COLUMBIA — Larry Goodwin’s eyes peer out from behind large, rimmed glasses, emanating a calm, solemn expression that diffuses across his face. His hands are weathered smooth, befitting someone who’s worked with them for a lifetime. When he speaks, his voice is soft, even and polite.
Last March, however, Goodwin was arrested for unlawful use of a weapon. Drunk and high, he says, he blacked out, destroyed much of the furniture in his house with a machete and ran screaming and yelling outside.
“I lost my mind,” he said as if he’s remembering something from long ago.
Goodwin said he was arrested, spent about three months in the Boone County Jail, then served a 120-day sentence at the Department of Corrections Farmington Treatment Center, where he received help for drug and alcohol addictions.
When his sentence ended Oct. 18, he was released on probation and has since returned to his hometown of Centralia. He has support from the Boone County Reintegration Court, a program designed to support probationers and parolees as they re-enter society.
For Goodwin, this means twice-weekly meetings with his probation officer, meetings with a counselor, regular appearances in Reintegration Court, meetings with Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous and anger-management sessions.
Almost 4 months old, the Boone County Reintegration Court is modeled after the county’s much-lauded alternative sentencing Drug and Mental Health Courts. It’s one of three pilot programs in the state that aims to prevent people released from prison from relapsing into the behaviors that landed them in trouble with the law.
This cycle is known as recidivism, and it’s a problem — for the offenders who can’t break old habits, for the communities who weather crime and for taxpayers who pay for prison stays.
According to a Missouri Department of Corrections report, in the 12-month period beginning July 2006, 16,332 prisoners were released, and about 5,780 came back for parole violations or new convictions. That’s about one in three. Reintegration Court tries to combat this cycle by giving more structure to probation.
“This is a little more intensive than normal, where some might only see the probation officer maybe once or twice a week,” said Blair Campmier, an administrator with the court. Initially, participants in the court appear before Judge Christine Carpenter once a week and meet with their probation officers a few times weekly.
The court was developed by a team from the Office of State Court Administrators, the Department of Corrections and the 13th Circuit Court, which administers it. The Court’s $156,000 budget is funded by the court administrators and the Department of Corrections. OSCA provides $115,000 to fund services for participants, and the DOC provides $41,000 for participants’ transportation and for transitional housing at Reality House when participants first get out of prison.
Boone County has about 1,936 residents on probation or parole, said Mike Webber of the Department of Probation and Parole.
Right now, Reintegration Court works with just 36 participants, but Campmier says the caseload will grow to about 75 within the year, based on projected release dates.
Participants are people who are convicted of felonies in Boone County and then, like Goodwin, sentenced to 120 days of “shock incarceration” with the Department of Corrections. Some are just getting out of longer-term rehabilitative sentences.
Also like Goodwin, many of the participants’ convictions were drug-related, although some were convicted of forgery, assault or driving while intoxicated. Sex offenders and those convicted of homicide are ineligible.
DOC spokesman Brian Hauswirth said that for those sentenced to the 120-day shock treatments, the rate of return to prison is high.
“A lot come back to prison for a new conviction,” he said. “We want to get that rate down.”
Carpenter played a leading role in creating the court. In the judge’s seat, she creates an intimidating figure in her long dark robes and black spectacles perched hawk-like on the end of her nose. This authoritative appearance is softened somewhat by her interactions with participants.
One by one they approach her bench. Judge and participant shake hands, and their short conversations are like check-in counseling sessions. Carpenter asks personal questions about participants’ progress:
“Are you taking your meds like you’re supposed to?”
“That child support order really came in hard and heavy, didn’t it?”
“Did you hear back from the nursing school?”
She tells participants that change is difficult — but necessary — and she dishes out stern admonitions to some.
“This program is about changing things,” she tells one participant after upbraiding him. “I want to make sure you don’t go back.”
Carpenter describes the participants.
“Some of the people have a job and home waiting for them; some of the people come back and settle into their old life, but that old life is that they’re homeless and jobless,” she said.
Participants move through three phases to “graduate” from Reintegration Court, each phase requiring fewer meetings or visits to court, Campmier said. They also must submit to regular drug checks and pay $25 per month. The entire process might take nine to 18 months to complete — a shorter probation period than normal.
Throughout the program, the participant works with court administrators to determine goals, employment status and medical, housing and educational needs.
Goodwin was lucky; he had construction jobs lined up when he got out of prison, so he didn’t need help finding work. For now, he’s staying with his parents.
All participants also are required to keep a journal and bring it to every court appearance throughout the process. Carpenter provides each with writing topics, such as goals or personal problems. This week, Goodwin was instructed to write about his relapse triggers. Last week, the topic was “Why I should continue treatment.”
In neat, economic prose, Goodwin’s response covers two pages of a lined notebook.
“If we do not continue treatment, then we can expect 3 things: prisons, mental institutions or death,” he wrote. Though it’s a bleak statement, he said this was something he learned in counseling.
Campmier said measuring the success of the program will be intuitive.
“The way we’ll know it’s working is if it reduces recidivism, if the folks are participating well in the program and continuing on to be productive citizens of Columbia.”
Hauswirth said most of the effects of the court won’t be felt until participants graduate and fully enter society.
“The thing about a pilot program is that you’re not hurting anything,” Hauswirth said. “We’re trying this, and we think it will work, but we won’t know for a few more years.”
Goodwin, on the other hand, is living the program every day. Although he just started, he said the treatment he got during his sentences and what he’s getting now are helping.
“I feel so much better,” he said. “I’m able to manage my anger and addiction.”
His choice of words is deliberate. One of the things he’s learned, he said, is that addiction is something you never fully control. Rather, it’s a condition to be managed.
Goodwin has clearly done a lot of thinking, and he’s dedicated himself to the task.
“I’m confident, but not to the point of being arrogant,” he said.