A reentry court is defined as a court that has established a judicial program that helps an offender to transition back into society.
These courts utilize the problem-solving court model and aim to provide a consistent support network for offenders to assist them in finding housing, treatment and employment. These courts also use the court system in order to encourage offenders to avoid committing any further crimes.
Re-entry is defined as a process that begins at intake and makes every effort to assist offenders with the acquisition of skills that will help them when re-entering society. These skills include education, qualifications, pro-social attitudes and behavior-based treatment.
In order to be successful in re-entry, offenders will focus on acquiring a job, reuniting with supportive family members, obtaining a place to live and gaining access to mental health and medical services as all of these things are fundamental in ensuring that the offender is able to lead a meaningful life.
Re-entry programmes include mental health facilitation, education and substance abuse programming. There are numerous partnerships with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous as well as religious programming that can be engaged with.
The purpose of re-entry is to reduce the chances of re-incarceration by implementing a successful re-entry process. An offender will be considered successful if they obtain stable housing, employment, treatment and maintain positive interpersonal relationships.
Support from the offender’s family is helpful and provides appropriate post-incarceration supervision alongside any other external means of observation.
The overall aim for re-entry is that the returning citizen will maintain a crime free lifestyle, obtain vocational or educational opportunities, reconnect with loved ones and have access to the necessary behavioral and physical health services that are needed to assist their individual progress.
Re-entry courts are specialized courts that help to reduce re-offending and thus, improve public safety through the use of judicial discretion and oversight. These courts are considered to be problem-solving courts and they are specifically designed to review offender’s individual re-entry progress and problems.
These courts can also order offenders to participate in various treatment programs and use drug or alcohol testing in order to check their compliance. Graduated sanctions can also be applied to offenders who fail to comply with any treatment requirements and incentive rewards can be offered to sustained clean drug tests and other demonstrated positive behaviors.
Traditionally, the court’s responsibility to an offender will end when the defendant is sentenced. Judges will usually not play any role in arranging the activities that will take place during the sentence or in the preparation of the offender for their eventual release.
However, a combination of factors has led towards these courts taking a principal role in reintegration. For instance, the increase in incarceration rates including the imprisonment of juvenile offenders means that reentry courts have played a key role in ensuring that the offender is reintegrated into society successfully.
Types of reentry courts
A reentry court can take on numerous forms. Two examples of this are case-defined and standalone reentry courts. In the former, a sentencing judge will retain jurisdiction over the case during the entire lifespan of the sentence.
Alternatively, the latter maintains an exclusive docket of reentry cases. In both forms, the judge will actively engage in correctional administration overseeing the entire period of imprisonment.
In 2003, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges released a guide for jurors who are looking to plan, implement and effectively run a juvenile reentry court.
This document helpfully noted that there are several key principles that should form the foundation of a successful reentry court.
Many of these principles are taken from the drug-court model and the guiding elements are as follows:
- Reentry planning should ideally follow a restorative justice methodology as this is designed to protect the community whilst still holding any youths accountable for their unruly actions. This ensures that the needs and interests of the victims are protected at all times. Planning for a juvenile’s reentry into the community should begin with immediate effect on arrival at their placement.
- The reentry judge should consistently monitor the juvenile’s progress during the placement and whilst they are transitioning back into the community.
- A reentry plan needs to be individualized and thus, tailored to the specific needs of the youth in question.
- Any graduated sanctions should be developed in order to respond appropriately to any violations that may occur.
Outcome evidence for reentry courts
The emergency of reentry courts is a recent phenomenon and there is very little research that can demonstrate the effectiveness of these courts with either adult or juvenile reintegration. One study conducted with adult prisoners is the Harlem Parole Reentry Court (HPRC) which has produced inconclusive findings.
The HPRC, established in 2001 as a pilot project, was incorporated to test the effectiveness of a community-led approach to reintegration. The preliminary ovational of this court covered the first 20 months and revealed that overall rates of re-conviction were not substantially reduced after 1 year. However, there was a significant reduction in non-drug related convictions.
To conclude, the purpose of a reentry court is to ensure that offenders are assisted during the reintegration process and to provide them with employment and treatment opportunities that may prevent them from reoffending.
As the rate of incarceration continues to rise throughout the United States, these courts play a key role in reducing the number of incarcerated individuals by helping them to live a productive life when released.