As California, and states across the nation, contemplate the return of non-serious offenders to local counties, it may be time to seriously consider the Community-Based alternative, Reentry Court.
Newly re-elected Governor Jerry Brown has announced his intention of returning state prisoners to county jails. According to an article in the San Jose Mercury, “Under Brown’s plan, the state would stop housing 37,000 adult convicts each year who are short-timers, low-level offenders and parole violators. Those groups instead would be held in county jails at a cost some experts say could be half the current burden…This is just an incredibly massive shift for a state system that was sending everybody and their brother to prison,” said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford University criminal justice expert. Petersilia, who has worked with two gubernatorial administrations on the change, described it as “the most significant in California history.”
This news shouldn’t come as a surprise as similar plans have been put forward in the past. But this time, it appears that the governor’s plan has a great deal going for it. The extraordinary cost of keeping non-violent offenders in state prison, an astounding budget deficit pegged at $27 Billion, and the court case before the U.S. Supreme Court, that may force California to remove up to 40,000 prisoners from its over-crowded prisons.The question for many, is whether the state will provide the funds to counties to provide the necessary treatment and other services required to successfully reintegrate offenders into their communities.
Reentry Courts are seemingly new,and not on everyone’s mind, but they should be. The six California Counties participating in California’s Parole Reentry Court Pilot Project, having recently begun operations, are showing unusual promise. Within the next six months, we should have a very good idea as to the efficacy of the reentry court model in handling those returning from prison. It’s time to pay attention to the reentry court, based on a drug court model, that has proven itself to be the only effective community-based program for high-risk offenders.