Young: Federal re-entry programs continue to benefit community

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The Indiana Lawyer on 01/13/2016 by Chief Judge Richard L. Young

On Nov. 1, 2015, approximately 6,000 federal inmates were released from prison earlier than originally expected, representing the largest one-time influx of offenders coming under supervision by the United States probation system. This mass release was due to a sentencing guideline amendment that was approved by the United States Sentencing Commission in 2014, which reduced the custody range for federal drug offenses and authorized the lower range to be applied retroactively to some 46,000 inmates in the Bureau of Prisons. While the release of so many prisoners on one day was unusual, it is important to note that in the federal justice system, the vast majority of individuals sent to prison will be released at some stage. It is thus critical for the sake of the community and for the well-being of the offender that services and guidance are provided to reduce the likelihood of a released offender committing future crimes.

In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, individuals convicted of felonies are placed on supervised released as a condition of their sentences. United States probation officers monitor former inmates (who are called clients) and inform the court of any violations of an individual’s terms of supervised release. The United States Probation Office for the Southern District of Indiana and its community partners have established a number of programs to help clients learn new ways of thinking, obtain housing, find jobs, repair family relationships, and eliminate destructive behaviors. These efforts reduce recidivism rates and therefore benefit not only the client but also the wider community.

One of the longest-standing initiatives in the Southern District is the voluntary Re-entry and Community Help program. Dating back to 2007, REACH gives high-risk clients an opportunity to participate in monthly informal hearings with a team composed of a federal judge, federal public defender, assistant U.S. attorney, and U.S. probation officer. During these hearings, clients interact with the REACH team and other offenders to discuss and address issues such as substance abuse, employment, criminal thinking, family relationships, and peer association. Each client and their team also set short-term goals; completion of these goals is rewarded with positive reinforcement, including verbal praise, certificates of acknowledgement, and a celebratory reception. In addition to the monthly hearings, federal probation officers maintain weekly contact with REACH participants. Motivated individuals who successfully complete the two- to three-year program are eligible for early termination of supervised release.