Ten Reasons to Build A Reentry Court in 2010

The Reentry Process is nothing new to the Drug Court Practitioner. Drug court has always been a reentry mechanism; a seamless process for returning the drug offender from arrest and criminal adjudication , through community-based rehabilitation and monitoring, to the offender’s reintegration into the community. What is different in 2010, is the immediate need to expand drug courts into next-generation comprehensive reentry/drug courts. Consider the following reasons to expand your drug court into a reentry/drug court in 2010:

1.       There has been a sesmic shift in the nation’s attitude toward imprisonment and prisons. The entire nation seems desperately focused on the prison problem, and its financial and social costs,  New, untested (or tested and failed) reentry systems are positioning themselves as reform champions and therefore, recipients of prison reform funding (leaving the courts out in many instances).

3.       The Drug Court has been tested, evaluated, and analyzed over the past twenty years on an unparalleled scale. The scientific community has concluded that the drug court provides the most effective means to rehabilitate, hold accountable, and reintegrate the “high risk”, non-violent, drug involved offender back into the community. ( Doug Marlowe: A Sober Assessment of Drug Court). Reentry courts are, in fact, Drug Court models.

4.      The federal government  appears to recognize the success of the Drug Court model, when they encourage programs providing “evidence-based practices”, such as the seamless transitioning from custody to community, and graduated sanctions and incentives. Drug courts in large part pioneered those practices.

5.       The “Second Chance Act”, and other federal and state initiatives specifically emphasize the need for community-based “task forces”, that work collaboratively in integrating the offender into the community and sharing resources and funding streams to make the process truly a community-wide effort. Most Drug Courts have been engaged in community-wide collaborations since their inception.

6.       Reentry/Drug courts represent the future of the drug court field; a next  generation, comprehensive drug court that works with “high-risk, non-violent, drug involved offenders. The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), have  endorsed drug court on four separate occasions, since 2000, as the lynchpin of future court systems, emphasizing their effectivenesss in dealing with issues such as “recidivism”. (see CCJ Resolution 22/COSCA Resolution 4)

7.       Rather than re-inventing the wheel, the nation’s Reentry Reform Movement can take advantage of over two thousand drug courts already in existence. The court-based mechanisms that insure accountability, the trained personnel, the structure and community relationships are already in place. Decision-makers, from drug court practitioners,  to state drug court coordinators, to policy makers in the judicial, legislative, and executive branches need to be made aware of this, evidence-based, scientifically proven and cost-effective alternative.

8.       Probation or Jail-Based Reentry Courts (sometimes called Pre-entry Courts) represent the simplest solution to prison-overcrowding and reentry issues. The best way to deal with jail-overcrowding and reentry issues, is not to sentence the non-violent, high-risk drug offenders to prison in the first place, but  place those who would otherwise go to prison, under state court and probation jurisdiction, in next-generation, comprehensive reentry/ drug courts (see Reentry/Drug Court Model)

7.       Although somewhat more problematic ( as jurisdiction typically lies with the executive branch), prison-based reentry courts are being piloted in many states. Relying on innovative structures such as split-sentencing, or collaborative  sentencing systems that engage the returning offender in a seamless transition into the community, they appear to be an effective means  to hold ex-prisoners accountable as they engage in the reintegration process. (see Ten Prison-Based Reentry Models)

9.      While federal funding for drug courts increased substantially this year, state and county funding is being cut back in many jurisdictions. Reentry funding  on the other hand is expanding rapidly. The “Second Chance Act” alone, increased its funding four-fold to $100 million plus over last year. With an almost zealous intensity, state and federal authorities are determined to reduce funding for prison and prisoners, while seemingly intent to increase funding for prison alternatives and  reentry reform at an  increasing rate in the coming years.

10.    The impact of drug courts have been limited to little more than 5% of drug-involved offenders. It’s time for drug courts and their practitioners to step up and assert their place in the reentry process ( and in “reentry task forces” being formed in their communities), as the proven, and most successful approach to the “high-risk”, non-violent, drug-involved offenders that populate our jails and prisons. The opportunity to do so may not come again.

$10 Million Reentry Court Funding Passes Congress

EXTRA/EXTRA

On Decemeber 13th, Congress appropriated $10 million dollars for Reentry Courts under “Section 111” of the Second Chance Act.  In all, a total of $100 was appropriated under the  “Second Chance Act”.  Additionally the Department of Justice (DOJ)  provided $14 million for reentry initiatives within the Federal Bureau of  Prisons, and the Department of Labor earmarked $108 million for work/training related services. (see Reentry Policy Council press release)

“Second Chance  Act” funding is up four-fold from a year ago.   It should be noted that reentry courts and their community partners may be able to appropriately access far more than the funds made specifically available to “reentry courts”. Much of that money will be available to community based coalitions made up of government, non-profit, and  other community organizations. There may be more than $300 million available during fiscal year 2010 for community-based  coalitons that have a reentry  court as one of its partners.


Pre-entry Courts in the Age of Reentry

Pre-Entry Court is a county probation-based reentry court and an advanced next generation drug court, . Typically, non-violent drug offenders are placed on  probation, with a state prison sentence suspended, and the offender ordered to attend, participate, and complete an in-custody treatment program as a condition of probation ( for those legally inclined, “execution of sentence is suspended”).  In essence, rather than dealing with the  offender after they serve a prison term (with all its dibilitating consequences) they are given their last best opportunity to enter a “pre-entry court” (or a “before entry to  prison court”) and avoid a formal prison commitment.

For example,  County Jail-Based Reentry Courts offer the possibility of reducing state prison populations with their extraordinary costs,while providing the serious non-violent offender, the  seamless  monitoring, treatment, and rehabilitative services of  a comprehensive drug court.  (It can be confusing at first, to realize that there are two kinds of reentry courts, one dealing with prison reentry, the other with those returning from extended jail or other probation-based custodial programs.)

Optimally, Pre-entry Courts (typically county-jail based reentry courts)  engage the offender at the time of plea and assessment through sentencing, entry into, and completion from an in-custody rehabilitation program. When released from custodial status into the community, the pre-entry court judge and team continue to monitor the probationer through progress hearings and finally program graduation.

Ultimately, a pre-entry court will be part of a Next Generation Drug Court System, providing comprehensive drug court services  to returnees from jail, other county-based custodial programs,  probation revocations, prison (and more traditional drug court participants, who typically do not receieve  an immediate custodial sentence). The emergence of fledgling  pre-entry courts, while focused mostly on those with substance abuse problems, is an important development in criminal justice reform, and arguably the best way to reduce both prison over-crowding and prison reentry failure, whether offenders are drug involved or not. [for a unique example of a pre-entry court, see Dallas SAFPF Reentry Court]


Celebrating A Decade: How Reentry/Drug Court Got Here

Anyone at all aware of criminal justice issues, knows that 2010 will be the beginning of a seismic change in the criminal justice system. There is immense national concern about prison overcrowding, prisoner reentry into the community, and the need to cut funding to prisons. Your Drug Court should already be a part of  your community’s  2010 “reentry task force. Federal and state funding is pouring into reentry processes, and Drug Court stands on the precipice of becoming the next generation comprehensive Drug Court, the Reentry/Drug Court. At the the 10 year Anniversary of the CCJ Resolution22/COSCA Resolution IV , it might be well to remember the people, organizations,  and historical  documents that are making this impossible dream possible.

It wasn’t necessarily going to work out this way. The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) weren’t terribly fond of special courts. They had a bad rap for consuming resources and creating judicial fiefdoms. When Drug Court came along twenty yeas ago, there was scepticism and even hostility from state bureaucracies and territorial paranoia from some drug court judges. But then it began to turn around. By the time the Clinton Administration had come on board, CCJ, COSCA and their partner, The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) had changed course and begun an effort to work with and provide guidance to the drug court field. Califronia, Florida and New York led the way, with limited financial, educational and technical assistance. But most states stood on the sidelines, reluctant to take a chance on the new kid on the block.

It wasn’t until 1999 that things really began to change. California’s  State Court Administrator, Bill Vickrey, the newly installed President of COSCA, had shown a willingness to work with drug court practitioners in his own state; resourcing educational conferences and trainings, finding financial support to start over 100 California Drug Courts, and encouraging Drug Court Judges to take the lead in developing a powerful statewide grassroots movement. Dan Becker, then Utah’s State Court Administrator, co-chair of the CCJ/COSCA Drug Court task force, put it  this way  in a 2001 interview , “It started with an initiative by Bill Vickery, when he was the President of COSCA, to begin looking at emerging policy questions that Administrators and Chief Justices need to be concerned about, that put us in the position of anticipating issues rather than reacting to new issues.” Bill Vickrey and California Chief Justice Ron George (as well as others) took the lead in advocating for a joint CCJ/COSCA Resolution endorsing drug courts and the newly emerging courts to be known as problem-solving courts. What is truely extraordinary was the fact that all 50 Chief Justices and all 50 State Court Administrators went on to unanimously adopt that joint resolution.

In the 10 years since the “Resolution”was adopted, a new dynamic has been created within the criminal justice system. With the highest level of state court administration committed to the problem-solving model, drug courts and its progeny have enjoyed a ligitimacy that has translated into increased funding, political influence and respect that had eluded them in the past.  Recently,  The National Association of Drug Court Professionals elected Missouri Chief Justice Ray Price as its Board President, while  a 2009 CCJ/COSCA Resolution reaffirmed its endorsement of drug courts, calling for  the federal government to fund drug courts at the $250 million level. There are Drug Courts in every state,  state program coordinators almost everywhere, and new problem-solving courts proliferating. Significantly, the California legislature has recently passed a “Parolee Reentry Court Program”, the biggest and most ambitious reentry/drug court project ever, funded with $10 million, to be administered by the California Administrative Office of the Courts. We should take this opportunity at the start of the new year to reflect on what has been accomplished over the past ten years, before we move on to the next-generation, comprehensive drug court, the reentry/drug court model.

NADCP Introduces Resource Center: “Reentry Court Solutions”

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) made this important announcement in an email yesterday to thousands of its drug court and  related practitioners/subscribers. “Designed to provide critical information to those interested in effective Reentry Court strategies, Reentry Court Solutions is a new national resource center dedicated to all things Reentry Courts.”  Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), Director of “Reentry Court Solutions” described his satisfaction with the the Resource Center’s first days. “I would like to thank NADCP for their collaboration and support in getting “Reentry Court Solutions” off the ground. We’ve had hundreds of contacts from all over the country and across the world. I believe that the launching of a “National Reentry Court Resource Center” marks the beginning of a new focus on the importance of the reentry court model in the criminal justice system”.

Funding Alert: California

NOV.3,2009: BREAKING NEWS

An extraordinary development for  California reentry court programs has come to our attention. The legislature has  targeted both stimulus money and and other federal and state funds to reduce reliance on prisons through four innovative programs:

  • 10 million dollars of federal  funds will  be distributed through a Parolee Reentry Accountability Program to support reentry courts.
  • $45 million of Federal funds will be distributed in support of evidence based supervision of felony offenders.
  • An undisclosed amount of funds resulting from savings in reduced felony revocation and recidivism rates will be allocated to probation  departments based on their success in reducing recidivism.
  • Under the California Risk Assessment Pilot Project, recidivism and revocations will be tracked over a three year period

This exemplary state effort will be under the direction of Adminisrative Office of the Courts Director Bill Vickrey and its program coordinator will be Judge Roger Warren (ret.), former President of the Natuional Center for State Courts.

Additional Information will be provided as it becomes available.

Spotlight on Missouri

Missouri is one the few truely innovative states in the reentry court field, with both prison and jail based reentry courts (also called reintegration courts). According to Missouri Director of Probation Services, Scott Johnson,  a single state agency that handles both probation and parole functions makes political and resource decisions less problematic. [According to Scott, over half the states have adopted a combined probation/parole state agency structure in recent years; a critical structure for your consideration]

Two programs provide split sentencing for prisoners. The first provides a four month prison term for drug abusers, requiring them to engage in a serious treatment program in prison before they are released to reentry courts and probation supervision. The second split sentence program allows all elligible offenders with a 5 years or greater sentence to be placed in a two year prison treatment program, to be released to reentry courts after that period.

The three formal pilot programs are in Kansas City, Columbia, and St.Charles. Other counties have begun to pilot reentry courts  on a less formal basis..

St. Charles County has an innovative program targeting all offenders eligible for probation, who would otherwise be sent to state prison. It is funded by the Department of Probation and Parole, and uses participant baseline data to confirm required reductions in prison sentences .  The program itself sentences offenders to treatment in jail, with in-custody offenders supervised by the drug/reentry court judge and personnel. Participants are typically released from custody within several weeks of placement and given the opportunity to be part of the out-of-custody program under the same court’s monitoring.

Missouri contact: Rick Morrisey; [email protected]  

 

ON MY Mind I: Overcoming Our Prison Addiction

Twenty years ago, along with other drug court pioneers, I helped build a national reform movement that today claims over twenty-five hundred drug and other problem-solving courts. And while I am truely proud  of our successes,  the truth is that the criminal justice system remains overly-cautious, limiting drug courts to the less severe drug abuser and/or the less serious criminal, reaching perhaps only 5% of drug offenders.  This makes little sense as drug court’s scientifically proven effectiveness lies with the high-risk non-violent substance abusers who make up more than 50% of prisoners (Marlowe).

We live in a country plainly addicted to prison; with the highest imprisonment rate in the world, a prison population that has increased 700% since 1970,  over 75% imprisoned for non-violent offenses, and 50% returned to prison within three years of release.  It’s not that prison isn’t  necessary , but that we’ve become habituated to its use, whether appropriate or not . We are just coming out of the addict’s denial phase,  and beginning to accept the fact that our overdependence on prison has catastropic social and financial consequences. But as with all recovering addicts, there is reason to hope for a better future . The reentry court is clearly not the whole answer to our prison addiction (for example, it will also take dedicated partners in a host of rehabilitation services), but as the evolutionary next-generation drug court, there is excellent reason to believe reentry court will be part of the solution. [see  Policy Papers, for a full exposition]

Contact: [email protected]

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