A County Jail Based Reentry Court Grant Application

June 9th

This is one of many articles  I’ve written on the 2011 “Second Chance Act” Reentry Court RFP, in an attempt to stir interest in a major funding opportunity involving community alternatives to prison. In this analysis,  I will review the Reentry Court RFP from the perspective of a  county -jail, probation-based reentry court applicant.

Typically, when one thinks of a reentry process, the focus is on state prisoners reentering society.  While this is clearly a critical issue, the possibility of keeping the offenders in the local community , and using a substantial jail term as a last resort to prison has not always received the focus it deserves. Creating an effective county jail-based reentry court program offers the possibility of reducing the state prison population with its extraordinary costs, keeping offenders local, while increasing public safety within a seamless and comprehensive jail-based reentry court system.

Note: This solicitation is open to offenders returning from jails as well as prisons.

The pressure is on to reduce prison population in states like California. Governor Jerry Brown has committed  his new administration to implementing a major sentencing realignment that will optimally send 30,000 state prisoners back to local communities and county court jurisdiction.  The potential for dealing with offenders at an early stage of the criminal justice process (potentially at Arraignment), allowing for the seamless transitioning from jail to community, providing judicial oversight and incentives, using the same reentry court team throughout, and providing critical rehabilitation services early on, is an important alternative to prison based reentry court (see: County Jail Based Reentry Courts, a Policy Paper). An additional benefit, is that the local jurisdiction can submit an application and proceed with their planned reentry court, even in states that don’t support state prison-based reentry courts.

It’s worth repeating, that an obvious way to deal with exploding prison populations and prisoner reentry failures is to refrain from sentencing non-violent offenders to prison in the first place.

Schwarzenneger Takes Step Toward Pre-Entry Court

California Governor Arnold Schwarzennneger has indicated that his May revised budget will include a provision to send fifteen thousand  nonserious, nonviolent, non-sex offender felons presently serving time in state prison, to serve up to three years of their sentence in county jail (see: Sacramento  Bee article). To some, the plan has obvious drawbacks, as many county jails are severely overcrowded, without adequate medical and other services, (and in some cases under federal caps). Others would argue that the plan would imprudently force county jail to release county inmates early.

But, it can also be seen as a positive development in the fight to keep non-violent offenders out of prison; a tacit acknowledgement of the compelling need to keep non-violent offenders in local probation based programs (whether custodial or otherwise). This can ultimately work out to be a major step away from state prison and toward community supervision and rehabilitation of non-violent offenders.  County Probation Jail-Based Reentry Courts (or Pre-Entry courts) could be the real winner, if Schwarzenneger’s plan catches on in California and other states (see article: Jail Based Reentry Court As Grant Applicant)

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