In the 24th Judicial District located in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Judge Scott Schlegel created and presides over one of the most progressive and innovative criminal courts—though Judge Schlegel is quick to say that he has not created anything and accomplishments are the result of building upon the pioneers who went before him. Among those pioneers are Judge Laurie White and Judge Arthur Hunter of the Orleans Criminal District Court, both of whom are responsible for initiating the Reentry Courts in Louisiana in 2010 and were recently recognized by the American Bar Association as “Legal Rebels”. Other legal rebels in their own right include Judge Rusty Knight of St. Tammany Parish Criminal District Court, Louisiana as well as Judge Ann Aiken, Federal District Court in Oregon, who utilized technology early in her work with probationers and parolees. From the experience of these early reentry court pioneers, Judge Schlegel is raising the bar on how a criminal court judge can effect criminal justice reforms from the bench.
In a recent interview with the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation Network, Judge Schlegel was featured as the Center’s Inaugural Change Agent and Innovator in transforming the legal industry. The online interview allowed Judge Schlegel to share the myriad of innovations he has implemented in working with his reentry court participants. One such innovation is an interactive website containing resources for reentry participants, which includes a 24/7 chat service, calendar, and a system that sends reminders of appointments for drug testing and class attendance to their smart phones. The program Judge Schlegel has created is truly holistic in its approach. Judge Schlegel calls this use of technology a “Smart Supervision Platform.” Other related agencies can access information with the proper permissions as well. Participants are provided with a use of of technology agreement and handbook that clearly outlines the requirements they are expected to meet to maintain participation in the program.
Beyond the use of technology, Judge Schlegel has also made sure that the participants’ needs are also met through the human element with a staff of case managers and counselors who regularly interact with participants. Participants are encouraged to keep connected to staff especially at times of difficulty or crisis. The chat service assures access for the participants when they are in need.
Judge Schlegel is also using GPS tracking for high-risk participants through an application added to the smart phones provided to high-risk participants who require 24/7 tracking. These individuals would still be serving time in prison at a much higher cost if the GPS was not available. The cost of the overall program is still being analyzed; however, Judge Schlegel believes the daily cost will run approximately $10. With a day in prison in Louisiana costing around $25, the cost savings is well worth the effort.
Judge Schlegel is very clear that he is “not talking about changing the law, but changing the system by molding and shaping the practice of law to make it better.” Judge Schlegel focuses on personal accountability while caring about the participants. His mantra is“getting people healthy so that there are no more victims,” and with the early successes of his reentry court participants, they are living out the Judge’s vision of the future of judicial practice and reentry.
In Merriam Webster’s dictionary a rebel can be defined as a “person who does not accept normal standards and is a freedom fighter.” Judge Schlegel may well be a legal rebel and his cause is one of great benefit not only to the men and woman who participate in his very unique and innovative reentry program, but also the communities these individuals will successfully return to live, work and raise their families.