DC Public Safety Radio
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Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a topic of extreme importance, crime victims and offender re-entry. We have folks, with us today, from the National Institute of Corrections we have Anne Seymour. She is a national crime victim advocate and has been a national crime victim advocate for over 30 years. She’s helped develop programs and policies for corrections based victims services at the local, state, federal, and tribal levels.
In the studio we have Lori Brisban. She is a correctional program specialist in the community services division for the National Institute of Corrections. She has been recognized as an authority in the area of sexual violence in the correctional setting and has expertise in both the offender and victim perspective.
Ladies, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Lori: Thank you Leonard.
Anne: Thanks Len.
Leonard: The first question is going to go to, I think it is Anne, talking about what we’re talking about. What do we mean by crime victim and offender re-entry. Correct?
Anne: I think that’s going to go to Lori.
Leonard: All right, Lori. I’m Sorry. Go ahead.
Lori: That’s okay Leonard. We just really appreciate being here today. You know, this is a very important issue that we rarely talk about in corrections. There are a few agencies across the country who are giving this some attention but it’s really an under served area. You know, as we push offenders and justice involved individuals back into our communities, we really need to be thinking about what’s happening with their victims. Victims do have rights and many times we in corrections forget about that or we rely on somebody else to do it and are not sure whether it’s happening.
It’s just a really important thing that we need to be talking about.
Leonard: Anne, why is the topic important?
Anne: Well, I think that we have to first recognize that we wouldn’t even have a criminal justice system if it weren’t for crime victims who were willing them to report crimes and serve as witnesses and give victim impact statements. They are really at the very apex of our justice system and very often we don’t treat them as such.
People think that when offenders go away to prison that everything is fine with their victims but that’s not always true. The trauma of victimization is immediate, short term, and sometimes can last a lifetime. We know from a lot of the work that we’ve done in all 50 states, that when a justice involved person is returning to the community, very often his or her victims will have a really critical concerns about getting information, being notified when the person is returning. Probably the most significant concern is safety for the victim and for the victim’s family. I would be remissent if I did not point out that most victims are known to their offenders and so there are relationships there. When the offender returns, it’s very important that we make sure that the victim feels safe and that the victim feels involved.
Leonard: Now there’s a podcast, a radio program from the National Institute of Corrections, called Offender Re-entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. It comes with a heck of a teaching guide. We’re going to put that in our show notes, put the link to it but I do want to let everybody know who aren’t … who won’t be exposed to the show notes that that document exists. The podcast exists and the instructor’s guide exists. From what I’m told, it’s a great value to people who are looking into this.
All right now that we’ve laid … oh … www.nicic.gov. Www.nicic.gov is the website for the National Institute of Corrections and you can find the document that I just referenced there.
Now, in terms of this concept, I do a series of shows over the course of the year with the National Organization for Victim Assistance and the sense that I get from the people at the National Organization for Victim Assistance is that we, in the criminal justice system, simply do not do enough in terms of taking the victim perspective into consideration whenever we propose any policy. This concept of people coming out of the prison system, we’re talking about having fewer people going to prison, having them coming out earlier, being under the [inaudible 00:04:17] of parole and probation agencies. We in community corrections in particular now have an even greater responsibility to take the victim perspective into consideration. Correct?
Lori: Yes Leonard. We believe that’s true and unfortunately, historically speaking corrections has not made that part of their business. We really believe that it should be. When I say we, I’m speaking for Anne and I specifically. You know, there are just so many things we could be doing better, so many things that would make our communities safe. If we considered the victim as part of this process, many times they feel very disenfranchised by the time an offender leaves the institution. It’s vitally important that they receive their notifications, that they be given a voice and decisions made about the offender, and that probation and parole officers and other community services agents understand that they have a role to play with these folks.
Leonard: I do want to point out that we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, we do have victim coordinators. They work with victims of crime all the time and the people that we currently have under supervision. The area in corrections has been ignored and I think you’re right Lori, because so many of the victim coordinators that do exist there, exist throughout the country, are in proscetorial offices, they’re in law enforcement offices, but how many correctional agencies have victim service coordinators?
Anne: Well, that …
Leonard: The criminal justice system is very complicated to the average person. We are just a huge maze of unknowns.
Anne: I will tell you because having been in the field for 30 years, when I began there were zero programs in state level institutional corrections. Today 49 states, the only exception being Hawaii and they’re getting on it as we speak, they have victim assistance programs in their state department of corrections. I think that one of the areas that we’re lacking is not having a corrections based victims services, but having them be … you know most of them are under staffed and with re-entry, we’re talking about a very specific juncture.
It’s not when the justice involved folks are actually in prison where the victim would feel a greater degree of safety, it’s when they’re returning back to the community. If you look at re-entry programs, and in particular probation and parole services, that’s where we’re lacking a focus on victim services. Not just with staffing, but Lori would also agree and she’s recently done some work with leaders in this field, we’re lacking in policies and really having people understand the importance of doing a continuum of victim services just as we do a continuum of people who are returning to the community from prison. Their victims need the same level of attention.
Leonard: I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety as their director of public information and to one victim in particular, she would call the institution every night to be sure that this individual remained behind bars. The institution complained. I finally got to the point where I was her go between. I said, “If you get somebody who doesn’t give you that information, call me and I’ll call the institution.” I had to call, I was from the secretary’s office and I’m on the secretary’s personal staff, and I had to call the institution until they finally got the message to cooperate with this individual.
Her sense was that we, on the correctional side, just lacked empathy for victim services. She needed to know that the person was continued to be locked up. If not, she was scared for her own safety. I mean, we need to understand that this really does have meaning for people in the community and could build real positive public relations and also guide that individual coming out of the prison system, guide them to probably a more meaningful experience if we work the victim into the process. Correct?
Lori: Well that’s exactly right Leonard. You know, we’re not here to say that people aren’t doing their jobs because I think most people in positions and corrections agencies and community corrections are very interested in doing the right thing for their community. I just think we need to do it better. By collaborating, by considering the victim’s needs and rights that are statutorily provided, we can actually do that. We see that happening in some pockets around the country. I think Anne can speak to that because she’s worked directly with some jurisdictions on those collaborations and how to do this work better.
Leonard: Anne talk to us.
Anne: Well, Lori’s right. There are so many innovative programs occurring now in particular with re-entry. We see increasingly a focus on safety planning for victims who feel that their personal security could possibly be at risk. We’re seeing a lot more, as Lori said earlier, just providing victims with basic information about what’s going on. You say re-entry probation parole, victims don’t know the difference. We need to explain that process to them and as Lori also said, notify them when the person is getting out.
Victims need to be aware that they have rights. They can attend the parole release hearing in most states and talk to the parole board about their concerns about the person being release or if they want the person being released. It’s just important that they have the opportunity to have that input. I also want to add, if you look at the mission statement of most correctional agencies at the state level, I think about half of them have the word victim in it and the other half don’t. To me, your mission statement is the direction that your agency is going in. I’m not going to stop my work until all 50 state level correctional agencies … you know, when they talk about public safety, that they include the words “victim safety” along with it. Victims are an integral part of the public and as I said earlier, we would not have criminal justice or correction systems without victims.
Leonard: We have innovative programs throughout the country that are doing this correct?
Anne: Absolutely. Lori and I are attending a conference in Baton Rouge coming up where the first half of the week is talking just about victim-offender dialogue in serious crime cases. These are murders and rapes where the victims actually ask to meet with the person who caused them or their loved one harm through a very very structured process where the victim is allowed to ask questions. The offender is given opportunities to be responsible, to be held accountable with no expectations from the offender that he or she will gain anything from being involved in the process. It’s an incredibly powerful process that … that’s one of the innovations that I think we’re starting to see, really I don’t want to be exaggerating, but kind of sweeping corrections. It’s a very very popular program with a strong evidence base of effectiveness for both justice involved folks as well as for their victims.
Leonard: One of you mentioned a fact that often times the offender knows the victim. The victim knows the offender. I want to explore that a little bit because in most violent crimes there is prior knowledge. They aren’t strangers. These are non-stranger crimes. The person coming out of the prison system, the violent crime that he committed, or the crime the he committed, is in all probability was committed against somebody who he knows, who is still in that community, who is a relative with a family member, who was an acquaintance. He’s probably coming back to the same neighborhood he or she lives in. Talk to me about the complexity of that.
Anne: Well, it’s not just the same neighborhood. Very often it’s the same home. I’m thinking particularly in cases of domestic violence and cases of child abuse. We have to be very cognizant of the victims need for safety. We have to recognize that some victims want the perpetrator to come back but they also want to feel safe. Every single victim in every single situation is unique and just as we want people returning to the community from prison to be successful, to be employed, to not commit additional crimes, we want them to not commit additional crimes against their original victim. If that’s someone known to them, you know there’s a lot of things we can do with wrap around services for victims who are considered high risk where they really feel that their security is at risk. We can absolutely provide them with supportive services from partnerships between corrections and community based advocates that empower them to feel safe.
Also, I think there are a lot of things we can do to make sure that we’re keeping a close eye on offenders that may be at higher risk to re-offend. We have great risk assessment instruments now that tell us pretty clearly who might be at higher risk and those are the folks that we want to keep an extra special eye on.
Leonard: The bottom line in this process is communicating. Communicating with the victim, communicating with the family, communicating with everybody in this case to be sure that; A, the victims are protected. That victims are informed and at the same time the possibility of a healing process as you mentioned Anne, in terms of the victim actually confronting or getting together with the person who calls that damage. These are very very intricate very detailed oriented encounters that you’re describing. A lot rides on these interactions between people coming out of the prison system and victims in the community.
Lori: Well, I believe that’s true but again, I think this needs to be looked at as a whole. I mean, it can’t just be a siloed affect where we’re only talking about the offender, we’re only talking about their re-entry process and whether they got any programming and whether their substance abuse issues have been resolved or addressed. You know, there’s a lot more going on there and we’ve never had a mechanism for that or we rarely have thought about the victim as part of that process.
Now, there will be victims who want nothing to do with their offender and that needs to be respected.
Lori: In many cases, it is an inter familial situation and we need to start looking at that more constructively and collaboratively.
Leonard: What I want to do right after the break and right after I re-introduce both of you is to talk about the enormous work load that community corrections has and how we fit this in. Not just fitting it in bureaucratically but fitting it in meaningfully. We’ll pick that up when we come back. I want to re-introduce both of my guests today. Anne Seymour, National Crime Victim Advocate. Again, Anna has been a National Victim’s Service Advocate for over 30 years. Lori Brisban is a correctional program specialist in the Community Services Division for the National Institute of Corrections. The program today was produced by the National Institute of Corrections Donna Ledbetter. There is a podcast, a piece of audio, video, what is it, Offender Re-entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. There is a learning guide to go along with that. I think it was a webinar put on by the National Institute of Corrections. www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov. A direct link will be in the show notes to the document that I’m talking about.
What was this Lori? Was it a webinar?
Lori: No, this is actually a professionally produced television program.
Lori: Yes and it’s broadcast live and streaming. You can still stream it off of our website. It is in a format now where you can choose the chapters that you’re most interested in which you can view in the participant guide and in the directory. Ahead of time, it is a three hour program. We also produce a six hour program. I do have plans to do another victims broadcast in the coming year which will be targeted at domestic violence and how those offenders and victims can be better addressed in the community.
Leonard: The National Institute of Corrections bottom line is making a major effort to make everybody in the criminal justice system focused on this issue of victim services?
Lori: I wouldn’t say we’re trying to get everybody, but we are trying to make people aware of something that’s a missing piece.
Leonard: It’s a very important topic. Again, the gentleman who I have on from the National Organization for Victim Assistance his stance again is that we need to do much more particularly in terms of corrections. My question before the break, this falls on the shoulders of parole and probation agencies throughout the country, they ordinarily have huge case loads. We do not. We at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies have less than 50 to 1 ratios and most organizations out there are carrying caseloads of 150 per parole and probation agent and more.
Considering the lack of resources and the demands on the time parole and probation agents in parole and probation agencies throughout the country, how realistic is this that we’re going to not just provide services to victims but provide meaningful services to victims.
Anne: CSOSA, you’re own agency is probably one of the best examples and a shout out to Bonnie Andrews and her amazing staff because when you have designated victim advocates on staff it means that the probation officers collaborate with them and they’re able to really focus their time on working with the offenders under their supervision while concurrently the victim’s services staff are working with the victims so it ends up saving probation officers I think a whole lot of time. The other thing is that designated victim advocates, you gave the example when you were in Maryland, you know, they’re going to be happy to get the call from the victim who wants information. That’s their job and that’s their level of dedication.
Unfortunately, back in the 90’s we saw an increase in probation based victim services. We ran into budget cuts in the early part of the century. The first thing that went was what? Victim services. Unfortunately it’s one of the things that gets cut but I will tell you that, especially the larger probation and parole agencies that have dedicated victim services, they will tell you it is the best investment of their money. As you said earlier, it’s also really good for public relations and relations with the community because victims are a huge part of the community.
If you think about it, everyone in the community is or knows a victim of crime. It’s not like this thing that happens to someone else. We’re all affected by crime. Paying attention to victim’s needs with dedicated staff and with PO’s who are trained to understand victim’s needs, that’s just … it’s part of the mission of corrections be it institutional or community corrections.
Leonard: The debate I had the other day with an individual was this, that we were talking about crime and the impact of crime on individuals and what we in the criminal justice system could do, should do. We were talking about hierarchies and he was talking about well, “I could see the services for the violent crimes but I fail to see the services for the non-violent crimes. We’re only capable of doing so much.”
I tell the story of a news producer in Baltimore who came in from out of state and moved into the Charles Village area because he wanted to be apart of the fabric of the city. He wanted his family to be apart of the fabric of the city. To make a long story short, three burglaries later … and this was bikes being stolen from a garage, they were out of Baltimore City. It took about two and a half months for them to move and two and a half months for them to move in. Here is a family who really wanted to dedicate themselves to the very fabric of the city of Baltimore and to experience that. They picked up and they moved and they took that economic value to the city of Baltimore with them. What we’re talking about is bikes being stolen from the garage but there’s a certain point where the wife said, and the children said, “We’re leaving. You can stay but we’re going.”
Even non-violent crimes have a way of affecting people’s perspectives and their sense of safety forever. This is a big task is it not?
Lori: It is a big task but one of the reasons why we’re talking about this issue now is because we are seeing some money that we didn’t have available to us before and when you said, “where are the resources going to come from? We have all these people on supervision. We don’t have enough officers.” Well, the reality is that across the country, states that are investing in justice reinvestment funds and that program, some of those states have chosen to use part of their pot of money for victim services.
Leonard: That’s great.
Lori: I personally would like to challenge everybody to just think about that. Think about those resources that might be available to you in a way that you haven’t had them before and where you need to put those. The reality is, involving the victim in this process of offender re-entry increases and enhances community safety. It works for everybody.
Leonard: It does work for everybody. It works in terms of people coming out of the prison system. It works for the victims who are directly involved in it. It works from the standpoint of what’s good for the community. What’s good for the community is for everybody to stay and be involved and not run away. The whole idea is to serve people caught up in the criminal justice caught up on both sides of the aisle and taking care of their needs. Everybody wants us in the criminal justice system to be sensitive to their needs across the board and we sort of forget victims along the way. I think that’s unfortunate but I really think, and what I see us doing, is laudable.
Where do we go to from here? We talked to everybody throughout the country and to try to bring them on board, try to get them to understand that this is something that they need to do and needs to be done in your words Lori, comprehensively.
Lori: Well, Anne, can you describe just a little bit of the work that you’ve done in one of the JRA sites?
Anne: Yeah. I think, and Len this is another whole podcast, but there is a giant focus on justice reinvestment initiative that use really good data to tell us who can be effectively supervised at lower costs in the community instead of in prison. The cost savings, as Lori said, go into things such as offender treatment programs and yes indeed victim services. I think we’re also seeing, I just saw an article today that there’s a new book out with every presidential candidate so far has a strong position on justice reform. We are starting universally to question whether we need to be. The incarceration generation as I heard the other day which I thought was a really good term for sort of where we’re at. I think it’s just using the limited corrections dollars we have I think better and more effectively.
For me, when I got involved with justice reinvestment, I remember hearing four words; Less crime, fewer victims. Less crime, fewer victims. We’re starting to see research that shows now that we can have less prison beds and still less crime and still fewer victims. It’s possible to supervise people in the community while making sure that we tend to the victims needs. Lori’s talking sort of about a … to see change from the early 1990’s, and I was very involved in the Tough on Crime, Build More Prisons Movement. I was a proud leader of that but those were different times. Crime rates were much higher, people were much more fearful.
I think we’re looking at now, as we’ve discussed today, is the dynamics of crime and victimization and the fact that I think everyone is committed to having safer communities and that’s sort of the bottom lines of what we’re talking about.
Leonard: We say that re-entry begins in prison. Does victim’s planning, victim services begin in prison as well?
Anne: Well I would hope that victim services begins at the time the crime occurs. Lori said it very well earlier that we tend to operate in silos. You have your law enforcement and then you have your courts, then you have your community corrections and your corrections. It should be, I always say the criminal justice system should be designed to protect victims and yet victims often fall through the cracks in that system and we need to, as Lori said, get rid of the silos and be a little bit more seamless in our service delivery so that we’re giving victim services from the time the crime occurs to when a justice involved person is released and if they’re re-incarcerated, the same thing. To be able to provide the victim with supportive services across the continuum.
Len you said earlier, you know, it’s a forever thing. The impact of crime doesn’t often end. I mean, some people are able to recover and get on with their life but for many people it is a life long trauma that occurs as a result of victimization. They will need services along that continuum.
Leonard: It’s a lifelong process. Nobody ever forgets that victimization and again, as my friends from the National Organization for Victim Assistance would say, “They certainly do not want to be re-victimized one more time by the criminal justice system.”
Anne: That’s right.
Leonard: This has huge implications not just for us, it doesn’t have huge … it also has huge implications in terms of victim services, but it has huge implications for our own reputations as being equitable individuals who understand the damage done to victims of crime and the fact that we’re sensitive to that and the fact that we’re responding to it. That’s a public relations win win win if I’ve ever heard of one.
Anne: Absolutely. I always, when I talk to correctional administrators, I always tell them that good PR isn’t the reason to do victim services but it certainly is one of the positive outcomes. Lori and I, and I really want to thank the National Institute of Corrections on which I serve on their advisory board, they have taken a huge leadership role and Lori in particular, really focusing attention on policy and programs that help victims but also recognize the victim offender dynamics that we talked about earlier with an ultimate goal that we want individuals to be safe and communities to be safe.
I certainly want people who are re-entering the community to do so successfully. The victim having a successful transition when his or her offender’s return in the community after that person who is returning. That’s sort of my bottom line.
Leonard: Maybe, just maybe, the fact that on those instances where the offender does have the oppprtunity to confront the person coming out of the prison system, maybe but maybe it could positively effect that individual coming out of the prison system as well. Maybe it can give him or her, but in the vast majority of instances him, a better understanding as to the damage, as to the implications. Maybe that prompts change.
Anne: Yeah, I think that anytime we can give people who have committed crimes the opportunity to be held accountable, I really feel that that’s where we’ve been remiss over the past couple of decades. We have not provided opportunities. That’s what we’re seeing now with victim offender dialogue, with the very popular impact of crime on victim’s classes where survivors actually talk to inmates, talk to parolees and probationers about what happens when a crime occurs. When we take restitution seriously and when offenders are given the opportunity to pay back the victim for the financial damages that they caused that person, these are all things that to me are part of helping offenders become better people.
Again, it’s having the courage to provide them, recognize that it’s important to provide them with the opportunities for those types of programs and services that very often involve their victims.
Leonard: Okay, I’m going to close because I’ll tell you, this an extraordinarily meaningful program to me and I think a real plus for the criminal justice system especially the correctional system in terms of them getting involved in this. Again, it’s done through the leadership of the National Institute of Corrections ladies and gentlemen. We’ve done a show on crime victims and offender re-entry with the National Institute of Corrections by your microphones today has been Anne Seymour, National Crime Victim Advocate and Lori Brisban. She’s a Correctional Programs Specialist in the community services division for the National Institute of Corrections.
They both made reference to a television show called Offender Re-Entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. There’s an instructional guide that goes along with that so if you’re looking for quick access to information on this topic, go to www.nicic.gov. Www.nicic.gov.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.