COMMENTARY

Some of the participant/clients of the an Francisco Parole Reentry Court, a Community-Based Court Program

Some of the participant/clients of the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court, a Community-Based Court Program

 

BUILDING TRADITIONAL COMMUNITY JUSTICE INTO COURTS

October 19, 2015

This article is part of a series on my website: reentrycourtsolutions.com  called “NEW DIRECTIONS” (viewed on right), describing “Alternative Visions to Western Criminal Justice Systems”; seeking to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justice.

An article in the Huffington Post proposes a novel alternative to the existing prisons system, prisons that are run by non-profit organizations (Huffington Post, “Nonprofit Floats Unusual Alternative To Private Prison”). The author, Saki Knafo, describes how “Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world.” Continue reading

Vision 7: a Last Chance Before Prison

Oct. 27, 2014

I spent the summer describing alternative justice systems that exist around the world and how they often are community based ( described as “Restorative Justice” in the U.S). I’ve begun a new series on “Alternative Visions of Western Criminal Justice Systems”  that seeks to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justice 061909Prison3_186762f

Front End Reentry Courts, Pre-Entry Courts or Early Intervention Courts are a hybrid response to long prison sentences. They allow offenders to avoid long prison sentences by completing a short term in a prison rehabilitation program (and in some cases jail or community corrections programs), to return to their communities to be supervised by the same court that sentenced them.

It is often thought that the court’s have little recourse or jurisdiction to affect a prison sentence once that sentence has been announced. The truth is, that most state courts have significant jursdiction to alter, amend or modify a prison sentence. Depending on the state, jurisdiction to recall may exist for a period of one month to one year after sentencing.The most obvious purpose of a “front-loaded intervention”, is to order a convicted felon to state prison for an evaluation, assessment, or other purpose, immediately before or after sentence has been imposed

Jjurisdiction exists in many states to recall the felon, after sentencing, for re-consideration and potential re-sentencing. The intention to recall may be announced at the time of sentence, or the decision to recall may be discretionary with the judge within the statutory period. This form of pre-entry intervention is often used to encourage a serious attitude change on the part of a prospective long-tern prisoner.

While this power is found in most state courts, it is most often used by individual judges on a case by case basis. Some courts, in particular drug courts, will use front-loaded jurisdiction to create what can be called a “court-based reentry system” (often described as a Pre-entry Court). The judge 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 returned to court for re-sentencing. If the felon is found in compliance, the court will return the felon to a court-based probation program in the community.

The above are just some of the existing variations in the courts’ use of a brief and immediate prison term, to be followed by recall to the court for sentencing or reconsideration of a sentence previously imposed. They are considered here because they are generally thought of as a successful rehabilitation strategy, designed to get the offender’s attention, assess their suitability for probation, and give them one last chance to change their behavior before a substantial prison sentence is imposed. It should be seriously considered on the program level as an alternative to prison, and as a way to reach out to large numbers of offenders that otherwise would be on their way to long prison terms.

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These observation are to be part of a book to be published on the History of NADCP and the Drug Court Movement. 

(CLICK TO SEE EXCERPTED BOOK CHAPTERS} 

 

 

Vision 5: Veteran’s Court; a Harbinger of Things to Come

Oct. 6, 2014

I spent the summer describing alternative justice systems that exist around the world and how they often are community based ( described as “Restorative Justice” in the U.S). I’ve begun a new series on “Alternative Visions of Western Criminal Justice Systems”  that seeks to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justiceScreen Shot 2014-10-05 at 9.17.44 PM

I was a new Judge in 1990, assigned to the existing Drug Court, a Reagan Era monstrosity that was designed to get drug offenders from Arraignment to prison as quickly as possible. I was overwhelmed by the level of need for treatment and supervision by drug dependent offenders in the city of Oakland, and decided that we would make treatment the major focus of a new drug court model.

We opened the floodgates and placed 1156 participants in the program over the first full year of the Oakland F.I.R.S.T Drug Court, (with spectacular results, Evaluations of Oakland”s F.I.R.S.T Drug Court: 1991-1993).  Unfortunately the treatment, as limited as it was, was only available to a limited contingent of drug offenders and not at all to those without a drug offense charged or a drug abuse problem. The issue of who is denied treatment because they don’t fit into a predetermined treatment program bothered me then and bothers me today. I am convinced  that Drug Courts and other Community-Based Courts (also called Problem-Solving Courts) are but an intermediate step in the development of a new kind of comprehensive sentencing system that will be the accepted mainstream alternatives model in the future

All serious offenders (whether felons or misdemeanants) need to be engaged in a sophisticated sentencing system that will tailor the offender’s sentence to their need for rehabilitation (i.e. drug and/or mental health treatment, education, job training, etc.) as well as their risk to the community. Rather than categorize the individual, the courts, relevant agencies, and community need to be part of a community-based sentencing process that deals with the individual rather than a predetermined subset of offenders (who may receive intensive treatment in a Drug, Mental Health, Driving Under The Influence, Domestic Violence, or other Problem Solving Court). 

We’ve had the opportunity to test this thesis in the Veteran’s Courts (and to a lesser extent Reentry Courts) that have proliferated across the nation over the past several years. Veteran’s Courts treat veterans charged with criminal offenses, period. They do not reject serious or violent offenders. Offenders are not categorized or rejected for failure to be a drug offender or mentally deficient. They welcome all offenders who are in need of special support, monitoring or rehabilitation. They are assisted by volunteers from the community at large and the Veteran’s Community in particular. They are not  pigeon-holed.They are simply recognized as individuals with problems that need attention.

Of course, we are willing to assist the veteran who has committed a criminal act very differently than we do the common criminal. But the way we approach the veteran’s offense is the key to successful alternatives to incarceration in the future. When we stop putting individuals in boxes, consider them as we do veteran’s, worthy of redemption, and treat them as human beings with critical needs, and ultimately as part of our communities, we will be on our way to a critical systemic change in how we deal with our criminal population.

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These observation are to be part of a book to be published on the History of NADCP and the Drug Court Movement. 

 

(CLICK TO SEE EXCERPTED BOOK CHAPTERS} 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Ohio Prison Reform Not Reducing Recidivism

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.42.29 PMDecember 16, 2013

Ohio prisons director Gary Mohr is concerned that a package of prison reforms passed in 2011 have so far failed to achieve their goal of reducing the number of prisoners.

Director Mohr in an interview with members of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and Plain Dealer editorial boards, said “some aspects of that law, which was Senate Bill 86, haven’t worked – such as risk-reduction sentencing, which allows the release of certain prisoners who complete treatment and programming while incarcerated.While about 50,000 people have been sent to prison in the state since the new law took effect, Mohr said, risk-reduction sentencing has been used in less than 400 cases.

“There’s something wrong with it,” Mohr said. “It’s wrong or we haven’t communicated it well enough (to judges)”. Risk-Reduction Sentencing allows judges to issue what are called “risk-reduction” sentences. That means if inmates have a good record in prison and participate in programs, they qualify to get out early. As described in an ACLU article on the Ohio dilemma, “Why did things turn out this way? The short answer is that the bill’s provisions haven’t had the impact that lawmakers expected because its provisions aren’t being fully utilized.”

Interestingly, last year we reported on the conflict between Ohio judges and the Corrections Department’s interest in keeping less serious offenders out of prison (“Judges Upset at Ohio Prisons for Rejecting Commitments”). At the time we were reporting a different aspect of the Reform Package, a section that would prohibit the court from sending non-serious first offenders to prison, if rejected by the Corrections Department. Some judges bridled at what they saw as a loss of sentencing discretion.

The issue is very much the same. And it it exists across the nation. Judges reluctant to use new discretionary powers to keep offenders out of prison or to release them early under new statuary authority. Whether its California judges sentencing offenders to straight jail terms on prison sentences (rather than jail and community supervision), or Ohio judges refusal to use their discretion to keep non-violent offenders out of prison, Judges are reluctant to use scientific evidence-based risk assessments in sentencing non-violent offenders to non-prison sentences.

For the first time in decades, the legislatures, governors, and corrections agencies in a multitude of states are handing judges the tools to use their discretion to keep offenders out of prison and under community based supervision. The shame is that so few are willing to do so.

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A New Grand Bargain on Criminal Justice Sentencing

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 8.34.53 PMOctober, 21, 2013

I’ve watched the various demographics come together, the political parties spar around it, and religious and community organizations find different purpose through it. It is “Prison Reform” And it means different things to different people with very different agendas. For many its about reducing the number of offenders in prison. How that happens can be less important than getting it done. Others describe it as decriminalization, or legalization of drug offenders or other classes of offenders. Governors often talk about putting offenders into drug courts or other problem-solving courts as a way to reduce drug abuse and criminality.It is hard to understand ho we got to this place where the imprisoned have had their sentences doubled or even tripled  in twenty years, while those sentenced to prison have increased some six hundred percent over the past thirty years. How do we begin to undo the damage we have done over the last generation to our communities.

Twelve years ago I wrote a monograph, “Rational Drug Policy Reform”; A Resource Guide (Center for Problem-Solving Courts, 2001). In it, I tried to lay out the arguments for de-criminalization and legalization, in an attempt to show how different the two were, and how important it was for Drug Reform to support hte former and oppose the latter. At the time, it was clear to me those who possessed small quantities of drugs should only be charged with misdemeanors; that demanding felony convictions would destroy far more lives than it would ever save. I described the criminal law as a public health tool or a means to an end, reduction in drug abuse and criminality. Though some of what I wrote didn’t turn out to be especially prescient, I believe the decriminalization of drugs and the reduction of less serious offenses to non-prison offenses has proven to be sound policy.[click on image on left for copy of "Rational Drug Policy Reform"]

So we’re very much in the place we were then. California’s Proposition 36 was a plan to keep drug abusers out of custody,  (pretty much under any circumstance). I wrote my monograph to address the dangers of a law that neither provided incentives or sanctions to the drug offender. Proposition 36 has been forgotten by many, and there is little scientific data to support declaring it a success or failure; an unfortunate circumstance. Today, the Governor has vetoed a bill that would make possession of more serious drugs (cocaine, heroin,……) a felony or misdemeanor, depending on how the D.A. and judge charge/process the offense. Is the Governor right or wrong. He claims that he isn’t opposed to the legislation; only that it ought to be part of a grand criminal justice agreement, that will settle the many criminal justice issues that remain outstanding.

Governor Brown in 1976 reaching a grand Bargain (the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act) that turned out to be a disaster of the first order. Writing about it’s progeny in the Modesto Bee, “California today has more than 1,000 felony sentencing laws and more than 100 felony sentence enhancements spread across 21 sections in the California Penal Code.” Perhaps we need to move forward toward real criminal justice sentencing reform now, rather than put it off for another day.

Cal allows expungement of some prison felonies

061909Prison3_186762fOctober 14, 2013

As reported by the” Lawyer’s Committee”, co-sponsor with the ACLU among others, of the bill signed by the Governor on October 13.

“As a result of the “Public Safety Realignment Act” of 2011, some individuals will now serve sentences in a local jail for lower-level felony convictions that used to have state prison as the only sentence available. Under AB 651, after these individuals serve their time in jail, they will have an opportunity to ask the court to set aside their convictions, subject to a waiting period and a showing of rehabilitation. AB 651 provides a critical step forward for people who have served their sentences, helping them to avoid the stigma associated with prison time and to better access the jobs and housing they need to leave the criminal justice system permanently behind them.”

I agree with the “Lawyer’s Committee”. AB 651 is an important step forward. It allows felony offenders to seek expungement of less serious felonies, where the offender is sentenced to prison (but under California’s “Realignment Reform” serve their term in county jail). It is estimated that as many as half of offenders sentenced to prison in the future, will serve their term under county jurisdiction and post sentence supervision. That means that those offenders can return to the court to request expungement (as post-felony probationers do now), after they have completed their jail and/or court supervision. The D.A may object as they often do now, and the court may ultimately deny the request,  but the jurisdiction is with the court, as to whether a felon sentenced to prison (yet serving under county jurisdiction), may have their offense expunged by the court.

In all, a very good indicator of the direction of the criminal law, placing jurisdiction and discretion with the court as to  the felony offender’s criminal status,reentering the community.

Professor Scores NADCP as “CHAMPION” in its Field

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on February 5,2012, describes a newly published book, “How Information Matters”,  by Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University and published by Georgetown University Press in 2011,  which singles out NADCP as the best among non-profit organizations in Washington D.C.

Professor Hale’s analysis describes  NADCP as the “Champion” Non-Profit Organization in its field. What does it have to do with reentry courts and court-based reentry systems. The answer is that it does and it doesn’t.

It describes the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) as the best among extraordinary organizations; whose structure, initiatives, strategies, and planning define excellence in the non-profit world. And I cannot agree more. I was there at the beginning of drug courts, as a drug court judge, and am still laboring in the fields, working to fulfill a vision that began for me, as first chair and then founding president of NADCP.  In the beginning, we created the “Ten Key Components” and Drug Court Mentor Sites, and planned NADCP’s projects, initiatives and strategies; so I know that  my fellow drug court pioneers feel as proud as I am of our accomplishments.

And those who came after us have truly done a superb job, in expanding drug courts and its progeny, problem-solving courts across the nation and around the world. They have built amazing public support for our “Champion” that has translated into much needed funding, and created wonderful new programs such as Veteran’s Courts, which thankfully are there to assist our Veterans in their time of need.

For me, it’s difficult to accept that my quest, the establishment of court-based reentry systems, that can staunch the flow of lives into our prisons, and salvage those that return broken, remains out of reach. I for one, salute all who have worked on our great labor of love, NADCP. But I long for this book’s sequel, the one that shows how we captured the holly grail of criminal justice, and achieved true prison reform through a partnership of the three C’s; Community, Corrections, and the Courts.

Dallas SAFPF Court: Where Reentry Court is Also Pre-Entry Court

 

 

 

 

 

Graduates of the Dallas SAFPC Program, (which can also be described as a “Front End Reentry Court”), with Judge Robert Francis.

 

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on Dec.13,2009, describes the success of the Dallas SAFPC  program  placing drug offenders, a probation program located on a prison site, that returns the offender to the community after relatively short period in custody.

The Dallas Reentry Court is a excellent example of the extraordinary innovation (and sometimes bewildering variation) among pre-entry courts, that divert offenders from a prison sentence to a probation based custodial program. What makes the Dallas SAFPF Program unique, is that its custodial segment is actually situated on prison grounds, yet program participants are segregated from the prison population, and never leave the jurisdiction of the County SAPFP Court Program.

The Texas legislature’s “4C program” provides  in-custody facilities within the prison’s outer perimeter , and uses specially trained, but regular prison guards. Although there are approximately ten jurisdictions that take advantage of “4c” facilites, Dallas is by far the largest, and the only one that has a court and judge dedicated to the reentry mission. Seventeen Dallas judges sentence drug offenders to the  SAFPF program, but when offenders finsh their in-custody treatment (typically 6 to 9 months),  they enter a dedicated Reentry Court for monitoring, continued treatment and rehabilitative services.

Judge Robert Francis, a retired judge, works full time as the reentry court judge. He and his staff take regualr trips to the “4C” facilities to check up on Dallas based offenders. Plans are in the works to reward those who do well well in the in-custody program.  Though the progam is less than a year old, 275  participants have completed the in-custody “4C” treatment program, and been released into the care and custody of Judge Francis and the Dallas SAFPF Reeentry Court,  where revocations are at an extraordinarily low 5%.

Contact: [email protected]

State Jurisdiction in Court Based Reentry Systems

“Best OF” Series: Published in February 2012, this primer on State Court Jurisdiction  is an important introduction into potential opportunities for court involvement in prisoner reentry 

The Court Jurisdiction Chart” (above) is designed to help you analyze whether your state has the potential for a Court-Based Reentry System (or Judicially Supervised Reentry System) and/or Reentry Court

1. COURT JURISDICTION

State court or Judicial connections to prisoners and ex-prisoners are much more common than generally believed, among the 50 states. State courts typically have some jurisdiction to intervene in prisoner reentry into the community, but rarely use that authority. Furthermore, relatively few such connections are organized into a systemic program that coordinates court or judicial intervention with community and correctional intervention.

While reentry court may be the best known of court based reentry systems, there are other systemic connections that exist between the court and prisoner/ex-prisoners, that have a substantial impact themselves or hold the potential for such an impact.

If your state does not provide your courts with the jurisdiction to intervene in prison reentry, the likelihood that you will be able to do so is small. A number of states have collaborative agreements or MOU’s with corrections and/or parole authorities that allow the court to either supervise the reentering prisoner directly or do so when the ex-prisoner has picked up a separate offense that the court does have jurisdiction over. There is also the possibility that your state legislature may give authority to your courts to intervene in prison reentry (.i.e California has made major changes to its reentry system, giving its courts jurisdiction over most prison sentences and parole violators).

2. COURT JURISDICTION: INTERVENTION POINTS

When the court intervenes is probably the most important factor in determining the level of care, resources, and supervision appropriate to individuals reentering the community. For obvious reasons, interventions after four months of a custodial sentence are likely to be far less intrusive or intensive than an intervention after four years of prison.

A. FRONT-LOADED (PREENTRY) JURISDICTIONS

The most obvious and immediate state court contact point is an early intervention; ordering a convicted felon to state prison immediately before or after sentence has been imposed, for an evaluation, assessment, or other purpose. While this power is found in most state courts, individual judges most often use it, on a case-by-case basis.

It is also used in a number of states, to intervene in a probationer’s drug usage or other criminal behavior, as part of a Reentry Court or other court-based intervention program. Frontloaded Courts (sometimes called Preentry Courts), typically work with participants who spend relatively short terms in prison (30 days to 4 months), although some front- loaded programs can sentence felons for up to one year in prison or other custodial setting. Of all Reentry Court participants, those engaged in a front-loaded reentry program, are most likely to have family, friends, jobs, skills, and connections to community, thus requiring the lowest level of court involvement and program intensity (a tier one intensity court).

B. SPLIT SENTENCING JURISDICTION

A number of states allow the judge to determine at sentencing, the prison term and probation supervision to follow. Some courts can change the split while the offender is serving his/her prison term (.i.e Ohio).

Several Reentry Courts use this jurisdiction model as a basis for their Reentry Courts (i.e. Indiana, Texas, Ohio, California). This is typically a hybrid or second tier reentry court, where some participants spend substantial terms in prison while others do not (a split prison term typically has a minimum of 1 year). A good risk/needs assessment can determine the court resources and intensity level required to reintegrate the split sentence offender into the community (considered a second tier intensity court).

C. POST PRISON JURISDICTION

Post Prison Court-Based Reentry Systems are thought to be closest to the established reentry court model. The prisoner finishes the prison term, is released early to enter a halfway house and Reentry Court (.i.e Nevada), or enters the Reentry Court when he/she violates their parole/probation (i.e. California)

3. NATURE OF THE “JUDICIALLY SUPERVISED INTERVENTION”?

Court intervention can be done in an ad hoc fashion, based on the discretion of an individual judge or part of a systemic process, where decisions are made and resources and staff allow for substantial numbers of program participants.

A. INDIVIDUAL JUDGE’S REENTRY INTERVENTION

Where the court has jurisdiction to do so, the intervention of an individual judges may recall a prisoner from prison, split a prison sentence, or release a prisoner early. This is often the decision of an individual judge, often operating without standards, guidance, or program staff, on a case by case basis. This use of this authority is uncommon in most states.

B. COURT BASED REENTRY

An organized court system or program requires court resources, and staff to intervene on a regular basis, to reduce a prison term (or other custodial term). Often the court system in question is a “Drug Court, or other problem-solving court, that makes use of “prison or other custodial setting to provide treatment, rehabilitation services, supervision, or other services.

4. REENTRY COURTS

This is a high intensity court-based reentry system, that often deals with ex-prisoners who have spent substantial periods of time in prison (typically 3 years or more) and are high risk offenders with serious and/or dangerous criminal histories. While reentry courts can be established at any one of the three intervention points (described above), the post prison segment is often used.

The court uses evidence based practices to determine the risk and needs of the offender and appropriate responses. Reentry Courts deal with the whole person, recognizing that participants often need significantly more than drug treatment; programs that provide room and board, cognitive behavioral therapy and family counseling, physical and mental health assistance, education and skill building and other rehabilitation services.

Importantly, the high risk, long – term prisoner often needs a reentry court to provide a surrogate community until real integration in the community can be accomplished. This 3rd tier Reentry Court demands a lot of the long term prisoner, requiring 40+ hours of pro-social activity per week and constant contact with court, counselors, and recovery community.

[email protected]

California Realignment: Will the Courts help create Balance?

The Best Of: The following article. published on April 15, 2012, describes the critical part the court can play in the development of balanced  sentencing plans under California’a AB109 Realignment Reform.

Reading dozens of articles over the past six months on how California’s AB109 Realignment is being implemented is not for the faint of heart (see Facebook collumn on right for exemplars). An ACLU report complains that counties that historically sent the highest percentage of offenders to prison are being rewarded with extra resources to jail those returning, and additional funds to build or expand existing jails( click here for Mercury News Article on ACLU Report). Prosecutors, Sheriffs, and law enforcement in general decry the very  existence of AB109; that non-violent offenders can be returned to the community without a terrible price being paid by law-abiding citizens (click for Law Enforcement concerns in Butte County). Probation offices and non-profit organizations (including community based agencies and religious institutions) generally favor giving individual offenders opportunities to engage in community based alternatives to incarceration( click here for article on Monterey County’s community-based initiatives).   And so in community after community, county after county, they fight it out, generally law enforcement against probation and non-profit community organizations, with the court often often an uninvolved, yet interested observer.

The courts have an unprecedented opportunity to impact their community’s quality of life. We have operated in a somewhat dysfunctional system, that weighed heavily toward sending offenders to prison. We now have a chance to help create a more balanced  and  reasoned approach to sentencing and incarceration. One way to accomplish this will be to develop more effective “Special Sentencing Courts” (see “Systemic Approaches to Sentencing”), that make better sentencing, probation, and custody decisions, based on validated risk/needs assessment tools (and other evidence based sentencing practices).  More importantly, the courts needs to get involved in their county’s realignment plan, by using their prestige and influence, to help establish a balanced community-wide approach to realignment.  Problem-Solving/Collaborative Courts have shown communities that the courts can make a difference, by providing the vision and leadership for important criminal justice reforms. And so it can be with Sentencing Courts and Realignment.

Success will depend on the degree of cooperation and accomodation individual communities are capable of. Once again the court can weigh in on the side of a rational, reasoned approach. Success in the end may start and end with a community’s willingness to provide the returning offender with job, education, and housing opportunites, as well as rehabilitation programs that have scientifically proven themselves. Jailers and probation staff will need to rely on evidence-based risk/needs assessments to determine who really needs to return to jail, and who can be supervised and rehabilitated in the community.  And the courts need to provide a sentencing system worthy of the community’s balanced realignment plan.  It’s being attempted in a number of counties, and one can only wish them well. And hope that other communities will learn from their example (click here for article on San Diego Realignment Plan).

Cal. budget modifies prison realignment reform

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 1.55.12 PMMay 27, 2013

The first major revisions to California’s Prison Reform Act (also known as AB109), have been made as a part of Governor Brown’s Budget Revisions submitted May 14th to the legislature. Among several proposed criminal justice provisions, is a paragraph that could have a substantial impact on the future of prison reform in California (click on image on left for full Budget Revision).

From the brief section on Corrections and Rehabilitation:

“Long‐Term Offenders—The May Revision proposes additional tools to assist counties in managing long‐term offenders. The proposal authorizes CDCR to house long‐term offenders, provided the county agrees to accept an equivalent average daily population of short‐term offenders. The proposal relies on County Parole Boards to make the determination to send long‐term inmates to state prison after inmates have served three years of their sentence in a county jail. Lastly,the proposal establishes a presumption of a minimum level of split sentencing, but authorizes a judge to make an exception if the judge determines that a split sentence is not appropriate.” 

California’s Prison Realignment Reform  (also known as AB109), was largely about keeping less serious offenders in county jail and under county supervision. Counties and county judges are forced to be more realistic and rational when sentencing offenders  to long term county jail terms. Prior to Realignment Reform, it was common for judges to sentence offenders to long prison terms, where the county kept neither  jurisdiction, nor financial responsibility for the prisoner’s incarceration. California Realignment Reform is important because it forces county officials to calculate the costs as opposed to the benefits of long terms of local incarceration, steering sentences toward shorter terms for non-serious offenders and the use of alternatives to incarceration.

One possible benefit found in the announced proposal is the final rider to the provision, “the proposal establishes a presumption of a minimum level of split sentencing, but authorizes a judge to make an exception if the judge determines that a split sentence is not appropriate.” Judges have been reluctant to sentence non-serious offenders to split sentences. This provision will encourage judges to use at least minimum split sentencing, allowing for alternative sentencing, probation involvement, incentive-based supervision, and continued judicial supervision.

It is unclear what ultimate impact this provision (if enacted) will have, how it will be administered by Parole Boards, and whether it will have a significant impact on existing realignment reform. Clearly, if it becomes law, it will need to be closely monitored.

Cal Prison Report shows Post-Realignment arrests down

May 20, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 3.23.14 PMA new study conducted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) shows that arrests post-realignment are down compared to pre-realignment. Among the finding released in the report (click on image on the left for PDF of report):

•    Post-Realignment offenders were arrested at a lower rate than pre-Realignment offenders (62 percent pre-Realignment and 58.7 percent post-Realignment).
•    The rate of post-Realignment offenders convicted of new crimes is nearly the same as the rate of pre-Realignment offenders convicted of new crimes (21.3 percent pre-realignment and 22.5 percent post realignment).
•    Post-Realignment offenders returned to prison at a significantly lower rate than pre-Realignment offenders, an intended effect of Realignment as most offenders are ineligible to return to prison on a parole violation. (42 percent pre-Realignment and 7.4 percent post-Realignment)

Federal Reentry Courts and Other New Models of Supervision

March 11, 2013

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A new article on Federal Reentry Courts, by the Honorable Laurel Beeler, has been published in the March edition of the Federal Lawyer. It deals with the different models of Reentry Court as well as other problem-solving courts available at the federal court level (click on image on the left for full PDF of article).

The article  provides general information and an excellent introduction for those with an interest but little background in Federal Reentry Courts.