The Therapeutic Effects of Managerial Reentry Courts
9 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2008
Reentry Courts are the latest solution to managing the transition of the 630,000 state and federal inmates released annually back into the poor, inner-city communities from which they are drawn. Modeled on the various "problem solving" courts targeted at drug-addicts, the mentally ill, and others, these courts propose to mediate the social and legal obstacles facing ex-inmates and their communities.
A central concern surrounding this role is the type of authority wielded by the judges that staff them. Reentry courts, like all problem-solving courts, depends upon the collateral institutional authority of the judge. By collateral institutional authority I mean the sort of authority that is not formalized by statute or common law (or even custom) or some other official legal source, but which emanates from the repeated interactions between the judge and the variety of court officers and other players in the criminal or civil court systems. Collateral authority thus emanates from the judge's role or status as a particularly important actor in the larger legal community. The judge is someone whom other legal agent must keep friendly, so that the wheels of government run smoothly.
Judges use this collateral authority in the service of a therapeutic paradigm that unfairly places accountability for reentry issues on individual offenders while minimizing governmental responsibility for a range of institutional failures in the areas of health care, education, housing, and employment. Therapy, in other words, ignores the bureaucratic and political morass that structures the offender's situation, in favor of a personalized, exhortative model of individualized suasion.
This therapeutic model tends to characterize the problem as a one-way street, in which the offender must adapt herself to society or the community. It turns out, however that local communities often see the problem as a more nuanced and dynamic conflict between community, offender, and society, in which the offender and community may at times share interests in adapting the larger society to their needs.
Keywords: court, prison, reentry, drugs, crime, probation, parole, second chance act, problem solving court
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