No.11: A Drug Court Judge; the First Among Equals

August 18, 2014

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About  twenty years ago, I described the role of the Drug Court Judge in the first Drug Court manual to be published (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 as 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 themselves 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”.

I believe that The Community-Based Drug Court is already in place, to a substantial extent, in every Drug Court and Problem-Solving 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 have moved rapidly towards this Community-Based model, I am convinced that the most successful are doing so.



No. 9: The Dangers of a Disinterested Bar and Judiciary

August 4, 2014

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be on the other side of the bench. I remember appearing as a defendant in a minor traffic matter (speeding I think) while still in college. I watched as other defendants approached the judge, who seemed callous and quick tempered to me. When it came my turn I shook with anxiety and barely got out my story and my plea of guilty.

I had a much better learning experience some years ago while I was the new president of NADCP. I was driving home from a music gig in Maryland and was stopped by the Maryland highway patrol on the Interstate for driving twenty miles over the speed limit (78 in a 55 zone).  Maryland defined  that offense as “reckless driving”,  and a misdemeanor. I was chagrined at the fact that I was charged with a misdemeanor and more than a little upset at a system that would charge a misdemeanor for a relatively minor offense (I was otherwise driving appropriately  on Maryland’s major multilane  highway with no other vehicle in sight in the middle of the night).

I knew only a few real criminal lawyers in the D.C. area. I had presented at  an “Other Bar” function (AA for lawyers), and met several local attorneys. Contacting one, he agreed to go to court with me to resolve the matter. I remember being nervous but also being confident that the case would be reduced to an infraction.

It turned out to be an exhausting morning. My attorney was late, talked to me quickly, and went off to talk with his fellow lawyers. After a time, I approached him. He was visibly irritated and went off to talk to the D.A. Returning some time later, he informed me that the D.A. was insistent that I plead to the misdemeanor reckless driving and accept a substantial fine. Now I was upset.  I asked him why I should plead guilty to a misdemeanor if there was no reduction in the offense or fine. He said something about my not understanding how the process worked, though he knew I had been a trial lawyer, traffic commissioner and  trial judge for over twenty years.

And then it occurred to me. This is what defendants too often deal with every day. Bored Judges and lazy D.A.’s who make the easy deal and disinterested lawyers who force it on their clients because that’s the way the system works. He came back once more to push me to take the deal and I told him that I wanted my trial. Finally before the lunch break, he returned to tell me that I was in luck as his friend, the deputy D.A was handling the case, and the judge would reduce the offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction, but that I should say nothing and let him do all the talking. I did as he said, and a very bored looking judge took the plea without even looking up once to see who I was or ask me for my plea. In the final analysis, this was why Drug Court and Problem-Solving Courts were created; to counter the lack of human connection between the criminal justice system and the individual standing before it.



72 Nations meet to Promote Prison Reform

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 3.45.00 PMNovember 4, 2013

Important news on the Prison Reform Front from Colorado this week.The International Corrections and Prisons Association conference met in Colorado Springs last week at their 15th annual conference. The Conference theme this year was  “Thinking Outside the Cell: Reducing the Use of Imprisonment”. The fact that the International organization representing the prison leadership of 72 nations would focus their annaul conference on “Reducing the Use of Imprisonment” is an important harbinger of things to come.

Prison directors from 72 countries from Namibia to the Netherlands attended the week-long conference in large part to look at ideas for reducing a world prison population of more than 10 million inmates

More than 500 delegates  filled the conference halls of the Antlers Hilton in downtown for the weeklong summit. Chief among a the workshop subjects and discussion sessions was the issue of mental health in corrections. More than 100 delegates lead sessions through Friday, touching on Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 3.40.42 PMdiverse subjects, such as “In the Mind of a Gang Leader,” and “The Use of Segregation.”

Tineke De Waele of Belgium, the executive director of ICPA, said conference workshops are focused on alternatives to prison and ideas for moving inmates safely into the community.While prisons are crucial for keeping citizens safe, they are costly and often serve as learning centers for other types of crime, she said.“It is important that all countries look for alternatives to incarceration,” De Waele said.

“Every nation and jurisdiction delivers justice differently, but the ICPA gives all of us the opportunity to network, build partnerships and learn from each other,” said Canada Correctional Service Commissioner Don Head.” Ruben Fernandez Lima, director general of prevention and social rehabilitation for the state of Mexico said.”I do believe that at this point in the world, prisons are at a breaking point,”

It seems that the theme of reducing and reforming prisons has achieved  a level international importance in many (if not most nations). It means that momentum for prison reform is growing. It also means that we need to take advantage of this shift in the wind, and push for reform now, before old mindsets reassert themselves..


AFL-CIO takes a stand for Prison Reform

September 23,2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 5.51.33 PMAs reported in The Nation on Sept.10th, “the largest federation of US unions, the AFL-CIO, passed resolutions Monday slamming “the big business behind mass incarceration,” promising intensified collaboration with alternative labor groups and granting its leadership new oversight tools designed to spur more effective organizing by its fifty-seven unions.”

AFL-CIO President Larry Trumka (see photo on left) came down hard on the nations prison policies, “Mass incarceration is a betrayal of the American promise,” Trumka told the crowd before taking comments from the floor. “The practice hurts our people and our communities, it keeps wages low, it suppresses democracy, and we can’t afford to imprison so many people. Nor can our families, our communities or our country afford the loss of productivity of these people.”

The resolution, among other things, backed closer cooperation between the AFL-CIO and “worker centers” that organize and mobilize workers who lack collective bargaining rights (such as prisoner unions), and a greater role for Working America, the AFL-CIO’s own affiliate for non-union workers. While the AFL-CIO has resources and leverage, it does not have control of the fifty-seven unions that  comprise it. The real test for Trumka and his prison reform initiative will be whether the AFL-CIO can convince law enforcement and prison guard unions to follow his lead in supporting prison reform, even when those initiatives threatens jobs within those unions.

New York State , which has closed thirteen prisons over the past five years has been actively seeking to build  new industries and revive old ones in rural areas of the state, where the prisons are mostly located. Governor Cuomo has sought to foster coalitions of local farmers in upstate New York with prison guard unions, in an attempt to increase the number of jobs available to newly unemployed prison guards (see article on Cuomo’s “Milk Not Jails” initiative).

Columbia U. Scientist says 80-90% of Drug Users not Addicted

September 23,2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 5.04.59 PMDr. Carl Hart, an Associate Professor of Psycology at Columbia University, has written a book debunking so-called myths about drug usage. According to Dr. Hart, “Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,”. This somewhat contrarian position is of interest, because it runs counter to accepted concepts of much  the scientific community in this country. In his recently published book, “High Price“, His book attributes the drug problem to societal ills and claims that drug abuse is merely a symptom of society’s problems.

Although highly controversial, Dr. Hart’s assertions are supported in part, by some fellow scientists (see New York Times article, “The Rational Choice of Crack Addicts“). “Drug warriors may be skeptical of his work, but some other scientists are impressed. “Carl’s overall argument is persuasive and driven by the data,” said Craig R. Rush, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky who studies stimulant abuse”.

While I find Dr.Hart’s research of interest, I believe that his findings may overstate the benign nature of drug abuse. Drugs like crack cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are often enormously destructive to the users and those around them. Most scientists would agree that sociological influences can and do have an enormous influence on the drug user and their level of abuse. As Dr.Hart claims, it is an easy out to blame physical addiction for the drug abuser’s criminal conduct and anti-social behavior.

While most researchers would admit that addicts make up less than half of those charged with drug offenses, politicians continue to argue that if we can cure the offender of their reliance on drugs, we will solved the crime problem. But as those knowledgeable about the criminal justice system know, if you cure the drug abuser of their dependence on drugs, you may simply create a healthier criminal.

The reality is that their are multiple reasons why people are drug abusers and commit anti-social acts and that the path to recovery may require an equally multi-faceted response. Blaming everything on drug abuse clearly misses the point, according  to Dr.Hart. It will take treatment, rehabilitation (and habilitation in many  cases), jobs and job training, education, and  most of all, a willingness to give the anti-social outsider, an opportunity to be part of and have a stake in  mainstream society.


Harlem Reentry Court Toolkit

Sept.16, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 12.47.43 PM“The Harlem Reentry Court Toolkit” is an excellent document, describing in detail the structure, principles, and procedures of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court. It also provides excellent  appendices, including program templates, check lists, participant questionaires and other documents that will  be helpful to those starting a reentry court or simply interested in understanding how the Harlem program works.

The Harlem Reentry Court Toolkit”,  is authored by Debbie Boar and Chris Watler, administrators of the Harlem Community Reentry Task Force and the Harlem Parole Reentry Court, respectively, It is published by the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), and funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. [  please click on the image to the left for a PDF: the Harlem Reentry Court Toolkit]


A “You Tube” Reentry Court Tutorial


Go to the “Jeff Tauber” Channel on You Tube for the comprehensive 28 video tutorial on reentry courts

The San Francisco Reentry court Team was made up of program staff and volunteers who came together to providef community and friendship in an otherwise cold courtroom setting.

A You Tube channel set up in my name, “jeff Tauber”, provides video clips of reentry courts and court-based reentry systems. It will show decision-makers how effective sentencing systems can be in providing rehabilitative alternative to imprisonment. We believe that “seeing is believing” and since travel is often not an option, video can be the most instructive way to present relevant information on dynamic court-based reentry systems.

The  new “You Tube” Video Channel will provide a more direct and demonstrative way to learn about reentry courts. We have already begun the process, by exhibiting on You Tube what could be described as a “tutorial” on the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (click here), composed of seven separate concept/playlists of four brief videos each. It’s our hope, that readers and friends will provide video of their reentry courts and court-based reentry systems for viewing on our website. We hope to continue to add video clips and related text, making our video channel, the most comprehensive video archive of court-base reentry systems.

[Our special thanks go out to Michael West at [email protected] for his wonderful videography]


Conservatives at the Genesis of Prison Reform

The Best Of: This article, published on November 12,2012, was a harbinger of an avalanche of commentary on the conservative right’s assumed leadership of the prison reform movement.

In an article recently published  in the Washington Monthly, “The Conservative War on Prisons”, by David Dagan and Steven Teles, the authors make a powerful case for a conservative genesis for the current prison reform movement.

I had previously believed that prison reform was a liberal agenda and that conservatives were late  to the party. The authors make a strong case, that conservatives, while not in the vanguard of the prison reform movement, were ultimately responsible for its current successes.

As the authors put it, “Change is coming to criminal justice because an alliance of evangelicals and libertarians have put those benefits [of imprisonment] on trial. Discovering that the nation’s prison growth is morally objectionable by their own, conservative standards, they are beginning to attack it—and may succeed where liberals, working the issue on their own, have, so far, failed.”

According to the authors, the effective prison reform movment dates to the imprisonment of staunch conservative and Watergate conspirator, Charles Colson, who served time in a federal penitentiary. He  later establishment the “Prison Ministry”, which provided the moral underpinnings for a conservative reexamination of imprisonment. Led by “tough on crime” Texas and the “Texas Public Policy Foundation” (TPPF)— Texas’ premier conservative think tank, conservative governors got the political cover they needed to begin to reform overcrowded prison systems that were bankrupting their states. Even “The Second Chance Act”, widely revered as a one hundred million dollar grant program, to enhance reentry into the community, was a conservative inititive, It was initially proposed by Republican Representative Rob Porter and signed into law by President George W. Bush.

It appears that there is an important lesson here for progressives who wish to move prison reform forward. The article suggests  that critical conservative support for a progressive criminal justice agenda (as well as other agendas) is possible, when conservatives come to the table, on their initiative and based on their own values.  Definitely an article worth reading.

Justice Reinvestment Initiative leads Prison Reform

The Best Of: The following article, first published on May 14, 2012, describes the critical role the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative”, led by the PEW Center for the States and the Council of State Governments, have had on the prison reform movement.

A recent Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funded initiative is having an extraordinary effect on prison reform efforts in states across the nation. The “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” is a joint project of the PEW Center for the States, the Council of State Governmant and the Vera Institute They are providing assistance and support to states in an effort to reduce prison populations,  establish non-prison penalties for non-violent offenses, increase good time/work time for prisoners, and generally encouraging states to return or keep prisoners in local jurisdictions, while reinvesting funds saved by these reforms in “alternatives to prison”. The Council of State Government’s National Reentry Resource Center has a Resource Project Page devoted to the  “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” To access it, click on the page facsimile on the left.

According to information provided by BJA, “Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to reduce corrections spending and re-direct savings to other criminal justice strategies that decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods. They work closely with state and local policymakers to help design policies that manage the growth of the corrections system. They are finding ways to improve the availability of services, such as housing, substance abuse treatment, employment training, and positive social and family support for offenders returning to communities. They are also looking to reinvest savings generated from reductions in corrections spending to make communities safer, stronger, and healthier.”

What is incontrovertable, is that states are adopting the policy changes advocated and are passing ground-breaking reforms in many of the most conservative states in the nation (most recently Georgia, Oaklahoma, and Louisians; see articles in Facebook collumn on the right side of website).  To access comprehensive information on what the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” is doing in a listed state, just click on the state below, and you will be linked directly to National Reentry Resource Center information:

California Realignment: Will the Courts help create Balance?

The Best Of: The following article. published on April 15, 2012, describes the critical part the court can play in the development of balanced  sentencing plans under California’a AB109 Realignment Reform.

Reading dozens of articles over the past six months on how California’s AB109 Realignment is being implemented is not for the faint of heart (see Facebook collumn on right for exemplars). An ACLU report complains that counties that historically sent the highest percentage of offenders to prison are being rewarded with extra resources to jail those returning, and additional funds to build or expand existing jails( click here for Mercury News Article on ACLU Report). Prosecutors, Sheriffs, and law enforcement in general decry the very  existence of AB109; that non-violent offenders can be returned to the community without a terrible price being paid by law-abiding citizens (click for Law Enforcement concerns in Butte County). Probation offices and non-profit organizations (including community based agencies and religious institutions) generally favor giving individual offenders opportunities to engage in community based alternatives to incarceration( click here for article on Monterey County’s community-based initiatives).   And so in community after community, county after county, they fight it out, generally law enforcement against probation and non-profit community organizations, with the court often often an uninvolved, yet interested observer.

The courts have an unprecedented opportunity to impact their community’s quality of life. We have operated in a somewhat dysfunctional system, that weighed heavily toward sending offenders to prison. We now have a chance to help create a more balanced  and  reasoned approach to sentencing and incarceration. One way to accomplish this will be to develop more effective “Special Sentencing Courts” (see “Systemic Approaches to Sentencing”), that make better sentencing, probation, and custody decisions, based on validated risk/needs assessment tools (and other evidence based sentencing practices).  More importantly, the courts needs to get involved in their county’s realignment plan, by using their prestige and influence, to help establish a balanced community-wide approach to realignment.  Problem-Solving/Collaborative Courts have shown communities that the courts can make a difference, by providing the vision and leadership for important criminal justice reforms. And so it can be with Sentencing Courts and Realignment.

Success will depend on the degree of cooperation and accomodation individual communities are capable of. Once again the court can weigh in on the side of a rational, reasoned approach. Success in the end may start and end with a community’s willingness to provide the returning offender with job, education, and housing opportunites, as well as rehabilitation programs that have scientifically proven themselves. Jailers and probation staff will need to rely on evidence-based risk/needs assessments to determine who really needs to return to jail, and who can be supervised and rehabilitated in the community.  And the courts need to provide a sentencing system worthy of the community’s balanced realignment plan.  It’s being attempted in a number of counties, and one can only wish them well. And hope that other communities will learn from their example (click here for article on San Diego Realignment Plan).

“Second Chance Act” Celebrates 5th Anniversary

April 29,2013

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 9.01.54 AM[The Second Chance Act, administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), within the Department of Justice (DOJ), has provided hundreds of millions of dollars for reentry projects in every state of the union. Below, the National Reentry Resource Center, provides highlights of BJA’s administration of the “Act” (click on image on left for PDF of National Reentry Resource Center Document)]

The Second Chance Act: The First Five Years

This month marks the five-year anniversary of the Second Chance Act, the landmark legislation authorizing federal grants to support programs aimed at improving outcomes for people leaving prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities and reducing recidivism. The bill also funds research and evaluation projects and created the National Reentry Resource Center, a clearinghouse of information relating to prisoner reentry. Through its broad scope and innovative approach, the bill has had a significant impact on all stakeholders: individuals and families in need of services; communities and governments seeking strategies to increase public safety and reduce costs; researchers looking to inform, advance, and disseminate their work; and practitioners interested in enhancing their programs and sharing best practices with others in the field.

The grant program currently funds eight different types of projects: demonstration projects involving the planning and/or implementation of a reentry initiative for adults or juveniles, mentoring services for adults or juveniles, family-based substance abuse treatment for incarcerated parents, reentry courts, programs targeting individuals with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, funding for state departments of corrections to achieve recidivism reductions through planning and capacity-building, evidence-based strategies in probation supervision, and programs providing training in technology careers. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) manages the juvenile demonstration and juvenile mentoring projects, while the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) of the U.S. Department of Justice manages all the other projects.

To date, BJA and OJJDP have awarded nearly 500 Second Chance Act grants to state, local, and tribal government agencies and nonprofit organizations across 48 states and the District of Columbia, totaling nearly $250 million. Representing a wide range in geography, size, and program design, the grantee programs display the different ways that reentry strategies can be applied in jurisdictions.

Reflecting the importance of reentry as a process that begins during incarceration, grantees must serve individuals both in pre-release and post-release stages. According to BJA’s latest performance reports on its Second Chance Act grantees, the grantees served more than 11,000 participants in pre-release programs and nearly 9,500 participants in post-release programs from July 2011 to June 2012. The vast majority of participants are assessed as medium or high risk, which is in line with research that shows that focusing services and resources on higher-risk individuals has the strongest impact on recidivism.

Some programs have already seen reduced recidivism rates among the people they serve within the first few years of the grant program. For the Harlem Parole Reentry Court in New York, which has received two Second Chance Act grants, preliminary results from an ongoing evaluation showed that the rate of reincarceration at 12 months after release of 14.7 percent for program participants was 24 percent less than a comparison group’s rate of 19.3 percent. The reentry court serves medium- and high-risk adults in Harlemand offers a combination of intensive case management, parole supervision, judicial intervention, clinical services, and other support services. Furthermore, the program employs the evidence-based practice of graduated sanctions and incentives to promote compliance and accountability.

In addition, Second Chance Act grantees have achieved positive outcomes on a number of other measures, including employment, education, family reunification, and pro-social relationships. For instance, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma, a 2010 Adult Mentoring grantee, has found that 74 percent of the participants who received employment development services have since obtained employment.

The positive impact of the Second Chance Act can perhaps be best conveyed by the program participants themselves. Since early 2012, the Council of State Governments Justice Center has interviewed program administrators and participants and shared their individual stories in the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) website and newsletter. The people featured have included: Wade, a Los Angeles man in his fifties whose participation in the Amity Foundation’s mentoring program helped him overcome his addiction to heroin and become a mentor himself; Frankie, a father in New Mexico who enrolled in PB&J Family Services’ program while in prison and received help finding employment and parenting pre- and post-release; and Janelle, a young woman with co-occurring bipolar and substance abuse disorders who found a job and returned to school after receiving treatment from the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ Second Chance Act-funded program in Franklin County. Each of these stories represents the success and promise of the Second Chance Act and initiatives focusing on prisoner reentry across the country.

Also funded by the Second Chance Act, the NRRC has made great strides in advancing reentry work by promoting and disseminating key information for practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and others in the field. In addition to the website and newsletter, the NRRC offers webinars each month. Recent topics have included work release centers, electronic technology in supervision, and the needs of women in the criminal justice system. The NRRC also produces reports and guides to inform reentry work in practical and constructive ways. Its most recent product is a series of checklists with targeted guidance for state corrections departments and policymakers on building reentry initiatives to reduce recidivism.

The Second Chance Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on April 9, 2008, after receiving bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The bill authorizes up to $165 million per year in grant funds.


IADTC and OAS take lead in South America


Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 2.52.46 PMA team of Organization of American  States (OAS) and International Association of Drug Treatment Court officials, along with national and region-wide anti-drug institutions, are hard at work, assisting in the development of drug courts in the Southern Hemisphere. Among the states that the OAS is working closely with are Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), .  Antonio Alomba leads the OAS effort to assist South American and Caribbean nations in the development of drug courts. In the  training held in Trinidad, between Feb.21-23. IADTC President, Justice Kofi Barnes of the Ontario Supreme Court, led a team of drug court professionals from Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean (Jamaica specifically).

Having been part of training programs in the past, I was very impressed with the professional quality of the training itself, and the seriousness and commitment that the T & T magistrates showed over the course of the training. The training itself was the result of a special criminal justice committee, focused on drug treatment courts, led by the Honourable Mr. Justice  Geoffrey Henderson, of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago [see photo on left].

There are other organizations, both national and international, engaged in the development of drug courts outside their national borders. I bring this particular training to your attention because I was in attendance, and because i believe that prison and criminal justice reform are directly and inextractibly connected to drug courts.  The OAS and IADCP are well aware that where drug courts show themselves to be effective, that can be the first step toward real prison reform and the development of other alternatives to prison.

I have a slightly different perspective. When abroad, I try to visit criminal courts and prisons in many of the countries I visit. It’s my belief that there are differences in cultural approaches to criminal rehabilitation that can be of tremendous importance to American drug courts. And that there is much to learn from the criminal justice systems in other, more traditional cultures.

Momentum for Prison Reform?


Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 10.46.15 AMA new article, in “Think Progress”, cites a host of authorites and experts who claIm that a burst of activity in the prison reform field, may signify a change of course in the criminal justice system. The article goes on to cite authorities such as the Wall Street Journal and the conservative website “Right on Crime” , as well as, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the progressive “Sentencing Project”. As a check on over-enthusiam, the Sentencing  Project reminds us, “25 states still had stable or increasing [prison] population” (click on image on left for Sentencing Project’s “On the Chopping Block: State Prison Closings”)

The question I posed at the beginning of the year “A New Year’s Editorial: Has Penal Reform Peaked“, continues to concern me.  The momentum for Prison And Sentencing Reform,  that “Think Progress” reports, is good news that should not be discounted, but the question remains as to whether reform will be substantial and self-susutaining. It’s important to monitor the extent of existing and proposed reform and the quality of that reform.

It should be remembered that we have been here before, and if we do not provide resources, supervision, and assistance as needed, we may find ourselves in a worse place than when this reform process began.


A New Year’s Editorial: Has Penal Reform Peaked?

Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.)

Jan 8, 2013

There has been a noticeable slowing down of state penal reform over the past year. It is possible or even probable that the enormous volume of penal reform enacted is being digested by the states before further reform can be initiated. But there are reports coming out of a number of states that suggest that the wave of reform may  have peaked as state legislatures and governors, as well as county officals, balk at the results and costs of new reforms.

There are serious problems even in states that are making a good faith effort to make penal reform work. If states put serious offenders in overcrowded local jails or poorly structured and funded alternative programs to incarceration, they will be setting their penal reform efforts up for failure. As has happened so often before, reforms are embraced and those released into the community receieve neither the education, resources, or support to be successful on the outside.

One of the most debilitating examples of this phenomenum, was the closing down of mental hospitals between 1970 and 1980. the promise made was that half-way houses, community mental health programs, and other critical support would complete needed reform. The reality was that many of those released ended up on the streets and continue to be a sordid example of how institutional reform can be a sabotaged by government inaction.

Montana and Arkansas are examples of states that are second guessing their state’s  penal reform efforts (see facebook stream on the right). While many dislike the idea of releasing prison bound offenders to county facilities and local programs, even more are concerned with whether the states will provide sufficient funds to county probation departments and non-profit organizations to  provide the rehabilitative and supervisory services required. At the same time, it should also be acknowledged than states are dealing with penal reform during a period where fiscal restraints on the court and criminal justice system are paralyzing many good-fsith efforts to move forward.

I remain hopeful that the penal reform that has been sweeping the nation will continue to build momentum and that substantial reform will reach every state. But from what I’ve learned from discussions with criminal justice professionals nationwide (and  my experiences as an.assigned judge sitting in courtrooms across Northern Callfornia), I remain concerned. It appears that the best many states can do to provide a path to rehabilitation, is early release from prison with a  pat on the back and a referral to the nearest AA/NA meeting.

Practitioner Fact Sheet on Sanctions and Incentives

Dec. 17, 2012

Drug Court Research can provide a great deal of critical information to those engaged in the development of Reentry Courts and other Evidence-based Sentencing Systems. Dr. Doug Marlowe, Chief of Science, Policy & Law, National Association of Drug Court Professionals, continues to produce invaluable practitioner information to the Collaborative Court field.

Dr. Marlowe makes this important observation in his “Drug Court Practioner Fact Sheet, Behavior Modification 101 for drug Courts: Making the Most of Incentives and Sanctions” (click on image on the left for PDF).

“At its core, the criminal justice system is a behavior modification program designed to reduce crime and rehabilitate offenders. Historically, unfortunately, rewards and sanctions were rarely applied in a systematic manner that could produce meaningful or lasting effects. Dissatisfied with this unacceptable state of affairs, a group of criminal court judges set aside special dockets to provide closer supervision and greater accountability for substance-dependent and substance-abusing offenders. Wittingly or unwittingly, these judges devised programs that are highly consonant with the scientific principles of contingency management or operant conditioning.

Research now confirms that the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of any Drug Court will depend largely on its ability to apply these behavioral techniques correctly and efficiently. Drug Courts that ignore the lessons of science are not very effective and waste precious resources and opportunities. Drug Court teams should periodically consult the latest findings on behavior modification and attend training and technical assistance activities to ensure they are making the most of their limited resources and leveraging the best outcomes for their participants and their communities.” (p.8)

Reentry Courts and Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems would do well to familiarize themselves with this NDCI publication  (It should be noted that appropriate Drug Court methodology can sometimes differ substantially when applied to different populations; more on that later). Systemic Approaches are clearly key to the effective sentencing and rehabilitation of all offenders, not just those who are drug dependent. The application of  “Evidence Based Sentencing Systems, then is especially important when jurisdictions sentence serious offenders. (See: An Overview of a Court-Based Sentencing System and Court-Based Realignment Recommendations; immediately below))


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