Last week, Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General journeyed to Philadelphia to attend a session of the STAR Federal Reentry Court Program. The STAR Program (Supervision to Aid Re-entry) has shown substantial success. Nationally, 47 percent of federal offenders return to prison before the end of their court-mandated supervision. Among STAR participants, that figure is about 20 percent, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Officials estimate STAR has already saved $1.5 million in incarceration costs.
Attorney General Holder sat through a session where seventeen participants talked to the presiding judge about their experiences in an informal setting and received individual attention and encouragement from the judge and reentry court team. Holder expressed great admiration for the Philadelphia Reentry Court Program and described similar efforts as a high priority for the remainder of his term.
RCS has visited the STAR program before. In 2010 we published the STAR Reentry Court’s Annual Report (see 2010 STAR Annual Report) While Federal Reentry Courts are a welcome addition to existing Problem-Solving Courts, to be honest their success has been limited by the number of participants .
The Federal Reentry courts, have been to my knowledge, the only significant attempt by the federal courts, themselves, to monitor and support offenders leaving federal prisons. The numbers of participants are small; apparently 17 current participants in the Philadelphia program (some Fedral Reentry Courts have as few as ten participants). Compare that to the vast number of offenders in need of similar programs. And while the Philadelphia Reentry Court has shown a willingness to deal with serious and violent offenders in its programs, most other Federal Reentry Courts have been reluctant to do so.
As background, I first approached Federal Judicial and Probation Officials in 1999, as President of NADCP (National Association of Drug Court Professionals). They were dubious at best as to the potential of Drug Courts or other Problem-Solving Courts, at the front end of the sentencing process.. When we suggested that a similar program be embedded at the backend of the prison term, they did not seem particularly interested. Since then, there has been a small shake-up in the Federal Courts re alternatives to prison.
There are apparently over forty Federal Courts across the nation who have embrace the Problem-Solving Court concept. The structural, institutional, and procedural adherence to the Problem Solving Court Model has been uniformly exceptional. What is a concern is the token quality of the federal commitment. I don’t know why the federal push for reentry court has been so limited, but i do know that it needs to reach out to a substantial number of offenders to have any significant impact on recidivism. I do not say this lightly. One or three or five percent of released Federal Offenders are a good beginning for a well structured program that has made a commitment to deal with a great many more. I hope that the Attorney General’s endorsement and setting of Federal Reentry Courts as a priority for the Justice Department will make a difference.