Crime victims and offender re-entry

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/crime-victims-and-offender-reentry-national-institute-of-corrections-2/

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.

Leonard: Sure.

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.

Leonard: Really?

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.

Technology in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/innovative-technology-solutions-in-corrections/

Leonard: From the Nation’s Capital, this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the topic for today is technology in corrections high priority needs, a really innovative, really interesting document that came out of the RAND Corporation. We have two people by our microphones today. We have Brian Jackson. Brian is Director of the Safety and Justice Program and a senior physical scientist at RAND. His research focuses on technology issues in public safety, including both the use of technology in policing, corrections and the courts and technological use in crime by adversary groups, which I’d love to hear a little bit more about. Joe Russo is a researcher at the University of Denver, focusing on technology issues in the correction sector. He is currently in support of a number of initiatives for the National Law Enforcement in Corrections Technology Center, a program of the National Institute of Justice. To Joe and to Brian, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Brian: Thanks very much.

Joe: Thank you.

Leonard: All right. Joe’s been at our microphones several times before. Every time we do a show on technology it turns out to be one of our most popular shows. I read this document and I find it fascinating, “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High Priority Technology and Other Needs in the U.S. Corrections Sector”. There’s a variety of documents that comes out on technology or corrections or the criminal justice system. I define this to be a seminal document. I find this to be one of the most important documents I’ve seen within the correctional arena. Am I overplaying my hand here, Brian or what?

Brian: Well, that’s certainly what we’re trying to do here though the goal of this project really is a very ambitious one to try to help catalyze innovation in the criminal justice community. Certainly we hope that this document will be that important but whether it actually is that important will depend on a lot of other actors in the corrections center to take the ideas that came up in this study and put them into practice.

Leonard: What it does is takes virtually every issue that we have in both community corrections and mainstream corrections, analyzes it, prioritizes, but makes it a priority or puts it in rank order, and figures out whether or not there is technology that could have an impact on those particular issues. I mean all the problems that we have today could have a technological solution. If they do you list them and put them in rank order. In the ballpark?

Brian: Yes, that’s certainly what we did. We did it in collaboration with a lot of practitioners from the community to take advantage of their expertise and their on the ground knowledge, and with their help tried to rank them to identify where to start. There’s always a lot of ways that improvements in technology are practiced could help organizations be more effective or more efficient. The challenge is always to figure out where to start so in this effort we not only try to be comprehensive and look at a lot of the challenges facing corrections, a lot of the potential solutions, but then try to winnow them down to the ones that really looked best to practitioners in the area.

Leonard: Joe, how did the University of Denver that supports JustNet, which is an organization funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, how did the University of Denver get involved in this project?

Joe: [00:03:46] Well, we’re partners with RAND on a larger NIJ funded effort to identify high priority needs across the criminal justice sector. Our role in support of RAND is specific to the corrections community so we assisted with developing this report to assembling the advisory panel and so on.

Leonard: Joe’s been by our microphones a thousand times again producing some of our most popular programs in terms of talking about technology and corrections technology in the criminal justice system. Okay, gentlemen, now that we’ve introduced the document … oh, and by the way, the document is going to be in the show notes, the address for the document on the website www.RAND R-A-N-D .ORG, www.RAND R-A-N-D .org. Oh, before going into further into the show, Brian, for the uninitiated, what is RAND?

Brian: Oh, well certainly. RAND is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. We do research for a wide variety of clients, a lot of them in government, federal agencies, state and local government, but also the private sector. Our mission is to improve policy and decision making through research analysis. We’re a lot of academic researchers but we’re academic researchers that really judge our success by whether what we do makes things better in the real world.

Leonard: For the practitioner community I’ve been following RAND since the beginning of my academic career. RAND has put out some of the most famous and well known studies involved in the criminal justice system. I remember decades ago reading your research on habitual offenders and found it fascinating and that prompted a discussion throughout the criminal justice system. Joe, how do people use this document? How do policy makers, how do practitioners use this document?

Joe: As you mentioned, it’s a seminal document and foundation in a lot of ways. Then part of our approach was to establish the state of the art so we took a look across the spectrum of what corrections is, what it has been and identified the different technologies and different policies and practice that are currently in place. Then from there, as we alluded to, we identified emerging or current needs and tried to develop associated on problems or ways to address those problems.

How various groups can use this information is diverse depending on the audience. Private industry can use this information because it’s a very valuable source of needs from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, from the end users themselves who have articulated what their needs are. Private industry who is interested in making investment in the sector have the blueprint that identifies a starting point of what the needs of the community are. From the federal perspective, funding sources again have that ready made source of that previously identified high priority area so they can target their research and development portfolios accordingly.

Leonard: All right, either one of you can come in and answer this question. There are seven million people under the adult correctional system, the supervision of the adult correctional system, every single day, seven million people. Seven-hundred-thousand people come out of prisons on a year to year basis. That does not include the numbers in terms of the juvenile justice system. That does not include people coming out of the jail system. There are enormous numbers of people. We in the criminal justice system, I’ve heard from my peers throughout the country that they are overwhelmed by the numbers, overwhelmed by the complexity, overwhelmed by the problems. What we’re talking about is, I don’t know, how many problems do we want to look at. Mental health, so if I said mental health from a technology point of view, what would the response of the document be?

Brian: Well, I can jump in on that. Certainly those are two of the really big challenges that the practitioners that we worked with here talked about. It’s simply the ideas of scale and also the challenges of mental health issues in prisoner populations that the correctional system is having to deal with today. I mean when you look at the options that were talked about in the document, they ranged from low tech approaches that are training to help deal with mental health issues, all the way up to high technology activities, better censors or systems to try to prevent suicide attempts in institutional settings, or in the case of the large supervision burden for individuals who are in the community correction system, better technologies to do individual tracking and make that a more effective element of corrective supervision and dealing with offenders in that context.

Really that’s what, for me at least, was one of the most interesting responses or interesting findings that came out of this work is that these very large problems can have multiple solutions to them, some of which may be technological systems, but some of them may be more about policies and practice, how we do things. The opportunities there to match solutions to the needs of different correctional systems and so on is an opportunity to make a broader change across the sector as a whole.

Leonard: Right. There are going to be practitioners throughout the country listening to this program today going, “Oh, thank God.” This is so needed because the discussion throughout the country today is taking about less use on prisons, less reliance on mainstream incarceration and a greater reliance on community supervision. Community supervision is sitting there going, “Oh my heavens, there’s no way we can take on more people.” I mean it would have to be a technological solution because the money isn’t there. The average caseload right now … I don’t think there is a national average but I think it comes close to 150 to one parole and probation agent. I have seen cases where it’s 250, 300 cases for one parole and probation agent.

Here in my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C., we are so lucky. We have under 50 to one ratios but we’re unusual and we’re lucky because we’re a federal agency but for everybody else they’re overwhelmed. They’re saying, “If you can’t give me a technological solution to handling this huge caseload and to provide the services and the supervision concurrently, if you can’t provide me a tech solution, we can’t do this.” Are they right?

Joe: I’ll jump in. I think they’re exactly right. It’s interesting that this issue was brought up by both parts of the panel. The community institutional correction side brought up the issue that a lot of the prison realignment strategies, particularly in California, have created a burden on the local jails. They going to have to identify the need for more alternatives to incarceration to get folks out of the jails. Well, at the same time in a nearby room, the community correction folks were gathering and they said, “Well, you know what, we’re getting all these highly violent folks who we typically would not previously get. Due to realignment efforts across the board now they’re being pushed into the community so we have a situation now known as mass supervision versus mass incarceration, which gets to exactly what you’re speaking about.

We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the tools to deal with this ever growing population. What the community corrections folks said the need was more targeted resources specifically for community corrections so they can meet this challenge. It was interesting how both groups identified similar problems coming from different approaches.

Leonard: What would be the technological solution? What immediately comes to my mind would be global positioning or satellite supervision of individuals, GPS supervision of individual offenders but, as effective as that may be, that puts a brand new set of requirements and a brand new workload onto the shoulders of parole and probation agents. In some cases, technology is a plus and in some cases it is not nearly as good as people make it out to be. I’m not questioning the effectiveness of GPS, I’m simply saying that instead of talking to this person once a week, now they’re getting data points, hundreds of them, every single day and they’re saying that they can’t process all that information.

Brian: Well, figuring out ways to improve technologies as they exist now was a big element at what we covered in the advisory panel discussions. In that case, one of the things that was discussed was better analysis tools, where reviewing those hundreds of data points didn’t produce hundreds of false alarms that were bouncing into the inbox of all of these supervision officers, but analytics that helped filter that data stream to make it possible to focus on the truly important elements of that.

Other pieces of technology, in terms of trying to deal with volume and deal with distance that came up, were ideas like the ability to deliver programming at a distance, whether that’s using a technology like Skype to allow people to more efficiently meet with the people that they were supervising, or in the case of treatment provision, the people that they were treating as part of their supervision. You’ll have better understandings and evaluations of the effectiveness of those alternative models of delivering that could help remove some of the travel burdens, if you will, in a jurisdiction where officers have to travel over long distances to visit their supervervisees in person.

Leonard: To deal with individuals on supervision through video visitation, either through … I don’t know. My app on my iPhone or my iPad gives me the right to instantaneously communicate with my wife through her iPhone or iPad. Technologies along those lines to deliver services to individuals to ask them questions or to supervise them, that’s what we’re talking about?

Brian: Yes, absolutely but the challenge of understanding whether that’s as effective as the traditional ways of doing that, emphasizing that in order to enable inhibition, we both need the good technology ideas and also need the evaluations, so we have confidence going in that the new ways of doing things will work well.

Leonard: Right. People are saying that, mixing radio shows here, because I’ve done radio shows … I just did a show on video visitation. I’ve done a show on correctional education. People are saying that the overwhelming majority of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system do not get the services they need. If it’s not done by video, if it’s not done by distance learning, it’s probably not going to be done at all. I think people need to understand that, out of everybody out there who has a substance abuse problem when they come in the program probation or when they come in the mainstream corrections, the data that I’m looking at is that only a small minority of those individuals get substance abuse treatment or substance abuse education. Some people are suggesting if it’s not done by video it’s not going to get done.

Joe: That’s certainly an approach that should be examined and exploited but what you’re describing there is an efficiency issue, if we can deliver these services in better, more efficiently, more inexpensively and so on. Certainly that needs to be examined. I think Brian is right. At the end of the day we need to evaluate is it truly better than nothing and if so how much better than nothing. These are things that shouldn’t impede agencies exploring these technologies but research is lagging. We’ll have to examine that and look at it and determine the effectiveness and whether it’s worth the investment.

The larger issue I think we need to talk about GPS and other technological tools to supervise offenders, is most technologies, other than the process type technologies, most supervision type technologies involve work. That’s a point that often people miss is that we just put folks on GPS and that makes it easier, more efficient. Well, that creates a lot of workload. That needs to be examined from the larger context of risk assessment, which is a common theme in the community corrections group as part of this panel. We need better tools to identify who needs what level of service and then targeted resources directed to those folks.

That gets to the larger issue is everyone within this criminal justice system need to be there and the folks that are within that criminal justice system already, do they need the same level of resources. Obviously the answer is no. We need better tools to differentiate who needs what type of intervention.

Leonard: Gentlemen, I want to reintroduce both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a show today on innovative use of corrections technology. Brian Jackson is the director of the Safety and Justice Program and a senior physical scientist at RAND. Joe Russo, back at our microphones, is a researcher at the University of Denver focusing on technological issues within the correctional sector. The document that we’re talking about is “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High Priority Technology and Other Needs in the U.S. Corrections Sector”. Want to give out the websites for both gentlemen and the document for RAND www.RAND.org. We’ll have the direct URL or the address to get you to that document but you can also find it by searching RAND’s website or simply Googling it. Joe is at the University of Denver, www.JustNet J-U-S-T-N-E-T .org O-R-G.

Gentlemen, to enter into this new era of corrections, whether it be mainstream corrections in a prison or whether it be a parole and probation agent who usually comes with a bachelors degree or higher, you’re talking about a fairly technologically sophisticated individual who can handle multiple technological platforms at the same time to supervise his or her community supervision population, or to run a safe and efficient prison system. We’re talking about a level of technology that we do not have now, correct?

Joe: It is in some respects the technology is already in place. The technology will grow and improve and that’s going to be continuous. I think that the point that you’re getting at, Leonard, is that correction is changing to a degree that there’s a large [inaudible 00:19:07] from specialization. If you go into a prison, a newer prison these days, almost everything is wired so the technical skills needed to operate a prison or run facilities within a prison, are much different than they were 20 years ago. That’s going to continue to change. More and more prisons are looking at allowing access to the internet for inmates as part of education reentry services. Almost every security system plugs in or is connected to a network in some way.

A lot of the same things are happening through the corrections whether it’s GPS or social media, monitoring, whatever the case might be. As society changes and becomes more technologically advanced, the supervision services have to keep pace and certainly the job is changing. On the positive side, with millennials and other generations coming into the workforce, they’re more ready and adaptable to that approach.

Leonard: To ask that person … Let’s just say going back to community corrections, and I don’t mean to keep harping on community corrections, but that’s where I’ve spent the last 11 years with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in downtown Washington. To be able to analyze an individual, figure out through some algorithm as to whether or not this person is high risk, medium risk, or no risk, what that person’s needs are, what they’re not, figure out whether or not that person should be supervised at all or placed on the lowest level of supervision or the highest level of supervision, operate a GPS unit, video interface with that person on a fairly regular basis, that requires a certain sophistication. That requires a certain wherewithal and do we have that workforce now?

Brian: In all sectors we have that challenge as technology changes. Me working at a research environment, I use very different technologies and interface with my colleagues in a very different way than what’s happened 20 years ago, and that creates training challenges. Some of that is solved by, as Joe pointed out, the millennials coming in to the sector and bringing with them greater technological familiarity and a comfort level simply because they’ve used a lot of technology similar to this.

In many of the areas, in the discussions with our advisory panel as part of this work, is through the training implications of both technologies and how to use them and how to make decisions about acquiring them, came out as part of the discussion as a key element to thinking about innovation in corrections, whether that is training up individual practitioners to use the technology effectively, or whether that’s figuring out how to present information to leaders who are making decisions about technologies that they have to learn about as they’re making the assessment in procurement decisions.

A lot of this falls into an area of how do we produce that information in a way where the sector can use it effectively, since if we want innovation, part of that is arming the people, who are making the choices and who are using the technologies on a daily basis, with what they need to use it effectively. You can’t get good outcomes just by buying new technology and assuming that it will happen and work well if there’s an investment that needs to be made there to let it be adopted effectively by the organization and its members.

Leonard: Part of the document talks about the poor outcomes on key correctional measures of effectiveness, notably offender recidivism. Offender recidivism measured by … I can think of three historic documents and documents from other individuals and taking a look at individual research programs, is pretty daggone high in terms of recontact with the criminal justice system, rearrest. Generally the mantra has been within three years of two-thirds of rearrested and fifty percent re-incarcerated. You take a look at other reports and you get variations on those figures but in essence the figures are high. How does technology have an impact, have a bearing on improving the effectiveness in terms of offender outcomes?

Joe: Well, I’ll jump in. I think technology in the prison sector can be very useful and then is already being applied to support reentry. I mentioned earlier about agencies being more open to internet access if not complete, that which is not on the table yet, but at least access to internet content to help offenders develop their young vocational skills, education skills, make connections with potential employers and then in resources in the community. Between video visitation, video conferencing in general, giving offenders access to the community before they reach the community, I think technology can be leveraged to a great degree.

Leonard: RAND, interestingly enough, did an overview. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m pretty daggone sure it was RAND. I think I saw it yesterday. Talking about correctional education in part of that document they suggested that the video delivery of services was as effective as in person. I may be overplaying my hand here but it was pretty encouraging in terms of what you can do through video delivery. Am I right or wrong?

Brian: Yes, that was certainly part of that study done by a number of my colleagues here at RAND who were looking both at the effectiveness overall of educational interventions and the very significant effect and cost effective effect that they have on reducing recidivism after release, but also development of technology in delivering those educational interventions. Again this comes down to resources, where it may be more costly to deliver education in person and be able to deliver it at a distance, whether that’s on a tablet based system or a video based system in a classroom, where the technology can become the force multiplier to let these services to reach more inmates, and as a result hopefully have a better effect for them as they leave to reintegrate into society, and hopefully find other things to do that do not lead them back into the correctional system.

Leonard: There are companies out there and I guess I shouldn’t mention the one company that I have in mind. I’m confronted as a person in the criminal justice system who’s been doing public affairs for the last 35 years. I’m always confronted with new technologies and I’m always confronted with a need to learn. There’s a company out there that provides technological overviews of equipment, of programs, of modalities that don’t assume that you have any prior knowledge of that technology at all. They walk you step by step, bit by bit, to the point where you feel pretty comfortable creating Final Cut Pro and creating a green screen movie in Final Cut Pro. This seems to be a powerful event in our lives in terms of the potential for delivering educational programs, vocational programs, maybe even mental health issues.

Joe: Well, absolutely. I mean often we talk about telemedicine as a way to deliver medical services but it’s established as well as a way to make contact and deliver services to inmates in prisons and even folks in the community. One of the things that came across during our research here was the needs of the rural agencies. Because of isolation, it’s not an efficiency issue in terms of using video to connect with their clientele. It’s not a resource issue. There is no other way to effectively connect with their clientele other than video and other technology approaches so it’s very important.

Leonard: Final three minutes of the program, we have a criminal justice system that is emerging in the technological arena but I don’t get the sense that we’re all that terribly sophisticated. I don’t get the sense that a lot of our agencies are run by people with tech backgrounds. How long will it take the criminal justice system to gear up, fund, train, implement a technological solution across the board for managing offenders, both in the community or managing people behind prison bars?

Brian: Well, certainly innovation across the entire system is a high bar. I mean in our criminal justice system the fact that we do this in a decentralized way means that we have answered to a lot of independent actors that are making their own decisions, that face their own financial constraints and their own legacy systems constraints. If you’re thinking about innovation across the board in the same way, it’ll be a long time, but the advantage that we have in that is that we have a lot of separate agencies that can do experiments and can try things and figure out what works. That provides a benefit to the other agencies that would come after them. On the one hand, thinking about uniform innovation, it will be a long time but what I’m encouraged by, particularly with the great ideas that came up in our advisory panels, is that we’ve got a lot of agencies out there that are trying new things and their experience can help lead the way for other agencies that come after.

Leonard: Yeah, but I’m suggesting that there’s a sense of … I don’t want to use the word panic but apprehension on the part of community corrections saying, “We need this stuff now.” If we’re going to deinstitutionalize, therefore rely more upon community supervision and you’re going to even increase the caseloads that we’re dealing with now, you’ve got to give us tools. I think that what I’m hearing is a need for speed.

Joe: There’s no doubt that there’s urgency but it’s a double edged sword. You don’t want to introduce technologies that haven’t been validated in the field or that potentially create an increased workload like GPS’s so it’s a balancing act. As Brian said there are agencies who are doing things piecemeal. It’s probably not the right term. Here and there they’re experimenting and some are having very good results.

Leonard: All right, Joe. You’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had Brian Jackson, the Director of safety and justice programs for RAND, Joe Russo, a researcher for the University of Denver today talking about an extraordinary document, “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections”. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Video Visitation in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/video-visiting-in-corrections-national-institute-of-corrections/

Leonard: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen the topic for today, ‘Video visiting in corrections’.It’s an extraordinarily important topic. We have two experts by our microphones from the National Institute of Corrections, Maureen Beull. She joined the National Institute of Correction in 2001 as one of the correctional programme specialist and leads the NCI Justice Involved Women Initiative, assisting jails, prisons, and community correction in the development and implementation of evidence based gender informed policy. By our microphones from Brooklyn, Brooklyn is represented in the house today by Allison Holliham .She is a licensed mental health counselor and holds a masters degree in Urban policy analysis as a programme manager for New York initiative for children and incarcerated parents at the Osborne Association. She advocates for policies and practices that support children of incarcerated parents. She has a background in this issue of video visitation.

I am going to read from a report, a rather comprehensive report done by the national institute of correction and we going to talk about that report today. Research confirms that incarcerated individuals, corrections families, and communities all benefit when incarcerated individuals can communicate and receive visits, from family and supportive community members. Video visitation is an additional form of communication that can build and strengthen social support system for those incarcerated.To Allison and to Maureen welcome back to DC public safety.

MAUREEN: Thank you Leonard.

ALLISON: Thank you.

Leonard: Allison, I going to start off with you after that long introduction. What is video visitation?

ALLISON: Video visits very simply put, is very similar to Skype, it helps families remain connected to their incarcerated loved ones. It first was seen in the correctional setting in the 1990s and with technological advances it really resulted in a lot more user-friendly and affordable equipment. As a result its really expanded at a rapid pace in a correction setting, in fact recently there was a prison policy report that stated that the video visiting is being in over 500 facility across the Nation and we expect that it’s going to continue to expand .

Leonard: Maureen what is the interest in corrections in terms of video visiting?

MAUREEN: Pretty simply our role is working with our constituency, which is the jails, prisons and community corrections across the country. To improve outcomes and to reduce recidivism  and some intermediate outcomes and certainly for those folks that are incarcerated maintaining contact with family, family broadly defined, community members, community services it’s really fundamental for people to get back on their feet.

Leonard: The bottom line question goes to either one of you. The bottom line is more contact people have with their families and significant others, important people in the community ,at least important to them. The more contact they have while in prison or in jail, the better off they are going to do upon release? Can I say that?

MAUREEN: I think you can say that, and I think one of the things we trying to achieve is well,for folks to … So we can really separate them from the criminals justice system and have them become part of the community.

Leonard: Part of the community means a lot of contact?… When I was in correction one of the thing that really amazed me is that whenever we had an opportunity, in the State of Merlin in the correctional system for people coming in visiting, complains went down in fractions, went down … It was a  very peaceful prison people would do anything on the face of the earth not to interfere with that in-person contact. Does video visitation have the same impact?

ALLISON: You know Leonard, that a really good question because we don’t know, its such a new practice. There’s has been very limited research on whether or not video visiting or a combination with in-person visits would actually lead to or build upon a positive outcome.

Leonard: The name of document is called ‘Video Visiting in Correction, benefits, limitations, and implementations considerations’ from the National institute of Corrections. An extraordinary document, I mean anywhere from questionnaires to implementational policies to anything that you ever wanted about video visitation is in this document. I will put the link on the show notes in terms of the document. We have according to the document, 13 States that are doing video visitations? Is that correct?

ALLISON: Oh yes, I anticipate that at this point it’s probably more than that, because this document, the research was done approximately year and a half ago at this point so its surely more.

Leonard: Now 2.7 million people are in prisons and jails on any given day? That’s a huge number 2.7 lets think about that for a second. 2.7 million people in prisons and jails in any given day?

MAUREEN: That’s true.

Leonard: We have  just as one example according  to the report 14,000 children in foster care as a result of incarceration. That’s 14,000 people totally without any contact with their mom or with their dad at all. That is just one example of the potential of video visitations?

MAUREEN: Yes and  I want to add to that, that on any given day their are 2.7 million children alone that have an incarcerated parent and when you add those that have are under some type of community supervision, it goes up to 10 million. This is a huge issue not only for an incarcerated individual and budgets but for children and for the next generation of children who are being cut off from their parents.

Leonard: But you did mention a study in a reported self, talking about reduction in recidivism based upon on the amount of contact that they had with in prison. Correct?

MAUREEN: Oh yes, absolutely. There was a recent study done by the Minnesota department of correction. It looked at 16,000 incarcerated individuals and looked at how visiting impacted their success and recidivism rates. They found that even one visit alone reduced recidivism  rates. It really underscored and added to what we know about visiting, that it is important for incarcerated individuals to receive visits throughout the incarceration and not just right prior to reentry. To be able to support their success.

Leonard: Now with running institutions correctional facilities, and the 14 years that I was with Merlin Department of public safety in correctional services, we had three correctional systems. Those visits, contact with the outside world meant peaceful institutions. We not just talking about video visitation, we not talking about necessarily doing the right thing, we also talking about reducing cost, we also talking about improving security, we also talking about the possibility of reentry, we also talking about the possibility, even if this is not the focus of this report, Video based instruction. This is meaningful to many people for many reasons and that why I wanted to expand conceptually what it is we talking about.

MAUREEN: I think one of the things for NIC to have jumped into grading this document with Osborne Association, was that one of the things we are aware of is that we know how important in-persons visits are .We also know that there are some challenges for families to be able to travel to facilities, for getting there and finding out that a visit has been cancelled. I think that video visiting has come on the forefront but I think the thing that we really want folks to be aware of that are thinking of either adopting video visiting or enhancing what they have is to really know: what it offers, What it entails, what they are getting into, what the cost are, what the benefits are? Its not a panacea but I think that these guide really provides a lot of thoughtful questions and opportunities to really take a look at this. Does this fit for your system?

Leonard: It sure does, I mean the document is amazingly comprehensive; right down to the questionnaire down to the surveys, right down to the implementation policy. Its not just a discussion document on video visitation, if you want to consider doing this, if you want to do this, its all encapsulated within one document.

MAUREEN: Nicely said, thank you

Leonard: Do you like that?

MAUREEN: I do, thank you,

ALLISON: Thank you.

Leonard: Alright W.W.W …

ALLISON: And Leonard …

Leonard: Go ahead. let me get the website as long as I have intrigued people. WWW.nicic.gov is the website for the National Institute of Correction and you can find the document there it will be in our show note. Allison go ahead.

ALLISON: I wanted to add certainly there are a lot of benefits of using video visiting to kind of bridge the gap for families that are so far away that they cannot travel to the facility or maybe they are elderly and they can’t get to the facility. So they are a lot  benefits, but there is also challenges for families. Some families do not have the money to have their own computer, they don’t have the technological savvy to be able to navigate signing up for an account. You know, I am just thinking about my grandmother who has trouble navigating how to turn the computer on, let alone using it to schedule time. There is the challenge with some video visits when they are home based there is  a cost  attached to that. So any money or savings that may have been incurred from not travelling to the facility maybe outweighed by the expensive cost and all the service fee that are attached to the home based video visiting. There is a lot of considerations that need to be looked at before moving forward.

Leonard: Well that’s the sole point because I have seen newspaper articles from throughout the country and here within Washington DC. That video visitation was put on by a private company that charged fees that people thought were to high. The person cannot afford to make the 300 mile trip between gas and tolls and spending the nights and taking all the family it’s a 200-300 dollar proposition but still video visitation maybe, 1/10 of that but it still something that they cannot afford. Isn’t that part of this discussion?

ALLISON: Yeah absolutely, to also consider that most of the places where video visiting is being implemented currently are at the county jail. When you looking at those families they are not travelling nearly as far as those that are gonna go visit a loved one in a prison in the State.

Leonard: Good point.

ALLISON: So their travel cost are significantly lower and in some cases the challenge is that the jails are actually requiring people to come to the jail. Visits at the facility in almost every case there is no charge for that. There is only a few jails that are still charging but still the family is going through the burden of getting to the facility. They get there and then they don’t actually see their loved one and that really matters for family and it matters a lot for children.

Leonard: Because we do want in-person wherever possible. In the District of Columbia if you commit a violation and your sent to prison even if though it’s a DC code violation where a federal agency. Those offenders are sent to federal prison they could be all through out the country if there is not video visitation then they are not going to get visits at all. So this issue,… I understand Allison your point about it it could be the local jail, but also at the same time that person could be 1000-3000 miles away.

MAUREEN: I think that’s one of the considerations in putting the guide together so that there’s so many different permutations. You may have folks that are more immediate to the facility, you may have the example you just gave Leonard but I think that a site that is thinking about adapting this really need to weigh those considerations. I think one of the things that is in the guide very interesting even talking to the folks that will be using a system  like this whether or not video visiting actually is gonna be something that they use I think one of the other things that we are well aware of that is in the guide is  there is a number of different of video visitings and I think Allison alluded to that earlier.

Leonard: Well Allison go ahead give me those types one more time cause I don’t remember.

ALLISON: Sure, there three basic models the one that was really kind of best practiced and can address a lot of challenges is the higher breed model. So you have in-person visiting and video visiting. It gives families the opportunities to choose what is best for them. Then there is the three actual different ways to use the equipment: You can have the facility based, which is where the video at the facility at some outside area so the family don’t have to go through the security and there set up in rows and [inaudible 00:13:30] and the family goes there and visit. They are usually free visits or at the very least one or two free visits per week and then additional visits they will need to pay for.

Then you have the model where the corrections will partner with a community based organisation, and there is a lot of advantages to that partnership because you then having families come to the community based organisation video visits from there. If you partnering with the organisation that provides services to the incarcerated while they are on the inside and upon their return and support to the families, then you are really able to get the families in early and do that continuum of holistic services and start working with that organisation to support the incarcerated individual reentry process.

Leonard: But the bottom line…

ALLISON: And…

Leonard: Good … Am sorry go ahead

ALLISON: And the final model would be the home based, that is where people can video visit from their home based computers and in some cases their cell phones, or tablets, and those are most exclusively paid for a fee.

Leonard: But I mean that would be the holy grail? Would it not? the idea of having  that level of contact. Because you have to have a security provision, am assuming in all this because abstentively the whole idea is to sit down a child and mother reuniting over the course of 5 or 600 miles through a home based system inevitably, there is gonna be somebody who is going to,… Instead of the child they substitute that child for a gang member, so there’s  gonna be a some security component to this correct?

ALLISON: Well, there is a software that can monitor the visits. You can do live monitoring which certainly labor intensive. We have had concerns about there being, people being inappropriate during visits.  for example in Oregon they have been using video visiting in their state for a length of couple of years now I believe. They found they have 0.15% incident rate so that in the grand scheme of things is so nominal that we are not really seeing that be a big concern.

Leonard: I do want to talk more about that in the experience of other states,but before we get into the second half: Maureen Buell form the National Institute of Correction. We  have Alison Hollihan and she is with the Osborne Association. Let me give out the web address for the Osborne association, have it up close to see if I can read it correctly  www.osborneny.org. For the National Institute of correction www.nicic.gov. The document itself its called ‘Video Visiting in corrections, benefits limitations and implementation considerations. It’s a completely comprehensive document NIC should be congratulated for doing it. So where do we take the conversation from here? You just mentioned one state and it was only 1.5% incidence of security violation Allison?

ALISON: It was Oregon Department of Correction then and it was actually 0.15 %.

Leonard: 0.15,okay so that’s pretty then going good?

ALISON: Yes, and you know with the software they can flag certain words, if certain words are said, they can automatically stop the feed. There is always [inaudible 00:16:58] concern that the person who supposed to be the visitor isn’t truly the visitor but in most cases its grandmas, and moms and children that want to have this visits with their loved ones so we really need to look the larger picture before jumping to the fear that these is going to just increase communication with the wrong people.

Leonard: Let me throw out a hypothetical that is not on anybody’s question sheet. If we handle level of contact… Work s philosophical for me a little bit Allison … If we had the level of contact instead of now a mother ,father, or a brother or a significant community member, instead of the once a year trip to a prison two or three hundred miles away. If they were in touch with this individual almost everyday from say the comfort of their own home  through a computer where that information can be exchanged about: When you coming back ,what are you bringing something to wear, where you going to live and having this discussions flashed out before hand. Where are you looking for work? are you gonna go back to school? What difference would that make Allison?

ALISON: A tremendous difference ,I want to speak to the importance of children, just because that is my area of specialty. When we run a programme here at the Osborne association to come to our office they come to a child friendly setting. Its setup like a living-room, they connect with their parents, who are in an Upstate prison 10 hours away so just had to use this as an example. This children may visit maybe once a year, cause its a 10 hour trip and now that they come in for monthly, sometime s a couple of times a month visits they do tele-visits. They are able to do their home-works in the visits, they are able to show their mom their spelling words, their math problems on a chalk boards ,they have the same books here as the moms have in the facility so they can read together. And these are experiences that you can’t have on the phone. The parent can’t see the child stand in front of a measuring stick and see how they growing from visit to visit.

We find it so critical, because then the children are able to make sense of their world. They are able to have the additional support that is so valuable for them. They are able to physically see that the parent is safe and doing well. Then they are able to go and visit once twice and hopefully more to have the important in person visits. so that’s very critical for children.

Leonard: Maureen…

ALISON: You know Alison as you talking I was just thinking of an example you were telling me about. That is when a child a small child 3-4 yr old child, gets on a telephone and is just holding a telephone and really doesn’t have any kind of a face in front of that child. There is really no conversation. The beauty I think of systems who do have video visiting is that they see the person, they see the parent. I think that something we don’t think about in the current systems we have.

MAUREEN: Yeah absolutely.

Leonard: I do want to put to our listeners that my agency, the court services, and the offender supervision agency is a pioneer in-terms of video visitations. We do quarterly ,and it’s an all day affair and we have a network of prisons throughout the federal Bureau of prisons. That participate in this a community of resources day where we bring in people from all through out the community in terms of alcohol, substance abuse, housing, jobs you do name it. We do this all day seminar, and that’s recorded.  We have been involved in the issue of video and communication within correctional facilities for a long time. We also are piloting an experimental programme where we do hookup female offenders in prison with their children from the District of Columbia but that is in its earlier stages but that is what we are doing. What is the future either one of you in terms of video visitation?

MAUREEN: You know one thing that just occurs to me is, … I have been doing criminal justice work for sometime, one of the things that I think am well aware of is that, historically our focus has been just on the individual, the individual that is incarcerated. I think with the emerging research and the best practices one of the things we’ve realized is that for people to be successful, they have got to have these connections. I mean it works for us  in the free world why should it be any different for an offender that is within the criminal justice system . I think that if folks become pretty knowledgeable about how critical it is to maintain and build those healthy connection, I think that pairing in person visitation with technology such as video visitation I think the opportunities I think its unlimited.

Leonard: They are unlimited. I did a television show on family reunification, I hosted the show and one of the things that is really profound is all the kids that are left behind, they feel abandoned. We know from research that they have higher degrees of problems in terms of substance abuse, in terms of involvement with the criminal justice systems. But they are 8,9,10 years old. They didn’t ask for this? So they feel completely abandoned, completely separated, from their incarcerated parent. At least in this case not looking at security, not looking at safety, not looking at recidivism, not looking at the benefits to the criminal justice systems but in terms of looking at the benefits to the kids it would probably be enormous.

ALLISON: Absolutely, we do know from some research, and definitely from observation that we have here through our programmes that connect children with their incarcerated parents. Visiting really minimizes the trauma, while increasing the support for children. It allows children to have very important conversations about, why are you there? when are you coming home? It helps through healing and we find that the children that are able to maintain the connection with their incarcerated parents. Children who have appropriate support in the community they go on to thrive and do wonderful its only a small percentage of these children with incarcerated parents do go on to have these challenges that you mention and its a really real concern but we have an opportunity here to support this children so that they can go on to have bright and healthy futures.

Leonard: But its interesting that the conversation that nobody has. The kids caught up in all of this nobody seems to focus on them at all. They do feel completely left alone, they feel completely ignored and this would be a way of looking at that. Where do we go to for the future? For video visiting? I mean is this going to be something that you would want to expand through out the entire country? Are we going to start using tablets? Start using home computers? Are the correctional systems going to be more accepting of this? Map out the next five years either one of you?

ALLISON: Yeah I believe that it is inevitably going to be in every facility at some point. The question is it going to be implemented in a thoughtful way that balances the need for correction and families or is it going to be driven by companies out there that are trying to make money by charging for the visits and putting big service fees on the families which will be in the end counter productive right? Because we going to have families that used to be able to go for free visits at the county jail, that now are not able to visit as often because of the fees.

I think that if its done in a thoughtful way, it could increase the connections for family and I think its going to be a great benefit to the re-entry planning process. We didn’t speak much about that, but to think about being able to bring families into a case management conference with the incarcerated conference with the incarcerated individual prior to release to determine how they can be of support. Think about the transitional housing director who can come to a facility or community organisation and have an interview with someone who is incarcerated 5 hrs away from the area to where they are returning to, and the have that with the housing resource ready for them before they are released. You can have job interviews, you could have interviews with treatment providers.I mean the possibilities are endless.

Leonard: Well that is just it the possibilities are endless and we just barely scratching the surface in terms of the possibilities. Everything you have just mentioned could be, should be on the table. Now my question is and anybody listening to the program is going to be … If that degree of importance, if it’s at that level of importance we have not even discussed the medical angle, to this and where these could really cut costs through states by millions of dollars in terms of video consultations on medical issues. Then why do we have to rely upon private providers at all? Why doesn’t government simply pick this up if it’s so important to so many people for so many reasons?

ALLISON: Well thinking from the importance of in-persons vist’s just for visits. Think about the importance of a doctor or a nurse doing triage to be able to physically see and touch that person. I think that there’s definitely room for having consultations or simple follow ups but it can never replace the importance of the medical community to be able to interact with a person.

Leonard: But my question is more along the lines of the fees that are being charged the fees of private company’s’,or some people who are objecting to the fees. They say that they are too high if it is as important as we making it to be, why wouldn’t the government pick up the cost,[inaudible 00:27:06] eliminate the fees entirely? That sounds unrealistic in today’s  budget cutting era?

MAUREEN: That’s a hard question, I mean it’s hard because you know, am just looking at sort of the environment that we are living in today in terms of politics and budgets and all sorts of things. I think what we really were interested in is having both criminal justice systems and users of systems like this, just to be thoughtful of consumers and to really know what the potential and the possibilities are but really know the right questions and the right things to consider.

Leonard: And that’s exactly what the document does?

MAUREEN: That’s what we hoped for?

Leonard: (Laughs)… Very comprehensive. Alison did you want to have a quick followup we just about out of time.

ALLISON: I think that the main take away here, is that we should never look at video replacing in-person activity, no matter what it maybe from visiting to tele-medicine. We need to be thoughtful about making sure that the fees associated are not counterproductive and just reducing the ability for the incarcerated to maintain their connection with their family.

Leonard: Some people are exuberant about this possibility. They suggest that it could really fix a lot of the problem within correction so they would be even more enthusiastic than you. Maureen final comments?

MAUREEN: Well I think that’s why we called the document Benefits ,limitations and implementations considerations.

Leonard: Just to cover all bases…

MAUREEN: You got it.

Leonard: (Laughs)Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing a show today…we doing a show today on Video visitation in the correction setting. Our guest today has been Maureen Buell from the National Institute of Correction and Allison Hollihan. She is with the Osborne association. The document itself as Maureen just said ‘Video Visiting in corrections, benefits, limitations, implementations considerations, www.nicic.gov.This programme was produced today by [inaudible 00:29:16] and we always appreciate her production assistance in-terms of putting this together. The inner website for the Osborne Association Allison Hollihan organisation www.osborneny.org.

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

Hiring Offenders-DC Central Kitchen

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/offender-employment-dc-central-kitchen/

Leonard: From the nations capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen the program today is about hiring offenders with a focus on an extraordinarily successful program here in the District of Colombia, DC Central Kitchen. We have three people by our microphones today. We have Sarah Riley. She is the program administration manager for DC Central Kitchen. We have Persus Johnson a recruitment and intake coordinator, again for DC Central Kitchen, and we have Luella Johnson. She is a supervisor revocation and development specialist for my agencies Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies. She heads up vote. The vocational opportunities for training, education, and employment division. Ladies welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sarah Riley: Thank you.

Luella Johnson: Thank you.

Persus Johnson: Thank you.

Leonard: All right, I want to go around the room and explain to our listeners first of all, what DC Central Kitchen is and then we will go over to Luella to talk about our agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in her division vote. So Sarah, you going to start us off?

Sarah Riley: Thank you. Yes, so DC Central Kitchen is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1989 by Robert Egger. Our mission statement is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. So Persus and I work at the culinary job training program, which is one of the many programs DC Central Kitchen offers.

Leonard: Okay, but DC Central Kitchen in essence is more than just a training program?

Sarah Riley: Yes.

Leonard: Okay, tell me a little bit more about that.

Sarah Riley: Well, we have a food recovery and meal distribution program that recovers food from the local community and we send it out to homeless shelters, after school programs, transitional programs, so we feed different organizations so they don’t have to spend their own money on food.

Leonard: Okay, so you act as a food bank?

Sarah Riley: Of sorts yes.

Leonard: Okay, good. So you have that distribution at intake and distribution of food, plus you have a training program, training people in culinary arts.

Sarah Riley: Yes.

Leonard: Anything else to it?

Sarah Riley: We also have a healthy corners program, getting fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks out to food deserts in wards seven and eight here in DC.

Leonard: Wow.

Sarah Riley: Then we also have our campus kitchen program, which replicates the DC Central Kitchen model in campus kitchens across America. We are in forty-two different universities.

Leonard: Tell me about that. What does that mean? Forty-two universities. You are in forty-two universities doing what?

Sarah Riley: Well, the students their kitchen space when it is not occupied, to work with their local community, so some are feeding single mothers, some are feeding the elderly, some are feeding after school programs. They work with their community to find out where the need is and then try to fulfill that.

Leonard: I am very impressed. I am assuming DC Central Kitchen is a DC centered program and you are in forty-two locations throughout the United States.

Sarah Riley: We are all over the place.

Leonard: You are really devoted to this whole concept of food and getting food in the hands of people who need it.

Sarah Riley: Yes. Using food as a tool to build communities.

Leonard: Okay, so the training part of it is just a small part of it then.

Sarah Riley: It’s our flagship program, it’s the biggest program most people know us for, the training program because we are getting men and women back to work, especially people that have been incarcerated but we do have several things.

Leonard: Well, it’s an extraordinarily interesting program and I do want to talk more about it, but I am going to shift over to Luella Johnson the supervisor revocation development specialist here at our agency. Luella, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. Tell for the other initiated, what is the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

Luella Johnson: Well, CSOSA is an independent federal law enforcement agency that supervises individuals on probation, parole and supervised release here in the District of Colombia. We are a very unique federal government agency in that our jurisdiction is strictly in the District of Colombia. I am very proud to supervise our vote unit where we have a staff of twelve dedicated professionals who identify employment training and educational opportunities for those clients, and at any given time, we have approximately about five hundred individuals on our case load that we are providing services to.

Leonard: That’s an amazing amount of people.

Luella Johnson: Yes.

Leonard: So, anybody who has an educational or a vocational efficiency, they come to your unit to re-mediate.

Luella Johnson: That is correct. There is a criteria, however. These individuals, if they are coming seeking employment, they have to be thirty days drug free before they are referred to us. We do take marijuana users in our learning labs, but that is the only drug.

Leonard: The bottom line is, is that they are ready for employment in most cases, and the bottom line is that the people who we put up for the employment process are ready for training, they’re ready for employment. In most cases, they’re far beyond any drug history at all. In most cases they’re stabilized, so when people say, when we talk about hiring people caught up in the criminal justice system, we are not talking about someone fresh from prison, we are talking about somebody who is prepared.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely, and I think we are very proud of our process, because what we do is, as individuals who are referred to us, we place them in three categories. They are job-ready, job-preparatory or adult learning and we refer individuals who are job-ready for our best training partners and out best employer partners and with that, that allows for success, it allows for us to continue to have a direct pipeline to suitable employment and training opportunities because we are continually given our partners quality individuals.

Leonard: I think that is the key into this, because we do have a problem with employment of people under supervision, in the District of Colombia. Earlier we were talking about those who are eligible for employment. Now, if you are caught up in a residential training program or if you are going for drug treatment or you are going for mental health counseling, you are not an eligible individual, but for those eligible individuals, we are only talking about fifty percent of our people being employed on any given day. We have said that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of people ready to employ now correct?

Luella Johnson: I wouldn’t say that it’s hundreds and thousands. Unfortunately, many of our offenders, they face a lot of different challenges and also when you look at they area that we are in, it is very challenging in the District of Colombia, because you have a city that has a lot of individuals who have advanced degrees, who have advanced experience, no criminal history and unfortunately many rock lines are competing with these individuals and so in that regaurd, that is a challenge for those individuals and for us we have to do what we can with the resources that we have to give these individuals prepared to compete with individuals who far exceed their experience and qualifications.

Leonard: I just wanted to say that I have interviewed lots of people who are under supervision who are looking for employment before these microphones in the past and you sit there across from these individuals in suits, coats and ties and they are carrying themselves perfectly. In many instances these people have some education or some experience and you wonder why aren’t they employed, but I am going to go over to Persus Johnson who is the recruitment and intake coordinator for DC Central Kitchen. Who do you look for up here Persus?

Persus Johnson: We are looking for various things when it comes down to an individual that we are looking for. We recruit at a lot of different agencies, so we are recruiting at places where there are citizens who are in recovery from addiction where they may be in halfway housing, where they may be in another employee training program even in find that they are interested in culinary. So we are looking in different places but when it comes to the actual individual and their qualifications, we are looking for someone who has stable housing, we are looking for someone who has 120 days drug free. We are looking for someone who, if they have children has a plan to take care of those kids during the day and they are in our full time program. We are looking for people who have a support network.

They may have been coming out of incarceration, but they may have family members or former bosses, or coaches or things like that who are supporting their efforts for them to get back on their feet. We are looking for a lot of different things and it’s a really good question but it presents the biggest challenge for us in a way.

Leonard: Right

Persus Johnson: Because everyone is different and we can never say with certainty that X individual is going to do really well because they have met all of those criteria. It’s just kind of the framework that we operate in.

Leonard: I wanted to give out the website to DC Central Kitchen. WWW.DCCentralKitchen.org. WWW.CSOSA.gov. What is the secret sols to DC Central Kitchen. Now that we gotten the preliminary taken care of. DC Central Kitchen is phenomenally successful. You have taken individuals who have been caught up in the the criminal justice system. They are working. They are working full time, they are taxpayers who are no longer tax burdens, are taking care of their families. There is something really interesting about DC Central Kitchen. We did an interview with a national culinary arts magazine a little while ago about that relationship between our folks and people we try to place in DC Central Kitchen and in fact, this coming Thursday, tomorrow in fact, we are dealing with another interview about DC Central Kitchen and the folks that we refer there. There is something secret, something interesting, something magic that’s happening with DC Central Kitchen. I want to know what it is.

Sarah Riley: Like Persus said, everybody is an individual. Persus and I, our task is to hone in on who’s ready for change. We use the word change a lot at the kitchen, because we are really looking for somebody that knows that they don’t want to go back to prison, knows that they cannot continue doing what they have been doing in the past and has some self awareness and on the continuing of change, is ready for change. Is continuance and our plan, I guess how we work it, is a holistic approach. So, we are not just doing, here are some knife skills, here is a resume, good luck int eh job field. We have a class called self empowerment, which is dealing with he trauma that we have all been through, dealing with issues that they have had stemming from childhood, dealing with issues coming out of incarceration and reintegrating back into society. And then we couple that self empowerment with the hard skills in the kitchen. You do learn how to cook at DC Central Kitchen, but then we also do job readiness skills and then we do the soft skills, time management, conflict resolution. Our holisitc approach is to get at it from all different angles and then we assist them with their employment as well.

Leonard: All right Persus, so what we are talking about is a holistic program that trains people to go and work within the culinary industry, either in DC or beyond.

Sarah Riley: Yes, absolutely, and I would add too, that we really try to meet individuals where they are. We are not trying to convince them of anything. Most of them are ready for change, but at the same time we want to meet them where they are, if they’re presenting certain challenges like they have a specific challenge with housing maybe. We want to work with them on that and not necessarily disqualify them from our program, but say how can we assist you on this one thing that would help you successfully complete our program.

Leonard: How many people have successfully completed the program?

Luella Johnson: Over 1,000. In last year alone we graduated 85 students.

Leonard: Okay. What percentage of the people that go in graduate.

Luella Johnson: The retention rate is really high. It’s in the mid 80’s.

Leonard: Okay, and that is the point that I want to get to, because I have been looking at research and been involved in the criminal justice system for decades and a lot of these programs that are out there throughout the country, the retention rate and the success rate is like 30%, 40%. A lot of drop outs. You are talking about eighty percent. That is dag on phenomenal.

Luella Johnson: In the mid 2000’s, our graduation rate was around fifty percent. We beefed up the program and added a couple of layers and that’s why we have such a high retention rate now and because we screen people so closely on the intake. Thankfully, we have been around since 1989, so people know about us. We have a really strong partnership with CSOSA, so we have a ready influx of candidates that know about the program and really want to get in, see the results and so we are really able to screen the applicants.

Leonard: Okay I am going to take one more crack at this. The reporter from the national newspaper that interviewed us about why DC Central Kitchen is so successful with people caught up in the criminal justice system. She wasn’t satisfied with our standard answer. She said there is something unique going on here that neither one of you are getting to. Anyone want to take a crack at that, I am going to give the interview one more chance. What is it about DC Central Kitchen. She suggested is that this is a creative world. A world that brings that persons personal sense of creativity to that forefront. That persons personal sense of expression, so its not like the rjkl on a construction site pouring concrete. They’re in there creating and she suggested that, that may be the secret sauce. I’m not putting words into your mouth but you go from there.

Persus Johnson: Maybe an outside perspective would help. I don’t know, Luella. Do you happen to know?

Luella Johnson: I really think its about that particular individual deciding to make a change. Generally when we have individuals who are on parole. They really do not want to go back into the bureau prisons and they want to really come out and make a difference in their lives and when you encounter individuals who are determined to make a difference; That’s a really nice tasty, spicy sauce so to speak. I mean, that is what really gets those individuals able to really be successful. All you have to do is kind of really guide them a little bit, but they are doing all of the work because they made the change.

Leonard: Its personal change and I accept that because, again, when interviewing people under supervision by these microphones for over a decade, they all say the same thing. They say you’ve go to want it within you heart. You’ve got to accept it within your heart. You’ve got to make that personal change, but the retention rate in some other jobs where they are placed is not nearly as high as we have with DC Central Kitchen. When they graduate how many people go out and actually find jobs?

Sarah Riley: Pretty much the whole class will find employment eventually.

Persus Johnson: I mean we also make it a point to, I don’t want to say stock, but we stick with our students throughout, not only the process for which they are in the program, but well after that because ultimately there success no matter when that happiness is our success. So, if at graduation they’re not ready to start a job maybe three weeks after graduation they are. Maybe six weeks after graduation they found something. Our workforce coordinators work very hard to followup and to allow DC Central Kitchen to be a space that they can always return to. I think that is an important element.

Leonard: Any percent completion rate nearly 100% rate of placement  within the occupational area in which they had been trained is phenomenal not just for people in the criminal justice system but any job training program across the board. Ladies and gentlemen we are doing a program today about hiring offenders. We have people from DC Central Kitchen and we do love DC Central Kitchen. They have a national reputation and now I know they are in how many colleges. Forty-eight?

Sarah Riley: Forty-two

Leonard: Forty-two colleges throughout the country in terms of using their kitchens for food redistribution. We have Sara Riley program administration manager from DC Central Kitchen. Persus Johnson recruitment and intake coordinator and Luella Johnson supervisory revocation development specialist from my agency Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency. WWW.DCCentralKitchen.org. WWW.CSOSA.gov, Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency dot gov. All right, where do we go to from here. People are listening to this program throughout the country. We have a national audience. Twenty percent of our audience is international. So you have got people in France, in England listening to this program now. You have got people in New Zealand. What message do we give them about people caught up in the criminal justice system in the employment process? You didn’t expect that question did you?

Sarah Riley: No we didn’t. I’ll speak to that because I find that it’s something that comes up daily when I speak to a lot of our students. That is , you know, we always talk about how DC Central Kitchen is kind of like the house of second chances. We can give second chances, but we also need for the community and the employers to buy into giving second chances because ultimately we can prepare a student as much as we want, we can vouch for them and say that they are working really hard to shake, as my mother would call it, the monkey off your back, which is your record. Ultimately we need employers to say okay, I am willing to set aside your record and take you as an individual and see what you can commit and bring to the table. You have completed 14 weeks of a program where is was rigorous and so lets give you an opportunity to work with us.

That’s kind of what we need. We get buy-in community agencies, we get buy-in from people that want to participate in the program, but we need employers to buy-in because those are the people who really the ones who are providing the second chance.

Leonard: And how difficult is that process of inviting employers to participate in the hiring of people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Persus Johnson: I think it depends, it depends on what that employers experience has been. If they have had a positive experience they are very open to it. If they have had a couple of situations where providing that employment opportunity to an offender didn’t go quit well, they may be a little susceptible, but that only means that we have, as advocates, for these offenders who are seeking employment have to really dig in deep and really do our very best to reach out to these employers and say individuals need second chances and sometimes they need a third and a fourth. If you keep that in mind that these are our neighbors, these are people that we see in out communities, then that will change the perspective. That if we are able to give them a chance, we can turn them into tax paying citizens, as opposed to someone who is a drain on our economy, if we are constantly putting them away.

Leonard: Plus making society much safer.

Persus Johnson: Much Safer.

Leonard: The research is very clear that the benefits of having people employed when they come out of the prison system or when they’re on probation, because a majority of our folks are on probation, not coming from the prison system, finding them work. Everybody does better and everybody benefits and yet we say that and I am not quite sure that message carries the day. What you are all saying is that there are good people ready to go to work today that will be a benefit to that individual. That’s your message correct.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely.

Persus Johnson: Absolutely. Individuals, like I said before, are like the people that they encounter everyday. They have families, they want to be good parents, they want to be good husbands and wives, and they want to be self sufficient. They just need the opportunity.

Leonard: But let me go back to the question opposed by that national reporter. Her sense was once again, its the creativity of working in the culinary interesting. It’s the creativity of making something. It’s the immediate gratification of a customer consuming what they’ve made. There are rewards and creative benefits that you are not going to find in a lot of jobs.

Sarah Riley: I think that’s true I think that a lot of returning citizens, a lot of people that are coming out of incarceration that come to our program have cooked while they were incarcerated. They cooked in prison, so they have experience with it. It’s something they know that they can handle and then they do get the gratification of people enjoy their food knowing they get the self confidence knowing that they can handle this job and then I think its an art. You can be creative with culinary and its one of those jobs anywhere you go. So they know everybody eats hopefully a couple meals a day and that there is job security in the culinary industry, and its one of those industries that’s forgiving to people with criminal backgrounds.

Leonard: And why is that?

Sarah Riley: That’s a good question. I don’t know… You know what, I am sorry to cut you off Luella, but I think one of the reasons is because… Persus and I both have backgrounds in the restaurant industry and they just want you to show up. Show up, be on time and do your job. If you can learn what the chef is teaching you and show up on time, that’s all there is to it. That’s one of the things we are really adamant about in the program is punctuality, and then saying yes chef. Listen to what the chef is saying, no back talk just yes chef, yes chef, yes chef. Then you can do it, its one of those jobs you don’t have to have an education for. At the program specifically you don’t have to have a high school diploma or and GED. So its open for people that might work better with their hands, but also not want to work outside all the time.

Leonard: I mean it just strikes me that if DC Central Kitchen could expand twenty fold off of the people Luella that we have under supervision who do not have jobs, would have jobs. I know that’s a stretch but never-the-less it is that opportunity, the opportunity that the culinary industry offers to people under supervision. The fact that what Sarah just said and what Persus just said. The idea that the welcoming… you know… did I get it wrong?.

Persus Johnson: That’s okay.

Leonard: Correct me, correct me, correct me.

Persus Johnson: Its Persus.

Leonard: Geez, Persus. Ill probably screw it up before… I have a group of listeners from New York City who say Leonard, you cannot pronounce a name to save your life. It is an industry that welcomes all comers, which is a bit different, a lot different from a lot of other industries that welcome mat is felt by the people that we refer.

Persus Johnson: I would say that’s true. I would say that’s true.

Leonard: You know.

Persus Johnson: I think there is also an opportunity too for people who haven’t necessarily explored what they’re interested in because they have never completed anything. So this is an opportunity for them, not only to explore and be creative, but to follow through and complete something. Its not just about the food, its not just about the creativity, but its about finishing something. Its about graduating. We had a guys who graduated last week who’s mother, this was the first time his mother was able to attend something that he had completed. The first time in his life. So I think that’s an important piece of it, is this is another chance for those coming to us to follow through with the process, complete something and actually see that there are people who can care about them who are not trying to use them or who are not family members but who are committed to seeing them successfully follow through and finish.

Luella Johnson: And Leonard I don’t think you can emphasize that enough. I know Persus and Sara talks about this buy I think we really need to emphasis the fact that you have individuals who have little to no support system and now you have an entity who is willing to walk with them from beginning to end and that end does not necessarily mean the end of the program, it means the end until they are comfortable, that they can stand on their own and I think maybe that’s the key sauce in it. That they now have the support and backing of an entity that truly cares about their success and its their own internal motivation combined that allows them to be successful. I really think that, that’s an awesome awesome thing that the DC Central Kitchen as a unit does in terms of holding that individuals hand from beginning to end until they can stand on their own. That really contributes to the success and then those individuals by word of mouth are able to say hey, this worked for me, look at where I am, this can work for you and it just continues a positive process.

Leonard: Sarah do you have something?

Sarah Riley: I would just like to add that, that is so true. Everything you just said, but also our favorite phrase is trust the process. Day 1 we sat all 25 students down and we say listen, you are going to go through some hard times, you Are going to want to fight back, you are going to want to fight us basically. Trust the process and we are not kidding ourselves we know that trust is the number one issue that our students face because they have learned to survive by not trusting. So for us complete strangers telling them, hey trust us, trust the process. They are like no, no, get out of here.

So, its an uphill battle but that’s what our culinary dog training program and CSOSA, that’s what we work really closely with all of the CSO’s the community supervision officers to really show that we are supporting you. We want to see you be successful, we are here for you. We are going to make sure you make your appointments, we are going to make sure you make your urinalysis. We are going to make sure that you are here for the program every day. So they really learn to trust the process throughout the 14 weeks but it is not easy. The first couple of weeks whoo… People who want to fight.

Slowly but surely, some people fight it until they are dismissed from the program but some people make it through and say wow I cannot believe I just did this.

Leonard: Most people do make it through, that’s the astounding thing. Now is this a realistic business model again for all the people listening throughout the country and throughout the world. Is this a realistic business model to have an employer display that level of concern for an individual. I mean is DC Central Kitchen a model, part of the secret sauce for getting people caught up in the criminal justice system, for getting them employed, or is this a little unrealistic?

Sarah Riley: Well, its realistic because its real, its happening, so its realistic.

Leonard: You are successful but will an average employer take that time and take that care and take that extra four or five steps to keep that person?

Luella Johnson: I just think that’s the wrong question. I think the question is why won’t they make that commitment to that individual. Like we had talked about before, these are members of our community, these are individuals that need a second chance and the only difference between them and some of the other individuals that are not on supervision is that maybe they got caught. So the question is not is it realistic, its something that can be done, there’s no question. The question is why won’t more employers take a chance to invest in these individuals? Why won’t they take a chance to really be true members of a community?

Leonard: And when we place individual with an organization at Court Services of Offenders Supervision Agency we do provide that support network.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely.

Leonard: We do provide a support network that DC Central Kitchen employs, but we do it for them employer.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely, and so if there are any outstanding issues, like what Sarah said we work very closely with the community supervision officers as well as the vote staff, we have vocation development specialists who are able to help provide assistance to those individuals while they go through the process.

Leonard: Fifteen seconds, how do we sum up DC Central Kitchen?

Sarah Riley: A full time training program helping people get back to the workforce. I am just going to say that we use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds and build communities. That’s what we are doing at DC Central Kitchen.

Leonard: Bottom line is that you are doing it successfully.

Sarah Riley: Thank you.

Leonard: I say it again. Eighty percent completion rate and your 100 percent successful placement rate upon graduation.

Luella Johnson: Yes.

Sarah Riley: Can we get some numbers quick? For 2014 we graduated 85 students. We had 90 percent job placement rate and at 6 months eighty-six of them were still employed.

Leonard: Incredible.

Sarah Riley: Twelve dollars and fifty-one cents average wage.

Leonard: We have been doing as program today on hiring offenders and the focus has been on the phenomenal DC Central Kitchen. Sarah Riley program administration manager, Persus Johnson recruitment and intake coordinator and Luella Johnson supervisor revocation development specialist. Ladies and gentleman this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Offender Reentry and the Arts

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/prisoner-reentry-and-the-arts-woolly-mammoth-theatre-company-2/

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sikes. The topic today, ladies and gentlemen, prison re-entry and the arts. We try to bring all perspectives to this issue of offender re-entry, this will be our third program with the arts community. By our microphones is Kristin Jackson, she is the connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company here in Washington DC. Also before our microphones, Teresa Hodge, she is the founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and we also have Justin McCarthy. He is the communications coordinator for Woolly Mammoth, and to Kristin and Theresa and Justin, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Justin McCarthy: Thanks Leonard.

Leonard Sipes: What is Woolly Mammoth, Justin?

Justin McCarthy: So Woolly Mammoth is a non-profit theater company in Washington DC. We’re currently in our 35th full season of operation.

Leonard Sipes: You guys have been around forever.

Justin McCarthy: Yep, that’s right.

Leonard Sipes: You have a great reputation.

Justin McCarthy: Well, thanks very much, and, you know, a lot has changed in those 35 years but one thing that’s sorta remained constant, and I guess this is the easiest way to sort of [inaudible 00:01:08] what we do that separates us from most theater companies out there, is to say that all of our plays have a sort of civic conversation around them

Leonard Sipes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Justin McCarthy: They all address social, cultural, or political issues, and …

Leonard Sikes: Why Woolly Mammoth?

Justin McCarthy: That’s a great question.

Leonard Sikes: Yes, it is a great question.

Justin McCarthy: Well, there’s a story behind that. Our founding artistic director and the partner with him who founded the company, they were up late one night brainstorming potential, you know, theater names and in the morning they found “Woolly Mammoth Theater Company” written on a cocktail napkin.

Leonard Sikes: There you go, the hand of God!

Justin McCarthy: So, it was a sign, but I guess you could say that the inspiration there is that we, the idea is that we are sort of nomadic, like the woolly mammoths of the ore, traveling from place to place and telling our stories, like, you know, like any paleontologist would tell you a woolly mammoth did.

Leonard Sikes: There you go, all right. Lights Rise On Grace is the name of the play that is currently running which is the idea behind the radio show today. It’s running now through April 26th at Woolly Mammoth, www. See if I get this right, w-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-m-o-t-h?

Justin McCarthy: Almost. Two O’s.

Leonard Sikes: W-o-l-l-y-m …

Justin McCarthy: So it’d be w-o-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-mo-t-h.

Leonard Sikes: W-o-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-m-o-t-h.

Justin McCarthy: Why didn’t you tell me this was going to be a spelling test?

Leonard Sikes: .net. Okay, cool, but I do want people to connect to the theater company because again, it’s a large, rather established theater company and this is an amazing play: Lights Rise On Grace, Kristin you’re going to tell me a little bit about that?

Kristin Jackson: I sure will. So Lights Rise On Grace is a play written by Chad Beckham, and it is actually part of a rolling world premiere, our production, and this is through the new play network, the national new play network, and so if you don’t catch it here at Woolly you can also check it out at Stageworks in Tampa, Florida and the Azuka Theater in Philadelphia.

Leonard Sikes: So this is gonna travel from city to city that’s great.

Kristin Jackson: The play will. This particular production is unique to Woolly

Leonard Sikes: Okay.

Kristin Jackson: But essentially what the play is about is three young people, from sort of the inner city and they are trying to sort of grapple with these questions of race, and sexuality, family, and you know, what are the families that you’re born into versus the families that you create, and one of the sort of big inciting events in this play is that Large, one of the characters, ends up incarcerated, and when he returns home, he’s sort of having to deal with these challenges of, you know, how he’s changed following his incarceration and how to sort of reintegrate back into the life he had before.

Leonard Sikes: Which is always difficult, and that’s one of the reasons that we have Teresa here, Teresa Hodge, founder and director of innovation and strategy for mission launch. Teresa, you’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system before.

Teresa Hodge: I have. I actually served a 70-month federal prison sentence.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: I was at Alder’s in West Virginia, little bit different than the character, because based upon how the story looks, I previewed it, it appears that he probably went to state prison and I went to federal prison.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: And there is a difference between the two.

Leonard Sikes: Well, we should clarify for everybody throughout the country that’s listening to this that since the reorganization act in 2000 in Washington DC, you can violate DC code here in the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, but you are sent to a federal prison.

Teresa Hodge: Right.

Leonard Sikes: So most people, you’re right, the vast majority of people who are incarcerated in the country go to state prison, so you went to a federal prison.

Teresa Hodge: I went to a federal prison, I’m actually a Maryland resident and so my case was a Maryland case but it was also a federal case.

Leonard Sikes: Okay, and so what is your connection to this play, Lights Rise On Grace?

Teresa Hodge: On tomorrow evening, I will be moderating a panel discussion. We will have, with me, there will be four other people who’ve been to prison, and after the play we’re going to discuss the realities of going to prison, and just maybe answer some of the questions that the audience might have as it relates to, was this, you know some of the scenarios that came forth on stage, how real is that?

Leonard Sikes: Why is it important that the arts community address the issue of people coming out of the prison system? Everybody has their own perspective, I bet. I could talk to cops, I could talk to people at corrections, I could talk to politicians, I could talk to community members, I could talk to people caught up in the criminal justice system themselves, and everybody’s going to bring a different perspective to the issue of people coming out of the prison system. What does the arts community bring to this discussion that’s new and unique?

Kristin Jackson: Well, part of what I think the arts community brings to this discussion, and part of what I know Woolly Mammoth tries to bring to this discussion is ensuring that there are folks coming to see the show, for whom these issues and these stories are either personally, or professionally, meaningful.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: And, we use our stories to really sort of open the hearts of folks, and I think that through the work that we do both on stage and also in fostering dialogue, what we hope, what we call sort of “explosive engagement,” that we are able to create understanding, we are able to foster community, and we’re able to change people’s hearts in a way that may not otherwise be possible.

Leonard Sikes: One of the interesting things about doing this show is I talk to lots of people who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, and these are people who step out of the norm. They create their own businesses, they create their own podcasts, they create their own manuals, they do community/public speaking, and I have to remind myself from time to time that’s one-tenth of one percent of the seven-hundred thousand people coming out of the prison system. The overwhelming majority of the people coming out of the prison systems every year throughout the United States have no voice. So, I would imagine, this brings an issue that most people feel uncomfortable about talking about, correct?

Justin McCarthy: Right.

Teresa Hodge: I definitely … one of the reasons why I do what I do, I am a person who advocates and I speak because I wanna show what prison looks like, and it doesn’t always look like what we think. So, I think that’s very important that we began to humanize who’s going into prison and who’s coming home. It is a very tough topic, people, it makes you uncomfortable, and it’s a complicated and complex topic, and there’s many paths that take people to prison.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: So it’s important that we understand all the various paths that are going to be necessary for people when they come home from prison as well.

Leonard Sikes: But you, and the arts community ends up through either photography or video, or in terms of this particular play, Lights Rise On Grace, you provide a voice to people who essentially see themselves as voiceless. You provide a conduit to have a discussion that most people don’t really care about. The only thing that they hear about people caught up in the criminal justice system is what they hear on the evening news, what they see on local television, what they read about in the newspaper that ex-offender does something horrendous and goes back to prison for another 20-25 years. That’s their impression of people caught up in the criminal justice system. You’re trying to humanize what that process is and who these people are, correct?

Teresa Hodge: Yes, well, that’s probably …

Justin McCarthy: No that’s great, that’s very eloquently put. I think the important thing about art is addressing these issues, that, you know, I mean it certainly works the way that Kristin and Teresa put it. It certainly is wonderful for people who deal everyday with these issues.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Justin McCarthy: But, on the other side of the coin for people that are just interested in seeing a play, they’ll find that they’ll be engaging with these issues too. So we always say the most important part of our work, it doesn’t happen on stage, it happens before the show and after the show, when audience members are talking about the issues that we’re addressing on stage.

Leonard Sikes: It’s one of the reasons why Teresa, you’re going to be leading that larger discussion with people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, so they have the context of the play and they have the context of the people actually being caught up in the system.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. The individuals that will be coming to speak with us have been home for as little as six months, to six years, and so many of them are still facing some of the challenges of employment, of housing, a lot of them have been successful in getting back on their feet. But they’re going to be able to share what it’s like being in prison, but then also the challenges of coming home. Most people who come home from prison say coming home from prison is much harder than being in prison.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: One thing I also wanted to add, that Teresa and mission launch were very, sort of vital in helping us develop. It was part of our lobby experience for the show.

Leonard Sikes: Oh, tell me about that.

Kristin Jackson: Woolly does something pretty unique in that we have these interactive lobby experiences that help, sort of illuminate either the content, or the form, or the issues that are embedded in our plays. One of the things we did for Lights Rise On Grace was a sort of life-sized re-entry game board, where our audience members are able to go through some the, sort of, challenges and some of the, I guess you could say victories that we see that returning citizens are experiencing. So they are literally in this sort of fun and playful way, both learning about these experiences in a very personal way, and helping them to make those connections.

Leonard Sikes: But do you see the interesting aspect here in terms of the arts community, Comedy Central and Jon Stewart, so many millennials use that as their news source.

Justin McCarthy: Sure.

Leonard Sikes: I mean, they bring comedy, they use comedy as a conduit to talk about endless types of topics, and comedy brings a different perspective to it. Comedy brings a perspective that the average person, discussing whatever it is, simply wouldn’t bring up, they wouldn’t look at it that way, so you’re looking at it through new eyes, a fresh perspective. So I’m gonna go back to that question. What does the arts community, and what can the arts community, what do they do and what can they say to really drive home this point in a truly unique way? What is truly unique about this particular play and the arts community in terms of re-entry?

Justin McCarthy: What I will say is that, for Woolly in general, it’s really important to our artistic team that our shows be funny, and, you know, what that does is when you have sort of comedic elements, you know, in combination, in tandem with issues that are sort of difficult to discuss, it makes it easier to engage with, it provides a sort of humanizing element in a kind of … it makes it easier to connect.

Leonard Sikes: And you can get away with much more than you can in a straight discussion …

Justin McCarthy: That’s right.

Leonard Sikes: On the issue. I mean, I’ve been interviewed by dozens and dozens of radio talk shows, and so I have to represent a particular point of view, but with the arts community you’re free to say whatever it is that you want. So what is it that you wanna say that is not being said by those of us in the criminal justice system? Teresa, I’m gonna put that in your lap.

Teresa Hodge: Well I think, after watching this play, I think that the audience will walk away feeling like, this could’ve happened to me. It was just a very relatable moment.

Leonard Sikes: A shared experience.

Teresa Hodge: Extremely shared experience.

Leonard Sikes: Okay.

Teresa Hodge: So, I think that makes it a little bit easier for people to understand prison, prison re-entry, when you understand that, what took place, and I don’t wanna give a whole spoiler alert on the play itself, but when you actually consider the path that led this person to prison, it was a relatively easy path, and the court system didn’t take into consideration the history of his family and some other circumstances that kind of led him there. I think people will walk away thinking about this long after they’ve viewed the play itself.

Leonard Sikes: So it’s something that’s gonna stick around, it’s something that’s going to create a cathartic moment for them possibly

Teresa Hodge: Possibly.

Leonard Sikes: Something that they’re willing to discuss with their friends and neighbors, so it transcends just the audience, it goes way beyond that.

Teresa Hodge: Right and I think the next time you pick up the newspaper, or you look at the news, you’ll think about it.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and it may be, that’s the most important thing. If our only reference is what we’re seeing on television, if that’s our only reference to quote on quote “criminals,” people caught up in the criminal justice system, this is a new and fresh perspective.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. What I often talk to people, and I tell them what I do with Mission Launch, I’m amazed that they talk about ‘those people.’ They don’t think I’m one of those people when they’re talking to me.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: Then after, I let them go on and then I’ll say well, I’m actually one of the people I’m talking about, and so I think it’s just really important. I’m excited that we were invited to be able to bring five people who’ve been to prison so that the audience will not only get to see the actors, but they will actually be able to interact with five individuals who, I’m confident, if they walked down the street they wouldn’t have known.

Leonard Sikes: We’re halfway through the program, a really interesting discussion on prison re-entry and the arts community. Before our microphones today is Kristin Jackson, she is the connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. We have Teresa Hodge, she is founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and Justin McCarthy, the communications coordinator for Woolly Mammoth. We’re talking about the play Lights Rise On Grace, running now at Woolly Mammoth to April 26th, and let’s see if I can stumble through the website without screwing this up: www.woolymammoth.net, you’re shaking your heads?

Justin McCarthy: It’s almost … the two O’s and the to L’s is, it’s tough.

Leonard Sikes: Oh! Goodness gracious, www.woollymammoth.net.

Justin McCarthy: I work there and I mess it up every day.

Leonard Sikes: Just search for Woolly Mammoth, ladies and gentlemen, Woolly Mammoth and Washington DC. How many Woolly Mammoth’s can there be?

Justin McCarthy: Right. We’re the only one.

Leonard Sikes: I have this group in New York that said Leonard, you can’t pronounce a name to save your life. Now they’re gonna say you can’t give out a website address to save your life.

Justin McCarthy: This is hard, you know, those to O’s and those two L’s …

Leonard Sikes: Oh, Lord. Okay, I don’t think I’m getting, I think I’m getting very controlled answers from the three of you in terms of what the arts community can provide to this. When I sit down and talk with people caught up in the criminal justice system before these microphones, as I said before hitting the record button, the best shows are always after I stop it, and then they let loose with all of this emotion about how people just don’t get it when it comes to people coming out of the prison system, what it means for them, what it means for their kids. You take a look at some stats, and one out of every thirty people is currently, you’re gonna come into contact with, is currently involved in the criminal justice system and if you expound upon that people who have been arrested and people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system before, certainly criminologists have said one out of twenty.

So, you’re interacting every single day with people caught up in the criminal justice system. So what does that mean to the arts community to have so many people caught up in the criminal justice system interacting with us, our family, our kids, every single day? What does the arts community have to say to that?

Teresa Hodge: Well I think this is a right-now topic. Prison is an important topic, it’s a very expensive topic to our communities, and I think it’s one of those, people suffer in silence. Nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to say, “I have a family member in prison, I have a son in prison, I have a daughter in prison.” But what I’ve discovered is, when I reveal that I’ve been to prison, everybody lets me know about their secrets to.

Leonard Sikes: There we go. So many of us know people in our family, in our friends, that have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it’s not all that unusual.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. I said, in the theater last week, and so there was a hundred plus people there, if the statistics were right, five people had probably been to prison.

Leonard Sikes: Oh, probably more than that out of the hundred, caught up in the criminal justice system. The theater has led the discussion in terms of gay rights, the theater has led the discussion and the arts community has led the discussion in terms of rights for women, rights for African Americans, rights for just about every group that has marginalized within the country, so the theater community has had that powerful voice over the sense of decades and has contributed mightily to the discussion of issues that people find a hard time discussing. So, as you said, Justin, you bring a sense of humor to it and that allows you to talk about things that are ordinarily uncomfortable.

Justin McCarthy: I think so. It sort of lets people have these moments where they say, “Okay, it’s not just me and criminals,” you know, it allows for this space of connection that you don’t see, and especially with an issue like this where it’s sort of socially, I mean it’s not something that you discuss if you’re someone who’s affected by it. We’re kind of opening the door to that discussion, and it’s something that we try to do in our shows, which we don’t just produce to entertain people, we’re trying to sort of model a form of civic discourse with what we do, and particularly with our plays that address issues like this, like incarceration and re-entry.

Leonard Sikes: One of the things that Kristin said is that it is a topic that is emerging as a point of discussion, it is a topic that more people are feeling more comfortable talking about, simply because governor’s in every state in this country have taken a look at their overall budgets and said what percentage goes into corrections, and can we have an impact on that? People from both the right and left end of the spectrum are now supporting a discussion and alternatives to incarceration, and a different way of doing things. So this is a discussion that’s building momentum, but yet the average person out there is not like, “Well, gee how did the national’s do last night, what do you think the weather’s going to be like tomorrow, by the way how’s your son in prison?”

Teresa Hodge: Yeah, that’s not usually what follows how the nationals were doing that’s for sure.

Leonard Sikes: Yes. But I mean, do you understand?

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely.

Leonard Sikes: As you just said, Kristin, a little while ago, this is a conversation that a lot of people feel uncomfortable with because they’re not quite sure who those people in prison are. They see, the average person sees themselves as completely separate from those people locked up. They don’t see any connection at all to those individuals, and we’re talking about 1.5 million people it prison, another 500,000 in jail, so we’re talking about two million people who are behind bars today, and we’re also talking about another five million who are under community supervision today, so we’re talking about seven million human beings today. A snapshot in time, with about 600-700 thousand coming out of prison every year, many more than that coming our of the jail system. So, you’re talking about just an enormous amount of human beings.

Justin McCarthy: That’s correct.

Leonard Sikes: Now, it seems like it’s an appropriate time for the arts community to get involved in this and lead this discussion as the arts community has led discussions in other difficult topics throughout the years, correct?

Kristin Jackson: Absolutely. I mean, we believe in theater as a tool for social change, theater as a site for examining and understanding everyday life. We, you know, we believe that the theater can serve as a model for the sort of participatory, creative, democratic society that we want, and that we aspire to.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: So, I certainly believe that, as arts leaders, as arts makers, it is our responsibility to, you know, use the platforms that we have and work with our partners who are, you know, carrying, who are engaged in the fight already, and find ways to use these different sites that we have access to in order to, you know, bring folks together and change their way of thinking. I mean, being here in Washington DC, like that is an incredible opportunity, because, you know, Woolly Mammoth, we welcome folks from all sides of the political spectrum.

Leonard Sikes: Sure.

Kristin Jackson: And, I think that by providing the opportunity for these really diverse audiences to get together, and to hear from folks who are passionate about these issues and really think about their own positions, it’s a phenomenal opportunity and it’s what drives us, I think, as a theater company to do the work that we do.

Leonard Sikes: You know who I think does a wonderful job in terms of social change in the arts?

Kristin Jackson: Hm?

Leonard Sikes: Chris Rock.

Teresa Hodge: Yes.

Justin McCarthy: I agree.

Leonard Sikes: I love watching his concerts because he’ll get involved in issues all over the spectrum, issues that make you laugh and issues that make you feel terribly uncomfortable, but issues that make you think: “Wait a minute,” he may have a point here, and so I think that’s what the arts community does. You all have leverage that the rest of us, in government and, we have to be so careful and we have to be so diplomatic, and the arts community is just out there saying, “Look, this is something that you need to look at.” Lights Rise On Grace, I would imagine, would be that sort of play. Something that people really need to look at but at the same time enjoy themselves in terms of the experience.

Justin McCarthy: It is. It is, and you’ll see these, sort of, humorous relatable elements happening alongside these really kind of dangerous and scary moments in the play. I’m thinking of one in particular, when the character who becomes incarcerated, the first person who becomes incarcerated that the audience encounters, he meets someone in his first few days in prison who’s been in the prison for long time, and their first interaction is so very funny and comic, because it’s just the awkwardness of two people meeting for the first time, but of course it’s prison so there’s also like the threat of violence and this awful kind of context hanging over it. So you can look at it in sort of one of two ways, you know, but of course the audience ends up laughing along because it’s something that’s relatable and …

Leonard Sikes: Sure.

Justin McCarthy: Something you can kind of understand, but all of a sudden these two people aren’t just like criminals that have no connection to you, they’re people just like you and so it’s this incredible moment and the play is full of moments just like that.

Leonard Sikes: Teresa, as somebody who’s been caught up in the criminal justice system, what is it that people need to understand about people caught up in the criminal justice system that they just need to understand, it’s something that they don’t think of on a day-to-day basis, they need to understand it, what do they need to understand?

Teresa Hodge: I think that first, we just need to understand that they’re people, and I think that right across the board that’s just an important piece. There are individuals who maybe made a mistake and their worst moment was put on trial, and going to prison is very scary for the person, it’s often traumatizing for the person to be in prison, to be away from their family, to be kept away from society, to be kept away from technology.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: It is incredibly difficult to come home from prison when we live in such a technology-savvy age, and every three months, technology is doing something new and different. I think that we have to be patient, and we have to try to find creative ways to engage people because it’s very expensive for people to come home and get back on their feet. I’ve found very few people who were sitting in prison wondering when they were gonna come back to prison, but yet I’m always baffled by the number of, for me, women who I engaged and encountered while I was in prison who had real strong dreams and hopes for their future, and six months later I find out that they’re back in prison.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: It makes me stop and wonder what happened. Where did a system break down? Where were they unable to latch to a community, and how were they unable to kind of attach to that last good thought that they had, which was in prison?

Leonard Sikes: I can’t imagine a more complex set of human emotions, when you do come out of the prison system because women have kids that they wanna reunite with, you have a drug habit that you’ve got to conquer, many people caught up in the criminal justice system have mental health problems, they have to come out and find work and yet people turn them down because of their criminal histories. You have the stereotype, I mean if a person comes back and says, “Hi, I’ve spent the last five years in prison,” you know, what does that mean to the social circle and, does that repulse does that intrigue people? I mean, these are just incredible human dimensions that just crash out of these six or seven hundred thousand people on a year-to-year basis when they come out of that prison system. The emotions are raw, the issues are real.

Justin McCarthy: Oh, absolutely, and you’re seeing, what you’re talking about, Len, is all of these, just this incredible, you know, laundry list of difficulties and challenges that are facing re-entering citizens.

Leonard Sikes: And I sometimes wonder, with all of the things that people have to deal with when they come out of the prison system, I mean, I have a women offender sitting by these microphones basically saying it is almost impossible to do what everybody wants me to do, it is almost impossible to succeed, and sometimes they get the sense that we stack the cards tremendously, which is one of the reasons why Lights On Grace that is running now, through Woolly Mammoth here at Washington DC, running now through April 26th, become such an important point and I’m glad we’ve had this possibility, this opportunity to discuss the play, and discuss Woolly Mammoth, and discuss re-entry. By our microphones today has been Kristin Jackson, she is connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Teresa Hodge, founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and Justin McCarthy, he is communications coordinator for, again, for Woolly Mammoth, I wanna try this one more time: ww – Just, go ahead and Google Woolly Mammoth and DC. www.woollymammoth.net. I got it right for the first time at the end of the program.

Justin McCarthy: Nailed it.

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