Practitioner Fact Sheet on Sanctions and Incentives

Dec. 17, 2012

Drug Court Research can provide a great deal of critical information to those engaged in the development of Reentry Courts and other Evidence-based Sentencing Systems. Dr. Doug Marlowe, Chief of Science, Policy & Law, National Association of Drug Court Professionals, continues to produce invaluable practitioner information to the Collaborative Court field.

Dr. Marlowe makes this important observation in his “Drug Court Practioner Fact Sheet, Behavior Modification 101 for drug Courts: Making the Most of Incentives and Sanctions” (click on image on the left for PDF).

“At its core, the criminal justice system is a behavior modification program designed to reduce crime and rehabilitate offenders. Historically, unfortunately, rewards and sanctions were rarely applied in a systematic manner that could produce meaningful or lasting effects. Dissatisfied with this unacceptable state of affairs, a group of criminal court judges set aside special dockets to provide closer supervision and greater accountability for substance-dependent and substance-abusing offenders. Wittingly or unwittingly, these judges devised programs that are highly consonant with the scientific principles of contingency management or operant conditioning.

Research now confirms that the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of any Drug Court will depend largely on its ability to apply these behavioral techniques correctly and efficiently. Drug Courts that ignore the lessons of science are not very effective and waste precious resources and opportunities. Drug Court teams should periodically consult the latest findings on behavior modification and attend training and technical assistance activities to ensure they are making the most of their limited resources and leveraging the best outcomes for their participants and their communities.” (p.8)

Reentry Courts and Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems would do well to familiarize themselves with this NDCI publication  (It should be noted that appropriate Drug Court methodology can sometimes differ substantially when applied to different populations; more on that later). Systemic Approaches are clearly key to the effective sentencing and rehabilitation of all offenders, not just those who are drug dependent. The application of  “Evidence Based Sentencing Systems, then is especially important when jurisdictions sentence serious offenders. (See: An Overview of a Court-Based Sentencing System and Court-Based Realignment Recommendations; immediately below))


Evidence Based Practices in Reentry Court

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on Feb. 15, 2010, makes the connection between Drug Courts’ Ten Key Components and Evidence Based Practices and comes out in favor of instituting scientifically proven Evidence Based Practices.

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices (on your left), by Marc Carey and Frank Domurad, published by the Center for Effective Public Policy, under a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is the best publication I have found on the application of EBP to Prisoner Reentry

If you have or are planning a reentry court, you need to be familiar with “Evidence Based Practices” (EBP).   The challenge for a reentry court is to adopt proven empirical and research driven, “Evidence Based Practices”, designed to reduce recidivism. To do so, a reentry courts will need  qualified personnel, with open minds, and pioneering spirits. Perhaps we should start with a bit of history.

The Drug Court field’s Ten Key Components (NADCP/OJP; 1997) have been  around since 1997 and have stood the test of time. However, while still valuable as general principles, they don’t provided guidance as to what specific features reduce drug usage and recidivism.They were developed by practitioners like myself (I was an ex-drug court judge and NADCP’s President at the time), who knew what we were doing was working, but not exactly why. When we came together in Washington D.C., it was clear that the  fast growing field needed standards and guidance. So we created a template that was broad and based on commonsense. What we didn’t know was whether research and empirical evaluation would back up our beliefs. That the components have been implemented and adhered to by thousands of drug and problem-solving court practitioners in the intervening years is extraordinary in itself. But as I said before, for all the success of the “Key Components”, they didn’t provide the guidance we needed, to know which features to build  into our programs to make them more effective. Since then, the “Key Components” have been scientifically evaluated, substantiated to an extent, and have evolved (to my way of thinking) into  what has become known as  “Evidence Based Practices”,  or  scientifically proven”Best Practices” (specific guidelines) for the Problem-Solving Field.

According to the Pew Center on the States, “Evidence Base Practices”,  mean “supervision policies, procedures, programs, and practices that scientific research demonstrate reduce recidivism among individuals on probation, parole, or post-release supervision” (Policy Framework to Strengthen Community Corrections; Pew Public Safety Performance Project; 1998). The Crime and Justice Institute and National Institute of Corrections have produced a major report, authored by Judge Roger Warren (ret.), President Emeritus of the National Center for State Courts,  entitled Evidence-Based Practices to ReduceRecidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries, written for  the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the National Center for State Courts. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has also produced a monograph on the topic: “Quality Improvement for Drug Courts: Evidence Based Practices” (National Drug Court Institute Monograph #9; 2008)  The reentry court practitioner needs to rely on peer approved and recognized works in establishing its structures, procedures, and processes.

Even with all the scientific and institutional support for the implementation of EBP, the application of Evidence Based Practices to reentry court will be a hard sell. EBP often runs counter to  the practitioner’s conventional thinking on sentencing and rehabilitation practices. (ie. Best to play it safe and provide services for worthy non-violent, non-serious offenders, return parolees to prison for all but the most minor of violations, use the same sanctions and incentives for all drug abusers, etc.) And it’s not as simple and straight forward as the “key components”. But let’s remember that the “Key Components” are not the grail, but commonsense ideas about what worked for drug courts in 1997. EBP will require a willingness to learn new ways of doing our job. That means training and education. For some, it’s just too much work. But isn’t it worth the effort to create reentry courts (and other problem-solving courts), using scientifically proven guidelines or “Evidence Based Practices”  that will do what we started out to do in 1997; to better reduce drug abuse and recidivism in our communities.

NADCP argues for Evidence-Based Tracks

June 12, 2012

Dr. Doug Marlowe, NADCP Director of Science and Law is a clinical psycologist and attorney, widely acknowledged, as the foremost authority on the science behind Drug Courts and evidence-based Drug Court systems (seen in photo on left). At the NADCP conference in Nashville last week, he spoke at a number of workshops, attended by hundreds of attendees and moderated a plenary panel session whose participants were a who’s who of the drug court and drug treatment field ( “Reconstruction After the War on Drugs”). His two part Drug Court Practitioner Fact Sheets, Targeting the Right Participants for Adult Drug Courts  and Alternative Tracks in Adult Drug Courts: Matching Your Program to the Needs of your Clients, were the only documents included along with the conference agenda, provided to nearly 4500 attendees.

In his presentations and two part Fact Sheets he laid out a clear message for the drug court and the criminal justice field in general. Drug Courts are not for everyone. Only those individuals who are drug dependent ought to be placed in a drug court. Accordin g to Dr. Marlowe, sixty to eighty perccent of drug offenders in the criminal justice system, are drug abusers, not drug dependent, and don’t belong in a drug court.

In Fact Sheet II, Alternative Tracks in Adult Drug Courts: Matching Your Program to the Needs of your Clients, Dr. Marlowe further explains that developing alternative tracks in drug courts for non high-risk offenders probably make good sense. “In some communities the drug court may be the most effective, or perhaps only, program serving as an alternative to incarceration”. He concludes, “If a drug court has such compelling reasons to serve low-risk or low-need individuals, it should consider making substantive modifications to its program to accommodate the characteristics of its participants”. The document then describes “a conceptual framework and evidence-based practice recommendations for designing alternative tracks within a drug court to serve different types of adult participants”. All of this information should be of great interest, not only to the drug court practitioner, but to those interested in evidence-based sentencing systems, that provides appropriate tracks for different offender populations. In fact, both documents ought to be closely read for their import to sentencing in general (see:  Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 10).

NADCP Conference Success is Complete

June 4, 2012

The National Association of Drug Court professionals 18th Annual Conference, was held last week in Nashville, Tenn.  Presided over by NADCP CEO West Huddleston, over 4000 attendees (an attendance record) filled Gaylord’s Grand Old Opry Hotel and Convention Center. I have been to all 18 National Conferences and found the energy  and confidence displayed to be inspiring.  To my mind, it was a powerful demonstration of the power of problem-solving courts to energize criminal justice reform across the nation (full disclosure: I was founding President of NADCP and am NADCP President Emeritus).

The Conference itself ran 23 tracks of 6 topic related workshops, ranging from Tribal Healing and Wellness Courts to Veteran’s Courts. Perhaps the most powerful session of the week was a plenary on Friday morning on “Reconstruction After the War on Drugs”, with Dr.Doug Marlowe, NADCP Director of Law and Science, moderating.  An mportant discussion ensued on the future of Drug Reform, now that the efficacy of treatment over imprisonment has become an article of faith among conservatives and liberals alike. On the panel were Judge Steve Alm, Dr. Robert DuPont, Melody Heeps, Chris Lowenkamp, Tim Murray, and NADCP CEO West Huddleston. The coming together of these seminal figures in the Treatment Court field is a good omen for the future.

Reentry Court Axiom: Smaller “Margin Of Error”

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) sponsored Reentry Court “Focus Group”, held in Boston, June 1, arrived at what might be described as a “Reentry Court Axiom”,  that “the greater the risk of  a particpant re-offending, the smaller the “margin of error”, for reentry court practitioners, to get it right”. Reading a transcript of the “Reentry Court  Focus Group” proceedings left me with the strong impression that, while the Reentry Court are largely based on the drug court model,  high-risk offenders returning from jails and prison, would pose a greater challenge than other  participant groups to date.

This conundrum was spelled out in the presentation of Dr. Douglas Marlowe, NADCP Director of Law, Policy, and Science, when he described the above mentioned, “Reentry Court Axiom” and the need to be diligent in the application of “evidence based practices” (see: Dr. Marlowe’s comments).  Other practitioners/experts in the field came to seemingly diferent conclusions. Judges Steven Manley of Santa Clara County , CA, and Chris Carpenter, of Boone County, Mo., agreed that the reentry court population would have to be treated differently than other populations, and that they presented a special challenge for the reentry court professional. But they concluded that allowances woud have to be made to keep the high risk offender in the reentry court; in effect lowering the bar required of reentry court particpants to stay in the program.

After reviewing the transcript, the seeming conflict resolved. Both Dr. Marlowe and the practitioner/experts agreed that this would be a more difficult population, one that would require “evidence-based practices” to be applied faithfully and diligently. But within those “practices” resided the flexibility (and  even necessity) for “lowering the bar”, by applying intermediate sanctions to  non-violent probation/parole violations.  Innovative intermediate sanctions, applied swiftly and with certainty, will allow the Reentry Court  to keep the offender in the community, without violating the participants’ parole/probation, or sending the participant back to prison.

I came away from my co-facilitaiton of the focus group (with Al Siegel, Deputy Director of the Center  for Court Innovations), with an understanding of the difficulty of effectively dealing with the Reentry Court population. But also with the belief that Reentry Court is our last best opportunity  to stem the flood of offenders returning to our prisons. [Reentry Court Focus Group Transcript. June 1, 2010]

Dr.Marlowe speaks out for Reentry Courts

Dr. Doug Marlowe, speaking in Boston this month on the latest research on reentry programs, concluded that  excluding reentry court,  most every state-of-the-art reentry modality had shown little impact on recidivism.

Dr.Doug Marlowe, Chief of Science, Policy, and Law at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), made his comments at a presentation for a Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) sponsored Focus Group on Reentry Courts,  held on June 1, 2010.

While the presentation only dealt  peripherally with reentry courts, its  implications to the field were significant.  Dr.Marlowe’s message was that present coercive and non-coercive reentry efforts don’t work. Even when we use the most sophisticated programs and state-of-the-art technology,  they have not shown themselves to be appreciably better than no program at all.

Presented through a  logical progression of easily followed power point slides (attached below), Dr. Marlowe examined the failures of a number of reentry programs, culminating in the recent SVORI (Serious & Violent Offender Reentry Initiative) meta-analysis. Following the trail of $100 million and 2,391 participants over a 3 year period, the SVORI evaluation concluded that even the best non-court based programs showed higher re-incarceration rates than the control group (though rearrest rates were somewhat lower).

Dr. Marlowe’s conclusion (among others) was that returning offenders were not likely to engage in the highly structured and intensive programs  required for successful reentry, without graduated sanctions and incentives, the mark of the reentry court. While the jury may be out as to the ultimate success of the reentry court, we have reason to believe they will be highly successful with the high risk offenders returning  from our jails and prisons ( as the drug court model they emulate, has been extraordinarily effective when dealing with the high risk offender in the community).

[See  “Reentry of Drug Offenders”; Dr.Douglas Marlowe, J.D., PH.D ]

BJA Sponsored Reentry Court Focus Group Shines

Sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Boston Reentry Focus Group completed a full day session, with BJA bringing together an extraordinary group of fifteen experts from the Reentry Court and related fields. (Participants). The agenda dealt with topics as diverse as community coalition involvement and  State Jurisdiction for Reentry Courts (Focus Group Agenda). Lunch featured a presentation by Dr. Doug Marlowe, NADCP Director of Science, Policy, and the Law on “How Evidence Based Practices Applies To A Reentry Court Environment” (the powerpoint will be published shortly). A publication on Reentry Courts seen a likely outcome.

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