Predicting Criminal Risk and Behavior

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2016/01/predicting-criminal-behavior-through-risk-instruments/

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, Predicting Criminal Risk. We’re going to be taking a look at risk instruments. What are they? How good are they? From the Washington State Institute for Public Policy we have Zachary Hamilton, Assistant Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Director of Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice at the Washington State University.

Joining Zachary will be Mason Burley, Senior Research Associate Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The website www.wsipp.wa.gov. Gentlemen welcome to DC Public Safety.

Male: Hello. Thank you for having us.

Leonard Sipes: All right, risk assessments. This is something that seems to be is the foundation of meaningful change within the criminal justice system. We now within the court services and and offender supervision agency, my agency, we’ve been using risk instruments for about 10 years. Risk instruments are being used for sentencing, they’re being used in all things inside the criminal justice system. Give me, first of all, whether or not you think risk instruments are the foundation of meaningful change within criminal justice. Then give me a layman’s definition of what risk instruments are.

Z. Hamilton: Well I can jump in on that. I do think risk assessments are the foundation of really how we move forward in the criminal justice system. A lot of what people have complained about in years past has sort of been the inconsistency, inaccuracy, and maybe the overuse of discretion within the system. What risk assessments do is they put everyone on an even playing field, or at least they attempt to put everyone on an even playing field, so that everyone’s judged in a similar manner. In terms of what a risk assessment is, in terms of layman’s language, it’s essentially a set of items that you use. Maybe a survey or a questionnaire, or maybe they’re items that are collected from a mix of self reported questionnaires or criminal history measures that are known within an agencies records.

These items usually contain a mix of what are called static items, that look at the offenders criminal history, their age, their gender maybe. But also some dynamic items too that try to focus on the offenders needs. Trying to examine whether or not they have issues with regards to employment, substance abuse, medical health, residency, any sort of things that may directly or indirectly impact their future criminal behavior or misbehavior on supervision.

Leonard Sipes: So we’re looking at criminal history, we’re looking at the age of the offender. We’re talking about possibly the sex of the offender. There are static issues as well as dynamic issues that go into this that formulate a sense as to who this person is, and what their level of risk is, and what their level of need is in terms of social services?

Z. Hamilton: That is correct and some of what you’re describing in terms of how risk assessments and needs assessments have been extended throughout the criminal justice system is about the idea that there’s certain behaviors that we would like to predict. Recidivism is one but there’s others that you had mentioned that may exist at a different point within the system. The individual coming into the system may have a first risk or needs assessment completed at the pre-trial phase. Maybe a judge might use that to identify whether or not this person would be a risk of flight. At that point you might be trying to predict recidivism but you might also be trying to predict failure to appear.

Once the persons incarcerated you might want to predict infraction behavior. Once they’ve been released or re-entered into the community you’d want to predict recidivism behavior but maybe you’d also like to predict compliance while on supervision. There’s a multitude of outcomes in which you can examine and utilize these tools to create essentially prediction models.

Leonard Sipes: What we have is law enforcement using them, pre-trial using them, the judge using them, in terms of sentencing. Parole and probation agencies using them to figure out how closely to watch this individual. Correctional systems, prisons, could be using them in terms of the potential for good behavior within the prison system. Across the board risk instruments are becoming a bigger part of the criminal justice system.

Z. Hamilton: Yes as more individuals are gathering data and more agencies are gathering data. Tracking offenders and identifying how you can utilize that data to better supervise, more efficiently supervise, or even remove individuals from supervision to create a better system is, I think, where risk assessment is heading.

Leonard Sipes: I do want to go back to Dr. Hamilton in terms of discussion as to how effective these instruments are, but Mason Burley I’m going to go to you. This whole issue of risk assessment instruments started with the insurance industry, did it not? The insurance industry for decades, multiple decades, has been assessing the risk of individuals on their caseloads, if you will, as to whether or not they’re going to be a risk in terms of health. Whether or not they’re going to have a heart attack. Whether or not they’re going to be unemployed. Whether or not they’re going to have health problems across the board. Am I right or wrong?

M. Burley: I think actuarial instruments have been used in a lot of different arenas. Certainly outside the public policy area and I wanted to emphasize… Insurance would certainly be one of those, but the history in Washington State really goes back to quite an extensive and evolving use of risk assessment in the criminal justice area, if I can focus on that for a second. Because I think the history’s pretty important in terms of the utility we found in the state. Initially in the late 90’s the juvenile justice system decided to look at some evidence based approaches and to target who might be best served in some of those programs they developed risk assessment instruments for all the juvenile courts in the state.

That later evolved into the supervision that Dr. Hamilton mentioned with the department of corrections and then looking at who was at most risk of further crime and looking at supervision resources and how those should be targeted to high risk individuals. That risk assessment has gone through several iterations and Dr. Hamilton and his institute really refined and improved as they’ve learned from what works with best with an instrument. It’s been adopted in other areas as he mentioned throughout the state with pre-trial and judges deciding information about bail and pre-trial decisions based on historic risk.

Then finally the work we recently released that the institute looked at, the mental health population and what individuals who have been involved in the forensic mental health system and the type of risk they pose. I think that it’s becoming more recognized, the value of it in Washington State and we provide a good test case in some of these scenarios as individuals move through different phases of the criminal justice system.

Leonard Sipes: Before continuing I do want to plug the Washington State Institute for Public Policy as putting out some of the most easy to read, clear, precise, research findings. Not just within the criminal justice system but across all phases of the government. I do want to congratulate the Washington State Institute for Public Policy for it’s dedication to put out the research that the rest of us, who are not researchers can understand and the policy makers can grasp and run with. You guys have probably over a decade of experience putting out nice, clear, and concise public policy research. Again their website www.wsipp.wa for the state of washington .gov.

Did you want to continue Dr. Hamilton?

Z. Hamilton: I think Mason covered a lot of what’s been done but it’s going back several years. Even back to 1997, when the Washington State Institute of Public Policy mainly one of their key researchers, Robert Bernowsky, created one of the first juvenile risk assessments that was used throughout the state. That spawned this idea of collecting data overtime, tracking offender populations and re-adjusting those assessment models to improve prediction over time. As people change, as the population changes, as even the criminal statues change. The focus of the assessment is fine tuned over time and that’s something that was put into place early with WSIPP. I think those traditions are starting to continue on now with these new adjustments to the adult risk tools as well.

Leonard Sipes: There’s an endless list of policy questions I do want to get into in terms of Microsoft coming out with an app that’s predicting future criminal behavior. Commercial applications that law enforcement is now using. The attorney general of the United States, Attorney General Holder, former Attorney General who criticized risk instruments used in sentencing about possible bias. Every time that there is a mass shooting there is a psychologist that gets on CNN and says that there is no way we can predict future criminal behavior. All of those are issues that I want to get on to or discuss. The biggest issue that people when they come to me and talk to me is, “Leonard, how effective are these things.” That’s why I love your research.

You mentioned the fact that you did something recent talking about the criminal population within the state of Washington but also whether or not the involuntary treatment population for mental health reasons. Whether or not the risk instruments that the state of Washington was using could be used for both groups. So I’m using that as the basis for this program. While you say while no risk instrument can predict future criminal offenses with 100% accuracy. The goal is to create an assessment that has strong predictive performance. How strong is that predictive performance?

Z. Hamilton: There’s different industry standards for how we identify predictive performance and as you mentioned you probably don’t want me to go too far down the rabbit hole in terms of giving a statistics lesson. The common metric of which people base an assessment is what’s called an area under the curve statistic. There’s really ways of identifying the strength of the instrument and industry standards that set cut points within the statistic to say what’s a weak prediction, what’s a moderate prediction, what’s a strong prediction. What we’re finding with these tools is that we’ve advanced our methods as we gather more data. As we’re able to refine and focus on specific types of crimes. Not just any recidivism generally but maybe focusing on what predictors predict violent crime versus property crime or drug crime. You’re able to really hone in on that prediction and get strong models almost every single time.

Without going too much into the detail of what those industry… We tend to exceed the industry standard for what are called strong models and a lot of our models tend to give in to those upper echelons of being able to accurately identify recidivism prediction across the population at rates of over 70%.

Leonard Sipes: Well over 70% would be astounding and I think that gives individuals a fairly decent benchmark in terms of understanding risk instruments. In other words there’s no way that we can do this with 100% predictive behavior. That’s impossible, but at the 100% level that’s pretty [dag-gone 00:12:20] good and pretty predictive. I want to get into the categories used in the research. What they tried to do was to focus on four particular categories. This was the division of correction there in the state of Washington. High Violent, High Non-Violent, Moderate Risk or Low Risk. They tried to keep it simple in terms of falling into one of those four categories, correct?

Z. Hamilton: Yes. Really it’s a big advance and they’ve been doing it for a while in Washington State but it’s a distinction that Washington State has that I believe is a big advantage as compared to other risk assessment instruments. Anybody who supervises the centers will tell you it’s not just the probability of any risk, it’s the type of risk that they pose. Many risk assessment instruments will essentially say, “Are you low, moderate, or high risk? What’s your probability of risk for committing a new arrest or a new conviction.”

That’s great but somebody that has, let’s just say, a 45% likelihood of committing a drug crime, versus an individual that has a 42% likelihood of committing a violent crime. Yeah the percentages are different but you’re going to supervise those individuals differently. The severity or the public perception of a particular crime is going to be of note. So an individual that may have a slightly lower probability of committing a violent crime may be supervised at a greater rate simply because the threat to society or to public safety is a little bit stronger than that person that’s more likely to commit a drug crime.

Is that coming through okay?

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, perfectly. That’s why I wanted to start off with the issue of fundamental change within the criminal justice system. Because it seems, in terms of evidence based practices, what we’re seeing is that we should be focusing our resources on the highest risk offenders and not focusing our resources on lower risk offenders. Because we’re talking about 5 million human beings on any given day under community supervision currently. Under community supervision on any given day according to US Department of Justice Data and Parole and Probation agencies throughout the country. They can have rations of 100:1, 200:1, I’ve seen 250:1. Luckily here in Washington DC our maximum caseload is 50:1, for specialized cases it’s much lower than that. But when you have that disparity between say, in terms of community supervision prone probation agents and enormous case loads, you’ve got to figure out who’s your highest risk and provide the resources to that highest risk offender. Correct?

Z. Hamilton: That is correct and one of the distinctions within Washington State, and this has been going on ever since 2007 I believe. It might even be 2005. They had a statute that went through the legislature called the Offender Accountability Act. What it essentially said was we’re going to use a risk assessment to determine whose lowest risk and those lowest risk offenders are essentially not going to be supervised. If we can determine what their probability of recidivism and it’s within a range of being of low or very low risk then we don’t feel it’s within our due diligence to give them extensive supervision. There’s a fair amount of research out there that identifies the individuals that are of low risk of recidivism, the more you supervise them actually the more likely you are to observe behavior and they end up becoming more likely to commit crimes simply because of these observation effects.

Leonard Sipes: We end up re-incarcerating the wrong people. That’s the bottom line.

Z. Hamilton: That is the bottom line. What Washington State has done and has been doing for years is essentially saying administrative supervision or no supervision for those individuals that are of these lower tiered risks. That not only has sort of, fell in line with risk need and responsivity theory but it’s also saved the state a lot of money. Evaluations of this change in statute has essentially identified no uptake in recidivism following it’s passing. The effect has essentially been a net win for the state.

Leonard Sipes: We’re more than half way through the program. I do want to re-introduce our guest Zachary Hamilton, Assistant Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Director of the Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice at the Washington State University.

Mason Burley is also by our microphone. Senior Research Associate Washington State  Institute of Public Policy. Once again I will continue to praise the Washington State  Institute of Public Policy for putting out extraordinarily good research. Some of the best in the United States. Www.wsipp.wa.gov.

Let me go into a little bit more about this individual research and then talk more about policy questions. What you did with this research was take a look at violent felony convictions, non-violent felony convictions, and any conviction over the course of a 2 year period to measure the accuracy of the risk instrument used for he state of Washington. You took all of that and basically you said that in some cases the degree of probability, one as high as 70%, and that was for the non-violent felony convictions. Was that correct?

M. Burley: Washington State has a long standing history of using risk assessment with the department of corrections and the prison population that are under supervision. So we’re able to kind of look at the risk elements that we use for that population and see if the same risk assessment is a valid tool for other populations as well. As you mentioned we looked at violent felony and non-violent felony for DOC and for the DOC population between the highest risk offenders 60 to 70 percent of those have a non-violent, repeat crime of a non-violent felony within 2 years.

Leonard Sipes: But those are the people that you designated in that category and the results we’re validated by saying that 70% of the people that we put into that category did have a non-violent conviction.

M. Burley: Yes, we looked at that category of the prison population under supervision and compared individuals in the mental health system in Washington State to see if the same kind of elements can be used to predict two year recidivism as well. Now for that population the recidivism rates we’re much lower. Two to three times lower in some circumstances. The risk assessment tool was still valid in that we could distinguish between low, moderate and high risk offenders along that continuum of risk.

Leonard Sipes: But what I’m asking is, is that the paper basically says that there was a … I’m simplifying things. An above 70% accuracy rate. What does that mean when you say it’s an above .75 accuracy rate? Which is to me, as a lame person, that basically says 75% of the time we were accurately able to predict. Am I right or wrong?

M. Burley: I misunderstood the question. Dr. Hamilton maybe you want to jump in.

Z. Hamilton: Yeah, it’s a little more nuanced than that. The way that you perceived that, what you’re determining the accuracy rate as is the area under the curve statistic. Essentially what it says, and I’m going to explain it as hopefully as simply as possible. If you have two groups and you separated your two groups of people you we’re observing into those that recidivated and those that did not. If you were to randomly select one person out of each one of those groups. Using this risk assessment you’d identify that the individual that recidivated had a higher risk over 70% of the time.

Leonard Sipes: Had a higher risk over 70% of the time.

Z. Hamilton: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: That doesn’t mean that they went out and under your criteria, or the criteria of the study, and were convicted within a two year time period, that they had that higher probability.

Z. Hamilton: No, no. What we do is we take that risk score. We create a continuous risk score from zero to wherever it ends up being at it’s highest. With that continuous risk score then you essentially dissect it into several pieces where you have a low, a moderate, a high non-violent and a high violent. In any one of those groups you can identify what’s the probability of somebody who falls into those categories recidivating.

Leonard Sipes: For the layman’s question ‘How accurate are these instruments?’ and using the example of what happened in the state of Washington. Is there a layman-esq answer to say that they would be accurate 70% of the time, 50% of the time, 60% of the time?

Z. Hamilton: Again it’s a little more nuanced than that. The instrument doesn’t come out and say, “This person is going to recidivate.” It doesn’t come out with a yes or no answer and say, “This person is going to recidivate. This other person, person B, is not going to recidivate.” What it does is the score will provide a probability of recidivism. Let’s say the score ranges from 0 to 100. Somebody that scores out at a 50 may have a 30% likely hood of recidivism. If that 30% likely hood puts them in the upper tier or high risk category than that category can then be identified as having their aggregate probability of recidivism.

It gets a little more complicated but essentially what we do is we utilize that area under the curve statistic to essentially rate that continuous risk score, to say how accurate it is and it also allows us to compare our instrument to someone else’s instrument. But to give a quick and easy answer, to say this persons going to recidivate and this person’s not. How accurate is the assessment? Risk assessments aren’t built to do that. They’re built to provide guidelines for individuals to say who is higher risk as compared to another person who might be of moderate or lower risk.

Leonard Sipes: But it’s inevitable that there are going to be false positives and false negatives. It’s going to be inevitable that there are a certain number of people who are designated as high risk are not going to come back to the criminal justice system. There is a certain inevitable … It is inevitable that a person that you would designate as low risk would come back to the criminal justice system. There has got to be a certain understanding by the public that these are not perfect predictive analysis. That there are going to be false positives and false negatives.

Z. Hamilton: That is true. I believe either in the report, or in one of the appendices of the report, we identified the probability of recidivism by falling into one of the many categories we’ve created the cut points for. So you can identify what’s the probability for recidivism for high violent, high non-violent, moderate and low.

M. Burley: I think I was answering that question rather than the overall predictive ability of the model. It think it’s important that what I learned from this, working with Dr. Hamilton as well is that the risk is on a continual scale and we we’re able to kind of look at … Even though there are false positives and false negatives. The likely hood of being able to tell which offenders are going to recidivate or which individuals are going to recidivate increases on a gradual basis as you move from low to high risk based on what you find in the assessment.

Leonard Sipes: I’m going to go back to questions I posed right before the break. We have everybody and their uncle now putting out risk instruments of one shape or another. Microsoft came out with an app. There are commercial entities that are basically saying that law enforcement agencies that we’re going to be able to tell you with higher degrees of probability who on the street is going to commit further crimes or commit violent crimes. We have a world that is now moving towards predictive risk instruments beyond criminal justice. The private sector is doing this. Do you have any concerns about this because it is inevitable that again we have false positives, we have false negatives. We’re going to be pin pointing people and talking about their probabilities for coming into the criminal justice system and we’re going to be wrong.

M. Burley: Yeah. I have lots of concerns about that. Not necessarily that it’s a private sector doing that. There’s plenty of companies that exist in the private sector that create great risk assessment instruments. My fear is individuals from the private sector potentially taking large data sources not knowing how exactly they fit within the jurisdiction that they’re evaluating and essentially spitting out a model that is accurate to a degree, but that accuracy isn’t really developed within the known quantities of that particular jurisdiction. Every single location in the United States is slightly different. You do have a certain stability in terms of certain items being predictive. Age being one of them, prior convictions being another. But individuals that are creating risk assessment instruments that don’t have knowledge of that on the ground usage, or the variations in the population, could potentially create models that are not as accurate as their claim.

Leonard Sipes: Every time there is a mass shooting. Every time there is a horrific violent crime in this country a psychologist will do an interview for CNN and say, “Even though the person had a history of mental health treatment. Even though the person had a history of schizophrenia …” I do want to point out that even though there are a higher percentage of the people that come from mental health backgrounds involved in the criminal justice system the overwhelming majority of people who have mental health backgrounds are not going to be coming into the criminal justice system but a psychologist or psychiatrist will stand up on CNN and say, “It is impossible to predict future criminal behavior. Yes he had contact with the mental health system, but to predict this level of violence is just literally impossible.”

Then media will pick up the phone and call me and say, “If these individuals can not be … If you can not predict their future criminality then is it … Psychologists are saying it’s impossible to predict future violent criminal behavior. Then the risk instruments that you talk about, what good are they?”

Do you see the level of confusion that folks in the media and the general public would have when a psychologist gets up and makes a statement like that?

Z. Hamilton: Yes. I can. The issue is that the risk assessment instruments that were discussing and that we’ve created, they’re built for a specific population. They’re built for people that have contact with the criminal justice system. If nobody’s had any contact with the criminal justice system they’ve never been assessed for risk. That’s one limitation right there. The other is that there’s individuals that typically commit these crimes a lot of times you’ll see those psychiatrists come up and say, “They have a mental illness, or an undiagnosed mental illness.” Again if there’s no data to be able to identify any of this persons prior behavior which is a lot of what risk assessments are built upon then it’s difficult to assess somebody’s risk.

Again going into the general population and identify someones risk of recidivism is usually not what risk assessments are built for. They’re built for release decisions, pre-trial decisions. Decisions on probation or parole and supervision. They’re not necessarily built for that particular purpose. To be even more blunt they’re built on an aggregate population so we’re addressing the aggregate risk or the average risk of a person within the population that we’ve had assessments for.

That individual that commits the serious offense or a mass shooting, that had never entered into one of those populations to be assessed. You’re not going to have any identification of risk for that particular individual and those events are so rare that they cant be predicted based on the average events that normally criminals and offenders commit.

Leonard Sipes: Our guests today have been Dr. Zachary Hamilton, Assistant Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Director of the Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice at the Washington State University. Mason Burley’s been by our microphone. Senior Research Associate Washington State Institute for Public Policy. www.wsipp.wa.gov.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is D.C. Public Safety, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Veteran Treatment Courts

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main page at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/11/the-growth-of-veterans-treatment-courts/

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, veterans treatment court is the topic for today. We have three extraordinary guests before our microphones. Aaron Arnold is the Director of Treatment Court programs at the Center for Court Innovation. Aaron oversees the Center’s national training and technical assistance for drug courts. Greg Crawford is a Correctional Program Specialist at the Community Services Division at the National Institute of Corrections. Greg’s experience prior to the National Institute of Corrections includes over fourteen years as a probation department person and a community based mental health agency expert. We have Ruby Qazilbash. Did I get that right or did I screw that up? Qazilbash.

Ruby Qazilbash: Qazilbash. Good enough.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby is the Associate Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy at the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the US Department of Justice. She leads a team of policy staff in program and policy development aimed at improving safe local and tribal justice systems. To all three of you, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Greg Crawford: Thanks, Len.

Leonard Sipes: Veterans treatment court, it is exploding. It is growing like wildfire throughout the United States, so Greg, give me an overview of what veteran’s treatment court is.

Greg Crawford: Basically what a veterans treatment court is, is a hybrid integration of drug court and mental health court that serves military veterans, and sometimes active duty personnel. The first veterans court was implemented in 2008 up in Buffalo, New York by Judge Robert Russell, and since then, there’s been over three hundred implemented across this country.

Leonard Sipes: That’s an amazing amount of growth. Aaron, to my knowledge, I can’t think of another criminal justice program that has grown as much or as fast as veterans treatment courts.

Aaron Arnold: I’d have to agree with you. I mean drug courts have been around longer, and there are more of them, but they didn’t grow quite as fast as we’re seeing veterans treatment courts grow today.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, the role of the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the US Department of Justice, you are the Associate Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy. Obviously, you’re here to support BJA’s involvement in veterans treatment courts, correct?

Ruby Qazilbash: That’s correct. BJ provides training, funding. In fact, we’ve set up almost two hundred veteran treatment court teams around the country, training soup to nuts, making sure that those team members understand what their roles and responsibilities are, that they come out of that training with a policy and procedures manual, and they’re ready to go and open those doors to veterans. We, also, provide federal funding to the drug court programs, solicitation, and veteran treatment courts are eligible to come in for federal funding, federal grants to support the implementation of these courts around the country.

Leonard Sipes: I can’t think of any other program where everybody’s on board. Everybody’s enthusiastic, everybody wants this to occur. The question is why? Why is it growing so fast? Why is everybody on board with this?

Aaron Arnold: I would say because they work, Len. First of all, veterans are not typically criminals prior to their military service, and some veterans have experienced things and done things that most of us can’t imagine, and they come home, and sometimes they struggle. Sometimes they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and they, unfortunately, find themselves involved in the criminal justice system, and really what veterans treatment courts do is they’re an opportunity to intervene in the lives of veterans before things escalate for them in the system. What they’re doing, is they’re restoring veterans’ lives. They’re reducing recidivism. They’re enhancing public safety, and saving taxpayer dollars, so it’s checking all the boxes.

Leonard Sipes: Is there an issue with veterans and a crime?

Aaron Arnold: Well, typically, like I said, veterans are not criminals prior to their service, and they’re coming home and they’re really struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury, and it’s taking them down a path, and I think that’s why it’s so critical for our system to intervene before they go down a deeper path.

Leonard Sipes: People so far are seemingly bullish about veterans treatment courts, and the question either goes out to Aaron or to Ruby. Most people seem to feel that they do better than the typical drug courts or the typical treatment courts, that veterans, given the chance, have an opportunity to rearrange their lives and straighten their lives out, but they need assistance. First of all, am I right with the perception that veterans treatment courts seem to have greater potential than other specialty treatment courts?

Ruby Qazilbash: There are obviously a proliferation of drug courts around the country. As Aaron said, that movement has been building and growing for the past twenty-five years, but, since then, we’ve, also, seen other specialty or problem solving courts address the special needs of individuals in our communities, including mental health courts, and then, of course, veterans treatment courts. I think that the issue is to find the diversion opportunity. You want to reduce incarceration and get people the help and the services that they need, so they can lead productive lives, crime free, to find the right intervention for them, and the project that we’re talking about today we hope is going to lead us down that road.
Do they see equal or better outcomes as drug courts that we know of? I think more research, for sure, needs to be done, but outcomes are looking good so far.

Leonard Sipes: Everybody seems to be very encouraged about that. Everybody seems to be very encouraged in terms of the outcomes thus far. We’ve had 2.5 million men and women serve in our country since 9/11, and 1.5 million serving overseas. Veterans come home. They struggle with combat related issues. As Greg said a little while ago, PTSD, major depression, homelessness, suicide, and some are ending up with us, within the criminal justice system. This is not just a matter of good criminal justice policy. This has a moral issue attached to it as well, does it not, Greg?

Greg Crawford: I think so. Absolutely. Here’s the deal, like you said, we had 2.5 million serve our country since 9/11, and really it’s a volunteer service. These people are serving our country as volunteers, so the rest of us don’t have to go overseas and fight our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or wherever they are, so absolutely, I think we have an obligation to try to help them.

Leonard Sipes: Where are we going with all of this? The Bureau of Justice Assistance in the US Department of Justice is providing funding for the expansion of drug court. We are talking about evaluating drug court. We are talking about creating specialized instruments for drug court. The National Institute of Corrections is coming out at a certain point with a white paper that describes what best practices in drug court.

Greg Crawford: Yeah. What we want to talk about here today is … The white paper actually served as a platform for all of NIC’s veterans specific initiatives. We’ve, also, done a three hour live satellite broadcast on veterans treatments court, and, also, with that, I contacted Ruby over at BJA about a potential collaboration to develop a risk needs assessment tool that factors in trauma for justice involved veterans. As a former probation officer, back in the day I would get cases, and these veterans coming in from joint base Lewis McChord over in Pierce Country, Washington. They would be ordered to do domestic violence treatment, and nothing on the court order would touch their underlying issues of PTSD and TBI that I think are a major cause of them bleeding into the system, and that’s why we partnered on this project, because we thought there needs to be some science behind what we’re doing in these veterans treatment courts. I don’t want to steal Aaron’s thunder, but I’ll let him talk a little bit about the project.

Leonard Sipes: Go ahead, Aaron.

Aaron Arnold: Thanks, Greg. Greg hit it on the head. We’re trying to put some science behind what veterans treatment courts are doing, and I should just give a little context to say that in the drug court field, for a number of years now, courts have been eager to adopt evidence based risk need assessments, and all that means is to use a standardized set of questions that courts or probation departments will ask to offenders who are coming into the court system to try to identify what are their actual needs that we can help to address to reduce their risk of re-offending, and those tools exist. There are many of them that are being used in the drug court context. They have been proven over and over again in the research to help courts do a better job of getting people the appropriate kinds of supervision and treatment they need, and reduce their long term risk of re-offending.
What has not existed, up till now, is a specialized risk need tool designed specifically for the justice involved veterans population. That’s what this project is intended to create. Here at the Center for Court Innovation … We’re a nonprofit justice reform organization in New York City, and what we’re doing is, with our in house research department, is to create the first evidence based risk need assessment tools for use in veterans treatment courts.

Leonard Sipes: It’s important that whatever risk instrument that we come up with, that it really works with that particular population, whether it be juveniles, whether it be women, whether it be men, whether it be adults, whether it be pre-trial, whether it be supervision, adult supervision, whether it be … It doesn’t matter. The whole idea is to create a risk instrument that is going to be germane to that particular population. What is unique, Aaron, about the veterans and in a risk instrument?

Aaron Arnold: That’s exactly right. We’ve actually spent the last twelve months working, like I said, with our in house researchers, with our partner agencies around the country, like the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and Justice for Vets, other organizations who work in this field, as well as a hand picked committee of experts in the field, who are helping us to identify what are the specific unique factors that veterans bring to the justice system, and how can we reflect those in a new evidence based risk need tool. Some of those we’ve already talked about: the exposure to combat trauma and the resulting post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other mental health issues that emerge from that, the substance abuse and other behavioral health factors that can emerge after folks return home. Making sure that all of those very specific needs are reflected in the instrument itself, so that courts have the tools they need to make sure that folks are getting the appropriate levels of supervision and treatment.
The tools are essentially done at this point. We’re excited. After a year, we’ve drafted up the tools, and they’re ready to be tested in the field.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, this is exciting. You represent the Bureau of Justice Assistance from the US Department of Justice, and within the Obama Administration, what they have done through federal agencies and through funding to state, local, tribal agencies, is to expand the concept of alternatives to traditional ways of conducting criminal justice. This is exciting, because it’s moving in a dozen different directions. We are basically reinventing the way that we operate the criminal justice system on a wide variety of platforms. The veterans treatment court is just one of them.

Ruby Qazilbash: Without a doubt. I think we know so much more about what contributes to criminal behavior, and what this project lends itself towards is furthering to narrow that, and to get the right people into the right program at the right time, and I think Aaron hit on it when he said that the intention for this risk and needs assessment is to figure out for the individual that you’re presented with in that courtroom and that day.

With using an assessment tool that’s accurate for that population and for that person’s peers. What is their risk level, so that we can assign supervision accordingly. We don’t want to over supervise. We don’t want to under supervise. We want to get it right. For needs assessment, what kinds of potentially substance abuse treatment might that individual need, what kind of mental health counseling. What should that look like? What should the dosage be, so that we can give people what they need. The point here is to increase their functional outcomes, the way that they behave and act in society in a way that’s beneficial to them and to the rest of us, and to reduce recidivism, thereby enhancing public safety for the community that those folks live in.
Leonard Sipes: The larger question is that it becomes a larger issue. Veterans treatment courts go hand in hand with regular treatment courts, go hand in hand with all sorts of opportunities and endeavors that the federal government, and state governments and local governments are trying to employ nowadays to operate the criminal justice system differently, to intervene in the lives of individuals earlier, to defer them or to keep them out of the mainstream criminal justice system, if at all humanly possible, to provide treatment services in prison, and on post release.
This is part of a larger effort, correct?

Ruby Qazilbash: Without a doubt. It is the move towards risk based decision making, while striking a balance between reducing unnecessary incarceration and maintaining or increasing public safety. That’s the goal.

Leonard Sipes: Because every governor in every state has had a conversation with their state public safety secretaries or their directors of corrections, and basically said look, the correctional budget is now the second largest component of our state budget. We cannot continue to bring in the numbers of people that we have. It’s impossible to sustain this level of funding, so we need alternatives. You can look at that from a cost effectiveness point of view. You have now both sides of the political aisle. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on. They are now supportive, because they want a bigger bang for tax paid dollars. They want more results.
This is all part of a unique and growing and interesting aspect to criminal justice administration. I’ve been in this system for forty-five years, and I have never seen what I’m seeing now in terms of that emphasis on programs, that emphasis on treatment, that emphasis on is there another way of handling this person besides simply throwing them in prison, so the veterans treatment court seems to be a natural outcome of that. It’s the growth that astounds me for veterans treatment courts.

Aaron Arnold: Yeah. You talked about the numbers. Since the early 80s, we’ve seen nearly a four hundred percent increase in the US prison population, and I think the writing was on the wall. I think everybody’s on board that alternatives are critical to turning this thing around for our country. We have basically one in thirty-five adults under some from of correctional supervision, whether it be prison, probation, parole, so something needed to be done. When this first court was implemented in 2008, we immediately started seeing results, and not only is it effective, it’s a humane way to go about treating our veterans.

Leonard Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program, ladies and gentlemen. We’re doing a show today on veterans treatment courts with the National Institute of Corrections, and with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and with the Center for Court Innovation. Aaron Arnold is Director of Treatment Programs for the Center for Court Innovation, Greg Crawford, is a Correctional Programs Specialist at the Community Services Division of the National Institute of Corrections; and Ruby Qazilbash … I hope I’m not screwing that name up. Ruby is the Associate Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy at the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the US Department of Justice.
Where do we see drug treatment courts going. Aaron, I’m going to start off with you. For the next ten years, if we’ve had this explosive growth, and since 2008, we have three hundred veterans treatment courts throughout the country. Where does that take us ten years from now?

Aaron Arnold: I think part of the trend is what we’re discussing here today, is to make science based decisions. There’s tons and tons of research from the last twenty-five years on drug treatment courts, and we can be very confident, at this point, that drug treatment courts, when implemented correctly, reduce the risk of re-offending, keep people in treatment longer, promote recovery, and all of the things that we’re trying to accomplish in the justice system.
There is less research, as Ruby mentioned earlier, that’s focused specifically on veterans treatment courts, so one area that we need to continue to push in the next decade is to bolster the amount of research that’s specifically geared toward veterans treatment courts, verify, as we’ve done in the drug court world, that we’re getting the results that we want to see, and create tools, like we’re creating in this veterans treatment court enhancement initiative, to help these courts make decisions that are rooted in science and help to get the best long term outcomes for the justice involved veteran population.

Leonard Sipes: I would imagine somewhere along the line what we want is for every court system in the United States to have a veterans treatment court component to it, correct? I mean if we’re expanding the reach of the criminal justice system into dozens of different specialty courts … Here in Washington, DC there are probably seven specialty courts dealing with domestic violence, dealing with child custody cases. This is something that we see, I would imagine, expanding to every court system in the United States. I would imagine if there’s any particular group of individuals that people feel some sense of allegiance towards, it would be our veterans.

Aaron Arnold: I think you’re right, and as you mentioned earlier, there seems to be very broad based support for these courts, even more so than some of the other specialized court models, and I think we’ve already established that part of the reason for that is a desire to help veterans who have volunteered, as Greg was saying earlier, and risked their own lives to protect all of us, so there’s definitely plenty of reason that we want to see these courts spread, and, again, part of the reason for creating these specialized risk need tools and other tools to support these courts, is so that we can facilitate their spread in all kinds of state, and county, and local jurisdictions that want to create them.

Greg Crawford: Len, real quick. I just wanted to say that, building off what Aaron just talked about, NIC’s vision for this, and I’m hoping BJA and CCI, I’m pretty confident to say that this is our vision, to have this risk needs assessment tool and protocol be the standard for the field. We’re trying to, as we talked about, develop the science, and we want to make this available to the field, and think Ruby can talk about the funding opportunities that would support this tool.
Leonard Sipes: Ruby.

Ruby Qazilbash: Happy to. Every year, the Bureau of Justice Assistance releases a drug court program solicitation, and courts can come in for funding to implement brand new programs, to enhance existing programs, and that means ramping up your capacity and the types of services that are being provided, to ramp up the number, the percent of the arrestee population for whom this is a good option, has the option to go through a drug court or a veteran treatment court program.
I, also, just wanted to mention that for the past couple of years, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has seen a new appropriation, a line item to the tune of five million dollars that is aimed just for support for veteran treatment courts, so we’re, also, seeing an increase in appropriations to be able to support these courts.

Leonard Sipes: Where are we going with this in terms of growth? Right now, we’re talking about five million dollars from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You agree with me, that we would like to see this in every jurisdiction in the United States, and an opportunity for every veteran to partake in these sort of programs?

Ruby Qazilbash: I think that is a noble goal. I think we’ve got thirty-three hundred counties around the country. We’ve got pretty close to that in the number of drugs courts, and I think you need to look at your population. If you have a sizable amount of veterans, then it makes sense to develop a track where you can attach these resources, and we should talk about some of the things that make veteran treatment courts different than drug courts.

Leonard Sipes: Please.

Ruby Qazilbash: Greg started out by saying these are hybrid drug and mental health courts. I think that is one potential difference. There are a lot of resources and partnership that come from the Department of Veteran Affairs, and access to benefits, and supports, and services through the VA that are attached to these courts in most jurisdictions. The idea, the mentor is new, and I think is not a part of most drug courts around the country, and I think a theme or a trend, and Aaron or Greg could talk more about this, but the people that choose and self-select to work in veterans treatment courts oftentimes are veterans themselves: judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others that support the services within that court, so there’s a camaraderie, and there’s a feeling as if we want to support our fellow veterans to heal, to recover, and to stay crime free.

Leonard Sipes: I have a friend of mine, who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima during the Second World War. He’s a veteran, and he’s not being taken care of in terms of his medical needs, and I was assisting him in terms of trying to get him the attention that he was looking for, and I didn’t have to search far. All the veterans’ groups that I contacted and said, “Look, we’ve got a World War II ex-Marine who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima and survived, and he needs help,” and, boy, that help came rather quickly, so within the veterans community, there is support across the board for fellow veterans, is there not?

Aaron Arnold: Absolutely. What we’re seeing when we go out into the field is, as Ruby mentioned, mentors. There’s not a shortage of mentors out there. Veterans volunteer to help other veterans, and they live by the motto to leave no veteran behind. You go into the courtroom, and a veteran is immediately assigned a mentor, and the mentor will take him in the hallway and they’ll start talking to them. They’re not part of the veterans treatment court team. They’re there to help them through the labyrinth of the criminal justice system.
A veterans treatment team will consist of a judge, a prosecutor, defense, probation, court coordinator, and critical to the success of these programs is the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the community treatment providers. Basically it’s the court system, the VA, and the community treatment providers working together for a common goal, but the mentors are really as, Judge Russell called them, in our live broadcast, the secret sauce. They’re the ones that really make this thing work. They fill in the gaps, get them a mattress, a bus ticket, help them overcome the obstacles, have a cup of coffee and just talk them through it, and that is very unique to these diversionary programs. That doesn’t happen, as Ruby mentioned, in other courts.

Leonard Sipes: No. We have our own mentors here at the court services of the federal supervision agency, but there is not enough of them. That’s the thing that I find really interesting about veterans treatment courts is that there always seems to be that league of veterans, who are willing to help this individual in trouble.

Aaron Arnold: Yeah. I’ve been out to several sites. I’ve been to a couple of national conferences, and without a doubt, everybody I’ve come across is not just collecting a paycheck.

Leonard Sipes: But theses are volunteers. This is what I’m talking about.

Aaron Arnold: I’m talking about both the people working in the courts, and, also, the volunteers. Volunteers are committed to helping other veterans.

Leonard Sipes: This is a mission. This is just not a criminal justice program. This is a mission. These are people who are wildly enthusiastic about veterans treatment courts. This is something that’s growing rapidly. Fastest growing program I’ve seen, and different people that I’ve talked to about this concept, you can have an individual veteran before the bench, and find himself or herself with not just a mentor, but two, three, four, five mentors. That’s exciting, and that’s why I’m predicting that veterans treatment courts is going to continue to grow like wildfire, and continue to show good results, because of that treatment team, because of the volunteers who are willing to help that individual. Aaron.

Aaron Arnold: I agree with you. One of the things that we see at the Center for Court Innovation in the last twenty years, is a little bit of fatigue sometimes with the fact that, as you mentioned earlier, the creation of all these specialized court parts. There are people who wonder why do we need so many specialized court parts, and are we going to have a specialized court part for everything under the sun, but with these veterans courts, whatever you’re feeling on that question, is with these veterans treatment courts, we see that having veterans together with other veterans, supported by mentors, supported by, as Ruby said, staff and judges who themselves oftentimes are mentors and have requested to be part of this team, it creates a special environment that gets better results, and, at the end of the day, I think it’s hard to argue against a system that gets better results and treats people in a more thoughtful, humane manner, and gets them the support that they need.

Leonard Sipes: Judges seem to have a magical place within the criminal justice system. We, within the adult correctional system, can intervene in the lives of individuals all day long, but nothing seems to get the attention of the individual before the bench as a judge does, so a very involved judge seems to be the secret sauce in some ways, as to why specialty courts work. Anybody want to take a shot at that?

Ruby Qazilbash: That bears out in the research. I think some of the strongest research effects are seen in judicial interaction with a participant in that court program. It is the way that they interact, the eye contact that they make, the amount of time that they spend with that individual, remembering personal details about the individual’s life, celebrating successes or milestones that they’ve been able to reach has borne out to be very impactful, and definitely have better outcomes for those folks.

Leonard Sipes: I would guess as well is that the reason why this is growing like wildfire, is that judges themselves seem to have that magic ability to bring the entire criminal justice system together for change in ways that others within the executive branch cannot. Judges have a way of producing these specialty courts or veterans treatment courts. Maybe it’s because of the judges themselves that this is growing as quickly as it is.

Greg Crawford: That’s exactly right. In fact, you said exactly what I was thinking, is that … You were asking earlier about where do we see the growth going. In many cases, it is the motivated judge at the local level, who is a veteran, or has family members who are veterans and has a special place in their heart for this kind of work. They’re oftentimes the ones who are driving the creation of these programs and making them successful, rather than having a statewide administrative decision making process. These are oftentimes locally driven initiatives, because people care about serving their veterans.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, we’ve got about a minute left.

Ruby Qazilbash: I was just going to add, I think this is an area that we can learn from drug courts. Drug courts began with a leader judge in that community or judicial district, that got a team together and used the power, the authority of the bench to be able to do that. When drug courts became institutionalized in communities, and that started to be a rotational judgeship, or you had people that didn’t self-select into those positions, sometimes you lose some of that secret sauce, and so I think we need to learn from the drug court movement, and make sure that we’re setting up veterans treatment courts in a way that they’re sustainable.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, you’ve got the final word. I find this to be a fascinating concept, an encouraging concept and I really want to thank Aaron Arnold, the Director of Treatment Programs at the Center of Court Innovation, Greg Crawford at the National Institute of Corrections, and Ruby Qazilbash, the Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy at the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

 

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Parole in America

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2016/03/parole-in-america-the-marshall-project/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen today’s show is Parole in America and today’s guest is Beth Schwartzapfel. She is a staff writer for the Marshall product www.themarshallproject.org. Beth welcome to DC Public Safety.

Beth: Thanks for having me.

Leonard: The Marshall project give me a quick overview.

Beth: We’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers the criminal justice system. We’re very much like a traditional newspaper magazine where all of us come from a world of newspapers and magazines but we don’t rely on advertisers we just rely on foundations and readers to support us.

Leonard: To my listeners I go to the Marshall Project every single day. They give us a nation of news throughout the United States and throughout the world, it’s extraordinary interesting again www.themarshallproject.org. You wrote an article Life Without Parole and I’ve read it several times give me a quick summation.

Beth: Basically we took a look at the system of parole boards across the 50 states in our country and what we found was we’re in this area where there seems to be this political consensus from both sides of the aisle perhaps there is a temporary pause in that consensus as the Republican Presidential candidates battle it out. In any case, until the primary season heated up there seems to have been a political consensus from both sides of the aisle and from all walks of life in this country. That our criminal justice system has gotten out of control. There’s too many people in prison, that when they go they go for too long. That there’s this net that ensnares too many people for way too long for low-level crimes. There’s even been some talk that even for more serious crimes people are there for too long, there’s not enough rehabilitation and they’re not getting out with enough tools to succeed in the outside world.

As we’ve sort of began to examine each step in the process we are having this national conversation about policing, we seem to be having a national conversation about sentencing. There is this giant part of the Criminal Justice System that nobody had really taken a look or accounted for and that’s parole boards. Because in so many cases in this country how long a person serves in prison is actually not decided by a judge or a jury but actually by a parole board.

Leonard: For the initiated, give me a definition of parole and why it’s different from maxing out which we know is mandatory release and probation. What is parole?

Beth: In many states when someone is given a sentence for a crime or in some states it varies what type of crime whether they’re given this type of sentence but it’s called an indeterminate sentence. That means they might be sentenced to five to ten years, or 25 years to life. What that means is they could be released at any time in that window. In a five to ten years sentence they could be released at 5 years, 6 years, 7 years, 8 year, 9 years, 10 years. The decision about when in that window they get released is made by a parole board.

Leonard: Now let me see if I can summarize this, my impression is this, is that during the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s parole was used a lot and the whole concept was isn’t it better to have this person prepared. Ordinarily the person in the prison system goes through GED courses, vocational courses, substance abuse courses if they are available. They behave themselves while in prison and the parole board rewarded them with an early out in lopping in some cases a significant number of years off of their sentence and releasing them under parole supervision. That at one time was the mainstream method of getting out of prison in the United States and that has shrunk considerably, do I have that right?

Beth: That’s precisely correct. The one thing I will say is at that time it wasn’t even really considered early release because when a judge would sentence somebody that judge would sort of in the back of their mind know that it was in all likelihood that the person would be released at some early point in their sentence if they could prove that they were rehabilitated because that’s just kind of how the system works. Early release is often used interchangeably with parole but I would say that since parole is built into the sentence anyway it is not necessarily early.

Leonard: Good point. But you agree with me that it’s declined and declined dramatically throughout the years and now we are re-examining the use of parole now.

Beth: Considerably. In the 1970s somewhere in the neighborhood of three quarters of all American prisoners were released by parole boards. The number now is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 quarter.

Leonard: What happened?

Beth: A number of things happened, the short answer is the 1990s happened, the tough on crime era. During the tough on crime era there seemed to be this political move towards parole being seen as soft on crime. Parole being seen as we just talked about as early release. Governors who were looking for a way of posturing that they were not soft on crime, would move to abolish parole, not just governors of course legislators too. During this time period parole was abolished in more than a dozen states. In other states that maintain their parole board’s, parole became increasingly hard to get. Part of the reason for that is parole board members are by and large political appointees. In 44 States they are appointed entirely by governors and then almost all of the remaining States they are appointed at least in part by governors.

In many of those states they’re also confirmed by legislators. The parole board members were and are explicitly sensitive to political wins let’s say. During this era when the public was calling for more cops, more prisons, more jails, locking more people up, the parole board was very sensitive to that. So here if somebody came before that would have been a shoo-in for parole, somebody who had really cleaned up their act and did a really good job in prison the parole board would say no way I’m letting out a murderer because this is going to be in the paper tomorrow and the Governor might boot me off the parole board.

Leonard: In the state of Maryland about 20 years ago where I was Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Safety and Correctional Services. Some of my agencies were a piece of cake like the law enforcement agencies, the correctional agencies were a bit tougher but I also represented the parole board in the state of Maryland. I spoke to the various chairs of the parole board, the parole commission throughout my years there. We were all startled buy all the headlines throughout the country about the parole board getting in trouble because this person went out and committed another violent crime. The fear and the acknowledgement of the political liability of releasing folks with history of violence became real. My guess is that if we experienced that in the state of Maryland that experience transcended the state and one throughout the country.

Beth: Certainly and continues to this day. I heard from an inmate in Ohio who went to a little in-service training that the parole board put on for inmates who are eligible for parole to sort of help them to understand what to expect. A large part of the training was this news clip they all had to watch about this guy who got parole and went out and killed somebody. The parole board members as part of this presentation talked about what a very complicated position they are in politically speaking. How they are public servants accountable to the public and the public doesn’t want to see people like them released. Certainly this is a reality every where you go.

That said when you talk to experts who study the issue they all say look you’re dealing with human behavior it’s impossible to expect a parole board to never make a mistake. It’s even incorrect a lot of the time to call them mistakes. Sometimes the parole board does overlook some major red flags or doesn’t have processes in place to get paper or some kind of paperwork that would have indicated the presence of a red flag. More often than not the person really does seem in the board’s best estimation to be rehabilitated.

Nobody has a crystal ball and every parole board member that I spoke with told me this. It’s just impossible to think that they’re never going to release somebody who goes on to commit a crime. It’s just human nature. When a criminologist at Temple University sort of did this post-mortem of the parole board there after one of these incidence, he looked at it and he said the board was just doing their job, they didn’t do anything wrong and it’s unreasonable to say that we should no longer parole people because occasionally somebody goes out and commits another crime. That’s just going to be if you’re going to have parole then that’s just inevitably unfortunately, going to happen from time to time.

Leonard: We’ve been in agreement throughout the program let me try something else. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the criminal justice system. My counterpart’s spokespeople throughout the country over the course of last 10, 20 years. This is something that I think is somewhat accurate that every Governor has spoken to every Secretary of Public Safety, every Director of Corrections in every state throughout the country saying we are spending way too much money on corrections. I need money for roads, I need money for universities, I need money for education. I need money for all sorts of things and all I see from the corrections budget is that it goes up and up and up. Somehow some way you’ve got to figure out a way of operating and decreasing your budget what can you do. Part of that decreasing of that budget, the decreasing of the prison population would be a reliance upon the parole board to release more people, am I right?

Beth: Certainly. I think there has been instances in recent years of positive ways to implement that kind of strategy and not as positive ways to implement that strategy. For instance, the parole board chair in Nebraska testified to the legislature there that she felt pressure to release inmates that she didn’t feel comfortable releasing. Because the Department of Corrections was leaning so hard on the board to release as many people as possible. These of course were back room hints dropped and meetings where there was subtle or not-so-subtle pressure applied. An alternative way that I’ve seen an approach like that that is in Texas where there was very public hearings where the board through help with some kind of committee adopted a set of target release rates where it was clearly laid out for them that inmates with a certain risk score who had done certain crimes the board should expect to parole X percentages of those people.

When the system is working correctly Texas actually releases a report at the end of each year to show how well they’re meeting these expected benchmarks. Are they actually paroling say, I’m making this number up, but 75% of drug offenders. Are they actually paroling say 25% of violent offenders. Again, I’m making those numbers up but the point is there was this transparent process where the expectations were laid out for the board of how many people in the different categories they were expected to parole each year. Now there are a lots of complaints about how untransparent the Texas system is so I don’t mean to say that they’re doing an awesome job as far as transparency is concerned. What I am saying is that there have been states that have tried to use the parole board positively as a way easing the burden on the number of people that are incarcerated and the millions of dollars that the state is spending on that.

Leonard: Beth I think we’ve nicely set up where the state-of-the-art is now in terms of the parole in terms of the United States. Then I want to get on to a series of questions about the problems in terms of implementing parole. If we have States that are saying to their Secretaries of Public Safety, to their Directors of Corrections you need to decrease the budget, we can no longer pump endless amounts of money into corrections. If we agree to that and we agree that parole is one method amongst many that people are advocating that we use to decrease the pressure on prison systems and to release other people who are deemed not to be a significant risk to public safety then why isn’t it happening, why isn’t it occurring?

Beth: My reporting seems to indicate that it’s largely because of politics. Because the system is set up the way it is, because so many board members are appointed by Governors and confirmed by legislators they are ultimately beholden in some way to public sentiment. Look the average person on the street does not want to see a murderer released from prison. That’s just a sort of knee jerk totally natural reaction of the public. It does not square with the data right of all categories of inmates, murders are actually the very least likely to re-offend probably followed by sex offenders who are also extremely, extremely unlikely to offend. Yet those two categories of offenders are the most despised by the public.

If you have a body that’s responsive to public misinformation, then they’re going to act on that and they’re going to say look it looks to me like you committed this crime in the heat of the moment when you were 20 you’re now 45 you have grandchildren. You have a home to go home to, you have a GED, you have a journeyman’s certificate in plumbing or whatever it is. Get out of here you’re costing us a lot of money and you’re going to cost us even more money as you age. That is sort of the rational evidence-based move for a parole board to take. When you fear that your job is on the line if you make a decision that would be unpopular on the pages the next day then that’s not how you’re going to make decisions.

I did see a number of states that were trying to get away from this model, there are a handful of states where parole board members are civil servants for instance. Where they’re sort of insulated from the political process. There are a couple of states, Hawaii comes to mind where there is a nomination process where it is separate and I think the governor does the ultimate appointing but the names that are floated up to the governor are chosen by this very interesting panel that’s comprised of people from a real mix of backgrounds. Somebody from the state Social Worker Association, somebody from the state’s DA Association. The people who end up in the pool for the governor to choose from have been extremely well bedded and have really deep backgrounds in the subject matter.

Another really interesting system I found was in I believe it was in South Dakota where the coming into prison all inmates have to make a plan for themselves. They sit down with a social worker, there is a system set up where by they layout a map, a road map for their time in prison. They set certain goals and the person works with them to make sure they are realistic goals, such as I will get my GED, or I will complete this anger management class or I will attend AAA every week or whatever that is. If you are found at the end of your incarceration to have been “substantially” compliant with this plan that you made and again the rules of what substantially compliant are clearly laid out. Then you never go to the parole board you just get paroled. If you are not substantially compliant then you go before the parole board and if there are good reasons you weren’t compliant then you can make your case to the board. If you were substantially compliant then there is no deliberation, there is no politics you just get out.

Leonard: Our guest today is Beth Schwartzapfel she is a staff writer with The Marshall Project www.themarshallproject.org. Beth you wrote this article Life Without Parole it’s an extraordinarily interesting article and I’ll put it in the show notes for DC Public Safety so others can get to it. You and I have been having a running e-mail conversation about the effect of the parole. I took a look at the data and it’s aged data I will admit from the Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics. It indicates that those people who successfully complete their time under supervision that people paroled do better than those people who are mandatorily released. Do you have thoughts on that?

Beth: I have not found any consensus in the community of academics who study this on whether people who are released on parole do better than those who max out. I’ve seen studies that say they do, I’ve seen studies that say they don’t. I’ve seen very passionate academics use data to make the case in both directions. I will say that it makes intuitive sense that people who are released on parole do better but not for the reason you would think. I think advocates for parole board say that people who are released on parole do better than those who max out because the parole board is very good at only releasing people who are bound to do well on the outside. To me it seems clear that the parole board’s are so very conservative that they’re really only going to release people who they know are not going to come back to bite them.

Therefore, of course the people who they release are going to do better. Because they’re just not taking chances. If they have somebody who is sort of a jump call, a jump ball somebody who looks like they might do well but they might not, the way the system is set up right now they’re probably more likely to keep them in then to let them out.

The numbers are going to be higher on parole, excuse me the recidivism numbers may turn out to then be lower among people who are released on parole then people who max out. I definitely heard skeptical people say is this really the measure we want to be using. What do we mean when we say recidivism does somebody say committed a sex crime did they commit another sex crime or do they commit, did they rob the corner store. That’s not to say one is better than the other of course but it is to ask what do we want from our parole boards and what do we want from our criminal justice system?

Leonard: Inst that a question across-the-board I do want to touch upon that for the rest of the program. It is a matter of perception if we have this sense that we’ve got to decrease pressure on prison systems. Some suggest that we over incarcerate it is true that we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. People are saying what can we do and there is a variety of discussions on a variety of issues talking about ways to reduce the reliance upon incarceration. Many at the front-end many at the back end. People are saying parole you should be doing a better job of releasing more people going back to the models during the 60s, 70s and 80s when most people got out on parole. People don’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the parole process and my guess is that because we’re so secretive about what is parole, how decisions are made, how it operates, what it does. I think people lack confidence in the paroling process and I wanted to get your opinion.

Beth: I think that’s 100% true. As the board chair in New Hampshire told me people can’t trust what they can’t see. The interesting thing is the clip that I was mentioning earlier, the news clip that the Ohio Parole Board shows to people to sort of demonstrate why they’re in such an uncomfortable position. What struck me when I watch that news clip is that the television reporter who did that segment was incredibly frustrated by not being able to get an answer from the board about why they released this guy. They weren’t even calling the board out for releasing him. They were calling the board out for not being able to explain why they released him. I really think and this is what emerged in the course of that Temple University study that I told you about earlier, that when the board can explain why they made the decision that they made when they have really clear guidelines they follow consistently and that they’re transparent about.

I think the people have a lot more empathy towards them and understanding for the reason that they make the decisions that they make. In our democratic society if people understand why the boards are doing what they’re doing and they don’t like it they can pressure their legislators or they can pressure their governor to sort of change the way the system works. If we don’t know what they’re doing, if they’re just hiding behind these sort of veils of secrecy then yeah people are going to be extremely frustrated.

Leonard: Here I go back to my Maryland experience in all states of our national … and we have Federal Privacy Acts but every state has a Privacy Act and in every state medical and psychological information are required prohibitions. I could lose my job and go to prison if I gave out information on an offender that dealt with medical and psychological information. Some states such as Maryland had a sociological provision which what is sociological. If you have all of these privacy laws and all of these restrictions on what you can give regarding a particular offender, how can the parole board’s be open and honest.

You can have a person with a raging substance abuse history, or raging cocaine history and maybe through the process he has gone through the prison system he’s no longer testing positive, he’s been through all of the courses so he seems to have his drug substance abuse problem under control. That may be a really decent reason as to why the parole board chose to parole him considering that there’s very strong evidence correlating the degree of substance abuse and criminal activity. There’s a good reason for moving this person along giving, this person an opportunity but you can’t talk about that.

Beth: I would say that’s never prevented our criminal justice system from transparency before. That kind of material is routinely introduced into evidence in criminal trials and all of the records for criminal trials are public records. I don’t see why the parole board needs to operate under different rules than any other players in our criminal justice system.

Leonard: Because a Judicial System operates under a different set of rules than the executive system. The executive branch of government which we all belong to make these required prohibitions.

Beth: Well what some people would say, what I heard from some people who are calling for the abolition of parole boards for instance the model penal code which is this very influential document written by legal scholars and is revised every number of years. The most recent revisions of the model penal code calls for ending the system of parole and instead implementing a second look system. The Colson Task Force also recommended a system like this a second look system that transfers the function of the parole board back to the Judiciary where after people have served a long portion of a long sentence, they can go before a judge who can evaluate whether circumstances have changed enough to warrant a changing of their sentence. It’s for precisely that reason that our judicial system has all these rules in place to protect and safeguard people’s constitutional rights. Since parole board’s don’t operate under those same safeguards they’re feeling, the feeling of these critics is those kind of decisions really belong in the courtroom.

Leonard: We are going to be doing to radio shows in the near future on the Colson Task Force called reforming Federal Corrections. We’re going to be touching upon all of that in the near future with people, with members of the task force. In the final analysis what we need is a way of mechanism for taking individuals who are of reasonable risks and moving them through the criminal justice system, assuming that they’ve done well on prison. Assuming they’ve taken the proper courses. Assuming that there has been victim input, assuming that they have bettered themselves as much as you possibly can considering the lack of services within a lot of prison systems. They become reasonable risks and society should expect those reasonable risks to take place as we did again, throughout the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80s. Am I right?

Beth: I know as a reporter I’m not here to make policy prescriptions but yes that’s what many people who are calling for the reform of parole board’s are calling for precisely that.

Leonard: The whole idea is as you said a set of specific criteria that if they meet that criteria the presumption would be the presumption to release. If a person went infraction free in the prison system and considering how crowded our prison systems are, that’s very important in terms of running safe and sane institutions. If a person had no infractions, went to his GED courses or completed them, got his plumbing certificate, completed substance abuse. Then the presumption at a certain point from a statutory point of view this is something and acted from a general assembly would be that unless there was a compelling reason that person probably would be released.

Beth: Correct, that is the system in South Dakota and what I will also say is that if you talk to wardens and correctional administrators they all say that a predictable parole policy is a really great behavior management tool. Because if people know and trust that if they follow the rules that they will be awarded parole accordingly. Then they’re much more likely to follow the rules and do what they’re supposed to do. Whereas in states where parole feels arbitrary, like some guys who follow the rules get it and other guys don’t for reasons nobody can’t quite discern. Then it no longer seems like a good incentive to do the right thing. It’s kind of a crap shoot if you do the right thing whether you’re going to get parole or not.

Leonard: Where do you see parole in the next 10 years along the lines of the model that we’ve been discussing?

Beth: That is a really good question. I’ve seen the one place that there seems to be some movement on changing their parole system is Virginia. Governor Terry McAuliffe called a some kind of commission to study whether the state should reinstate it’s parole board. Virginia was one of the states that abolished parole during the 90s. That commission is currently hearing testimony and studying and I honestly don’t know what they’re going to decide to do. Because there is a really big debate going on, if you can call a handful criminologist studying this tiny corner a big debate. But among those that study it there really is a debate of whether it makes sense to rely more heavily on parole as a way to control prison populations.

Assuming you can reform the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability and sort of systematized the way parole board’s do business. Then on the other side of the debate there’s people that just say there’s not enough constitutional protections, there’s just no way to not have the whole process be tangled up in politics. It’s better to just jettison it altogether and build a second mechanism into the judiciary. I really don’t know what direction it’s going to go in.

Leonard: Transparency becomes the key because the average citizen sees a transparent process and understands where they’re going with it, they’re going to be more prone to accept it.

Beth: I certainly think so and one thing I will say is there is this researcher in Canada his name is Ralph Ceron and he’s piloting this structured decision making model that really allows for a new and interesting level of transparency.

Leonard: Our Guest today has been Beth Schwartzapfel she’s a staff writer for The Marshall Project, www.themarshallproject.org. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticism and we want everyone to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Successful Reentry Through Employment-Transcript

DC Public Safety Television

See the main site at  http://media.csosa.gov.

See the television show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2016/03/successful-reentry-through-employment/

Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. Today’s show focuses on successful reentry through employment. Criminologists recognize that employment is crucial to successful reentry.

CSOSA understands that we have to do everything in our power to prompt employers to hire those we supervise. If you have questions or suggestions about CSOSA as a source for hiring, please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. We will post this number throughout the program.

To discuss this important issue, joining us today is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Deborah Carroll.

Director Carroll, welcome to Public Safety.

Thank you for having me.

First, I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Department of Employment Services and the implications it has for those that we supervise, folks who are coming back from prison or who are under community supervision.

So my vision actually is to really build a system. Right now, the programs within the District of Columbia work within our silos and we do that fairly well, but in order for us to really an effective work force system we have to work closer together. That means reducing some of the duplication that happens across some of the agencies, making certain that businesses are aware of the services and the talent that we have in the District and communicating that better to the public. Then third, of course, making sure that folks have access to our services and systems. So what the means for CSOSA and the clients that you serve as well other returning citizens in the District is that being more accessible is going to be key to any success and ensuring that we have quality programs and services that can serve that.

One of the programs that we really found to be extremely helpful for our folks under supervision is Project Empowerment, but I know you have several other programs that you’re about to put in place that you’d like to share with our audience. I’d certainly like to hear more about them and the implications for the opportunities for those that we serve.

I’ll start with Project Empowerment. Project Empowerment is a program that’s been in place since 2002. The District has served more than 10,000 returning citizens and other hard-to-hire residents in the District. Typically these are individuals that have historically cycled on and off jobs and had difficulty retaining their jobs or because of their characteristics have had difficulty accessing employment.

What’s really important about this program is there’s a three week intensive that happens prior to putting anyone on a worksite. That three week intensive really focuses in on what those barriers are to the person being successful in employment. It helps them to deal with workplace related stress and how to handle that better. It focuses in on career pathways and understanding what their career goals are and really helps them to establish a roadmap to success.

It’s then followed by up to six months of work-related subsidized employment. We have a number of businesses that support returning citizens and others in the workplace. During that time period, that resident has an opportunity to demonstrate their skills while earning a wage at the same time.

What we have found historically is that programs like subsidized employment or programs that provide some kind of stipend tend to have better results in terms of longevity and completion rates in the program. I think what’s really critically important is that for residents that have trouble retaining jobs having a period of steady work experience that they can put on their resume is critically important and at the same time learning a skill in the work place.

So we’ve taken the successes of Project Empowerment and then tried to replicate certain other programs maybe from other populations or maybe even the same population but different variations of the same theme. My history is, of course, working with families and in analyzing the successes and the challenges around individuals that have children in particular is the problem with having steady work histories. When a business is trying to make a decision about a candidate, if they see someone with sporadic employment then a person that has good employment, obviously they’re going to pick the person that has a steady employment.

So during the time that I was working in that space, we really realized that  work experience is really critical. Also earning and learning at the same time is also critical because we found through our data analysis that residents sometimes will stop a program, whether it be educational program or other type of training program, because they need to support their families or they need to support their household.

We don’t want residents to have to be put in a decision of making a choice between getting their GED or a credential that can propel them to the middle class to having to find employment. So Project Empowerment and programs like that are the direction that we’re heading in.

One of the new programs that we’re working on is the Career Connections program. That program, in particular, is critically important because it’s part of our Safer Stronger D.C. initiative with the mayor. We’re doing that in particular. We’re targeting justice-involved youth aged 20 to 24 and specifically in the priority police service areas in the District. That’s going to be our priority group that we’re going to be focused on.

Through this investment, about $4.5 million was invested by the city, we are going to be working very closely with CSOSA as well as other organizations that serve justice-involved youth to really both identify youth and provide them with a suite of professional development services including programs similar to what Project Empowerment offers along with a period of work experience. Within that program, we will be providing incentives for those residents to also pursue their education. So we’re combining, again, some of the good things we know coming out of the Project Empowerment program and then marrying it up with a younger population that oftentimes needs education to help support them through their career path.

That population is, as you know, one of the areas that we really want to focus much more attention on in the District of Columbia because we have a number of programs. Some are youth employment, but they really need steady income so I think that those are real innovations that will help our city substantially, in particularly with this population.

I’m really excited about it because there are also other initiatives that we’re going to fold in to both Project Empowerment and the Career Connections program. That’s, of course, the Tech-Hire Initiative.

The Tech-Hire Initiative is an initiative through partnership, again, with CSOSA and other organizations we’ll be working with youth and teaching them the skills that will help them to build a pathway in the IT industry. Many youth now are very tech savvy. They oftentimes have cell phones. They use the internet. Those are skills that they already have. We want to be able to introduce the concepts of A+ certification and network administration along with maybe cyber security and ethical hacking. All of those programs have certifications where a person can complete them, demonstrate their work experience, and have the potential to earn a living wage and definitely move into a pathway of the middle class.

That’s great because I know that the whole field of IT and technology is an open field. If we can get some of our folks involved in that and learning at a young age and building on the skills that they already have and the knowledge that they already have, that would be substantial.

Yeah, I think that the work force development industry is changing. It’s changing in a good way, in the sense that it’s now understanding better what businesses need. It’s also projecting what we need for the future and of course, IT is one area that the United States as a whole needs better expertise in and there’s no reason why our friends coming out of CSOSA’s program or any of our other programs shouldn’t be a part of that.

The other thing is that people usually learn better when they’re doing. There’s been this myth, I think, that long-term unemployed residents don’t have the skills to be successful in the work place. I can tell you now just from my short experience with DOES and some of the youth that I’ve seen coming through the programs and the people that I’ve encountered that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s our job to make sure that we profile them to the public and to businesses in a way that shows that they can actually be successful and build better relationships with business and have different support mechanisms in place that allow for businesses to thrive while they’re working with residents and helping them to be successful in the work place.

Again, these earn-and-learn opportunities I think is one way to do that. The other is expanding our on the job training resources, being able to provide support to businesses that hire residents, making sure that they’re aware of the work opportunity tax credits and other incentive programs that the IRS have provided to businesses that hire the harder to employ citizens in this country.

Are you finding that a lot of the businesses are taking advantage of those incentives?

There is a growing interest, I think, in the subsidized employment space. Borrowing what we’ve learned from summer youth employment this year and the success we’ve had in getting residents that are in that 22 to 24 year old range placed in jobs. We’re finding really a growing interest in that. In particular because that’s an age group where you have a certain level of maturity that allows them to be open to learning. What we’re finding is that they’re not squandering those opportunities. They’re coming to work on time. They’re doing the things that are necessary for them to be successful in the work place.

I think it’s exciting that you’re dispelling some of those myths about our young people and their interest in employment and their willingness to do what they need to do to maintain those jobs. A lot of times they do need a lot of help and coaching and those kinds of things. Are there any plans within DOES in terms of working with young people to make sure that they stay in those jobs?

So we’re making sure that we provide the supportive services in the program. I think what’s going to be unique about Career Connections and what we’re also changing in our Project Empowerment program is that follow-up after they’ve been employed. Our goal is to have them retain those jobs at least for a year because if they do that then typically they’re on their way to being able to really be successful in that job. So we’ve heard definitely from businesses that sometimes those first few months are the most difficult.

Then also looking at any gaps that are available in the system that we can add support. A good example is transportation. There are some areas of the city where transportation is more difficult depending on where you have to go to go to work or what time you have to be at work. A good example is construction and they start at five in the morning. If you have children, there’s no child care available or not as many child care slots available in places that open at five a.m. so what do you do in order to make sure that your children are taken care of. That’s just one example.

Those are important aspects of maintaining a job. Certainly our partnership with the Department of Employment Services offers another resource through CSOSA to support some of the work that you’re doing. We’re very excited to have you here in the city. Are there any other initiatives for older individuals in the District that you want to discuss?

One area that we are focusing on is looking at ways that we can expand the subsidized employment to older residents and really building the similar model that we have in both the Project Empowerment program as well as the youth program for our seniors and those 35 and up range. Those are things that we’re looking to leverage right now.

We have the LEAP Academy which again is focused on younger people but in our work that we see in the District we have a lot of talented residents that want to either get back into the work force or are looking to increase their employment. They may be underemployed. So we’re really being mindful of that as one of our areas of focus.

The other is our professionals that are looking for employment and having a different suite of services available for them. Most times they don’t stay unemployed for very long. We do have some though that have been maybe caring for family members that have been sick and have been out of the work force for a while and need to get back into the work force. Others that are looking for different career paths as they transition out of unemployment. We’re trying to develop a whole suite of services connected to them.

We’re excited about all of those opportunities. Surprisingly, we have every single one of those types of individuals so we’ll be taking advantage of everything that you have to offer. We look forward to working with you and letting us know how we can support the work that you’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

On that note, I’m going to wrap up our first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Deborah Carroll, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Stay with us for the next segment as we continue our discussion on employment and successful reentry with two new guests.

Thank you so much Director.

Hi and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. We’re continuing our conversation on successful reentry through employment in the second segment with two employers who have hired people under the supervision the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

My guests for this segment are Marianne Ali, director of training D.C. Central Kitchen, and Omar McIntosh, CEO of Perennial Construction.

Marianne and Omar, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I’d like to start this segment off just asking you to tell us a little bit about what you do and then we’ll talk a little bit about the work that you do with our clients. So why don’t I start off with you Marianne?

Sure, Nancy. Thank you. My name’s Marianne Ali, and I’m the Director of Culinary Job Training for D.C. Central Kitchen. We run four culinary job training programs at the Kitchen, three at another location working with a local partner. We work with a lot of returning citizens, and we have a longstanding relationship with CSOSA that I’m really excited to talk about.

I can’t wait because you all have done an outstanding job in working with some of our clients.

Mr. McIntosh?

Thank you. Perennial Construction is a Washington D.C.-based commercial general contractor. We also have self-performed capabilities in structure repair and restoration and commercial demolition. We have had a great relationship with CSOSA and hired up to about 50 individuals over the last year and a half in our self-performed crews.

Excellent. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about how long you’ve been hiring men and women under supervision and what your experiences have been. I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and some of the success stories. I’ll start of this time with you Leo.

Certainly. I think that we started in early ’14, we had a labor need on a project. I went to my community resources and I met Mr. Tony Lewis with Project Empowerment. Through Tony we had a table of about 12 eager individuals, and I think that we hired every one of them for a specific project. Of that crew, I think four are still with us to this day. One has risen to the ranks for foreman. He’s a crew leader right now on a project in Washington D.C. So we’ve had great success. Our crew is led by three individuals who we all found through CSOSA and Project Empowerment. We also have a great network now to go back to CSOSA and vet and train new employees.

Excellent. And Marianne?

D.C. Central Kitchens has been in existence for 25 years. Since its inception, we have always worked with returning citizens. I think that our relationship with CSOSA has been at least 15 years of my tenure that we’ve worked closely with you all.

The organization itself has about 140 employees and 42% of those employees are graduates of our culinary job training program. About 50% of those folks are directly from CSOSA so we are excited about that.

Great. We are excited too obviously.

Some of the challenges that you’ve faced, if any, that you can share with our audience?

You know Nancy, when you think about culinary job training or culinary you think about food but our approach is we can teach folks how to cook but we really understand the challenges that our folks come in to us with. So we address each and every, well the majority of those challenges. We start off every morning with a self-empowerment group that has absolutely nothing to do with cooking at all but everything to do with changing your thinking and your behavior. That group is really, really helpful. At our graduations, folks are always talking about cooking was fine but this is what really helped me.

We also offer a transition group that’s specifically for folks that have just come home in the last year and a half and have those challenges, having to balance their time, reunifying with their family, child support, to really sort of help them navigate through those challenges successfully. Because those are the kind of things that people get tripped up on and we want to make sure that we help them manage that in a way that they don’t go back, that they don’t recidivate.

We also have a women’s group, gender specific that talks about challenges with being under supervision, sometimes it’s getting your children back and those kind of things. So we look for every area that there may be a need for that support and we just infuse it into what we do on a normal everyday.

That’s so important too because you know how hard it is a lot of times for the folks that come under supervision, particularly if they’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, to reintegrate successfully and to navigate, quite frankly, the community again.

Leo, can you talk a little bit about challenges that you might have seen? The folks that you’ve worked with?

Sure. I think in construction a lot of our success is based on our ability to react. When a client calls or has a need, we have to respond in a timely manner, we have to perform in a timely manner. So when it comes to our CSOSA hires it’s been about getting to work. That’s the first challenge. So employees who haven’t been working gainfully for years or weeks at a time, the cost. There’s a Metro card that has to be purchased and it has to take about two weeks before they get their first paycheck.

We have gone above and beyond our requirements by providing Metro cards. I keep smartcards. I keep them reloaded at all times in my office. We hand them out to new employees and they give them back to me on their first payday. I shake their hand and we exchange the paycheck for the card. It sounds simple but it’s necessary. We’ve had instances where individuals couldn’t get to work and you can imagine if you’ve been away from society for ten years, the concept of the metro, the taxi cab, or the bus is a little far out of reach. We’ve stepped in where there weren’t answers to provide those solutions. Yes it causes us to have a little higher margin on our work but hopefully our clients respect our work and will pay for those services.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredible that both of you all have taken the time to consider those issues and to try to address them like you have. Are there any incentives to hiring men and women who’ve been under supervision or who are coming back to society from incarceration?

Absolutely. We’re aware of many federal and local programs, even the tax abatement programs are available to us, but more importantly there’s a labor need in the city. There’s lots and lots of work in construction, infrastructure, industrial side, and we’re focusing very sharply on those areas. Where there’s a need, we’re trying to fill it. We’re trying to get our folks to work as soon as possible. There are programs. There are benefits. But more importantly there’s a need and a need to develop these individuals, all individuals with a positive attitude that want to work hard.

Excellent. Marianne?

Sure. Our approach is to work with our employers on the tax incentives. We have a huge employer base that we try to get involved into working with our students, our graduates.

One of the things that really is a consideration I suppose when you’re working with folks under our supervision are their criminal history and how difficult it is for them actually to get opportunities. What advice could you give to someone who’s reentering Washington D.C. or who is under supervision but has a criminal history in terms of seeking employment?

We advise our graduates to be honest but we also advise them to talk about what they are doing now, what they have done since they’ve come home, that they’re honest, that they’re eager to work, they have a great attitude. Nancy, we’ve had chefs come into the kitchen on a regular basis and the number one question and answer that we ask those chefs, “What do you look for?” And they’re looking for somebody, they’re not looking for somebody with a bunch of skills, they’re looking for somebody who is eager and has a great attitude.

That’s the critical piece right there.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve hired pretty much every individual on our crew directly. I’ve spoken to them at length about what our expectations are, expectations of our clients, and expectations of their peers. I’ll tell you that we’ve had tremendous success because they respect their peers and they work together. Now that we’ve had two years working together as a field performance crew, there is a natural pecking order, and it’s seeming to work out for us at this point. So the attitude is a tremendous part of the hiring requirement. Not so much in your past but where you’re headed and how hard you’re willing to work getting there.

So critical. One of the things that we’d like to encourage more employers to do is consider this population. As an employer looking for someone, how would you encourage other employers like yourselves to consider this population? What kinds of things would you ask them to make consideration of for this hiring process as an employer?

I would say expectations need to change. I say that because a lot of employers expect you to walk in learning how to use the full suite of Microsoft tools and you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got money in the pocket to get to work and get home. Those are not real expectations. I think that there’s a very, very large capable workforce that is serving time or under supervision right now. I would tell you that if your expectation is you’re going to help people be gainfully employed, build careers not just jobs, and have a long term sustainable career whether it’s with me or someone else that is what the expectation needs to be. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

That’s fabulous.

The way we do it at the Kitchen, Nancy, it’s a 14-week program. Our students are with for seven weeks and then they go on four weeks into an internship, then they come back to us for the last three weeks. We engage our potential employers to come to the Kitchen and be a part of the actual process, the training process. We hand pick our internship sites. We want to know that those chefs have been to the Kitchen, who understand our population, who want to give back, and want to work to help develop our students into great employees.

Both of you are extremely successful. I’ve been to your graduation Marianne and it’s so exciting to see the chefs come in, all the people that support the D.C. Central Kitchen. To just expose our folks who are under supervision to that is just incredible for their self esteem.

For you Leo, you’ve just got a number of projects in this city that you’re already involved in that you can tell our audience a little bit about if you’d like.

Out of respect for my clients, we don’t disclose most of our project sites but we do have several commercial sites under demolition and construction. Some in the Dupont Circle area and the downtown central business district as well. Our crews have traveled as far as Rock Hills, South Carolina working for public utility clients and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland on infrastructure projects. So we are very busy. We look to stay very busy and hopefully look to find a home for people in the communities we work in.

Excellent. Marianne, for you you’re working with many of the chefs, very important chefs, all around the city and the country quite frankly. You want to talk a little bit about some of those networks?

Of course there’s Jose Andres who’s a very good friend of the Kitchen, who also supports us on multiple levels. The students are exposed, for example, we just had our annual fundraiser and there were chefs there who are battling chefs competing and the students get to meet those chefs and work with, for example, Tyson’s came in. They came down to the kitchen, and the chef worked with the students. So they’re exposed on a regular basis. It’s really to get them comfortable in talking and understanding that those folks give their time because they want for you to end up working alongside them.

It has to be very encouraging and really an opportunity for you to feel that you’re giving back to the city when you’re hiring these men and women and also to watch their self esteem grow. Do you want to comment a little bit on some of the things that you’ve seen with the folks that you’ve worked with?

At the end of the program, we have a brunch that graduation morning. It’s a more intimate setting with the graduates and the staff. I’ve heard some incredible things. I’ve heard people say that they never have finished anything but a prison and now, “I’m graduating and I have a job. I’ll be able to give back to my community and come back to D.C. Central Kitchen and give back to D.C. Central Kitchen.” Women who have been able to get their children back doing the training program. It’s just incredible stories when you see folks the first day that come in and they’re sort of slouched over like this, and at the end of the program, their head is high, their eyes are open, and their shoulders are back. I can’t tell you the feeling that we get.

I’ve watched them. Omar, you’re going to end us.

I’ll tell you these stories are a labor of love but watching the progress and the levels of progress from earning your first paycheck to training a work crew to learning how to use tools and skills has been excellent.

I appreciate both of you joining us and sharing your experience and most importantly, being willing to open your heart and your businesses to this population who are very much in need of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Marianne Ali and Omar McIntosh. Again, if you have questions or suggestions about using CSOSA as a source for hiring please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. Thank you for watching today’s show. Please watch us next time. We explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Have a great day.

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Synthetic Drug Testing in Washington, D.C.

Synthetic Drug Testing in Washington, D.C.-Transcript

DC Public Safety Radio

See http://media.csosa.gov

See radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/10/synthetic-drug-testing-in-washington-d-c/

Leonard: From the nations capital this is DC public safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the topic for today is synthetic drug testing. This is a topic of great importance throughout the United States and we have a new capacity here in the nation’s capital as of October 1. To do synthetic drug testing, to discuss this new capacity we have two guests, Leslie Cooper, deputy director of pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia, www.psa.gov. Gerome Robinson, he is the director of forensics research again for pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia. To Leslie and Gerome, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Leslie: Good afternoon thank you.

Leonard: All right, you know this is a really interesting topic because this is an issue that is, that parole probation agencies, pretrial agencies, criminal justice agencies, throughout the United States are facing right now. We have this new capacity and new equipment, new protocol to test the different people we have under supervision for synthetic drugs. Now, the amazing thing about this is that that’s like twenty-five thousand samples a month, all the samples that we take ordinarily we are to start testing for synthetic drugs. So before getting into synthetic drugs, Leslie, tell me a little bit about the pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia.

Leslie: The pretrial services for the District of Columbia is a small federal entity, we’re actually housed under the umbrella of the court services and offenders supervision agency. We have a fairly simple and straightforward mission which is to promote pretrial justice in enhanced community safety.

Leonard: Is this considered one of the best pretrial organizations in the United States? You have higher rates of compliance, I’ve taken a look at the national averages for pretrial, and the national averages throughout the United States, you have more people returning to trial than just about anybody else.

Leslie: It’s true. I think that we benefit here in DC. We have a very strong statutory structure which allows us to operate from a system that presumes that the best path  is for someone who is awaiting trial is release to the community. Our responsibility in that regard is to conduct risk assessments for individuals who are arrested, and then make recommendations to judges prior to their appearance, and then for those persons who are actually released while [inaudible 00:02:58] we provide the supervision through their appearance.

Leonard: And drug testing. Okay, the presumption in the District of Columbia is release unless there is a public safety reason to hold that person, correct?

Leslie: That it correct.

Leonard: All right so that makes us unique. So it’s not a money bail, in the District of Columbia.

Leslie: That’s correct.

Leonard: Now pretrial does the testing for our agency court services and offenders supervision agency as well as pretrial services, correct?

Leslie: That’s correct, so in addition to our supervision and release detention recommendations function, we serve the primary purpose of providing drug testing for individuals in the adult criminal justice system in the District of Columbia, which includes probation, parole, pretrial, supervised release. We also do some testing for respondents with matters in the DC family court.

Leonard: Okay, but we also do lockup, and this question goes over to Gerome Robinson, director of forensic research for pretrial. Gerome, we have it a bit complicated. We test at lockup, where people who are arrested in the District of Columbia. It is essentially voluntary and, let’s just say 60-80 percent of these individuals do provide samples unless a judge orders it. So, it’s voluntary unless a judge orders it, but the majority do provide samples, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: Okay. Pretrial, which is the second part of this, is that those court-ordered by the judge, which are the vast majority of individuals under pretrial supervision, right?

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: Okay. Parole and probation, which is us, court services and offenders supervision agency, like Leslie said, we are a federal agency with a local mission. We tested intake and we do a lot of testing, once or twice a week. It can be that high, you can gradually come off it if you test negative, if you test positive you go back to the original testing schedule, but tests are also based upon the risk level of the person under supervision, do I have that correct?

Gerome: That’s basically correct.

Leonard: All right, so it’s a tri-partied series of tests. I know, Leslie, you mentioned family court and instances, but basically speaking we test at lockup, we test for pretrial, and we test under parole and probation supervision. Those are the three, and twenty-five thousand samples a month.

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: That’s amazing! Twenty-five thousand samples a month, we’re testing for from those three populations, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: That’s amazing. That’s a lot of drug testing, and we ordinarily test for blood, cocaine, amphetamine, PCP, what else? Marijuana in some circumstances …

Gerome: Marijuana, methadone, opiates.

Leonard: Methadone, and opiates. Oh my Heavens, I forgot opiates. Considering that I’ve been around the criminal justice system for 45 years, how did I leave opiates out of that? We understand that, at all three levels, whether it be lockup, whether it be pretrial, whether it be under parole and probation supervision, some people that come into contact with us are going to use synthetic drugs to escape testing positive. Some sample is going to do that, correct?

Gerome: That’s, yes that’s correct.

Leonard: And there’s research out there that indicates that there are somewhat substantial numbers of people who tested negative but when we retested those urines, we come to find out that they tested positive for synthetic drugs.

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: Okay, so synthetic drugs is a problem. It’s a problem in the District of Columbia, it’s a problem throughout the United States, and ladies and gentlemen in the show notes, we did a television show about a year and a half ago on synthetic drugs and I’ll be putting the link in the show notes to the television program that we did. So, we’re talking about overall between these three populations and twenty-five thousand samples a month, we’re talking about somewhere in the ball park between twenty-five and twenty-six percent testing positive within any sample.

Gerome: Yeah, overall population.

Leonard: Overall population.

Gerome: Right.

Leonard: Out of all these tests, do we have a sense yet as to who’s testing positive for synthetic drugs? So, we don’t know the number yet because we just started it October 1st.

Leslie: That’s correct, what we have been doing, and I’ll let Mr. Robinson talk a bit about the partnership that we have that started our synthetic testing program, but we started our testing program October 1st and we anticipate having data on the actual prevalence of synthetic use within this population over the next few months.

Leonard: Okay. That is gonna be, the results are going to be instructive as to how many are using synthetic drugs. Now, synthetics can change the ingredients, of what we call synthetic drugs, can change, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: Gerome, you were talking about, before we hit the record button, as to how you work with the coroners office and the drug enforcement administration and other sources because we have the capacity to change what we’re testing for, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct, and it’s one of the things that has really made this work for us, and for the region, and for the district. It’s the collaoration between the different parties: the DEA, the office of the chief medical examiners, the toxicology unit, the different DC government agencies, social entities, and so on. We’ve all come together to talk about this and give the information and knowledge that we have in our special field. They pulled all that together, and we’re at a good place now in terms of staying close to the cutting edge of the drugs that are coming in, because of this collaboration. The DEA keeps us [inaudible 00:08:33] of what they’re picking up on the packets, and then once we hear that we say, “Well let’s go look and see if we can get a standard on this, or if we can find a metabolite that we can run.”

Leonard: Ah.

Gerome: So that’s what has happened, that’s the key, in my opinion, of why it’s worked so well for us.

Leonard: Okay.

Gerome: Then, of course, we have the support of the agency, the leadership and the agency, to get this done.

Leonard: Okay so everybody’s talking to each other to figure out what we’re going to be testing for, and what it means, so if new trends come up we can be right on top of it.

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: We bought our own equipment to pull this off?

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: That’s a heck of a commitment.

Gerome: Well, yes, it is, and the last piece of equipment we got was a LCMSMS, which is quite expensive, but necessary.

Leonard: Yeah, prior to that we had all of the instrumentation we needed. So, and I’ll explain maybe later on in the program how we went piecemeal in monitoring this stuff, one technique to another and then moving on to something else, and doing the partnerships and collaboration and all of this. So yeah, they provided the instrumentation that we had prior to getting the LCMSMS, and then they went and they got the LCMSMS, and I’ve been extremely excited and happy about that.

Leonard: Now, we have committed within our budget to test for every sample that comes in. Twenty-five thousand samples a month, we’re going to be testing all twenty-five thousand samples a month for synthetic drugs.

Gerome: Correct.

Leonard: That’s an amazing commitment.

Leslie: It is. We realize, though, the severity of the issue. We, as Mr. Robinson said, are very close partners with the Metropolitan Police Department, with the entire district government, up through Mayor Bowser’s office, with the United States attorney’s office, and everyone is talking about synthetics and with PSA being the agency that does the testing, we recognize that that placed a responsibility on us to actually go out and to procure the equipment that would allow us to provide this critical information to the community at large.

Leonard: Okay but my conversations with my peers throughout the country when we talk about synthetic drugs is that very few people out there are testing for synthetic drugs. We’re not just testing, we’re testing every single sample of every person at lockup, every person on pretrial that’s going through drug testing, every person who’s going through parole and probation supervision through court services and offenders supervision agency, that is a huge commitment.

Gerome: Yes it is.

Leslie: It’s absolutely a huge commitment, again, but out investment in the Washington DC community requires that. Everyone is interested in ensuring and maintaining public safety here in the district and we see it as an investment that’s well worth it. We’re trying to keep DC a safe place for people to live, work, and visit, and we see that as part [inaudible 00:11:35] of our responsibility in carrying out that mission.

Leonard: So the bottom line is, in terms of what it is we’re testing for, the various components of synthetic marijuana, or synthetic drugs, the vast majority, all of those components, we’re testing for and as they change, we’ll change as necessary for all twenty-five thousand samples a month. Again, to me, that’s a huge undertaking that’s not happening throughout the rest of the country. That’s just my information, I don’t know if that’s completely accurate, but that’s the sense that I’m getting from talking to my peers throughout the country. Synthetic drugs are obviously illegal, I mean I want to make that point clear just in case we have anybody caught up in the criminal justice system listening to this broadcast.

Gerome: They have to be scheduled. I mean you have to realize, I think you already know this, that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of compounds that come under that terminology.

Leonard: Yes.

Gerome: Of course, the DEA doesn’t schedule every one of those, they schedule ones that they see as becoming a problem. If they hear of people getting sick or dying from some of these compounds, they’ll put it on their schedule. So, you know, we monitor the schedule that they create, and we base our components on that schedule. So right now, in the LCMS, we’re looking at thirty-one compounds.

Leonard: Okay.

Gerome: The screening looks at about, I think close to the same amount.

Leonard: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Gerome: It depends of what they are.

Leonard: But we’ll change it as necessary, I mean, the coroners office says, “Hey, we’re discovering this new compound.” The DEA, “We’re discovering these new issues at the east coast.” So we can change, and reflect, and report that back to the courts, report it back to the parole commission.

Gerome: I mean, that’s what we’ve seen. When we first started, we saw JWH-018073 and then that dried up, and then we had to move to something else, then UR-144, and the XLR-11 came in. What has amazed me, though, is that’s been several years and UR-144 and XLR-11 are still showing up, and that’s what we mostly see. Recently, they’ve been AB, AB-FUBINACA, AB-PINACA, all these -aca names, have been added to the profile.

Leonard: So the bottom line is, if that person who is caught up in the criminal justice system is using synthetics to get around the drug testing requirements, that person is in for a big surprise, very shortly.

Leslie: That’s the message that we’d like to convey.

Leonard: That is the message, where if you were doing this to get, to fool us within the criminal justice system, that stops on October 1, 2015.

Leslie: Correct. We think that part of the reason why you may see certain spikes in use is for that very reason, that people believe that you can use these substances while under criminal justice supervision, and use them undetected. So we recognize that challenge, we are prepared to meet that challenge to the extent possible. To your earlier point we are constantly trying to keep on top of the changing compounds just to make sure that we are trying to keep pace as quickly as possible with what we see out in the samples.

Leonard: Synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana, is often times being sold in storefronts throughout the District of Columbia. This is, I want to make this perfectly clear being we have a national audience, this is happening throughout the United States. This isn’t, it’s in Milwaukee, it’s in Los Angeles, it’s in San Diego, and I would daresay for twenty percent of our audience, that are international it’s in your city as well. It looks almost like a pack of hot rocks from years ago, from decades ago, I mean they’re very colorful packets, they look like something that you would buy for fifty cents, like candy almost. You get the impression when you buy synthetic marijuana, synthetic drugs, that this is something that has to be legal because gee, look at the packaging. I mean, heroine’s not packaged that way, cocaine’s not packaged that way, amphetamine’s aren’t packaged that way, this is packaged in such a way to convey to people that this must be a legal drug, because my goodness I’m buying it from the local grocery store, I’m buying it from the local gas station.

Gerome: Also, to attract the younger individuals in the community: teenagers, and so on. Although, a large portion of adult populations are using it too.

Leonard: Obviously, we deal with adults on supervision, we’re talking about, you know, [inaudible 00:16:36], it’s twelve thousand on any given day. The population for pretrial on any given day, Leslie, is about seven thousand?

Leslie: Just over four thousand.

Leonard: Four thousand, I’m sorry. So, right there you’re talking in the ball park of thirty thousand human … I’m sorry, twenty-thousand human beings on any given day. The people going through lockup, I mean that’s tens of thousands of people a year, I’m assuming.

Leslie: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Leonard: I don’t know the number, off the top of my head, so this is an adult population taking this, but the really scary thing is these packages make it seem to kids that this is safe to take.

Leslie: Certainly, I mean the packages are labeled, “Not for human consumption,” however, we know that as they are presented they are fairly attractive and I think you are absolutely correct in that when you see something on a store shelf you make an assumption that it is safe for some type of human interaction.

Leonard: I would make that assumption.

Leslie: So, again, our hats are really off to this city for the efforts that it has undertaken to crack down on the sales of these particular substances. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job with both regulatory efforts and enforcement of those, to really try to get these products out of the stores, just because of the dangers that can be associated with their use.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program, the topic today is synthetic drug testing, the fact that as of October 1 pretrial services agency, who does the testing at lockup, that does the testing for pretrial, and does the testing for court services and offenders supervision agency, those on parole and probation, as of October 1, all twenty-six thousand samples a month, twenty-five thousand samples a month, are going to be tested for synthetic drugs. At our microphones today, Leslie Cooper, deputy director pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia and Gerome Robinson, director for forensic research, again at pretrial services agency. Both of our agencies are federal agencies, www.psa.gov.

So, what do we see, what do you expect is going to happen come October 1? I would imagine word is getting out, little bit by little bit, to the population that we’re now testing for synthetic drugs. What will that mean?

Leslie: I think what will begin to happen is people will begin to recognize the use of synthetic drugs in a way we already recognize the more commonly known substances. So again, from a risk mitigation standpoint on both the pretrial and the [inaudible 00:19:10] side, what you’ll see is our continued existing response to abuse of any drug. What we do in those instances, when positive drug tests are received on and individual contributor, we coordinate with the releasing authority, alert them to their use, we may impose …

Leonard: Which means the courts, in your case, for pretrial.

Leslie: Correct. For us, it’s going to be the courts on the [inaudible 00:19:31], it will be the parole commission, or the court for someone who is on probation, and so we will notify that releasing authority, let them know what our efforts have been internally, to try to stop the abuse. Then, when we’re unable to stop the use on our end, after providing probably both sanctions and an opportunity for treatment, we then do refer back to either the court or the parole commission and ask them to take action.

Leonard: Okay so the bottom line is that this is a person that could be really facing jail time, prison time, if the person doesn’t comply with their standards of supervision, what is expected of them on the pretrial level, and on the parole and probation level.

Leslie: That’s correct. In violation of a drug test in condition by repeatedly testing positive could result in revocation of supervision, so yes, that’s correct.

Leonard: And we do know that those individuals, taking a look at your data Leslie, the individuals that don’t do well on pretrial supervision are the individuals who are caught up with heavy duty drug use.

Leslie: We do have information that shows that those people who are suffering from some form of addiction tend to do more poorly in terms of their outcomes. Again, our primary outcomes at pretrial are to ensure that they’re not re-arrested during the pendency of their case, and also to make sure that they show up for court each and every time, and we do find that there are variations in the outcomes for individuals who are using drugs actively during the period, yes.

Leonard: We find within court services and offenders supervision agency those folks who were in pretrial, I mean those folks who were on probation or coming out of prison, that it’s the heavy duty drug users who don’t do well, the people with mental health issues, drug issues, co-occurring disorders, so finding out who the synthetic drug users are, and intervening meaningfully in their lives, is part in partial to public safety.

Leslie: Absolutely, we consider substance abuse to be one of the primary domains that is necessary to be examined in order to put together a community supervision plan and that’s either at the pretrial or post-adjudication phase.

Leonard: Criminalogically speaking, that’s been the basis for drug testing for decades. I mean, the best practices as of decades ago, is to drug test, and research indicates that the more you test, the less they get involved in drug use and the less they get involved in criminal-based activities. So, drug testing has been in-partial, and we probably do more of it than just about any other criminal justice agency I’m aware of.

Leslie: I think one of the benefits is that we do have our in-house testing laboratory, so again, having the ability to test in-house and then have a quick turn around for result does help drug testing become a substantial part of the supervision planning process, yes.

Leonard: You know, Gerome, in a lot of agencies, they take their drug testing requirements and they farm them out, and they send them out, to an outside lab, and what we have done, as of, since the beginning of [00:22:49] pretrial …

Leslie: Actually, even prior to that.

Leonard: Really?

Leslie: Prior to that. Pretrial existed prior to that, and Mr. Robinson can probably speak because it’s near and dear to his heart that pretrial was one of the first agencies to actually have it. I think the first pretrial agency to have in-house testing, that dates back to 1984.

Leonard: Wow, and Gerome, have you been around that long?

Gerome: I got here in October 1989.

Leonard: Okay.

Gerome: So, they had a few years on me.

Leonard: So the whole idea is that bringing it in-house, having complete control over the process, is part in partial to public safety. When it’s not sent out, we control the whole thing [inaudible 00:23:31].

Gerome: Yeah, and you can adjust, to whatever is coming down the pike, like Franciscan synthetics, I mean, we’re able to adjust I think very well to testing for this.

Leonard: We control cost that way, correct? I mean, it’s a lot more expensive if you farm this stuff out.

Gerome: It can be, yes.

Leonard: So we control cost and we have the flexibility to move in any direction we want, and I think that’s part in-partial to the federal commitment to the public safety in the District of Columbia, the fact that we have brought it in-house, it’s always been in-house, it’s under out control, and we have the flexibility to move in any direction we want. We’re not dependent upon re-negotiating a contract with an outside vendor.

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: Okay. So, what is the major misconception about synthetic drugs?

Gerome: First, is that they’re not dangerous, right. That, in the early stages, they may have been not as dangerous as they are now.

Leonard: But they have gotten increasingly more dangerous.

Gerome: Yes, the thing is, they change it so much, they tweak it so much, you don’t know what you’re getting, and so now, like I mentioned, some of those other compounds, they’re coming in. If you remember the problem we had this summer with the people in homeless shelters, overdosing and what not.

Leonard: Yes.

Gerome: I suspect that a lot of these new compounds were coming in and affecting populations.

Leonard: We really never have, it’s not like it’s and FDA approved drug, where they say, “Oh by the way we’ve changed the compounds,” when you ingest this stuff you don’t have a clue as to what you’re ingesting.

Gerome: You haven’t, that’s the big problem, you don’t know what, I mean the chemists don’t know how it affects people, they just change the drug and put it out. There’s no quality control in this business.

Leonard: So what worked in terms of testing last week may not necessarily work immediately because we would have to get the data from the DEA, get the data form the coroner’s office, get the data from other criminal justice agencies and change our formula in such a way to be sure that we’re testing for what’s on the street.

Gerome: Well we have to, of course like you said be aware of those compounds, and work with our partners and the industry to cover those drugs, so that’s a little much, a bit off a lee time, you have to work on that, but it’s doable.

Leonard: Okay, and Leslie, the bottom line in terms of all of this, in terms of the biggest message we want to get out about synthetic drugs, is he folks, we’re testing!

Leslie: The bottom line is do not roll the dice. It is not a safe bet to assume that if you are under criminal justice supervision in the District of Columbia, that you can us synthetic drugs and get away with it.

Leonard: And if you’re not currently under supervision of pretrial or probation or people coming out of the prison system, or just being locked up for it. If you’re locked up and it’s turned into a positive, then that’s something that can’t have an effect in terms of either your release or your future involvement in the criminal justice system. So the bottom line is beyond health reasons, because I’m not quite sure why anyone would ingest something they are completely unaware of what it could do, I mean, the chief of police here in the District of Columbia, Cathy Lanier has said that there are people out there who just pass out, who are committing bizarre behaviors and are being involved in criminal activity. I’m not quite sure that they set out that evening to be involved in bizarre or criminal behavior. I think that being under the influence of synthetic drugs has a way of creating, or contributing to violent behavior, correct?

Leslie: I think you make a very good point in that synthetics pose a tremendous challenge to both the public safety and the public health systems, I’m pleased to hear that within the District of Columbia we are partnering very effectively, I think across both sides of that, just to make sure that we’re covering that from every aspect. I do want to just underscore what you just said, which is that you don’t know what the outcome will be. You don’t know what it’ll be on your health, you don’t know what it’ll be with your status within the criminal justice system, and those to me are two very good cautionary reasons to why you should avoid using synthetics.

Leonard: The Metropolitan police department here in the District of Columbia, and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are cracking down on the use of synthetic drugs, because, again, anything if you’ve ever seen the television show, and we’ll post the television show in the show notes, that we did about a year and a half ago, the packaging of this makes it so conducive to kids who end up taking this, and that could produce a psychotic episode. That could have an impact on a child for the rest of their life.

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: So this is something that everybody needs to stay away from, and the criminal justice system is now testing it and recognizing it, it’s dangerous, and that’s the bottom line, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: All right. Anything else that I left out, Leslie? Anything that you want to put it?

Leslie: Just to reinforce the fact that we are definitely committed to continuing to look into new and emerging drugs. My hat is absolutely off to Mr. Robinson and the entire team over in pretrials laboratory, that is actively working day in and day out to identify those new compounds and really help to keep us on the cutting edge so that we, again, can keep the city a safe place to be.

Leonard: Because the bottom line is that the components of drugs are always gonna change to some degree and we’ve got to stay on top of this, and so we are staying on top of it by having folks like long term veterans, Robinson, and bringing in that process in-house and having our own equipment and then committing the budget.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Leonard: To twenty-five thousand samples a month. I want to thank my guests today, Leslie Cooper, deputy director of pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia, and Gerome Robinson, the director of forensic research, www.psa.gov, www.psa.gov, ladies and gentlemen this is DC Pubic Safety. We appreciate you comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.

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