"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

COMMENTARY

HOW I KNOW PROP. 47 IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO

[One in a series of articles on California’s Prop 47; reducing less serious felony offenses,(drug and non-drug) to misdemeanors]

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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon

 San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has been quoted as saying, “The [Criminal Justice] System isn’t broke  because of Prop 47, the System was broke before Prop. 47”.  To hear San Francisco District Attorney and former Police Chief  Gascon make such a bold statement is surprising, and more than that, a challenge to those of us working in the Criminal justice System across the nation.

 I agree with District Attorney Gascon. Prop. 47 is a huge change in course for a  criminal justice system that is used to increasing penalties and consequences for drug users for over a century. Over the past forty years, these less serious drug felonies have become a big part of the criminal justice system’s food chain (and we are paying for it with much needed community resources and overflowing prisons and jails).

 Clearly, the courts are a critical tool for getting the drug addicted into treatment and keeping them there. But one dosesn’t need a felony offense and the threat of prison to get it the job done. I have watched from my perch as a judicial officer since 1985, and while drug addiction is a  very serious medical and public health problem, drug possession offenses are being over-charged and over-incarcerated by the criminal justice system, even if its intent is to encourage sobriety.

I developed the Oakland Drug Court in 1990 to try to bring reason to a broken system. I went to Washington D.C. and founded the National Assocaition of Drug Court Professionals, to take that rational approach to the national level. Before returning to California in 2001, I wrote a mongraph, “Rational Drug Policy Reform” ( Center for Problem-Solving Courts, 2001). In it I proposed a simple but critical change in the law; the reduction of drug possssion felonies to misdemeanors (Chapter 2, pp. 7-11).

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COMMENTARY

San Francisco Parole Reentry Court Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), presents a progoram participant with an award
San Francisco Parole Reentry Court Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), presents a program participant with an award

THE SUCCESS OF CAL.PROP. 47 REFORM WILL NOT IMPACT DRUG COURTS

California’s PROP. 47 did many things and did most of them right. According to Stanford Law School’s “One Year Progress Report”‘ released on Oct 29th, as to PROP 47 cases; recidvism is down, incarceration is down, felony charges are down, and court and
custody costs are down.This is what criminal justice reform looks like.

The whole world should be watching as Prop. 47 is implemented. It reduces drug possession offenses and relatively minor property crimes to misdemeanors. It allows those with felony records to petittion the court to reduce their offenses to misdemeanors (and dismiss the offense where appropriate), opening up new opportunities to those stigmatized with a felony conviction. It saves Caifornia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, freeing jails and prisons for those incorrigible and dangerous offenders who need to be there. It decriminalizes drug possession without legalizing serious drug use.

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EXCERPT NO. 9: REENTERING THE REAL WORLD; 2001

2001 was a difficult year. The only good part for me was that I was weaning myself away from my 80 hour workweek. I had my music to return to and for that I was grateful. I played my tenor saxophone and harmonica in a number of bands around the D.C. area (and on many a night, played solo jazz saxophone to the seagulls on the Alexandria Pier).

The conflict and duality of NADCP Founding President Judge Jeffrey Tauber
Expressing the duality of law and music in a life; NADCP Founding President Jeffrey Tauber (Photo Art by Frank Tapia)

 

RESIGNATION FROM NADCP/NDCI

NADCP had become the organization I had dreamed of building, an accepted Institution, a part of the Washington Establishment. I intended to develop projects dealing with Reentry from Prison, DUI Offenses, and Sentencing Systems that went beyond the Drug Court idiom. But the reality was that since the 2000 Conference in San Francisco, I was virtually handcuffed by the Board, under constant scrutiny, with almost no opportunity to move ahead on new projects; in essence a lame-duck President.

Before the end of year 2000 it became clear that senior staff members had wrested control of the dialogue with the Board, and were not going to let go until they got what they were after, my resignation. I decided it was best for me to concede the inevitable and accept “early retirement”.

I submitted my resignation from the Presidency of NADCP, to take effect in early 2001. I would remain as President at least in name, until a new President took over. I also co-chaired a committee screening for my successor.

I knew that West needed to stay at NADCP and that his outsized charm and drive would keep NADCP as a major presence in the field, but his possible selection as a successor was never in issue. There were too many fresh accusations floating around about his stewardship of NDCI and he was too young and new to the job to vie for that position. I never did get to the bottom of the rumors swirling around West. At the time, I believed them to be spread by jealous colleagues that were piqued by his quick ascension to crown prince of NADCP.

When I first told West of my intention to resign, he appeared stricken. He argued against it and when I wouldn’t budge, he proposed that the two of us set up our own organization. I was moved by his offer, but I knew that it would be a mistake. I didn’t want to further weaken NADCP by removing its two mainstays, (and truthfully I didn’t want to compete with or diminish the organization I had worked so hard to create). I remained on the Board of NADCP as an Emeritus member, to monitor the organization, and help West stay on his leadership track.

HELPING TO CHOOSE MY SUCCESSOR

My last significant responsibility at NADCP was to assist in the selection of its new CEO (the board decided that my successor would not be a President, but a more malleable CEO). I screened dozens of résumés with members of a Board selection committee. Most of the applicants appeared to be limited in experience, expertise, and background.

We ultimately came down to a single applicant who appeared to have the drug court background required (she had been Gary, Indiana’s first Drug Court Judge), and had a promising low-key managerial style more in keeping with NADCP’s increasingly bureaucratic structure. With Judge Karen Freeman-Wilson’s ascension to the leadership of NADCP, I began to look for other avenues for my energies.

Read moreEXCERPT NO. 9: REENTERING THE REAL WORLD; 2001

EXCERPT NO. 10: THE MEANING OF ONE’S LEGACY

Sometimes life gives a person the opportunity to do something truly extraordinary. I saw an opportunity, took it; accepting the challenge, risking all, sacrificing much, to move the drug court field as far as possible.

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Reentry Court participants congratulate first Reentry Court graduation.

THE IMPORTANCE OF NADCP AND DRUG COURTS TO CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Drug Courts (and their progeny Problem-Solving Courts) have had a profound effect upon the criminal justice system and the attitudes of those in it, as well as the media, and the public in general

I think it fair to suggest that the reform movements of the past decade, to decriminalize drug use, turn offenders away from prisons towards alternative sentencing, and emphasize reentry resources, all owe their success (at least in part) to the positive environment that drug courts have helped create over the past twenty five years.

There could be no better testimonial as to how far drug courts have come in changing the national dialogue than President Obama’s special reference to “Drug Courts”, in his major criminal justice reform speech of July 14th 2015, “We should invest in alternatives to prison, like Drug Courts and treatment and probation.”

NADCP itself, waxes eloquent when it talks about the progress it and the Drug Court Movement have made over the past twenty years (see: http://www.nadcp.org/learn/about-nadcp) “Today with 2,734 Drug Courts and another 1,122 problem-solving courts (mental health courts, community courts, reentry courts, DWI courts, etc.) in operation, NADCP has forever changed the face of the justice system. As the premiere national resource for Drug Court practitioners, NADCP established a specialized Institute in December 1997. Today, the “National Drug Court Institute” is the preeminent source for comprehensive training and cutting-edge technical assistance to the entire Drug Court Field. Since its inception, the institute has trained 36,641 drug court professionals in all 50 states and U.S. territories as well as seven countries and developed 37 publications, disseminating them to 456,166 professionals worldwide.”

NADCP has admirers in the academic world as well; Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University in her book, “How Information Matters (Georgetown University Press, 2011) focuses entirely on NADCP, the “Champion” Non-Profit Organization in Washington D.C. Professor Hale describes the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) as “the best among extraordinary organizations; whose structure, initiatives, strategies, and planning define excellence in the non-profit world.”

Read moreEXCERPT NO. 10: THE MEANING OF ONE’S LEGACY

Vision 1: Integrating Traditional Community Justice Into Penal Systems

A Prison administered by a Non-Profit Corporation could play an important part in building traditional community responsibility and accountability into our prisons

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