COMMENTARY

WHY DRUG ADDICTION IS SIMPLER THAN YOU THOUGHT 

 

A five minute video, based on the book by Johann Hari, “Chasing the Scream”, was put out by Patreon (they welcome your contributions through their website, Patreon.com)

It describes the causes of addiciton and the “Cure” in a clear and simple way for the lay person (as well as the so-called experts). An absolute must for anyone who wants to understand the root causes of addiciton and the way back from the precipice.

“In a Nutshell”, the video makes clear the importance of environment and most importantly, “connection to others” as a cure to the misery of drug addiction. Then again the video expalins it best.

 

 

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.

 

 

Pew Poll: Overwhelming Support for Decriminalizing Use

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.52.36 PMApril 6, 2014

A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 67% of Americans say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Just 26% think the government’s focus should be on prosecuting users of such hard drugs.

[For a PDF of the report, please click on image on the left]

The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults noted,” As a growing number of states ease penalties for drug possession, the public expresses increasingly positive views of the move away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes. By nearly two-to-one (63% to 32%), more say it is a good thing than a bad thing that some states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders. In 2001, Americans were evenly divided over the move by some states to abandon mandatory drug terms.”

 

 

Prison Numbers Drop while Crime Rates Drop!.

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Recent statistics from across the nation suggest that criminal justice reform has become a win-win proposition. The Pew Trust, a highly respected authority, has examined data from all fifty states and concluded that morel than half of the states have reductions in both rates of imprisonnmet and crime over the past five years.

Breaking the data down further , PEW  shows even more impressive results:

  • The crime rate went down in all but four of the 31 states that reduced their imprisonment rates. It went up in one of the 15 states that increased their imprisonment rates.
  • The 10 states with the largest decreases in imprisonment rates had a 12 percent average reduction in their crime rates, and, in the 10 states with the largest imprisonment rate increases, crime rates fell an average of 10 percent (see table below).
  • Crime was down in states that continued with (and paid for) rapid prison growth, as well as those that did not. For example, crime rates in both Arizona and Maryland fell 21 percent from 2007 to 2012. Over the same period, Arizona’s imprisonment rate grew 4 percent while Maryland’s declined 11 percent.

PEW claims that the results reflect several factors; bipartisan support for reduced imprisonment and accompanying reduced prison budgets; strong public support for elimination of imprisonment for non-violent offenders; and evidence based alternatives to prison that have had significant success.

The success of reducing imprisonment and reliance on evidence based alternative to imprisonment are srong indicators that we’re moving in the right direction, and need to increase our embrace of criminal justice reform.

[The PEW article that this story is based on can be found by clicking on the Table above]

 

The Troubling Paradox in the Rise of Life Sentences

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 12.06.03 PMThe Sentencing Project has released a new report, “Life Goes On: The Historic Rise In Life Sentences in America”, that describes the extraordinary increase in those sent to prison for Life [click on image on left for PDF copy] According to the report, “Last year, 159,520 people were serving life sentences in American prisons, a 12 percent increase from 2008. The number of individuals serving life without parole has increased even more dramatically, from 40,174 in 2008 to 49,081 in 2012 — a 22 percent rise.

“Although most “lifers” have been convicted of homicide or sexual assault, the use of life sentences has expanded over time to include a wider range of offenses, including property crimes (5,416 prisoners) and drug crimes (2,686). In Idaho, prisoners who have not been convicted of homicide comprise more than half the population of lifers, the highest in the country; in Washington, they represent 46 percent.”

These statistics portray a troubling paradox in the current media narrative on prison reform. While prison reform has been embraced by nearly all, those who are sentenced to prison for more serious offenses are spending far longer than they did and in greater numbers than a few short years ago.

In an article I wrote in January 2012, “California prison terms for violent criminals more than double“, I quote from a Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) article,  ”California offenders who committed violent crimes can now expect to serve 7 years in prison — in 1990, they would have served less than 3. Looking at people who committed murder, those who were released in 2009 served an average of 16 years; now, they can expect to serve more than 50 years. This lengthening of sentences for violent crimes is a major reason California’s prisons are overflowing and will continue to do so. In 2009, nearly 100,000 of the state’s prison inmates were doing time for violent crimes, a number that will only grow as the exit door continues to recede.”

Lizzie Buchen’s  who wrote that CJCJ article, argues that research coming out of the PEW Center of the States, supports the position that longer sentences are a major reason for the explosion in prison populations and  the enormous cost of keeping prisoners locked up.  (PDF of the PEW article, “Time Served; The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms”)

Are we paying attention to the right prison reform statistics, or ignoring one of the most troubling of indicators, the appropriateness and rationality of the priosn terms that serious offenders are required to serve.

 

Review of new Critique of Drug Courts

Sept. 30, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 7.43.46 AMThe Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, published an article in May of 2013, addressing a critical issue, “Can Drug Courts Help to Reduce Prison and Jail Populations?” [click on image on the left for a PDF of the article]. Written by Eric L. Sevigny, Harold A. Pollack, and Peter Reuter, the article was recently analyzed in a University of Chicago Urban Network, issue, which concluded, ” drug courts have significant capacity constraints and so cannot handle the full number of drug offenders; the eligibility criteria for participating is very strict, most significantly barring anyone with a current or prior violent offense; many participants fail to complete their therapy, and so end up in jail or prison anyway; and sentencing laws such as mandatory minimums or habitual offender statutes prevent offenders from participating.”

I have addressed these issues in the past, and believe that it is important to provide a response. I agree with much of the criticism, I also believe that the writers and reviewers miss the main issue concerning the limitations regarding drug court outreach. Drug Courts are not intended to deal with all drug abusers, only the most serious drug users, those with a dependence upon drugs. It is generally understood that they are a small minority of those who use drugs and those who find themselves facing criminal charges involving drug abuse. I have seen estimates of those who use but are not addicted to drugs to be as high as 90% of the drug using population. If we expect drug courts to deal with those who are non-dependent on drugs, to be handled within a drug court we need to rethink the very concept of a drug court.

That is not to say that we should ignore the drug usage of those who are non -addicted, but make sure we are dealing with their dependence as part of a larger response to their criminal behavior. We need to do appropriate risk and needs assessments of all offenders (or at least all felony offenders) and handle their cases in a rational manner, and that means their drug issue, as serious as it is determined to be, by clinical and scientific evaluation. For the vast majority of drug offenders, (who are not drug dependent), that means that drugs are a second tier need, and that issues concerning their attitudes as to criminality, family and friends are far more important.

To repeat a tired phrase; Drug Court has become the proverbial lonely hammer in a tool belt, used because that’s all we have to use in our struggle against drug abuse and criminality. We are unable to develop a more nuanced and effective way to deal with the drug offender and their criminality, so we put them in drug court.Those who have the greatest need, the serious and dependent drug offender (often with a serious criminal history) are refused entrance because they are criminals. Isn’t that the population we were most concerned about providing effective rehabilitation for in the first place.

While the authors are right in complaining that drug courts are not reaching the vast majority of drug abusers, they are wrong to suggest that that is the population that drug courts need to engage. We need to develop evidence-based sentencing systems that provide appropriate responses to criminogenic needs, not dump all drug users into the same dumpster [See: A Model Court-Based Sentencing System]

Columbia U. Scientist says 80-90% of Drug Users not Addicted

September 23,2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 5.04.59 PMDr. Carl Hart, an Associate Professor of Psycology at Columbia University, has written a book debunking so-called myths about drug usage. According to Dr. Hart, “Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,”. This somewhat contrarian position is of interest, because it runs counter to accepted concepts of much  the scientific community in this country. In his recently published book, “High Price“, His book attributes the drug problem to societal ills and claims that drug abuse is merely a symptom of society’s problems.

Although highly controversial, Dr. Hart’s assertions are supported in part, by some fellow scientists (see New York Times article, “The Rational Choice of Crack Addicts“). “Drug warriors may be skeptical of his work, but some other scientists are impressed. “Carl’s overall argument is persuasive and driven by the data,” said Craig R. Rush, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky who studies stimulant abuse”.

While I find Dr.Hart’s research of interest, I believe that his findings may overstate the benign nature of drug abuse. Drugs like crack cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are often enormously destructive to the users and those around them. Most scientists would agree that sociological influences can and do have an enormous influence on the drug user and their level of abuse. As Dr.Hart claims, it is an easy out to blame physical addiction for the drug abuser’s criminal conduct and anti-social behavior.

While most researchers would admit that addicts make up less than half of those charged with drug offenses, politicians continue to argue that if we can cure the offender of their reliance on drugs, we will solved the crime problem. But as those knowledgeable about the criminal justice system know, if you cure the drug abuser of their dependence on drugs, you may simply create a healthier criminal.

The reality is that their are multiple reasons why people are drug abusers and commit anti-social acts and that the path to recovery may require an equally multi-faceted response. Blaming everything on drug abuse clearly misses the point, according  to Dr.Hart. It will take treatment, rehabilitation (and habilitation in many  cases), jobs and job training, education, and  most of all, a willingness to give the anti-social outsider, an opportunity to be part of and have a stake in  mainstream society.

 

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.

 

Prosecuting Attorney Lauds Historic Collaborative Courts

THE BEST OF: First published in February of 2012, John Tunheim, the Thurston County District Attorney described the “Drug Court Model” as one of the “one of the most remarkable innovations in criminal jurisprudence since trial by jury [emphasis addded].

 

The article, “Drug Court turned justice system on its head – and it worked”, published in the Olympian on Feb. 29, 2012, by Chief Proscuting Attorney Jon Tunheim for Thurston County Washington, came across my desk some months ago. I was stunned by the force and conviction of the writer, And while plaudits for Drug Court and its progeny, collaborative courts, are not unique, the clarity of his vison and the historic nature of the statement make it very special. I commend this article to you and encorage you to make copies and share it with friends and colleagues. It is a reaffirmation of the historical importance of the probelm-solving court, as we look to expanding it into the realm of sentencing systems:

Drug Court turned justice system on its head – and it worked

Jon Tunheim, Prosecuting Attorney, Thurston county, Washington; 2/29/12

Sometimes, I wonder how the idea for a drug court originated. I wonder about this because the creation of drug courts in the United States is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable innovations in criminal jurisprudence since trial by jury[emphasis addded].

Why was this idea so revolutionary? One of the cornerstones of our justice system is that it is adversarial. In other words, it resolves disputes by allowing parties to present evidence and argue their case in an adversarial setting. In the end, legally speaking, someone “wins” and someone “loses.” The adversarial system, in my view, continues to be the best way to resolve legal conflicts, particularly when the conflict is about facts.

But many years ago, when Janet Reno was a district attorney in Florida, she or someone in her office suggested that perhaps we don’t need to use the adversarial system for cases where the facts aren’t really in dispute and the criminal behavior is linked to addiction. Instead of using a slow and expensive adversarial system, perhaps we create a court that is collaborative – where everyone is working together to help the person overcome their addiction and thereby prevent future criminal behavior. This idea was revolutionary because it challenged one of the fundamental principles of our justice system. I can only imagine the reaction of some lawyers to the thought of abandoning the traditional adversarial process and creating a collaborative court.

I wonder if the person who first had this idea had any notion of how successful and how important drug courts would become in the criminal justice system. The data gathered over the years is remarkable. In our own Thurston County Drug Court, only 13 percent of those who have graduated later committed another felony. In comparison, 72 percent of those who were eligible but declined to go through Drug Court went on to commit another felony. Even more surprising, those who start Drug Court but are terminated are also less likely to commit a new crime. We estimate that Drug Court has saved Thurston County taxpayers well over a million dollars of jail costs and several million dollars in societal costs for drug-free babies born to participants in the program.
Nationally, experts estimate the return on investment for an average drug court is about $2.23 for every dollar spent. Even more remarkable is the return on investment increases to as much as $3.36 for participants who are at the highest statistical risk of committing more crime. Drug courts are not just an effective way of lessening addiction-driven crime; they are also a significant long-term budget saver.

The success of drug courts over the years led us to try this collaborative model of justice for cases involving other issues that contribute to crime. Examples include mental health, veterans courts, and DUI courts to name a few. We continue to look for other new ways to use this problem-solving court model as a way to reduce recidivism.

I wonder if the person who first thought of collaborative problem-solving courts had any idea how many lives would be saved. I wonder if they considered how many people would see loved ones pull themselves out of addiction and into recovery. I wonder if they even considered how much money would be saved over the years. It truly was an idea that changed the criminal justice system forever.

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.

 

Realignment Boosts Sentencing System Reform

 

 

 

The Best Of: This article, first published on September 24, 2012, describes how Realignment , a reform that requires counties to keep less-serious offenders in-county to serve prison sentences, is being modeled in California.

Realignment, as prison reform, is having an major impact in the development of countywide evidence-based “sentencing systems”. No where is that effect greater than California, where the state is heavily relying on realignment to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court  order to reduce severe prison over-crowding (see NYT: In Califronia, County Jails face bigger load)

California’a AB109 Realignment Strategy has two important aspects:

1) Those sentenced to prison on less serious offenses (typically called triple nons; non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenses), will be housed in county jails (when sentenced to prison) and supervised by county probation departments on LCS (Local Community Supervision). These individuals may not be sent to prison. Instead, they may be sentenced to a straight jail sentence (equivalent to the term they would have served in prison) or they may be sentenced to a split sentence term.  This is where the enormous potential of California’s realignment (AB109) comes into play. The court has the discretion to split the sentence between jail and LCS in ways it determines to be appropriate. The court maintains jurisdiction over the offender and may monitor the offenders progress over the course of the entire sentence; reducing a jail sentence and releasing the offender into the community to be supervised under LCS, or returning the offender to jail to complete part or all of the term upon substantial LCS violation. The degree of court discretion and involvement in the monitoring and supervision of the felon can be extraordinary, perhaps greater than that of any other state. Counties are required to develop collaborative strategies with probation, sheriff’s departments and other agencies and community based organizations, with the potential to maximize the impact of the court, while utilizing the resources and involvement of all collaborating organizations.

2) Starting in July, 2013 , those released from prison will be retained in the community, under Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS),  while under the jurisdiction of the County Superior Court, supervised by probation, to be returned to jail rather than prison when there are violations of parole. Unless they come under a very limited exception for dangerous and violent offenders, they will not be place on parole, revoked under the authority of the state parole board or returned to prison (a limited program currently exists statewide).

These two provisions provide a major opportunity for communities to create evidence-based sentencing systems, that utilize the courts, as part of a comprehensive and seamless sentencing system. Eveyone should be paying attention to what California Courts are doing with their new jurisdiction and sentencing discretion. (see:“A Model Court Based Sentencing System”)

An Overview of a Court-Based Sentencing System

THE BEST OF:The Following Article , published on September 3, 2012, describes how a systemic sentencing model based on evidence-based principles might be structured   

 Find below a diagram and descriptive analysis of an Evidence-Based Sentencing System.

A 12 Part Series on Sentencing Systems, can be found under “SENTENCING SYSTEMS” (or by clicking on the diagram below)

 

AN OVERVIEW OF A SYSTEMIC SENTENCING MODEL   PDF

The diagram above can be thought of having two separate phases. 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 that mixing low and high-risk offenders is counter-productive at best. That same dynamic works in the courtroom. 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” through 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.

Decision Making in a Sentencing System

Offender Tracks are normally the province of Probation or other supervisory agencies. When used at all, they reflect internal decisions in determining the level of supervision and treatment appropriate for a probationer.  With validated Risk/Needs Assessments available, the final decision as to court related tracks ought to be left to the court, based upon the recommendations of the full sentencing team.

Court tracking is essential to keep offenders with similar risk and needs together, maximizing the opportunities for building positive relationships with the court and participants and limiting the negative consequences of mixing offenders with different risk levels.  The court will need to schedule tracks when required staffing and resource personnel are present. Optimally, the only personnel present at all sessions will be the judge, clerk, and court manager. Review below the process and procedures:

a. A risk assessment is completed even before sentencing and optimally before a plea is taken so all parties will have an understanding of the sentencing issues early on. (Ideally, the level of treatment/rehabilitation or appropriate track designation should not be the subject of a plea agreement).

b. An individual may be given the opportunity to accept pre-plea Diversion (often called District Attorney’s Diversion). Once a complaint is filed, the court has substantial control over pre-plea and post-plea felony Diversion, as well as pre and post-plea Problem-Solving Courts. A Diversion or Problem Solving Court judge typically takes a plea, sentences the offender, monitors the offender over the course of the program (including in-custody progress), and presides over their graduation from the program.

c. The lead judge (or a designee) takes the plea in most other felony cases, reviewing the risk/needs assessment already completed, and sentences the felon either to probation or prison (if the offense is violent or the offender a danger to the community). If the offender is appropriate for probation , the sentencing judge will decide whether the felon should be placed in a low, medium or high risk supervision track. Depending on the number of offenders and resources available, there could be sub-tracks within each risk category (when offender’s needs differ substantially in criminogenic attitudes and beliefs, gender concerns, drugs or alcohol problems, mental health issues, housing, job and/or education needs, and family/ parental issues)

1. Low risk offenders; Probation (banked file): Where the offender is neither a risk to society or has special needs, the court might see the offender once, shortly after probation placement, focusing the offender’s attention on probation compliance, and only see the felon again, if there is a substantial change of circumstances (note: Diversion contacts are often as minimal).

2. Medium risk offender, Probation (straight community corrections); Where the offender has a medium risk of re-offending and has special criminogenic needs, the felon would be placed in a track on a regular court schedule. Compliance in this track would require completion of cognitive behavioral and other rehabilitation services, with compliance resulting in substantial incentives and rewards. Compliance will allow the court to back off from contacts with probationers (unless changed circumstances or graduation)

3. High Risk offender, Probation (often a substantial jail term); Intensive supervision requirements might include attending court sessions on a weekly basis (remaining in court until all participants have been seen), a minimum of twice weekly contacts with a case manager, intensive cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, and pro-social activities for at least 40 hours per week (for at least 90 days)

Reducing Prison terms through Front-End Sentencing

 The second half of the diagram represents the use of alternatives to prison terms, allowing us to use an evidence-based sentencing system as a means to keep serious (but non-violent) offenders from serving long prison terms.

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 by individual judges in a non-systemic fashion.

“Front-End Systemic Approaches” to long prison terms described here present 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 three levels.

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.

Cesare Beccaria: The Founder of Modern Penology

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on April 11,2010,  provides a brief historical context for the success of Hawaii’s highly praised HOPE Program.

If there is any certainty about our ideas for penal reforms, it is that they are mostly a reiteration of what has been said or written before. Mark Kleiman and Angekla Hawkins, the authors of the UCLA Publication on Hawaii’s “HOPE” Program, appropriately pay homage to the work of Cesare Beccaria, writing  ”That swiftness and certainty outperform severity in the management of offending is a concept that dates back to Beccaria (1764)”. In an on line publication, Issues in Science and Technology, the authors note,”The idea that swiftness and certainty are more important determinants of deterrent effectiveness is at least as old as the founding document of criminology, Cesare Beccaria’s 18th-century On Crimes and Punishments.

Wikipedia describes Beccaria as the father of penology and his treatise, On Crimes and Punishments (1764) the founding work in penology. In it he proposes ”a number of innovative and influential principles: punishment had a preventive (deterrent), not a retributive, function; punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed; the certainty of punishment, not its severity, would achieve the preventive effect; procedures of criminal convictions should be public; and finally, in order to be effective, punishment should be prompt.”

High Risk Offenders Do Better IN Half-Way Houses

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on April 4, 2010, makes clear the “Risk Principle”, that establishes that high risk offenders do significantly better in correctional programs than low to medium risk offenders.

 Reentry Courts, like other problem-solving courts, suffer from the reluctance of criminal justice practitioners and government leaders, to accept empirically established Evidence Based Practices. For example, some criminal justice practitioners have long been resistant to working with difficult high risk offenders that many programs are designed for, and  instead use “risk assessments” to  limit their programs to less challenging low risk offenders. Professor Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnatti, a national expert on residential correctional programs, has been at the forefront of the struggle to move criminal justice professionals and government leaders toward the adoption of Evidence Based Practices. To that end, he has written of the difficulties of changing criminal justice practices and policies  to reflect established Evidence Based Practices (see Prof. Latessa’s comments).

Now comes a  University of Cincinnati study, finding that low risk offenders have comparatively higher recidivism rates coming out of Ohio’s Residential Corrections Programs (such as half-way houses) than moderate to high risk offenders.  The new data confirms  their previous 2006 study (and the work of many other researchers). Their research reflects the well established “Risk Principle”, that offenders should be provided with supervision and treatment that are commensurate with their risk levels.

Professor Latessa points out that it is a waste of scarce resources to put low risk offenders into programs when they don’t need them, and when they would often do better and offend less at home, on probation or other limited monitoring protocols. [It should be noted that risk is not necessarily related to the seriousness of the offense committed, but the risk that the offender will reoffend].

Professor Lessora explains that  low risk offenders have the connections to home, school, job, family and friends that define them as low risk, and enterring a  residential corrections program can damage those connections, increasing their chances of reoffending.   Further, that when housed together in residential corrections programs, high risk offenders often corrupt and influence the low risk offenders, once again increasing their recidivism rate. On the other hand, the recently released data shows moderate to high risk offenders often take advantage of the services and treatment offered at residential corrections programs, significantly lowering their recidivism rates; a good reason to challenge  conventional wisdom, and carefully examining the applicability of Evidence Based Practices to your reentry court.

CASA Reports U.S. Has 25% Of All Prisoners Worldwide

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on March 2, 2010, describes the extraordinary degree the U.S.  has relied (and continues to rely) on prison to deal with drug addicted, non-violent offenders as compared to other nations.

The new 144-page report released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University revealed that alcohol and other drugs were involved in 78 percent of violent crimes, 83 percent of property crimes, and 77 percent of public order, immigration or weapon offenses; and probation/parole violations  The report also noted that in 2005, federal, state and local governments spent $74 billion on incarceration, court proceedings, probation and parole for substance-involved adult and juvenile offenders and less than one percent of that amount – $632 million – on prevention and treatment for them. The Report noted that  the U.S. with 5% of the world’s population,  had nearly 25% of all prisoners worldwide. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s Chairman and President and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, called the nation’s current prison policies, “Inane and inhuman…..  The tragedy is that we know how to sharply reduce the costs of incarceration and the crimes committed by substance-involved offenders.”[see: CASA Report: Behind Bars II]