Oct 6, 2009

Community Prosecution and Reentry

By: Christopher Watler
Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force Coordinator

I am blogging this week from the National Community Prosecution Conference in Los Angeles sponsored by the National District Attorney's Association and the Center for Court Innovation.

Community Prosecution is a crime-reduction approach that utilizes the authority of the prosecutor’s office to build problem-solving partnerships that reduce crime and strengthens communities. It has been growing as a philosophy and strategy since the 1990’s when pioneers like District Attorney Charles Hynes in Brooklyn, NY, and Mike Shrunk, Portland Oregon’s DA, began programs to address the underlying causes of crime. Most recently, the Democratic candidate for the Manhattan District Attorney’s seat has embraced community prosecution.

Today the lunch time keynote speaker was Bonnie Dummas, San Diego County District Attorney. Since 2005, her office has coordinated a reentry initiative for San Diego County. The program focuses on non-violent offenders, and identifies potentially eligible cases prior to arraignment. A readiness conference is held involving the defendant and their attorney. The defendant is advised that they must plead guilty to the charge in order to be eligible for the program. If they do plead guilty, probation and DOCS work out a “life plan” with the client. DOCS utilizes the COMPAS risk assessment tool, an evidence-base screening tool. The life plan and assessment information is used to guide the type of programming the client will receive in prison, and is adjusted during the discharge planning phase. This process avoids the 90 day “classification” period all convicted persons are subjected to when they enter DOCS. Instead, work can begin immediately on the life plan goals.

In prison, clients work with a primary counselor to achieve their life plan goals. The plan is regularly adjusted in advance of release to prepare clients for life after prison. Faith-based partners conduct prison in-reach to engage clients prior to release. Community prosecutors also visit clients in prison. A case manager from a treatment provider under contract with the county conducts a treatment assessment six months prior to release. Upon release to parole, clients are picked up and transported to their pre-arranged housing, where they are reminded of their life plan appointments.

The services received by clients once they are in the community are paid for through a voucher program where dollars for services follow each client—i.e. programs are paid if they are successful at engaging clients. Police help to keep tabs on clients in the community.

While a comprehensive evaluation has not been conducted yet, the program has shown some success. Since inception, 500 clients have been enrolled in the program, 223 have been released from custody, and only 32 (14%) have re-offended.