Coordinating Justice-CJCC-DC Public Safety Television

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. It’s the tenth anniversary of the District of Columbia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. There are Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils throughout the United States so this story affects everybody watching. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in the nation’s capitol is seen as one of the most effective in the country as to reducing crime and implementing new programs.  Our participants in the first half are Nancy Ware, my boss, the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and Mannone Butler, the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council here in the District of Columbia. – And to Mannone and Nancy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Nancy Ware and Mannone Butler: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right, now this is going to be an interesting conversation. Mannone, you’re the current director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Nancy, you were the first director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, so we’re going to give Mannone the first shot being she occupies the chair at the moment. Give me a little bit as to what the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is and what it does.

Mannone Butler: Certainly. Thanks again for this opportunity as this marks our tenth anniversary. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council serves as a forum for our local and federal criminal justice agencies to address emerging and long-standing criminal justice issues in the District, criminal and juvenile justice issues in the District of Columbia. We have a unique blend of criminal justice agencies so it was important for us to have a forum. Nancy is going to get into some of those issues, I believe, but I think that this is really an important opportunity for us as a forum to address those issues.

Len Sipes: The key issue is that everybody who affects justice in the District of Columbia is represented – and again, these councils exist all through the United States.

Mannone Butler: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: The whole idea is to bring key people together to sit down and talk about issues and see how we can cooperate for the greater good of the public, correct?

Mannone Butler: To coordinate and to collaboratively address these issues, absolutely. Yes.

Len Sipes: Right, and that’s not easy to do. I mean, in a lot of cities throughout the country and a lot of state throughout the country, people have said there’s not enough cooperation amongst criminal justice agencies. In the District of Columbia, we’re sort of well-known as having a very effective, very collaborative group of people from federal and D.C. agencies that sit down at the table on a constant basis and talk out, hash out, work their way through problems.

Mannone Butler: We absolutely have. I mean, we have our federal partners at the table, we have our local leaders at the table, our judicial partners at the table, and our legislative partners at the table, and they meet frequently. The leaders meet frequently but we also have a structure that allows for committee work to get done. So we have a really robust structure that allows for members to get together and then work to get done.

Len Sipes: Now Nancy, you were a pioneer in all of this. You were the first director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. How difficult was it to begin that process of on a regular basis bringing all the principals together at one table to hash out issues?

Nancy Ware: Well, it was a challenging process, Len, but it was very rewarding because the District of Columbia was unique in that we had an ad hoc group already working as a coordinated council. We just didn’t have the formal structure legislated at that time. So I was the first director for them to bring in to actually formalize the structure, and the City Council of course put the statute in place, and we had the Congress also mandate the participation of federal agencies, so that really helped to mold the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council – which we affectionately call the CJCC for D.C. – to become a real entity in the city.

Len Sipes: I attended some of those meeting years ago and it was your continence, I think, in terms of bringing together – I mean, not everybody gets along. I mean criminal justice agencies throughout the United States in various cities and states, there is a long history of not getting along. They’ve gotten along under your leadership. You seem to instill some sense of hey, we’re all working on the same problems. Whether it’s Law Enforcement or whether it’s Corrections, whether it’s Parole and Probation, whether it’s Juvenile Justice, whether it’s private agencies, unless we all get together and work as a cooperative entity, we’re not going to solve these problems. So how come it worked in the District?

Nancy Ware: I think that what really worked for us was the fact that part of our focus within CJCC is to make sure that we engage all the spectrums of the criminal justice system and the justice system, I should say, in reaching our goal and figuring out answers to some of the questions.  So we have representation from the Public Defenders Service which is on one of the end of the spectrum on defenders, and then on the other end of the spectrum we have the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Law Enforcement, so we had to be sure that we were addressing everybody’s interests in a way that was equitable, and Mannone’s done a fabulous job of moving that forward even today.  But we started off very small, it was a very small office, and we grew over the eight years that I was there to a much larger office. We moved into a much larger space and we had a good, strong staff, and so it really helped to forge the partnership much better because we had enough people to help work on some of those committees that Mannone will talk a little bit more about.

Len Sipes: All right. So Mannone, first of all, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council receives federal funds.

Mannone Butler: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Right, but the entity itself is a District of Columbia entity?

Mannone Butler: Is an independent District agency.

Len Sipes: Okay. So one of the things that you’re most proud of is bringing everybody together to work on common information systems so everybody’s speaking the same language, and we’ve seen this and heard this in terms of terrorism, in terms of 9/11 response. Those are key issues of utmost importance anywhere in the United States, and that’s really interesting how you all have developed those information systems, bringing everybody together in terms of operating off of a key set of systems, correct?

Mannone Butler: Right. Early on, information-sharing was identified as a key priority for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, CJCC, and over time JUSTISS, as we call it, our Justice Information Sharing System which was developed by CJCC and now is overseen by CJCC, has really grown and blossomed. Each agency has their own Information Sharing System or database, if you will, but over time our agencies have agreed that we do want to have a common way to share information. CJCC doesn’t own any of the data but we really do work as a way to facilitate information-sharing, so JUSTISS is that vehicle.  So we’ve worked to develop a portal, a system to really make sure that our law enforcement and our criminal justice agencies have a way to easily access information, and so we’re really proud over the years to have developed a real robust mechanism to share information, again for those authorized users. The agencies have voluntarily contributed this data, and they’re using it, and it has grown. Over the past few years, we’ve really seen really a lot of growth and advancement in the way we’re sharing information across our system.

Len Sipes: And continuing with that 9/11 or terrorism theme or emergency theme, part of the job of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is to make sure that the agencies are prepared for any emergencies that crop up, correct?

Mannone Butler: That’s correct. Well, you know, the District has a real focus on emergency preparedness, and we’re certainly going to be talking about that a bit later.

Len Sipes: Sure. I wonder why?

Mannone Butler: Well, the nation’s capitol, absolutely, it’s important for us to be prepared and focused. One of our strategic priorities is looking at continuity of operations planning, and we’re really just proud of our partnerships with the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and all of our partners, local and federal, who’ve really stepped up and understand the importance. On the criminal justice side, it’s clear that we need to be able to communicate effectively with one another in the event of an emergency, and so we have to be able to plan effectively and make sure that we have information at the ready.

Len Sipes: The question goes to either one of you – is it because it’s the nation’s capitol that everybody gets along so well, that it’s easier to have all these disputes and –?

Nancy Ware: No, you know, I think part of the beauty of the CJCC has been that it is, as Mannone mentioned earlier, an independent agency, and that means that it’s not beholden to the local jurisdiction, the federal jurisdiction, or the judicial jurisdiction; whereas in other parts of the nation, the CJCC is often centered in either the state or the governor’s office or the judiciary, and so that puts the balance, the hierarchy balance, for us it means that everybody feels equitably represented. I think that our leadership in the CJCC – and we do elect the co-chairs. One co-chair is of course the mayor or his designee, which in this case would be the deputy mayor, who we’ll hear from later.

Len Sipes: On the second segment, right.

Nancy Ware: Right. But the elected side really makes every effort to make sure that we have representation from the federal agencies and the judiciary so that there is that balance.

Mannone Butler: And I think it is important to say that the major is the chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and we do have, as Nancy mentioned, the co-chair, so we do have a designee from the local side, and we do have our federal and our judicial representatives. So there is the voice that’s heart across our system, the leaders from our system, so it’s important, to Nancy’s point, that we do have representation across the system.

Len Sipes: But D.C. is unique to the point where there’s a lot of federal agencies around. We’re a federal agency. The courts are federally funded. The United States Attorney’s Office is federally funded so that makes a federal presence.

Nancy Ware: And most of our law enforcement is really federal.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy Ware: So it’s really important, as Mannone said, to have that kind of balance. – And the other thing that’s really helpful in D.C. is that the leadership of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council very early on was out of the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge of the D.C. Superior Court which really helped to move, no matter what anybody says, it always helps to have the court right there are the forefront.

Len Sipes: Never disagree with the Chief Judge, right?

Nancy Ware: That’s right.

Len Sipes: I want to get to topics because people are saying, “Okay, fine, you all get along and do a good job. Give me a sense as to the impact.” So in the second segment when we talk to Deputy Mayor Quander, we’re going to be talking about the crime reductions, which are considerable in the District of Columbia and we’re very proud of that, homicide reductions.  Nancy, you’re chair of a variety of committees, one is on offender re-entry. Re-entry – people on supervision, when they come out of the prison system, has to be a coordinated process. If we don’t have everybody working together, pulling in the same direction, and including private entities, not just government entities but the associations, private entities, Good Will, all the rest, we’re not going to succeed. So tell me about that.

Nancy Ware: Well, I’m involved with two committees. I’m the chair of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force and then the Re-Entry Committee, which is chaired by Cedric Hendricks and Charles Thornton, who runs our Office of Returning Citizens in the District, and Cedric is on my staff. Re-entry for us of course is my agency’s major mission, CSOSA’s major mission. It does require a lot of collaboration particularly since the District’s prison system is run through the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is a federal agency, and as you mentioned earlier, many of the functions in D.C. have now converted to federal agencies so it means that our agencies have to work very closely together to make sure that we do pre-release planning and that we prepare for folks who come out of prison and come back into the District under CSOSA’s supervision, under my agency’s supervision.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy Ware: And that requires us to work out agreements. We’ve actually been successful in strategizing around new programs for folks who come out, keeping people from going back in because they’ve been revoked for lesser issues like substance abuse. We’ve put in place a secure residential treatment program in the Department of Corrections, which is our D.C. jail, to help them with getting on top of their substance abuse issues. So we have a lot of collaborative efforts that involve the U.S. Parole Commission, the Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Corrections, District government agencies, and the like.

Len Sipes: We only have about a minute left in this half but the bottom line is we’re successful. The bottom line is we’re successful in terms of reducing recidivism. Fewer people are going back to the prison systems because of what we’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

Nancy Ware: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And Mannone, I think that, again, you all and the larger Criminal Justice Coordinating Council can take credit for that as well.

Mannone Butler: And there are a lot of efforts that are under way, and to the point, really quickly, with Nancy’s leadership under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health side, there are a number of efforts we could tout. One is that we have a resource locator. It’s one example that’s tangible for our public to take note of, and it’s, and it’s an example of the work that we’ve done under Nancy’s leadership in partnership with Pre-Trial Services Agency, leveraging resources that exist, and it’s an online database. It’s a searchable database that now our partners can utilize but also John Q. Public could utilize as well to see the services that are available in the District and our metropolitan area, and so that’s just one example of the work that we’ve been doing as a collaborative body.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the frustrating things about this program is because there are so many things going on under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and we’re just barely scratching the surface in terms of all these different programs. Thirty seconds left, quickly.

Nancy Ware: Well Mannone, I think, probably should also mention the website that you can get more information on CJCC.

Mannone Butler: Absolutely, yes.

Len Sipes: All right, and we’ll putting that up throughout the course of the program. Absolutely. Final things, ten seconds?

Mannone Butler: The final thought that I have is that we would not be able to do this without the partnership of our leaders. You know, we talk about it’s just Kumbaya all the time – we work really hard. The folks are at the table, and they’re at the table constantly to make sure that our public is safe.

Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first half as we talked about Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils both in the District of Columbia and throughout the country. Look for us in the second half as we continue this very interesting discussion. We’ll be right back.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. With us on the second half is Paul Quander, Jr., Deputy Mayor of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice for the District of Columbia, and Mannone Butler, again, Executive Director for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, discussing cooperative efforts for crime and criminal justice. Paul and Mannone, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Mannone Butler: Thanks again.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We discussed philosophy on the first half of the show, and I really want to get into more examples of the real work that the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council does, and Mannone, you remember Fugitive Safe Surrender, when we brought in all these different agencies from all over the city, and all the federal agencies, and they all focused on getting people to voluntarily surrender, people with warrants, and doing a media campaign, and getting them to voluntarily come in and surrender, correct?

Mannone Butler: Absolutely, and actually the first day Surrender was done under the director then of CSOSA’s leadership, now Deputy Mayor Quander’s leadership, but the second was held in 2011 at the D.C. Superior Court, and partners included the D.C. Superior Court, included our U.S. Marshall Service, included the Office of Attorney General. So I could go on and on about our law enforcement partners, our criminal justice partners, all with the express intent of ensuring that folks come in and voluntarily surrender, and we had over 600, close to 700 individual voluntarily surrender over a three-day period, and actually three successive Saturdays in August no less, and I think one of the Saturdays we had, what was it, one catastrophic weather-related, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Hurricane Irene.

Mannone Butler: Hurricane Irene, correct, right? So that was just one example of the type of coordinated effort.

Len Sipes: But that’s over 1,000 people with warrants voluntarily surrendering over the course of the two campaigns.

Mannone Butler: 1,200 in fact, right.

Len Sipes: Yeah. Paul, now again, as Mannone said, you were instrumental in terms of setting this up, and when you walked in and you saw, you know, 10, 15 criminal justice agencies sitting there behind their desk, behind their computers, all in one spot, to process all of these people voluntarily surrendering who had warrants, I stood there on the first day and said, “Wow, this is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.”

Paul A. Quander, Jr: It’s a beautiful thing because oftentimes you don’t see the different layers that are involved in the criminal justice system. You may see one event, you may see a result or an outcome, but very rarely do you get to take a look through a lens that you can see every component of the criminal justice system coming together for one purpose and achieving a goal, and that’s sort of been the foundation upon what we have developed here.  We have a common purpose, we leave our egos at the door, and we work to make sure that the public served and that we promote public safety in the District of Columbia, and we’ve done a good job of identifying projects that are meaningful, that we can produce, that are sustainable, and that are driving results in the direction that we want them to go. So we are tackling big issues, and as a result, crime is down, our communities are safer. There’s a sense of calmness in the District of Columbia, and it’s something that we’re very proud of.

Len Sipes: All right. Years ago I worked for the National Crime Prevention Council and I ran their clearing house, before coming back to the District of Columbia for this job, and I remember walking through the streets of downtown D.C., I can remember walking through the streets of the communities, and I did not have a safe feeling. We’re talking about back in the ’80s. There’s been a huge transformation in terms of the crime problem in the District of Columbia. There have been huge decreases in crime across the board, huge decreases in violent crime, huge decreases in homicide. Why?

Paul A. Quander, Jr: I think there are a number of factors, and I don’t think you can put your finger on one. There’s been a reduction in the demand of drugs. So we went through the years of the crack epidemic. We’ve gone past that. We are dealing with different issues now. There have been some societal changes, but we’ve done a good job of communicating and sharing information in the criminal justice sector. That wasn’t always the case.  So now what we have is we have a unified system that the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has helped to actually develop and to spearhead where everyone can share information. So the police officer on the street can get information from the probation and paroling authority, and how does that work?  If there is an individual who is on pre-trial release, that’s a good thing because that person would be at the jail taking up a bed but maybe he doesn’t need to be, and the judge says there is a condition of release, “I want you to stay out of this area.”  If a police officer goes into that area and see that individual, oftentimes that police officer doesn’t know that there is a stay-away order; but now through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and their JUSTISS system, the police officer just puts a name in, it pops up, it’ll have the conditions, and if there’s a stay-away or some other condition, the police officer right then and there can go and arrest that individual, take him off of the street, and you have immediate compliance and enforcement of a court order, something we haven’t had in the past.

Len Sipes: And that’s something I think is the most important part of this because we’re talking at a fairly high level. We’re talking about agency heads and sub-agency heads all sitting at the same table hashing things out. Not everybody leaves their ego by the door. We all know that. We all know there’s a lot of hard-fought battles within any Criminal Justice Coordinating Council all throughout the United States but what impresses me, Mannone, is the fact that individual police officers have access to computers.  Individual police officers have access to people under supervision, have access to GPS, have access to stay-away orders. To me, that’s the power. It’s the individual police officers talking to the people with my agency, the Community Supervision officers known elsewhere as Parole and Probation agents talking to Pre-Trial. It’s that street-level coordination that impresses me more than anything else, and that is a direct result of the work of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Mannone Butler: It is a direct reflection of our coordinating efforts but I also always want to kind of turn it back on the work of our partners, right, because we serve as kind of the behind-the-scenes, kind of the conductor, if you will, but for the fact that each of the agencies and the staffs, their willingness to come to the table and roll up their sleeves and work really hard to make those connections. So to the Deputy Mayor’s example, that officer then has with the stay-away order, they then have a point of contact at Pre-Trial Services Agency so they can then find out what’s happening with that individual.  So there are direct connections that are made, and so we certainly – I’m happy to take the credit for the coordination and the behind-the-scenes but I really want to then just kind of spread the love, if you will, and say that each of these agencies are really working very hard, need the staffs are working really hard to make sure that officers are able to speak with the partners or the staffs from each of these agencies. So it’s a lot of work that’s happening across our system.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve talked to a lot of reporters. You know, what’s happening in the District of Columbia is not happening necessarily in Baltimore, it’s not happening in Chicago, it’s not happening in lots of cities throughout the United States. The District of Columbia is steadily getting safer. The criminal justice system is steadily cooperating. We take that for granted in the District of Columbia. We shouldn’t because all throughout this country, there are dozens of cities where that’s not happening.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Well, we don’t take it for granted and we work hard to make sure that we don’t take it for granted.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry. When I say “we”, the reporters and other people I’ve talked to, not the participants.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Right. We know how important it is but let me give you another example because I like to deal in the real world and the specifics. We have a program that is referred to as Gun-Stat, and essentially we’ve identified through the Metropolitan Police Department, we took a look at the statistics, those individuals who have a certain profile, who were either the victims of homicide or the perpetrators of homicide, and there were common factors that were there.  So we identified what those factors were and we looked at the population, and we identified 50 individuals who fit that profile. So what we’ve developed is a system whereby we bring in all the agencies, and there are a lot of levers that can be pulled to make sure that an individual who has a certain sort of background, who has a certain criminal history, gets additional services, gets additional resources.  But in addition to that, there are different eyes that are on that individual so that if an individual is on probation or parole, that’s a lever that can be pulled. If an individual is on Pre-Trial Services, that’s a lever that can be pulled. – Which means that if there is intelligence that says that that individual may be doing something untoward and he or she is on probation or supervision, why not put a GPS monitor on that individual and give that person a curfew? That sends a very powerful signal.  Or if there is a shooting in a certain area and we know that there is going to be retaliation, we look at that area and who’s on supervision, who is responsible for that individual, and if there’s some levers, then we will go out and we’ll bring people in and say, “Look, we know that that was your friend. We know that you want to retaliate. Don’t do it because we’re going to be there to stop you.” So we’re trying to be proactive but a lot of it is sharing information.  Before with Stovepipe, police had their information. Parole had their information, U.S. Attorneys had their information, Corrections and the Bureau of Prisons had their information; and now we have shared that information and there’s a forum for us to do that, and that forum is CJCC. We respect everyone’s right, we respect their independence, but we realize that the most important thing is to share information.

Len Sipes: What I love is when we sent out police officers and Community Supervision officers a la Parole and Probation agents together for key people under supervision that may be having problems, or it maybe the possibility that we get intelligence where they’re – we sent them out together, and that’s powerful.

Mannone Butler: Well, what we’re also just speaking to is just sharing of data. I mean data is important, and part of what we’re really wanting to move to is data-driven decisions, and that’s not necessarily always kind of the most interesting or the topic that folks are really —

Paul A. Quander, Jr: It’s crucial, though.

Mannone Butler: It’s crucial. CJCC also houses the District’s Statistical Analysis Center, and as an independent entity, it’s really important for us to do that and so we work really hard with our partners to not only identify those critical-issue areas but also to identify the types of research that’s important. So we have the discrete projects and the issues that we’ve been discussing here today but also there’s some research that’s important for the District so that’s important.

Len Sipes: All right, only a couple of minutes left, I do want to touch upon juvenile justice, a very important topic within the District of Columbia, a very important topic throughout the country. Paul?

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Well, it’s juvenile justice and let me go one step further, truancy.

Len Sipes: True.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Because one of the gateways to juvenile justice and to the adult corrections system is truancy, so CJCC has done a lot of work. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council here in the District has done a lot of work trying to bring together all of the parties so that we can address the issue of truancy. If keep kids, more kids in school, we’re going to have less kids that actually will graduate to the juvenile system and then to the adult system.  But in the juvenile system, what we’ve done is we’ve established a means of accountability, and again, we’re sharing information. Now there are some confidentiality matters that we are very respectful of but at the same token, they have followed some of the same procedures. They’re really using GPS. They’re sharing the information that they can. We’re coordinating to make sure that we’re using all the resources and the levers that we have, and we’re trying to provide additional services and targeting it, and we’re having the results that we want.  Several years ago, we had a number of young people that were the victims of homicide, and a number of people that were the perpetrators of homicide. Well, last year we had one, which is a tremendous improvement. One is too many but we are going in the right direction, and we’re doing some things extremely well, and we’re beginning to see the results of that collaborative information. No one has the individual answer. It is a collaborative process.  Let me give you another example. One of the issues that we really worked hard on is with our mental health population, so CJCC worked with the Metropolitan Police Department to provide specific training for police officers so that they would know how to address an individual who is a mental health consumer.

Len Sipes: Which is crucial.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Which is crucial because you can de-escalate a matter, and that’s what we want to do. In the District, we want to reduce crime but we don’t want to increase the number of arrests. We want to reduce crime and we want to reduce the number of arrests. We want to prevent crime and we’re doing that.

Len Sipes: Okay. We have 30 seconds. We’re going to have to close. Again, I think one of the most effective Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils in the country, and it’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of a lot of people throughout the United States so congratulations to you both.  And ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on D.C. Public Safety as we discuss another important issue in the city’s criminal justice system and criminal justice topics happening throughout the country. Watch us next time. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]

Synthetic Drugs – DC Public Safety Television

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Television show available at

[Video Begins]

<Music Playing>

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Synthetic drugs, spice, K2, are all references to fake marijuana, littered with substances that are harmful and deadly. They are filling emergency wards and causing long-term physical and emotional damage, yet they are easy to find and often mistaken for harmless, kid-friendly products. To discuss the issue of synthetic drugs in the district of Columbia and throughout the United States, we have two guests on the first segment; Adrienne Poteat, the Deputy Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency. And Ryan Springer, the Deputy Director of the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, here in the nation’s capital. Welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Ryan Springer: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: I can’t think of a more difficult yet important topic, Ryan, in terms of getting the word out that this is something that is extraordinarily dangerous. Spice, K2, synthetic drugs; the word on the street is, my fear is, is that they may not be all that harmful and from all the research I’ve done and all the people I’ve talked to, they are deadly. They are harmful, and they are putting people in psych wards, they’re putting people in emergency rooms all the time. How do we get the word out?

Ryan Springer: I know, and thank you for having me again. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that APRA has now merged with the Department of Mental Health.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ryan Springer: To form the Department of Behavioural Health.

Len Sipes: Fine.

Ryan Springer: Which is timely, given this issue that we’re talking about.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ryan Springer: Because, as you mentioned, folks are using these substances and for some they use it once and they’re ending up, you know, with a psychosis … psychotic break. And ending up in a psychotic hospital, psychiatric hospital.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ryan Springer: And so it’s a very serious issue that we’re dealing with, based on a one-time use.

Len Sipes: What are synthetic drugs? I mean there’s hundreds of ingredients.

Ryan Springer: Yes, there are. And so synthetic marijuana is made in a lab. So it’s a chemical compound that folks put together. And so it’s sprayed on dry plant material, for synthetic marijuana specifically, so they make it in a lab, it’s a liquid, they spray it on this plant material and it looks something like marijuana. But they’re adding different scents to it, so that when you burn it or smoke it, it has different scents, aromas, that it gives off.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: But it’s been declared illegal, five or six major ingredients, by the Drug Enforcement Administration, back in 2011.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: The D.C. Council has declared it illegal.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Yet it still seems to be widely available

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … on the streets. They may not be hanging up any more … and we have to show pictures throughout the program

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … as to how kid-friendly … these things look like the older version of pop rocks.

Ryan Springer: Yeah, yeah.

Len Sipes: I mean, Scooby Doo and all the rest of the descriptions, they look like something a nine-year-old would be drawn towards.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And yet they’re extraordinarily dangerous.

Ryan Springer: It’s one of the big issues that we have with this whole synthetic marijuana. Because it is targeted to kids. And so I want to acknowledge the community for bringing it to the attention of the state. Because this came from our prevention centres, which we have one representing two wards in the district. And so they had a community conversation, and through the folks in the community talking about this issue, talking about the impact they’re seeing on their kids, and MPD also verifying that, they brought it to our attention, there are these things being sold all over the place, to kids. And the impact on the kids is just you’re seeing these kids being very zoned out, not really engaging anyone, and for some, ending up in the emergency room. And so they brought it to our attention, we got this campaign started through some funding from the Federal Government. We’ve moved on from there. The biggest challenge is the fact that the key ingredients, there are over 130-something of the cannabinoids, which is the key ingredient.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ryan Springer: But as you mentioned, the DA’s only allowed about six of those key ingredients. And so the challenge here is even if MPD goes into a store and they pull the product from the shelves, when they go test it, the folks who are making this, they change the compounds on a monthly basis. So if you have a test that tests for one of those six, by the next month they’ve changed the compound and so the test no longer words. And that’s been the challenge.

Len Sipes: We have to debate what the message is to the larger public, but Adrienne..

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we supervise 24,000 people on parole or probation or released from prison on any given year. And so 80% of the people that we supervise come from substance abuse histories. We’re now increasing our testing level for synthetic drugs, are we not? Because before, it was very difficult but we are increasing that capacity, that testing capacity, correct?

Adrienne Poteat: That’s correct. We are increasing the testing capacity.

Len Sipes: And we’re trying to get the word out to the population that we supervise that this is truly dangerous.

Adrienne Poteat: Yes. Not only to the population, but to the staff as well as the community. We want to educate everyone in terms of the effects of this drug.

Len Sipes: Okay. And at the same time, we’re really working with the offender population, with our staff, with everybody, in terms of saying the testing is going to increase. If we see signs of it in terms of our community supervision officers, when they go in the homes, if they see evidence of this, we put them in substance abuse therapy. We try to do certain things. We do accountability tours. We try to up the degree of surveillance, including drug testing for our population, correct?

Adrienne Poteat: You’re absolutely correct, Len.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, for both of you, what message do we give? I remember back in the Sixties it was reefer madness. I remember … and nobody believed the authorities back then that marijuana was harmful to you, and everybody continued to do marijuana. Are we running into that problem now in terms of K2 and Spice and synthetic marijuana? Is this conversation going to be believable to people in the communities, whether they be Washington D.C. or Milwaukee or Hawaii? Is this conversation going to resonate with them?

Adrienne Poteat: Well, we hope it’s going to be believable. You know, if you have a population of 100 and you reach a portion of that then you’ve reached someone. Surprisingly enough, we have taken this message out to the community and we’ve educated them and they had no idea the effects of the drug, how accessible they were. Some of the traumatic effects that it’s had, and some … in that audience, we’ve had ex-offenders that are there as well, and did not have the education about the drugs. So for us to get that message out, at least it has had an impact somewhere because also some of the community has started looking for some of the stores that have attempted to sell that. And the police have asked, you know, either ban the stores or stand up in the community, say, “We don’t want this in our community.”

Len Sipes: Right.

Adrienne Poteat: So it has had some impact somewhere, but we still have a long way to go.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: We were talking before coming onto the set to all of the participants in the program we’re talking about the difficulty in terms of getting the word out.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: In terms of being real. I mean, and some of the folks were saying, you know, if people want to get high, people want to use drugs, this is down at the corner store. It may not be displayed any more like it used to be, but it’s under the counter, it’s being sold on the street. I mean, what message do we give? And I do want to put up your website, by the way.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: What I think is an extraordinarily good website in terms of prevention, prevention methods, and educating both kids and adults.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And we’ll do that throughout the course of the show.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: But what message do we give that’s convincing?

Ryan Springer: You know, and it’s a good question, because, as you mentioned, we don’t want to get down the path of saying, you know, “Don’t use this because it’s bad.” That kind of a message isn’t really … it doesn’t invite change. And so we’ve been trying several tactics in engaging the community. One I mentioned, the work with the prevention centers, which has shown, you know, great impact. We have communities who are actually engaging their businesses in the community around not selling these things. So that’s one aspect of it. Through the social media, the website and online advertising, we’ve had over … online alone, we’ve had over 25 million hits on the advertising there. And so as Ms Poteat said, you know, we’re really touching a lot of folks, and we expect that out of the millions that we touch, many won’t even start using. But for those who do, our hope is that we can educate the community members as much as possible so that they can then, you know, uh, we can work on community prevention so that they can tell their family members, their brothers, their aunts, their uncles, about the dangers of this drug, that they see themselves. We have a youth core program where we’re training … we’ve trained over 300 youth this year. Where they’re educated on this information so they can actually speak with some authority to their partners and their peers around the ills of using this drug. And honestly, going into a community, they can have a much bigger impact, having used it, or a peer of folks who’ve used it, telling their story better than I can.

Len Sipes: Well, we’re done … yeah, please, Adrienne.

Adrienne Poteat: Now, Len, if I can add something.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Adrienne Poteat: You know, we’re being a little creative at the agency. We’re even going to put together our own video.

Len Sipes: Right.

Adrienne Poteat: And we’ve asked for participants, whether they’re ex-offenders, to come and participate in that video, so that we can show it in the waiting rooms, when people come into the office, or if we take it out in the community. And hopefully we will have that in production by January or February.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adrienne Poteat: So, to actually see people that have used, to be able to talk on this video, also I think will be significant for us.

Len Sipes: But the thing … I keep going back to the same thing, that years ago, decades ago, warning people that marijuana was dangerous, we’re now … we’re here saying that synthetic drugs are dangerous. They’re ending up in psychiatric wards. They’re ending up paralysed. Not all of them, because you talk to some people who have used synthetic drugs, they say, “Hey, it’s fine, it’s not a problem, it’s cheap, it’s down the street, I know where I can get it. What’s the issue?” So, to that person, he’s looking at us right now and saying, you know, “You’re not being real with us, you’re not being honest with us.” But the flipside, the emergency room visits and the psychiatric wards and the crippling behaviour, and the crippling consequences of synthetic drug use is real.

Ryan Springer: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: It really is happening, so, on one side, you know, people are saying, “I’ve used it, it’s not a problem, it’s no big deal.” On the other side, you’ve got the three of us who are saying …

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … “Please think twice about this.”

Ryan Springer: And honestly, I think this was a bigger conversation, other than just synthetic, you know, marijuana or synthetic narcotics. And it’s a, to me, it’s a conversation at the community level around how do we empower communities to think in a more public health kind of mindset and overall health and wellness for the community?

Len Sipes: Mm.

Ryan Springer: And it’s changing that culture so that we, you know, we’re engaging these folks around not using in the first place. Not just synthetic marijuana, but not engaging in risky behaviours. And so the work that we’re doing with our prevention centres is around that and so it’s not just synthetic marijuana, but it’s engaging these communities around, you know, how can we be a healthier community? And to do that, you know, obviously using synthetic narcotics isn’t a good option. But we’ve got to try to build that capacity at the community level.

Len Sipes: Well, within any community in the country, not necessarily Washington D.C., but in any community in the United States you’re going to have an addict-based community. You are going to have a community of people who want to get high. They’ve been getting high since they were young kids. Again, the 24,000 people under Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, supervision on any given year, 80%, 70-80% have histories of substance abuse. So you’ll have that …

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … built-in ‘I want drugs’ personality. That’s who they are and that’s what they are. Once again, it’s down the street, it’s Scooby Doo and why aren’t the authorities doing more about it? Why aren’t they getting it out of our neighbourhoods? Adrienne, with our population, that’s a tough message to give. It’s dangerous but you can get it right down the street.

Adrienne Poteat: You’re right, and you can. You can just buy it anywhere. Hopefully there’s some of the treatment programs that we send some of the offenders to, they will understand and get a better idea about the impact and effects …

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adrienne Poteat: … doing that. We have some people that have been very successful, regardless if they’ve used drugs in the past or they’ve tried this. Once they got into the programs and they really, really understood the effects and what it has done to their bodies or the minds, or some of the behaviour that they have displayed, some of them have actually stopped and said, “I don’t want to have to be the person that ends up in the graveyard.” Or, “I don’t want to have to be the person that continues to go back to prison over and over again for my constant drug abuse.” So if you reach that one person, I feel that we have done something. We’re never going to reach the entire population. But then you bring those people back to some of the groups that you have, and let them tell the message. Because they’re the ones that have experienced it. They may not listen to us because they will say, “Well, what do you know? You’ve never used the drug.” But those people that have, they are an important factor in the treatment continuum that their message can be important and vital to this population.

Len Sipes: Nobody in this city, nobody in this country has more experience than the two of you right here in terms of dealing with drugs and dealing with people caught up in the criminal justice system. Nobody has more credibility than the two of you right now, in terms of talking at least to the bureaucracy. You’re saying that people should really be staying away from synthetic drugs. You’re saying that it’s dangerous. Am I right or wrong?

Adrienne Poteat: Yes.

Ryan Springer: Absolutely.

Adrienne Poteat: Yes.

Len Sipes: I tell you, thousands, tens of thousands of people are really being screwed up by this.

Ryan Springer: The main message, don’t even think about trying it. Just because … and again, I don’t want to go back to the previous messages of marijuana back in the day, but because you’re seeing people use it once and they’re in the emergency room and ending up in a psychiatric unit for the rest of their lives, there’s that message. But too, if you have a question based on whether it’s your peer or whatnot, come get the information and look it up. is the website.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ryan Springer: And you can get the information from that.

Len Sipes: You get the final word.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first half of D.C. Public Safety, as we take a look at this very important issue of synthetic drugs. In the second half, we’re going to have two people under our supervision, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. People who know and have a sense as to what’s going on in the street and street attitudes regarding synthetic drugs, K2. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.

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Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. We said on the first segment that synthetic drugs, Spice, K2, are all references to fake marijuana. And they’re filling emergency wants and causing long-term psychological and emotional damage. Yet they’re often very easy to find and mistaken for harmless kid-friendly products. To continue the discussion on synthetic drugs in the District of Columbia and throughout the country we have two guests who are currently under the supervision of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They are Jonathan Fox and Derek Nixon. And gentlemen, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Jonathan Fox: Hello.

Derek Nixon: Hi

Len Sipes: I appreciate you guys being here. Now, what is the … you’ve heard on the first segment the three bureaucrats, me and Ms Poteat and Ryan Springer, talking about synthetic drugs. You guys are on the street, you’re out and about, you’re seeing what’s happening, you’re experiencing what’s happening. What did we say on that first half that makes sense to kids on the street? Anything?

Jonathan Fox: Everything you said was actually correct. You know. But you just, you know, left out the part that the problem with the drug started before the user.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: It goes back in the history of the child, you know. And peer pressure.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: That plays a big part of, you know, using the drug.

Len Sipes: Well, but, you know, people, we were talking about in, in the green room before coming out here today, there are people want to get high, they’re going to get high and synthetic drugs are right down the street and they know who’s selling them. They’re reasonably priced and they’re hard to pick up by my agency in terms of the drug test. And so we start doing more drug testing, which we plan on doing. I mean, so, to a lot of people who want to get high, their point is ‘why not?’

Jonathan Fox: Mm …

Len Sipes: Either one?

Jonathan Fox: Main thing …

Len Sipes: Go ahead.

Derek Nixon: No, go ahead, go ahead, go ahead.

Jonathan Fox: No, I was saying like the, you know, the main thing the gentlemen with the CSOSA agency is that, you know, they’re doing testing. And they’re testing for, you know, mostly hard drugs. And they’re using this as a substitute now, knowing that, you know, it damages them worse than the actual hard drug, marijuana.

Len Sipes: But if that’s the word on the street, is the word on the street that synthetic drugs actually do damage? Or is that just the price of getting high? I’m …

Derek Nixon: It’s on … the word is on the street that, you know, it has certain side effects but, like he just mentioned, it’s just basically a substance … cause we all … we all on urines for hard drugs and there’s … this doesn’t show up. So that’s like why not do it? You know?

Len Sipes: Well, that’s what I hear.

Len Sipes: That’s what I hear from you guys and talking in the green room, and other people before coming on and doing the program today. But I, you know, we talked about the first segment of what happened back in the 1960s and 1970s with marijuana. Bureaucrats like me got up and said, “It’s dangerous.” Nobody believed us and nobody cared. So my fear is, is that we’re going to … some twelve-year-old little girl is sitting there today, watching the three of us right now, whether it’s in Washington D.C. or somewhere throughout the country, or somewhere throughout the world. Because this program’s going to be on the Internet for years to come. And she’s going to say, “Well, I know where I can get some of this,” and why not do it? What do we say to her?

Jonathan Fox: You’ve got to look at the effects that it’s taking. It’s killing the brain cells. It’s making you slower reactions, you know. And it’s just not … it’s not like marijuana. It’s worse than marijuana, actually. You know, because of the chemicals and the stuff that they’re making it with.

Len Sipes: On the street right now, we were talking before about the fact that currently in the District of Columbia, people are seeing the posters at the bus stops, they’re seeing the posters on the buses themselves. They’re seeing it out in the community, talking about K2, Zombie, and talking about it being dangerous. Does that have an impact?

Derek Nixon: It does, it does. But it does have an impact. Well, if someone wants to get high on K2, they’re going to do it. You know?

Len Sipes: Right.

Derek Nixon: So basically it’s like … you want to get the word out there, the word is out there on the bus stops, metro and all that. But if someone will do K2, they’re going to do it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Derek Nixon: It’s just plain and simple.

Len Sipes: And that’s just about with any drug.

Derek Nixon: With any drug, right.

Len Sipes: And see, that’s the thing, it’s scaring me because these packages look kid-friendly, and I’ve got that twelve-year-old girl, I saw the segment the other day where a young teenage girl, twelve or thirteen years old, she is now paralysed for the rest of her life. She’s in a wheelchair for the rest of her life because of synthetic drugs. I mean, this stuff is real. This issue is real. It’s a real problem for real people, but I’m not quite sure we’re convincing people that it’s a real problem.

Jonathan Fox: I’m just starting to see the campaign has gone more harder than what they were, you know, and I believe they should have to, you know, really show an example, you know, just by, you know, giving the posters, saying to these youth out there in the streets that, you know, don’t do K2, it turns you to Zombie, I don’t … me personally, I don’t think that’s going to reach. I mean, that’s good to get the message out there, but I think we should have more damaging evidence towards that, you know.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Jonathan Fox: And show them, just like you said, you know, you’ve seen this twelve-year-old girl paralysed from the effects of synthetic drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: I mean, I think these youth should see the effects of this, see her, you know, say … and let her, you know, let her, you know, tell her story, if she can speak.

Len Sipes: But, you know, throughout the last couple of decades, drug use has gone down and gone down considerably. So somebody is making a decision. I mean, the criminal justice system, we can’t force people to not to do drugs. I mean, somewhere along the line, this is people making up their own minds not to do drugs for that … to have that level of drop over the course of the last two decades. So it has gone down, so there’s obviously a point where people are saying, “This not in my best interests to do heroin or do cocaine or do whatever,” but when it comes to K2, you don’t know what it is you’re doing. At least with cocaine, at least with heroin, at least with the other … marijuana, you have some sense as to what you’re getting into. With K2, with Spice, with synthetic drugs, you have no idea what you’re putting in your body.

Jonathan Fox: That goes back to just what I said. You have to show, you know what I’m saying, the chemicals and ingredients that’s in this synthetic drug. Just like, you know, back …

Len Sipes: But we don’t know. I mean, there are hundreds of them.

Jonathan Fox: I mean, you know, just like back in the day when they showed the pork, you know, they put the pork on the wall …

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: … they had it sit in the sun, then, you know, maggots came out the pork and a lot of people backed up from pork.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Jonathan Fox: You know, same thing with synthetic. You have to show damage and effect, you know. And this is the cause, and this is effect.

Len Sipes: So, my point is, is that all of us know people or have talked to people directly that have done synthetic drugs. Some people walk away from it unaffected. And then they are going to tell their friends that, “Hey, it’s no big deal.” And other people are going to emergency wards. Is the word on the street that it’s dangerous or is the word on the street that this is something worth trying?

Jonathan Fox: Both, cause, you know …

Jonathan Fox: Addicts, you know, addicts are going run to it, you know. Addicts are going to run towards it at their own risk.

Jonathan Fox: Yeah, exactly, you know. Addicts going to run towards anything that they feel as though is going to take them to the next level of high. You know. And for people in the lower realms you know, there, they probably back up saying like, “No, I’m not trying to go there.” But it’s …

Len Sipes: Right, so if you wanted … if you’re looking for that high, K2 is not going to get in your way. The warnings are not going to get in your way. But it’s the people on the edge, the parents of people on the edge, people who maybe swung one way or the other, we can talk to them. Or is it possible?

Jonathan Fox: It’s possible. Anything worth a try. You know, my saying, there’s nothing beats a failure than a try, so .

Len Sipes: Alright. What do we tell parents?

Jonathan Fox: You have to educate them on it first of all. It’s just like, you know, the ingredients of a drug is like case law. You can read it in two, you know, languages. You know, so you have to make it concise and scoop down to their level and explain it to them. Because once you read in the ad,
you know, there’s ads up there on marijuana, there’s ads on crack cocaine, there’s ads on … all type of drugs. But they still continue to do it.

Len Sipes: Doesn’t anybody get ticked off over the fact that, you know, you take a look at these packages and they’re so kid-friendly. They look like something an eight-year-old wants to go and chew on, just because they’re Scooby Doo and they’re just so friendly and colourful. I mean, they look like they’re trying to market to seven and eight-year-olds. I know that there are kids, eleven, twelve or thirteen who are confused about this. I mean, you’ve got to say that at least a seven-year-old, an eighteen-year-old, a twelve-year-old, you’ve got to say that, man, this is stuff that can really, really harm them.
Jonathan Fox: If you think about it …

Len Sipes: Am I right or wrong?

Jonathan Fox: You definitely right, and I agree with you. The thing about it, a drug dealer is heartless. You know why? Because he doesn’t know the effects that he’s having on his community. You know, with starting casualties, wars, you know. People are getting sick, people who are stealing from their family. So a drug dealer, they’re not going to think of the effects when he’s packaging his product to sell to the community, because all he’s thinking about is the dollars. So these big companies that’s issuing these packages, they’re going to make them colourful and enticing for kids or whoever to come to them, cause colours attract people, you know.

Len Sipes: But that’s a thing that gets me, now. I understand the dealers with heroin, I understand the dealers with cocaine. I understand the dealers with crack. These are being sold by store owners.

Jonathan Fox: I don’t want to cut you off but, you know, but …

Len Sipes: Go- cut me off

Jonathan Fox: … I don’t want to cut you off, but it … you cannot separate a K2 seller from a crack seller, cause both of them are drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: They’re still a drug dealer.

Len Sipes: Alright, they’re still a drug dealer.

Jonathan Fox: You know.

Len Sipes: No doubt about it.

Jonathan Fox: You know, and if you sell it … see, you know, if you sell it in a store or …

Len Sipes: But some of them …

Jonathan Fox: … you sell it on the streets.

Len Sipes: But some of them are businesspeople, right? I mean, they’re running gas stations, they’re running …

Derek Nixon: That’s the gas.

Len Sipes: … convenience stores. They’re running all these different things, and so I mean they’re business people.

Jonathan Fox: And the thing …

Len Sipes: And so are drug dealers, I fully understand that.

Len Sipes: But is there a way of reaching … can a community just basically say, “Stop it.”

Derek Nixon: Like you said earlier though, the community have to get together and say, “We don’t want this in our community.” You know. Go to a store, petition it, you know, boycott a store. Just, you know, do a protest in front of the store. Cause I’ve seen that on the news before that this is a … one community, they don’t sell no K2 no more. Lady’s son … so I guess he went to the emergency room or whatever. And a lot of parents got together and said, “We don’t want this in our community.” And they forced it out. So if you can do that in certain communities, then that might be a start to get it out. But it may move somewhere else. It’s going to go somewhere else. You see what I’m saying?

Len Sipes: So is there a way of galvanising the community around K2? Is it really possible, or is everybody … don’t care? I mean, is it really possible to galvanise a large proportion of the community, to simply say that this is dangerous and, “I want it out of my community.”

Jonathan Fox: You’re going to have to start with a community. First you’re going to have to have some advocates to actually care about the youth. And, you know, know that the youth are our future. You know, so you’re going to have to have somebody with the knowledge and common sense to go into the community and explain to our citizens that, you know, this drug is definitely harmful, is hurting our kids, you know, is not good at all. You know, there’s going to have to definitely be a campaign on it.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Jonathan Fox: You know.

Len Sipes: We’ve only got a couple of minute left. I, as I told you before the program, whenever I do a radio or television show, I have somebody that I envision talking to throughout the course of the show. And I envision … my vision is talking to the twelve-year-old, thirteen-year-old girl who I saw the other day in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, paralysed by using K2. So I’m talking to her before she made the decision to use it. She thought it was harmless. What do we say to her?

Jonathan Fox: Don’t even try, you know. Don’t fall into peer pressure, you know. Don’t do it cause you think it’s cool, because it does have the zombie effect.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Derek Nixon: It does have the zombie effect. It kills your brain cells, you know what I’m saying … the more you know, the smarter you are, and you’ll never be smart doing K2.

Len Sipes: An opinion?

Derek Nixon: Yeah, just like you say, just don’t fall under peer pressure to try it. Well, you know, want to K2 or you want to see how it is, I just want to know what it is. But you really shouldn’t do it, that’s all. You know, that’s to the kids out there, don’t. It’s not worth it. Totally don’t use it, you know. You know, just don’t use it.

Len Sipes: And even if you have direct experience or your friends have direct experience of using it and it doesn’t have those incredibly harmful effects that we’re talking about, next time around, because they’re constantly changing the ingredients, so next time around they could have …

Jonathan Fox: Right.

Len Sipes: … those incredible effects.

Jonathan Fox: Right.

Len Sipes: What are we saying to the parents? Same thing?

Derek Nixon: Same thing

Derek Nixon: And monitor the kids more. You know, I mean, be more involved in their kids’ life, cause like kids are acting out of their age these days, you know. They’re doing stuff that shouldn’t be done. So parents should monitor their kids more and also check, you know, check on, you know, what are they putting in their system.

Len Sipes: Right.

Derek Nixon: Maybe educate their kids on the side effects and consequences of smoking K2.

Len Sipes: Well, you, what we have to do is also at the same time and from the bureaucrats, we have to get them involved, we have to get the parents involved, we have to get the community involved. I just fear that the word is not being crystal clear. I just feel that they’re going to sit back and go, “Man, I’ve done it, my friends have done it. It ain’t about what you’re saying. You’re exaggerating what the harmful effects are.”

Derek Nixon: No, you can’t exaggerate when you’ve got proof in front of you. People go by what they see, you know what I’m saying, not by what they hear. You know, if I say you, you know, something like, “Your watch is gold,” you know what I’m saying? Or, “My watch is gold,” you know what I’m saying, you’d want to see it. You wouldn’t want to hear what I’ve got to say. And that’s what society is going to turn to, hearsay, instead of more action being taken, is hearsay. Or you know if you do that you’ll get locked up? But they do. They still do it. You know, a youth will still do it, you know? Until he actually get locked up, say, “I ain’t doing it no more.” You know. So, you know, you’ve got to be educated on it.

Len Sipes: Well, they’ve got to educate the kids, they’ve got to educate everybody, that’s the bottom line, right?

Len Sipes: Well, thank you for being here, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for watching today. Please take a look at the website that’s constantly being posted through the show. Please educate yourselves, please educate your family, please educate your children. Look for us next time as we look at another very important topic, in today’s criminal justice system. Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Domestic Violence in Washington, DC, Superior Court

Domestic Violence- Superior Court of the District of Columbia

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sips. Ladies and gentleman today’s show is on Domestic Violence it’s a hot topic in the news. We wanted to explore what is happening here in the nation’s capital. We have three principals sitting before our microphones today. Jose Lopez is a Judge he is the Judge, the presiding Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit a position that he has for several years now. We have William Agosto he is the Director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit which means he supervises all staff within the unit and we have Natalia Otero, she is with DC Safe and Advocacy group, one of the partners in the two Domestic Violence Intake Centers and we want to thank you all for being here. Judge Lopez, William Agosto, Natalia Otero welcome to DC Public Safety.

JOSE LOPEZ: Pleased to be here.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: I’m pleased to be here.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright, I’m really happy for you gentlemen and Natalia for you to be here today because you know domestic violence is a hot topic in the news, it is something that is of extreme concern but before we get into the gist of the show Judge Lopez just give me a sense of the Domestic Violence Court within the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well it’s a specialized unit with four judge’s handling cases. The civil, restraining orders and the criminal cases and we have fantastic staff, well organized and we do about five thousand criminal civil restraining order cases a year and about three thousand criminal cases a year.

LEONARD SIPES: Five thousand restraining orders and three thousand criminal cases that is eight thousand cases in one city for domestic violence and those are just the cases that are reported to law enforcement.

JOSE LOPEZ: That is correct. I mean the DC police department gets about 90 calls a day for domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: 90 calls a day that is an amazing amount of calls.

JOSE LOPEZ: It’s tremendous.

LEONARD SIPES: So domestic violence is an issue here for us within the District of Columbia.

JOSE LOPEZ: It is a big issue.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and you have been presiding over this court for how long Judge Lopez?

JOSE LOPEZ: It’s been about seven years.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s a long time and that has got to take its toll on you after hearing at this point thousands of cases.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well it doesn’t take a toll in a negative sense I guess it shows me the challenge that we are presented and the difficulty that we have with domestic violence and the need for further education of the community.

LEONARD SIPES: And this is one of the reasons why we are doing the program. William Agosto the director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit. Give me a sense William as to what it is that you do in terms of the Superior Court as as it pertains to domestic violence.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: In the DV Unit we process the cases. We create the calendars for the Judges. We schedule people to be able to get before the court and that happens when somebody comes in with an emergency request to see a Judge that same day and a couple of weeks later when they return to get an order that would last for an extended period of time.

LEONARD SIPES: So in terms of the protective orders your, it is up to you to handle the administrative structure to quickly get that protective order and that is a huge responsibility.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct. It is one that we take very seriously.

LEONARD SIPES: So if that request for a protective order comes in at 4’o clock in the afternoon you guys have got to scramble to make sure that it happens.


LEONARD SIPES: Alright and that is an amazing responsibility.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia Otero your DC Safe give me a sense as to what DC Safe does and your part in this partnership.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes of course DC Safe is the 24 hour crisis intervention agency here in the District of Columbia and we are charged with being available to domestic violence that person and to any first responder and to the court. We have a program that is called The Legality Assessment Program that allows us to try to find the percent of the population that is more at risk for homicide or re-assault and once we identify this percentage of the population we attempt to partner with government and non government agencies to provide expedited services so we go ride-alongs with the Metropolitan Police Department. We have a response line for people to call in. We are able to provide emergency assistance with the Courts with filing either emergency orders or civil protections orders. We attend Court every single day with clients. We are also able to actually house people within an hour of a violent incident and crisis shelter which is another important aspect of safety along with the court and the criminal justice piece of it.

LEONARD SIPES: You know it is so common throughout the United States to have domestic violence cases fall through the cracks and I am not being patronizing because you are sitting in front of me and because I am part of the DC Criminal Justice System but in the District of Columbia ordinarily and especially as it applies to the Superior Court again I am not simply being complementary, I want people out there to know that ordinarily the Superior Court does it well. It doesn’t matter what topic it is, whether its drug court other specialty courts, the domestic violence court it sounds as if between yourself, Judge Lopez and William and Natalia you have got it pretty much figured out in terms of how to process a massive number of domestic violence cases that come to the courts attention.

JOSE LOPEZ: We put significant emphasis on client’s service and we are constantly struggling to make sure that every case that comes in that door for an emergency order will be seen by a judge that very same day for safety reasons.

LEONARD SIPES: And that is important and that doesn’t happen throughout the rest of the country. So what we do in the District of Columbia we take for granted but I think we do set a bit of a standard for what is happening throughout the country in terms of Domestic Violence am I right or wrong William.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: You are correct particularly the development of partnerships that we have created with different stake holders in the community and other agencies making sure that we all work together to have a coordinated response to domestic violence.

LEONARD SIPES: Now I want to get into our personal perceptions on this just for a second. You know a lifetime ago when I was with the Maryland State Police I went to, well it was my first exposure to a domestic violence case, went to a domestic violence case and the woman opened the door and her head was twice its size. There was blood running down her. A neighbor had called and the victim insisted that we not take her husband, not remove her husband from that house and it was obvious battery and as far as I was concerned it was an aggravated assault with is a felony. I was so affected by that. I never saw my parents fight, let alone hit each other and I remembered that from hence forth every domestic violence case that I would ever go on and one of them involved a shooting, an attempted shooting. These are terrible tragic events in the lives of human beings. We say the words domestic violence and I am not quite sure it really carries the true impact as to how destructive this act is. So I just wanted, for three people who have been involved with the issue of domestic violence for years, and years, and years, give me Judge Lopez I am going to start off with you, how does it affect you after all these years on the bench.

JOSE LOPEZ: Well I have learned a lot about what domestic violence is and you know what those cases with the bloody head, those are minimal compared to those that you don’t see any blood and there is a lot of human suffering, there are a lot of destroyed families, there are a lot of depressed children and depressed family members and go out onto the street every day and just don’t have a solution to their problem. And like that lady who would not her husband arrested, we have the complexity that there is a certain attachment and its difficult for them to just get him out of the house or to have his arrested because they are interdependent with each other so that creates a greater complexity in those cases.

LEONARD SIPES: This is something that has an enormous impact not just on the victim but the victim’s family, the larger community. It is not unusual at all to have kids involved. William let me ask you the same question. You have been working this beat for quite some time do you every just get frustrated at the larger issue of why people batter other people.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: Of course it can be frustrating but we have to keep in mind domestic violence cases are crimes committed against a vulnerable individual. A crime is a crime. We need to make sure that we do not forget domestic violence is not a different action but we have to make sure that we look at them as crimes. That people don’t forget that. These individuals are related the act that is committed needs to be treated and handled as a crime.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia okay you’re with DC Safe you specialize in domestic violence cases certainly you have an opinion on all of this.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes I think what is important really and I think something that Judge Lopez said kind of when you speak about this and that is in addition to the complexities to the relationship there is also a complexities and how many systems a victim may have to access in order to make herself safe and we have to be sure that we are keeping our word and like William said this is a crime ultimately and the important thing is to make sure that we have the appropriate multidisciplinary response to it because what happens when a victim reaches out and she finally is ready but the abuser might be knocking on her door the next day because he was released or it has to be dealt with on multiple levels not only through the courts but through the Criminal Justice System and to all organizations that provide supportive services and housing for these victims and the children.

LEONARD SIPES: But this is a process oftentimes and I am going to be stereotypical here but I believe it to be true, mostly male perpetrators against female victims although I do know that women can and do batter men, that this is something that’s ordinarily taken place over a course of months or years. This is something that she ordinarily has had to suffer through for a long time until the point where somebody actually calls the police whether it be a neighbor, whether it be a friend or whether it be herself. This is something that is filled with emotion a long term event and something that again, once again is really devastating not only to generally speaking the female victim but the kids involved and it is not unusual for kids to be involved. Natalia I am going to let you continue with that answer.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes I definitely think that that is something that feeds into the response that a victim has about their own abuse but also their own perception of risk and that is really important because we are not in the relationship and I think it is also kind of crucial to understand that there are factors there that are creating a situation where the victim is thinking that they need to, that they are mitigating the situation and a lot of times that has to do with not involving the police. We are acquiescing to certain things with you know keeping, maybe like walking on egg shells so to speak but they are mitigating their risk with their responses and sometimes the way that the mitigate the risk does not make sense to an outside person.

LEONARD SIPES: This is a very overwhelming event in the life of that victim. I mean this is something that is almost paralyzing people always ask me why doesn’t she leave. This is a very paralyzing event. There are kids involved, there are economics involved, th her own safety involved and so I want to take some of the pressure off a victims a tad to say that often at times again its paralyzing and generally speaking the female victim just doesn’t know what to do. Your honor did you want to take a crack at that?

JOSE LOPEZ: well that is just the most significant point of it all. The victim, especially the female victim usually is not so much that she doesn’t know what to do it is that she is juggling all these things and trying to balance the safety of herself, the economics of her situation, the safety of her children and she is making the best decision she can under those heavy duty emotional circumstances and it takes a very long time to finally get a clear head to say I must leave this relationship.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line and the question goes out to all three of you. The bottom line is that we want anybody who has any information about domestic violence to get involved in reporting it to law enforcement so then the Superior Court and any court throughout the United States can take appropriate action right. We desperately want people to report acts of domestic violence.

JOSE LOPEZ: Appropriate action is correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay I hear you, hear you loud and clear. Alright within the District of Columbia I complemented you all before. You have two Domestic Violence Intake Centers how do they work, what happens William?

WILLIAM AGOSTO: We have one at the Superior Court it is a conglomerate of agencies, Community Agencies and Government Agencies that provide services to the individual when they come to Court. Particularly those in intimate partner relationships and they get assistance with preparing their paper work, talking to the police, talking to the prosecutor, requesting support, they get services from the advocacy group that Ms. Otero belongs or they will conduct a lethality assessment try to determine how lightly this person is to eventually be harmed further by the respondent. We will also talk to them about safety planning, give them referrals for different agencies that provide either counseling, legal assistance, housing and lately some new partners have joined in who will help with doing a forensic medical examination getting some photographs and preparing the evidence for future hearing and another agencies working with victims that have problems of mental health when they come to visit us.

LEONARD SIPES: So you have specialists in all different areas whether it be forensic, mental health, assistance with child related issues, you have those specialists there to immediately provide assistance to the victim when he or she comes into the Domestic Violence Court.


LEONARD SIPES: That’s amazing; I mean, again most jurisdictions throughout the United States don’t have those resources and the process in the Court room do all cases go before a Judge or do all cases go to trial.

JOSE LOPEZ: No, not all cases go to trial. We have what is called attorney negotiators so when the parties come to court for the first time we attempt to negotiate a civil protection order by agreement and in many cases we will go into an agreement for a civil protection for 12 months. Some few cases will need to go to trial and the judges are prepared to take them to trial.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, now the civil protection order says what to the perpetrator?

JOSE LOPEZ: Well the civil Protection Order which is in effect a restraining order it tells the perpetrator that you may not assault, threaten or harass or stalk the petitioner and you shall stay about from the petitioner at least 100 feet away from her home, work place and also if he needs drug treatment or any mental health treatment that also is in there. If in fact a shared residence we also say to him that he must vacate the residence for safety reasons.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay so there is mental health treatment involved, substance abuse treatment involved, we very specifically say what you can do and what you can’t do and those orders I think are supported by my agency Court Service and Offenders Supervision Agency as well as the Court itself.

JOSE LOPEZ: Yes your agency is extremely helpful in this respect because they monitor the compliance with a civil protection order which is one of the few jurisdictions that has that luxury and so they even have vocational training for some of the people that need it and if they don’t go to the mental health or the drug treatment CSOSA the Court Services Agency will inform us about it so we can bring the case to court to try to correct the issue.

LEONARD SIPES: And if necessary we can put that person on GPS monitoring and monitor that persons whereabouts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and figure out whether or not he is violating that order.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct.

LEONARD SIPES: And if he violates that order we immediately bring that case to the attention of the Court.

NATALIA OTERO: Right I think, oh sorry. There is another step that CSOSA is actually working on directly with DC Safe it is part of the lethality assessment project. Let’s say that a victim calls the police or somebody calls the police. The police comes out realizes that it’s a domestic case; they call us immediately we send somebody out to meet with the client and provide immediate services and lethality assessment. We then are providing information with the clients request to CSOSA and saying this is a high lethality case. They can then turn around and say o well that particular person is already under supervision and we have certain that then they can respond to so we are talking care of working with the client and providing those expedited services and they are on the other end dealing with the person that is supervising in terms of not only holding them accountable but also in some cases making them aware that they know and creating kind of an intervention plan for the perpetrator in the hope that that will create a broader safety net for the victim.

LEONARD SIPES: We are more than half way through the program Ladies and Gentleman. We are doing a program today on Domestic Violence here in the nation’s capital in Washington DC. We have three people before our microphones Judge Jose Lopez he is the presiding Judge at the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit. He has been there for seven years. William Agosto he is the Director of the Superior Courts Domestic Violence Unit which means he makes sure that all things happen at all times and we have Natalia Otero and she is with DC Safe and Advocacy Group that is one of the partners in the domestic violence program. If you are interested in the work of the Superior Court in the District of Columbia probably one of the better court systems in the United States and after 45 years in the criminal justice system I can think I can say that with authority We want to thank the Superior Court for setting up this program specifically Leah Gurowitz. Okay ladies and gentlemen where do we need to take this discussion now the civil protection order has been issued? We are talking about all the different agencies that are involved. We are talking about my agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies, lots of other agencies. In essence what we are trying to do is provide a comprehensive resource for again I am being stereotypical here; men are victimized by domestic violence but generally speaking, its female victims. What we are trying to do is provide a comprehensive array of programs for the victim and for the perpetrator at the same time correct.

JOSE LOPEZ: Correct because one of the things that we need to do is to get that education to the perpetrator to avoid recidivism from the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, family training, parenting classes and so forth.

LEONARD SIPES: You know we have individuals within our community and in any community throughout the United States so it is not just an issue for Washington DC who feels that they have a perfect right to strike their victim, to strike either their child or their wife or their husband. That this is something, for whatever reason, I’m not going to say with cultural, I’m not going to say anything. I simply know that there are men who feel that they have the right to strike a woman and sometimes this is maybe the first time in their lives where they are facing authority figures who are saying you can’t do that and a lot of times there are drugs involved and a lot of times there is alcohol involved.

JOSE LOPEZ: Oh yes and it’s a generational thing, it is an educational thing. You know one generation after another generation educating each other that violence is correct, the violence upon the children and violence upon the women is correct and so it is extremely difficult to get that out of their head. That is destroying the family, not only the victim but also the perpetrator.

LEONARD SIPES: There is a lot of people suggesting that domestic violence or getting into child abuse and neglect is the heart and soul of many of the problems that we have within the criminal justice system if that nine-year-old is raised and sees him mother being beaten that almost leaves an indelible mark upon his psyche for the rest of his life.

JOSE LOPEZ: That becomes normal for that child.

LEONARD SIPES: Yes William did you want to.

WILLIAM AGOSTO: And it seems to all be rooted in the sense that this is different, that if you hit your partner it is different than you hit somebody on the street and culturally we must make sure that people understand an assault to one of your loved ones is as problematic and is as wrong as an assault to a stranger.

LEONARD SIPES: Absolutely, alright we have crime victim’s compensation program. We have the Court Supervised Visitation Center; these are all components of the Superior Court in terms of Domestic Violence. Tell me what those mean.

JOSE LOPEZ: The supervised Visitation Center is using those cases where parties share children and the victim would not feel safe having the respondent, the abuser come into their presence, either pick up the children at their home or a mutually agreed location. So the court provides a neutral location where the victim can drop off the children. The respondent can come by and see the children in the presence of a social worker for a few hours a week so that relationship between the child and the other parent continues or in cases where maybe it is not necessary to keep that parent from keeping the child with them. They can take the child but they can use that location for pick up and drop off of those children.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright and what is the other program the Crime Victims Compensation Program. There is the possibility that because they are a victim of a violent crime they can be compensated for some of the expenses they had going into that victimization correct?

JOSE LOPEZ: Often you have a victim of domestic violence by leaving a relationship they are going to leave behind their positions and their resources and other times there is also concern that the respondent is going to come back to the location where they know where they can be found. The Crime Victims Compensation program can provide temporary housing at locations that are confidential. The can provide assistance with medical expenses. They can provide assistance with counseling for the victim. They can also help with getting yourself set up in a new place eventually after you have gone through this process and for those that want to remain at their own home they may be able to help you, for example the door was broken down by the respondent. They may be able to replace that door; to make sure that you place is secure.

LEONARD SIPES: I realize that I may have over played my hand in terms of my praise of the Superior Courts Program because there are going to be people listening to this program throughout the United States and beyond the United States. These services in one way shape or form are available throughout the United States generally speaking, so I do the message to domestic violence victims in Utah, in Montana, in California is to still find out what is available to you by contacting your prosecutors office, contacting law enforcement or contacting your local domestic violence center. Natalia saying all that what is the biggest hurdle for getting victims to come forward and seek help.

NATALIA OTERO: Wow, I think obviously every case is different and I think both the Judge Lopez and William can vouch for the fact that they can be radically different because things might be going on. I think the biggest hurdle really is information and I really think coordination of services. We find that when the victim is provided immediate tangible assistance within the first 24 hours they are more likely to move forward with criminal cases. They are more likely to move forward with the protection order hearing because at least within those first 24 hours those tangible needs about shelter and safety are being met.

LEONARD SIPES: By, I’m sorry go ahead please.

NATALIA OTERO: I think the next big hurdle is then kind of thinking about how do I get myself in a stable situation in the aftermath of this. What does that mean for me? Am I now being connected to other agencies in the City like the Department of Housing or am I having, you know there is a lot of things that go into becoming stable and there is so many different government entities that are sometimes involved in this.

LEONARD SIPES: But the bottom line is a lot of people out there take a look at those of us in government and they don’t have the highest opinion of us. I have taken a look at some of the surveys and I think the point is, is that I think especially when it comes to victim services, especially when it comes to victim services, especially when it comes to domestic violence but in all other cases I would say but especially in these two cases we do care. There are people within DCC. There are people at the highest level within the Superior Courts. There are people at the highest level throughout this country who want women and those men who are victims but particularly women especially with children to come forward and they are going to receive a caring response, not a bureaucratic response, not a harsh response but they are going to be embraced by the Criminal Justice System. Judge Lopez.

JOSE LOPEZ: Oh yes and one of the things that we try very hard is training our judges, training our staff to understand it. To understand when an angry person comes to you don’t let it be contagious because they are not angry at you they are angry at their situation and we are prepared to deal with it and work with them and show them that we care.

LEONARD SIPES: Natalia we have got only about a minute left in the program. Again I would imagine the people there at DC Safe are not there to get rich, they are there because they are passionate about serving victims of domestic violence and victims of crime.

NATALIA OTERO: Yes that is correct. We are a non-profit agency and we have over 25 employees that are very committed to the work all from different fields, from law to criminal justice, to women studies and I think the most important thing that we are trying to accomplish really is to be able to create kind of an all encompassing safety net for victims and creating a situation where when a victim does reach out that they get the assistance that they need the first time around and that it is something that is coordinated and responsive to not only the needs of herself and the children but also the friend or accountability on the other piece and it takes an entire system of people and an entire continuum to be able to provide these services.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay Natalia you have got the final word. I think the bottom line between everybody in this room and you via Skype Natalia is that there is hope for that person who is being abused and the criminal justice system is really geared up to help that individual. So I want to thank everybody who has been on our microphones today, Judge Jose Lopez, William Agosto and Natalia Otero. Thank you all for being here ladies and gentlemen thank you for listening to us. This is DC Public Safety we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Beyond Prison, Probation and Parole-Interview With Former Offender Randy Kearse

Beyond Prison, Probation and Parole-Interview With Former Offender Randy Kearse

DC Public Safety Radio

See radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentleman, we are doing a series of radio shows for people who’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system, and to get their perspective as to what it is that we do both within the District of Columbia and throughout the country. My guest today is Randy Kearse, host of Straight Talk with Randy Kearse. It’s a public access show in New York City. He’s a bestselling author and independent film maker. He was convicted for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in 1992. Randy spent 15 years in a federal prison, sentenced under the mandatory minimum and now infamous Crack Law. His first documentary film is A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism; The Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. Randy, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank for inviting me back, Leonard. I really appreciate what you’re doing. I really appreciate being on your show. I just hope that, you know, this conversation will help further the conversations that are going on in the reentry field today.

LEONARD SIPES: Well you know, I always get a bit of criticism that “Leonard, everything that you do is DC based. Why don’t you reach out to somebody beyond the District of Columbia when talking about the issue of reentry?” So you and I are Facebook friends, and I always think of you in terms of reaching out beyond New York City. People also say, “Leonard, everybody that you interview who’s caught up in the criminal justice system are documentary film makers. Is that the norm?” And I’m going, “No.” I said, “It’s just that they seem to do a better job of offering their opinions. They’ve thought about these issues, thought them through, and then offer clarity in terms of how they feel the criminal justice system should be improved.” So we were talking about issues right before we hit the start button in terms of recording the program, and this is interesting. One of the things you wanted to talk about was creating a reentry initiative think tank which consists of successful of former offenders. Tell me about that.

RANDY KEARSE: I think that today, we need to relook at how we approach reentry. If we look at the history of reentry over the last 20-30 years, nationally, the statistics of people returning back to prison is pretty much stayed the same in the high 60s, sometimes even up to 70s in the states. So I think it’s time to start really, honestly taking a different approach toward reentry and to tap into those people that have been to prison, came home, and are doing extremely well, and have done some extraordinary things to see what their formula was for not returning. And I think if you get enough of us people who have been there, done that, and are now doing that, I think that we’d have a better opportunity to have some real impactful reentry programs.

I mean if you look at the money that is being put into reentry, I mean we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. You know, upwards, I don’t even know how high it is, but the numbers never change. The numbers are not changing. For the money that we’re spending on reentry, and the numbers are not going down substantially, I mean, that would make anyone say, “Well, we need to rethink this thing. We need to, you know, find a different approach.” And I feel that if you took… if we created – you guys in DC, the politicians, and the criminal justice system was to be able to create a think tank that is basically filled with people from all over the country who have successfully transitioned back to society, and are doing well, and put these guys in a room and did some real serious stuff that think tanks do, I think we would have a better opportunity to really get to the meat of what the problem is and how to offer some real meaningful solutions.

LEONARD SIPES: When you’re talking about the numbers not going down, you’re talking about the recidivism numbers in terms of arrest convictions and return to prison?


LEONARD SIPES: Well, you’re absolutely right. The latest survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a very high rate of return to the criminal justice system for people who have spent time in prison and that’s caused people to pause.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean they’re saying to themselves, “What is it that we need to do better?” And quite frankly I think the reentry initiative think tank composed of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system has value.

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, it just makes sense to me that you bring in people who have been through that situation and made it through successfully, to be able to come up with some guide, some instructions, some type of blueprint on what the correctional facilities can be doing better, what reentry programs could be done better in order to help people transition back to society more completely. I think it just makes sense.

LEONARD SIPES: The title of today’s program is beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: a Reentry Story. So that’s part of your reentry story, is getting people once caught up in the criminal justice system, people who are doing well to sit down with what? A hundred other people from all around the country and sit down and teach the rest of us in the criminal justice system how we could be doing it better?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, I think that the criminal justice system and especially those who work in the reentry field should be, at this point, open to trying some different approaches. I mean listen, whatever is going on or whatever it’s been the norm for the last 20-30 years isn’t working, and you keep pouring money into a system that is not producing the results that we are looking for. I mean you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Imagine what we could be doing with that money if we had some real sense of what would be better, where that money could be better spent, and how that money that could be better allocated when it comes to prison reentry? Now who better to talk to that issue than those who didn’t have those hundreds of millions of dollars, but were able to transition successfully and are doing good? We’re talking about entrepreneurs. We’re talking about educators. We’re talking about business people. We’re talking about a whole gambit of people who have been through that experience and are doing successful to this day. I mean you have celebrities. You have people across the board. And if you do it on a national level, and then maybe set up some state-wide task force or reentry type of think tank, I think that we would get a lot better mileage out of what we’re trying to do here.

LEONARD SIPES: What would we get out of it that we’re not getting now? The bureaucrat sitting in Washington, the people at the state level throughout the country – what is it that we’re missing about this story?

RANDY KEARSE: What you’re missing is that all of the money that’s being spent and the results that you’re getting don’t match up.

LEONARD SIPES: But no, we know that. We can see from the national data that recidivism remains high, and we’re sitting back and going, “Well, um, okay.” But at the same time 80% of people with a history of substance abuse – we know that people caught up in the prison system, 80% have a history of substance abuse – yet a lot of surveys out there say that 10%, while in prison are getting drug treatment. There’s disconnect between 10% getting treatment and 80% having history of substance abuse. Other people are simply saying, “Hey, it’s simply a matter of money, and the public doesn’t seem to be willing to support those expenditures that raises that to 40, 50, 60% getting drug treatment.”

RANDY KEARSE: Well, that’s another thing. I mean, being able to educate the public about why that we should get behind this kind of initiative that would help more people than just the 10% who are getting help, it’s about educating the public. I think politicians or people that are looking at this don’t take into account what the public wants or what the public doesn’t want. So there has to be a better sense of getting the information out to the public, to society, to show them that the benefits of providing services, of providing treatment, of providing alternate to incarceration and providing reentry service and all of these thing that would help people transition from that lifestyle that puts them in the situation to go to prison or go back to prison. So the public needs to be more informed on just how much society would benefit from having these type of conversations, having these type of programs that would help people get off of that, get out of that revolving door, to be able to get their life back together. And until we inform the public more, until we get that information out there, then I think we’re going to be beholden to people who think that they know what’s best for society, and society doesn’t have a say in it.


RANDY KEARSE: So where I stand is just I think that one of things that’s missing here in this equation is people need to understand why reentry doesn’t start when a person gets out. Reentry should start when a person’s in. So we should switch from a reentry mindset to a pre-entry mindset. And if we took all of the resources, if we took more of the resources that are on the outside and actually put them inside the prisons and you set up a system where a person’s need are addressed in the prison, you would be able, we would be able to have more impact because we’re dealing with more of the population that’s going to return. Now if a program can only handle 50 people a year, or 75 people a year, and you have 2000 people getting out in DC alone every year, I mean how many people can actually be successfully acclimated back to society when the resources aren’t there for them?

If you put that money and you put those resources inside the prison, and used some of these programs as an after care tool to basically check up on what a person need when he gets out, I think we would definitely have a better advantage of helping people not go back to prison. When I was in federal prison, there was a reentry program, but the type of reentry program that it was, it was a joke. I’m going to be totally honest with you. It was something that was, if you showed up, you showed up. If you didn’t, you didn’t. You signed your name, but then you went to the [PH] wait tile. That was the only accountability that was needed or required of you. So if you didn’t take your own initiative to prepare yourself for getting out of prison, you were pretty much struck. You were pretty much stuck.

LEONARD SIPES: Let me ask you this. If we had the drug treatment for the 80%, if we had the mental health treatment for the 50%, if we had job training, vocational training, GED programs, reading programs; if we had all of that, if we had a full package so the individual inmate when he goes to prison, spends his or her entre day either dealing with substance abuse, dealing with mental health, learning a trade, learning how to read, getting a GED, what would be that impact? What would happen in terms of the recidivism rate, in terms of people getting out?

RANDY KEARSE: Oh man! That would help decrease the recidivism rate exponentially. I mean, it would be one step that would be part of helping to lower the recidivism rate, but now you’re talking of bringing the job preparedness, you’re talking about preparing job skills and computer training, getting people ready to get into the workforce while they’re there. I mean you have people who are coming home – I just talked to a guy, he’s been away for 25 years. He doesn’t know anything about a computer; he doesn’t know anything, the basics, anything sending an email, doing Word or anything like that. So how can this guy go into the new technology workforce when he’s not prepared? So once you address those immediate needs: education, substance abuse, and learning skills, and GED – okay, that’s one level. Now we have to take people to the next level where we get them job ready.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, I need a quick air [INDISCERNIBLE 00:13:10] because we have so much to go over. With governors throughout the country, really very, very clear, stating that they can no longer afford the level of incarceration; I mean it’s taking away money for schools, it’s taking away money for highways, it’s taking away money for colleges. So every governor in the country, theoretically, has had a conversation with their Director of Corrections saying, “You’ve got to decrease your budget. You’ve got to do a better job.” Then, okay, so if everybody’s on board, if everybody seems to pretty much agree with what it is that we should be doing, what’s your explanation for why it’s not happening?

RANDY KEARSE: Because the money is not being put in and the resources are not being put in place that we would allow for the things that we just talked about.

LEONARD SIPES: And why? Why is the bottom line question?

RANDY KEARSE: I don’t know. I’m not in control of the money. If I was in control of the money, then I could tell you. At least from my experience and research of some of these organizations in New York, I mean some of these organizations are getting million dollar budgets, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars to service the reentry population and the numbers are still the same. So why don’t we grab some of that money that is being put into these programs that are not producing the results that we want, and shift that money into the prison and create that reentry department inside the prison, right there, in the prison where the guy goes to his case manager, he goes to see a reentry manager, reentry coordinator and we deal with it. They get the programs right there in the prison. You have the, an employment connection within the prison where a year before the guy comes out, you already have job opportunities that might be waiting for him based on his services or his productivity in the prison, and you can match to where he’s going to go when he gets out. To me, that’s the problem, that’s the problem.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re half way through the program. We’re talking today with Randy Kearse. And he spent 15 years in a federal prison, but Randy is now becoming an independent film maker, he is working on a variety of projects, and one of the things that I find it very interesting the movie that he’s about 80% though A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. He is funding the last part of that through Indigogo. It’s If you just go to Indigogo and search for A Deeper Truth: The Politics, Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. You can fund Randy’s newest project and with this announcement, Randy, I’m going to, this afternoon, go and make the donation to the project, so I’ve been…

RANDY KEARSE: I appreciate that, man. Thank you very much.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve been waiting for this radio show before making that announcement.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank you man.

LEONARD SIPES: Let’s go back. Again we’re beyond… Today’s program is called Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: a Reentry Story. A little bit about the crack cocaine issue. So the film that you’re doing The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic, I remember those days. I’ve been around long enough. I do understand that the crime rate in this country was just astronomical and that crime rate and the crime problems associated with it, were destroying cities, hurting education, hurting business, hurting development, hurting investment in communities, and so we’ve had a pretty much a continuous 20 year decline in crime since that time, and there are some criminologists who would say that a portion of that decline has been massive incarceration. There are other reasons for it. I’m not saying it’s 50%, 75%. There are some criminologists – in fact the cover of Time Magazine just a couple years ago talked about that being a significant reason. Talk to me about that.

RANDY KEARSE: Any time you have a situation where there’s a new drug or some type of prohibition of a substance that the public wants, and there opens up an illegal market for it, you’re going to find that there’s going to be a propensity for violence. I mean, it happened in Prohibition where the gangs fought over the alcohol profits. It happened during heroin, where the gangs just fought over the heroin profits, and it happened in Las Vegas when they fought over profits of the casinos. It happened during the crack cocaine epidemic.

What we’ve found now is that the crack itself, the drug, was not the driving force that caused the violence, that the drug users weren’t the violent ones. It was the people who fighting over the profits or for the drugs that caused the violence. There is no excuse for violence. There is no reason that violence should be tolerated in this society, but what I’m trying to point out in this documentary, that it’s deeper than what society has been taught to believe, what the problems of – that everything was based on crack cocaine. Before crack cocaine in the African American community, there was unemployment, there was poverty, there was poor education. There was other factors that were in play before this drug hit the market to where we have to look at the root causes of why this phenomenon happened, and what were the reason.

One of the reasons was the media. The media had a very strong role in shaping the framework for how society seen this drug, who used the drug, who was more susceptible to the violence of the drug, and stuff like that. But those studies and studies and studies, a lot of the things that politicians use to instill fear in society and was actually led to war on drugs, was not facts. It was a lot of fear. And even if you take away the drug aspect, even when you look at some of the things that are going on today in politics, in how policy is shaped, a lot of times based on misinformation and fear. And that’s what we’re talking about, how fear drove a lot of the policies during that period of time. And we hope to bring out some of those factors in the documentary, where hopefully that we, as the public and society, that we will be more visible and more wanted more facts before we decide to make policies that actually do more damage the situation itself. The war on drugs did more damage to the African American community than crack cocaine could ever do. And if you fast forward. . . Go ahead.

LEONARD SIPES: What you’re suggesting is inherently a misinformation campaign that it was not as portrayed by the media, not as portrayed by the larger community, there were deeper issues; and those deeper issues were ignored, and that it resulted in incarceration policies.

RANDY KEARSE: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: Specifically within the African American community.

RANDY KEARSE: Absolutely. I mean, now, if you fast forward almost 30years later, they lowered the penalties for crack cocaine astronomically, to the point where it’s almost equal to powder cocaine, now. Remember the infamous crack war was 100:1. One gram of crack cocaine was equal to 100 grams of powder cocaine. Now one gram of crack cocaine is equal to, I think, 18 grams of powder cocaine. So now that law was not based on scientific fact because… and in this documentary, we’ve talked to one of the nations, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists who have done studies upon studies upon studies of drugs and the pharmaceutical impact of drugs and cocaine and crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug. It’s just the manner of ingestion that is different, but they’re actually the same drug. So they’ve lowered the threshold for crack and powder, now, they’re about to make it retroactive in November, the Commission, they’re supposed to make it retroactive, but now…

LEONARD SIPES: Federal Sentencing Commission?

RANDY KEARSE: [OVERLAY] Yeah, the Federal Sentence Commission, in order to make it retroactive, now you have 30 years of people who were sentenced to these Draconian drug laws who… I just interviewed a guy Thursday, last Thursday. First time offender. Never been in trouble in his life. Never even had a traffic ticket. I’m not saying what he did was right, what I’m saying is first time offender. He got caught in a drug conspiracy and he got 20 years. He did 20 years. And now 30 years later, they’re saying, “You know what? It’s not that bad. We’re going to equal it out.” How do you give that person back their time?

LEONARD SIPES: But I get where there are common themes, and we do want to get on to the third part of the program which is specifically Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: A Reentry Story, your next project that you’re currently working on. But in essence, what we’re talking about in terms of first topic, in terms of the funding for reentry; the second topic in terms of the perception of an overreaction to the cocaine epidemic, we’re talking about a fearful society, not giving a good hard, look at what the reality is, and that lack of that good, hard look at reality is creating forces that are not necessarily productive for the larger society. If we’re saying that we can no longer afford the level of incarceration that we’ve had, and every state in the country is basically wrestling with this, if we’re talking about it, we can no longer afford those expenditures, then we have created a scenario that we can’t sustain. And what you’re suggesting is that we’re not taking a hard look at what’s going on by the larger society and the media.

RANDY KEARSE: I think that, you know, people get so used to doing the same thing, and it just becomes the norm. I think it’s time to think outside the box. That’s the bottom line. It’s time to really look at what isn’t working, and try to come up with some better solutions. I mean, come on. . .

LEONARD SIPES: And that gets us back to the initial opening statement in terms of what I find fascinating, the reentry initiative think tank consisting of former, successful offenders from throughout the country that would be that body that would say, “Hey, you know, let’s look at this a bit differently in terms of how you’re looking at it because you could end up doing more harm than good.” Okay, your third project, and we only have a couple minutes to address this, and I want to get to it. The title is Beyond. . . the show is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole: a Reentry Story, but it’s also your new project?

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, I’m working on a series. It’s going to be a series that I’m profiling successful people who have been to prison and made a successful transition back to society. The name of the project is Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole, and what we’re trying to do is get as many profiles for people and then to hopefully have a correctional institution bring these profiles into the prison and be able to show the offenders and the inmates some of the people’s stories of how they successfully transitioned and how they were able to beat the odds of going back. I think that for people who are incarcerated right now, they need to see what is possible. You know, whether they’re being provided the resources right there in the immediacy, I think they need to see other people who have done it. You know it’s easy, and you guys in the reentry and the criminal justice system have a lot of good intentions. You want to try to beat back this problem of recidivism and stuff like that, but it’s those guys, like ourselves, that have been there that will probably have a better bearing on what a person decides to do with their life if they see that they see someone else doing it. If they see the formula that someone else used. That they be able to connect to these stories, and think that’s another way to provide some incentive for people to not want to go back to prison.

LEONARD SIPES: Randy, beyond the lack of resources in terms of the funding for these programs, what is the bottom line analysis in terms of the individual caught up in criminal justice system? He or she comes out of prison. There are a lot of people who do make it, 50% go back to prison, but 50% don’t. So for the 50% who don’t go back to prison often times I’ve had hundreds of people over the years sitting in front of microphones or doing the TV show, and they simply say, “Hey look. The bottom line is I made my own personal decision not to go back.”

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: But, I mean, is it just that? Is it, “Hey, I have the will and the determination, and you don’t?”

RANDY KEARSE: Well, it’s going to be according the individual. In my case, it was just that the bottom line was I decided I wanted something better for myself. I decided I want to make a change. I decided that I was going to not go back to prison. And I was offered no programs or resources to tap into, so I had to create my own opportunities. Now for someone who might want to change and may not want to go back, they might not have that willpower or that determination, but if you provide them just a little push, just a little push in the right direction, that might be all that they need. Every individual is not as strong, every individual is not as solid to take that step on their own, but if you provide them a little nudge, a push, you’ll be surprised at what they’ll probably be able to accomplish. So, yes, it is up to the individual, no matter how many resources or their availability, but at the same time, if you provide the right resources, at the right time, for the right people, then you’ll definitely have a stronger impact on the recidivism and beating down the recidivism rate, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: We got 10 seconds left, but the right time and the right person at the right place is as awfully… is a very scientific and very precise formula. Are we in the criminal justice system really capable of figuring out right person, right place, right time?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, you are. I mean, like I said, we get together. You know, you guys with us that have been through it. We can sit down at the table, and we can come up with a formula that will work. That will work, and it would be cost effective to the public.

LEONARD SIPES: Randy, you’ve got the final word. Randy Kearse is host of Straight Talk with Randy Kearse up in New York City. I really appreciate you being by our microphone today.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

LEONARD SIPES: An independent film maker. He is… his latest film is A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. If you’re interested in funding this project, it’s through indigogo/a-deeper-truth2 or just go to Indigogo and search for “a deeper truth”. Ladies and Gentlemen, this DC public safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and I want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

The Challenges of Justice Reinvestment-William Burrell

The Challenges of Justice Reinvestment: The Impact on Parole and Probation

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, ladies and gentlemen, Bill Burrell. Bill is an independent corrections management consultant and author of a book that I find very interesting. He can be reached at william.burrell, B-U-R-R-E-L-L, at The topic of today’s program is the challenge of justice reinvestment; what’s happening in parole and probation throughout the United States in terms of new ways of doing things, new ways of coping with the criminal justice system. Bill, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

BILL BURRELL: Thank you, Len. It’s great to be with you.

LEONARD SIPES: Bill, before we started the program we were talking about the corollary of mental health back in the 60s and 70s. We did have a massive undertaking throughout the country, where we sort of recognized that these large mental hospitals in virtually every state in the Unites States, and it probably was not a good idea to keep mentally incapacitated people in these large hospitals, these large structures. They probably could be a better treated, better dealt with out in the community. Yet we never did develop the community infrastructure to handle all those people coming out of all of those state mental hospitals and the disparaging fact is that it now seems that the criminal justice system is the principal provider of mental health treatment. Comment on that. Am I right or wrong?

BILL BURRELL: Yes. You’re right on the money there, Len. The idea was a good one. You think about those hospitals. You think about the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They were pretty horrible places. And once these new psychotropic drugs were developed back in the 50s and 60s they were able to stabilize the symptoms and consider the release of these to the community, which made a whole lot of sense, it’s a lot cheaper, much more humane, and more effective. But, as you mentioned, the community infrastructure, the group homes, residential facilities to house these folks in the community were never built. So we ended up with a good idea that went pretty horribly wrong. And now some 20, 30 years later we’re looking at the jails and prisons being populated largely by some of the socially released with mental problems.

LEONARD SIPES: But what we’re talking about here is that we had a great idea and we implemented it and they went into the community. Without community infrastructure to take care of the mentally ill they end up with us in the criminal justice system. And there’s a lot of people out there who would say that somehow, someway there became a big difference between what was conceptualized and what actually happened.

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s exactly the problem. We had a great idea, but it was implemented poorly, and that seems to be a very common story in the criminal justice system and maybe in government in general, that a good idea is developed, researchers come up with it, they test it, they evaluate it, and they put it out there, and then once it’s turned over to folks in agencies, for a variety of reasons, some of which relates to the fact that folks are really not trained in large scale organizational change and implementation, the execution of a good idea is flawed and the results that we expected don’t happen, because we really didn’t do the program as it was designed. And that was the lesson I guess we have to learn from the institutionalization of the mentally ill. It was one of the stools on the, one of the legs on the stool, so to speak, was the capacity in the community to have, supervise, and oversee the people released, and that never was completed, and we lost those folks in the community, in the boarding houses and the single room occupancy hotels in cities and they just disappeared.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, our program is called today the Challenges of Justice Reinvestment: The Impact on Parole and Probation because we see the possibility of a connection between that experience, the idea in terms of the institutionalization, dealing with mentally ill, the fact that there was not a sufficient infrastructure created to deal with all these people coming out. So we’re saying today that there’s the possibility that with justice reinvestment or reorganizing the way that we conduct business within the criminal justice system in terms of evidence based practices, in terms, again, of justice reinvestment, that there’s the possibility that the same thing may happen with parole and probation agencies that are not given sufficient staffing, money, resources, to deal with an increasing parole and probation population. Is that the connection?

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. That’s kind of the nub of the problem. Again, we have a situation with our prisons in the United States, they’re massively overcrowded, they’re not good places to house people with addiction problems, lack of education, and a whole variety of other problems. So the justice reinvestment model is saying we need to reduce those prison populations, get people out or don’t send them in, in the first place who are lower risk, nonviolent, less serious offenders, and handle them in a different way, thereby reducing prison populations, and if you can reduce those by enough you can actually close institutions and save money. And the second part of that logic is that a portion of that money would be reallocated or reinvested in community corrections to build the capacity to handle these folks. Now, and that’s a great idea, and where it has happened it has worked pretty well, if we look at the state of Texas and their experience. But part of the challenge is that the probation and parole system in this country is so overwhelmed. We have 70% of the correctional, adult correctional population is under the supervision of probation and parole, which surprises some people though, because they think we’ve locked everybody up over the last 30 years. Well, we have, but we’ve also put a lot more people under community control on probation and parole.

LEONARD SIPES: I think in the seven million, the correctional population between prisons and jails, it’s two million in community supervision, it’s five million. Am I in the ballpark?

BILL BURRELL: That’s right. And what’s interesting is if you look at the historical numbers, you go back to the early 1980s when the Bureau of Justice Statistics starting reporting on probation on parole populations, we have had 70% of the population ever since that time. So it’s been consistent over decades. When you look at the impact of the war on drugs in the 80s probation actually absorbed a greater amount of the results of that war on drugs than did the prison system. So we are, in my experience, when I was with probation in New Jersey, our individual caseloads went from 110 per officer in 1981 to 189 per officer in 1988, which was directly the result of changes in our laws and enforcement practices around drugs. So we have to remember that the base that we’re looking to focus on for these justice reinvestment efforts is pretty resource poor, pretty lacking the capacity to really do the work for the population they have right now, not to mention any increased number of people coming in. And one of the challenges is when you look at diverting people out of prison these could be higher risk people with more needs and problems and demands on a system. It is currently unable to really effectively address the population that it has.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in Washington DC we do have caseloads of 50 or less per parole and probation agent, what we call community supervision officers. But my experience in talking to people from throughout the country, as a result of the radio and television shows that we’ve done and when I go out and do training, it’s no usual they tell for there to be a ratio of 150 or more for every parole and probation agent out there. Now, I do know there are some jurisdictions where it is fairly close to 50 to 1, but my guess, and this is nothing more than a guess, is that the overwhelming majority of the people that I talk to that’s not their experience, the overwhelming majority of the people that I talk to are operating 125, 150 cases per parole and probation agent or more. So when you have caseloads of that size it’s awfully hard to do cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s awfully hard to really get into the lives of these individuals, encourage them to do better, encourage them to look at a different way of doing things, encouraging them to get drug treatment, mental health treatment, vocational programs, encourage them to find jobs and help them find jobs to do the home visits. All of these things are very labor-intensive and very difficult to do when you have caseloads of 150 to 1.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. Well, you said it very well and my experience echoes yours. When I go to the American Probation and Parole Association conferences twice a year and other conferences and through my consulting and work with APPA I talk to a lot of folks around the country. And the ideal caseload or the optimal caseload of 50 to 1 is a very rare occurrence, unfortunately. And we do see lots of departments, particularly where you have states with county-based probation departments, these caseloads tend to be much higher than recommended, in some cases, as you said, 150 or more. And it’s hard to even keep track of the activities of those folks, no less spend the quality time you need to with them to get to know them, get to know their problems, connect them with resources, follow up, and so on. It’s just it can’t be done with those large caseloads.

LEONARD SIPES: All right, I’m hearing the same thing. When I do the radio shows I would imagine the most popular response to the radio shows is, “Len, I listen to you talk about justice reinvestment, I listen to you talk about evidence-based practices, I’m 100% behind you. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we want to do. We want to have a good relationship with the people under supervision. We want to encourage them to do better. We want to get them involved in programs. We want to work with their families. We want to work with the faith based community. We want to do all of these things. We simply don’t have the resources to do them.” So if that’s true, why is there such a disconnect between the lofty sense of what I hear from my very good friends at the Department of Justice or Pew or Urban or Vera or lots of other organizations, American Probation and Parole Association, Council of State Governments, all of us are solidly behind justice reinvestment, all of us are solidly behind evidence-based practices, so why is there such a disconnect between what all of us want and what the reality is?

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s probably the 64,000 dollar question. I think some of it has to do with a disconnect between community corrections and policymakers, legislators, governors, officers and so on. We’re kind of a stepchild of the justice system, despite the fact that we own 70% of the workload. You don’t, you can’t go to a probation department and see caseload crowding like you can go to a prison or jail and look at the tiers and see people crowded, double, triple bunked and things like that. We tend to be seen as a, what I would say, a magical expanding resource, that more cases you give us we just expand and we take them in. Well, we put them on the books, but we really are not capable of keeping up with the workload demands. So as you add more bodies to this system the amount of time spent with each one goes down, the quality of that time generally goes down. So you’re diminishing the capacity of the system to do what it needs to do, but it’s very hard to see that physically. And we also don’t do a very good job as a field in terms of communicating performance information, outcomes, results, process measures and so on. We don’t really do a very good job of that.

So it’s hard to convince people of the nature of our problem and the extents of our problem, because we tend to be out of sight, out of mind, we don’t communicate well, we tend to in the field have a sense that we don’t have political and public support for the work that we do. And, fortunately, the research and the polling work that I’ve seen suggests exactly the opposite, that we do things that are valued by the community, and I think that is becoming more and more clear over the last few years, that we create public value for the community and we need to connect that value to the need for support, political support, community support, resource support and so on, to make that case that we do need the resources. We can do a lot better if we’ve got the capacity, the number of officers and staff we need to supervise in cases, and what I also like to say is the capability, the skills, the knowledge, the training, the resources for treatment and so on that will enable to effectively supervise those folks that we’ve already got in our caseloads. And if you want to do justice reinvestment, which everybody seems to be on board with, I just was reading that I think the 27th state just signed up for it, Utah, so better than half the country has signed onto this. And we need to figure out a way to communicate that we could be creating another deinstitutionalization type of situation if we begin pushing people out of prisons and jails into probation and parole caseloads without the capacity to provide effective supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: And what would that do, Bill? Before the program we were talking about the danger of what?

BILL BURRELL: Well, if you put more people and potentially higher risk people into probation caseloads the amount and the quality of supervision is going to decline and the inevitable result of that will be more crime in the community committed by people under the supervision of probation and parole officers. And what keeps me up at night is that the blame will then be placed on the probation and parole agencies, “Well, you didn’t supervise these people effectively.” Well, part of the problem is we have a caseload of 150 and no one, I don’t care who you are, can supervise that size caseload effectively.

LEONARD SIPES: Our guest –

BILL BURRELL: So this…. Go ahead.

LEONARD SIPES: Let me reintroduce you, Bill. We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guest today is Bill Burrell. He’s been at our microphones multiple times before. He’s an independent corrections management consultant and author of a pretty interesting book. – oh, I’m sorry at william.burrell, B-U-R-R-E-L-L at, william.B-U-R-R-E-L-L at Bill, you’ve been dealing with parole and probation agencies throughout the country in terms of your consultant role. You spent years with the New Jersey I think Department of Parole and Probation, is that correct?

BILL BURRELL: The Jersey court system, yeah, probation.

LEONARD SIPES: The Jersey court system, probation. So you have decades of experience in this, you’re out and about, you talk to people from throughout the country, you’re very well integrated with our friends at the American Probation and Parole Association, you go to their conferences, so you’re hearing this from more than a couple people.

BILL BURRELL: Yes, yes. And then this is kind of the theme I hear from almost everybody. There’s a frustration because they’ve read about and been trained on evidence-based practices, which is a pretty powerful vehicle for improving the results of what we do, but then they look at the, their organization, their department, and they look at their caseloads and they look at their lack of training resources and so on and they say, “We can’t do it. We don’t have the ability to move up to this new level of performance that we believe in, we think it’s a good idea, we’d like to do.” But it’s the ability to implement EBP, which is a much abused term these days, I think people throw it around very loosely, but really we’re talking about a set of practices that if they are implemented will reduce the risk of recidivism by the population that we supervise, reliably anywhere between 10% to 15%, 20% reductions in recidivism, which is significant. So people are looking at that and saying, “Gee, we’d like to be able to that, we would like to do our job better, we just don’t see how we can do it.”

And some of that relates to another issue that really hasn’t hit the radar screen of too many people yet. We’ve talked a lot about mass incarceration in this country. Some people are now starting to talk about mass supervision, those five million people that are under probation and parole supervision, how many of them really need to be on probation? Are there low-risk offenders there? Are there minor drug offenders? Are there people – there’re lots of people in my experience that’ll get placed on probation just to enable the court to collect fines and restitution fees and so on. So how much of that five million people is the chaff, so to speak, of the caseload that could be handled in some other fashion?

LEONARD SIPES: But I think that’s the point that most of the folks, again, that I just mentioned, from Pew, from Urban, and, again, are good friends and people who were completely supportive of, from Department of Justice and from other organizations will simply say you take those lower level individuals and you do, quote, unquote, “something else with them”. Their supervised by kiosks, they’re supervised administratively, that we have little contact with people at the lower end of the spectrum so we have the resources to devote towards people who do pose a clear and present danger or a risk to public safety. And you do that through objective risk and needs instruments and properly validated for local conditions and there you go, voila, the problem is solved.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. In fact, Vince Schiraldi, who was the Commissioner of Probation in New York City up until recently, and Mike Jacobson, who you may have encountered, who was also the Commissioner of Probation for a while, they just wrote a piece called “Could Less Be More When it Comes to Probation Supervision?”, and talking about reducing the amount of people, low-risk people on supervision, and those that are there, reducing the amount of resources that they devote to them. And New York was one of the, I think the first, or the most prominent department to do kiosk supervision. And they had at one point almost two thirds of their population was reporting on kiosks and the re-arrest rate was like 1.5%. It was no different than the general citywide re-arrest rate. So we have lots of folks that did stupid things, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, whatever the scenario you want to present, are really not a risk. These are people that we should have the minimum amount to do with, collect whatever financial obligations we want from them, or whatever else we need to do, and then get them out of the system as quickly as possible, because we’re learning that we can actually make things worse by supervising those people, having them hang out with high-risk offenders in the waiting room in the probation department. Well, guess what. It’s usually the bad guys who make the good guys bad, not the other way around.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, we’re also told that trying to help individuals at the lower end of the continuum also poses a problem, because if you have a person who is a lower risk offender, the judge orders drug treatment for that individual, well, that’s just money that’s taken up that could be reallocated towards a higher risk individual. And if he or she doesn’t complete that treatment or they’re going half the time or they’re creating a problem within the group, bam, they’re revoked and out in a prison.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. And we have lots of places where judges and prosecutors almost reflexively give probation, and they put on lots of conditions, special conditions of supervision, most of which they have no intention of enforcing, but it makes them feel good, makes them feel like we’re being tough on crime. Well, you got to realize that every one of those people you place on probation has a set of conditions that a probation has to enforce, and, ultimately, they can be brought back into court for failure to do that, to live up to those conditions, and potentially go to jail.

LEONARD SIPES: But help me, because I’m struggling with this, because if we did that then are the folks who at the national level are right? What they’re saying is, is that take that good percentage of your caseload – you just said that two thirds of the probation caseload in New York City was being supervised by kiosk and they had the same re-arrest rate as the general population. Then the question now becomes, is why aren’t we taking that I don’t know what percentage, two third, one third, one half, whatever that is of the lower risk offenders and doing something else with them besides regular and parole, then why aren’t we doing that? That’s what the people at the national level would say. It’s that it’s not a capacity issue; it’s the lack of a willingness on our part to do, quote, unquote, “something else with lower level offenders”.

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s the I think the new breaking issue right now is focusing on the sentencing decision and the plea bargaining decision and introducing risk assessment into that. And there were just a series of things in the paper; Attorney General Holder came out apparently against using risk assessment in sentencing, which is kind of going against the tide of where the field seems to be going in terms of evidence-based decision-making. But the sentencing decision usually focuses on the seriousness of the crime and the extent of the offender’s prior involvement, prior record, and that’s pretty much it. And that really doesn’t get to the question of risk. To some extent prior record is a driver of risk, but there’re a lot of other factors that are involved. So we have people sentencing offenders for lots of reasons that have little or nothing to do with their risk of reoffending. Now, there may be other objectives of sentencing you want to accomplish, deterrents and punishment and so on, and we have to accomplish, accommodate those. But until we can figure out a way to help judges and defense attorneys and public defenders and DAs get a sense of the level of risk and sentence accordingly, we’re not going to get a reduction in the number of low-risk offenders that are going into probation.

LEONARD SIPES: But they could say the onus is on us. They could say that, “Okay, fine. We imposed all these restrictions. You do with them what you think is permissible.” Again, going back to the example of New York City probation where two thirds are in kiosks. They’re simply going to say, “Hey. We did what we think is proper, now you make the decision in terms of how you handle them.” And all we have to do is shift massive amounts of people into these lower level categories and suddenly we have the resources for the higher level people. What they’re going to say is that’s our job not theirs.

BILL BURRELL: Well, yes, there’s a good deal of truth to that, but one of the problems we see is judges will impose a probation sentence, sometimes three, four, five years, with lots of conditions, and send it over to probation, and probation is obligated to enforce those conditions, and sometimes that’s not possible by putting them on a kiosk kind of reporting. So some of this has to do with the use of probation in terms of the length of time, the number of conditions, even beyond the question of whether they should be on probation at all, because each one of those cases consumes probation resources.


BILL BURRELL: I had a discussion with one of our judges in New Jersey years ago and his favorite sentence was to put somebody on probation until the restitution is collected. So all he wanted was the money. He wanted to get the money to the victim of the crime.


BILL BURRELL: He really didn’t want the person being supervised by a probation officer.


BILL BURRELL: But I, and I suggested to him there was another mechanism in our criminal code that enabled us in probation to collect that money for him and hold that person accountable without me having to devote a professional probation officer to that case. He said, “Gee, I had no idea.” Well, so shame on me too, you know, that we weren’t really educating folks about the implications of those probation sentences and then also that there were other mechanisms within the criminal code to accomplish the objective that he was looking to accomplish.

LEONARD SIPES: So in the final four minutes, basically what you’re saying, Bill, is that we, within the criminal justice system throughout the country, need to have a very powerful examination as to how we conduct business, how we do what we do, and if we’re unwilling to do something else with lower level individuals then at least give us the resources, the caseloads, the treatment resources, the training, the money to do it well.

BILL BURRELL: Yes. But I would first argue that we need to look at the front end of the system, the whole criminal processing up to the point of sentencing, diversion of low-risk offenders, presentencing into treatment programs if they need them, really begin to sort through that pile of offenders coming into the system and figure out who’s really dangerous, who are we really scared of, who really needs to be punished by going to prison, who are those people with serious problems that need to be supervised by probation officers to get them into treatment and so on. And that group that I call the chaff, the low-risk, minor offenders that we’re just mad at, we’re not scared of, we’re just mad at them, let’s not push them father into the system. Let’s find other ways of dealing with them in the community so that the caseload of a probation department is really moderate and high-risk people. The low-risk people for the most part never get there.

And that means a much more systematic, disciplined sorting process in the presentencing arena so that we’ve taken them out as much as we can so that what we’re left with is the people who really do need supervision. And then when you begin to think about the justice reinvestment side of things, because you go back a couple years, the Pew Public Safety Performance Project published a report, it talked about the amount of money, how the corrections dollar is allocated, and 12% of the corrections dollar was going to probation and parole, even though we have 70% of the population. Most expensive parole supervision was 7,000 dollars a year. And the average prison

BILL BURRELL: Prison cost –


BILL BURRELL: Was six or seven times that. I said, “I don’t –”


BILL BURRELL: “I don’t even want all of that difference. Just give me, just double what I’m getting and I could do amazing things.”

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line between it, the bottom line is that our people within parole and probation throughout the country want to do a good job, they’re dedicated to what they’re doing, they’re very important to our public safety, they’re very important to limiting the expenditures of tax paid dollars, they’re dedicated to justice reinvestment, they’re dedicated to evidence-based practices, they simply want a decent shot of doing that job well. That’s the bottom line, correct?

BILL BURRELL: Absolutely. You don’t stay in the field of probation and parole for very long if you’re not interested in helping people. And what we’ve found out from the research on burnout, for example, is that it’s not working with the offenders that burns out probation and parole officers; it’s impossible policies and procedures and organizational structures, which includes very large caseloads, that effectively prohibit them from doing the job that they came in to do.

LEONARD SIPES: Bill, it’s a fascinating conversation. As always, I invite you back to the microphones any time, because you provide a sense of clarity from the field that sometimes we don’t hear from the national organizations. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today has been Bill Burrell, independent corrections management consultant and author. You can reach at William, W-I-L-L-I-A-M.B-U-R-R-E-L-L at Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.