Archives for March 14, 2008

Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington, D.C.

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This Television Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/?p=18

[Video Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi and Welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. In November of 2007, over 530 individuals voluntarily surrendered to the Bible Way Church in Northwest Washington, D.C. These individuals had a variety of warrants ranging from criminal to some traffic warrants. It’s an extraordinarily interesting concept called Fugitive Safe Surrender and to talk about the program we have two principles with us today. We have Paul Quander, the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we have Nancy Ware, the Director of the D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Paul and Nancy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Paul Quander and Nancy Ware: Thanks for having us.

Leonard Sipes: Nancy, the first question will go to you. Now from what I understand this is a National Program of the U.S. Marshal Service and the U.S. Marshal in Washington, D.C., Steve Convoy, brought this concept to you as the Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct. Steve came to us probably two years ago to present the concept and how it would run in Cleveland, Ohio which was the first site that actually instituted Fugitive Safe Surrender, so that was their experimental site and he presented it to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council which is a group of all the law enforcement and public safety agencies in Washington and everyone was very enthusiastic about it; very excited about the opportunity that would be made available to D.C. folks who had outstanding warrants and wanted to turn themselves in peacefully in faith institution. So, at that point, we began to talk more about what it would entail to bring all of the principles together, all the various agencies, all the moving parts together and institute this initiative in D.C. and in the interim we actually had opportunities to send D.C. criminal justice and public safety agency representatives to other sites that were also instituting Fugitive Safe Surrender in their sites.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and I was one of those people and I went to the Indianapolis Fugitive Safe Surrender site and saw first hand how it worked. Paul Quander, this was an extraordinarily difficult undertaking from the stand point of a wide variety of criminal justice agencies. We’re talking about the U.S. Attorneys Office, we’re talking about D.C. Corrections, and we’re talking about Pretrial Services. The agencies goes on and on- The United States Marshal Service, the Metropolitan Police Department. Those of us in the criminal justice system know that it’s very difficult to bring all those agencies, put them all in one spot, and to agree on anything and you pretty much lead this organizing effort.

Paul Quander: It was a great undertaking, but the one thing that we had going for us was a common purpose. All of the principles at that initial meeting agree that we would undertake this and we had the infrastructure already in place through the leadership of Nancy Ware and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, so it’s a natural fit for us. It was difficult at times, but well worth the effort. You mentioned some of the agencies but on a total, there were 13 different agencies, both local and federal that came together to make this work and what we essentially had to do was to take everything that is in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and move it to Bible Way Church and not only are you talking about people but you’re talking about the infrastructure. You’re talking about the computers, you’re talking about the telephone network, you’re talking about all the things that make Superior Court work from interpreters to all those special individuals that provide that service, so that an individual who turns himself in will get the benefit of coming in, getting favorable consideration, getting that warrant resolved, and moving on and having a second chance at life. So, it’s well worth it. Everyone saw the potential, the good that this could do, so it was a labor of love, but it was a labor.

Leonard Sipes: And talk a little bit about the concept of the Fugitive Safe Surrender. They are nonviolent individuals with nonviolent histories and we do a media campaign and we invite them to voluntarily come in and get favorable consideration.

Paul Quander: Right, there are a lot of individuals in the District of Columbia and in other communities across the country that has nonviolent warrants. Some for traffic offenses, some misdemeanor offenses, some felony offenses, a lot of drug offenses; these are nonviolent offenders and they have warrants that are outstanding. Either because of probation violations, parole violations, they have failed to appear in court, there are some pretrial matters that they failed to resolve and they walked away from the system and these individuals are out there and they’re living on the margins and what we decided to do was, we needed to bring them in. We need to get them out of the shadows and bring them in so that they can get the services and get on with their lives. So, it was a tremendous undertaking but the reward was going to be significant for our community as a whole. So, that’s why it took planning. It took the cooperation of every agency, not on the principle but the individuals that actually do the heavy lifting and organizations, to sit down, to plan it out, all of the details to coordinate all of the services to make sure the things ran smoothly because if they don’t run smoothly, you don’t have a successful program and we were able to pull all those pieces together and get everybody to work together. There were endless meetings, but those are the type of meetings that you don’t mind having because you see the proof at the end of the day and we were able to do that and so it turned out to be a marvelous event for everyone that was there.

Leonard Sipes: I agree. Nancy Ware, a lot of the offenders, let’s talk about them coming in. You know this is an interesting concept. I come from a law enforcement background years ago. I would go out with a squad of six or seven other police officers. We’d knock on doors. We’d have a hand full of warrants. If we apprehended six people that night, that was an extraordinary big night for us. Ordinarily we’d get one or two from an entire night’s worth of work, maybe three. In this case, we got 530. One of the offenders who came in to voluntarily surrender walked about 20 miles in suburban Maryland to downtown D.C. to give himself up. His mother asked him to do it on her birthday. We had another person, 1st in line on the first day, who just went out and did lots of television broadcasts basically saying, hallelujah, this is a wonderful thing. We have mothers bringing their sons in. We had one offender who was in prison, I think, for 20 years who brought his father in on a drug warrant and all of these people had what I considered to be an emotional reaction and were so pleased with the idea of putting this warrant behind them, having a new court date. Talk to me about that process.

Nancy Ware: Well that’s part of what made it so exciting. It was something to behold watching people come in the door and every person had a story on their face. You had an opportunity as an agency, as a member of the District of Columbia public service agency to be able to offer folks, not just a second chance, but also a second chance with dignity so that they didn’t have to go through the scenario that you described where someone was coming to their door and knocking on their door, and taking them away potentially in handcuffs in front of their children or in some cases, having to kick down their door and taking away them in front of their family. This offered them a lot of support at our Fugitive Safe Surrender initiative. We had 40 volunteers from Bible Way Church, from Howard University, from our staff throughout our agencies, everyone treated every single individual with the utmost respect and that was something that really left you feeling like this was an effort that was well worth it as Paul said. It was a labor of love and people came in, they were fed, they were provided a safe relaxed environment, family members could wait for their loved ones who had to go to court, they could actually go into the court rooms with their family members. Again, everyone was treated with respect. The volunteers were wonderful, they talked to the families, they made sure that the families were kept abreast of what was going on in the process, so it was really a wonderful opportunity to show our residents in D.C. that we do care about them and we do want them to succeed and many people were ready to take advantage of that.

Leonard Sipes: And we also offered drug treatment services and employment services. It was across the board. Paul, I can’t think of any downfalls to Fugitive Safe Surrender the way that we did it with Washington, D.C. It seems to be continuous pluses across the board. From the stand point of protecting police officers. So many police officers are injured or killed in the process of serving the very kind of warrants where these people voluntarily came in to getting them reintegrated in society, instead of being on the outside putting them into regular society. I don’t see any minuses with this.

Paul Quander: There was no minus whatsoever. That’s why when the principles got together when Marshall Convoy brought this to us, we all agreed that it was a good thing. Now with stating that, how are we going to make it happen. How are we going to make it work and there are many pitfalls from the idea until reality so that’s where we had to come together. That’s where we had to work because there are the benefits. You mentioned that individuals voluntarily turned themselves in which is absolutely phenomenal. You don’t have to go out, you don’t have to chase, you don’t have to run, and no one is hurt in the process. People come in because they want to come in. They want to come in because their coming to a church, they’re coming to a safe environment, they’re coming into a place that has always provided sanctuary. It’s the place where they feel comfortable, that they can trust what is being said is really going to happen and then from that first day when people actually came in and they had their cases resolved. When they actually saw that there were real judges there, there were prosecutors there, there were defense attorneys that were there that could answer their questions and not only that as Nancy indicated, there were social services there. So if an individual had a drug problem, they were actually signed up right there on the spot to go into APRA’s program and APRA of course is the drug treatment and prevention program for the District of Columbia. The Department of Employment Services was there so if a person was looking for a job, they had referrals that were right there. They had the big van out front of the church. So, you had all these social services that were there and everything is designed to make the person whole again. So, we’ve moved from a very contentious, a very dangerous situation involving a confrontation on a lonely street between a police officer and an individual who has a warrant who may do anything when they panic and you remove that completely when that person comes in and gets that matter resolved and you don’t have that confrontation then. So the police officer wins. The individual in the community that had that warrant wins. The surrounding neighbors win. That individual’s family wins. The criminal justice system as a whole wins. It’s a win win proposition.

Leonard Sipes: Nancy, the importance of Bible Way, it’s a major church in Northwest Washington, D.C. Apostle James Silver is the pastor, and we are very grateful to him, but that was the important feature was it not? The individuals turning themselves into a well-known church and a faith based institution. That was the comfort level that they needed to do this, correct?

Nancy Ware: Right. Bible Way is an icon in D.C. It’s a historical institution, faith institution in Washington. Many people at Bible Way are very committed to this kind of activity to try to be sure to provide outreach to the community to support folks who may have had mishaps in their lives or downtrodden and have had problems and so this was a natural setting. In addition, Bible Way had the facility that we needed. The footage in the church was perfect for what we’re trying to do and it had taken us quite a while to find just the right setting where we had plenty of room, plenty of space because as Paul said, we were bringing court rooms into the church facility.

Leonard Sipes: Right and that was really unusual. Nancy, you’ve got the final word on the first segment. Nancy and Paul thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, watch us on the next segment where we continue our discussion of Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington, D.C. What you’re going to see now is some television footage, some television coverage of the Safe Surrender Program. After the footage, we’ll be right back. Stay with us.

Karen Gray Houston: These people are fugitives. At the doors to Bible Way Temple open today at least 25 of them lined up. It’s a U.S. Marshals service initiative to get nonviolent offenders to surrender. That’s why Willie Jones turned himself in.

Willie Jones: Because I had a warrant and I was tired of running and I know this is a good program and the right thing to do.

Karen Gray Houston: Jones was wanted for selling drugs, heroine and ignored a date in court.

Willie Jones: I just didn’t feel comfortable walking in the court house.

Karen Gray Houston: You thought they’d put you in jail.

Willie Jones: Yes ma’am.

Karen Gray Houston: The Fugitive Safe Surrender program is set up so fugitives avoid handcuffs and to keep police from knocking on their door in the middle of the night.

Paul Quander: No chasing, no danger to the public, no danger to the law enforcement officers and no danger to the citizens.

Karen Gray Houston: Inside the church, various local and federal agencies are available to help. Public Defenders so fugitives can consult a lawyer, drug treatment if needed, even make-shift court rooms so judges can hear a guilty plea or set a court date. Authorities wanted to signal offenders that this will be a safe process, relatively painless, and convenient so what better place to do it than a church? James Silver is pastor here at Bible Way.

James Silver: What I would tell anyone out there is do the right thing. Get it over with and in view of the fact that the judge will show favorable consideration.

Karen Gray Houston: There are no promises of absolute amnesty, but Willie Jones has a different reason for surrendering now.

Willie Jones: My parents are old. They need me.

Karen Gray Houston: His sister says Willie’s been in and out of trouble and wants to turn his life around.

Willie Jones’ Sister: He’s ready. He said he’s ready to go flip burgers at McDonalds. So, he’s ready.

Karen Gray Houston: Now he has the support from loved ones and help from the community to get a second chance. Karen Gray Houston, Fox 5 News.

News Desk: Now a total of 75 people surrendered today and only 1 was arrested. The others were either sent home with a new court date or they had their cases thrown out all together.

Allison Starling: Next on ABC 7 news at 5, wanted fugitives turn up at a local church to surrender.

Leon Harris: Find out why they all showed up to turn themselves in. That’s next on ABC 7 news at 5. Don’t go away.

Allison Starling: So far 140 D.C. fugitives have turned themselves in to the U.S. Marshals.

Leon Harris: And it’s all because of the Safe Surrender Program. It’s a program that runs through Saturday at Bible Way Church. Our D.C. Bureau Chief, Sam Ford tells us tonight as in other cities where this program has been offered, most got to go home.

Sam Ford: His sister Tammy at his side, Willie Jones who skipped out on sentencing a year ago for selling Heroine was the first to turn himself in today.

Willie Jones: It’s no way to live and since I walked in this morning, my life has gotten real better.

Sam Ford: He’s one of dozens of fugitives tired of looking over their shoulders for the police who turned themselves in at Bible Way Church on the Safe Surrender Program. More than 100 volunteers, plus marshals, parole officers, and judges process fugitives with outstanding warrants from traffic offenses on up.

Rufus King: This is not an amnesty program where the case doesn’t go away automatically just because you come in but you have a warrant, you’ve been running, now is the time you can stop running.

Leonard Sipes: Welcome back to D.C. Public Safety, I continue to be your host Len Sipes. Back on our set is Paul Quander and the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we have Cliff Keenan, the Deputy Director of Pretrial Services in Washington, D.C. Paul, Cliff, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. Cliff, the first question is going to go to you because you greeted virtually everybody who walked in through that door. You were right at the front part of that process. It’s an amazing and technical process. Tell me a little bit about the different people coming in. Were they worried, were they scared, were they hopeful? Did you get any sense of emotion as people walked in through that door?

Cliff Keenan: Len, actually it was not just my staff with Pretrial Services Agency but we also have to very much thank the pastor for getting so many of his volunteers from his church and other churches to actually greet the people who were coming to turn themselves in.

Leonard Sipes: And that was the initial greeting. The greeting was from the volunteers from the church.

Cliff Keenan: Correct, and they took the time to explain if persons didn’t have a good understand about what was going to happen. They explained what the process was going to be about and then after the initial greeting and the persons were escorted down to our check in station, that’s where our staff then took over in terms of further explaining what was to be expected. We did a very methodical check in order to make sure that persons who came in with family members or friends, or with children because we also had a childcare facility set up for those persons who had children.

Leonard Sipes: And I saw persons who were pushing basinets into the church and in some cases the mother bringing in 2 kids at one time. I mean she had to be fairly secure with her situation to bring her kids in so bringing your kids in to surrender on a criminal warrant, that’s an interesting observation isn’t it?

Cliff Keenan: Very much so and I think for the most part, everybody who is involved, be it the volunteers or the staff from the various agencies, took the time to really explain the process and the people would be at least as comfortable as possible when they were going to be receiving favorable consideration, was the hallmark of this. No promises could be made to anybody but they did I think understand from the very beginning, from the time that the volunteers greeted them, that people were looking out for their best interests as much as possible.

Leonard Sipes: Paul, what happened is they went to a defense attorney that was provided for free so they could discuss their legal options before going in to see the judges from the Superior Court to make a disposition on their case or the U.S. Parole Commission.

Paul Quander: That’s right. Even before they got to the opportunity to speak with the defense attorney, members of the staff from the Pretrial Services Agency actually did a thorough review of their outstanding warrants to make sure that we had all of the warrants. We wanted to make sure that we took care of everything that was there on the table. Once that was done and we identified any outstanding matters, then the individuals were escorted to the waiting area by church volunteers. Again, very friendly, very nonthreatening atmosphere, where they were greeted by other volunteers. They sat, there were TVs that were available, there were snacks that were available, then they were paired with an attorney and they talked about the individual cases. There were traffic attorneys who specialized in traffic matters; there were representatives from the Public Defenders Service that spoke with everyone else that had a non traffic matter. And so, after they spoke, they sat down and waited until it was time to go back to the court, but we didn’t have that as just empty time because there we had members from APRA the drug treatment program that were there to do assessments and to sign people up. So, if they needed drug treatment, if they wanted drug treatment, they could actually decide that right there on spot. We also had Unity Health fair that was there, Unity Health Services that was providing all sorts of health information, health related information to individuals. So, we tried to have an environment which provided social services as well as the criminal justice issue so that when the person walked out of the door, we wanted to make sure that person left in a much better position than when he or she came in.

Leonard Sipes: And most of them walked out of the door with these huge smiles on their faces. I mean, media interviewed them as they walked out the door, Cliff and in the Afro American in D.C. there was a photo of as mother and daughter just hugging each other and it was a very emotional time. We let people bring the family members in. We talked about kids in daycare. Mothers brought their sons down saying I’m sick and tired of worrying about the police knocking on my door at 3:00 in the morning. You’re going to Fugitive Safe Surrender and you’re going to surrender, so you saw the family members come in correct?

Cliff Keenan: Absolutely and as I said, I think everybody involved in the process was so supportive and when you also had the family member or the close friend who is accompanying the individual, it clearly was almost overwhelming to the point where the emotions took over and they realized that they had no choice but to take care of the matters that brought them there that day.

Leonard Sipes: I do want to talk a little bit about the technical parts of it because one of the reasons why I wanted you on this show is that you were so intimately involved in the entire process from a technical point of view. I saw your emails on a day to day basis, changing the script, changing the flow, negotiating with other partners in the criminal justice system. I mean Paul lead the charge. It was the U.S. Marshall Service and Paul leading the charge though organizing. You were in charge of the intimate details as to how it would work. Tell me a little bit about that.

Cliff Keenan: Well I think the most important thing was giving every agency the assurance and the confidence that things were going to be done right. There were a lot of questions as Paul just alluded to as to whether or not somebody coming in that every warrant would be identified and handled. So, we wanted to insure that in working with the U.S. Attorneys Office and working with the Office of the Attorney General, and working with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and working with the judges and working with the Parole Commission, that we would do as thorough a job as one could imagine in terms of identifying those warrants.

Leonard Sipes: And you basically did it without a glitch. Can you imagine, this is sort of like an emergency operation center in the event of a hurricane. That’s basically what we set up: a court system, a pretrial system, a public defender system, we set up all these systems within the basement of a church. Now, that takes a tremendous amount of detail to pull that off.

Cliff Keenan: And it was successfully pulled off. Again, everybody who is involved with the program from the start through finish, could not identify any downsides to it in terms of both the results within the various agencies within the criminal justice system for Washington, D.C. and most importantly for the individuals who came and took advantage of this program. Let’s not fool ourselves, you know some people did end up getting stepped back is the expression.

Leonard Sipes: Well, out of the 530, there were 10 individuals who were arrested for violent crimes or for escaping correctional facilities so these individuals were arrested. But 10 out of 530 is a tremendous compromise in terms of the Superior Court, in terms of everybody in the criminal justice system. Paul don’t you agree?

Paul Quander: It is and one of the benefits that we haven’t talked about is the fact that all of the agencies were represented and as you just eluded to, we were all under one roof and there were no barriers, so for the first time in my almost 30 years in the criminal justice field, we had all of these agencies under one roof and people could actually see who their counterparts were from the other agencies and there was this comradery that grew from the U.S. Attorneys Office working so closely with the Public Defenders Service, working so closely with people from the Superior Court, working so closely with CSOSA my agency and the Office of the Attorney General. All under one roof with one purpose. It was just a wonderful thing to see government working so well for the benefit of the community and it’s the first time I’ve experienced that in my career and that’s something that will stay with me forever. To see us come together, to work together, and to produce a product like we produced with universal appeal. It’s just a fantastic event.

Leonard Sipes: And the viewers need to understand that this is an extremely rare. Those of us who have been around the criminal justice system any amount of time, any length of time, know that it’s really difficult to bring everybody together. I was part of the media effort and the Public Defenders office didn’t want an area photographed and they came along and said, you can’t do this. Those compromises were made instantaneously, not just from the media side but from the operational side. It seemed as if everybody simply said, we’re going to do whatever needs to be done to make this work and that is extremely rare.

Paul Quander: We had a lot of caucuses which meant that we could pull together, get the key people in and talk about an issue, resolve it and then do it which is fantastic. We didn’t have to write memos. We didn’t have to get approval. We caucused, we made a decision, and we moved forward and the program flowed perfectly.

Leonard Sipes: Now, the Superior Court, needless to say, they played a huge role in this because their judges basically had to (A) buy into the concept of the program, (B) keep the integrity of the operational values of the Superior Court and to keep all of that rolling. This statement has nothing to do with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia but I’ve always found judges to be a bit cantankerous and justifiably so in terms of the integrity of the court and the fact that that it, Cliff, was satisfied and I think is a testimony to the planning and the level of compromise that went into Fugitive Safe Surrender.

Cliff Keenan: Absolutely, as Paul said. The caucusing, the discussions, the conversations; these have been going on for months and the judges were very much a part of the conversation. This wasn’t anything that was being thrust upon them. They had a stake, not just for those offenders coming in who had probation matters for which warrants have been issued, but also for those defendants who had pretrial matters for which warrants have been issued. Giving the judges that the assurance that the upfront work, the recommendations, the full assessment as to who they are, and ultimately the recommendation from the prosecutor or from the Court Services, Community Supervision Officers, this was all going into having the judge do what the judge would have been doing down at the court house in any event and it was all there for them, for those cases that ended up in front of a judge.

Leonard Sipes: And to show you the level of complexity, I can remember the one lady who came in while we were in training and I was standing outside and she comes up and surrenders. She thinks that she has a warrant. Her husband, her estranged husband, said that he was going to take out a warrant against her for battery. She’s been living this for 4 or 5 months, living in fear, and she goes down and suddenly finds there is no warrant and a certain amount of people coming in didn’t’ have warrants and they thought they had warrants and certainly that has to be a big relief to them. At the same time could you imagine a police officer stopping that individual on the street and that person suddenly takes off or becomes threatening because they think they have a warrant but they really don’t.

Paul Quander: Across the country, D.C. was the 7th site in which Fugitive Safe Surrender has been undertaken and the prior six sites, about 15% of the individuals turning themselves in across the country did not have warrants so that’s something that is not unique to the District of Columbia. Warrants expire under certain circumstances and certain jurisdictions, other times people are under mistaken belief that they have a warrant but their living as if. It goes back to the old saying, if you perceive it, it’s real.

Leonard Sipes: If you perceive it it’s real. We do want thank, before the program ends, we do want to thank the United States Marshall Service for what they did to bring this program to us. It’s been successful throughout the country.

Paul Quander: Right and they took a leadership role in bringing it here to the District and working with us to make it a reality.

Leonard Sipes: And Paul you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching D.C. Public Safety. Watch for us next time as we explore a very important part of the criminal justice system. Have yourselves a pleasant day.
[Video Ends]

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Programs for Criminal Offenders

This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=54

This Television Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/?p=13

[Video Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi. Welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program is about programs for offenders coming out of the prison system or currently under probation. The question for everybody is do these programs work. Do they have an impact on crime? Can they actually reduce the budget in the long run? There are states throughout the country that are throwing millions of dollars into these programs again, in the hopes of reducing recidivism, reducing crime and reducing the impact on their own budgets. We’re gonna have 2 principles in our first segment today. There are offenders currently under supervision of my agency, The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They are Eric Fuller and Andre Sellers and to Andre and Eric welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Andre Sellers: Hello.

Leonard Sipes: Gentlemen, now the whole question about these programs, they could be vocational programs, educational programs, mental health treatment, drug treatment, there’s a wide array of programs that people are advocating for people coming out of the prison system and both you guys have done time in federal prison, so the question becomes why should we invest all this money into these programs. We’re going get with you Andre and ask about your background Who you are, where you came from, your, your crime background, so your name is Andre?

Andre Sellers: Sellers.

Leonard Sipes: Okay and your crime.

Andre Sellers: Distribution.

Leonard Sipes: Distribution of controlled dangerous substance. What controlled dangerous substance?

Andre Sellers: Heroin.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so you went to federal prison?

Andre Sellers: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Where at?

Andre Sellers: It was in Bradford, New Jersey. Different locations North Carolina.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So how long have you been out on the streets?

Andre Sellers: On the streets approximately 5 ½ months.

Leonard Sipes: 5 ½ months. How long did you spend in prison?

Andre Sellers: 11 years.

Leonard Sipes: 11 years. That’s a long, long time.

Andre Sellers: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. 11 years in prison, 5 months out on the street. That’s difficult, is it not? What, what is your opinion in terms of coming out of prison and coming out to the street?

Andre Sellers: It’s truly hard. When everyday you’re challenged about things that have over the years changed for you. The life on the inside is, what can I say?

Leonard Sipes: Well, a lot of offenders tell me that, it’s become more dangerous on the streets. It’s a different sense of dangerousness in terms of coming out. Am I right or wrong?

Andre Sellers: That’s for, that’s for some people.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Andre Sellers: If you can adapt to how you’re gonna live your life.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Andre Sellers: You can tell yourself you wanna come back out here and do what’s right or you can go back in there.

Leonard Sipes: But, the thing that always perplexes me is that, and I have been doing this for a long time now, talking to people coming out of the prison system and everybody says their not going back, but yet according to statistics, a lot do. A lot come back to the criminal justice system. The re-incarnation rate is 50 percent; these are national statistics, go back to prison, after 3 years. So there are a lot of people who stay involved in the criminal justice system and a lot of people who return to prison. But most say they’re not going to. So, what is the difference between saying I’m not going to and actually going back to prison? What makes the difference?

Andre Sellers: I would say once you’re in prison you have to work on yourself. I mean mentally and determined as to how you’re gonna live your life. You can’t, especially if you have dependents or children you have to take care of. They look at you and see how you’re living your life and you say to yourself, how do you want them to reflect?

Leonard Sipes: Yeah. And the majority of guys coming out of prison have kids.

Andre Sellers: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: So, it’s just not them, it’s their kids as well.

Andre Sellers: Right. They pay attention to what is my daddy is doing

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Andre Sellers: And should I follow in my daddy’s footsteps and well, an individual should tell himself no, I don’t want my child going to prison the way I did.

Leonard Sipes: Alright. You want a better world for you kids. That is the bottom line.

Andre Sellers: Right.

Leonard Sipes: So, to create that better world, you got involved in a program.

Andre Sellers: Exactly. To be a role model, to straighten the things out that I’ve been through.

Leonard Sipes: I hear you.

Andre Sellers: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: Now, what program are you currently involved in?

Andre Sellers: Well, I’m in a part of CSOSA vocational program

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Andre Sellers: They refer me to programs about education and working.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Andre Sellers: Obtain an employment to.

Leonard Sipes: From what I understand, you’re not only being trained in terms of going out and finding a job, you’ve been assessed in terms of your educational level, and you’re currently getting ready to go to college. Correct?

Andre Sellers: Yeah. Currently, I am in college.

Leonard Sipes: You are?

Andre Sellers: In higher education.

Leonard Sipes: In higher education. Okay and what college is that?

Andre Sellers: Everest College.

Leonard Sipes: You know there’s research, and I know people are uncomfortable with giving money for former offenders to got to college when they’re saying; hey I can’t afford to send my own kid to college. But something needs to be said about the research on these programs. The best success out of all these programs are the offenders who go to college in terms of not going back to the criminal justice system.

Andre Sellers: I feel that the government should give a lot of offenders the chance to use their potential at times it seems like well I tell myself a guy just like you said, why we need to give money when he’s gonna fail. You have to give a lot of guy’s chances.

Leonard Sipes: Okay

Andre Sellers: Whereas they may lead to something they’re interested in and they can continue on.

Leonard Sipes: Well, I’ve talked to a lot of people who are now successes who have done heavy duty prison time and who are now tax payers. They are now back with their kids, now supporting their kids. They’re a success story, but they’ve got pretty nasty backgrounds and these programs help them get over the hump.

Andre Sellers: Exactly, so I feel it’s proper for anyone to invest in it. You have to give somebody a chance. Everyone makes a mistake.

Leonard Sipes: We’re going to go over to Eric now. Eric, how are you doing?

Eric Fuller: Fine.

Leonard Sipes: What’s your background? Your crime background?

Eric Fuller: Armed robbery.

Leonard Sipes: And you served how long in prison?

Eric Fuller: 9 years.

Leonard Sipes: 9 years. So, both of you have done some pretty long stretches in the prison system. Alright, Eric your now what, getting ready to go to work? You’re being trained to go to work?

Eric Fuller: Well, yeah, I’m being trained. I’m through CSOSA, through their vocational program. I’m currently taking my commercial drivers license.

Leonard Sipes: Now, that’s an interesting occupation. I’ve talked to probably 20 guys who have been through the prison system who have gotten their commercial drivers licenses or their CDL license and some of these guys are making very good money. I mean well above $60,000. That’s sort of the potential for taking people coming out of the prison system and again, the whole idea is making them tax payers instead of tax burdens. Do you have kids?

Eric Fuller: No, unfortunately no.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, we’ll a lot of guys do, right? So the idea is again to take care of the kids, take care of themselves, become tax payers instead of tax burdens, and not being out there committing additional crimes. Do you feel that this program is going to get you to that point?

Eric Fuller: I know it will. I have confidence in myself first and through this program, the things that I’ve heard of and the things I’m seeing so far, I’m going to be successful.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, how long have you been out of prison?

Eric Fuller: A little over 6 months.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so for both of you it’s about the same. The majority of recidivism and to the people watching this program, recidivism is a strange term, the majority of criminal activity committed by people coming out of prison and their path into the criminal justice system happens within the first six months. So that 6 months is crucial to get the guys involved in job training or get them a job and get them involved in mental health treatment, drug treatment or whatever it is that they need. So the first 6 months, again, comments from either one of you in terms of how difficult it’s been. You know other guys who are “in the game” who are caught up in the lifestyle and a lot of these guys continue being in the lifestyle. What’s the difference with the two of you? Is it your family, your kids, your faith, your own personal belief in yourself because Andre talked about being a role model. Eric?

Eric Fuller: First let me say that I can’t speak for anyone else but myself but for me has been family support and of course you’ve got to be mentally strong. You really do and you’ve got to have that strive to want to change and that’s what I have. I also have a religious background to keep that focus. That’s my main focus and it has been hard but as I said before you have people or organizations as CSOSA that’s willing to help so as long as there is someone who is trying to help us then you can make it.

Leonard Sipes: But as to programs, are there enough in the District of Columbia? Are there enough beyond the District of Columbia? Are there enough programs for people coming out of the prison system? Do you have an opinion?

Andre Sellers: You need more treatment centers. You need a lot of treatment centers where you can notice some of the guy’s problems. Some of the guys they’ve been going through emotional things and going through their past experiences and failures. I think treatment and a lot of evaluations on some individuals would help them down the line.

Leonard Sipes: Eric, do you have an opinion as to these programs? All the programs combined?

Eric Fuller: Right, first you said we do need more programs all around because you have a lot of people that may have things on their mind or they may have problems as he spoke of, drug problems or mental problems, but they don’t know where to go.

Leonard Sipes: I have never been able to understand how a person, let’s say mental health issues, now a lot of guys are claiming mental health issues. I have never been able to understand somebody coming out of the prison system who is mentally ill or has an emotional problem, their probably going to get back inside the system and in fact, their probably going to go out and commit another crime or series of crimes without intervention. To me that seem straight forward don’t you think? I mean the drug treatment stuff and the vocational stuff and the educational stuff we can argue about or the college programs, we can argue about that all day long, but I think everybody would agree that if you’re mentally ill, you need to have services when you come out of the prison system. That seems to me pretty straight forward regardless of what side of the political spectrum you’re on. Agree or disagree?

Andre Sellers: Yeah, I agree also with saying that through the treatment centers, you can also have psychologic counseling where some people can be assigned to a psychiatrist who really looks into an individual’s breakdown. I see it as an individual breaking down and they resort to things that probably help them to erase those thoughts and the problems they go through. Also, a lot of counseling.

Leonard Sipes: But nobody is going to disagree that if you do the time, then you do the crime. You know, there are some people who belong in prison. Right or wrong?

Eric Fuller: Well, I believe I guess as you said, if you do the crime you do the time.

Leonard Sipes: What would you say to the people currently on the street, offenders currently on the street, people getting ready to come out of the prison system, what would you say to them about staying out of crime? We only have a couple of minutes left. Tough question for a couple minutes.

Eric Fuller: Look for another avenue. Don’t just go down that same path that you went before. Make a change. I mean, the only thing that’s constant in this world is change, so you need to constantly keep moving forward and look for help. It’s hard for some people to ask for help. You’ve just got to put your ego to the side and ask for help because there are programs out here.

Leonard Sipes: Andre, we only have a couple of minutes left.

Andre Sellers: You have to put your priorities and your responsibilities in front of you. For the most part, you want that support system to be there for you. If you have the supervision of CSOSA, you can contact someone to assist you with those programs or when they have you’re job interests and just show you the right path.

Leonard Sipes: So, the idea is to reach out for help because everybody coming out of the system, regardless of how confident you are in staying out, you need that help. That’s the bottom line, correct?

Andre Sellers and Eric Fuller: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: I appreciate you guys being with us. Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate you watching us during the first segment. Stay with us in the second segment as we’ll talk to experts in programs for offenders. We will be right back.

Leonard Sipes: Hi, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We continue our discussion of programs for offenders coming out of the prison system with 2 principles, 2 extremely knowledgeable people. Christine Keals and Toni Thomas. Chris and Toni, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Christine Keels and Toni Thomas: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Chris, you’ve been a true veteran of the correctional system. You and I came from Maryland. You and I’ve been doing this for a long time. You’re in charge now of VOTEE and VOTEE is?

Christine Keels: Vocational Opportunities, Training, Education, Employment unit. VOTEE is responsible for first providing a very professional assessment of the offenders’ skills and abilities and after that assessment, we then look at whether the person needs to receive life skills, job readiness training, or if they’re ready for a referral to a vocational training program or placement in an employment setting.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, the thing that impresses me about this operation is your assessment. You do a complete, total assessment of that individual as to their educational level, do they read at all, do they read at the 8th grade level, do they read at the 12th grade level, their backgrounds, how many jobs have they had part-time, full-time, did they have any problems on the job. You know more about that person’s occupational and educational background than their parents do.

Christine Keels: That is absolutely correct and that’s why the program is an excellent resource for employers because we provide the educational assessment and we happen to use McGraw Hill Tape process as well as ______which is a nationally recognized test for offenders. And then we also have our drug testing process so before we refer an offender for vocational placement and/or employment placement, we already know that person’s drug use or lack of drug use, which we hope happens as well, as we know that person’s reading level and employability skill level.

Leonard Sipes: It’s a comprehensive program where you have these centers all throughout the District of Columbia where the offenders can come in. It’s convenient to their own homes, where they can come in and get that assessment and there they can say, “You know what, I would really like to do carpentry, I’d really like to drive a truck” like when we were talking to Eric and Andre. I think it was Eric who was saying that he wanted to get his commercial drivers license. So, whatever it is that they want to do; you help them find a realistic path. You help them find the training that they need, and working with our partners,especially the City of Washington, D.C. who provides the bulk of this training and the private sector, you plug these individuals in. In some cases they’re unions that have apprenticeship programs. You get these individuals ready and plug them into these programs.

Christine Keels: That’s correct but also we try to stimulate interest in careers that they may not have thought of, nontraditional careers. Particularly for our female offenders, we try to look at nontraditional careers which would include construction, commercial driver’s license; it also may include starting their own business. My staff is trained at being able to help them develop a new career interest because we’re not looking at short term jobs, we’re looking at careers.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and I think that becomes the key issue in the segway over to Toni Thomas. Toni you’ve been doing this for a long time. In the years that I’ve been with this agency, I’ve seen you doing the work that you do. Now, you’re Toni Thomas Associates. You’re in charge of your own company and you provide, in consultation with the court services and offender supervision agencies VOTEE program, these programs for offenders. In fact I think it was Eric who was getting his commercial drivers license with your assistance.

Toni Thomas: Absolutely. Our program, The Community Empowerment Training Academy is a subsidiary of Toni Thomas Associates and our primary focus is to provide support and services to persons who are either unemployed or underemployed or those persons desiring retraining. We focus, primarily as I said, on people who really need the assistance that we feel we provide. It’s more than just a training program, we operate as a small family that people who come to us in need, our goal is following organizations like CSOSA, the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services Rehabilitation Services, those organizations that refer to us. Our goal is to make sure that we’re able to provide to the individual with what they need and it is more than just learning to operate a commercial vehicle. It’s providing them the support that they need as they transition and we don’t care where they came from. It doesn’t matter to us that they have been ex-offenders or offenders or they’re on paper or off of paper. What we care about is the fact that they want to change their life and that’s our purpose for being. It’s not just for us to get a check from some of the government funds that are out there but we appreciate those funds because the more the funds, the greater the number of people we can serve and we’re very successful at what we do.

Leonard Sipes: And I’m interested in that. Now is the perfect time now that we’ve had this introduction because Chris said when we sat down that we were going to get into a hard conversation. I’m going to start off that hard conversation. States throughout the country are looking at the research. Oregon comes to mind. Kansas comes to mind. Texas comes to mind. They did a full blown review of the research and they say okay, if we put 10 million dollars into mental health treatment or drug treatment or vocational programming, educational programming, whatever it is, half-way houses, we can reduce recidivism and when I say again recidivism, for the general public, we’re talking about crimes, about criminality. We can stop people from becoming crime victims and at the same time we can reduce our fiscal burden. We can reduce the burden of these guys coming back into the criminal justice system and we have to build more prisons and put in $25,000 a year to maintain them while in prison. We’re talking about billions of dollars. Hundreds of billions of dollars throughout the country. So they’re saying that per research, if you have these programs, we’ll make life better for everybody. So what they’re saying is that it works. Do our programs work?

Toni Thomas: I would say the programs work and we need more of them. When you transition from one environment to another it is not an easy process. So when an individual comes to us for training, it means that they have a situation about housing, they are reuniting with their families, they have healthcare issues, childcare, healthcare issues. Take any one of us from the environment that we’re used to and put us somewhere else, we’re going to have a transitional period. The ex-offender and others need the support to make that transition and not be penalized. They’re often penalized because they don’t get the support. They come out and the first thing they need is housing. They need a job. They’ve got to take care of their families. They’ve got to have somewhere to live so they live in a half-way house. They’re not comfortable with being in a half-way house and trying to transition. It’s a very difficult process. What we need to do is to put more services up front when they’re incarcerated.

Leonard Sipes: The harder question, the hardest question of all. If you go out as I have doing press releases, radio programs, television programs, talking about people coming out of prison or people on probation and getting services, and when you do talk radio, you discover that its not a popular subject. Because what people are saying, this is true, what people are saying is give it to the school kids. We’ve got to invest in our schools, we have very limited money, and we don’t have the money to give to criminals. Now, that’s what they say. Any community meeting you go to, any talk radio station, and it doesn’t matter the demographics; they are saying the same thing. We need money for the school kids; we need money for the elderly. Don’t ask me to give money to “people who have done harm to other human beings.” Plus the fact that the track record is not very good. According to national research, most people return to the criminal justice system so with those are very hard questions. What do we say to the average person, the average citizen in terms of inspiring their support as to what it is that we’re trying to do? Chris.

Christine Keels: We’ll I think we help communities understand the historical context of the criminal justice system. We start out with a punitive model, then we move to a medical model, then we went to rehabilitation and then a war on drugs, war on poverty, rehabilitation and now to what we call reentry. And in this reentry model, what we’re looking at is helping that offender to be able to reenter the community and their family and society and become productive citizens. Whether it’s a person who’s been in a hospital stay for a long period of time or mental health facility and they’re reentering back into the community, mainstreaming back into the community, we have to invest and reinvest in that individual and their family. As we heard one of the individuals say earlier, it’s an opportunity to have a second chance.

Leonard Sipes: It is an opportunity to have a second chance, but in many cases there is often times a 3rd chance, 4th chance, 5th chance, 7th chance. But we need to be ready when that individual is ready. This is what an offender told me a long time ago. He said “Leonard, I understand a lot of people screw up with they come out of the prison system, but for those of us who are ready, please be ready for us.” Toni?

Toni Thomas: Yeah, the 4th, 5th, and 6th chance says to me that the system failed them at the 1st place.

Leonard Sipes: Or they failed themselves or their family. To the average person, I don’t think they’re going to buy into the system failed them.

Toni Thomas: And let me say this, we have a 90% completion rate. That means that last year we trained over 80 people. 75 of them completed the training and they got jobs.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s what we need to hear.

Toni Thomas: And it’s working so what I’m saying is, the hardest part is the transitioning out. Now what we have to do as residents of the District of Columbia and beyond is to accept that when a person has served their time, give them an opportunity to move forward. We need to stop thinking bad about people because they’ve done something in the past wrong. I bet each of us have done something, we just didn’t get caught.

Leonard Sipes: No, we all do something wrong, but we all don’t do things wrong enough to end up in prison. You have to work hard to end up in prison.

Christine Keels: Well, let me take another approach. I think what we need to look at is that we’re willing to reinvest in everything in our lives. We’ll reinvest in our cars, our homes, our lifestyle, we’ll reinvest in a number of things and with the offender population, one of the reasons why it’s so important that we use our federal dollar to do assessments is that we want to make sure that the offender that we send to Toni Thomas’ program is really ready and committed. If that person’s not ready and committed, then we’re going to spend our dollars on life skills, job readiness, anger management, drug treatment. We’re going to pull that person out and give them the tools that they need to be ready for Toni Thomas’ program for vocational training or ready for a job in a local food market. We want to make sure that person has the skill, the aptitude and the courage and commitment to do what needs to be done.

Leonard Sipes: And if you take a look, Toni and Christine, if you take a look at what these other states are saying in terms of evaluations and the evaluation of our research we can look at citizens–we can look them in the eye and say that if you invest in these programs, there is going to be less crime and there is going to be less of a burden on your pocket book. Kids are going to be taken care of because 70% of these offenders do have children and that it’s going to be better for all. The impact is there for all and eventually this may reduce your burden on your own pocket book by supporting these programs. Is that not what we’re saying?

Toni Thomas: That is absolutely correct and in segment 1, you heard the gentlemen talking about his child and how he wanted his child to perceive him, and it’s our position that if we’re able to save the parents, then we create a better childhood and that is so important to us. We don’t want that division or the competition between adult and child education. We want to look at it as one unit to create a wholesome environment and fortunately, our city council has been very supportive of the individual returning to the District of Columbia.

Leonard Sipes: The District of Columbia, I think, is better prepared, pound for pound, than the vast majority of the cities in this country in terms of reentry. But I have to editorialize that our job is public safety. The bottom line behind who we are and what we are is to protect the public. We’re not going to hesitate to send a person back to prison. We’re not going to hesitate. If they’re breaking the rules, if they’re not going along with the program and they commit another crime, they go back to prison. Our job is to protect the public but our job is not only to protect the public through a lot of contact, and I mean a lot of contact, we have very low case loads a lot of contact with offenders. We do a massive amount of drug testing. But at the same time those programs have got to be there. It’s got to be both, right?

Toni Thomas: Yes, and our program is not contradictory to protecting the public interests because I’m a public individual myself and so what we provide as a part of our vocational training is the life skills training as well, so we deal with anger management, family matters, budgeting, stress, things that have affected people being successful, so we integrated our program as half on a life skills job readiness and pre-employment training and the other half on occupational skills training. But as important we operate our business as if it were a family. We care about you the individual and when people know that you care about them, they will bring information to you.

Leonard Sipes: Ladies, that’s all the time we have. I’m sorry Chris; we’ll get to you in another program. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on D.C. Public Safety. Look for us next time as we investigate another very important aspect of the criminal justice system. Please have yourself a very very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]

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