"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

Commentary

A NEW YEAR’S VISION: EVIDENCE-BASED SENTENCING FOR ALL

FORMER SERVICEMAN STANDS BEFORE "VETERANS' COURT" JUDGE
FORMER SERVICEMAN STANDS BEFORE “VETERANS’ COURT” JUDGE

It is the New Year and so it is customary to envision what we should accomplish in the the next year. Instead, allow me to envision a new evience-based sentencing system in place across the U.S. Let’s assume for a moment that only those truly deserving remain in prison or jail (hypothetically a fraction of those currently incarcerated). That would leave the Sentencing Judges with the critical task od deciding what do they do with those who commit criminal offenses. How would they sentence those convicted of a crime in a fair, humane and rational manner.

Actually the antecedents of such a sentencing system  go back more than 25 years to the dawn of the Drug Court era. It was widely understood that the sentencing and supervision of drug offenders wasn’t working. There was little coordination in the court’s dealing with the drug offender, the offender rarely saw the same judge or court personnel twice, there was little court or offender accountability and altogether inadequate rehabilitation services available.(Monograph No.2, of the 1999 NDCI Monograph Series, “Drug Court Systems”, Jeffrey Tauber)

Following the example of the Drug Court, our futuristic sentencing system would have the same judge and court team deal with the sentenced offender (to the extent possible), as part of a seamless supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation system, that runs from sentencing, through custody, through community supervision, to the very conclusion of the case.

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Vision 5: Veteran’s Court; a Harbinger of Things to Come

Oct. 6, 2014

I spent the summer describing alternative justice systems that exist around the world and how they often are community based ( described as “Restorative Justice” in the U.S). I’ve begun a new series on “Alternative Visions of Western Criminal Justice Systems”  that seeks to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justiceScreen Shot 2014-10-05 at 9.17.44 PM

I was a new Judge in 1990, assigned to the existing Drug Court, a Reagan Era monstrosity that was designed to get drug offenders from Arraignment to prison as quickly as possible. I was overwhelmed by the level of need for treatment and supervision by drug dependent offenders in the city of Oakland, and decided that we would make treatment the major focus of a new drug court model.

We opened the floodgates and placed 1156 participants in the program over the first full year of the Oakland F.I.R.S.T Drug Court, (with spectacular results, Evaluations of Oakland”s F.I.R.S.T Drug Court: 1991-1993).  Unfortunately the treatment, as limited as it was, was only available to a limited contingent of drug offenders and not at all to those without a drug offense charged or a drug abuse problem. The issue of who is denied treatment because they don’t fit into a predetermined treatment program bothered me then and bothers me today. I am convinced  that Drug Courts and other Community-Based Courts (also called Problem-Solving Courts) are but an intermediate step in the development of a new kind of comprehensive sentencing system that will be the accepted mainstream alternatives model in the future

All serious offenders (whether felons or misdemeanants) need to be engaged in a sophisticated sentencing system that will tailor the offender’s sentence to their need for rehabilitation (i.e. drug and/or mental health treatment, education, job training, etc.) as well as their risk to the community. Rather than categorize the individual, the courts, relevant agencies, and community need to be part of a community-based sentencing process that deals with the individual rather than a predetermined subset of offenders (who may receive intensive treatment in a Drug, Mental Health, Driving Under The Influence, Domestic Violence, or other Problem Solving Court). 

We’ve had the opportunity to test this thesis in the Veteran’s Courts (and to a lesser extent Reentry Courts) that have proliferated across the nation over the past several years. Veteran’s Courts treat veterans charged with criminal offenses, period. They do not reject serious or violent offenders. Offenders are not categorized or rejected for failure to be a drug offender or mentally deficient. They welcome all offenders who are in need of special support, monitoring or rehabilitation. They are assisted by volunteers from the community at large and the Veteran’s Community in particular. They are not  pigeon-holed.They are simply recognized as individuals with problems that need attention.

Of course, we are willing to assist the veteran who has committed a criminal act very differently than we do the common criminal. But the way we approach the veteran’s offense is the key to successful alternatives to incarceration in the future. When we stop putting individuals in boxes, consider them as we do veteran’s, worthy of redemption, and treat them as human beings with critical needs, and ultimately as part of our communities, we will be on our way to a critical systemic change in how we deal with our criminal population.

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These observation are to be part of a book to be published on the History of NADCP and the Drug Court Movement. 

 

(CLICK TO SEE EXCERPTED BOOK CHAPTERS} 

 

 

Veteran’s Reentry Court Proposed at NADCP Meeting

At the National Association of Drug court Professionals (NADCP) Board Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, there was a good deal of discussion regarding the future of Veteran’s Court. One informal suggestion made was that a Veteran’s Court that focused on returning offenders from prison would be an appropriate expansion of the Veteran’s court concept. There are as many as 80 Veteran’s courts across the country and those that I am aware of, work with offenders are relatively recently separated from the military, who are new to the criminal justice system, with new offenses that are often dealt with through a diversionary court.

With the continued success and popularity of the Veteran’s Court, it would seem most appropriate to consider working with those who have had long histories in the criminal justice system, many of them veterans of the Vietnam era. Those with prison terms who are returning to the community or are to be released into the society clearly deserve the same degree of appreciation and consideration as more recent veterans receive in Veteran’s Courts

I have seen various statistics on the number of veterans in prison, the most widely quoted suggests that 10% of those in prison nationally are veterans (though I can not vouch for that). I have seen reliable statistics showing that there are over 2 million veterans living in California alone. For example, I would hope that California jurisdictions who are in the process of realignment, take a look at how those veterans imprisoned and released on parole in their jurisdiction are faring and investigate how we can best serve this deserving population as they return to their communities. A Veteran’s Reentry Court may be part of the answer.

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