HEALING CRIMINAL JUSTICE: A Journey to Restore Community in Our Courts (free download through 2020)

Healing Criminal Justice: a journey to Restore Community in Our Courts, is  newly published , by Judge Jeffrey Tauber (free download on Amazon through 2020). It’s central theme is the rediscovery of the healing power of community within the criminal justice system. Judge Tauber lays out his vision of a future, in which society, recoiling from its overreliance on imprisonment,  returns to its historic use of community to control criminal behavior.

Healing Criminal Justice also speaks to how leadership from within can change the trajectory of a major institution, even one as immovable as the criminal justice system.

Finally, ”Healing Criminal Justice”  celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). Written by its founding president and president emeritus, it describes NADCP’s path to nationwide champion of criminal justice drug reform.

In Healing Criminal Justice, Judge Tauber describes his  experience as one of the nation’s first drug court judges and how a nascent field with a few scattered programs was transformed into a nationwide movement. He recalls his worldwide travels as well as his experience as a struggling saxman playing in Oakland’s blues clubs, and how both contributed to his understanding of one of the most vital elements in the criminal justice system: community.

Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.) is the Director/Editor of Reentry Court Solutions (RCS), an educational initiative that provides a nation-wide information website; as well as technical assistance, training, and advisory services to the field.

To access an excerpt of the book, please click on the link on the right: hhtp://healingcriminaljustice.com


profile of the author as a world travelling sax playing judge

Two narratives on promoting your book: They told me I needed to stay focused.  I actually thought that all you had to do was find the thousands of  hours to write your book. If you have something to say that’s worth the read, then people will read your book. Of course when I put that idea out there to the professionals, they laughed.

JJJ Press
[Jazzy Judge Jeff]
“From the blues and jazz clubs of Oakland, to the prisons of Fiji and Samoa, to the halls of Congress and the White House, Judge Jeffrey Tauber recounts his ascent to the leadership of the nation’s drug and problem-solving court movement.

It’s  also about the challenges one faces when you try to do something really big; when you challenge an entire government bureaucracy. How you run into  buzzsaws coming from every direction. How you need to be willing to sacrifice nearly everything you care about. You have to be driven, and lucky, and you’ve got to catch that big wave just righ, to make it happen. And even after all that, it may not be worth the fight.

In this case, maybe it was. Over three thousand drug and problem-solving courts established over the past twenty-five years; over a quarter million persons trained and educated in alternative treatment practices and principles; Over one and a half million participants entering drug courts since 1994 when NADCP was formed..

In wistful and humorous anecdotes, he recounts his worldwide travels as well as his experience as a struggling saxman playing Oakland’s clubs, and how both contributed to his understanding of the most vital element in the criminal justice system: community.”

Healing Criminal Justice’s central theme is the rediscovery of the healing power of community. Judge Tauber lays out his vision of a future, in which society, recoiling from its overindulgence in imprisonment,  returns to its historic reliance on community as the controller of criminal behavior.

“Jeffrey Tauber has been a criminal defense attorney and a judge. He has also been a world traveler with a sociologist’s eye and the sensibilities of a musician. In Healing Criminal Justice, Judge Tauber recalls his time on the Oakland bench as one of the nation’s first drug court judges and how he helped transform a nascent field with a few scattered programs into a nationwide movement.

”Healing Criminal Justice” celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). Written by its founding president and president emeritus, it describes NADCP’s path to nationwide champion of criminal justice drug reform.

Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.) is the Director/Editor of Reentry Court Solutions (RCS), an educational initiative that provides a nation-wide information website; as well as technical assistance, training, and advisory services to the field. hhtp://rentrycourtsolutions.com


the Commissioner-General of the Namibian Correctional Service, Raphael Tuhafeni Hamunyela

As bad as overcrowded prisons are in the U.S. and Europe,  the issue of  mass incarceration is hardly limited to the West. It has for too long been an unacknowledged side effect of the westernization of the world. Regions of the world that have little experience with imprisonment have embraced it wholeheartedly, sparking a horendous human rights problem in the developing world. It’s former reliance on community to control its own, has devolved into an unhealthy  acceptance of imprisonment as the solution to criminality. The extent of this problem can be gleaned from an article in New Era Live, a southern africa publication, 

“In Malawi – one of the countries with among the highest levels of congestion in correctional facilities in the world – overcrowding has been put down to a phenomenon in which people who have committed minor offences are sent to jail instead of being sentenced to community service.

Things got to a head in 2006 when the country’s Constitutional Court declared that the extent of overcrowding in some correctional facilities amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The top court urged the government of Malawi to take concrete steps to reduce the overcrowding by half and improve ventilation and prison conditions in general.

Now, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Malawi Prisons Inspectorate will this June support training of magistrates in different parts of the country on the use of alternatives to imprisonment when dealing with people who overstep legal boundaries.

This is in line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures of 1990, commonly known as The Tokyo Rules which promote greater community involvement in the administration of criminal justice and in the treatment of offenders. Additionally, they promote a sense of responsibility towards society among offenders.”

If one reads between the lines, it is apparent that Malawi is sufferring from mass incarceration as is the U.S. and the rest of the world. One needs to address this issue as a worldwide problem and not just one impacting the West.


I began to write a book on my experiences as a drug and reeentry court judge five years ago. At the time I was well aware  of the momentum building for prison and sentencing reform and wrote about it often.

About two years ago I  retired as a  judge. It was my opprotunity to put my head down and get serious about finishing my book before 2019, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). I was NADCP’s founding President  and wanted to finish the book for NADCP’s annual conference, to be held July 14th thorugh the 17th 2019.

The last two year have been a  blur. Writing, rewriting, fact-checking, researching, all at the same time. Definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Constantly dealing with emergencies as you work toward publication.

Hopefully the book will be worth the read. The book is called Healing Criminal Justice : A Journey to Restore Communtiy in Our courts. It is a paen to “Community in our Courts”;  the power of community to control criminal behavior.

One result of writing a book. Over the past two years I’ve been on hiatus from my website, Reentry Court Solutions. I have spent the last dozen years as its main contributor, editor, researcher, manager, director, etc. It is been a very intensive effort at educating the public about the need for reentry courts and other problem-solving courts, as well as reform to our sentencing and prison systems. I was publishing on average an article a week on critical issues. Not an easy thing to do, but it had the effect of forcing me to review dozens of articles a week on reentry, prison, and other criminal justice reform issues.

If I were to do the same today, I would have to review hundreds of articles a week on the same subjects. The attention, concern, and demands  being made on the system by criminal justice reformers is extraordinary, And it is welcome. I feel like Rip Van Winkle who slept for twenty years, though my hiatus was only for two. The point is,  that we truely seem to be woke and it is inspirational. We can and must do as much as we can to stop the demand to punish and  to imprison for increasingly longer terms. It feels like we’ve turned this train around, but the really hard part is just coming up around the next bend; keeping our foot on the accelerator.


Reprinted from January 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 10.33.28 PM















While running the nacent San Francisco Parole Reentry Court in 2010, I  rediscovered the importance of engaging parolees in what the social scientists call  “Pro-Social Activities”. If you could provide opportunities to engage in positive community-based activities (especially productive or creative ones), they were very likely to succeed. It worked for the serious and violent offenders that appeared before me. Though many believe that sanctions and especially incarceration are necessary to achieve compliance, that just wasn’t the case in our program (“San Francisco Reentry court:87% fewer return to Prison”).

Confirmation comes from many programs and studies in the U.S. and around the world. One of the most exciting is the success of the Italian Prison Theatre, which teaches and produces serious theatre, both inside and outside of prison. The following is largely taken from a 2013 article on the website of Jean Trounstine  as well as a 2009 Los Angeles Times article.

“Since 1988, Compagnia della Fortezza, the company named after the Medici-era fortress that houses the Volterra jail where the men are imprisoned, has performed a variety of Italian spectacles and tragedies   As a byproduct of that success, though prison conditions are generally deplorable in Italy, (which has a 65% return to prison rate similar to most of Europe), for those who engage in the Theatre Programs, it’s about 10%.

The Italians love art so much, the rumor goes, that the prisoners would rather risk an arrest than not show their performances to other Italians. Many shows tour and many prisoners work outside during the day. And believe it or not over half the 205 prisons in Italy have acting companies. Compagnia della Fortezza has won some of Italy’s most prestigious theatre awards and houses a gourmet restaurant where prisoners work and serve food to the public.

“For 21 years, director Amando Punzo has dedicated himself to art behind bars. Punzo has embarked on a challenging repertoire for the company, including “plays based on works by Brecht, Peter Handke, and even the tale of Pinocchio.”  He says that it is not therapy that drives him but creating good theatre. Said Director Punzo, “It’s not about giving the inmates an outlet or a recreational break. It’s work.”  The side effect of theatre programs behind bars are self-respect, community building and a love for the stage.”

The photo displayed above, is one of many in a photo essay by Clara Vannuci, an Italian photographer who has documented in amazing pictures the essence of Director Amando Punzo’s vision. Photographer Vannuci relayed how she asked a prisoner why no one tried to escape. The response reflected how much theatre has the potential to change lives:  “Why should I run? Where would I go? Twenty years I’ve lived in prison. Now I have something to live for. Life has meaning.”


A recently published book on prisons around the world, turns a spotlight on the “punishment“ focus of America Prisons and alternatives to that American Model. Baz Dreisinger, writes in her book, “Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World”, that  while many counties are creating their own American inspired “Super Max Prisons, ther are alternative models to consider as well. [The following is based on a an interview with the author by Robin Young of ”here and now”]

The Author relates her experience in visiting nine countires who have created alternative appraches to the “punishment“ oriented American model. In Places like Rwanda, which suffered thorugh crimes of genocide, the principal penal focus is on “healing” , reparations”, and restoration”.  In Scandanaia, there are “Open Prisons” where people can come and go, allowing them to be a part of the community and work.  And in Australia, where “Private Prisons”  (while apprpriately villifed in the U.S.) have developed  innovative, open approaches to prisons, that allows extensive community interaction and are run entirely on restorative principles.

Ms. Dresinger does an important servce by offering  us a glimpse of the wide world of restorative justice  that exist outside of the U.S. I believe it will be through an a open review of alternatives criminal justice systems and behavior modification models that we will create a just and humane criminal justice system here in the U.S..

Having traveled extensively abroad, and viisted prisons and court systems in many parts of the world, I agree with the authors’ findings that a more community-based, restorative approach to crimnal behavior is a critically needed in our present system (Rejecting the Conventional Prison; JTauber).

We know that communtiy based behavioral controls works; that healing through “restoratove justice principles” succed where punitive models don’t; that “community-based alternatives” are a far better foundation for creating a just society than one that is retribution based . But we remain fixed in our commitment to the one size fits all punitive prison model favored in the U.S. And that is an issue we must come to grips with.


Reprinted from  February 2016 article


A recent research paper out of Great Britain, finds that “public anger toward crime and support for harsh criminal justice policy ia linked to factors associated with social inequality.” The paper written by Carolyn Cote-Lussier, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, is titled, “The Functional Relation Between Social Inequality, Criminal Stereotypes, and PublicAttitudes toward Punishment of Crime, (published in the journal of “Psycology, Public Policy and Law”).

What’s particularly interesting about this paper is that it explores in depth what may seem obvious to many, but is still of great significance; that the “link between between thinking that criminals have a low social status and feeling angry and punitive toward crime suggests that growing social inequality and failing to address disadvantage could actually contribute to even greater public demands for harsh criminal justice policy making it difficult for governments to tackle unsustainable high prison populations”.

Though the study was conducted in the UK, there is every reason to believe that the same factors are at work here in the U.S. “In the US,  comprehensive longitudinal study revealed a significant association between income inequality and the US federal incarceration rate between 1953 and 2008. Income inequality has been rising over the past three decades in countries such as the US and Canada.”

Once again, thought the findings may not be surprising, they are important to a basic understanding of society’s attitude and harsh treatment of the criminal. It makes sense to conclude that the widenning social and economic inequality in the U.S since the 1980s., has had a significant impact on both our perception and treatment of those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Since 1990 alone, prison terms have increased substantially in the U.S. (According to a study by Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, the length of time served in U.S. prisons has increased by an average of 36 percent between 1990 and 2009; (PDF of the PEW article, “Time Served; The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms”).

“Lastly, Professor Cote-Lussier makes the point that “policies that reduce social inequality, such as improving educational attainment, could also ultimately decrease public demand for harsh criminal justice policies and could have the added benefit of reducing crime and the victimization of vulnerable populations.




Reprinted from January 2016

reentrycourtRecent published articles suggest that some drug courts show a statistical preference for participants who have less serious criminal histories (ie. without violent incidents or mental health issues), are less drug dependent, and have substantial community resources to assist them (family, job, education, etc.). Basically the suggestion is that those who are truly “drug dependent” offenders (and more specifically “people  of color”) are not getting into drug court or not staying very long.

The question then is, what is the appropriate “targeted population for drug court”? While the Drug Court field started out somewhat timidly dealing with less serious drug offenders, the research and experience of the past twenty years has proven conclusively the merit of  working with those with longer criminal histories, more difficult personal issues such as illiteracy, mental illness, and lack of community resources, and critically, addiction/drug dependency (specifically, low risk offenders do not benefit, and in fact do worse than similar offenders who have not been placed in intensive treatment programs; University of Cincinnati)

But there are still some drug courts who prefer to focus on those with less serious drug problems. Those drug courts that are reluctant to take on the difficult drug dependent offender need to consider creating a drug court system that deals with their preferred clientel, but also provides separate tracks for those with more serious problems, specifically drug addiciton and mental illness (interestingly, researchers tell us that 60 to 80% of drug offenders are not “addicted or drug dependent”; see: Drug Court Systems, NDCI Monograph #2, J Tauber)

Consider this; If you don’t put the serious drug dependent offender in your drug court program you are impacting the program’s participant base (delaying entry by more than a week can by itself have a profound impact on your program’s demographics). You are increasing the number of participants who are most likely to stray from the program and return to drugs, and limiting the program’s availability to people who need it the most.

Read more


Reprinted from December 2018

Dr.Doug Marlow,
Dr.Doug Marlow, Chief of Science, Policy and Law, NADCP

If you follow the comments of governors and other state policy makers these days, it appears that they have signed on to the notion that drug courts are the answer to prison overpopulation, high crime rates, and increased recidivism (and that may be the short list). In reading about their support for drug courts, I am cheered by their adoption of an important  innovation that I along with others pioneered some twenty-five years ago. But I am disheartened by their misunderstanding of the significance and applicability of drug court to all criminal offenders.

Drug abuse is a good example of the failure of the “one size fits all” philosophy in the criminal justice world.  As tempting as it may be to lock onto drug court treatment as a silver bullet that works with all offenders, drug court isn’t cost-effective, appropriate, or productive as a treatment alternative for most criminal offenders (or most drug offenders). While drug courts are the most intensive “alternatie to incarceration” available for drug abusers, they should not be the only effective treatment option for the drug abuser.

Optimally, we should think of the drug court as the anchor and the most intensive in a series of  treatment/rehabilitation tracks available for the different levels of drug abuse encountered. A Drug Court System could provide a series of progressively more intensive versions of the Drug Court model, beginning with a face to face encounter with a judge, and possible diversion from the criminal justice system, and culminating at the other end of the spectrum, with a fully implemented drug court program.

As described by Dr. Doug Marlow, Chief of Science, Policy & Law, at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (see: NADCP argues for Evidence-based tracks), most drug offenders are not drug dependent and shouldn’t be part of an intensive drug court program. Dr.Marlow estimates that 60 to 80% of drug offenders do not need a drug court’s intensive treatment.That means that more than half of drug offenders should be going somewhere else  besides drug court for their treatment and rehab needs.

At the very least, drug courts need to be modified (as Dr. Marlow suggests) to deal with the majority of criminal offenders, who are drug abusers, but not drug dependent. Whether in an expanded drug court system or an existing probation structure, we need to deal with the whole person in a scientific, evidence-based sentencing system (whatever we end up calling it), where individual levels of risk and need are determined, and appropriate supervision and treatment responses apply.

In practical terms, it appears that we over-treat drug abuse and pay too little attention to cognitive behavioral needs and rehabilitative therapies that have proven successful. In essence what Dr. Marlowe and his scientific brethren have been telling us is that traditional Drug Court is not the answer to most offenders’ treatment and rehab needs.

[Note: drug courts reach only about 5% of drug offenders (which is far from what is needed); there continues to be an appalling failure to develop significant and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation tracks for non-dependent drug abusers specifically, and non-drug abusers in general]



Reprinted from January 2016


This is an introduction  to an issue which has been brewing within the criminal justice system, but only now is reaching the general public: What do GPS bracelets accomplish and should they be a mainstay of “alternatives to incarceration programs”.

One of the two biggest suppliers of GPS bracelets is the Private Prison Goliath, the GEO Group, which is positioning itself to survive any significant reduction in nationwide imprisonment (through its recentky acquired subsidiary, Behavioral Interventions).

For many politicians, GPS bracelets that provide the location of “supervised” individuals are the future of “alternatives to incarceration”. But many observers feel that an alternative to incarceration should have a substantial rehabilitation component, which GPS bracelets themselves do not provide. Civil libertarians argue that before GPS bracelets were available, an individual’s right to privacy was less likely to be compromised (making the point that the government is engaging in classic “net widening”;  ultimately interfering  in the lives of more individuals, and at a  more intense level).

Many argue that leaving individuals in there own homes is no guarantee that criminal activity will not continue or that the individual may remove the device and walk away. My concern has been more limited, that in regards to drug use or sales, leaving an individual at home to use their drugs or supply others, is foolhardy (and certainly provided no incentive in itself to reduce or eliminate drug abuse).

[For a fuller description of the controversy surrounding the use of GPS bracelet devices, see the Daily Beast article, “Here’s what the World Will Look Like After Mass Incarceration”, by Sarah Shourd”.] 


There has been a recent outcry from politicians who have only recently joined the “Alternatives To Prison” Movement to close down existing private prisons. The call for closure is based on well-documented cases of abuse and neglect at the two major Private Prison Corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

While the call to close private prisons appears to be succeeding, private prison corporations are hardly closing up shop. They are merely moving on to greener pastures in the “Alternatives to Prison’ Reform Movement”.

In an article from Bloomberg Business, Matt Stroud describes What Private Prisons Companies Have Done to Diversify in the Face of Sentencing Reform” Mr. Stroud’s answer is that they are investing in offender rehabilitation services or Alterenatices to Prison Programs. It seems ludicrous for these predator corporations to be making such a move, but it has already begun.

According to the Bloomberg article, “GEO Group in 2011, acquired Behavioral Interventions, the world’s largest producer of monitoring equipment for people awaiting trial or serving out probation or parole sentences. It followed GEO’s purchase in 2009 of Just Care, a medical and mental health service provider which bolstered its GEO Care business that provides services to government agencies.  “Our commitment is to be the world’s leader in the delivery of offender rehabilitation and community reentry programs, which is in line with the increased emphasis on rehabilitation around the world,” said GEO chairman and founder George Zoley during a recent earnings call. Brian W. Ruttenbur, a managing director at CRT Capital Group’s research division, says that neither GEO or CCA will be significantly hurt by sentencing reform in the near future.”

One has to wonder what beneifits will befall our communities if these giant corporations are allowed to do business in what has traditionally been a relatively small scale community-run endeavor. As to whether state or local government will buy into the “Mass Alternative to Prison Industry, is yet to be determined.



Four Roles of a Judge in a Community-Based Court

The following article was published in 2009, in an attempt to define the importance of the Judge within the framework of a Community-Based Court (Drug, Mental Health, DUI Court, etc.), describing both the importance and limitations of the judicial position.  

  Download PDF 



About fifteen years ago, I described the role of the Drug Court Judge in a judge’s manual (J. Tauber, Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual, CJER; 1994).  I wrote, ” A drug Court provides direction and focus through the leadership of a single judge”.  A statement writ large, and in retrospect, an overstatement of the importance of the drug court judge.  For while, the drug court judge is an important reason for the success of the drug court, he or she acts more an enabler than director.  The major actor is “community” itself.

In effect, the drug court judge creates an environment in which successful drug court “communities” can thrive; where a “drug court team” comes together to institutionalize community-based structures for long-term success, and where a “community ” of drug court practitioners and participants exert systemic control over substantial numbers of serious drug offenders. So I suppose, if I were to write a definition of a Drug Court Judge today, it might simply read, ” a judge is the first among equals in a “drug court community”. [Note: the Drug Court Judge is generally described as a drug court practitioner and a member of the “Drug Court Team”, unless otherwise indicated.)

Over the past fifteen years much has happened in the drug court field.  Over 2500 drug courts and other problem solving courts have been established.  Both NADCP and NDCI now serve the field.  And while I presided over my first Drug Court in 1990, I’ve learned a great deal over the years watching, listening and talking to thousands of drug court practitioners and participants across the country and around the globe.  The world of the Drug Court, as well as the drug court practitioner and participant have changed irrevocably and continue to evolve.

I believe that The Community-Based Drug Court described is already in place to a substantial extent in every Drug Court in this country. We don’t always recognize the characteristics that define these court programs as community-involved, institutionalized, or systemic, but they are there.  And while not all Drug Courts or Problem-Solving Courts have moved rapidly towards this Community-Based model, I am convinced that most successful ones are doing so. [Though the analysis focuses largely on the Drug Court, it is in most cases equally applicable to Problem-Solving Courts in general.]

This article is designed to give you a candid insider’s analysis of the role of the Drug Court Judge [DCJ]  in the Community-Based Drug Court.  In it, I will attempt to discuss the political, emotional, psychological and personal issues that many drug court or problem-solving court judges face.   I will provide straightforward text and then one judge’s perspective (found in bold type)

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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.


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.

Pew Poll: Overwhelming Support for Decriminalizing Use

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 2.52.36 PMApril 6, 2014

A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 67% of Americans say that the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Just 26% think the government’s focus should be on prosecuting users of such hard drugs.

[For a PDF of the report, please click on image on the left]

The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults noted,” As a growing number of states ease penalties for drug possession, the public expresses increasingly positive views of the move away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes. By nearly two-to-one (63% to 32%), more say it is a good thing than a bad thing that some states have moved away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders. In 2001, Americans were evenly divided over the move by some states to abandon mandatory drug terms.”



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