DC Public Safety Radio
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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer, talking about women offenders. My agency, our agency, the court services and offender supervision agency reorganized around women offenders a couple years ago. We want to talk about that and talk about upcoming events, www.csosa.gov. Marcia Davis, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.
Marcia: Thank you, Leonard.
Leonard: Marcia, you’re a veteran of these radio shows. You pretty much know what to do. We’re going to be talking about women under supervision, talking about their social characteristics. First of all, in terms of some stats, we have close to 2,000 women under our supervision services, correct?
Marcia: Yes, Leonard. We currently have 1,963 women on supervision which is about 15.5 percent of our population.
Leonard: We did reorganize around women offenders a couple years ago. We have a lot of really interesting programs that focus on the needs of women, correct?
Leonard: Before getting into that, I do want to remind everybody that the purpose of this program today is to support an event on Saturday, February 14th from 8:30 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. where we will have a daylong exhibition of services and issues and support services for our women under supervision. It’s one of the most extraordinarily interesting things that I’ve ever seen in my 45 years within the criminal justice system. We do want to talk about that in a while.
First, let’s get back over to what we do in terms of the reorganization. I mean, we have a re-entry and sanction center which is, I don’t know of any other parole and probation agency in the country that operate as a center. It’s huge. We have an entire floor for women. We have developed gender-specific teams for women because we recognize that women need to be supervised/assisted in ways different from men. We have, now, a day reporting center which I think is really unique where it’s just a women’s day reporting center. We have WICA, Women in Control Again, that program. We have expanded that. We have done a lot of things in between all of that. Marcia, where do you want to begin in terms of talking about the reorganization of our agency around women offenders?
Marcia: What our agency did was, they went back and they looked at the research. What the research shows is that when women are on supervision, if you want your women to be successful, it’s important that you create programs that are gender-specific to deal with the issues relative to your females.
Leonard: Is it a given that that women offenders are different from men?
Marcia: The issues that women face are different from men. When we look at the profile for the female offender, a lot of our women, victims of childhood sexual abuse, they have low education, they’re homeless, they have low employment. Due to that victimization from their childhood, a lot of them as adults are still involved in toxic relationships, their children have been removed, they carry a lot of guilt and shame. These are issues that most of our men don’t face.
Leonard: We know that women do better under these circumstances when it’s a gender-specific program than when it’s not a gender-specific program. I think it’s safe to say … I’m not quite sure if it’s safe to say. I’ve been told that most parole and probation agencies throughout the country have not gone to a gender-specific program. We, at the court services and offender supervision agency, have. That makes all the difference in the world, correct?
Marcia: Right. The reason we have done that is because CSOSA is evidence-based. We are an agency that uses evidence-base …
Marcia: Right. Practices.
Leonard: The best research. The best research that unless you break it down to services specifically designed for women, the women aren’t going to be that successful. If you do that, they’re going to be more successful.
Marcia: Right. We are seeing the success with the women that we are supervising now. We are seeing the successful outcomes.
Leonard: It’s really amazing to be that we haven’t done this decades ago. I mean, every state in the country is talking about how many people are in their prison system, how difficult it is, how much it cost. If we can stabilize individuals in the community and give them the services; the mental health substance abuse, the group services, you reunite them with their kids, find housing. If we can do all that, we can reduce the load on the prison system throughout the country, plus, make safer communities.
Marcia: That’s one thing. When we look at the prison system, we can see that the population of our female offenders is growing. When you look at the prison system, the research shows that in the year 2000, the female general population had the fastest growing rate in the correctional institution. The annual rate for females, it was an increase of 3.4 percent.
Leonard: I think it was 2010 data that you’re referring to. That’s fairly a recent data. It’s the fastest growing correctional population, what they were talking about that percentage of the jail population. More and more women are coming into the criminal justice system and that can be addressed by giving them the services they need while on community supervision.
Marcia: Right. To avoid going to the prison system.
Leonard: Tell me if I’m right or wrong, we’re taking a look at national data now. Women have higher rate of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health problems, and profoundly higher rates of being sexually victimized, particularly, when they were children. The women that we have to deal with, they come out of the prison system where they’re on probation and they have to deal with all of these issues. The fact that they don’t have, in most cases, a good work history. In most cases, they don’t have a GED or a high school diploma. They’ve been battered, they’ve been beaten, they’ve been bruised by life and by those around them. Considering that most of them have children and we have a general stat that says it’s 63 percent of the people that we have under supervision, our parents, but I think that figure would be much higher for just the women population, how did they possibly succeed if they have all that to deal with when they come out of the prison system, when they come out of jail or we get them on probation. When they’ve got all that against them, how can they possibly succeed?
Marcia: Tackling those issues one at a time. In the gender-specific unit, we have programs to address all of those factors. We have programs. We have the Women in Control Again program. That’s a program that deals with women who are early in recovery. In that program, they look at things such as the self, where you’re looking at your family history, you’re starting to look at the trauma that the women have suffered. We also talk about relationships in that program. They can look at the relationships that women have with their families, the relationships that they’ve had with their partners. We look at sexuality and we talk about spirituality. Also involved with the WICA program, we’ve added a new group which is a trauma group to address some of that past and present victimization that our women deal with.
We have a daily reporting center where we have a group called, thinking for a change which deals with anti-social behavior and it deals with anti-social thinking. We have a vocational and educational program where we can refer them for an assessment and for job placement assistance. Also, where they can go back to school and they can work on getting their GED or their high school diploma. We have substance abuse treatment. We can refer them to our re-entry sanction center, where we talked about earlier, where we have a floor that is dedicated to our females. At the re-entry sanction center, our population, they can get a thorough treatment assessment and they come out with a treatment plan for a continuum of care.
Leonard: That’s a lot of services that most parole and probation agencies do not have. Now, let me ask you this. Years ago, I ran a group for males. Men caught up in criminal justice system and the Maryland prison system. I’ve sat it on groups for men in our agency and I’ve sat in with the groups for women within our agency. The women’s groups are profound. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. This is why I always like to talk to women under supervision that come from these groups on this radio show which we’ve done about, maybe, up to 10 times. They are profoundly honest at a certain point. Once they set me into the group and once I listened to their interactions with each other, they are profoundly, brutally honest. To sit there amongst these 15, 20 women listening to them talk to each other about their lives and about what’s going on is just the experience of a lifetime. Tell me about the group interaction.
Marcia: That was another reason why we needed to have the gender-specific groups. Because in the past, we have the co-ed groups where the women were mixed with the men. If you was to sit in that group, you would notice that the women would sit quietly. It would be a totally different group. In the gender-specific group, the first thing we let the women know that this is a safe environment where you can share. One of the main rules is that, what is said in the group stays in the group. We make it a point that anything that’s said in the group has to remain in this room and it cannot leave the room, so that they can feel safe enough to share those past stories.
Leonard: Those past stories are brutal. To sit there and one woman, basically, is struggling with getting to her appointments on time. You hear the other women basically saying, “I don’t want to hear that. This is your shot. This is your one shot to get clean, to get right, to get your children back. You can’t come in here and tell us about how difficult it was for you to make your appointments.” I thought that that was amazing.
Marcia: Although it’s a lot being said in the group, it’s also a lot of strength in the group. The women can see the resiliency from the other women. They can see, “Well, wait a minute. If she has this tragic story to share and she’s making it, hey, I can make it too. She said she was someone who share that, hey, I may have been molested, I may have been sexually abused, I may have been physically abused when I was 8 or 10, but I’m putting all that stuff in the past and I’m going to continue on. I’m not going to let that hold me back anymore. I want to get my kids back. I want to get a job. I want to get my education. I want to get a home. I want to complete supervision successfully.” That strength, it helps the other women and then they build off for that and they help each other.
Leonard: Critics of supervision, not necessarily within our agency but supervision across the board throughout the country basically say, “Look, Leonard, you’re asking way too much of individuals coming out on a criminal justice system.” I mean, here, we’re asking them to deal with substance abuse, we’re asking them to deal with mental health, we’re asking them to deal with their profound histories of abuse, we’re asking them to reunite with their children, we’re asking them to find housing, we’re asking them to find employment. We’re asking it awful lot and the new people who come into the group are saying, “There’s no way I can do this,” and then they’re sitting with their counterparts who have experienced all of that themselves and they’re doing it. They sit there and watch a new person watch everybody else. You can see the spark going off in their head saying, “Well, she is no different from I am and she is doing it. Why can’t I do it?”
Marcia: They know each other from the communities. D.C. is a small area. Some know each other from the community. They have seen the struggle that some of the other participants have been through. To see them go through that transformation and to see the new person, that gives them hope to know that they can do it too.
Leonard: Most of the women that I’ve encountered in the system, tell me if I’m right or wrong, are not necessarily coming from backgrounds of violence. A lot of it is drugs, a lot of it is theft, a lot of it is prostitution, a lot of it is creating some sort of disturbance in the community. Am I right or wrong about that?
Marcia: You’re right about that. A lot of that comes from the victimization. The past victimization that was never dealt with.
Leonard: When I flip that switch in saying, a lot of it is dealing with the men who were in their lives. When I was with the Maryland correctional system, how many women did I talk to who, basically, were in there for fairly long stretch is, under the premise that this guy says, “If you don’t take these drugs down Interstate 95, I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to hurt your children.” If I’m being stereotypical or if I’m wrong, tell me. A lot of this is due to the dysfunctional men that they keep in their lives because of their background. Am I right?
Marcia: Right. That’s the continuation of the victimization. They’re continuing in these toxic relationships.
Leonard: If they got those services that were necessary, and I always ask you and whoever else I’m dealing with and in the women under supervision themselves, what percentage of women would not go back to the correctional system if these services were offered not just in Washington, D.C. but throughout the country. What’s your percentage; the most of them would succeed, 40 percent, 30 percent?
Marcia: I would say, maybe, 40 percent. That would be 40 percent.
Leonard: Yeah. That 40 percent would not go back. We have a national recidivism rate in this country of about 50 percent. You’re talking about 40 percent not going back. That’s a huge difference. In essence, we can do a much better job if we put those services on the table. That’s the bottom line, correct?
Marcia: Yes. That’s the bottom line.
Leonard: I do want to talk more about under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency but we’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guest today, Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer with our agency, my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov is our website. On there, you will find the information about an event coming up February 14, 2015 at the Temple of Praise where we do a women’s re-entry symposium with the theme, Family Supporting Supervision Success. It is an extraordinary event. The public is welcome. If you have an interest in this issue, we encourage your involvement. Also, we want to talk about our city-wide re-entry assembly where we celebrate the success of our faith-base mentors and that’s Thursday, February 19, 2015 at a brand new location, The Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Again, you can find out information about all of this on our website, www.csosa.gov.
Marcia, we have gender-specific teams, we have the day reporting center. How important was that day reporting center?
Marcia: The day reporting center is very important because this provides the outlet for our women during the day. We have programming through the day reporting center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It takes out a large chunk of the day for our female offenders. It gives them somewhere that they can go. They can be safe, they can discuss their issues, they can get the services that they need. Throughout the reporting center, we provide vocational services where they can go for their GED assessment, they can go for job placement assistance. We have Thinking for a Change program. That’s the program that deals with anti-social behavior and anti-social thinking. We have a relationship group in the program …
Leonard: That’s important.
Marcia: … to help women who are involved in those toxic relationships. Our DRC coordinator, Ms. [Copeland 16:48], also will make referrals to our victim services program which is another important initiative that we’ve added. The victim services program helps victims of the domestic violence, get the assistance they need if they need to get civil protection orders or if they need to get housed and they will assist them through that process. Through the daily reporting center, we also provide tokens to our offenders. Those who are not financially able to get back and forth to the supervision office. One other important thing we do for our females is that we recognize them. Once a female completes any of our groups, we always hold a graduation so that we can recognize them for the positive steps that they’re making.
Leonard: Day reporting centers are there, traditionally, for those individuals who are unemployed and those individuals who are struggling. We provide them with structure and education throughout the course of the day. The interesting thing about what you’re saying is is that the day reporting center for women provides a sense of fellowship.
Marcia: Right. Daily programming. Yes.
Leonard: We run groups. Majority of the women that we have under supervision end up in groups, correct?
Leonard: They end up within a group structure. This is a continuation of that group structure. When I go to the day reporting center for men, I don’t see a lot of group interaction. Once again, in terms of the day reporting center for women under our agency, there is a lot of group interaction.
Marcia: Right. There not only group interaction, they also refer to a vocational development specialist. They may go to the vocational development specialist to complete the educational or the job placement assessment. It was not just groups. They may go there individually or they may be referred to our center intervention team for substance abuse assessment.
Leonard: When I ran group a lifetime ago, people coming into the system, they were what I said they had, a chip on their shoulder, the size of the State of Montana. They were very difficult to break through. A lot of women are very mistrusting of us in the criminal justice system. How do you break through that history? How do you break through that hard shell of it so many women under supervision bring to the table? How do you break through all of that to the point where you reach their sense of humanity to the point where they would open up and share what’s happening to them now and what happened to them in the past?
Marcia: One of the things the agency did was training. They’ve trained all of the staff on cognitive, behavioral interventions, and motivational interviewing. Part of it just listening to the offender to see what their goals are and what their needs are from their point of view. Sometimes, when you just listen to see what their concerns are, that’s a lot to break down the barriers.
Leonard: You’ve got to admit, I mean, they’re not the easiest folks in the world to deal with or they’re new into the group setting.
Marcia: For women, one of the main issues is that their voice there is not heard. Once you listen and start hearing, some of the things that they say, just for them knowing that, “Hey, this person is listening. Okay. Maybe some of the goals that I’m including is being included into my case plan.” Those are things that are concerning to them.
Leonard: I’ve seen women, the new ones, it’s like, “My God, you’re asking me to do what? You’re asking me to deal with mental health, my substance abuse, my background, all of that and then you want me to go out and find work and then work with me in terms of the reunification with my kids. That’s overwhelming.”
Marcia: Now, one of the first things we do when an individual comes to a supervision, we want to do risk and needs assessment which is a comprehensive assessment so that we can determine what their risk to the community is and what their needs are. From that, we develop a case plan. From the case plan, we say, “What things you need to accomplish while you’re on supervision?” We set the plan and set target dates. Everything is not due at the same time. We will set a schedule and set a target date working with the female and realizing, “She’s not going to be able to do everything at one time especially if it’s someone with mental health needs.”
Leonard: It’s still overwhelming. I mean, that list by itself even if you stretch it out is overwhelming.
Marcia: We’re right here to work with them and that’s the most important thing. Not only that, when they’re assigned to a call service agency, we work in partnership with the call service agency. It was all of us working together for the success of the female even sometimes with their families.
Leonard: Marcia, how long have been doing this?
Marcia: For 16 years.
Leonard: 16 years. Is it 16 years with the court services or 16 years dealing with women?
Marcia: 16 years with court services, dealing with both men and women. I’ve been dealing with women for the last 6 years.
Leonard: 6 years. Do you ever go home and yell at people or kick the dog? I mean, your job is difficult.
Leonard: You’re taking people who can be saved, who can lead a life where they’re tax payers and not tax burdens, where they’re parents and their kids aren’t elsewhere. That’s a huge task to break through that barrier and to find the services and to make that connection with women who have had pretty difficult backgrounds.
Marcia: It can be challenging at times. I come in everyday willing to give 115 percent. I have a good staff on my team. We have a good unit. I mean, I go home everyday. It’s challenging but I go home everyday and I go to bed. The next day, I’m up and I’m ready to do it all over again. I love my job and I love working with the women.
Leonard: It is hard for people who are listening to this program now to understand that within the criminal justice system, there just don’t seem to be an awful lot of successes and you can get burned out from doing this sort of a job. Most, if not all, of our staff that I’ve talked to are pretty enthusiastic about what it is that they do. When I walk in among these people under supervision and for them to smile at me, it’s just a real interesting experience. All right. Women in Control Again, that was a program that was put together by your predecessor, Dr. Willa Butler. It’s been expanded. One of the focuses here is on high risk individuals. Tell me about that.
Marcia: Women in Control Again is a program that was developed for females with co-occurring needs. Women in Control Again, it deals with high risk offenders who have substance abuse and mental health and is developed to help them make better decisions in the future. Under Women in Control Again, we have 3 groups. The first group deals with women in early recovery. The second group goes through the 12 steps, it goes to each one of the 12 steps, and the third group is our new piece which deals with trauma. From that group, we have a psychologist that comes in a clinical person. She comes in and she works with our females. At times, we can also get our females, if needed, individual counseling.
Leonard: One of the things I do want to point out that we reorganized around women, we reorganized around younger offenders and we reorganized around high risk offenders. Within that category of young and high risk in female, you can have cross over. That’s all part of the women’s program as well.
Leonard: The whole idea is to prioritize the people who are at greatest risk for reoffending and to make sure that they get the services that are necessary for them not to reoffend again. We take a look at our data and our data has improved in terms of recidivism, in terms of successful completion. Obviously, you all are doing the right things.
Marcia: Thank you.
Leonard: Tell me more about that. I mean, how does it feel to make that sort of a difference?
Marcia: It feels good. I mean, I know just as having a gender-specific unit, it really means a lot to our females. If you could just see their faces when we have the graduation ceremonies, even at our re-entry event, the upcoming event. At that event, we do a dress for success makeover to help prepare those females who are re-entering society, to help prepare them to return to the working world. Just doing that dress for success makeover to see the transformation for these women. We get clothes donated from organizations within the community. To see them go through this transformation, to get the business attire, to get the makeup, to get the shoes, and to do the fashion show, I mean, it’s really exciting.
Leonard: The bottom line behind all of this in terms of having a gender-specific program and having people specifically train to deliver that gender-specific program is that we can meaningfully intervene in the lives of the people under our supervision. We can end that whole sense of the never ending rate of recidivism, people in the system, out of the system, in the system, out of the system. We can really help people overcome all of that and we can really help people overcome some very serious problems.
Marcia: Right. At least to address some of the issues, some of the things that I’ve held back in the past such as the trauma, such as the unemployment, such as the low education and the substance abuse.
Leonard: As I have experienced, when you go in the groups or when you listen to women talk to each other about these issues, it is profoundly real or profoundly stark. When you interview women at these microphones, they are about as honest as honest can possibly be. I think the biggest difference between women and men is that women were more than willing to be honest.
Marcia: Yes. They are.
Leonard: More than willing to talk about the reality of what’s happened to them in their lives.
Marcia: Right. That’s only when they feel safe and comfortable.
Leonard: I want to remind everybody that we do have 2 events that are coming up. The women’s re-entry symposium 2015 with the theme, Family Supporting Supervision Services on Saturday February 14, 2015 from 8:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s going to be at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. Behind that, we have a city-wide re-entry assembly. That is where we celebrate the success of the mentors and mentees regarding our faith-base program. That’s going to be on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at the Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. You can find information about all of this on our website, www.csosa.gov. Our guest today has been Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer dealing specifically with women offenders. Again, the website, www.csosa.gov. We’ll list all of the changes and all of the upcoming events and we encourage your participation. We appreciate you listening and we want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.