Using Reentry-Drug Court as a counterweight to long Prison Terms

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on Feb. 13,2012, uses a Watertown sentencing as an example of how drug court can be used to keep the prison population down, or increase it.

April 28, 2014

Screen shot 2012-11-19 at 9.19.12 AMSomething caught my eye as I was reading newsclips from around the nation. A small item from the Watertown Daily Times (NY). It read:

A Watertown man was sentenced to state prison Thursday after admitting in Jefferson County Court that he violated his Drug Court contract. Paul L. Arndt Jr., 44, was sentenced to 113 to 4 years in prison for violating terms of the substance abuse rehabilitation program that is designed to serve as an alternative to incarceration. He was referred to the program in April 2009 after admitting he violated probation. He was sentenced to five years’ probation in August 2007 after pleading guilty in May 2007 to fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for taking radiators that had been stolen from a Watertown business and selling them at a Syracuse recycling center. Information about how he violated Drug Court was not available.

Putting aside the issue of whether the probation violation in question was a particularly serious or dangerous one, I would suggest that sending a drug court participant to prison for a substantial term is almost never good criminal justice policy, good use of government funds, or good rehabilitation &/or treatment strategies . There are more than a few drug courts, that quickly fail drug court participants and spirit them away for substantial prison terms. It may be time to revisit the rationality behind such scenarios. Unless the new offense is one involving violence or the threat of violence, is prison ever a sensible response to a drug court violation?

I have suggested in a recent article (see:”Front-loading court interventions”)  that “judges 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 being returned to court for re-sentencing”. The idea is an old one, first described in a monograph written in 1999 by myself and present NADCP CEO West Huddleston (see “Reentry Drug Courts”);  Front-loaded prison reentry programs (involving short custodial terms and a return to court supervision and treatment), are a last resort after the offender has committed serious and multiple violations of a drug court’s requirements.

Numerous states have developed drug court as an alternative sentence of last resort before substantial prison terms are ordered. Governors  such as Christy of New Jersey and Deal of Georgia are calling for special drug courts to give the offender a last chance to succeed. Reentry-Drug Courts, (or simply Reentry courts) need to be put in place for the high-risk offender, where a short prison or other custodial sentence is a last resort (typically one to six months), before a long prison term is ordered.

Remember, the best way to reduce prison recidivism is not to put an offender into prison in the first place. But if there is no viable alternative to prison, use it in a rational and graduated manner, with a brief stay that holds out the promise of rehabilitation and an early return to the community.

 

Reauthorized Second Chance Act will include Reentry Courts

November 18, 2013
Picture 3Reentry Courts which appeared to have been written out of the reauthorized “Second Chance Act”, received a reprieve when language that included reentry courts as possible grantees of Second Chance Grant funds was inserted into the Reauthorization  Act. (see below)……………………………………………………………………………..
[An issue worth pondering: while reentry courts may be funded under the reauthorized Act, previous references to the court as a necessary partner and participant in grants applications, has to my knowledge, disappeared from grant guidelines. In fact, while the inclusion of reentry drug courts as possible recipients of Second Chance Act grant awards is clearly a positive, the inclusion of the courts as necessary partners in the application and implementation of all grants would be a much more appropriate and important inclusion]………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
From the Amended legislative language: “In this section, the term reentry court means a program that—(1) monitors juvenile and adult eligible offenders reentering the community; (2) provides continual judicial supervision; (3) provides juvenile and adult eligible offenders reentering the community with coordinated and comprehensive reentry services and programs, such as—(A) drug and alcohol testing and assessment for treatment;( B) assessment for substance abuse from a substance abuse professional who is approved by the State or Indian tribe and licensed by the appropriate entity to provide alcohol and drug addiction treatment, as appropriate; ( C) substance abuse treatment from a provider that is approved by the State or Indian tribe, and licensed, if necessary, to provide medical and other health services;(D) health (including mental health) services and assessment; (E) aftercare and case management services that—(i) facilitate access to clinical care and related health services; and (ii) coordinate with such clinical care and related health services; and (F) any other services needed for reentry; (4) convenes community impact panels, victim impact panels, or victim impact educational classes;(5) provides and coordinates the delivery of community services to juvenile and adult eligible offenders, including—(A) housing assistance; (B) education; © job training; (D) conflict resolution skills training;(E) batterer intervention programs; and (F) other appropriate social services; and (6) establishes and implements graduated sanctions and incentives.”

 

 

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.

Dallas SAFPF Court: Where Reentry Court is Also Pre-Entry Court

 

 

 

 

 

Graduates of the Dallas SAFPC Program, (which can also be described as a “Front End Reentry Court”), with Judge Robert Francis.

 

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on Dec.13,2009, describes the success of the Dallas SAFPC  program  placing drug offenders, a probation program located on a prison site, that returns the offender to the community after relatively short period in custody.

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%.

Contact: Judge7Francis@gmail.com

High Risk Offenders Do Better IN Half-Way Houses

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on April 4, 2010, makes clear the “Risk Principle”, that establishes that high risk offenders do significantly better in correctional programs than low to medium risk offenders.

 Reentry Courts, like other problem-solving courts, suffer from the reluctance of criminal justice practitioners and government leaders, to accept empirically established Evidence Based Practices. For example, some criminal justice practitioners have long been resistant to working with difficult high risk offenders that many programs are designed for, and  instead use “risk assessments” to  limit their programs to less challenging low risk offenders. Professor Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnatti, a national expert on residential correctional programs, has been at the forefront of the struggle to move criminal justice professionals and government leaders toward the adoption of Evidence Based Practices. To that end, he has written of the difficulties of changing criminal justice practices and policies  to reflect established Evidence Based Practices (see Prof. Latessa’s comments).

Now comes a  University of Cincinnati study, finding that low risk offenders have comparatively higher recidivism rates coming out of Ohio’s Residential Corrections Programs (such as half-way houses) than moderate to high risk offenders.  The new data confirms  their previous 2006 study (and the work of many other researchers). Their research reflects the well established “Risk Principle”, that offenders should be provided with supervision and treatment that are commensurate with their risk levels.

Professor Latessa points out that it is a waste of scarce resources to put low risk offenders into programs when they don’t need them, and when they would often do better and offend less at home, on probation or other limited monitoring protocols. [It should be noted that risk is not necessarily related to the seriousness of the offense committed, but the risk that the offender will reoffend].

Professor Lessora explains that  low risk offenders have the connections to home, school, job, family and friends that define them as low risk, and enterring a  residential corrections program can damage those connections, increasing their chances of reoffending.   Further, that when housed together in residential corrections programs, high risk offenders often corrupt and influence the low risk offenders, once again increasing their recidivism rate. On the other hand, the recently released data shows moderate to high risk offenders often take advantage of the services and treatment offered at residential corrections programs, significantly lowering their recidivism rates; a good reason to challenge  conventional wisdom, and carefully examining the applicability of Evidence Based Practices to your reentry court.

Minimalist Reentry Courts For Recessionary Times

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially updated on March 21, 2009, is the first article I am aware of that described the danger of over-resourcing reentry courts.

MARCH TWENTY-ONE UPDATE:

Over the past four weeks I have interviewed practitioners from four successful reentry courts, and showcased them as model reentry courts on this website: the Harlem Parole Reentry Court(NY), the Boone County Reentry Court(MO), the Richland Reentry Court(OH), and the Fort Wayne Reentry Court(IN).  All displayed what i have described as quasi-minimalist reentry court features (see below), that are non-adversarial and rehabilitation focused, without attorneys on the reentry court team or in reentry court itself; with counsel provided, only when the parole participant has left the reentry court program, and returned to the formal adjudicatory system, whether parole or court based.  From my discussions with reentry court practitioners from across the country, I believe  that the majority of reentry courts can be described similarly.

A number of jurisdictions  that are interested in creating a “parolee reentry court”,  find themselves in a difficult dilemma. Either reject the reentry court concept because of   inadequate funding, or go ahead and build it, but pare back the conventional problem-solving court model to its bare essentials. It’s clear to me that a comprehensive reentry courts, (with full staffing), capable of working with and consolidating an offender’s state and county matters in a single court, is the best possible  solution. But if the necessary funding isn’t avaialble, there is a case to be made for a “minimalist parolee reentry court”, that can reduce court costs, by successfully and lawfully doing  without attorneys, reporters, and clerks. Such a “minimalist reentry court”, may mean substantial savings to the court and community, as well as a smaller, more successful, and sustainable reentry court. [Note: a model "minimalist parolee reentry court" team might include judge, program coordinator, treatment specialist, parole officer, and bailiff]

As a consultant, I’ve sat through many team staffings, and  ”progress hearings” over the years, with more than a dozen team members present.  I often wondered how cost effective or sustainable such  court structures would be in the long run. The answer  has become clear, as hard times  shape  the structures of today’s reentry and other problem-solving courts. Many problem solving courts are closing down, while others severely cut back on participation or services. Interestingly, some of our most successful early drug courts had as few as two team members present at pre-court staffings. The smaller, more intimate courtroom environment, encouraged clear, direct, and personal communication, as well as, increased team involvement and participant engagement; established problem-solving concepts that often lead to better outcomes.

The key hurdle in creating a  hybrid “parole reentry court” with fewer personnel, is the very fact that it’s unconventional. But a Parole Reentry Court, by its very nature is  a minimalist court. Proceedings related to parolees, while evidentiary in nature, are informal, do not involve county jurisdiction (which would require counsel), nor demand the same panoply of procedural and due process rights as a conventional court  (see: Morrisey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 1972, Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 1973). Truth is that there are less than a dozen states that require counsel at “parole revocation hearings”. Clerks and Reporters are not required either, as a written decision setting forth the facts and reasoning upon which it is based, are typically written up by the hearing officer. (Note: the fewer personnel engaged in the legal process, the more resources available for direct services for the returning parolee)

The clear purpose of the minimalist Reentry Court  is to provide an informal and therapeutic enviroment, where the focus is on the rehabilitation and reintegration of the returning parolee in  the community. Some may be uncomfortable with the idea of an informal problem-solving court without counsel present.  But participation in informal courts is typically voluntary, with “parole revocation hearings” passed on to  parole authorities, once the participant has been terminated from the reentry court program.  California has recently  set up  a pilot “Parolee Reentry Courts”  program, where parolees will be referred by parole authorities to the reentry court, admitted only after the parolee voluntarily accepts the program, and the court agrees. The parolee can opt out at any time, (even after a violation), to be returned to the jurisdiction of the parole agency. Ultimately, this model may be an interesting option for those communities with limited funds, a commitment to a reentry court,  but also to “revocation hearings” with counsel present. One of the  most fascinating aspects of the nascent reentry court field, is the many innovative and pragmatic models being developed. The minimalist “Parolee Reentry Court” continues that tradition. [see examples of  quasi-minimalist reentry courts below: Harlem Parole Reentry Court; Ft. Wayne Reentry Court; Richland County Reentry Court; Boone County Reentry Court]

Whether a “minimalist reentry court” is effective, economical or lawful is an open question. If you have a comment, please share it with us.

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: jsurbeck1@msn.com

Building Community Into Reentry Courts

[Click on video above, for "Slideshow" of San Francisco Reentry Court Family and Friends' Barbecue]

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on Feb. 1, 2009,  describes how Community remains the most effective means of behavioral control, and the most important factor in a successful court-based reentry process. 

The powerful National Reentry Movement  is substantially local government, community and volunteer driven. Reentry Court judges and other practitioners need to accept the notion that they can be a critical part of reentry reform, without being the controlling force.

The Reentry Court is the Drug Court model writ large. But conventional drug court processes and dynamics often stray from the model,  and may not work  well for a reentry court. Drug courts, for better or worse, are insular creatures of a  judicial system, with judicial concerns; finding funding to support court structure, expanding resources to create effective court programs, and often dictating policy to a small group of community-based organizations (non-profit and otherwise). The historical reason for the court’s insularity are, to a significant extent, based on the courts’ fear of being monitored or controlled  by outside organizations and individuals.

Our problem, is that an insular/controlling court can negatively impacts the problem-solving court field, (and the reentry court, in particular) by limiting  the court’s ability to work within the community. While the courts should provide needed focus and participant accountability, the Reentry Community derives its extraordinary influence and impact from local government, as well as faith-based, fraternal, and other participating non- profit organizations. The federal government, in its  ground breaking  “Second Chance Act”, has taken an important step toward  recognizing  the importance of local community.

Let’s not forget that Problem-solving courts work, in large part because  they emmulate (often, without realizing it) the most effective means of  behavioral control, the communtiy itself.  It is when community began to break down  in the U.S. (about 200 years ago) that prisons were created, ultimately usurping  the function that historically resided in the community ( See: An Introduction To Community-Based Courts).

Therer is an important final justification for looking to community for support, collaboration, and resources. While reentry funds are pouring into our communities from state and federal sources, in a desperate attempt to staunch overcrowded prisons and failed reentry strategies, there is no guarantee that those funds will continue to flow. Community is the most effective and least expensive resource available to the reentry court. Faith-based, fraternal, and othe volunteer organizations, are the foot soldiers of the reentry movement and stand ready to make a major contribution to your reentry court program; committed to restoring and healing their communites as they have from time immemorial. We, in the criminal justice system, need to engage them as equals and partners. The first question you and your court/community may need to ask, is what is your relationship with the greater community, are you an active member of your community’s “reentry task force”,  and how can you strengthen the community of intervenors needed to meet the challenge of the returning ex-offender?

[Note: While the document below, was written in 1993, the issue of community-based funding for community-based courts remains unresolved: see Co-Funding Of Community-Based Courts ].

 

Evidence Based Practices in Reentry Court

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on Feb. 15, 2010, makes the connection between Drug Courts’ Ten Key Components and Evidence Based Practices and comes out in favor of instituting scientifically proven Evidence Based Practices.

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices (on your left), by Marc Carey and Frank Domurad, published by the Center for Effective Public Policy, under a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is the best publication I have found on the application of EBP to Prisoner Reentry

If you have or are planning a reentry court, you need to be familiar with “Evidence Based Practices” (EBP).   The challenge for a reentry court is to adopt proven empirical and research driven, “Evidence Based Practices”, designed to reduce recidivism. To do so, a reentry courts will need  qualified personnel, with open minds, and pioneering spirits. Perhaps we should start with a bit of history.

The Drug Court field’s Ten Key Components (NADCP/OJP; 1997) have been  around since 1997 and have stood the test of time. However, while still valuable as general principles, they don’t provided guidance as to what specific features reduce drug usage and recidivism.They were developed by practitioners like myself (I was an ex-drug court judge and NADCP’s President at the time), who knew what we were doing was working, but not exactly why. When we came together in Washington D.C., it was clear that the  fast growing field needed standards and guidance. So we created a template that was broad and based on commonsense. What we didn’t know was whether research and empirical evaluation would back up our beliefs. That the components have been implemented and adhered to by thousands of drug and problem-solving court practitioners in the intervening years is extraordinary in itself. But as I said before, for all the success of the “Key Components”, they didn’t provide the guidance we needed, to know which features to build  into our programs to make them more effective. Since then, the “Key Components” have been scientifically evaluated, substantiated to an extent, and have evolved (to my way of thinking) into  what has become known as  “Evidence Based Practices”,  or  scientifically proven”Best Practices” (specific guidelines) for the Problem-Solving Field.

According to the Pew Center on the States, “Evidence Base Practices”,  mean “supervision policies, procedures, programs, and practices that scientific research demonstrate reduce recidivism among individuals on probation, parole, or post-release supervision” (Policy Framework to Strengthen Community Corrections; Pew Public Safety Performance Project; 1998). The Crime and Justice Institute and National Institute of Corrections have produced a major report, authored by Judge Roger Warren (ret.), President Emeritus of the National Center for State Courts,  entitled Evidence-Based Practices to ReduceRecidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries, written for  the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the National Center for State Courts. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has also produced a monograph on the topic: “Quality Improvement for Drug Courts: Evidence Based Practices” (National Drug Court Institute Monograph #9; 2008)  The reentry court practitioner needs to rely on peer approved and recognized works in establishing its structures, procedures, and processes.

Even with all the scientific and institutional support for the implementation of EBP, the application of Evidence Based Practices to reentry court will be a hard sell. EBP often runs counter to  the practitioner’s conventional thinking on sentencing and rehabilitation practices. (ie. Best to play it safe and provide services for worthy non-violent, non-serious offenders, return parolees to prison for all but the most minor of violations, use the same sanctions and incentives for all drug abusers, etc.) And it’s not as simple and straight forward as the “key components”. But let’s remember that the “Key Components” are not the grail, but commonsense ideas about what worked for drug courts in 1997. EBP will require a willingness to learn new ways of doing our job. That means training and education. For some, it’s just too much work. But isn’t it worth the effort to create reentry courts (and other problem-solving courts), using scientifically proven guidelines or “Evidence Based Practices”  that will do what we started out to do in 1997; to better reduce drug abuse and recidivism in our communities.


A Twenty Year Projection: An 82% Recidivism Rate

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on March 2, 2010, concludes that 82 % of Tennessee prisoners return to prison within the twenty year period after release.

This public interest piece might be described as  pretty good advertisement for prison reform , reentry reform, and reentry courts. According to a 3/7/10 article by Michael Lollar appearing in The Commercial Appeal, Tennessee’s DOC claims recidivism rates of 51 percent when studied for a three-year period; this compares to national studies that average 65 percent over the same time period. But a 20-year study by Correctional Counseling, Inc., a Memphis-based behavioral therapy firm, followed 1,381 inmates that first did time between 1987 and 1991. According to the 20-year study, 94 percent of the latter group had been rearrested and 82 percent of them wound up behind bars.

Understanding Court-Based Reentry Systems

Feb. 5

 

INTRODUCTION

State court or Judicial connections to prisoners and ex-prisoners are much more common than generally believed, among the 50 states. State courts typically have some jurisdiction to intervene in prisoner reentry into the community, but rarely use that authority. Furthermore, relatively few such connections are organized into a systemic program that coordinates court or judicial intervention with community and correctional intervention.

While reentry court may be the best known of court based reentry systems, there are other systemic connections that exist between the court and prisoner/ex-prisoners, that have a substantial impact themselves or hold the potential for such an impact.

The “Court Jurisdiction Chart” is designed to help you analyze whether your state has the potential for a Court-Based Reentry System (or Judicially Supervised Reentry System) and/or Reentry Court [Note: the chart is explained below]

 

[An explanation of this chart can be found in the full article; click here:Judicially Supervised Reentry Interventions]

 


New York Times Article on San Francisco Reentry Court

The New York Times published the following article on Sunday, October 8, 2011, on the closing of the highly successful San Francisco Parole Reentry Court. (see:  “Parole and Probation Courts in San Francisco are Closing After Budget Cuts” )

The San Francisco Parole Reentry Court was part of a six county statutory pilot program, that gave the San Francisco Superior Court jurisdiction and authority for the first time to determine parole conditions, including rehabilitation and supervision as well as sanctions for parole violations. It was not an easy program to start, because of the reluctance of many to take on the supervision of parolees (an executive function in California and most of the states). As it turns out, we were merely anticipating the inevitable sentencing realignment in California, that would return a majority of prisoners to county jurisdiction.

The SFPRC enjoyed the full support of the San Francisco court until this past summer, when drastic reductions in state funding caused many California Courts to reassess their ability to provide rehabilitation services. San Francisco was one of the worst hit, with over 6 million dollars of debt and prospects of closing down 25 of 63 courtrooms countywide. The court determined that the Parole Reentry court (as well as two smaller reentry courts; a  juvenile reentry court and a probation reentry court) would be closed down, because they did not provide a core function of the court. Focusing on what they considered to be their survival as a court, the San Francisco Superior Court decided to get out of the “reentry court” business.