"Today when I think of reentry court, I am reminded that nearly every offender sentenced to time in custody will return to the community from whence they came. And thus, every sentencing court is in fact, a reentry court, creating a pathway for the offender’s reentry into society." -Jeff Tauber

Ten Reasons to Build A Reentry Court in 2010

The Reentry Process is nothing new to the Drug Court Practitioner. Drug court has always been a reentry mechanism; a seamless process for returning the drug offender from arrest and criminal adjudication , through community-based rehabilitation and monitoring, to the offender’s reintegration into the community. What is different in 2010, is the immediate need to expand drug courts into next-generation comprehensive reentry/drug courts. Consider the following reasons to expand your drug court into a reentry/drug court in 2010:

1.       There has been a sesmic shift in the nation’s attitude toward imprisonment and prisons. The entire nation seems desperately focused on the prison problem, and its financial and social costs,  New, untested (or tested and failed) reentry systems are positioning themselves as reform champions and therefore, recipients of prison reform funding (leaving the courts out in many instances).

3.       The Drug Court has been tested, evaluated, and analyzed over the past twenty years on an unparalleled scale. The scientific community has concluded that the drug court provides the most effective means to rehabilitate, hold accountable, and reintegrate the “high risk”, non-violent, drug involved offender back into the community. ( Doug Marlowe: A Sober Assessment of Drug Court). Reentry courts are, in fact, Drug Court models.

4.      The federal government  appears to recognize the success of the Drug Court model, when they encourage programs providing “evidence-based practices”, such as the seamless transitioning from custody to community, and graduated sanctions and incentives. Drug courts in large part pioneered those practices.

5.       The “Second Chance Act”, and other federal and state initiatives specifically emphasize the need for community-based “task forces”, that work collaboratively in integrating the offender into the community and sharing resources and funding streams to make the process truly a community-wide effort. Most Drug Courts have been engaged in community-wide collaborations since their inception.

6.       Reentry/Drug courts represent the future of the drug court field; a next  generation, comprehensive drug court that works with “high-risk, non-violent, drug involved offenders. The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), have  endorsed drug court on four separate occasions, since 2000, as the lynchpin of future court systems, emphasizing their effectivenesss in dealing with issues such as “recidivism”. (see CCJ Resolution 22/COSCA Resolution 4)

7.       Rather than re-inventing the wheel, the nation’s Reentry Reform Movement can take advantage of over two thousand drug courts already in existence. The court-based mechanisms that insure accountability, the trained personnel, the structure and community relationships are already in place. Decision-makers, from drug court practitioners,  to state drug court coordinators, to policy makers in the judicial, legislative, and executive branches need to be made aware of this, evidence-based, scientifically proven and cost-effective alternative.

8.       Probation or Jail-Based Reentry Courts (sometimes called Pre-entry Courts) represent the simplest solution to prison-overcrowding and reentry issues. The best way to deal with jail-overcrowding and reentry issues, is not to sentence the non-violent, high-risk drug offenders to prison in the first place, but  place those who would otherwise go to prison, under state court and probation jurisdiction, in next-generation, comprehensive reentry/ drug courts (see Reentry/Drug Court Model)

7.       Although somewhat more problematic ( as jurisdiction typically lies with the executive branch), prison-based reentry courts are being piloted in many states. Relying on innovative structures such as split-sentencing, or collaborative  sentencing systems that engage the returning offender in a seamless transition into the community, they appear to be an effective means  to hold ex-prisoners accountable as they engage in the reintegration process. (see Ten Prison-Based Reentry Models)

9.      While federal funding for drug courts increased substantially this year, state and county funding is being cut back in many jurisdictions. Reentry funding  on the other hand is expanding rapidly. The “Second Chance Act” alone, increased its funding four-fold to $100 million plus over last year. With an almost zealous intensity, state and federal authorities are determined to reduce funding for prison and prisoners, while seemingly intent to increase funding for prison alternatives and  reentry reform at an  increasing rate in the coming years.

10.    The impact of drug courts have been limited to little more than 5% of drug-involved offenders. It’s time for drug courts and their practitioners to step up and assert their place in the reentry process ( and in “reentry task forces” being formed in their communities), as the proven, and most successful approach to the “high-risk”, non-violent, drug-involved offenders that populate our jails and prisons. The opportunity to do so may not come again.

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