Healing Criminal Justice: A Journey to Restore Community in Our Courts celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). Written by its founding president and president emeritus, it describes NADCP’s path to nation-wide champion of criminal justice drug reform.
The central theme of Healing Criminal Justice is the rediscovery of the healing power of community within the criminal justice system. Judge Tauber lays out a vision of the future in which society, recoiling from an over-reliance on imprisonment, returns to its historic use of community to control criminal behavior. Healing Criminal Justice also speaks to how leadership from within can change the trajectory of a major institution, even one as immovable as the criminal justice system.
In Healing Criminal Justice, Judge Tauber describes his experience as one of the nation’s first drug court judges and how a nascent field with a few scattered programs was transformed into a nationwide movement. He recalls his worldwide travels as well as his experience as a struggling saxman playing in Oakland’s blues clubs, and how both contributed to his understanding of one of the most vital elements in the criminal justice system: community.
Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.) is currently the Director of Reentry Court Solutions, an educational initiative that provides a nation-wide information website; as well as technical assistance, training, and advisory services to the field.
“The establishment of drug courts, coupled with [their] judicial leadership, constitutes one of the most monumental changes in social justice in this country since World War II.”
– Drug Czar, Four Star General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1996-2001; May 15, 1997
Over 1.5 million persons have participated in drug and problem-solving court programs since the founding of NADCP in 1994.
The number of drug and problem-solving courts has increased from two dozen at the founding of NADCP to over three thousand today.
NADCP has trained over 250,000 justice and treatment professionals.
Judge Jeffrey Tauber ret., is a pioneer in the development of court-based rehabilitation systems, spearheading the development and growth of Drug Courts and other Problem-Solving courts across the United States. He was the founding President of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP,1994-2001) and Executive Director of the National Drug Court Institute (1997-2001). In 2008 he was elected “president emeritus for life” of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
He has written extensively on court-ordered rehabilitation systems and drug policy, including the first Drug Court Manual published, “Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual”, (California Center for Judicial Education and Research, 1994) and “Rational Drug Policy Reform: A Resource Guide.” (CSPC 2001). He has also written “A Proposal for a National Reentry Court Initiative: Four Policy Papers.” (Alexandria VA: National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 2009).
Jeffrey Tauber is currently the Director/Editor of Reentry Court Solutions (RCS), an educational initiative that provides a national information website (reentrycourtsolutions.com), as well as technical assistance, training, and advisory services to the field.
In June of 1999, the newly founded International Association of Drug Court Professionals (IADCP) elected him their first chairperson. In that capacity, he presented before the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Conference of Magistrates and other International organizations.
He has consulted and been an advisor to over a dozen nations.
As a judge in Oakland, California, Jeffrey Tauber initiated and presided over the design and implementation of the Oakland Drug Court Program, one of the first in the nation (1990), and was the first President of the California Association of Drug Court Professionals (CADCP).
While on the bench, (1985-97) Oakland’s Drug Court received the Public Employees’ Roundtable Award for “Outstanding County-Run Public Service Program in the Nation” and the California Administration Office of the Courts’ “Ralph Kelps Award for Court Innovations”. Judge Tauber (ret.) was a member of the California Judiciary from 1985-1997. He is a graduate of the City University of New York and Boston University Law School.
NADCP’s Board bestowed upon Judge Jeffrey Tauber, the singular honor: “President Emeritus of NADCP for Life”. The plaque presented at the 14th Annual National Conference in St. Louis, read:
“For Creating the Spark That Revolutionized the Justice System”
The Following is an excerpt from the Introduction to “HEALING CRIMINAL JUSTICE
The San Francisco Superior Court Building stood in the shadow of the majestic City Hall building with its golden dome and expansive hallways. It was the most recent addition to the Civic Center Plaza; an imposing edifice in its own right, made of marble and wood. Its departments were dedicated to complex litigation and substantial financial claims, and populated by high end civil attorneys and their clients. Department 163; however, was not one of those.
Peter stood before me in Department 163, a participant in the San Francisco Parole Reentry Program (SFPRC), a new court-based rehabilitation program dedicated to the reintegration of serious criminal offenders into society.
The year was 2010. Reentry Courts were a part of the larger Problem-Solving Court field; which were in turn, built upon the success of Drug Courts. Problem-Solving Courts had the potential to be a pathway forward for a nation overwhelmed by complex social justice problems, rooted in alcohol, drug, and mental health issues. Drug Courts were providing a template for a more humane and less punitive approach to treating the drug offender.`n
Drug Courts, and their progeny, Problem-Solving Courts, reimagined the traditional criminal courtroom as a forum for solving the community’s most vexing problems. They focused on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment, relied heavily on incentives, applied limited sanctions, encouraged staff to reject traditional adversarial roles and work collaboratively as a team, and espoused the idea of community as a source of strength, resources and healing for participants. It was, in the end, an attempt to inject simple humanity into a stagnant criminal justice system.
Peter was African-American and in his early twenties, He was slight of build and medium height. He dressed in casual, but clean attire. I’d been watching his progress from the bench for several months. Good looking, often with a mischievous smile that played across his face; he had a way of keeping court conversations light and playful, as if he was in on a joke. He also seemed to be among the most committed to the program; but this day brought who he was into focus.
With Christmas approaching, I had asked everyone in the program to bring some gift to the Court Christmas party that reflected who they were; a somewhat confusing and puzzling request from a Criminal Court Judge. My guess is that none had ever attended a party of any kind in a courtroom. To clarify, I suggested that they read a passage from a book, sing a song, play an instrument, bring a food item, or recite a poem.
Peter recited a poem. It was a parody of the classic, “Twelve Days of Christmas” that he had written for the event. He called it the “Twelve days of Reentry”. It gently poked fun at the program, staff, participants, and especially me. Though it stung a bit, it was funny and well written. I was impressed with Peter’s wit and creativity.
Another participant, John, brought his five-year old daughter Maria to court with him, as he often did. Maria wore a party dress for the occasion and offered to sing a song. Jane, our treatment counselor picked Maria up and placed her on top of counsel’s table, so she could be seen as well as heard.
She started out in a thin, but steady voice, but faltered at the end of the first chorus. The entire courtroom came to her aid, joining her in singing and finishing the song; a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells’.
It was a pivotal moment in the life of the nascent San Francisco Parole Reentry Court. The program had come close to being aborted on several occasions. Many were unsure what a reentry court was and why a retired judge from Oakland should be running it. Staff that had been hired recently also had questions as to how a court could help reintegrate parolees back into the community. Some doubted my intentions, some my connection to reality.
\Of course, that wasn’t anything new to me. As an Oakland judge, I had started the first drug court in California, which against serious odds, had been extremely successful. In my first year as a Drug Court judge, I placed over one thousand defendants in Oakland’s Drug Court, while achieving twice the success rate of the previous drug rehabilitation program. I would go on to found successful California and National Drug Court Associations.
Thirty parolees and their families and friends, celebrating the Christmas Holiday, were packed into the smallest courtroom in the building; fitting for a retired judge, “sitting on assignment”. Sitting on assignment wasn’t very different from being a substitute teacher. The Office of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court would send retired judges as needed to courts across the state, to fill in for absent judges. The Presiding Judge of the County would keep the retired judge around until no longer required or favored, as the case may be. I had been sitting as a Superior Court Judge in San Francisco for almost four years. I served at the pleasure of the county Presiding Judge and the Chief Justice, and could be terminated by either at will; both of which would come to pass.
Then it was my turn. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Judges don’t normally pick up a tenor saxophone during a court session. In fact, it was my first performance in a courtroom. I stood at the Bench in Department 6 of the San Francisco Civil Court Building, in my black robe, tenor saxophone in hand, and played “the Christmas song”, made famous by Nat King Cole. Though I had played the song countless times, I can’t remember when I had been as nervous. I was being “judged” be an audience of parolees, their families, friends, and court staff.
It was also what was called for. A reentry court required transparency. I couldn’t expect participants to be open to me in court, if I remained a distant authority figure. My audience applauded politely. I followed with Elvis Presley’s bluesy rock and roll classic, “Heartbreak Hotel”. I played it the way I learned to play in Oakland’s blues dives; gritty and soulful. Their applause this time was like a wave breaking over the courtroom. It turns out that Elvis and I were a hit.
After the holiday entertainment, we shared a feast in the handsome conference room next to our courtroom; with its crystal and glass ceiling, and its mahogany Conference table, dominating the room. It was a site that we took advantage of because of its close proximity to my courtroom; using it for counselling groups, teaching exercises, staff meetings, and now, the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) Christmas party. As far as I knew, I had the only criminal trial courtroom in the building, all other criminal cases were being handled in the dark and cavernous halls of the Criminal Court building across town, on Bryant Street.
The Christmas luncheon was a sumptuous affair; a buffet of barbecue chicken, pork ribs, brisket, with potato salad, coleslaw, vegetables, breads, and desserts, of carrot cake, pecan pie, and Christmas cookies; all, the contribution of a local rehabilitation provider.
Thirty parolees and their families loading their plates, rubbing shoulders with sheriff’s deputies and court staff at the buffet table. Everyone smiling and sharing good wishes for the Holiday season. Seated around the great mahogany conference table were parolees sitting next to parole officers sitting next to court staff, sitting next to family members, sitting next to sheriff’s deputies and so on.
It was an extraordinary Christmas feast, like none I have ever attended. People who were supposed to be antagonists, expected to distrust and dislike one another, were enjoying each others’ company and sharing a wonderful Christmas meal. I think that the Christmas party was when the dam broke. With law enforcement, attorneys, court staff, and parolees, recognizing each others humanity. The doubts and scepticism of staff and participants about each other, and the reentry court program, and me, slowly melting away in the forming of a new community. It was the outcome I had hoped for.
Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University in her book, “How Information Matters (Georgetown University Press, 2011) focused on NADCP, the “Champion” Non-Profit Organization in Washington D.C. Professor Hale describes the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) as “the best among extraordinary organizations; whose structure, initiatives, strategies, and planning define excellence in the nonprofit world.”