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My first internship was at San Quentin State Prison with the California Reentry Program in 2008. Inspired by a college professor who taught in the prison, I began helping men who were preparing for an upcoming parole date apply for driver’s licenses, jobs, and financial aid. It was inspirational to be surrounded by aspiring law students and volunteers motivated to help a group of people that is often forgotten.

At that time, support for rehabilitation, as opposed to incarceration, was a movement slowly picking up steam. Communities across the country were establishing collaborative courts — partnerships between judges, attorneys, probation officers, and community service providers that aimed to address the root causes of criminal behavior. The development of these courts demonstrated a growing commitment to the goal of rehabilitation and represented a practical approach to reducing recidivism. Last year, I became the Court Coordinator in one of CJCJ’s collaborative court programs, the Federal Reentry Program (FRP). As a member of a federal collaborative court program focused on reentry, my responsibilities include observing other collaborative courts throughout the Bay Area. Local and federal drug, veteran, family, mental health, and homeless courts are changing the criminal justice system by treating justice-involved people as human beings instead of case numbers.

In collaborative courts, judges and attorneys are not simply following sentencing guidelines, they are reviewing client’s progress, listening to their stories, and addressing individual needs. Pretrial, probation, and parole officers occupy the roles of both case manager and supervision officer, balancing terms of supervision with support. Reentry courts have minimal legal proceedings and generally decide the best course of programming for a client through risk/​needs assessments. With courts moving toward more supportive and rehabilitative practices, partnerships with community-based resource centers allow them to provide additional services to clients in the community.

Reentry clients often face addiction, mental health, and emotional issues that cannot be improved through incarceration. Instead of receiving only news of incarceration, fines, and violations when appearing in court, clients can now expect to receive support. Resource centers for people reentering their communities from prison and jail have popped up in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Mateo, and San Jose. Clients are able to meet with attentive staff who connect them with resources such as public benefits, employment training, and cognitive behavioral therapy classes. These centers also offer a safe place for clients to spend their time, and most offer some type of food and clothing assistance program.

Caseloads, calendars, and supervision take an enormous amount of time as collaborative courts increase job responsibilities and duties. Attorneys, judges, and officers still, at the end of the day, have to be attorneys, judges, and officers. However, within the collaborative court model, these professionals are encouraged to better understand and empathize with their clients’ backgrounds, and work in partnership with other collaborative members.

It is an incredible time of great progress for the collaborative court model. Years of hard work have shined a light on the benefits of collaborative courts for the reentry and justice-involved population, but now is the time to fine-tune the process and achieve greater success. Helping clients is not only personally rewarding, but their successes create positive steps toward changing the perceptions and processes of the criminal justice system. Having multiple agencies at the table ensures different perspectives and greater collaboration through the challenges of establishing the success of these courts. The continued success of collaborative courts throughout the Bay Area will provide people returning home with a better connection to resources, the courts, and their communities.

Learn more about reentry at … 

Related Links:

New CJCJ collaborative offers reentry services after federal prison

Incentives and Obstacles to Drug Court Implementation: Observations of Drug Court Judges and Administrators

Like Our Veterans, Justice-Involved Youth are Survivors of Traumatic Violence