Schwarzenneger Takes Step Toward Pre-Entry Court

California Governor Arnold Schwarzennneger has indicated that his May revised budget will include a provision to send fifteen thousand  nonserious, nonviolent, non-sex offender felons presently serving time in state prison, to serve up to three years of their sentence in county jail (see: Sacramento  Bee article). To some, the plan has obvious drawbacks, as many county jails are severely overcrowded, without adequate medical and other services, (and in some cases under federal caps). Others would argue that the plan would imprudently force county jail to release county inmates early.

But, it can also be seen as a positive development in the fight to keep non-violent offenders out of prison; a tacit acknowledgement of the compelling need to keep non-violent offenders in local probation based programs (whether custodial or otherwise). This can ultimately work out to be a major step away from state prison and toward community supervision and rehabilitation of non-violent offenders.  County Probation Jail-Based Reentry Courts (or Pre-Entry courts) could be the real winner, if Schwarzenneger’s plan catches on in California and other states (see article: Jail Based Reentry Court As Grant Applicant)

Pre-Entry Court as RFP Applicant

Note: Deadline for applications; June 3, 2010

This is the fourth and last article  on the “Second Chance Act” Reentry Court Solicitation. In this analysis,  I will review the RFP from the perspective of a Pre-Entry or county jail, probation-based reentry court applicant. [Note: A Pre-Entry Court is a before entry to prison court)

Typically, when one thinks of a reentry process, the focus is on state prisoners reentering society.  While this is clearly a critical issue, the possibility of keeping the offenders in the local community , and using a substantial jail term as a last resort has not always received the focus it deserves. Creating an effective county jail-based reentry court program offers the possibility of reducing the state prison population with its extraordinary costs, keeping offenders local, while increasing public safety within a seamless and comprehensive jail-based reentry court system.

Note:This solicitation is open to offenders returning from jails as well as prisons.

The pressure is on to reduce prison population in states like California (see article below). Governor Schwarzenneger has just announce a major new prison plan to return 15,000 prisoners to county jail to complete up to three years of their sentences. This news augurs well for Pre-Entry or County Probation-Based Reentry Courts. The potential for dealing with offenders at an early stage of the criminal justice process (possibly as soon as Arraignment), allowing for the seamless transitioning from jail to community, providing judicial oversight and incentives, using the same reentry court team throughout, and providing critical rehabilitation services early on, is a compelling alternative to prison  (see: County Jail Based Reentry Courts, a Policy Paper).

An additional benefit of the Pre-Entry Court, is that the local jurisdiction can submit an application and proceed with their planned reentry court, even in states that don’t support state prison-based reentry courts. As described in last week’s article, “RFP Targets Criminal Justice Leadership“,   there is enormous political, social, and financial pressure to handle prisoner reentry through the corrections and parole mechanisms that have always been in place. Hopefully, by showing that Reentry Court works on the county level, many more states will take a serious look at reentry court as an alternative to the failed conventional corrections/parole based reentry system presently in place at the state level.

It’s worth repeating the obvious, the way to deal with exploding prison populations and prisoner reentry failures is to refrain from sentencing non-violent offenders to prison in the first place.

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