Gov. Chris Christie’s Plan to Expand Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has unveiled a new plan to expand the state’s Drug Court program and to allow judges to order non-violent addicts to participate in mandatory drug treatment.

The new plan should save the state millions of dollars. New Jersey currently spends $49,000 per inmate per year, one of the highest costs in the country, but rehab for drug offenders—which is much less costly than incarceration—could cut costs dramatically. The new drug courts are also projected to deliver better outcomes. According to the Governor’s Office, the rate at which drug court graduates are re-arrested for a new indictable offense is 16 percent—compared to a 54 percent recidivism rate among offenders released from prison.

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Looking at Corrections in Colorado

For a variety of reasons, corrections and criminal justice issues in Colorado have earned increased attention from the legislature.

Legislators looking for cost savings in the state budget are wondering why corrections spending is up almost 30 percent over eight years—even though the number of inmates is the same as it was in 2004. Colorado has apparently increased its per-inmate expenditures from $24,000 per year to $31,200 per year. Corrections officials point to increased costs for health care, utilities, and transportation, but legislators are determining whether cost-cutting measures might be possible, including prison closures, if there enough empty beds to warrant it.

One facility targeted for potential closure is so new that it won’t even be paid off until 2021. But shrinking offender populations and empty beds in other facilities suggest that simply closing the facility might actually make more sense. But Colorado’s legislators are first making sure that a possible prison closure is carried out with public safety implications in mind. For instance, legislators may seek to limit the number of prisoners who are directly released out of solitary confinement.

Furthermore, Colorado is considering proposals that would reduce the number of drug possession offenders entering the prison system. A bipartisan effort is underway to reclassify certain low-level drug possession charges from the lowest possible felony charge to the highest possible misdemeanor charge. These reforms would allow a portion of the savings to be reinvested into drug treatment programs.

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New York Approves Close-to-Home Care for Juvenile Offenders

Late last night, the New York Senate, Assembly and Governor agreeed on the 2012-13 budget, which includes an innovative new juvenile justice program.

The “Close to Home” initiative, which would allow New York City to place low and mid-level juvenile delinquents in treatment programs in or near New York City, rather than in facilities hundreds of miles away in upstate New York, was included in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s original budget proposal. The Senate and Assembly, however, first had to approve the measure and pass budgets that included it.

Beginning in September of 2012, youth otherwise placed in non-secure facilities will now be placed in New York City-administered programs and facilities. Youth from limited-secure facilities will be placed in City programs beginning in April of 2013.

These categories of youth in New York are usually tried for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies. When they are sent to facilities far upstate, they are often placed a great distance from their families and communities. This distance from support networks correlates with dismal outcomes—youth recidivism among offenders released from state facilities is over 80 percent after three years. Furthermore, the cost exceeds $250,000 per year, giving taxpayers little return on a high investment.

By contrast, City-administered facilities under this initiative will be geographically closer to a youth’s family, and treatment options will be tailored to a youth’s individual risks and needs. Community-based programming has been proven more effective than traditional state-training schools for low and mid-level juveniles, all at a much lower cost, thereby giving New York City juveniles better outcomes and reducing the burden on taxpayers. (In fact, the cost savings is estimated over $30 million over the next four years). Furthermore, because high-risk juveniles convicted of serious offenses will still be placed in secure facilities, public safety remains the highest priority.

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Colorado Imports Intensive Reentry from Canada

In Colorado, as in Texas state jails, many inmates are simply released after serving their terms without any supervision, tracking, or reentry guidance to obtain a job, housing, or solid plan for beginning a free life.

But one program in Colorado aims to change this approach—after seeing its success in Canada. The “Long-Term Offender Program” only is open to certain inmates in Colorado—those 45 and older, with a prison term of at least 15 years, and excluding sex offenders and arsonist. Inmates must have behaved well while in prison, acknowledged their crimes, and expressed remorse.

If accepted, inmates are first paired with a mentor—another former inmate who has already gone through the reentry experience and can provide first-hand guidance. The inmate then attends pre-release programming while in prison, which provides job training, develops technology skills, counseling, and seminars on families and victims. The program requires inmates to develop a “transition plan,” which specifically outlines their plans to get a job, housing, and financial issues.

At that point, a selection committee determines whether to approve the inmate to participate in a work release program, where the inmate works during the day and reports to a county jail in the evenings to sleep. If the inmate successfully completes the work release requirements, he can then transfer to a halfway house for a very small portion of the end of his or her term, a cheaper alternative to prison beds that still provide supervision. If that term is successful, the inmate can step down to an ankle monitoring system for one year, with additional parole supervision for five more years after that.

Such a gradual step-down provides intense supervision until corrections officials can have more assurance that ex-offenders are ready for a life beyond bars. In addition, the focus on gainful employment and steady housing can prevent two of the biggest predictors of recidivism (joblessness and homelessness) from affecting this class of offenders.

This program emerges as other states, and even the federal government, consider more intensive reentry programming as a way to reduce recidivism and put ex-offenders on the right track.

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Civil Citations in Florida Contributing to Fewer Juvenile Arrests

Crime is down across the nation, and juvenile arrests fell 50 percent between 1994 and 2009. But two Florida counties are seeing almost double the average decrease due to a new civil citation program for first-time offenders.

Arrests on school grounds decreased by 16 percent across Florida, but Volusia and Flager counties, which have implemented a civil citation program for first-time misdemeanants, saw decreases of 23 and 29 percent.

Under the program, if a youth admits his or her guilt, performs community service, and participates in any required intervention services, the criminal charges are dropped in lieu of a civil citation.

Diverting low-level first-time offenders from the juvenile justice system not only decreases the costs involved with formal adjudication, but also prevents the collateral consequences from justice system involvement for juveniles, and can prevent the cycle of criminality that often begins with a juvenile’s first justice system contact.

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