Parole and probation officer stress.

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capitol, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, by our microphones today, Lorenzo Hopkins. He’s supervisory community supervision officer known elsewhere as a supervisory-prone probation agent from my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Lorenzo, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Thank you for having me, Len.

Leonard Sipes: Today’s topic is parole and probation officer stress. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most ignored topics that you can possibly imagine. I see all the time. I witness all the effort to deal with police officer stress and that’s a mighty subject. We know what’s been happening throughout the country over the course of the last six months, and in terms of fully integrating law enforcement in the community and the controversy that that has entailed. Everybody’s looking at police officers. Nobody’s looking at the stress of parole and probation agents. Am I correct or incorrect?

Lorenzo Hopkins: You’re correct, Leonard. I’ve been in this business for over twenty years, and I’ve seen it change. What I mean by that is, probation and purple agents are asked to do more. The government is talking about reducing the prison population, which is going to mean more people coming back on community supervision. When you have that, you’re going to have those increased stressors. Again, some of the prison criminal probation population is getting more and more violent. They’re getting younger. I’ve seen the national trend. DC, again you can see the shootings went on the street, how young people are getting and our agents are going out into the community in those environments, dealing with people just released from prison, some of them just fresh off of probation. Really, there’s limited to no talk about the stress that they undergo each day.

Leonard Sipes: Now, I have to, just for the sake of grounding the people who are listening to this program, there are five million people caught up in the criminal justice system on any given day in the correctional system. Two million are involved in prisons and jails, which means the bulk are under community supervision with parole and probation agencies. When you talk about correction in America, when you talk about incarceration, when you talk about America’s response to crime, the vast majority of Americans’ response to crime are individuals assigned to parole and probation agents, correct?

Lorenzo Hopkins: That’s correct. We have a huge impact as relates to attempting to reduce [inaudible 00:02:46]. What that entails today was much different than it was when I entered the business over twenty years ago. Back when I first started, you simply received a court order and it told you, “Pay restitution, do community service and things.” We made sure they did that. We’ve since transitioned CBI, cognitive behavior intervention, motivational interviewing. Now you’re going to take those four thousand people, most agencies have trended that way, and instead of checking boxes saying they’re completed, no. You have to actually change behavior and change thinking patterns.

Leonard Sipes: When I was first involved in the correctional system and we’re talking about a quarter of a century ago, I was told by parole and probation for the agency that I represented, which was the Maryland Department of Public Safety, that our role in parole and probation is to enforce the will of the court and enforce the will of the parole commission. That was it. It wasn’t talking about changing individuals. It wasn’t talking about intervening in their lives. It wasn’t talking about providing them with the support they needed to deal with their substance abuse, deal with their mental health issues, deal with their reunification of their children. It was simply to enforce the will of the parole commission and enforce the will of the courts.

Now, as you’ve just said, it’s much more than that. What we have to do is to intervene, is to get into the lives of individuals under community supervision to find out what makes them tick, what makes them angry, what their issues are, what their hopes and dreams are and try to provide wrap-around programs to support that individual. The mission of being a parole and probation agent has changed dramatically just within the last ten years.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Certainly it has. What hasn’t changed is the fact that we’re still required to put public safety first. That’s primary, but I would say our biggest job now is being change agents, meeting a person where they are, CBI.

Leonard Sipes: Cognitive-

Lorenzo Hopkins: Cognitive behavior intervention. Right.

Leonard Sipes: Cognitive behavioral intervention.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Yes. What happens is, we used to just take people and say, “Okay, the court says you need to go substance abuse treatment.” Now, you have to say, “Is that person ready to go to substance abuse treatment?” If that person is not ready, you’re wasting money. That’s what research has shown. If you make a person just go to treatment for the sake of going to treatment, they will program, as we call it. They will go through a program, complete it just to satisfy it. They still have the same cognitive thinking, the negative thinking that they used to have and eventually they go back to using.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, well let’s talk a little bit about the people under supervision before we get onto parole and probation agent stress. The vast majority of people under supervision have histories of substance abuse, and in many cases, really raging histories of substance abuse. I’ve seen surveys where up to fifty percent of the offender population have histories of mental health problems, lack of job history, did not do well in school, many with anti-social attitudes. If you talk to women caught up in the criminal justice system as I have before these microphones, the great majority have had histories of sexual violence directed at them as children, as teenagers by people they know. The point is that they bring an awful lot of baggage to the table. Suddenly they come and they sit in front of Lorenzo Hopkins and Lorenzo Hopkins has got to somehow, some way, break through all those barriers, deal with all of the issues that that person brings to the table, and do it in such a way that does not make him crazy, correct?

Lorenzo Hopkins: That’s correct, because right now when we talk about dealing with the substance abuses you spoke about, and I’m glad you prefaced it by the other issues, the trauma and things of that nature, for years, when I say “we,” parole and probation, we’ve treated the symptom. The symptom was substance abuse. We never really got to that underlying trauma.

A brief story. I was briefly assigned to the mental health branch as a supervisor. I had this older lady, mid fifties, maybe. She was a heroin user for years. She and I had a conversation and she kept getting violated. That’s when the parole commission, if you violated substance abuse, you will get violated and go back and go back under supervision, correct. I sat her down one day in my office and said, “Tell me what’s going on.” She said, “You’re the first person who asked me about what’s going on instead of just saying, ‘You need to stop using heroin.'” Then she went to a story about being sexually molested as a child and all those things. I’m like, “Wow, if we don’t treat that trauma, we’re going to fail with substance abuse.

Leonard Sipes: You know, we’ve increased our rate of successful completions here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency from about sixty-two to about sixty-nine percent. Our rearrest rates have been down, as of late. Obviously, we’re moving in the right direction, but we have a fifty to one case load. I know of parole and probation agents in various states that have a hundred to one, a hundred and fifty, two hundred to one, and more. When you’re carrying a case load of a hundred and fifty to two hundred individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, it doesn’t strike me as that person having a snowball’s chance in Hades of actually breaking through those barriers and to meaningly intervene in the lives of the human beings under supervision. If they’re talking about doing cognitive behavioral therapy, as you’ve said, getting into the heart and soul as to why people are doing certain things and training them as to how to deal with those problems, when you have a case load of two hundred to one that seems to me to be impossible.

Lorenzo Hopkins: It’s extremely difficult and that’s where a lot of stress come in. Even with case loads in DC being fifty to one, if you could imagine. Let me put you in a probation officer’s seat on a reporting day. On reporting day, let’s say it’s Thursday. You may have thirty of your people coming in on that day for drug testing, to speak to you. Could you imagine hearing thirty different trauma stories every day and the kind of stress you would take home with you every day?

Leonard Sipes: That’s just it! Half of our contacts need to be made in the community. You could be walking through the community and see your person under supervision. You could be going into their home. It could be a surprise visit. You could be taking along a police officer with you. All you’re hearing all day long is trauma, trauma, trauma, correct?

Lorenzo Hopkins: That’s absolutely correct.

Leonard Sipes: How do you escape that?

Lorenzo Hopkins: The thing is typically most people don’t. They don’t recognize it. That’s one thing I talk to my staff about right now, even being in diagnostics. People think that they are the report writers. They don’t have to hear. They don’t have to see the finish. Could you imagine interviewing someone at the local jail, even someone at the office, and they’re telling you about the trauma they’ve suffered, the sexual abuse they’ve suffered, standard sibling murder, their mother mother murdered, and you read that day in and day out? That’s secondary trauma and I don’t think people pay much attention to secondary trauma.

Leonard Sipes: If you’re going to get into the heart and soul of that person, if you’re going to use cognitive behavioral therapy and intervene in the life of that person, you’ve got to somehow, some way, take on the emotions that that person is talking about. It cannot be just, “I dismiss it at the end of the day. I’m going to go home and have a beer and walk the dog and play with the kids.” That trauma stays with you. It’s inevitable that that trauma is going to stay with you to some degree.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Well, to be human, it has to. The problem, Len, is a lot of people don’t know what the symptoms look like. They think going home and just having a beer or two is normal. That could be their way of coping. You’ve seen research about law enforcement professionals, correction officers. They end up with substance abuse problems, drugs, and alcohol to cope.

Leonard Sipes: There are higher rates, I’ve seen, of substance abuse amongst people in our profession than in terms of the larger society.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Absolutely, because that’s a coping mechanism. Some people can’t sleep at night. Look at the divorce rate among people in our profession also, because you take things home.

A quick story. Before I started working in probation and parole, I worked as administrator at a juvenile detention facility. I went home after hearing this stuff and seeing these kids every single day who weren’t doing well. You know what I did?

Leonard Sipes: What?

Lorenzo Hopkins: I was a young married guy and I said, “I don’t want any children.” Seriously. My wife said, “Honey, are you serious? These are just the children you see. All children aren’t like that.” I tell that story to say when you are starting to become jaded in this business, you start to become skeptical of everyone.

Leonard Sipes: It takes its toll on you. I’ve always said after forty-five years in the criminal justice system, I’ve become acidic. I see the world differently than the average person because I understand bands in humanity towards man. We had a woman at a conference one time dealing with women caught up in the criminal justice system who stood up in the conference and said, “The woman I live with pulled a knife on me last night and pulled a knife on me and my child and we had a huge argument. I had to get out of there. I now have no place to live. I now have a child and I now have to go back and get my private possessions out of this apartment from a woman who pulled a knife on me.” Then she took a look at everybody in the hall and said, “Now, what are you going to do for me to help me out of this situation?” That’s what our people deal with every single day, correct?

Lorenzo Hopkins: That’s correct. When you have young officers just into the business, or even some more seasoned ones, if you get that every day, you’re in, I call it crisis mode every day because you never know what’s going to happen.

Again, before I went to diagnostics and mental health, I had my day planned out most days but it never failed. Someone came in. They started to decompensate. One of my staff and I had to take them to the CPAP, for the condition they’re dealing with [inaudible 00:13:39] medicine to admit them. Your days are not yours. Then, you run into another stressor is, when you try to get help, as you talked about the young lady at the meeting you were at, take that and multiply that by decreasing city budgets and town budgets when there really is no housing out there.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Yeah, finding housing for people caught up in the criminal justice system is really difficult.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Absolutely, and then you try to put them in a shelter. The shelter could be full. Then you have women and children, which is another difficulty trying to place because there are limited resources.

Leonard Sipes: My phone number is the only phone number on the website and I get calls at night. I get calls on the weekends. “Why is my son on probation? Why did my son was taken to jail? What’s happening with my son? He was supposed to go to this rehab clinic and he’s not doing well. Now he’s out. Are you guys going to get a warrant for his arrest?” There’s a certain point. It’s like, “Folks! I can’t just do this every night. I can’t do it every weekend. I’ve got my own life to live,” but you can’t tell them, “No.” You cannot not listen to them. If I’m experiencing that and I’m the spokesperson for the agency, what are you all going through?

Lorenzo Hopkins: Well, that’s a huge stressor. When I first left mental health and went to diagnostics, my staff at my first meeting were saying, “Well, Mister Hopkins, we’re working on weekends and evenings trying to get these reports done.” I said, “That stops today.”

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

Lorenzo Hopkins: “That stops today, because I understand that you have to have healthy work-life balance. That’s extremely important in this business because what happens is, I found myself doing it late. I’m not telling you something I’m thinking of or guessing about. I found myself with my Blackberry on at my child’s karate meeting contest.

Leonard Sipes: Yes, yes, yes.

Lorenzo Hopkins: I found myself checking the newspaper to see if a defendant was ever arrested. What do I have to face tomorrow?”

Leonard Sipes: Every time somebody goes out and commits a homicide or commits a crime, you’re sitting there going, “Oh my God, I hope he’s not on my case load.”

Lorenzo Hopkins: Exactly! You take your eight hour day, just an average eight hour day, and you go home and you take it home with you. That’s twenty-four hours a day besides the time you’re sleeping that you’re dealing with something about seeing so-and-so or about this profession.

Leonard Sipes: Well, we’re halfway through the program. I do want to reintroduce you, ladies and gentlemen. We’re talking to Lorenzo Hopkins, a supervisory community supervision officer with my agency, our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, We’re talking about parole and probation officer stress.

Lorenzo, you went to the American Probation and Parole Association in Los Angeles and you gave a seminar on parole and probation officer stress. What are the key points of your address in Los Angeles dealing with a national audience on this topic?

Lorenzo Hopkins: Well, one thing we have to realize is that, and I actually said it like this, oftentimes in this business, we take far too much credit for peoples’ success and far too much blame for their failures. We’re always looking at something that, “Well, did I do this or did I do that?” We try to be but we are human and you can’t be everything to everyone. That’s one. Two, when you leave your work and you’re not on duty, the biggest mistake people make is leave that cell phone or Blackberry on. They check it religiously. I told them in LA that actually it’s an addiction. It’s an addiction because you find yourself in conversations with people. You’re checking your work phone. When that occurs, you’re actually cheating your family because your family deserves some you time.

Leonard Sipes: Some work-life balance.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Right. You also deserve some time away because you can’t continue at that pace. You can’t. You’ll be surprised how many people, Len, that work for me that I have to make take vacation. What you get to carry over in the government two hundred forty hours, or whatever the case may be?

Leonard Sipes: Yup!

Lorenzo Hopkins: I’m sitting down with them doing a life plan. “You need to take off some days.”

Leonard Sipes: I do want to emphasize this, is that our rate at successes here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is going up, so we are succeeding in getting people to do the right thing. I understand that there’s no such thing as the perfect offender on supervision. I understand that they all bring a tremendous amount of issues with them, in particular, substance abuse. We have done a better job. We have been able to get into the lives of individuals. We’ve gotten into the lives of their families. We have helped them deal with all the different things they had to deal with to the point where our success rate is going up. What toll is that taking on what we call community supervision officers?

Lorenzo Hopkins: It’s taking a tremendous toll. We talked about earlier, we put a lot of effort into CBI, cognitive behavior intervention, motivational interviewing, things that change the thinking of the defender or defendant population. The problem is, as you alluded to earlier, there’s not a lot of research or anything about people who actually do the work. We have to really start to think, as managers, I’m a supervisor, take a look at your people and start speaking to them about how are things impacting them.

Leonard Sipes: Your employees, yes?

Lorenzo Hopkins: Yeah, my employees. You have to start talking to your employees the same way you want them to invest in the defender population, you must invest in them.

Leonard Sipes: You’ve got to do the same thing for them.

Lorenzo Hopkins: You have to, because guess what. A lot of these ladies and gentlemen are young.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Lorenzo Hopkins: They’re young. Half of that stuff they’re reading about or talking to the defenders about, they haven’t lived it.

Leonard Sipes: It’s interesting. They are college educated. Everybody comes to us with a bachelor’s degree. The great majority of our agency have master’s degrees. Some have above. That’s a very well-educated workforce that we have, but they’re still people. Regardless of their education, regardless of their understanding, regardless of their grounding, they’re still people subject to the same levels of stress as any police officer, as anybody in any profession.

Lorenzo Hopkins: That’s true, Len, because you alluded to the national epidemic what’s going on between law enforcement and many communities. In that whole conversation, you don’t hear people talking about probation and parole because guess what, we’re in the community also. We’re there daily. We’re engaging people in conversations, so a police officer’s law enforcement. We’re law enforcement also, so that same sense of heightened expectations and anxiety when we go into some of the worst neighborhoods in our cities is there. It’s natural. The hair stands up on the back of your neck.

Leonard Sipes: It rubs off on everybody, whether you’re a police officer or whether you’re a parole and probation agent. The trauma that you deal with, you could not simply separate that from your life. There’s just no clean break. You’ve got to acknowledge the fact that this exists.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Right, and that’s why it’s imperative on partners being partners. When you have a partnership with people you work with, if your supervisor doesn’t do it, look out for your colleague. Look out for your co-worker. You can see when they’re under undue stress. You can speak to them about it. Most of our friends, let’s be honest, in law enforcement, you’ve been in law enforcement a long time, they’re other law enforcement people. Guess what we talk about when we go out.

Leonard Sipes: Oh yeah!

Lorenzo Hopkins: The job.

Leonard Sipes: We sit there and we gripe about the criminal justice system. We gripe about those idiots at headquarters, and I always laugh because then I became an idiot at headquarters as a spokesperson for, again, Maryland Department of Public Safety. The point is is that we sat there and we griped and we drank too much.

Lorenzo Hopkins: There was no release.

Leonard Sipes: We drank too much.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Right.

Leonard Sipes: I’m not quite sure when I went home from one of these drinking-too-much, griping-too-much sessions, I’m not quite sure I felt a whole heck of a lot better.

Lorenzo Hopkins: No, because guess what. If you’re anything like I used to be when I entered the business is that I still thought about, well come the other night, thought about, “Did I do this? Did I do that? Maybe I should have done this differently.”

Leonard Sipes: Because we are talking about the lives of people in crisis and there’s no way of leaving that behind. You have to acknowledge that, deal with it, and come to grips with the tools that help you cope with it. Alcohol or drugs certainly is not part of that coping mechanism.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Right, and you have to have balance. When I talk about work-life balance, work-life balance isn’t splitting time between work and life. Work-life balance is what’s important to you. If you’re a person who loves playing golf, make some time. Take some time out of your week to play some golf.

Leonard Sipes: Yup, play that golf.

Lorenzo Hopkins: You deserve that, because you need a release. If you’re not going to release it doing something you enjoy, you’re going to release it doing something destructive, i.e. drinking too much.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, now what I was told years ago, I was told when I entered in the law enforcement, take meditation. Take classes on meditation. Learn how to meditate. I was taught to talk to your spouse. A lot of us, when we bring work home, when we come home we don’t want to talk about work. The last thing in the world we want to talk about is work. If you’re in a bad mood and if you’re affected by your experiences throughout the course of the day, you owe it to your spouse to tell your spouse what’s going on. There are tools for coping.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Absolutely, Len. We do the same thing in my household. I’ve been in this business a long time. My wife and I give each other fifteen minutes apiece to vent about work, to decompress.

Leonard Sipes: Oh, that’s a great idea.

Lorenzo Hopkins: After that … huh, it’s over. You have to have that because she understands that my job is stressful. She’s an accountant but she also has those stressors also and she needs to understand, “If my husband comes home in a not-so-good mood what’s going on out there.” Certainly, we don’t use names because that’s privacy, but we also are human because you can’t take it. We’d like to take your hat off when you get home and that’s all I’m thinking about, home. Our lives blur and they blend all the time.

Leonard Sipes: Sure. Well, it’s like the woman who I talked to one time about her history of sexual abuse and she just said, “You know, I was raped multiple times before the age of eighteen by family members and people who I know, who I knew.” Then she just looked at me in front of the same microphone you’re sitting in front of now and said, “Now, what is the system going to do for me in terms of my trauma?” It’s like, “One human being. Excuse me. I can’t undo the fact that you were raped multiple times before the age of eighteen.” That’s what our folks go through every single day.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Right, and the difference is though, we have to get to the point where we recognize when we’ve had too much. I’m not talking about retiring, I’m talking about taking leave. I’m talking about making sure you have your supervisor having your people schedule leave before the end of the year, because they need some time away and apart to spend with their family. I encourage it. When I speak to my staff at mid-year or whenever, I talk about work-life balance. What are you doing for you and you family? What are you doing to improve yourself outside of work? That way, I keep that in the forefront of their mind to let them know it’s not only about work, you know?

Leonard Sipes: Mm-hmm (affirmative), but you can tell in law enforcement because the person becomes too aggressive.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: You can tell it when the person apprehends somebody and instead of just cuffing them, they’re slammed against the police car and that’s the point where you’ve got to walk over, and we did, whether people believe it or not, walk over to that person and say, “You know, Johnny, you’re taking this too far. You need to back off. Do you want me to finish this?” What do you see in terms of parole and probation agents?

Lorenzo Hopkins: Well, typically what happens when I see stress is they’re short-tempered. When I’m short-tempered, I don’t mean exploding but their conversation is about evil in the defendant or defender population, you can tell they’ve become certainly desensitized. “I’m going to start going through the motions like a robot,” you know? “I’m just going to do the job because I have to, but I’m not really caring.” People can feel when you don’t care. When it gets to the point where it starts to become not a good situation, I typically have the defendant wait, if I hear it from my staff, pull them aside, and say, “Hey, decompress. Take a deep breath and just relax a little bit,” because sometimes we have to recognize the symptoms. Not us, because if I don’t sometimes you don’t see yourself in this situation.

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

Lorenzo Hopkins: As colleagues, we have to make sure we’re paying more attention to what’s going on because you’re going to start saying, “Offenders, stop coming in.”

Leonard Sipes: That hurts the mission. That hurts the bottom line in the same way that the police officer being overly aggressive hurts the bottom line because he’s breaking confidence with the community. We, on the front lines, you all on the front lines whether you be parole and probation agents or whether you be police officers, people need to understand how unbelievably stressful these jobs are. People need to provide some space, work-life balance, and some tools in terms of whether it’s deep breathing exercises, whether it’s meditation, whether it’s talking to your wife, whether it’s playing that game of golf, everybody needs to come to grips when that stress is enormous. That stress exists in all folks caught up in the criminal justice system.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Right. I think what gets lost when you’re talking about probation and parole professionals, that’s what I like to call us, is that we wear so many hats, because you’ve got to realize we’re the person who, in most jurisdictions they can have arrest powers. This one, you do reports. Actually, it’s also your responsibility to be able to take someone’s freedom. They gave it to you, more or less. However, however, but what we have to really start to understand is that people who do that are humans and they don’t want to take peoples’ freedom. When you start dealing with non-compliance, it doesn’t make people happy so when you go that house the next time to do a visit, how are going to be received? You don’t know that. Because guess what, that person just got released from prison after you did a report that got him sent back for two or three years.

Leonard Sipes: Right, right, right, but that’s the part of the stress and part of the dilemma of being a parole and probation agent, again what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, is that cognitive intervention, you’ve got to get into the mind, get into the heart of that person. Build bond. Build trust, but at the same time, you have that responsibility to protect public safety and send them back to prison, if necessary.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: No therapist on the face of the earth would work under those circumstances.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Could you imagine wearing all those hats?

Leonard Sipes: No.

Lorenzo Hopkins: Because you’re a social worker one day, no, not one day, one second. The next second, you’re saying, “Oh, you’re violated. This is unacceptable. I’ve got to put a VR, a violation report in.” Those are those fine balances that a lot of people don’t understand. The difference between us and police officers, again, great work. A police officer can arrest someone on the street. They throw them into the court and that’s it. That’s it.

Leonard Sipes: And walk away from that, entirely. You’ve got them for the next five years.

Lorenzo Hopkins: I have to deal with that. If they go in and out, in and out, I’m still the person who’s there.

Leonard Sipes: You’ve got to deal with them for the next five years, which is stressful unto itself. Lorenzo Hopkins, I’ll tell you. This has been a fascinating conversation. Lorenzo is a supervisory community supervision officer for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We’ve talking today, ladies and gentlemen, about parole and probation agent stress. Lorenzo, I really want to thank you for a fascinating conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, our website,, This is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticisms, as stressful as they may be. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day. Thank-

The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective.

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I am your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective. At our microphones today, David Mauldin, he is a Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, and Keith Cromer, again, a Community Supervision Officer, again, known elsewhere throughout the country as a Parole and Probation Agent. Our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, David and Keith, welcome to DC Public Safety.

David: Thank you very much.

Keith: Good afternoon.

David: [crosstalk 00:00:39] to be here.

Leonard: Gentlemen, what a tough job. We’re here to talk about the challenge of parole and probation agents, again, what we call community supervision officers in the nation’s capital. I cannot think of a more challenging job. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 45 years. I’ve been a cop, I’ve been a spokesperson, I’ve ran group decades ago, within the prison system. I did Job Corps, where the judge said to the young individuals, “Go to jail and go to Job Corps.” I’ve done a lot of what it is that you guys do, but it’s a long time ago. I found that being a cop was simple, being a parole and probation agent was a thousand times harder than being a police officer. Am I right or wrong?

David: I would definitely agree with that. Our job is unique in a sense that we’ve got multiple roles in it. We have a client/offender/person under supervision come to our office, and we are given all of these resources to provide them. We’re encouraged to provide motivation and counseling, and we should, that should be part of our role, but at the same time, there’s another side to what we do, which is, if the supervision, if what is expected of the person is not occurring, if they’re not responding to the resources and directives we’re giving them, then there’s this side of our job, which we end up in court.

We write a violation report, and we can find ourselves in front of a judge recommending that the person’s freedom be taken away, the very same person sometimes where maybe even a few weeks earlier, you were sitting down and talking with them about really powerful reasons why they fell into a life of crime and you were trying to counsel them. Sometime, I know for myself, it can seem a sudden switch, and I’m sure for the clients as well, it can be like, “Wait a minute, you were just encouraging me and counseling me and now you just requested that my freedom be taken away.” It’s a hard balance.

Leonard: When I ran group, I was told not to tell anybody I was an ex-cop, ran group in the prison system and doing a cognitive-behavioral therapy group session. I did end up telling people that I was a former cop, and the people who were part of the group said, “I wish you hadn’t told us that, because now we don’t trust you.” Keith, most of the people caught up in the criminal justice system are not trusting human beings. How do you break through that barrier when you’re there to get into their heads, help them deal with their lives in a pro-social way, but at the same time, you hold the authority to send them back to prison if necessary?

Keith: It takes a lot of time. It takes effort to get to know the individual on a one-on-one basis. They’re not willing to come forth all the information that you might need in the first couple of meetings, so you got to keep pushing towards to know exactly what their needs are in order for them to trust you. You want to try to get to know their families, their kids, their needs for employment, their needs for education. At that point in time, they start trying to break down barriers and allowing them to know you, to allow them to know who you are.

Leonard: The whole idea is … Our successful case completions keep going up and up and up, so we’re doing something right. We’re well above the national average in terms of successful case completions, so we’re doing something right. We’re helping men and women overcome extraordinary barriers. When I say extraordinary barriers, we’re talking about massive substance abuse, we’re talking about mental health issues. The substance abuse, 80% of our population, the mental health can go, in terms of self-reported, mental health can go as high as 50% according to some surveys, so we have problems.

When individuals come to us, they come to us with not much of a work history, not much of an educational history. Women who come out of prison, they have higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health, their backgrounds typically involve being sexually abused by somebody they knew when they were children, and they have children themselves. There’s a certain point where the deck is so stacked against the individuals, not necessarily just in the District of Columbia, but throughout the country. I’ve had offenders sit there and tell me, “Leonard, what you’re asking me to do is impossible. I can’t deal with all of the ills of my past life.” That’s why so many individuals were revoked in years past, because they came to us with immense difficulties. David?

David: What was on my mind as you were saying all of that is, and maybe I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I think because the clients can come and often do come to supervision with such an enormous array of issues, I don’t think we can solve all of their problems. Sometimes they come to supervision, they’ve got these special conditions, we’re supposed to help them do their anger management class, drug test, get treatment if they need it, but sometimes I just think that maybe what we need to be focusing on is, by the time that somebody gets done with supervision, have we assisted them ,in whatever way that looks like, but have we assisted them to have the confidence that they can, moving forward, have control over their lives.

I was talking to Cromer on the way here, I got a call from a gentleman just released from incarceration about a week ago crying on the phone because he’s telling me, “I don’t have family, I don’t have food, I don’t have housing, and I’m expected to meet all of these requirements [inaudible 00:06:17] probation and parole. I have no idea how I’m going to do it.” On one hand, I think our job is to look at him and say, “Come into the office, let’s get you connected to our resources,” but I think there’s fundamentally something else going on there that he’s saying, “I don’t feel like I have control.”

My goal is, man, if we can help the men and women who come to us feel that when they leave supervision that they can have an impact, a positive impact on their life, that they can affect positive things in it, I think that would be a positive thing, but meeting every single need they have, I think that’s where, if we don’t realize we can’t meet every need, that’s where burnout can come in. [inaudible 00:06:57].

Leonard: Keith, I’m going to throw this question to you. I’ve interviewed lots of people under supervision by these microphones, hundreds over the course of years, and when I ran public affairs for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, interviewing them there as well. Oftentimes they were telling me that their parole and probation agent, again, in this case, in Washington, D.C., community supervision officer, they would say that their officer was the key, in many senses, of them crossing that bridge from law-breaking behavior to law-abiding behavior, from drugs to no drugs. They would give the credit, in many cases, to the parole and probation agent/community supervision officer as being the person who helped them make that transformation. Is that true? Do community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, can they make that degree of change in a person’s life?

Keith: Yeah, I believe they can. Actually, one of my offenders in the past has, he crossed over tremendously. He had a plan when he came out and I helped him work his plan together. He wrote his own books, we helped him get it published. He started his own security company. He’s doing really well. I think that we can help out, as long as we continue to help them with their plan. We have to find out exactly what their needs are. As soon as we find out their needs, we can just help them out with moving forward in their lives.

Leonard: You can break through the barriers that they bring to you. I always say, I use the example, the chip on their shoulder the size of Montana. They don’t trust anybody. People listening to this program need to understand that people caught up in the criminal justice system, they may trust their mother, they might trust their mother, they don’t trust you, they don’t trust anybody. They don’t trust the religious leaders, they don’t trust the Governor, they don’t trust the President. They don’t care who it is, they’re not trusting individuals, yet you’ve got to break through those barriers to help that person, right, David?

David: Yeah, we do. I’m thinking, I’m not 100% convinced that … I think the clients know how to trust. I think it’s difficult for them, I think they’re hesitant, but what I found is that whether it’s working here in probation and parole or in [inaudible 00:09:19] Covenant House, working with homeless young adults, I think there’s hesitancy, but as soon as the client sees that this person is willing to listen to where I’ve been, as soon as I see that this person is not assuming that they’ve figured me out, to me, I’ve seen that’s a huge one, don’t assume that we know them. Once they see that willingness to hear who they are, hear where they’ve been, and that we’re willing to listen to maybe where they want to go as we try to develop that plan with them, I’ve found that the trust does come.

Then in my mind it becomes the issue of, okay, so they learn to trust you, then, though, all of their issues are still there, and so how, once you have their trust, how do you keep it, because I think it can be lost very easily, because they’ve been disappointed before, whether by family, the system, themselves, how do you keep that trust, and again, as I was saying earlier, especially in a position where on one hand we can counsel and motivate them, but if things build up where their supervision isn’t going a good direction, we got to take them to court. I feel like I’ve actually lost the trust, and I’m sad to say this, but I think I’ve lost the trust of clients before when I had to take them to court, and my hands were tied, I had to.

Leonard: I do want to explain that, but first of all, a piece of context for people listening throughout the country, our ratios, supervision ratios, are the best in the United States. We have one community supervision officer for 50 people under supervision. I know of states where it’s one to 150. I know of counties where it’s one to 250. I have seen data from jurisdictions where it’s one to 300.

We’re a federal agency, and because we’re a federal agency, we have funding. We do provide substance abuse, very comprehensive substance abuse therapy to 25% of our population who needs it. We have a mental health team, we have learning labs. We have a ton of resources that the average parole and probation agency doesn’t have, but still, even though you’ve got the best circumstances within parole and probation probably within the United States, when I talk to community supervision officers, they remind me that it’s the hardest job that they’ve ever had. That true?

Keith: Yeah, that’s true. Even though we have all those resources, if the individual doesn’t want to take advantage of those resources, it’s not even needed. It’s just we’re sending them to waste their time and waste everybody else’s time, wasting money, because it’s on the individual to really want to move forward in his life and to change and get away from that substance. No matter how much resources that we have, it can go out the door in a heartbeat by just going outside the front door and seeing what’s going on in the community.

Leonard: It’s our job to break through those barriers. It’s our job to convince a person who doesn’t want to participate. It’s our job, with a person who is struggling to participate, to successfully enter his world, her world, and help that person out. How do you help a person out who doesn’t want to be helped out?

Keith: First and foremost, I think they have to establish trust. Once they start trusting who you are, actually think that you have the best need for them, then they’ll start realizing and saying, “Okay, I’m going to go ahead and give this a opportunity and get my substance abuse worked out, get my employment worked out.” Those are the factors that may be having a barrier in their lives. I think this basically boils down to trust.

David: I definitely, yeah, I was shaking my head yes as Keith Cromer was talking, that it’s once the trust is there, then I think someone else too can come into it, that you can help the person experience exposure is what I’m thinking. Oftentimes I think a lot of clients come to parole and probation, at least from my experience in D.C., they come to parole and probation, and their lives have been focused around a specific neighborhood for many, many years, the resources they’re looking to are within that specific neighborhood.

I think there’s some goodness to that, that they feel like they know where they’re from and they can access those resources, but there are so many things in Washington, D.C., and so many opportunities, that once they trust us, that we can encourage them to take advantage of, “Maybe don’t apply for the job right down on your block, why don’t you go downtown and apply for a job?” or, “Don’t go to that GED program down the street, but why don’t you go to the one Uptown?” For those that don’t live here, Uptown’s a different part of D.C. from where Cromer and I work. I think exposure is important, and it can take away some fear to try new things. I think exposure can maybe help clients not stay and keep repeating the same things over and over again.

Leonard: Keith, go ahead. You want to jump in?

Keith: Oh yeah, I was, just get them out of a box. I think a lot of times they’re boxed in and they think they have no way of getting out. I think the opportunities that are around them, a lot of these guys know where these resources are, but they don’t take the opportunity, because I think a lot of times it’s self-doubt, negative-

Leonard: They’re frightened by it.

Keith: Yeah, they’re frightened by it, by the chance.

Leonard: Somebody, a person under supervision, an offender, one time told me, scariest thing that he’s ever done in his life is go through substance abuse treatment, because he had to confront his entire life and the reason why he was so desperately in need of drugs every single day, and that was the scariest thing he’s ever done, because he had to relive everything that propelled him towards substance abuse. Is he right?

David: I would lean towards yes. I was thinking that a lot of the older guys that I have on my caseload, maybe guys in their 50s and 60s, what I’ve found is that they’re more, not all of them, but for the most part, they’re more willing and able to look back on where they’ve been and what they’ve been through, and to demonstrate insight on how it’s affected them. I’ve found that is extremely helpful in their ability to stay out of the system, whereas the younger guys, it’s like Cromer was saying, or like we’ve been saying, that it’s almost too frightening, because if they look at it and accept what’s happened to them, accept what they’ve done, accept what they’ve been through, it could almost paralyze them.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program, I do want to reintroduce everybody. The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective is a program that I’ve looked forward to doing for quite some time, because I do think the role of parole and probation agents is probably one of the most difficult jobs that you can possibly imagine. David Mauldin, he is a Community Supervision Officer, Keith Cromer, Community Supervision Officer, both with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency,

Gentlemen, I have two questions. Number one, you’re talking to a national audience, so first of all, what do you want somebody in Des Moines or somebody in Hawaii, 20% of our audience is international, somebody from Europe to know about what it is to be a parole and probation agent?hen the second question after that is, when do we have to revoke and send that person back to prison because of transgressions, problems, new crimes? First of all, in terms of, what do you want people throughout the country to know about being a parole and probation agent? Cromer? Easy question, just simple.

Keith: To be a probation officer, a parole officer, you have to wear multiple hats. You have to b a counselor, a mentor, sometimes their father, their mother, their brother. You have to be a lot of things for them at certain times in their life, and you also have to be law enforcement as well. You have to be able to look them in the eye and tell them exactly what’s going on, and the right time, be on them, be hard on them, and then learn at the same time, break, fall back and say, “Tell me what’s going on. Allow me to cry for you, I’ll cry with you,” and then all at the same time, tell them how to, lift them up and show them how the ways to go to the next level in their lives.

Leonard: If you were dealing with an individual without problems, without substance abuse, without mental health, without educational deficiencies, who had a good job history, who doesn’t have an anger manage problem, who wasn’t abused as a child, if you’re doing that with the best possible person under the best possible circumstances, it would still be an extraordinarily difficult job.

Keith: That is correct. I have found that a lot of those guys have no other outlet, because a lot of people that are around them are negative as well, so they come to my office and speak to me friendlier than anyone, anybody else, so they dump a lot on us, what’s going on in their lives. We have to take that and process it and try and help them stay on a right, narrow path, because even though they’re doing everything correctly in their lives, a lot of times, that negative influence is still around them that they may want to go back to it.

Leonard: Both of you are out in the community, seeing them in the community, seeing them in their homes, going into their homes, talking to their parents, talking to their wives, talking to their children, talking to their grandmothers, right?

Keith: Correct.

Leonard: You’re out in the community, both at that person’s job, in their home, seeing this person in the community on an announced and unannounced basis, correct?

Keith: That’s correct.

Leonard: You roll up on a guy and the guy is standing on the street corner. The guy was fine and everything’s compliant and he’s doing fairly well and he’s getting his GED and he’s getting his plumbing certificate and he’s going to Narcotics Anonymous, and you roll up and he’s smoking a joint sitting on his front porch step with his friends. Now we get around to this issue of revocations. Look, a parole and probation agent from the state of Maryland told me that if you revoked everybody under supervision for smoking a joint on his front porch, there would be no sense in parole and probation, you would just automatically send them back to prison after a day.

David: Yeah. The clients on our caseloads, they’re on drug testing regiments, so we get notifications daily on the results of their drug test.

Leonard: Intensive drug tests.

David: Intensive drug tests. Many of them are on twice a week. If we had to respond with strong, immediate sanctions, taking them back to court every positive drug test, the jails, the prisons, would have even more people in them than they do now.

Leonard: We’d have to build four to five times the amount of prisons-

David: We would.

Leonard: … than we currently have now.

David: Absolutely. The thing is, the way I think about it is, is something becoming a pattern. I had a guy when I first started, he tested positive for cocaine. He had been clean as a whistle prior to that for several months, and then boom, positive for cocaine. Of course, we call him into the office and I sit down with him and I show him the positive and we have a conversation about, first of all, the surprise of it, “You’ve been doing well. Are there any triggers that have come up recently that hadn’t been there for a while?” We try to provide support. He no longer tested positive after that, but if that had become a pattern where it’s cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, then we go to treatment. If that didn’t work, then we …

After treatment doesn’t work, I think that’s when you come back and take a look and say, “Okay, what else can we do?” If all options have been exhausted, I think then, yes, you can go to court and request revocation. I would just want to make sure that before I requested somebody’s freedom be taken away, that I have truly tried every single thing and given that person every opportunity to turn things around.

Leonard: I do want to emphasize, anywhere from the Department of Justice to [PU 00:21:31] to the National Council of State Governments to the American Probation and Parole Association, and I could go down the list and name 15 more, they want us to remediate, to the best of our ability, I’m saying “we,” I’m talking about parole and probation throughout the country, to try intermediate sanctions, to try to hold the person accountable, provide those sanctions, and provide those resources to help that person. Every organization out there is telling us to do exactly that, so now becomes the key issue, when do you maintain, when do you try to remediate, when do you try to provide these intermediate sanctions, and when do you revoke? Is there a magic formula?

Keith: I think it’s on a individual basis. There’s no such thing as a magic formula. I think every individual comes in front of you is different and you have to treat them differently. To revoke somebody for using cocaine one time would not be a great decision for that individual, because everybody makes mistakes.

Leonard: It’s not going to be one time. Let’s be honest.

Keith: That’s true.

Leonard: Our folks screw up on a regular basis.

Keith: A regular basis, right.

Leonard: Yet at the same time, 69% successfully complete supervision, so obviously, the community supervision officers are working with that individual, with their parents, with their families, with their treatment providers, to try to provide some sense of stability so that person can safely complete supervision, but nobody does it without screw-ups.

David: Very true.

Keith: That’s correct, that’s correct. Then the more they screw up, the more they dig a hole for themselves, and eventually, no matter how much you try to do as far as intervention for them, revocation is on the way. You either tell them that you are doing this for them, you’re trying to help them out, trying to find a cause of what’s going on behind it, treatment, modality, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, it doesn’t matter, at one point in time, revocation is inevitable. You can talk to them as much as you can, but some people, no matter what you do, they’re still going to want to, they’re not going to follow the rules and regulations of supervision, so they’re going to go back.

David: I want to throw this out there too, to consider too. Sometimes when we think about revocation, it is a hard thing to think about, taking somebody’s freedom, but I had a few clients actually that have said to me before, after they’ve been released, that they feel, and it’s a touchy subject, it’s something for debate, but they said that they feel like their time in jail saved them.

Keith: That’s true.

David: Now you can look back in their histories and see PCP, cocaine, heroin, constant use, homelessness, no employment, so those are strong risk factors for possible recidivation, but sometimes I think our society as a whole looks at prison and jail and says, “It’s the worst thing ever. It’s the worst thing ever. It needs to change.” There are things that need to be adjusted, most definitely, but when I hear clients who have said that’s what saved their life, it really gives me pause to say, “You know what? There is a time when we have to go to the judge and say, ‘Take their freedom.'” I was going to throw that out there. I think one thing, can I go back for a second?

Leonard: Yeah, please do.

David: You asked the question about what would we recommend to people across the country listening and about our role as probation officers, and I think one thing too is that, remember that we are on the front line of behavior change, of trying to instill behavior change in a very, very, very difficult population, the people that you read about who have committed the armed robberies, the people that you have read about that are running through the streets high on cocaine and heroin. Those are the people we meet with. Those are the people who we get to know their grandmothers, their children, their spouses, and it is difficult. I think people need to remember that if a client messes up, even several times on supervision, it’s not just a cut and dry process. If it took 20 years for somebody to get involved with the criminal justice system and they’ve got a year on probation, we need to keep in mind what sort of issues. It takes a while.

Leonard: I go back to my experience in Maryland where the person said that if you’re going to revoke them for one, two, three, four, five drug positives, then just revoke them now, just revoke everybody. They come out of prison on a Tuesday and they’re back on a Wednesday, because what’s the sense? They’re not going to go to treatment or they’re going to be disruptive in treatment, they’re not going to get a job or they’re going to take too long to get a job, and they’re going to pay their fines in restitution, but not pay all of it.

There’s always problems with people under supervision. Your job is to break through the barriers, understand that person, understand their family, understand their circumstances, use cognitive-behavioral therapy, establish a relationship with that person, and at the same time, magically induce these individuals to participate in programs, encourage their successful participation in programs, and hold them accountable when they screw up.

David: Yeah, correct.

Leonard: That’s a huge, huge, huge task. People need to understand, people listening throughout the country, people need to understand that out of the correctional population, which is 7,000,000 individuals on any given day, 5,000,000 belong to us in parole and probation. The vast majority of people involved in the criminal justice system are not behind bars. The vast majority of the people in the criminal justice system are beholden or responsible or reporting to parole and probation agents.

Keith: That’s correct.

Leonard: Can I throw out a question to Cromer real quick?

David: Yeah, please.

Leonard: Keith, I have a question for you. We had talked about this earlier, but you said before you had had clients that on supervision were doing stellar, they were meeting all their special conditions, coming to the office visits, drug testing clean, working, but then something happened where everything just falls apart. You mentioned earlier the importance of helping the clients build a plan. Was it just that they didn’t have a plan that they fell apart or was there something … How does something go from this really positive trajectory and then it just evaporates?

Keith: Yes, either one, they have a plan or …

Leonard: Back in the mic. There we go.

Keith: One, they didn’t have a plan, or two, something in their lives that destroyed them. A lot of times they don’t know how to cope with issues that come up in their lives, so the first thing they do is go to drug use. The friends, the family, things happen, or death in the family, everybody goes out with everybody, but a lot of people [inaudible 00:28:07]] surroundings tend to cope with using drugs, marijuana, cocaine, whatever the case may be, or celebrating, the same direction. That’s the reason what you have to figure out is how to let them know that that’s not okay to celebrate or to go into mourning regarding using drugs regarding an issue. Then also a lot of times, they’re going well and then they sabotage themselves because they don’t know, “I’m doing so well, I don’t know how to-“

Leonard: “I don’t know what to do from here,” maybe.

Keith: “… [crosstalk 00:28:39] do from here,” so they do, the fear comes in, and so they use cocaine or whatever drug.

David: Because in my head I was thinking, that’s one of the most difficult parts for me as a supervision officer is when somebody’s doing fantastic, and so in your head you’re like, “Wow, this person, they’re going to have a great life. 20 years from now, they’re going to be great,” and then everything falls apart.

Leonard: I think that struggle is with every person out there. You’re going to have good days and bad days and some points where they’re doing well and some points where they’re not doing well, and somehow, some way, you’ve got to work your magic regardless of the circumstances. We got about 15 seconds left. Comments? Comments?

David: I was going to say, just remember that we’re on the front lines of behavior change with folks involved in the criminal justice system, not easy.

Leonard: Look, we have better results in the last couple years here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, higher case closure rates, fewer arrests. Congratulations to you and everybody out there that chooses to be a community supervision officer, and a parole and probation agent, outside of the District of Columbia. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to David Mauldin, CSO, Keith Cromer, CSO, with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. This is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a pleasant day.

Reentry from a former offender’s perspective

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the Nation’s Capitol this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen this is going to be a fun show. Reentry from a former offender’s perspective. We have Randy Kirsch, Randy is a formerly incarcerated person, he is an author, public speaker and a reentry strategist. His website,, Randy Kirsch, welcome back to Public Safety.

Randy Kirsch: Thank you very much Leonard, I appreciate being here again, being able to chime in about reentry and hopefully something that his said in this conversation will help somebody, somewhere.

Leonard Sipes: The criminal justice system doesn’t seem to pay a lot of attention to the very people who are caught up in the criminal justice system so that’s the point of this program, and a series of other programs where we interview people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. You and I happen to be Facebook friends, and one of the very few professional Facebook friends that I allow onto my personal Facebook world. I love the posts that you do on Facebook. Let’s get down to your background a little bit Randy. You were caught up in the criminal justice system and can I ask why?

Randy Kirsch: I got caught up in the criminal justice system at a early age. Actually from 17 years old I would find myself involved in getting in trouble for different various reasons and it escalated. I found myself at 26 years old caught up in a drug conspiracy, a Federal drug conspiracy that sent me to prison for 15 years. What I tell people is that I actually … August 10th this August 10th is a very profound date for me because it’s the first time in 33 years that I will be free of any type of criminal justice system supervision or anything like that. August 10th my parole ends, they gave me 10 years supervised release when I got released from the Federal system. From the age of 17 to the age of 50 I’ve been under some type of criminal justice, either I was in jail, in prison or on probation, on parole.

Running from the police, going back to [inaudible 00:02:20] court, so August 10th, next Monday I will be officially free from any type of connection to the criminal justice system.

Leonard Sipes: I know that makes you very happy.

Randy Kirsch: Id does, it does, but it’s also a sober reminder that even though I will be free from that context I will still always have the residue, I might say, the past. I will always have a record, I will always be limited to certain things when it comes to, maybe even a job or things like that. Even though I’ll be free, but it will always be there something to remind me.

Leonard Sipes: The criminal record is going to follow you for the rest of your life.

Randy Kirsch: Yes, yes.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah and that has an impact on probably everybody you talk to.

Randy Kirsch: Yes, yes.

Leonard Sipes: Does it have an impact on family and friends?

Randy Kirsch: It does, it does, and I was just at a reentry gathering last Saturday and we talked about how reentry and incarceration impacts the family. Because a lot of times the family is not that well prepared for their loved one to reenter society because they have to now adjust their life and their roles and their well-being to bring this person back into the fold of being a part of the family unit. There’s sometimes a lot unrealistic expectations for people that are coming home. I mean you have a family or a parent or a wife or girlfriend who wants that person to immediately go out and get a job. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen and then that puts pressure on the person as they’re living in that situation and not being able to contribute to the household. It’s a lot. It’s a lot for the family and it’s a lot for the individual who is reentering society.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, we have a short amount of time, 30 minutes, I do want to talk about the book that you’ve written. In fact it’s the 4th book that you’ve written. First I want to talk about the strategies that you have for those of us in the criminal justice system. Right now you’re talking to people, mid-level managers, higher-level managers within the criminal justice system. You’re talking to aides to mayors, aides to congress people. You’re talking to the academic community because the colleges and universities take the radio and television programs that we do and run them verbatim in their classrooms and have class discussions afterwards. You’re talking to a fairly wide audience today. What are the key messages you have for those of us in the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: I would say it’s time to rethink reentry in a way that initiates some bold and innovative type of approaches. What has been the norm or what has been going on in reentry up to this point, a lot of it is good but not enough of it is working. I mean, we see the recidivism rate and it’s pretty much the same from 10 years ago to now. To 20 years ago. Evidently you have to look at it as, what do we need to do to change that. You’ve got to look at it and say, “We’ve got to do some different things.” There are a lot of different good programs out there but they’re not reaching, they’re not impacting enough people to make a dent in the recidivism rate.

What I propose and what I talk about especially to those that are in a position to make some changes and to come up with some new policies is to think about what we can do to reach more of the incarcerated population and in a way that we can have a greater impact on them and a greater success rate for them not to come back. That’s where I come in, in doing the work that I do and coming up with these strategies that I’ve created and I helped create. Because who better to be able to tell someone how not to go back to prison is somebody who didn’t go back to prison. These are the things that I would say, and work with some of the successful people who have come come home from incarceration who are now business owners, who are now entrepreneurs, who are self-sufficient and doing positive things in the community. Work with them, find out what worked for them and then use that, duplicate that all over the system.

Leonard Sipes: You have that opportunity right now. What works? What do we in the criminal justice system, students, aides to congresspeople, aides to mayors. What do we need to understand first of all, about the system of people coming out of the prison system and specifically what can we do to have better outcomes for people who are caught up in the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: I think everybody understands the challenges that a person faces when they come out. I mean that’s first and foremost when it comes to housing and employment and things like that. I think that where we would do a better service for individuals that are coming out is to prepare them while they’re in to get out. Not just say, “Well this person needs a job, this person needs housing.” This person that’s incarcerated, and I know from personal experience, needed a change in thinking, needed a change in behavior, needed a change in the way he sees the world, the perspective. We need to focus on how do we get those people to do that behavioral, cognitive behavioral transition from the mind set that they had prior to going to prison. The mindset that they had in prison. To get them to shift that mindset for when they get out and prepare them for those challenges for when they get out.

Leonard Sipes: We’re talking about more programs in prison?

Randy Kirsch: We’re talking about more programs that will help connect the person who is in prison to the challenges that they’ll face. Honestly and truthfully. I did my research from being incarcerated, some of the programs that are available in the prison really don’t connect the individual that’s going through the experience with the experience that he’s going to face when he get’s out. A lot the stuff that’s out there and the programs that are out there are being developed and created by people who haven’t actually lived that experience. It’s hard to connect someone to an experience if you haven’t actually been through the experience. In theory it sounds good, it really does, I mean I’m sure it’s meant well in intention but it’s not the same. As far as me going into a situation to talk to a formerly incarcerated individual and tell him, “Listen, this is what you need to do. These are the challenges you’re going to face. This is how I was able to face those challenges. This is how I was able to overcome those challenges.” We have to be able to create those types of programs that actually connect the person who’s incarcerated to the actual reality of the challenges they’re going to face when they get out.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, Randy so your bottom line message is an issue of authenticity then. What you’re saying is that what we should do is to get folks like Randy Kirsch and others, put them in a rum and have them design programs.

Randy Kirsch: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: You guys could come up with better programs then the people in the criminological community and the penal community and the criminal justice system. You guys could come up with more authentic programs that are going to be reaching more people. Is that the bottom line?

Randy Kirsch: Yes, yes, I think that would a be great approach. Again, I mean it’s not, to me, which one is better. I guess it is, which one better connects to the individual experience, that’s the whole thing. Because you’re going to have a person, and I’ve seen it, you have a guy come from the outside and he’s teaching this reentry program and he goes home everyday and he can’t make that connection because he never actually understand what … You can tell a person to be patient, but they have to really connect with, “wow he did that. This person did that. He did 20 years and came home and was able to be successful.” It does add an air of authenticity when it comes to actual practice.

Leonard Sipes: Well, quite frankly randy I don’t disagree with you. It’s something that I’ve bee advocating for years, for there to be a think tank of people like yourself to guide the rest of us within the criminal justice system. Job training programs seem to be rather straight forward, teaching a person how to be a carpenter, teaching a person how to be a electrician. Teaching a person how to lay bricks, that’s all pretty much straight forward, you don’t really need to have a background within the system to teach carpentry.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, understanding people, making that connection with people. Drug treatment, these are all pretty straight forward modalities in terms of helping people. It comes from the psychological literature. It comes from the criminal justice literature. What you’re saying drug treatment from a person whose never been in your shoes lacks the authenticity to reach the individuals?

Randy Kirsch: The thing is to, that’s part of it, but you have to teach a person not only a skill in a job sense, you also have to teach him how to keep a job, how to act on a job. What is the relationship between him and his supervisor and how that he can’t allow certain situations to force him or make him think that he has to react in a kind of way. It’s about teaching people life skills. A lot of people who have been incarcerated haven’t been, haven’t had the teachings of how to navigate through life itself on a basis that will keep them out of prison. We’ve been taught this mindset that we have to be aggressive or we can’t take orders or we can’t do certain things because it hurts our pride. It’s a lot of things that we need to teach people on how to actually live life. Life skills that will make them before they decide to get in an argument with their supervisor or their boss to think about they have a family to fee and what the consequences are versus them speaking up or speaking out. Those are the things that make all of those components that you said, with the drug treatment, with the job training and everything like that. Those are components that have to work together in order for someone to stay out of prison.

Leonard Sipes: Okay I want to go to larger criminal justice policy but final question and if I could get a quick answer. Because I did want to start talking about your book at a certain point. Are you talking about psychologists and social workers and treatment specialists who have degrees and years of training in this sort thing. Are they going to be replaced by people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system or are they going to be supplemented by people caught up in the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: I think they should partnership with people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. That’s what I think.

Leonard Sipes: Larger criminal justice policy, right now there is a huge debate all throughout the United States, the sense that we over incarcerate, the sense that we could release people. Not the people involved in crime and justice issues in the prison system. To cut back significantly on the amount of incarceration that we have. Which means the great bulk of these individuals fall on agencies like mine. I represent the court services and offender supervision agency, a federal parole and probation agency here in the nations capitol. The burden would fall on parole and probation agencies, do you have any thoughts about this larger criminal justice policy discussion that’s been going on throughout the United States?

Randy Kirsch: There’s going to be no quick fix to a problem or situation that has been building for years, and years, and years, until we work with these individuals to show them that there’s a different way to go about living. It’s hard, because we have to be able to show people opportunity, in all facets. Whether incarcerated, or probation or parole. Parole plays a very important role in helping people transition back into society so I think that that is a lot of times impacts a persons decision and causing them to go back sometimes. Because they feel pressurized or pressured from probation or parole. Hiring more supervisors … There’s a compassion issue here too.

Some of the people that work in corrections or parole or probation, they have no real compassion for the people that they’re working for. There’s no feeling of empathy for these people. When you can give a person the sense of dignity I’m going to tell you, a sense of dignity will help build the persons self-esteem to the point that they will really behave in a whole different way. The system has become so cold towards a lot of offenders that sometimes they just give up. They don’t feel like there’s nobody there to help them but if you find someone who has a compassion. For me, the 10 years that I’ve been on parole and probation, I’ve had nothing but support from my parole officers and it helped a lot. It helped a lot. I had nothing but their willingness to work with me and allow me to do the things that I was doing. That made a difference.

Leonard Sipes: We’re half way through the program, more than halfway through the program. Reentry from the offender’s perspective, Randy Kirsch is by our microphones, back at our microphones. Formerly incarcerated person, author, public speaker, reentry strategists,, Randy what’s the name of your book?

Randy Kirsch: The name of this book is “Changing your game plan. How to use incarceration as a stepping stone for success.” It’s not a book per se, it’s a workbook. It’s more of a workbook than a novel or any type of nonfiction book. What makes my workbook so unique, it can be done, it can be used in a group setting, it comes with a facilitators manual, or it can be done as an independent study guide where individuals can go with in his own cell or on his own and actually work through this program.

What I’ve created is a what I like to call a rethinking, readiness, prison reentry, rethinking, readiness program where it actually walks you through the steps you need to be doing while you’re incarcerated to prepare you for getting out. This book, honestly it’s an awesome book. It took me over a year and a half to write, to put together. It’s over 50 thought provoking chapters and after each chapter there’s questions that an individual will have to read and answer. Those questions bring you face to face with your own personal truth. It brings you face to face with the questions that really would hopefully make a person really think about their future. Really think about where they are and how they got there. This book has the potential to really make a difference in people’s lives.

What inspired me to write this book to be totally honest with you is my original book is “Changing your game plan. How I used incarceration as a stepping stone for success.” It chronicles my journey of the lifestyle of being in the streets and dealing drugs and eventually dropping out of school and going to prison and all of the things that led me to where I was doing 15 years. How I was able to change that all the way around. I’ve gotten letters from people all over the country, people who are incarcerated as well as councilors and reentry councilors and stuff like that. They tell me how they were using that book, the original book, “Changing your game plan. How I used incarceration as a steppingstone for success.” As a program, as a way to help people to reenter society and prepare themselves. I always thought this would be a better, have a better impact on people and help people better so I went about creating the book.

It’s a wonderful book, again 50 chapters, there’s also a reading component where in each chapter there are words that are highlighted and there’s a glossary defining the words in the back of the book to help people build their vocabulary. I talk about everything that a person needs to do in order to successfully, not only transition back into society but to stay out here.

Leonard Sipes: Randy what was the key issue that kept you out of prison? You came out of prison, you were under supervision by parole and probation. What was the key issue, the key element where you said to yourself, “No more, I’m going to go straight, I’m going to be using this experience for the better good.” What was your key experience and what do you think is the key experience for most people coming out of the prison system? There are two questions.

Randy Kirsch: My key experience was the fact that I didn’t have ownership pf mu life. That after 15 years people had to tell me what to do, when to do it, how to do it, where I should do it. Having to be powerless, and I felt powerless, when I was incarcerated. I never wanted to ever feel that feeling again, I never wanted that feeling that I couldn’t go somewhere because I was constricted. I didn’t want that feeling ever again. That I think a lot of people who are incarcerated feel, but when they get out they rush, too busy to rush back into life and they don’t pace themselves. Then they wind up finding themselves in the same situation. I’m not going to say since I’ve been out that I’ve made all the right choices. I’ve made some missteps here and there but none have been ever detrimental to send me back and I’ll always tell my elf, “I need to do better, I need to do better, I need to do better.” It’s a constant reminder of where I was at.

I never forget where I came from, I never forget that experience. That experience shaped me, the food alone kept me from going back. Listen the food alone.

Leonard Sipes: [crosstalk 00:22:02] get used to that good food up there in Brooklyn.

Randy Kirsch: Yeah, the food alone was enough to say I’m not going back.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, all right look. Two thirds are rearrested, a half go back to prison go back within 3 years. Now that figure has been replicated in various studies by the Department of Justice multiple times. There are others that give different figures but the bulk of individuals are rearrested and some where in the ball park or 40 to 50% go back to prison. Failure is a common occurrence of people called up caught up in the criminal justice system. You mentioned a while ago, empathy. I think a lot of people involved in the criminal justice system have seen so much failure and seen so many attempts to help a person get off of drugs. To help a person get the mental health treatment that he or she needs. To help the person reunite with a family. To help a person find jobs and to put a tremendous amount of time and effort, this is the perspective from the other side of the system. Just to see the person fail.

I think there’s a burn out syndrome of those of us that work in the criminal justice system that would be greatly alleviated if so many people caught up in the criminal justice system were not rearrested, did not go back to prison. My first question is, what is the key ingredient, we heard what happened to you. You didn’t like the food, you felt powerless, everybody else, what do you think the key issue is in the fact that so many people do reenter the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: One, a lot of people don’t come home with a plan. That’s is major problem. People don’t actually plan what they’re going to do when they get out. Also they don’t see, all we hear about are those who go back. That’s all of the figure that you just gave me. The 65% and all of these other figures, but nobody is focusing on the other 35% who stay out. That’s where I come in, That’s why I do what I do to show people there are people who actually never go back. Who actually are settled in society. There are people, like I said, they become businessmen, entrepreneurs, people go back to college and they get Master’s degree and they work in these fields and we don’t see enough of those. We don’t hear enough of those stories to resonate with those who are going through that experience, so they feel hopeless. That sense of powerlessness is a constant reminder of where they are.

What I’m doing, and the work that I’m doing is showing not only people giving you a blueprint on what you need to do while you’re there to prepare for your life when you get out, but I’m showing you. We just shot a film series called, “Beyond prison, probation and parole.” I went and talked to various people who have been incarcerated, came home and are doing phenomenal things. We plan to hopefully get that inside the prison system so people can see and hear and be motivated and inspired by other people. That other 35% who don’t go back, and I think that this is the time, especially when we have access to the media avenues, through videos, through books, these innovative, interactive programs on being able to shift and show people what their full potential is, if they decide to embrace a different lifestyle, a different way of thinking. I think it all starts with the way a person thinks about himself, thinks about where they are and thinks about what they can accomplish in the future.

I know … I’m sorry.

Leonard Sipes: No. Pleas, we’re running out of time, if we had all the programs designed by the people caught up in the criminal justice system. If you had the psychologists and the social workers and the criminologists sitting down with folks with your background, putting together the right programs, I heard two themes out of this, dignity, and programs with input from people like yourself. If we had that what percentage improvement would we have if everybody was afforded programs and with significant input from folks like yourself. If the system really provided the dignity to the individuals who are coming out of the prison system or caught up in probation, how much improvement do you think there would be?

Randy Kirsch: I think that, like I said, that’s just one component. When you put it together with the employment and the housing component, I think we could probably. Oh man, we could make a huge difference in people going back and forth to prison.

Leonard Sipes: We’re talking about 600 to 700,000 people coming out of the prison system, you’re talking about their families, you’re talking about the children. You’re talking about every year at least conservatively 1.5 million people.

Randy Kirsch: Yeah, I think that we can make a huge dent if those type of programs were created that really connect people with the real challenges and the real experiences that they are going to face and make their plans. Make them come up with a plan and have a plan for when they get out, coupled with having some housing available for them and having some job opportunities available to them. Teaching them how to reenter society and stay in society. It’s not enough to teach a person how to reenter, we have to teach people how to stay in society.

Leonard Sipes: That’s also going to require a fairly significant mindset on the part of the people of the United States to provide the tax money to allow all that to happen. To provide that sense of dignity, as you put it, to be more accepting of people coming out of the prison system. Giving them say and opportunity for a job, that’s going to require a fundamental mindset of the part of the American population.

Randy Kirsch: I think society is ready, I think society is ready for people to come back to society. One thing I love about America, and people can say all they want to say about this country or whatever the case may be. There are some issues that we have to deal with a a society, as a country, but this is probably one of the only places in the world that you can get a 2nd, 3rd and sometimes a 4th chance. I mean, come on, it doesn’t get any better than that. I think that society as a whole is willing to give people a chance as long as they’re willing to work for that chance and to be able to put in and be productive citizens in society. We have to teach people how to be productive citizens in society and I think that these programs that we just talked about and having people who have had those experiences have an input. They don’t have to have the total control of creating the programs, just be able to have an input would make a lot of difference. [crosstalk 00:29:17]

Leonard Sipes: Randy we need to close the program, “Changing your game plan”, the new book. What is it subtitled?

Randy Kirsch: “How to use incarceration as a steppingstone for success.” It’s a prison reentry readiness program, again it can be used by an individual on his own or it can be used in a group setting and I’m going to be all over the country trying to promote this program.

Leonard Sipes: Our program, our guest today is Randy Kirsch. Formerly incarcerated person, author, public speaker, reentry strategists,, Ladies and Gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasent day.

Social Impact Bonds

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the Nation’s capitol this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen, Social Impact Bonds pay for success or making government more evidence based, more creative and more receptive to new ideas. Back at our microphones, John Roman, Senior Fellow Justice Policy Setter, Urban Institute,, John welcome back to DC Public Safety.

John Roman: Thank you very much.

Leonard Sipes: All right you’re my favorite guest because all I have to do is wind you up and let you go, so that’s what we’re going to do today. Social Impact Bonds, what the heck are Social Impact Bonds?

John Roman: This is a new idea and it’s probably the biggest idea that’s out there today in terms of reforming criminal and juvenile justice systems. Along with public health, workforce development, economic redevelopment, pretty much anything you can think of. What we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to get private companies to invest in traditionally public sector activities. Which will allow governments to do all kinds of things that they’ve wanted to do but never had the resources to pursue.

The basic idea is Goldman-Saks in the deal that we’re going to talk about in a minute. Invested in a program to help prisoners at Rikers Island, which is the New York City jail. Which is a very distressed little corner of the world.

Leonard Sipes: It’s crazy.[crosstalk 00:01:29]

John Roman: A place that needs new resources to invest in a new program that hadn’t been implemented there before with the idea that the government of New York city would only pay back Goldman-Saks if the investment met performance targets that all of the parties agreed to, before the transaction was implemented.

Leonard Sipes: What was the program? What were they trying to do?

John Roman: What they were to do was basically a program called, “Moral Reconnation Therapy” through a program called, “Able”. The idea was to work with 16 to 18 year olds. New York is 1 of only 2 states left in the country that 16 and 17 year olds automatically enter the adult criminal justice system and so you have certain responsibilities to treat these young people in different ways then you would adults. This program was an attempt to try and deliver more services to them. To the tune of over 9 million dollars worth of new services to hundreds of not thousands of young people in Rikers Island in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to receive.

Leonard Sipes: Okay for the non-criminal justice people out there it’s a jail, so it’s not a prison so they are either awaiting trial or they’re serving shot sentences which category do these people fall in?

John Roman: The goal was, and this was really why this was very complicated, so the goal here was to try and serve people who were there on a sentence or were serving a long period of pre-trial detention. That just means they’re somebody who had done something that meant that the court wasn’t going to let them out on the street until their case was adjudicated in the courtroom or people who got a short sentence, less then one year 3, 6, 9, 12 months. Who were there for long enough that they had … There was the potential that you could actually deliver some services with some real dosage.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, that’s the point they were there long enough to deliver the services and were the services delivered as designed?

John Roman: Yeah, they really weren’t.

Leonard Sipes: Yes or no?

John Roman: No, they were not. The idea here is to say … We should take one gigantic step back if you like and say this is an idea that has been implemented around the world. There are Social Impact Bonds in the United Kingdom, there are 20 of them. There’s half a dozen in Australia. There are Social Impact Bonds, I was reading a piece today about Social Impact Bonds being developed in Brazil and Mexico. I know Israel is looking at them, Netherlands … They’re all around the world.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so this is much bigger than any of us realize?

John Roman: That’s exactly right. This is the new idea, and the new idea is that we have all of these programs that have some evidence base right? People don’t really understand that we know so much more about how to help really disadvantaged populations then we did 20 years ago. I started at Urban in 1197 and what we know about what’s effective in serving people is completely exponentially grown since I started. What hasn’t grown is the resources to fund these programs to test whether they work and then implement them at scale.

Leonard Sipes: Why? When I talked to people about this program, getting ready do do the program they were saying, “Leonard, really intriguing idea, but if the ideas were so good why isn’t government funding?” Why isn’t government funding these programs if they are so evidence based, if they’re so impactful?

John Roman: I have two responses to that and one is really simple. They don’t. We’ve talked on this program before and you’ve probably talked a lot about drug courts.

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

John Roman: Drug courts are an idea where you take people who are drug involved and it’s their drug usage that’s causing them to offend and if you address the underlying substance abuse issue you could get them to stop offending and lead more productive lives and that would save tax payers money.

Leonard Sipes: Drug courts are generally seen as effective.

John Roman: Drug courts are seen as effective, there’s an enormous amount of research around drug courts that they have an effect.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: We’ve been doing these things for 25 years.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: They’re in every major county, there are 3,000 counties in America, they’re are probably in 2,000.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and that’s just the point. I mean they’ve shown to be effective and government has implemented them in hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the United States and Canada and throughout the world.

John Roman: That’s right where you hit the problem. The problem is we did a study about 5 years ago where we went and looked at of the 1.5 million people who enter the criminal justice system every year, which is an astonishingly large number.

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

John Roman: We estimated that of the 1.5 million offenders who enter the American criminal justice system, who are at risk of substance abuse disorders, of that 1.5 million, maybe 3% got a drug court. Then some really smart researchers at the University of Maryland came on behind us, redid our studies and different data and they estimated that we were wrong that in fact it’s less than 1%. Here we have an idea that is universally accepted, this is a way to stop future offending, this is a way to help disadvantaged people. This is a way to make America a better place and we don’t do it in any large numbers.

Leonard Sipes: I do want to get on the Social Impact Bonds because it’s intriguing and you’re saying it’s a national effort or an international effort. We should really be paying attention to it. Again the people I’ve been talking to are saying, “Leonard if it’s so dag-gone effective, why aren’t we getting the funding for it? Why do we have to go to Goldman-Saks, why do we have to go with hat in hand?” I mean, why don’t we just start kick-starter programs for drug treatment and for mental health? Why doesn’t the government, if government is saying they want fewer people in the criminal justice system, if government is saying we cannot stand the strain of the correctional budget as it currently is. We want to have fewer people recidivate, fewer people enter the criminal justice system, why the heck doesn’t government pay for it?

John Roman: Well government doesn’t pay for it.

Leonard Sipes: Why?

John Roman: There’s a bunch of reasons for it. One of the reasons for it is the results of these interventions occur way down the road. They’re not today, they’re distant. The administration that funds it today won’t be around when those benefits accrue so they’d rather fund things where the benefits will occur while they’re in office. That makes total sense. The populations we’re talking about are very difficult to serve. A drug involved population is … Drug courts are a great example, drug abuse treatment is a great example.

It’s not effective for everybody every time right? Relapse is part of recovery and so you have to know that you’re going to make the overall average population better but you’re not going to help every person. What that means is you’re going to be putting people out on the street instead of in prison, which is what you normally do with these folks and some of them are going to commit new offensives and that’s politically untenable for some populations. Then at the other end of the spectrum a lot of the people that we’re talking about helping with these kinds of programs just don’t have a political constituency they aren’t very sympathetic.

Leonard Sipes: All right, I don’t want to take away from the program on Social Impact Bonds but I promised others when I was doing the research for the program that I would ask that question. Social Impact Bonds very big, they are happening throughout the world. Why Social Impact Bonds? You may have just answered the question. Government unto itself really does not want to take these programs on.

John Roman: There are 3 things going on here that are really important. If you think about the research, I’m a researcher so I come at it from an evidence base and I come at it from the perspective of trying to get government to invest more in outcomes rather then good intentions. What I’d like to see for social service providers to get good evidence around their good works instead of just good intentions. Which is where we are today. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on out there that sounds good on paper that does not have any research support around it. Part of what these bonds do is because you have to go to an investor who’s going to write a check and in some cases these are really big checks right?

The Department of Labor, The US Department of Labor has funded a couple of these transactions to the tune of 15 million dollars so we’re talking about real large investments. If you’re going to get somebody to write a 15 million dollar check for you, you’d better have some sound evidence to demonstrate to them what their expectations should be for how effective this thing is and whether you’re going to be able to achieve the performance goals that you’ve outlined in the agreement.

Leonard Sipes: I mean people watching the Shark Tank program, I would imagine you have that sort of atmosphere. They’re saying, “Hey, prove to me that there is a research base behind this program. We’re not going to write you a check for anything until you come along and provide us with enough evidence that leads us to believe that we’re going to get a return on our investment.” There has to be an evidence base or is the private sector better at understanding evidence based procedures the the government?

John Roman: There’s two questions in there, one is am I willing to put my scholarship aside and admit that I watch Shark Tank? I do.

Leonard Sipes: It’s my wife’s favorite program.

John Roman: It’s a wonderful show and it really is exactly the sort of thing we’re talking about here, except that the scale is way smaller then what we’re talking about here. There they’re talking about 6 figures, hundreds of thousands, here we’re talking tens of millions.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: Maybe more, down the road. You have to be able to go to the same kind of investors, high-worth investors and ultra high-worth investors, right? People with 500 million dollars that they want to invest and you have to convince them that you’re going to reinvent Cleveland. You are going to do urban redevelopment in Akron. You are going to solve asthma in Fresno. You’re going to cure blight in Baltimore and if you can make a case that is evidence based to these folks they are going to invest in a way where they don’t actually get a market rate of return.

Leonard Sipes: Because if the program doesn’t succeed and are endless issues in terms of whether or not a program succeeds, implementation is one of the hardest things on the face of the Earth. If it doesn’t succeed it may not have anything to do with the evidence it may just be how it’s implemented that may be how faithful were to the original program design. They don’t get anything at all, they only get the return on their dollars. The program is paid for by government if it works. In this case the question becomes recidivism, in this case it didn’t reduce recidivism there by Goldman walks away from the table with nothing in it’s pocket.

John Roman: I want to come back to the Rikers Island deal, because it’s really important to the development of this concept to understand what happened in New York City.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

John Roman: What I want to say about your point of implementation fidelity. Fidelity to best practice is really critical and that’s actually part of what’s going on here and it’s part of what’s so exciting about this whole prospect. Department of Labor funded the state of Massachusetts to do a program for young adult offenders in Massachusetts. Called “Roka” what they’re are trying to do there is to understand if they reduce the number of jail bed days that you would have expected from new offending compared to people who don’t get this program.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: The other thing that they’re doing that’s really important is … The Urban Institute is doing that validation. Another group Apt Associates is doing an implementation, the question they’re asking is, “Have you implemented this program as close to best practice as possible?”

Leonard Sipes: A process evaluation.

John Roman: A process evaluation yes, but more than that an implementation science is what we call it, right? What we’re learning is, we’re learning whether government cam come together and get the data together to do this big system reform. We’re learning whether this kind of program helps young people involved in the criminal system, and we’re learning how to put these things in place in a way that will inform the next time we try and replicate this in another place in another time.

Leonard Sipes: Any answers to any of those questions?

John Roman: We don’t have them yet, but what we think is really important in all of this process is the process itself is a reform. What we want to do is we want to go to a juvenile and adult criminal justice systems and we want to say to them, “Who are the drivers of your cost and populations? Who are the people you serve over and over again?”

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: “Why have you failed with this population?”

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: Getting people to admit that they’ve failed is really, really hard. Why is it that the same people keep coming in over and over, because that is evidence of failure. “Is there evidence out there about a program that you could be implementing that would help these people be more successful with their lives and save your tax payers resources and is a Social Impact Bond the way to finance that?”

Leonard Sipes: Now is a Social Impact Bond part of that Massachusetts initiative, I heard Department of Labor, who else?

John Roman: It is funded, it’s third sector is the intermediary there is private financing that’s associated with it. All of the dollars that are paying for this up front come from somebody’s pocket other than the Massachusetts state government. The federal government is paying for some of the implementation pieces and the evaluation pieces and the data integration and [crosstalk 00:14:52]

Leonard Sipes: So the private sector is putting up money?

John Roman: The private sector is putting up another 15 million dollars so it’s about a 30 million dollar transaction.

Leonard Sipes: That’s a huge investment.

John Roman: It’s a huge investment and so what we’re doing here is we’re thinking about investing in chronically disadvantaged populations on a completely different scale then we’ve thought about it at all. If you think about the Second Chance Act that was a hundred million dollars across all 50 states. That’s 2 million dollars a state. Here we’re talking about 30 million for one state.

Leonard Sipes: I want to talk about how expensive these programs are and I’m not quite sure the average person realizes when in terms of what we do at the court services and the defendant supervision agency for high risk people is to put them in a 28 day residential program then put them into a 90 day residential treatment program them put them in an after care program. All that carries an enormous expense, but ladies and gentlemen, back at our microphones John Roman, Senior Fellow Justice Policy Setter, Urban Institute,, Talking about Social Impact Bonds.

John, this is exciting, so what you’re saying is we can sell hard-nosed, demanding individuals who only invest their money if they see the potential for return on their dollars and there’s enough evidence out there or they’re willing to do social change or intervention programs on a very large scale.

John Roman: Right, so let me give you one example and I can give you others if you want to hear them. There is a new drug therapy that actually cures Hepatitis C. That’s important for our discussion here because something like two thirds of people with Hepatitis C in America contact the criminal justice system at some point right? You get Hepatitis C because of prostitution or intravenous drug use or something like that.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: We actually have this medical therapy that is a 3 month course of pills basically, that you take that at the end of the 3 months you no longer have Hepatitis C. The only other cure for Hepatitis C is a liver transplant which is like a million bucks.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: The course of treatment is about $85,000 over 3 months right? We’re talking something like-

Leonard Sipes: For 1 person?

John Roman: For 1 person.

Leonard Sipes: Oh my God.

John Roman: We’re talking about 7% of the criminal justice population has Hepatitis C.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: Almost a hundred thousand dollars per person.

Leonard Sipes: Got it.

John Roman: When you talk about needing resources on that scale there is no solution, right?

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: This is the solution, you could come along and you could go to Goldman, or JP Morgan-Chase, or Bank of America, or Deutsche Bank, or whoever, these folks have all expressed interest in this concept and say to them, “Look, we will as the government have this enormous financial benefit for having treated these people for this condition, because we won’t have to treat them. We won’t have prisoners that need liver transplants that we have to pay for so we’ll bay you back for a profit.”

Leonard Sipes: Is this actually happening?

John Roman: This one is on the books but we’re talking about these things around, another big one is asthma. Very similar idea.

Leonard Sipes: All right the medical part of it I understand, the criminal justice system often times to me strikes me as being a hard sell, which is one of the reasons why the data that I’ve seen in the past is that fewer than 10% of all people in prison have access to substance abuse treatment.

John Roman: Right.

Leonard Sipes: Even the substance abuse treatment that’s there is not very good and the numbers are tiny, so if 80% have histories of substance abuse, 10% are getting it. You say to yourself, “Is it that government doesn’t care?” What you’re talking about is revolutionary. What you’re talking about is not Social Impact Bonds, what you’re talking about is a process, a sea change, a different way of conducting criminal justice, a different way of conduction public health, it’s not government that’s driving the boat anymore it’s industry. It’s investments, it’s people who are very demanding, very specific, very evidence based. There are the people that possibly could bring upon significant change within public health and the criminal justice system crawls to the board. What you’re talking about is monumental.

John Roman: Yeah, I mean I think we’re talking-

Leonard Sipes: Am I exaggerating or not?

John Roman: NO I think it’s a totally different way of thinking about the world and we’ve talked about it in Ottawa, to the Canadian government, in Israel, in London, all over the world and people see the opportunity here. The idea here is really simple, we want to turn the problem upside down. The problem has been, how do we get resources to help people with a particular problem. What we want to say instead is, “Hold on, we have evidence on how to solve some particular problems, how so we get resources to those things instead of the things that we are funding as business as usual now?” In some respects what we want to say is really simple. Some things that we do don’t really work, right? I mean we’ve talked about, you and I have talked about-

Leonard Sipes: What don’t work very well.

John Roman: What don’t work like DARE, right, every schools got a Dare, a police officer comes in.

Leonard Sipes: People love it.

John Roman: People love it, or scared strait, there’s absolutely no evidence that changes anybody’s behavior and in someways it might cause worse behavior. When the DARE guy cones in and shows your kid his suitcase full of drugs, some of these kids are going to be like, “Oh, so that’s what cocaine looks like. Cool, that’s not what I thought.” That’s not good for them.

Leonard Sipes: The weird thing about government is because we do all sorts of things that make people feel good but really don’t have an evidence base behind it.

John Roman: Right, what we want to do here is say “look, I could give you a laundry list of things that I have in evidence, that I believe have an evidence base that is overwhelming, that we should do at scale. That everybody that needs this help should get it right?

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, of course.

John Roman: We’re talking about in our world we’re talking about high-risk adolescents, we’re talking about family based therapies, we’re talking about multi-systemic therapy. We’re talking about programs with evidence bases that are so compelling that the most sophisticated researchers in the world, the most skeptical researchers in the world are saying, “$15 in benefit for every dollar in cost, only they’re really expensive how do we raise the money to get those benefits?” This is the answer.

Leonard Sipes: It’s not just the answer, it’s not just the matter of money, from dealing with business people in the past, and dealing with government throughout my entire career, the business people have an entirely different mind set. Very polite, very nice, but very demanding.

John Roman: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Very precise, they are … especially I worked with marketers, in the past, and marketing in the private sector is a different world. It’s very precise it’s like driving a jet plane. It’ like driving a 747 it’s a very precise set of rules and understanding and operations. If you don’t follow these precise, rules, procedures, and understandings they ground you. It’s do not pass go, do not collect $200. Government is far mushier then the private sector so if you’re telling me that the private sector is convinced of evidence based procedures and they’re going to start coming in and they’re going to start funding this it’s a seed change in terms of what we’re talking about not just for the criminal justice system, but for the delivery of services to undeserved populations across the board.

John Roman: I think what’s really been interesting in this is that when we approach this, and we started thinking about this in 2009. The Rikers deal happened shortly after that, the first deal in the United Kingdom happened at about that time, and every year it grows more and more quickly. When we first thought about this we knew there were 3 players in this equation, there was the government, there was private philanthropy, people who give grants, give away their money, and commercial investment bankers. We assumed the government would love this idea because what it says to the government, “Here’s some money to do something you can’t do, and you only have to pay us back if it works.”

Leonard Sipes: The government loses control.

John Roman: You’re getting ahead of me but that’s where I’m headed. Philanthropy, we thought this would be very interesting to them because they, this allows them to leverage their giving and give the same dollar over and over again. We thought investment bankers would be the hardest sell. We thought these people would be very hard headed and they wouldn’t be interested in the rates of return that they were getting. The actual operational practical realities, the absolute reverse. The investment bankers are extremely interested in this idea, in fact there are hundreds of million of dollars if not a billion dollars or more on the sidelines looking for deals to invest in. They cannot find the deals.

The philanthropists have been a little scratching their heads at this whole concept and haven’t weighed it in as deeply as we had expected. The governments, probably for the reason that you just raised, which is when they get engaged in these deals they lose control. Have really had people come to them and say, “I will give you a hundred million dollars and I can solve this problem for your entire population in your state. Would you like me to do it? You only have to pay me back if it works.” and they said, “No thank you.”

Leonard Sipes: You’re not … I’m not the first person to suggest to you as a lifelong researcher that government doesn’t trust [inaudible 00:24:17] Government likes to do what government wants to do. We do that from a very common sense perspective, because we believe that the delivery of this particular service is going to work, We’re not interested in somebody coming along and measuring it and telling us whether it does or it does not. We believe that it works thereby, do not pass go, do not collect $200. We’re comfortable with that and that’s how we proceed. You’re talking about a different world, you’re talking about a different mindset, you’re talking about a “prove it to me and prove it to me consistently and we’re going to hold you to these markers. Have you met these markers, at the eighth point, at the quarter point, and if you didn’t why not?” It puts government under a spotlight and we’re not happy about that.

John Roman: What I think what’s really important what’s happened and we started out by talking about the Rikers deal and the Rikers deal ended up not going all the way to the end because it wasn’t meeting the performance measures that had been agreed upon at the outset by Goldman-Saks and Bloomberg Foundation who were the one’s who underwrote it. Who basically insured the deal. What Mayor Mike Bloomberg did and Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs did in New York City was really brave and really critical. Because what they said was, “No, were going to take the biggest, I think it’s the biggest city government in the United States, and we’re going to get behind this concept and we’re going to test it. We know there’s a chance it’s going to work, but that will provide a precedent for other cities and other counties and other states to think about investing in this.” and that propelled this field forward.

Now you have Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is really pushing this and Corporation for National Community Service is 11 million dollars behind this and Department of Labor and Department of Justice. It’s probably a hundred million dollar industry and none of that would have happened without some government having the courage to step forward knowing it might fail, and that happened and that sparked everything that has gone through.

Leonard Sipes: We’re not talking about Social Impact Bonds, I said this before and I’m probably being repetitive to the point of fault, but we’re not talking about Social Impact Bonds, we’re not talking about delivery of services. We’re talking about fundamentally changing the way that government operates through a public/private partnership.

John Roman: I think the metaphor that I always tell and I think it works, is we’re sitting in the heart of Washington DC, there’s a big commercial corridor right around the corner, 7th and 8th street, there’s a big stadium there. There’s tons of bars and restaurants and at some point tonight I can just about guarantee you that a metropolitan police department officer is going to engage with somebody who is in crisis. They might be drunk, they might be having a mental health problem, they might have a substance abuse problem. They might just be unhappy with their station in life.

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

John Roman: That police officer is going to have to serve as a social worker to try and guide that person to engage in better behavior so they don’t end up in the DC jail that night.

Leonard Sipes: Sure, of course.

John Roman: They shouldn’t be in that position, we should have the community infrastructure to help serve that person. If it’s mental health care, if it’s drug abuse treatment, if it’s alcohol, whatever it is that that person needs, we don’t have the infrastructure to do it. What this does to create a way to fund that infrastructure in ways that just simply aren’t going to happen if we don’t go down this road. The idea isn’t to privatize policing, the idea is to let that officer go back to being a police officer.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

John Roman: Which is what they are trained to do and they know how to do and they’re good at. We’ve sort of forced all these people throughout our government to take on jobs that they aren’t trained for and we’ve over the last couple of years we’ve seen the results of that. A lot of it’s been not very pretty.

Leonard Sipes: Final minute of the program. What percentage who aren’t getting substance abuse treatment to day are going to get substance abuse treatment? What percentage of people who desperately need mental health treatment are going to be getting mental health treatment? What percentage can we say the people who are undeserved, who are not getting services now will get services say in 10 years through a private/public partnership.

John Roman: If you think about the family based therapies that I talked about, which are ways to treat high-risk young people in their homes with mom, with grandma, with their cousins, with their siblings, with their friends.

Leonard Sipes: Which is the most effective program I’ve seen out there.

John Roman: It’s the most effective program that’s out there and it probably serves less then 10% of all the people it could.

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

John Roman: We could get to 70% by using this a s a way to raise funding, to package together all of these things. The idea is called “Scale finance” Steve Goldberg, Caffeinated Capital, is pushing this idea. It’s a wonderful thing. We could get a long ways to getting to 100%.

Leonard Sipes: What are the odds of really doing that?

John Roman: I think we can do 1 state in the next 2 years.

Leonard Sipes: That’s amazing, that’s amazing. The most effective program that I’m aware of, that does provide fundamental change and has a long term impact on criminality and use of the criminal justice system. We could fund 75% in terms of one state.

John Roman: I think within the next few years, some state will sign on to this and we’ll be able to take this to every young person that needs it.

Leonard Sipes: We proposed to have a program today, a program on Social Impact Bonds. It’s turned out to be much more than that and I hope everybody stuck with us through the program to the final conclusion. John Roman, Senior Fellow Justice Policy Setter, Urban Institute,, He has 3 articles talking about the situation in Rikers Island and I’ll put all 3 in the show notes. Ladies and gentleman this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

Parole and Probation Officers and their Contributions to Public Safety

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sykes. Today, ladies and gentlemen, parole and probation officers and their contributions to public safety. We’re celebrating, in conjunction with the American Probation and Parole Association and their motto, “A Force for Positive Change”. These individuals come from my agency, the court services and offenders supervision agency. By our microphones today we have: Kaitlin Forshay, a supervisory community supervision officer; we have Jamie Thompson, a community supervision officer; and we have Jasmine St. John, again, a community supervision officer. And to Kaitlin, and to Jamie, and to Jasmine welcome to DC Public Safety.

Jasmine: Thank you.

Kaitlin: Thank you for having us.

Leonard Sykes: In a world where there is just a ton of media and television shows about police officers, and I used to be one, there is only one that I’m aware of, and that’s, I think, A&E’s “Pitbulls and Parolees”, so there is really not a lot of publicity about parole and probation agents. We call you community supervision officers; that’s DC’s term for parole and probation agents. But parole and probation agents throughout the country, community supervision officers, you guys are on the front line. Out of the seven million people under correctional supervision, five are the responsibility of yourselves, people like you and your counterparts throughout the United States. So when you talk about corrections in this country, the vast majority of people are under the supervision of parole and probation agents. How does that make you feel? That’s an awesome responsibility, is it not?

Kaitlin: It is an awesome responsibility but its also an awesome opportunity.

Leonard Sykes: Okay.

Kaitlin: We have a lot of resources here in DC, we have a lot of great people working to make a difference in people’s lives. They come to us for whatever reason it happens to be, with their risks, and with their needs, and we have the opportunity to help them, to make them more productive members of society, which not only makes them better, but makes them available for their families more, makes them contribute to society in a more positive light. So it is a huge responsibility, but its also a great opportunity.

Leonard Sykes: We have people, a large and significant percentage of our case loads have mental health problems, have substance abuse problems. A lot of them have not had a long job history. We have individuals with real challenges. And those challenges are tough to deal with, correct?

Kaitlin: That’s correct.

Leonard Sykes: And tell me about that.

Kaitlin: Well it’s great. I just recently started working with C-SOSA. I started in October.

Leonard Sykes: Welcome.

Kaitlin: And I came from another agency. So being here, not only have I been afforded with this opportunity but I am able to make referrals to the population that I deal with for employment services, school. If they have a substance abuse problem we have our own in-house treatment that would handle that, anger management, mental health, sex offender treatment. Pretty much you name it, we have the resources at our hands to provide them with this opportunity to really help them.

Leonard Sykes: I can’t let you go too far without asking, I came from another state agency too, the court services and offenders supervision agency. Our ratio was 125:1. Here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, its routinely less than 50:1. Here you have an opportunity to do something with the people under our supervision, to do something meaningful. All of the probation agents throughout the country who are listening to this program are going to stare at us through their radios in disbelief because they’re saying, “What? You only have 50:1?” I mean, most states don’t have that opportunity so I’m not going to ask you what state you came from, but is it a big difference from wherever you came from here to the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency?

Kaitlin: Yes it is.  And I know this sounds cliched, but I really feel like being here I can kind of live up to that idea of being an agent of change because I do have more time to meet with individuals, reach out to their families, and really get to know what’s going on to be able to help make a difference in their life.

Leonard Sykes: Jasmine, what is your experience? How long have you been with the agency?

Jasmine: I’ve been with the agency since 2011. And currently I’m a minimum supervision level officer. And actually, my case load is a little higher than the 50.

Leonard Sykes: Right. Because you have the lower level people?

Jasmine: Yes. But we do have, like you spoke about, a lot of co-occurrent offenders who have the mental health and substance abuse co-occurrent issues. And so we do, specifically with that population, deal a lot with referring them out to the services they need within the community as well.

Leonard Sykes: Jasmine, I’m going to continue with you. What we do as parole and probation agents, community supervision officers, we have to sit and get into the heart and minds of that individual in many cases who is distrustful of you. He’s been caught up, or she’s been caught up in the criminal justice system. They’re not particularly seeing you as their friend because you have the ability to send them back into the criminal justice system or send them back into prison. The person does have substance abuse issues, does have mental health issues, does have anger management issues. How do you break through those barriers?

Jasmine: Honestly, with a conversation that kind of opens the door to them trusting us with information that may have led to substance abuse issues. Showing that we actually care, showing up and being consistent with the information and the resources. Because a lot of my clients will say, “I’ve never had anybody say this like that before to me” in regards to “I just want to see you do well”, “I want to see you here for your family”, just kind of pulling out those things that motivate them to change within their own lives. Because when supervision is over we want to leave the person whole. And so we break down a lot of the barriers just with conversations with our clients one-on-one. And just trying to figure our exactly how we can help, show that we can help. And then have them own the plan by letting us know: what is it that you want to change in your life; what is the plan, the steps that you’re going to take to take care of that issue. And then we guide them along the way, as their officer.

Leonard Sykes: Okay, but I’m going to keep hammering away at this. Because you all are giving me very correct answers and I appreciate that. But I can’t think of anything more difficult to deal with than a person with a 15 year history of heroin abuse. I mean, breaking through that 15 year history, that’s almost impossible. I’ve had, especially women under supervision, before these microphones, telling me “Wait a minute, Mr. Sykes, you want me to get through my history of sexual abuse, my substance abuse problem, my mental health issues. You want me to go and get a job even though I don’t have any occupational background and you want me to reunite with my kids. That’s impossible. What you’re asking me to do is way too much. I cannot do all of that.” So, to the individual under supervision who tells me that they cannot do all of that, how do you respond to that?

Jamie: I think it’s important when that’s presented to kind of identify with the client, what are their short term goals and start small. Not try to tackle everything at once. Work on stabilization issues. Like I said, the short term goals. To kind of help them see that there is an end in sight when you take baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day. When you have a 15 year history, for example that you used, of substance abuse, you’re not going to tackle that in your first meeting.

Leonard Sykes: Right, but can you tackle it in the third or fourth or fifteenth and twenty-third? Kaitlin go ahead.

Kaitlin: Yes, it’s extremely important that we build rapport. And doing so is, as Jasmine said, being consistent and being fair. But we have with the smaller caseloads, we have a lot of opportunities to use motivational interviewing techniques, to use cognitive behavioral intervention …

Leonard Sykes: What are, for the uninitiated, what is cognitive behavioral therapy, what are motivational interviewing techniques?

Kaitlin: Okay, so motivational interviewing. A lot of the times what we’re doing when we’re trying to get to the root of the problems is to ask open-ended questions. And then to help develop rapport we’re going to use reflections and summarize to make sure that the client we’re dealing with understands that we understand what they’re going – maybe not what they’re going through – but we understand what their needs are. And how they feel about a certain subject. So, demonstrating that we’re listening, those active listening skills. I’m trying to get them to open up a little bit about themselves.

Now the cognitive behavioral interventions come in. Specifically, a lot of the reasons that they’re here relate to perhaps a cognitive distortion. Their behaviors are not necessarily the events that they’ve been through but the perceptions of the events that they’ve been through. So we have to try to figure out and understand why they respond a certain way. Why they behave a certain way. And using that information to try to change the way they think about their experiences. And then we have the opportunity with these small caseloads to use these evidence-based practices, the time that we need to really invest in these people.

Like you said, we can’t do everything all at once. So the goal is to address one or two action items at a time. And we determine which ones we’re going to start at first. We know that we need to address stabilization factors primarily but whatever we can get the offender to buy into. They may not be ready to see their kids yet. They may not be ready to go down that path, but they are ready to address substance abuse. So we’re going to go that way with them. We kind of let them them take ownership of their plan and build it around what their needs are.

Leonard Sykes: Do the three of you fully understand that we have a national discussion now about change within the criminal justice system? I can’t tell you how many articles I come across every day from national publications talking about senate bills, talking about house bills, talking about initiative on the part of the Department of Justice, initiatives on the part of individual organizations. And every time they’re talking about the fundamental change within the criminal justice system, the heart and soul of that fundamental change is you. The heart and soul of that … never in my forty years within the criminal justice system have I seen such an emphasis on parole and probation officers.

So what they’re saying is that if we’re not going to be sending that many people to prison or if we’re going to let people out of prison earlier. What they’re counting on is quality supervision on the part of parole and probation agencies throughout the country. I’ve spoken with parole and probation folks throughout the United States and they’re tell me “Leonard, I’m not quite sure with 100:1 or 50:1 to one ratios if we’re ready for that type of responsibility.”  In DC are we ready for that?

Jamie: I believe that we are.

Kaitlin: In coming from another agency, I can say that I think that we are ready here. And just from our successful case closures, that speaks for itself.

Leonard Sykes: Yeah, because the great majority of our cases, around two-thirds, are closed out successfully. And that has to be due to the efforts on the part of people like yourselves. Jasmine?

Jasmine: Absolutely. I think this agency does a really good job at providing the training that we need in order to better suit our clients. When we went to the cognitive behavioral intervention and motivational interviewing, adding that more into how we actually manage our caseloads. We were provided with adequate training that really helped us get what it actually is that we need to do with our offenders within the community versus just sanctioning and sending them back and letting that only be our option. It really helped us engage with the offender, get to the core of the issues and the risks that they might have. And the needs. And kind of given us, I would say, like a briefcase of all this information and resources. And told us how exactly to do this. And we’ve seen results, especially with the caseloads that we have at minimum. We’ve seen results of how we’ve had clients not only be successfully be terminated at the end of supervision but also early terminated because they’ve done so well in the community.

Leonard Sykes: We’re one of the very few probation agencies in the United States that control our own resources. I mean, we have half-way back programs. We have our own structure, our own building, this huge … where we process hundreds upon hundreds of individuals every year that are struggling on community supervision. Instead of sending them back to prison we send them back for intensive treatment. So, it’s weird that we, because we’re federally funded, with a local mission. The Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, we are in a better position than many, if not every parole and probation agency in the country, to do the job that people want us to do. To both serve the individual under supervision at the same time protect public safety.

Kaitlin: I just came back from American Association, I’m sorry, the American Probation and Parole Association’s National Training Institute. And networking with other individuals from around the country who do exactly what we do, it’s amazing to me what a wide range of difference that we have between our agency and the way other people are doing things.

Certain things, like motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral interventions seem to be standard across the board at this point. But to speak, at C-SOSA we have specialized units. We have a women’s unit, we have a sex offender unit, we have domestic violence, we have many different units so that we can target specific needs in specific populations. And a lot of other agencies don’t have that opportunity.  They may have sex offender come in at eight o’clock and then a domestic violence offender come in at nine. And then a general supervision, young adult …

Leonard Sykes: Right

Kaitlin: So the resources we have and the opportunities we have are much greater than some of our counterparts in other jurisdictions.

Leonard Sykes: Yeah, the individual teams – domestic violence, young offenders, women under supervision, I mean it goes on and on – mental health is a big one. Drug court, about forty-five percent of our populations at the highest levels of supervision. So we have an immense amount of contact. In the state that I came from, intensive supervision was two face-to-face contacts a month. At the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency they could have eight contacts a month just with you and that’s leaving out the treatment people and that’s leaving out coming in to be drug tested. So we have an immense amount of contact with the people under supervision.

Jamie: And we’re given that opportunity because of our different focuses with our teams and having that smaller case load.

Leonard Sykes: I find this to be a fascinating conversation. I do want to come back and talk about the stresses and the successes and how you personally feel about what it is that you do.

But ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a radio show today on parole and probation officers and their contributions to public safety. We are celebrating pre-trial probation and paroles supervision week in conjunction with the American Probation and Parole Association. Their motto “A Force for Positive Change” is something that we embrace.

The three individuals are from my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. It’s Kaitlin Forshay, she is a supervisory community supervision officer; Jamie Thompson, a community supervision office; and Jasmine St. John, again a community supervision officer; what we call parole and probation agents in the District of Columbia, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We are a federal agency, federal independent branch, executive branch agency here in the nation’s capitol.

You know, ladies, this has got to be one of the most challenging things that you have ever done. I mean, I can’t think of anything, including my law enforcement days. Here’s my law enforcement day: I get a call, I go in, I resolve it or arrest the person or deal with it with through non-arrest and I leave. You have got to deal with this individual and their family and their kids for years in some cases. I mean, for me it’s a ten minutes intervention; for you it’s the next two or three years. That’s got to be immensely stressful.

Jasmine: Absolutely. However, weeks like this that we are given the opportunity to kind of relieve some of that stress while at work and then the initiatives of the health and wellness committee to kind of have some opportunity throughout the year to also get out and relieve some stress does help. (Laughs)

Jamie: Helps with the burnout. (Laughter)

Leonard Sykes: Yeah, I mean do you go home and kick the dog and throw the glass up against the wall. You know, it’s a stressful job …

Jasmine: It is.

Leonard Sykes: I mean, you’re dealing with people with drug addictions and mental health issues and you know. We had the women’s conference a couple of years ago where a woman stood up in the middle of the hall, in the middle of our gathering and said “I, and a woman that I live with, last night had a fight and she threatened me and my child. And I had to pull a knife to keep her away from my child and me. And now I’m homeless. I don’t have a place to live and I’ve got these problems. What are you all going to do for me?” And dead silence filled the room for the next ten seconds. I mean, that’s the reality of who it is that you deal with.

Kaitlin: When I first started at C-SOSA, I was on the sex offender unit and I had accidentally left my cell phone on overnight. I got a call at two-thirty in the morning with an offender who was calling from a pay phone saying he was going to jump off a bridge. Two-thirty in the morning, woken up from a sound sleep. The amount of stress that puts on you, knowing that you are responsible. This man was considering ending his life and the person he chose to call was me?

Leonard Sykes: There you go.

Kaitlin: And I had no, hardly any experience, as a probation or parole agent. So it was alarming to me that somebody that I had affected, he at least trusted me with that information. That he didn’t end up … we were able to engage in that conversation, he didn’t end up hurting himself at all. But to know that I was on his mind when he was thinking about making such a serious decision. You know, it is stressful. There’s secondary trauma that comes with it. Every day the decisions that we make affect people’s lives, for good or for bad. I mean that’s a tremendous responsibility that we have.

But then we also have stories. One of my officers recently, I was doing an observation and he was talking to a young adult who was just about ready to graduate from high school. And at one point it didn’t look as if he was going to be able to graduate from high school. Now he has great family support in terms of his grandmother, but one of the things he was struggling with was trying to figure out who was going to get his tickets for his high school graduation. And his father, who hadn’t been in his life at all, all of a sudden wanted to, was recently coming back in his life and wanted a ticket to graduation. And he decided not to give his father a ticket to graduation because he had saved that last ticket for his community supervision officer …

Leonard Sykes: Wow

Kaitlin: … who he felt was more of an asset in his life and more of a motivation in his life to complete his high school education than his own father was.

Leonard Sykes: I spoke to a community supervision officer and the person under his supervision one time jointly. And he told me, the person under supervision said “You know what? This individual is the only person in my life that I can turn to, to talk to and have a decent conversation. This is the only person in my life who cares. And because of that I take my meds. And because of that I don’t screw up. And because of that I do the right things. Because I do not want to violate the trust that I’ve built up with your community supervision officer who was my community supervision officer.” That’s profound.

Jasmine: That is. And it’s again, a huge responsibility. But on the flip side that’s very rewarding to know that in our position we were able to make an impact on a person’s life. Because often times we are the only positive role model that they have. And so it’s very important for us to always make sure that we practice that anti-criminal modelling for them. Since we are a role model.

Leonard Sykes: And in terms of talking. I mean, Jasmine, the whole idea is to give that individual an opportunity to talk to somebody who truly does care. And the thing that impresses me about probation agents, community supervision officers, is that, by and large, we do care. By and large, this aren’t throw away human beings. Now I understand that they’re frustrating, and I understand that it’s difficult, and I understand that it drives you crazy at times. Most, if not eighty-five percent, of the people that I have encountered that work for probation agencies genuinely do care about whether that person does well or not.

Jasmine: Absolutely. When you give your offender, your client, the opportunity just to talk. And just ask “how are you doing today” or “what’s going on in your life” or “what’s changed” so many things can come as a response that you never know where that conversation is going to lead. [Background conversation and noise [00:21:47]] And you never know if perhaps just within that conversation. One day they can say that they’re absolutely fine but then you have this deep long conversation about something that might have happened recently and it will open the door for so many things that they were pushing back for years. And that would open the door for that trust to be built. To talk about that.

Because, I feel, at least a lot of my population really don’t have people who just pause to say “How is your day going?”

Leonard Sykes: Right, right.

Jasmine: They’re either back in the community and no one wants to be bothered with them because of one issue or the other or lack of employment or funds. Or they’re being pulled in so many directions they just don’t have time to really pause and get some stuff off of their chests until they get to our office. It’s a huge responsibility to hear that information. The things that we hear, the stories that we hear about the trauma that happens in their day-to-day life, I cannot imagine some of the things that they have gone through. Just getting up, it’s almost one of those things I am surprised that all you are is on supervision because of the things that have happened in their day-to-day life.

Leonard Sykes: Right, we deal with individuals that carry a lot of life trauma.

Jasmine: Absolutely.

Leonard Sykes: I did, years ago, in terms of volunteer counseling, and a person who was going to take their life. And ended up very intimately involved with that person’s life on a professional basis and conversations. And there are certain times the person’s telling me stuff where I am saying to myself “I am not quite sure I want to hear this. I am, this is way too deep. I did not know that we were going there (laughs). And then it becomes more, and then it becomes more.

And there’s a certain point where you as a professional, you have this opportunity to break all of this and help that person. But at the same time it, even though we have low caseloads, it’s still fifty people telling you these stories. And fifty people communicating with you like this. And sometimes, when you go home, I am assuming you feel like the world is riding on your shoulders.

Jamie: That’s why it’s very important to find balance in your life.

Jasmine: I was going to say I can’t even watch the news because half the time …

Leonard Sykes: (Laughs)

Jasmine: … I am so inundated at work with stories that if I watched the news or Law and Order, anything for recreation I am thinking about work. Because it’s like, oh that reminds me of so-and-so or …

Leonard Sykes: Yes.

Jasmine: I saw …

Leonard Sykes: Yes.

Jasmine: … them come through my email today …

Leonard Sykes: Yes.

Jasmine: … or something reminds you of work.

Leonard Sykes: Yes

Kaitlin: If I have to watch one more episode of Intervention …

Jamie: And then on the flip side …

Kaitlin: … No, thank you.

Jamie: But then on the flip side, you’re watching and you’re like “Please don’t be one that belongs to me. Please don’t be one that belongs to me.” (Laughter)

Leonard Sykes: But in sitting before these microphones in terms of talking to women in supervision, and I’ve done that probably six or seven times. And I’ve been to a couple of group interventions. And I have three women tell me similar stories about being sexually abused before they were thirteen years old. And talk about who did it, and how it affected them for the rest of their lives. And how it created a spiral that got them involved in drugs and mental health.

And I’m sitting there and I’m saying “This is the most intense conversation I’ve ever had in my life.”  That’s the sort of conversation you go through every single day.

Jasmine: Absolutely. And one client comes to mind, who is a female and who also has a mental health issue and a substance abuse issue that started from sexual abuse. And when you start to factor in okay, well, you’re still using. And these are things that we have to address as far as public safety. At the end of the day, though, you have to ask those questions “what is going on that you’re currently using” and things of that nature. And out comes this story of “I’m taking care of my grandkids, and I shouldn’t and it’s overbearing” and things of that nature. And it all leading, then you start to wrestle with now if I take you off the street, who’s going to watch the grandkids?

Leonard Sykes: Yes.

Jasmine: And if I take you off the street what are your daughters going to do because they’re depending on the little bit of money that you get for disability or whatever else they may be getting money for.

So, a lot of their life stories factors into pretty much how we supervise their case. Because those are the things you have to consider all the time at the same time before or, in addition to, writing a violation report.

Leonard Sykes: What is the most important ingredient in terms of being a good parole and probation agent, a good community supervision officer? What must you have?

Jamie: Patience.

Jasmine: That’s exactly what I was going to say first.

Leonard Sykes: Patience?

Kaitlin: Because it is difficult. In addition to hearing all of these stories and having to find that work/life balance, there are some times that phone rings and I look over and I see who’s calling. I don’t want to answer it. I don’t. There are so many, some of these clients where they call non-stop or they call. And every time, or they only call when they really need something. But when they really need something, it’s a lot of time out of your day. And one of the things I love about this field, is that no two days are alike. It’s also what I hate about this field. (Laughter)[crosstalk 00:26:49]

You can’t plan a day. Things come up. And you’re constantly, it’s crisis management every single day. So even if so-and-so is now skating, you know, and they’re moving on their way, you have another offender where you’re just at the start.

Leonard Sykes: You have to be on every single day, is that correct?

Kaitlin: Absolutely

Leonard Sykes: I mean there’s no such thing as having that bad day, we all have them. I have them, you have them. But you get to the office, and I want to remind the public, that these individuals are out in the community. They’re just not just sitting, riding a desk. They’re out constantly doing home visits, interviewing this individual on a surprise basis. Sometimes going to their place of employment. So you guys are always out in the community, so you’re always interacting with people. Are you ever afraid by the way? Good question, do you think?

Jasmine: Good question, and not so much.

Leonard Sykes: Okay

Jasmine: Because of the rapport we build with our offenders, at least the ones that I have, I’ve never been in a situation where I was afraid of my client. Just to be honest.

Jamie: I am in agreement with Jasmine.

Leonard Sykes: All right. You’ve got to travel some pretty rough neighborhoods by yourself.

Jasmine: Or with a partner. But you have the support of MPD here …

Leonard Sykes: The Metropolitan Police Department, yes

Jasmine: Absolutely. So we know the officers who also patrol the area. And at the same time because you are so much in their lives and see them so much, if it comes to a situation where we’re about to walk into a dangerous situation you’ll have offenders who call you and say “Not today, because it’s not safe over here” and things of that nature.

Kaitlin: Or they’ll walk you to your car.  [crosstalk 00:28:20]

Jasmine: I actually had one walk me to my car one day. [crosstalk 00:28:22]

Leonard Sykes: All right, so everybody is working with each other, everybody is exchanging information, everybody is cooperating. They’re looking out for you, you’re looking out for them.

Jasmine: I would say for the most part. [crosstalk 00:28:29]

Jamie: For the most part

Kaitlin: There are some that don’t want you to come to their house, period. They don’t care to see you there. They don’t want to have a conversation with you. You say goodbye and they hope they never have to see you again. But for the most part being able to develop a rapport really aids in that feeling of safety.

Leonard Sykes: I think this has been a fascinating conversation. I think that the people of Washington, DC, and throughout the United States, owe a debt of respect to parole and probation agents, community supervision officers. You guys really are on the front lines. You really are the people who we depend upon to protect our safety. And who, at the same time, do the fair administration of justice in terms of the people that we supervise.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been an honor for me today. Kaitlin Forshay, she is the supervisory community supervision officer. Jamie Thompson, community supervision officer and Jasmine St. John, again, community supervision officer. The program today was focusing on parole and probation agents and their contributions to public safety. We’re celebrating pretrial probation and parole supervision week here in the District of Columbia in conjunction with the American Probation and Parole Association and their motto “A Force for Positive Change”.

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

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