Attorney General Endorses Federal Reentry Courts

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 8.51.44 AMNovemeber 11, 2013

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.




Administration announces Interagency Reentry Council

As reported in the National Reentry Resource Center’s Newsletter, Attorney General Eric Holder convened the inaugural meeting of the Interagency Reentry Council last week. “Attending the Cabinet-level meeting were the secretaries of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and the Interior; as well as the heads of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Social Security Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships”.

Interestingly, last week, the likes of Newt Gringrich and Pat Nolan, right wing conservatives, were making their positions known in a Op-ED piece in the Washington Post,  favoring prison reform and reentry strategies not necessarily unlike, those of the Interagency Reentry Council.  As discussed here in the past, there is a confluence of interest across the nation (and around the world) favoring prison reform. Unfortunately it is not a movement always born of concern for the prisoners and their needs, but  one focused on the cost of keeping prisons open and  keeping prisoners in prison (when recidivism remains above 50% within three years of release).

Nevermind. It matters little how we got here, but what we’re able to do to further the agenda of real prison reform, focusing on getting the prisoner back to the community where rehabilitation is possible and where reintegration into the community is a critical necessity. Pay close attention to how the politicians work this issue and make sure that the interests of the prisoner and the community are not lost in translation.

Asst. AG Laurie Robinson Testifies For “Second Chance Act”

Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, Director of the Office Of Justice Programs  (OJP),  testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee  last week. Ms. Robinson has been a champion of innovative communiy-based rehabilitatilon programs, in particular drug courts, during her first stint as Director of OJP during the Clinton Administration. This time around she has championed effective reentry programs and reentry courts. During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee, she stressed the importance of fully funding the “Second Chance Act” at its previous year 2010, $100 million level.

Part of her testimony follows, “In FY 2010, Congress appropriated $100 million to continue the Second Chance Act Offender Reentry Initiative in OJP. This funding level represents an increase of $75 million over the FY 2009 appropriation of $25 million. This $100 million also includes $10 million for research, furthering our goals to support evidence-based initiatives. In FY 2011, the President’s Budget request includes $100 million to continue the Second Chance Act Offender Reentry Initiative.

Last week, Attorney General Holder called for a new approach to dealing with criminals and announced the creation of an interagency working group to focus exclusively on reentry issues. The group will focus on everything from mental health and drug treatment, housing, and job training needs as well as policy recommendations and efforts to enhance interagency coordination at the federal level.

To further these efforts throughout the federal government, the President launched a new Transitional Jobs initiative with the Department of Labor for ex-offenders and low-income, noncustodial fathers who face serious barriers to finding work and keeping work. The majority of returning prisoners are parents and strengthening family ties upon release can help returning prisoners successfully reintegrate into society. Through this program, fathers will be helped to develop the skills and experience they need to move into full-time, long-term employment so they can meet their child support obligations and help provide for their families”

For full text of testimony: Asst. AG Laurie Robinson/July 22

How NADCP got its start

The  NADCP Conference is history. Over 3000 participants and 3o workshop tracks over a 3 day period. The openning Plenary session was the most moving part of the Conference, with dozens of former addicts and their families giving testimonials on how drug court had changed their lives. Followed by presentations by Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson and her boss Attorney General Eric Holder.  Both gave wonderful speeches in support of Drug courts and were cheered with great enthusism.

Which brought to mind the story of how NADCP got its start. In 1995, Laurie Robinson and I were both at a TASC Conference in Orlando, Florida. Laurie was Assistant Attorney General and head of the Office  of Justice Programs (OJP). I was president of a fledgling non-profit organization made up of about a dozen drug court judges and working out of a file cabinet in my court chambers in Oakland, California. I had spoken to Laurie on previous ocassions, but knew her slightly.

When I ran into her at the hotel swimming pool, we talked about the conference briefly and then discussed the state of the Drug Court field. We agreed that Drug Courts were a grassroots phenomenum that needed to provide its own technical assistance through its own drug court professionals. By the time we had finished our conversation, Laurie had decided to provide funding for the development of drug court standards. That was the year that OJP funded “Defining Drug Courts: The Ten Key Components”, a document that became something of a bible to the field.   Although the actual funding wasn’t a great deal of money, it was enough to get a fledgling organization, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, off the ground.

Over the years, besides being a partner in the creation of NADCP, Laurie has continued to be a strong supporter and  persuasive advocate for drug courts and problem solving courts. I thought about that as 3000 plus gave her a well deserved standing ovation at the NADCP conference.

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