Archives for July 2009

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Veteran Reporters Discuss Coverage of Crime

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to D.C. public safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re going to have an extraordinarily interesting show today. We have Peter Hermann from the Baltimore Sun. Peter has been around the world, in the Jerusalem bureau for the Baltimore Sun, he’s a former police reporter, and now he writes a very interesting column almost on a daily basis for the Baltimore Sun, putting this whole crime issue, the issue of crime and justice in perspective. Also at our microphone, another veteran, 20 years of newspaper reporting, Robert Pierre. Robert Pierre with the Washington Post. And again, what Robert and Peter do, I think, ladies and gentlemen, is to try to take their work for their respective newspapers, and they’re trying to put this issue of crime and justice into context, and I think that that’s interesting, because I think it’s a dying art throughout the country, or not happening throughout the country, that we’re getting less and less good solid reporting and good solid information on what’s happening in the crime and the criminal justice issue, and to discuss this, what we have, along with Peter Hermann and Robert Pierre, and Peter and Robert, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Robert Pierre: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Guys, what about that? Both of you do an interesting column, both of you do what I think is a really unique, Peter, you write that, almost a daily blog, in terms of trying to put the crime problem within the City of Baltimore within context, where most newspapers in this country are giving it 4-5 column inches in terms of a particular crime or a crime problem, and they’re putting it on the 4th page of the local section, it seems as if newspapers have almost given up, and here you are, doing almost a daily analysis of crime within a particular neighborhood in Baltimore city. Do you think what you’re doing is unique and different?

Peter Hermann: I don’t know if it’s unique and different. I think papers have done a terrific job over the years, certainly covering breaking crime, and what I’ve always been criticized, probably for covering crime too much, putting it on the front page too much, it’s easy to sensationalize some of the stories that go on in a big city on a daily basis, and certainly, I think if you look at some of the crime that both the daily breaking crime, both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, other papers do, it’s not even a fraction of the crime that’s occurring.

Len Sipes: I understand that, but crime and criminal justice issues are huge issues in the life of any city. I mean, in some cases, they define a city, and Baltimore is certainly one of the cities where the crime issue has defined it, so if you have a crime issue that’s defining a metropolitan area, does it do it justice to put stories on the inside of the paper?

Peter Hermann: I think it does and it doesn’t, and I think it all depends on the story, and I think we’re all tired of writing and probably seeing some of the same stories that we’ve seen over the last 10-20 years, and you start to wonder how it’s came to be this way, how it can be fixed, and while we’ve done a good job of putting sort of the daily breaking stories on in the paper, one of the challenges is to figure out new ways of covering some of the same old issues, trying to answer why they’re the same old issues. They shouldn’t be the same issues. We should have figured this out 20-30 years ago. We haven’t, obviously. It is, I think, a point of my frustration of being a crime reporter, and every six months, reading these crime statistic stories, which you quote the same people, and quote “crime is up,” it’s because more people are reporting it. Crime is down, the police have done a good job. You go out and call a few experts and you write a story, we’ve all done them, we’re all sick of them –

Len Sipes: 150,000 times, and the readers are probably tired of listening to them –

Peter Hermann: But this approach is trying to find a unique different way of covering some of the issues that we, a) always done, and other ones that we’ve missed, going into neighborhoods we haven’t gone into, giving voices to people who sometimes maybe get a sentence or two in a community meeting or a crime scene. I think residents all over, certainly Baltimore, the only time they ever see a Baltimore Sun reporter is on the other side of a crime scene tape –

Len Sipes: On the other side of the roped off area.

Peter Hermann: – and there are other, and they have issues that crime gets into everything. I was talking to a minister the other day in one of the communities in Baltimore, and yes he wants the kids off the street. Yes he wants loitering to stop. Yes, he wants to police to actually be more proactive and more aggressive in police neighborhoods. But he also wants more programs, and he’s talking about trying to help people get off drugs and get, of re-instilling values. He said, I’m tired of going out and telling the same kids every day to move their bicycle off my church parking lot, and eventually, now I’ve got kids selling drugs on the corner. And he was talking about values. And we don’t see that in newspapers too much, you don’t see people like that getting an extended voice through the blog, through the column, and it’s something that kinda fun –

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons I like, I enjoy reading the column, because it puts it in context. We’re going to go over to Robert Pierre from the Washington Post, but also, for those people who want to get in touch with Peter Hermann, it’s peterhermann (Peter?) @baltsun – B-A-L-T-S-U-N – .com. Peter also has a blog at, okay, blog at the blog at Robert Pierre. You’ve done some really interesting analytical pieces trying to give the citizens of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area a taste for the reality of what we within the criminal justice system have to do. How are you allowed to do that? Why is thats not the norm. I don’t believe it’s the norm in most newspapers throughout the country. I think what you do is unique.

Robert Pierre: Well, it is in some ways, I mean, there are people who certainly do, like what Peter’s doing in Baltimore, a lot of this is driven by what the individual reporter is interested in, and having been there at the post long enough, since ’93, to be able to sort of carve out something that you’re interested in, because one of the things we’ve always done is we put on, we try to go in and explain, like someone will get killed, and we will still put this on and say someone was killed at a barbershop because they were fighting over 50¢, you know, and it seemed like a very ridiculous crime, and we say, wow, you know, that’s pretty stupid. Here’s how, why would people do something like this? And then you go back, and when you talk to some of the kids, either at the front end, at the crime scene, or you go after the kid’s been in prison, you know, for a while, or whatever, when they’re getting out, and you start to learn what happened behind some of these stories. A lot of what I have learned, either going through hearings, through CSOSA, the organizations that you’re involved with, or the parole commissioner, people, a lot of people who commit crime come out of the abuse and neglect system. Now, and so we want to make it, this crime, this block, this whatever it was, and a lot of times, it’s just, you can’t separate it, because the values story, we want to write our separate values story about a church, we want to write a separate crime story about that neighborhood, but actually, they’re all intertwined, and what you have to do is crime reporters can’t just cover crime, they have to cover a community.

Len Sipes: They’ve got to cover the reality of what happens to individuals throughout their lives, and I think that’s the sort of reporting you bring through the Washington Post, but again, go back, and this is the last time I’ll ask you, the perception I have is that newspapers and a lot of media sources: radio, television, I don’t want to leave the electronic media out of this, it’s almost, it’s almost as if we’ve said, okay, we just don’t care anymore, in terms of the overall crime problem, it’s like we don’t care anymore, how many times can you hear about Johnny Doe sticking up Billy over a perceived insult and killing somebody. I mean, I’ve heard that, they’re saying this to themselves, they’ve heard this for decades, you know, you don’t even have to tell me the story, I can write the story for myself, in my mind’s eye, I’m simply going to skip by it. I mean, have we gotten to that point?

Robert Pierre: Yeah, I think there is certainly a level of disconnectedness with certain crimes, because we say we already know that story, and what I think that you have to do is say, do you need to ask the question, do you know the story, because really, it’s difficult work, as newspapers and as television stations, all the others have less people to go out into communities, what you end up, to do real crime reporting, you’ve actually got to do some work! It’s not just go and interview, you can’t show up the day the crime occurs, and so we end up with the same story because we make it the same story, because we report it exactly the same way. We don’t go inside the numbers, we wrote a story at the Post the other day that really, it was a poorly done story, because we talked about juvenile crime, and how it was increasing, but the numbers don’t say that. The numbers say exactly the opposite, that serious juvenile crime is in fact down. Now it doesn’t mean that the person wasn’t upset about it, because if it happens to you, then you’re very upset about that crime, but we wrote, oh, juvenile crime is rising, because that story gets a headline, but you know, but you’ve got to go deeper, and we actually sometimes do that, but not on a regular enough basis.

Len Sipes: Peter Hermann, you know, this larger issue of digging in deep, this larger issue of providing context, this larger issue that there’s a story behind the story behind the story, and if you’re going to understand what’s happening with the police department, if you’re going to understand what’s happening with corrections, if you’re going to understand what’s happening with drugs, what’s happening with crime, if we find that important, then people need context. People need to understand what it is they’re reading, so it’s got to be more than 3-4 column inches, it has to be an examination of how the system really works.

Peter Hermann: Well, crime is an extraordinarily complex subject. There isn’t just a crime, and then it happens. Once you start researching even, very casually through the criminal justice system on a suspect or on a witness or anyone that gets caught up in the daily story, it’s volumes, and it’s trips to the courthouse, and it’s interviews, and then it’s trying to figure out from there, you could go forever on any story, and any single, certainly any single homicide, every single shooting, there’s a very huge story behind, and probably a very interesting, compelling tale behind each one, and failures of lifestyle, of government, of just, you name it.

Len Sipes: But isn’t the average citizen saying to themselves, “Am I safer? Am I better off? Am I safer? Is my neighborhood safer? Are my children safer?” Is that what they need to understand?

Peter Hermann: Yes, and we do a tremendous disservice by doing very quick stories on crime stats in neighborhoods without delving into the impact of what’s actually happening there, because the answer that is more than just a crime statistic, it is a, it is –

Len Sipes: It is context!

Peter Hermann: – trying to figure out is context, it is a history of the neighborhood, is who lives there now and who doesn’t live there now. Are you, I once had a guy, I once did a story on crime stats, I interviewed someone who thought that things had gotten much better from one year to the next, because in 1990 he was mugged and shot, and in 1991, he just got mugged, but he didn’t get shot, and he thought that was such a tremendous improvement in the system, he was willing to say that government is doing better. And I was astounded by that! It’s perception is everything, and perception of crime is everything.

Len Sipes: People want to know about their safety, people want to know that government is having an effect or not having an effect. That’s the interesting part of this whole dichotomy, people read the paper, or they listen to the evening news, and I don’t think they get that sense that, a) they’re safer; b) that government is doing what it should be doing, or c) what should government do to follow up?

Peter Hermann: Well, I mean, the crime blog in Baltimore, as I mentioned, it would be in D.C., if we ran it all, it would be a blog of everything that happened, it would be a book, and we still get calls from readers who say a police car drove by my neighborhood, I saw the police helicopter, what was it doing there? I don’t know what it was doing there, and frankly, to find out would be almost impossible.

Len Sipes: Yes, I agree.

Peter Hermann: But people see or hear sirens in their neighborhood, they think it’s unsafe for that night. We rationalize crime in a way that’s unbelievable. Federal Hill, which is a very posh neighborhood in the city, near the inner harbor, had two murders on back to back nights.

Len Sipes: And the Belvedere just had three shootings?

Peter Hermann: No, but it just had three shootings –

Len Sipes: The big hotel in Baltimore city, prestigious hotel.

Peter Hermann: But when you listen to the people on Federal Hill, it was, well, it was after 3 in the morning, and I’m not out at 3 in the morning, so it’s okay. Well, the victims were not from my community, so I guess I’m not a target, so it’s okay. Well, one, he wasn’t shot here, the body was dumped there, so it’s okay. I’m thinking, are we that, we look, it’s not on our street, so it’s okay, well it’s not on our doorstep, it’s okay, and I’m thinking, it’s still –

Len Sipes: Well, if you take a look at national research, people constantly rate other neighborhoods as dangerous, but give very high ratings to their own neighborhoods in terms of safety. It’s, I guess it’s a matter of what you know vs. what you don’t know over the hill.

Peter Hermann: It’s everything from what people report to how they report it, to how the police report it, to how they react in different neighborhoods. To say one neighborhood is safer than another, you know, is a very difficult task.

Len Sipes: We’ve just blown by 15 minutes, rapid-fire. I can’t believe how fast this program is going. I want to reintroduce my guests, Peter Hermann, 20 year reporter with the Baltimore Sun., his blog is; and Robert Pierre, it is pierre – P-I-E-R-R-E –, and I didn’t do our commercial. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety, we do listen and respond and read every comment that you provide, we are way above 1,200,000 hits for the program since the program’s inception about a year and a half ago, we appreciate your comments, we appreciate the input that you have, and please continue, and so we’re back to the program. Robert Pierre, what are your thoughts in terms of what Peter just said? Is it that confusing, is it almost impossible to take this immensely complex issue and explain it in such a way that the average citizen understands their role in this?

Robert Pierre: Well, I think it’s, it just requires some investment of time and a lot of places, that investment simply isn’t there anymore, or as often as it should be to do in-depth work. I was at something, crime, a forum this morning sponsored by the Brookings Institute, it was about juvenile justice. And you know, a lot of people, no matter what neighborhood you go to, people say juvenile crime is up, it’s just up, you know, and people are afraid of it.

Len Sipes: These kids are getting out of hand!

Robert Pierre: These kids are getting out of hand, the kids are getting out of hand, now we’ve heard that forever. Now they gave a statistic, now one of the guys, one of the professors gave this statistic, he said, in 2007, there were 1.6 million youth involved in the criminal justice system, in the juvenile justice system, all around the country. And he asked the question, how many of them were murders? And how many would you guess?

Len Sipes: Oh, the overwhelming majority are going to be minor crimes.

Robert Pierre: Overwhelming majority, 1,000 out of 1.6 million were murders.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Pierre: Were homicides of any sort, but that would not be, the super predator idea is still very pervasive –

Len Sipes: And hear this statistic, the vast majority of individuals who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, what happens to them?

Robert Pierre: I don’t know.

Len Sipes: They drop out.

Robert Pierre: Oh, they just go away, yeah.

Len Sipes: They just go away. So the overwhelming majority of kids, people under the age of 18 who come into contact with the criminal justice system, don’t stay in contact with the criminal justice system, so they’re interesting stats that the average person would not tend to believe.

Robert Pierre: Now if you’ve gotten, but if you’re one of the people that got knocked over your head by a juvenile, then that doesn’t mean anything to you, because you’re still saying, hey, but that, on my block, what Peter was saying, it’s out of control, because –

Len Sipes: I understand that, you know, I understand that if it happens to you, or if it happens to a loved one, if it happens to your community, if it happens to your larger community as defined by, oh, fill in the blank: East Baltimore, east of the river, black, white, Hispanic, there’s all different ways of defining crime, and there’s all different ways of defining the problem, but you know, it just, the basic line, the bottom line question I have throughout this entire program is that, because of the dwindling resources that most folks in the media seem to be giving to this issue, have we given up truly doing a good job of defining what the problem is and what government should be doing about it? Peter?

Peter Hermann: Well, I think the problem shifts from year to year. When I was covering crime, you know, there was a lot of issues in terms of, we didn’t have gangs, we didn’t have, witness intimidation wasn’t a big issue. I came back to the city, and all of the sudden, witness intimidation is at the forefront, and I think we’ve covered it rather well. Have we done huge, big investigations on it? No, but through, it’s not just one story, and it’s very easy to show the crime scene, point a camera, talk to a bunch of cops, talk to some witnesses, and throw up a story. That’s easy. We can both do that in our sleep by now. The more complicated issue is always going to be coming back on it, and it’s more than just police, and it’s more than just a police reporter doing it, it involves the various social institutions, it involves parole and probation, it can involve, you know, the foster care.

Len Sipes: Does the criminal justice system have the capacity to deal with this, or does it –

Peter Hermann: No, it doesn’t! It doesn’t! The fallacy –

Len Sipes: – or is it a larger societal issue?

Peter Hermann: It’s a larger societal issue. The cops get a lot of the questions, but also a lot of things that go wrong start with the police story. They start with a dead child in a room, and a police reporter with a notebook and a cameraman and a TV crew outside, and then, what happens to that foster, what happened to that child, and then all of the sudden, it’s an issue of foster care, the two children who were killed and found in a freezer in southern Maryland, it’s a issue over adoption agency [overlapping voices] and that’s not a police story, but it starts as a police story.

Len Sipes: It starts as a police story –

Peter Hermann: It’s a larger societal issue, and it gets at a whole bunch of other, other things. A lot of these stories start that way.

Len Sipes: We have significant reductions of crime in Baltimore city, we have significant reductions of crime in Washington D.C. Where, what does that mean to the average person when you report on the fact that homicides are down in Baltimore city, and homicides are down in Washington D.C.? When you say that, when you report on that, what is that person picking up a copy of the Washington Post and sitting there in Northeast Washington, what does that mean to that person? I’m safer?

Robert Pierre: Well, it may not mean anything to that person, but we have two different audiences, because I live in Washington D.C. as well, and I live in Anacostia, a neighborhood that people think is a, and I know it’s a high crime area, because I can look at some of the statistics, and I know that a lot of the offenders that come to the parole/probation system, they live in or around where I live, but one audience is the person who was directly impacted, but another, I’m also a taxpayer in Washington, and I’m also trying, you’re also talking to the people who made a decision about how to put money on the streets, and if homicides are down, then maybe we should spend the money somewhere, maybe we should spend the money somewhere else, maybe we should have what people are talking about, more people walking the beat or something like that, and what police will tell you anyway is that there’s no amount of police that can stop a homicide if someone is intent on killing someone.

Len Sipes: Oh, that’s true! If you have two individuals, not in terms of somebody intent on killing someone, if you have two kids, and they’re sitting on the street corner, and one insults the other person’s girlfriend, and the other person takes out a gun and shoots them, you know, that’s a terribly, terribly difficult thing to intervene in, especially if they don’t have a violent history beforehand, but so many interpersonal squabbles end up in the homicides in both cities. I guess what I’m trying to do is, what do we say to citizens? What is the bottom line beyond, do we just simply objectively report the news and be done with it and go home and have our martinis? Or is there a larger issue in terms of what people should believe in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post from the crime problem? I don’t think they necessarily should believe me, because I represent government, and I think I’m as honest as the next public affairs person, but I think the real story has to come from the media.

Peter Hermann: It depends – Robert’s exactly right. It depends on your audience. I have someone visiting from outside the city, they call me up to say I’m not coming, because I see homicides are up, and the city’s unsafe. Well, maybe, maybe not, they see homicides are down, they’re going to pay a visit. Well, not necessarily where I live or where I go. If you are intent on purchasing drugs in East or West Baltimore, your chances of being a victim, being robbed, being shot, being killed are much higher than if you visit the inner harbor. So if that’s what I’m going to be doing that day, I might want to look at those stats a little bit more closely.

Len Sipes: If you play the game, the odds are much higher that you could be victimized.

Peter Hermann: Well, we thought, we never have a postman killed in East or West Baltimore. People doing legitimate work, even in some of the worst areas of the city, don’t often get shot. Johns Hopkins Hospital, now it has a lot of security, but it’s in the heart of one of the most dangerous sections of the city.

Len Sipes: If you have a legitimate reason for being there, you’re not bothered.

Peter Hermann: No, I think we had an attack on a nurse back in the “˜90s, and I think that’s the last thing that I can remember. But interesting what you say. When I was covering crime as a reporter, homicides and shootings were skyrocketing, were well above 300 every year, and I used to write stories, headlines would always say, the murder rate is always up, and every time I get a call from the police commissioner, everything else is down. Assaults are down, the burglaries are down, never write about that. I think driving the numbers up were the shootings and the homicides. I just looked at the last bit of stats that we had. Homicides were down 30%. Shootings were down 35%. What’s up? Burglaries, larceny from all those, car break-ins, and assaults. Crime is actually up in Baltimore 1%, but you wouldn’t know it, because now city government is all about the homicides are down, so everybody is safer. [overlapping voices] cars are getting broken into, more houses are getting burglarized [overlapping voices]

Len Sipes: – but that’s the interesting thing. If you look at national statistics, 15% of crime across the board is violent. The overwhelming majority of what we call crime is property crime.

Peter Hermann: Homicides are such a low number, low percentage of any crime in any city, it’s not a good, it’s just not –

Len Sipes: Right, but I remember talking to a manager of a television station who moved in town, and moved into Charles Village in Baltimore city, and he was determined to be part of the city fabric, and after the third larceny from his garage in terms of a bicycle, he simply said, that’s it. So it is an individual –

Peter Hermann: That’s the type of crime that gets, that I find in communities, no matter what community you’re in, it can be a community where 4 people were shot around the corner, the complaint is that my car was broken into.

Len Sipes: My car was broken into, they’re too loud on the corner, there’s too much graffiti, there’s too much trash, there are too many signs of disorder, and that makes me uncomfortable.

Peter Hermann: In every community meeting, every, whether it’s in West Baltimore, or in some other neighborhood, it’s, again, kids are out of control, they’re on the corners –

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Robert.

Robert Pierre: Yeah, and you know, and that’s absolutely right, and for that perspective, and one, and that is what residents, police will tell you this: “Ma’am, I can’t arrest the kid for standing on the corner,” and sometimes they can go shake “˜em down and say I’m going to get them off the corner, but he says, I don’t have a reason to arrest them because they haven’t done anything, but that is the kind of, exactly the kind of thing that makes people nervous about being, about sitting on their own porch, so that, in their own mind, constitutes crime.

Len Sipes: Right. That is their definition of crime! It is not the homicides, it’s not the rapes, it’s what’s happening on your stoop. It’s what’s happening on your street. It’s what’s happening within your immediate community. If you’ve got a bunch of guys who you perceive as thugs rolling that street, they may not be doing anything at all, but the perception of danger is enough to make you feel very uncomfortable. It’s not the homicides, it’s not the rapes, it’s what that person envisions, what that person lives with on a regular day-in/day-out basis.

Peter Hermann: And it’s not just crime. Sometimes it’s something even more subtle than that. Baltimore police have a lot of cameras, as I think D.C. does, and there are neighborhoods that want the cameras, they want surveillance cameras, they want to see the blinking blue light. Other neighborhoods don’t want it, and one fairly wealthy neighborhood where they were having problems with car break-ins [overlapping voices] blue light, it just said that we are now a crime neighborhood, and they didn’t want it, and they railed against it. When we had two people shot in Federal Hill, they got, they immediately flooded the area with police, which is a natural reaction anywhere, immediately the same district got calls from some of its poorer neighborhoods, support in Brookland and Cherry Hill, wondering, well now we have homicides all the time and shootings all the time, now you’ve got two dead people in the rich area, and we’re going to lose all our police!

Len Sipes: So what this says to me then, what this says to me is there’s no way that any newspaper, there’s no way that any media entity can summarize the total, the totality of what we refer to as crime. It’s just too big, too massive, but what they do need is more than 5 column inches 3 pages in on the local section, they do need somebody that places this in the context for them so they can have a better understanding so they can make their own decisions as to how to live their lives. Am I in the ballpark?

Peter Hermann: Yeah, but keep in mind, newspapers aren’t books, and we don’t write PhD dissertations, all of which have been tried on this same subject, and none of them ever get to where we all want to be. We tend to write short stories, and I think you have to look at both over time, what they’ve done with some of the small stories, the small stories, tend to put something on the mark, Robert notices them, goes out, something bigger on them, it builds on itself, have to look at the coverage over time, and hopefully over time, we’ve come, we’re able to come to some conclusions.

Len Sipes: But newspapers and media sources, Robert, do need to dedicate themselves to helping citizens understand the reality of what, for many cities in this country, is their driving concern.

Robert Pierre: But you know, I would say this. As we talk about what newspapers should and shouldn’t do and what other newspapers, and I’m not sure we do it on a lot of things. Crime is one example. Newspapers aren’t going to forget crime, because it’s easy to cover, and it is something that’s immediate. Some people don’t want my analysis of it, they don’t want Peter’s analysis of it, they just want to know how many break-ins were there on my block, and so I think that you’re always going to get some of that from newspapers, and some people only want to know, what was the fire truck doing on my block last night?

Len Sipes: Or what was the helicopter –

Robert Pierre: Exactly, whatever it was, and so for them, it’s going to be enough, but I think that, if newspapers are going to fulfill some of these other duties that I think we have an obligation to, which is talking back a little bit to the public policy folks, then we have, that’s where I think we have to put a little bit of effort to getting inside the numbers.

Len Sipes: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Peter, you’ve got the final word?

Peter Hermann: Oh, I think that’s exactly right. I think there are a ton of things we won’t cover and don’t cover very well or don’t cover at all, and it’s an immensely complex issue, it’s also, that and schools are one of the issues that people want to know most about, but again, the overwhelming, Robert’s exactly right. The overwhelming number of calls are, why is a police car in my neighborhood, how many houses were broken into last night on my street. That’s what they want –

Len Sipes: How does all this affect me, is what you’re saying? Fascinating conversation, the 30 minutes went by like absolute wildfire, and I’d love to do this again with both of you. Peter Hermann, 20 year reporter with the Baltimore Sun, it’s peterhermann – H-E-R-M-A-N-N – @baltsun – B-A-L-T-S-U-N – .com, Peter’s blog, and he also puts up a video blog, I find that very interesting, at 20 year reporter Robert Pierre for the Washington Post, pierre – P-I-E-R-R-E – r@washpost – W-A-S-H-P-O-S-T – .com, ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes, thank you and have a great day.

– Audio Ends –

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders, domestic violence, anger management, corrections, high-risk offenders, GPS, women offenders.


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Capturing a Child Sex Offender/Halloween Sex Offender Follow-up

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome from our studios in Downtown Washington D.C., it’s D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes. We’re here today, talking with Matt Kiely, Matt is a supervisory community supervision officer in the sex offender unit. We’re here to talk to Matt about a couple things: number one, about a child sex offender and what it takes to convict a child sex offender in terms of a case that happened recently in Washington D.C., and also we’re going to be doing some follow-up in terms of our activities on Halloween, the activities between my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and the Metropolitan Police Department regarding Halloween Activities, and to Matt Kiely, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Len Sipes: Morning, Len. How are you doing?

Len Sipes: I’m doing fine, and I want to remind everybody that we are averaging now 120,000 requests a month for the program. Again, we appreciate everybody’s comments, we respond individually to everybody’s comments. You can reach us at D.C. Public Safety, or simply through your internet search engine, D.C. Public Safety, or you can reach us through media – M-E-D-I-A – .csosa – C-S-O-S-A – .gov and leave your comments. And with that introduction, what I’m going to do is to read from a press release written by the United States Attorney’s Office, and the press release goes as such: A 21 year old District of Columbia man has been sentenced to 121 months for possession of material involving child pornography. U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey A. Taylor announced today, so previously in 2006, the defendant was convicted within the Superior Court of the District of Columbia of attempted child sexual abuse. While on probation for this offense, he submitted to a polygraph test which was administered by us at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and the polygraph provided inconclusive results, we questioned this individual about child pornography, and he admitted that he viewed child pornography on a computer from his mother’s home, so what we did is to go in and find that computer, and the analysis revealed that he had deleted over 3,000 files from the computer, some of which had contained child pornography. Some of the images of child pornography that he possessed involved pubescent minors or minors who had not attained the age of 12, and some of the images and videos that he possessed portrayed sadistic or masochistic conduct or other depictions of violence, and I’m just going to sum up here and simply say that the press release recognized Court Services and – sorry, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency supervisory community supervision officer Matt Kiely, and also community supervision officer Penny Spivey as to the individuals who had initiated this, and that’s one of the reasons we have Matt by our microphones. Matt, tell me, you and Penny Spivey, you did a great job, you were recognized by the United States Attorney’s Office in terms of this individual. Give me some of the basics of the case: he was on probation for attempted child sex abuse?

Matt Kiely: He was, Len, there are two minor victims that he was convicted of attempting to abuse, friends of the family, so when he originally came to probation, lucky for us, we had a slew of special conditions, but one that was overlooked at the time was a special search condition, and we subsequently wrote the judge requesting for this after previous interviews, the offender admitted to looking at pornography, so when we found out he was looking at pornography at home, we thought we needed a search condition to further monitor his behavior in the community. Eventually got, went back to court, the judge approved that request, and had it not been for that request, I doubt we’d have been able to search his computer and know what the offender was really doing out in the community.

Len Sipes: Okay, let’s go back a little bit in terms of sex offenders in general, and specifically child sex offenders. So this individual was convicted of trying to have sexual contact with a minor?

Matt Kiely: More or less, it was definitely pled down, the incident offense was actually the sexual abuse of a minor.

Len Sipes: Okay, so it was a plea bargain.

Matt Kiely: We believe there was abuse of two children, like I said, who were known by the offender, family friends, and the abuse did occur, through the courts as you know, the plea bargaining process basically, he took a plea to attempted sexual abuse of a child.

Len Sipes: Okay, so there’s no doubt that this individual had a history of illegal sexual contact with minors.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So what happens in terms of any child offender on our case load? We have, I think from our Halloween activities, if memory serves me correctly, approximately 200 child sex offenders, approximately 600 offenders overall, sex offenders overall, as part of our 15,000 offenders who we supervise on any given day. The child sex offenders generally come with a slew of special conditions, and those special conditions are really interesting. Did he have one for therapy?

Matt Kiely: He did, and as you stated, every offender that is assigned to CSOSA sex offender unit undergoes a psychosexual risk assessment that is completed by one of our contractors. They determine the need for sex offender treatment as well as the duration of treatment.

Len Sipes: Okay. So every, all of the 600 are under some sort of treatment program?

Matt Kiely: The, we currently have about 400 active offenders, some are in the early stages of treatment, some have completed the treatment and remain in an after-care phase.

Len Sipes: But in essence, treatment is part of the continuum for sex offenders.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely. Both parole and probation.

Len Sipes: Okay, and we’ve been able to discover that through the treatment process, they do better, they recidivate less, we have fewer victims on the street.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay, so the treatment component is a big part of it, but also there are enforcement objectives, such as going in and looking at his computer, and in fact, we can look at his computer remotely.

Matt Kiely: Right. We do have monitoring software that’s now available, wasn’t available some years ago, but we currently have one offender right now that we’re reviewing his, any and all activity of his home computer, so if his wife gets on that computer, children get on that computer, we have it monitored, and they’re aware of this.

Len Sipes: Okay, and we can monitor their cell phones as well.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But in this case, what this individual did was to go to his mother’s house to download child pornography, correct?

Matt Kiely: Right, what’s important to realize with this case is, even though we had a special search condition that authorized the searching of his computer, this computer was actually his mother’s, so the gray area was the offender was accessing his mother’s computer, so while we had a special condition to search his computer, we had to gain the mother’s consent to search her computer.

Len Sipes: And we got that consent.

Matt Kiely: We absolutely did.

Len Sipes: Okay, the other things we use are polygraph tests, which are lie detector tests, which are also part of the treatment process, where we sit down with the individual, and a lot of times, you know, throughout my criminal justice career, I found that a lot of people will deny, deny, deny, deny, once they’re hooked up to that polygraph machine, they will, in many cases, simply tell what’s been going on, and that’s been your experience as well, correct?

Matt Kiely: Absolutely, but by far, this is probably, bar none, the best tool we have. As you said, and studies suggest, that basically the rate of offenders admitting to their crimes increases greatly once they’re subjected to polygraphs.

Len Sipes: Right. We also have global positioning system devices that we use on sex offenders, and lots of other offenders. We have 800 people of our 15,000 on GPS supervision on any given day, so that’s an important tool, it is an overwhelming tool in terms of all the information that it brings to us, but the nifty thing about it is that you can overlay maps of the city, and you can even bring down Google Earth, so you can overlay a map, and you’re wondering why is that person hanging out in that particular area, the map doesn’t give us that information, but Google Earth suddenly pulls up a playground.

Matt Kiely: Right, and what’s great is this has increased our cooperation and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies outside of DC. GPS just does not define the district, they can go into Maryland, Virginia, commit crimes over there, I’ve been in contact with law enforcement in both Maryland and Virginia, when crimes are committed, the first thing they want to check out is any D.C. offenders that are on GPS who were in that jurisdiction at that time.

Len Sipes: And we’re doing a couple articles now as we speak on GPS where I interviewed a person in charge of the major crimes unit for the Metropolitan Police Department here at Washington D.C. who said that it may not specifically provide us as an investigative unit with, you know, a direct connection to the offender, but if that offender was there, what was he doing there? Was he out for a smoke, was he walking his dog, or was he holding, was he the driver for the crime? Did he observe anything in the area? Did he hold the gun? So there’s all sorts of connections that could possibly be made, and GPS is a fairly powerful tool, so I won’t get onto all the other stuff, but there’s a lot of technology that we bring to the table in terms of convicting sex offenders, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you today and to you and Penny Spivey who were directly involved in terms of this particular case, that it was through that forensic analysis, through that process of being sure that we have access to the computers that they use, and in some cases, they’ll go to the library and use computers, again, which is one of the wonderful reasons why we have GPS, and the final thing, which I didn’t mention is we also do our own surveillance, if necessary. The GPS is just a tool. Once you figure out why is that, once you’re suspicious as to why a person is at the library, you’ve got to go and figure out, you know, observe, in many cases, why he’s at the library, correct?

Matt Kiely: Right, we’ve also parlayed that in with other law enforcement agencies. Recently we assisted the Metropolitan Police Department’s assistance during Halloween to conduct surveillance on one of our high risk offenders that we thought was in violation.

Len Sipes: And I wanted to bring that up, and that’s a perfect segue, and then I’ll get back to this case in a second. On Halloween, one of the things that we did was, ladies and gentlemen, was to send out 13 teams of individuals from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Sex Offender Unit, as well as individuals from the Metropolitan Police Department who went into, we basically told all the 200 child sex offenders that they had to be home, and they could not participate in Halloween, so what we did, was, unannounced, these 13 teams fanned out throughout the city and went to check to see if these individuals were indeed engaged, first of all, were they home, and second, were they engaged in activities that would entice a child into that home on Halloween. Matt, one of the things that I do want to talk about with the Halloween wrap-up is we have about 20 individuals that were not at home at the time, and what happens to those people?

Matt Kiely: And in some instances, we had offenders not at home, in a few instances, we actually had offenders actually leave the residence after the visit was completed –

Len Sipes: A-ha!

Matt Kiely: So thankful for those offenders, we had them on GPS, we had GPS staff assisting us on this initiative, so when they left the residence, they still contacted staff in the community, advise them the offenders left, and we followed up with those offenders in reference to, about those 20 that were home –

Len Sipes: Well, we contacted them and told them to go home.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely, and 6 of those 20 seems like a large number, 6 of those were at a shelter, which unfortunately, we didn’t have the assistance of shelter staff to verify whether they were there or not. So you know, this number could have been quite smaller had we been able to verify the offender was at the shelter.

Len Sipes: Right. But all of them were told in writing, and they signed the letter when they met with their community supervision officers, to be at home. The other thing, a very interesting case, which is somewhat similar to the case we were talking about, and we cannot use names, and we have to be, well we didn’t use names the first time around, but we cannot be too specific regarding this case, is that you and the Metropolitan Police Department staked out a home of a person who we suspected to be continuing to engage in child sexual abuse, and we did the, what we call an accountability tour, one of these 13 teams went out to the home and contacted him directly, but then again, we went back to see if he was still there, and we were doing surveillance between the Metropolitan Police Department and ourselves, correct?

Matt Kiely: Right. We had, about a few weeks earlier, received information, this offender was in violation, more specifically, possibly engaged in –

Len Sipes: Don’t be specific, because he hasn’t been convicted.

Matt Kiely: Right, possibly engaged in previous criminal behavior –

Len Sipes: There we go.

Matt Kiely: – he was placed on parole for. In addition to that, we had information that he was masking or circumventing GPS procedures with his GPS device, so based on that, we contacted MPD’s assistance, and they provided surveillance up to about midnight when we decided to, again, a special search condition of the residence to see if we could determine if there was any evidence of those violations.

Len Sipes: And again, because it’s an ongoing case, we cannot be very specific about it, but he is now in jail on a parole violation.

Matt Kiely: Correct. We did find evidence that he was –

Len Sipes: Continuing his involvement.

Matt Kiely: Well, no, he was circumventing his GPS. Clear and convincing evidence that he was doing that. Based on that, we requested a warrant, the parole commission acted quickly, U.S. Marshals assisted us in executing the warrant a day after we wrote the report.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s one day turnaround.

Matt Kiely: That’s pretty good.

Len Sipes: Yeah, that’s magical, in fact, in terms of the overall criminal justice system! So in essence, we say this in terms of child sex offenders, that the treatment process, we do believe in. The process does work to lower recidivism, that means fewer children are violated. We have very intense contact standards in terms of child sex offenders, we have an amazing array of technology. You know, when I came from another state system to this agency 5 years ago, we had none of that, and to my knowledge, they still have none of it, so the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which is a federal agency, we really do have an amazing array of electronics and technologies and lower case loads, and we really do keep a really good eye on not just child sex offenders, but sex offenders across the board, correct?

Matt Kiely: Absolutely, as you indicated, due to our federal status as an agency, we receive federal funds, to we are probably one of the best funded agencies that deal with a local case load.

Len Sipes: And I totally, totally, totally agree with that. Getting back to the original press release written by the United States Attorney’s Office, so what we have here is we did the analysis of the computer, and so we ended up with thousands and thousands of images on that computer, and some of the individuals there were under the age of 12, and some of them portrayed acts of violence. Now I understand there may be some controversy in terms of what constitutes, you know, a violation of your community supervision, what violates community standards, what violates the law, but here is a clear cut case of thousands, under the age of 12, depicting acts of sexual violence. Now this is just ridiculously wrong. Not only just illegal, but ridiculously wrong! Which certainly indicates that this person, even beyond the treatment process, and even though we say the treatment process is successful and useful in terms of protecting public safety, obviously in this case, and in other cases, we have child sex offenders who don’t get with the program.

Matt Kiely: Right, and I was in court last week when this offender was sentenced, and as the U.S. Attorney said, these are more than just mere images of naked minors, these were sadistic portrayed young minor boys being sadistically raped, hog tied, truly sadistic, so the sentence does certainly fit the crime in this case.

Len Sipes: And in this case, the guy, he was on probation, interestingly enough, and now he is going back to prison. 121 months for possession of material involving child pornography. That’s a long term, and a justifiable term considering his history, and justifiable term considering the fact that we’re talking about thousands of images. Now what is this, people oftentimes ask, Matt, and it’s probably the most difficult of all criminalogically. So the child sex offenders, and sex offenders across the board, and there’s a huge difference between an individual who is a predatory rapist who stalks individuals and attacks them, attacks his victims as strangers and rapes them vs. an individual who has prior knowledge of the victim, and if you look at U.S. Department of Justice statistics, the majority of rapes occur in a residential setting, not outside, in a majority of rapes, the victim and the perpetrator know each other, so there’s that consideration, then you go all the way to the child sex offender part of it, where obviously innocent individuals, not to say that the others are not innocent, but you know, because of the very status of a child, is a particularly troublesome crime, so you’ve got have strategies for the various types of sex offenders that we supervise, correct?

Matt Kiely: Absolutely. They differ greatly, whereas the rapist, as you indicated, is about power and control, generally most sex offenses, the victim is known, so the old adage that they teach in schools, the “stranger danger” doesn’t really apply, doesn’t happen absolutely, but the vast majority of sexual crimes, the victim and the offender know each other.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why I bring this up, because we have this stereotype, and I wrote articles on this years ago, of the woman walking down the street walking down the alley, and she’s pulled behind bushes and raped. As disgusting as that is, it is misleading, and as I tell my daughters, I said, look, rapes occur not on the street, but they occur at somebody’s home. Either his home, or your home, and you know this individual, so it’s not so much stranger danger as you just said, but it’s who we let inside our own homes and whose homes we go into that become of paramount importance to young women, and in some cases men, in terms of those decisions that they make.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely, and that’s one of the case management practices we utilize in the sex offender unit that, in knowing this, we make it a point that staff contact the offenders, collateral contact, starting with their family: mom, dad, sister, brother. And then outreaching beyond that, we’re talking aunts, cousins, employers; further: neighbors, everyone the offender knows, we want to make sure that they’re aware of the offender’s history, because again,, they’re more likely to victimize someone they know.

Len Sipes: Right, and that becomes the key issue here. Plus with the collateral contacts, we can’t be, with GPS, we can be, but generally speaking, we can’t be with that offender 24 hours a day 365 days a year, but they are.

Matt Kiely: Unfortunately, yeah. We can’t.

Len Sipes: And they are, in some cases, are our best sources of information in terms of inappropriate behavior or illegal behavior on the part of this individual.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely. Generally the initial source generally comes from the family, friends, loved ones, so forth, where the offender is in the stage of violation, maybe drinking again, and it’s that first stage that we want to catch the offender at.

Len Sipes: You know, I find it interesting that, in a couple cities, we have this sense of “stop snitching.” You don’t cooperate with law enforcement authorities, and I understand that we’re part law enforcement and part treatment, and I understand that and totally agree with it, but the concept here is more of the fact that people are willing to be sure that this individual does what he’s supposed to do.

Matt Kiely: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And that’s a very powerful tool in terms of what it is that we do.

Matt Kiely: You’re right. Family members, the vast majority of them, realize the offender did wrong and want to do everything to make sure the offender complies with his conditions, and ultimately stays out in the community, so that’s important to them, so we do often, we’ll get the first phone calls, signs of problems that we as a supervision agency need to immediately address.

Len Sipes: And I think once again that, in terms of Halloween activities, in terms of special activities with the Metropolitan Police Department, it’s interesting because people did say to me, when we did the Halloween activities, they said, “What was so particularly special about Halloween? Give me one instance of a child sex offender violating somebody on Halloween.” And my first reaction was, we do this throughout the course of the year, we and the Metropolitan Police Department make announced and unannounced visits to the home of 8,000 offenders every year, so we did nothing more than what we do on Halloween, we did nothing more than what we ordinarily do throughout the course of the year, I think that’s the first consideration, and secondly, to one editor of a newspaper here in the District of Columbia, I said, well, if a child, if the individual has a sexual predisposition towards children, does that stop during Halloween, and does Halloween present a special set of circumstances? We have individuals who have said, “I have a sexual predisposition towards children, I in the past have had sex with children, and I look in the past for opportunities to violate children sexually,” so why wouldn’t it stand to reason that Halloween provides a special case as to why we have to be extra vigilant?

Matt Kiely: It does, it’s the only day out of the year where you have mass numbers of children knocking on strangers’ doors.

Len Sipes: And in some cases, unescorted by parents, because people would say to me, well, no, when I went trick or treating, I was escorted by parents, and my response was, that’s not 100%. I’m not even quite sure it’s 50% in a lot of communities. A lot of these kids are out there on their own!

Matt Kiely: Right, and they should be escorted. That’s another story in itself, but like I said, it’s the only day out of the year that you have children knocking on strangers’ doors, and you know, things could happen, and would hate to be that first jurisdiction that something did happen, and we had not set up some type of initiative to proactively combat this issue.

Len Sipes: I understand the questions that people did ask, and I understand the questions reporters did ask, but by and large, I’ve never quite understood that a sexual predisposition regarding children, I just don’t think that goes away magically on Halloween, and I thought it presented a special opportunity where we had to be vigilant, and we were. So we’re going to wrap up, Matt. We have 3 teams of sex – we have 3 sex offender teams here at CSOSA, now we have 400 offenders who are active, and a couple hundred who are not?

Matt Kiely: Right. Those hundred who are not are generally in the institutions either pending release or could be pending a revocation hearing, some others have completed the active component of supervision successfully and are now on inactive supervision, which basically indicates they’ve done so well over the years that as long as they don’t get re-arrested, they will continue as they will until their full term date reaches.

Len Sipes: And I do want to leave the audience, again, this’ll be the third time I have mentioned this. We do have offenders through the treatment process who thoroughly understand their set of circumstances, and really do seem to be doing very well, but for those offenders who don’t, or those offenders who are on the edge, our enforcement actions, probably, I’m going to guess, I don’t know this, but I’m going to guess, from my time in the criminal justice system, that it’s certainly, if not the best in the country, one of the best in the country.

Matt Kiely: I agree.

Len Sipes: Okay, we’ve been talking with Matt Kiely, Matt is a supervisory community supervision officer with the sex offender unit at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. He and Penny Spivey, who could not be here today due to a family emergency, did result in an apprehension of a child sex offender, and they were cited through a press release issued by the United States Attorney’s Office here in Washington, D.C. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes. Once again, we respond to all of your inquiries, your questions, your suggestions, your comments, we individually respond to all of them. Feel free to make suggestions in terms of what we can do here at D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes, please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders, domestic violence, anger management, corrections, high-risk offenders, GPS, women offenders, DWI.


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Violence Reduction Program

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Len Sipes: Hi everybody and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC we have three guests with us today. We have Bryan Young. Bryan is the Program Manager of the Violence Reduction Program and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. Individuals on community supervision on parole, on probation, what are we doing and what are other agencies doing regarding violence reduction? We have many individuals with a background of violence on our caseload, it’s all parole and probation agencies do. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re examining the violence reduction program today. Along with Bryan we have Michelle Hare-Diggs and Michelle Hare-Diggs is a Treatment Specialist for the Court Services under the Supervision Agency. And Lisa Siler(?). she is the Community Supervision Officer for again, the Court Services and Supervision Agency and always the commercial before we get going, ladies and gentlemen, we’re up to 130,000 requests on a monthly basis. We really appreciate all of your letters, all of your emails and even a couple of phone calls in terms of how well we’re doing, suggesting new shows and asking us to consider new topics and sometimes some gentle criticism. So we really appreciate all of your comments and you can get in touch with me directly at my email Leonard, l-e-o-n-a-r-d dot Sipes, s-i-p-e-s at CSOSA dot gov or follow me on twitter which is twitter dot com and slash Len Sipes, S-I-P-E-S. And so to Bryan and to Michelle and to Lisa, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Bryan Young: Thanks.
Len Sipes: Bryan Young, you’re the Program Manager for the Violence Reduction Program. First of all, explain to me, what is the Violence Reduction Program?
Bryan Young: The Violence Reduction Program is a three face program that we’ve put in place for young men 18 through 35 who have a history of violent weapon or drug charges. And basically what we’re trying to do with those guys is bring them into a program and work with them to develop skills to reduce the likelihood that they’ll continue to engage in aggressive acts or even in violent acts when they’re in a community. So how we do that is basically we look at people who are eligible. We do an assessment and pretreatment process. We follow that with a twelve week, twenty four session cognitive behavioral therapy.
Len Sipes: And cognitive behavioral therapy means what, Bryan?
Bryan Young: Well, you’re working a way a person thinks and you’re working on behavior that’s related to their thinking patterns. But the fundamental thing that we’re trying to achieve through the program is trying to do two things. We’re trying to put programming in place based on research about what works in community corrections.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm?
Bryan Young: And then there is strong research that suggests that cognitive behavioral programs tend to be more effective in working with offenders to change behaviors that are related ongoing criminality. And then in the anger management realm, or the violence reduction realm where we’re focused here, again the cognitive behavior programs are the programs that tend to perform best and what we’re trying to do through those sessions are role play, psycho educational lessons, other techniques to help guys learn and understand what anger is, help them recognize how it creates problems in their life, help them change their thinking patterns around certain instances, provocations, situations so that they could develop new skills so that as they experience anxiety or depression or a sense of humiliation or guilt or anything that triggers anger, which may in turn trigger violence, we want the to have the skills to change their behavior so that when they are confronted with those issues, the next time around, they respond differently than ,
Len Sipes: Virtually every program that we have, whether it be domestic violence, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be the mental health treatment, we teach individuals how to deal with life’s circumstances without reacting or overreacting to those circumstances. And that’s the heart and soul of the cognitive behavioral therapy approach, correct?
Bryan Young: That’s correct.
Len Sipes: And so is cognitive behavioral therapy teaching people a new way of thinking through situations? A new way of reacting to situations? And that is truly evidence based. There is a ton of research that basically says that’s the way to go, correct?
Bryan Young: That is correct.
Len Sipes: Okay. And who comes into these programs? You know, people hear violent criminals and/or violent offenders on community supervision and people say, well, what are they doing under community supervision? If they’re violent, why aren’t they in prison?
Bryan Young: Well, they’re not in prison. Some of them have been in prison and they’re returning to prison with parole supervision following what we called supervised release in the District of Columbia. Some of the guys may have committed, their current charge may not be serious enough to warrant a prison charge this time, but they may have violence in their background.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bryan Young: We want to get both of those kinds of people into the group.
Len Sipes: Right. But the point is that we don’t choose ,
Bryan Young: No, we didn’t choose ,
Len Sipes: , those community supervision right?
Bryan Young: That’s up to the ,
Len Sipes: I mean, they come out of the prison system or the courts put them on probation and they have , the history of the violence then, isn’t it in society’s best interest to try to deal with a problem that they’ve probably had for quite some time in terms of overreacting to provocations?
Bryan Young: Absolutely. And if we don’t we’re not doing the best that we can based on what we know is out there, based on research and literature on these problems to promote public safety.
Len Sipes: Right. And, okay, we’re going to go ,
Bryan Young: , that would be irresponsible of us not to ,
Len Sipes: Yeah, I mean, if we ignored it and then I’m going to suggest that in most cases, most probation agencies, all they would do throughout the country, most parole and probation agencies would simply refer them to the local health clinic to whatever program that would be available there. There’s not a lot of violence reduction initiatives going on to my knowledge anywhere throughout the country.
Bryan Young: True.
Len Sipes: Yeah. And so that’s what makes us unique in this capacity. Okay, so, but, we’re not talking, we’re not going to suggest that we have all of the resources to deal with everybody who has a history of violence. We have a pretty concrete, very specific research based program, but, you know, we’re only probably, like we say in terms of mental health, like we say in terms of substance abuse, like we say in terms of other programs, we have programs to deal with the domestic violence. We have programs to deal with a wide variety of issues, but rarely do they hit everybody in a comprehensive way, correct?
Bryan Young: That’s correct.
Len Sipes: So we’re talking about, you know, we’re talking about hitting some, but certainly not all. And probably not close to being all.
Bryan Young: Right. And so the trick is in what we try to do as an agency recognizing that you can’t touch everybody, we try to look at the level of risk that each individual presents to public safety. The people that present the most risk are the people we target first and get into these programs.
Len Sipes: Right. And that’s exactly what the research says, research says that you don’t have to go after everybody, you’ve got to focus on the people who pose the most significant risk.
Bryan Young: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Okay. We’re going to go over to Michelle Hare-Diggs and Michelle is a Treatment Specialist. She is, again, with my agency, the Court Services Offender Supervision Agency. Michelle, one of the things that always interests me in terms of dealing with offenders, and I have a history, I’ve done counseling in the Maryland system. I’ve done Job Corp where the kids had criminal histories. I’ve done gang counseling on the streets of Baltimore City. So I have some sense of what’s it’s like in the real world to deal with offenders. And people who have behavioral problems. And I’ve always used this phrase, that many of them have attitudes, chips on their shoulders the size of Montana. Am I right or am I wrong?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, they initially come in with attitudes just because they don’t want to be in a group setting. It makes a lot of them nervous to be in a group setting.
Len Sipes: It would make me nervous to be in a group setting.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Me too.
Len Sipes: Yeah. So, I mean, but that’s something they got to get over.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right.
Len Sipes: Okay.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: And they do.
Len Sipes: And so tell me a little bit about the treatment process.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, the first phase really helps them with that fear of the group setting. The first phase is treatment readiness. It gets them comfortable with me. It gets them comfortable with each other. It just makes them familiar with each other. So by the time we get to phase II, which is the meat of it, the calm group itself, controlling anger management and learning , controlling anger and learning to manage it , at that phase, they’re comfortable with each other and myself and are able to share and get the most out of the program.
Len Sipes: Bryan and I talked about this whole concept of thinking for a change some people call this in other states, the idea of teaching an individual how to deal with provocations, how to deal with circumstances, day to day circumstances. And we’re not talking necessarily somebody coming after them with a knife, we’re talking about day to day interactions with other human beings where they don’t overreact to those set of circumstances. It is extraordinarily difficult to take a person who has responded in a particular way throughout their course of their lives and suddenly teach that person not to respond that way, correct?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is. You’re right. It’s very difficult. But it is showing them a totally different way. That’s what the whole group is. It shows them different ways of thinking. It shows, it helps them identify how, right now we’re working on cognitive distortions, it’s helping them realize that they way that they have been thinking has got them into the situations that they are in.
Len Sipes: One of the things that I’ve done in my past life is I’ve sat with the Commissioner of one of the correctional divisions in the State of Maryland. We were about to do a couple, a series of statewide crime summits. And that particular Commissioner and I sat with probably 100 individuals who were juveniles who were being juvicated(?) for homicide at the Baltimore city jail. And we said we’re not going to use your names and it took us about a half an hour (chuckle) to warm up and to gain their trust. But in essence this is what the kids said to me about violence. My words, not theirs. Mr. Sipes, you have to understand violence is good. Violence keeps me safe. It keeps my property safe. It keeps my baby safe. It keeps my mother safe. It keeps my mother’s home safe. Violence is a very natural reaction to the environment that I grew up in and you don’t understand it’s something I have to do. To one kid who basically murdered somebody else for a provocation, he stepped, accidentally or not, stepped on his foot while sitting on a stoop on Baltimore steps. And in front of his girlfriend. And he basically said, I said, you’re going to be, if you’re convicted, you’re going to be in prison probably for the rest of your life. Wouldn’t you rethink that situation if you had to do it over again? He said to me, again, my words, not his, Mr. Sipes, you just don’t understand, I had to do what I had to do. I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Now, when you come at it with that sort of mindset, that’s an extraordinarily difficult place for you to be.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is.
Len Sipes: First of all, am I right?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You are right. And it is a natural, anger’s a natural emotion for so many different people, so many different individuals. So we just try to get them to weigh the costs. And that’s the whole purpose of this program, to weigh the costs and the costs and the benefits of what their anger can cause them.
Len Sipes: And they can do that. I mean, that’s one of the points that the public needs to hear, that it is possible to reorient a person’s thinking in terms of how they handle day to day provocations.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You’re correct.
Len Sipes: You know? And, but that’s the meat of the situation, I think, how do you get them to understand that? How do you get them to come to that conclusion?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: We do. With role play exercises, they have homework assignments. We do a lot of cost benefit analysis where we take different examples and we have them weigh what would be the cost of this, what would be the benefit of this? And which situation would you choose? We had a gentleman just last week, he was re-arrested. He was stopped by the police for a crime that he did not commit. And he was able to maintain himself in order for the person who was robbed, for her to come, he had to wait for her to come to the scene and identify that he was not the person. But if this were any other situation he admitted that he would have lost his cool and it would have made the situation worse. But he was able to maintain himself. He didn’t get upset. And he was just able to keep his cool.
Len Sipes: And another one of the things that Bryan and I were talking about before the program is that there are dozens and dozens and dozens of examples that members of the group have brought to us that basically substantiate what you’ve just told us. That they, you know, they’re in with their baby’s mother and she’s yelling at him because he’s not doing what he needs to do and he doesn’t get upset, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t scream and he doesn’t raise his fists. Now, unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, that was a big change for that person.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is. And they also learn relaxation techniques, which really helps in a lot of their home settings. They learn how to mentally take themselves away from things that might cause them to be angry. And we teach this, not just in the home setting, we teach them to do this at work, we teach them to do that in the probation office, whatever the case is, just to help them maintain themselves.
Len Sipes: Do they really understand the concept? When I was with Job Corp, Job Corp was an amazing arrangement where they would take care of your medical care, your food, they would train you, get your GED, relocate you to another city. Help you with an apartment, but you your tools if you took the , and so it was a pretty good comprehensive program for kids who were unfortunately in a jam. And many of them willingly crossed the bridge from law violation to law abiding behavior, from tax burden to tax payers. They made that conscious choice. A lot of them didn’t because they didn’t know how. You know, you could give a person a GED, you can give them a plumbing certificate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she knows how to cross that bridge. When their done with this treatment process, do they really know how to cross that bridge from violent to non violent behavior?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, we just encourage them. It takes practice. It doesn’t happen over time. We also have phase III of the program which they’re matched up with community coaches that help them along the way, that help them. So they’re not just left, you know, to defend for themselves. They have like a mentor, that’s what they are, they’re life coaches, who have been through the same situations and who are able to coach them and give them and give them helpful advice. And they meet with these coaches once a week.
Len Sipes: That’s great. Okay, we’re going to go over to Lisa and one of the reasons why we invited Lisa into the program is that she’s a Community Supervision Officer, most people would know them as Parole and Probation Agents throughout the country. And Lisa, I screwed up your last name, didn’t I, when I made the introductions. It’s Lisa Sylor(?).
Len Sipes: Syler.
Len Sipes: Syler. Syler. Okay. I apologize for that. And Lisa, now you’ve been and probably why don’t you rearrange that microphone just a little bit. Thank you. You’ve been in this program for how long?
Len Sipes: I started in, I believe the cases were assigned to me in January. So this is my first phase of the program. The first time I’ve been involved with the violence reduction program.
Len Sipes: The Community Supervision Officers are basically the heart and soul of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Now we have a dual role. We have an enforcement role and we will not hesitate to put somebody back in prison.
Len Sipes: If need be, yes. Yes.
Len Sipes: If need be. If need be. But at the same time we have a treatment role. The research is abundantly clear that if we provide services to individuals they do a lot better than if we don’t provide services. So we try to provide mental health assistance, domestic violence assistance. We try to provide drug treatment or refer the person to drug treatment resources. We try. We have our own group called Vote who helps them in terms of their educational and vocational needs. We try to get them in the programs. We advocate for them. We work for them. And the violence reduction program seems to be just along the lines of any other program that we do. It’s a service. It’s a treatment program. But at the same time you play that dual role. And you walk a very tough tight rope between enforcing public safety and helping the individual.
Len Sipes: Yes. A lot of what my role is initially my role was really just to encourage the guys to attend groups and to try to give it a chance. Because, you know, in the beginning you’re kind of thrown in together, you’re given a new CSO and they don’t really explain, I have to break it down for them and make it, I have to kind of become a salesman, I’m like a used car salesman that really has to get them to buy into the program. And get them to report as they’re supposed to for their groups. But once they get in they really, they don’t need me to be the one who’s like, keep going, keep going. They really want to come because they’re getting so much out of the group. After they go through the first phase, they really do form a bond together. And they rely on each other for input and information and you know, when one goes, you know, isn’t there, they’re wondering where was he today? You know, there was one guy that had to go back to court for another issue and they were all wondering what happened at court? They asked me, did you know? Did you know what happened? So they really become close. They become their own support system.
Len Sipes: And that’s, isn’t that the key? Because I’m not quite sure they’re going to listen to us.
Len Sipes: It is. Part of it is also ,
Len Sipes: Not to, I’m sorry, Lisa, not to say that we’re not there to provide treatment, we are.
Len Sipes: Yes.
Len Sipes: But I mean, their peer group is the most important influencer ,
Len Sipes: Definitely.
Len Sipes: (Chuckles) Provides the most influence. The peer group, plus the family, plus friends. They’re the groups that really motivate them to either change or continue in a criminal lifestyle.
Len Sipes: Exactly. And they get a lot of support within the group. If somebody’s not understanding, you know, what it is that they’re talking about, they’re not really grasping the information, a lot of the guys will step in and kind of give them their own example and they start to share and try to break it down in a way that everyone is going to understand it, you know, if there’s one particular guy that doesn’t understand it. And with that I get a lot of information from Michelle, from the treatment side from groups, I get a lot of information as to how I can implement. I find out what she’s working on in the group and I can use that in my supervision strategy to kind of reinforce what they’re talking about when they come to me with their, for their supervision needs.
Len Sipes: I’m going to reintroduce the program and reintroduce the participants because we’re going to go back to Bryan Young. Bryan Young is the Program Manager of the Violence Reduction Program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Michelle Hare-Diggs, who is a Treatment Specialist and Lisa Syler. She is a Community Supervision Officer. Okay, Bryan, you’ve heard from Michelle, you’ve heard from Lisa, anything to add or subtract?
Bryan Young: Nothing to add or subtract other than to say these two working together really demonstrate and exemplify what we’re trying to do here. The whole process of working with somebody is to identify their risk and we want to target the highest risk people first, but we also have to identify their needs. And that issue of criminal peers, you know, it’s one of the big six criminal , it’s one of the big six needed for criminal recidivism that we look at. And the program is designed to help everybody make good decisions around what their peer group is. Their attitudes towards authority and towards normal things like getting up and going to a job and those sorts of things. So the collaboration here and both people becoming a change agent is really exemplified by what Michelle and Lisa talked about.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm? It is difficult in the minds of so many people. And again we’re not afraid to hesitate for public safety reasons to put the individual back in prison. But if we can take an individual who has always responded violently, now, Lisa you’re suggesting that I’m saying something wrong. Go ahead.
Len Sipes: No, I’m suggesting completely the opposite. I completely agree. I think we have a responsibility to the community to identify those individuals who just really aren’t putting forth the effort to change and aren’t putting forth, you know, they’re really not taking advantage of the services and they’re just continuing on the path and when the need comes we will address that and go to the, you know, have them put back in jail as you said. However, I also think that we have a responsibility to help people get out of their own way. And this group really helps people understand that what they’re thinking, they’re thinking translates into behavior. A lot of times these guys really don’t understand that the thoughts that go into their head make them behave in a certain way. They think that it’s just a natural reaction.
Len Sipes: And I totally agree with that. Totally agree with that. And I totally agree with that in terms of substance abuse. I totally agree with it in terms of mental health. I totally agree with it in terms of education. I totally agree with it in terms of getting jobs. There’s nothing there I disagree with. The research is abundantly clear, the more you help them the better they’re going to do, the less they’re going to recidivate, the fewer prisons we’re going to have to build, the less taxpayers are going to have to pay out for their behalf. The flip side of that is something else we have to deal with is that I get a newspaper summary every day, or a variety of newspapers summaries every day. And in essence what the newspaper summaries say on a daily basis is a violent person does something violent again. Now, if the public gets a steady stream on the radio and the television and the newspapers a violent person does something again, they’re going to sit here and listen to this program and say, oh, a bunch of bureaucrats from downtown, DC, don’t you understand that – you know, we’ve got to target these individuals, and in some cases we do because they show propensities toward violence that there are risks to public safety again. We’ll target them and we won’t hesitate to work with the courts and the parole commission to return them to the prison. But what you’re saying is that we got to do a better job of providing services, which is exactly what the research has to say.
Len Sipes: I really think that with the information that we can get from the program, the way that it’s applied to the offenders, they’re not just going in and having groups, they’re also having psychological testing. We’re also finding out what their functioning is. All of this comes together so that we get a better picture of the individual and of the need base. I mean, if we’re going to try to talk to a person who doesn’t have the vocabulary and doesn’t have the ability to process vocabulary, that’s another issue. So if we can identify that, we can use that and figure out this person maybe not words is not the way they communicate as effectively, they’re more of a hands on learner, then we can start to make them do steps. You know, I always say baby steps, we’re going to do one thing at a time and by that we’re able to change behavior. You have to really find and identify what it is at each person, what the issue is, within the group that’s the way that the group is set up, we’re able to not only in a group setting, but also individually identify this person has this issue, you know, this seems to be an issue with this person. And with that we’re able to work together through the treatment specialists and the supervision side we’re able to work together to help this person move, kind of get out of their own way and understand that their thoughts are what get in their own way. And if they can stop their thoughts or change their thinking then their behavior changes. And we get examples of it all the time in how the behavior is changing.
Len Sipes: And I think that’s the most powerful thing because, you know, again, I’ve been in this business for a while and it’s always very gratifying when you take an individual who doesn’t know how to deal with the world as it is.
Len Sipes: That’s the hugest part. You know, a lot of things we take for granted that, you know, we know how to ride the subway or we’re even able to read a map to figure out how to get from point A to point B. And you have a 19 year old kid that sits in front of you and says, I don’t know how to ride the subway. I don’t have the funds to get down here every day because I can’t afford to pay for a cab. Wait a minute, you live so many blocks away but you can’t figure out how to ride the subway? For him it was such an obstacle because he just was terrified to figure this out. So then it brought to my attention, okay, we have to go back to kind of a few more steps back than I thought we were. A lot of times people are afraid to tell you what their abilities and their deficiencies are. And once you ,
Len Sipes: So am I by the way.
Len Sipes: (Chuckle) Yeah. Exactly right.
Len Sipes: So are most people.
Len Sipes: It is.
Len Sipes: My wife chastised me severely last night because of a fight that we had a couple of days ago when I just got around to telling her the reason for it. And she said it took you three days to tell me then, huh?
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Len Sipes: You know? And I’ve got Michelle over here laughing. Everybody’s going through the same experience. And so the person is naturally reluctant to say, hey, I can’t deal with the subway.
Len Sipes: So part of, and the part of the group and the part of being able to interact with the offenders and the guys is to really try to pull this information out. What are the needs? You know, we have the assessment and we have the screener, and it really gives us a good indication but from there we need to probe further to find out if this is an issue, how big of an issue is it? You know, if education is an issue, are we dealing with just the fact that he dropped out? Or are we dealing with an even bigger issue of comprehension and having other learning disabilities?
Len Sipes: When I ran a group in the Maryland prison system I had two individuals squaring off at each other. And I was like, have we not discussed this, guys? Have we not discussed that there is a better way? I was like, you’re really going to assault the other person in prison in a treatment program? How many years do you think this is going to add on to your sentence? Do you really want to go that far? And I said, and they both backed off and I said, this is it. This is the heart and soul of this, gentlemen. I said, it’s just not squaring off with each other while you’re in a prison setting, it’s also walking down the street and somebody has a perceived insult or your friend and neighbor, you know ,
Len Sipes: Exactly. Or girlfriend, or your ,
Len Sipes: The day to day living without getting overly emotional about stuff that you shouldn’t be getting overly emotional about.
Len Sipes: I think a lot of it is too, and Michelle can touch on this more, is identifying the emotion. Because a lot of times they think it’s anger but it’s really not.
Len Sipes: Okay, and that’s a lovely point that I want to get to Michelle. In some of the other programs that we have talked about this kind of an offender, you know, you sit down with this guy and, you know, he’s got this hard attitude. And he looks hard. And he acts hard and all that is, in many instances, and again, I’m going to get emails saying I’m making excuses for criminal behavior, I’m not. All that is, is insecurity. All that is, the harder that person appears, the weaker that person really is. That’s a shell that that person has learned to put on for his entire life, am I right or wrong?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You’re right. A lot of times they just don’t even know how to identify the source of their anger. So in the group we touch a lot on focusing on what are your emotions really? It might not even be anger, it could be jealously. It could be depression. So we try to focus on identifying what is your real emotion? And is that what is causing the , the mask that you’re putting on. Are you angry? What are you putting that mask on for? What is it to hide? Is it that you’re really jealous of your brother? Or is it that you’re really sad that your father was never around?
Len Sipes: Or the fact that you’ve raised yourself from the age of eight?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Exactly.
Len Sipes: Which to me, in most cases, the offenders we’re dealing with.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: And actually there’s two gentlemen in my current group who they really have realized that they’re just angry at their father. One of the fathers had passed away. He’s still angry. And he’s able to identify that now. So he’s working on writing a letter to his deceased father.
Len Sipes: And a lot of males, but especially female offenders, are victims of sexually violence at a young age.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes.
Len Sipes: By people who they know. So if that happens to you, how do you go through life without that chip on your shoulder the size of Montana. And that’s not an unusual occurrence for males, but especially it’s phenomenally large for females.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes, you’re right.
Len Sipes: So I mean, that’s just, isn’t that, isn’t that the heart and soul of everything we’re talking about here? And one of the reasons why the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, our agency, is trying to address this, is that these individuals are never going to shake it. They may grow out of it because recidivism decreases dramatically at age forty and above, but between zero and 40 how many times is he going to go to prison and how many people is he going to hurt until he learns not to do it and to think about it in a different way? To think about how he or she interacts with people on a day to day basis?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, we’d like to think that the coping skills that they’re gaining from the group will help them get through this.
Len Sipes: But that’s it. How do you interact with, how do you deal with life as it is without clenching a fist? How do you deal with life as it is without jumping in somebody’s face?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You use your relaxation techniques, you use your peers. You have to. You have to. If you want to stay in society that’s what you have to do. You don’t want to go back to prison. You have to find different ways to manage and to cope to get through this.
Len Sipes: All right, we only have about 30 seconds left in an extraordinarily fascinating program. Bryan, did you want to wrap up or do you want to let Michelle do it or Lisa or what do you want to say? Lisa, oh, Michelle, let me go back to you again, in essence, I’m just going to remind the public one more time, it is possible for these individuals to change. The larger public doesn’t believe that. But our experience is that it is possible for people who have lived, histories, who have had histories of violence to interact with the world truly as it is without resorting to violence.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is possible. I mean, it may not happen overnight, but it takes practice and it can happen.
Len Sipes: And that is the bottom line in terms of what it is that we’re trying to do.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: That’s the bottom line.
Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. I’ve been your host, Leonard Sipes. At our microphones today was Bryan Young Program Manager for the Violence Reduction Program, Michelle Hare-Diggs, Treatment Specialist, again for the Violence Reduction Program. And Lisa Syler who is, I finally got her name pronounced correctly and she is a Community Supervision Officer. I want to thank everybody for all of your letters, all of your emails, your phone calls for suggestions, criticism and comments about the show. Keep them coming in. And please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

Meta terms: violence, violence reduction, violence prevention, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation, corrections,


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Victim Services-National Crime Victim’s Rights Week-DC Public Safety

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– Audio Begins –
Len Sipes: From our studios in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. This is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and one of the things we’re doing today is to talk about the issue of victims’ rights. I started with the victims’ rights issue decades ago when I was the senior specialist for crime prevention and victims’ services for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, and even back then, it was just an emerging topic, because there was a lot of conflict between victims and the criminal justice system that is designed to serve them, but in many cases did not. To talk about this whole issue of victims services in today’s world, we have three principals with us. We have Bonnie Andrews, she is the victims’ services program manager for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have Michelle Thomas from the United States Attorney’s Office, she is a victims program specialist, and again, from my agency, we have Peggy Sandifer, she is a community supervision officer dealing specifically with domestic violence, and to ladies, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, a very quick commercial. Ladies and gentlemen, we respond to every inquiry, every email, every Twitter, we really appreciate all of the response that you’ve given us, all the feedback, we’re up to about 130,000 requests on a monthly basis, and we are really appreciative. If you want to get in touch with me directly, it is Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – .sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, or follow me via Twitter at – L-E-N – sipes – S-I-P-E-S – no space, and back to our guests, Bonnie Andrews, the victims’ services program manager for my agency, again, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, tell me about a little bit about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Bonnie.

Bonnie Andrews: Good morning, Len. Thank you for having us here, and we’re always happy to talk about victims of crime, particularly this week, the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is the time when we celebrate victims of crime, the rights that victims have, and the service providers that do such wonderful work in their communities with working with victims of crime.

Len Sipes: An extraordinarily difficult topic. As a former police officer, I dealt with the victims and families all the time. And wow!

Bonnie Andrews: It is difficult.

Len Sipes: I, was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done in my life. How do you go up to a family and say that your daughter’s just been raped, and she’s at Memorial Hospital, and here are the circumstances as we understand them, we’ve got an active ongoing criminal investigation, so we’re going to need your help, in looking at a family of shocked people? I mean, so it’s not just the victim, as tragic as the story that I’m saying, it’s the victim’s family, it’s the larger community that is impacted by this, there are going to be hundreds, if not thousands of people that are going to be making decisions based on their perception of their own personal safety, based upon this case, so the issue of victims’ services is enormously important to us.

Bonnie Andrews: Absolutely. With any type of crime, it’s difficult to approach the victim and/or the family, where the family is a victim also, they become a secondary victim as does the community. But you have to keep in mind that dealing with the victim and the families, to be respectful, respectful of what they’re going through, and to be empathetic with that person, or people, and honest, that regardless of what they’re going through, that you have to be honest with them about the circumstances, but I think that Michelle Thomas could probably answer that question a little further –

Len Sipes: The perfect segue as we go over to Michelle Thomas! And Michelle, with the United States Attorney’s office, you know, again, Michelle, one of the things I do want to point out to our listeners is that anybody in the District of Columbia, although our show is heard worldwide, within the District of Columbia, within Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, all of the major criminal justice agencies have victims’ representatives, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s the police department, the United States Attorney’s Office, or our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the whole concept is that any one of us is there to assist victims of crime.

Nichelle Thomas: That’s true, and we’re all advocates. There are advocates on all fronts, whether it’s with the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Attorney’s Office, or CSOSA, we basically have the same kind of role in assisting the victim. My role, in my office, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is to basically listen to the victim, help the victim decide what his or her needs are, and try to figure out how to best meet those needs, to do a plan for safety for the victim and their family.

Len Sipes: Now one of the issues here, and I think this has been brought up in research, it’s been brought up probably through a hundred hearings or more, a thousand hearings or more throughout the country, is that victims of crime and their family members have complained bitterly in the past that we, within the criminal justice bureaucracy, simply don’t give them time, don’t, we won’t listen to them, that they’re, I don’t know, that they become almost adversaries. We have to do a criminal investigation, so we’re limited in terms of the information that we give out, one of their big complaints in the past have been prosecutorial officers throughout the country who would basically, decide upon a plea bargain without involving the victim, victims have said traditionally they’re left out, so what do we say to victims now?

Nichelle Thomas: Well, you know what? There is a basic law, it’s a crime victims rights act that defines the rights for victims, and that is a victim has the right to be heard, reasonably protected, timely noticed of proceedings, unreasonable delay, they need to be heard at the hearings, they can confer with the government prosecutors, they should be treated with dignity and respect. That’s basically it.

Len Sipes: The crimes victim – Crime Victims’ Rights Act is, what, national?

Nichelle Thomas: That’s a federal law.

Len Sipes: That’s a federal law.

Nichelle Thomas: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you all here. It’s a federal law. It is a federal law with the things that you just mentioned, must happen, that we, within the criminal justice system – there are a lot of people that are in the criminal justice system, and I’m not quite sure they understand that there is indeed a federal law that applies to crime victims. So in essence, what that act is saying is that we, and that applies to local law enforcement agencies, and state law enforcement agencies, not just federal law enforcement agencies, or criminal justice agencies, I should say, it applies to all of us, and basically, it says that we’ve got to really listen to and respect the victim’s point of view.

Nichelle Thomas: We have to!

Len Sipes: Okay, Bonnie. Go ahead please.

Bonnie Andrews: Len, you mentioned that some of the victims have noted that their voices are not often heard, and that’s one of the purposes of having victim advocates within the agencies, the law enforcement agencies, is to have a sounding board available for that victim.

Len Sipes: Right, but here’s my point is that all of us work in bureaucracies. I have been in the criminal justice system since I was, for the last 40 years. Since I was 18, I was a cadet in the Maryland State Police. All of us know that bureaucracies can really push back hard when you’re being a pain. I’m a public affairs officer, sometimes I have to actually advocate for stuff that’s not popular amongst the hierarchy, and I’m not talking about this agency, I’m talking about all my agencies. It’s sometimes hard to push up against management saying your decision is not the right decision, you really do need to understand the circumstances here when I have to advocate for a reporter’s point of view! It’s the same with you guys, it’s not the easiest thing to get in there and be sure that the victim is taken care of.

Bonnie Andrews: Well, we operate within the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, and that is law, it’s a federal law.

Len Sipes: How often do you have to remind bureaucrats that that law exists?

Bonnie Andrews: Quite often. [laughter]

Len Sipes: Yeah, quite often. And that’s my point, my point is that all of us who are quite passionate about victims and serving victims, we’ve got to be advocates. All of us have to be advocates, correct? You know, Michelle, we have to be advocates for victim services, and sometimes we have to push our administrators to do the right thing.

Nichelle Thomas: And you know, one of the things that we’re doing during this week is to bring forward a mini conference. Now Bonnie Andrews hosts an annual roundtable discussion on different topics. This year, I’m privileged, because she’s pulled me in along with a group called “Breaking the Silence – East of the River Committee” so that we can pick a topic, and the topic that we picked to share, this year, is prosecuting cases with multiple victims and witnesses, and we’re putting in place all the blood, sweat, and tears that a team of people have to go through to bring a perpetrator to justice. So we’re doing that this week.

Len Sipes: And the key issue in all of this is interagency cooperation. I’m going to go to Peggy Sandifer. Peggy, one of the things that you do in terms of your outreach to victims is, and I know all of you, all three of you deal with the domestic violence issue, but you in particular as a community supervision officer here of my agency, you work with the domestic violence population, correct?

Peggy Sandifer: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, tell me a little bit about that.

Peggy Sandifer: Well, what I do, I facilitate groups for men and women who either have been convicted of or admitted to use of domestic violence –

Len Sipes: Okay, and it’s mostly men –

Peggy Sandifer: Yes.

Len Sipes: Overwhelmingly men.

Peggy Sandifer: But the female population is beginning to grow.

Len Sipes: Okay, and what does that, what does that mean? So you’re there telling the individuals who are charged, or convicted rather of acts of domestic violence, because we are, basically a parole and probation agency, so they’ve been convicted, I’m almost certain in virtually all cases, of probation, they’ve been placed on probation by a judge, and they’ve been basically put in, or we put them into domestic violence unit, what do you say when you’re talking to individuals about their victims?

Peggy Sandifer: Well the domestic violence intervention program is for people who have admitted to or either been found guilty of domestic violence. Then they come to our program, we have a 1-hour orientation program that will tell them or give them an idea what’s going to happen, or what’s going to be discussed for the next 22 sessions. Our sessions are once a week, an hour and a half, and we talk about the power and control week, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, isolation, intimidation, and things like that, and they are confronted and challenged regarding their behaviors.

Len Sipes: The big complaint on the part of domestic violence victims is that the individual won’t leave them alone, especially if there is a protective order. We can actually put Global Positioning System or tracking device on them that automatically alerts us that if this individual is within a half mile of the victim’s home or the victim’s place of work, correct?

Peggy Sandifer: But the only problem with that, Leonard, is that when people are in love, and these emotions are going this way and that way, they don’t know if they want to stay, they don’t know if they want to go back, it’s very difficult.

Len Sipes: But isn’t that the heart and soul, Peggy, of why those of us in the Criminal Justice System who have been not the most staunch supporters of victims rights, isn’t that the heart and soul of the difficulty in terms of our relationship with victims, because victims are, one day, the victims want the individual prosecuted, and the next day, the victims are going, eh, I think I’ve changed my mind, and in some cases, they can change their mind, in some cases, whether they like it or not, they’re going to court.

Peggy Sandifer: My experience is that the ladies want the abuse to stop –

Len Sipes: Right. They don’t necessarily want them prosecuted –

Peggy Sandifer: Right, they just want the abuse to stop, and from my side, it’s very difficult to talk to a victim to get them to understand that domestic violence is progressive. It can start with an emotional abuse, and then it goes to physical abuse, maybe somebody calls you a nasty dirty name, and then the next time, they call you a nasty dirty name and they push. The next time, they call you a nasty dirty name, they push you, they shove you, and they pop you in the mouth.

Len Sipes: It is progressive, and I totally agree with you, and when we’re talking about domestic violence, because it’s the larger issue of service to victims, it gets down into stranger to stranger violence vs. interpersonal violence, and most child victims are victimized by somebody they know, most women are victimized by somebody who they know, and that’s U.S. Department of Justice Statistics. So we’ve got that part of it, and we’ve got stranger-to-stranger crime that we do need to talk about, somebody who pops out and just puts a gun to your head and wants your money, but even that’s stereotypical, because in 3/4 of robberies, a firearm is not displayed, but I’m digressing. Getting back to your issue, it is making sure that we respect victims’ rights, but once a victim has announced that they’ve been victimized in a domestic violence case, and when I say domestic violence, I’m not talking about, in many cases, shoving or hitting. I’m talking about, in many cases, if not most cases, the woman victim was beaten up, correct? Okay. So I just want to make that clear. Once she makes that announcement, then she has to proceed with those charges.

Peggy Sandifer: Well, when you’re talking about being victimized, a lot of shame and embarrassment comes with that.

Len Sipes: Right.

Peggy Sandifer: And it’s the thing, people, most of the time, a woman will have been victimized anywhere up to 6-10 times before she actually calls the police, and more often than not, a neighbor will call the police rather than the victim.

Len Sipes: And if it’s a case, in the District of Columbia and most cities throughout the country now, once the police respond to a domestic violence case, if they see evidence of domestic violence, they have to make an arrest.

Peggy Sandifer: Well, the law in District of Columbia, that arrest has to be made. Somebody has to go.

Len Sipes: There you go. And if they fight each other, then both go.

Peggy Sandifer: Both go.

Len Sipes: The issue, the larger issue, and this begot or begat a larger issue of, again, we’re there to serve victims, but victims, at the same time, need to understand that they need to cooperate with prosecutors, and that’s, isn’t that a whirlwind, we’re going to go back to Michelle Thomas from the United States Attorney’s Office, that’s a whirlwind problem of trying to accommodate the victim’s needs, trying to be sympathetic to the victims need, but the victim needs to be involved in prosecuting the person who did this to him or her.

Nichelle Thomas: Most of the victims want to be involved, but there are a lot of obstacles that would prevent a victim from going forward.

Len Sipes: They are?

Nichelle Thomas: If we’re talking about D.C. alone, there are probably a couple of shelters, there are two shelters that house victims and their children. They probably turn away maybe 9-10 families for every one that they can provide –

Len Sipes: That’s a tragedy.

Nichelle Thomas: – shelter for, so that’s a tragedy.

Len Sipes: So what she’s saying in terms, and we’re talking domestic violence, and I do want to broaden it to all crime, but in terms of domestic violence, if you don’t have any place to take the kids, you’re stuck with your set of circumstances, and that indeed is a tragedy, because we’re not talking about yelling, we’re not talking about screaming, most of the cases that I’ve been involved in as a police officer, you’re talking about the male really putting a hurting onto the female victim.

Nichelle Thomas: Well, in our office, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we have a no tolerance for crime, and prosecutors in our office will simply take a perpetrator to court, and it’s my role as an advocate, victim witness program person to assist with meeting the needs of a victim, finding a safe place, and often, there’s no safe place to refer a person to. We have the crime victim compensation program, our office has a witness security program, but we’re not always able to accommodate a victim.

Len Sipes: And that’s the crux of the criminal justice system across the board, because we don’t have enough cops, we don’t have enough correctional officers, we don’t have enough probation agents, we don’t have enough drug treatment, we don’t have enough mental health treatment, we don’t have enough victim service resources, so that becomes sort of a problem for all of us in the criminal justice system, this larger issue of resources. Go ahead, Ms. Sandifer.

Peggy Sandifer: And a lot of reasons why victim don’t leave is the economic piece, especially if the male is bringing in the majority of the money, you know, they don’t have any money coming in on their own, and we always try to encourage them to try to put a little money aside so that you can get away.

Len Sipes: These are real world issues, almost in many cases insurmountable issues that all three of you deal with on a day-in/day-out basis. What do you do to escape the pressure and strain? Bonnie Andrews, it is, I used to go and work directly with victims when I was in law enforcement, and boy, I had to go home and prop up my feet and have a beer or two, it was like, my heavens, that’s a tough set of circumstances to be, and how do you cope with it?

Bonnie Andrews: I’m an exercise junkie! [laughter]

Len Sipes: There you go! There you go!

Bonnie Andrews: I believe that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of the victim. We can’t neglect our own bodies or our spiritual base, we have to stay centered, and sometimes we are human, so we can’t always do that, we have off days just like everyone else, but the roundtable that I started to facilitate about 7 years ago is one of the resources that we use for victim advocates to come together and look at our obstacles that all of us face, whether we’re in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia, we continue to face the same –

Len Sipes: You all get together in the tri-state area from the District of Columbia, and Maryland, Virginia, to talk about all this?

Bonnie Andrews: We look at resources that may not be available, and we collaborate with the resources that are there, we put a face to the names of the providers that we talk to on the phone on a regular basis, and we share information that may be helpful with other victim service providers that we may not have had before coming to the roundtable.

Len Sipes: Want to remind everybody that this is D.C. Public Safety, we’re talking our halfway through break way late. Bonnie Andrews is the victim services program manager for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we have Michelle Thomas, she’s a victim program specialist. Also at the microphones is Peggy Sandifer, she’s a community supervision officer dealing specifically with domestic violence. Bonnie, I’m going to continue with you for a second. Okay, so how do we convince people who are very skeptical? I mean, calling the IRS, calling the Environmental Protection Agency, calling your local police department, I mean, most people are scared to death to do that. I’ve been in the system for 40 years, and I don’t like contacting government, because we have this view of government as being standoffish and bureaucratic and pushing back. How do you convince people that we really are here to help them? How do we convince people to call us?

Bonnie Andrews: We are here continuously providing education and information to the community, and we do this job because we are passionate about it. It’s nothing glamorous about working with a victim of crime and seeing that person at the worst possible moment of their life, so you have to have a sense of passion about the work that you do, and that shows in the work that you do every day.

Len Sipes: Metropolitan Police Department has their own victims services –

Bonnie Andrews: Yes they do.

Len Sipes: And most police departments throughout the country have their own victim services coordinator, but we did, I mean for everybody, it’s just really hard to convince people, come to us, we want to listen to you, we want to help you understand how the criminal justice system works and what to do.

Bonnie Andrews: You know, a person, a victim may call, for instance, a victim may call me and want services when they initially make that call, and after I have talked to them about the services that may be available, they may change their mind on that day, but I have to leave the door open for them to know that, if you don’t want the services today, maybe next week you might want the services or next month, and we have to leave that door open to let them know that they can come back at any time without any questions being asked or any judgment being placed on that person.

Len Sipes: But you understand the nature of the bureaucracy. An average citizen goes, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to call Motor Vehicles!” I’ve got stories to tell about Maryland’s motor vehicles, let me tell you! And so you have this, oh heavens, I’ve got to filter my way through this bureaucracy, in essence, any police officer is supposed to refer that person to victim services, any community supervision officer without our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is supposed to refer people to you. Anybody within the United States Attorney’s Office is supposed to refer people to Michelle, we’re all supposed to be there instantaneously, but to me, I don’t know of a group of people who are more passionate within the criminal justice system than victim providers. You all are gutsy people to be able to deal with the bureaucracy on a day to day basis and deal with the people with huge needs, but that was my question, how do you really convince people – okay Michelle, and then we’ll go over to Peggy, how do you really convince people that the bureaucracy really wants to hear from you in your most difficult of times?

Nichelle Thomas: You know, a lot of the calls that I get are people that have called the police out of fear for their life, so sometimes the balance is so great it would prompt the victim to call, or the neighbors would call to say, please come, this person is in danger, and in DC, about 4500 complaints filed each year in domestic violence intake centers, so people are coming forward, but the outreach efforts on all our behalf, it’s necessary.

Len Sipes: But domestic violence is almost part of the everyday reaction of the Criminal Justice System. I mean, I do want to emphasize that there are victims of robbery, victims of burglary, there are people who would simply mug, there are people who were simply beaten up, there were people who were threatened or intimidated, you know, there’s all sorts of crimes that, when we talk about crime out there, so that person is walking down the street and was pushed to the ground, and their purse was taken, and they were violently pushed to the ground, they were injured, they have to go to the hospital, so suddenly this person who was just angry and hurt and scared all at the same time has to come to grips with, oh geez, now I’ve got to deal with the criminal justice system.

Nichelle Thomas: Well, you know, that’s a process. In D.C., the police, they play a really major role, because that’s the link between the community and the criminal justice system. For must of us on this panel today, most of our phone calls from victims come through interaction with police.

Len Sipes: And most cops are victims advocates. That’s my guess. Now am I right or wrong? Feel free to disagree.

Nichelle Thomas: For the most part, I mean, the police have come a long way. We do training as a matter of fact, for the Metropolitan Police Department to increase their sensitivity about cases that involve crime, and so for the most part, police have come a long way and made a great change toward victim advocacy.

Len Sipes: Okay. Stephanie, or Peggy, you’ve been trying to, enjoying the conversation, and I apologize for taking so long to get around to you. So what is your take on this, you represent the parole and probation system, do our people fully understand the needs and rights of victims?

Peggy Sandifer: Well we have to make, well I have to make contacts with the victims as well, and I always let them know about the services that are available for them, but you also have to go a little bit deeper than that, because most of us were brought up in homes where what goes on in our house stays, what goes on in our house stays in our house, and that’s why we try to keep that secret. You know, a family can look like they’re the best family in the world, a “Leave it to Beaver” family.

Len Sipes: Yeah, nobody knows what’s going on behind closed doors, that’s right.

Peggy Sandifer: But nobody knows what’s going on behind those close doors, there’s so much shame, and it’s very difficult to compare that kind of crime to somebody being robbed on the street, because people that’s involved in this, they have feelings about each other.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Peggy Sandifer: And that’s the difference.

Len Sipes: Well, that is the difference, but I didn’t want the show to be about domestic violence, I wanted the show to be about the broader issue of crime victimization, but the domestic violence part of it is something that has always been very special to me. My first case as a cadet in the state police riding with the trooper was going to a domestic violence incident with a trailer, and we knocked on the door of the trailer, and here’s a woman who answered the door, and her face is twice its size. He had beaten her with a frying pan, and the issue here is that she didn’t want to prosecute, and as far as we were concerned, that’s aggravated assault, we didn’t need her permission to arrest her husband, and her husband fought, as he was drunk, and from that day, I said to myself, “my god, how many women,” – I know men are victims too.

Peggy Sandifer: Somebody’s being abused right now.

Len Sipes: The degree of victimization is astounding, and the impact on their lives and the families is astounding. So that’s, I just wanted to broaden it, however important it is beyond the larger criminal justice system, we’re going to go back to Bonnie Andrews, so Bonnie, what am I saying that’s right or wrong?

Bonnie Andrews: Well, we don’t want to belabor this point about domestic violence, because we know this is National Crime Victims Rights’ Week, and that encompasses all types of crimes, but when we look at the crimes that we deal with, particularly within our agency, CSOSA, we come, we tend to, 90% of the time, we tend to come back to domestic violence –

Len Sipes: Really?

Bonnie Andrews: We do.

Len Sipes: Really?

Bonnie Andrews: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay, so the victims of robbery, and the victims of burglary, and the victims of muggings, and the victims of aggravated assaults, they pretty much go on with their lives?

Bonnie Andrews: No, I’m not saying that they pretty much go on with their lives, but when we get an offender that we are working with, at some point, even if that offender has been convicted of a drug crime, and I’ll give you, for instance, an example of a woman that I worked with this morning. Her husband had been convicted of a drug crime, but when she came in to see me this morning, she did not come into my office this morning because of his drug crime, but she came in because of domestic violence.

Len Sipes: And it just struck me in terms of this entire conversation, I’m stupid at times, and I just don’t get it at first, regardless of my years in the criminal justice – I am too, because I ask my wife and daughters. The point is, is that domestic violence is a continuing, ongoing thing, whereas robbery is a one-time event, so that’s why you’re probably seeing the degree of domestic violence victims. You’re going to have to wrap up, we’re almost through the 30 second point. Bonnie, I’m going to give you the final word. Just tell victims of crime what they need to do.

Bonnie Andrews: We are here for you in any agency, law enforcement agency that you come into contact with, there should be a victim service advocate, victim service provider within that agency –

Len Sipes: And if there’s not there’s somebody at the state level. If there’s not, there’s somebody within that agency who’s there to take care of you.

Bonnie Andrews: You will call 911. Want you to call 911 first, because the law, police, MPD, they need to be on the scene to protect you –

Len Sipes: And law enforcement agencies throughout the country, need to dial 911. Bonnie Andrews, the Victim Services Program Manager for the court services and offender supervision agency, from the United States Attorney’s Office. Michelle Thomas, Victims Program Specialist, and Peggy Sandifer, she’s a community supervision officer, otherwise known throughout most of the country as a parole and probation agent, she is now specializing in domestic violence. Ladies, thank you very much for being on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Again, we respond to every comment, every call, every email, we appreciate your suggestions for the show, we appreciate your criticisms as well, anything that you have to say, we welcome them, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.
– Audio Ends –

Meta terms: victim rights, victimization, crime victims, victim advocacy , domestic violence, crimes against women, reentry, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration


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Women Offenders-Our Place DC-DC Public Safety

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: From our studios in Downtown DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Tara Lihn Leaman, who is the Deputy Director of Our Place DC is by our microphone today. We’re here to talk about part of the request by the way of several listeners, we’re here to talk about not only Our Place DC, which I consider to be one of the best all purpose wraparound places for women offenders in the United States. It is an extremely comprehensive program with a stellar reputation, but also to talk about the status of women offenders throughout the country who are called up in the criminal justice system. And Tara, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Thanks, Len, for having us. And good morning to all of our listeners out there.
Len Sipes: Okay. Our Place DC is the telephone number and I’ll be repeating this throughout the program 202 548 2400; 202 548 2400. The website, www.ourplacedc – one word – And Tara, one of the reasons why we wanted to have you on the program today was to talk about the status of women offenders, but first our usual commercial that our regular listeners are quite familiar with; ladies and gentlemen, thank you, we continue to go upwards in terms of the amount of requests that we get on a monthly basis. We’re way beyond the 120,000 now, and we really appreciate all of the suggestions, all of the comments that you make and please keep them coming. It is DC Public Safety at media – You can get in touch with me via Twitter at lensipes twitter, slash lensipes or my email directly at And back to our microphone with Tara Lihn Leaman. One of the things that we talked about before the program, Tara was that there really is a difference between male and female offenders, especially when they come out of the prison system. Women offenders have higher rates of substance abuse per U.S. Department of Justice research. The same research, women offenders have higher rates of mental health problems. Women coming out of the prison system are not just on their own. They have, in probably 70 to 80 percent of the cases, children that they are responsible for. So they’re not just reentering for themselves, they’re reentering for their children. And finally the research showed – what was that final point that I was going to make? Completely slipped my mind. So we’ll go ahead and discuss what we have thus far and put it in context of Our Place DC, which I really believe is a wonderful opportunity for offenders coming out of the prison system to get all these wraparound services that you offer. So we’ll start off with what is My Place DC? I’m sorry, Our Place DC.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Thank you. Well, Our Place DC is the only community based support and resource center for formerly and currently incarcerated women from the District of Columbia. The mission of Our Place is to support women who are or have been in the criminal justice system by providing the resources they need to maintain connections with the community, resettle after incarceration and reconcile with their families. We help women remain drug and alcohol free, obtain decent housing and jobs, gain access to education, secure resources for their children and maintain physical and emotional health in an effort to lead women and families to self sufficiency.
Len Sipes: And the bottom line behind all of that is that all of the issues that we talk about for reentry, people coming out of the prison system, whether it be mental health, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be finding a place to live, whether it’s being reunited with her children, with talk about being in a safe place, all of that happens at Our Place DC, right?
Tara Lihn Leaman: It absolutely does happen and since 1999 we have served over 5,000 women needing those services. First and foremost the employment and housing services are often the biggest hurdles to women and families that we serve, must leap over coming out. So we have a substantial employment program that includes employment counseling, employment assessment, employment follow up and also, of course, employment job placement.
Len Sipes: And the women that I’ve talked to from your center that I’ve encountered throughout the years, one of the things that I hear consistently from them is that they, at Our Place DC, they feel safe. They feel safe, they feel embraced, maybe for the first time in their lives. And people listening to this program, if you’re not familiar with reentry, everybody needs to understand that we ordinarily send a former offender to over here for job placement and we send them over there for mental health treatment and we send them over there in terms of housing. So the person has got to be traveling from place to place to place. You have a comprehensive wraparound service.
Tara Lihn Leaman: We do, Len. And it really begins at our nerve center, which is our drop in center. And the drop in center is safe, it’s drug free and it’s a nurturing place. When I say safe, because most of the women that we serve are also survivors of domestic violence, it’s a women only safe space.
Len Sipes: It’s a sexual – and that’s the issue that I forgot when I was doing my introduction, the majority of women, again, per U.S. Department of Justice research, has basically stated that they were sexually abused in their younger years. Or they’ve been sexually abused at some point throughout their lives. Now, think about that. A lot of the women that I’ve encountered in my 40 years within the criminal justice system, they’re pretty hard. They’re drug addicted. They’re struggling with mental health issues. They’ve been on the street doing a lot of crazy things. And that’s something else I want to talk about because some of the women I encounter are not a danger to society at all. They got caught up in drug transportation at the “request of a significant male figure”. But we’ll talk about that a little bit later. And the point is that hard edge that comes with many of them, I think the basis for that is sexual violence at a young age. So they don’t trust anybody. They don’t trust – Lord knows that they don’t trust the system. But they trust Our Place DC.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, some of the women have absolutely been survivors of domestic violence. And I would go to say that the majority of the women at some point in their lives have been abused quite often by someone that they trusted. And so absolutely the women know about Our Place and we are fortunate to have wonderful relationships with folks actually working inside the prisons. So we go to the prisons and we do pre-release workshops, both at the prisons where there are the highest number of DC women.
Len Sipes: Right. And they’re involved in federal prisons through the Federal Bureau of Prisons. So for those listening outside of the District of Columbia, there is no District of Columbia prison that was closed down. It’s now, as of 2000, the responsibility for incarcerated DC offenders is now the purview of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Right, Len. And you touched upon a really good word which is trust. And because we have these positive relationships with folks working within corrections and we’re able to go in and actually start building bonds of trust with the women that we serve while they’re still in prison. So we hold prerelease workshops, usually there’s a couple of days that we spend, the staff, our program staff go in and do, we have a prerelease packet that we share information, women coming out – what they need to know in terms of housing, in terms of HIV services, in terms of, you know, the drop in services, that could be something as simple as getting an ID or getting police clearance. And so we’re able to start building those bonds of trust with the women on the inside so when they, upon release, they come to Our Place and we already have a good deal of information about what their needs are, what their concerns are and we’re able to address that then and there.
Len Sipes: Now I’m going to go out on a limb here because you and I before the show we were talking and I’ll get emails saying, you know, Leonard, you left leaning liberal you, in terms of talking about the issues dealing with female offenders or with male offenders in general. And I’ve always said, and I’m looking at my watch now and it is 25 of 12. I keep saying, all I’m doing is saying it’s 25 of 12. I’m not leaning right, I’m not leaning left. I’m simply stating what is in terms of the statistics. And they’re good, solid U.S. Department of Justice research in terms of the status of women offenders. But the other thing is that they do better under treatment than males. One of the correlates, or one of the predictors of doing well is being a female offender, not a male offender. I remember when I taught a Job Corps class that the bulk of my really good students were women. Were women, people called women, women offenders caught up in the criminal justice system. You know, women seem to be more willing to cross the bridge to a drug induced lifestyle, a criminal lifestyle, they seem more willing to cross the bridge than male offenders. And that just seems, I’m going by the research, is that right or wrong?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, it depends. And the reason why it depends is that most of the women that we serve have been charged with non violent drug offenses, that’s correct. And the majority of women are mothers. And so it’s really important for us in our services, which the woman lead and carve for us, to be very mindful of gender specific approach to our services. And so by that I man, for example, if a woman that we’re serving is a mother then ,
Len Sipes: And most are.
Tara Lihn Leaman: And most are, I would say over 80 percent are, grandmothers as well.
Len Sipes: Right.
Tara Lihn Leaman: When we’re looking at, for example, legal services, we’re going to more than likely be dealing with family law issues. Whether it’s child custody, it could even be divorce, that’s something that we are, that we are addressing within a gender specific frame. In terms of employment, our employment services, we want to place women who are often mothers at placements where they offer living wage and also benefits.
Len Sipes: Sure.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Health benefits for their children, flexible hours, because if you are a mother you often are going to be the primary caretaker of the kids. So we really want to ensure that the woman’s’ experience, quite frankly dictates the services that we’re able to provide. And we always want to provide services that any one of us on staff would also use. There is not a distinction in our services.
Len Sipes: Now, let’s get down to what I consider the chip on their shoulder the size of Montana, that’s how I describe so many male offenders. And there’s a lot of female offenders that fit that description as well, they don’t trust life. The overwhelmingly majority of, let’s say male and female offenders together, they grow up in households that were dysfunctional. They’ve been, a lot of them have been raising themselves from a very young age and a lot of them, they were very early age of entrance to drug use, alcohol use, very early entry to a lifestyle of crime or being involved in criminal activity. And if you raise yourself and if you associate with your peers who have also raised themselves, you come out of it with this joint sense of it’s me against the world. And so many of the women offenders that I’ve talked to over the course of time they also had this sense of, you know, I don’t trust you Mr. Government Man. And that’s fine. I understand that. How do you break through all that?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, before we break through it, we are always mindful that we are, we have all made poor choices in life. There’s no a person that I’ve met, and I include myself there, that has not made a poor choice. Often the difference lies in the types of support systems we have in place. For example, I was fortunate enough to have a cushion. I was fortunate enough to have someone say, that just ain’t right, you don’t do that.
Len Sipes: Right.
Tara Lihn Leaman: And so when you look at the choices, what we try to model is yes, we’ve all made poor choices, some of us were dealt a worse hand than others, and we want to always be accountable for our behaviors. And mindful of the need to make healthier choices. And that’s what Our Place is about. It’s not – we don’t care where you have been prior to walking through our door. The fact that you made a choice to walk through that door is the first step out of many to making better choices.
Len Sipes: But my question remains, how – I understand all that, and everything you’ve just said is extremely logical. But that doesn’t cut the mustard in terms of taking an individual male or female, who feels that life has not been kind to them and that they survive by this extraordinarily harsh exterior. Breaking through that extraordinarily harsh exterior involves what?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, breaking through that harsh exterior of which most of the women that we serve have that harsh exterior, begins by creating trust.
Len Sipes: Right.
Tara Lihn Leaman: It’s by treating someone that you may, on its face, feel like you have nothing in common with. But after sitting down and talking to them, you actually realize there is more things you have in common than not. And so that’s the trust.
Len Sipes: And that takes how long to break through?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, we have worked with women since the beginning of Our Place, since 1999, who have been serving extended sentences. We accept collect phone calls so we can still have a relationship with a woman who has a sentence of 20 plus years. When the women come, because we’re doing prerelease workshops inside the prison, when the women come out, they know about us. Their bunkee has told them about Our Place.
Len Sipes: There you go.
Tara Lihn Leaman: And so it’s all about those trusts, those bonds of trusts that we work so hard to create while the woman is still on the inside.
Len Sipes: Because you know she’s sitting there for the first week, the second week, the first month, second month saying, all right, but sooner or later some, they’re going to do something. Sooner or later they’re going to do something that’s going to violate my trust. I know that. Nobody, I can’t trust anybody.
Tara Lihn Leaman: That’s , I’m laughing as you’re saying that, Len, because there is this wonderful sister that we met at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. And we were giving a prerelease workshop there and there were about 75 women who came to our workshop, DC women, and , this one woman got up in the middle of our presentation and was basically, c’mon, Tara, you guys ain’t for real ,
Len Sipes: That’s right.
Tara Lihn Leaman: , I mean, what’s really going on here?
Len Sipes: What is your game?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Exactly. What is our game? What are you not telling us that as soon as I walk into Our Place you’re going to be like, no, we can’t help you. And I said, when you come into Our Place you ask for me. I’m telling you we are going to do to the best of our abilities help you legal, HIV services, we have transitional housing. We have a sixty day transitional home. Healthcare, employment, our scholarship program, our family transportation program, our children services. We, there is no game. And I’m happy to say that once this young woman got released, she came to Our Place, she came our employment, she came to Our Place, she got her police clearance that she needed, her form of official ID that she needed, a voucher, a transportation voucher. And we helped her get her resume together. And she is currently enrolled in a job training program.
Len Sipes: Mmm. I’ve talked to one woman who basically said that Our Place DC is her home.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, we like to think that ,
Len Sipes: It’s their emotional home. They’re in an apartment now. They’re working. They’re reunited with their kids, but Our Place DC, and the people in Our Place DC are her real home, not her second home. It’s her real home because it is the only place, according to her, that she felt safe and comfortable.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Well, that’s really wonderful to hear. And that’s why we exist. And that’s just certainly a tribute to our staff. But I have to tell you, Len, unfortunately not every story is a success story for us.
Len Sipes: Of course not, it can’t be.
Tara Lihn Leaman: And what we do say is we understand that relapse is a part of recovery. We understand that. And as long as you are sober, you are welcome at Our Place. So it doesn’t matter if for some reason you have been re-incarcerated or if years have gone by and you haven’t come to Our Place, you’re always welcome.
Len Sipes: Tara Lihn Leaman, the Deputy Director of Our Place DC, I’m going to give the telephone numbers now and at the end of the program; 202 548 2400, 202 548, 2400. The website is www.ourplacedc – one word dot org. I want to continue, Tara, for the second half of the program the – we talk about all of the isms in terms of women offenders. In terms of the research saying that they do have higher rates of substance abuse. They have higher rates of mental health problems. They bring the uniqueness of having other human beings to deal with and be responsible for when they come out of the prison system. And we talk quite frankly and openly about the fact of sexual violence being directed towards so many of these individuals. Now let’s shift gears a little bit. I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for 14 years as their Director of Public Information. And I remember we were talking about the women’s prison in Jessup. And somebody said, you know what? Here’s my opinion, that a third, up to 30 percent of these women, possibly more, could be safely released from the prison system today, as long as they had continuing services; mental health services, employment services, or even GPS monitoring or whatever it is from the safety, a public safety point of view, that if they have the right services they could be released today, it would save the taxpayers of the State of Maryland an enormous amount of money. Women offenders would get the assistance that was necessary for them to make that transition. And it would be a huge win/win for everybody, but politically we can’t do that. But they said that these women were not a danger to society. That these women that they are talking about were acting on the request of a male figure who requested “that they carry a substantial amount of drugs from point A to point B” when they came into Maryland and they were found out and they were arrested for transporting a truckload of God knows what, some illegal drug. So the woman ends up in prison for a long period of time but she is not a danger to society. She was basically told by this male figure, take this from one point in the State of Maryland to another, or take it from Georgia to New York or I’m going to hurt you bad. Now, again, I’m not making excuses for these individuals. I’m not. But that’s true. That happens a lot which, and so many people, so many of the women caught up in the criminal justice system fit that description. They’re not a danger to public safety. They were basically almost a victim, if you will, of this person who said do or I’m going to hurt you.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Absolutely. I mean, and you basically summarized the Kimber Wood story which who I believe President Clinton pardoned several years ago, but yes, some of our women were in that same situation where they were given a choice, you either do this by someone that they thought they loved or something harmful would happen to you. And what their situations have informed us is our need to really examine what a healthy relationship looks like. When we get caught up in that situation do we know what a healthy relationship looks like?
Len Sipes: People who have been abused a lot of times end up with abusive people.
Tara Lihn Leaman: There is a definite cycle, absolutely. And there’s lots of studies that confirm that. Mm-hmm.
Len Sipes: Right. So they end up with this abusive person out of some sense of love. And this person understands that he is just manipulating the individual and sends her out to do his bidding. Generally speaking not a violent crime, generally speaking transporting drugs.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Right.
Len Sipes: Or hiding a gun.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Non violent drug offenses. Absolutely. And I also want to make sure for our listeners that these types of relationships involving domestic violence abuse are not just heterosexual in nature. We also work with women who are in same sex relationships that also have been survivors of domestic violence. More than likely wouldn’t do the same things that we’re talking about. Do this or else.
Len Sipes: Right. Right. So it is , there’s a certain point where it just paints a sad picture. And, again, I’m totally, for the people who are going to write in and say that I’m leaning too far left, I understand that you do the crime, you do the time. I understand people need to take responsibility for their own decisions and I support that. And I believe that people should, under certain circumstances, serve long and harsh terms of incarceration. But nevertheless, you know, in the State of Maryland, we said we could let a third of the people in the Maryland prison system for women out tomorrow as long as they have the right services, they would probably not present a public safety issue. Now, it’s inevitable that one or two or three or ten or twelve or a dozen are going to go out and get right back involved in the lifestyle, I mean, that comes with the territory when you make those sorts of decisions. There’s nothing bulletproof, foolproof about dealing with offenders, former offenders, and taking risks. But nevertheless that was our assumption.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Absolutely. And DC being Maryland’s sister jurisdiction right now the council, I think, council member Phil Mendelson, who is the chairman of the Judicial system of the Public Safety Committee, they are entertaining an idea of releasing some folks earlier that have participated in programs preparing for their release.
Len Sipes: Right.
Tara Lihn Leaman: But let me just get back also to the numbers, because you mentioned the numbers, recently the peer center on states talked about how in New York, I believe that one dollar of every 15 dollars is spent on correction. In New York $40,000 dollars a year is spent on corrections, $15,000 dollars a year is spent on treatment. So in this environment of the so called scarcity of resources, where folks are being incarcerated instead of getting treatment, even the numbers favor getting treatment.
Len Sipes: Well, right. What they’re saying is that if we invest enough money, the research teams should be pretty clear on this from a cost effective point of view, and we have the PEW(?) foundation to thank for this and Adam Gelb’s organization as well as the Washington State’s Public Policy Institute where they’ve been able to prove, conclusively, that these programs save taxpayers an enormous amount of money. And probably do a better job of dealing with public safety than simply incarcerating them without services, right?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Absolutely. And I was reading an article, Gene(?) Healy, who is one of the Vice Presidents of all places, the Kato Institute in the Washington Examiner yesterday talking about how he thinks reforming the drug policy, particularly as it relates to decriminalizing certain substances, makes a lot of sense.
Len Sipes: And Kato, by the way, is a conservative think tank.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Exactly. So getting back, this is not a left or right issue. It is reality.
Len Sipes: Well, I get the newspapers clippings every day throughout the country. And the states can not afford to do what it is they’re doing. And they’re looking for a “better way” which is one of the reasons why PEW is involved in the business and the sentencing projects are involved in the business. But there is, the states are basically saying we can no longer afford to do this level of incarceration. We’ve got to look for alternatives. And again it’s not a political philosophy, it’s the state’s basically saying we can not afford to do this. And just in case the listeners don’t know, and the listeners throughout the world, I don’t know if they’re going to have a frame of reference here, but for the first time in my 40 years we’re laying off police officers, we’re laying off correctional officers, we’re closing prisons and we’re laying off parole and probation agents because the states simply can’t afford to keep these people on. So we have a fiscal crisis at the state level. The states are trying to cope with this by making better decisions in terms of how they manage their offender population and that’s why I brought up the Maryland situation of years ago, but we simply said, ah, we let 30 percent of the women offenders go and if a couple of them go out and do something wrong it’s our heads on the chopping block, why take that risk?
Tara Lihn Leaman: Right. And not only are those cuts being made at that level, but then you also have cuts being made in terms of the services being offered to women and men who have spent time in prison or are currently incarcerated in terms of employment services that are being cut as well. So it begs the question, what does rehabilitation look like?
Len Sipes: Well, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted you on the program today, because Our Place DC is probably the only entity that I’m aware of. I’m quite sure there are more out there, that even for male or female offenders, it is a complete wraparound service. You walk through that door, you know, you get all the services you need. Not necessarily at that physical location, but it’s all right there. I mean that doesn’t even happen here. To my knowledge it doesn’t happen anywhere but Our Place DC does that and there are so many hardened women with considerable criminal backgrounds that I talked to that are now taking care of their three kids and they’re now tax burdens, I mean, now a taxpayer, not a tax burden, and those three kids are now being loved and taken care of by their mother. Now that is a huge win/win for our society at large.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Absolutely. I mean, we’ve worked with several mothers to help them regain custody of their kids that they were obviously not with while they were incarcerated. So the services that one can get at Our Place include, but are not limited to the following: the drop in center, as I mentioned earlier, we have clothes. Clothes for women that again, anyone on staff would wear. We’re not going to give you something that we wouldn’t wear.
Len Sipes: Right.
Tara Lihn Leaman: ID, birth certificates, police clearance, tokens. We also have a phone, fax and computer for women who would like to set up an email account, check email. Our HIV/AIDS services includes onsite counseling, testing and referral.
Len Sipes: Which is a real problem over here in the District.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: And throughout the country.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Absolutely. You know, probably a lot of folks have seen some of the abysmal statistics coming out of DC regarding HIV/AIDS, AIDS and the fact and the reality is that African American women primarily through heterosexual sex are ,
Len Sipes: Are catching HIV.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Exactly. At an extraordinarily high rate. We also have housing. I mentioned our transitional housing program we have, speaking of HIV/AIDS, three beds are reserved for women who are HIV positive, one bed is not. It’s a sixty day transitional housing program. We also offer housing case management. Our health care, we provide mental health services and substance abuse treatment through our consultants that we have on staff. Licensed nurses on staff. Legal services, direct representation, community based legal education groups and also not just a direct services, but also the advocacy part. For example, we are the only organization that is tracking and monitoring the conditions of release of DC women from the correctional treatment facility. Employment, as I mentioned before, career planning, placement assistance, training and education ,
Len Sipes: That’s an amazing list.
Tara Lihn Leaman: , scholarship program. We have a scholarship program for kids whose mothers are currently incarcerated or have been formerly incarcerated.
Len Sipes: But all this is on the website, right?
Tara Lihn Leaman: All this is on the website, exactly.
Len Sipes: We have to close the program.
Tara Lihn Leaman: Okay.
Len Sipes: We’re running late on the program. Tara Lihn Leaman, she is the Deputy Director of Our Place DC, 202 548 2400. These numbers and contact points will be in the show notes; 202 548 2400. The website, www.ourplacedc one word, if you will dot org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We are extremely appreciative of all the feedback that you’re giving us and all the suggestions for the show. We got three suggestions for the show for women offenders and that’s why we’re sitting here with Tara Lihn Leaman. You all have yourselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

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