Evidence Based Practices in Reentry Court

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on Feb. 15, 2010, makes the connection between Drug Courts’ Ten Key Components and Evidence Based Practices and comes out in favor of instituting scientifically proven Evidence Based Practices.

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices (on your left), by Marc Carey and Frank Domurad, published by the Center for Effective Public Policy, under a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is the best publication I have found on the application of EBP to Prisoner Reentry

If you have or are planning a reentry court, you need to be familiar with “Evidence Based Practices” (EBP).   The challenge for a reentry court is to adopt proven empirical and research driven, “Evidence Based Practices”, designed to reduce recidivism. To do so, a reentry courts will need  qualified personnel, with open minds, and pioneering spirits. Perhaps we should start with a bit of history.

The Drug Court field’s Ten Key Components (NADCP/OJP; 1997) have been  around since 1997 and have stood the test of time. However, while still valuable as general principles, they don’t provided guidance as to what specific features reduce drug usage and recidivism.They were developed by practitioners like myself (I was an ex-drug court judge and NADCP’s President at the time), who knew what we were doing was working, but not exactly why. When we came together in Washington D.C., it was clear that the  fast growing field needed standards and guidance. So we created a template that was broad and based on commonsense. What we didn’t know was whether research and empirical evaluation would back up our beliefs. That the components have been implemented and adhered to by thousands of drug and problem-solving court practitioners in the intervening years is extraordinary in itself. But as I said before, for all the success of the “Key Components”, they didn’t provide the guidance we needed, to know which features to build  into our programs to make them more effective. Since then, the “Key Components” have been scientifically evaluated, substantiated to an extent, and have evolved (to my way of thinking) into  what has become known as  “Evidence Based Practices”,  or  scientifically proven”Best Practices” (specific guidelines) for the Problem-Solving Field.

According to the Pew Center on the States, “Evidence Base Practices”,  mean “supervision policies, procedures, programs, and practices that scientific research demonstrate reduce recidivism among individuals on probation, parole, or post-release supervision” (Policy Framework to Strengthen Community Corrections; Pew Public Safety Performance Project; 1998). The Crime and Justice Institute and National Institute of Corrections have produced a major report, authored by Judge Roger Warren (ret.), President Emeritus of the National Center for State Courts,  entitled Evidence-Based Practices to ReduceRecidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries, written for  the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the National Center for State Courts. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has also produced a monograph on the topic: “Quality Improvement for Drug Courts: Evidence Based Practices” (National Drug Court Institute Monograph #9; 2008)  The reentry court practitioner needs to rely on peer approved and recognized works in establishing its structures, procedures, and processes.

Even with all the scientific and institutional support for the implementation of EBP, the application of Evidence Based Practices to reentry court will be a hard sell. EBP often runs counter to  the practitioner’s conventional thinking on sentencing and rehabilitation practices. (ie. Best to play it safe and provide services for worthy non-violent, non-serious offenders, return parolees to prison for all but the most minor of violations, use the same sanctions and incentives for all drug abusers, etc.) And it’s not as simple and straight forward as the “key components”. But let’s remember that the “Key Components” are not the grail, but commonsense ideas about what worked for drug courts in 1997. EBP will require a willingness to learn new ways of doing our job. That means training and education. For some, it’s just too much work. But isn’t it worth the effort to create reentry courts (and other problem-solving courts), using scientifically proven guidelines or “Evidence Based Practices”  that will do what we started out to do in 1997; to better reduce drug abuse and recidivism in our communities.

A Reentry Court Judge Looks Back

Aug. 9,2011


I can write best about my own reentry court in San Francisco. I can’t compare it to any other  California Pilot Parole Reentry Court, because all six counties with pilot parole reentry courts have taken different paths. One has built its court with participants who have been been placed  on probation for new offenses and start out their program in county jail, others built their programs based on the proven track record of their other existing collaborative courts, another creates an informal atmosphere where participants are ushered into the court room personally by the judge to sit across a table from  judge and team members.

I find this a particularly good time to write about our program as we are in the tenth month of program development,  and we have learned a good deal about the reentry court process. We have chosen to build our program from the ground up, and not rely on existing structures. That has forced us to reconsider conventional drug court wisdom  and rely on our own expertise, experience, and importantly, evidence based research in building our program.

It’s also a good time to look back, because there may not be a San Francisco Parole Reentry Court, nor any California Parole Reentry Court after Governor Brown’s “Prison Realignment” on July 1st. This is  hard to accept as we have worked hard  building a program based on “evidence-based principles” and an evolving community  environment and have watched it mature into a successful reentry court model . These are difficult times for reentry courts and the california criminal justice system in general. We hope for the best.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

March 28th/ Part 3

It is a recognized principle of Evidence Based Practices that “the most impactful programs at changing criminal behavior and reducing recidivism are cognitive-behavioral and behavioral interventions. (Andrews, 2007; Aos, Miller, and Drake,2006; Landenberger & Lipsey, 2005; Lipsey and Landenberger, 2006: and Lipsey, Landenberger, and Wilson, 2007)”. see Implementing Evidence-Based Practices, Carey, 2010, p.9.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment that focuses on patterns of thinking and the beliefs, attitudes and values that underlie thinking. CBT has only recently come into prominence as one of the few approaches to psychotherapy that has been broadly validated with research, although it has been used in psychological therapy for more than 40 years. It is reliably effective with a wide variety of personal problems and behaviors, including those important to criminal justice, such as substance abuse and anti-social, aggressive, delinquent and criminal behavior” (Preventing Future Crime with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Patrick Clark NIC)

Cont: Evidence-Based Practices Point the Way

March 8th: Part II

The most succinct definition, taken from perhaps the best and most cogent publication on “Evidence Based Practices (EBP) in the Reentry Field, is as follows, ” Evidence Based Practices: The application of empirical research to professional practice” (p.7). This is an important definition to keep in mind, because it opens the door to  new concepts and applications, based on scientific research that will enhance, ground, and even empower your reentry court (or other reentry program).

The monograph from which the definition is taken, written by Mark Carey and Frank Domurad of the Carey Group, and described in an earlier post, deserves a second reference. “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices (Revised, January 2010), published by the Center for Effective Public Policy, under a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is the best publication I have found on the application of EBP to Prisoner Reentry. As opposed to the many conceptual and intellectual descriptions of what EBP is or may be, this document breaks the concepts down to their basic elements (and can be read in  less than an hour). Though part of an eleven “coaching packet” series, put out by the Center for Effective Public Policy, in my opinion this monograph is the most useful and grounded of the series. (The following eight principles are fully described on pages 10-16 of the monograph)

Eight Evidence-Based Principles for Effective Interventions

1. Assess actuarial risk/needs.

2. Enhance intrinsic motivation.

3. Target Interventions.

a. Risk Principle: Prioritize supervision and treatment resources for higher risk offenders.

b. Need Principle: Target interventions to criminogenic needs.

c. Responsivity Principle: Be responsive to temperament, learning style, motivation, culture,

and gender when assigning offenders to programs.

d. Dosage: Structure 40-70% of high-risk offenders’ time for 3-9 months.

e. Treatment: Integrate treatment into sentence/sanction requirements.

4. Skill train with directed practice (use cognitive behavioral treatment methods).

5. Increase positive reinforcement.

6. Engage ongoing support in natural communities.

7. Measure relevant processes/practices.

8. Provide measurement feedback.

Second Chance Grant Targets Co-ocurring Disorders

Deadline: June 3, 2010

BJA has announced a solicitation that will distribute $13 million under Sec. 201 of the “Second Chance Act” for offenders with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. Up to $600,000 in matching grants will be available to states and local governments to “establish or enhance residential substance abuse treatment programs in correctional facilities, including aftercare and recovery supportive services”.

Under the BJA Solicitation, priority will be given to applicants that (p.5-6):

Target higher-risk offenders who have been dually diagnosed with serious mental health disorders and alcohol or substance addictions at the same time using validated assessment tools.

• Demonstrate a high degree of collaboration among a variety of public, private, and faith-based organizations, to include at a minimum the State Substance Abuse Authority, the State Mental Health Authority, and a provider organization for direct client integrated substance abuse and mental health treatment services appropriate to the proposed project.

• Demonstrate effective case assessment and management abilities to provide a comprehensive and continuous reentry process, including the following:

o Using an actuarial-based assessment instrument for reentry planning that targets the criminogenic needs of the offender that affect recidivism, and provide sustained case management and services during incarceration and for at least 6 months in the community;

o Access to affordable and appropriate housing;

o Establishing pre-release planning procedures to ensure that the eligibility of an individual for federal or state benefits is established before release and that individuals will obtain all necessary referrals for reentry services; and

o Delivery of continuous and appropriate integrated drug and mental health treatment, medical care, job training and placement, housing, educational services, or any other service or support needed for successful reentry.

• Focus their program on geographic areas with high rates of offenders returning from prisons, jails, or juvenile detention facilities.

[Note: This solicitation is available to both prison and jail-based Reentry Courts and their community and correctional partners]

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