Felons’ Choice: Jail or Home Free With No Record

While there’s a plethora of state, county and city reentry programs aimed at cutting recidivism rates, there’s one created by the District Attorney for San Francisco that truly takes the cake for toughness, as well as effectiveness. Called “Back On Track,” this program is designed for nonviolent first-time drug offenders only. Not all nonviolent first-time drug offenders become participants though. Word has gotten around how tough the program is; so some offenders choose jail instead!

And with that choice comes the jail felony record. But for those offenders that choose to endure, about one year later these graduates benefit when the felony charge is wiped clean from their record. And that’s not the only benefit; they’re only one-fifth as likely to return to incarceration as the City’s average. Four years of Back On Track experience shows a recidivism rate of only 10 percent instead of the usual 50 percent or higher average return through SF’s revolving doors.

Developed by Kamala D. Harris, District Attorney, the program takes a full year to complete, and requires participants to “get educated, stay employed, be responsible parents, drug test, and transition to a crime-free life,” according to the DA’s article appearing on the Huffington Post website. That sounds easy. But what’s truly entailed is that they must “plead guilty to their crime, and their sentence is deferred while they appear before a judge every two weeks for about a year. They must obtain a high-school-equivalency diploma and hold down a steady job. Fathers need to remain in good standing on their child-support payments, and everyone has to take parenting classes.”

The program’s success didn’t go unnoticed. Governor Schwarzenegger just signed into law a bill that establishes Back On Track as a model reentry program for California counties. Other states are looking at the program too.

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  • Thomas Kinney said:

    Sounds like a very effective pragmatic approach.

    The D.A. says “We’ve learned that low-level drug offenders are far less likely to re-offend if they transition into the community with basic skills and a plan for staying crime-free. That crucial transition from crime to the community — called “reentry” in criminal justice-speak — is what we’ve taken advantage of in San Francisco.” Education, education, education. One of the biggest problems faced by those who attempt to “rehabilitate”, especially in the case of juveniles, is the fact that many offenders have nothing to rehabilitate them back too. They have not had a “proper upbringing” if you get my drift.
    Just as a welfare state perpetuates a welfare state because no expectations are established, so does the “community of the offender” perpetuate itself because the ex-offender has had no expectations set and has nothing to go back too that is any different than when they left. Many had nothing in their home life, no structure, no role models, no one to offer what children need to grow up to be responsible adults. Many become members of gangs looking for a “family”, a place to “belong”. So, San Fran is on the right track in my opinion.

    Now…. let’s turn this up a notch. The article says that the U.S. Department of Justice has selected Back on Track as a model re-entry program for prosecutors’ offices across the country. Are they talking about Federal Prosecutors? The “morally disengaged” Federal Prosecutor who will resort to any means including lying and fabricating evidence to get a conviction? If so, why then have we heard nothing about it? Most of the references seem to be in regard to efforts by some states and individual cities. The federal government should be all over this project.

    If this program is designed for the first time non-violent drug offender why, with minor modification could it not be adapted to any first time non-violent offender? And why can’t this program be implemented immediately in conjunction with the passage into law of H.R. 1529 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009” which I have written about at length on this site.

    If the Feds are really interested in effective reform of a broken system and greatly reducing the rate of recidivism, these two initiatives will certainly make a major contribution.


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