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 ].


“Second Chance” Solicitation for Statewide Recidivism Reduction

April 16, 2012

The Bureau if Justice Assistance (BJA) has announced a solicitation available to states interested in reducing statewide recidivism. This program will assist states in developing and implementing comprehensive plans to reduce statewide recidivism rates. Applicants must be state departments of corrections to be eligible and the deadline is May 21, 2012.

That is an important, though perhaps obvious point to make. Prison reform may be encouraged and supported by local jurisdictions, but significant changes can only come from the state and thorugh state policy makers. (Council of State Governments’ Reentry Resource Center information on this solicitation can be accessed by clicking on facimile on the left)

Second Chance Act Juvenile Offender Reentry Program Solicitation

April 2, 2012

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,  of the U.S. Department of Justice, is offering a solicitation  for Second Chance Act grant applications to state and local governments and federally recognized Indian tribes for juvenile reentry demonstration projects. This funding is available to help jurisdictions plan and implement programs and strategies to reduce recidivism and ensure safe and successful reentry of juveniles released from prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities back to the community. The deadline for applications is May 14, 2012. (You can find out more by clicking on the “National Reentry Resource Center” webpage facimile on the left)

CA Courts looking to BJA Reentry Court Funding


The Bureau of Justice Programs is moving forward with plans to provide grants of $500,000 each, for up to three years to Reentry Courts, under 2011 “Second Chance Act” funding. In California and elsewhere, where states are moving swiftly towards a county-based parole reentry and/or revocation system, local jurisdictions should seriously look at the potential for three year funding of their reentry/revocation court efforts.

Please keep in mind that the Reentry Court Grant Application must be filed by June 30th.


EXTRA/ May 17th

The Bureau of Justice Administration has issued their 2011 “Second Chance Act”, Reentry Court RFP. Up to $500,000 grants will  be issued and depending on resources may be available for an additional two years. Fifty Pecent will be required in match grants, but only 25%  in cash, as 25% may be provided in kind.

The deadline for this grant is June 30th.

[Stay tuned for more details]


President’s budget adds Reentry Court: Part I

Feb. 21st

Though many disputed the idea that federal funding for Reentry Court would survive the President’s initial  2012 budget, there it is; $5 million  for Reentry Courtsin the Department of Justice’s “Second Chance Act”. Though, in the scheme of things, not a lot of money ( and half of the $10 million allocated last year), it will continue funding of existing Reentry Court programs, and allow the expansion of Reentry Courts in exciting new ways. Most importantly, it is a statement that the Administration has not given up on Reentry courts as a model for prisoners returning to their communities.

It should be noted that there are literally dozens of states that are flailing around looking for some strategy that will allow substantial reductions in their prison populations. Reentry Courts, working with other important institutional and community partners, provides the focus necessary to integrate offenders back into the community while controlling their  criminal conduct. However, its important to note that reentry is a statewide problem, and cannot be addressed by local communities without the leadership, resources and committment of state political, judicial, and criminal justice officials. Any new federal Reentry Grant Program needs to be aimed at state government, rather than individual localities.

While it’s true that the pilot programs that are underway in a  dozen states have not been around long enough to  prove their effectiveness, drug courts have proven the effectiveness of the model in working with high-risk offenders (making up the great majority of those returning from prison). Where Reentry and other Problem-Solving Courts have missed their mark, is that they have not embraced evidence-based practices that have been  developed through nation-wide meta-analysis based research.

As a Reentry Court judge,  I am constantly reminded of the advances made in our knowledge, capabilities, and technology over the past ten years. It literally puts us on the brink of extraordinary change in the criminal justice system. All it takes is the willingness to break from the conventional, and the committment to apply what we know works (based on state of the art research) to our reentry populations. It can be done and the ride will be exhilarating.

[More on those advances next week]

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.

Obama Speaks Out On Need For Second Chance

A recent phone converesation between President Obama and Eagles Football Team  owner, Jeffrey Lurie, will hopefully focus attention on the need to fund the “Second Chance Act” and “reentry courts ” as a part of that legislation. According to Eagles Football Team  owner, Jeffrey Lurie, President Obama made a point of thanking Lurie for giving quarterback Michael Vick a  second chance after his conviction and imprisonment for a year and a half for running a dog fighting ring.

Obama’a statement in support of giving returning prisoners a second chance is symbolically important as we go into the new federal budget cycle. At this time, we have reason to believe that the Congress has only preliminarily funded the “Second Chance Act” for $50 million as opposed to the $100 million funded last year. There is also the potential that “reentry courts” will no be funded at the $10 million level they were last year, if  at all.

This was the gist of Obama’s statement, according to Lurie,  “’So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was … passionate about it. He said it’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.”

There’s reason to believe that existing reentry courts are having an even greater impact on returing offendeers that drug courts have had on drug offenders. The research supports the supposition that high risk offenders (which include most offenders returning from prison) do far better in highly structured court programs such as reentry courts than those who are not high risk. It’s critical that those with access to the Congress and the Administration make a strong pitch to fund “reentry courts” in the next funding cycle, and at the same level as last year.

Reentry Courts: After the Midterms

Nov. 7,2010

Ted Gest, writing in the “Crime Report, on the prospects for continued federal funding for reentry programs such as reentry courts , provides an insiders look at funding issues in the new Congress (“After the Midterms”). He appears to be of the opinion that the Republican chairmen slated to take charge of committees responsible for criminal justice funding, are not likely to radically reduce funding for reentry programs. This is obviously an issue we all want to watch carefully and be prepared to weigh in on, with support for the “Second Chance Act and reentry court funding, specifically.

Asst. AG Laurie Robinson Testifies For “Second Chance Act”

Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, Director of the Office Of Justice Programs  (OJP),  testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee  last week. Ms. Robinson has been a champion of innovative communiy-based rehabilitatilon programs, in particular drug courts, during her first stint as Director of OJP during the Clinton Administration. This time around she has championed effective reentry programs and reentry courts. During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee, she stressed the importance of fully funding the “Second Chance Act” at its previous year 2010, $100 million level.

Part of her testimony follows, “In FY 2010, Congress appropriated $100 million to continue the Second Chance Act Offender Reentry Initiative in OJP. This funding level represents an increase of $75 million over the FY 2009 appropriation of $25 million. This $100 million also includes $10 million for research, furthering our goals to support evidence-based initiatives. In FY 2011, the President’s Budget request includes $100 million to continue the Second Chance Act Offender Reentry Initiative.

Last week, Attorney General Holder called for a new approach to dealing with criminals and announced the creation of an interagency working group to focus exclusively on reentry issues. The group will focus on everything from mental health and drug treatment, housing, and job training needs as well as policy recommendations and efforts to enhance interagency coordination at the federal level.

To further these efforts throughout the federal government, the President launched a new Transitional Jobs initiative with the Department of Labor for ex-offenders and low-income, noncustodial fathers who face serious barriers to finding work and keeping work. The majority of returning prisoners are parents and strengthening family ties upon release can help returning prisoners successfully reintegrate into society. Through this program, fathers will be helped to develop the skills and experience they need to move into full-time, long-term employment so they can meet their child support obligations and help provide for their families”

For full text of testimony: Asst. AG Laurie Robinson/July 22

Pre-Entry Court as RFP Applicant

Note: Deadline for applications; June 3, 2010

This is the fourth and last article  on the “Second Chance Act” Reentry Court Solicitation. In this analysis,  I will review the RFP from the perspective of a Pre-Entry or county jail, probation-based reentry court applicant. [Note: A Pre-Entry Court is a before entry to prison court)

Typically, when one thinks of a reentry process, the focus is on state prisoners reentering society.  While this is clearly a critical issue, the possibility of keeping the offenders in the local community , and using a substantial jail term as a last resort has not always received the focus it deserves. Creating an effective county jail-based reentry court program offers the possibility of reducing the state prison population with its extraordinary costs, keeping offenders local, while increasing public safety within a seamless and comprehensive jail-based reentry court system.

Note:This solicitation is open to offenders returning from jails as well as prisons.

The pressure is on to reduce prison population in states like California (see article below). Governor Schwarzenneger has just announce a major new prison plan to return 15,000 prisoners to county jail to complete up to three years of their sentences. This news augurs well for Pre-Entry or County Probation-Based Reentry Courts. The potential for dealing with offenders at an early stage of the criminal justice process (possibly as soon as Arraignment), allowing for the seamless transitioning from jail to community, providing judicial oversight and incentives, using the same reentry court team throughout, and providing critical rehabilitation services early on, is a compelling alternative to prison  (see: County Jail Based Reentry Courts, a Policy Paper).

An additional benefit of the Pre-Entry Court, is that the local jurisdiction can submit an application and proceed with their planned reentry court, even in states that don’t support state prison-based reentry courts. As described in last week’s article, “RFP Targets Criminal Justice Leadership“,   there is enormous political, social, and financial pressure to handle prisoner reentry through the corrections and parole mechanisms that have always been in place. Hopefully, by showing that Reentry Court works on the county level, many more states will take a serious look at reentry court as an alternative to the failed conventional corrections/parole based reentry system presently in place at the state level.

It’s worth repeating the obvious, the way to deal with exploding prison populations and prisoner reentry failures is to refrain from sentencing non-violent offenders to prison in the first place.

Second Chance Grant Targets Co-ocurring Disorders

Deadline: June 3, 2010

BJA has announced a solicitation that will distribute $13 million under Sec. 201 of the “Second Chance Act” for offenders with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. Up to $600,000 in matching grants will be available to states and local governments to “establish or enhance residential substance abuse treatment programs in correctional facilities, including aftercare and recovery supportive services”.

Under the BJA Solicitation, priority will be given to applicants that (p.5-6):

Target higher-risk offenders who have been dually diagnosed with serious mental health disorders and alcohol or substance addictions at the same time using validated assessment tools.

• Demonstrate a high degree of collaboration among a variety of public, private, and faith-based organizations, to include at a minimum the State Substance Abuse Authority, the State Mental Health Authority, and a provider organization for direct client integrated substance abuse and mental health treatment services appropriate to the proposed project.

• Demonstrate effective case assessment and management abilities to provide a comprehensive and continuous reentry process, including the following:

o Using an actuarial-based assessment instrument for reentry planning that targets the criminogenic needs of the offender that affect recidivism, and provide sustained case management and services during incarceration and for at least 6 months in the community;

o Access to affordable and appropriate housing;

o Establishing pre-release planning procedures to ensure that the eligibility of an individual for federal or state benefits is established before release and that individuals will obtain all necessary referrals for reentry services; and

o Delivery of continuous and appropriate integrated drug and mental health treatment, medical care, job training and placement, housing, educational services, or any other service or support needed for successful reentry.

• Focus their program on geographic areas with high rates of offenders returning from prisons, jails, or juvenile detention facilities.

[Note: This solicitation is available to both prison and jail-based Reentry Courts and their community and correctional partners]

Reentry Court RFP: A New “Evidence-Base” Standard

Note: Deadline for applications; June 3, 2010

This is the second of several articles  on the “Second Chance Act” Reentry Court Solicitation. In this analysis,  I will review the RFP from a Evidence Based Sentencing (EBS) Perspective.

The new BJA Rentry Court Solicitation clearly differs from those for previous Problem-Solving Courts. In some ways it is the first of its kind. At an initial reading, one notes the lack of any reference to the “Drug Court Ten Key Components”. As recently as February of this year, Drug Courts, along with, DUI, Mental Health, Veterans, and Community Court applicants were required to show how thir programs complied with the Ten Key components. So while Reentry Courts emerged from the drug court court field, there appears to be some recognition that they are substantially different from them.

Under this solicitaiton, reentry court applicants   must adhere to the “Six Core Components” (see p.3), as described in the 2003 publication, Reentry Courts Process Evaluation (Phase 1), reflecting the research and experience of nine reentry court research sites that were  part of  a previous, short lived Reentry Court Initiative  (RCI: 2000). A review of that document, as well as other historical documents, would be a good place to begin this application process (NCJR Reentry Court Documents)

More importantly, the entire focus of this RFP takes us in a new direction.  While problem solving court applicants must follow the statutory prohibition against violent offenders as participants, found in the drug court solicitation (42 U.S.C. 3797u-2; found at p1,f1), there is no such prohibition for reentry courts. The perceived intent of the reentry court solicitiaition is to reduce recidicism of serious offenders through the application of  Evidence Based Sentencing Practices (referred euphemisticaly  in the RFP as “evidence based activities”).

Importantly, this is the first BJA problem-solving court RFP that requires the identification of high risk offenders through the application of a validated risk/needs assessment tool, a key component of any EBP based sentencing strategy (note: high risk in this context refers to the risk to reoffend). While EBP began in the medical and treatment fields (and is a part of some BJA RFPs as they relate to treatment programs), this Reentry Court Solicitation breaks new ground, in prioritizing those applications that will apply evidence-based practices to problem-solving court components.

Inquiries about this “Request For Proposal” should be directed to Dr. Gary Dennis, Senior Policy Advisor For Corrections, at (202) 305-9059 or [email protected].

OJJDP Juvenile Reentry Mentoring Grants

Deadline: April 27,2010

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention(OJJDP) has just announced a new grant under the “Second Chance Act” for applicants who mentor juvenile offenders returning from custody to the community.  A grantee may be awarded up to $625,000 for a period of up to three years.  As best described in the RFP:

“The grants will be used to mentor juvenile offenders during confinement, through transition back to the community, and post-release; to provide transitional services to assist them in their reintegration into the community; and to support training in offender and victims issues. Targeted youth must be younger than 18 years old.”


March 18: Deadline For Reentry Mentoring Grants

Community involvement in the Reentry Process is critical to the success of a reentry court. Our guest post, on the importance of Mentoring in the Reentry Process, was written by Pat Nolan , of the “Justice Fellowship”:

Prison Fellowship has found that having a mentor increases the beneficial impact of the other programs they participate in. Ex-offenders need healthy relationships even more than they need programs. A mentor is there to help them think through the myriad decisions that confront them—where to live, how to get a job, where to get medical care. Even mundane things like obtaining a driver’s license or a state ID. Mentors also hold offenders accountable for staying on the right path and help them get back on their feet when they falter.

It’s great news that the grants just issued by the BJA’s Office of Justice Programs are meant to be used to help build the capacity of local communities to match returning offenders with a mentor. There were 507 applications for the first round of grants, and we anticipate even greater demand for the $15 million available this year. The mentoring grants are the only source of funding currently available for community- and faith-based groups under the Second Chance Act; so, be prepared for stiff competition.

The announcement from BJA has excellent step-by-step instructions, an invaluable checklist and a comprehensive syllabus of articles about mentoring. My hat is off to Gary Dennis and his team at BJA. They have done a terrific job establishing this grant program in a way that is understandable to those of us who are not in government service. [For the full article see: Justice Fellowship]

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