Archives for June 2007

Supervising Sex Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I am your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones this morning is Robert Sniadowski. Robert is with the Sex Offender Unit. He is a community supervision officer and Robert, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Robert Sniadowski: Thank you, good morning.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Now you have an interesting background, you did what in another state before coming into the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency?

Robert Sniadowski: I worked probation and parole in a home unit basically tracking offenders electronically.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And what made you come to Court Services and Offender Supervision? Now this was another state that you did this, correct?

Robert Sniadowski: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Robert Sniadowski: I just did some research on the agency and I heard a lot of good things and just thought it would be a good step for my career.

Leonard Sipes: I think we have one of the better Sex Offender Units in the country.

Robert Sniadowski: Definitely. I was very impressed when I got here to see all the tools that CSOSA had to offer the employees.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And quite frankly, I mean, my experience in terms of working for a Department of Justice funded agency, that we made our jobs of knowing what was going on throughout the country-we are probably better equipped, better staffed, if you will, in terms of what we do within the District of Columbia than just about any other state in the country.

Robert Sniadowski: It’s amazing. I really got a chance to use some of these tools, especially GPS monitoring when I got here. GPS has done a lot for the Sex Offender Unit-in a lot of different cases-it’s helped us out. We’ve placed individuals at crimes at a certain time that something’s happened. We’ve realized that that person was there using the GPS monitoring. We’ve found people with no-contact conditions with certain people-we’ve found them to be in contact with those victims. So it’s really given us a strong way to supervise these offenders and find out what they’re actually doing out in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Now we should explain; what is GPS? It’s Global Positioning System?

Robert Sniadowski: Correct. Global Positioning-

Leonard Sipes: Or satellite tracking?

Robert Sniadowski: Right. We can actually monitor exactly where they are almost real-time within a few minutes. We can update every few minutes as to where they are. We can tell where they are, how long they’ve been there, and we can zoom in and actually get a photograph of the area that they’re at.

Leonard Sipes: We can match their movements via satellite and impose that-not impose that, what word am I looking for? Superimpose that on a map of the area, right?

Robert Sniadowski: Correct. So we can see graphically whether or not, say a child sex offender is hanging out at a school or playground, a subway station where there are a lot of children.

Robert Sniadowski: We can set exclusion zones around schools or whatever area you might want the offender to stay away from, we can set an exclusion area, and we actually get an alert through the computer that they’ve been in that area. Or if we set a curfew for the person that they need to be off the street at a certain time at night, if they’re out past their curfew, we automatically will get an alert that that offender’s been out.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Explain to me, Robert, about the Sex Offender Unit-it’s a low ratio of community supervision officers to offenders. What is it, 25 to one, 30 to one?

Robert Sniadowski: That’s just about correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And at the same time, we have an array of different things that we do and we have in terms of supervision, and we have an array of things we do in terms of counseling to help that person come to grips with their history of sex offending, correct?

Robert Sniadowski: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: All right, tell me about the supervision side.

Robert Sniadowski: Well as soon as they’re placed under supervision, we refer them for sex offender treatment, which is very important, that’s what we’re there for. The reason we have the lower caseloads compared to a general supervision unit is that we’re dealing with much more high-risk individuals and they need to be supervised at a much more intense level.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Sniadowski: We see them a lot more often in the office, the community, their jobs-so we’re definitely seeing a lot of them.

Leonard Sipes: Now the tools-we already talked about satellite tracking. You have the ability to go into their homes whenever you want to to take a look around-something called an accountability tour, where we tour with police officers, correct?

Robert Sniadowski: That is correct. Accountability tours with the Metropolitan Police Department has been a great asset to us. Recently one of the officers in our unit was supervising a male who lived with his girlfriend and another live-in person who rented a room. The officer went out-the person was to have no contact with minors.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Sniadowski: So the officer and MPD went out on the accountability tour. When they got to the home, there were minors present in the home.

Leonard Sipes: Wow. Okay.

Robert Sniadowski: So what was basically going on was this offender was hiding all of the children’s toys, clothing, et cetera before the officers would show up. When they did this random visit with police-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Robert Sniadowski: They found out the guy had had his kids staying there the whole time.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s extraordinarily important in terms of our principle role, which is protecting public safety.

Robert Sniadowski: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. We also have lie detector tests. You can go and remotely, I find this very interesting, remotely view their computers to find out if they’ve been accessing sexual sites or child porn that needless to say is against the law and they can not have access to, correct?

Robert Sniadowski: Obviously yes, that is correct. And the polygraph testing, that’s another great tool that’s used in sex offender treatment. It often leads to the offender disclosing a lot more victims, a lot more activities that we were unaware of before they actually went through this.

Leonard Sipes: Now at the same time, we have investigators who can trail these individuals on a 24-hour basis if necessary, and we can provide some sort of device that measures his arousal level. And so that’s all-these are all tools both in terms of supervision and treatment?

Robert Sniadowski: That’s correct. With the PPG, that’s a tool used in sex offender treatment. It measures the offender’s arousal to certain age groups or genders of people. So they may have an offense against an adult female, but the PPG may show that they also have an attraction towards adolescent children also.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And they’re all in supervision by certified counselors?

Robert Sniadowski: Correct. We have three different treatment providers here in the District of Columbia.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And any interesting stories that come out of all of this, or did you tell that story?

Robert Sniadowski: That was the one I was focusing on.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s a very interesting story because it shows the power of the cooperative relationship that we have with the Metropolitan Police Department.

Robert Sniadowski: That’s correct. The GPS-I guess a pretty good story-one of our offenders wasn’t allowed to have contact-anything, no pornographic materials et cetera. We were really having a hard time keeping track of this guy’s time; he was just being very deceptive about his whereabouts. With GPS-we noticed he kept going to a certain location in D.C.-a certain block area, so a couple officers and I went to this area and the offender was actually viewing pornographic materials-peepshows in a basement. We caught him with coins in his pocket to view these shows. So it tracked him right down to the exact building that he was in.

Leonard Sipes: The whole idea is accountability and public safety.

Robert Sniadowski: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Robert, thanks for being at our microphones today.

Robert Sniadowski: Thank you very much.

[Audio Ends]

Information about crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders.


Supervision of Women Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Kimberly Wade, she’s a community supervision officer; Willa Butler who is a supervisory community supervision officer, and an offender who we have currently under supervision and we’re simply going to call her Jane. The focus of the program is women offenders. We have a conference coming up to deal with women offenders during our annual 30 days of re-entry reflection where we talk about people coming out of prison, what needs to be done to help them, and the issues of people coming out of prison. And to Kimberly and to Willa and to Jane, welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety.

Jane: Glad to be here.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. We’re going to go off, Jane, with you first. Can you give me a little bit of a sense of as to who you are, what you did to bring yourself into the criminal justice system?

Jane: I am a 46-year old single mother, three children, five grandchildren. Just a mishap getting in the criminal justice system. Served in pre-trial for about seven or eight months. Didn’t like what I seen so I ask for-my present judge was the regular judge-my regular judge. So that sent me to CSOSA-my regular trial judge.

Leonard Sipes: Now Jane, have you served prison time?

Jane: In pre-trial like four sanctions. Like I think three different times, four days each period.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so you went to a period of incarceration because you didn’t do the stuff you had to do in pre-trial?

Jane: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: Which means no positive-no drug use at all.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Do you have a drug history?

Jane: No.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: Just since I-

Leonard Sipes: What were your crimes?

Jane: It was possession of cocaine they said, but my initial crime was just drinking with an open container. But something went wrong on the scene and I was involved or was thrust into this possession charge.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: It’s nothing that I could do about it at the time.

Leonard Sipes: That’s the only reason that you’re involved in the criminal justice system was for possession of cocaine?

Jane: No, just for-yes. Well no, drinking with an open container.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: All of it confused me in the beginning because it was my first time ever being in trouble. I didn’t understand what was going to happen to me or with me.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: So by the time-it was two months later, before I came to court, by that time I was a full-blown drug user.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: And the court seen that and when I learned of the charges, I just was distraught.

Leonard Sipes: How long have you been doing drugs?

Jane: Since I was arrested.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: 2004, like November because Christmas was coming up-all the holidays.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: I had that charge and I figured that that’s you know, I was-

Leonard Sipes: Are you on parole or probation now?

Jane: Probation.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and how long have you been on probation?

Jane: For 11 months.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: I had a year probation. The judge ordered me a year in probation-a year and residential treatment.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Did you go to residential drug treatment?

Jane: Yes, I completed-

Leonard Sipes: How did that work for you?

Jane: That worked okay. Not in the beginning because I didn’t want to be gone that long away from my family.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: I had three months, and by the end of that first month I was becoming more open and willing.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, which is typical for a lot of folks going into drug treatment. Okay.

Jane: After the three months-before the three months was over, I decided that I didn’t want to go back into my neighborhood because that’s where all the-everything started-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: -and I just didn’t-you know, I don’t think I was ready the way I took off on the drugs and alcohol.

Leonard Sipes: So that was your first contact with the criminal justice system?

Jane: Yes, my first contact I think.

Leonard Sipes: And what age was that?

Jane: 42.

Leonard Sipes: Wow. And what did you do-

Jane: 44.

Leonard Sipes: What did you do up to that age?

Jane: I was a single a parent homemaker.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: Childcare provider.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: A mother, a daughter, sister. A law-abiding citizen.

Leonard Sipes: So you got involved in the criminal justice system late in your life?

Jane: Uh-huh.

Leonard Sipes: That’s unusual.

Jane: Yeah it is, and unfortunate.

Leonard Sipes: Why do you think you made that transformation?

Jane: It wasn’t to my-I didn’t decide to make it, it just happened.

Leonard Sipes: It just happened?

Jane: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: But it didn’t just happen out of nowhere, it didn’t happen out of the blue. I mean, somewhere along the line you went from day-to-day citizen to drug user and you ended up in the criminal justice system. I’m just curious as to-

Jane: I just believe all the-up until the 42-44 years, I was just overwhelmed with things that I had been doing in my life as far as all the good. And for that to happen to me, I just didn’t have no understanding or couldn’t really comprehend it at the time and I figured then, ‘what hell?’ you know-I mean, being good-if this is what’s can happen to you living a productive life then I didn’t want to-I just wanted-I just didn’t want part of-you know, I just didn’t want to be good anymore.

Leonard Sipes: What happened to you? Again, you and I don’t know each other, we haven’t met before today, so if I’m delving into things that are too uncomfortable for you then that’s fine.

Jane: In a drug neighborhood-I was coming from the ice cream truck. Someone stopped to ask me for a cigarette. I stopped to talk to them, I had a cup of beer. We were just standing there talking. About five minutes later, the police ran up on one of the guys that I was talking with and just ran up on him and they got to fighting. So he told everybody to move but I just wanted to stand there and be nosy. And when they were fighting-the police office and the guy was fighting, I just stood there and watched. So when everything was over, I’m still standing there, so one of the police officers came and asked me did I have anything in my pocket, I told him no. He said, ‘if I find anything-you know if I find anything, you know what’s going to happen,’ and I said, ‘sure I do,’ and I made a little comment about living in the area where I lived at and I’m not stupid. And I don’t think he liked the comment that I made.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: So him and another officer took turns, they went in my pockets-they didn’t find anything. So he arrested the guy that he was fighting, put him in the car.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: I’m still standing there scared to death, but I’m still standing there. Y’all gotta excuse me because I’m a little nervous.

Leonard Sipes: Nothing to be nervous about.

Jane: And let me see-okay, I’m still-

Leonard Sipes: So they took away the guy who was fighting the police officer.

Jane: Fighting him, uh-huh.

Leonard Sipes: What happened to you?

Jane: I was just standing there just to prove that I didn’t have anything.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: So why should I leave? Because it was a lot of abusive things going on with the police in that particular area.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: And I was not an activist, but I was-I had moved in the community and I was concerned and I wanted to know everything about where I was living at.

Leonard Sipes: Right, so what happened to you?

Jane: And so he called-he had me just standing there and he called a lady police officer and she came, a lot of other officers. He asked her to check me-she didn’t find anything on me. So they asked him what was he arresting me for and he said I had some drugs on me-some cocaine. And I said, ‘he didn’t get no cocaine off of me.’ And that was that so that put me in the car and just took me off to the precinct.

Leonard Sipes: And you’re saying that that is what started you in drugs?

Jane: Yes, that’s what actually started the whole thing.

Leonard Sipes: So you sort of figured you lived a good life, you hadn’t committed any crimes, but you got arrested anyway-

Jane: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: -and that sort of set you off

Jane: Yeah, exactly. I guess because not being able to handle or deal with what had just happened to me. So by the time I got out like two o’clock that morning, my daughter’s father came to pick me up. He paid the ten dollars for a citation charge. I waited to get my jury. My jury was not there, I couldn’t get my jury that night. So by me sitting in a cold hard cell for six hours, I left. When we left, we went-everybody when we left the jail, everybody was in same place. I went with him. Everybody smoking, drinking, snorting, doing what they do. ‘Take this,’ you know the old thing, ‘take this, this’ll make you feel better,’ because I was just overwhelmed with the pain that I was feeling at the time, so that’s what started me. And I liked it and I just went to the races and that’s when my story.

Leonard Sipes: All right. So many people get caught up in drugs for a variety of different reasons. Is there anything that we can do-a larger society or the agency that I work for, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is there anything that we can do to help the people caught up on drugs?

Jane: I believe since-well my experience, what I wanted done for me is just to see what I really needed and what I was asking for or crying out for was I wanted to move out of my community.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: And just a little support that a family might need as far as helping with the kids. I never had my children taken away from me until I was in treatment. My daughter’s father had abused her and she was put in the system. Well my sister kept, she wasn’t foster-kid placed or anything, but I have her back now. Just to help you know, little things that they might need because I see a lot of females out there that’s on it, they don’t have any consideration for their families, their children. Just to give them the support. A lot of them are uneducated, they don’t have like over a sixth grade education.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: They need to be like assessed in a way that they will not be receiving a government assistance and to-

Leonard Sipes: Right, but they need drug treatment, you think that-

Jane: Exactly, there needs to be more drug treatment.

Leonard Sipes: And if they don’t get the drug treatment, what happens?

Jane: They just fall down-they just go down deeper into the black hole.

Leonard Sipes: You received residential drug treatment, did you receive that through us, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency?

Jane: Yes, sir.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So did you go through the Re-entry and Sanction Center by the way?

Jane: I don’t know what that is.

Leonard Sipes: No? Okay. What else did we do? And what do you think-what else should we be doing regarding women offenders?

Jane: Just-I think every individual cases is different. Like mine, I can’t speak for nobody else, but you got a lot of female women out there that do deserve what they-I mean, you do what you do, you get what you get. And a lot of them are just dead set on the life that they live, so that kind of makes it bad for people like me.

Leonard Sipes: All right. So what you’re suggesting is some don’t want to change?

Jane: Some don’t want to change-

Leonard Sipes: Some need to be ready for the change.

Jane: -they just-it’s not for people who need this, this is for people who want it.

Leonard Sipes: All right. Kimberly Wade, you’ve been a community supervision officer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for how long?

Kimberly Wade: For four years.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, how do you like it?

Kimberly Wade: It has its ups and downs.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough job.

Kimberly Wade: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: I’ve done this. I’ve worked directly offender populations and it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve done Jail or Job Corps Kids. I’ve done gang counseling on the streets of the City of Baltimore and I ran helped run a group in a prison system. Hard, hard, tough job-simply because we throw our hearts and soul into this sort of effort, and quite frankly we’re not rewarded all the time.

Kimberly Wade: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: And that becomes tough-it’s hard to see a human being throw their lives away when they have the opportunities to change their lives.

Kimberly Wade: Yeah, and that’s a lot of them.

Leonard Sipes: Right. But one of the themes of this program and the other programs that I’ve been doing talking about re-entry month or 30 days of re-entry reflection. Every January that we hold-we, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, have a series of events and one of them is the conference on women offenders, it’s still my supposition, that if the programs were there, a lot of women who are virtually all taking care of kids by the way as you well know, would become taxpayers-would no longer be tax burdens, would no longer be out there doing the things that they’re doing to hurt themselves and society and their kids. But t the programs are important.

Kimberly Wade: Yes they are, but overall I think they have to be willing to change and have a desire to change. If they don’t then all the programs will not help.

Leonard Sipes: Sure.

Kimberly Wade: But like Jane here, she wanted to change and she grasped the programs head on. She had some apprehensions in the beginning but when she got there and understood her reason for being there and established some goals, she was able to go with it head on and succeed in residential treatment followed by transitional housing and into another housing program where she’ll now gain her own housing after she completes the program that she’s in now.

Leonard Sipes: What do you mean by her own housing?

Kimberly Wade: She’s in a transitional program now with her daughter-she does have custody of her daughter again.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Kimberly Wade: Which is-she didn’t have before, so she’s gained custody of her daughter.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Kimberly Wade: They’re in an mother-daughter program where once they complete the mother-daughter program in the transitional housing, then they will find them housing of their own where her and her daughter will reside together.

Leonard Sipes: That’s great. So an apartment is what we’re talking about?

Jane: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, good. Now how many Janes are out there that really want to get involved in programs-who really want to change their lives? I mean, so many people throughout my career of interviewing offenders and people who work with offenders, what I hear is that they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and that’s generally speaking they’re strung out from drugs for so long that they desperately need a change of lifestyle. But we all agree that unless they want that change of lifestyle, there may be some question as to what good the programs are going to do. But there’s a significant number of women offenders out there who desperately want to change, that’s my reaction. Am I right or wrong?

Kimberly Wade: I think there is and I think on the other hand the women that do not want to change, sometimes if you place them in a program and they see that there is a better way, it can kind of coerce them into making that change and wanting to be when they see a better way. Some of then haven’t even seen themselves off of drugs in such a long time that they don’t know what it’s like, so when they see that there is a different way-there is a way to live off of drugs, there is a way to proceed in life as a productive citizen, then that will encourage them to change also. A lot of people go into treatment and things with apprehensions and they’re able to change. Some people go in knowing that they want to change and that’s what they’re going to do. Others, it’s just not the time for them.

Leonard Sipes: I understand that. So many offenders, women offenders in particular, come with histories of substance abuse. According to the research, the rates of substance abuse is greater than that of male offenders. When offenders who have mental health issues-it’s generally speaking more women have mental health issues than the male offenders. Women offenders have kids, women offenders have in many cases, real dysfunctional relationships with their male significant other. It’s different for women offenders than male offenders in many cases.

Kimberly Wade: Yes it is.

Leonard Sipes: And tell me a little bit more about that.

Kimberly Wade: Yeah, and in some cases we have to make special accommodations for women offenders. I’ve had women offenders who’ve been placed with their kids in a residential program where the mother is having treatment and the child is able to go to school and live a normal productive life, you know, and the mother is able to take their child to treatment with them. So we try to make special accommodations for women. We have parenting classes that we offer them, they can go to counseling-we refer them for counseling for different mental health issues that they have. So we try to address all of the issues that they have because they do have so many more than men.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And can they be successfully addressed-and that’s part of the issue throughout all these programs that we’re doing surrounding re-entry month or the 30 days of reentry reflection is whether or not these programs indeed are going to be successful. And I think we’ve answered that. If the women offender really wants that help then-really reaches out, then we have the programs that will help her.

Kimberly Wade: I think Jane is the prime example of that.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Kimberly Wade: She has come a long way, she’s been clean for several months now, she has custody of her child again.

Leonard Sipes: And she’s clean because we drug test her.

Kimberly Wade: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: We just don’t take Jane’s word for it.

Kimberly Wade: No, not at all.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Go ahead, Jane.

Jane: But I was being drug tested before and that didn’t matter me none. I was coming down here-

Leonard Sipes: Why does it matter now?

Jane: Because this is what I want-I feel that I’m getting, not getting, I have my life back.

Leonard Sipes: I’m still trying to get at that magic moment in terms of you getting your life back. What do you think prompted it?

Jane: Ms. Willa. [Laughs]

Leonard Sipes: Willa Butler.

Jane: Yeah, and Ms.-

Leonard Sipes: You’re not the first person under supervision who has told me that Willa has been a meaningful person in their lives.

Jane: No. When I seen how concerned they was about me and I had very serious health problems, then I knew in my heart that I couldn’t not only let my children and myself down, but let these people down that was putting their necks out for me. That was calling me into their offices and telling me that I better do this or this is going to happen.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Why didn’t drug testing work for you before?

Jane: Because I wasn’t ready. I was just beginning to start out on it and I liked it so much and I was determined that these people that was coming in my life wasn’t going to tell me what to do and how to do it. And I just kept on testing positive until I got tired and said, ‘I’m just tired of being sick and tired.’ But getting this extra assistance during treatment and then after your treatment is over, you know, you got special people being put in your life and not only to help you-some of them are put in your life to help you, but they don’t. Then getting my stronger connections with my higher power helped me. He revealed a lot of things to me.

Leonard Sipes: I’ve heard that from so many successful offenders.

Jane: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: Willa Butler, we’re going to go over to you now. How many years, Willa, have you been doing this?

Willa Butler: I started supervising women in 1999 when I was placed under the drug treatment unit under Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And the program was a gender specific program designed for female offenders and it was focused on their vulnerabilities. It was a holistic approach, meaning spiritual centered, and it’s been going on ever since. I became a supervisor in February 2006 and now it’s being run by another CSO.

Leonard Sipes: Now so many women offenders have sung your praises, what’s connection? What is it that you do that connects with so many women offenders?

Willa Butler: Well like I said, the spiritual, and God is love. And that’s basically what I do, I give them love, I give them compassion, I let them know that we care about them and I listen to them. And not only do I listen to them, but I enforce also what they need to do to make their lives productive. And it’s just not a companion or a mentor but-

Leonard Sipes: You hold them accountable for their actions.

Willa Butler: I do, I really do. I hold them accountable and I let them see their mistakes. In other words, I give them the two sides of the coin-either you want to live a productive life, or you want to go back to prison. And the bottom line is they do want to live a productive life, sometimes they just don’t know how.

Leonard Sipes: In terms of-again, these are the same questions that I asked Kimberly, the programs that are out there and the programs that should be out there, is there a difference? Women offenders are different from male offenders, they have special needs, especially in terms of substance abuse, and mental health. An awful lot of offenders, women offenders, have come from histories of sexual violence either as children or in their teenage years. And awful lot of those acts of sexual violence has been directed at them towards people who know them, in some cases family members. There are needs of female offenders, is my point, and are we, the larger society, and is the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency taking care of those unique needs?

Willa Butler: The needs are being taken care of, it’s just that it’s more in a quantitative manner, we need more programs. We have programs, but we need more. Like we might one of two treatment facilities that takes women with their children, we need like maybe ten.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Willa Butler: And we need housing that’s going to be more suitable for women and their children. Society is just not geared for the female offender or the female in general, and that’s something that we’re working towards. We talked about the women’s forum that we’re going to have on the 27th of this month and some of those issues will be addressed and that’s the purpose of the forum. This is our third year going into this forum and we’ve seen things come out of it, it has been productive.

Leonard Sipes: Like what? What’s come out of it?

Willa Butler: For example, just getting us out there, letting people know that women need these type of resources and more people are more involved into helping us now. And they want to get involved as far as volunteering their services or their vendors or whatever that they can do to make the women’s lives more productive while they’re coming out of the institution and on supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Willa Butler, you had the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today has been Willa Butler, supervisory community supervision officer; Kimberly Wade, a community supervision officer; and the lady who we simply will call Jane. Thank you all three for being involved in the program. If you want additional information about what it is that we do here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, look at our website at Again, that’s Thanks and have a great day.

[Audio Ends]

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Supervising Criminal Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I am your host, Len Sipes. And at our microphones today is Trifari Williams, he is a Community Supervision Officer in general supervision. And Trifari, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Trifari Williams: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Now you supervise a general caseload which means that you have about 50 parolees, people coming out of the prison system, probationers where the court has said that, ‘we believe that this person can be safely supervised in the community.’ You have about 50 offenders that you supervise, correct?

Trifari Williams: Yes, about that number.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Now supervising criminal offenders is not the easiest thing in the world. I mean, some people love it, some people aren’t so crazy about it, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting jobs that I can possibly imagine.

Trifari Williams: Yes it is. For a long time now even as youth, I had a strong interest in this field-just interested in dealing with individuals from a criminal justice aspect, so for me it’s a very interesting job. Basically keeps me on my toes 24/7.

Leonard Sipes: I find that very interesting because I also found that calling when I was younger. You know, there was a case where a bunch of kids pushed over gravestones in Baltimore City and there was like hundreds of them pushed down. And I kept asking myself, ‘why would a bunch of kids push over gravestones? What is it about their lives-what’s going on in their lives that would produce that sort of action?” I mean, that’s pretty ghastly pushing over gravestones, but that got me asking the question, ‘why are people involved in crime and why do they do the things that they do?’ Did you have that experience when you were younger?

Trifari Williams: Well I did, I was always curious even as a child, I would look at court shows and wonder why it is that a person would commit the crimes that they commit. And I find it interesting that you said that because when we we’re going through the academy class, the training class that we go through, we would find ourselves asking each other those same questions-everybody in the class had that same interest: why would an individual choose to, let’s say not be the normal citizen as we, I guess, categorize them, and be a person that would want to commit crimes? So I think that’s a general idea for everybody that’s in this field.

Leonard Sipes: That’s interesting you would say that. Next time you all get together, invite me along. Now did you ever figure out why they do what they do-to solve all the criminological riddles of the last hundred years or so?

Trifari Williams: I don’t know the answer to the question and I think if I did, there would be some study that would be conducted.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, you’d win the Nobel Prize and you’d get to retire early. But I mean, there are connections to crime. I mean, there’s drugs, there’s coming up in dysfunctional households-in many cases, single family households. There is early age of onset of drug use, alcohol use, early onset of criminal activity, not doing well in school, antisocial personalities because of issues in the home. I mean, those are similarities to the offenders that you supervise, correct?

Trifari Williams: Correct, they are-I think that you hit that correctly on the head. No, I think one of the things that our listeners might think about is when you’re thinking about an individual who’s committing crime, the average person may say, ‘well what makes this person so different from me? I had this upbringing…’ but you really have to look at and deal with the population that we work with, if you really look at the factors, the same things you were talking about-the antisocial peers, the family histories-there’s a lot of things in these individuals’ backgrounds that cause them-I guess that develops their belief system very differently from the one that you and I may have.

Leonard Sipes: Right. And while I’ve got you here before the microphone, what do you think is the primary cause of all this is?

Trifari Williams: Lack of strong family environment. That’s one of the-

Leonard Sipes: Yeah. I agree by the way.

Trifari Williams: That’s one of the main things that I see personally-substance abuse among family members, a longstanding history of substance abuse, lack of education-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Trifari Williams: Those things play-are just paramount in these individuals’ lives, and those are things that we try to key on and offer services that push these individuals forward.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Now the beauty of your role as a community supervision officer; noting that people are going to be listening to this program not just in the country but beyond; what most states would call a parole and probation agent; you’re a community supervision officer, your job is to supervise them as well as to try to assist them?

Trifari Williams: Correct. We try to develop a plan for this individual upon his placement either on supervision or their release from custody. We try to sit down with the individual first, talk-find out what factors have been involved in their life previously, what types of services that this individual is in need of-if it’s educational, drug treatment, employment-and we try to set down things, a plan actually, in place for this individual to try to attain those goals because our ultimate goal is public safety, reducing recidivism. The only way that you can possibly do that is changing the mindset of the individual that is committing those crimes-giving that person that doesn’t have their education an education; giving that person that’s unemployed a job, getting them to feel some self-confidence about themselves then you can effectively-or at least have an effect on change in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Now we also supervise the dickens out of them, you have a lot of contact with your offenders, we drug test them at very, very high rates.

Trifari Williams: Yes we do. I think we have probably one of the most strenuous drug testing policies with this agency. We just enacted a new drug testing policy. Previously we were doing twice-a-week testing on every individual. Most recently we are still doing twice-a-week testings, but that is on individuals who have a previous history of drug use.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Trifari Williams: We are doing once-a-week testing for all individuals that are placed upon supervision, and based upon their drug testing, after that they might go down to a once-a-month or a random status. We also have a lot of contacts, especially community contacts, I think that’s the biggest thing about us being called a community supervision officer versus a probation or parole officer because there’s an emphasis on our parts into interacting with this person in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Trifari Williams: Interacting in the home, interacting with the employer-because all of those things are contributing factors of this person becoming successful while they’re on supervision. So we try our best to reach into that aspect of the individual’s life and then we can try to effectively make some change.

Leonard Sipes: Now it’s mandated by policy that half of our contacts are community contacts, right, either going to the home, going to the community, going to the job?

Trifari Williams: Correct. That is correct. If an individual say is placed on maximum supervision based upon our assessment tool that we use, that individual will be seen at approximately once a week. Two of those contacts will be in the office, the other two will be out in the community whether that’s with the individual in the home, at their place of employment, at another venue in the community-and we try to do that because we want to make constant contact with that family member. We want to make sure that that family member is aware of what’s going on with this individual; we want to make sure that this person is actually residing at the place that they say that they reside.

Leonard Sipes: Sometimes the family members are our best allies.

Trifari Williams: They can be. In my experience, even just last week, I had an individual come in with his mother and sit down and talk to him about the noncompliance issues that were going on with her son-because they are concerned. Because you don’t want to-because with these individuals the end all is jail, and jail is what they know.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Trifari Williams: And we can preach jail all day.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Trifari Williams: But that’s not going effectively make change.

Leonard Sipes: It hasn’t yet. [Laughs]

Trifari Williams: Yeah. So in situations like that, you want to talk to the family member because you’re going to be the person that’s going to go before that judge, that’s going to go before that parole commission and make that recommendation for that person pulled off the streets. So you want to make sure that you made attempts to show the family, ‘look, these are the things that we’re trying to do, these are the things that we’re trying to facilitate in your individual’s lives to make some change before we have to go to the end of the road.’

Leonard Sipes: And also at the same time where we have that strong supervision as you mentioned at the beginning of the program, we have the services-educational services, vocational services, substance abuse, anger management-I mean, it goes on and on and on in terms of the services that we have.

Trifari Williams: Yes. We have our central intervention team that does our drug assessments, they do our recommendations for our drug treatment programs, they partner with vendors to send our offenders out to drug treatment programs, we have learning labs at several of our sites that have computer labs that are for our offenders to use free of charge, we have a Day Reporting Center up at my facility which is out on Taylor Street which is very good in helping young men and young women to develop skills planning, they do resume writing, investment classes-all types of things that these individuals would need to actively acclimate into society and it’s a great thing.

Leonard Sipes: Trifari, thank you for being at our microphones today.

Trifari Williams: Thank you.

[Audio Ends]

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Supervising Criminal Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I am your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Tosha Trotter. Tosha is a Supervisory Community Supervision Officer the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Tosha, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Tosha Trotter: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Now what got you involved in supervising offenders? I mean, that’s an interesting question, correct? Because supervising criminal offenders is not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Tosha Trotter: And that’s true. Initially when I was in college I wanted to be an elementary education teacher-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Tosha Trotter: -and middle school, and I noticed that in studying for that career that there were so many people that needed services that we’re not getting them in a normal school environment. So I was interested in the kids who weren’t getting the services and that’s what made me want to get in involved with the criminal justice system.

Leonard Sipes: And a lot of people that I’ve encountered with the criminal justice system mention that in terms of the deficiencies of the educational system-the difficulties. You can pretty much tell, and you correct me if I’m wrong, if a child is going to quote unquote “make it or not make it” all the way back to the elementary school level in terms of how well that individual does, correct?

Tosha Trotter: And that’s true, a lot of issues that come up in early childhood are the same issues that the adults are dealing with that they have not dealt with as children.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and there are so many correlations between not finishing high school, there are so many correlations in terms of growing up say in poverty, growing up in terms of not getting the educational assistance that you need from elementary school, middle school, high school-that it’s almost, I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but certainly you can predict which ones are going to do well and which ones aren’t.

Tosha Trotter: Yeah, and it has also to do a lot with low family support.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Tosha Trotter: A lot of the family situations as you go-when you talk to the adult and you talk to them about what happened when they were younger; a lot of it has to do with family.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Now what do you do on a day-to-day basis? You supervise individuals who supervise criminal offenders on probation, on parole in the District of Columbia-Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is a federal agency supervising individuals from prison and probation in the District of Columbia, correct?

Tosha Trotter: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: And what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Tosha Trotter: On a day-to-day basis we supervise-stay in contact with these offenders. They report in the office, we go out into the field, we visit the homes, we talk to the families, we have conferences, we have staffings to try to get to the crux of what the problems really are.

Leonard Sipes: What do you think the crux of the problems really are? I mean, after six years of doing this, what do you think the issues are, what do you think the problem is for most of the offenders that we supervise?

Tosha Trotter: I think it’s a lot to do with issues that they have not dealt with. A lot of the drug abuse that we have has to deal with issues that they haven’t dealt with.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Tosha Trotter: There’s low education, low employment-not really having a belief that you can make it. And I really think that it has a lot to do with the empowerment of people. I think that people don’t really feel like they’re a part the community, so they have no problem with taking from the community. So when you try to empower people and make them feel a part of a community, then they’re more likely to take pride in the community and want to see the community do well.

Leonard Sipes: Now I’ve been involved in the criminal justice system for 37 years, that certainly ages me, and I spend a lot of time with offenders both in the Maryland system and the D.C. system, and I’ve read the research. A lot of the individuals who we supervise do not have the best attitude towards life and often times it comes from raising yourself as a child, early involvement in drugs, early involvement in crime, single family households-they basically raise themselves and they come out of that with a sense of anger and they come out of that with a sense that, ‘I’m not connected, I’m not part of this world.’

Tosha Trotter: Right.

Leonard Sipes: So victimization in some cases is made pretty easy.

Tosha Trotter: Yes, and that’s true. I think of a situation I had-a young gentleman 22-years old, his mother died when he was 12 and he just had no family support whatsoever and all of his criminal activity reverts back to when he was 12, it began then. And he just continues to try to make it from one criminal activity to another criminal activity until we were actually able to sit down and say, ‘okay, what’s going on with you? How did we get here and we stop it now?’

Leonard Sipes: Some of the offenders that I’ve talked to throughout my career tell me that the parole and probation agent in many cases were the first person in their lives that expressed a real interest in them as human beings and expressed a real interest in them and an expectation of them in terms of getting a job, getting a GED, getting occupational training. They were the first adult individual in their lives that showed an interest in them.

Tosha Trotter: And that’s true, and we hear that often. Even after they’re off supervision, they’ve completed, they’ll come back and let us know what they’re doing, how well they’re doing. One of the things that we try not to do is just monitor supervision as far as what the judge said do or what the parole commission do and what they have or have not done-but we try to make them better people, and empowering them.

Leonard Sipes: Now we do have educational programs, we do educational assessments-

Tosha Trotter: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -we do have vocational programs, again, vocational assessments, we place people in jobs, we do drug treatment or we rely upon the District of Columbia government to do much of the drug treatment-

Tosha Trotter: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -we do mental health, we do sex offender, we do domestic violence, we have anger management-there’s an awful lot here to help individuals, but as I’ve said throughout my career, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink.’

Tosha Trotter: And that’s the part that we take-that’s what we take so serious because we have to convince people that they want better. It doesn’t matter how many services we have, how many resources we have, if people don’t want the resources they’re not going to take it. So our job is to make people feel a part-make people feel that they are important enough to have these services because there’s a lot out there.

Leonard Sipes: Now the supervision side is pretty stringent. Again, coming from the Maryland system and knowing the research from throughout the country, we have more contact with our offenders than practically any other parole and probation agency-we drug test the dickens out of them. So on the supervision side, we’re pretty stringent, and on the helping side, if you will, we have resources-that makes us fairly rare as a parole and probation agency. Our caseloads are 50 to 1 in general-specialized case loads average about 25 or 30 to 1. Those are some incredible caseload numbers, but even within those advantages, when I talk to community supervision officers, the people who you directly supervise, they tell me it’s one of the most difficult and challenging and interesting jobs that they have ever had-and in some cases some of the most frustrating jobs they have ever had.

Tosha Trotter: Yeah I can see that, that’s true. But I guess whenever you’re dealing with human behavior and human decisions; it can take a lot from you. Sometimes at the end of the day, even though you haven’t-you’re not working in construction, you’re trying to convince people to do better and, and that can be very tiring.

Leonard Sipes: Tosha Trotter, Supervisory Community Supervision Officer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, thank you.

Tosha Trotter: You’re welcome.

[Audio Ends]

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Offenders Discussing Re-Entry

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety, I ‘m your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today are James Spencer, Eddie Ellis, and a community supervision officer, William Ware. And gentlemen, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

James Spencer: Good morning.

Eddie Ellis: Good morning.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Gentlemen, we’re here to talk about re-entry month, the fact that the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency every January does a series of events to focus on people coming out of the prison system and the fact that if you have programs for offenders as they come out so there is a better chance for them to become taxpayers not tax burdens, to stop recidivating, to stop doing drugs, to stop committing crime-it’s the whole idea behind this concept of re-entry month. If we have programs people will do better as they come out of prison, if we have supervision, if we have drug testing, will do better. So that’s the issue of the program today. James, tell me a little bit about your background, who you are.

James Spencer: Hello, my name is James Spencer, I’m 23, I just came back into society on June 1st after doing five years incarcerated in the federal system.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, what were you incarcerated for?

James Spencer: I was locked up for assault with a deadly weapon, and the weapon was a gun.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And Eddie, your background please.

Eddie Ellis: My name is Eddie Ellis and I just came home after doing 14 1/2 years in prison for manslaughter.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Now gentlemen, let me be blunt, and you guys can be blunt right back. As we did with another program on women offenders when I was discussing it with Henrietta Meeks who has also served three times in prison, the average person listening to this program is going to say, ‘well James-well Eddie, you done did nasty things, why should we help you? I mean, we’ve got programs for kids that are not being funded. We’ve got programs for the elderly that are not funded. You guys were charged and did prison time in federal prison systems for doing some dangerous stuff. Why should we give you guys a second chance or a third chance or a fourth chance? Why should we invest our tax-paid dollars for programs to help you out when there are so many other deserving causes?’ James, why don’t you give that a whirl.

James Spencer: I’ve been on the journey-I’ve been on a journey to get a better understanding of who I am and a better understanding of what society means to me and what society has to offer me. While I was incarcerated I did some things that helped me have a better lifestyle for when I came back home. I achieved getting my GED, I’ve read books to have better knowledge of who I am and where I’ve come from as far as my heritage. I’ve spoke with other men who will never come home and it was just a blessing for them to be able to talk to me knowing that someday I will go back out in society and hopefully some of the things that they’ve told me, I can come out here and perform and do better in society. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been able to have three different jobs. So everybody saying the statistics of being able to find employment, that’s false of how hard it is. It is difficult-I don’t want to mislead anyone, it is difficult to come home from prison and get a job, but it all reflects on that individual. If you want to change, you will change. You can’t blame your parents, you can’t blame my background, I can’t blame my charge-all I can do is blame me. And I can use that same thing that holds me back to motivate me as I’m doing right now.

Leonard Sipes: James, how old are you?

James Spencer: I’m 23.

Leonard Sipes: Eddie, how old are you?

Eddie Ellis: 31.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. The statistics basically say that you guys aren’t going to do well. I mean, that’s that hard, cold, reality of the situation. You take a look at national statistics and it talks about close to 70% of the individuals coming back to the criminal justice system for a new charge, close to 50% being reincarcerated. That’s the hard, cold reality. Eddie, when I give you those figures, what’s going through your mind?

Eddie Ellis: Well me myself, I don’t really follow statistics because it could be misleading. For one because it’s a lot of brothers out here coming out prison who want to do right if given the opportunity to do right. You know, and people in the community are giving up on us too soon and they expect a lot of us to come home-like myself, I went to jail when I was 16. I’m 31-years old now. I never had a job before I went to jail, so now I’m coming home to something new and it’s been a struggle but it’s been fun because I got my freedom back and I’m having a chance to work and better my life. But the statistics only speak about the negative part of people coming home. And they need to have people speak about the things that people do do right like me and this brother sitting beside me because it’s a lot of us that do right.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: But it’s the lack of programs that’s in the community for us is what’s holding a lot of us back. Because the programs that is out here that’s present, they are too crowded and they’re pushing too many people back. You might have to go to a class and wait six months to get in the class, when I think the federal government should fund these programs so we can have the opportunity to do right.

Leonard Sipes: All right. I’m going to get into this one more time and either one of you can deal with it because I want to deal with what’s real and I want to deal with the perceptions on the part of citizens. We’re talking about re-entry month, we’re-entry talking about 30 days re-entry reflection, we’re-entry talking about people coming back out of the prison system, we’re talking about helping them, but the average person listening to this program right now is going to say, ‘you know, every night I turn on the T.V. and somebody’s doing somebody else wrong. And they’re all out of prison…’ -and this is night after night after night. People coming out of prison doing nasty things to other human beings-that’s people’s perceptions of offenders. That’s people’s perception of you guys. How do you respond to that?

Eddie Ellis: Well me myself, I say that corruption, crimes, and misfortunes have been a part of our society and world forever. Those things are going to happen. What can you do to help a person that wants to change? Not a person who comes home and plans to do the same thing again, they’re a lost cause. We’re talking about the guys who want to change.

Leonard Sipes: What percentage though do you think, James, of folks coming out of the prison system want to change? Virtually everybody that I’ve ever talked to coming out of prison, they all say that they’re not going back, and yet so many do. So there’s a big disconnect between the person saying, ‘I’m not coming back,’ and seeing his face back in the prison system 12 months later. If we had the programs, all the programs that were necessary: drug treatment, mental health treatment, employment-doesn’t matter, what percent of the people coming out of the prison, in your opinion, would make it-become taxpayers instead what I call tax burdens?

James Spencer: My opinion, I don’t believe in a specific percentage, I do believe in an opportunity.

Leonard Sipes: All right.

James Spencer: You don’t know what any individual is going to do, but you know what they will do if they don’t have an opportunity.

Leonard Sipes: What will they do then if they don’t have an opportunity-tell me-

James Spencer: You know that the possibility of an individual breaking law without an opportunity is much higher than a person who has an opportunity. This is what this is about-funding programs, different programs that can help a person participate to make a positive transition back into society.

Leonard Sipes: What do you think those programs should be?

James Spencer: More jobs. In the federal prison system, they’ve cut back on a lot of vocational training.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

James Spencer: And some guys, they have college courses which you must pay for now.

Leonard Sipes: Right. There’s no longer any public funding for college courses.

James Spencer: No sir.

Leonard Sipes: And by the way, I know this drives people crazy because they say, ‘why should he-the guy who does an armed robbery-why should he get a free college education, and yet I’m out here and I can’t supply a college education for my kids?’ That’s a real issue, but at the same time, the research was never stronger in terms of people who had those college programs in prison having the lowest rates of recidivism.

James Spencer: I like that you just said that. Somebody listening to you just found out something new. I agree with that, that is true. And because I agree with that, that’s why they should put something like that back into the federal system. A guy who has no money, he-all right, your scenario, the bank robber, he has no money. He wants a better education, he’s trying to rehabilitate himself, he’s doing 12 years straight. But he wants to rehabilitate himself, he has no extra money. He works on the compound for $12 a month. His college course-his books are $36 a month. He has no outside support. Now this man is sitting here letting his misery build up because he strives to do something better but he can’t. So 12 years from now, he comes back into society-he’s not your neighbor, but he’s back into society. Now what does the public do to him? He goes and he tries himself for a job without no education, without no past knowing of how to do anything but maybe wash or cook food for the past 12 years.

Leonard Sipes: It’s always been my question when talking to people– ‘what do you want? Do you want them to come back and commit additional crimes? Or do you want them to come back and become taxpayers? What do you want?’ Without the programs, it’s almost inevitable that there’s going to be a lot of people, especially younger people, it’s almost inevitable that they’re going to return to crime. Now people find that difficult because they are saying, ‘well Leonard, if it’s that inevitable, why am I bothering anyway? I mean, let’s put the money into the educational program. Let’s put money for the elderly.’ The question becomes, ‘when they come back, do we want offenders to come back ready to be taxpayers, ready to be contributing members of society?’ And most offenders, most male offenders coming out of prison, 70% of them have kids, so it’s just not about them, it’s about their children as well. If we had the programs in place, the recidivism rate would drop-that’s our contention-and drop considerably. Eddie, you want to come in on this?

Eddie Ellis: Yes, what I would like to say about that is when you have certain programs in place; you give a person a better chance to try to help himself. I don’t care how many programs you have out here, you’re going to have people fall through the crack and do what they do.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know, but in the same breath, you must put programs there that’s going to help people. You got a lot of guys in jail think there’s no jobs out here, and I think it’s the probation office or whoever office that deal with these guys coming out on probation and parole to inform these guys 30 days to 60 days before they come home about these self-help programs that they can use and things like that. And as far as people thinking that we can’t change and we can’t to do right, that’s just not right because there’s a lot of us that can change. And for those regular citizens that go see psychologists and counselors for whatever they go see them for, you go see them to deal with your issues-those are your personal issues. If you feel that you can change-dealing with your depression and whatever you go through in your everyday life, why can’t they? Because problems are problems, whether they’re-entry small problems or big problems. And if you take these programs away from us, what’s going to happen when we come home?

Leonard Sipes: That’s the question – what’s going to happen?

Eddie Ellis: But see, something bad might happen because people-

Leonard Sipes: Something bad probably is going to happen, that’s the point that I’m making.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah but see, people keep complaining about us getting funded in prison and having these programs, but in the same breath, they’re complaining about a lot of people coming out into society and breaking law.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: How can you complain on one side of your face about us breaking law, and then complain about us getting help in jail with programs funded? I’m just saying if you’re going to walk a line, walk the line-get us some help, put the programs in place so a person can help themselves, those who want to help themselves. Those who don’t want to help themselves; they’re not going to help themselves. But don’t punish us that’s trying to do right by criticizing us and making it harder for us to get jobs.

Leonard Sipes: I tried to get it out of you guys, but I couldn’t. My experience of being in the criminal justice system for the last now 37 years, really dates me. But in terms of working directly offenders, a third, if you give them the help, they’re done deals. They’re-entry going to take care of their own business. Now that’s a tremendous number of people. I mean, we’re talking about 650,000 people coming out of prison every year-that’s a third out of 650,000. Every year about 2,000 people come back to the District of Columbia-that’s a lot of people. A third are on the fence because they may go one way or the other. And a third, it doesn’t matter. Right or wrong? That’s my opinion, you guys chime in. James?

James Spencer: I see you’re basically about statistics, but the statistics aren’t always true. Look at prison. Prison-when everyone gets sent to prison, the number one thing that they say is rehabilitation.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

James Spencer: How are you going to rehabilitate a man if you have nothing to offer him but cell food and water?

Leonard Sipes: All right, that’s a good point. We talk about rehabilitation, we talk about re-entry, is the talk equal to the reality?

James Spencer: By far, no. That’s why we’re concentrating so much, me and Ed, on our opinions, have basically been all about programs. What programs do you have to offer? What programs will you put into place? You’ve been specific; you’ve been asking what can they do. What programs do I feel as though they should offer, and I’ve told you job training program. They should have never took the college courses out of the federal facility. They took parole away from D.C. and they took the education away from D.C. So what they’re doing in D.C., from my perspective and what I see, is they’re just locking you. Time. Time is your rehabilitation in D.C. now. My opinion of what rehabilitation should be is okay, you’ve done your crime, as you do your time we’re going to teach you a different way to do something else so when you get back into society, you can do what you’ve learned. Now, I just did five years in the federal facility, they’re-entry teaching you nothing. Your other inmates, prisoners, convicts, or however a person may want to categorize them, are the only teachers there basically. You have a guy who opens the cell, locks the cell. You have a case manager who tells you when it’s almost time to go home, when you need to pay your fines, and that’s it. That’s what prison is right now from what I have seen for the past five years.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

James Spencer: So what they need to do, the federal government, because we have a lot of money for other things, but what I feel as though the federal government should do is help these prisoners that’s coming into their system now. Because later when they do get out, you’ll still have your same problem.

Leonard Sipes: Eddie.

Eddie Ellis: I agree with everything he said. And my focus is on the programs that should be in place, and my focus is also with these kids out here. The same thing the government-D.C. government has money to make a new national stadium and talk about building a new D.C. united stadium, but they don’t have the money to front programs for these little kids out here and for people that’s coming home from prison. And that’s the stuff I don’t understand.

Leonard Sipes: William Ware, I’m going to involve you in the conversation and I’m going to move the microphone over so you can get involved.. We’ve heard from James, we’ve heard from Eddie. They have both been very dramatic, and I appreciate their comments. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency that we belong to is a federal independent executive branch agency. We are the parole and probation entity for the District of Columbia. We provide pretty strict supervision, we have lower caseloads probably than any place else in the country. We have a lot of contact with offenders, we drug test the dickens out of them. We also have a wide array of programs for them. But you’ve heard what James and Eddie said, do you have a response in terms of the problematic themes that they’re presenting?

William Ware: Yes. I mean, I feel that there are a lot of programs available in the district. I’m not too familiar with the prison facilities and I’m sure there probably could be more. I think rehabilitation would be the way to go or is the way to go. I think that anyone without opportunity, anyone without the training, anyone without the employment, anyone without the education, is already a step behind everyone else in society. In order for anyone to come out of prison, change their lifestyle, there needs to be skills taught, there needs to be training, there needs to be everything that you have already talked about in order for them to change their lifestyles. If people are ready to make that change and the training and the services are in place, then I think they’re more than likely going to make that change. If nothing’s in place, then there’s no change to make.

Leonard Sipes: One of the things that strikes me, William, is just the conversation regarding re-entry. I’m familiar with the research throughout the country, I’ve talked to a lot of my counterparts throughout the country, and we do a lot of talking about re-entry. We talk a lot about offenders coming out of prison and what could be done with them, should be done with them. But yet, I’m struck at the reality of so many states where, quite frankly, very little is done. I mean, the overwhelming majority of offenders in the prison system have substance abuse histories, drug histories, alcohol histories-yet the overwhelming majority don’t get drug treatment while in the prison system-the waiting list for the different programs are endlessly long. So there’s a big gap between our discussion on what should be done, and I think we heard that pretty clear from James and Eddie, if we had the programs, a good number of offenders would do better than returning back to the criminal justice system. But there’s a gap between what we say we want to do and what we are doing throughout the country. So how serious are we about re-entry becomes the question.

William Ware: You’re absolutely right. I mean, it would take a significant dedication of resources in order to service all of the offenders, all of the inmates who need to be serviced. The dedication isn’t there. I mean, let’s be real, we’re talking about people who have committed crimes against society, people who have done things to other people that most of society would look at as horrible-horrific, horrific things.

Leonard Sipes: But that’s my point in terms of that gap between what we say and what we do.

William Ware: There is definitely a gap. There is definitely a gap.

Leonard Sipes: And I understand the reason for the gap. I mean, we talked about this, and James and Eddie, I’m going to give you the chance to come in on this again if you want to come in on this again. The average person out there wants to take Eddie, wants to take James, and basically say, ‘man, you’ve done terrible things, I’m not going to support anything for you at all.’ Now that’s their privilege. And I understand why they feel that way, I truly do-we all understand why they feel that way, but the hard, cold reality is that if they’re not properly supervised, that’s an important component of this, and if they don’t get the programs that are necessary, they’re probably going to go back to hurting you, me, my kids’, their kids’ and society.

William Ware: You’re absolutely right. At the same time, the James and the Eddies of the world aren’t going to stay locked up forever, they are going to come home. They need to have somewhere to come home to and be able to be productive members of society. We can’t just turn our backs on them and act like they don’t exist because they do. You have crime all throughout the city, all throughout the nation-crime is a serious problem. But the only way we’re going to actually get to the root of the problem and actually change people’s behaviors and change their lifestyles, is by giving them services. I mean, they can’t do it on their own-no one can do anything on their own. It’s going to definitely take dedication of our services and of society as a whole in order to make that change.

Leonard Sipes: Now I’ve done a lot of talk radio and I’ve been a proponent or an advocate of services for people coming out of the prison system for a long time and I get a lot of angry calls from citizens. And they’re basically saying, ‘hey, they had their shot, it’s called an education system. They had perfect opportunity to go and get an education through high school or to go to a trade school, which is what I did. I didn’t go out and hold somebody up. I didn’t go out and burglarize their home. So why am I rewarding these guys?’ And I guess our quick answer is that we want to prevent more crime. We want to see their kids taken care of responsibly. We want to see them pay taxes, not being a burden to society, but a taxpayer. I guess that’s my answer, but there are people who object to it.

William Ware: Everyone hasn’t been provided the same opportunities throughout their lifetimes. Everyone grew up differently. Environment isn’t a determining factor, nothing is a determining factor. The decisions that we make throughout our lives is what determines what happens to us in our life. Because someone made a bad decision, they should be defined by that bad decision throughout their whole entire life. They should be allowed to make change, they shouldn’t be held back. They should be given the opportunity to make change. And if you turn your back, there’s no way that they can make that change.

Leonard Sipes: There’s research from the Department of Justice now that talks about the majority of offenders having mental health problems. This is self-reported, this is not a diagnosable condition of a mental health problem, this is self-reported. And it just strikes me that if a person comes out of the prison system-and let’s say that they have a diagnosable mental health issue, that person is bound to get caught back up in the criminal justice system unless he has treatment. I mean, it seems to be inevitable-you don’t provide the mental health treatment, the person is going to hurt somebody else, the person is going to go back to prison. You provide the mental health treatment, you provide that person with a chance. I mean, the mental health aspect of it seems to be clear cut to everybody, regardless of what political persuasion you happen to be.

William Ware: No, I wouldn’t say that everyone with a mental health problem is going to definitely go back to prison or do something horrible to people, but with services they are more likely to get the medications that they might need-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

William Ware: -the therapy that they might do better, absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: I guess I’m talking about the odds because I’m not talking about mental health people in general. I’m talking about people who have committed a crime bad enough to go into the prison system and come out who need mental health treatment. It seems highly likely that that person may return.

William Ware: Absolutely, but that isn’t just confined to the mental health community, but to all inmates, anyone ever convicted of a crime.

Leonard Sipes: Right, well, that’s the broader sense and that’s why we’re doing this program because it’s just not about mental health, it’s about drug treatment, it’s about anger management, it’s about finding a job, it’s about job training, it’s about getting a GED-I mean, the package has got be there.

William Ware: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: All right. I’m going to go back to James and Eddie and I’m going to move the microphone one more time. Gentlemen, have any comments to what I just said or what William just said?

James Spencer: Well on the topic of mental health, they say any person that goes to prison and comes back home and goes back in again must have some insanity. The meaning of insanity in the dictionary says, ‘anyone who chooses to do the same thing and think that they will get different results.’ So every person walking around here in society is a little insane because we’ve all did something and tried to go and do it again and think that we were going to get different results. So a person committing a crime doesn’t always mean that their brain is really messed up, that person could have genuinely made a mistake. Or that person could have been very conscious of what they were doing and chose to go ahead and commit that crime whatever it may have been. I personally feel as though I’m not mentally insane. I feel as though that I’m a very cool person-I’m sociable, I can hold a conversation with you, I have character, I’m respectable, I conduct myself with a good character-I just had a situation in my lifetime where I chose to do something that was wrong. Now that I’m back into society, I don’t look at myself as my charge, as you said some people will perceive me as. Maybe if we never discussed our charges and just had a basic conversation about this topic, you may have thought that neither one of us may have never been to prison. Because just meeting this man, I would never believe that he just did 15 years incarcerated, he’s not shell-shocked-

Leonard Sipes: The bottom line is that you’re a neighbor. You’re out there; you’re a productive part of society. You represent something that the rest of us deal with on a day-to-day basis, and we may not realize it.

James Spencer: Yes sir, I sure do. I am a model resident.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

James Spencer: My charge does not describe my character.

Leonard Sipes: Does not define who you are.

James Spencer: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: All right.

James Spencer: And I don’t feel as though people should categorize every person that commits a crime in that category. People who have committed crimes-you have some people who may continue to commit crimes. But just because a person has made a mistake or done wrong, doesn’t mean that they should be an outcast to society.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Eddie, you’re going to have the final word on this.

Eddie Ellis: What I want to say on this topic-it’s a lot of things that happen in this world that’s going to continue to happen. You know, and we need to do-what we need to do in society is try to reach out to those who need the help and who want the help. You’re going to have people who will be judgmental and be frustrated, they’re-entry dealing with their emotions. They don’t know what took place in these people’s lives to make them do what they did. But they’re passing judgment on somebody-throw them away, they don’t need help. But when this same person you talk about throw away-don’t need help move next door to you and something happen to you, then you’re wondering why-your family wondering why. This is the same person that you didn’t want to get help, but he wanted help, or she wanted help. And all I’m saying is that I know a lot of good people in jail that I met in jail that made some dumb choices, you understand? And they are being defined and judged by the choices that they made, but I know a lot of them are productive people in prison sending their money home to their kids, sending their money home to their mother, sending their money home to their little sisters and brothers, sending letters home that are constructive and positive to help keep them on line. But none of this stuff is being spoken about. It’s like on the week of the 17th I’m going to go speak at the school to little kids and this is something that I always wanted to do because people spoke to me, but I didn’t listen to them. I didn’t know how to take heed to what they were saying. So I want to go out there and do my part, I don’t want to do it for no publicity; I want to do it because I want to help somebody.

Leonard Sipes: I want you both back for other programs because this is a intriguing conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today-James Spencer, Eddie Ellis, and William Ware, a Community Supervision Officer. Our website is – Have yourself a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

Subtitle: Information about crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders.