Columbia Reentry Court:A Probation-Based Reentry Court

The Boone county reentry court model has a split sentence structure that relies upon probation, rather than parole, to provide services and monitoring. Those sent to prison, receive treatment during an initial four month prison term and are returned to the reentry court for continued treatment, rehabilitation and monitoring. Approimately 80 returnees are part of the progam at any time.

Judge Chris Carpenter attributes the program’s documented success to a level of accountabilty and structure that touches the participant even before they leave prison. A returning offender is interviewed by the reentry court coordinator before leaving prison, released from prison on Tuesdays only, transported for an extensive interview and assessments with  the coordinator on Wednesdays, and transported to court on Thursday for the offenders first reentry court hearing. During this period, the offender is in held at “Reality House”, a secure facility, and only released after court and upon the judge’s order.

 Though Judge Carpenter also presides over drug and mental health courts, she believes that the seriousness of the returnees criminal history and criminal attitude require that they be separated from other problem-solving court participants. The reentry court team is made up of  judge,  program coordinator, probation officers, case managers, job training counselors, and treatment specialists.  Of interest; even though this is a county probation-based program, prosecutor and defense counsel are not part of the reentry court, unless and until the participant is terminated from the program and a “probation revocation hearing” ordered (  see “Minimalist Reentry Court” ). Nor is this a voluntary program. Everyone sentenced under the split sentencing statute who returns to the community after four months (many who have been sentenced to substantial prison terms), enters reentry court, signs a contingency contract, and is a participant in the program. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Columbia reentry court, is that it is part of a seamless rehabilitation process, whose dimensions and consequences  are known to all, even before a plea is enterred into.

Update: Mansfield adds Reentry/Drug Court

Adding to its tapestry of problem-solving courts, Richland County has received  a forty-two thousand dollar state grant to work with drug offenders who were terminated from drug court and sent to prison, to return to a reentry/drug court upon release into the community.  The funding will allow sixty returning offenders to engage the regular drug court as a reentry court (though there is a reentry court in place in the county [see: Richland County: A Reentry Court Showcase].

Dave Leitenberger, Program Coordinator and head of Richland  County Probation, believes that the drug court is the best place for returning drug offenders to receive treatment, monitoring, and rehabilitation services. Mr.Leitenberger also informed me in a telephone interview that  the existing reentry court has neither prosecutor nor defense counsel on  its reentry court team (though, upon termination from reentry court, parolees face parole authorities at “parole revocation hearings”, with defense counsel present).

[see: Leitenberger interview; article and video]

Mansfield, Ohio: A Collaborative Model

Mansfield, Ohio, a small community of fifty thousand presents an extraordinary example of collaboration between county court and probation services, and state prison and parole agencies.  Almost all returning county prisoners, have been intentionally interned at one of the two in-county prisons and upon release from prison, monitored by the Richland Reentry Court. Judges’ Henson and Deweese operate the Reentry court in tandem, each holding court once a month for some 150 participants.  The Ohio “Judicial Release Program” as practiced in Mansfield, over the last ten years, is a hybrid of county and prison based reentry models that has proven its worth in a formal evaluation conducted by Professor Jeffrey Spellman, of Ashland University.

The reentry process actually begins at the time an individual is sentenced (sometimes as early as arraignment).  The court makes its sentencing decision based on risk/needs assessment tools. Whenever an offender is sent to prison under the “Judicial Release Program” for a period of six months or more, the offender can be recalled by the reentry court  for continued county-based supervision and treatment. When the offender is returned to the community depends on the court’s decision at a “Prison Reentry Hearing”, that  considers the prisoner’s conduct, as well as,  participation and success in prison rehabilitation programs, while being closely monitored by the Richland County Reentry Court Coordinator.  Once returned to the community, the reentry court’s treatment, rehabilitation and monitoring (facilitated by  parole, probation and community policing staff) work together with the returning offender.

The Reentry Court has a second facet, for offenders who are released under the state parole authority’s jurisdiction. These offenders typically are convicted of more serious offenses, but are also monitored and serviced by the reentry court. One of the most fascinating aspects of the court, is that the Reentry Court Judge sits alongside a Parole Commissioner  on the bench, (though each has final authority over a different segment of the reentry community).  It appears, that given the right environment (as in Mansfield), county and state reentry authorities can create innovative and successful  collaborative relationships. (Article on Richland Reentry Court)

For more information, contact: David Leitenberger, at [email protected]

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