seas. I thought of the trip as a busman’s holiday, with the idea that I would visit the courts and jails and learn something about how the islander’s meted out justice., before I took the bench.

In Fiji I was granted the opportunity to visit the main jail facility by the Chief Justice of Fiji. I was treated with respect and deference, and as a special honor, I was invited to the guards own housing unit , to participate in a traditional Kava ceremony. [ The root of the Kava pepper plant is  used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties, highly valued throughout Polynesia, but banned in many western counties for its mild addictive and toxic qualities]

I also visited other  communities  where Kava was used in the traditional fashion, with the Kava ceremonial experience, a rare religious and/or community celebration. But with the modern world intruding into village life, it had become endemic to many communities and used everywhere and much of the time. That explanation was brought home to me when I met a fellow traveller on a bus. He invited me to his home to drink Kava. He said he drank it every day, as there were no jobs , no money for a wife, and nothing to do but drink. He was a drug dependent, with no obvious way out of his dilemma.

Which is what I sometimes think is happening across the world; people using drug to anesthetize themselves from boredom, lack of opportunity and community.  No job, prospects of one, money to start a family, or marry, and nothing much to do. Within a generation, a ceremonial substance, admittedly hallucinogenic and addictive had become an acceptable part of the life of an entire region of the world.

It was on my south seas journey that I began to seriously think about the value, nature and consequences of drug use around the world. It gave me a new perspective on legalization  and the endemic use of marijuana and other soft drugs in the U.S.and other western nations?

…………………………………………………………………

 

 

No. 3 in a Series: Primitive Communities Rely on Community Control

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 10.51.45 PMJune 23, 2014

From the article, “BUILDING TODAY’S COMMUNITY BASED DRUG COURTS”, (first published online, 2005), this observation  discusses the success of the drug court in terms of its ability  to emulate “traditional community”.

………………………………………………………..

Primitive Communities rely on Community Control

Since the beginning, humans have lived together in “communities”. Primitive communities relied on ”Customary Law” (or what is sometimes called the ”living law”, as it was recognized and accepted by all those living in that community). The ‘norms of conduct”, “were enforced not by any leadership of the community but rather by the whole.” (H.Stuart Madden, The Cultural Evolution of Tort Law, 37Ariz St LJ 831, p835).

Those early communities provided the tools to support acceptable behavior, using affirmation, status, and other tangible and intangible rewards to encourage conformity to societal norms.  And the community also relied heavily on what we would today call “alternative sanctions”, to correct an individual’s anti-social behaviors. This “traditional” sanctions” approach to misbehavior included admonitions, shaming, restitution (often the family’s responsibility), corporal punishment, shunning and finally banishment from the “community”.

To this day, Aboriginal communities use shunning and in extreme cases banning from the group, when persons refuse to follow community norms, resulting in destabilization in the community.  [It’s interesting to note, that as in the drug court model, the Aboriginal community is more interested in the restoration of a peaceful community than the strict identification of the party at fault.] (Id, at p.836).

Finally, the group typically welcomed the reformed miscreant back into the community when the behavior was corrected.  The “community” couldn’t afford to waste an individual’s contribution to the community.  Keeping the individual stigmatized created an unhealthy separation from others and prevented a healing within the community. It made far more sense, to return the outcast to the bosom of the community as soon as possible.

…………………………………………………………………

 

No. 2 in a Series: Drug Court Graduation As Community Ceremony

June 16, 2014

From the article, “BUILDING TODAY’S COMMUNITY BASED DRUG COURTS”, (first published online, 2005), this observation  discusses the success of the drug court in terms of its ability  to emulate “traditional community”.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 10.00.05 PMCOMMUNITY AS THE MOST POWERFUL BEHAVIOR MODIFIER

Community or its absence pervades everything we do.  It controls our behavior through a socialization process that begins almost from birth.  Where it seriously deteriorates, “niche communities” fill the void, and can prove to be as destructive as the gang cultures of L.A., as uplifting as the church choir or as potentially beneficial as the “drug court community”.

Envision this scene.  Somewhere in a courtroom in America, a Drug Court Graduation is being televised. The full complement of judges sitting en banc; the county sheriff, the mayor and city council members shaking hands with former addicts who a year before had been selling drugs on city streets; a celebrity speaker at the dais; sheriffs deputies rubbing shoulders with the families of drug court participants; graduates sharing a non-alcoholic beverage and cake with police officers at a post graduation party.

At least in part because of media exposure to Drug Court (and graduations in particular), the general public and the media in particular have come to see the drug abuser as worthy of compassion and, when successful in treatment, even something of a heroic figure. In packed courthouses across the United States, mayors, police chiefs, governors and chief justices, stand shoulder to shoulder with former substance abusers and applaud the graduates of their community’s drug court. We can view such a scene as an example of the media’s penchant for happy news, or it may be something more…

I was one of the judge’s sitting as a guest of the Boston court in the scene described above.  I couldn’t help but feel the power in the human drama unfolding before me.  There was more here than a simple ceremony dramatizing the reform of a drug abuser. Although I had seen similar ceremonies in many courts across the United States, and felt the same sense of awe, inspiration and hope, this time I sensed something different.

I felt like I was observing a primitive ritual, as old as the hills. Today, I understand I was witnessing the power of community to effect change in the individual (and help heal the community itself). Drug courts may be tapping into a powerful human need, to be accepted by one’s community, as well as the community’s need to make itself whole by reintegrating the reformed outcast back into society. After that experience, I began to look for other signs of community behavior in Drug court and other problem solving courts. As you read on, you will realize, as I have, they aren’t hard to find.

 

Using Reentry-Drug Court as a counterweight to long Prison Terms

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on Feb. 13,2012, uses a Watertown sentencing as an example of how drug court can be used to keep the prison population down, or increase it.

April 28, 2014

Screen shot 2012-11-19 at 9.19.12 AMSomething caught my eye as I was reading newsclips from around the nation. A small item from the Watertown Daily Times (NY). It read:

A Watertown man was sentenced to state prison Thursday after admitting in Jefferson County Court that he violated his Drug Court contract. Paul L. Arndt Jr., 44, was sentenced to 113 to 4 years in prison for violating terms of the substance abuse rehabilitation program that is designed to serve as an alternative to incarceration. He was referred to the program in April 2009 after admitting he violated probation. He was sentenced to five years’ probation in August 2007 after pleading guilty in May 2007 to fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for taking radiators that had been stolen from a Watertown business and selling them at a Syracuse recycling center. Information about how he violated Drug Court was not available.

Putting aside the issue of whether the probation violation in question was a particularly serious or dangerous one, I would suggest that sending a drug court participant to prison for a substantial term is almost never good criminal justice policy, good use of government funds, or good rehabilitation &/or treatment strategies . There are more than a few drug courts, that quickly fail drug court participants and spirit them away for substantial prison terms. It may be time to revisit the rationality behind such scenarios. Unless the new offense is one involving violence or the threat of violence, is prison ever a sensible response to a drug court violation?

I have suggested in a recent article (see:”Front-loading court interventions”)  that “judges may use their jurisdiction to sentence the felon to prison as part of a court-ordered treatment program, with the understanding that the offender is to undergo treatment before being returned to court for re-sentencing”. The idea is an old one, first described in a monograph written in 1999 by myself and present NADCP CEO West Huddleston (see “Reentry Drug Courts”);  Front-loaded prison reentry programs (involving short custodial terms and a return to court supervision and treatment), are a last resort after the offender has committed serious and multiple violations of a drug court’s requirements.

Numerous states have developed drug court as an alternative sentence of last resort before substantial prison terms are ordered. Governors  such as Christy of New Jersey and Deal of Georgia are calling for special drug courts to give the offender a last chance to succeed. Reentry-Drug Courts, (or simply Reentry courts) need to be put in place for the high-risk offender, where a short prison or other custodial sentence is a last resort (typically one to six months), before a long prison term is ordered.

Remember, the best way to reduce prison recidivism is not to put an offender into prison in the first place. But if there is no viable alternative to prison, use it in a rational and graduated manner, with a brief stay that holds out the promise of rehabilitation and an early return to the community.

 

Reentry Court Myths and Realities

IMG_0999April 14, 2014

Sometimes 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

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.52.36 PMApril 6, 2014

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.”

 

 

Obamacare may be path to drug treatment as prison alternative

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 6.39.36 PMMarch 31, 2014

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!.

March 24, 2014Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.05.08 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.14.33 PMMarch 17, 2014

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

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 4.04.08 PMMarch 10, 2014

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

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 8.14.33 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 12.13.53 PMFebruary 26, 2014

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.

.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 7.31.28 PM

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

© 2007 -  Reentry Court Solutions. All Rights Reserved.


Reentry Court Solutions Powered by Communications Team