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

NIJ Impact Evaluation on Reentry Courts due soon

Sept. 16,2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 10.31.38 AMJust a reminder: A National Institute of Justice preliminary evaluation of eight reentry courts was published in March of 2013.  It provided an excellent description of the structures and processes developed by the participating jurisdictions and does and excellent job ib comparing their major program characteristics (see article: One Year Process Evaluations of 8 Reentry Courts). Entitled “The National Institute of Justice’s Evaluation of Second Chance Act Adult Reentry Courts: Program Characteristics and Preliminary Themes from Year 1”, can be found in full, by clicking on the image to the left of this text. The evalaution waa the product of RTI International, the Center for Court Inovation, and NPC Research. It’s authors are Christine Lindquist, Jennifer Hardison Walters Michael Rempel, and Shannon M. Carey.

We can expect an initial impact evaluation, focusing in the effectiveness of the eight  reentry courts at reducing recidivism and improving other reentry outcomes early in 2014.

 

Brazilian Judge creates a new incentive for prisoners

 

The Best Of: This article first appeared on this website September 10, 2012, describes the efforts of a Brazillian Judge to develop prisoner incentives that work for the community, and the prisoners themselves

 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 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).

This story is a reminder of why work (and education) incentives should be a part of every offenders rehabilitation plan. Some call it restorative justice, but whatever the name, its efficacy has been understood for a very long time. Scientists tell us that incentives are four times a s effective in reducing recidivism as sanctions. If you think about it, it makes sense. Those who have a chance to earn a reward are far more likely to appreciate an incentive and be encouraged to correct their behavior than someone who is punished to achieve the same end.

It also suggests that we in the courts ought to be looking for incentives wherever we can find them as a way to turn offenders away from crime. It’s not a panacea, but it is an important tool that the court and criminal justice system need to pay attention to. It is used by many correctional institutions, but rarely by judges. Why shouldn’t there be court progress reports, incentives, and certificates of accomplishments, to encourage those in custody to work toward both their successful release from custody and rehabilitation in the community. Judge Henrique Mallman figured out it could be done, and so should we.

 

Professor Scores NADCP as “CHAMPION” in its Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Contact: [email protected]

Justice Reinvestment Initiative leads Prison Reform

The Best Of: The following article, first published on May 14, 2012, describes the critical role the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative”, led by the PEW Center for the States and the Council of State Governments, have had on the prison reform movement.

A recent Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funded initiative is having an extraordinary effect on prison reform efforts in states across the nation. The “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” is a joint project of the PEW Center for the States, the Council of State Governmant and the Vera Institute They are providing assistance and support to states in an effort to reduce prison populations,  establish non-prison penalties for non-violent offenses, increase good time/work time for prisoners, and generally encouraging states to return or keep prisoners in local jurisdictions, while reinvesting funds saved by these reforms in “alternatives to prison”. The Council of State Government’s National Reentry Resource Center has a Resource Project Page devoted to the  “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” To access it, click on the page facsimile on the left.

According to information provided by BJA, “Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and re-direct savings to other criminal justice strategies that decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods. They work closely with state and local policymakers to help design policies that manage the growth of the corrections system. They are finding ways to improve the availability of services, such as housing, substance abuse treatment, employment training, and positive social and family support for offenders returning to communities. They are also looking to reinvest savings generated from reductions in corrections spending to make communities safer, stronger, and healthier.”

What is incontrovertable, is that states are adopting the policy changes advocated and are passing ground-breaking reforms in many of the most conservative states in the nation (most recently Georgia, Oaklahoma, and Louisians; see articles in Facebook collumn on the right side of website).  To access comprehensive information on what the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” is doing in a listed state, just click on the state below, and you will be linked directly to National Reentry Resource Center information:

South Bend leads in Reentry Courts

The following brief description of the Vanderburgh Reentry Court was printed on this website in 2010:

Nov.1, 2010

South Bend, Indiana has been at the forefront of the re-entry court movement in Indiana. Much of the credit goes to Judge Wayne Truckman, of the Vanderburgh Superior Court, who has been a leader in the development of Reentry Courts at the local and state levels.

The Vanderburgh Forensic Diversion Court, started in 2003, is focused on non-violent offenders who, but for the court’s intervention, would probably be sent to state prison.

The Vanderburgh Reentry  Court, started approximately four years ago, sends offenders to prison under a special statute championed by Judge Truckman, that segregates offenders in prison, and typically returns them to the Court for continuing supervision and rehabilitation services within a year of being sentenced to prison.

According to a story in the Courier press.com., the Forensic Diversion Court and the Reentry Court are being watched closely by other Indiana counties as programs to be replicated in their communities.

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”.

 

 

 

 

Ft. Wayne: Indiana’s Systemic Reentry Court

Nov. 26, 2012

The following article, first published on this website in March, 2010, describes the excellent Reentry Court System that Judge John Surbeck (see: 2012 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence), developed for Allen County (Fort Wayne), Indiana.

The Allen County Reentry Court  has been a leader in the development of the reentry court model since Judge John Surbeck  initiated this exceptional program in 2001. the court relies on a host of service providers, including reentry director, treatment coordinator, case managers, mental health specialist, clinical psycologist, as well as, district parole supervisor, probation officer, and judge (though no D.A. or P.D.) to rehabilitate returnees. Since 2006, with the passage of  specific reentry court legislation, reentry courts that receive certification from the Indiana Judicial Center, have had full jurisdiction over parolees who participate in the reentry court (see: Indiana Legislation).  The Allen County Reentry Court  focuses on providing the returning offender with the rehabilitation services necessary to succeed, resourced by the local “Community Correction’s Agency”, and funded by the Indiana State Department of Corrections. The Indiana Parole Agency no longer has formal jurisdiction over the offender, but still works closely with the judge and court, as part of a drug court team, that provides a critical focus for community  organizations and services, and the monitoring of the returning offender.

The reentry court process begins when  prison inmates are informed by parole authorities that they are elligible for the  statutory “Community Transitions Program”, which may release inmates up to six months before the end of their prison term. Judge Surbeck sees the new participants shortly after their release from prison, two weeks later when their “Reintegration Plan” is approved (after a comprehensive series of risk/needs and psychological tests), and every two to six weeks until graduation, approximately one year later. Early electronic surveillance and  frequent monitoring visits to the parolee’s residence are an integral part of the program. The program is voluntary, and the court informal, relying on a contingency contract to provide appropriate incentives and sanctions. Parolees who do well can expect substantial reductions in their parole term. The reentry court itself, with its informal structure, focused on its therapeutic and public safety mission, does not hold parole revocation hearings, but passes them on to the state parole agency. Judge Suurbeck reports there are presently approximately 150 participants. Evaluations have shown a 30% reduction in recidivism and substantial financial savings to state and community. [see: Allen County Presentation]

[Note: The Allen Reentry Court also features a statutory “split sentencing” procedure that allows designated offenders to return to the sentencing court’s jurisdiction for probation supervision and services once their prison term has been completed.]

contact: [email protected]

Las Vegas Drug Court’s 20 Year Anniversary

Oct. 22, 2012

Jack Lehman was the first Drug Court Judge in Nevada and one of the first in the nation. This week Las Vegas celebrates the 20th anniversary of Drug court. The newspapers claim that Drug Court has saved the state 40 million dollars over the past 20 years. But more importantly, Drug Court has saved innumerable lives.

And its done more than that. I remember talking to Jack Lehman in the early years of Drug Court, when being a Drug Court Judge didn’t always bring accolades and compliments, but often attacks and derision. Some were upset that we were working with the drug users rather than putting them in prison where they belonged. Some were angry that our programs were turning Judge’s into social workers, , and some hated the idea that the drug user, a morally corrupt, irredeemable miscreant was being helped.

I remember conversations i had with Jack and other Drug Court Judges in the early 90’s. What was clear to most of us was that no matter the success of the Drug Court as an institution, that the drug offender would never be seen again as a corrupt, a lost soul, without merit, hope or future. We had brought the outcast back inside the community circle and no matter what should happen to Drug Court, he or she was here to stay.

And so it has been. Drug Courts have led the way, followed by a plethora of prison alternatives that see the offender as a soul that can be redeemed and returned to the community. The  success of the drug court movement, to my mind, is largely responsible for the movement toward prison reform, proof of the change in attitude and culture that has taken place over the past twent years.

So Happy Birthday Jack, and I wish you and your Drug Court twenty more.

San Francisco Reentry Court: 87% fewer “Return to Prison”

THE BEST OF: The following article was published on Feb. 4th, 2012. It describes the success of the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court, and opens the door to evaluations and research based on the San Francisco Model.

PDF

The San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) was a statutorily funded pilot project administered by both the California Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The funding itself, some $1.5 million per county was provided by the federal government through 2009 Stimulus funding. Without going into structural detail here (to be saved for another more expansive article), I’d like to provide general information on how SFPRC was designed and implemented, as well as statistical evidence of its success.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) data for the 10-month period that the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) was fully operational (Dec. 2010-Sept. 2011) established that the SFPRC “return to prison” rate was 1/7th the rate of regular San Francisco parolees (a reduction of over 85% over 10 months). SF’s parolee population had 1365  “return to prison” out of its 1,686 parolees (81% of the SF parole population). The SFPRC had 8 out of 70 parolees return to prison (an 11% rate).

The most important attribute of the SFPRC were its reliance on “the court as rehabilitation community” 

The SFPRC team and participants created a rehabilitation community that was a driving force for participant change. The court team encouraged and often joined participants in pro-social activities, treating participants as individuals worthy of respect. The court became a friendlier place; where strangers became friends and sometimes mentors, coffee and pastries were served, rehab sessions and counseling, honor roll meetings and award ceremonies, and other pro-social activities occurred. Participants were also expected to engage in the larger community via volunteerism and other activities (i.e. organizing family picnics).

The corollary principle employed was that positive reinforcement and minimal sanctions, rather than custody would be used to modify negative behavoirs”. 

The SFPRC embraced a true paradigm shift, pioneering the use of positive reinforcement in reentry courts; using awards, rewards, and positive, and negative incentives to recognize accomplishments.A tangible example: The courtroom bulletin board displayed the SFPRC Newsletter, awards and certificates, letters and poetry, photos of graduation and awards ceremonies, family and friends, court picnics, and newly inducted Honor Roll members. 

Minimum sanctions were used as necessary, almost to the exclusion of custody. This is especially relevant under new state law, where parole sanctions are often statutorily limited to 90 days county jail. SFPRC sanctioned 14 participants for a total of 105 days in jail over the course of the program. During that same period, SFPRC’s 70 participants achieved a 93% attendance rate, though required to attend weekly court sessions (approximately 1200 hour-long court appearances over a 10 month period). 

Over it’s 15-month life ( including planning and implementation), SFPRC modeled “a minimalist reentry court for recessionary times”(see: reentrycourtsolutions.com). Though problem-solving courts” and reentry courts in particular are often accused of being wasteful, the relatively resource rich SFPRC was dealing with high-risk, serious and violent offenders, who were ultimatley far more expensive to deal with either in prison or in the community. SFPRC limited itself to  a part-time judge, court coordinator, case manager, defense attorney, parole officer and clerk. It used minimal incarceration while achieving a 87% reduction in “returns to prison”. And it successfully engaged long term prisoners, recently returned to society, in rehabilitation through a court-based community.

For a one page summary of the San Francisco Parole Reentry court’s mission, design, and statistical results, see: Final 1-Year SFPRC Report Card

 

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

Candidates vie for Drug Court Post

May 21, 2012

On the far right is an article regarding an election between three candidates competing for Drug court judge in Fayetteville Arkansas (click on: Washington county).  When I started the Oakland F.I.R.S.T Drug court in 1990 ( Fast Intensive Rehabilitation, Supervision and Treatment), there was no one to compete with because no one knew what a drug court judge did. When they learned what the job entailed, few were particularly interested in being one.  Today there are over 2,644 Drug Courts (and drug court judges) and an additional 1099 Problem-solving courts in the U.S.

From those numbers, it would appear that we’re on our way to a future dominated by Problem-Solving courts. While it’s true that states are building new Problem-Solving Courts, but they’re also severely limiting the number of participants. It is estimated that no more than two percent of all felony offenders who are sentenced enter into a problem-solving court.

To have a real impact on the criminal justice system, we will need to deal with all sentenced felony offenders (and perhaps some misdeameants). Doing that will require a very different sentencing model than exists today. All convicted felons would need to go through a validated risk/needs assessment to determine their level of risk to recidivate and consequently the intensity of supervision and treatment required. Because we can predict with greater accuracy who are the high risk offenders, we can concentrate our resources on those individuals. Of course, the corollary is that the low risk offender would receive little or no supervision or treatment, as science tells us that the alternative would only increase their level of recidivism.

I am referring to an “evidence-based sentencing system” that would engage those offenders that require it and leave alone those who do not. A very selective and cost-effective model that has been tried in a very few jurisdictions, and has the promise of revolutionizing the sentencing process. We are entering  new era, ultimately far more important than the one begun 20 years ago.   It will be critical to keep our eye on the goal of systemically working with all felons and not just drug-offenders. And to accept the challenges posed of providing  evidence-based sentencing systems for all. (see Approaches to Sentencing Systems: Parts 1-8)

 

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 

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 5

 

April 30, 2012

Court Monitoring of Sentence Tracks: Part 5

Courts can deal effectively with all their sentenced felons, by developing comprehensive “evidence-based sentencing systems” (see Arming the Courts with Research: , Roger Warren, Pew, 2009). Traditionally, we classify, categorize, and sort felons into appropriate groupings at every step of sentencing process.The Sheriff decides an inmate’s housing category. The probation departments recommends whether a probationer should be intensively monitored or placed in a banked case load. The court  determines whether a felon is to be placed on probation or sent to prison.(Click on image to the left for Development and Implementation of Drug Court Systems,JTauber,NDCI,1999)

Today’s problem-solving courts have led the way in in the use of assessments (and other evidence based sentencing practices)  to improve our sorting or categorizing and thereby our sentencing outcomes. The court and its systemic partners determine if an offender needs special rehabilitation, treamtment, or education as part of the sentencing process. So a DUI offender with a third offense might require a residential alcohol treatment program, the domestic violence offender, an extensive series of violence reduction classes, and the drug offender, completion of a appropriate drug treatment program. In each instance, the court will continue to monitor the offenders at progress report hearings until the relevant conditions of probation are completed.

To optimize the effectiveness of a sentencing court’s monitoring of all felony sentences (see: Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 3), we now use a more comprehensive process, a validated risk/needs assesssment, to sort the offenders into appropriate tracks.  A felon is  determined to be a low, medium, or high risk offender. Depending on that determination, an individual is placed in different probation, treatment or rehabilitation tracks, with  the court actively monitoring those tracks on an regular schedule over the term of probation (and in some cases parole).  In effect, a “special sentencing team”, led by the sentencing judge, follows all offenders placed in sentencing tracks,  as they move seamlessly through sentencing and custody (where ordered)  and into the probation process.

It should be remembered, that though all felons are categirized and placed in tracks, that very process is intended to increase the court’s effectiveness, by limiting the court’s contact with the low risk/low needs offenders. If the sentencing court is to effectively deal with all felons, it will need to distinguish between those who require the court’s attention and those that are best left alone. Substantial savings in time, staffing, and resources lie in the court’s effective and appropriate tracking of  sentenced offenders.

The next segment will look at how sentencing tracks work in a systemic sentencing court.

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