Judge Surbeck Receives “Judicial Excellence Award”

Nov. 26,2012

[Continued from last week]

On Nov. 15th, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. presented the  2012 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, to Judge John Surbeck during a ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

I had the opportunity to talk to Judge Surbeck recently about his Reentry Court.

Judge Surbeck expressed great satisfaction at the personal honor bestowed upon him and his Court. He said that he also felt the award  was given in appreciation of the Reentry Court field, as well as all the work done by collaborative and problem solving courts and their practitioners across the nation.

The Allen County Reentry Court has grown into a substantial reentry court system, working with over two hundred and fifty former prisoners. It has expanded from a relatively modest program based on offenders getting out of prison two to four months early, to a program that also uses split sentencing as an important part of his program. As Judge Surbeck explained, Indiana courts have the jurisdiction to split a prison sentence, enabling an offender to serve part of their sentence in prison and part in the community under probation supervision.

Judge Surbeck also envisions the possibility of using “Front End Reentry” to return offenders from prison within one year of their prison sentence, for re-sentencing in Reentry Court and a local disposition, including probation supervision (under an Indiana statute that gives judges the necessary discretion).

Judge Surbeck and the Allen County Reentry Court are clearly leading the way, showing the nation how a systemic approach to returning state prisoners can as Judge Surbeck puts it, “reduce recidivism and increase public safety”.





Ft. Wayne: Indiana’s Systemic Reentry Court

Nov. 26, 2012

The following article, first published on this website in March, 2010, describes the excellent Reentry Court System that Judge John Surbeck (see: 2012 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence), developed for Allen County (Fort Wayne), Indiana.

The Allen County Reentry Court  has been a leader in the development of the reentry court model since Judge John Surbeck  initiated this exceptional program in 2001. the court relies on a host of service providers, including reentry director, treatment coordinator, case managers, mental health specialist, clinical psycologist, as well as, district parole supervisor, probation officer, and judge (though no D.A. or P.D.) to rehabilitate returnees. Since 2006, with the passage of  specific reentry court legislation, reentry courts that receive certification from the Indiana Judicial Center, have had full jurisdiction over parolees who participate in the reentry court (see: Indiana Legislation).  The Allen County Reentry Court  focuses on providing the returning offender with the rehabilitation services necessary to succeed, resourced by the local “Community Correction’s Agency”, and funded by the Indiana State Department of Corrections. The Indiana Parole Agency no longer has formal jurisdiction over the offender, but still works closely with the judge and court, as part of a drug court team, that provides a critical focus for community  organizations and services, and the monitoring of the returning offender.

The reentry court process begins when  prison inmates are informed by parole authorities that they are elligible for the  statutory “Community Transitions Program”, which may release inmates up to six months before the end of their prison term. Judge Surbeck sees the new participants shortly after their release from prison, two weeks later when their “Reintegration Plan” is approved (after a comprehensive series of risk/needs and psychological tests), and every two to six weeks until graduation, approximately one year later. Early electronic surveillance and  frequent monitoring visits to the parolee’s residence are an integral part of the program. The program is voluntary, and the court informal, relying on a contingency contract to provide appropriate incentives and sanctions. Parolees who do well can expect substantial reductions in their parole term. The reentry court itself, with its informal structure, focused on its therapeutic and public safety mission, does not hold parole revocation hearings, but passes them on to the state parole agency. Judge Suurbeck reports there are presently approximately 150 participants. Evaluations have shown a 30% reduction in recidivism and substantial financial savings to state and community. [see: Allen County Presentation]

[Note: The Allen Reentry Court also features a statutory “split sentencing” procedure that allows designated offenders to return to the sentencing court’s jurisdiction for probation supervision and services once their prison term has been completed.]

contact: [email protected]

Indiana Leads With Reentry Court Rules

State involvement and leadership in the reentry court field appears to be a requisite for successful programs. No state has been more active in establishing a state presence in the reentry court field than Indiana, where they have established court perameters through “Reentry Court Rules“.

As described in the July 12th issue of the Indiana Court Times, “in 2006, the General Assembly enacted legislation authorizing local courts to establish reentry courts (IC 33-23-14). The Indiana Judicial Conference Board of Directors adopted reentry court rules in 2008, and IJC began certifying reentry courts in 2009. There are currently six certified reentry courts in Indiana. The Judicial Conference established the Problem-Solving Courts Committee in 2006 to support the innovation of judges at the local level. The committee’s mission is: “To encourage the broad integration of the problem-solving philosophy into the administration of justice to improve court processes and outcomes while preserving the rule of law and to encourage judges to take a proactive role, using a non-adversarial, coordinated strategy to problem-solving while creating an environment where participants are encouraged to take responsibility for change.” Judge John Surbeck of Allen Superior Court [Indiana’s first Reentry Court Judge] serves as chair of the fifteen member committee.”

Indiana sets out definitive rules for certification of Indiana’s Reentry courts. For those reentry courts that are not certified, the state provides

“A reentry court that is not certified by the Indiana Judicial Center, and an applicant whose plan of operation does not comply with requirements for certification under these rules is not entitled to receive a favorable review or recommendation from the Indiana Judicial Center on any application for funding of services from state, federal, or private funding sources.” (Sec.13)

Clearly Indiana is creating financial incentives for courts to conform to state standards and become certified. It’s the onlycase I know  of a state judiciary attempting to dictate the structure and and procedures used in reentry court. To my way of thinking, it is an important option available to states, committed to establishing effective state-wide reentry court programs.

For additional information about reentry courts, please contact Mary Kay Hudson, Problem-Solving Court Administrator, Indiana Judicial Center,[email protected].

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