LaFonda was referred to San Joaquin County Superior Court’s Parole Reentry Collaborative Court because of her parole violations and her high treatment needs. She was referred to several residential treatment programs and had run away from all of them. As she was in custody for her latest violation, her frustrated case manager opined that she was “unamenable” and her participation in this collaborative court should be terminated. The case manager had no new ideas, except to suggest that LaFonda spend three weeks in jail before trying a fourth program.
Research shows that would jail time at this point would increase her chances of reoffending by over 140%, so the judge rejected that recommendation. During her court appearance, LaFonda initially said she would not participate in any treatment programs and asked to be sent to prison to do her time. Because that would make it highly likely that she would continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, consuming valuable resources that could be better used, the judge convinced her to try one last program.
Eight months later the judge was at a Kings basketball game when LaFonda tapped him on the shoulder. She told the judge she was “living a life of service and loving it.” She was working two jobs, had bought a car, was paying rent, and was volunteering for the Salvation Army. She then focused her eyes on the judge and said, “Thank you for not giving up on me.” Today LaFonda is a general manager for a large restaurant chain.
The San Joaquin County Superior Court is a state and national leader in the effective use of collaborative courts to reduce recidivism, costs, injuries, and deaths. Collaborative courts result in a safer community and a higher quality of life.
Our collaborative courts are a robust network of specialized courts that seek to move people beyond the criminal justice system toward becoming community contributors instead of potential problems. A traditional drug court and an accountability court work with individuals on traditional probation supervision. A compliance and monitoring court are for people on community supervision after the state realigned sentencing. Stockton’s DUI Court has two tracks: (1) monitoring and (2) treatment, providing different levels of supervision and court tracks for individuals at high risk of recidivism. One track is for individuals addicted to or dependent on drugs or alcohol (i.e., high substance-use-disorder needs). The other is for non-addicted or non-dependent individuals who need a higher level of accountability because of their high risk factors.
Other collaborative courts include a mental health court for individuals with high behavioral health needs; Parole Reentry Court for people on parole and at high risk of reoffending; Dependency Drug Court for dependency cases; a veteran’s court; and a homeless court. These courts are presided over by a judge and staffed by a team dedicated to the client success.
Referral to collaborative courts is not automatic. Individuals are screened for eligibility by professionals. Collaborative court participants generally score at high-risk of recidivism via a validated assessment tool. Participation is not subject to any exclusionary criteria once an individual is determined to be eligible and at high-risk to re-offend without intervention. The methods used to address the issues that cause these people to be involved in the criminal justice system have all been developed and tested for effectiveness.
Recidivism rates are significantly lower for people who participate in the collaborative courts. For example, an outside evaluation the DUI Court found a 32% recidivism reduction over 18 months; that recidivism reduction increases annually even six years out, demonstrating huge behavioral change by clients that has no equal in the traditional justice system model. The DUI Court also resulted in a reduction of collisions of over 50%. That keeps all of us safer: these reductions correlate to a 34% reduction in deaths and injuries from impaired drivers in San Joaquin County, and reduced DUI flings of approximately 70% (from 3,300 in 2008-09 to 1,000 in 2018-2019).
Over 4,500 individuals have gone through the DUI Court in the past 11 years. The success of our DUI Court has made it part of California’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan and a model nationwide. Locally, approximately 1,500 individuals are in one of the 10 collaborative courts at any time.
The San Joaquin County Collaborative Courts are not designed to be part of the traditional punishment for an offense. Punishment is addressed separately from the collaborative courts’ supervision, as part of the sentence and determined by the home court responsible for the case. The collaborative courts are tools that seek better outcomes for everyone.
Treatment and accountability are necessary components of the collaborative courts’ effective supervision. Research shows that for the types of cases referred to the collaborative courts, traditional punishment increases recidivism. If supervision is perceived to be punitive, both costs and recidivism rates increase. Collaborative courts save resources and lives; they are designed to work for individuals on supervision that are at high risk of reoffending and for supervision failure. Proven behavioral health practices, enhanced accountability, and treatment (where necessary) achieve success where other approaches have failed.
The biggest barriers to greater acceptance of collaborative courts are the mistaken beliefs that referral to them is punishment and that judges and the teams that work with referred individuals should be limited in their use of collaborative practices. Collaborative courts focus on successful outcomes (reducing recidivism, reducing costs, creating productive citizens and safer communities) by using proven practices—including rewards and sanctions.