In November, I wrote a column proposing that criminal defense
lawyers could in many instances serve their drug-dependent clients
well if they sought dispositions that included intensive drug
Now I'd like to make a recommendation along similar lines in
suggesting that defense lawyers try to get their clients into an
inmate re-entry program if it becomes clear that incarceration is
inevitable or highly likely.
Over the last decade, the concept of re-entry has increasingly
been seen as a key to reducing recidivism. From a societal point of
view, that means fewer crimes and fewer crime victims. It also
means defendants are not getting back into trouble as
"Wait a minute! That's bad for business," says one of my
wiseacre defense bar friends. Perhaps, but there seems to be an
inexhaustible supply of people who want to enter the criminal
justice system. And if you really care about a client's wellbeing,
re-entry programs give the repeat offender a fighting chance of
changing his future for the better.
The concept is simple. Corrections officials work with offenders
while they are incarcerated to address the problems and traits that
led to their committing crimes. Counseling on substance abuse,
domestic abuse and impulse control are common among the various
programs. But it goes further than that to address substandard
education achievement, which contributes to a lack of employment,
housing and health care. All of these aspects fall under the
umbrella of the best re-entry programs. Vocational training often
is part of the program as well.
Norfolk County Sheriff Michael G. Bellotti, for whom I worked as
general counsel, is a big proponent of re-entry. "Virtually all of
our inmates at the Norfolk County House of Correction return to
their communities - our communities - in a matter of months,"
Sheriff Bellotti says. "It behooves everyone to help them stop
He added, "The big test is the transition to freedom upon
wrapping up their sentence. There has to be some continuity of the
progress made while incarcerated. We use volunteer mentors who meet
with the inmates while they're in jail, establish a rapport, and
continue to help them after their release in capacities such as an
AA sponsor or maybe they help them find employment or give them a
ride to health appointments. There are a whole host of ways they
Re-entry is a concept that has been embraced by Democrats and
Republicans alike, including President Barack Obama and the U.S.
Department of Justice and Gov. Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts.
Last month, Baker's Public Safety Secretary, Daniel Bennett, met
with Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Jr. a longtime re-entry
proponent, to discuss the programs there.
You can even go back as far as the administration of President
George W. Bush, who in his 2004 State of the Union address, said,
"This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back
into society. We know from long experience that if they can't find
work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more
crimes and return to prison … America is the land of the second
chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path should lead
to a better life."
Almost all Massachusetts correctional agencies are involved with
re-entry programs, some more extensively than others. But wherever
you are, re-entry may be something you give your consideration when
you're trying to negotiate plea agreements. I recognize that there
is a limited amount of influence a defender can have once a
sentence is handed down. But just getting a client in the right
environment and making him aware of programs he can access could
pay dividends for him down the road.
There is an alternative to mandatory sentences!