Archives for 2008

Programs for Criminal Offenders

This Radio Program is available at

This Television Program is available at

[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]

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

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