Front-Loading Court-Based Interventions

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Dallas Judge Francis with graduates from the Dallas Pre-Entry Court Program

It is generally thought that the court’s have little recourse or jurisdiction to affect a prison sentence once that sentence has been announced. The truth is, that most state courts have significant jursdiction to alter, amend or modify a prison sentence. Depending on the state, jurisdiction to recall may exist for a period of one month to one year after sentencing.The most obvious purpose of a “front-loaded intervention”, is to order a convicted felon to state prison for an evaluation, assessment, or other purpose, immediately before or after sentence has been imposed.

While this power is found in most state courts, it is most often used by individual judges on a case by case basis. Some courts, in particular drug courts, will use front-loaded jurisdiction to create what can be called a “court-based reentry system” . A recent example of such a court-based reentry intervention occurred in New Mexico, where a drug court judge ordered a program violator into prison (before sentencing) for a sixty day evaluation, to be returned to court, for sentencing (see:Preentry Prison Evaluation used in New Mexico )

Similarly, jurisdiction exists in many states to recall the felon, after sentencing, for re-consideration and potential re-sentencing. The intention to recall may be announced at the time of sentence, or the decision to recall may be discretionary with the judge within the statutory period. This form of preentry intervention is often used to encourage a serious attitude change on the part of a prospective long-tern prisoner.

The judge may use their jurisdiction to sentence the felon to prison as part of a court-ordered treatment program, with the understanding that the offender is to undergo treatment before returned to court for re-sentencing. If the felon is found in compliance, the court will return the felon to a court-based probation program in the community.

The Dallas Reentry Court is a excellent example of the extraordinary innovation (and sometimes bewildering variation) among pre-entry courts, that divert offenders from a prison sentence to a probation based custodial program. What makes the Dallas SAFPF Program unique, is that its custodial segment is actually situated on prison grounds, yet program participants are segregated from the prison population, and never leave the jurisdiction of the County SAPFP Court Program.

The Texas legislature’s “4C program” provides  in-custody facilities within the prison’s outer perimeter , and uses specially trained, but regular prison guards. Although there are approximately ten jurisdictions that take advantage of “4c” facilites, Dallas is by far the largest, and the only one that has a court and judge dedicated to the reentry mission. Seventeen Dallas judges sentence drug offenders to the  SAFPF program, but when offenders finsh their in-custody treatment (typically 6 to 9 months),  they enter a dedicated Reentry Court for monitoring, continued treatment and rehabilitative services.

Judge Robert Francis, a retired judge, works full time as the reentry court judge. He and his staff take regualr trips to the “4C” facilities to check up on Dallas based offenders. Plans are in the works to reward those who do well well in the in-custody program.  Though the progam is less than a year old, 275  participants have completed the in-custody “4C” treatment program, and been released into the care and custody of Judge Francis and the Dallas SAFPF Reeentry Court,  where revocations are at an extraordinarily low 5% (Dallas SAFPF Reentry Court)

Boone County, Mo. is an example of a jurisdiction that has uses its front-loaded court jurisdiction to send drug dependent violators to prison for a period of up four months for treatment, to be returned to Judge Chris Carpenter’s Reentry Court (or what some describe as a Preentry Court), for further probation rehabilitation and monitoring in the community. Columbia, Missouri’s “Reintegration Court” is considered a Reentry Court, as it provides a comprehensive rehabilitation program, focused on the whole individual, his/her risk of recidivism,  and relies on evidence based practices after the prison term. (see: Columbia Missouri)

The above are just some of the existing variations in the courts’ use of a brief and immediate prison term, to be followed by recall to the court for sentencing or reconsideration of a sentence previously imposed. They are considered here because they are generally thought of as a successful rehabilitation strategy (and in the case of Boone County, a Reentry Court Program), designed to get the offender’s attention, assess their suitability for probation, and give them one last chance to change their behavior before a substantial prison sentence is imposed. It should be seriously considered on the program level as an alternative to prison, and as a way to reach out to large numbers of offenders that otherwise would be on their way to long prison terms.

UPDATE: Ten Reasons to Build a Reentry Court in 2011

Jan 31st/ Jeffrey Tauber

Last January I published an article on the “Ten Reasons to Build a Reentry Court in 2010″. This year I revisit the theme, and rewrite the article from a very different perspective; that of a Reentry Court  Judge.

The Reentry Process is nothing new to the Drug Court Practitioner, for the Drug court has always been a reentry mechanism; a seamless process for returning the drug offender from arrest and criminal adjudication , through community-based rehabilitation and monitoring, to the offender’s reintegration into the community. What is different in 2011, is the need to build a Reentry Court for ex-offenders returning from our state prisons; a very different sort of problem-solving court. One modeled on the Drug Court concept, but far different from it; a next-generation  problem-solving court, based on the latest research and evidence based practices, and designed to work with high-risk, long-term, institutionalized offenders (and not necessarily serious drug abusers). So rather than adding  another layer of bureaucracy to your Drug Court, use your Drug Court resources in a very different way to rehabilitate and reintegrate this new population as it returns to the community. Consider the following reasons to do so:

1.       There has been a seismic shift in the nation’s attitude toward imprisonment and prisons. The entire nation seems desperately focused on the prison problem, and its financial and social costs. Conservatives, such as Newt Gingrich are pushing hard for reform that will reduce criminal justice budgets. States are casting about for ways to reduce prison populations, especially the notion of returning the non-violent prisoner back to local jurisdictions to be handled through county jail and community based alternatives (such as Reentry Court). California is just one of at least a dozen states that is moving quickly to make that change, in many cases through the budgetary process.

2.       The Drug Court has been tested, evaluated, and analyzed over the past twenty years on an unparalleled scale. The scientific community has concluded that the drug court provides the most effective means to rehabilitate, hold accountable, and reintegrate the “high risk”, non-violent, drug involved offender back into the community. ( Doug Marlowe: A Sober Assessment of Drug Court). The research on Drug Courts gives us reason to believe that the Reentry Court will work as well (or even better than the drug court) with high risk offenders.

3. According to Professor Ed Latessa of the University of Cincinatti, (Dean of reentry research), parolees (normally handled in Reentry Courts) need to be engaged in structured activity for 40 to 70% of their day, and that those programs that address four or more criminogenic needs of the offender do much better than those that don’t. Research suggests that less than 50% of those leaving prison have a serious drug problem, so dealing with substance abuse as the main focus of Reentry Court may not be effective for this population. According to the research, drug abuse is generally not in the first tier of criminogenic needs for the high-risk offender. Dealing with anti-social behaviors, anti-social behavior factors, anti-social cognitions/attitudes, and anti-social peers are generally considered more important treatment needs for the returning offender.

4.      The federal government recognizes the success of the Drug Court model, evidenced by their assistance to local jurisdictions and individual courts over the last fifteen years. The federal government must recognize that working with local jurisdictions iss a dead end when it comes to developing Reentry Courts. The federal government needs to work with state governments to make Reentry Courts work. It is clear that counties, traditionally do not have the jurisdiction, resources, or will to tackle the issues of returning state prisoners without extraordinary assistance, and resources from the states.

5.       The “Second Chance Act”, and other federal and state initiatives specifically emphasize the need for community-based “task forces”, that work collaboratively in integrating the offender into the community and sharing resources and funding streams to make the process truly a community-wide effort. More than Drug Courts, Reentry Courts need to reach out to the general community, to engage community-wide collaborations in the reintegration of returning offenders into the community.

6.       Reentry Courts represent the future of the Problem-Solving Court field; a next  generation, comprehensive Collaborative Court that works with “high-risk offenders. The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), have endorsed problem-solving courts based on the “drug court model” on four separate occasions, since 2000, as the lynchpin of future court systems, emphasizing their effectivenesss in dealing with issues such as “recidivism”. (see CCJ Resolution 22/COSCA Resolution 4)

7.       Rather than re-inventing the wheel, the nation’s Reentry Reform Movement can take advantage of over two thousand drug courts already in existence. However, rather than adding on to existing drug courts, Reentry Court/Drug Court practitioners need to create minimalist Reentry Courts, (optimally creating stand-alone Reentry Courts) that work for the special needs of the reentering ex-offender.

8.            Reentry Courts turn out to be a very different animal than Drug Court. Its population is made up of high-risk offenders, who have been institutionalized for substantial periods of time. Parolees require far more services, incentives, and flexibility than traditional Drug Courts; that creating a community among court staff and participants is critical to parolees who have lost most sense of belonging during long years of imprisonment. A heavy-handed approach to technical violations and minor offenses (including drug abuse) does not work well with this population. Encouragement from the bench, incentives, and the creation of court-based communities provide a far more effective approach. This still requires the active engagement of the parolee in community-based activities (job training, education, volunteer service, substance abuse and cognitive behavioral treatments) from the day they enter the reentry court.

9.       Probation or Jail-Based Reentry Courts (sometimes called Pre-entry Courts) represent the simplest solution to prison-overcrowding and reentry issues. The best way to deal with jail-overcrowding and reentry issues, is not to sentence the non-violent, high-risk offenders to prison in the first place, but place those who would otherwise go to prison, under state court and probation jurisdiction, in next-generation, comprehensive Reentry Courts.  (see Reentry Court Model)

10.       While federal funding for Reentry Court increased substantially last year, it is unlikely that it will increase or even maintain last year’s level of support.  State funding for local criminal justice reform, on the other hand, has the potential of being increased extraordinarily as states attempt to reduce prison populations and their costs. Prison-based Reentry Court Systems, such as California’s Six County Parole Reentry Court Pilot Project, are being developed in a number of states. ( Ten Prison-Based Reentry Models ). With an almost zealous intensity, both progressives and conservatives are determined to reduce funding for prison and prisoners, while seemingly intent to increase funding for prison alternatives and local reentry reform. This is an opportunity for Reentry Court advocates that may not come again.

$20 Million SAMHSA/BJA Grant For Joint Drug Court Strategies

APPLICATION DUE DATE:  All applications are due by 8:00 p.m. eastern time on February 11, 2010.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( SAMHSA ), Center for Substance Abuse Treatment ( CSAT ), in collaboration with U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs ( OJP ), Bureau of Justice Assistance ( BJA ), is accepting applications for FY 2010 grants to enhance the court services, coordination, and substance abuse treatment capacity of adult drug courts. The purpose of this joint initiative is to invite applicants to submit for consideration one comprehensive strategy for enhancing drug court capacity, allowing applicants to compete for access to both criminal justice and substance abuse treatment funds with one application. This effort is a unique opportunity for demonstrating effective ways of weaving federal funding sources to create comprehensive service approaches – in this case a system of a comprehensive support in an Adult Drug Court setting.

Under this program, grantees will receive two separate awards; BJA will fund the drug court component and CSAT will fund the substance abuse treatment component. A total of up to 31 grant awards of up to $625,000 ( $325,000 in SAMHSA substance abuse treatment funding and a one-time $300,000 in BJA drug court grant ) will be made to each grantee in FY 2010. Thereafter, SAMHSA will make annual awards, up to $325,000, per grantee for each of the remaining two years of the grant period.  The annual SAMHSA continuation awards will depend on the availability of funds, grantee progress in meeting project goals and objectives, timely submission of required data and reports, and compliance with all terms and conditions of award. [BJA/SAMHSA application]

Reentry Court Note: Funding for drug courts should be available for probation or jail based reentry courts.

Funding Alert: California


An extraordinary development for  California reentry court programs has come to our attention. The legislature has  targeted both stimulus money and and other federal and state funds to reduce reliance on prisons through four innovative programs:

  • 10 million dollars of federal  funds will  be distributed through a Parolee Reentry Accountability Program to support reentry courts.
  • $45 million of Federal funds will be distributed in support of evidence based supervision of felony offenders.
  • An undisclosed amount of funds resulting from savings in reduced felony revocation and recidivism rates will be allocated to probation  departments based on their success in reducing recidivism.
  • Under the California Risk Assessment Pilot Project, recidivism and revocations will be tracked over a three year period

This exemplary state effort will be under the direction of Adminisrative Office of the Courts Director Bill Vickrey and its program coordinator will be Judge Roger Warren (ret.), former President of the Natuional Center for State Courts.

Additional Information will be provided as it becomes available.

Spotlight on Missouri

Missouri is one the few truely innovative states in the reentry court field, with both prison and jail based reentry courts (also called reintegration courts). According to Missouri Director of Probation Services, Scott Johnson,  a single state agency that handles both probation and parole functions makes political and resource decisions less problematic. [According to Scott, over half the states have adopted a combined probation/parole state agency structure in recent years; a critical structure for your consideration]

Two programs provide split sentencing for prisoners. The first provides a four month prison term for drug abusers, requiring them to engage in a serious treatment program in prison before they are released to reentry courts and probation supervision. The second split sentence program allows all elligible offenders with a 5 years or greater sentence to be placed in a two year prison treatment program, to be released to reentry courts after that period.

The three formal pilot programs are in Kansas City, Columbia, and St.Charles. Other counties have begun to pilot reentry courts  on a less formal basis..

St. Charles County has an innovative program targeting all offenders eligible for probation, who would otherwise be sent to state prison. It is funded by the Department of Probation and Parole, and uses participant baseline data to confirm required reductions in prison sentences .  The program itself sentences offenders to treatment in jail, with in-custody offenders supervised by the drug/reentry court judge and personnel. Participants are typically released from custody within several weeks of placement and given the opportunity to be part of the out-of-custody program under the same court’s monitoring.

Missouri contact: Rick Morrisey; [email protected]  


ON MY Mind I: Overcoming Our Prison Addiction

Twenty years ago, along with other drug court pioneers, I helped build a national reform movement that today claims over twenty-five hundred drug and other problem-solving courts. And while I am truely proud  of our successes,  the truth is that the criminal justice system remains overly-cautious, limiting drug courts to the less severe drug abuser and/or the less serious criminal, reaching perhaps only 5% of drug offenders.  This makes little sense as drug court’s scientifically proven effectiveness lies with the high-risk non-violent substance abusers who make up more than 50% of prisoners (Marlowe).

We live in a country plainly addicted to prison; with the highest imprisonment rate in the world, a prison population that has increased 700% since 1970,  over 75% imprisoned for non-violent offenses, and 50% returned to prison within three years of release.  It’s not that prison isn’t  necessary , but that we’ve become habituated to its use, whether appropriate or not . We are just coming out of the addict’s denial phase,  and beginning to accept the fact that our overdependence on prison has catastropic social and financial consequences. But as with all recovering addicts, there is reason to hope for a better future . The reentry court is clearly not the whole answer to our prison addiction (for example, it will also take dedicated partners in a host of rehabilitation services), but as the evolutionary next-generation drug court, there is excellent reason to believe reentry court will be part of the solution. [see  Policy Papers, for a full exposition]

Contact: jtauber@reentrtcourtsolutions

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