"Today when I think of reentry court, I am reminded that nearly every offender sentenced to time in custody will return to the community from whence they came. And thus, every sentencing court is in fact, a reentry court, creating a pathway for the offender’s reentry into society."
A resource for community based reentry court systems
Reentry Courts are special Problem-Solving Courts, that provide a seamless transition for high-risk offenders leaving our nations jails and prisons and reentering the community, providing the necessary rehabilitation and treatment services, as well as the supervision and monitoring required to make that transition successful.
ITALIANS PRISONERS SUCCEED THROUGH THEATRE While 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 … Read moreCOMMENTARY
A NEW YEAR’S VISION: EVIDENCE-BASED SENTENCING FOR ALL
It is the New Year and so it is customary to envision what we should accomplish in the the next year. Instead, allow me to envision a new evience-based sentencing system in place across the U.S. Let’s assume for a moment that only those truly deserving remain in prison or jail (hypothetically a fraction of those currently incarcerated). That would leave the Sentencing Judges with the critical task od deciding what do they do with those who commit criminal offenses. How would they sentence those convicted of a crime in a fair, humane and rational manner.
Actually the antecedents of such a sentencing system go back more than 25 years to the dawn of the Drug Court era. It was widely understood that the sentencing and supervision of drug offenders wasn’t working. There was little coordination in the court’s dealing with the drug offender, the offender rarely saw the same judge or court personnel twice, there was little court or offender accountability and altogether inadequate rehabilitation services available.(Monograph No.2, of the 1999 NDCI Monograph Series, “Drug Court Systems”, Jeffrey Tauber)
Following the example of the Drug Court, our futuristic sentencing system would have the same judge and court team deal with the sentenced offender (to the extent possible), as part of a seamless supervision, treatment, and rehabilitationsystem, that runs from sentencing, through custody, through community supervision, to the very conclusion of the case.
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.
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.”
The formation of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) as an organization and my election as its President date back to May 10, 1994; our Washington offices did not open until my arrival in D.C. in January, 1996. But the genesis of Drug Court Movement dates from the active organizing of drug court activists, sometimes called the “Coalition of Drug Court Judges”, and our lobbying on behalf of drug courts in 1993/94.
1996: MY ARRIVAL IN D.C.: A WINTER WONDERLAND
My beginnings at NADCP were inauspicious to say the least. I arrived in D.C. on the first Wednesday in January of 1996. After two days of continuous snow, it stopped long enough for my plane to touch down. Almost immediately it began to snow again and continued for two days (the newspaper claimed it to be the worst snow storm in 97 years). That first night, I wandered the streets of Alexandria in my heavy winter jacket, running shoes, and jeans. I walked for miles. Alexandria’s streets were empty, with the snow falling quietly on the clock on Polk Street. I was mesmerized. For one evening at least, I was in a private winter reverie, marveling at the events that had brought me to that place.
1992/93: MY INTRODUCTION TO WASHINGTON FEVER
It was 1992 and politics was in the air. My wife had connections with Bill Clinton through a close friend of a friend of Bill. It sounded funny even then, but being a friend of a friend of Bill (an FFOB) was considered a big deal at the time. My wife’s friend, in casual conversation, asked me about my work in drug courts and whether I had any ideas or recommendations in regards to the criminal justice system.
Of course the answer was I had plenty of ideas that I’d love to share with the Clinton Administration. I had started the Oakland Drug Court in 1990 as a new judge, having been assigned to the existing Drug Calendar in the year 1990 by Presiding Judge Horace Wheatley. I watched countless individuals enter our drug court and make extraordinary progress in our Drug Court Program over the next two years (over one thousand drug offenders entered the program in 1991, its first full year).
I became a true believer. I found that by communicating directly with the drug user, as part of a drug court team, I provided the participants with an important source of support and guidance. Surprisingly, I too experienced an unexpected benefit, the satisfaction of seeing the drug offender in a new way, as a human being in need of help. Help that we were prepared to provide to the extent that our meager resources allowed.
My FFOB promised to get my policy recommendations to Bill himself. Of course with that kind of assurance, I set to work immediately on my policy statements. It turned out to be five policy recommendations and six months of writing. I made the policy statements short, figuring that President wouldn’t have much time to read (just two pages each).
Idealism and ambition, two seemingly contradictory traits, are often at the heart of reform. While Miami had started the first treatment-based drug court (1989), it would ultimately lose its leadership of the field, with the formation of NADCP in 1994 and its more “universal” approach to the Drug Court Model
1992: MEETING MIAMI DRUG COURT JUDGE STANLEY GOLDSTEIN
IT was kind of like a Circus. A small court, with room for perhaps a hundred persons. Everyone crowded in, talking at the same time, but dominated by the booming voice of the judge. Stanley Goldstein had something of an unusual background for a judge. A former used car salesman and motorcycle cop, he spoke with what sounded like a heavy New York accent and usually over everyone else within the courtroom. Assistant Presiding Judge, Herbert Klein, the architect of Miami’s Drug Court, is said to have picked him because he saw in him special traits that would make for an exceptional drug court judge; tough, street wise and irascible but also caring and funny all at the same time. I learned a lot from Stanley Goldstein.
Stanley would take the bench like a police magistrate in a screwball comedy. He exhorted the masses to pay attention and proceed through a long calendar at a prodigious clip. Congratulating those who did well and castigating those with positive drug tests; he spoke to everyone in the same loud and brash way. The people loved it. He had one joke I heard him tell more than once. “Many of you will notice members of your family pass away as you progress through this program; some of you will fail to appear in court, grieving for your loved ones, sometimes, the same loved-one, two or three different times.”
He let everyone know that he was in on their scam, he was not to be taken for a fool, nor would he put up with “the crap” that many tried to put over on him. I learned to talk straight and sometimes say the outrageous, from Stanley. As a matter of fact, the outrageous was what made the Miami Drug Court work. Most defendants who come to court are either nodding off from drugs or from shear boredom. That wasn’t going to happen on Stanley’s watch. This was rehabilitation and confession as entertainment. Showmanship and education clothed as court proceedings. You could tell he was having a good time and that made all the difference.
[I didn’t visit Miami’s Drug Court until 1992, while the Oakland Drug Court began its start-up in the summer of 1990. We had no information on the Miami program until the summer of 1991, when a two-page summary of the Miami Drug Court found its way to Oakland.]
THE STATE OF DRUG COURT EDUCATION
I was interested in what made the drug court model tick. Partly because I wanted to distill the essence of the drug court for general consumption, partially to establish “universal principles” we could all agree on, and partially to make my name in the field.
When I spoke to Stanley that first time in chambers, I was somewhat in awe. He dominated the court in a way that I hadn’t seen before. But I was also interested in his understanding of what was going on under the hood of the Miami drug court. Stanley didn’t have much to say about that.
[Assistant Presiding Judge Herbert Klein, the architect of the Miami Drug Court, perhaps would have been a better interview; he had been given a year to design the Miami Drug Court, which included visits to existing drug courts and other relevant sites (i.e. the TASC administered Chicago Drug Court, presided over by Judge Michael Getty)]
I saw Stanley often at conferences over the next six to eight years. I learned that what made him a great drug court judge didn’t necessarily make for a great educator. His presentations began and ended with what had been accomplished in Miami.
By 1992, there was an emerging cadre of judges claiming credit for whatever success drug courts had achieved. I wanted us to get beyond drug court judges lecturing on how “they” made drug court work. The idea that one needed the charisma of a Stanley Goldstein to do the work was a serious issue for many who were considering starting a drug court (and one the field needed to overcome).
Yet, anyone who had worked in a functional drug court knew that it was the drug court team and the program’s structure and community base that was critical to the success of the program. Their effective functioning was not getting the attention on the conference circuit or in training sessions that they deserved. It was up to those of us who understood the drug court , to analyze, describe, and publish documents on the workings of the drug court model and the principles underlying them.
By 1994, I had a leadership position among a small coalition of activist drug court practitioners and judges; now I had to decide whether or not to take the leap and attempt to build a major league criminal justice reform organization from the ground up
LAYING THE FOUNDATION FOR NADCP
By 1994, it was clear to me that drug courts needed education, training, and funding, but most of all a national practitioner-focused organization to lead it. We had already developed a community of practitioners with the political influence to shape legislation and fund programs; also to share information and learn from one another.
It was our community of practitioners (ranging from judges to D.A.s, to defense attorneys, to probation officers, to treatment providers, etc.), that made our informal coalition of drug court leaders and educators so unique and effective (i.e., successfully lobbying for the 94’ Crime Act.)
It also was obvious that non-profits and academic organizations in the field were looking wistfully at drug court as an important new field to colonize. These organizations would typically move into a field, and absorb the training and education funds available, distributing them as they would, to cooperative practitioners. It was clear that the money was on its way, and whoever controlled those funds would likely control the field.
PUSHING FOR A FORMAL ORGANIZATION
I met Carolyn Cooper and Joe Trotter of American University’s Justice Program’s Office sometime in early 1994, at the suggestion of Judge Tomar Mason of the San Francisco Superior Court. I had been asked to join them for dinner in San Francisco at a fine restaurant. They were friendly and solicitous, and interested in my understanding of the drug court concept and its applicability. I didn’t know Tomar well, but understood that she was attempting to win her colleagues’ approval for a San Francisco Drug Court (a common issue among courts). Over dinner, we discussed the field generally, but also the possibility of the creation of a national drug court organization. They were willing to help.
It was about that time that I was introduced to Robin Kimbrough, a strong drug court advocate and staff member at the American Bar Association. Robin brought to my attention a non-profit organization sited in Alexandria, VA, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a very credible anti-drug organization funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, that might be willing to accept monies on our behalf and administer expenses for a Drug Court Founder’s Meeting.
I was put in touch with a drug testing company in Santa Clara County, called “SYVA”, (then an independent; now part of the SIEMENS Corporation). SYVA was willing to fund a founder’s meeting for a national drug court organization. I was informed that $50,000 could be made available to fund the formation of such an organization. Most of us in the field (especially us judges) had ethical concerns about holding the money or controlling its direct use.
Our most challenging project for ’96 was survival. We had four months to start up a functioning national organization, establish a new untested education and training program across the nation, and put on a first class national conference in Washington, D.C.
1995: PREPARING TO OPEN SHOP
As I flew east in October of 1995, to finalize preparations for the grand opening of NADCP, I had one overriding goal: we needed to show the flag and convince the governmental and organizational elites that we were for real, were capable of providing the services and programs that we had been touting for the past two years, and could stand toe-to-toe with existing NGOs.
[If there was one thing I was pretty sure of, it was that we weren’t welcome at the dinner table. Organizations would test the loyalty of our practitioner members (read: judges), the soundness of our programs, and the capabilities of our staff. From time to time, those organizations would offer to partner with us (read: take us over) but their clear preference was that we would quietly go away; there just wasn’t enough room at the table.
Actually, their assumptions about NADCP weren’t far off. NADCP was built with smoke and mirrors. I would make claims as to our accomplishments and capabilities that were often (to be kind to myself) exaggerations. Then we would go out and accomplish whatever we said we would. That went for our publications, trainings, organizational innovations, programming, and conferences. While my exaggerations were not something that I was particularly proud of, I am proud of the fact that we almost always came through on our promises.
I had intentionally chosen an ambitious agenda for the first several months to establish our credibility in D.C. It called for me to assume the role of political leader, educator, administrator, presenter, writer, propagandist, organizer, and conference planner. My ability to rise to the occasion would clearly be tested, and soon. I found myself working 12/7 and more, and there was always some unexpected emergency that needed to be dealt with immediately. I was, as they say, “under the gun”.
MARC PEARCE: A CHIEF OF STAFF (SANS STAFF)
It was Columbus Day weekend, early October 1995, and I had interviewed fifteen applicants or so for the position of Chief of Staff (although given the circumstances, the title may have been a bit grandiose). One applicant stood out: Marc Pearce. He had the right degrees (including a master’s in Business Administration), an engaging personality, a keen intellect, and he was a pragmatist (reality had never been one of my strengths).
Marc handled our finances, was a wonderful sounding board and, unfortunately for him, an excellent editor (at the time, my computer skills amounted to placing stick-its on computer monitors). NADCP’s staff was complete (all two of us) as we approached January 2006.
I leased a ground floor garden apartment with a bricked in terrace (facing east for morning sun; critical for a Californian). It was on Polk Street in Alexandria, just two blocks from our incubator organization, CADCA, and one block from the Potomac River. I rented furniture and a car for the year. I was set.
CADCA: INCUBATOR ANGST
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) was to play a central role in the development of NADCP, from our founding conference in 1994 until we left their umbrella (and offices) in 1997. We had been taken under the wings of CADCA and its foundation sponsor, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJ). CADCA provided two cubicles, clerical and financial assistance, and other resources through a special grant from RWJ. In so many ways it proved a blessing, and my appreciation goes out to both organizations for their critical assistance at NADCP’s inception.
From 1994-97 (our incubator period), CADCA was led by its President, Jim Copple, and his Vice-President, Nelson Cooney. I took care to deal with Jim as little as possible, as he tended to be intense and mercurial. Nelson was conservative by my lights (he had been on William Bennett’s staff at ONDCP), but we agreed on more things than not and he was an important advisor and a good friend (his calm and sense of humor eased many a tense moment).
One early incident demonstrated the pressures we were all under. During my first week on the job, Jim Copple called me into his office (never a good sign). He opened by quietly telling me about his hopes for NADCP, and then began screaming at me. Words to the effect of, “You better not screw this up”, “You’re not getting a second chance”, and “You and Mark better make sure you can deliver”. I was speechless.
Apparently Marc and I weren’t the only ones feeling the pressure for NADCP to succeed. I was a bit confused and shaken. We hadn’t done anything for him to complain about. (In fact, we hadn’t really done anything at all up to that point.)
The Drug Court Act 1998 (NSW), was passed shortly after my initial consultation with the New South Whales Government, and the Sydney Drug Court was the first drug court of its type initiated in Australia.
I’ve always had considerable skepticism about expanding drug courts beyond the U.S. and instead emphasized on what other cultures could devise that would accomplish drug court reform, without actually adopting the model itself.