Violence reduction 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/2016/04/reducing-violence-america/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have Thomas Abt discussing violence reduction in America. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction among other topics. Previously he served as deputy secretary for public safety to Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, as well as chief of staff to the office of justice programs U.S. Department of Justice where I first met Thomas. Thomas, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thomas: It’s a pleasure to be on.

Leonard: Thomas, I’m really happy to have you. You bring hard experience. You were one of the founders of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention for the Department of Justice and you’ve been instrumental in guiding the entire State of New York in terms of an innovative program. Violence is part of your forte, correct?

Thomas: Yes. It’s something that I’ve had the privilege to work on in a number of different settings.

Leonard: Okay. First of all, I want to talk about addressing violence across the board and how to address because the country has been involved in, I guess you could say, a discussion over the course of the last six, seven, to eight months we’ve had violence in Ferguson, we’ve had violence in Chicago, we’ve had violence in Baltimore. We’ve had this national discussion on violence prevention. As you well know, I call people before the program. I ask them and I’ve called four people from the law enforcement community, and they express confusion over what the public now wants us to do. Can you put all of these in terms of the focus on addressing violence in communities in the country?

Thomas: Sure. I can try. I think it is a very difficult conversation to have and we’re trying to have it as best we can, but the way the conversation about violence in the United States is currently being framed may be a barrier to making more progress. The current conversation that we’re having is very much and either/or conversation. Either you’re taking about police reform and the issues of police use of force, police lethality, those types of issues, or you’re talking about “black on black crime”, which I actually think is a problematic way of discussing it, but you’re talking about the issue of crime and violence in the community.

That’s a difficult framework that really pits anti-establishment voices which have some very valid concerns with more conservative, possibly pro-establishment voices. Instead of an either/or conversation, we need to have a both/and conversation. We can’t separate our concerns about crime control from our concerns about crime itself. The two go together. We need to think about both what the police are doing in terms of how they attempt to control crime and violence in a community in addition to the nature of the crime itself.

I think that if we can reframe this conversation, we can have a much more productive conversation that can give more guidance overtime keep our police professionals in the community who both want to change the way they do business and improve it, but they also have a job to do and they want to make sure that they’re keeping communities safe.

Leonard: You wrote an article called Integrating Evidence to Stop Shootings: New York’s GIVE (Gun-Involved Violence Elimination) Initiative. Discuss that with me briefly and then let’s take the conversation back to the larger national conversation because in your article it was rather straightforward. It was a focus on people. It was a focus on places. It was a focus on hot spot policing. It was a focus on police initiative’s research using evidence-based practices, going in and having conversations with troublesome people in the community, gang members in the community.

On one side of this discussion is a straightforward evidence-based approach and the other side of it is, unfortunately, race, politics, and people’s perception of what could be and should be. Let’s start off with the simple. There are ways of reducing gun violence. There are ways of reducing shootings. You were part of that platform and still are in the State of New York. Give me an overview of the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination Initiative.

Thomas: Sure. I helped establish GIVE, which is the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination, while I was working for Governor Cuomo, but just to clarify, I am now with the Harvard Kennedy School and I’m no longer working in New York, but I am still very much familiar with the program that we started.

GIVE is really, I think, an unusual effort in that it tried very directly to incorporate the best information that we had about how to reduce violence both gathering evidence and research, and looking at data, and then trying to translate that for the law enforcement community and others to make that information really accessible and easy to implement.

We did a six-month policy development process where we reviewed statistics, data, research from all around the country and identified some core practices that we felt showed what was most effective in reducing violence and crime, particularly as related to gun violence. We translated these down into three core principles. The first principle was in order to be effective, you need to focus on specific people and specific places.

All the research shows that crime is not evenly distributed. Crime is sticky. It concentrates in places and it concentrates among people. In any give community, when we think of a community as unsafe, that’s really an over simplification. In any given community that we think of as having a problem with violence, there are often two, or three, or maybe more spots, we call them hot spots, where crime and violence are highly concentrated, but they’re not concentrated throughout the entire community.

The same is true with people. A very small percentage of people, even in a neighborhood that we think of is an unsafe, are responsible for a significant majority of the crime and violence in those places. It’s very important when you’re working in an “unsafe” or high crime neighborhood to remember that the problem, even in that neighborhood, is not everywhere, and it’s not involving everyone. That’s the first principle. You have to focus on specific people and specific places.

Leonard: It’s not a community but specific places within that community.

Thomas: Exactly, and specific people. For instance, you have a very small perentage of your young people in a community. It is true that young men are much more likely to offend and be violent than young women, and it’s true that age range of maybe 14 to 24 is a particularly difficult and risky age range. It’s very important for members of the law enforcement and the community generally to understand that that doesn’t mean that every young man in a particular community that’s regarded as unsafe is going to be a public safety problem. In fact, it is going to be a very, very small number of young men. That really [counsels 00:09:01] against over broad mass arrest, zero tolerance approaches to law enforcement. It means you need to get much more targeted and you need to be much more specific.

Leonard: That addresses the larger issue that’s been going on throughout the country, but I take a look at your article and there’s been an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Everybody is taking their cue from the New York City Miracle. An 88% reduction in homicide, an 88% reduction in shootings where it rose 8% in the rest of the State of New York. People are saying to themselves, “Aggressive law enforcement in New York City is what created those reductions. Isn’t that a good thing for everybody?” That’s why law enforcement they’re saying, “Fine. It’s places, it’s people. We should be focused on specific areas, specific people,” but look what happened to New York City.

Thomas: Right. New York City is a very interesting example of how various kinds of legitimacy work together and how one type of legitimacy is not enough to have a successful crime reduction effort. There were, at least, three strands when we think about legitimacy that we need to break it down.

There’s legitimacy of effectiveness. Meaning do you do your fundamental job of driving crime down and violence down, and protecting the community? There is legitimacy as to lawfulness. Meaning when you’re doing that job, are you obeying the law and not placing yourself above the law or violating the law? Then there’s legitimacy of fairness and this is really a concept that’s been championed by Tracy Meares and Tom Tyler, they call it procedural justice. Does the community, even if you’re being effective and even if you’re being lawful, do they view you as being fair, and benevolent, and working in collaboration with them?

What we are seeing from the research is that you really need all three. In New York, you have the police being highly legitimate as a matter of effectiveness. They are arguably legitimate as a matter of lawfulness, although this has been disputed in the courts, but let’s assume for the purposes of this argument that they are.

That last strain of legitimacy, legitimacy as a matter of fairness, the perception is is that NYPD has not been acting in a fair and neutral manner. That’s a critical omission and that’s one of the real challenges that NYPD and, I think, that police are looking at. The NYPD is, I assume, I think, very surprised by this. They’re saying, “We’re doing a good job in terms of reducing crime and we’re doing it within the law,” as they perceive it, “What is the problem?”

The problem is is that they really haven’t listened to the community and really engaged on that fairness component of legitimacy and part of the issue is going back to people and places. The New York Police Department is very good about focusing resources in specific places. If there’s a lot of shootings in a particular area before this new era with Bratton coming in, so it was Ray Kelly era of a few years ago, they would flood those areas with police officers and do lots of what’s called stop and frisks, and people are probably very familiar with that term.

When there was resistance to this strategy and the community said, “Why are you stopping all of these people in our neighborhoods,” the answer from the NYPD was, “Well, this is where the crime is, and so we’re following the data, and so there should be no problem.” The problem was that as to place, but it wasn’t specific as to people. What they didn’t really appreciate is that even in an area that has a lot of crime and a lot of violence, most of the people living in that area are not involved. If you go into a neighborhood and treat everyone the same or, more accurately, every young man of color the same, you catch up in that broad net a lot of people who are not involved in crime and violence.

It’s really important to listen to the community. You have a lot of advocates, basically, pushing back on all types of police activity, but if you listen to communities what they’re saying is, “Look, there’s a small number of people in this community we want you to be very aggressive with, and we don’t care if stop and frisk them every 10 or 15 feet, but you need to understand our community better to know that one young man wearing baggy pants may be an active gang member and someone that law enforcement really needs to focus on. Another young man in baggy pants may be on his way to a job, may be on his way to Catholic school, may be on his way somewhere else. We want you to know our community and stay in your community enough so that you can make those critical distinctions.”

Leonard: Thomas Abt, before we go to the break, let me ask you a series of very quick questions and then we get into the larger conversation of what’s happening throughout the country. In essence, to all the people who are concerned about violence and violence reduction, we pretty much know from the law enforcement, criminal justice, parole and probation side. Correct or incorrect?

Thomas: I think it’s risky to say that we know anything with absolute certainty. All of this work is studied by social science and social science has limitations. I can tell you what we know best, but our information will evolve over time. I’d say there’s five core principles to reducing violence based on the best evidence we have today. In 10 years, this may evolve.

The first thing we know is that in order to reduce violence you need to be comprehensive. The police are a critical component of violence reduction, but they’re not the only people and that you need more than one program, more than one strategy, and you need more than one type of people involved.

The second thing we know is that if you have multiple players working together and multiple programs working together, it’s not surprise, they need to be aligned. The third thing that you need to do is be specific and that is that conversation that we just had about focusing on specific places and specific people.

The fourth thing you need to do is be proactive. You cannot wait until crime and violence occurs and then simply solve it by arresting, and prosecuting, and incarcerating your way out of it. You have to try to get ahead of the problem. Deter the crime before it occurs. Work with kids who are at risk for violence, and try to get them engaging in pro-social activities, and get them away from gangs, away from crews, and away from risky behavior. You need to get ahead of the problem.

Lastly, you need to focus on this concept of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not just about being effective but it’s also about being lawful and about being fair. Explaining why you’re in a particular community, what your strategy is, and really engaging with the community and other stakeholders so they know not just what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. We’re talking today to Thomas Abt. He is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction. Thomas, I’m going to summarize.

You gave a nice five-step summation of violence prevention. In essence, I hear two words coming out of this. One is fairness, one is quality. It’s not necessarily mass arrest, mass stops, but quality arrest, quality stops, and the perception on the part of the community as to whether or not they’re being treated fairly or not. Is it possible to break your discussion down into those two phrases?

Thomas: I think that’s a good overview. Obviously, if I was working on the ground consulting with a particular anti-violence task force, I might do that. It’s a fair overall summary.

Leonard: Okay. In essence, we have gone through the last 23 years of almost continuous reductions in crime. We have gone through, as we said in the article, an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Again, I go back to the conversations I had with people in law enforcement. They’re saying, “Well, you know, last year we were the heroes because we were sitting on top decades of reduction in crime. Now, we’re not. Now people are challenging the legitimacy of law enforcement and law enforcement tactics.” Is there anything that we can say to law enforcement officers who are terribly confused right now? It seems to me that your two concepts of fairness and equality seem to be the direction that we need to move in today.

Thomas: I think in terms of describing to the law enforcement community what happened, I consider myself a member of that community and I was surprised as well by the fervor that has really taken hold in the country. I think that one way to understand it is that we made a lot of public safety judgment calls in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in an era of high crime and increasing crime, and we thought incorrectly that crime rates were going to go up indefinitely. In the public safety community and in the broader public policy community, lots and lots of decisions and trade-offs were made in that context.

I think one of the things that’s exciting about this year and possibly years moving forward is we’re really starting a massive re-examination of all of those trade-offs, not just in terms of police using force but also incarnation and confinement rates, and lots of other questions. I think that’s a healthy thing because we are in a new era. Crime has been reduced 50%. Violence has been reduced 50% nationally. We talked about the tremendous success in New York City, but it’s happening around the country.

The first thing for us to realize in law enforcement is that times change and we need to change with them. We need to pay more attention not just to the legitimacy of effectiveness, but the legitimacy of lawfulness, and the legitimacy of fairness and realize, and this is very important, and it’s backed up by solid research, that all of these things are interconnected. If you’re perceived as fair, if you’re perceived as lawful, it will make your job catching bad guys easier.

It’s very important that we understand that this is not an either/or conversation as I said before. You don’t either make nice with the community or focus on catching the bad guys. The community is a key crime-fighting partner, and so the closer we work with them and the more effectively we work with them, the better we’ll be at catching bad guys.

Leonard: I had a conversation with a researcher from the Urban INStitute who stated emphatically, and it’s true, “We have never been safer. The United States has never seen such low rates of violent crime in our lifetimes.” In this year, we have never been safer in our lives. Thereby, you have people within the criminologic community, within the law enforcement community saying, “Wait a minute. We’ve given you the safest country in our lifetimes.” Suddenly, things have changed. What changed? What changed from the standpoint of the safest country, the safest decade, the safest year in our country’s last 25 years to this national discussion? What changed?

Thomas: President Obama actually talks, I think, quite well about this when he talks about progress in terms of racial equality. It’s important to recognize two things at the same time. Number one, in terms of public safety, that significant progress has been made; and number two, that we have a long way to go and that we’re not done. The fact that we’ve had significant progress in terms of making the country safer doesn’t mean that we don’t have more to do.

Also, it’s very important to remember that not everybody experiences public safety the same way. While listeners in suburban America may have one experience of public safety, listeners who are from or work in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage have a very different experience. For instance,  homicide for young white man and boys is the third leading cause of death, and that’s serious. For Latino young men and boys, it’s the second leading cause of death. For African-American young men and boys, it’s the leading cause of death and it causes more deaths than the nine other leading causes combined.

Leonard: In essence, what we need to do now is to come together for a conversation. We need to have an honest conversation where community members sit across the table with law enforcement officers to hammer out what it is that is susceptible in that community that until that power shift is very strong and very definitive, we’re not going to be able to solve this problem. We have a golden opportunity to solve it if we all agree to sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye, and have very honest maybe long delayed conversations that focus on your two main points, as far as I can tell, as far as I can see, fairness and equality.

Thomas: Yes. I think we also need to recognize that those conversations have been going on and there are lots of great examples of those conversations going well. Boston, in the 1900s, experienced the massive reduction in crime focusing the coming out of the Boston Gun Project with David Kennedy, Anthony Braga, and the Boston Police Department, but it was supported by the Boston TenPoint Coalition. A coalition of African-America community-based clergy, people like Jeff Brown, who were a critical element of that project and the overall effort to reduce violence success.

It’s not just about police, it’s not just about community. It’s about police, community, researchers, businesses, everyone coming together and working on the problem together. Again, it’s always about avoiding these either/or conversations. We can have a conversation that is just about police reform, but it’ll miss something. We can have a conversation that is just about crime in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, but that will also miss something. For our law enforcement partners, we need to reinforce the idea that you will be judged on not just how well you effectively reduce crime, but also how well you engage with the community and explain what you’re doing, and do that in a legitimate and lawful way.

Leonard: You did put it in perspective, and I thought it was powerful, because when you talk to people in law enforcement they will say, “I’ve been to the community meetings and I get yelled at, screamed at. Get them off the corner. They’re bothering people in the community. They are destroying the fabric of life. They are endangering our children.” A lot of folks in law enforcement is saying, “We have been listening to the community and the community has told us to take aggressive action.”

You’re saying that it really is a matter of not everybody in the community. You’re talking about very specific people and places, and that’s where the focus should be. That answers the folks in law enforcement when they express confusion. “Hey, wait a minute. The community told us to be aggressive. You’re saying the community told us to be aggressive towards very specific people and very specific places.”

Thomas: Yes. I think a lot of police forces understand that and those police forces, like the police forces in Boston, the police forces in Los Angeles, like many others, are not having the same problems that we’re having in Baltimore or we’re having in Ferguson. It’s very important to realize that there are lot of successful, highly effective, highly lawful, highly fair police departments that are really already incorporated these lessons. You don’t hear a lot about them because the community is not outraged by them.

Leonard: Because they’ve been doing it well all along.

Thomas: Maybe not all along, but they’ve certainly been doing it well for a number of years.

Leonard: The last 10 years, yes.

Thomas: There’s a responsibility to have a public conversation that goes beyond the police. It’s not just about how the police respond to this. There’s also a responsibility for journalists and a responsibility for advocates. Just as we can’t paint disadvantaged communities with a broad brush, we shouldn’t paint police officers with a broad brush. I think that they have a responsibility as well to understand that while we should keep the pressure on to introduce meaningful reforms to improve policing, the idea is not to attack policing or undermine it all together. I think that we need to understand that police are extremely important, and valuable, and honorable part of our communities, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them to a high standard.

Leonard: Thomas, we’re going to have to close there because we are running out of time, but I do appreciate this conversation and the focus does seem to be on legitimacy, the focus does seem to be in fairness, and the focus does seem to be on equality. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to Thomas Abt today. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches violence reduction. 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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Childhood Trauma and Criminality

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/childhood-trauma-criminality-and-prison-reentry/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guest today is Dana Goldstein who wrote an intriguing article titled “Meet Our Prisoners”. It’s a comprehensive study of 122 men and women released in state prisons in the Boston area. The title of the show today is Childhood Trauma and Criminality. Dana, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dana: Hey, Len. I’m happy to be here.

Leonard: I’m really happy for you to be here. You’ve got a long history of writing about criminal justice issues. She is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. Her work has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic and other magazines. She’s the author of Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

You know all about this issue today. Tell me a little bit about the study, who did the study, who they interviewed and how you’ve retained or they’ve retained these individuals in the study.

Dana: Yeah. It’s really hard to study the lives of people who’ve been recently incarcerated because they change jobs very often or are unemployed. They don’t have regular addresses. They often have many different phone numbers over the course of a year. It’s even difficult for something as comprehensive as the census to pick these people up and really track what’s going on in their lives.

Three leading scholars: Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist, Anthony Braga of Rutgers who is a criminologist, and Rihanna Cole who works for the state of Massachusetts, they really wanted to find out what we can know about this population. They came up with something called the Boston Reentry Study. It’s a small sample size. It looks at 122 men and women. They were all released from state prisons to Boston neighborhoods in the years of 2012 and 2013. The study retention is amazing at 90%. This is basically unheard of with this population. The way they did it is that they paid each participant in the study $50 every time they came in for an interview so that was a really strong incentive. Beyond that, they also paid the relatives of these participants $50 to keep in touch and have interviews. This ended up being crucially important because for many of the former prisoners, the female family members: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, they were their connection to the community and connection to society after being released from prison. Having the cooperation of those family members in the study ended up being really key for the retention.

Leonard: One of the things that you point out in the article is up to 2/3 of people in previous interview panels dropped out. The fact that the researchers had a 90% retention rate …

Dana: Yeah. That attracted my attention as a journalist right away because when I look for research to write about in this column I write, Justice Lab, I’m often dealing with some methodological weaknesses with this particular population of justice-system involved individuals. This was a very strong methodology with a 90% retention rate.

Leonard: The bottom line is that this is a high-quality study, a 90% retention rate, involving people out of the prison system and their family members. The way that the researchers were able to retain them at the 90% level was the fact that individuals received a stipend for every interview, correct?

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. The researchers also took other extraordinary measures. They told me that one person in the study had 15 different cell phone numbers over the course of a year so a lot of … That was something, when my editor read the draft of my pre-shoot she went, “Oh, wow! That’s fascinating!” A lot of what the research team and their assistants were doing was just tracking these people, calling them constantly and saying to them, “Oh, if you’re running out of minutes on your phone, please just call us and let us know what the new number is.” The diligence really did pay off.

Leonard: That’s what fascinated me because when I first read the article, it was like, “Oh, another panel study of individuals coming out of the prison system.” I saw 90% and I said, “Wow! This is a really high-quality study” and it’s something that all of us in the criminal justice system need to pay attention to as the study rolls out. When is the completion date for the study?

Dana: It’s going to be completed over the next year or two. The first two sections, which I write about in this piece, one deals with the lifetimes up until incarceration of these folks so everything that happened to them in their childhood and their adolescence. It’s so sad and so fascinating. Secondly, the second part deals with what happens to them when they reenter society after being incarcerated. Do they find a job? Where do they live? What are their relationships like? The third piece is, I think, going to get a lot of attention. That’s going to be on recidivism. How many of these folks end up being incarcerated once again? We’re still waiting for that piece.

Leonard: In this, with a 12 month study, right? Followed the individuals over the course of 12 months?

Dana: I believe so, yes.

Leonard: Okay. It’s fascinating. I’m going to start off with one of the first observations that it’s no surprise that former prisoners are likely to be poor. Many have had troubled upbringings. Over 40% said they had witnessed a homicide. Half had been physically abused by their parent. Spanking did not count. A third had witnessed domestic violence.

I interview a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system on this show. Their story mimics what you’ve told in your article. Can you talk to me about that?

Dana: Yeah. One of the things that really surprised me so much was that statistic that 40% of the 122 people in this study had witnessed a homicide. That’s extremely big number for something that you would assume would be very rare. I think what really is driving what we’re talking about here is the segregated high-poverty neighborhoods where these people are growing up. They are living in neighborhoods that are essentially segregated from middle-class America. Crime is concentrated in these places. Family poverty is concentrated. The schools are not particularly effective.

The homes that the children were living in as described in the study were very noisy and chaotic. One person in the study named Patrick, he had his mother who was addicted to heroin and he grew up in his grandparents’ house. There were a dozen other relatives that were constantly moving in and out. The uncles were constantly getting into physical fights with one another and sometimes would set things up on fire. Patrick, as a child, just thought this was normal behavior. It was only as an adult reflecting back decades later, after serving time in prison himself, that he realized that everything that set him on his path to becoming a lawbreaker really began in this chaotic childhood home that struck him as completely normal at the time. I think it’s really important to remember that many of the people in our state prison system, in our jails, they’re coming from a traumatized background that may not even register to them as out of the ordinary.

Leonard: I sent the article out to 4 people who are administrators within the criminal justice system because I always get input from other people before doing radio shows. They said it’s their experience that what Dana is describing in this article is not unusual. It’s just not Boston. Again, I’m fascinated by the high retention rate. I’m fascinated by the quality of the research. The researchers themselves should be really complimented for doing something unique. What they’re saying, what they’re telling me is that what Dana is describing is commonplace. That’s one of the other things that I wanted to get, do you have a sense that this is just the Boston area or this really is something that you can extrapolate to other parts of the country?

Dana: No, absolutely not. These are similar life stories that you’d hear from any group of incarcerated people. I think normally you hear this sort of anecdotally. What this study does is it really gathers a random group of people that are coming out of prison in one year in one place and it’s giving us some data to work with. These are the sort of stories that social workers around the country who deal with this population, probation and parole officers, will tell you that on any day of the week.

Leonard: I do want to tell our audience right up front that I’m quite sure that I’m and Dana, we’re not making excuses for criminality but the reality of what it is that we in parole and probation, because the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington DC, but we in the criminal justice system, especially community corrections, mainstream corrections, this is the population who we have to deal with. People come along and say, “You need to reduce the rates of recidivism. You need to offer programs. You need to provide incentives.” All of which we thoroughly agree with and we’re one of the better-equipped agencies in the country in terms of providing social services to people under supervision but this is a rough group of individuals to help succeed.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. Another thing that was very poignant in this study was that the participants’ crimes often looked really similar to the victimization they had experienced or witnessed as a child. For example, one man in the study, Peter, when he was 12 years old, he watched a man get stabbed to death in a brawl outside a bar in his neighborhood. Well, what do you know? Later on as an adult he was incarcerated after a series of stabbing assaults. There’s this cyclical quality to the type of violence that a child is exposed to. Then for some children, of course not all, many people are exposed to violence and don’t perpetrate violence, but of the population that’s in our prisons, it is a cyclical quality so it’s just really important to consider that when you think about what services are going to be available to people.

Leonard: When I was putting together the program today I did talk with the Commissioner of Corrections. He and I years ago sat down and interviewed younger individuals who were charged with homicide at the Baltimore City Jail. There was quite a few of them. We didn’t use their names. It was for a governor’s crime summit. We were just trying to understand life through their eyes. One of the things that they said was violence is normal. My words, not theirs, but violence is normal. We learned violence in our communities. We learned violence from our immediate upbringing. Violence is something that is good. It protects us. It protects our family. It protects our property. This is something that is normal. This is something that we think is in our best interest and why you don’t understand that, we don’t understand that. Your article, based upon the research, sort of mimics that experience.

Dana: Yes. I think a lot of what’s going on is the sort of the slice against masculinity, ideas of respect. Those are very powerful currencies in the communities where many of our incarcerated people are coming from. What looks like a relatively trivial conflict can often lead to violence in these neighborhoods and communities that are extremely high-poverty and living with extreme scarcity. Those are the experiences that are in the past of the population we’re talking about.

Leonard: You’ve described already that many former prisoners and their family members describe noisy and chaotic childhood homes. We could go on about that if you’d like a little bit more and then we could move over to schools.

Dana: Yeah. I think I basically already described that but it’s basically the sense that there’s no stability. Many of these children are passed from caretaker to caretaker over the course of a childhood. There may be a mother or father who’s a drug addict. They could be passed to a grandparent and then passed into the foster care system and then eventually come out and be reunited with a parent. All of this lack of stability has profound effects on the child’s ability to do well in school, the child’s ability to envision a productive adult life. The child could end up, in the midst of all this instability, looking to their peer group for support and guidance. If the peer group happens to be gang-involved, if the peer group is involved with crime, that can really lead the child astray.

Leonard: You say that school was really a refuge for participants. 81% were suspended or expelled, many as early as elementary school. Few received support services such as counseling or tutoring. Eventually 60% dropped out of high school. If you come from that background educationally, if you come from that background emotionally, the deck is going to be stacked against you.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things that was disheartening about looking at the school portion of the study is that whereas in many middle-class or affluent families there would be a lot of interventions for a troubled kid. A kid who was acting out, a kid who seemed depressed, a kid who had some sort of traumatic experience at home, the school might spring into action and line up a therapist to meet with the child. Parents would be advocating for that. In those kids’ lives, a lot of times the schools looked the other way. It might not necessarily be because the teachers or principals didn’t care but they were overwhelmed. They would have a school where hundreds of children were dealing with similar trauma. The schools didn’t have the resources or the extra support they needed to provide each and every student that needed it with the extra help. School was not a place that was “rescuing” kids from these environments.

Leonard: You’ve already said that violence seemed normal to Patrick, the person that you specifically mentioned. Ultimately 41% of the study participants served time for violent crimes. Violence is an integral, everyday, normal process in the lives of the people who were interviewed.

Dana: Yeah. That’s really important to think about because I think the entire criminal justice reform conversation right now, a big part of it is about decreasing the sentences and being more rehabilitative for people who have done nonviolent crimes. We have this image of the kid who’s maybe picked up for selling a little bit of drugs or maybe he was driving in a car and his friend was the one who shot the gun. Actually, a huge proportion of our prisoners have themselves been involved in multiple incidences of violence. If we’re really looking at turning around our criminal justice system, decreasing mass incarceration, focusing more on rehabilitation within our criminal justice system, we must have this focus on those who have been convicted of violent crimes.

Leonard: I do want to talk about that but we are at the break. The program is going by like wildfire. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes for Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. You can reach her at themarshallproject.org, the marshallproject.org.

Dana, that is the issue right now because there is a huge conversation going on in the country. I’m assuming, I’ve been told that every governor has talked to every correctional administrator in every state basically saying we can no longer sustain the level of incarceration. We’ve got to cut back on the numbers of people that we incarcerate. We’re spending far more money on prisons than we are on colleges and schools. In that light, you are now finding bipartisan support for justice reform across the board but nobody is really quite sure what justice reform means. Your comments before the break are correct. We’re really focusing on the nonviolent rather than the violent but so many individuals who are being charged with nonviolent crimes have violent histories. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to come to grips with who the individuals are within the criminal justice system and provide services if we’re going to break the cycle of incarceration.

Dana: Yeah, Len, you’re exactly right. Even those who are convicted of nonviolent crimes as you rightfully point out may have a violent history in their past. You think about the bipartisan movement across the country that’s springing on us and saying “We’re really going to reduce our prison population.” That’s, in my view, a very positive saying but where the consensus can unravel is exactly this question of can we look to a more rehabilitative, less punitive approach for our violent offenders? Oftentimes, when you talk to the conservative folks who support criminal justice reform, they actually would like to maybe even stiffen sentences for violent criminals. I’ve written another article about this which reports on the Cut 50 Movement, the idea that you need to reduce the prison population by 50% which so far some of the conservatives are quite skeptical of. There is consensus but underneath that there is still debate about how exactly do we want to treat those who are convicted of violent offenses. This Boston Reentry Study is, I think, quite powerful in humanizing who those people really are.

Leonard: I think that’s one of the reasons why we bring current people caught up in the criminal justice system and people who are off supervision because the issue is that I’ll sit there and I’ll have three people in front of me and I’ll say, “Okay, you are a criminal.” I say that specifically just to provoke a reaction from that individual. That person will sit back and go, “Look, Leonard. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not a criminal” which is the best possible answer. Then I would elicit from them what was created for them, what did they create for themselves to remove themselves from the criminal justice system to do better while under supervision. Services, services, services, programs seems to be such a huge issue, yet if you take a look at surveys of state prison systems, 10% are getting drug treatment. A similar percentage are getting mental health treatment. If 80% of the people caught up in the criminal justice system have histories of substance abuse, if 50% have histories of mental health, unless we provide the programs we’re not going to break the cycle.

Dana: You’re absolutely right. That’s just appalling that there are not more available than there are, given what we know about this population. Since you mentioned those with mental health issues, one of the interesting things about the Boston study that I’m writing about here is that female offenders, although they were only 12% of the sample, some of the findings on them were very interesting. They were much more likely to have mental illness issues, for example. We know that the women in prison especially need some of these services.

Leonard: You say that nearly all of the female offenders in the study, 12% of the sample, reported being survivors of sexual violence.

Dana: Yes. That is stunning in and of itself. Basically, all of the women in prison in Boston had experienced sexual violence in their life previous to being incarcerated. I think there’s two things that come from that. First, you want to make sure that prison itself is to the extent possible as free of sexual violence as possible. We know we’re on a nationwide effort with PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, to deal with that. It’s very important for women inmates as well as male inmates. Secondly, again, it’s an area where therapeutic services need to be available. There needs to be space within the system for women to talk about and heal from these experiences.

Leonard: We run groups here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for women. The groups that I participated in, and they have to vote to let me in, and for the ones who I’ve interviewed by these microphones, virtually to a person they have talked about the fact that they were sexually assaulted by a family member, or a friend of the family, or somebody in the community before their mid-teens. This is a common experience, I think.

Dana: Yes, that’s very, very common. It’s very common.

Leonard: Okay. I want to ask a larger philosophical question and then I want to get into the fact that those who were picked up from prison and who had welcoming parties and spent fewer hours alone, they seemed to adjust better than those who didn’t because people are intrigued by the next phase of it.  What works? What can we do? What can the system do? My question is this: If we are dealing with individuals with such profound emotional histories in terms of childhood trauma, in terms of not doing well in school which is an understatement, if they’re dealing with histories of violence directed towards them, and women, sexual violence, and virtually all the women that I’ve talked to have had children, does it get to the point where it almost becomes impossible for the criminal justice system, let alone the larger society, to deal with people who have such profound issues?

Dana: I hate to say impossible because I know that there’s probation officers and therapists within prisons that are helping people turn their lives around every day. What I do want to say is what’s clear from these findings is that our prison system has become our social safety net of last resort. In the absence of a robust mental health system, in the absence of a robust drug-addiction treatment system in this country, in the absence of a robust effort to reform and improve all urban schools, not just a couple of famous charter schools, we see the prison system step up and be the place where society chooses to send these folks that fall through every other crack. We know the cracks are large, the cracks are gaping for this population of people so what we’re asking the prison system to do in turning around these people’s lives is in fact basically an unrealistic expectation given that we haven’t provided a lot of other safety nets to help these folks.

Leonard: There are programs, you would agree, that do cut recidivism by anywhere from 10-20%. 10-20% fewer people going back to the prison system can mean eventually the savings of billions of dollars and smaller prison systems so the programs … There is a point where the programs do apply. There is a point where the programs do work but the programs have to be there. The programs have to exist and they have to exist in sufficient numbers to have an impact.

Dana: Right. We know that there’s wonderful programs that help people get jobs that cut recidivism rates, that college classes behind bars significantly cut recidivism rates. We know that anger management in our cognitive behavioral therapy can help cut recidivism rates. We do know that there’s all these things that work but they’re not available to every person that needs them.

Leonard: Let’s talk about life after release. Those who were picked up from prison by loved ones who had welcome home parties and who spent fewer hours alone in their first week of adjustment seemed to do better than others which echoes a theme that we have here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in terms of family support for those people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. There seems to be some connection between family support and how well they do.

Dana: Yeah. It’s not that there was anything so magical about having a party. It was really the fact that you had the party and that you spent fewer hours alone meant that you had the family and friends that were checking in with you and cared about you and that you had kept in contact with them while you were incarcerated enough that they were there for you when you left. It’s also really important to mention the issue of age here. The median age in this study was 34. The people who were coming out in their late teens or twenties or early thirties had significantly more family support than the older people who came out in their forties or fifties or even later.

Leonard: Really? Okay.

Dana: We have very long sentences in this country and people sometimes are in state prison for a very long time. People who came out when they were younger had a better adjustment period.

Leonard: That’s interesting.

Dana: That’s important to think about when we think about what is the utility of these super-long sentences.

Leonard: 6 months after reentry more than half of the participants remained reliant on family, typically mothers, grandmothers, or sisters. About a third were living in marginal housing. That data mimics our data here.

Dana: Yeah, absolutely. The female relatives were really still pulling these men along after them. It was very, very stressful on the families of the reentering people. For example, oftentimes an order of protection would prevent a man from going home to live with his mother. He might be 19 or 20 years old and have nowhere else to go. The mother has to make the decision. She’s going to let her son come back and live in the house and she’s going to lose her Section 8 housing voucher. Her and the rest of her younger kids will be kicked out of their apartment or she’s going to send her son out to the street. For Jeff, one young man who was in the study, his mother did have to make the difficult choice to tell her son, 20 years old, that he could not come home and live with her. This is the way people end up homeless.

Leonard: You say that only 59% were employed before they were incarcerated. 6 months after reentry, 57% of the men were working and just 27% of the women. Is that sexual discrimination or are there other factors?

Dana: Yeah. The men were about as likely to be employed after incarceration as before which I think suggests that they suffered from very high unemployment levels both before and after. For the women, incarceration had a devastating effect. They were 20% less likely to be employed after being incarcerated. There’s two potential reasons cited, the researchers pointed out. The first is that the women who are incarcerated were more likely to be mentally ill or drug-addicted. That may really impact them as they’re coming out and trying to find a job in a negative way. Also, on the more positive side, relatives are more likely to take a female relative into their home. If women were getting housing support from their mothers or sisters, then perhaps it wasn’t so important for them to go get a job immediately after leaving prison.

Leonard: There is national data that suggests that women under supervision have higher rates of mental health problems and higher rates of substance abuse problems. You add that to kids and as the women have said to me sitting before these microphones, “How are we supposed to succeed, come out of prison, find a job, reunite with our children, deal with mental health issues, deal with substance abuse issues, deal with the trauma issues in our own lives and succeed?” There is a point where the women have said, “It’s almost impossible for us to meet your expectations.”

Dana: Yeah. It’s important that, as you mentioned earlier, almost all of these women are mothers. This is a double-generation issue that we’re talking about when we’re talking about women and reentry after being incarcerated.

Leonard: Okay, I want to quickly, because we’re running out of time … Ban the Box in Massachusetts didn’t seem to have that much of an impact.

Dana: Yeah, that’s what the researchers found. Even though employers are no longer allowed to check right away about the criminal history of the job applicant, they can still check the criminal history later in the application process, after the interview. In the words of Bruce Western, the sociologist who did this study, “It looks like they’re still checking their criminal history and it doesn’t matter if they may have met the person and he seems like a pretty good guy. They’re still discriminating heavily against people who do have that criminal history.”

Leonard: Those on parole and probation, thus under the [inaudible 00:28:14] supervision were more likely to be re-incarcerated which again mimics other national studies.

Dana: Right.

Leonard: They were arrested most often not for committing new crimes but for violating the rules of probation or parole.

Dana: Yes. We’ve certainly seen this in California and a lot of other places where this has been looked at. This is a bit of a sneak peek about what’s coming next from the researchers who are looking at this very fascinating population of adults in Boston. They are finding that those who are re-incarcerated, a lot of times they have failed a drug test, broken curfew, missed meetings, that type of thing.

Leonard: The study’s overall findings … We should increase our empathy for people who go to prison, most of whom came from brutal poverty. If we were in these situations, the researchers suggest, if we were in these situations and if we were to encounter these complex combinations of circumstances, could we be confident that we would exercise our moral agency to do something different, there for the grace of God [inaudible 00:29:16]?

Dana: Yeah, that’s what Bruce Western, the Harvard sociologist said. He really wants us all to think about if we had grown up in a home, a home like Patrick, would we have turned out very different from Patrick? Perhaps the answer to that is no. That’s one of the big questions that a study like this should leave in our minds.

Leonard: Fascinating interview, went by so fast. I have a thousand other questions but they’ll have to wait until next time. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project and she writes for Justice Lab. Her work has appeared in Slate, Atlantic, and other magazines. She is the author of The Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, themarshallproject.org is the website. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Violence directed towards offenders in prison

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/offenders-impacted-by-violence-effects-on-reentry-urban-institute/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leanard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a very interesting and important show: Violence directed towards offenders, how it affects their behavior. We have Janine Zweig. She is a Senior Fellow with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where her work addresses issues related to violent victimization, primarily intimate partner and sexual violence.

I’m going to read briefly from a new study that Janine is responsible for. It indicates that adult men and women who are physically assaulted or threatened with assault while in prison have negative emotional reactions to such experiences, which can increase the likelihood of negative behaviors after release and have a detrimental consequence for their long-term mental health and well-being, specifically in prison victimization leads to hostility once prisoners are released to the community, and this hostility in part leads to further criminal behavior, including violent behavior and mental health problems.

Janine, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Janine: Thank you for having me.

Leonard: Janine, this is an important piece of research, because a lot of us don’t understand all of the implications of victimization while in prison. The violence that is directed, the violence that is witnessed regarding inmates while incarcerated does have an impact upon their behavior upon release, correct?

Janine: Correct, it does. These consequences make their reentry transition a little bit different for those who may not have experienced those kinds of victimization incidents when they were inside.

Leonard: Now, give me a sense of your studies. There’s a couple studies here that are in play. One is taking a look at violence at prison. One is taking a look at violence before prison.

Janine: The other, it was looking at violence for a population on community supervision, so those who were diverted from incarceration, so both cases.

Leonard: Let’s go back in terms of the folks who were in prison and how it affected their behavior. Give me a sense as to the study and the results.

Janine: Okay, great. This was a sub-study of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, which was a major evaluation of reentry programming funded by the Department of Justice. We looked at a sample who completed surveys 30 days before their release from the facility, 3 months after their release, 9 months after their release, and again 15 months after their release. We have 4 different time points that we spoke with these individuals. We found that among that population about 53% reported that they had experienced either a physical assault while they were inside or the threat of a physical assault.

These numbers are a little bit higher than what has been found in other studies. For example, Wolff and colleagues did a study of 14 prisons and found that about 20% of females and 25% of males reported physical assaults by another inmate. There’s also around about 30% of males and just under 10% of females reported assaults that were staff-on-inmate assaults. Our studies found a little bit higher prevalence rates, likely because we also included the threat of physical assault in our measure.

Leonard: Give me a sense as to what that means. If your study indicated higher rates of assault or threats of assault, other studies just looked at assaults. When you include threats, what you’re saying is that according to your research it was twice as high.

Janine: That’s right, because threats are more common, and then the Wolff study was looking at individual, actual violent experiences toward the individual.

Leonard: The serious violent offender research was done several years ago, correct?

Janine: Yes. We conducted that study. Interviews that were still while the person was incarcerated were conducted between July of 2004 through November of 2005, and then the followup interviews came after that, as I said.

Leonard: You went back and re-interviewed the individuals involved?

Janine: That’s right. These were individuals across various programs in 12 different states. First of all they were incarcerated and interviewed then 30 days before their release from prison, and then a series of followup interviews conducted at 3, 9, and 15 months post their release. We’re really able to look at preexisting in-prison experiences and then their reentry experiences at 3 different time points.

Leonard: Recidivism rates were rather high. Am I correct on that? The 5-year point when they went back and took another look, there were some reductions for some groups, but all in all the rates of recidivism, if memory serves me correctly, for this particular population were rather high.

Janine: Correct. That is true across many who are incarcerated, that two-thirds recidivate within a number of years. In this particular sample, we were looking specifically at the role of victimization in other consequences and how that relates to the recidivism behavior as well as their substance use relapse. We looked at both types of outcomes related to their reentry back into the community.

Leonard: You went back and took a look, interviewed these individuals, and talked to them about their in-prison experiences, and from that you found out that when you include the threat of assault, it’s high, that violence seems to be an integral part of prison life …

Janine: Correct.

Leonard: That has detrimental consequences upon release.

Janine: That’s right. What we did was we felt there was a real gap in knowledge of what does it mean that these violent experiences are happening for people who are incarcerated? What does that mean for them once they’ve come back to the community? What we did was we relied on a theory called general strain theory, which really tries to identify the steps toward delinquency. The idea behind that is that there’s experiences that are considered noxious strains, or for a better term maybe harmful or unpleasant experiences, that happen to people that relate to feelings about those behaviors, which then in turn contribute to behavioral outcomes. The presence of a negative or noxious strain like victimization is predicted to create negative states of emotions.

Those are particularly negative experiences for a number of reasons. For example, victimization experiences are often seen as unjust, they have a large emotional impact, and individuals have less personal control in that situation. These are considered particularly noxious strains that people are exposed to. When you have a negative feeling and reaction to something, this can be either an externalized feeling, so for example anger, hostility, or frustration, or it can be an inner-directed feeling such as depression or anxiety. The idea behind this theory is that once you have those feelings, you have a behavioral reaction in relation to that feeling, so an externalized behavioral reaction related to the outer-directed negative feelings.

To put that more simply, if you are experiencing anger or hostility in reaction to an experience that you’ve had, you may commit violence or delinquency. If you are experiencing internal behavioral reaction to depression or anxiety, then you might turn to substance use or that kind of thing. That’s the idea behind this. We thought this theory might help explain some of the reaction to these in-prison victimization experiences.

Leonard: It talks about the detrimental impact of going to prison, what that means to individuals, what it means to their own mental states, what it means to their own emotional states. In essence, what you’re saying is that because of that exposure to violence, that sense that it’s happening in prison, that they’re having a harder time dealing with the realities of coming out. They’re having a harder time dealing with life on the outside because they’re bringing all of these pent up emotional feelings, this sense of hostility towards their own environment, that transfers out into the community.

Janine: That’s right. In both of these cases, looking at both criminal behavior, including violent re-offending, and then relapse to substance use, we found that the in-prison victimization experiences did play a role. It was a partial role, but it’s a role nonetheless, and it’s important to make those links. These physical assault experiences or the threat of physical assault led to feelings of anger and hostility. As you said, you bring those feelings of anger and hostility back into the community when you return. Those feelings what we call mediated the relationship to criminal behavior and violence. In other words, they contributed to their participation in criminal behavior and violent re-offending.

This is above and beyond the other kinds of things we think contribute to recidivism. For example, in these statistical models we included other kinds of things that contribute to recidivism behaviors. A person’s long-term criminal history is predictive of what they’re going to do upon reentry. Their ability to get employment, their family support, these kinds of other things all work together to contribute to someone’s likelihood that they’re going to recidivate.

What we did was we accounted for all those other things, and then looked at, okay, on top of all that, how does this prison victimization experience contribute to these feelings and then later to their behavior? We still found that, yes, indeed, these victimization experiences matter for their likelihood of recidivating and violent re-offenses.

Leonard: What about before prison? Because the practitioners are going to say that many of the individuals that they have interviewed, many of the individuals that they have focused on, say in parole and probation in the community setting, they talk about instances while in prison, but they also talk about instances while outside of prison. I’ve had a variety of female offenders before these microphones who routinely tell me that they were subject to sexual victimization before they even entered the criminal justice system. There’s that component of it as well, correct?

Janine: Absolutely. I will say that the victimization experiences and offender behaviors are deeply connected, and there’s lots of research that shows that, that people who commit criminal behaviors often have had damaging and traumatic experiences happen to them through their own victimization, and that’s very important to keep in mind. We did actually try to account for pre-prison victimization experiences as well. Now, we did not measure sexual victimization, to be clear on that, in this particular study. In the other study we did, but in this particular study we only measured physical assault.

That was one of the other things we accounted for in our models, to be able to say, “Okay, taking all of this into account, does the in-prison victimization experiences matter?” and, yes, we still found those relationships. I’m saying this in terms of the re-offending behavior, but in terms of relapse to substance use, which obviously plays a critical role in someone’s likelihood of re-offending, but also many, many offenders also struggle with substance use issues, we found that those in-prison victimization experiences increased the likelihood of substance use, but through the feelings of depression.

For people who had an emotional reaction that was in line with depression versus anger and hostility, that depression led to a greater likelihood of relapse to substance use.

Leonard: The bottom line is, whether it happens in prison or whether it happens in community, your research took a look at the prison experience. If you have a person who has been constantly victimized, exposed to violence, whether it be in their own neighborhoods, whether it be their own families, whether it be their own friends, whether it be while in prison, by the time we get them in parole and probation, it’s a real challenge in terms of dealing with a long history of violence, exposure to violence, perceptions of violence. Then they come to us and we have to deal with them as individuals oftentimes through cognitive behavioral therapy, through mental health interventions, and through substance abuse interventions.

We note that our population, and I think it’s fairly common, 80% have histories of substance abuse. We’re finding that mental health problems are increasing and seem to be increasing dramatically within the populations that we both supervise and serve. It’s becoming a real conundrum in terms of what to do with individuals who have such a long history of exposure to violence. Correct?

Janine: I think that’s correct. I think that one of the findings that you find across various literatures, for example you find it in the substance abuse treatment literature, that if trauma is left unaddressed, then someone may not be able to get all the benefit that treatment might provide them. It might be misinterpreted as being resistant to treatment, when really this person has larger issues around victimization experiences and trauma that have been left unaddressed in that treatment scenario.

I think we could learn from that in this context as well. If someone seems to be resisting changing from a life of criminal behavior or these kinds of things, there’s so many things contributing to that behavior, but one that might be left unaddressed by supervision agencies might be this person’s own experiences with victimization, and then the trauma that they have as a result of those experiences and addressing that trauma in an appropriate way.

For example, you brought up sexual assault. In the sexual assault world, it is widely believed that specific trauma-informed care for sexual assault survivors is really key to helping them move past those experiences. That’s not a typical therapy, I use that word a little bit loosely, but it’s a particular kind of therapy. That kind of offering, it’s not clear the extent to which that’s being addressed in supervision agencies.

Leonard: I want to reintroduce our guest, Janine Zweig. She is a Senior Fellow with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. The particular piece of research that Janine is responsible for is, for prisoners who face violence, reentry is a challenge. That is the show today, dealing with individuals who have a history of violence, whether it be in prison, whether it be in the community. It becomes a lesson for those of us in community supervision and for the larger population.

Janine, somebody once suggested that the people that we deal with on community supervision … and, again, I’m with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we are a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington, DC … many cases, I’m told by our parole and probation agents, and I’ve told by therapists, that some of the individuals who we deal with under supervision almost are like war victims, the level of violence, the level of trauma in the community, in the prison.

By the time they get to us, they are in many cases traumatized individuals who have a very difficult time expressing who they are and what they are, because quite frankly they’re not sure. A very large distrust of the criminal justice system, a very large distrust and profound distrust of the treatment process. Am I in the ball park?

Janine: Yeah, I think that sounds like what we found here. Although we didn’t measure posttraumatic stress disorder specifically, we do know that victims of physical and sexual violence from the literature do display symptoms of PTSD, and that that would be analogous to what someone who has experienced war would experience.

Leonard: What does it mean to us in terms of community supervision? What does it mean in terms of the incarcerative process? How do we deal with this? Because the recidivism rates, generally speaking, are described as two-thirds re-arrested, one-half re-incarcerated after three years. You get different measurements from different studies based upon the length of the study, but basically the rate of re-contact with the criminal justice system is high. This could be part of the underlying structure as to why it is as high as it is.

Janine: I think that is true. I think that when trauma is left unaddressed that it leads to health-compromising and life-compromising behaviors like re-offending, like violent re-offending, and things like substance use and substance abuse. If a person has these experiences that have caused trauma in their lives that they have never addressed, their well-being is damaged, and their ability to move forward is potentially damaged as well.

It isn’t clear to me the extent to which community supervision agencies actually assess for victimization experiences, whether it be in prison or in the community. As you noted, we have another study with a community supervision population who are diverted from incarceration, and similar patterns apply here, that victimization is related to recidivism and substance use in that population as well.

Leonard: Tell me about that.

Janine: Sure. This was an evaluation of a drug court program. We asked questions related to victimization in the year prior to their participation in our study. The focus was on the drug court population, but our comparison sample were also individuals who were on probation and under community supervision functions. It was a community-based sample of offenders where we looked at their physical and sexual victimization, and then applied the same theoretical premises we talked about before to look at what was their emotional reaction in terms of depression, anxiety, and hostility, and then also what was their likelihood of recidivating and relapse into substance use.

We found that the same patterns apply in terms of substance use, that a victimization experience led to depression, which then led to substance use relapse. Then we found a more direct relationship with recidivism, and that is the victimization led to recidivism behaviors. Again, this is taking into account all kinds of other aspects of their lives going on at that same time to try to say, “Does this victimization matter beyond other things that might contribute to recidivism?”

I think there is some idea behind the idea that when you leave a trauma unaddressed that it can lead to offending and violent offending, and that’s an important … It does matter for their long-term consequences.

Leonard: What is the principal modality in terms of dealing with a history of violence? What can we do in community supervision, parole and probation agencies, community-based agencies? How can we [meaningly 00:20:40] intervene in the lives of people who have come from violent backgrounds?

Janine: I think that when community agencies focus on victimization, they typically mean the victim of the crime of the person they’re speaking with, so the person under supervision, who was the victim of their crime. I don’t think there’s much focus on assessing the offender themselves, the supervisee themselves, for their own victimization. I think the first step is identifying the extent to which their probationers or parolees report these experiences, and if they’re reported then programming and referral beyond there. The first step would be what kinds of assessments are happening in these agencies to even identify who among their population might need help with dealing with traumatic victimization experiences of their own.

Leonard: Will they tell us?

Janine: I think that in our experience they do talk about their victimization experiences. They might not describe it in … I think there is best practices around how you ask about victimization experiences. In other words, instead of saying, “Are you a victim? Have you ever been a victim of domestic violence? Have you ever been raped?” there is best practice that shows when you label the kinds of victimization, people are less inclined to tell you, yes, they are a victim of that. If you say, for example, “Has your partner ever held you down so you couldn’t leave and forced you to have sex?” or, “Has someone slapped, kicked, or hit you?” people are more inclined to ask those behaviorally-focused questions versus questions that label them as a victim.

You could then assess from there, if they were saying, “Yes, I’ve had those kinds of experiences,” more deeply. Are those experiences recurring? Are they with their partners or not? Then addressing followup referrals and treatments that might make sense for the particular kinds of violence that they’re experiencing.

Leonard: Once we find out about that background, once we’ve established that background, what do we do with that individual, considering the context and the research saying that the vast majority of people just for substance abuse, very few people within the incarcerative setting, very few people in parole and probation or who are on parole and probation, get treatment for substance abuse issues, very few get treatment for mental health issues. This sounds like it goes way beyond that. It connects to it all. All of this behavior is interconnected. There’s no such thing as just a substance abuse problem, just a mental health problem, just a violence problem. Somehow, some way, as you just said, we have to assess that individual and then we have to meaningfully intervene.

Within the context of a system that is short on resources and having caseloads that are skyrocketing, what can we do to meaningfully intervene in the life of an individual who has such a profound exposure to violence?

Janine: I think perhaps it might be about doing better matches between what the person’s needs are and the treatment that’s being offered. If there are limited resources for treatment, just sending everyone who assesses for a substance use issue, for example, to the same treatment is a one-size-fits-all kind of characterization that might not work for everyone, because, for example, those who are dealing with the trauma of victimization by using substances, that person needs a different kind of care, what we would say is trauma-informed care, than someone who doesn’t have that background.

Maybe a better targeting and matching of particular individuals to the limited resources and treatments that you’re able to refer to is one way of trying to use the limited resources more wisely.

Leonard: We at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency believe in a group process. I’ve sat in on a variety of groups, of violence reduction groups and groups for women. This is not an easy process. Getting people to talk about what they’ve been through, what they’ve experienced, is profoundly difficult, and getting the answers. You have to have a lot of trust in the person running the group and you have to have a lot of trust in your group members to be able to share at this level. Sometimes that takes weeks or months of effort to get that person to finally feel free enough to admit to everything that’s happened to him or her.

This is a profoundly moving experience in their lives, and this is something that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. Whether it happened in the community or whether it happened in prison, it’s not easy to talk about this stuff.

Janine: That is surely the case. I do think that finding the right treatments and methodologies for caring for these individuals is beyond the scope of what we studied here, but what we could say is that better targeting might be one step toward it. I would also say that, in terms of partnering with local agencies that have expertise in some of these areas … For example, one of the pushes under the Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards is around partnering with local agencies that have expertise in treating survivors of sexual assault. If the in-prison experience is of sexual victimization, or even in the community, if it’s a sexual victimization and that’s what you discover is the issue at hand, then not necessarily relying on your own means to address that but partnering with agencies that that’s what they specialize in, is helping individuals who have had that kind of experience deal with it and move beyond it, and so tapping into other community resources and expertise that we wouldn’t necessarily expect a supervision agency to have.

Leonard: The bottom line behind all of this, and we only have a minute left in the program, the bottom line behind all of this is that we within the criminal justice system need to understand that the people that we deal with, and we’re experiencing rather high rates of recidivism throughout the United States, that we need to understand that individuals who come to us are oftentimes traumatized by their own experiences while in the community, while in prison. Prison certainly doesn’t help in many cases in terms of furthering that victimization, that sense of trauma. We have to understand that as a bottom line construct if we’re going to have a shot at helping these people overcome their difficulties, get off of drugs, deal with mental health issues, deal with anger issues, and reintegrate successfully. Correct?

Janine: I agree. I think that we often don’t think about offenders as victims, but their victimization experiences matter as well.

Leonard: That’s the interesting thing, because in our life we see people caught up in the criminal justice system as victims all the time, because, again, we’re the ones who go through that experience with them in a group setting and what happens to them. To talk to a woman … It’s very common for women to be sexually victimized by family members, by people who they know, before they even got into the prison setting. Same thing in some cases happens to men, just violent victimization. These are often traumatized individuals. Like I said before, they’re almost like, people have described them as being victims of war.

Janine: Right, and that victimization likely played a hand in their criminal behavior and offending to begin with.

Leonard: We’ve had Janine Zweig, ladies and gentlemen, a Senior Fellow at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, talking about the show title today: Violence directed towards offenders, how it affects their behavior. I really want to express my profound appreciation for Janine and the Urban Institute for taking something like this on, because we within the criminal justice system must come to grips with the people who we have under our supervision if we ever hope to reduce the rate of recidivism.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Understanding Crime in America

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/02/understanding-crime-in-america-the-urban-institute/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC public safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Understanding crime in America is our topic today. Ladies and gentlemen nobody better to explain crime in America than John Roman, he is a senior fellow with the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, www.urban.org. You can follow John on twitter @Johnkroman. John, welcome back to DC public safety.

John: Thank you very much sir.

Leonard: There is nobody better to explain the topic of crime in America than you because it gets really difficult to understand. For the last twenty years, it has been an almost containable decrease in crime. In the United States, it has been almost continuous with a couple of blips here and there yet at the same time we have the Gallup organization coming out with poll suggesting that most Americans believe that crime is increasing. We have again another Gallup poll talking about household victimization that even included cyber crime. This is a one year basis criminal victimization. Household victimization is a up to forty six percent.

If you take a look at Ferguson, if you take a look at other issues of importance, if you take a look at what is happening in cities throughout the United States where crime is a problem. If you say that crime has gone down continuously for the last twenty years, it gives you a blank stare. Can you place all of these in the context for us?

John: Sure. I think what happens is throughout, most of the middle of the last century, crime is pretty stable in America for a bunch of reasons we can talk about. In the sixties, crime, particularly violence and particularly crime around drug use and drug distribution, starts to skyrocket and skyrocket throughout the seventies. It stays very high throughout the eighties. It declines in the nineties and sort of stabilizes. Then, in the last five or six years it has declined again. Only the decline in the nineties sort of happened everywhere with the decline in the last five or six years has been focused in particular geographies and not everywhere. People’s experiences with crime decline has been very different of-late.

Leonard: Explain those geographies.

John: Sure. What you see is places like New York City, Washington, Dallas and San Diego are places that have experienced a second large decline in violence. Places like Chicago, Philly , Pittsburgh, and other  cities have seen much less decline in violence. Even in some of these cities  even little uptake in violence over the same period.

Leonard: How do you put all that into perspective. I mean, if you tell the average person that crime has had an almost a continual twenty year decline, it has been a little tick or it has gone up in here in Rio, but over the last twenty years plus crime has gone down. Yet, the average person as recorded by Gallup feel that crime has gone up. I did a radio show yesterday about coverage in America where the Pew studies in 2011 was sited saying that crime is one of the most popular topic the people want in terms of news coverage, I think sports and weather were the only topic that beat it.

People are really concerned about crime. Again, you tell them twenty year decline in crime and you they look at you as if you have three heads, especially if they are from Boston, Detroit  or from Chicago.

John: I think the story is, violence in America according to the FBI has declined towards the last twenty three years. As I said, it declined everywhere in the nineties, sort of stabilized in early more focus in specific places are having better experiences with crime. All that said, the national narrative is one about a violent America being dominated by violent criminals. You can go on cable TV and easily find a show like Gangland that show picture of violent groups of heavily armed people distributing drugs and attacking strangers.

If you are careful on how you look at issues, you know that most of them are showing footage from late eighties and early nineties and almost none of them are showing footage that is carried in the last generation. The message is still penetrates, the message is still is, anytime there is a violence incidence in America, anytime there is a kidnapping, anytime there is a shooting incident with multiple victims. That’s the news that dominates everywhere and everybody inside his home. It doesn’t matter what is happening in your neighborhood, the narrative is America is violent, you need to be scared.

Leonard: Well, America is violent you need to be scared, but it’s wrong because again, crime has been down for the last twenty years. American watch our television shows. You and I had the discussion before we hit the record button of where I can’t stand to watch the crime shows because you have very young, very good looking people with the best possible equipment with all the time in the world surfing crime almost instantaneously through technology that doesn’t exist. Its a myth.

I think people are being pulled in a lot of different direction in terms of what it is that they should believe. There is something called the CSI effect in court rooms where there are actually losing court cases because the Jury comes in with an expectation that what they see on television is what is real. The point is, is that what is real? How should American see crime and how the American lace it within it’s proper context? The follow up question is going to be the hardest question of all. Question that I get from time to time from news media is, why is crime down over the course of the last twenty years?

John: If you are over the age of forty, you’ve never lived in a safer America that you do today. That is true virtually everywhere in America. The popular TV narrative about the criminal mastermind, the hacker, the serial killer, those people don’t really exist. What causes crime in America is dense communities of low skilled young men. We’ve gotten better as a society about policing. Those communities are getting better about how we change what to make up a public housing is and frankly we have taken a lot those young men and we put them under the formal justice system. They are less able to commit crime.

We’ve been effective across a number of different domains in reducing crime in America. That message has not gotten out. There is a saying on capital health and efficiency has no constituency. The idea that we have become more efficient and more effective isn’t a message that anybody is out beating the drum about because there is nobody who is going to be responsible to it.

Leonard: Efficiency has no constituency, that is an interesting thought. Very interesting thought.

John: Anybody who want to the story that the world is getting better, doesn’t really have anybody to tell it to. If you want to tell the story of world being worse and being dangerous, and you showed yourself buy a home security system. I think one of things that are under sold in all these is corporate America. If you look at these ad about home security system, they are really upholding those messages, you know, a young mum in home with her young daughter and guy breaking in through the window, I mean it’s absolutely frightening. Those sort of things don’t actually happen very often and they happen less and less frequently over time, but the messaging has gotten more vivid and more and more scary. I think that causes Americans to be more and more afraid.

Leonard: We never have lived in a safer America, which is perfectly true. Now, there are two sources of information, one on crime report of the laws enforcement and then there is the crime survey, which is reported non reported crime through survey. Both are basically saying the same thing. You may find different variation from time to time, but the trend lines certainly are down for both the national crime survey and the crime report of the law enforcement.

If you take a look at other indices such as drug use, such as people in school … Younger individual in school being involved in crime, there are a dozen of others, they all seem to be down. It’s just not about John’s opinion. This is the bulk of research, good research over decades basically saying the same thing.

John: I think that if you said compared to 1990, is crime down at least fifty percent in America particularly violent crime, I think you are on a solid ground, I think the FBI did reflect that, I think the victimization survey reflects that. I think that if you look at any local law enforcement agency that happens to go back that far, I think they reflect that. I think that story is inarguable true, the question is the one you posed, why has this happened and what can we do to continue  the trend?

Leonard: That is what criminologists want to know. There was a point where, I forget exactly what the year, but the FBI at a certain point said homicide were at their lowest rate in decades.

John: Since the early 1960s. Homicides are really a very good indicator for all these because the rest of the kind victimization is. One of the things that is happening in America is that we are getting older on average and we are getting wealthier on average and that means we are more scared, we are more risk , we want there to be even less crime than there is.

Reporting about crime might change a little bit as people get older and scared, richer, and they have more to protect and might tend to report things as being crimes that they may not have reported when they were younger and poor and less scared. If you look at the national reporting data, it’s inarguable that crime is way in America. It’s very interesting every year, I talk to reporters right around January 1st when we tell the story and I go to the common section of these big international national newspapers and there hundreds if not thousands of columns about why I’m absolutely wrong.

Leonard: Right. I guess that is the point. When you talk at different people they look at you like you have three heads when you start saying the data. It’s not just John’s opinion, we are talking about, again, not to beat the point to death, but in terms of survey data, in terms of crime report of law enforcement, in terms of other surveys, lots of other [inaudible 00:10:05] all follows the same trend line. There is no doubt that you are correct. The criminologist’s question, the reporter’s question, can you give me an explanation as to why crime is down over the course of the last twenty years and my response is called January.

John: I appreciate that. I think we know that the other supporting bit of evidence is that in none of the last national elections has the issue of crime being even addressed in any sense. It’s really was something that we needed to change our policies around. It would come up anytime. That is important. Crime is down for five reasons. Crime is down in the nineties because we quadrupled, we increased four hundred percent the number of people in America who were incarcerated.

That doesn’t mean its a good policy. That doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly inefficient, it doesn’t it’s not a waste of tax payers money to incarcerate that many people, but inevitably if you put enough people behind bars and under supervision, you are going to reduce crime if that happen. At the same time, the crack epidemic in 1991 and this is the lowest number of people using crack cocaine in the last three generations is in 1991. People stopped using it as those drug market dried up, there was less violence around them. Those two explanations explain why the crime declined in 1990s.

Why is crime declining today? Beginning about 2007, crime started to decline again. As we stated, it’s not everywhere, it’s Washing, New York, Dallas, and San Diego, it’s not more to Philadelphia and Chicago. Why is that? There is three reasons for that and there are other reasons why people will look at you like you have three heads. One reason is that some of these cities became very friendly to immigrants. On average, according to the criminologists that I believe, a community of recent immigrants that is basically poor living in dense place will have on average a lot less crime associated with that community than exact same impoverished community of people who lived here for generations.

What happened is, and you have seen cities like DCs and New York, you can transact business in with government of these cities. They have really tried to attract immigrants as anew source of labor. What happens is, neighborhood that are cheap and poor become safer and they attract people who want to live and want to own their own home but they cannot afford it and they don’t want to buy in dangerous places and all these places in Washington Dc and places like that. This is true, in every city you can find these communities. They overall become safer and cheap. So people move in, they buy, and they invest. That investment brings more investment and overtime that part of the community starts to thrive and becomes less segregated.

Leonard: Are we saying that these are market forces taking place that are just as important as the criminology efforts?

John: I’m saying that almost every explanation for why crime has declined in the last ten years has pretty much nothing to do with criminal justice policy. I think we have got better policing, I think technology have gotten better, but if you look at the other explanations I don’t know that they have a lot to do with how we spend out public resources. There is a reason why the car that is most often in stock in America was manufactured in 1999 because you can take a Flathead screwdriver and shove into the ignition, twist it and drive off with it. Try to doing that with a cars that was manufactured in the last ten years.

Leonard: You can’t do it.

John: Can’t do it, doesn’t work. That is a big part of the explanation.

Leonard: All that is down, are you taken a look at all the areas where you have security devices coming into play and the discussion in terms of stolen iPhones, stolen computers and now we are talking about making sure that they cannot operate when they are stolen. There were technological advances that are economic advance, advances in criminal justices system, those who vest in criminal justice system will say what we did was to stabilize these communities to the point where they could change economically. They are going to take credit for that, from a law enforcement point of view or a correction point of view. You have all of these plus what?

John: I think all of that is exactly right. I think we have learnt a lot about how to do better policing, I think we have learnt a lot about how to do better supervision of people in custody. Whether it’s a community correction or within criminal justice correctional system itself. I think we have gotten much better about treating the underlying causes of people’s criminal offending whether that is alcohol abuse or drug abuse and health problems. Whatever it is that makes people unhappy with their state in life.

We have gotten better a lot better in trying to address the underlying problem rather than locking people up. The technological and the security improvement all these things create a trend that should cause there to be more crime if it just get out of it’s way.

Leonard: This are the ever amazing conversation every time I have John Roman senior fellow from the Urban Institute by the microphone. I’m always fascinated by the discussion. There are a lot of those within the criminology community who do wonderful research, but I’m not quite sure they can explain it well as John. John again is with the Urban Institute justice Policy Center, www.urban.org. You can follow John at twitter @Johnkroman. We are talking today about understanding the crime upheaval in America putting it in the context and explaining it because of the continued twenty years reduction in crime yet there are a lot of people out there who remain very concerned about crime per Pew and Gallup and just people who are living in cities who are having crime problems.

John, in those cities that are continuing to have the crime problems, you look at criminal justice … Summaries from criminal justice reporters every single day and you take a take a look at Chicago, if you take a look at the Boston. People there are concerned, how do you solve their problem? How do you bring … How do they follow what is happening in Washington Dc, in New York and other cities where we have been successful?

John: Some of it is acknowledging what your weaknesses are and some of it is acknowledging what your strengths are. If you look at the map of Chicago, compare to a map of new York and you look at the distribution of people where they live by their weights. What you will see when you look at Chicago is an incredible segregated city. What you look at when you look at New York is not a perfectly integrated city, but a much more integrated city.

It’s that isolation of people where they are never exposed to anybody who has a different experience than they have, who int poor, who is a job, whose dad isn’t incarcerated. In New York, you are much more likely to have those multiple experiences and exposures. That allows you to have hope to try and work on making your life better and in ways that don’t happen in places like the outside of Chicago where all experiences in angle were bad.

Leonard: The integration and immigration and other market forces once again as much as they are criminology efforts.

John: I think that’s right. It’s what we said. The natural trend of the world is far more safety. Security is getting better, the ability to secure your property is getting better, you call your home yourself, police are getting better investigating arresting people who are involved in criminal opportunities. There are all kind of other things going on in the world that make the world safer.

If you want to buy drugs today, you don’t have to go to an open air drug market where you are going to be surrounded with dangerous people some of whom are drug seeking, some of whom are selling and they are armed. You can with your cell phone and call someone and they will bring ti to you. The world is getting safer, the trend is towards more safety. The question is, what can cities do to help accelerate that trend?

Leonard: What can they do?

John: One thing they can do is being friendly with the immigrants. Allow these communities to develop out people who can live in a city to help the city grow, bring new resources to it, help accelerate the trend of justification, help decelerate the trend of segregation and create an atmosphere that is more conducive to lower crime and more economic development.

Leonard: You take a look at the Worldwide crime trend rate, me and you talked about this in another show, I remember in advanced criminology course a long time ago looking at the crime trend for New Zealand, for Australia, for Great Britain, for Canada, the other western industrialized countries, crime seem to go up and seem to come down with the same trend line. Not necessarily the same numbers, but the trend lines seem to be there. Not only are we talking about an explanation of crime in America, we are talking about an explanation of crime in the we stern and industrialized world.

If all basically rises and fall s at the same time, it’s just not an explanation within United States, it’s the western and industrialized explanation.

John: I think that is exactly right. There are two things going on that are very interesting. The one is, do the trend line in Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and the US are they the same? And they are. What is interesting about it is that none of those other countries have the same experiences we had with crack cocaine and none of them had the mass incarceration response.

If you think that the world is trending together and you want to know why the crime is declining, it does make you want to scratch you head a little bit and wonder why other nations that didn’t have the crack cocaine, didn’t have mass incarceration are experiencing the same level of decline. There are some explanation for that. One of the explanation for that is a simple one, which is that we took lead out of gasoline and in 1970s, in sudden most western industrialized countries.

When I think about lead poisoning I think of kids eating lead paints which is against … But it’s not what is dangerous, what was dangerous was the leaded gas, the regular gas. In 1970s, people exposure to lead in the blood stream to be much higher than it is today and that of lead poising that lead exposure causes people to behave in more in antisocial ways, to be less able to exhibit self control and it postulated that that is part of the explanation.

Another part of the explanation is that security technology has got better everywhere. Another part of the explanation is that, we have learnt a lot about policing. Policing in Australia, Canada, US, and Great Britain all talk to each other, they go to the same campuses, they go to the same researchers. They are all …

Leonard: It’s the criminology system

John: I think it’s right. The focus has been much more on trying to do things in the community, trying to keep adolescent out of juvenile corrections, and in family based therapies, trying to treat underlying disorder rather that incarcerating people, teaching police how to be part of the community rather than a police a force. All those things have contributed in stabilizing communities to allow these other to accelerate the county crime.

Leonard: Within the context of all this, declining crime, but yet as I said before the Gallup poll indicating that people are more concerned about crime. Gallup poll saying that the less cyber crime forty six percent of household on a yearly basis experience crime. Within that context of criminologists and reporters and average people trying to put all this in it’s proper context, we have Ferguson. The other issue is that now we are having a very intense discussion over the role of the police, the role of the community, what is proper, what is just, what we should be doing.

It’s a conversation I think we in the criminal justice system welcome, but it’s confusing to people because they are told that the New York city miracle, I think it is a miracle, but done through very aggressive law enforcement. That was the issue that held crime down in New York and that has been exported to criminal analysis, crime mapping, very proactive law enforcement. That has been offered as an explanation for why crime has gone down in certain cities. Put that up against the conversation we are having now about praising law enforcement in America, how do you make sense of all that?

John: In 1990, in New York city, there were over twenty two hundred homicides, last year, they were under four hundred. Twenty two hundred to under four hundred.

Leonard: It’s an unbelievable decline.

John: There were hundred and ten thousand motor vehicles stolen in New York city in 1990, last year, they were about ten thousand and all that was due to very aggressive policing. Now, contrast that with Washington Dc, which had four hundred and seventy nine homicides that same year, 1990, which got it’s lowest eighty eight a couple of years ago. Four hundred and seventy nine to eighty eight in a …

Leonard: Huge drop.

John: Eighty plus percent is a …. What chief [inaudible 00:23:31] has done in Washington Dc is community policing. She has all officers write their cell phone numbers on the back of the business cards, tell them to call me anytime day or night if you think a beef is developing and is going to turn into something serious. Call me and I will come.

Leonard: In both cities you can feel this.

John: You can feel it right.

Leonard: You can feel it, touch it, smell it, taste it. Those of us who have been to New York city several times, those of us who work in DC or live in DC you can feel this. What about strangers, let’s talk about Ferguson, what Ferguson means in that context of these different policing style.

John: I think one of the one of the take away from Ferguson that hasn’t gotten any attention is an acknowledgment that the way we feel about law enforcement in America has changed. In 1990, in New York city, when there were over two thousand homicide in a single year, which is an astonishing number, the tactics that were employed in Ferguson and in Cleveland and in Long Island. There was much violence and we all accepted that we needed to get these places stabilized as you said. I think that is right.

Today, we have gotten to the point where crime is declining, where people don’t believe there is as much violence. They are not accepting these kind of police tactics as they would have been twenty years ago.

Leonard: It’s a new conversation.

John: It’s a new conversation.

Leonard: It’s a new conversation for a new time.

John: It’s almost, in many ways, it’s an optimistic conversation. Right. The fact that people were willing to … It’s worth noting that it takes an enormous amount to get people to go out into the street. To put their liberty at risk. In order to make a statement about a policy issue like how the police police. The fact that we see all these huge gatherings across America, eventually every city is a sign people caring no mercy about this issue. Then, we have seen almost virtually every single of these demonstrations have been non violent.

This is unlike the sixties or the riots.

Leonard: People need to understand that context. I mean, we lived through decades where there was a lot violence associated with the demonstrations and there was endless demonstrations for endless reasons. Now, most of these, the great majority of these are non violent demonstrations.

John: It goes to your other question, which is very interesting part. If I am sitting there as a criminologist watching these demonstrations thinking about what it means in terms of policy, my reaction is, this is very hopeful, this makes me feel good about the world of people care enough to go out and voice their opinion on this topic that they are non-violent. The chief of  police in Philadelphia. He followed the demonstrators and would tweet thing like, citizens exercising their rights. That is wonderful.

Leonard: It’s opportunity for new conversation, but maybe that conversation is welcome and necessarily.

John: It is, but the problem is that the news media is focusing on few people who are part of those demonstrations who are breaking into the seven and eleven taking casing of water and will have that done over their faces how masking they were identities because that makes for better television even though this conversation has been overwhelmingly positive than news media portrayal of it has been frightening to a segment of American whose risk are to begin with.

Leonard: That is why we are calling the program understanding crime in America because again people need to have some sense of context reporter citizens needs to have, we in the criminal justice need to have some sort of context in terms of not just to what happens within the last two years, but to what have happened within the last thirty or forty years.

John: That is right. The big change in America has been our urban policies. Urban policies in fifty and sixties were designed to divide. We build big estate and highways that separated, segregated and isolated huge portions of our citizens lanes. We are beginning to take those things down. We are beginning to build subways that integrate our communities, we are encouraging immigration,  we are encouraging economic development, we are encouraging all sorts of racial interaction that didn’t exist before.

All those natural forces along with technological growth, the growth of security, the maceration and evolution of our policing agency. All those things present a trend where America the next generation should be even safer than it is now. Those policies could be accelerated if American could be convinced that the world is in fact a good place today and they will be willing to invest in those things.

Leonard: Fine, at middle of other programs John, we did have a point where five six years ago, we were talking about the super predators when they were coming increasing in crime, that hasn’t happened. How long can we take this declining crime? How far out?

John: I think it can go along way. There have been a lot research … As a researcher, I find that it’s where that research penetrates, but one bit of research did, this was some studies that Larry and colleague did at the Temple University where they did studies about brain evolution, maturity, social, and emotion maturity of young people. What they concluded was people continue to evolve into their late twenties and the threshold of eighteen being an adult is arbitrary.

I think criminal do know justice system should really respond to this message and began to think about young people differently. It has helped us to avoid having this super predator thing happen.

Leonard: We have a better understanding of crime in America which is the title of our program. Ladies and gentlemen we have had John Roman, senior fellow with the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center. Before our microphone we get a lot of positive comments in terms of John’s ability to explain very complex issues. Www.urban.org, @Johnkroman if you are interested to following John on twitter. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC public safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticism and we want everybody to have themselves a very present day.   

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Human and Labor Trafficking in the US-Urban Institute

Human and Labor Trafficking in the US-Urban Institute

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio Show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/10/human-and-labor-trafficking-in-the-us-urban-institute/

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety and I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We are doing a show ladies and gentlemen on human trafficking. Back at our microphones from the Urban Institute we have Colleen Owens. She again is with the Urban Institute. She did a heck of a program last time on the issue of human trafficking. Joining her today is Justin Breaux and also Isela Banuelos. Did I get that correctly Isela, so I want to welcome all three of you to DC Public Safety.

Colleen Owens: Thank you.

Isela Banuelos: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Alright now we are going to go with Colleen because Colleen did the program before and Colleen gave me a very quick overview of what it is that we mean by human trafficking.

Colleen Owens: Well thanks so much for having us on the program Len we are really happy to be here. So human trafficking as it is defined in our federal law, which was passed in 2000, essentially, you know, centers on the use of three elements of forced fraud or coercion to compel a person either into I guess two very broad areas of labor trafficking or sex trafficking. If the person is under the age of 18, for sex trafficking you don’t have to prove forced fraud or coercion but for labor trafficking you would.

Len Sipes: I was running the research report. This is the one statement that just really jumped out at me: “To a public largely unaware of it crimes resembling slavery take place in America.” Is that overkill or is that a justifiable description of what we are talking about when we talk about human trafficking?

Colleen Owens: I mean that is absolutely justifiable. If you actually look at the root of the law that we have on human trafficking in the United States, it’s based upon the 13th Amendment principles of slavery. The language is actually directly relation to the language that we have since the 13th Amendment around debt bondage, peonage and slavery and so what we are talking about is actually, you know, the limitation of a person’s liberties and freedom. And this crime that we call human trafficking is somewhat new parlance since about the early 2000s but it is a crime that has existed for a long period of time in the United States.

Len Sipes: Now we are talking about literally tens of millions of people throughout the world?

Colleen Owens: The best estimate that we have actually comes from the International Labor Organization and there estimate is that 21 million people are victims of forced labor around the world.

Len Sipes: And so, but we don’t know the exact number of human trafficking/slavery in the United States but we do know in all probability that millions are involved in this type of behavior in the United States?

Colleen Owens: Right, we don’t have actual any estimates on the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States but we do know that victims have been identified both of labor trafficking and sex trafficking across the country.

Len Sipes: Because last time you and I did the show, in preparation for all my shows I do talk to different people about the topic before actually doing the show and to a person they just said human trafficking in the United States, they found that incredulous and they did not buy into the fact that there is human trafficking in the United States. So to satisfy them, once again, is there human trafficking in the United States?

Colleen Owens: Yes absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay. So this is appalling, I mean this is absolutely literally appalling that we have forced labor and forced sexual bondage within the United States right now and it’s not all that unusual nor is it all that rare and it is probably happening throughout the country.

Colleen Owens: It is defiantly. I would say that no community is immune to it.

Len Sipes: You did a report which I do want to site and I will put it in the show notes. “Understanding the Organization, Operation and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking In The United States.” You did this again with Urban Institute coupled up with North Eastern University?

Colleen Owens: Right.

Len Sipes: And so this, I have been seeing in my email lots of material coming out of Urban on human trafficking. This is something that Urban is taking very seriously in terms of putting out seminars and reports on it. I mean it is just not a one shot deal. You guys are steadily pounding the streets talking about human trafficking.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely it is an issue that we see as very central and important in the research field and it is something that myself and my colleagues Justin and Isela and Meredith Dank, also of Urban Institute, as well as my colleagues at North Eastern University – Amy Farrell and Jack McDevitt have dedicated a lot of our time conducting research on over the years and it is something that we do feel strongly. There is still so much that needs to be known, a lot of unanswered research questions and it is something that we do remain committed to conducting research on in the future.

Len Sipes: Isela give me a sense as to the report. You’ve talked to what 28 victims and 58 social service providers to get a sense as to what’s actually happening in terms of human trafficking, not just in the United States but throughout the world but in terms of this report particularly in the United States.

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct so we have talked to service providers and victims who have been able to get services and we talked to people who were trafficked into various industries including agriculture, domestic work, hospitality and also restaurants. Thank you, right.

Colleen Owens: Restaurants.

Len Sipes: These are people who are hiding in plain sight according to the report. These are people who we interact with every day; we just don’t know they are being held in bondage. Correct?

Colleen Owens: That is correct.

Len Sipes: And it strikes me that there is a parallel here and any one of you can enter into this conversation. I’m from the main stream criminal justice system and I have dealt with an awful lot of women who are caught up in the criminal justice system who we have supervised in my experience, over the course of the last 25 years and it is not unusual, there is a new piece of research out for one particular state were 85% of the women caught up in the correctional system had histories of violence and sexual violence before the age of 18. And so many of the women who are involved in the criminal justice system are there because, stereotypically I understand but it is true, some male has used physical force or a threat of physical force or a threat of economic force and basically told her, “I’ve got two pounds of cocaine you are going to drive it to New York City.” They are going up Interstate 95. They get pulled over, the drug dog alerts on the car and suddenly she’s in jail or prison for the next 10 years, because principally she was forced to be there. It is sort of a type of bondage as far as I am concerned. And you sit down and you talk with them about their background, it verges on being disgusting. I get the sense that when we talk about human trafficking; we are talking about basically the same thing, force, threat of force, psychological bondage, people who feel paralysis and other people who take advantage of them, Justin?

Isela Banuelos: I think you would want to add fraud in there. What we found was that in most of our cases that was, you know most of our survivors were heavily defrauded in terms of their interview, their recruitment and things of that nature.

Len Sipes: Am I over playing my hand in terms of comparing human trafficking to what I see in the main stream criminal justice system, in particular women offenders?

Isela Banuelos: I think there are absolutely some similarities there and in fact in some of cases, women came to the United States, and you know they were working in homes, they were forced to board flights, and they really didn’t have any choice in the matter.

Len Sipes: The bottom line and the heart and soul of all of these issues that we are talking about today is physical or physiological coercion, to coerce a person in terms of doing something by threatening them physically or threatening them psychologically. So that is a form of slavery.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But in terms of human trafficking, they’re hiding again, as we said in plain sight. We interact with people on a day to day basis but they don’t feel that they can get out of it. The victims don’t feel that they can escape it because they are not quite sure that the criminal justice system is going to be sympathetic towards their cause, even though they are in the county legally and I do want to get around to that part of it. They feel that they’re going to be deported. They think that terrible things are going to happen to them, happen to their kids, happen to their families back in the countries that they came from, so they don’t escape it. That is a form of bondage. Correct? Talk to me about it.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely, well you know we collected a lot of really interesting information around the escape experiences and my colleague Isela can speak a little bit more on that, but you are absolutely correct that folks are laboring you know in plain sight, often times. They are working in hotels. They are working in construction and restaurants. They are here on a visa for work in these industries, primarily in our sample, that’s what we found. And they are under threat of deportation, threat of being reported to the police if they complain. Their family members are being threatened back home because oftentimes they have been recruited back home in their country of origin and a lot of information has been collected about their personal background. So the traffickers use this against them.

Isela Banuelos: Sorry can I also just add that in addition to having this threat of you know having their family members hurt in their home countries, I think that for folks who are coming into the country authorize and unauthorized, there is this tremendous just fear of contacting law enforcement because of their visa. So contacting law enforcement would mean that they are jeopardizing their status, and so because they don’t want to be deported so they are not contacting law enforcement.

Len Sipes: But Justin, they are here legally and not just the fact that they have visa’s when they come, but they paid.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Right, exactly.

Len Sipes: They paid to come here and they paid quite a bit of money.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Right and I think it starts with the recruitment phase. So we were looking at the continuum of the labor trafficking experience and what we found was that it all begins with recruitment oftentimes in their home countries, through their social networks they come across this opportunity. They usually meet with a recruitment agency. This agency will use high pressure coercion tactics to convince them. Many times they are using fraud. The victims are paying large fees. On average it was over $6,000. So that sort of sets the stage. So now they are in debt. They have used their family’s money as collateral and that really lays down the foundation.

Len Sipes: They are here legally, which meant they had to get visas, which meant they had to come into contact with the State Department.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Precisely.

Len Sipes: So there is nobody at the State Department asking questions?

JUSTIN BREAUX: We also highlight that in our report. It is sort of these actions that are taking place and what we found was that for many of the survivors that we interviewed, they had very routine sort of interactions with the State Department. Our survivors were often coach by their traffickers on what to say. In a few instances the trafficker actually participated in the interviews with the victim and the State Department and in that situation the victim, you know had no, didn’t speak English and really didn’t say anything throughout the course of the interview. So we did find that the traffickers played sort of a critical part there. But we do want to add a little bit of a caveat in that we are looking at a subsample of the individuals who have been victimized and received visas from the State Department. We don’t know the universe of individuals who are at risk of trafficking, who have applied for visas and been denied.

Len Sipes: You can only talk about what you know and I understand but there is a certain point where we do need to extrapolate beyond your numbers to the larger issue. The criminal justice system does not come off very well in this report. Again, we are inundated with rapes, robberies, burglaries, what I call the garden variety types of crimes every single day. I have been in law enforcement, I have been in corrections. I understand the stresses and strains upon our system. If you came to me as a police officer and said human trafficking, I guess my response is going to be, what? Because, again, I am overloaded with the day to day crimes that people are very concerned about and nobody at a community meeting brings up human trafficking. Our politicians don’t bring up human trafficking, the medial doesn’t bring up human trafficking and suddenly you present me with an extraordinarily complicated case where I don’t know the law, I don’t know the procedure, I don’t exactly know what to do with this. All I see is a mountain of work and when you are talking about a person being brought over and being worked half to death in a factory, I’m saying to myself what a minute, did you voluntarily come here, do you have a visa? You went through the States Department, you know, you paid for this and your complaint is what? So.

Isela Banuelos: That’s it. I mean that is a very legitimate response and perspective. You know that is something that other research has been done on actually NORC did a study a few years back that indicated that over half of law enforcement, including investigators and prosecutors that they surveyed, had no knowledge of the fact that their state had a law against human trafficking and that there was a high level of misinformation around definition. So folks thought maybe trafficking equaled smuggling. That there had to be movement involved. And so I think that there is a lack of awareness but I also think, and a huge need for training, but I also think something that’s distinct for labor traffic from sex trafficking that we found is that there is really a question about who’s job is it to enforce the laws around labor trafficking. And essentially we found what I would call a black hole of enforcement and it makes sense when you actually look at what we did in our study, which was we categorized and we reviewed cases of labor trafficking victimization and found that there were high rates of labor exploitation. So folks were experiencing crimes that you know sort of civil violations rather, that fall under the jurisdiction of Department of Labor. So wage and hour violations, you know denial of pay or you know failure to give someone a pay stub. You know, lack of meal breaks for example. That is all under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor. What is under the jurisdiction of law enforcement are when it rises to a criminal level, so you know, monitoring and surveying your workers, basically using the threats, the violence, the coercion against them.

Len Sipes: Human bondage is not a Department of Labor crime; I mean what we are talking about are real crimes that we would define them as being real crimes. We are just a little confused when a person comes here voluntarily on a visa that has been processed by the State Department and we would have one person’s word against another. I mean that is almost an impossible situation but we are talking about real crimes. We are talking about real bondage. We are talking about sexual abuse, we are talking about rape. We are talking about some extraordinarily serious issues.

Isela Banuelos: Exactly, but I think Department of Labor is in a place where they could be doing more to help identify because they are going into work places routinely. When you look at local law enforcement your prior experience, you know as a law enforcement official, it is not really in the routine of law enforcement to be going into work places and looking for crimes unless maybe somebody calls because they were assaulted for example.

Len Sipes: It’s a fascinating conversation. We are more than half way through the program and these programs do go by very quick because again I find this to be extraordinarily interesting. The report, “Understanding the Organization, Operation, Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in The United States” as put out by the Urban Institute www.urban.org. Back at our microphones we have Colleen Owens from the Urban Institute, we have Justin Breaux and we have Isela Banuelos, am I getting that correct.

Isela Banuelos: Banuelos.

Len Sipes: Banuelos, okay than you very much and again all from the Institute in conjunction with North Eastern University. Is this Department of Justice supported?

Isela Banuelos: Yes it was funded by the national institute of justice.

Len Sipes: Okay the National Institute of Justice, so some rather prestigious organizations are involved with this and I would imagine Justice is involved in this because they see a problem that nobody seems to be willing to deal with, am I right or wrong?

Colleen Owens: Well basically the study came about because we have been, you know the field has been doing research around human trafficking, I would say, for a little bit over the past decade. And what we have all sort of come to is that we know more, though we still need to know more, about sex trafficking but we really don’t know much about labor trafficking. Does this exist in the United States, what does it look at, how are people being victimized? And so the study came out of that question. And we know that if we wanted to find – our approach was to find cases that have actually been identified and to study those cases.

Len Sipes: You don’t have an empirical basis to make this statement but I have read a couple of your reports and certainly it is justifiable to suggest that you are talking about a couple of hundred thousand people, if not more in the United States who are going through this problem and it is criminal in nature, more than it is labor in nature. I mean, I am trying to set the stage for the person listening to this program who is trying to relate to this. Again, human trafficking, the conversation I had with other people surprised that there is human trafficking in the United States. It impacts more than just a couple of hundred people.

Colleen Owens: Sure absolutely. I mean some of the cases that we looked at actually we may have been reviewing, you know, the cases of one or two victims but in fact the actual labor trafficking case had hundreds of victims that were victimized through that one experience.

Len Sipes: That one experience but is there, we have to somehow in some way put some sort of, I mean people are trying to wrap their heads around what it is that we are talking about and they are sitting there now saying well this is horrible, this is disgusting I did not know about but again it is not really prevalent in the united States. It is, is it not?

Colleen Owens: Well we know that , you know thousands of people have been identified that have been victims of labor trafficking. And I think based on what we found out in our report in terms of how difficult it is for those folks that have actually come forward, to come forward, and all of the barriers that they face in doing so, it does raise question about the extent to which this is happening. And I think also we looked at, I think what was surprising to me was how systematic a lot of this is. That it’s, you know, a lot of the factors that are leading to the labor of folks, of workers being forced you know exist through a lot of these temporary work visa programs. Not to say that they should be cancelled but we that we really need to you know have some serious oversight and look into making some adjustments around these programs to, you know, limit the risk that the workers are facing coming in under those programs.

Len Sipes: But Justin the bottom line is that we, within the criminal justice system have got to start paying attention to this so it has got to be on our radar screen. We’ve got to be talking to our attorneys. We’ve got to be talking to experts. This isn’t anything that we can ignore. This is something that we just should be paying attention to.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Yes you are absolutely correct and in our interviews with law enforcement what we did find was, in fact, a lot of confusion about the issue. Oftentimes they referenced it as being a purely a labor issue. So yeah, there is the need there and there is the need to raise awareness within the public as well.

Len Sipes: And again this is why I am playing this card too many times resembling slavery taking place in America. I’m trying to get a point across that we are not talking about somebody working 60 hours instead of 40 hours in a factory, who is from another country.

JUSTIN BREAUX: So what we are talking about is for example one of our cases. A woman made a mistake, she was a domestic worker. The family, the traffickers said she made a mistake; she was not given food for four days. When she “stole” two pieces of chocolate, she was forced to stand from 4am to 6pm for the remainder of the day. So those are the types of situations we are talking about. Death threats things of that nature. “If you try to run I will shoot you.” I mean these are things that sort of came out in our findings.

Len Sipes: And again this is something, I think, is just happening way too much in the United States. So they got here from what countries, principally what Asia and Latin America?

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct yes.

Len Sipes: Okay and they got here through visas.

Isela Banuelos: Yes the majority of the people in our sample came here through a visa and 79% like actually don’t quote me, 71% yes and they were flying in. I mean if you are thinking about places like Latin America and Asia these are folks who are coming in through there.

Len Sipes: They are not coming across the Canadian line, walking across the Canadian or the Mexican border. They are flying in with a visa?

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct, yes.

Len Sipes: There is a certain point where most of their visas are now expired?

Isela Banuelos: Yes and that creates further challenges for escaping. Right? So you have a situation where someone did everything right to come into the country legally and now they are caught in a trafficking situation, and their visa has expired. So that’s just creating future challenges to contact law enforcement since they know that they are now unauthorized.

Len Sipes: Justin, go ahead.

JUSTIN BREAUX: One of the first things that the traffickers did upon arrival into the United States was actually seize those documents and that was one of their primarily mechanisms of control over their victims.

Len Sipes: Alright, they believe because their visa has expired that they cannot go to law enforcement, they cannot escape because their visas have expired they are simply going to be deported back to the countries that they came from?

Isela Banuelos: Yeah, that is one of the many challenges that they have to overcome and I think there is also physical barriers. You are talking about people who work in agriculture. We are talking about folks who live in very rural parts in the country and you know it is going to take miles and miles until they come into contact. With some other folks who are in domestic work that is illegal in the privacy of someone’s home and don’t have any contact with anyone. They are under constant surveillance and so how do you create an opportunity for them to access other people?

Len Sipes: And how do they escape.

Isela Banuelos: So the majority of our people in our sample, 59% escaped by running away and the second most common way of escape was through the support of a friend. And you know I think it is important to recognize that for folks who have to be under constant surveillance and there is physical barriers, there is psychosocial abuse from the traffickers and there is a very complicated relationship with law enforcement because of their immigration status, they are relaying on narrowed windows of surveillance to escape. You know we had a situation where a women, you know the trafficker left the door open and she just ran out and waved down a cab. That was one of the stories we heard and for other folks who are working in maybe a more populated setting like hospitality, they are relying on a network or support of friends or colleagues who can help them, you know be more strategic about their exit. Helping them find a way to escape. So it’s, I can’t emphasis the importance of bystanders in this process of escape. A lot of times it took just someone you know to stop someone in the street and say like, “You know, there is something off. What is going on here?” and them having, you know, the power to contact law enforcement to check on the situation and I think that is really, really important.

Len Sipes: Nobody is taking them; nobody from the criminal justice system is taking them back to the trafficker are they? They are not making that mistake are they?

JUSTIN BREAUX: Well so we did have one person that we interviewed and she actually was able to call 911 and when law enforcement arrived they interviewed both the trafficker and the victim and they sided with the trafficker and actually told the victim that if she called law enforcement or 911 again, she would go to prison.

Colleen Owens: Yes, exactly and there was another case where an agricultural worker was shot at by the trafficker farmer and basically then he was arrested and put into deportation proceedings because his visa had expired. And it’s all as a result of the trafficking experience that happens.

Len Sipes: I’m just hoping that people who have listened long enough to this program at this stage of the game are now beginning to get a sense as to what we mean by human trafficking. I just get the sense that it is not taken seriously. And it’s – people see it as a matter of a labor dispute, it’s not. It’s bondage, it’s bondage in the United States. All right, so what is the role of the public to get them to understand how difficult this is? What should we do? Not just the criminal justice system but the general public.

Colleen Owens: Well I think as Isela mentioned, one of the things that we found that was so important was the role of bystanders and how much they were actually involved. And sometimes there was unrealized opportunities for escape. So. you know, we heard from survivors that for example they were out cutting the grass with scissors, you know, a domestic worker at 4am. And a neighbor was coming home and saw that and they tried to reach out and maybe they had, you know, limited English capacity but they were at least able to communicate that something was wrong and it was an unrealized opportunity for escape.

Other stories we heard they would, you know, ask neighbors for help but they might say, “I don’t want to get involved.” So there were these opportunities where folks were reaching out. What’s really key to understand, I think, and what is different in some cases from what we see with sex trafficking is that in our sample at least of labor trafficking victims, about 96% of all of the victims that we looked at in our case files actually realized something was wrong and they didn’t call it labor trafficking, they didn’t say, “I’m a victim of labor trafficking” but often they would say things like “I realize I am being tricked and I realize that I am being coerced” and so I think that is an opportunity where they are reaching out for help. They do realize something is wrong and it is getting the resources and the awareness out there so that we can actually capitalize on that and get people the help that they need.

Len Sipes: But maybe it’s the term. I mean I am not even quite sure that I understand and I have been in the criminal justice system for 45 years. I mean I’m not quite sure I understand labor trafficking. Human trafficking gets me somewhat to where I need to be and that is why I am constantly brining up this sense of bondage because that, that’s what we are talking about. So isn’t that what we need to get across to the American Public? I mean we are talking about human beings in bondage.

Colleen Owens: Right, but I think we also need to pay close attention to the psychological forms of coercion because sometimes the focus on bondage is important and it’s important to underscore the fact that, you know, people are laboring against their will but sometimes they think people get hung up because they might see a case, for example, of a domestic worker and they might say, “Well why don’t they just leave?”
Or, “They’re a farmer, why don’t they just leave, why do they stay?” and it is really important to understand all of the mechanisms that are being used against them to compel them to stay. The difference with slavery of the past is that people aren’t in chains for the most part but there are other forms of coercion that are being used to keep them in bondage, so –

Len Sipes: But the same question is being asked of domestic violence victims and I am not going to suggest that the question is repulsive. I understand that the question may be somewhat natural but they don’t understand all the complexities involved in this and this bondage. This is psychological bondage in terms of domestic violence. It sounds exactly the same things is happening here. You can entrap a human being in chains but those chains could be psychological. If the trafficker is going to say that your kids are going to be sold off or, you know, “I am going to make sure that your family back in Guatemala goes through utter and complete hell and I am going to make sure that they have no livelihood if you continue fighting me.” That is just as strong of a chain.

Colleen Owens: Right, exactly and back to your original question I mean it’s important then for the public to understand that and so awareness campaigns need to be created that really highlight not just, “are you a victim of labor trafficking” but “have you experienced these thing and if so, you know here is the number to call.”

Len Sipes: You know, again it is just an amazing report. Understanding the organization, operation and victimization process of labor trafficking in the United States. Our guests today: Colleen you bring a sense of real insight in terms of this so it is the second time you have been here but you are always welcome back.

Colleen Owens: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Justin and Isela both of you guys, I really appreciate you being here, again it a program or a research effort by the North Eastern University by the Urban Institute and by the US Department of Justice. You can find the report on the website of the Urban Institute: www.urban.org. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate you criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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