Jan 15, 2013

Perspectives from Abroad: The Harlem Parole Reentry Court from an Outside View

Here, at the Harlem Community Justice Center we believe wholeheartedly in looking at the lessons we can learn from international innovators in justice reform. While the efforts of justice reform advocates and organizations around the world may be divided by national borders, the important social and policy issues surrounding justice systems—such as poverty, race, youth engagement, housing, and economic development—are transnational. Thus, we welcome every opportunity to foster cross-national dialogue in the interest of examining strategies for controlling crime and delivering fairer, more efficient justice systems around the globe.

Recently, the Center had the pleasure of hosting Penal Reform International (PRI), an international non-governmental organization working to develop and promote culturally specific solutions to criminal justice and penal reform. Following her visit, Becky Randel, one of our visitors, wrote a piece reflecting on her experience at our Parole Reentry Court. Here is a short excerpt of her impressions:

“At the start of the programme, parolees undergo an in-depth needs assessment and a plan for the nine-month programme is developed for them, which includes referral of the parolee to a range of services – some of which may be required by the terms of his or her parole. Services can include cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, drug therapy, assistance with housing problems, social welfare and employment. Importantly, the plan is organic and can change with the parolee’s circumstances, which are identified in the fortnightly Court progress reports. It is the consistent monitoring and flexibility of the programme to accommodate and support lives of parolees, which are often chaotic and unstructured, which makes it different from other programmes and which could be adopted to help prisoner reintegration in other countries.

Where violations of parole conditions do occur, everyone involved in the case decides collaboratively on an appropriate response, seeking to identify if the behaviour (eg. not attending drug treatment, not meeting with the parole officer) is increasing the risk of reoffending, or whether a change in services or any support can help the parolee meet his or her parole conditions.

One example given was a parolee who had stopped attending his drug treatment, a condition of his parole. When it was discussed during a Court progress report, it was revealed that a rival gang member was also attending the classes. Usually this kind of violation would land the parolee back in prison, but thanks to the Center’s collaborative and communicative approach, the issue was easily resolved and the parolee was moved to a different drug treatment centre, keeping him in the community and in a better position to complete his drug treatment successfully.”

To read a complete account of Ms. Randel’s observations, click here.