"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

Court-Based Realignment Recommendations

THE BEST OF: The following article,  originally posted on September 9, 2012, describes how California Counties can make the best use of the state’s new realignment reform process.                  PDF

POTENTIAL SENTENCING SYSTEM REFORM IN CALIFORNIA COUNTY

I have set out possible sentencing reforms, based on the “Twelve Part Series on Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems” that may be relevant to a California County’s Realignment Process.

SENTENCING AND MANDATORY SUPERVISION UNDER PC 1170(H)

  1.  Start the risk assessment and classification process at plea or sentencing if possible, so the judge can make the most appropriate sentencing decisions.
  2. Create a seamless process for offenders, with a designated sentencing judge and staff monitoring and supervising offenders through the entire sentencing period.
  3. Develop court tracks that reflect probation classifications based on risks/needs assessments, and tailor appropriate court involvement and contacts to that data.
  4. Where appropriate, hold court hearings for in-custody offenders to encourage compliance with a rehabilitation plan through continued court monitoring.
  5. Use the court’s jurisdiction to motivate offenders to do well in their program by providing substantial incentives keyed to an incentives guideline.
  6. Have all newly released offenders, on “mandatory supervision”, meet with the judge for a brief interview, to set goals and remind the offender of program rules.
  7. Use custody as a sanction of last resort, relying on increased rehabilitation and treatment requirements, as well as, community service to correct misbehavior.
  8. Take advantage of the latest scientific findings, using evidence based sentencing practices to engage the offender in pro-social activities and cognitive therapies.
  9.  Create a technology system able to share data and information, reducing the need for team member’s personal presence, but maintaining court’s presence/influence.
  10. Look to probation, other government agencies, and community for partnerships.
POST RELESE COMMUNTIY SUPERVISON
  1.  Involve the court early, if only as a symbol of the system’s new found solidarity and commitment to work together, with the judge assisting in the process.
  2. The court should be considered an important resource in the reentry process, and while not directing the rehabilitation plan, assisting probation and the community.
  3. The court should  briefly interview the offender returned to the county, to remind the offender of the court’s interest, support, and concern.
  4. A Reentry Court. authorized by statute at the time of the revocation hearing,  may become involved as a community and probation based option even before a violation occurs, in a way, similar to the process defined above under 1170 (H).

 

An Overview of a Court-Based Sentencing System

THE BEST OF:The Following Article , published on September 3, 2012, describes how a systemic sentencing model based on evidence-based principles might be structured   

 Find below a diagram and descriptive analysis of an Evidence-Based Sentencing System.

A 12 Part Series on Sentencing Systems, can be found under “SENTENCING SYSTEMS” (or by clicking on the diagram below)

 

AN OVERVIEW OF A SYSTEMIC SENTENCING MODEL   PDF

The diagram above can be thought of having two separate phases. The first (from “Plea” arrow to “Custody” arrow) focuses in on the need to effectively categorize, sentence, and track offenders, with a minimum of staff and resources. Tracks are essential to the system as the court will sentence and monitor offenders with very different risks and needs. A sentencing team with a different skill set is required to deal with low risk and diversion participants than with high risk and violent offenders (as a different team skill set would be required for Drug Court as opposed to Domestic Violence Court).

We know from the scientific literature that mixing low and high-risk offenders is counter-productive at best. That same dynamic works in the courtroom. Where possible, it’s best to keep participants with different risk levels apart. It’s also more cost-effective. Why have full staff at every session when you can substantially reduce the number of staff by sorting offenders by risk and need. When you create a participant track with few housing, job, or family issues, experienced staff in those areas can best use their time elsewhere. The savings would be substantial if case managers are designated to be in court once a week for a single track, rather than required to attend daily sessions

The second part of the diagram (from “Front End Jurisdiction” through Front End Reentry Court”) focuses on the potential for an “Early Intervention”. We focus on the front end because almost all states give their courts a window to recall the felon from prison within a relatively short time period  (typically 4 to 12 months).  Where courts are willing to use their statutory authority, serious and/or high-risk offenders can complete a rehabilitation program over a short jail or prison term and avoid a long prison sentence. The opposite is true for felons sentenced to long prison terms (or even medium terms of 1 to 3 years). In most states, there is relatively little opportunity for a court to exercise authority over the “Back End”, as the felon, typically returns to the community under state supervision.

Decision Making in a Sentencing System

Offender Tracks are normally the province of Probation or other supervisory agencies. When used at all, they reflect internal decisions in determining the level of supervision and treatment appropriate for a probationer.  With validated Risk/Needs Assessments available, the final decision as to court related tracks ought to be left to the court, based upon the recommendations of the full sentencing team.

Court tracking is essential to keep offenders with similar risk and needs together, maximizing the opportunities for building positive relationships with the court and participants and limiting the negative consequences of mixing offenders with different risk levels.  The court will need to schedule tracks when required staffing and resource personnel are present. Optimally, the only personnel present at all sessions will be the judge, clerk, and court manager. Review below the process and procedures:

a. A risk assessment is completed even before sentencing and optimally before a plea is taken so all parties will have an understanding of the sentencing issues early on. (Ideally, the level of treatment/rehabilitation or appropriate track designation should not be the subject of a plea agreement).

b. An individual may be given the opportunity to accept pre-plea Diversion (often called District Attorney’s Diversion). Once a complaint is filed, the court has substantial control over pre-plea and post-plea felony Diversion, as well as pre and post-plea Problem-Solving Courts. A Diversion or Problem Solving Court judge typically takes a plea, sentences the offender, monitors the offender over the course of the program (including in-custody progress), and presides over their graduation from the program.

c. The lead judge (or a designee) takes the plea in most other felony cases, reviewing the risk/needs assessment already completed, and sentences the felon either to probation or prison (if the offense is violent or the offender a danger to the community). If the offender is appropriate for probation , the sentencing judge will decide whether the felon should be placed in a low, medium or high risk supervision track. Depending on the number of offenders and resources available, there could be sub-tracks within each risk category (when offender’s needs differ substantially in criminogenic attitudes and beliefs, gender concerns, drugs or alcohol problems, mental health issues, housing, job and/or education needs, and family/ parental issues)

1. Low risk offenders; Probation (banked file): Where the offender is neither a risk to society or has special needs, the court might see the offender once, shortly after probation placement, focusing the offender’s attention on probation compliance, and only see the felon again, if there is a substantial change of circumstances (note: Diversion contacts are often as minimal).

2. Medium risk offender, Probation (straight community corrections); Where the offender has a medium risk of re-offending and has special criminogenic needs, the felon would be placed in a track on a regular court schedule. Compliance in this track would require completion of cognitive behavioral and other rehabilitation services, with compliance resulting in substantial incentives and rewards. Compliance will allow the court to back off from contacts with probationers (unless changed circumstances or graduation)

3. High Risk offender, Probation (often a substantial jail term); Intensive supervision requirements might include attending court sessions on a weekly basis (remaining in court until all participants have been seen), a minimum of twice weekly contacts with a case manager, intensive cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, and pro-social activities for at least 40 hours per week (for at least 90 days)

Reducing Prison terms through Front-End Sentencing

 The second half of the diagram represents the use of alternatives to prison terms, allowing us to use an evidence-based sentencing system as a means to keep serious (but non-violent) offenders from serving long prison terms.

The front-end of a prison sentence provides the only substantial opportunity a court has to effect a prison term, once a felon is sentenced. Few courts use that statutory authority to return the felon from prison. When used at all, the authority is often applied in by individual judges in a non-systemic fashion.

“Front-End Systemic Approaches” to long prison terms described here present an opportunity to use graduated sanctions rather than immediate prison sentences for serious, but not-violent offenses. Such Front-End Systems can be structured in different ways. Some courts may include non-prison sentences (typically county jail or community corrections programs) as part of an “alternatives to prison” system.

Systemic approaches to “Front-End Alternatives to Prison” might start with a Community Corrections level alternative sentence. With new offenses and/or serious violations of probation, they might move up to a county jail alternative, and finally to a short-term prison sentence in lieu of a long-term prison sentence. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, an offender might start a  ”Front-End” Intervention at any of the three levels.

A.  Community Corrections Sentence in lieu of Prison: Less often used than other alternatives, this community based alternative to prison (typically residential treatment or correctional housing while an offender receives education, job training or employment), allows the judge to closely follow the offenders participation in a community based program, providing incentives or sanctions as appropriate. With successful program completion, the participant is returned to the community to continue supervision and rehabilitation under court authority. [Note: this alternative can be the first of two used before the offender is ordered to serve any prison sentence]

B. County Jail Alternative: This second tier “Front End Prison Alternative” can better emphasize the risk that the felon has of being sent to prison. Like the “Community Corrections Alternative, the County Jail Alternative allows close monitoring by the sentencing judge, appropriate incentives and sanctions, and a return to the community for further court supervision.

C. Front-End Prison Term: This ought to be thought of as a felon’s last opportunity to avoid a long prison term. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, some jurisdictions will start the Front-End Sentencing process with a prison term (skipping over possible Community Corrections and County Jail level interventions), hopefully reducing a long term sentence to a relatively brief 4 to 12 months in prison, and returning the felon to the community to complete the sentence under court supervision.

Part 12; Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: The Conclusion

June 25,2012

Back to the Future: Evidence Based Sentencing Systems

The 12 part series of articles on Evidence Based Sentencing Systems (see: Evidence Based Sentencing Systems) concludes as it  began, with an admonition to recognize that technology and science have changed the nature of the sentencing process, What is needed is a more comprehensive and systemic approach that recognizes the advances made in sentencing, from risk/needs assessments and cognitive behavioral therapies, to the development of hybrid sentencing sysems that employ traditional as well as  problem-solving practices.

We need to look beyond conventional responses to criminal behavior, acknowledging that our over-reliance on imprisonment  has been a tragic mistake. The science and research advances of the past ten years should inform the sentencing decisions we make. But we should also look back into history.  The prison sysytem in this country is little more than 200 years old. Up until that time, custody as a response to criminal behavior was largely unknown and community control exerted extraordinary influence over the individual. We need to reestablish the primacy of the community through our sentencing and rehabilitation models, in essence going “Back to the Future” (click on image on the left: The Drug Court judicial Bench Book, Chapter 1, Drug Courts: Back to the Future; J Tauber, NDCI, 2011)

We are confronted with new evidence-based sentencing practices that demand a fresh look at a very old paradigm.  We need to acknowledge the central idea of evidence-based sentencing, that sentencing demands a systemic team based approach, and ultimately more effort and time than a single judge can provide. Problem-solving courts provide the structure for a hybrid system, where team based sentencing systems are capable of providing  continuing sentencing  processes, probation and court tracks , risk/needs information, and rehabilitative capabilities that protect the community, yet address for the offenders criminogenic needs.

We will be  challenged in ways that we never expected. Our concepts regarding the treatment of  non drug using offenders,  drug abusers versus drug dependent offenders, low risk offenders versus low to medium risk offenders, all demand that we rethink basic sentencing and rehabilitative concepts.For those willing to open their eyes, Evidence Based Sentencing Practices can open the door to  better and more cost effective sentencing.

 

 

Early Intervention Reentry makes its case at Conference

June 4, 2012

The Reentry Court field was well represented at the NADCP Conference with six workshop tracks and two 3 hour traing sessions on Front-End Reentry Courts and Federal Reentry Courts. Both 3 hour trainings and the track work shop on Front End or Early Intervention Reentry Courts were especially well attended and the audience was fully engaged by panelists from Dallas, Texan and Akron, Ohio. Both jurisdictions have reentry courts that are well established.(see photo to the left; Judge Bobby Francis and graduates of the Dallas Reentry Court program).

Though those courts were clearly successful Front End Reentry Court models, there were significant distinctions between them. Judge Francis’ Dallas program, determined eligibility at the time of sentence, with participants placed on probation and in a treatment program on prison grounds , but separate from prisoners. Judge Elinore Marsh-Stormer’s Akron program, relied on prisoners to initiate their program entry with a letter of request to the judge, and a court review process to determine their appropriateness, before they were released into the control of probation and the court. What both courts shared was an obvious dedication and enthusiasm for their work, and their ability to use their limited  jurisdiction to remove offenders from prison after only a fraction of their prison term, to be returned to the reentry court for further supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation services in their communities (see: Front Loaded Court Based Interventions),

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 7

May, 13, 2012

Decision Making in a Sentencing System: Part 7

The diagram on the left represents the first half of a sentencing system envisioned, allowing us to take a closer look at decision making in an evidence based  sentencing system (Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 6):

Offender Tracks are normally the province of Probation or other supervisory agencies. When used at all,  they reflect internal decisions in determining the level of supervision and treatment appropriate for a probationer.  With validated Risk/Needs Assessments available, the final decision as  to court related tracks ought to be left to the court, based upon the recommendations of the full sentencing team.  Court tracking is essential to keep offenders with similar risk and needs together, maximizing the opportunities for building positive relationships with the court and participants and limiting the negative consequences of mixing offenders with different risk levels.  The court will need to schedule tracks when required staffing and resource personnel are present. Optimally, the only personnel present at all sessions will be the judge, clerk, and court manager.

 As described in the demonstrative Diagram, the following evidence-based tracking system is offered for your consideration:

a. A risk assessment is completed even before sentencing and optimally before a plea is taken so all parties will have an understanding  of the sentencing issues early on. ( ideally, the level of treatment/rehabilitation or appropriate track designation should not be the subject of a plea agreement).

b. An individual may be given the opportunity to accept pre-plea Diversion (often called District  Attorney’s Diversion). Once a complaint is filed, the court has substantial control over pre-plea and post-plea felony Diversion, as well as pre and post-plea  Problem-Solving Courts. A Diversion or Problem Solving Court Court judge typically takes a plea, sentences the offender, monitors the offender over the course of the program (including in-custody progress), and presides over their graduation from the program.

c. The lead judge (or a designee) takes the plea in most other felony cases, reviewing the risk/needs assessment already completed, and sentences the felon either to probation or to  prison (if the offense is violent or the offender a danger to the community). If the offender is appropriate for probation , the sentencing judge will decide whether the felon should be placed in a low, medium or high risk supervision track. Depending on the number of offenders and resources available, there could be sub-tracks within each risk category (when offender’s needs differ substantially in  criminogenic attitudes and beliefs, gender concerns, drugs or alcohol problems, mental health issues, housing,  job and/or education needs, and family/ parental issues)

1. Low risk offenders; Probation (banked file): Where the offender is neither a risk to society or has special needs, the court might see the offender once, shortly after probation placement, focusing the offender’s attention on probation compliance,  and only see the felon again, if there is a substantial change of circumstances or graduation (note: Diversion contacts are often as minimal).

2. Medium risk offender, Probation (straight community corrections); Where the offender has a medium risk of re-offending and has special criminogenic needs, the felon would be placed in a track on a regular court schedule. Compliance in this track would require completion of cognitive behavioral and other rehabilitation services, with compliance resulting in substantial incentives and rewards. Compliance will allow the court to back off from contacts with probationers (unless changed circumstances or graduation)

3. High Risk offender, Probation (often a substantial jail term); Intensive supervision requirements might include attending court sessions on a weekly basis (remaining in court until all participants have been seen), a minimum of twice weekly contacts with a case manager, intensive cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, and prosocial activities for atleast 40 hours per week (for at least 90 days)

 The next segment will look at the ability of  local jurisdictions to use brief prison terms in sentencing

 

 

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