Oct 22, 2010

A Visit to the Dallas Reentry Court

This post is the last in a series posted by Christopher Watler, Project Director of the Harlem Community Justice Center, from the International Community Courts Conference held in Dallas, Texas October 19-10, 2010.

 Yesterday I visited the Dallas County Reentry Court program at the invitation of Julie Turnbull, Assistant District Attorney for Dallas County. While the Presiding Judge, the Hon. Robert Francis, was not available, I did have a chance to meet with the amazing team of case managers and probation officers that work with the program.

The Reentry Court concept began in Dallas in 2001 as a way to provide intensive aftercare supervision and services for inmates returning from the state’s Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF). Research by Dr. Teresa May-William at Southern Methodist University (currently Deputy Director of the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department) found that the Reentry Court produced reductions in re-arrests and re-convictions compared to a control group. The Texas Legislature provided additional funding in 2009 to enhance the Reentry Court component to a full time program.

Clients enter the SAFPF facility which operates as a segregated treatment unit in a dedicated state prison facility where they spend six to nine months receiving inpatient treatment. They are released to the Reentry Court program for a 90 day intensive stabilization program that includes counseling, AA/NA, workforce development and community service. The program uses a 50 session cognitive restructuring curriculum delivered twice a week in the first three months. Clients are required to attain employment, remain drug free, and not incur a new criminal case. Through weekly court hearings and home visits by the field parole officer clients are managed in the community.

Non-compliant clients are subject to immediate jail pending a remand hearing were they face return to the SAFPF units for another round of in-facility treatment. Clients who are compliant after the 90 day period receive a more relaxed hearing schedule and reporting requirements for the remainder of their time on probation in the community. The post-release period last a total of 12 months after which clients who do not complete their probation are transferred to a regularly probation caseload for the rest of their term.

I observed a staffing meeting that takes place before each court session and normally includes the probation staff, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and sheriff’s office. The staffing reviewed all open cases and new intakes, but the bulk of the session was devoted to discussion of the non-complaint cases. This meeting was similar to drug court staffings I have observed in the past. A list of all current clients was reviewed and staff had an opportunity to identify client achievements for later praise during the hearing.

The highlight of the visit was observing a 45 minute meeting with all of the clients; including a group of four new clients recently released from SAFPF, and a few family members who sat next to me on a bench in the court room. The field probation officer, Mark Faust, facilitated a conversation that felt more like an NA meeting. One new client indicated that he was giving 100%. He was working full time and was attending two NA meetings a week. Faust challenged him by asserting that NA suggests new participants attend 90 meetings in 90 days, and the Reentry Court requires at least three meetings a week. “The addicts suggest 90 meetings and the Court three, but you say you are doing 100% attending two meetings per week,” said Faust. Undeterred the client persisted citing his busy work schedule. Faust asked the group to chime in. One client indicated that he also did not take the program seriously and “got back in trouble… now I learned and am doing better.. you should follow the program.” Faust then asked the group by a show of hands how many were working while they were using drugs; about half the group raised their hands. Turning to the client he said “it is like watching a train wreck… you think you are doing well but you are already sowing the seeds of your relapse." The take-a-way for the new client was that the addiction is the central reason why he was in the situation he was in. If he was not taking his treatment seriously he was already failing. It was an impressive display of a cognitive restructuring approach. It reinforced for me the importance of correction staff, probation and parole officers integrating cognitive restructuring techniques into their supervision skill set.


Click here to review the cognitive restructuring curriculum used by the program on Amazon.com.

Read an overview of the program by Judge Francis on the Dallas Bar Association website here.

Read a Power Point overview of Dr. Teresa May Williams research findings here.

You can learn more about Reentry Courts by visiting the following sites:

Reentry Court Solutions
The Harlem Parole Reentry Court