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} 

 

 

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.

 

Ohio Prison Reform Not Reducing Recidivism

 

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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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The easy part of prison reform

Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 12.59.00 PMFeb.10, 2013

The following article is reprinted from a February posting, as it speaks to the dilemma that California criminal justice policy makers.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “Gov. Jerry Brown had his “Mission Accomplished” moment…… He believes “victory should be declared” in the state’s prison overcrowding crisis” He was also quoted as saying “California’s prison health care system is now a model for the nation,” and that any further reduction in state prisoners would endanger the public’s safety.

Clearly the Governor has much to be proud of. He had pushed through the legislature, AB109, a bill that reduced prison populations by about 50,000 prisoners in a year, and fought successfully for Proposition 30, making billions of dollars available to counties impacted by Brown’s transitioning of responsibility  for non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex-offenders to the counties. Still, what has been accomplished is the first part, the easy part of prison reform, More complicated and critical reforms have not begun to be addressed.

State prisons still house offenders who could do better in their own communities, even if it means spending additional time in county jail. AB109 was intended to encourage alternatives to incarceration, but relatively few counties are accepting that challenge, Instead most are expanding and/or building new jail facilities. Somehow, we must encourage counties to spend more of their Proposition 30 money on alternatives to prison rather than jail substitutes for prison. One obvious reform would be to encourage judges to sentence AB109 offenders to spit sentences  (offenders who must be housed in jail, even though the offense is defined as a prison offense), so that the court could supervise their jail conduct and rehabilitation in the community. More than 80% of AB109 offenders sentenced to jail receive a jail sentence that cannot be reduced or transferred to community supervision.

While Governor Brown’s prison reform limits those sent to prison to more serious offenders, it ignores the doubling of prison sentences for serious offenders over the past twenty years. Why assume that the legislature’s response to sensational crime with ever increasing penalties is rational or justified. Why assume that the labyrinth of sentencing law and enhancements make sense or are necessary or appropriate.

Then there are the obvious reforms that almost everyone supports, but for some reason are almost never implemented. Drug, alcohol and mental health treatment, education, and job training while the offender is in custody, is almost universally supported by the public. Half-Way Houses or similar Institutions, that allow the offender to transition to the outside, while continuing under custodial or other substantial supervision are also favored by most.  Finally, continued oversight of the offender while in the community, under the care and supervision of the court and supervisory agencies (through AB109 split sentencing or reentry courts) is a necessity for most successful prisoner rehabilitation.

It’s easy to see that the governor has done well in beginning the prison reform process in California. Stopping now, without continuing and expanding its scope, providing resources, assistance, and supervision to those coming out of custody, will surely set the incarcerated up for continued failure and and a return to custody.

 

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]

Indiana Reentry Court Gets $1 Million Federal Grant

12/10/12

A recent article in the Evansville Courier Press impressed me with its description of the Vanderburgh Superior Court,  Judges Wayne Trockman and David Kiely and their Reentry court programs, which will receive nearly $1 million in grants and state reimbursements that will allow it to nearly double in size.

Of special note are the Re-Entry and Forensic Courts.  ”The Re-Entry Court works with the Indiana Department of Correction to allow felony offenders to serve 9 to 12 months of their sentence in segregated treatment at state prisons and then return to the county in a supervised continuation of their treatment program followed by a period of drug and alcohol probation. It is this Re-Entry Court program for which Vanderburgh County is now receiving reimbursements. Similarly, the Forensic Diversion Court allows people convicted and sentenced on lesser felony charges to participate in a court-supervised program rather than serve prison time.”

Both programs appear to rely heavily on what could be described as a Front-End Reentry Court Model, as they allow offenders, who otherwise would be facing long prison sentences, to spend less than a year in custody before returning to locally supervised treatment and rehabilitation programs. They are an important example of how Indiana Courts, are taking the lead in developing innovative reentry court programs (see article on Judge John Surbeck and the Allen County, Indiana Reentry Court)

 

Judge Surbeck Receives “Judicial Excellence Award”

Nov. 26,2012

[Continued from last week]

On Nov. 15th, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. presented the  2012 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, to Judge John Surbeck during a ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

I had the opportunity to talk to Judge Surbeck recently about his Reentry Court.

Judge Surbeck expressed great satisfaction at the personal honor bestowed upon him and his Court. He said that he also felt the award  was given in appreciation of the Reentry Court field, as well as all the work done by collaborative and problem solving courts and their practitioners across the nation.

The Allen County Reentry Court has grown into a substantial reentry court system, working with over two hundred and fifty former prisoners. It has expanded from a relatively modest program based on offenders getting out of prison two to four months early, to a program that also uses split sentencing as an important part of his program. As Judge Surbeck explained, Indiana courts have the jurisdiction to split a prison sentence, enabling an offender to serve part of their sentence in prison and part in the community under probation supervision.

Judge Surbeck also envisions the possibility of using “Front End Reentry” to return offenders from prison within one year of their prison sentence, for re-sentencing in Reentry Court and a local disposition, including probation supervision (under an Indiana statute that gives judges the necessary discretion).

Judge Surbeck and the Allen County Reentry Court are clearly leading the way, showing the nation how a systemic approach to returning state prisoners can as Judge Surbeck puts it, “reduce recidivism and increase public safety”.

 

 

 

 

Court Imposes 18 year Sentence for Drug Court Violation

Oct. 28,2012

I came across the following article  in a local newspaper in St.Johns, Arizona (click here):

“After violating the terms of his probation and failing to comply with the Apache County Drug Court Program, Brent Alexander Hargous has been sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections for a term of 18 years. “I am pleased with the sentence. The defendant was given a last chance in drug court and failed. Enough is enough,” said County Attorney Whiting.”

I was taken aback by the idea that  a technical violation of Drug Court Rules (apparently failure to go to treatment and failure to return to court) could result in a sentence of that magnitude. Though I know not what the underlying offense was, it’s hard to imagine it to be too heinous, if Drug Court was the community alternative. And since the felon was in drug court, there’s the probability that his failure to follow the rules was the result of a serious drug dependency that he was not able to control.

This brings to mind a serious concern about Drug Court sentencing.. There has to be a sense of proportionality when sentencing felons for technical violations of Drug Court rules and regulations. Residential treatment and even county jai may be appropriate for even serious technical violations. But if prison is required, then  let it be a rational and realistic prison sentence. Does Arizona really want to pay for 18 years of imprisonment for a drug court violator. There may be more here than meets the eye. But i hope that Arizona law allows the sentencing judge to return the violator to local control and rehabilitation after a short term in prison.

As discussed in many articles on this website, the use of “Front-End Reentry Courts” ought to be employed in cases like this one. Allowing the sentencing judge to return the felon to court for re-sentencing after a significant and hopefully rehabilitative (6 to 12 months) term in prison, makes sense in every way.

Judges Upset at Ohio Prisons for Rejecting Commitments

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on March 11, 2012, reflects a telling change in perspective of some judges and state prison officials, as it relates to who goes to prison and who remains in the community

An interesting story out of Ohio is making waves across the nation (see Facebook collumn on the far right), describes a conflict between some Ohio judges and the Ohio Department Rehabilitation and Corrections. Under a statute that became law last October, Corrections is not required to accept 4th and 5th degree felons (less serious offenders) who are sentenced to prison for the first time. The Department can reject the court’s sentence  and the court must then sentence the felon to community corrections programs, available in their community, before they may send them to state prison. The story suggests that Drug Court might be an alternative the court is required to try before sending a felony drug offender to prison.

The law and its application presents some interesting issues. Does the statute invade the Courts perrogative as an independent, and equal division of state government. Will the Ohio Corrections’ decision not to accept a less serious offender into prison, improperly limit the court’s discretion to sentence as he/she believes appropriate.

These are clearly important questions. The fact that they are being considered at all is a mark of the progress we’ve made in just a few years. For the first time, governors, legislatures, and Departments of Corrections are willing to reject a prison sentence. The reason for the rejection is equally important; the judge in the opinion of Prison Authorities have not given the felon an adequate opportunity to work with community corrections and other prison alternatives in their own community before a prison sentence is ordered.

How times have changed!

Now Available: Data on Court/Prisoner Jurisdiction

June 4, 2012

Click on the image below for a copy of the COURT-PRISONER JURISDICTION CHART 

Having just led a 3 hour training on the efficacy of Front-End or Early Intervention Reentry at the NADCP Conference in Nashville, I had the opportunity to address a meeting of State Drug Court Coordinators. Even though exhausted from the training, I  jumped at the chance to speak to policy makers and representatives of policy makers in their states. I described the potential of the Early Intervention Reentry Courts and the fact that I was happy to share my ongoing  research on where court-prisoner jurisdiction existed in states across the nation. [Clicking on the image on the left, will take you to the data on those connections].

I noted that since January, I’d contacted representatives from over forty-five states (many of them, the state coordinators themselves) to determine where court jurisdiction existed that might impact  persons in prison or those leaving prison. After looking at the data, a pattern emerged. There were relatively few states that gave their courts jurisdicition to supervise offenders after a completed prison sentence. But over 90% of states appeared to give their judges authority to recall an offender within a limited statutory period immediately after sentencing. Some individual judges or courts were doing this on a case by case basis, while others were using short term prison sentences systemically, as state policy to reduce prison terms for non-violent offenders (and prison populations). Texas, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri are just four examples of states that are using their front end jurisdiction to recall offenders from prison (most often, within 3 to 12 months of sentencing) and return them to their communites for continued court supervision, as well as rehabilitation services. (see: Early intervention Reentry Makes its case at Conference)

As I finished my comments, i concluded by saying that It was my hope that policy makers and their representatives will take the opportunity to review the court jurisdiction chart above (though it is a work in progress) to learn what jurisdictional opportunities some state courts have used to reduce prison terms.

What I forgot to ask of the State Court Coordinators, I as of them and all of you now. If you have relevant information on your state’s court-prisoner jurisdiction (whether you are a policy maker or otherwise), please contact me with that information. Review the State/Prisoner Jurisdictional Chart above for errors or omissions, so that we can fill in gaps, and correct mistakes in the data provided.   We all need to better understand existing court-prisoner jurisdiction among the states, if we are to reduce prison terms for non-violent offenders’ and reduce prison over-population.

Early Intervention Reentry makes its case at Conference

June 4, 2012

The Reentry Court field was well represented at the NADCP Conference with six workshop tracks and two 3 hour traing sessions on Front-End Reentry Courts and Federal Reentry Courts. Both 3 hour trainings and the track work shop on Front End or Early Intervention Reentry Courts were especially well attended and the audience was fully engaged by panelists from Dallas, Texan and Akron, Ohio. Both jurisdictions have reentry courts that are well established.(see photo to the left; Judge Bobby Francis and graduates of the Dallas Reentry Court program).

Though those courts were clearly successful Front End Reentry Court models, there were significant distinctions between them. Judge Francis’ Dallas program, determined eligibility at the time of sentence, with participants placed on probation and in a treatment program on prison grounds , but separate from prisoners. Judge Elinore Marsh-Stormer’s Akron program, relied on prisoners to initiate their program entry with a letter of request to the judge, and a court review process to determine their appropriateness, before they were released into the control of probation and the court. What both courts shared was an obvious dedication and enthusiasm for their work, and their ability to use their limited  jurisdiction to remove offenders from prison after only a fraction of their prison term, to be returned to the reentry court for further supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation services in their communities (see: Front Loaded Court Based Interventions),

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 8

May 21, 2012

Reducing Prison terms through Front-End Sentencing: Part 8

The diagram on the left represents the second half of a sentencing system envisioned, allowing us to use an evidence-based sentencing system as a means to keep serious (but non-violent) offenders from serving long prison terms  (Composition of a Sentencing Track: Part 6).

As described in previous articles (see: Front-Loaded Court Based interventions), the front-end of a prison sentence provides the only substantial opportunity a court has to effect a prison term, once a felon is sentenced. Few courts use that statutory authority to return the felon from prison. When used at all, the authority is often applied in a non-systemic fashion, with individual judges operating on their own.

“Front-End Systemic Approaches” to long prison terms described here, (compare: Decision Making in a Sentencing system: Part 7)  presents an opportunity to use graduated sanctions rather than immediate prison sentences for serious, but not-violent offenses. Such Front-End Systems can be structured in different ways. Some courts may include non-prison sentences (typically county jail or community corrections programs) as part of an “alternatives to  prison” system.

Systemic approaches to “Front-End Alternatives to Prison”, might start with a Community Corrections level alternative sentence. With new offenses and/or serious violations of probation, they might move up to a county jail alternative, and finally to a short term prison sentence in lieu of a long term prison sentence. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, an offender might start a  ”Front-End”  Intervention at any of the the three levels described. The flexibility inherent in a three tier front end/early intervention system is impressive, as is its ability to respond to the safety of the community and the needs of the offender:

A.  Community Corrections Sentence in lieu of Prison: Less often used than other alternatives, this community based alternative to prison (typically residential treatment or correctional housing while an offender receives education, job training or employment), allows the judge to closely follow the offenders participation in a community based program, providing incentives or sanctions as appropriate. With successful program completion,the participant is returned to the community to continue supervision and rehabilitation under court authority. [Note: this alternative can be the first of two used before the offender is ordered to serve any prison sentence]

B. County Jail Alternative: This second tier “Front End Prison Alternative” can better emphasize the risk that the felon has of being sent to prison. Like the “Community Corrections Alternative, the County Jail Alternative  allows close monitoring  by the sentencing judge, appropriate incentives and sanctions, and a return to the community for further court supervision.

C. Front-End Prison Term: This ought to be thought of as a felon’s last opportunity to avoid a long prison term. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, some jurisdictions will start the Front-End Sentencing process with a prison term (skipping over possible Community Corrections and County Jail level interventions), hopefully reducing a long term sentence to a relatively brief 4 to 12 months in prison, and returning the felon to the community to complete the sentence under court supervision.

Next week’s segment will show how systemic sentencing can be provided at  minimal cost

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 6

May 5, 2012

The Components of the Sentencing Track: Part 6

The  diagram above can be thought of as two separate segments. The first (from “Plea” arrow to “Custody” arrow) focuses in on the need to effectively categorize, sentence, and track offenders, with a minimum of staff and resources. Tracks are essential to the system as the court will sentence and monitor offenders with very different risks and needs. A sentencing team with a different skill set is required to deal with low risk and diversion participants than with high risk and violent offenders (as a different team skill set would be required for Drug Court as opposed to Domestic Violence Court).

We know from the scientific literature (“Understanding the Risk Principle”), that mixing low and high risk offenders is counter-productive at best. That same dynamic works in the court room. Where possible, it’s best to keep participants with different risk levels apart. It’s also more cost-effective. Why have full staff at every session when you can substantially reduce the number of staff by sorting offenders by risk and need. When you create a  participant track with few housing, job, or family issues, experienced staff in those areas can best use their time elsewhere. The savings would be substantial if case managers are designated to be in court once a week for a single track, rather than required to attend daily sessions

The second part of the diagram (from “Front End Jurisdiction” to Front End Reentry Court”) focuses on the potential for an “Early Intervention”. We focus on the front end  because almost all states give their courts a window to recall the felon from prison within a relatively short  time period  (typically 4 to 12 months).  Where courts are willing to use their statutory authority, serious and/or high risk offenders can complete a rehabilitation program over a short jail or prison term and avoid a long prison sentence. The opposite is true for felons sentenced to long prison terms (or even medium terms of 1 to 3 years). In most states, there is relatively little opportunity for a court to exercise authority over the “Back End”, as the felon, typically returns to the community under state supervision (see: Front Loaded Court Based interventions) .

The next segment will look at how decisions are made in an evidence-based Sentencing System