CASA & STAR: Alternative Sentencing Programs that work in the Central District of California

Over the past 50 years, the United States prison population has grown from approximately 200,000 to over 1.5 million inmates in our state and federal institutions. If we add those in local jails, the number of incarcerated persons is over 2.3 million. When we add those that are on probation, supervised release or parole, there are about 8 million people under some form of “correctional control.” It is important to note that while the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prison population.

All of this comes at an enormous cost to taxpayers — approximately 65 billion dollars a year. In Fiscal Year 2015, for example, the United States Bureau of Prisons alone received a total of 8.5 billion dollars. In addition, there are disproportionally high rates of incarceration rates for African-American and Latino men.

State and local courts started the alternative, or problem-solving, court movement in 1989 with the Miami-Dade County drug court. Since that time, there are now over 3,000 problem-solving courts throughout the United States, with an increasing number of federal re-entry, drug, diversion, mental health and veterans’ treatment courts. In 2016, there were about 20 “front-end” diversion courts — leading to either a dismissal of all charges or a non-custodial sentence — and close to another 50 post-conviction drug or re-entry courts throughout the 94 federal judicial districts. We remain hopeful that these programs, and the number of participants, will continue to grow in the years to come.

The Central District of California, through the collaborative efforts of the United States District Court, the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO), the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Central District of California (FPD-CDCA), and the United States Probation Office (USPO), and Pretrial Services Agency (PSA), have established the Substance Abuse Treatment and Reentry (STAR) and the Conviction and Sentence Alternative (CASA) programs. These alternative courts are structured to deal with the substance abuse, mental health and other life-skills challenges that our clients face and that have contributed to their alleged offenses.