Thursday, March 6, 2014

Prison Tours

One of the requirements of serving as a District Court Judge in Minnesota is to make a tour of a correctional facility once every election term – six years.  The theory is that judges ought to see the prisons to which they may commit individual defendants from time to time.  I have had four such tours, and have found them to be very interesting.

Perhaps the most interesting was that of the Men’s Challenge Incarceration Program or “boot camp” at Willow River.  This is a six-month program to which inmates can apply.  There are strict guidelines as to who may be eligible for the program (for instance, no violent offenders) and there is a long waiting list.  A successful completion of the program means an early release from prison to an intensive supervised release.

The recidivism rate (that is, the number of inmates who re-offend after their release) is significantly lower for CIP graduates than for the general prison population.  Also, the chemical dependency treatment program is one of the best around – particularly for methamphetamine addicts, as they have been in prison for several months before they are admitted to CIP, and are through withdrawal.  The real test, of course, comes when they leave CIP and return to the community.

During the tour, we were ushered into a classroom where there were 19 men who had entered the program within the last month.  Now, I must tell you that there are about 270 District Court Judges in Minnesota who can pronounce prison sentences.  What would the odds be that one of those 19 men in that classroom would have had his sentence pronounced by me?  Well, there were three!  And we later met six more men who were to graduate from the program within the next two weeks, and one of them had appeared before me for sentencing.  Four of the 25 men we saw that day had their sentence pronounced in my courtroom!  What are the odds?!?!

A few months later, I was working in my yard when a car pulled up to the curb and a young man, one of the 25 I’d met at Willow River, walked over to tell me he had completed the Challenge Incarceration Program and, though he and his girlfriend were having a little rough time, he had maintained his sobriety and was proud to tell me the boot camp program seemed to be working for him!  A rare opportunity for me to find out what has happened to a person after they left my courtroom!

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Next Week:  Ex Parte Communications