How Good Policies Fail & What We’re Doing About It

"On his own, the client would not have been able to navigate all these challenges successfully."

Alternatives to Incarceration (ATIs) are praised seemingly everywhere you turn in the current criminal legal reform climate. The concept of moving people from cages to care seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, bureaucracies can neuter even the most promising policies and programs, especially in the world of criminal courts.

In theory, ATIs allow community members who are struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues to fulfill their sentences by getting help for the problems that contributed to their arrest. In our experience, however, the transition from jail to treatment is often incredibly fraught.

Take the recent story of one of our clients, who had the chance to go to inpatient treatment instead staying in jail. Unfortunately, a multitude of barriers stood in his way:

To be admitted to treatment, our client needed a recent negative COVID-19 test.  Upon release, the client was given an unusable test result that was months old. The jail declined to do a same-day test because the client had already been released. When the client arrived for check-in at the treatment program with 30 minutes to spare, the facility was upset that he had not arrived sooner and threatened that his bed was no longer available. The terms of the client’s release required him to check in with Pretrial Services in person on a daily basis, but the inpatient program required him to stay on the premises.

On his own, the client would not have been able to navigate all these challenges successfully. His ATI would have failed through no fault of his own. Fortunately, this client has a PFJ Advocate who:

  • Insisted the jail complete an additional COVID-19 test for him  
  • Rushed this client to treatment in the nick of time and persuaded the facility to honor their promise of the bed  
  • Negotiated to change the terms of release so that the client wasn’t saddled with two opposing requirements. 
  • Even after clearing these bureaucratic hurdles, our Advocate didn’t stop. Since this client was admitted to treatment, his Advocate enrolled him in health insurance and helped him obtain medical treatment that he couldn’t access in jail. He also helped restore the client’s driver’s license so that he had identification to register for a GED class.

We’re glad to have successfully navigated this course with our client, and are saddened and outraged that so many can’t maneuver transitions like this. Good policies and programs like ATIs are imperative to creating a more just legal system, but even the best policy solutions will fail if there isn’t gold-standard help implementing them. 

We’re proud to serve our clients and we’re proud to have you by our side. Together, we are making these crucial differences--often unseen, but vitally important--in thousands of lives. Here’s to a great year, and to the hard work that lies ahead. 

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