"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."
A NEW YEAR’S VISION: EVIDENCE-BASED SENTENCING FOR ALL
It is the New Year and so it is customary to envision what we should accomplish in the the next year. Instead, allow me to envision a new evience-based sentencing system in place across the U.S. Let’s assume for a moment that only those truly deserving remain in prison or jail (hypothetically a fraction of those currently incarcerated). That would leave the Sentencing Judges with the critical task od deciding what do they do with those who commit criminal offenses. How would they sentence those convicted of a crime in a fair, humane and rational manner.
Actually the antecedents of such a sentencing system go back more than 25 years to the dawn of the Drug Court era. It was widely understood that the sentencing and supervision of drug offenders wasn’t working. There was little coordination in the court’s dealing with the drug offender, the offender rarely saw the same judge or court personnel twice, there was little court or offender accountability and altogether inadequate rehabilitation services available.(Monograph No.2, of the 1999 NDCI Monograph Series, “Drug Court Systems”, Jeffrey Tauber)
Following the example of the Drug Court, our futuristic sentencing system would have the same judge and court team deal with the sentenced offender (to the extent possible), as part of a seamless supervision, treatment, and rehabilitationsystem, that runs from sentencing, through custody, through community supervision, to the very conclusion of the case.
Our most challenging project for ’96 was survival. We had four months to start up a functioning national organization, establish a new untested education and training program across the nation, and put on a first class national conference in Washington, D.C.
1995: PREPARING TO OPEN SHOP
As I flew east in October of 1995, to finalize preparations for the grand opening of NADCP, I had one overriding goal: we needed to show the flag and convince the governmental and organizational elites that we were for real, were capable of providing the services and programs that we had been touting for the past two years, and could stand toe-to-toe with existing NGOs.
[If there was one thing I was pretty sure of, it was that we weren’t welcome at the dinner table. Organizations would test the loyalty of our practitioner members (read: judges), the soundness of our programs, and the capabilities of our staff. From time to time, those organizations would offer to partner with us (read: take us over) but their clear preference was that we would quietly go away; there just wasn’t enough room at the table.
Actually, their assumptions about NADCP weren’t far off. NADCP was built with smoke and mirrors. I would make claims as to our accomplishments and capabilities that were often (to be kind to myself) exaggerations. Then we would go out and accomplish whatever we said we would. That went for our publications, trainings, organizational innovations, programming, and conferences. While my exaggerations were not something that I was particularly proud of, I am proud of the fact that we almost always came through on our promises.
I had intentionally chosen an ambitious agenda for the first several months to establish our credibility in D.C. It called for me to assume the role of political leader, educator, administrator, presenter, writer, propagandist, organizer, and conference planner. My ability to rise to the occasion would clearly be tested, and soon. I found myself working 12/7 and more, and there was always some unexpected emergency that needed to be dealt with immediately. I was, as they say, “under the gun”.
MARC PEARCE: A CHIEF OF STAFF (SANS STAFF)
It was Columbus Day weekend, early October 1995, and I had interviewed fifteen applicants or so for the position of Chief of Staff (although given the circumstances, the title may have been a bit grandiose). One applicant stood out: Marc Pearce. He had the right degrees (including a master’s in Business Administration), an engaging personality, a keen intellect, and he was a pragmatist (reality had never been one of my strengths).
Marc handled our finances, was a wonderful sounding board and, unfortunately for him, an excellent editor (at the time, my computer skills amounted to placing stick-its on computer monitors). NADCP’s staff was complete (all two of us) as we approached January 2006.
I leased a ground floor garden apartment with a bricked in terrace (facing east for morning sun; critical for a Californian). It was on Polk Street in Alexandria, just two blocks from our incubator organization, CADCA, and one block from the Potomac River. I rented furniture and a car for the year. I was set.
CADCA: INCUBATOR ANGST
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) was to play a central role in the development of NADCP, from our founding conference in 1994 until we left their umbrella (and offices) in 1997. We had been taken under the wings of CADCA and its foundation sponsor, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJ). CADCA provided two cubicles, clerical and financial assistance, and other resources through a special grant from RWJ. In so many ways it proved a blessing, and my appreciation goes out to both organizations for their critical assistance at NADCP’s inception.
From 1994-97 (our incubator period), CADCA was led by its President, Jim Copple, and his Vice-President, Nelson Cooney. I took care to deal with Jim as little as possible, as he tended to be intense and mercurial. Nelson was conservative by my lights (he had been on William Bennett’s staff at ONDCP), but we agreed on more things than not and he was an important advisor and a good friend (his calm and sense of humor eased many a tense moment).
One early incident demonstrated the pressures we were all under. During my first week on the job, Jim Copple called me into his office (never a good sign). He opened by quietly telling me about his hopes for NADCP, and then began screaming at me. Words to the effect of, “You better not screw this up”, “You’re not getting a second chance”, and “You and Mark better make sure you can deliver”. I was speechless.
Apparently Marc and I weren’t the only ones feeling the pressure for NADCP to succeed. I was a bit confused and shaken. We hadn’t done anything for him to complain about. (In fact, we hadn’t really done anything at all up to that point.)