COMMENTARY

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ALTERNATIVES TO THE AMERICAN “RETRIBUTION” PRISON MODEL

A recently published book on prisons around the world, turns a spotlight on the “punishment“ focus of America Prisons and alternatives to that American Model. Baz Dreisinger, writes in her book, “Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World”, that  while many counties are creating their own American inspired “Super Max Prisons, ther are alternative models to consider as well. [The following is based on a an interview with the author by Robin Young of ”here and now”]

The Author relates her experience in visiting nine countires who have created alternative appraches to the “punishment“ oriented American model. In Places like Rwanda, which suffered thorugh crimes of genocide, the principal penal focus is on “healing” , reparations”, and restoration”.  In Scandanaia, there are “Open Prisons” where people can come and go, allowing them to be a part of the community and work.  And in Australia, where “Private Prisons”  (while apprpriately villifed in the U.S.) have developed  innovative, open approaches to prisons, that allows extensive community interaction and are run entirely on restorative principles.

Ms. Dresinger does an important servce by offering  us a glimpse of the wide world of restorative justice  that exist outside of the U.S. I believe it will be through an a open review of alternatives criminal justice systems and behavior modification models that we will create a just and humane criminal justice system here in the U.S..

Having traveled extensively abroad, and viisted prisons and court systems in many parts of the world, I agree with the authors’ findings that a more community-based, restorative approach to crimnal behavior is a critically needed in our present system (Rejecting the Conventional Prison; JTauber).

We know that communtiy based behavioral controls works; that healing through “restoratove justice principles” succed where punitive models don’t; that “community-based alternatives” are a far better foundation for creating a just society than one that is retribution based . But we remain fixed in our commitment to the one size fits all punitive prison model favored in the U.S. And that is an issue we must come to grips with.

COMMENTARY

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GROWING SOCIAL INEQUALITY LINKED TO HARSH CRIMINAL SENTENCES

A recent research paper out of Great Britain, finds that “public anger toward crime and support for harsh criminal justice policy ia linked to factors associated with social inequality.” The paper written by Carolyn Cote-Lussier, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, is titled, “The Functional Relation Between Social Inequality, Criminal Stereotypes, and PublicAttitudes toward Punishment of Crime, (published in the journal of “Psycology, Public Policy and Law”).

What’s particularly interesting about this paper is that it explores in depth what may seem obvious to many, but is still of great significance; that the “link between between thinking that criminals have a low social status and feeling angry and punitive toward crime suggests that growing social inequality and failing to address disadvantage could actually contribute to even greater public demands for harsh criminal justice policy making it difficult for governments to tackle unsustainable high prison populations”.

Though the study was conducted in the UK, there is every reason to believe that the same factors are at work here in the U.S. “In the US,  comprehensive longitudinal study revealed a significant association between income inequality and the US federal incarceration rate between 1953 and 2008. Income inequality has been rising over the past three decades in countries such as the US and Canada.”

Once again, thought the findings may not be surprising, they are important to a basic understanding of society’s attitude and harsh treatment of the criminal. It makes sense to conclude that the widenning social and economic inequality in the U.S since the 1980s., has had a significant impact on both our perception and treatment of those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Since 1990 alone, prison terms have increased substantially in the U.S. (According to a study by Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, the length of time served in U.S. prisons has increased by an average of 36 percent between 1990 and 2009; (PDF of the PEW article, “Time Served; The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms”).

“Lastly, Professor Cote-Lussier makes the point that “policies that reduce social inequality, such as improving educational attainment, could also ultimately decrease public demand for harsh criminal justice policies and could have the added benefit of reducing crime and the victimization of vulnerable populations.

 

 

COMMENTARY

 ITALIANS PRISONERS SUCCEED THROUGH THEATRE

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 10.33.28 PMWhile running the nacent San Francisco Parole Reentry Court in 2010, I  rediscovered the importance of engaging parolees in what the social scientists call  “Pro-Social Activities”. If you could provide opportunities to engage in positive community-based activities (especially productive or creative ones), they were very likely to succeed. It worked for the serious and violent offenders that appeared before me. Though many believe that sanctions and especially incarceration are necessary to achieve compliance, that just wasn’t the case in our program (“San Francisco Reentry court:87% fewer return to Prison”).

Confirmation comes from many programs and studies in the U.S. and around the world. One of the most exciting is the success of the Italian Prison Theatre, which teaches and produces serious theatre, both inside and outside of prison. The following is largely taken from a 2013 article on the website of Jean Trounstine  as well as a 2009 Los Angeles Times article.

“Since 1988, Compagnia della Fortezza, the company named after the Medici-era fortress that houses the Volterra jail where the men are imprisoned, has performed a variety of Italian spectacles and tragedies   As a byproduct of that success, though prison conditions are generally deplorable in Italy, (which has a 65% return to prison rate similar to most of Europe), for those who engage in the Theatre Programs, it’s about 10%.

The Italians love art so much, the rumor goes, that the prisoners would rather risk an arrest than not show their performances to other Italians. Many shows tour and many prisoners work outside during the day. And believe it or not over half the 205 prisons in Italy have acting companies. Compagnia della Fortezza has won some of Italy’s most prestigious theatre awards and houses a gourmet restaurant where prisoners work and serve food to the public.

“For 21 years, director Amando Punzo has dedicated himself to art behind bars. Punzo has embarked on a challenging repertoire for the company, including “plays based on works by Brecht, Peter Handke, and even the tale of Pinocchio.”  He says that it is not therapy that drives him but creating good theatre. Said Director Punzo, “It’s not about giving the inmates an outlet or a recreational break. It’s work.”  The side effect of theatre programs behind bars are self-respect, community building and a love for the stage.”

The photo displayed above, is one of many in a photo essay by Clara Vannuci, an Italian photographer who has documented in amazing pictures the essence of Director Amando Punzo’s vision. Photographer Vannuci relayed how she asked a prisoner why no one tried to escape. The response reflected how much theatre has the potential to change lives:  “Why should I run? Where would I go? Twenty years I’ve lived in prison. Now I have something to live for. Life has meaning.”

 

 

COMMENTARY: PRISON CORPS. MOVE IN ON “ALTERNATIVES TO PRISON”

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Daily Beast article; 12/27/15

PARTS II: ARE GPS BRACELETS AN ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO INCARCERATION?

This is an introduction  to an issue which has been brewing within the criminal justice system, but only now is reaching the general public: What do GPS bracelets accomplish and should they be a mainstay of “alternatives to incarceration programs”.

One of the two biggest suppliers of GPS bracelets is the Private Prison Goliath, the GEO Group, which is positioning itself to survive any significant reduction in nationwide imprisonment (through its recentky acquired subsidiary, Behavioral Interventions).

For many politicians, GPS bracelets that provide the location of “supervised” individuals are the future of “alternatives to incarceration”. But many observers feel that an alternative to incarceration should have a substantial rehabilitation component, which GPS bracelets themselves do not provide. Civil libertarians argue that before GPS bracelets were available, an individual’s right to privacy was less likely to be compromised (making the point that the government is engaging in classic “net widening”;  ultimately interfering  in the lives of more individuals, and at a  more intense level).

Many argue that leaving individuals in there own homes is no guarantee that criminal activity will not continue or that the individual may remove the device and walk away. My concern has been more limited, that in regards to drug use or sales, leaving an individual at home to use their drugs or supply others, is foolhardy (and certainly provided no incentive in itself to reduce or eliminate drug abuse).

[For a fuller description of the controversy surrounding the use of GPS bracelet devices, see the Daily Beast article, "Here's what the World Will Look Like After Mass Incarceration", by Sarah Shourd".] 


PART 1: PRISON CORPS. READYING SELVES TO PROVIDE “ALTERNATIVE TO PRISON”

There has been a recent outcry from politicians who have only recently joined the “Alternatives To Prison” Movement to close down existing private prisons. The call for closure is based on well-documented cases of abuse and neglect at the two major Private Prison Corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

While the call to close private prisons appears to be succeeding, private prison corporations are hardly closing up shop. They are merely moving on to greener pastures in the “Alternatives to Prison’ Reform Movement”.

In an article from Bloomberg Business, Matt Stroud describes What Private Prisons Companies Have Done to Diversify in the Face of Sentencing Reform” Mr. Stroud’s answer is that they are investing in offender rehabilitation services or Alterenatices to Prison Programs. It seems ludicrous for these predator corporations to be making such a move, but it has already begun.

According to the Bloomberg article, “GEO Group in 2011, acquired Behavioral Interventions, the world’s largest producer of monitoring equipment for people awaiting trial or serving out probation or parole sentences. It followed GEO’s purchase in 2009 of Just Care, a medical and mental health service provider which bolstered its GEO Care business that provides services to government agencies.  “Our commitment is to be the world’s leader in the delivery of offender rehabilitation and community reentry programs, which is in line with the increased emphasis on rehabilitation around the world,” said GEO chairman and founder George Zoley during a recent earnings call. Brian W. Ruttenbur, a managing director at CRT Capital Group’s research division, says that neither GEO or CCA will be significantly hurt by sentencing reform in the near future.”

One has to wonder what beneifits will befall our communities if these giant corporations are allowed to do business in what has traditionally been a relatively small scale community-run endeavor. As to whether state or local government will buy into the “Mass Alternative to Prison Industry, is yet to be determined.

 

 

COMMENTARY

POPE URGES THE NEW YEAR TO BE A HOLY YEAR OF AMNESTY FOR PRISONERS

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 8.12.12 PMPope Francis continues to bring the attention of the world to the plight of the poor and the imprisoned. In his annual peace message he urged policy-makers  to overcome what he called the “globalization of indifference”.

In his Annnual Peace Message just released, the Pope has urged all governents to  consider granting a Holy Year of Amnesty for the most vulnerable: the poor, the sick, migrants, prisoners and the elderly.

“On the institutional level, indifference to others and to their dignity, their fundamental rights and their freedom, when it is part of a culture shaped by the pursuit of profit and hedonism, can foster and even justify actions and policies which ultimately represent threats to peace,”

 Specifically he urged governments to consider urgent measures to improve conditions of prisoners, especially those awaiting trial. He called for governments to abolish the death penalty and consider alternatives to incarceration as well as a Holy Year amnesty., In the message, Francis called for concrete and “courageous gestures” from governments in this, his Holy Year of Mercy, to find jobs for the unemployed, to review laws so that migrants are welcomed, to relieve the debt of poor countries and to ensure that the sick receive necessary treatment.

[A previous Commentary has given voice to the Pope's views on crime and imprisonment]

COMMENTARY

San Francisco Parole Reentry Court Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), presents a progoram participant with an award

San Francisco Parole Reentry Court Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), presents a program participant with an award

THE SUCCESS OF CAL.PROP. 47 REFORM WILL NOT IMPACT DRUG COURTS

California’s PROP. 47 did many things and did most of them right. According to Stanford Law School’s “One Year Progress Report”‘ released on Oct 29th, as to PROP 47 cases; recidvism is down, incarceration is down, felony charges are down, and court and
custody costs are down.This is what criminal justice reform looks like.

The whole world should be watching as Prop. 47 is implemented. It reduces drug possession offenses and relatively minor property crimes to misdemeanors. It allows those with felony records to petittion the court to reduce their offenses to misdemeanors (and dismiss the offense where appropriate), opening up new opportunities to those stigmatized with a felony conviction. It saves Caifornia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, freeing jails and prisons for those incorrigible and dangerous offenders who need to be there. It decriminalizes drug possession without legalizing serious drug use. 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 6: Longer Sentences = Diminishing Returns


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It’s always been assumed that putting criminal offenders away for longer sentences would reduce their opportunities to commit crimes. What that seemingly obvious construct leaves out is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Where those sent to prison ultimately are a greater weight to a free society than those released into the community. Sending more offenders into custody for longer terms often results in a lack of resources for critical community needs such as public health and education. How much more safety do we realize by doubling an auto burglar’s prison term, and what services are being denied the community by doing so.

There is an annolgy to be made to the current panic over the “Ebola Crisis” in the U.S. Three persons have been infected and one has died in a nation of over 300 million. And there are cries to close down schools, work places, and other community gathering sites. Never mind that over fifty thousand americans were killed over the last three years because of the Flu (a more highly contagious illness, airborne, as opposed to Ebola which is contracted only by direct contact with bodily fluids). We panic as a nation and a people and resist logic in favor of an emotional response. I am not a sociologist, but it seems to me that that a new threat no matter how remote, makes us feel that we’re not in control and ultimately not safe in an environment that we have spared no expense to be as safe as humanly possible. (There has been no real, massive threat of illness and death to Americans since the Spanish Influenza Pandemic at the end of World War I).

When I had first begun my Oakland Drug Court in 1990, I had occasion to connect with a number of other professions to get out the word on the Drug Court Initiative. I was at one of the Nationwide Probation Conferences given in the early 1990′s as a speaker. I decided to attend a Legislators’ forum, where experience state legislators talked to their new breathen about how best to deal with  the issue of Crime. The first thing they told the new legislators was to drop a bill in the hopper to increase the term of incarceration for driving under the influence. Secondly they were advises to get on the bandwagon to increase terms of incarceration, to make them invulnerable to attacks from the right that they were soft on crime.

For the offender, longer is certainly not better: As the years go by, inmates often become more distant from their families and communities, less employable, and more deeply ingrained in prison culture, all factors that hamper a successful reentry into the community. And how can it be realistically argued that increasing the length of felony sentences is a rational decision rather than an emotional one (In support of that assertion, research by the Urban Institute found that increases in expected time served contributed to half of the prison growth between 1998 and 2010).

I would argue that the public’s hunger for safety (in California, 1000 sentencing bills were passed by the legislature over the past three decades), is a serious problem that we need to come to grips with. How long is enough? Why do we have an almost impenetrable web of sentencing laws in most states. State sentencing grids are a constantly changing labyrinth of overlapping, entangling, and bewildering law that are mostly understood by the few. These are unacceptable circumstances that need to be addressed by governors  and their legislatures, through  Sentencing Commissions and other mechanisms, that can rationally and reasonably review, clarify and simplify our maze of sentencing laws. Hopefully when rationality has returned to criminal justice sentencing practices, we will see appropriate terms of incarceration imposes across the nation.. 

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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. 

 

 

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} 

 

 

Vision 3: A ceremony to Honor the Healed

Sept. 22, 2014

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Colonial America, made up of many small, insular and stable communities, relied heavily on community-based or “alternative’ sanctions to enforce a strict social, economic, and religious code of behavior. While it’s true that some of those sanctions may now be considered unacceptable (i.e., corporal punishment), other forms of alternative sanctions are very much a part of the modern criminal justice system. The use of warnings, servitude, and restoring the victim, may be known by different names today (admonitions, restitution, community service), but share similar functions.

The Church and the Court were at the center of community social control. A trial “was an occasion for repentance and reintegration; a ritual for reclaiming lost sheep and restoring them to the flock”…It was a public, open affirmation of the rules and their enforcement; a kind of divine social theater.”(Lawrence Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, p.25 (1992).

The parallels to the Drug Court and other Problem Solving Courts could not be clearer. Living in a time when society has substantially broken down, where people lead isolated lives and where societal pressure may be minimal, the drug court provides a group structure for the drug user, providing support, rehabilitation, resources, and “community” where none had existed before.

Within that “community”, “alternative” or community-based sanctions have a new found importance. Sitting in the jury box for a day is the equivalent of wearing a dunce cap.  The admonition from the judge in front of the drug court community is a shaming that all understand. Most importantly,the rehabilitated drug-user is welcomed back into society at a very public graduation ceremony presided over by the judge and other community leaders (see above)

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VISION 2: Rejecting the Conventional Prison

Sept. 15, 2014

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America’s willingness to explore new alternatives to prison makes perfect sense, when you recognize that there is nothing especially “traditional” or sacrosanct about the use of imprisonment. Prison as an institution is only a little over two hundred years old. Imprisonment,, while the conventional response to criminal behavior today, was a rare and radical departure from the “Community-Based Sanctions” in place some 200 years ago.

As one commentator put it, “It is ironic and yet oddly appropriate that although eighteenth century America turned to imprisonment because alternative punishments had lost their ability to shame, late twentieth century America is turning to alternative punishments because imprisonment has lost its ability to deter and rehabilitate.” (Dan Kahan What do Alternative Punishments Mean; 63 U.Chi.L.Rev.591, p.631)

Even the prestigious Conference of Chief Justices, (made up of all fifiy State Supreme Court Justices) have passed unanimous resolutions in 2000, 2004, and 2008 acknowledging as much, “drug court and problem-solving court principles and methods have demonstrated great success in addressing certain complex social problems, such as recidivism, that are not effectively addressed by the traditional legal process”.

Living in a time when society has substantially broken down, where people lead isolated lives and where societal pressure may be minimal, community based courts have the potential to provide a structure for the rehabilitation of the offender, providing guidance, support, resources, and control where none had existed before.

In other words, the overuse of  “imprisonment” is a choice that we have made, but can unmake, returning to our historical and traditional community-based responses to criminality.

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Vision 1: Integrating Traditional Community Justice Into Penal Systems

September 8, 2014

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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.”

The idea is not so farfetched. Making offenders accountable and responsible for each others conduct and behavior is very close to what is done in traditional societies that control misbehavior with community based responses. There are courts across the country that are experimenting with offender communities making criminal justice decisions. In San Francisco, I was part of a nascent, but very successful Reentry Court (responsible for reintegrating high risk prisoners back into society). Our Reentry Court Team was able to enlist “honor role” participants’, as well as their ideas and recommendations, in setting up court procedures and developing appropriate responses to minor program violations (unfortunately the pilot program was discontinued due to fiscal constraints; New York Times, Oct. 8, 2011)

While many consider prisoner decision making the provence of prison gangs, I would suggest that if structured right, a Prison administered by a Non-Profit Corporation could play an important part in building traditional community responsibility and accountability into both our prisons and prisoner rehabilitation. (San Francisco Reentry Court: 87% Fewer Return  To Prison)

No. 10 in a Series: Drug Court as Guidepost to Community-Based Reform

August 11, 2014

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During my presidency of the newly founded International Association of Drug Court Professionals (1999-2001), I visited a number of South American and Caribbean Countries. One country that appeared especially interested in the Drug Court Model was Brazil. I was encouraged to go on a State Department tour of several Brazilian cities in 1998 and again in 2001 and spoke to assemblies of Criminal Justice Professionals, and consulted with government officials in Rio de Janeiro, San Salvador, and San Pablo. Although I did my best to get the concept of Drug Court across to those officials, the huge numbers of drug users and the lack of substantial resources was discouraging. I’m not sure what the status of Drug Courts in Brazil is today, but would be surprised to find anything more than a Drug Court demonstration project in place.

 

That is my feeling about  Drug Court in Brazil and other developing Countries (as I described in “No.7 in a Series”).Then again, I read a CNN News story in 2012 about a Brazilian Judicial Innovator that turned my head (commented on in a 2012 article in Reentry Court Solutions).

“Jose Henrique Mallmann, a Brazilian Judge in Santa Rita do Sapucai was looking for a way to encourage prisoners to give back to their community. In a Google search he came across a story of an American gym that used the energy from exercise bikes to power  the club’s lights. Today there are four bicycles that require 10 hours of pedaling to fully charge one battery. The energy is enough to power 10 street lamps, out of 34 lamps that provide light for the plaza. Prisoners earn one day off their sentence with every 16 hours of pedaling” (CNN News story).

It reminded me of the obvious. You don’t need to import foreign programs and structures to develop innovative reform programs. What’s important is the willingness of judges and others in power, to break away from conventional western thinking and embrace those critical concepts of behavior modification that work in every culture and community in the world. Incentives, of course,  are one tool that can be used to turn offenders away from crime. It’s not a panacea, but it is important that the court and criminal justice system pay attention to all the elements of successful community-based reform.

Drug Court has a role to play in the International Community, as a  guidepost to successful community- based reform in modern societies, but its not the only model for other cultures to follow.  Communities need to create their own structures and programs, and when appropriate, adapt drug court concepts to their own circumstances.

Finally, I’m more in awe of judicial innovators like Judge Mallman than I am of his more conventional drug court brethren in the U.S. In fact, It may be that looking outside the U.S. will ultimately provide us with the important community-based reforms we will need in the future.

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No. 6 in a Series: “The Prison that Shuts Down for the Weekend”

July 14, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 9.58.11 PMSamoa provided one of those comedic moments that are rare in the world of criminal law. I visited a prison seemingly built into the side of  a mountain. Huge cauldrons (the kind that they cook tourists in on T.V.) were being stirred. The prisoners were in cells that resembled caves, while the weather was unbearably hot and humid.

I asked the prison commander about the almost inhuman conditions and he replied in a friendly manner, that the prison guards basically close the prison down over the weekend and everyone, including serious prisoners, go home to return the following Monday to continue their prison terms. I found that explanation to be a wonderful insight into another culture’s approach to incarceration. The Samoan Islands prison system reminded me of the song, “Hotel California” by the legendary country rock band, the “Eagles”. They sang,”you can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave”.

At that point in time, offenders charged with an offenses had little opportunity to escape nor much impetus to do so. They were fully part of their Samoan Family and Village Culture, and would find it almost impossible to leave their homes to seek sanctuary anywhere else.Their’s was a  sense of belonging, as well as isolation from the rest of the world, that prevented the Samoan prisoner from leaving the Island.

P.S…..For years I enjoyed telling that story as an example of how different punishment can be in different cultures. That is until I read a recent story in the newspapers about how Samoa had been cited by FreedomWorks as a nation whose prisons violated the basic human rights of prisoners. To this day, I’m inclined to believe the Prison Warden’s narrative of the “Prison that shut down on Weekends”.

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