Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 10

June 12, 2012

Dealing with the whole person in sentencing: Part 10

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 over twenty years ago. And I am disheartened by their misunderstanding of the significance and applicability of drug court to one and all criminal offenders.

As described by Dr. Doug Marlow, at the 18th Annual NADCP Conference in Nashville  (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. In fact, according to Dr.Marlow, 60 to 80% of drug offenders do not need  a drug court’s intensive treatment. The majority of criminal offenders need to be treated as a whole person (not just a drug abusing person). As tempting as it may be to lock onto drug treatment as a silver bullet that works with all offenders, it isn’t an effective or cost- efficient tool for most criminal offenders (or even most drug offenders).

However that shold not conclude our analysis. If you look at the scientific literature on evidence based sentencing practices (click on image on the left,for a brief, comprehensive description of “Evidence Based Practices”), you’ll find that medium to high risk offenders have substantial criminogenic needs that need to be addressed, even if they’re not drug related.

“Criminogenic Needs” are functional impairments that if not treated, will increase the risk of further criminality. The top four such needs are a history of anti-social behavior, anti-social personality factors, anti-social cognitions/attitudes, and anti-social peers.Surprisingly, drug abuse is a second tier criminogenic need that only becomes a central concern if the offender is truly drug dependent or addicted., Otherwise, substance abuse treatment ranks  behind such second tier criminogenic needs such as family and/or marital stressors, employment and/or education deficiencies, and lack of pro-social leisure activities.

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 success in dealing with them. In essence what Dr. Marlowe and his scientific brethren have been telling us is Drug Court is not the answer to most offenders’ crimonogenic needs (although the better drug courts do not neglect them). Certainly drug courts can be modified (as Dr. Marlow suggests) to deal with the majority of criminal offenders, whose drug usage is not a primary criminogenic need. But it should be clear to all, that doing so may negatively impact drug courts and appropriate participants  As the old saw goes, if you just treat a criminal offender’s drug abuse, you might just create a healthier criminal. Better to deal with the whole person, in an evidence-based sentencing system, where their individual levels of risk and need are determined, and the appropriate supervision and treatment responses applied to them..

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 9

May 28, 2012

Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems are Cost-Effective: Part 9

The previous eight articles in this series are testimony to the potential of evidence based sentencing systems. Scientific and technological advances now make these systems cost-effective as well. The most cost intensive aspect of any evidence-based system are the court hearings for felons sentenced to local custody and/or supervision. There is a misconception, that in an evidence-based sentencing system, all felons would be seen in court on a regular basis (as most problem-solving courts tend to do). But science and technology has provided us with strategies and solutions that allow us to substantially reduce the need for additional court sessions and staff (the “Risk Principle”).

Validated risk/needs assessment tools developed over the past ten years allow us to determine a felon’s risk levels and how to best deal with the offender ( see “University of Cincinnatti Study on Risk Principle”) We now know that intensive supervision for low to medium risk offender (involving multiple appearances before the court) actually increases their levels of recidivism. In some jurisdictions, that understanding may actually reduce the total number of court appearances, as only those who have been determined to need intensive supervision and court monitoring would receive it. Felons who are traditionally “banked” as low-risk probationers would almost certainly be excluded. Those offenders who are considered medium risk offenders might be seen by the court on a very limited basis (perhaps one court appearance after beginning their jail sentence, with a second at the start of active probation supervision and a third at the completion of successful probation supervision). Depending on criminal background, history of violence, extent of imprisonment and other relevant factors, high-risk felons would be placed in an appropriate supervision and court monitoring track. (see video at bottom of article, for interview with Reentry Court judge Jeff Tauber, on the intensity of supervision and rehabilitative track required by serious and/or violent high risk parole violators)

A more universal fiscal concern relates to the over-staffing of problem-solving courts. The fact that many courts have more than a dozen employees attending staff meetings and court sessions is a major financial obstacle to the expansion of evidence-based sentencing systems (and other problem solving courts as well).  My experience as both a drug court and reentry court judge suggests problem-solving courts are often over-staffed ( see: A Minimalist Reentry Court for Recessionary Times). My Drug Court staffings in 1990 (admittedly a long time ago) had two persons present, the probation officer personally responsible for offenders to be reviewed, and myself. In a more recent experience on the Bench (2010-2011) , the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court operated with a staff of five; judge, program coordinator, case manager, defense attorney, and parole officer. It should be acknowledged that every problem-solving court has its own staffing requirements,  but the tools described above can also help keep court personnel to a minimum. The development of risk/needs assessment tools allows us to better categorize probation/parole offenders, placing them in customized court tracks, limiting the court time of program specialists, to sessions where their skills are truly needed. Similarly, technology allows us to share information and communications between program personnel and staff, limiting  the need for those present in court.

Finally, even problem-solving courts with significant operating cost, have shown themselves to be cost-effective (see California Study), substantially reducing custody and other criminal justice costs, and providing enormous savings to the community as a whole. This will undoubtedly be the case for evidence-based sentencing systems as well.


Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 8

May 21, 2012

Reducing Prison terms through Front-End Sentencing: Part 8

The diagram on the left represents the second half of a sentencing system envisioned, allowing us to use an evidence-based sentencing system as a means to keep serious (but non-violent) offenders from serving long prison terms  (Composition of a Sentencing Track: Part 6).

As described in previous articles (see: Front-Loaded Court Based interventions), 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 a non-systemic fashion, with individual judges operating on their own.

“Front-End Systemic Approaches” to long prison terms described here, (compare: Decision Making in a Sentencing system: Part 7)  presents 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 the three levels described. The flexibility inherent in a three tier front end/early intervention system is impressive, as is its ability to respond to the safety of the community and the needs of the offender:

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.

Next week’s segment will show how systemic sentencing can be provided at  minimal cost

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 7

May, 13, 2012

Decision Making in a Sentencing System: Part 7

The diagram on the left represents the first half of a sentencing system envisioned, allowing us to take a closer look at decision making in an evidence based  sentencing system (Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 6):

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.

 As described in the demonstrative Diagram, the following evidence-based tracking system is offered for your consideration:

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 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 to  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 or graduation (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 prosocial activities for atleast 40 hours per week (for at least 90 days)

 The next segment will look at the ability of  local jurisdictions to use brief prison terms in sentencing



Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 6

May 5, 2012

The Components of the Sentencing Track: Part 6

The  diagram above can be thought of as two separate segments. 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 (“Understanding the Risk Principle”), that mixing low and high risk offenders is counter-productive at best. That same dynamic works in the court room. 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” to 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 (see: Front Loaded Court Based interventions) .

The next segment will look at how decisions are made in an evidence-based Sentencing System 

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 5


April 30, 2012

Court Monitoring of Sentence Tracks: Part 5

Courts can deal effectively with all their sentenced felons, by developing comprehensive “evidence-based sentencing systems” (see Arming the Courts with Research: , Roger Warren, Pew, 2009). Traditionally, we classify, categorize, and sort felons into appropriate groupings at every step of sentencing process.The Sheriff decides an inmate’s housing category. The probation departments recommends whether a probationer should be intensively monitored or placed in a banked case load. The court  determines whether a felon is to be placed on probation or sent to prison.(Click on image to the left for Development and Implementation of Drug Court Systems,JTauber,NDCI,1999)

Today’s problem-solving courts have led the way in in the use of assessments (and other evidence based sentencing practices)  to improve our sorting or categorizing and thereby our sentencing outcomes. The court and its systemic partners determine if an offender needs special rehabilitation, treamtment, or education as part of the sentencing process. So a DUI offender with a third offense might require a residential alcohol treatment program, the domestic violence offender, an extensive series of violence reduction classes, and the drug offender, completion of a appropriate drug treatment program. In each instance, the court will continue to monitor the offenders at progress report hearings until the relevant conditions of probation are completed.

To optimize the effectiveness of a sentencing court’s monitoring of all felony sentences (see: Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 3), we now use a more comprehensive process, a validated risk/needs assesssment, to sort the offenders into appropriate tracks.  A felon is  determined to be a low, medium, or high risk offender. Depending on that determination, an individual is placed in different probation, treatment or rehabilitation tracks, with  the court actively monitoring those tracks on an regular schedule over the term of probation (and in some cases parole).  In effect, a “special sentencing team”, led by the sentencing judge, follows all offenders placed in sentencing tracks,  as they move seamlessly through sentencing and custody (where ordered)  and into the probation process.

It should be remembered, that though all felons are categirized and placed in tracks, that very process is intended to increase the court’s effectiveness, by limiting the court’s contact with the low risk/low needs offenders. If the sentencing court is to effectively deal with all felons, it will need to distinguish between those who require the court’s attention and those that are best left alone. Substantial savings in time, staffing, and resources lie in the court’s effective and appropriate tracking of  sentenced offenders.

The next segment will look at how sentencing tracks work in a systemic sentencing court.

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 4

 April 23.2012

Judge-Driven Sentencing Systems: Part 4

Sometimes it’s important to restate the obvious. The courts are the traditional place for sentencing and monitoring the supervision of offenders under their jurisdiction. Judges have husbanded those powers like no others. It’s therefore somewhat disquieting to find some states turning sentencing jurisdiction over to other agencies of government, even ones that are considered partners within the criminal justice system.

Nearly twenty years ago, when “Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual”, was published (JTauber, California Center for Judicial Education and Research,1994), it was noted that future drug courts (and ostensibly other courts modeled after drug courts) would need  to create fully integrated systems centered on the court, to create  the next generation of effective drug courts.

But even in a system built on collaboration and partnership, it was noted that “The courts stand in a unique position among service agencies; they are at the fulcrum, where agencies meet. Participating agencies are used to working closely with or under the supervision of the courts” (p.29).

Two decades later, whether applied to drug abuse or recidivism, those words hold true. Drug Courts and other special courts have proven the efficacy of judge-driven problem-solving courts.  Handing over sentencing and/or monitoring of community supervision to probation or parole, custody or community-based agencies, isn’t smart or efficient, or cost-effective. Special Sentencing Courts need to work closely with their criminal justice and community partners, but also need to remain the focus of that circle of intervenors, retaining final control over the sentencing and supervision of the felon.

The next segment will look at the importance of creating  sentencing tracks.

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 3

April 16, 2012

Part 3: The ‘Specialty Sentencing Court” as a Problem-Solving System


The idea that sentencing courts ought to be special and distinct entities is not a new one. There are and have been many urban jurisdictions that deal with sentencing and/or probation violations with full time specialty courts. As with the early drug courts of the 1980s, the purpose of special sentencing/probation courts is often to streamline the process and move the offender through as quickly as possible. Concern for how the offender can be best prepared for a return to community with appropriate supervision and/or treatment was and is often overlooked (click on the image on the left for “Reentry Drug Courts”National Drug Court Institute Monograph Series, No. 3, “Reentry Drug Courts”, JTauber, circa 1999).

Existing sentencing or probation courts should have the responsibility to do more. Like other problem-solving court systems, Sentencing and/or Probation Courts need to create a bond between offender and the court, that among other things, reminds both of their obligations, one to the other. Special Sentencing Court Systems need to deliver evidence-based sentencing practices, processes too complex and demanding for even the most dedicated individual judge. ( “Arming the Courts with Research: Ten Evidence Based Sentencing Initiatives to Control Crime and Reduce Costs”, a PEW monograph, Judge Roger Warren, ret.)

The best Problem-Solving Sentencing Courts will supervise thorugh separate tracks, as do most problem-solving courts in large urban jurisdictions. The Drug, Mental Health, and DUI Courts, though often presided over by the same judge, separate out the offender by the nature of the problem that the offender faces. Though the offender may have more than one serious issue, different problems call for different resources, information, staffing and treatment.

The Veterans Court provides a particularly good model for the Sentencing judge in smaller jurisdictions The Veterans Court has relatively few participants (typically less than 50), and is able to deal with the “Whole Person”. An individual is directed to the Veterans Court because he or she is faced with a criminal case, not because they have a particular issue or problem. The Veteran’s Court is prepared to deal with any and all issues facing the Veteran. To that extent, the Veteran’s court is a particularly good model for a “sentencing court”. The Veterans court mets out appropriate responses, as  a sentencing courts should, dealing with many different issues, and providing the appropriate supervision and services as required.

 The next segment will look at the importance of the judge in sentencing and monitoring supervision

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 2


April 9, 2012

Part 2: The Single Sentencing Court Team Concept:

One common feature that should define the Systemic Sentencing Model, is that the same judge and court team deal with the sentenced offender (to the extent possible), as part of a seamless supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation system, that runs from sentencing, through custody, through community supervision. The first of such systems go back more than 20 years to the dawn o the Drug Court era. It was widely understood that the sentencing and supervision of drug offenders was dysfunctional. There was little coordination in the court’s dealing with the drug offender, the offender rarely saw the same judge or court personnel twice, and there was little system accountability and therefore far too little offender responsibility and compliance ( Drug Courts: a Judicial Manual, J Tauber, California Center For Judicial Education and Research Journal, Summer 1994)

We still live in a largely uncooperative world of competing government departments, uncollaborative programs and agencies, and weak sentencing follow-thorugh by the courts and relevant agencies. As noted in Part 1, its unrealistic for individual courts to develop the  advanced capabilities necessary to develop evidence-based sentencing practices (“Arming the Courts with Research: Ten Evidence Based Sentencing Initiatives to Control Crime and Reduce Costs”, a PEW monograph, Judge Roger Warren, ret; click on image).

What is necessary, is for a jurisdiction to focus a single judge and court team (or in a larger jurisdiction, a dedicated cadre of judges and staff) to the task of applying evidence based practices to sentencing courts. There is no reason to use a different approach or rationale than that developed and successfully applied to drug courts and other problem-solving courts across the nation. A sentencing court’s effectiveness ultimately depends on a jurisdictions willingness to provide a rational, system-wide, coordinated  approach to sentencing (It could be argued that much of the success of Hawaii’s PROJECT HOPE, rests on its systemic approach to felony probation supervision).

Some may feel it unnecessary for all felony sentencing and/or supervision to be handled by a problem-solving court. The advantages already described in such a system make it a very attractive alternative to the current somewhat haphazard process. What may be more surprising is the potential for savings to the court. Because the sentencing system will look to a validated risk/needs assessment tool to assist its sentencing decisions, it will be possible to create sentencing tracks for low risk/low need offenders that involve minimal resources and staff, allowing what limited resources that exist to be applied to high risk offenders with the greatest need and potential for harm.

In fact, low risk offenders may not be actively supervised by the court at all, after the individual makes a single supervision appearance before the judge after sentencing . On the other hand, a high-risk offender with a history of violence may be required to have weekly contact with the court and extensive contact with supervisory agencies  and rehabilitative programs, over an extended period of time.

The next segment further analyzes the needs of a “special sentencing/probation court”


Part 1: Systemic Approaches to Sentencing

 Part 1: Evidence-Based Sentencing Practices

Last week I wrote an article suggesting  the need for “Systemic Approaches to Sentencing” . On re-reading, I felt that the topic needed a more comprehensive explanation. So this is the first of a series of articles dealing with the need for systemic approaches to felony sentencing. In 2009, the PEW Center for the States published an excellent treatment on Evidence Based Sentencing Practices (EBP), authored by Judge Roger Warren (ret.), President Emeritus of the National Center for State courts,“Arming the Courts with Research: Ten Evidence Based Sentencing Initiatives to Control Crime and Reduce Costs” (click on the figure on the left for copy of article).

To summarize, nearly all sentencing courts are in essence, reentry courts (or court based reentry systems), and ought to be structured to facilitate the ultimate return of the offender to the community as a non-recidivist, productive citizen.

According to the PEW Monograph, every sentencing ought to take into account the most recent research, described as Evidence Based Practices (EBP). Those sentencing principles, (as described by the PEW Monograph) state that (1) Reduced Recidivism should be an immediate goal of sentencing, (2) Recidivism Reduction Options be available to the Court, (3) Sentencing be based on Risk/Needs Assessments, (4) Community Corrections be Evidence Based, (5)  Services and Sanctions be integrated, (6) the Court be aware of Available Sentencing Options, (7) Court Officers be trained in EBP, (8) Court responses to probation violations be immediate, certain, consistent and fair, (9) Court hearings be used to provide incentives to motivate Offender Behavior Change, and (10) the Court Promote Collaboration among Criminal Justice Agencies.

Clearly, individual judges and courts will have have difficulty implementing many of the proposed initiatives.  Only a systemic problem-solving approach is likely to successfully implement “Evidence Based Sentencing Practices”. (PEW declares as much on page two of the monograph; “the failure of mainstream sentencing policies….. has motivated  many state judges, prosecutors, and corrections officials to establish specialized ‘problem-solving’ courts over the past 20 years to reduce recidivism”). Expecting individual judges to independently develop the resources, skills, and competencies to become proficient in Evidence Based Sentencing Practices is unrealistic.

That does not mean that every court needs to have the same level of resources, staffing or sentencing options. The question for most jurisdictions is what level of Evidence Based  Sentencing Practices can they incorporate into their court, and that is appropriate for their community. A judge in a rural jurisdiction will have vastly different sentencing needs than a city with dozens of judges. And a low risk offender will have a very different relationship with the court than a high risk offender or an offender with a violent history.

California Needs Systemic Approaches to Sentencing

Mar. 25, 2012

An ACLU Report (described in two articles in the Face Book Column on the far right),  points to the failure of California’s Realignment Plan (under AB109), to provide incentives to counties that reduce the numbers of persons incarcerated in county jail. The report describes the  state’s dismembering its Prison-Industrial Complex, while supporting the development of a Jail-Industrial Complex. It’s argues that counties that develop successful “alternatives to incarceration”, and/or send a small percentage of non-violent offenders to prison are penalized as proportionally larger funds are provided to counties that  have neither adequate jail facilities or effective alternatives to custody. The counter argument is a simple admission that counties that have not used alternatives in the past and relied heavily on state prison to house less serious offenders, need immediate resources to build an infrastructure capable of working with the returning offenders, both in and out of custody (on the left; a systemic sentencing circle, JTauber, circa 1999, National Drug Court Institute Monograph Series, No. 3, “Reentry Drug Courts”)

California needs to deal both with the lack of adequate jail resources, while creating incentives for counties to develop alternatives to incarceration. One way to accomplish that, is to develop effective risk/needs assesssment tools that can distinguish between those who are a violent and/or high-risk offenders and those who do not pose a danger to the community. Risk/Needs Assessments, once validated, provide an scientific basis for determining the risk of offenders to the community. Working with such tools, a county’s criminal justice system ought to be able to create a systemic approach to the convicted offender, that provides appropriate sentencing tracks that reflect an offender’s degree of risk as well as their criminogenic needs. In the future, counties that develop effective sentencing systems, used in the supervision and rehabilitation of felons, that reduce the jail population, ought to receive substantial financial incentives from the state ( California already has a successful state program that rewards probation departments for reductions in probationer recidivism)

We have developed evidence based practices for the sentencing of offenders (based on voluminous research), but are still reticent to apply those practices where they will do the most good, in making sentencing decisions. Rational approaches to sentencing that provide different levels of supervision, treatment, rehabilitation, and assistance for felons are attainable and in effect in some states and jurisdictions (more on that later).



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