Specialized “reentry” courts provide a new tactic to reduce the number of repeat offenders and decrease the cost of handling offenders. In such courts, treatment is based in the community. Drug courts, mental health courts and veterans’ courts are examples of specialized docket courts. Over the last decade, these courts have been scrutinized by independent and governmental agencies and have been found to produce better results than traditional approaches, including incarceration.
Q: What is a reentry court?
A: Built on specialty courts research and experience, a reentry court is a specialized court for offenders who leave prison early and “reenter” society. Its purpose is to make the transition from incarceration to tax-paying citizen more likely.
Q: What, exactly, does a reentry court do?
A: In Ohio, prisons are at 133 percent of capacity and hold more than 51,000 inmates. Many prisoners have drug and alcohol issues. Unlike those diverted into other types of specialty dockets, those who are incarcerated have a higher risk of reoffending due to untreated emotional and family issues, as well as a lack of education or poor employment history. A significant number of inmates have not graduated from high school and many have learning disabilities.
Reentry courts use an individualized plan and work with each defendant to deal with the underlying issues. The program takes one to two years to complete and requires the offender to take full responsibility for his or her life.
Ninety-seven percent of those incarcerated will be released at some point, and that most will come back to the community where they were first arrested. When higher-risk offenders return to society on parole or post-release control, more than 40 percent return to prison. Overall, between 35 and 40 percent of prisoners released in Ohio, with or without supervision, will return to prison. Reentry courts were created in an attempt to reduce the number of offenders who return to prison.
Q: How does a reentry court work?
A: During the program, the offender is closely supervised by case managers and the court. In the initial phase, the participant reports to court once a week to inform the judge of his or her activities. Thereafter, the participant reports regularly and as necessary, appearing in an open court before the judge and the other program participants.
An offender who violates a program rule is expected to report to court without a lawyer. The offender must accept responsibility for the behavior and receive a sanction. Punishments progress in severity, ranging from community service or increased treatment to jail time or re-imposition of the prior prison sentence.
Q: How does the court determine who is eligible for a reentry court?
A: Not every person in prison will be judicially released into a reentry court. Each sentencing judge has the right to decide if an individual will be released early. Judges will consider efforts the prisoner makes toward improvement while in prison, as well as any write-ups or sanctions he or she has been given. Statements from victims regarding the impact of the crime also are considered. (These are called victim impact statements.) Judges are interested in using reentry courts for prisoners who appear ready to return to society and who have demonstrated good behavior in prison.
Q: Have reentry courts been working?
A: The purpose of reentry court is to intercept offenders before they enter the revolving door back to prison. Early judicial releases with traditional supervision return to the penal system about 45 percent of the time. In contrast, those who successfully graduate from the Summit County reentry court program have a recidivism rate of about 20 percent, based upon the statistics collected since the court was created in September 2006. The cost per participant is in the range of $3,000 per year, which is considerably less expensive than a prison bed, which costs more than $24,000 per year.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Hon. Elinore Marsh Stormer, a common pleas court judge and founder of a drug court in Akron.