Reauthorized Second Chance Act will include Reentry Courts

November 18, 2013
Picture 3Reentry Courts which appeared to have been written out of the reauthorized “Second Chance Act”, received a reprieve when language that included reentry courts as possible grantees of Second Chance Grant funds was inserted into the Reauthorization  Act. (see below)……………………………………………………………………………..
[An issue worth pondering: while reentry courts may be funded under the reauthorized Act, previous references to the court as a necessary partner and participant in grants applications, has to my knowledge, disappeared from grant guidelines. In fact, while the inclusion of reentry drug courts as possible recipients of Second Chance Act grant awards is clearly a positive, the inclusion of the courts as necessary partners in the application and implementation of all grants would be a much more appropriate and important inclusion]………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
From the Amended legislative language: “In this section, the term reentry court means a program that—(1) monitors juvenile and adult eligible offenders reentering the community; (2) provides continual judicial supervision; (3) provides juvenile and adult eligible offenders reentering the community with coordinated and comprehensive reentry services and programs, such as—(A) drug and alcohol testing and assessment for treatment;( B) assessment for substance abuse from a substance abuse professional who is approved by the State or Indian tribe and licensed by the appropriate entity to provide alcohol and drug addiction treatment, as appropriate; ( C) substance abuse treatment from a provider that is approved by the State or Indian tribe, and licensed, if necessary, to provide medical and other health services;(D) health (including mental health) services and assessment; (E) aftercare and case management services that—(i) facilitate access to clinical care and related health services; and (ii) coordinate with such clinical care and related health services; and (F) any other services needed for reentry; (4) convenes community impact panels, victim impact panels, or victim impact educational classes;(5) provides and coordinates the delivery of community services to juvenile and adult eligible offenders, including—(A) housing assistance; (B) education; © job training; (D) conflict resolution skills training;(E) batterer intervention programs; and (F) other appropriate social services; and (6) establishes and implements graduated sanctions and incentives.”



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]


NIJ Impact Evaluation on Reentry Courts due soon

Sept. 16,2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 10.31.38 AMJust a reminder: A National Institute of Justice preliminary evaluation of eight reentry courts was published in March of 2013.  It provided an excellent description of the structures and processes developed by the participating jurisdictions and does and excellent job ib comparing their major program characteristics (see article: One Year Process Evaluations of 8 Reentry Courts). Entitled “The National Institute of Justice’s Evaluation of Second Chance Act Adult Reentry Courts: Program Characteristics and Preliminary Themes from Year 1”, can be found in full, by clicking on the image to the left of this text. The evalaution waa the product of RTI International, the Center for Court Inovation, and NPC Research. It’s authors are Christine Lindquist, Jennifer Hardison Walters Michael Rempel, and Shannon M. Carey.

We can expect an initial impact evaluation, focusing in the effectiveness of the eight  reentry courts at reducing recidivism and improving other reentry outcomes early in 2014.


Santa Clara Realignment: A Collaborative Court Model


The Santa Clara Realignment Model: This model builds on a comprehensive collaborative court system, well established in Santa Clara County over the past fifteen years.  It probably is closer to an evidence-based “Court-involved Realignment Model” than any other in California. Conceptually, the Model attempts to use the reentry court to separate the high risk offenders (many with histories of violence),  from the felons who pose little threat to the community.[click on image on the left for the 2011 Santa Clara County Public Safety Realignment implementation Plan]

Under the leadership of Judge Stephen Manley, Santa Clara County has  been able to expand and provide coverage beyond drug offenders to veterans,  the mentally ill, parolees and other criminal justice populations, working with over 2000 offenders a year. It was natural for  Santa Clara County’s Probation Department to work closely with the county’s Collaborative Court System to assist both supervision and rehabilitation of AB109 Realignment participants:

1. Offenders sentenced as felons under 1170H, (known as triple nons; non-violent, non-serious, non sex-ofenders) are assessed early in the process,  so that twelve sentencing judges can determine high risk offenders who need the special attention  of the reentry court.

2.Probation often refers parole violators (triple nons released from prison on Post Release Community Supervision; PRCS)  to the Parole Reentry Court for closer supervision and rehabilitation, even before filing a petition to revoke.  Using a retired treatment judge as the AB109  Revocation Hearing Officer, the Court retains PRCS offenders for special attention, while referring others to the Parole Reentry Court or other alternative to jail (if not to jail itself).

3. Finally, parolees supervised by parole officers, are turned over to the Parole Board for revocation hearings and sanctions (to be taken over by the Realignment Revocation Officer come July 2013). Parole currently sends a significant number of high risk parolees to the Parole Reentry Court  for supervision and rehabilitation services.

There are over 200 AB109 participants among the three categories of AB109  offenders presently being supervised by a reentry court (with some estimating the number to double over the next year).

The 2012 Santa Clara County Realignment Implementation Plan is expected to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors shortly.

[published in October, 2012]





San Joaquin County: A Hybrid Realignment Model

The San Joaqun Realignment Model: The Probation Department takes the lead in assessing, reporting, monitoring, supervising, and rehabilitating offenders. A probation based system where the court plays a key supporting role. The court  reduces its footprint, by dealing mostly with those cases and individuals where it will have the most impact, only directly involved when the offender has committed a substantial supervision violation [click on image on left for 2012 Report]

 California’s Realignment Mandate (under AB109)  is to move prisoners and prison offenses from state institiutions to county supervision. The Head Probation Officeer of the County, is by statute, Chair of the Communtiy Corrections Partnership, responsible for setting up a countywide AB109 sentencing system.

The courts are free to follow their traditional role of sentencing offenders to prison (even though most will serve their terms in county facilities) and dealing with revocations when they arise. By my reckoning the  majoirty of counties are following that conventional approach (resulting in widespread expansion of jail facilities across the state).  At the other end of the spectrum are counties who are creating comprehensive court-based sentencing systems, that to the extent possible, are involved with the offender from the time of plea through sentencing and community supervision ( Santa Clara County, works with over 2,000 participate in its Comprehensive Collaborative Court System).

Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, between the conventional hands off approach and the comprehensive court-involved system, is San Joaquin County.  San Joaquin County is in dire financial circumstances, with a population of approx.700,000 (400,000 in the city of Stockton alone) with a serious drug and gang problem. It doesn’t have the financial resources that would allow it to develop a more Comprehensive Court Sentencing System.

Instead San Joaquin county is creating a hybrid sentencing system, that combines the more traditional sentencing/probation model,with intensive court-based interventions when its community corrections system requires it. The conceptual heart of the San Joaquin model is that the court is there to assist, motivate, and serve the community-wide reentry process, not to drive the process.

Under the leadership of newly appointed Probation Chief Stephanie James, the Communtiy Corrections Partnership has taken the  lead in creating a framework for the sentencing system. A county- wide probation-based plan was approved by the County Board of supervisors on Sept.25, 2012. [click here: San Joaquin County Public Safety Realignment Plan]

The Court already has a substantial and successful collaborative court presence, with at least five existing collaborative courts (Parole Reentry Court, Drug Court II/Proposition 36, DUI Drug Court, Dependency Drug Court, among others).  While the court could be involved earlier and more intensively (as with its drug courts), it instead limits its reentry interventions to those cases and individuals where it will have the most impact.

The court receives pre-plea assesssments and sentencing reports from Probation, but in most cases does not become directly involved in the offender’s supervision, until their is a substantial violation. Along with an existing Parole Reentry Court (for parolees with parole violations), a Post-Release Supervision Court  (Compliance Court) is planned for  those felons who have serious drug problems that result in supervision violations, as well as, a Violent Offender Reentry Court for those high-risk violent offenders who have violated their Supervision. This Hybrid Realignment Model is an alternative to a comprehensive Court-Based Sentencing System [see: “A Model Court-Based Sentencing System”].

[published; October, 2012]

San Francisco Realignment : A Well Resourced Traditional Model

The San Francisco Model: San Francisco has adopted a model that places almost all the responsibility for AB109 realignment participants on social services, criminal justice, and community agencies. The courts have almost no role in this model, except for the court’s tradition adjudicatory role of sentencing offenders and hearing revocation petitions.The City & County of San Francisco Public Safety Realignment & Post-Release Community Supervision 2012 Implementation Plan was passed on June 1, 2012. [click on image on the right , for a copy of the plan]

The San Francisco Model is one that clearly takes a community based approach to felon rehabilitation, with the city and county of San Francisco providing special resources to deal with the offender. San Francisco has a large, highly experienced and educated cadre of intervention specialists, both in the community, as well as in social service, public health and criminal justice agencies. They are using the court in a strictly traditional fashion, solely in its adjudicatory role. (Interestingly, as of March 30, approximately 2/3 of felons sentenced for new offenses under 1170H of the Realignment Statute, were sentenced to jail, without community supervision)

Probation has taken the lead in developing the Implementation plan, as is required by statute, with Chief Probation Officer Wendy Still chairing the Community Corrections Partnership. Prisoners returning to the community under Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) are pre-assessed at their prison facility approximately two months before returning to San Francisco. Once released under PRCS, offenders are screened at Probation’s new Community Assessment and Social Services Center, a one stop hub, where participants have their housing, drug and alcohol treatment, health, psychological, job, education, and other needs assessed and allocated. Probation has also  created a special team to provide supervision and case management to the participants.

The Sheriff’s Department  has the resources to assess and provide additional services to AB109 felons in custody.  A special Realignment Pod is being prepared for participating felons.There are plans for prisoners to be returned to the jail two months before their prison term ends, for a pre-release process to prepare the felon for release into the community..Similarly both the Public Defender and District Attorney’s Offices  have resources to work with this special population. Finally San Francisco has a wealth of non-profit and other community organizations that are enthusiastic about assisting the reintegration of this new population into the community.

The San Francisco Realignment Plan is a traditional realignment plan in regards to the role of the court, relying on the community itself and relevant government agencies to successfully rehabilitate those placed in jail as felons under 1170H,  or those returned to the community under PRCS. What makes this plan noteworthy, is the commitment of the community and the resources available to accomplish their mission.

[published; October. 2012]


An Overview of a Court-Based Sentencing System

THE BEST OF:The Following Article , published on September 3, 2012, describes how a systemic sentencing model based on evidence-based principles might be structured   

 Find below a diagram and descriptive analysis of an Evidence-Based Sentencing System.

A 12 Part Series on Sentencing Systems, can be found under “SENTENCING SYSTEMS” (or by clicking on the diagram below)



The diagram above can be thought of having two separate phases. The first (from “Plea” arrow to “Custody” arrow) focuses in on the need to effectively categorize, sentence, and track offenders, with a minimum of staff and resources. Tracks are essential to the system as the court will sentence and monitor offenders with very different risks and needs. A sentencing team with a different skill set is required to deal with low risk and diversion participants than with high risk and violent offenders (as a different team skill set would be required for Drug Court as opposed to Domestic Violence Court).

We know from the scientific literature that mixing low and high-risk offenders is counter-productive at best. That same dynamic works in the courtroom. Where possible, it’s best to keep participants with different risk levels apart. It’s also more cost-effective. Why have full staff at every session when you can substantially reduce the number of staff by sorting offenders by risk and need. When you create a participant track with few housing, job, or family issues, experienced staff in those areas can best use their time elsewhere. The savings would be substantial if case managers are designated to be in court once a week for a single track, rather than required to attend daily sessions

The second part of the diagram (from “Front End Jurisdiction” through Front End Reentry Court”) focuses on the potential for an “Early Intervention”. We focus on the front end because almost all states give their courts a window to recall the felon from prison within a relatively short time period  (typically 4 to 12 months).  Where courts are willing to use their statutory authority, serious and/or high-risk offenders can complete a rehabilitation program over a short jail or prison term and avoid a long prison sentence. The opposite is true for felons sentenced to long prison terms (or even medium terms of 1 to 3 years). In most states, there is relatively little opportunity for a court to exercise authority over the “Back End”, as the felon, typically returns to the community under state supervision.

Decision Making in a Sentencing System

Offender Tracks are normally the province of Probation or other supervisory agencies. When used at all, they reflect internal decisions in determining the level of supervision and treatment appropriate for a probationer.  With validated Risk/Needs Assessments available, the final decision as to court related tracks ought to be left to the court, based upon the recommendations of the full sentencing team.

Court tracking is essential to keep offenders with similar risk and needs together, maximizing the opportunities for building positive relationships with the court and participants and limiting the negative consequences of mixing offenders with different risk levels.  The court will need to schedule tracks when required staffing and resource personnel are present. Optimally, the only personnel present at all sessions will be the judge, clerk, and court manager. Review below the process and procedures:

a. A risk assessment is completed even before sentencing and optimally before a plea is taken so all parties will have an understanding of the sentencing issues early on. (Ideally, the level of treatment/rehabilitation or appropriate track designation should not be the subject of a plea agreement).

b. An individual may be given the opportunity to accept pre-plea Diversion (often called District Attorney’s Diversion). Once a complaint is filed, the court has substantial control over pre-plea and post-plea felony Diversion, as well as pre and post-plea Problem-Solving Courts. A Diversion or Problem Solving Court judge typically takes a plea, sentences the offender, monitors the offender over the course of the program (including in-custody progress), and presides over their graduation from the program.

c. The lead judge (or a designee) takes the plea in most other felony cases, reviewing the risk/needs assessment already completed, and sentences the felon either to probation or prison (if the offense is violent or the offender a danger to the community). If the offender is appropriate for probation , the sentencing judge will decide whether the felon should be placed in a low, medium or high risk supervision track. Depending on the number of offenders and resources available, there could be sub-tracks within each risk category (when offender’s needs differ substantially in criminogenic attitudes and beliefs, gender concerns, drugs or alcohol problems, mental health issues, housing, job and/or education needs, and family/ parental issues)

1. Low risk offenders; Probation (banked file): Where the offender is neither a risk to society or has special needs, the court might see the offender once, shortly after probation placement, focusing the offender’s attention on probation compliance, and only see the felon again, if there is a substantial change of circumstances (note: Diversion contacts are often as minimal).

2. Medium risk offender, Probation (straight community corrections); Where the offender has a medium risk of re-offending and has special criminogenic needs, the felon would be placed in a track on a regular court schedule. Compliance in this track would require completion of cognitive behavioral and other rehabilitation services, with compliance resulting in substantial incentives and rewards. Compliance will allow the court to back off from contacts with probationers (unless changed circumstances or graduation)

3. High Risk offender, Probation (often a substantial jail term); Intensive supervision requirements might include attending court sessions on a weekly basis (remaining in court until all participants have been seen), a minimum of twice weekly contacts with a case manager, intensive cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, and pro-social activities for at least 40 hours per week (for at least 90 days)

Reducing Prison terms through Front-End Sentencing

 The second half of the diagram represents the use of alternatives to prison terms, allowing us to use an evidence-based sentencing system as a means to keep serious (but non-violent) offenders from serving long prison terms.

The front-end of a prison sentence provides the only substantial opportunity a court has to effect a prison term, once a felon is sentenced. Few courts use that statutory authority to return the felon from prison. When used at all, the authority is often applied in by individual judges in a non-systemic fashion.

“Front-End Systemic Approaches” to long prison terms described here present an opportunity to use graduated sanctions rather than immediate prison sentences for serious, but not-violent offenses. Such Front-End Systems can be structured in different ways. Some courts may include non-prison sentences (typically county jail or community corrections programs) as part of an “alternatives to prison” system.

Systemic approaches to “Front-End Alternatives to Prison” might start with a Community Corrections level alternative sentence. With new offenses and/or serious violations of probation, they might move up to a county jail alternative, and finally to a short-term prison sentence in lieu of a long-term prison sentence. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, an offender might start a  ”Front-End” Intervention at any of the three levels.

A.  Community Corrections Sentence in lieu of Prison: Less often used than other alternatives, this community based alternative to prison (typically residential treatment or correctional housing while an offender receives education, job training or employment), allows the judge to closely follow the offenders participation in a community based program, providing incentives or sanctions as appropriate. With successful program completion, the participant is returned to the community to continue supervision and rehabilitation under court authority. [Note: this alternative can be the first of two used before the offender is ordered to serve any prison sentence]

B. County Jail Alternative: This second tier “Front End Prison Alternative” can better emphasize the risk that the felon has of being sent to prison. Like the “Community Corrections Alternative, the County Jail Alternative allows close monitoring by the sentencing judge, appropriate incentives and sanctions, and a return to the community for further court supervision.

C. Front-End Prison Term: This ought to be thought of as a felon’s last opportunity to avoid a long prison term. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, some jurisdictions will start the Front-End Sentencing process with a prison term (skipping over possible Community Corrections and County Jail level interventions), hopefully reducing a long term sentence to a relatively brief 4 to 12 months in prison, and returning the felon to the community to complete the sentence under court supervision.

Professor Scores NADCP as “CHAMPION” in its Field

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on February 5,2012, describes a newly published book, “How Information Matters”,  by Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University and published by Georgetown University Press in 2011,  which singles out NADCP as the best among non-profit organizations in Washington D.C.

Professor Hale’s analysis describes  NADCP as the “Champion” Non-Profit Organization in its field. What does it have to do with reentry courts and court-based reentry systems. The answer is that it does and it doesn’t.

It describes the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) as the best among extraordinary organizations; whose structure, initiatives, strategies, and planning define excellence in the non-profit world. And I cannot agree more. I was there at the beginning of drug courts, as a drug court judge, and am still laboring in the fields, working to fulfill a vision that began for me, as first chair and then founding president of NADCP.  In the beginning, we created the “Ten Key Components” and Drug Court Mentor Sites, and planned NADCP’s projects, initiatives and strategies; so I know that  my fellow drug court pioneers feel as proud as I am of our accomplishments.

And those who came after us have truly done a superb job, in expanding drug courts and its progeny, problem-solving courts across the nation and around the world. They have built amazing public support for our “Champion” that has translated into much needed funding, and created wonderful new programs such as Veteran’s Courts, which thankfully are there to assist our Veterans in their time of need.

For me, it’s difficult to accept that my quest, the establishment of court-based reentry systems, that can staunch the flow of lives into our prisons, and salvage those that return broken, remains out of reach. I for one, salute all who have worked on our great labor of love, NADCP. But I long for this book’s sequel, the one that shows how we captured the holly grail of criminal justice, and achieved true prison reform through a partnership of the three C’s; Community, Corrections, and the Courts.

Minimalist Reentry Courts For Recessionary Times

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially updated on March 21, 2009, is the first article I am aware of that described the danger of over-resourcing reentry courts.


Over the past four weeks I have interviewed practitioners from four successful reentry courts, and showcased them as model reentry courts on this website: the Harlem Parole Reentry Court(NY), the Boone County Reentry Court(MO), the Richland Reentry Court(OH), and the Fort Wayne Reentry Court(IN).  All displayed what i have described as quasi-minimalist reentry court features (see below), that are non-adversarial and rehabilitation focused, without attorneys on the reentry court team or in reentry court itself; with counsel provided, only when the parole participant has left the reentry court program, and returned to the formal adjudicatory system, whether parole or court based.  From my discussions with reentry court practitioners from across the country, I believe  that the majority of reentry courts can be described similarly.

A number of jurisdictions  that are interested in creating a “parolee reentry court”,  find themselves in a difficult dilemma. Either reject the reentry court concept because of   inadequate funding, or go ahead and build it, but pare back the conventional problem-solving court model to its bare essentials. It’s clear to me that a comprehensive reentry courts, (with full staffing), capable of working with and consolidating an offender’s state and county matters in a single court, is the best possible  solution. But if the necessary funding isn’t avaialble, there is a case to be made for a “minimalist parolee reentry court”, that can reduce court costs, by successfully and lawfully doing  without attorneys, reporters, and clerks. Such a “minimalist reentry court”, may mean substantial savings to the court and community, as well as a smaller, more successful, and sustainable reentry court. [Note: a model “minimalist parolee reentry court” team might include judge, program coordinator, treatment specialist, parole officer, and bailiff]

As a consultant, I’ve sat through many team staffings, and  “progress hearings” over the years, with more than a dozen team members present.  I often wondered how cost effective or sustainable such  court structures would be in the long run. The answer  has become clear, as hard times  shape  the structures of today’s reentry and other problem-solving courts. Many problem solving courts are closing down, while others severely cut back on participation or services. Interestingly, some of our most successful early drug courts had as few as two team members present at pre-court staffings. The smaller, more intimate courtroom environment, encouraged clear, direct, and personal communication, as well as, increased team involvement and participant engagement; established problem-solving concepts that often lead to better outcomes.

The key hurdle in creating a  hybrid “parole reentry court” with fewer personnel, is the very fact that it’s unconventional. But a Parole Reentry Court, by its very nature is  a minimalist court. Proceedings related to parolees, while evidentiary in nature, are informal, do not involve county jurisdiction (which would require counsel), nor demand the same panoply of procedural and due process rights as a conventional court  (see: Morrisey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 1972, Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 1973). Truth is that there are less than a dozen states that require counsel at “parole revocation hearings”. Clerks and Reporters are not required either, as a written decision setting forth the facts and reasoning upon which it is based, are typically written up by the hearing officer. (Note: the fewer personnel engaged in the legal process, the more resources available for direct services for the returning parolee)

The clear purpose of the minimalist Reentry Court  is to provide an informal and therapeutic enviroment, where the focus is on the rehabilitation and reintegration of the returning parolee in  the community. Some may be uncomfortable with the idea of an informal problem-solving court without counsel present.  But participation in informal courts is typically voluntary, with “parole revocation hearings” passed on to  parole authorities, once the participant has been terminated from the reentry court program.  California has recently  set up  a pilot “Parolee Reentry Courts”  program, where parolees will be referred by parole authorities to the reentry court, admitted only after the parolee voluntarily accepts the program, and the court agrees. The parolee can opt out at any time, (even after a violation), to be returned to the jurisdiction of the parole agency. Ultimately, this model may be an interesting option for those communities with limited funds, a commitment to a reentry court,  but also to “revocation hearings” with counsel present. One of the  most fascinating aspects of the nascent reentry court field, is the many innovative and pragmatic models being developed. The minimalist “Parolee Reentry Court” continues that tradition. [see examples of  quasi-minimalist reentry courts below: Harlem Parole Reentry Court; Ft. Wayne Reentry Court; Richland County Reentry Court; Boone County Reentry Court]

Whether a “minimalist reentry court” is effective, economical or lawful is an open question. If you have a comment, please share it with us.

1 Year Process Evaluation of 8 Reentry Courts

March 11, 2013

Picture 3The DOj is putting money and effort into a project that  focuses on the  development of court based reentry efforts. One can sometimes get the impression that the courts are not a significant focus in the  federal government’s approach to state prison reentry issues. This project shows the opposite to be true.

The National institutue of Justice has released a one year process evaluation of eight Adult Reentry Courts that are sponsored under the BJA Second Chance Act. The National Institute of Justice’s “Evaluation of Second Chance Act Adult Reentry Courts: Program Characteristics and Preliminary Themes from Year 1”, was authored by Christine Lindquist, Jennifer Hardison Walters, Michael Rempel, and Shannon M. Carey. The document is the product of RTI International, The Center for Court innovation and NPC Research.  (click on image on the left for PDF of evaluation)

The eight reentry court jurisdictions being funded and evaluated are Union County, Arkansas, New Castle County, Delaware, Pinellas County, Florida, Boone County, Missouri, Strafford County, New Hampshire, Stark County, Ohio, Bexar County, Texas, and Norfolk County, Virginia.

The process evaluation will document the implementation of the evolving programs through three rounds of site visits, and be followed by an impact evaluation and a cost –benefit evaluation.

 From the I year site visit and process evaluation,

“Several programmatic characteristics were common across most sites, including the emphasis on post-release service delivery, the provision of a breadth of services relevant to the target population (with all sites offering substance abuse treatment and employment services), the use of a case management approach to coordinate and monitor services, the use of court hearings for the purpose of monitoring participants’ progress in the program, the use of drug testing, and a team approach to decision-making regarding sanctions and rewards. In all sites, reentry court participation is used as a condition of supervision, with the sentencing judge retaining jurisdiction over the participant in most sites. Therefore, almost all participants are under community supervision by a parole or probation officer for the entire duration of reentry court participation.”

South Bend leads in Reentry Courts

The following brief description of the Vanderburgh Reentry Court was printed on this website in 2010:

Nov.1, 2010

South Bend, Indiana has been at the forefront of the re-entry court movement in Indiana. Much of the credit goes to Judge Wayne Truckman, of the Vanderburgh Superior Court, who has been a leader in the development of Reentry Courts at the local and state levels.

The Vanderburgh Forensic Diversion Court, started in 2003, is focused on non-violent offenders who, but for the court’s intervention, would probably be sent to state prison.

The Vanderburgh Reentry  Court, started approximately four years ago, sends offenders to prison under a special statute championed by Judge Truckman, that segregates offenders in prison, and typically returns them to the Court for continuing supervision and rehabilitation services within a year of being sentenced to prison.

According to a story in the Courier, the Forensic Diversion Court and the Reentry Court are being watched closely by other Indiana counties as programs to be replicated in their communities.

Ft. Wayne: Indiana’s Systemic Reentry Court

Nov. 26, 2012

The following article, first published on this website in March, 2010, describes the excellent Reentry Court System that Judge John Surbeck (see: 2012 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence), developed for Allen County (Fort Wayne), Indiana.

The Allen County Reentry Court  has been a leader in the development of the reentry court model since Judge John Surbeck  initiated this exceptional program in 2001. the court relies on a host of service providers, including reentry director, treatment coordinator, case managers, mental health specialist, clinical psycologist, as well as, district parole supervisor, probation officer, and judge (though no D.A. or P.D.) to rehabilitate returnees. Since 2006, with the passage of  specific reentry court legislation, reentry courts that receive certification from the Indiana Judicial Center, have had full jurisdiction over parolees who participate in the reentry court (see: Indiana Legislation).  The Allen County Reentry Court  focuses on providing the returning offender with the rehabilitation services necessary to succeed, resourced by the local “Community Correction’s Agency”, and funded by the Indiana State Department of Corrections. The Indiana Parole Agency no longer has formal jurisdiction over the offender, but still works closely with the judge and court, as part of a drug court team, that provides a critical focus for community  organizations and services, and the monitoring of the returning offender.

The reentry court process begins when  prison inmates are informed by parole authorities that they are elligible for the  statutory “Community Transitions Program”, which may release inmates up to six months before the end of their prison term. Judge Surbeck sees the new participants shortly after their release from prison, two weeks later when their “Reintegration Plan” is approved (after a comprehensive series of risk/needs and psychological tests), and every two to six weeks until graduation, approximately one year later. Early electronic surveillance and  frequent monitoring visits to the parolee’s residence are an integral part of the program. The program is voluntary, and the court informal, relying on a contingency contract to provide appropriate incentives and sanctions. Parolees who do well can expect substantial reductions in their parole term. The reentry court itself, with its informal structure, focused on its therapeutic and public safety mission, does not hold parole revocation hearings, but passes them on to the state parole agency. Judge Suurbeck reports there are presently approximately 150 participants. Evaluations have shown a 30% reduction in recidivism and substantial financial savings to state and community. [see: Allen County Presentation]

[Note: The Allen Reentry Court also features a statutory “split sentencing” procedure that allows designated offenders to return to the sentencing court’s jurisdiction for probation supervision and services once their prison term has been completed.]

contact: [email protected]

Court Imposes 18 year Sentence for Drug Court Violation

Oct. 28,2012

I came across the following article  in a local newspaper in St.Johns, Arizona (click here):

“After violating the terms of his probation and failing to comply with the Apache County Drug Court Program, Brent Alexander Hargous has been sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections for a term of 18 years. “I am pleased with the sentence. The defendant was given a last chance in drug court and failed. Enough is enough,” said County Attorney Whiting.”

I was taken aback by the idea that  a technical violation of Drug Court Rules (apparently failure to go to treatment and failure to return to court) could result in a sentence of that magnitude. Though I know not what the underlying offense was, it’s hard to imagine it to be too heinous, if Drug Court was the community alternative. And since the felon was in drug court, there’s the probability that his failure to follow the rules was the result of a serious drug dependency that he was not able to control.

This brings to mind a serious concern about Drug Court sentencing.. There has to be a sense of proportionality when sentencing felons for technical violations of Drug Court rules and regulations. Residential treatment and even county jai may be appropriate for even serious technical violations. But if prison is required, then  let it be a rational and realistic prison sentence. Does Arizona really want to pay for 18 years of imprisonment for a drug court violator. There may be more here than meets the eye. But i hope that Arizona law allows the sentencing judge to return the violator to local control and rehabilitation after a short term in prison.

As discussed in many articles on this website, the use of “Front-End Reentry Courts” ought to be employed in cases like this one. Allowing the sentencing judge to return the felon to court for re-sentencing after a significant and hopefully rehabilitative (6 to 12 months) term in prison, makes sense in every way.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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