Court-Based Reentry Systems

PDF: Judiciialy Supervised Reentry Interventions



State court or Judicial connections to prisoners and ex-prisoners are much more common

than generally believed, among the 50 states. State courts typically have some jurisdiction

to intervene in prisoner reentry into the community, but rarely use that authority.

Furthermore, relatively few such connections are organized into a systemic program that

coordinates court or judicial intervention with community and correctional intervention.

While reentry court may be the best known of court based reentry systems, there are other

systemic connections that exist between the court and prisoner/ex-prisoners, that have a

substantial impact themselves or hold the potential for such an impact.

The “Court Jurisdiction Chart” is designed to help you analyze whether your state has

the potential for a Court-Based Reentry System (or Judicially Supervised Reentry System)

and/or Reentry Court

[Note: the chart is explained below]


If your state does not provide your courts with the jurisdiction to intervene in prison

reentry, the likelihood that you will be able to do so is small. A number of states have

collaborative agreements or MOU’s with corrections and/or parole authorities that allow

the court to either supervise the reentering prisoner directly or do so when the ex-prisoner

has picked up a separate offense that the court does have jurisdiction over. There is also

the possibility that your state legislature may give authority to your courts to intervene in

prison reentry (.i.e California has made major changes to its reentry system, giving its

courts jurisdiction over most prison sentences and parole violators).


When the court intervenes is probably the most important factor in determining the level

of care, resources, and supervision appropriate to individuals reentering the community.

For obvious reasons, interventions after four months of a custodial sentence are likely to

be far less intrusive or intensive than an intervention after four years of prison.


The most obvious and immediate state court contact point is an early intervention;

ordering a convicted felon to state prison immediately before or after sentence has been

imposed, for an evaluation, assessment, or other purpose. While this power is found in

most state courts, individual judges most often use it, on a case-by-case basis.

It is also used in a number of states, to intervene in a probationer’s drug usage or other

criminal behavior, as part of a Reentry Court or other court-based intervention program.

Frontloaded Courts (sometimes called Preentry Courts), typically work with participants

who spend relatively short terms in prison (30 days to 4 months), although some frontloaded

programs can sentence felons for up to one year in prison or other custodial

setting. Of all Reentry Court participants, those engaged in a front-loaded reentry

program, are most likely to have family, friends, jobs, skills, and connections to

community, thus requiring the lowest level of court involvement and program intensity (a

tier one intensity court).


A number of states allow the judge to determine at sentencing, the prison term and

probation supervision to follow. Some courts can change the split while the offender is

serving his/her prison term (.i.e Ohio).

Several Reentry Courts use this jurisdiction model as a basis for their Reentry Courts (i.e.

Indiana, Texas, Ohio, California). This is typically a hybrid or second tier reentry court,

where some participants spend substantial terms in prison while others do not (a split

prison term typically has a minimum of 1 year). A good risk/needs assessment can

determine the court resources and intensity level required to reintegrate the split sentence

offender into the community (considered a second tier intensity court).


Post Prison Court-Based Reentry Systems are thought to be closest to the established

reentry court model. The prisoner finishes the prison term, is released early to enter a

halfway house and Reentry Court (.i.e Nevada), or enters the Reentry Court when he/she

violates their parole/probation (i.e. California)


Court intervention can be done in an ad hoc fashion, based on the discretion of an

individual judge or part of a systemic process, where decisions are made and resources

and staff allow for substantial numbers of program participants.


Where the court has jurisdiction to do so, the intervention of an individual judges may

recall a prisoner from prison, split a prison sentence, or release a prisoner early. This is

often the decision of an individual judge, often operating without standards, guidance, or

program staff, on a case by case basis. This use of this authority is uncommon in most



An organized court system or program requires court resources, and staff to intervene on

a regular basis, to reduce a prison term (or other custodial term). Often the court system

in question is a “Drug Court, or other problem-solving court, that makes use of “prison or

other custodial setting to provide treatment, rehabilitation services, supervision, or other



This is a high intensity court-based reentry system, that often deals with ex-prisoners who

have spent substantial periods of time in prison (typically 3 years or more) and are high

risk offenders with serious and/or dangerous criminal histories. While reentry courts can

be established at any one of the three intervention points (described above), the post

prison segment is often used.

The court uses evidence based practices to determine the risk and needs of the offender

and appropriate responses. Reentry Courts deal with the whole person, recognizing that

participants often need significantly more than drug treatment; programs that provide

room and board, cognitive behavioral therapy and family counseling, physical and mental

health assistance, education and skill building and other rehabilitation services.

Importantly, the high risk, long – term prisoner often needs a reentry court to provide a

surrogate community until real integration in the community can be accomplished. This

3rd tier Reentry Court demands a lot of the long term prisoner, requiring 40+ hours of

pro-social activity per week and constant contact with court, counselors, and recovery


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