Identity Theft-NOVA-DC Public Safety

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s program is about identity theft, and back at our microphones, Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance,  Will’s been at our microphones before, and it’s always a pleasure to have him back. With Will today is Denise Richardson.  She is a consumer advocate, ID theft and education specialist, and, again, that’s going to be the meaning of the show. To Will and to Denise, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Will Marling:  Hey, thanks, Len.

Denise Richardson:  Yes, thank you for having us.

Len Sipes:  Now, Denise bear with me for a second.  Will and I were talking before the show about a couple things.  Number one, Victim’s Rights Week is coming up in April, and I certainly do want to mention that.  Also, Will, the National Organization for Victim’s Assistant that has been around since 1975.  You now have been given the task of certifying all victims’ advocates within the Department of Defense, correct?

Will Marling:  That’s right.  Yeah, just a recent decision by the Department of Defense is for us to become the secretariat to certify their victim advocate.  So we’re extremely honored, I have to say.

Len Sipes:  That is wonderful.  That is wonderful and that’s a huge undertaking.

Will Marling:  Well, it is.  It’s an important one.  It’s a demonstration of the military’s commitment to victim assistance, and it’s also their recognition of I think the important work that this organization has done historically as well as today.

Len Sipes:  Now you guys have been certifying victim’s rights specialist for quite some time.

Will Marling:  We have.  The National Organization for Victim Assistance is the secretariat for the National Advocate Credentialing Program.  It started in 2003.  So that’s a – it’s similar – it’s credentialing certification.  It’s all kind of — they look very similar but we provide a credential.  We’re the secretariat for that National Allied Professional Credential, and of course we’re honored to be part of that as well.

Len Sipes:  Oh, I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s an immense undertaking.  But I can’t say that this is immense and it’s not that I’m not excited about that but the Federal Constitutional Victim’s Rights Amendment is back on the radar screen, and I find that to be wonderful.  I mean one of the things that the public needs to know is that there are a lot of State Constitutional Amendments for victim’s rights.  36?  Correct?

Will Marling:  33 I think technically.

Len Sipes:  33.

Will Marling:  Three fifths of our nation’s states, that’s right, have it in their constitution.

Len Sipes:  Now, but we tried a federal constitutional amendment, victims’ rights amendment before but it lost just by a couple votes, right?

Will Marling:  Well, yeah, the attempt was to start with the Senate, and it was just two votes shy of cloister in the Senate, and of course that stopped it.  But we think the momentum, the timing, there’s so many things that have come together today, right now, for a victims’ rights amendment, you know, a 28th amendment to the United States Constitution to affirm victim’s rights.  And we’re — to be honest, we think it serves the nation to do this.

Len Sipes:  Well, it’s something certainly the hope for it is certainly something to pray for because you know the fact of victims within the criminal justice system – you know, I’ve been around in the system for 42 years.  We haven’t done the best of jobs in terms of taking care of victims.

Will Marling: Well, yeah, that’s right. I mean, I many times say the system is designed to get the results that it gets.  People just don’t realize that many times it works the way it’s actually designed.  So when you think about redesigning it, that’s one dimension.  Sometimes it truly doesn’t function meaningfully.  And at the end of the day, who’s the biggest stakeholder in this?  It really is the victims.  There are others impacted including communities.  But certainly the victims need to have that voice, and we believe a constitutional amendment in the United States Constitution would provide that social grounding as well as the legal framework for affirming socially the needs of crime victims and the consistent service that they deserve at every level.

Len Sipes:  You know I’ve talked to a variety of people who have been in the criminal justice system who victim’s advocacy was something that they were partial to.  They certainly were not against it.  But it was not first on their radar screen until they or a family member became a victim of crime.  When they walked through the experience directly as a victim or being very close to somebody who was a victim of crime, their attitudes changed remarkably.

Will Marling:  Absolutely.  I mean, it’s the doctor becoming the patient.

Len Sipes:  Yes, that’s exactly right.  That’s exactly right.  All right, but the program today is about undoubtedly theft. It’s one of the things that always is on my mind.  It is always on the mind of people throughout the country.  And I do want to reintroduce Denise Richardson.  She’s a long time consumer advocate and author of “Give Me Back My Credit!”  The victim of identity theft herself, Richardson set out to research the effects of this kind of theft and became a certified identity theft management specialist and trained and certified by the National Institute of Fraud and Risk Management.  Denise, this concept of identity theft, who within this country does identity theft not touch?  You can talk about burglary.  You can talk about sexual assault.  You can talk about violence.  You can talk about theft.  And that affects individual pieces of the population.  Identity theft, that issue belongs to everybody in the country.

Denise Richardson:  It belongs to everyone in our country, and it effects everyone in the world, because, unfortunately, as victims of this crime in this country, a lot of it can come from outside the country, and it makes it really tough on law enforcement to be able to even have the resources or ability to hold them accountable, to stop it.  So it allows the crime to just explode and grow in all sorts of ways.  From across the country, in the country and it hits everyone.  And one thing I’d like to say is congrats, Will, on all of your efforts because NOVA is one of the organizations that stepped out to realize that identity theft is a traumatic event.  And it can leave scars, whether they’re visible scars or not, and those scars can serve as a reminder of the pain that can last a lifetime.  If somebody has your social security number and is able to commit crimes and do other things in your name, it can literally take a lifetime to get through.  So for NOVA to come out and say, yes, this is a traumatic – can be a traumatic crime and there are victims, I just applaud your efforts in doing this.

Len Sipes: is the Website for Denise Richardson.  Denise, now, the people listening to this, they are members of the criminal justice system, members of the public.  What’s the one thing that we need to know straight from the very beginning of the program?  What do we need to understand about identity theft that we don’t understand about it now?

Denise Richardson:  One of the frustrating points that I see over and over when I hear from other victims of this crime is that they didn’t know.  They didn’t know it could be this bad.  They didn’t know this could happen to them.  They didn’t know – they had credit monitoring.  So they thought just by monitoring their credit reports they would have known.  But you wouldn’t know if someone’s hijacked your tax return, if somebody is committing violent crimes in your name.  You wouldn’t know this.  So, to me, the number one thing is more education on today’s identity theft trends and the types of risks and impact it can have, because often I see it downplayed in the media that, oh, if a stats gone down, if there’s a statistic that’s gone down in one area, you would never – if you look at it this way, you would never say to yourself, “Crime’s gone down in our neighborhood, so I think I’ll leave my doors unlocked now.”  And that’s the type of message I think continues to come across because that’s what I hear from the consumers who turn victims and say, “Why didn’t I know about this? I always heard it wasn’t a big thing and the credit card companies would just take care of it for you.”  But there’s the problem.  Not all the crimes that are committed today are credit related.  Yet people are still equating the crime with just America’s credit card and the banks will take care of it for you, so I would say education.

Len Sipes:  When we’re talking about identity theft across the board, we’re not just talking about our credit cards.  We’re not just talking about our social security number.  We’re talking about every little piece of paper that is attached to us.  And I had somebody the other day, a pretty prominent person, came to me and said, “Oh, my God, my name and my – where I live and everything else is available on a Website.  How could that possibly be?”  And I said, “Well, they pull from public records.  Have you bought a house?”  He says yes.  Well, all that information in terms of who you are and where you live is a matter of public information.  That’s startling to a lot of people.  But so there’s – number one there’s a lot of publicly available information on you out there.  We participate in Facebook.  We participate in Google Plus.  We set up a Google profile.  There are public records that apply to us.  So from the very beginning people need to understand that a lot of information is publicly available about you off the internet, and thieves can go from there and get the rest of it, correct?

Denise Richardson:  Absolutely.  And these identity thieves have gotten sophisticated, and if you remember, that’s their job, to sit on Facebook or Twitter or wherever they can get a wide range of information, hack into large databases, whatever it is.  And they can take small bits of information that you have on your profile and put it together with other information that’s public, say, your property records or whatever.  So they use that information.  They sell it to other scammers who use it and then pretend to strike up a conversation with you or know you or connect with you, whatever it may be.  A small little bit of information can turn into the key that unlocks the door to every other bit of information, and you wouldn’t even know it.

Len Sipes:  Okay, now that we sufficiently scared the dickens out of everybody listening to the program, because I think identity theft is huge.  I think it is beyond measurement.  Will, do we have a sense as to how many Americans are impacted by identity theft on a yearly basis?

Will Marling:  Well, we do.  I mean the Consumer Sentinel Network, which is the Federal Trade Commission’s report; they indicate that for 2011 there were 1.8 million complaints.  Now what’s important to recognize—

Len Sipes:  But not everybody complains.

Will Marling:  Well that’s what’s important to recognize.  I mean in terms of uniform crime reporting, identity theft is one of those crimes that doesn’t actually get reported.  You can sort of speculate and extrapolate.  We know it’s a lot worse than that.  I mean, come on, partly because you are obligated as a victim to report.  Secondly, sometimes law enforcement actually won’t take a report, and even if they do, they might not know what to do with it.  But the challenge becomes just even collecting that information. So we always encourage people, tell the FTC, file a police report if you can because at the very least we need to know what’s going on.  What’s important to know is that, with the latest report, credit card fraud is only 14 percent of what’s going on here.  Government documents benefits fraud is 27 percent.  So when people say, “Oh, identity theft is just about credit card, and I had that happen, and the bank said they’d take care of it.”  Well that’s another issue.  The banks not necessarily going to report for you that there was another identity theft even though that’s what occurred.

Len Sipes:  What do you mean by government documents?

Will Marling:  Government documents, anything pertaining to a government document, for instance, getting a driver’s license in the name of somebody or getting government services in the name of somebody, filing a tax return in the name of somebody to get a $2,000 refund.

Len Sipes:  Do they really do that?  They’ll file tax returns?

Will Marling:  Oh, absolutely.  I mean it’s a great business.  It’s a massive business.  You know we don’t know exactly.  It could be $20 billion worth of business but it’s hard to quantify completely, but absolutely.  If they get your name, social security number — you can go online right now and find people’s PDF’s of their tax returns.  And so commonly in training I ask people you know, “Raise you hands, how many of you have a PDF of your tax return that says “Tax Return 2010″?” And people raise their hand.  Well if you have access to somebody’s computer and you just do a basic search and say “tax return”, and it comes back, I have your tax return plus all your kids, their social security numbers, your spouse.  See, I have all of that right there.  And what’s a simple way to default that?  Well rename that PDF file.  It could be one, call it “Grape Juice Recipe” or actually take it off your computer.  Put it on a jump drive separate but file it up somewhere.  That’s the easiest way to thwart that potential compromise.

Len Sipes:  You now I keep – the amazing thing about when we have these conversations about identity theft I say to myself, I’ve been in this system for 42 years.  I have four college degrees, university degrees, and you constantly come up with stuff that I never would have thought of in terms of discussing this topic, because our taxes are filed on our computer, and we’ve done exactly what you’ve said.  Never crossed my mind to do this.  Never crossed my mind to name it grape juice recipe.

Will Marling:  Well you’re a smart guy, right?  It’s just an awareness issue.

Len Sipes:  It is.

Will Marling:  I mean that’s what this will confirm.

Len Sipes:  That’s what Denise just said.  So, Denise, what are the prevention tips we need to get out?  Is it okay to go to them that quickly?

Denise Richardson:  Well I would just to expand on what Will was saying, to give you an example of how you say you hadn’t heard of this or changing your name.  People do not know that their kids who are on Facebook and Twitter and they have their own iPhones and everything, these iPhones are nothing more than a little computer.

Len Sipes:  Oh, absolutely.

Denise Richardson:  They need to be protected as well.  And if your kids are using your home computer and they’re sharing music, your files could be open for sharing everything.  And that is a lot of how – you know you could be on a network in your neighborhood coffee shop and if your files are set to open and to share, anyone can get your information.  And as far as the income tax fraud, filing fraudulent tax returns, I live in South Florida, and the FDC report that just came out named South Florida as the number one metro area for this type of crime and Florid itself as the number one, again, several years.  And it stills strikes me that we – and the FDC came out and said two weeks after tax season opened identity theft crimes jumped 50 percent.  And the next day – I mean this was on our front page of the paper every day for a week.  In between that time I would read an article online by somebody out there saying, “Do we really have to worry about identity theft?  Is it just fear mongering?”  And in the meantime I’ve got all these emails from consumers saying, “What do I do?  I can’t get my tax return.  I plan to pay my property taxes with it.”  And so I’m seeing one thing that’s reality in my life every day but then when I read this kind of information I think it is harmful.  So I just think we need to send a better message that I think people can learn how to protect themselves better.  There’s no way to prevent it, but you can do things and talk to your kids or your neighbors, seniors—

Len Sipes: Okay, I have to break because we’re way past the half way mark and I have to reintroduce both of you, and then we’ll get back to the conversation.  Our guests today, ladies and gentlemen, Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, been around since 1975,  Our other guest is Denise Richardson.  She is a consumer advocate and a ID theft and education specialist.  Her Website is  Okay, so we’re way into the second half.  Either one of you.  So again, what we’ve done is scared me, scared all of our listeners.  I need to focus on what we can do.  Is there one place that we can go to get information about this?  Is there a one-stop service?  Where do people go to get the information they need?

Will Marling:  Well, yeah, let me jump in here.  There isn’t one place to go.   Of course, the internet offers us access to a lot of different resources quickly, but we try to principalize this so that people build an awareness, because however you instruct people about vulnerabilities, there will always be another tool that’s used by perpetrators, a new technology or whatever.  So we talk about raise the fruit.  Have you ever heard the phrase “go for the low hanging fruit.”?

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Will Marling:  We always talk about raise your fruit because make it even that much more difficult.  Can that stop it all?  No.  But why hand them your tax return on a PDF?  Why keep all your sensitive documents on your computer when you don’t access them regularly and you can put them on a jump drive and lock them up in a box?

Len Sipes:  Well, but there has to be a mantra in terms of all of us simply need to be aware that if our kids are file sharing on computers and the bad guys have access to our computers, there’s got to be a sense that every person that is not known to you, every email, every phone call, every snail mail communication where that person is not known to you, you immediately be suspicious of it.  I mean there’s got to be a grounding that we can start people off with.

Denise Richardson:  I agree.  And I think it is being informed and being alert, being aware that you shouldn’t’ ever give your information to anyone who is soliciting it.  And you shouldn’t blindly trust anyone who calls your house.  You shouldn’t trust your caller id anymore.  You know and I say these things and people will say it’s fear mongering, but there’s where the issue lies.  IT’s just simple education and trying to learn what you can do.  I don’t expect a consumer out there to know fishing, smishing, vishing, skimming, spoofing, cook jacking, tab napping, all the names that people who work in it every day understand, but I’m all for – what my passion is about is just raising awareness to what you can do, what should you do.  You should know about the latest scams.  You should know that you shouldn’t put too much information on your profile.  You should stop and think before you publish anything.  Ask yourself, “If I hit this publish button and it was going to be on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, would I do the same thing?”  And you might stop and think about it.  You know we tend to hide behind the screen of the computer thinking everything is, oh, just our friends see it.  But that’s not the case.

Len Sipes:  You mean, just my friends read my Google Plus profile?

Denise Richardson:  Well, some people feel that just your friends are getting into your space, into your – you got your settings set one way.  But the settings can be changed.  They can be hacked.  People can use the information you put in your profile.  For example, you love lacrosse.  You do this.  You do that.  And they can pretend to have those same exact interests and send you a note and say, “Hey, what school did you go to?  This is what I did.”  And your guard is down.  We tend to trust, and criminals know that, so they take advantage of that trust.

Len Sipes:  Hey, you and I are both friends with Will Marling, so obviously I’ve got to be legitimate if you and I share a friendship with Will Marling.

Denise Richardson: I would say so, exactly.

Will Marling:  Sure.

Denise Richardson:  And that’s what they think because, oh, she was sent – I can not tell you how many times I get a call from even a friend who knows that I work in this industry.  Just a couple weeks ago somebody called and said, “I think I got myself in a world of trouble.”  I said, “What did you do?”  And he said, “I went to Yahoo! And it said that they were protecting me because I didn’t have – I had to re-put in my information, so I did, and then it asked for my social and I—”  And I said, “Please tell me that you didn’t give them all that.”  He did.  So he spent hours changing his PayPal account, this account, that account because then I found out in asking him a few questions, he has the same password.  So if a criminal gets a hold of – hacks into one of your passwords, and they’re easy to guess because we have – we use combinations that they figured out through our public information.  Just imagine if they hack that one password how much havoc they can create in five minutes time.  Check to see if you have a PayPal account, if you have an Amazon account, anything.

Len Sipes:  You’ve just made thousands of people very uncomfortable because the research says that’s exactly what we do.

Denise Richardson:  And I hope I made them uncomfortable.  That’s the point.  I want them to go out and say, “Oh, my gosh, I need to change my passwords.  I need to strengthen them.”  I did a speaking engagement at one point and I asked the people in the audience how many people use the name of their car or where they graduated or what year they graduated in their pass code.  And over 75 percent of the people raised their hand.  And I then explained why that wasn’t a good idea, and someone said to me, “Oh, my gosh, I do that with all of my passwords.  I’ll use my spouses name, my spouse’s birthday, my child’s name, my dogs name because it’s so easy to remember.”  Criminals are smart, and they know that.  So never – unfortunately you’ve got to come up with ways to have stronger, longer, unpenetratable passwords.

Len Sipes:  All right, but the one thing – to me this is the best suggestion of them all and that is is that anytime you get a communication from anybody that is part of your financial world, so you get an email from your bank saying your account’s been compromised.  You get a call, an email from your credit card company saying that your account has been compromised.  Immediately contact them independently on your own through a number and through a source that you know to be legitimate and then ask that person a question.  So never proceed with that initial contact.  Always go to the source.  I’ve always found that to be the most powerful of them all.  Am I right or wrong?

Denise Richardson:  You’re absolutely right.  You have to do that because a lot of these scams now will appear to come from Go Daddy or Amazon or your bank or even the U.S. Government.  And they’ll provide you with here’s the fraud department number to call.  We suspect something and people will panic and call that number.  What they don’t realize is they’re calling right into the thief.  So always – so never use a phone number, and your bank is not going to email you about something like that.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, but people don’t know.  I mean—

Denise Richardson:  Right.

Len Sipes:  –we got a phone call the other day about our credit card being misused.  And the point is that my wife had a conversation with the credit card company regarding that, and it was very legit and very straightforward, but my wife shouldn’t have done that.  My wife should have hung up and called the credit card company back.

Denise Richardson:  Well because sometimes what happens when they call you, they have quite a bit of information on you already, and that tends to make consumers think, oh, yes, that’s my bank because how would they know that?  But if it really is, your bank is going to understand if you say, “You know what, I’m concerned about identity theft.  So let me hang up and call you through the number that I have for you.  Do you have a particular extension?”  Something like that.  Or if it’s legit your bank should be able to tell you your password on that account, tell you everything you want to know, not the other way around where you have to confirm it with them.  I recently had the same thing happen to me with my bank calling about another credit card fraud.  But today the criminals are getting even more savvy with telephone calls, using the phone to hook you into falling for anyone of their many scams.  So if someone calls you, never give out information.

Len Sipes:  If you post on Facebook that you’re going to Florida and then the scammer calls you up and say you know there’s –evidently you’re in Florida and you have problems with your credit card, you immediately assume that this is legitimate.

Denise Richardson:  Exactly and I always tell people, oh my gosh, stop telling people where you are every minute of the day because people have been being robbed because they watch this.  If they have enough information and they know where you live and here’s a picture of me, I’m sitting a thousand miles away on a sunny beach.  We’re all here on vacation.  There was just a story in the news not too long ago where the teenage daughter didn’t know that she was giving out any information like that that she shouldn’t and said “Oh, we’re at the airport.  She text right at the airport, “We’re getting on the plane.”  Well her friend posted it and a friend of that friend, they tracked it back to because they did catch the people, robbed their house while they were gone.

Len Sipes:  Denise we have one minute left.  What point do we need to make that we haven’t made in one minute?

Denise Richardson:  That there are available – there’s information out there, and the best way that you can avoid becoming a crime victim is to be informed, look out for the risks and know the impact and have a plan of action.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, but there’s so much to know.

Denise Richardson:  There is.  I mean you can’t possibly learn it in one moment. You can go to the site.  They have a lot of information.  Will’s site, I’m sure, does.  My site at – on my site I have areas, categories for the current scams.  I try to keep that up-to-date, the types of risk, what to do if you’re a victim.  So there’s definitely information out there.  And here’s something.  If you’re ever in doubt, you get an email that you think might be a scam, type it in your browser.  Chances are people have already written about it and learned about it.

Len Sipes:  Well that’s a wonderful idea.  All right.  Our guests today and in terms of summarizing and it’s a lot to summarize, Will Marling, Executive Director, National Organization for Victim Assistance,  Also with our theft identity – identity theft expert, Denise Richardson.  She’s a consumer advocate and an ID theft and education specialist.  Her Website is  It seems as if the Federal Trade Commission just Google or your favorite search engine, Federal Trade Commission and look for consumer fraud or identity theft, and there’s information there.  What I heard today was about file sharing in terms of especially in terms of your kids and downloading music or file sharing, relabeling your computer files to be sure that if you’re hacked that the person won’t go and find your important documents.  Be careful with social media in terms of what public information you make public, change your passwords, go to the source if you get a call from somebody or contact from somebody. Don’t continue with that.  Just hang up and go to that source independently so you know that it is legitimate.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  Have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


“Pocket Cop”-Leadership in Criminal Justice-UMUC-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is about leadership and criminal justice.  There are a whole wide array of issues that the University of Maryland, University College has in terms of its leadership program, its academic education.  But before getting into the gist of the program, let me tell you about some of the examples of the things that we’re going to talk about today.  “Pocket Cop” which is basically the use of smartphones in terms of day to policing, predictive policing with IBM.  It’s just not your regular crime analysis.  It’s extraordinarily accurate, predictive policing, again with IBM, advanced foot patrols, advanced community outreach, a task force on commercial robberies, these are all the different things involved in terms of UMUC’s leadership program.  We have two guests with us today.  Back at our microphone is Doctor Bill Sondervan, Professor, Program Director of Criminal Justice and Intelligence Management.  He’s with the Graduate School, University College.  And we have Dr. DeSimone, Mark DeSimone.  He is a professor at UMUC Criminal Justice, lead faculty member of the Leadership Program and to Bill and to Mark, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Bill Sondervan:  Thanks Len

Mark Desimone:  Hi Len.

Len Sipes:  Alright guys, give me, Bill, why don’t you start off with the program, University of Maryland, University College,  You’re close to a hundred thousand students from all over the world, correct?

Bill Sondervan:  Yes, and I think the last I heard, we were about 96,000 students.  And UMUC is part of the university system of Maryland.  And we have a very distinct mission and that is the adult part-time learner.  Our average students are a little bit older; they’re around 32 years old.  We have many people in the military.  And most of our faculty are practitioner scholars that are working part time.  We teach classes all through Maryland.  We teach in, I believe, 25 different countries around the world to include Afghanistan and we do the majority of the online learning for the university system.

Len Sipes:  You know that’s an amazing scope of students all over the world, close to a hundred thousand.  I’ve read somewhere that you in terms of public institutions of higher education, that you have just about the most online students, more online students than just about anybody else, is that correct?

Bill Sondervan:  Yeah Leonard, I believe that to be the case.  I think we are the largest public institution.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing, that’s amazing.  Alright, so who’s going to give me an overview of the leadership program?  Bill, you’re going to give a whirl with that as well?

Bill Sondervan:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

Bill Sondervan:  I’ll be glad to do that Len.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

Bill Sondervan:  We have a very unique program and it really is a partnership.  And the partnership I think is what really makes it work.  And that came about at the initiation of Commissioner Fred Bealefeld who is the police commissioner for the city of Baltimore.  When Fred first got appointed, you know, we met through mutual friends.  We knew each other but we met through mutual friends.  And Fred asked to work with us on a problem.  What he wanted to do was to really grow leaders in the city.  And he wanted to take mid-level managers and give them the academic leadership skills to really rise up and do a good job, with the whole purpose of making Baltimore a safer city.  And as a result of that, we worked really hard on it.  And we came up with I think is a really unique program.  And we called it our Criminal Justice Leadership Certificate Program and it fits right into our bachelor’s program in criminal justice.  And we’re going to give credits for those who already have a bachelor’s degree into our master’s program.  And here’s how it works.  It’s broken down into four, four credit classes.  These are academic credits, upper level classes.  Each individual class starts out with a week intensive in the classroom, followed by six weeks in an online environment.  And as part of that, they have papers, they have research, they have journals, they have a lot of academic things that they have to do.  But we also break them up into teams.  We meet with the commissioner and his command staff prior to starting our yearly class.  And they give us real life programs in Baltimore City.  So as part of the process, we break them down into teams and the students have to take the leadership and management skills that they’re learning in class and apply those to real life situations in Baltimore City.  And what really makes it work is the fact that we combine our skilled faculty with the leadership of the department.  The commissioner himself personally comes to every class.  Sometimes we take our class and we go to the police headquarters in downtown Baltimore and the students have to get up in teams and they have to brief the commissioner on solutions to problems.  And the commissioner listens to them, he critiques them, he asks them questions and he gives them follow up things to work on.  And by going through this process, it’s kind of like a fireside chat.  It’s like one of the most amazing learning things that I ever saw.  But by going through this process and at the end of the year by going through four classes, just about every project that we work on, winds up being implemented in Baltimore City and making the police department better and making the city safer.  And I think it’s just really been a remarkable program.

Len Sipes:  Alright, so I want to get two things down.  Number one, as we discussed last time, everything that you’re talking about applies equally to corrections, parole and probation, the court system, the juvenile justice system.  Right now we’re using the Baltimore City police and what you’re doing for them as an example.  But this concept is equally applicable to the entire criminal justice system, correct?

Bill Sondervan:  Yeah, absolutely.  We did this particularly for Baltimore City Police Department, but it’s worked out so well.  The university is very interested in expanding it.  And the management leadership things that we do are generic.  But we can apply them to corrections and parole and probation, juvenile justice or anything in the criminal justice system, by working on projects related to that specific component of the system

Len Sipes:  Alright.

Bill Sondervan: and by using role models and leaders in that particular aspect.

Len Sipes:  And the other point that I want to make clear is that what we’re talking about with this program is mid-level leadership.  Now the whole idea is to take mid-level managers, not just top.  I mean all of us who are talking right now have been in the criminal justice system more years than we would like to admit.  And it’s a military-based system, it’s a hierarchy based system.  And leadership ordinarily comes from above, it comes from political bodies and it comes from the newspapers, but it doesn’t come from sergeants and lieutenants and captains.  So what we’re doing is tasking mid-level managers with these problems and asking them to come up with solutions within an academic setting, is that correct?

Bill Sondervan:  Yes, Leonard and the police department, you know the first level of decision making really is the sergeant.  And our classes are made up of sergeants, lieutenants and deputy majors for the most part because they don’t have captains.  That’s the core of the mid-level managers.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Sondervan:  And they have to actually apply, they have to submit a resume, they have to submit a cover letter saying why they want to be in the program, what they expect to get out of the program and how they’re going to apply what they learned in the program to make the Baltimore City Police Department a better department.  And that goes before the deputy commissioner.  And the deputy commissioner selects the people they want in the class.  It’s capped out at 25 people.  Then with the approval and concurrence of the commissioner, those people are selected to go into class.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Mark, let’s go over to you for a couple of minutes.  I want to talk about the specifics of the program.  Now I opened up the radio show with a wide variety of topics, Pocket Cop, Predictive Policing with IBM, the foot patrol concept.  But foot patrols have been around forever, so the question’s going to be what’s different here.  Don’t answer yet.  Community outreach, again we’ve been doing community outreach for decades but this is advanced community outreach, what’s different?  So start off with the easy one, Pocket Cop.  That is a really interesting concept, don’t you think?

Mark Desimone:  Well definitely.  I mean imagine a Blackberry on steroids with capabilities of taking, you know, photographs of suspects and doing database searches on face recognition.  They’re actually working on a software app where you’ll be able to put a thumb on the screen and get a fingerprint recognition in real time.

Len Sipes:  You know those three things, stop me for a second or let me stop you for a second, those three things right there would be unbelievable time saver for the average police officer.  I mean the idea of, when I was in enforcement; you had to make a decision whether or not to take a person in.  Sometimes it was an iffy decision and you want to be out there to be available for the calls, to be available for proactive policing.  If you could fingerprint that person, take that thumbprint and find out whether or not that person has warrants or whether or not that person has skipped bail or violated his conditions of parole and probation that would be an unbelievable advantage to the average police officer.

Mark Desimone:  Most certainly.  Imagine taking the photograph of a license plate and doing a vehicle check on them

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mark Desimone:  as you’re walking down the street.

Len Sipes:  Or taking a photograph of him and having a positive identification.

Mark Desimone:  Yeah, it’s incredible and it’s all sorts of officer safety things, you know with the GPS function.  You’ll know exactly where your officers are all the time.

Len Sipes:  And that’s amazing cause you could look at a big screen and figure out where everybody is at the same time.  And in terms of deploying your personnel, that could be amazing.

Mark Desimone:  Oh sure, and their, you know, de-confliction.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, so how close is this to being a reality?

Mark Desimone:  Well with the exception of a couple of, you know, the gee whiz apps that we were talking about, they actually have them in their hands now.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.  I mean when you say they, are you talking about the students as part of your leadership program or Baltimore City police across the board?

Mark Desimone:  Baltimore Police Department.

Len Sipes:  Wow, that’s pretty interesting, you know.  There should be more publicity about this.  What else about Pocket Cop that I’m not coming into grips with, anything else?

Mark Desimone:  Well, right now our current fifth cohort is reviewing the GPS capabilities for using the Pocket Cop technology.  They implemented the Pocket Cop in 2008.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Mark Desimone:  And even, you know, in spite of all the success with using the technology, they want to be able to use that GPS functionality for more operational purposes.

Len Sipes:  Alright, so we’re talking about existing technology that the leadership program is figuring out the best use of this technology.

Mark Desimone:  Exactly.  And the task that the group has been given by the commissioner is to research best practices to see if any other police departments are using it.  Baltimore was the first and to our knowledge, we don’t know of anyone else who’s using it.  But to find out if there is anybody else out there, what they’re doing and also to look at some of the ways that the military uses these functionalities.

Len Sipes:  That’s interesting.  Alright, we’re going to go, let me go into Predictive Policing with IBM and then we’re going to go back to Bill for a second.  Talk to me for a little bit about Predictive Policing with IBM.

Mark Desimone:  Well, in February of 2012, IBM and the Baltimore Police Department are entering into an agreement.  They’ll be conducting a six week pilot to test the Predictive Policing model.  They’re going to be doing that in their southwest district.  And this group that’s in the current cohort, has been tasked with implementing the pilot, conducting analysis of its effectiveness and working with an independent researcher to actually, you know, get the stats so that they can determine the efficacy of this Predictive Policing program.  And then of course make recommendations to the commissioner for, you know, future use.

Len Sipes:  Okay as I said,

Mark Desimone:  And

Len Sipes:  Go ahead please.

Mark Desimone:  And if it works, if everything is, you know, if all the stars aligned, you know, they could be using this model on the street in other districts.

Len Sipes:  I just did a radio show a couple of weeks ago with the assistant attorney general of the US Department of Justice and one of the things when I was talking to her about her 10 years’ experience as being assistant attorney general under two administrations.  I said what’s the key finding as to research within law enforcement?  And she said places, a focus on places and that’s what you’re talking about in terms of predictive policing.  You’re talking about figuring out where the next crimes are going to occur but it’s going to be far better than traditional crime analysis.  If I understand this correctly, it’s going to be far more complex and far more predictive.

Mark Desimone:  Yes, it’s more than just pins on a map.  They’ll be able to put all sorts of variables in and to be able to literally use forecasting models to predict, to literally predict where the next crime is going to happen and what kind of crime it’s going to be.  And, you know, it’s a fascinating world we live in with all these computers.

Len Sipes:  Now when you get all of your students in the classroom, are they excited about this?  I mean they’re like, you know, between Pocket Cop and Predictive Policing, you can figure out where to put your folks, you can make the best use of their time which in this day and age of budget cutbacks is extraordinarily important.  You can, in terms of GPS in real-time, figure out where they are, which is by the way a huge officer safety issue.  I mean are they excited about this in terms of trying to figure out the best use of this new technology, the folks in the leadership program?

Mark Desimone:  Oh most definitely.  They see the utility of these things and they’re just so happy to have been invited to the table.  You know you mentioned yourself; it’s a hierarchal organization, so usually subordinate supervisors are told what their goals are and they may have to go out and make sure that everybody else under them, you know, achieves the objectives to achieve the goals.  But what we’re finding now that once you involve these folks who own the processes in coming up with ideas, real world applications that help them to better perform those processes, then what we find is that the excitement levels are really high.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, in six years of law enforcement, I can’t remember anybody coming along and asking my opinion

Mark Desimone:  Right.

Len Sipes:  or my analysis.  Ladies and gentleman, we’re quickly halfway through the program.  Let me reintroduce our guests today, Dr. Bill Sondervan, Professor, Program Director, Criminal Justice Intelligence Management Graduate School, University of Maryland University College,,, 96,000 students throughout the world.  Dr. Mark DeSimone, he is Professor, UMUC Criminal Justice, lead faculty member of the Leadership Program.  Bill Sondervan, I’m going to go back to you for a couple of minutes before going back to Mark.  In terms of the other specific components of the Leadership Program as they extend now, where do you see this program going and do you see other criminal justice agencies latching onto this concept?

Bill Sondervan:  Well a good question Len, and that’s exactly what we want to do.  I think the leadership at UMUC has really focused in on the value of this program and we really want to expand it.  And we have a person who is in charge of our corporate learning solutions who’s putting together a web page about the program and in the program we’re putting everything about the program to include videos of the graduation ceremony and we’re shortly going to be interviewing the commissioner and having that video in there.  And what they really want to do is make it available to other agencies around the state and around the country and we really want to expand it to corrections, juvenile justice, parole and probation.  And I really have a soft spot in my heart for corrections, being the state corrections commissioner for a very long period of time and there’s a tremendous need there to grow leaders and I can’t think of anything better to do than this.

Len Sipes:  Well, it’s the concept of leadership, is it not?  I mean again we within the criminal justice system get our orders from dare I say the newspaper; dare I say politics, politicians in many cases?  I mean it is, you know, looking at research and coming up with best practices and having ideas bubble up your mid-level management is sort of rare.

Bill Sondervan:  Well, it really is.  And part of it is we don’t give them the opportunity to do so.  There’s some very bright and talented people across the criminal justice spectrum and by doing just what Mark was describing is bringing some of the people together who really want to be there, who really want to make a difference and let them use their creativity and their energy to solve problems is a win-win for everybody.

Len Sipes:  Alright Mark, you ready?  We’re going to go back to you

Mark Desimone:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  for some of these examples.  Now foot patrols, advanced foot patrols, foot patrols have been around for decades and the next topic, Community Outreach has been around for decades.  What is different about what the folks in the Leadership Program are doing?

Mark Desimone:  Well let me just premise my remarks by saying quickly that foot patrol has been around for decades as you noted and it hasn’t really gone anywhere.  I think the problem is that in recent history, it’s been seen more as like almost non-disciplinary job assignment for those who, you know, who’ve rubbed management the wrong way somewhere around.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, if you screw up, you do foot.

Mark Desimone:  Yeah.  And the commissioner was very clear that that’s got to stop because, you know, that police officer, you know, with the shoes on the street so speak, that’s the way to go.  And so what they did was they had this group get together with a retired police officer who was a gee whiz kind of guy when it came to foot patrol.  There wasn’t anything about it that he didn’t know.  He used to teach these things at the academy.  And so they came up with a way to somehow during the training period, field training etc., to actually get those officers out of the cruisers, in the street, walking around, walking a beat, getting to know the people.  And of course, you know, this does a lot of things because particularly in statistically high crime areas, it gets that police presence that provides to neighborhood stabilization.  And it also the concomitant benefit was you get some of these retired police officers who still have a lot to share back working with the department in a productive manner to share that wisdom that only can come through years of experience.  And before that’s lost forever, you know, they wanted to make sure that that gift was given to the younger officers.  So I would say it’s more or less a renaissance of foot patrol.

Len Sipes:  You know that’s something I didn’t understand in terms of our pre show conversation.  Foot patrol, I mean you know you’re thinking okay the leadership program, you’re thinking an academic program, you’re thinking University of Maryland University College and you keep looking for what’s sexy.  And what’s sexy is maybe reaching back to what worked in past decades and bringing it back and analyzing it and seeing the best utilization of a concept that has been around for decades.  You’re right.  If we don’t bring the retired officers back and they share their knowledge, it gets lost.

Mark Desimone:  Yes, absolutely.  And that’s what’s happening.  And so the commissioner that that is avoided at all costs.  Now it’s more than just suggestions as to how we can improve foot patrol.  It’s a culture change.  How can we change the current culture back to the way the culture was?  You see?

Len Sipes:  Yeah, I do.

Mark Desimone:  Before we lose that cultural memory, so

Len Sipes:  And so go to the next one in terms of community outreach.  Now, again, community outreach is something we’ve been doing for decades when I was with the Department of Justice’s Clearinghouse as the senior specialist for crime prevention many decades ago.  You know, it was reach out to the community, reach out and work with the community.  So this concept and the academic advancement of the concept of working with communities has again been around for decades.  What am I not getting in terms of this discussion?  I didn’t get it in terms of foot patrols until you explained it to me.  What do I need to know, what does the audience need to know about community outreach?

Mark Desimone:  Well first of all, it’s not really community outreach, its community engagement.

Len Sipes:  Engagement.

Mark Desimone:  Yes and the difference between the two, you know you have community policing, community outreach, well this is sort of like the third generation.  Now that we’ve outreached, you know, and we’ve you know, etc., how do we engage?  They have the results of a survey conducted by the University of Baltimore that found that despite historic drops in crime, there is still a very real perception of fear and the potential for crime in the neighborhoods in the city.  And so even though the numbers have dropped, that perception hasn’t changed.

Len Sipes:  You know, I do want to focus on that before you go any further, in all fairness to Baltimore City; they’ve done a phenomenal job in terms of bringing down violent crime, in terms of bringing down homicide.  They are at historic lows but most people discuss Baltimore as having a continual crime problem.  So how do you get beyond that?

Mark Desimone:  Well first of all, the commissioner has set an internal goal for improving the department’s level of community engagement.  And the focus is on improving those perceptions of the department and how it operates.  So it’s more than, you know, community outreach.  We’re actually going to gauge the community how can we, what do we need to do in order to change those perceptions?  And they’re actually involving community leaders in things like that.  Now of course the team is still working on it, so I don’t know what their suggestions are going to be.

Len Sipes:  Well, I’ve got a suggestion for you.

Mark Desimone:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  Tell them to do social media.  Tell them to do exactly what it is we’re doing right now.  I mean the advances of doing video and audio and putting it on a computer and offering it to the citizens of the City of Baltimore and beyond is basically exactly what we’re doing now for DC and the nation.  So just keep that in mind.

Mark Desimone:  Absolutely.  And you know the Baltimore Police Department is actually involved in social media.  So that’s actually a part of what the commissioner has tasked this group with.  See he wants them to do research into national best practices in community engagement, including things such as social media and make recommendations on successful programs.  So there’s going to be some benchmarking here.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so I’m going to go back to Bill for a couple of seconds and then we’re going to end up talking about the task force on commercial robbery.  Bill, let me go back to you for a second.  We’ve talked several times about doing an assessment of national research, doing an assessment of the state of the arts.  So these students are truly being trained in the academic tradition of going back to the research, looking at the research, absorbing the research, absorbing the lessons and see how they can apply to the various communities in Baltimore City.  So it’s truly an academic exercise.

Mark Desimone:  Yeah, absolutely Len.  It’s just like writing a thesis or dissertation.  The first thing you want to do is you want to review the literature.  You want to find out what’s going on in the world.  And you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.  You want to see what’s out there, what people are doing, how effective it is and then from there, once you’ve gathered all that, then you can start working on your project and incorporating it.  And what’s really kind of neat with UMUC, we have an online library that’s right in our learning software.  And so the students can actually just click on library and go into our database and they can get just as many things as you could out of any other library, any university in the world and basically research online and download what they need and basically pull it all together.  It’s really very interesting.

Len Sipes:  Alright, I will note that your library carries this show, radio and television show with a blog and transcript as do dozens of universities throughout the country and throughout the world.  But I mean this is different for them.  So it’s not just gee we have this problem, I don’t know what to do.  Now they’re tasked with and your point at the very beginning makes much greater sense now that the commissioner is attending a lot of these sessions is that they come in and they say this is what I found through my review of research.  And by the way, I think that this is going to apply to our particular set of circumstances, but they’re not doing this in an environment that’s apart from the leadership, the leadership is there.

Bill Sondervan:  Absolutely.  I mean this is rigorous academic learning.  And the students are going to have to do what any other student would have to do at any other university.  It’s very organized, it’s very disciplined and we teach them how to research, we teach them how to write, we teach them how to use the computer and how to get up in front of people and brief, how to work together in teams.  It’s pulling together all those different things that come together to make that leader of the future.

Len Sipes:  Alright, Mark we have three minutes left, so going to need some time to close, so the final thing that we talked about was the task force on commercial robberies.  Once again, like foot patrols, like community outreach, commercial robberies, that sort of effort has been around for decades.  So the new thing, and you’ve educated me, I’ve challenged you in all three and you’ve educated me on all three to my heart’s content.  What am I missing about the task force on commercial robberies?

Mark Desimone:  Well the most important thing is to note that this project team helped to establish strategies to reduce commercial robberies in the entire city of Baltimore.  And they did this by proposing a pilot.  And this pilot project basically would gather, what they did was they gathered information and data and analyzed statistics that were, you know, being generated in the field over a period of time.  And this was used to help create effective deployment strategies.  So we only have so many resources.  So what’s the best way to deploy those resources so as to stem the tide of commercial robberies?

Len Sipes:  Give me an idea of what we’re talking about.  How do you stem the tide of commercial robberies?

Mark Desimone:  Well one of the things that they came up with was flexibility in investigations and creative combinations of different operational functions within the police department.  Some of which, you know, sometimes we usually don’t talk to each other.  But getting all the resources available before the crime is committed to focus on ways of being able to make sure that they function better as the operations are actually going down.

Len Sipes:  Is the focus on the offender or is the focus on getting the people at the 7-11 to know to take the signs down from the windows so they have a clear line sight from the street so a robber can’t hide behind, you know, the obstructions hanging on the windows?  What is it?

Mark Desimone:  Well, it’s all of the above.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Mark Desimone:  And that’s the beautiful part about it.  They take a very holistic approach to it.  And then what they do is they identify those critical components that are necessary for not only just the deployment of resources, but they also to analyze the effectiveness of these deployments and these resources.  They also look at, and this is I think really neat.  They look at the whole idea of being able to educate others, you know, now that this crew has been educated on how to develop, you know, a squad if you will that’s going to just investigate robberies, commercial robberies.  Now how do we educate others in the department so that they can use new technology and new methodologies to be able to enhance their abilities to combat the problem?

Len Sipes:  Bill, you’ve got 30 seconds.  From what I understand from Mark is that what we’re talking about is not necessarily a process.  What we’re talking about is a holistic approach to everything that we’re doing.  So it’s just not, traditionally in the past a piece here, a piece there is putting the multiple pieces together for the common good, for the greatest impact.

Bill Sondervan:  Absolutely Leonard.  And also what we’re doing is trying to create a better culture within the police department to encourage people to be problem solvers and critical thinkers, to encourage people to go on to get their academic degrees and do all the things necessary so they could step into those leadership positions, hit the ground running and just do a great job.

Len Sipes:  Okay, you got the final word, Dr. Bill Sondervan, Professor, Program Director Criminal Justice Intelligence Management Graduate School, UMUC and Dr. Mark DeSimone, Professor UMUC Criminal Justice, lead faculty and the Leadership Program.  Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we thank you for all of your input.  We thank you for your comments and please everybody, have yourselves a pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Hiring Offenders – What Works-DC Public Safety TV

Hiring Offenders – What Works – “DC Public Safety”

Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes:  Welcome to DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is about employing people as they’re released from the prison system.  And ladies and gentlemen, 700,000 people are released every year, each year, from state and federal prisons.  Now the interesting part of this is that 50 percent go back to the prison system after three years.  Those are national statistics.  Concurrently, 50 percent on any given day are unemployed again, according to national statistics.  Every Governor, every Mayor of the country is concerned about this issue, so we’re going to be talking about what it takes to employee people after they leave the prison system.  We have two national experts with us on the first half of the program, P. Elizabeth Taylor, Correctional Program Specialist with the National Institute of Corrections, and Constance Parker, Administrator of the Maryland Reentry Initiative, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and to Pat and to Constance, welcome to DC Public Safety.

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  Thank you.

Constance Parker:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  All right, now this is an extraordinarily important topic.  As I said in the introduction, Mayors and Governors, all Mayors, all Governors are very concerned about this.  We have massive numbers of people returning to prison every year.  The big concern is finding them jobs.  And I want to get this clear from the very beginning, there are people who have left the prison system, who have left the correctional system; they’re employable; they’re a long time away since their last drug positive or infraction, and some cases they’re years away from their last criminal event.  They have skills; they have honest to God skills, but they’re not finding work because of their criminal history.  Pat, am I right or wrong?

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  That is true.  But part of the problem is a lot of times these transitioning adults, these offenders, aren’t aware of what their skills are.  They don’t know what their skills are, and their job providers, their staffs are unaware as well.  So at the National Institute of Corrections, we’re advocating for training, training that will result in a collaborative relationship between the offender, the practitioner and the employer.

Len Sipes:  Well, that is the big thing in the National Institute of Corrections, part of the Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice, you guys, everybody in the correctional field, my field, everybody turns to you all for guidance and direction and thank God for the National Institute of Corrections, you do a great job.  You put out this long series of videos that really do try to get people in local and state systems trained in terms of what it is to find people employment, correct?

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  Yes, we do.  And in our training series, we start at the beginning which is with collaboration.  And if you redefine collaboration, it no longer becomes what can I get from you as a practitioner, but what can we accomplish together.  So we have the beginning of the training which is the Offender Employment Specialist Training, which helps the practitioner identify their stakeholders, their partners in the field.  Then we go to the Offender Workforce Development Training, and it’s theory based, and it helps the practitioner respond to the basic questions that the offender will bring to the table.  Am I the type of person that an employer will want to hire?  What type of skills do I have?  And when I identify my skills, what type of position should I pursue and how do I go about securing that position?  And once I get that job how do I maintain employment?

Len Sipes:  So first all, the first lesson of today, because I’ve been asked throughout the course of this program to lay out lessons learned.  And ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to put lessons learned all throughout the programs.  All of our guests today have given us lessons learned and we’re going to put them up throughout the program.  So the first thing is train your staff and train your staff well.

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  But you mention collaboration, and Constance, I’m going to go over to you for that question, what do we mean by collaboration?

Constance Parker:  Well, what we mean by collaboration is pulling of the resources, the agencies, and the community organizations, the employers, as well as the offenders and ex-offenders, pulling together a team that works together bringing all of their expertise and resource to help increase the opportunity for improved employability of our offender population.  Now breaking that down further what that really means is that when individuals come back into the community, they have a series of barriers, and employment is one of the goals that they have.  However, there may be other barriers that may keep them from achieving that employment –

Len Sipes:  Mental health, substance abuse.  Yes.

Constance Parker:  Yes, housing and other issues.  So what we do is we pull together people with housing, people with child-support enforcement, people at one-stop  career centers, employers, we work together as a team to see how we can assist that individual in becoming more employable.  We utilize employers to let us know what it is they’re looking for.

Len Sipes:  Either one of you can answer this question.  I’ve been doing this for 20 years; it’s not as if they’re embracing our folks, the people that we’re responsible for, people coming out of the prison system, those collaborations are sometimes difficult.  I have been told, “Leonard, we have veterans to take care of, we have the elderly to take care of, we have school children to take care of, we have people who are out of work who haven’t committed a crime, why are we doing anything special for people coming out of the prison system?”

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  But it’s not doing anything special, it’s doing what is right.

Len Sipes:  What is right means what?

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  What is right means that you’re looking at public safety, and you’re looking at, and you mentioned the 700,000 people that are coming out, coming back into our community, but there’s also 9 million cycling in and out of our jail systems.  You have 97, 98 percent of all the offender populations coming home.  It is a question of public safety.  It’s the right thing to do to embrace the transitioning person because they are part of the community.

Len Sipes:  Well, that’s a very important point.  Because we’re not talking about charity, we’re not talking about asking people for favors, first of all, we’re talking about people with skills who are safe risks, right?  We’re not talking about people coming fresh from the prison system who has an anti-social personality, we’re talking about people who have skills, there’s time between themselves and their last crime and their last infraction and their last positive substance abuse test.  They are employable now.

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  And the point to be made – and this is what we advocate at the National Institute of Corrections – you must have an ongoing assessment process.  You must assess those risks, those criminogenic risks.  And what we’re finding, and research will prove this, will show this, the same risks that would have resulted in a person losing their job through being fired or just walking off the job are the same type of issues that may lead me back to reoffending or to some type of criminal offense.  So if you have that assessment on the front end, help me identify my barriers, my challenges to self-sufficiency.  And that’s part of the training process at our Institute, at NIC.

Len Sipes:  Now Constance, going back to Pat’s reference to public safety, it is all about public safety.  We’re talking about fewer people committing fewer crimes and fewer people going back to prison.  We’re talking about public safety, we’re talking about saving taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars, not building new prisons, a lot is riding on what we do here today, correct?

Constance Parker:  Yes.  And you talked about public safety and reducing the taxpayers –

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  Burden.

Constance Parker:  – burden, however, we’re also increasing the tax level if we are employing people.

Len Sipes:  Right.  And we’re also reconnecting offenders with their kids, because most have kids, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody.

Constance Parker:  It is.  And when Pat was talking about the assessment, one of the things that we do, we have the adult and correctional education as a part of the Department of Labor and Licensing Regulation.  And they have programs within our state prison systems that actually help prepare folks before they come out and there are assessments that are done inside through the transition programs that are there.

Len Sipes:  Another point in all of this that you ladies brought up was the fact that there has to be training.  There has to be programs within the prison system and there has to be programs outside of the prison system to deal with employment, to deal with GED programs, to deal with mental health issues, to deal with substance abuse issues, but we all know that states are cash strapped.  The federal government is cash strapped.  It’s not as if we have enough programs for everybody who needs them.  That’s the other part of the problem.

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  This goes back to collaboration.  The only way to do more with less is through collaboration.  So it’s one thing to identify the needs of the person, but what organization or agency out there can better meet that need.  Again, collaboration, what can we accomplish together?

Len Sipes:  Right.  The point we’re saying is that it’s not all government, it can’t be all government, it will never be all government.  The Salvation Army has programs, faith-based institutions have programs.  Literally, in a program that we employ here in Washington, D.C., through my Agency, the faith-based program, we’ve got hundreds of churches and hundreds of offenders involved, and they’re getting all sort of things every single day from child care to housing assistance to job training, through the faith-based community.  So that’s the collaboration we’re talking about, right?

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  It is –

Constance Parker:  Yes, and that’s –

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  I’m sorry.

Constance Parker:  But that collaboration, what we are doing is that we’re building that collaboration from the inside out so that we’re bringing in many of those resources prior to a person being released.  In addition, in the Maryland prison system we also have 18 occupational skills trainings that provide individuals who go through those trainings with national and state certification so when they come out they have a marketable skill.  And very often, we work to connect them with employers prior to their release.

Len Sipes:  What’s our message to employers, ladies?  Training has to be there, collaboration has to be there, we need to have our folks trained in terms of, say, motivational techniques.  I mean some of the folks coming out of prison, they don’t trust us, they don’t trust anybody.  They’re very caustic.  They’ve been in the prison system.  We’ve got to motivate them to find the different things that are out there, we’ve got to encourage them, we have to supervise them.  So that’s part of it, that’s part of the training part of it right, Pat?

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  And that brings me to the third tier of our training which is the Offender Retention Training, which blends together motivational interviewing techniques with a cognitive behavioral process.  And so quite simply what we’re saying is that if I change the way I communicate with you and develop a relationship with you, me as a practitioner, there’s a client centered, non-threatening relationship.  And because of our tone of our conversation, I’m able to look at the connection between my feelings and my connections in my behaviors.  And if done correctly, we’re talking about a hand off.  So my case management by combining motivational interviewing with cognitive behavioral therapy, or support, results in self-management.

Len Sipes:  Cognitive behavioral therapy.  Now all three of us know, because we read the literature, that it really does work.  Constance, you tell me what is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Constance Parker:  I knew you were going to ask me that!  It’s really helping an individual look at their behavior patterns and make choices as to what they want to change and how to change it.

Len Sipes:  Thinking through things differently, learning how to look at life’s issues differently, learning how to think through life’s problems differently, learning how to shape the background that brought them into the prison system to begin with –

Constance Parker:  And part of that training talks about change talk.  So when you get folks able to, in a situation, begin to hear themselves and change the way they would have approached that particular problem.  And as you begin to say things differently, and you begin to hear it, you begin to move in that direction.  The other thing is this training is important because we’re training the professionals who are working with the individuals.  Without that piece it would make no sense.  If we, as professionals, don’t know how to relate to an individual, don’t know how to help that individual find within themselves the ability to make that change, then we’re doing a disservice.  We can’t change anyone.

Len Sipes:  Okay, we have to wrap up soon.  What I’m hearing is train the staff, train the offender, go through that thinking process and join in a collaborative effort with everybody in the community to try to help that person as much as humanly possible and to find that person work, correct?

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  Right.  And understand from the employer’s perspective.  We’re living in an employer driven workforce right now.

Len Sipes:  Yes, we are.

P. Elizabeth Taylor:  And we need to understand what their needs are.  The old way of doing things, the face them and place them, did not work, it will never work.  That is how we operated.  As we develop these collaborative relationships with employers, they need to know that we are truly developing this partnership with them.  We will do our work on the front end, we will find out about your industry, we know about labor market information, we’re not attempting to dump people.

Len Sipes:  And we have to close on that, ladies.  Thank you very much for being with us.  And ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.  Watch for us in the second half when an individual from my Agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, who is in charge of the process of finding people employment when they leave the prison system and a person who hires offenders leaving the prison system.  They’ll be with us in the second half.  Please stay with us.

Len Sipes:  Hi, welcome back to DC Public Safety, I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  We continue to talk about this whole concept of employing people as they leave the prison system.  As I said at the beginning of the first part of the program, 700,000 people leave prison systems all throughout the United States and the federal system, half go back after three years and on any given day about half seem to be employed.  In the first half, we had two national experts talk about principal points that everybody needs to understand in terms of making sure that as many of these individuals as possible are employed upon release.  In the second half, we have people from Washington, D.C., my Agency, Tony Lewis, an Employment Specialist with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Furard Tate, Owner of Inspire Food Management, and Tony and Furard, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Furard Tate:  Thank you, very much.

Tony Lewis:  Thank you, very much.

Len Sipes:  Hi, Tony, the first question goes to you.  You’re part of a team that finds individuals work.  They’re under our supervision.  They can be on parole, they could be on mandatory, they could be on probation, you’re working with employers.  How difficult is that?

Tony Lewis:  Pretty difficult.  But at the same time, in the VOTEE unit, we do a lot of work on the front end in terms of assessments from a literacy standpoint, skillset standpoint, and also from a behavioral standpoint to make sure that when we do refer individuals for positions that they’re one, ready, that they’re capable and also that they’ve shown to us that they’re committed to changing their lives.  So I think when we do that we give ourselves a better shot but at the same time it’s a very difficult situation.

Len Sipes:  The message I gave in the first half, does it apply?  There are individuals who are years away from their last criminal activity, years away from their last positive drug test, they have no infractions, they have real skills, but they’re not finding work because of their criminal history.  They’re perfectly employable, they’re not a risk to public safety, but they’re not finding work.  Is that accurate?

Tony Lewis:  That is very accurate.  Very accurate.  We have individuals that are extremely employable, ready to work right now, can come in and help a business grow, increase the productivity of a company, but sometimes, or most times, their criminal history kind of gets in the way of that.  And we, myself, people like me, people in the VOTEE unit, we try to develop relationships with employers such as Mr. Tate and other employers so that they believe in us enough to give somebody a shot.

Len Sipes:  And a quick summation.  Everything that our national experts suggested on the first half, we do the assessments, we provide GED skills, we provide cognitive-behavioral therapy or thinking for change skills, we work with the individual to try to improve their skills as much as humanly possible before we send them out to the job interview, correct?

Tony Lewis:  That’s very correct.  And the experts before us were very on point about what’s necessary to make this work.  And we also try to do research in terms of market research and research what the employers need and present that to the employer.  I think when we do that we put the employer in a situation where they feel comfortable enough to say, “Hey, because this guy has the skillset from a business standpoint.”  I think that’s the most important thing, can this person come in and do the job.  And it’s not a sense of entitlement on behalf of the offender, it’s we have what you need.

Len Sipes:  Before going over to Mr. Tate, I did want to point out that on our website,,, on the front page of the website, we have been hiring people under supervision.  And we have radio shows, television shows, we have information about tax credits, because there are tax credits available –

Tony Lewis:  Federal bonding programs.

Len Sipes:  Federal bonding programs, so all of that information is available on our website.

Tony Lewis:  And our number.

Len Sipes:  And your number.  But it doesn’t matter whether the program is being seen in Honolulu, Kansas City, or in Washington D.C., I just want everybody to know that that information is available on the website about the tax program, the bonding program and the tax program, because these are federal programs.

Tony Lewis:  Right.  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Mr. Tate?

Furard Tate:  Hey, how are you?

Len Sipes:  I’ve been looking forward to talking to you.

Furard Tate:  Come on.

Len Sipes:  First of all, you’ve got a great website which we’re going to be throwing up on the screen.  I could not look at that site without feeling hungry.

Furard Tate:  All right.

Len Sipes:  That’s some of the most beautiful pictures of meat I’ve ever seen in my life!

Furard Tate:  Wait until you taste it!

Len Sipes:  I am.  I’m going to have to stop by.

Furard Tate:  Please do.

Len Sipes:  Now, from an employer’s perspective –

Furard Tate:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  We’re the government, we’ve got people out of the prison system, we have people involved in the Criminal Justice System, and we want you to consider hiring these individuals.  We don’t say it from a public safety point of view, we don’t say it from the standpoint that this is the right or the wrong thing to do, we’re just saying we are going to help you find the right person.  Do you buy that?

Furard Tate:  No.  I still say why.  But that’s why business owners have to look beyond all the great training that you all provide and still find what’s in it for the business owner and what’s in it for the person that you’re about the present to me.  We have to find that match.  We have to find that win-win.  So a lot of times, when you think about all the back end support that these individuals are getting, you still have to do the work as a business owner to make sure that it’s a perfect match.  You want to know that this individual has the skill and the desire to do the job that your company needs to take the company to the next level.  So it’s on you also now to begin to be a part of that whole connection to make a win-win for everybody.

Len Sipes:  But how do we establish that?  How do we, in government, how does Tony, the people that Tony works with, how do we in government convince you that we’ve got a person that you should be willing to take a look at?

Furard Tate:   He does it excellently.  We develop a relationship far before he brings the individual to me.  He finds what my needs are.  He understands what my business model, and what is my mission, and the culture of my company, be it a small company or a large company, there’s an environment.  So before you try to fit someone in, because he has a caseload with individuals ready to work, he understands what my needs are.  So he can articulate that to a group of individuals who are ready and eager to be employed.

Len Sipes:  All right.  So it’s our responsibility, in government, to bring you our best possible candidates and to work with you ahead of time and establish that relationship.

Furard Tate:  You have one chance.

Len Sipes:  One chance.

Furard Tate:  Because if not, you will actually destroy so much that I’ve built if you give me the wrong person.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Okay so really a heck of a lot rides on this.  What do you tell people caught up in the Criminal Justice System?  What do you tell the offenders?  What are the lessons that they need to know and what do they need to understand?

Furard Tate:  Get focused.  Identify what it is that you want to do, get educated on that.  There may not be a degree for it, but get focused on it, get educated and then get pumped up for you beginning to look at what are the available opportunities out there.  So you need to be even more aggressive in finding that employment than the people who are helping you.

Len Sipes:  So many of the employers that I’ve talked to in my career, they said bring me attitude.  I can teach a person bricklaying, I can’t teach a person attitude.  That person’s got to come, be on time every single day, he’s got to smile, she’s got to be cooperative, they got to be willing to work overtime, I don’t want to hear any drama, that’s what people need to understand, correct?

Furard Tate:  Well, it gets hot in the kitchen.  But if an individual is excited about becoming a chef, he loves the heat.  So he’s already excited about being in that kitchen, and he’s going to beat me to the kitchen.  So if we find that perfect individual, we got to go through a few individuals who just have the notion of being a chef, but the desire for being that chef isn’t there.  So whatever that business is, there’s someone out there who really wants that job.  Who’s going to show up on time, who’s going to perform and who’s going to do excellent work because it’s in them to be excellent.

Len Sipes:  Tony, now in terms of our conversations with employers, we have a problem getting people employed.  So obviously, when I talk to Mr. Tate and his enthusiasm, and Lord knows I love your enthusiasm as much as I love your website, as much as I love your product, we have a problem getting people employed.  They’re perfectly employable skilled people.  We’re not talking about the person fresh out of prison, we’re not talking about the antisocial personality, we’re talking about a person who’s ready for work.  So obviously, all the things that we’ve discussed today between the national experts and ourselves, there’s a bit of a disconnect, we’re not convincing enough people to give us a chance.

Tony Lewis:  I think the issue is, I think we need more involvement from the business community in some of these discussions.  Because a lot of the hiring policies are what the issues are.  It’s not always the individuals.  The individuals are ready to go.  Sometimes these companies, their hiring policies say you can’t have a felony.  And if that’s the case, no matter how qualified an individual is, that person can’t work there.  So right now, I feel that’s the biggest problem, we have to kind of work on the hiring policies of small and big business in the District of Columbia, and I guess nationwide.

Len Sipes:  But I mean how do you work on these hiring policies?  A lot of people are saying, “I just watched “Lock Up’ Up” on the cable channel last night, and I’m not hiring anybody from prison.  I’m sorry, I don’t care if they can spin gold.”

Tony Lewis:  Which I understand.  But I think we have to do a better job of highlighting so many success stories.  We have numerous success stories.  People that have come home from prison, from incarceration, done amazing things on all levels from a lot of different industries and also in the community.  We have to show that the person that you see on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ or ‘Lock Up’, that’s not the only perception of this population.

Len Sipes:  We’ve both talked to, throughout our careers at this point thousands of people who have successfully made the transformation from tax burden to taxpayer.  They’re working, they’re taking care of their kids –

Tony Lewis:  A whole lot.  They labor.  But what happens is, I think, when we talk about that, that success story can never have as much impact as the person that chooses to reoffend.  And that’s what we have to, we have to continue to hold those people up so that we get to a point where they begin to influence the perception as much as the negative images that we see.

Len Sipes:  Well, Mr. Tate says that one, just one screws up the whole process.

Furard Tate:  But see, I have more than one who has been with me for over ten years that started just out of an introduction.  So it’s hard to not let that one stop you.  But the fact of the matter is if I understand that this individual is on purpose, and it’s going to help me meet my bottom line, I’d be foolish not to give him or her an opportunity to be a part of this company to grow it.

Len Sipes:  But that’s what we have to do, we have to appeal to the bottom line.  I’m not quite sure we have to appeal to messages of public safety – and this is what this is all about, the conversation is about public safety, the conversation is not them going back to the prison system, the conversation is not about saving taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars, for us that’s very important, for you it’s the bottom line.  You’re a business person.

Furard Tate:  Well, that person is working eight hours plus he doesn’t have the time to reoffend, he’s working.  And then –

Len Sipes:  And he sees a future.

Furard Tate:  And he sees a future.  Because we make sure that each person is connected to not only our company, but to their own personal success.  So we’re asking individuals, because we, as a business owner, I have to be really aware of where he or her future lies and how I’m part of that.

Len Sipes:  What’s the biggest detriment?  Because I’ve talked to guys who’ve come out, they’re 35 years old, and says, “Man, I’m not going to be taking an entry-level position at 35, I’ve got a family to take care of, I’ve got myself to take care, I’m not,” that’s the wrong way of looking at it, correct?

Tony Lewis:  I think a great deal of that falls, we’re talking about their cognitive behavior, therapy, things of that nature, motivation, interviewing, therefore a lot of that falls on an individual like myself in the VOTEE unit because what we have to be clear on is that we have to explain to our clients that, hey, listen, you have to be willing to crawl before you walk.  That attitude is the wrong one to have.  And at the end of the day some of our guys, whether you have the skillset or not, you have to be accountable for what you’ve done and be willing to show and prove that you want to take whatever steps that are necessary to reenter society in a positive way, and that family needs to be the motivation that will make you take whatever job that is available.

Len Sipes:  We talked with the national experts about the fact that there has to be training programs in the prison system, there has to be training programs on the outside.  We talked about the fact that there’s got to be staff training.  We’ve talked about the fact that there’s got to be collaboration, and the two of you talked about that collaboration.  Before you hired anybody, Mr. Tate, you were in collaboration with Tony, and that’s the way that it works.  And then the final message in all of this is to the offender himself or herself.  You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to be willing to work and if that means starting off at the very bottom all over again to build those skills, those people skills, those service skills, the ability to get along with your supervisor, work well with a team, those are the skills that you’re trying to reestablish, right?

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely.

Furard Tate:  And don’t look at it as the bottom.  Because if you’re doing what you want to do, if you’re doing whatever that industry is, this is where you’re starting, where you end up, it all relies on your ability to be excellent and do more than is expected.  So I tell people be motivated, be pumped up, be your best.  And I purposely guarantee you’ll see me, before I suit on, grilling in the morning, so don’t let where you are be such a downer because where you’re going to go, it all is up to you.

Len Sipes:  And it’s all part of being in a positive environment too.  Because what you’re talking about, Mr. Tate, is a very positive environment.

Furard Tate:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  All right, gentlemen, thank you for being with us, really appreciate it.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us, watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in today’s Criminal Justice System.  Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


Supervision of High-Risk Offenders-DC Public Safety Television

Supervision of High-Risk Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s show is supervising the high-risk offender, and you know, there is a consensus amongst the criminological community at agencies like the U.S. Department of Justice, that agencies like mine, that parole and probation agencies should be spending the bulk of the resources, the bulk of their time on the high-risk offender. To talk about this concept, we’re really pleased to have two national experts with us on the first half; and then we’re going to go to the second half and talk with the people from my agency addressing the implementation of that research. So on the first half; we have Jesse Jannetta, research associate from the Urban Institute, and Bill Burrell, independent community corrections consultant. And again, we’re going to discuss the consensus in terms of the high-risk offender. Bill and Jesse, thanks again for being on the show. Bill Burrell, give me a sense as to what we’re talking about with this national consensus. First of all, is there a consensus; second, what is the high-risk offender?

Bill Burrell:  Well, there’s clearly a consensus. It’s based on a robust body of research from United States, from Canada, from other countries around the issue of “Who’s on supervision and how do we handle them?” And what the research tells us is that there is a group of people that are high-risk of re-offending when they’re in the community. Not every offender is the same. They have different backgrounds, different experiences, committed different offenses, their commitment to their criminal career varies; and the people we were concerned about, are the people that pose the greatest risk, the high-risk offender.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.

Bill Burrell: The probabilities are very high that they’re going to continue to offend in the community, and these are the folks that we want to keep a close eye on, and provide close supervision to see if we can reduce the risk of them re-offending again.

Len Sipes:  Jesse, you’re from one of the premier research organizations in the country, the Urban Institute.  You’ve been taking a look at the high-risk offender for quite some time. The bottom line in this is the protection of public safety, is it not?

Jesse Jannetta:  It is, and one of the reasons, again, that there has been a greater focus on the high-risk offender – and this is a good instance where research and what it’s telling us is really tracking with common sense in many ways – in a situation where you have many problems, what you want to focus on is the biggest problem where you make the biggest impact, and that’s going to be the high-risk offender, since they’re the most likely to have more offenses and create more victims in the community. And what, in fact, we’ve seen when you look at a lot of the programming interventions for parolees and probationers in the community is that, in fact, that programming is more effective for high-risk offenders; you get greater reduction in their risk to the community. And, in fact, in many cases, if you look at low risk offenders and programming, you may, if you put them into intensive programming, actually make their outcomes worse. And so this has really driven supervision agencies all over the country to think about, “Alright, how can we make sure that we’re putting most of our resources, whether its supervision or treatment or both of them in concert on our high-risk offenders? How can we know who those are, and then how can we move away a little bit from intervening too much with the lower risk offenders to avoid actually making their outcomes worse and having a negative impact on what’s going on in the community in terms of public safety?”

Len Sipes:  Bill, back to you. This is a consensus, correct? I mean, within the criminological community, within organizations, within the Department of Justice, within the American Probation and Parole Association, there does seem to be a consensus that we move in this direction. I want to be very clear about that.

Bill Burrell:  Absolutely; and this goes back a good 20 years to research that came out primarily in the early 1990s, looking at the question of risk.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.

Bill Burrell: And over those years, through conferences and workshops and experience with agencies, that’s begun to seep into the fabric of probation, parole agencies around the country; and few people contest it any more. It really is something that has become an accepted fact that there are high-risk offenders, and if we’re serious about public safety, these are the folks we need to go after.

Len Sipes:  Right, and Jesse, the research is supportive. I just read a piece from Abt Associates where they were basically doing what it is that we’re doing now, or propose to do; and they showed substantial reductions in recidivism. And when I say recidivism, we’re talking about real crime. We’re talking about people becoming injured. We’re talking about increasing public safety. So two of the three sites where they implemented this strategy, the best practices within 50 to one case loads, they were able to reduce recidivism and new crimes considerably. The one case where it did not happen, they didn’t implement it fully –

Jesse Jannetta: Right.

Len Sipes:  – so there’s good strong data in Abt, and as Bill said in lots of other research, that basically said this is the way to go. So it’s not just a consensus, it’s based upon hard research.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right and this is a research base that has, as Bill suggested, been developing over 20 years. And I think one of the things that has led to the consistency in those kind of research results is that we’ve gotten a lot better at working with the high-risk offender. The first piece we’ve gotten a lot better at is identifying who those people are out of all the parolees and probationers –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – than an agency supervises. So the assessment tools to build risk groups and say, “Alright, these are the people, if you look at this group, they’re the group that’s much more likely to re-offend.” The tools to do that have gotten a lot more sophisticated and performed better. And on the programming front, you know, over the years, we’ve gotten a lot better at both knowing what kind of curriculum, what kind of approaches work for good programming, but also a lot of information about what the staff needs to be like, when you put people in the programming, and so we’re in a much stronger position than we were –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Jesse Jannetta:  – 20 years ago, to say, “These are the people we need to focus on. We really can identify them in our population, and these are the tools that are going to make them less likely to re-offend.”  Twenty years ago, we had ideas about those things, but we didn’t have a strong ground to stand on in terms of having seen the results. But today, we are in that position where you can look at a lot of different jurisdictions and say, “We’ve proven this.”

Len Sipes: The risk and needs assessment that you just brought up, Jesse and Bill, I mean, we’ve come light years in terms of our ability to figure it out – but it’s not foolproof, I want to make it very clear right now – we can be 80 percent, and 80 percent is incredibly good in terms of predicting who’s going to fail and who’s not; but it’s not infallible – but we’ve come light years in terms of the level of sophistication, with validated instruments to figure out who’s antisocial, and who’s going to make it and who’s not.

Bill Burrell:  Am important thing to remember about these assessments, and you mentioned, is that they’re not perfect. These are probability statements about groups of people who look alike.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  They’re not individual predictions to individual offenders.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  Our technology doesn’t allow us to do that.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  So we plug into the assessment this body of information about people who’ve been under supervision before, and how they behaved and how they did under supervision, and we use that to develop a model that helps us identify those kinds of people in the existing population.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Burrell:  The insurance companies have used this kind of technology for years.

Len Sipes:  Yes, they have.

Bill Burrell:  Actuarial models.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  So we’re very good at being able to put people into the right groups, but then we have to plug in the expertise of the probation parole officers to go beyond what the actuarial instrument will tell you; to begin the plug in unique things to that individual offender. So what the research tells us is, the instruments do a very good job – a little better job than any of us can do individually – but when you plug in the experience of a probation parole officer on top of that assessment, you get the greatest level of accuracy in terms of who’s likely to re-offend.

Len Sipes:  Right. It’s based on a machine read. Somebody’s got to make – somebody’s got to take a look at this and figure out for themselves if it’s correct or incorrect, whether or not it should be overwritten to a lower level, a higher level of supervision. Jesse, the research also says that treatment programs are an integral part of this, so it’s just not a matter of supervision, the research from the past basically says if you only do supervision, the only thing you’re going to do is revoke very high numbers of people and put them back within the correctional system. People who have mental health issues need mental health treatment. People who have substance abuse issues need substance abuse treatment. People who don’t have an occupational background need to be provided with information as to getting jobs, and how to present themselves. Correct or incorrect?

Jesse Jannetta:  Yeah, all of those things are correct. And the one thing that I would add to that, where there’s been an emerging consensus as well as the importance of it, is what’s called cognitive behavioral treatment, and this is based on the understanding that a lot of criminal behavior is driven by the way the people make decisions, the values and beliefs and justifications that they have inside themselves that may –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – support or justify after the fact, criminal behavior. And then the other layer is a lot of their associates. So if you have somebody who is hanging out with, and a lot of their friends are criminally involved, the odds are pretty high that they will be as well. And so a lot of that programming is looking at building skills to make better decision making, to do better problem solving –

Len Sipes:  And that’s what we mean by –

Jesse Jannetta:  – to be less aggressive.

Len Sipes:   – cognitive – better decision-making.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right. It’s about, you know, the way people think and make decisions –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Jesse Jannetta:  – determines a lot of their behavior. And so if you want them to make a different kind of decision than they’ve made in the past, you need to work on that really directly, and have them build skills. And that this often has effects not only in a criminal behavior, but it makes them more successful in employment.

Len Sipes:  And that is part of the research base.

Jesse Jannetta:  Oh, absolutely.

Len Sipes:  The research does back that up.  Bill, –

Bill Burrell:  I want to –

Len Sipes:  Go ahead, please.

Bill Burrell:  I want to elaborate a little bit on that –

Len Sipes:  Please.

Bill Burrell:  – because we started out talking about the high-risk offender, and that’s determining who we’re going to work with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  And once we’ve determined that, then we need to look at the individual factors as – and Jesse began to suggest – what we call on the field, criminogenic risk factors.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  Things that drive people to commit crime. That’s the second major thing that has come out of this 20 plus year body of research, is now we know what we want to work with offenders on. How do we want to change them? What are the things in their lives –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  – that drive them to commit crime.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  So that’s that – it’s kind of a – we know who to work with, what to work on, and the next part is how to go about that, and that’s the cognitive behavioral intervention.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Great.

Bill Burrell:  Because much of what we do, the way we think, determines how we act.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  So if you change thinking patterns from criminal to pro-social, you get pro-social behavior and less criminal activity.

Len Sipes:  Okay, a very important point now. If we’re going to take all these resources and we’re going to place the bulk of our supervision, the bulk of our treatment sources on the high-risk offender, what that means is that with lower risk offenders, we’re going to do quote/unquote “something else”.

Bill Burrell:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Now what comes to mind is New York City putting the great majority of the people that they have under probation supervision on kiosks. They’re automatic machines. They look like the bank machine that you go to –

Jesse Jannetta/Bill Burrell:  Yeah, right.

Len Sipes:  – to withdraw, a ATM machine. Thank you. And that jurisdictions around the country are now using them to lower case loads. They’re using kiosk, but the kiosk example, the thing that surprised me is that up in New York City, they showed less recidivism using kiosks when compared to a control group. So there are ways of safely supervising and interacting with low risk offenders beyond person to person contact, correct?

Bill Burrell:  Correct; and I think the kiosk is a real interesting experiment, you know, in this country there is a love affair with technology. So any time you throw technology at a problem, we think it will fix it, but I think Jesse mentioned that intervening with low risk offenders more than you need to, can actually cause problems. So I think what you might be seeing in New York City is that we have reduced the amount of intrusion into those low risk offenders’ lives, and they respond in a positive way to that.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  People resist being told what to do, being forced into programs or services that they don’t really think they need, and we found a way to accomplish the monitoring objectives of supervision without overtly or excessively intruding in their lives.

Len Sipes:  But we’re not, Jesse, risking public safety when we do this; every parole and probation agency in this country, whether they cop to it or not, does have a lower level of supervision –

Jesse Jannetta:  Right.

Len Sipes: – for lower risk offenders. I mean, so that’s current, that’s happening now anyway.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right. I think the greatest challenge for parole and probation agencies in delivering on the promise of working with the high-risk offender, and what we know from research, is the research challenges. You have parole and probation officers all around the country that have huge caseloads –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – 80, 90, 100 people –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully work on risk reduction things with all of those people. And working with high-risk offenders, I mean, as we’ve said, we’ve got this research about what’s effective, but this is not a situation where a little bit goes a long way. The kind of programming and interventions they need are intensive. You need to spend time with them not just in the programming, but the parole and probation officers enhancing their motivation, –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – keeping them moving on the right path, intervening when they might be backsliding a little bit, engaging their families, –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:   – their employers, the positive influences in their life –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – keeping them on track with their plan. You need time in the day to do that, and so there is some need to move around resources. One of the most interesting findings in that kiosk study in New York is that it’s not only the low risk offenders did better –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – but the high-risk offenders also did better.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  New York City probation was very clear, “We’re going with kiosk for the low risk offenders so we can spend more time with the high-risk offenders, and they did better too.”

Len Sipes:  We have a minute left. The key in all of this seems to be the proper balance. The key in all of this seems to be a balance of resources and figuring out where to place your resources, obviously the high-risk offender. But that seems to be the tune-up, if you will, for parole and probation agencies to make them far more effective, and at the same time protect public safety. We are talking about fewer crimes committed. Am I right or wrong?

Jesse Jannetta:  That’s correct.

Bill Burrell:  And we have to be smart about this. We have to realize that all offenders are alike. They have different characteristics, different levels of risk, and we need to apply our resources in a way that responds to that information.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  And then once we’ve done that, then we need to use the techniques that have been proven with high-risk offenders to get the results that we want.

Len Sipes:  And Bill, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we appreciate you watching the program today. Stay with us in the second half as we take a look in my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, in taking this research consensus that Jesse and Bill talked about, and implementing it within my agency. We’ll be right back.

[Program Break]

Len Sipes:  Hi, welcome back to DC Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  I represent the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We’re a federal parole and probation agency responsible for offenders in Washington DC, and what you’ve heard on the first half, that research consensus from two national experts as to the research on the high-risk offender, well now we’re going to be implementing it; and we have been implementing it throughout the course of the year. To talk about it, we have Valerie Collins, a branch chief of the Domestic Violence Unit for the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency; and Gregory Harrison, again branch chief for general supervision, Court Services and Offenders Supervision. And to Valerie and Greg, welcome to the program!

Valerie Collins:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Greg, the first question’s going to you. We’ve heard the researchers of people representing two stellar organizations in terms of that research consensus within the criminological community, within the government, that we really should be focusing on the high-risk offender. And the integral part of supervising that high-risk offender is first of all, discovering who that person is with a risk assessment instrument, correct?

Gregory Harrison:  You’re absolutely correct, and I think what CSOSA has done is actually fallen right in line with the research in terms of showing that we’ve identified the high-risk offenders versus those who are low risk. We’ve challenged our resources in their appropriate domains, and it’s showing that our offenders are pretty much providing, or being provided with the services that they need.

Len Sipes:  Right, and so when we’re talking about the high-risk offender, as far as CSOSA is concerned – and I think this matches the national research – we’re talking about sex, we’re talking about violence, we’re talking about weapons, and we’re talking about the ages principally 18 to 25. Now, it doesn’t have to really focus on all the variables that I just mentioned – there could be others – but principally it’s that part of our population, correct?

Gregory Harrison: You’re absolutely correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Valerie; and we’re also talking about individuals that even though the current charge say is theft or possession with intent to distribute, we’re not taking just a look at the current charge; we’re taking a look at the totality of that person’s criminal history, the totality of that person’s social history, correct?

Valerie Collins: Yes, what we do is we look at the person’s entire history. We look very strongly at what their criminal background has been. We also look at other risk factors that they may have had. As you indicated, a person may be on supervision for something like theft –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins: – but if they’ve had, you know, armed robbery with a weapon, you know, in their past –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  – that is of course going to bump their supervision level up. And they would certainly get closer supervision.

Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this. We’re talking about somewhere in the ballpark of about a third of our caseload when we’re talking about high-risk offenders, correct?

Gregory Harrison:  Yeah, about a third in the high-risk area, one third in the medium, and a third in the low risk categories as well.

Len Sipes:  All right, now we said in the first half that the focus needs to be on the high-risk offender, that’s where the resources need to be, the treatment resources, the supervision resources. And, you know, it’s pretty clear that the research throughout the country is that this reduces recidivism, this protects public safety, focusing on that high-risk offender. But what that does mean is that for the lower risk offender, we’ve got to do quote/unquote “something else”, lower levels of supervision. And now we’re implementing the kiosk program where we are putting lower level offenders on kiosks, and so they’re going to be reporting to a machine; and if there are issues in terms of that reporting, they have to then contact a community supervision officer elsewhere, known as parole and probation agents. There still could be drug testing involved, so it’s just not the machine, but it’s going to be principally kiosk reporting for lower level offenders, correct?

Valerie Collins:  Yes, and actually there would be an officer who is assigned to those offenders who are on kiosk supervision.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Valerie Collins:  They monitor that kiosk supervision, they are able to look at reports to see if the person’s actually reporting in, –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – ensuring that they’re still employed.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  They are also randomly drug tested.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  And so if, you know, the person is positive, then they would come back into the office and we would do intervention with that individual.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  So we do have a lot of things put in place so that we can actually make sure that we are keeping in contact with those individuals, that they are following the program that has been set up for them –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – and again, if they are not in compliance, then swiftly we are able to direct ourselves to those individuals, to have contact with them.

Len Sipes:  But then again, that is to free up resources to focus on the high-risk offender, and that’s the person who possibly poses a clear and present risk to public safety. That’s where we should be going.

Valerie Collins:  And what that has done has allowed us to work much closely with those individuals who are high-risk –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – so that the supervision officers have actually lower case loads for those offenders who we have –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  – identified to be the high-risk offenders.

Len Sipes:  Right. So we’re talking about what, Greg?  We’re talking about global positioning system tracking. We’re talking about working with local law enforcement, and we’re talking about in terms of a sex offender; a polygraph test. We’re talking about two new day reporting centers.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  We’re talking about a whole wide array of strategies to stay in touch with that individual; and I’m going to dare say based upon the research far more than most states stay in touch with their offenders.

Gregory Harrison:  Certainly. But one of the things that we’ve done at CSOSA is we’ve made sure that our staff were more than prepared to address and handle high-risk offenders.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Gregory Harrison:  We’ve done that by showing that all of our staff were trained in cognitive behavior intervention –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Gregory Harrison: – as well as motivational interviewing.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  And when we – having done that, we’ve ensured that the staff would be ready to understand the assessments, –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – be able to actually articulate their understanding of the assessment to the offender population. Because oftentimes the offender’s always saying, “You’re putting me in this program, you’re putting me in that program or referring me here and there, but you’re not telling me exactly why.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  So we’ve trained our staff tremendously in those efforts to ensure that the offenders have a clear understanding of what their expectations are, and why we’re using the resources that we’re using to channel them into using best practice resources –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – channel them into the areas of compliance.

Len Sipes:  Greg, I’m glad you brought that up. And Valerie, the next question’s going to go to you. In terms of treatment resources, I mean cognitive behavioral therapy where we sit down and teach individuals how to think differently throughout their lives, and people sometimes smirk at that, but the research base is pretty clear that this reduces re-offending, it lowers criminality, it protects public safety. Those sort of treatment resources, whether it be mental health, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be our own facilities where we place people for an assessment, or place people for intensive drug treatment, the bulk of those treatment resources are going to go to that individual.

Valerie Collins:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Valerie Collins:  We actually have – we call our Reentry and Sanction Center, and that is designed to do a 28-day assessment on those offenders who are high-risk individuals.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  And what we do with them is that we bring them in–it’s an in-patient setting for 28 days–really look at what their needs are, their treatment needs are, and from there, we develop a plan for them, a treatment plan. And they may go out to another treatment facility; we may look at getting them some type of transitional housing so that they can get some stability in the community. And then, particularly in the Domestic Violence Unit, we have a treatment component where we are doing exactly what we’re talking about. We’re actually looking at, you know, how people think, and actually making some changes in their cognitive behavior –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  – so they will no longer be involved with those types of offenses in terms of domestic violence; giving them some alternatives and some skills so that they can be successful in the community.

Len Sipes:  And as we said during the first half of the program, that that treatment emphasis, it’s got to be a combination of supervision and treatment. It’s just not one or the other. If the person comes out of the prison system and he has mental health issues, those mental health issues need to be addressed. I’m not quite sure anybody could disagree with that; if you address those mental health issues, you’re gonna lower the rate of him being back in the criminal justice system. If he has this wild substance abuse history, that needs to be addressed. If he has no work history, that needs to be addressed. That’s what we plan on doing for high-risk offenders.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes, you’re absolutely right. And speaking about in terms of mental health, CSOSA has done a phenomenal job in segmenting our population in terms of needs.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Gregory Harrison:  We have a unit that deals in services to the mental health population. We have a unit that deals and services the all woman population –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – the DVIP population. So we’re really segmented pretty well, and it helps us to channel again our resources in the proper area.

Len Sipes:  Right. I mean, best practices. I mean, one of the things that I find unique about CSOSA is use of best practice, and we’ve been basically implementing best practices since the beginning.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  I mean, CSOSA has been dedicated to a research-based approach, and we think that that obviously works. Alright, let me get into this. For that lower level offender who is going to get less supervision, they are also going to get less treatment. They’re also going to get fewer interventions; again, designed to free up resources for that person who poses a clear and present risk to public safety. What that does mean is that they’re not going to get drug treatment, say, from CSOSA, our drug treatment, but they will work with people in the community to try to get them drug treatment. But our priority needs to be treatment and supervision services on the high-risk offender, am I right?

Valerie Collins: You’re correct, but I think the other unique thing about CSOSA is that we’ve developed such strong partnerships in the community with law enforcement, you know, with treatment providers, so that we do have a host of resources that we can refer these low risk offenders –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – on to, so that they can actually get their services in the community. And when you talk about best practices, when they’re off supervision, they’re already entrenched and embedded in what’s already available to them in their community.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  And we found that that has really helped.

Len Sipes: Well, the partnership part of this is crucial because in terms of public safety, I mean, working with law enforcement, whether it’s the Metropolitan Police Department or the Secret Service or the FBI, we work with them on a regular basis in terms of, you know, who’s doing well, who’s not doing well. I mean, individual officers work with our community supervision officers. So that partnership is there on the supervision side and the treatment side in terms of resources for individuals. My Heavens there is a faith-based program. I mean, thousands of people help getting them, you know, the resources of the faith community in terms of substance abuse or in terms of housing. So it’s the community partnership that is an extraordinarily strong part of what it is we’re trying to do.

Valerie Collins:  Yes, you’re right. And as we talked about earlier just with the whole transitional housing piece, you know, that’s something where we have a partnership with our faith-based providers. And not only do they provide transitional housing, they also provide mentors.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  So again, you really have that community support, and that’s what we find that particularly in reentry, that these offenders need.

Len Sipes:  Now Greg, you’ve been around a long time, because when people hear this concept of working with the offender, cognitive behavioral therapy, they’re not aware of the research; it’s sometimes a hard issue for them to grasp. But what we have to do is to get through to that individual offender, and not only in terms of supervision, not only in terms of treatment, but also in terms of incentives. We’ve got to break through that barrier, that wall that he or she brings to us, and we’ve got to work with that person as a human being.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And where some people have a hard time hearing that, it’s true. I mean, we can reduce recidivism, better protect public safety, by breaking through and dealing with that individual as a human being; and that includes incentives and that includes working with that individual as a person.

Gregory Harrison:  Yeah, and it’s very interesting that you talk about incentives, because oftentimes we deal with when you’re in the world of criminal justice, we always talk about punitive damages and things of that nature –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Gregory Harrison:  – but incentives is something that CSOSA takes pride in, in terms of we do early terminations of some offenders.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  We make referrals oftentimes for them to come off supervision early. We actually, for those offenders who are on GPS where we’ve implemented curfews on them, we have reduced the curfew timeframe for them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  As long as they are in compliance. But what we have to do a better job at is showing that our offenders are absolutely in the know –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – about all of the interventions that we’re placing on them, and why we’re placing these interventions on them.

Len Sipes:  That individual can work their way off that high-risk status. I mean, we can, you know, day reporting and lots of contact and lots of programs and constant GPS; that’s not forever. As long as he or she goes along with the program, we ease them off that level of supervision. We may even ease them off a level of treatment. So that person can get off this designation, correct?

Gregory Harrison:  Yeah, certainly. And what we’ve done a lot of times – Valerie has done it, myself and my other branch chief co-workers – we’ve had what we call “call-ins”. We’ve actually taken focus areas of desire and brought all of those offenders in – whether it’s burglary or GPS offenders and things of that nature – we’ve talked to them about what public safety actually means.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  And what it means for them to be compliant and maintain a level of compliance, so that we can reduce their supervision that was from high-risk to a lower risk offender.

Len Sipes:  Right. And the bottom line in terms of the community watching this, regardless of where they are in the country, or Washington DC, all of this does protect public safety.

Gregory Harrison:  Certainly.

Len Sipes:  There’s now a national strategy that we’ve been implementing for a long time, but we’re going full throttle in that implementation, and we do believe that this is something which is in the public’s best interest.

Gregory Harrison:  But one thing I want to say is this.

Len Sipes: And quickly though.

Gregory Harrison:  In terms of low risk offenders, there are no guarantees. If an offender’s on kiosk, there are no guarantees –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – that they won’t re-offend.

Len Sipes:  Thank you.

Gregory Harrison:  But what we’re doing is putting in process in place.

Len Sipes:  Thank you, thank you. Alright, you’ve got the final word, Greg. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching the program as we examine the issue from a national and local perspective as to the high-risk offender. Look for us next time as we explore another very important topic within today’s criminal justice system; and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


Research on Women Offenders-Justice Policy Center-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne.  She is the director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute., one of the premiere nonpartisan research organizations in the United States.  I think everybody at any level of government, federal government, state government, local government, has used research from the Urban Institute in terms of looking at whatever it is they want to look at.  They have an extraordinary reputation and one of the things that I want to do is to focus on a program that they did.  It’s a piece of research called Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry which represents the only published empirical research with a good sample size looking at the statistical differences between the experiences of women versus men as they come out of the prison system thus the title of the show today is Research in Women Offenders.  Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center Urban Institute.  Welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy La Vigne:  Thanks.  It’s great to be here.

Len Sipes:  All right, Nancy, I said that you’re nonpartisan, that you’re extraordinarily well-known.  None of that, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration in any of that but from your lips, the Urban Institute does what?

Nancy La Vigne:  The Urban Institute was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization originally designed to evaluate the Great Society programs of President Johnson but it has since expanded to include both domestic and international work.  We have 10 different research centers spanning education policy, health policy, tax policy, and of course I’m the head of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and within the Justice Policy Center we span a wide array of research from gang and youth violence prevention to courts and of course, prisoner reentry is one of the cornerstones of our research portfolio in the Justice Policy Center.

Len Sipes:  You’ve looked at law enforcement practices, correctional practices, heck, you’ve even looked at cameras, speed cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  Ah, public surveillance cameras.

Len Sipes:  Public surveillance cameras.  I mean, you’ve looked at just about everything there is to look at within the criminal justice system.  I always find it delightful when I have the opportunity to talk to you.  But this particular piece of research, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, you’re talking about a piece of research, and for the layperson out there, there’s all sorts of research, some good, some bad, some empirically correct, some not empirically correct.  What you have is a large piece of research, and you’re talking about several jurisdictions where you take a look at men and women coming out of the prison system to establish the differences between their experiences.  And one of the things that is, I think, extraordinarily important from your research is the fact that there is a huge difference in the experiences of women and men coming out of the prison system.  Empirically, women have a greater degree of substance abuse, a greater degree of mental health problems, they don’t have the economic training of the job training…

Nancy La Vigne:  You’re stealing my thunder here.

Len Sipes:  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  This is profound.  There is a profound difference and I’m not quite sure everybody realizes this.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  Well, let me start a little bit by explaining the impetuous behind the larger study called Returning Home because at the time we launched it, which was now several years ago, there weren’t a lot of studies that looked beyond what we call recidivism so there would be researchers who looked at people who were released from prison and determined what percentage of them ended up being returned to prison, and with the available data they had, which was mostly administrative records from the Department of Corrections, they were able to say, “well people who were sentenced for these types of crimes or for this length of time were more less likely to return to prison.”  That’s what I call recidivism studies, but no one had really done a reentry study, understanding that reentry is not a point in time.  It’s a process, right?  So no one had conducted the kind of study that looked at all the different aspects associated with reentry success and failure, and the only way to do that is to interview people behind bars and track them in the community after they’re released and interview them in the community as well.  So much of the data that helps us explain reentry success or failure has to come from the people who are experiencing reentry.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  So that’s why we decided to launch Returning Home.  It was a tremendous effort.  It involved four different states and, of course, in one of the states, we did look at women exiting prison.  Actually two because in Maryland we did a pilot where we did a small sample of women there.  We ended up looking in Texas because Texas had such a large volume of all kinds of prisoners leaving that we could get a sufficient sample size of women in a relatively short period of time.

Len Sipes:  The second largest correctional system in the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.  But what we learned in Maryland about women in our pilot study, it was similar to what we found in the Houston sample and rings true when I have conversations both with women who have experienced reentry as well as service providers who are supporting their successful reentry.  So I think there’s a lot to be said about the experiences of women that perhaps is understudied because when we think of reentry we look at the numbers and we see that the vast majority of people leaving prison are male.  And while this is true, it’s also true that the share of women behind bars has increased at a greater rate than that of men over time so even though they’re a small population, they’re an increasing population and their experiences are different, as we’ll discuss, in ways that I think have relevance for the development of reentry programs that may often be overlooked if you’re only looking at a male population.

Len Sipes:  Now, in no way shape or form am I going to try to create a sense of sympathy or justification for crimes committed.  If you do the crime, you do the time.  I think that’s the prevailing wisdom in so many jurisdictions throughout the country.  But women offenders are not only different from male offenders in terms of their experiences when they get out.  Tell me if I’m right or wrong.  Feel free to criticize me if I don’t get it correctly.  Most women offenders before they go into the prison system have multiple histories of abuse by somebody.  In my mind, so many of the women offenders that I’ve been in touch with throughout my now 30 years in corrections, were tragic figures.  I mean, they suffered immense abuse, sexual abuse, rape is not uncommon, not only by people who they know but, in many cases, family members.  To me there’s no wonder that the rates of substance abuse are higher, that the rate of mental health problems are higher because they come from such violent backgrounds and there is a huge difference between the violence that they encountered in their younger years versus males.  Am I right or wrong?

Nancy La Vigne:  I would say that you’re right.  I mean, certainly women who end up behind bars have extensive histories of substance addiction and mental illness that are very difficult to disentangle from their personal histories of sexual victimization.  And it’s hard to know which came first, but you can understand how they’d all be interrelated.

Len Sipes:  Most of the women I’ve talked to tell very tragic tales.  We’ve had many women offenders before these microphones and they have told for public airing their experiences, and you just feel as if you’ve just gone through a hugely emotional experience after interviewing them.  A lot of times after the program I said, “Do you really want this to go out on the air?  You have the choice.  I won’t even put this out.”  I said, “Do you really want to be that honest and that brutal about your background?” and a lot of them, to a person, they’d say, “Yes.  I want to this to go out.  I want to talk about this.”

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  I imagine in some regards it’s cathartic and also I think that a lot of women want to share their stories to shine a bright light on this issue and help people understand better that, yes, they may have committed crimes but there’s a bigger story to be told.

Len Sipes:  And that bigger story, generally speaking, is not told, correct?  I mean, one of the things that’s astounded me in my years within the criminal justice system is how little this story is told.  It’s as if we’re afraid to confront the massive amount of abuse, and in many cases, flat out child abuse in terms of the families that these individuals come from.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  I think that’s right.  I’m certainly no expert on child abuse specific to women who end up being in the criminal justice system but I expect that’s right.

Len Sipes:  But before we get into the points of your research I just wanted to sort of set a stage in terms of the fact that if people are wondering why there’s such a difference in between men and women coming out of prison, it’s my contention, you don’t have to respond to this, it’s my contention that it has much to do with the environments that they came from before they went into the prison system.  I was reading in your report where there were two responses from men and women in terms of getting out.  One was, ‘I want to control my own life.’  That was men.  And women, ‘I want to reunite with my children.’

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh, it’s actually a little bit more colorful than that.

Len Sipes:  Oh, go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne:  So we, in the interviews that we had with people prior to their release, we had a question at the end which survey designers would call an open-ended question so we didn’t give them the answers.  We invited them to come up with their own answers and it was, ‘What are you most looking forward to after your release?’  And literally, and I’m not exaggerating, the most common answer among men was, ‘Pizza.’  And second to that, ‘Calling my own shots.’  And the single greatest, by a long shot answer among women was, ‘Reuniting with my kids.  Seeing my baby again.’  And it really speaks to different priorities as well as potentially different support systems.

Len Sipes:  The majority of women getting out of the prison system have children.  I’ve seen stats up to 80 percent.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So when they come out, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of substance abuse, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of mental health problems, they’ve got to figure out some way to find work.  Then they have less of a work background than men and they have to reunite with their children and somehow support their children.  That stacks the odds against women offenders to a degree that it almost seems impossible that they can accomplish all that.

Nancy La Vigne:  It definitely makes it more difficult for women.  When we compared women to men in our Texas study, we found that they were twice as likely to end up back behind bars than their male counterparts and clearly these challenges that are great for anybody leaving prison but to know that they’re even more extreme for women.

Len Sipes:  They were twice as likely to return to Texas?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s truly amazing.  And do you think that the stats that you came up with in terms of your own research provides a bit of that explanation?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes, for certain.  Particularly when it comes to substance abuse.  Women were more likely to engage in substance abuse following their release and we knew already that they had more extensive histories of addiction.  It’s very hard to address addiction behind bars.  Especially if you have a treatment program that doesn’t continue in the community.  The research is very clear in that regard and so even if you have the best intentions and you do get access to treatment behind bars, if you don’t get in the community and you’re susceptible to all these temptations you’re more likely to use and those who are more likely to use are more likely to end up back behind bars.  The things of it is, though, what we found in Texas and it’s hard to know how much this rings true in other locations, but in Texas we found that women were less likely to have access to substance abuse treatment even though they had much greater histories in addiction levels.

Len Sipes:  It seems as if, again I don’t want to go overboard with this, I talked about what happened before prison.  Now we’re talking about what’s going on inside a prison and the research focuses on leaving prison.  They have greater histories of substance abuse, mental health issues, but they do not have the same opportunities that many male offenders have.

Nancy La Vigne:  To have treatment behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Again, it just seems that the deck is continuously stacked against women offenders.

Nancy La Vigne:  But it has real implications for a policy in practice just to know that you can make a difference by giving these women more access to services and treatment behind bars.  It’s huge.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely it’s huge.  The research does indicate that not many people get any of these services at all within the custodial setting throughout the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  Yeah, and we’ve actually found that there’s a high degree of mismatch between those who get it and those who really need it as well.  It’s a scarce resource that’s not even well allocated.

Len Sipes:  And it should be allocated towards who?

Nancy La Vigne:  Those in most need.  The women.

Len Sipes:  Right.  But the higher risk offender as well the women offender?

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely.  I mean, if we’re looking at you have a reentry program you want to look to medium and high risk because that’s where you can make the biggest difference.

Len Sipes:  In terms of going over your stats in Maryland, half the women we interviewed reported daily heroin use.  Daily heroin use in the six months leading up to the most recent incarceration compared with slightly more than a third of men and half of women also reported daily cocaine use during that period compared with 22 percent of men.  So we’re not just saying that there is a disparity between use.  We’re talking about huge disparity with use.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s a huge disparity.  Now, the heroin use statistics may be unique to Baltimore, which historically had a heroin – again, that doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding but still you see the differential between the men and women and it’s tremendous.

Len Sipes:  From a policy point of view, where do we go with all of this?  I mean, it’s pretty abundantly clear that we are ignoring women offenders.  I’ve read somewhere along the line that women do better in treatment programs than male offenders.  Considering the fact that they’re 80 percent, I think, this is the figure that I’ve read, so just say somewhere between 60 and 80 percent, have children.  This means a lot to society to provide these programs because we can take them out of circulation, out of the criminal justice system, if they do better in treatment programs than men and all those kids suddenly have a source of income, they have their mom, they’re being taken of.  There are huge ramifications from a societal point of view in terms of your research.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  I would agree with that.  I’d also clarify a point that sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around because we talk about children, we think that they’re minors.  They’re children, right?  But actually when we dove deeper into the issue of support systems for both men and women when they were leaving prison we looked at family support.  And we asked people, “Do you have someone in your life who is there for you, who supports you, who will provide housing for you, support you financially, etc.?”  And we were heartened to learn that women did almost as much as men.  They reported roughly the same degree of family support.  But the sources of support are very different.  For men, it was usually either a senior, maternal figure in their lives: a grandmother, an aunt, or a significant other, a partner, sometimes a sister.  For the women it was typically their adult children.  So when you talk about children, actually a lot of these women have adult children.  If you look at the average age of release, it’s something like 34, 35 years.  Maybe a little bit older for women than men.  And they have adult children of their own who they are relying on to support them.

Len Sipes:  Good point.  Good point.  Thanks for the clarification.  I do want to get onto the issue of family support and I do want to get on to the issue of the difference between men and women when they come out dealing with that level of family support.  But let me reintroduce you to, ladies and gentlemen, Nancy La Vigne.  She’s the director of the Policy Justice Center, the Justice Policy Center, I’m sorry, for the Urban Institute here at Washington DC,  So as family support is crucial for all offenders coming out of the prison system, your research shows that the greater the degree of family support while their incarcerated the better they do when they get out, correct?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, actually the greater the support post-release the better they do.  However, that is predicted by more contact with family behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Right.  If there’s a continuous line of communication while they’re behind bars, that paves the way for more communication, more interaction, more support, more cooperation when they get out.  Most prisons are located literally hundreds of miles from the areas where these offenders came from.  In the District of Columbia they all go to federal prison.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.  Most of the women are housed in, I think it’s in Pennsylvania, and some of them as far as Texas.

Len Sipes:  And West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas, but they are spread out all over the place.  But even in the 14 years when I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, Hagerstown, Cumberland, the lower eastern shore, they were within the state but they might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  In terms of transportation.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Cumberland is not easy to get to.  From the Baltimore, Prince George’s County areas where most of Maryland’s crime occurs, I mean, it’s quite a hike to get to some of these prisons.  So they’re isolated and they’re far away, how do you maintain that level of contact when you’re isolated and far away?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  It’s very difficult.  We did have a family component of our Returning Home study where we interviewed family members and discussed both the challenges of staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones as well as the challenges associated with welcoming them back into their homes and communities.  And by far, the single greatest reason for not having contact with their incarcerated family members was the distance of the prison from home.  Texas was unique at the time.  They didn’t allow phone contact for prisoners at all.

Len Sipes:  Really?  Really?

Nancy La Vigne:  Which is stunning.  So it was mostly letters.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing!

Nancy La Vigne:  I believe that has since changed, although in other states, other jurisdictions, you will hear complaints about the high cost of toll calls and it’s actually attacks on the inmates and their families which I’ve heard some correctional administrators justify as the only means that they can have to raise funds to provide programs and services, but it seems a little bit wrongheaded to create barriers to contact with prisoners and their family members just to generate resources to serve them.  It’s almost like you’re doing – they go against each other, those two efforts.

Len Sipes:  I think it’s the state of Washington, and I’ve read this just within the last couple of days, is they’re providing video contact between offenders and family members and that struck me as being the best of all possible worlds.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.  And they’re looking into that for the DC felons as well and it’s something that I would recommend as a great compromise given the distance.  It’s so disruptive to a family to set out to journey to a prison to see their incarcerated family member.  Not just the actual distance or cost of gas but the nature of a prison setting is such that you never know when you arrive whether they’re going to be in lockdown and there’s no visitation.  It could be either cancelled for the day or more likely what happens is they just say, “We’re on lockdown.  We don’t know when we won’t be on lockdown,” so you’re just waiting and wondering what to do.  Often people bring children because they think it’s important for the children to see their incarcerated parent and yet these environments aren’t kid friendly.

Len Sipes:  No, they’re not.  As somebody who’s been in and out of a lot of prisons it’s downright brutal.  It really is for the family members and for the kids.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  So video conferencing is a great way to achieve that family contact that’s so important in shoring up support on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Now in terms of employment, one of the things that we find is that, per your research, is that they don’t have the same employment opportunities or backgrounds as males and they come out and that lack of employment and the lack of skills really hurts them upon release.  I mean, it just keeps going on and on and on in terms of disparities between males and females.

Nancy La Vigne:  And that’s right.  It’s no surprise when you consider that if women have more extensive histories of substance addiction they’re going to have more spotty employment histories so they’re already going into it at a disadvantage.  Certainly after release they’re less likely to find employment.  Even those women who do find employment end up earning less than males at about $1.50 less per hour than their male counterparts.  And I know I feel like a broken record on the substance addiction issue, but to me I know a lot of people say the key to successful reentry is finding a job.  And I always say, ‘Is it really?’  Because what good does it do to find a job if you haven’t dealt with your addiction issues.  It’s just giving you resources to go and buy drugs and continue your habit and soon enough you’re not showing up at work, you’ve lost your job, you’re committing crimes to buy drugs and you’re back behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Or your mental health issues.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  Most of us these days, and I say us, you and I, Leonard, are really immersed in this issue of prisoner reentry talk about a holistic approach.  You can’t really just tackle prisoner reentry by looking at one thing.  Certainly, employment is critical.  Especially for women you need to look at it holistically.

Len Sipes:  Well, I mean look, just the differences on employment between males and females where 38 percent of men had jobs lined up.  17 percent of women had jobs lined up before leaving.  In the prison system 61 percent were employed upon leaving, men.  37 percent of women were employed upon leaving the prison system.  Obviously, the stats show, and I don’t want to beat this point to death but I don’t want to leave it alone either.  The disparities between men and women are huge.  I go back to the same thing I said before, they do better in programs than men.  They have a better track record.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think I know why.

Len Sipes:  Go.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think it’s because, one of the findings we had in comparing men to women is their expressions for need for help.  And, now granted, we’ve already given a lot of examples of why women should need more help, but they’re also more willing to say, “I need help.”  So that’s a different kind of an attitude entering a treatment program knowing that you need help and admitting it readily and I think that makes you more open to receiving it and benefitting from it.

Len Sipes:  I did one year of jail, or job corps, where the younger individuals were given the choice by the court, go to job corps or go to jail.  70 percent of the women that I encountered were wonderful compared to maybe 30 percent of the men.  Now, that may just be my own internal bias but the women that I encountered said to themselves, “I’m in a jam.  Job corps can give me a skill, give me the tools, it can relocate me if necessary.  I want to reunite with my kids.”  The women were by far my best students.

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, you just referenced reuniting with children and getting back to that topic, clearly women have a bigger stake in making good on the outside because of their ties to their children, whether they’re grown children or not.  Certainly, if they’re minor children they have even more of a vested interest.  And we even found that among the men in our research, those who had stronger ties to their minor kids did better on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Everybody does better on the outside…

Nancy La Vigne:  More likely to get a job, more likely to stay out of prison.

Len Sipes:  They have the motivation.  And it’s the kids and family that provides them with that motivation and it’s the contact that they have while in prison that builds that bridge to that motivation.

Nancy La Vigne:  Make no mistake, just having a child doesn’t give you that stake.  What we don’t know well, although we know some from our research, is what those relationships were like before the incarceration.  So in some cases, including in the case of women, they had very little if any contact with their kids because they were on the street.  Someone else is caring for their kids and had been for some time now.

Len Sipes:  But the idea of being in prison and having the opportunity to contemplate who they are, where they are, what’s important to them, where they want to go, most of the individuals I’ve met within the correctional system, that is the first thing that they express.  That they express a) regret for everything that’s happened, and b) they really have this burning desire to reunite with their kids.  I’m not quite sure, quite frankly, that that burning desire is there with the men.

Nancy La Vigne:  No.  I think it’s not.  There’s been some more qualitative research in the U.K. looking at fathers and trying to get them more bonding with their children prior to their release that suggest that it’s possible and that there are great benefits from doing so.  But we’re starting at a different place, I think, with men than with women.

Len Sipes:  I think we’re starting at an incredibly different place between men and women.  Final couple minutes, if you’re talking to the Mayor of Milwaukee, if you’re talking to an aide to a governor in California, what do you say?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, certainly don’t cut your reentry programs.  We understand that financial times are very difficult right now and that it’s easy to think about the things that people don’t see as the easiest to cut.  What to put on the chopping block.  Are you going to close a prison or are you going to cut a program?  I would argue keep the programs in place and look at those programs and think about whether they are truly catered to the people that you’re trying to serve.  In the case of women, I’ve heard some people argue that you can develop reentry programs that are same for men and women and I think that there might be some truth to that but it doesn’t acknowledge the different way women approach treatment, approach learning, and approach life.  So programs that are more tailored to women who are leaving prison I think could really benefit them greatly.

Len Sipes:  About 30 seconds left.  Are women the low hanging fruit of the criminal justice system?  Women offenders?  Are they the ones who if you provided the resources would get you a good bang for your dollar?  A good investment for your correctional dollar?

Nancy La Vigne:  I don’t know that I can say that.  I think that because of their extensive drug addiction histories they’re a tough population to deal with.  Certainly, the benefits can be great but it might take more effort at the outset before you can see those benefits.

Len Sipes:  But if you have an impact with women offenders or offenders across the board it can save states, literally, tens of billions of dollars.

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely, and of course in the case of women, if you’re supporting their successful reentry, you’re also supporting their families and kids.

Len Sipes:  Nancy La Vigne, a director of The Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute.  Thank you ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being with us on DC Public Safety.  Before we go,  It’s the website for The Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us.  Thank you for your cards, letters, your phone calls, your emails, your suggestions, your criticisms.  We appreciate your participation in the show and have yourself a very, very pleasant day.

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