"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

Vision 1: Integrating Traditional Community Justice Into Penal Systems

September 8, 2014

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An article in the Huffington Post proposes a novel alternative to the existing prisons system, prisons that are run by non-profit organizations (Huffington Post, “Nonprofit Floats Unusual Alternative To Private Prison”). The author, Saki Knafo, describes how “Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world.”

The idea is not so farfetched. Making offenders accountable and responsible for each others conduct and behavior is very close to what is done in traditional societies that control misbehavior with community based responses. There are courts across the country that are experimenting with offender communities making criminal justice decisions. In San Francisco, I was part of a nascent, but very successful Reentry Court (responsible for reintegrating high risk prisoners back into society). Our Reentry Court Team was able to enlist “honor role” participants’, as well as their ideas and recommendations, in setting up court procedures and developing appropriate responses to minor program violations (unfortunately the pilot program was discontinued due to fiscal constraints; New York Times, Oct. 8, 2011)

While many consider prisoner decision making the provence of prison gangs, I would suggest that if structured right, a Prison administered by a Non-Profit Corporation could play an important part in building traditional community responsibility and accountability into both our prisons and prisoner rehabilitation. (San Francisco Reentry Court: 87% Fewer Return  To Prison)

Reentry Court Myths and Realities

IMG_0999April 14, 2014

Sometimes you need to break away from writing drug court history and blow some Island Jazz. This article was written in 2011 and has received its share of compliments. In case you missed it the first time, here it is again, MYTHS AND REALITIES OF REENTRY COURTS

MYTH #1: There’s not much interest nationally in federal funding for Reentry Courts

Local jurisdictions often have neither the jurisdiction nor the resources to deal with parolees, a traditional state responsibility. However a growing number of states are actively developing state wide, locally run, reentry court systems, as they realize the value of these community-based courts. (IN, OH, MO, TX, and CA have taken the lead in developing state-wide systems). The DOJ can provide resources, information and educational opportunities to assist interested states.

MYTH #2: Reentry Court is just like Drug Court with a different population.

Reentry Court turns 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. The most significant realization I’ve made as San Francisco’s Reentry Court Judge, is that 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. (over the initial 12 weekly sessions, participants failed to appear for court 1% of time)

MYTH #3: Reentry Courts detect violations, responding with sanctions and return to prison

The purpose of the Reentry Court is to keep the offender from reoffending and returning to prison. We are only peripherally engaged in the creation of model citizens. 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. Professor Ed Latessa of the University of Cincinatti, (Dean of reentry research), warns that parolees need to be engaged in structured activity for 40 to 70% of their day, and that those programs that address 4 or more of the criminogenic needs of the offender do twice as well as those that don’t.

MYTH #4: Reentry Court success means substantially reducing drug abuse among parolees.

If we successfully deal with a criminal’s substance abuse problem, we may end up with a clean and sober criminal. Research suggests that less than 50% of parolees have a substantial drug abuse problem, so dealing with substance abuse as the main focus of Reentry Court may be  a mistake. According to the research, drug abuse is not in the first tier of criminogenic needs for the high-risk offender. Dealing with Criminal Attitudes, Criminal Personality, Criminal Friends and Associates, and Family and Parenting issues are generally considered the most important treatment needs. Unfortunately, the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, that have proved to be most successful in treating these issues, is lacking across much of the nation.

San Francisco Reentry Court: 87% fewer “Return to Prison”

THE BEST OF: The following article was published on Feb. 4th, 2012. It describes the success of the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court, and opens the door to evaluations and research based on the San Francisco Model.

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The San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) was a statutorily funded pilot project administered by both the California Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The funding itself, some $1.5 million per county was provided by the federal government through 2009 Stimulus funding. Without going into structural detail here (to be saved for another more expansive article), I’d like to provide general information on how SFPRC was designed and implemented, as well as statistical evidence of its success.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) data for the 10-month period that the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) was fully operational (Dec. 2010-Sept. 2011) established that the SFPRC “return to prison” rate was 1/7th the rate of regular San Francisco parolees (a reduction of over 85% over 10 months). SF’s parolee population had 1365  “return to prison” out of its 1,686 parolees (81% of the SF parole population). The SFPRC had 8 out of 70 parolees return to prison (an 11% rate).

The most important attribute of the SFPRC were its reliance on “the court as rehabilitation community” 

The SFPRC team and participants created a rehabilitation community that was a driving force for participant change. The court team encouraged and often joined participants in pro-social activities, treating participants as individuals worthy of respect. The court became a friendlier place; where strangers became friends and sometimes mentors, coffee and pastries were served, rehab sessions and counseling, honor roll meetings and award ceremonies, and other pro-social activities occurred. Participants were also expected to engage in the larger community via volunteerism and other activities (i.e. organizing family picnics).

The corollary principle employed was that positive reinforcement and minimal sanctions, rather than custody would be used to modify negative behavoirs”. 

The SFPRC embraced a true paradigm shift, pioneering the use of positive reinforcement in reentry courts; using awards, rewards, and positive, and negative incentives to recognize accomplishments.A tangible example: The courtroom bulletin board displayed the SFPRC Newsletter, awards and certificates, letters and poetry, photos of graduation and awards ceremonies, family and friends, court picnics, and newly inducted Honor Roll members. 

Minimum sanctions were used as necessary, almost to the exclusion of custody. This is especially relevant under new state law, where parole sanctions are often statutorily limited to 90 days county jail. SFPRC sanctioned 14 participants for a total of 105 days in jail over the course of the program. During that same period, SFPRC’s 70 participants achieved a 93% attendance rate, though required to attend weekly court sessions (approximately 1200 hour-long court appearances over a 10 month period). 

Over it’s 15-month life ( including planning and implementation), SFPRC modeled “a minimalist reentry court for recessionary times”(see: reentrycourtsolutions.com). Though problem-solving courts” and reentry courts in particular are often accused of being wasteful, the relatively resource rich SFPRC was dealing with high-risk, serious and violent offenders, who were ultimatley far more expensive to deal with either in prison or in the community. SFPRC limited itself to  a part-time judge, court coordinator, case manager, defense attorney, parole officer and clerk. It used minimal incarceration while achieving a 87% reduction in “returns to prison”. And it successfully engaged long term prisoners, recently returned to society, in rehabilitation through a court-based community.

For a one page summary of the San Francisco Parole Reentry court’s mission, design, and statistical results, see: Final 1-Year SFPRC Report Card

 

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