Policy Paper No.4: Implementing A National reentry court Initiative

This paper follows three policy papers on a reentry/drug court proposal that promise extraordinary change in how we deal with felons both before and after a prison term. The proposed system is experiential, science-based and pragmatic.  But even if adopted, it will face profound opposition from within the criminal justice system and great reluctance to change.


The criminal justice system (CJS) and related agencies tend to be extraordinarily wary of change, no matter how compelling the reasons for reform. They are extremely protective of what they see as their independence and their prerogatives (this is especially true among elected judges and prosecutors). While there is a great deal of talk of the importance of coordination within government, willingness to share information and resources, and develop real collaborative plans is lacking in most jurisdictions. This often makes it necessary to push reform on a reluctant CJS.


We’ve learned over the past fifteen years that most practitioners are largely motivated by how a proposed reform impacts them in their everyday life. While idealism may initially move the CJS, after a time the system usually returns to inertia. Therefore, the best way to effectively implement substantial change within the CJS is to make sure that implementation of a proposed reform is seen as being in the institutional, professional and financial interests of the CJS and companion agencies. To do that will take strong national leadership, compelling federal incentive programs (The Department of Transportation state incentives program is an excellent example) and an ability to reach out to the general public as well as the CJS and its practitioners.


The federal government has taken tentative steps to base its funding decisions upon the performance of local governmental programs. John Carnevale, former Budget Director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and a pioneer in the development of performance based criteria, wrote in 2005, “PART [the Program Assistance Rating Tool] is a method for assessing program performance and assesses four areas: program purpose and design; strategic planning; management; and results. Mr.Carnavale concluded that even though designed to provide relevant data to assist federal funding decisions, “the evidence does not indicate that PART was central to shaping the federal drug control budget”. Performance-based criteria need to be reestablished.


In the past, local program coordination suffered because of the inability of federal and state agencies to coordinate among themselves and present unified goals. Local agencies followed their own interests, supported by their federal/state sponsors and promoting their own constituencies. Those constituencies would compete rather than cooperate for limited resource.


National funding strategies have now been devised that encourage and mandate effective policy implementation across the CJS and companion agencies. For example, by requiring coordination as a condition of funding, program success should naturally become a shared goal of participating agencies. However, local agencies are extremely good at promising reform, policy implementation, and/or coordination with community, while doing none or very little of the above. “Structurally Accountable” models (see below) need to be implemented whose very structure promotes coordination, stability, and program effectiveness over time.


Under one such structure or strategic model, described as “Co-funded Systems”, resources are allocated to the program as a whole, relying on the system’s participants to determine the proper distribution of resources. Because continued funding depends on the effectiveness of policy implementation, the success of the program becomes a priority for all. Potential joint funding and monitoring by state and federal agencies further reinforces shared goals and encourages the CJS to take the federal and state policy mandates seriously. Implicitly, the funding agencies must be willing to withdraw funding should the local CJS not fulfill its co-funding obligations. (A National Strategy For The Co-Funding Of Unified Drug Court Systems, Tauber, 1993)


It is important to involve the entire community–including government, rehabilitation, treatment, religious, and neighborhood organizations–in the planning, resourcing, and implementation of successful policy initiatives. There are great opportunities in the extraordinary resources and energy that the larger community can bring to a reform agenda.  It should be acknowledged however, that the greater community is often viewed as an outsider and even a threat by the local CJS. Bringing community organizations, both governmental and non-profit, to the funding table will go a long way to correct that narrow view, and help develop community-wide cooperation and coordination that will promote successful “reentry” reform.


Many of the ideas discussed in this document date back to papers written fifteen years ago.  Unfortunately, most of the issues discussed then, remain as problematic and relevant as ever.


1.  The profound resistance of the CJS to change must be designed into reform strategies.

2. Program incentives and goals need to be coordinated on state and federal levels, and program effectiveness monitored through performance based criteria (PART).

3. “Structurally Accountable” programs need to be designed whose structures promote coordination, and the sharing of resources among participating agencies and organizations.

December 10, 2008

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