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]

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