- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Federal officials in Alaska have established a “re-entry” court to reduce the likelihood of offenders ending back up in prison.

The state’s U.S. District Court set up the Alaska Hope Court by general order May 29. Seventeen potential participants had been identified as of Friday, and all six of the people asked to join the pilot project so far had agreed, reported The Alaska Dispatch News (http://bit.ly/1dXuqhX ).

“The goal is to reduce recidivism, but really it’s to help people reclaim their lives in a crime-free and a drug-free lifestyle,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith, who was credited by colleagues with heading the effort to establish the court.

Re-entry courts are meant to closely manage individuals as they are released from prison. That includes ensuring participants enroll in drug treatment programs, mental health treatment, and helping them find jobs and housing.

This is the third attempt to start a federal re-entry court in the state. Concerns about effectiveness and the availability of resources put a stop to the first two attempts, Judge Smith said.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess said he and others involved in setting up the re-entry court were trying to do something new after handling the same offenders over and over again.

“It came from a basic frustration of seeing people come back to court too often after they’ve already been through the criminal justice system,” said Burgess.

All federal defendants on probation and those who are on supervised release can volunteer for the re-entry court, with the exception of sex offenders.

Smith said excluding sex offenders is typical in similar courts around the country, but that they could be eligible in the future.

The first re-entry court session is set for June 25.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com

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