Archives for May 18, 2010

Social Media for Law Enforcement-DC Public Safety-213,000 Requests a Month

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Len Sipes: From my microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes, and today’s program is about social media in law enforcement, how the law enforcement community and eventually, hopefully, the entire criminal justice community will take on social media. What is social media? It’s websites, it’s blogs, it’s Twitter, it’s Facebook, it’s radio, it’s television. It’s basically a way of communicating with citizens. It’s a way of making sure that citizens and your criminal justice entity or your police department is having a meaningful conversation. You’re giving them interesting stuff to listen to or watch, and they’re giving you good information in return about what’s going on in their communities or how your police department or criminal justice agency can do a better job. Our guests today are Dan Alexander. He is Chief of Police of the Boca Raton, Florida, Police Department, and I’ll be giving out everything that Dan does in his website in a couple of seconds. Laurie Stevens, she is the Chair of Web Design for the New England Institute of Art, but interestingly enough, she’s putting on a conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement, the SMILE Conference on April 7, 8, and 9 in Washington, DC, but before we get into our program, the usual commercial, we are way beyond 200,000 request in the monthly basis for DC Public Safety Radio Television blog and transcripts, We are incredibly appreciative of all the e-mails that you get back to us with the comments that you get back to us in terms of our products. If you want to get back in touch with me directly, it’s Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T but P E-S or you can follow me via Twitter at twitter/lenssipes. One word. Back to our guest, Dan Alexander, Chief of Police, Boca Raton, and Laurie Stevens, New England Institute of Art, the person in charge of the SMILE conference. Welcome to DC Public Safety.

Laurie Stevens: Thanks, Len.

Len Sipes: Laurie, we’re going to go with your first. Now, what does the Chair of Web Design of the New England Institute of Art? You get this hoitsy-toitsy sense of free flowing artist, mixed up with the mundane, everyday world of law enforcement. How did you get involved with working with law enforcement?

Laurie Stevens: Well, it’s really the other half of that title is Web Design and Interactive Media. Certainly social media is part of that interactive media world, and so as part of my job at the college, I’m certified in social media as a strategist and I make it part of my work to stay on top of those things, and then I have been working with law enforcement just with a couple of departments that I have been friends with for a number of years and it just kind of grew from there. People started noticing the work that we were doing, and all of a sudden I was doing more and more, and then I got on Twitter and all of a sudden I was kind of catapulted into this arena and decided to go with it, and that was some months back, so now it’s just such a huge part of my life. But the two worlds come together right at the intersection with social media.

Len Sipes: And Dan, now, let’s see. You have done everything. I’m very impressed. is your website. Now you do Twitter, you do Facebook, you do MySpace, you do interactive mapping, you do e-mail alerts, you do offender notifications, you do a television show, you do a blog. That is just both admirable and interesting, but you say the key issue here is not the fact that you’re doing social media; it’s what you’re accomplishing for the citizens of Boca Raton.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I think you can’t forget your fundamental mission whenever you decide to take something new on like social media, and that mission is to be a community policing organization, community-oriented in the way we approach our business, so keeping that in mind, it’s really a matter of connecting and how you connect with people and how you push information. I think there’s some other interesting parts that also fall in, in terms of how the media covers, how media has changed. I think that social media falls right in line with our orientation to be better connected, to be more transparent, and to insure that we’re getting the word out.

Len Sipes: Now you know it’s interesting because this can be manipulative. I do social media here, radio, television, blog, and transcript at DC Public Safety, and it’s to the point where you can control your own media to a large degree. You’re no longer dependent upon mainstream media. You’re no longer dependent upon the newspaper and the television stations and the radio stations to get word out to the public. You can do that at your time and at your leisure and at a pace that you control.

Dan Alexander: Yeah. What’s interesting about that is that when we started to do this, we had a media outlet come cover us and actually they quoted a professor that expressed concern that we would be putting our spin on the news, and really at first we were taken aback, but the issue really is adding another layer and I think that’s what we’ve tried to explain to people is that our test is not to try to replace traditional media as a source of information, but to add another layer such that people can get a different view or just fundamentally get the information because media is not covering nearly as much as it used to.

Len Sipes: Laurie, is there an issue where anybody should be concerned about it? We are under a real obligation to, when we use the social media channels, to talk about everything, warts and all, correct?

Laurie Stevens: Right. And I think, well, Dan’s point is, it’s what I love about the work he does. Initially he had this – I believe it was a television station he was saying, was taken aback by the fact that he was putting out his information himself, but he embraced that, and what he’s saying is its just one more layer. He’s not trying to replace the media; nobody really is. It’s just trying to get more information. When you think about it, the police departments have a lot of good information that the media just doesn’t want to cover. It’s just not worthy of the 6:00 news in their opinion. Another department I work with had, very early on when they went on Twitter for example, a citizen was surprised and commented, they didn’t know they had crime in their town because the cops were tweeting all night long and during the day of what they were coming across. So it really is expanding the amount of information that’s getting out to citizens in any community, so we’re fortunate enough to have this.

Len Sipes: The individual police officers were tweeting?

Laurie Stevens: Oh, yeah.

Len Sipes: That’s interesting.

Laurie Stevens: Dan, you’ve got some individual police officers tweeting, but I know of several departments that have police officers tweeting, and then in one case, we tweeted into the official police stream, the tweets of each officer as they tweet, and we put that right on their homepage. So the citizens can see that some of these officers are tweeting and maybe a photo of an arrest they made during the night, not any kind of confidential information, but if it was a bad DUI arrest and getting out those DUI messages time and time again, and the citizens are seeing this is happening in their own town the night before as opposed to maybe somewhere else where they think it doesn’t happen here, so they’re realizing this stuff does happen. It happens every single night right here where I live, and it really opens their eyes and ears to these messages.

Dan Alexander: I think that it raises some serious policy issues about how you approach media, and I think one of the distractions in the self media debate has been well, now we have to write a whole new policy on social media. I wouldn’t necessarily say that that’s not the case. I think that the way we recognize it is it’s another form of media, so the policies are going to be pretty consistent with the way we deal with the regular media, so definitely seeing some negative impacts of social media in some cases, but again, I think we just have to realize it’s media and our policies should be pretty consistent.

Laurie Stevens: But those negative impacts, Dan, wouldn’t you say that those negative things that you’re talking about would have happened or in the same way? In other words, these officers aren’t having to learn anything new in terms of how to be officers; they just have new tools.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely.

Laurie Stevens: If they’re going to do things that they probably shouldn’t be doing, they’re probably going to exercise that poor judgment in another way even without social media.

Dan Alexander: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a tool, and obviously many tools can be used properly or improperly.

Len Sipes: But the bottom line is that because we had sort of an esoteric conversation thus far, and my sense is that for the kids in the audience, and I’m being really stereotypical here because I know a 1000 times more about social media than my daughters, but for the kids out there, they’re going to say yeah, I understand intrinsically what it is that you’re saying. For the criminal justice community listening to this program, the bottom line is that you capture bad guys, you have conversations with the community that helps them, that makes them feel better about the police department, you accomplish operational objectives through social media, so this is, to you from what I understand, Dan, in terms of our conversation before the show, this is just as important to you as having a sufficient number of police cars. This is just as important to you as having radio communications between your dispatchers and your officers. This is just a tool to help lower crime rates and to get information to citizens so they can take their own action. This is an operational issue, right?

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I think you look at it from that perspective and also from public relations and marketing perspective, and from the operational standpoint, I can think of two examples of how it’s had a direct impact, the first being a theft of a flat screen television out of the local mall. A video that we put online as part of our social media outreach and a witness picking up on the suspect in the video, and then passing that information along to us and us clearing a case and recovering property. Another instance from the intelligence perspective is a local criminal enterprise had taken root and their use of social media and using our resources and our investigators looking at their material, and without getting too much into it, developing information that was critical to developing a case on organized criminal enterprise, so those are two examples of how social media has a real impact in terms of law enforcement.

Len Sipes: We’re going to be having the Chief of the Community Oriented Policing Program from the U.S. Department of Justice on our air in a couple of weeks, and one of the reasons why he is coming in is for the very reasons that we’re talking about, that the more information that you get out to the community and the more interaction that you have, the more that they’re going to give to you in terms of your ability to keep them safe or solve crimes.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I think that’s the other part of it, is making the connection. I think if we’re brutally honest about our ability, we’re really the intervening variable. You have your community and the involvement of your citizens, and at the end the result is your quality of life and level of crime. We’re in the middle of that equation, and we’re absolutely dependent on a resident not only in terms of providing information on criminals, but also taking care of themselves. I think that the majority of us, unfortunately, have property crime to deal with and obviously violent crime, but typically property crime is the major portion of what we deal with and much of that can be prevented just by getting the right message out in terms of crime prevention, so there are so many different angles to the social media thing that are important in my mind.

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Laurie, please.

Laurie Stevens: I was just going to kind of piggyback on what he saying. I think in terms of sharing more information in both directions, a lot of what is happening here, and it’s getting back to the word social and social media, it’s the building of relationships and the building of trust between law enforcement and their community. Even though they’re still the cops and you’re still the citizen and they still have the authority, something else is happening in that whole area of trust in one another, and I think that is really key. It’s not very tangible, but that’s really key in why there’s more information going back and forth because there’s trust being built.

Len Sipes: Right. And whether it’s done electronically or whether it’s done face to face, the bottom line is trust. Trust gets you more information. It prompts the community to take greater action to protect themselves. I mean, it’s a win-win situation all around.

Laurie Stevens: Well, it’s absolutely going back to the beats, the community policing philosophy, in my mind. I’m not a cop and Dan will speak to that lots better than I will, but it’s really getting back to those relationships. With this technology, you can build more relationships faster.

Len Sipes: Now speaking of relationships, this question goes out to either one of you when I’m going to tie it into the conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement Conference. If people are interested in this, it’s April 7, 8, and 9 in Washington, DC. It’s called the SMILE Conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement, that’s how SMILE comes out. It’s, so it’s or, April 7, 8, 9 in Washington, DC. Social Media in Law Enforcement. The reason I’m so enthused about this conference is the fact that it helps us talk to people in the criminal justice system and it helps us to promote social media because, again, I had this conversation with another national criminal justice organization this morning. People are simply wary of doing this. They’re afraid to do it because they live in sort of a protected bubble. They have this sense that the less news there is the better off for everybody, and that’s just the antithesis of what it is that we’re trying to do through social media, but that fear does exist within the criminal justice system, does it not? Either one of you.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. Yeah. Obviously it’s changed and unknown and that’s a concern for people that like their world in order, but beyond that we are very secretive. Laurie knows that I wrote a piece early on, basically five or six barriers to law enforcement use of social media. It’s fast and we’re not. We obviously develop cases and move things along, and it takes time. Social media is immediate, so there are some barriers there. We are very cynical and protective, by nature, of our information, and so that works against us in that respect. We’re also suspect in terms of our relationships with people. I don’t want someone following me or being my friend or fan that I don’t know too well, because I like gathering intelligence on the people that I have relationships with if I’m thinking from a traditional police perspective, so there are a number of reasons why I think there hesitancy on our part to get involved.

But going back to what you said earlier, connecting electronically, it’s interesting about what we first got out there on Twitter in particular, we would get the feedback, Boca Police is following me – I guess I should slow down. Things like that that you know are out there that people are thinking. Or Boca Chief shows up as a follower, okay, it even makes people nervous to a certain extent, but I think it’s a great icebreaker. I really do. People see that you’re involved in this form. I think that they think more in terms of accessibility and the fact that we’re people too, so I think we’ve got to start turning some of that negative into positive.

Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guests today are Dan Alexander, Chief of Police of Boca Raton, Florida. His website, B-O-C-A-V-I-P-E-R, one word, dot com. Dan is involved in everything on the face of the earth – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, interactive mapping, websites, e-mail alerts, offender notifications, TV shows, and a blog. Laurie Stevens is our other guest. She is with the New England Institute of Arts. She is Chair of Web Design in Social Media. She is putting on a conference called Social Media in Law Enforcement, the SMILE Conference. The website address is, one word. So, www or All right. So we’re into the second half of the program. This is going by like wildfire. I think we need to move off of this fear thing because it’s interesting – so many individuals throughout the country, so many corporations are embracing social media wholeheartedly, and it’s become a huge part of what it is that they do and how they operate, but we in the criminal justice system just are, we’re just a bunch of, we’re a bit stodgy, and for an organization that has to communicate with a public, this is a fantastic way of doing it.

Laurie Stevens: It is fantastic and it’s inexpensive and it’s fast, and it’s like Dan said, cops aren’t exactly known for changing, yet this guy, Dan, had his own social media police, not an officer, a civilian, but a social media manager, over a year ago. I was listening to him and kind of chuckling thinking, he’s not all that afraid, because he’s out there really leading the pack. And to that point, I think that another officer friend of mine made the analogy that it’s like freight train and it isn’t about a [PH] decision anymore Len; it’s taken off. You’re either going to get hit by it or you’re going to get on and you’re going to ride it, or you’re going to wake up one day real surprised and wonder what happened and how did I lose control of this situation.

Len Sipes: I found a website, go ahead, please.

Laurie Stevens: No, I’m just saying that I think law enforcement, I don’t know about the criminal justice organizations as well as law enforcement, I think law enforcement isn’t that far behind other businesses. I really don’t. The ones I’m talking to, everybody’s interested in doing it. They are a little fearful, but they’re trying to figure out their way.

Len Sipes: I ran across the other night a website, Cops Who Blog. That’s part of the NING network, N-I-N-G, Cops Who Blog or Cops That Blog, I can’t remember, but I’ve been interacting with them in terms of my own promotional activities, and they’re really interesting, the conversations I’ve had with them and talking about some of the websites and some of the things that they’re doing. You’re right. There’s a lot of energy, but once again, and I don’t want to beat this horse to death, I do think that there is, and this is the conversation I had this morning, that folks are just reluctant. I was talking to some people in public relations a little while ago, and said, Leonard, I’m a dang gone good public affairs officer. I know how to talk to the media, I know all about my agency, I’m not friends but I have a good relationship with the folks in the media, I’m constantly available, and so I can do radio shows, I can do television shows, I can do talk radio, and I can write, and now, on top of everything I know how to do, now you want me to start producing radio shows, you want me to start doing websites, you want me to start doing blogs, you want me to start Twittering. Where does this begin and where does this end? His point was traditionally a public affairs officer had a set amount of skills and that’s all he or she had to worry about. Now those skill sets need to double or triple, and now their job has become much more complex and they’re not exactly hopping and skipping and smiling into the social media process because it’s a lot more work.

Dan Alexander: Yeah. Some of that can be shared, and we talked about this early on, that I’m fortunate to have a resource here that is involved in it and primarily is his job function, but I think that a lot of places also have to have policing officers and crime prevention officers or use their regular officers to get engaged, and there’s some risk involved, obviously, but again, I think in terms of return on investment, it’s huge. We talk about risk, and I mentioned in the piece that I wrote for Laurie, there is a risk in ignoring social media. I’ve watched my colleagues try to shut off a particular outlet or media outlet in particular because they don’t like a story that was run, and then they go back again. Why? Because their constituents get their news from that outlet, so you have to be there and there’s a risk ignoring it. The fact of the matter is they’re talking about you out there. The question is whether you want to get engaged in the discussion or not.

Len Sipes: But isn’t that the bottom line to both of you? And Dan, you said it perfectly – the conversation is going on whether you engage that conversation or not, so if that conversation about your agency is going to take place, wouldn’t you like to be part of that conversation in a very meaningful way? And I’m not talking about a manipulative way. I’m not talking lying. I’m talking about a very honest, open approach to sharing information with the community. If that conversation is going to take place, why don’t you want to be part of it? That’s my question.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I don’t see how you can, you can’t avoid it. No.

Laurie Stevens: I think it’s a lost opportunity if you’re not engaging. You know, Len, back to that skill set that you mentioned; I really think it’s not that it’s more complicated. There’s a learning curve there, but once you get over it you’d use them. They feed each other. You can use them to talk to each other. You can use them to build upon one another, the tools that I’m talking about themselves. It’s really not that hard. This is lots easier than learning how to write copy for print and lots easier than producing a television show. Tweeting, Facebook, it’s not hard to learn. It’s just getting over that hump.

Len Sipes: Well, even putting up a website, though because it’s interesting. Just a couple of years ago, a website was a $20,000 to $30,000 proposition and that was serious money. With WordPress-based designs and you’re talking about $100 to buy a professional website. Now you still have to populate that website and you may pay somebody to set that website up for you, but you’re not talking about $20,000, $30,000, $40,000. You’re talking about a couple of hundred dollars.

Laurie Stevens: If that. If you can grab WordPress and find a seam that you like.

Len Sipes: It can be a lot less than that, yes.

Laurie Stevens: It can be. It can be. It’s just not that hard, and not only that, but you don’t need a professional to update it. With WordPress and tools like that, [PH] Jumla, you can get right in and any amateur can get in and daily edit their content. It’s just not that hard.

Len Sipes: Right, but it does take time. So the point is to our brethren within the criminal justice community, it’s not that expensive. It’s not that risky. The conversation’s going on about you anyway, so why not get involved and you can accomplish operational goals. We were able to convince 530 criminal offenders with warrants to voluntarily surrender in Washington, DC, and we did it principally through social media. We did it principally through social media, so that’s my biggest law enforcement / criminal justice example of how you can accomplish operational objectives through social media.

Laurie Stevens: Well, there you go. Talk about your ROI right there. What would that have cost you without however you did that?

Len Sipes: Well, when I was an ex-cop out there serving warrants, they would give me a stack of warrants on the midnight shift and if I served one a week I was lucky, and here it is 530 people voluntarily surrendering to a church.

Dan Alexander: You go back to what you were talking about earlier, too, in terms of developing the informational content. You’re doing it anyway. We did the traditional release. It’s really just a matter of either copying, pasting, or simply changing it up a little bit to fit the format that’s appropriate for the social media outlet. Yeah, I think there is going to be a little bit more time and effort involved, but the payoff is significant. There’s no doubt about it.

Len Sipes: And it’s not just the younger individuals. I read a piece yesterday of how the younger people are bailing out of Facebook and going back to MySpace because they’re tired of their parents and grandparents being on MySpace and trying to be friends with them.

Laurie Stevens: I wouldn’t know, Len. My kids won’t friend me.

Len Sipes: My kids did so reluctantly, Laurie.

Dan Alexander: Yeah, well, that’s why a lot of parents got into it. They wanted to see what was going on, and you just look at the sheer numbers of people that are in social media. That’s the other concern that probably sits out there, is that it’s just a niche group – well, no, everyone is in social media and it’s where people are getting their content. The point I made, too, on the piece is that you talk about community – you’ll go visit someone for a Crime Watch meeting in a neighborhood, why not go into social media and visit the community that exists there. It really just doesn’t make sense.

Len Sipes: Instead of talking to 30 people, why don’t you talk to tens of thousands of people? It’s the same message. It’s the same effort.

Dan Alexander: Yeah. I think the challenge, a couple of challenges that I think about with this thing is are we reaching the right audience? I think that’s a concern in terms of trying to make it local. I know we need to do a better job of ensuring that we’re achieving a connection with our local group. The other part of it that isn’t so much of a concern, I think it’s an opportunity, is looking at how we can develop some of our own social media tools to ensure that we’re creating virtual communities within our jurisdiction. I think those are a couple of things that sit out there right now that are challenges, but not negatives. I think it’s something that is just going to involve a little more time and effort on our part.

Len Sipes: Well, you can always make fun of us northerners sitting in the snow while you’re all sitting down there in the warm weather.

Laurie Stevens: Don’t encourage him – he does that.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely.

Laurie Stevens: And he does it over Twitter, Len.

Len Sipes: You can have that cathartic relationship with your community. Laurie, you’re up there in Boston, right?

Laurie Stevens: Yes, I am.

Len Sipes: Yeah. And believe it or not, Baltimore and Washington, our metropolitan area, got more snow than any other major city this year. So Buffalo and Minneapolis, you’re now taking a backseat to DC and Baltimore. Any final thoughts? We have a minute left.

Dan Alexander: No. I would just say that we’ve been real excited about the feedback we’ve gotten and the tangible results that we’ve gotten from social media. I’m excited to see what the future holds. I think we’re still in law enforcement and in criminal justice on the front end of this thing, and I think it’s important for us through opportunities like the SMILE Conference to get together and see where we are, and see what we can do to improve our approach to community policing.

Len Sipes: Laurie, you got about 30 seconds. Laurie?

Laurie Stevens: No, just to piggyback on that – I think that law enforcement is, that adoption curve is just starting to turn up, and it’s just starting to really hit the masses. Not huge masses, but we have the early adopters like Dan and a few others, and now everyone else is seeing what they’re doing, seeing the successes that they’re having, and now is the time where everybody is really jumping onboard, and it’s going to get real exciting here.

Len Sipes: Well, in terms of size, I’m doing 2.5 million requests a year.

Laurie Stevens: You are?

Len Sipes: Yes, and I’m spending less than $15,000 a year to do it, so the point is, is that this is powerful. People in the criminal justice system need to understand how powerful this is and how relatively inexpensive it is.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely.

Laurie Stevens: Well, I think we went a long way towards that today, I hope.

Len Sipes: Good. Our guests today, ladies and gentlemen, Dan Alexander, Chief of Police, Boca Raton, Florida. His Web address, Bocaviper is one word. Doing Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, interactive mapping, websites, e-mail alerts, offender notification, TV shows, blog, and just about everything else on the face of the Earth. I’m very, very impressed with Boca Raton and Dan Alexander from what I heard today. Laurie Stevens, the New England Institute of Art, Chair of Web Design and Social Media. She is putting on a conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement, the SMILE Conference in Washington, DC, on April 7, 8, and 9. This is the year 2010. The SMILE Conference is the address, theSMILEconference is all one word, dot com, and you can get information about that. Ladies and gentlemen, like I said at the beginning of the program, we continue to be really impressed by your letters and in some cases phone calls, even though I don’t give out my address, your comments to our comments box, which come in to about 10 a day, and some of your e-mails, feel free to share them. Some of them are about the show and some of them are not, and I do the best I can to answer those e-mails that aren’t about the show, and some are just downright tragic and we try to do our very best to help you with local resources and plug you in to those local resources. But in any event, we really appreciate your patronage and have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: social media, SMILE, Social Media in Law Enforcement, police, law enforcement


Alliance of Concerned Men-DC Public Safety-200,000 Requests a Month

Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We’re beginning to do a series, and we’ve been requested in fact by listeners, to do a series when the impact of community organizations and what community organizations bring to the game in terms of crime control, so we’re about to do that – a couple in DC, a couple throughout the United States. Today I’m really pleased to have Tyrone Curtis Parker. Tyrone is extraordinarily well known within the DC community. He’s extraordinarily well known in terms of the former offender community throughout the United States. He is the Executive Director of the Alliance of Concerned Men, which is a 501(c)3, if anybody out there has any money, non-profit organization. Tyrone Curtis Parker comes from the neighborhoods of Washington, DC. He grew up here. When he came out of the prison system, Tyrone wanted to restore the communities that he saw around him to a better shape, a better place. To do that, the Alliance of Concerned Men does a wide variety of things. I’m just going to go over them briefly – gang intervention, substance abuse, life skills, leadership, after school programs, even programs in terms of younger individuals who abscond from the care of juvenile justice facilities. Tyrone says the bottom line for all of this is public safety, and I couldn’t agree with him more on that and the input of the larger community. Before we get on to our conversation with Tyrone, our usual commercial – I want to thank everybody for all of their letters, cards, phone calls, e-mails, you name it, we get it. If you want to get in touch with us directly, you can do so via e-mail. It’s or you can follow me via Twitter, that’s no break. Back to Tyrone Curtis Parker. Welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tyrone Parker: Thanks a million for having me, Leonard.

Len Sipes: You know, this is interesting, Tyrone, because we were having the usual discussion that I have with people who have been previously incarcerated, that words are extraordinarily powerful and that this whole issue of previously incarcerated people, which I don’t disagree at all that that’s the way we should frame the conversation, but the vast majority of the people out there are going to say, oh, you’re talking about ex-offenders. You’re talking about ex-cons. You’re talking about whatever it is, and those are words that you all feel have a negative concept and hold the ex-offender community down, correct?

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I think when we begin to look at the terminology of ex-offender, jailbird, convict, terms such as that have a strong tendency of basically retaining the person’s spirit, and this is the common denominator. To be able to uplift this population, so they can feel that they are a part of the greater world, the bigger world, and make contributions to it.

Len Sipes: But you do understand that even the most politically correct people out there, especially newspaper reporters, do refer to former offenders as former offenders or as ex-offenders?

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I understand that it’s a living and learning situation, and that we’ve got to educate individuals how to address this population.

Len Sipes: The Alliance of Concerned Men – how many people are we talking about who are part of this?

Tyrone Parker: All right. Now, we’re talking about a staff of about 45 individuals.

Len Sipes: Yeah, it’s not a small group.

Tyrone Parker: Not at this point. We’ve been able to basically bring individuals in that have a commitment to their community to make a transformation there, Leonard.

Len Sipes: But are most of these people previously incarcerated people?

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I would say, Leonard, that particular staff, about 75 percent of our working staff is previously incarcerated persons.

Len Sipes: Now what happens with this individual? He or she comes out of the prison system and the whole idea is to work within the community to take that individual’s knowledge, take that individual’s power, to take that individual’s savvy if you will, and apply it to people who are struggling themselves in terms of substance abuse or in terms of substance abuse or in terms of crime or in terms of violence, and to directly intervene in their lives and help them find another way. That’s the bottom line, correct?

Tyrone Parker: I think you’re correct. We look at it from the perspective that the solution is in the problem, that we’ve got to begin to understand exactly what the solutions are and therefore begin to deal with that from that perspective. Leonard, we have been extraordinarily successful because we work with a number of prisons around the country where we have our programs. With our Concerned Fathers program, rebuilding,

Len Sipes: Wait a minute. Let me back up. Concerned Fathers program?

Tyrone Parker: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Okay. How many persons are you working with?

Tyrone Parker: Basically at this point about five different prisons across the country.

Len Sipes: Wow, that’s quite a bit. So what’s the message there, in terms of Concerned Fathers?

Tyrone Parker: The term is that a man’s responsibility is not relinquished upon confinement. That’s the concept – to be able to rebuild that man doing the time that he’s incarcerated so he understands what his total responsibilities are, and it’s not just a matter of doing time and not making a contribution. We begin the rebuilding process upon that man coming into the facilities and becoming a part of the movement that’s in those particular facilities to make a difference.

Len Sipes: And nobody’s going to disagree with that, certainly. is the website. Tyrone, look – this is what I get the sense of decades of working with people coming out of the prison system. I worked with them directly and was a spokesperson in Maryland for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, so indirectly and directly when I used to work with folks in the street – is that they come out and they are totally overwhelmed by the process. Whether or not they want to go straight or whether or not they don’t want to go straight, maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is, is that they come out and things are so overwhelming to them, that it’s really difficult to put themselves on a proper footing. And maybe what your group does, and maybe what the faith-based groups do, and the other groups out there working with former offenders, maybe what they do is give them a sense of structure that helps them come to grips with the fact that they’re back in open society, and they still have that substance abuse problem, and they still have kids to take care of, and they still need a job, and they still have anger issues to deal with in terms of their own upbringing – at least what this does is to give them a foothold and people and a structure and an organization where they can basically begin that process of trying to find who they are and what they want to contribute. Am I right or wrong?

Tyrone Parker: You know what Leonard, I think to a very large degree you are absolutely correct. I think one of the components that the Alliance tends to look at is basically due to our own experiences. I’m previously incarcerated myself – still is on parole – have been on parole for the last 38 years of my life, so I understand the contents of what’s occurring in regards to the man himself, having lost a son also during the time I was incarcerated.

Len Sipes: You lost a son?

Tyrone Parker: I lost a son to gang violence. He was killed basically by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I also think that due to my absentee, to be able to be a part of his life, also made a contribution,

Len Sipes: Well, that’s a lot of guilt to carry.

Tyrone Parker: Oh, well, I don’t think it’s guilt. I think it’s looking at situations and beginning to rebuild from what have occurred, what some folks would consider as bad, only transforming good from it. We all look at situations that we can actually prepare ourselves. It’s almost like throwing a tab in the ball, I think Leonard, and throwing that ball down on the ground. The harder you throw that ball on the ground the higher it would bounce.

Len Sipes: Well, yeah, but that sounds like pulpit preaching. The reality is that they’re coming here and they’re scared half to death. You know people say all the time, Leonard, stop it with this crap about former offenders and how they feel. We don’t care how they felt. They went to prison, they did something bad, they deserve their time. I don’t mind you doing programs about domestic violence, Leonard, and I don’t mind you doing programs about what you do with the police department and the other things that CSOSA does, but this ex-offender stuff starts getting on my nerves after a certain amount of time. And my response is, look, either we want them as being taxpayers or tax burdens, but to get them there involves a heck of a lot of hard work.

Tyrone Parker: You know, Leonard, I think you’re absolutely correct again. One of the things that actually occurred, they’re there to be punished and not for punishment, you know, the continuation of it, and I think that’s a key component because if you treat a person as though they are an animal, you do not treat them humane, then you produce someone that’s coming back out to make hazard on their own community.

Len Sipes: How many people in your experience, Tyrone, when they come out of prison system really are committed to the fundamental process of dealing with their addiction, reuniting with their kids, finding work, doing what the rest of us do on a day to basis? What percentage would you put on that total population who really want to make the change?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, this may be a biased reply, but I would easily say 99.9 and my reasons for saying that is at that point, when you find a man that actually comes out, he does not want to go back again to be treated like a dog or an animal in that perspective. So at the concept of the question, the large majority don’t ever want to go back, but as you said, the conditions of the world produce certain situations that individuals do not have the capabilities to be able to transform or to deal with, but this is when it becomes our obligation to be able to have programs put in place to begin to work with these individuals for public safety purposes if nothing else.

Len Sipes: The larger issue is, do we have all the programs necessary? Do we have all the programs put in place to deal with mental health, to deal with substance abuse, to deal with reuniting fathers with their kids, to find employment – are all those programs in place?

Tyrone Parker: You know, Leonard, no, no to a very large degree. However, is it on the agenda? When we look at emergency situations, we look at the chicken flu, the pig flu, emergencies that are occurring, and you begin to direct resources to deal with the public tragedy. This is a public tragedy. When you look at the District of Columbia, young men between the ages of 18 and 35, one out of every two is under some form of judiciary restrainment. Nationally, one out of every three is under some form of judiciary restrainment. This is a sin that’s occurring in regards to this population.

Len Sipes: And people would say that it’s terribly wrong for it to be that way. On the flip side, you have lots of people that would say, you know, Leonard, that’s why we have public schools. All the person had to do was to go to school, graduate from school, get himself a trade, stay away from drugs, stay away from crime, and he wouldn’t be in that set of circumstances to begin with. So in a competing world, the world competes every day. It’s Haiti or it’s taking care of our elderly citizens or taking care of our youngest citizens or putting money into schools, or putting money into former offenders. Different people are going to say, you know, Leonard, they had a wonderful opportunity, the government gives them that opportunity, and they just chose not to take it. Why am I going to be that concerned about them?

Tyrone Parker: Leonard, you remind me of my grade school teacher who used to always say the right thing at the right time. However, Leonard, I think when we start looking at collaborative damage in regards to an individual, once you get a charge and once you actually indict them for anything, and given the sinners, for the rest of your life you pay for that one situation that had occurred. That’s the first component of this all. That’s why we begin to look at language, why language is so very important. How do we begin to reverse these situations? Sure, opportunities were given. Sure, somebody slipped and fell, but should that be a comma for the rest of their lives? In this society, this is the point that we’re at.

Len Sipes: And that’s really the component that we’re talking about. I think all of us – now, I’ve never robbed anybody nor have I ever raped anybody. I have a hard time with, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” but I have done and virtually everybody has done things where they could find themselves serving some time in prison or jail, even drinking and driving, when you’re younger and you’re stupid. The question becomes, okay, so the person did more than that. Is it within society’s larger, best interest to have that hanging that person’s head for the rest of their lives?

Tyrone Parker: Leonard, there are very few things that individuals did that should be held over their heads for the rest of their lives. You’re basically taking away all of the rights of a human being in the contents of labeling him or of the collaborative concept. This person can no longer vote. He can no longer get employment. I mean, how’s it the whole nine?

Len Sipes: I have a friend of mine – I wouldn’t call him a friend – an associate that I’ve known for years, did a series of armed robberies, served time in the Maryland prison system, and he now sells insurance. He now makes more money than you and I put together. I’ve been to his house – beautiful home, beautiful kids, beautiful wife, beautiful cars – ex-offender, scared half to death that people will know that background. And the thing is, what he’s told me is that look, I can be one of the down and outers. I can be one of the people that constantly goes back to prison, and if the taxpayer wants to spend all that money on me then that’s fine, but I’m putting so much money back into the tax base by being employed and buying all these things and being as successful as I am. That’s an extreme example, but that is the heart and soul of it. What do we want from people?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, and I don’t know if we have the time,a very brief story. We did a rally for ex-offenders, previously incarcerated persons, across the street from the White House maybe about four years ago, and this guy had a beautiful picture. Actual fact. It was himself and his son, dressed up in old, traditional jail clothes, and they had a ball and chain that they had actually made with a cross. Maybe the cross had to be about an eight-foot cross, and on that cross they had a sign, and it had Christians have some redemption for me, have some mercy for me. Christians have some mercy for me. I think that’s so symbolic in the context of showing redemption and showing compassion and showing concern for individuals. When do we get to the point that we have that in place and begin to reach out?

Len Sipes: And what would be the impact, indeed, if we did have the capacity to deal with everybody? What would be the impact on public safety? What would be the crime rate? If you had the 800,000 or so people who come out of the prison system in this country every year, back into their communities, if they all had the wherewithal applied to them, in terms of mentors like your organization does in terms of the services that your organization provides, in terms of job training, job assistance, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, a place to live, and a faith-based person there to guide them and to ride them hard if necessary. If they had all of that, what would it mean for the safety of the average citizen? That’s what it comes down to, correct?

Tyrone Parker: That’s exactly what it comes down to.

Len Sipes: And that’s the larger question. I want to reintroduce our guest today. It is Tyrone Parker, the Alliance of Concerned Men, an extraordinarily well known group in Washington, DC, and certainly a group with a national reputation within the reentry community., a 501(c)3, which means your contributions are tax deductible. So let’s get back to Tyrone, and so that is, I guess Tyrone, that is the larger issue. If you’re saying that 90 percent of all offenders and more, when they come out of the prison system don’t want to come back, and that’s been my experience at the same time, but they’re back on the street, they’re not,it’s not that they don’t want to work. They’re not quite sure how to go about it and they start hanging with folks on the corner, and they start passing a reefer, and they start being loud, and the neighbors get ticked off, and they call the police, and boom – this person is back in the system almost overnight. Now what I’m describing is that unusual?

Tyrone Parker: No, not at all. I think it reminds me of this great holiday that just got through celebrating, Martin Luther King, and Martin makes mention of it’s one thing to give a beggar a quarter, but it is another thing to deal with the system that has created this beggar. So I think as we begin to look at how do we come out of this maze, we’ve got to also look at means to be able to create a safer community, a healthier family, and a better person. This becomes the common denominator. I find it difficult for individuals to be able to tell me anytime this country can go to the moon or be able to tell me where there is war in Africa or any other country underneath the ground, cannot tell me how to deal with this impact of incarceration at the numbers that are occurring.

Len Sipes: Every night they go home. Every night the average citizen who,they are making the decision as to whether or not to fund this or not fund it. Every night that person goes home and they watch the 6:00 news and they watch the 11:00 news and they watch the litany of man’s inhumanity against man, and you and I both know that the term ‘former offender’ or whatever, previously incarcerated person, was responsible for that crime and people say, ah, if I’ve got money to give, it’s going to go to the Red Cross for the Haitian Relief Fund. I’m sorry – I just don’t have all that compassion for a group that is so responsible for harming the larger society. Is that not what they say? Is that not the reality as to why we don’t have more resources for former offenders?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, I think it’s also in the concept of it’s easier for individuals to get resources to be able to retain or to jail this population in the contents of priorities. I think that, Leonard, when you start looking at priorities in this country, you start looking at is it more beneficial for us to channel our money into bombs and planes and defense than it is into human services?

Len Sipes: Okay, but they’re going to say daycare, they’re going to say programs for the elderly, they’re going to say all sorts of other things beyond money for former offenders.

Tyrone Parker: And you’re absolutely correct, but the question that I ask next is what type of society do they really want?

Len Sipes: Okay, but that’s a really interesting question. Do they want safety or don’t they want safety, because there seems to be enough research out there now that indicates, and it’s not all uniform and it doesn’t march in cookie cutter lockstep fashion, and it’s not like the reductions are in the 70 to 80 percent range. They’re closer to the 10 to 20 percent range, but if you can have a 20 percent impact on individuals coming out of the prison system in any city in this country, that 20 percent of them are no longer involved in crime, in fact they’re now working and taking care of their kids and taxes, that’s a huge impact on public safety. That’s a huge impact on money we don’t have to spend in terms of taking care of kids who have no father.

Tyrone Parker: And again, Leonard, you are absolutely correct. I think when you start looking at the impact of programs that have really made an impact in regards to public safety you’ve got to look at the District of Columbia. We’re celebrating here a 45-year low in regards to homicides in this particular city. I know when the Alliance first started homicides were almost at 100 a year.

Len Sipes: And you are all out there on the streets night after night after night working with these communities, working with people who are ready to go to war with each other, and sitting down and basically saying no. Look my man, there’s a better way of doing it and this is how, and somehow, someway, you’re having an impact.

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, that’s because we put everything on the table. Every means of resource was actually put into that equation. We utilize even the guys that are locked up to be able to help us in regards to facilitating truce, because we understand their impact in regards to their reputations and their relationships and their love for their community, so why not take that energy level and direct it into the best interest of public safety for that man’s family and the community on the greater good?

Len Sipes: And this is something that the ex-offender community, the previously incarcerated person community, this is the community that’s leading this.

Tyrone Parker: Absolutely, because it’s there. One of the things that has occurred, Leonard, is that we’ve come to realize who is really feeling the brunt of this particular impact in regards to violence in our communities, and by process of elimination, it’s us. I’ve seen times at federal prisons, Otisville, New York, federal prison was willing to do a conference with the Metropolitan Police to deal with gang violence. I’ve seen times where this population has negotiated to help us with truce. I’ve seen the demonstration of public safety in healthy building of communities in the prison itself. They’re in these facilities waiting to be utilized. Our greatest challenge is how do we include them in the conversation to utilize the resources that are already there.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line is that it’s don’t give me a dime, let me make your life safer?

Tyrone Parker: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: What you’re saying is that we’re not here for a handout. We’re here for to take leadership.

Tyrone Parker: And for redemption as well.

Len Sipes: Oh, I understand that, but there’s such a huge difference between give me money for programs versus let me take leadership of my own life – by the way, help me out in the process of doing that, but we’re actively involved and we’re effective.

Tyrone Parker: Absolutely. It’s a win-win situation.

Len Sipes: Yes it is.

Tyrone Parker: Nobody loses. I’ve basically working with up in Otisville, and these guys have produced a document basically stating, select the best prison program that there is in regards to public safety, and they had a list of criterias that would actually produce who would be the best. Leonard, when you start looking at our population of men that are locked up, willing to come forth to create programs that would be in the best interest of the community as well as themselves? Man, how can anybody lose with that type of a concept on the table?

Len Sipes: But it’s interesting. It’s why we do these shows, Tyrone, is because the average person is simply not exposed to this. What the average person is exposed to is channel four. I’m not picking on channel four – it could be channel five, could be,doesn’t matter. Every night after night after night and people are saying, I’m getting sick to God of crime and what it’s doing to my community, and by the way, the people responsible for it I’m not favorably predisposed towards them. Isn’t that the bottom line? The former offender community, the previously incarcerated person gets far more negative publicity than positive publicity.

Tyrone Parker: And that’s simply because we had not did well in regards to PR. We have not did well to be to allowed for the successes that we have had in our community. We have not did well in regards to communication and public relationships to individuals. We have not did well at all in that particular area, but one thing that I know – the case is there that can be presented to be able to show another side of this particular population.

Len Sipes: There are organizations throughout the country that are former offender, previously incarcerated person operated. Delancey Street comes to mind, and I studied Delancey Street when I left the police and was in college and studying criminology, and that concept goes back 25 years of former offenders basically saying, we are taking charge of ourselves and we’re going to accept other former offenders, previously incarcerated people into our community and they’re going to have to follow our roles, but if you basically can toe the line and you basically can prove your worth, we will help you transform from tax burden to taxpayer. So this concept is not a new concept and people need to understand that, that it’s happening throughout the country in one way, shape, or form; it’s just not publicized.

Tyrone Parker: That’s what it is. You’re absolutely correct. No question about that. I think that when we begin to do a better job in regards to PR pertaining to this population here, then we’ll be able to basically see a transformation. The same thing has occurred in other great movements, when you start looking at the handicapped disabilities or different movements where they basically came together and began a whole campaign that transformed things.

Len Sipes: Well, we just have a couple of minutes left. I just want to reemphasize one thing – again, you’re free to criticize. I represent a parole and probation organization – federally funded thank God, parole and probation organization. We freely admit that we don’t have everything that we would like to have in terms of drug treatment and in terms of mental health treatment. The programs that we have are substantial and we are grateful to the taxpayers for doing them, but it is an issue of, not just with us but every organization in the country, whether it’s faith-based, whether it’s parole and probation, whether it’s community-based, it is a matter of resources. It is, is it not?

Tyrone Parker: Leonard, I heard you appropriately say, thank God.

Len Sipes: No, we’re federally funded. We have far more than most parole and probation agencies in this country. We have an entire wing of a hospital devoted to drug treatment that we have financed ourselves through the taxpayers.

Tyrone Parker: And it’s making a significant difference.

Len Sipes: Yes, it is. But the average parole and probation agency in this country doesn’t possess a dime for drug treatment, so we are lucky in the District of Columbia that we do have these resources that we can bring to the table, but the question is, is treating 25 percent of the high-risk population enough?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard? As we begin to turn this ocean liner around, we’re getting a grip on it, even though all the ships may not come in or dock at the same time they’re still coming in. The key is that there is a model in place, which other jurisdictions can begin to look at and begin to build from in the contents of success, and I think the District of Columbia is that particular model at this particular point, because as you said, thank God the resources are there.

Len Sipes: At least in terms of federal resources, but again, we within the criminal justice system, we sit back and we recognize two things – (a) regardless to what we say and regardless of bluster and regardless of whatever confidence that we put on the table, it is the larger community that is going to make us or break us in terms of crime control, not the criminal justice system. And number two, it is groups like yours that are going to have an impact on people coming out of the prison system, not folks like us. It’s going to be the larger organizations that take responsibility, that step up to the plate, and who advocate and who convince people that this is something worth supporting.

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I often say, Leonard, a healthy father makes a good family, a good family makes a strong community, and a strong community makes a great country, and this is the return fact on what’s occurring. Here in the District you have so many great organizations – Cease Fire, you have Clergy Police Community, you have [INDISCERNIBLE]. You just have a collaboration of excellent programs that have basically,maybe not been on the same page at the same time, but had the same goal, and the goal was public safety.

Len Sipes: And the bottom line and this is worth repeating one more time before we close out the program, in your opinion, is that the great majority of individuals coming out of the prison system don’t want to go back. Who would?

Tyrone Parker: No, there’s no question about it. The large majority of individuals that have come out these particular facilities don’t ever want to go back because they understand their family, they understand themselves, they understand their community, and they understand that they do not want to be treated like an animal.

Len Sipes: But the larger analysis is that somebody – it can’t just be the family. That person may need mental health issues, that person may have substance abuse issues, that person may have dropped out after the 8th grade and needs hard skills in terms of finding work or being trained for work – that’s the problem. Do we have that structure of not just programs, but of fellowship either from the faith community,when I say faith community, I don’t necessarily mean the Christian community. It can be the Islamic community, it could be the Jewish community, it could be anybody. The faith community. Sometimes they need big brothers and big sisters to guide them.

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, it’s no question about that, but I’m a thorough believer that this whole process begins with the community, but inside these correctional facilities where they can build capacity around themselves by support systems that’s already in place. The Alliance of Concerned Men is doing an extraordinary job with that. We have produced a manual that we feel can make a major difference, and that’s our common denominator. Let’s take a look at doing something out of the box.

Len Sipes: Our guest today has been Tyrone Parker, the Executive Director of the Alliance of Concerned Men. I’m going to repeat the Web address one more time, That’s all one word by the way. It’s a 501(c)3, which means whatever money that you have Mr. Rich Person sitting back and you’ve got $25,000 to spare, it is a tax deduction. I really want to express my appreciation to Tyrone, and hopefully he’ll come back in about four months or so to talk about other aspects of working with communities in Washington, DC, and in the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Once again, thank you very much for your contacts and your suggestions and your criticisms. We don’t care – we’ll take them all. Reach me either through the comments box at, that’s how a lot of people do it, or they e-mail me directly at or follow me via Twitter at I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: previously incarcerated people, ex-offenders, offenders, public safety


Using Civil Court for Acts of Domestic Violence

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Our guests today are Cathy Church. She is the Chief Executive Director of Access Justice Now. She’s also a partner in a law firm. Our other guest is Elaine Racine, and Elaine is a business owner and active community member, and she’s also a domestic violence victim. The topic of today’s show is domestic violence. The concept that there is a lifelong impact when we’re talking about domestic violence, but the other part of I find extraordinarily interesting is this concept of civil enforcement of domestic violence issues. Basically if you can’t get them criminally, maybe what you can do is get them civilly.

Our usual commercial, we’re up to 200,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. The address is As always, we’re extremely appreciative of all of the contact, all the comments to us both good and bad, and suggestions in terms of new shows and what we can do better. If you need to get in touch with me directly, you can do so via email Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P as in peculiar S-I-P-E-S@CSOSA or follow me via Twitter at So reintroducing our guest, Cathy Church and Elaine Racine, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Cathy Church: Thank you Leonard. Thanks for having us on the show today.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s my pleasure, ladies. Cathy, give me a quick overview of Access Justice Now.

Cathy Church: Access Justice Now is a 501(c)3 non-profit that was formed after an experience I had as a county prosecutor prosecuting Elaine’s ex-husband for attempted murder, and that experience, the criminal experience, made me think there had to be a better way to obtain justice for domestic violence victims. I thought about it and got some colleagues together, and we came up with Access Justice Now, which was built to legally represent victims of domestic violence in civil lawsuits against the batterers, not in criminal law suits. So in civil lawsuits, you’re trying to obtain the assets of the batterer and that was what it was built for and that’s what it’s trying to do as we speak today.

Len Sipes: Okay. Both of you are from the state of Michigan?

Cathy Church: Correct. Actually we live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which most people don’t realize that there’s two peninsulas to Michigan, so we’re up on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

Len Sipes: It’s cold up there.

Cathy Church: Well, today it’s kind of nice. I think we’re in the 20s and we’re feeling kind of fortunate about that.

Len Sipes: It’s a heat wave. Elaine Racine, you’ve been through some real difficulties. I think we talked a little bit before the show in terms of,domestic violence is not just an abstract issue for you needless to say. Cathy, when she was prosecutor, charged your husband with attempted murder, so obviously that issue alone, but domestic violence has been sort of a part of your life. First of all, before you answer that question, in terms of talking with domestic violence victims I find it’s not unusual for domestic violence to be part of the lives of some individuals. Am I right or wrong?

Elaine Racine: You’re absolutely right.

Len Sipes: Tell me about that, Elaine. Could you?

Elaine Racine: Well, I grew up in a house where there was domestic violence. My parents were also abusive to me, and so I looked on it as being normal. You also get a feeling of being very inadequate, very invaluable, and you carry that on. I met a man when I was 16 and married him at 18, and we were going to have a wonderful home, but he had also come from the same situation I came from and he quickly escalated into becoming a violent husband. I stayed with him for 25 years and had two children. It’s a very humiliating feeling and you do not want anybody to know.

Len Sipes: You feel trapped correct?

Elaine Racine: I don’t know if you feel trapped as much as you feel like you have to make this work. There’s such a feeling of when everything is going right and things are good, there is no reason for it and I think most of us that have been abused feel that we can make this work, and that was my overwhelming, over all of the years, feeling and I did not want anybody to know.

Len Sipes: You know, coming on a radio show like this that gets a couple hundred thousand requests on a monthly basis takes a lot of courage for you to do this, but I think your story reaches out to an awful lot of us within the criminal justice system and people beyond the criminal justice system, and I think your story provides the rest of us with hope and provides the rest of us with an understanding as to the difficulties of domestic violence. I think we, in general, this society basically says, and listeners to this show have hears me say this before about the issue of domestic violence, that it is episodic. It’s like a car accident, and yes it has ramifications and yes you have memories, but it’s something that fades over the course of months and you move on with your life. Domestic violence, I’ve talked to many women, it’s a life long tragedy and it just takes a tremendous amount of, I’m not sure quite what the word is, to remove yourself from it. Then when I say that, I get criticized by people saying, look, you don’t understand how trapped a lot of women are. It’s not a matter of removing herself from it. It’s a matter of simply surviving it and protecting herself and protecting her kids, and trying to cope with it the best way that you know how until you find a safe place to go. Am I in the ballpark or am I just stumbling through this, Elaine?

Elaine Racine: I think that part of you is in the ballpark and part of you has a foot out of the ballpark.

Len Sipes: Please tell me.

Elaine Racine: Okay. There is so much shame and humiliation connected with this, and you,I, not you, always felt guilty because I had been raised as when I was abused, it was for a reason because I had done something wrong, although in my childhood, I don’t know what I ever did wrong. I never was in any kind of problems, I did well in school, but you have that feeling of, you are bad because you’ve been told you’re bad. So when it goes on into a marriage, you still carry that feeling with you and to let someone know you are being abused, you are telling them that you are a bad, unsuccessful person and that is a very big part of it. You want it to end, but you don’t know how to make it end, you should be able to make it end, but you can’t and it’s all your fault.

Len Sipes: You’re a successful business owner today. You’re active in the community and you are on the board of Access Justice Now. Cathy, give me a sense as to the morass. Now you’ve been a prosecutor, you’re now Chief Executive Director of Access Justice Now, and let me give the contact points for Access Justice Now. It’s Cathy’s e-mail is We’ll be giving out those contact points throughout the program. Cathy, give some commentary about what you’ve heard so far.

Cathy Church: Well, I think Elaine just hit the nail on the head. You’ve got women, who through conditioning, whether from their childhood or wherever, feel complicit in the act of the domestic violence. So how do you reach out for help when you feel like you have unclean hands yourself, because somehow you’re to blame for this? It really is a catch-22 for them, and one of the things I’m going to point with Elaine, she suffered domestic violence multiple times before the final act of the attempted murder. Elaine never called the police. On the last go around, she was bleeding and in public, and other people called the police for her. I think what she’s saying is, it’s so shameful, it’s so humiliating because I was conditioned to believe I was part of the problem. How am I going to reach out for help and expose myself?

Len Sipes: And I do believe that a lot of women, and when we say domestic violence, yes, I understand. This is to the audience – I do understand that there are male victims of domestic violence, but the statistics overwhelmingly suggest that it’s generally women victims. When I in my six years of law enforcement experience, I don’t ever remember coming across a male victim, and there may be other reasons for that, but we are talking in the overwhelming majority of cases women victims, correct?

Cathy Church: You’re talking,the stats vary. I’ve heard,oops, I’m sorry. Elaine would like to say something.

Len Sipes: Oh, please, go ahead, Elaine.

Elaine Racine: Okay. When we’re talking about female and male victims, I have a friend. It’s a male friend, and he was abused as a child. It was his mother who did the abusing. She had a dowel and she would beat her two adopted children with the dowel, him and his sister. In fact, one time he fell down the stairs and she was so angry that he fell down the stairs that she took the dowel down and beat him at the bottom of the stairs. When he turned about, I don’t know, I think about 11 or 12, she took the dowel out one day to beat him. He grabbed it from her, broke it over his knee, and she said, I’ll just go and get another one, and he said, good, because I’ll beat you with it, and that is the difference. That is the turning point of being the victim or getting out of it, and that was the end of the abuse for him, but I don’t think there are many 11 or 12 year old girls that would go after their father like that because what would happen? Physically you are no match for them. He’s a large man, and I assume at that age he was large, probably larger than his mother, and at that point he made her bite the bullet, but there are not many women who are capable of doing that.

Len Sipes: I guess my overall point in all of this, ladies, is that there are literally millions of women in this country and children in this country who are being held hostage by abusive caretakers, by abusive parents, by abusive husbands, and they live their lives pretty much in stark terror. That’s one of the things when we talk about domestic violence, it is like saying an airline crash, okay, it’s over. Domestic violence is something that just permeates every part of our lives. Criminologists suggest that it is a huge correlate or a huge connection as to the overall crime problem that we have in this country coupled with child abuse and neglect, so it has extraordinarily serious ramification for our entire society. It’s just not an act. It’s just not a discussion of why a person left or didn’t leave. It is something that permeates our society and has unbelievable consequences.

Cathy Church: I totally agree with you. I think family violence, violence in society in general, is homegrown and one of the issues I had prosecuting batterers is that I never came across a batterer who hadn’t been victimized in childhood. So what I was faced with was prosecuting primarily adult men because they had the physical strength and society’s backing, basically, to get away with continued bullying if they so chose as adults, but I was faced with prosecuting these adult men who I viewed as victims originally, which is where they learned the violence from. I even had that feeling with Elaine’s ex-husband, and I remember sitting in my office during the trial because it was really beginning to bother me that this man had had such a horrible childhood, but yet we had to impose the law on him. The violence is homegrown, and if we do not address it as a society within the very first couple of years of children’s lives, I think we have no other choice but to watch it snowball, and that’s what we’re seeing now.

Len Sipes: And that’s the issue for a larger program, but I just wanted to bring that up. When I say domestic violence – I remember the first time, as a cadet in the Maryland State Police, where we went to a house and it’s not that the husband hit the woman. He beat her up extensively with a frying pan, and the damage to her was just mind-blowing, so to me, that’s domestic violence. The fact that that happens every day, day in and day out, hundreds of thousands of times, millions of times throughout this country and probably throughout every country, is something I find to be a national disgrace. But in any event. So we’re halfway through the program. Let me reintroduce both of my guests. It’s Cathy Church, Chief Executive Director of Access Justice Now, a partner in a law firm. Elaine Racine, a business owner, active community member and she is also on the board of Access Justice Now. The contact points for Cathy Church is and her e-mail is So we get into this larger issue, Cathy, of what to do about an individual involved in domestic violence. We hear all the time about individuals walking through protective orders. There are dozens of country songs about walking through a protective order. This is a real issue for us in terms of males, who in many cases simply will not obey stay-away orders and males, who in many cases continually abuse even after prosecution, even while waiting for trial. It is who they are, it is what they are, and they really don’t pay any attention to it, so the sense that I get is that Access Justice Now basically says, well, fine, you want to continue to do these sort of things, what we’re going to do is go after you civilly. Let’s see how you enjoy the system now that we’re taking your car or your house or half your income. Now, am I right or wrong? Is that an exaggeration or am in the ballpark?

Cathy Church: No, you’re on target. Look at the O.J. Simpson murder trial for Nicole Simpson. He went to criminal trial and we all know what the outcome of that was, not guilty of murdering those two people, but yet Nicole’s family and Ron Goldman, they sued him civilly, and here it is 20 years later, 25 years later, and they attached his Heisman Trophy, they attached his book earnings, and they continued to have an impact, a very real impact on O.J. Simpson’s life, and I believe he’s in prison now for even more criminal wrongdoing out in Nevada.

Len Sipes: That was the armed robbery or the robbery,not armed robbery,yeah, it was an armed robbery. But that’s O.J. Simpson. What about Jane and John Doe Schmo?

Cathy Church: Let’s say we’ve got someone working in a fast-food restaurant earning minimum wage, and I don’t even know what the minimum wage is these days, if we file a civil lawsuit against them and garnish up to 50 percent of their wages, their minimum wage wages, that’s going to be less resources for them to do bad things with. We all know it takes money in this world to be able to stalk someone or to buy a Taser or to buy a gun or to buy more alcohol. My thinking is, is if you grab their resources, cut them in half, that’s hopefully less weapons that they have at their disposal.

Len Sipes: Okay. I guess my issue is that you’re not necessarily out to punish them. I’ll leave the punishment issue for another day. You’re basically out there to get them to comply and to leave that individual alone and to obey the law, and if you’re not going to obey the criminal part of it, we’ll go after you civilly. I think that’s what you’re saying?

Cathy Church: Well, yes. I have this saying that says, if a crime occurs and there are no consequences for that crime, did a crime really happen? So if you have someone who’s bullying or battering their family day in and day out and there’s never any consequences, where is the motivation for that behavior to change?

Len Sipes: Okay, but are these people being prosecuted criminally? Is the civil action a sole action? Is it on its own or is it in conjunction with the criminal action?

Cathy Church: You have a lot of women with civil protection orders. They will not reach out and call the police when they’ve been battered, but they will reach out and get a civil protection order, so you can do them independently. There’s nothing that says you have to do the civil and criminal in conjunction with one another. You can do them independently, and some people feel,these women know their batterers and they know when their safety is at stake, and sometimes doing something civilly is a lot more safe for them than to involve law enforcement.

Len Sipes: And why is that? What makes it safe?

Cathy Church: I’m going to let Elaine see if she can answer that.

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Elaine.

Cathy Church: Why do some people feel more comfortable getting civil protection orders versus calling the police?

Elaine Racine: Because it’s not going to be in the paper, it’s not going to be on the television set, it’s not going to be on the radio; that’s what I experienced with my problem when my husband tried to kill me. It was on the TV, it was on the front page of our local paper with my name, my home address, my business name, my business address.

Len Sipes: They ran your home address and your business and your business address?

Elaine Racine: Yes. This is,remember,

Len Sipes: What sort of morons are they? I’m sorry, go ahead, please.

Elaine Racine: Really morons, let me tell you. Cathy really went after them for doing that, but I just felt so,I was so frightened, I was so alone because now I was living alone, and you don’t know who’s going to come up your steps. It was during the summer, it was during June and it was hot. I had all my windows closed. I had my doors closed and locked because that was the only way I felt safe, and I realized that that was not true, but it’s what you do to yourself mentally.

Cathy Church: She was totally isolated and although her batterer was locked up and in the county jail, the exposure that the media gave her exposed her all that much more, and so she is basically alone in her house trying to weather the storm. We have some very, very good resources here in Marquette County. We have victim advocates who are statutorily confidential advocates who met with Elaine and talked with Elaine and accompanied her through every stage of the proceeding, but at the end of the day, there’s no lawyer, cop, prosecutor, advocate standing with Elaine when she’s in her home late at night worrying about I just survived almost being killed, and now I’ve got to wonder what’s going to happen next.

Len Sipes: Okay, so where does this civil part of this come in?

Cathy Church: The civil part gives victims the ability, and Elaine can address this as well because after the criminal case, she divorced her ex-husband and as part of the divorce judgment, the court awarded her,they called it alimony or support, but basically what it was is they awarded her financial damages for the physical act of the attempted murder, so she was awarded a substantial sum of money. Now her husband is still in prison and we’re in the process of going after that money, but Elaine can tell you what that judgment for that sum of money,

Len Sipes: In civil court?

Cathy Church: Yeah, it was through their divorce. She can tell you what that means to her or meant to her.

Len Sipes: Elaine?

Elaine Racine: It means that if I can do that to him, he is going to be isolated in the lower part of the state of Michigan. He is not going to be able to come up here. What made me really dig my heels in was he had told me one day, just prior to the attack, he said, I will not kill you. I will kill your grandson because that will hurt you more, and that’s what made me dig my heels in. Now I know that if he is in the other part of Michigan – we’re the Upper Peninsula, he is in the Lower Peninsula – if he has to stay there with a minimal amount of income, my grandson is going to be safer, my boys are going to be safer because he is the kind of person that is not going to walk up to me or one of them with a gun and shoot us. He’s one of these that’s going to come in the dead of night.

Len Sipes: Or pay somebody to do it.

Elaine Racine: Or pay somebody to do it. Correct. But he would not have the stoicism to come and face someone face to face; he never did. He would always tell me how if somebody had done something that angered him, he might wait a couple of years and then he would go for a walk at night and throw rocks through maybe their window or slash their car tires or things like that. That’s the kind of person that we are dealing with, and I know that he is vengeful because he has written so many letters since he has been in jail.

Len Sipes: Well, taking the income takes away his ability to,it dramatically reduces his ability to retaliate.

Cathy Church: Hopefully. That’s the plan. Batterers will use anything as a weapon. They will use family members, they will use,I can’t even imagine everything they can use. Well, money, resources, are a huge weapon, so in my mind, logic says if you reduce those financial resources, you’re reducing the potential for the weaponry.

Len Sipes: And why don’t they, Cathy, and I don’t know the answer to this question, maybe you and Elaine know the answer to the question, why isn’t the standard criminal justice system enough to separate people and convince him that you are never to have contact with your victim ever again, period, and they go, okay, and they mean it and they obey it. What’s wrong with the criminal part of the system that stops people from doing what they should be doing?

Elaine Racine: Can I answer that?

Len Sipes: Please.

Elaine Racine: Okay. I have been watching the paper, of course, the court cases very closely since this happened to me. There was one man that was convicted a second time of domestic violence, arrested for it. He had, I can’t quote the exact amount of days or money, but he had like 90 days in jail with maybe two days served, and his fine was in the area of $300 and some dollars. What does he think? He won the case. He is going to go back to that woman. What effect did it have on him? I believe in certain segments of our society, especially the segment where these men thrive, it’s almost like a badge of merit, like a Boy Scout medal. Hey, guy, you got it twice and you got out of it twice – nice going. I believe that there is a segment of our society that does believe that. I don’t believe it’s as bad as it was 20 years ago, but I believe that Access Justice Now and other organizations can make this not something to be proud of, but something to be very ashamed of.

Len Sipes: So we’re saying that basically the formal, criminal justice system in this country regarding domestic violence is not enough?

Cathy Church: I think it could be improved. The analogy I like to use for that, Len, is that if you were having a cocktail party and someone suffered a heart attack and went down on the floor in your house, your immediate response, that of you and your guests, would be to call the first responders, 9-1-1, to get an ambulance there. If you have any female relatives who suffer a battering assault, ask them what their first response is. What are they going to do? Are they going to reach out to 9-1-1 and call the first responders? And to a person, on the cases that I prosecuted, I knew if 9-1-1 got there, the victim had called somebody else before. It could have been a sister, could have been a priest, could have been a neighbor, but the neighbor or whoever they called first, usually was pretty instrumental in getting them to call 9-1-1. So our first responders aren’t the first response for victims. There’s something fundamentally wrong there and it needs improvement.

Len Sipes: Oh, the criminal justice system is a mystery to most people to begin with, and I’ve represented the criminal justice system for 40 years and I thoroughly understand, which is one of the reasons why we do the radio shows, the television shows, and the articles that we do to try to demystify some parts of the criminal justice system to get people to feel more comfortable with who we are and what we are, and our ability or inability to protect the public. So the bottom line is, Cathy, the civil part of it, is what you’re saying, is necessary depending upon the circumstances?

Cathy Church: I think it’s a tool, and I think with this type of epidemic we have, it would be foolish to ignore any potential tool. I’m not saying it’s going to fix it, but I think it’s a tool in our tool bag that we should be utilizing. I think it’s easier,you should be able to get justice in this country without having your entire life publicized, so that everyone,Elaine was put on trial, basically, as a victim in a domestic violence attempted murder case, and to me, that was almost worse than the criminal assault itself.

Len Sipes: You know, I’ll be teaching a crime and media course for the University of Maryland University College in a couple of weeks, and I’m going to be using this as an example when I go over the section on victim’s rights because what happened to Elaine, I think, shouldn’t happen to anybody. It’s just unbelievable that that information would be offered in a newspaper. We only have a couple minutes left, Elaine. Can you summarize your whole experience from this? What you’re saying is that domestic violence is not incidental – it goes on for years and years and years, and you’ve got to have tools to combat it?

Elaine Racine: Exactly. I have had a lot of help from friends. My family turned against me, which was wonderful. They said there was no abuse in our home as we were growing up, yet I remember my mother calling my ex-husband, him going to get her – we would have been in our 30s at the time – and she came to our house bleeding and laid on the couch. So everybody, including the family members when they find out about it, although they’ve already known, want to hide it and it continues to want to be hidden. I had an uncle that has gone down to visit my ex-husband in prison and empathizes with him, and came to my place of business with a letter explaining exactly how terrible I was to him and how I had made the whole thing up. I cut myself.

Len Sipes: Well, we’re just about out of time. Elaine Racine, I want to thank you very, very much for your courage in terms of talking about this today. I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage to go through what you’ve gone through and be on the board of Access Justice Now, and I’m quite sure your example is going to be reaching out to an awful lot of women and maybe even some men who are trapped in domestic violence situations, and I think your example becomes sort of a shining star to them that hopefully will give them the courage to do what it is that they have to do.

Our guests today have been Cathy Church, Chief Executive Director of the program Access Justice Now. She’s also a partner in a law firm. With her has been Elaine Racine, a business owner, active community member, and a domestic violence victim. She is on the board of Access Justice Now. The website for Access Justice Now is Cathy Church’s e-mail is Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Again, we appreciate all of your letters, all of your phone calls, all of your e-mails in terms of the programs. Keep them coming in. We really do appreciate your patronage. You can get in touch with me directly at, a court services and offender supervision agency in downtown Washington, DC, or follow me via Twitter at I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: domestic violence, civil court, spouse abuse, intimate violence


Budget and Corrections “A National Challenge” UMUC-DC Public Safety

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The show today is about the future of corrections, and one of things that’s really driving correctional systems throughout the United States is the budget. Thirty-five of the fifty states have severe budget cuts and they are doing what they can to deal with them. You have another 15 states that are really trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to cut spending wherever possible, and it’s certainly having an impact on corrections and every correctional agency throughout the country. It’s having an impact on every law enforcement agency, every parole and probation agency throughout the country. Our guests today are Bill Sondervan, the Executive Director of Criminal Justice Administration at University of Maryland University College. Joining Bill, it’ll be Ben Stevenson. Ben is a Correctional Specialist at Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Montgomery County, Maryland. The usual commercial, ladies and gentlemen, the show is up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts at We really appreciate all the comments and suggestions in terms of the show. A lot of people are commenting directly on the comments section of the radio and television station’s blog and transcripts. If you want to get in touch with me directly, do so via e-mail at or you can follow me via Twitter at Our microphones are back to Bill Sondervan and Ben Stevenson. Ben and Bill, first of all let me describe – both work for University of Maryland University College, as I do in terms of full disclosure. I’m an Associate Professor teaching Criminology and Crime in the Media. Bill Sondervan has been around for forever in terms of law enforcement and corrections. He used to be the correctional administrator for the Maryland Division of Corrections. Ben has been around forever in terms of running local jails. The University of Maryland University College has 95,000 students throughout the world and throughout the country. Their e-mail address is and I’ll be repeating that throughout the course of the program. Look for criminal justice programs when you to that website, and to Bill and to Ben, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Bill Sondervan: Thanks, Len, good to be here.

Ben Stevenson: Thanks, Len, great to be here.

Len Sipes: Okay, guys, and we’ll start off with you, Bill Sondervan. I’m looking right now at an article that I pulled off this morning, for those of you who are looking for clippings regarding the criminal justice system. The Pew Center in the state offers on a daily basis and offers a specific category for crime and justice issues. This is from the Sacramento Bee – the title is, “California Prisons’ Medical Czar Cites Budget, Management Woes, and I’ll read just the first sentence, “Responding to a Bee investigation of severe problems in clinical staffing of state prisons, health care receiver J. Clark Kelso said at a news conference on Monday that budget shortfalls and management lapses underlie staffing pressures at some prisons. It’s not just this particular article that I’m concerned about – every single day, when you take a look at the various news clipping services throughout the United States that come into my office, you can see that the principal issue, the driving force behind criminological change behind corrections, is the impact of the budget cuts out of the 35 states, and quite frankly, the other 15 states aren’t doing that well. So it’s budget that seems to be driving criminal justice policy. Bill Sondervan, do you want to take it from there.

Bill Sondervan: Yeah, Len. I’ll put it in a little bit of perspective to that. When we have severe budget cuts in the states like we have right now, the correctional budget becomes a big target. For example, when I was Corrections Commissioner here in Maryland, I had a budget of $620 million, which I think has gone up to $680 million, and we’re running 27 prisons with almost 8000 employees, so at the state level where you’re looking where to cut, it’s a big target and it’s a big budget. The truth of the matter is, although mine was a $620 million budget, I really needed about $680 million to run the place properly. So when you get hit with budget cuts, you’ll find that politicians do things that are kind of foolish in the sense of saving money or cutting back. In corrections, there have been a lot of issues over the years. We’ve gone through a couple decades where we’ve been locking up people and throwing away the key. This has come about because of crime and drug problems and politicians reacting to that, and what we have across the country now are prison systems that are full of inmates. We’re housing them, but we’re not really doing a very good job on preparing them to go back into the communities, so there’s a whole lot of things that we need to work on while we have them. The average inmate comes in and they’re very sick, they’re very unhealthy, they’re reading on about the 6th grade reading level, they have drug and alcohol problems, and those kinds of things. While we’ve got them in prison, we should be focusing on preparing them to go back home, to be good citizens, to have jobs, and not be recidivists, but when you hit a budget crunch like this you basically, as a correctional administrator, you hunker down and you cut programs and you don’t do the things that you ought to do that helps to solve the problem, so what you’re doing is you’re really just kind of reinforcing this endless cycle where it just goes around and around. Inmates go out, they come back in again because you haven’t done anything to prepare them, so I think most of the corrections community now have come to the conclusion that we really need to do things for inmates while we got them, we really need to assess them when they come in, determine what their needs are, provide adequate medical and programming services to them, and have re-entry and transition programs whereby you do things that are going to help inmates go back to the community and be good citizens. Whether you’re liberal or conservative or whatever your party is, the truth of the matter is 96 or 97 percent of these inmates are going to go home, and if they go home and they’re still addicted to drugs and they don’t know how to read and write and they have diseases and other medical problems, they’re probably going to go back and they’re going to reoffend in a community, and that’s where you really want to get away from that. We really have to focus on programming, on education, we have to do things, we have to enhance technology, we’re going to have to do a lot of recruiting, and we’re going to have to develop staff and we’re going to have to develop leaders. We’re struggling with all of these kinds of issues, and they’re areas where we really need to make headway in, but when you’re faced with a budget crunch like this, it’s really terrible. One of the things that you just talked about, if I could talk about it for a minute here, was California, the article in the Sacramento Bee. I’m a member of the Correctional Education Association and I’m on the Correctional Standards Commission. The Correctional Standards Commission sets the standards for schools and prisons, and this is really, really critical. Because of the budget cuts, the California Department of Corrections is going to cut out all the teachers in all the schools, and to me, it’s one of the most foolish things they could possibly do. If you look at empirical research and if you look at what works, one of the things that really, really works well is correctional education. Dr. Steve Stewart, who is the Executive Director of CEA was just out in California testifying, trying to get them to reverse that decision. But just as a quick example in correctional education, we did a three-state empirical longitudinal study on the effects of correctional education on inmates, and one of those states was in Maryland, and what that research showed is that inmates who successfully go through a correctional education program, they recidivate at about a 19 percent lower rate, and that’s really, really tremendous.

Len Sipes: When we say recidivate at a lower rate, what we’re talking about needless to say, are fewer crimes being committed, fewer tax-paid dollars going into prosecuting the individual, going ahead and possibly re-incarcerating the individual – what we’re talking about is a huge savings for the taxpayer if you’re able to provide that inmate with services so that fewer people come back to the prison system, correct?

Bill Sondervan: Yes, correct, and also reducing crime in a community. We don’t want inmates to go back and reoffend. We don’t want them committing crimes against people or property.

Len Sipes: To Ben Stevenson, this is going to be a broad question now – Ben, you’ve worked within a county correctional system, probably one of the best known county correctional systems in the country, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the larger issue seems to be that all of us within the criminal justice system agree in terms of what it is that we want to do, but literally there are states out there that are releasing thousands upon thousands of offenders. I have no idea where California is at the moment, but the figure for California has been about 40,000 offenders, so the states are basically saying, look, if it requires us putting offenders back in the community, we’re going to do that because we’ve got to come to grips with our budget situation. That makes it an almost impossible situation for either people at the county level or the state level to administer corrections, correct?

Ben Stevenson: Correct. One of the challenges that has been for us is the revolving door being a local jail. We have a large number of offenders that come through and our pretrial services division has been able to reduce our daily population count in our jails by being able to provide supervision, administer public safety, and provide services – psychological services, substance abuse treatment, and we also use GPS technology, which we’re able to draw out a lot of low-risk offenders or offenders that could be adequately supervised in a community, thus reducing the amount of inmates that we have in our detention center. I believe the most recent figure that I heard is it costs the taxpayers about a $150 a day to house an inmate in our correctional facility, and a lot of these cases will end up going to trial, and the cases may get dropped or not [PH] prossed, and so we’re looking at a large number of people that we’re able to successfully supervise and use electronic monitoring to help increase public safety and serve, as providing health and human services to these individuals.

Len Sipes: Well, the bottom line for both of you, but either one of you can take this question, is that what do you do if you’re a state correctional administrator and the governor comes along and says, I’m sorry, I must cut your budget by 12 percent or 15 percent, and that’s happening throughout the United States. So the wide variety of things come into play now – either you can cut the number of inmates you supervise, either you can cut the number of offenders on community supervision who come back into the prison system by, I guess, giving the offenders a bit more leeway, offenders that you ordinarily would send back to prison you wouldn’t send back to prison, or you would cut programs serving the offender population, or you would close prisons. The point is, is that it must be one of the most difficult things on Earth right now to be a state or county correctional administrator.

Bill Sondervan: Well, Len, you’re exactly right. I was a commissioner, you know, between being a deputy and commissioner, ran the state prison system for 10 years, and these kind of budget issues are the most difficult things to manage. These are the things that kept me up at night because after a while, you just can’t pull any more rabbits out of the hat. There’s just no way to do it. When you take a look at a budget, like mine was $620 million, when you look at the salaries and the fringe and the medical costs and the fuel and the food, all those things that you can’t touch, and you look at what’s expendable in the budget, there’s not very much left over. So what you really kind of wind up doing, is you’re canceling programs, you’re locking down the prison, you’re canceling work assignments, you’re canceling visits, you’re canceling out of prison visits for different purposes, and that sort of thing. You’re just really kind of hunkering down and holding on. We did a real scrub a while back. I was asked to give back, I believe it was $36 million, and we pulled together about 20 of our smartest people – wardens and personnel people and budget people – and looked at where it was, and my answer back was, the only way you’re going to get that kind of money without doing real damage and without really hurting the operation of the prison is to do this – you’re going to have to close prisons, you’re going to have to lay off staff, and you’re going to have to let some inmates go home early. That’s where the money is. That’s the only way you can get that kind of money, but when you propose those kind of solutions to politicians, there’s risk involved in it and politicians don’t want to take those risks. So normally what you’re told is, well that’s nice, but we’re not going to do that. Find another way. So what you do is you resort to the only things that you can, as you cut down on staff, you cut down on overtime, you cut down on programs, you cut down in visits, you cut down on education – all those things that are really necessary to help turn around the lives of inmates and make your prisons run smoothly, and that’s just the reality of it.

Len Sipes: Well, but we have made a transition, Bill and Ben. I think we have, because you just laid out what happened in the state of Maryland, and making these hard choices now, suddenly governors are basically saying, okay, fine, I’m going to close a prison. I’m going to close five prisons. I’m going to let 5,000 people go. I’m going to let 1,000 people go. In California’s case, the number they were talking about, and I don’t know where they are at the moment with this, whether it was a card to play or whether they are serious about it, they’re talking about 40,000 offenders in the state prison system, basically letting them go. Now, this is a brand new world. Correctional administrators have had to struggle with the last five or six years in terms of their budgets, but now we are transforming the corrections system. Now it’s moving into an arena where people are saying, okay, fine, I’m now willing to cut jails, I’m now willing to cut personnel, I am now will to cut offenders. Ben?

Ben Stevenson: Well, when you cut these programs, the offenders are going to return back. As Bill was mentioning earlier, 97 percent of most offenders are going to be released at some point in time. If you don’t provide them with the necessary education, the necessary substance abuse or mental health treatment, the odds of them recidivizing are greatly increased and are going to impact the budget even more in the long term.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s the point. The point is that, either one of you can take this question, is that we have entered a brand new day. It’s going beyond the last five, six, ten years of managing your budget and giving back part of your budget to the overall state budget. It is now,we’ve crossed that bridge it seems, and I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, Bill, but we seem to have crossed a very definitive bridge that we are now willing to close prisons, we are now willing to let offenders go.

Bill Sondervan: Well, Len, again, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, when you look at it, the budget is what’s really driving the issue. When you don’t have enough money to pay for all the people you’ve got incarcerated, you’ve got to do something, and the only real answer is to make it smaller. I remember when I was corrections commissioner, we always had budget problems. Corrections is always the bottom of the food chain when it comes to the budget. In one of our prisons, we had the gymnasium and the rec center full of inmates. We had double bunks in the gym, so there was no place for the inmates to workout. They were bunked in there. We had inmates in Quonset huts, and we had things all over the place. We had double bunks in dormitories, we had prisons full to double capacity, and it just all creates a very violent and unhealthy environment. The truth of the matter is, if there’s not enough money to pay for it and you can’t do it right, then you’re going to have to be smaller and you’re going to have to let inmates go home. One of the things I proposed, which didn’t fly, I did some research on it, was I looked at Arkansas. In Arkansas, they set an operating capacity for their prison system, and when it got to a certain operating capacity level and when it exceeded that, the corrections commissioner was allowed to let inmates go home early so that they wouldn’t go over that limit. It was basically formula driven, and so what they would do, is they would take the inmates with the least violent offences, and as they got close to their release date, they would let them go home a month early, two months early, three months early and so on in order to just get enough of them out that the system could work properly. But that, itself, doesn’t work very well, either.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to follow up with that and look at what happened in Arkansas and look at your proposal, which sounds like it makes a heck of a lot of sense, and then talk about where we go to from here in terms of the future, but I do want to reintroduce our guests. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Sondervan, the Executive Director of Criminal Justice Administration at University of Maryland University College, 95,000 students throughout the United States. Ben Stevenson, a Correctional Specialist with the Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Ben also teaches, it’s a rather incestuous show here, also teaches for University of Maryland University College, as I do. The website address for University of Maryland University College is, Just look up criminal justice programs when you get to that landing page. Bill Sondervan has been on our air. I think, Bill, this is your fourth show, and it’ll be a continuing role of University of Maryland University College, as we do with other national organizations, of doing a series of radio shows on a series of topics. Where do we do to, Bill Sondervan, in terms of the future of corrections? You mentioned Arkansas and a formula. Is there anybody out there that basically says, this is where we need to go from the standpoint of state and local corrections?

Bill Sondervan: Well, I think everybody is struggling with it, Len. I think we’ve reached that line, and I think there’s a realization across the country that we have to start doing some things differently. We just can’t keep doing more of the same. There’s risk to the community, there’s risk to politicians who make decisions to make things smaller, but I think we have to start looking at things like more community supervision, taking advantage of technology, putting the least violent offenders back in the community on ankle bracelets, we need to look at things like taking drug offenders and instead of incarcerating them, getting them help in the community through drug treatment and counseling, and those kinds of things. I think we’re going to have to go back and start taking a look at parole and the length of parole, and all of those kinds of things. We’re going to have to start chipping away at it and doing something differently. We just can’t keep loading up the prisons and underfunding them, underfunding them and expecting for things to work, because they just don’t.

Len Sipes: We are talking, in essence, the inevitable consequence of all of this is smaller prison populations and more people under community supervision, and I would imagine both of you would agree that if we’re going to have more people on community supervision, then the community supervision agencies need to be better staffed, better equipped, better trained, more GPS, more substance abuse programs, more job programs, more mental health programs. That seems where the correctional system in the country is going.

Bill Sondervan: You’re absolutely right, Len. One of the things in corrections, too, is we’re way behind in technology, and if we could have some money upfront to implement some technological solutions, we could run the prisons cheaper and safer and better, but it seems like there’s never any money to do that. One of the things we really want to talk about, as well, is gangs and terrorists and that sort of thing. Because there’s not a lot of money to do this, we haven’t done it, but a lot of people think when you lock up inmates and they go to prison, they quit being bad guys and they quit doing bad things, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. They continue to be bad guys and they do bad things through the telephone, through visits, they bribe staff, and they do all sorts of things. We have to find ways through technology to be able to, for example with our gangs, to be able to identify and validate gang members and to be able to track them and to track information on them, and be able to share that information with local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities, because right now, we’re all operating in stove pipes and we’re operating in vacuums, and there’s a lot of bad things going on that we’re just not really aware of. If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose in the long run. Again, that comes back from no money in the budget to do these kinds of things.

Len Sipes: Ben, one of the things that Bill suggested is this sense of making sure that we don’t have stove pipes, that the entire criminal justice system is working in lockstep with each other, and you pretty much do that there at the Montgomery County Department of Corrections, correct?

Ben Stevenson: Yes, Len. We supervise about 120 different offenders that are placed on GPS in the community, and as Bill mentions, we do need to go towards technology and it can be cost effective. Also, we need to stray away from the fact that technology is not the solving factor here, but also appropriate and responsible supervision that goes with it, and having a mechanism that can respond to public safety threats, do appropriate supervision or assessments prior to being released into the community. I think that that’s somewhere that the state, I believe, is actually exploring now. I believe that the governor has a task force looking at GPS and how we can use it effectively, but I do believe it can reduce our prison population. We can have a response, and I’ve seen it in other states throughout the country, to where they have a system in place that has been able to adequately reduce the prison population. But in addition, as we look as to where corrections is going with its budget cuts, we also need to look at what programs we do have – are they evidence based, are they targeted, are they intervening a particular population for that jurisdiction? So I think we need to be very selective, and also what programs do exist, are they effective, are they reducing our prison population, and are there empirical studies that prove that?

Len Sipes: What both of you are talking about, in essence, is taking the available dollars and working much smarter with them, I suppose. Again, it’s a very difficult set of circumstances for any correctional administrator in the United States, but I guess what corrections needs to do is to do exactly what Ben said – to assess individuals, to be sure you know who you have, to make really quality decisions in terms of who stays and who goes, and if they go, and if they’re being supervised in the community, do we have the tools to safely supervise them in the community without risking public safety? All of that, you put all of that together, and that’s,you start managing corrections as NASA would manage a moon shot. This requires an extremely high level of sophistication to be able to slice and dice that pie to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer dollar, and at the same time protect public safety. That, I think, is taking corrections to a new level where it’s never been before.

Bill Sondervan: I’d like to add to what Ben said, too, on empirical evidence. The limited dollars that we have for programs in corrections, we have to use them wisely and competently. The way that we do that is to take a look at empirical studies and see what works and what doesn’t work, and if something doesn’t work, we shouldn’t be wasting our time with it. The three things that I know that work really, really well are correctional education, prison industries, and prison industries in some studies have shown a recidivism rate up to 50 percent, and full-blown therapeutic communities. For example, studies have shown that drug education doesn’t do any good at all, so don’t waste your money on that. Spend your dollars on the things that you know that work the best.

Len Sipes: So to prepare these offenders as well as humanly possible while they’re in the prison system, to select those to participate who, I guess, based upon empirical analysis, have the biggest chance of having the biggest bang for the taxpayer dollar. In other words, they’re not going to recidivate if given a certain amount of services while in the prison system, and when they come out of the prison system, again, to continue those services and continue to watch them closely like Ben said regarding GPS. That’s all a level of precision that I’m not quite sure that most states are employing now, are they?

Ben Stevenson: Len, one thing that I’ve noticed we need to do more of is collaborate with our communities and the partnerships, whether it’s creating new partnerships or using ones that already exist. When budgets are tight, we can’t rely just on the government to be the savior to all our issues here. We also may need to look at faith-based initiatives and programs, volunteerism, a little more than we have in the past. We also need to have organizations that are using principles that show evidence-based practices. And to go backwards on the GPS thing, is why not have offenders pay for their GPS? A lot of the programs try to promote self-advocacy, and I don’t see any reason if an offender is already paying for sometimes restitution, parole and probation fees, we can also make them responsible for the fees incurred through GPS.

Len Sipes: I guess the point I’m making is this – when I entered the criminal justice system, the correctional system was there solely to provide Constitutional incapacitation. Constitutional incapacitation. So in other words, you treated them in terms of what the different court rulings said that you had to give them, such as community, quality medical care, but it was that – it was running a safe institution, providing Constitutional incapacitation, and when that person’s time was up, you were done. We’ve gone from that, in just a couple of years, to rehabilitation, to reentry, to a classification of being extraordinarily good of picking the kind of offender who is going to participate in programs because he or she is going to give you the biggest bang for your dollar. All I’m suggesting is that the level of sophistication that it takes to run a correctional system seems to have gone up beyond comprehension just in the last 10 years.

Bill Sondervan: I’d like to add to what you just said, Leonard. I think you’re exactly right, and it’s much more difficult, I think, with a huge prison system where you have 27 prisons all over the state as opposed to a county prison. What we used to do with our inmates when I first became a deputy commissioner, we would put the inmates, no matter where they were, we would give them $20 and put them on a bus and send them home, and that was their transition. That’s the way they went back home, and that just doesn’t work. I think that everybody in the corrections community has come to grips with the fact that we’ve got to do more than that. Before inmates get out, we have to get them to a prison that’s close to home, there are certain programs that we have to give them, and we have to have some kind of a handoff to the community.

Now, a lot of research is being done on it right now, and we’re learning more and more about what works, but for example, if you hand the inmate off to the community and that inmate has a case manager and they have transitional housing and they have someone that will help them get a job, someone who will help them reunite with the community, somebody will make sure that they’re getting medical treatment that they need and follow up, I think the transition will be a lot more effective. I think a lot fewer inmates will be coming back. What’s going on right now is a lot of research and we’re doing empirical studies, and I think what we need to do as a community is to take the results of that research and take it back to our governors and our county executives and our legislatures and say, if you invest in some of these programs that we empirically know work, then we’ll reduce recidivism and save a whole lot of money in the long run. That’s kind of where we’re headed and that’s the kind of things that we’re doing, and I think that’s in the right direction.

Len Sipes: Ben, I’m going to give you the final word. We’ve got about 30 seconds left. Agree or disagree?

Ben Stevenson: I agree. We need to change how we’ve been doing things. There needs to be a total shift in thinking as we move into the future, and know that there is not going to be that many funds available. I agree with what Bill is saying.

Len Sipes: I just do want to leave the listeners of this program with the idea that correctional administrators and jail administrators throughout the country are collaborating with each other trying to come up with joint ideas, and Bill mentioned a couple of the national organizations that he belongs to, so there is really a frenzy of collaboration going on right now. The correctional administrator is coming to grips with this as a group, and I find that to be very encouraging. Our guests today, Dr. Bill Sondervan, Executive Director of Criminal Justice Administration for University of Maryland University College, 95,000 students spread throughout the United States and spread throughout the world., When you get to the landing page, simply look for criminal justice programs. Our other guest today has been Ben Stevenson. Ben is a Correctional Specialist for Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He works pre-trial services and he supervises a domestic violence caseload. Ladies and gentlemen, as I said at the beginning of the program, we are up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. The show is brought to you by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency in downtown Washington, DC. If you need to reach me, or follow me via Twitter, and everybody have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: budget cuts, corrections, prisons, jails, budget, prisons


Crime Victim Rights and the Courts-DC Public Safety-NOVA

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Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back on our microphones, Will Marling from the National Organization for Victim Assistance. NOVA has been around for eons in terms of being what I consider to be the premiere organization representing victim’s rights all through the United States. I can remember a long time ago when I worked for the Department of Justice’s clearing house, they gave me the assignment of being the Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention and Victim Assistance, and that’s when I found out about NOVA, interacted with NOVA, and I’ve had a deep and just a complete respect for NOVA ever since that happened, and that’s close to 30 years ago. With Will Marling today at NOVA, we have what I consider to be a supreme honor, Richard Barajas. He is the Chief Justice, Senior Status, Texas Court of Appeals in El Paso, Texas, talking about a judicial approach to victim assistance. Before we get into our program, the usual commercial – ladies and gentlemen, we are up to 230,000 requests a month for DC Public Safety, that’s If you want to get in touch with me to give suggestions, criticisms, suggestions for new programs, please feel free to do so. My e-mail address is You can follow me via Twitter at, and to Will Marling and to Richard Barajas, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Will Marling: Thanks, Leonard.

Richard Barajas: My pleasure.

Len Sipes: You know, it is really interesting, this whole concept of a judicial approach to victim’s assistance, because for years, we’ve sort of seen the judiciary as being, well, not exactly the best of friends of victim assistance, but then again, the entire criminal justice system could be seen as not being the best friend of victim assistance and victim’s issues. I think we’ve all, whether it’s law enforcement, whether it’s corrections, whether it’s parole and probation, or whether it’s the judiciary, have improved our act in recent years, and now we have Richard Barajas, again, Chief Justice, Senior Status, Texas Court of Appeals. He’s also at the moment running a college program at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas. Will or Richard, tell me a little bit about this concept of a judicial approach to victim assistance.

Will Marling: Judge, you fill us in.

Richard Barajas: I think the approach, Len, is not so much a new approach; it’s perhaps a resurrection of sorts. It might be a misstatement to talk in terms of the judiciary as not being friends. I think the problem historically has been that the judiciary has seen itself as being detached from many of these issues in an overbearing effort to appear to be fair and impartial, but the truth is, the way our Constitution is drafted, the way the state laws are drafted, we do pay tremendous deference to the criminal defendant in our courts system, but at the expense of the crime victim, whereas we do have Constitutional protections in many of the states, of course federal laws, that would render rights for crime victims, but then they’re often overlooked out of fear for appearing to have an imbalanced criminal justice system in favor of a crime victim. So it’s really all about balancing the rights of the criminal defendant and the intended victim.

Len Sipes: And I think you’re 100 percent correct, and you would be considering your status, but it’s just that – we have a criminal justice system that has,you know, when I came up through the criminal justice system, I was schooled in balance. I was schooled in rights. I was schooled in Miranda. I was schooled in all the processes that you have to go through to be sure that the person who you arrest is fairly treated and the case being presented properly in court, and the victim was seen as sort of a sidebar issue. The victim was seen as basically a tool to help you prosecute this individual, bring this individual into court, so the rights were constantly emphasized for the offender. We didn’t receive a lot of emphasis on the rights of the victim, and I think that that’s changed dramatically over the last 30 years, but I think there is still room for a lot of improvement. Will?

Will Marling: Well, definitely. We get completes on our toll-free number from victims, and we have an 800 nationwide number, 800-TRY-NOVA, and one of the complaints is, is that very issue that victims feel like they are really neglected in the process. Part of that is within our justice system because the emphasis is on the accused versus the state and so on, but it’s amazing that even in law enforcement, it’s some of the simple things that can tell people, that can communicate to victims, that they matter, that we’ve sensitive to their issues, listening to them, and these kinds of things. Of course, I think Judge Barajas, his heart, his understanding of recognizing the needs of victims is significant, and in some ways educating that particular and significant important component of our justice system, to be significant to meaningful contributions to these people at many times the worst point in their lives.

Len Sipes: So what does the judiciary bring to the table, your honor or Richard? Again, we in the larger criminal justice system have lots of room for improvement, and I must say, it’s interesting this whole sense of the detachment of the judiciary. I’m doing more and more programs involving the judiciary throughout the country, more and more programs involving court systems, where the courts are taking a very, very, very active role in terms of bringing the entire criminal justice system together to do a better product, whether it’s reduce crime, whether it’s victim assistance, whether it’s a wide array of different things, I see an evolving judiciary. I see a judiciary that’s not so much detached as it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago. I see the judiciary more and more as almost being a full partner with the other criminal justice agencies as long as we understand that you have a specific job to do, and ultimately you must be fair to all parties. That’s exactly what the law requires.

Richard Barajas: I think the interesting thing, Len, I go back to being on the bench, to 1991, and recently retired to take the position I have now, but before that, I was an elected district attorney in the state of Texas, so I will tell you my perspective is one from an elected prosecutor who through no coincidence ran on purely a crime victim’s platform when I was first elected back in 1987. But I think what it is, is the evolution of the judiciary, and a lot has to do with what the Supreme Court has done, for example, with how judges can voice opinions and things of that nature, so that they’re not detached anymore, but rather can be more than simple robot [PH] drones that call balls and strikes. Let me give you a simple example because Will has heard me say this many, many times when I’ve spoken – imagine for a second a world where you bring a criminal defendant in who is accused of a crime, and the judge on the bench admonishes that defendant of every right he has under the laws of this country and in the state, as he should, and then he turns to the victim of crime and admonishes the victim of crime of every single right that victim has under federal law and the laws of every state. The balance that that would have, and the impact that would have on society will be monumental. We are simply afraid to take that step, so that’s why I’ve often lectured on the proper balance of these issues, is that years ago I wrote a law review article, and the research we did was really telling that originally the founding of our country, crime victims had rights. They had a place at the table, but it eroded over a period of time, and one would argue, the purists would argue that crime victims still have that right under the 9th Amendment, but it’s kind of taken a backseat to more expressed and delegated rights that criminal defendants have. If you could just openly express, in court, in front of the defendant, in front of the public, that this is a balance system that alone will dramatically change the perception of the judicial system in this country forever.

Len Sipes: Why doesn’t that happen, your honor?

Richard Barajas: They’re afraid. I think they’re often afraid of making people believe that they’re overly balanced in favor of the victim, whereas I think with more education, and I think education, Will and I have had this discussion, I think judges as a rule are afraid of crime victims in the courtroom, almost without exception. I was. The big reason is that you can have a perfect case all the way up the criminal justice,perfect not in the sense of guilt or innocence, but in the sense of the process that the system was meant to pursue, and then one judge can screw it all up by saying the wrong thing because he was sensitive or not knowledgeable, but by the same token, they’re afraid to really turn to a crime victim and tell them they have rights. Police officers do it all the time, well, crime victim advocates across this country do it all the time, but how often have you ever heard a judge actually say that in open court? I can see a day when the judge will tell us, and I mention the crime victim, you’re there to be notified and tell this crime victim, and if you are not notified, I want to know about it. What a change.

Len Sipes: Oh, it would be a tremendous change, and I can understand the fear, I can understand the apprehension on the part of the judiciary. All of us who have been schooled in offender rights, and we’ve been schooled extensively in offender rights, regardless of whether it’s my time as a police officer going through six months of the police academy, regardless as to my criminological training, regardless as to my law training, this whole I guess atmosphere, this whole training, volumes and volumes have been written on the evolution of the rights of the offender, the taking of the Bill of Rights and applying it to the states. That’s a fascinating history, but when you’re schooled in that for decades, suddenly the victim comes along and you go, what do I do with this person? That person doesn’t fit nicely in terms of all of my training. The nationalization of the Bill of Rights, the application of the Bill of Rights from the federal government to the states, and that slow, gradual evolution and how it was applauded along the way as being what a fair and just government does, nowhere along the line did it say the word ‘victim.’

Richard Barajas: I think, Will, you would agree, without any question, nobody can deny we’ve made great strides in the area, but I’ll tell you, Len, as a former district attorney in speaking to so many of my then peers and colleagues, a crime victim was seen as a necessary evil within the criminal justice system because you had to deal with them and you had no control over emotions, so you may have had a good case and then it all just kind of unravels in court with a victim that you can’t control the emotions. So for generations, prosecutors simply did not know how to deal with crime victims, and if the prosecutor can’t deal with them, that scares the heck out of the judge. We’re talking maybe a retrial and then mistrial.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s just it – isn’t that the issue? In this day in age, everybody in the criminal justice system has a tremendous amount on their plate, whether it’s law enforcement, whether it’s corrections, it really doesn’t matter. Everybody has just a tremendous amount of work on their plate, and for a judge to have a decision overturned because he or she inappropriately, as far as the appeals court is concerned, did not give enough consideration to the defendant’s rights and gave a bit more to the victim’s rights, and that possibly could be seen as prejudicial, isn’t that the fear that judges are going to find decisions overturned and a tremendous amount of time and effort is going to be wasted in the process, or am I over blowing the situation?

Richard Barajas: I don’t think you’re over blowing it. I think it’s multi-faceted. Of course in jurisdictions where you elect judges, nobody wants to be reversed anywhere, but within jurisdictions where you elect them, this kind of insensitivity is a disaster for defeat in an election. In areas where they are not elected, whether it’s a recall election or whatever the case may be, once again the emotion behind this thing is tremendous. I’ve reversed cases based on,well, you have a judge where you don’t really know,[INDISCERNIBLE] on the rulings, unfortunate until they say something they shouldn’t say. We’ve had cases where the judge will all of a sudden blame the crime victim. That’s a question of sensitivity. We have a sexual assault, and you still see that today, and that’s a question of judicial education. I think, quite frankly, that this country has yet to really understand how to educate judges, perhaps by judges, so you have that sense of comfort with who’s actually doing the lecture without the emotion that sometimes they fear, to let them know it is all right to say things and it is not all right to say other things. I’ve never been to a judicial conference that addresses that issue, Will, in all the years I’ve been on the bench.

Will Marling: Right.

Len Sipes: I think the entire system has that fear. The bottom line is this – I think all three of us would agree, that what we have in most of the states and at the federal level, is we have constitutional protections now for victim rights, and that is probably just the beginning step, but it is,having those rights and implementing those rights are two different things. I’ve had other shows on victim assistance and victim’s issues where I’ve interviewed people who are on the street level, the law enforcement level, the parole and probation level, the corrections level, who I’ve looked at them, they’ve been in my studio and I’ve looked at them in the eye, and I’ve said, okay, now that we’ve established the fact that these Constitutional rights are in place, how many times have you had to go back to your administration to remind them that those Constitutional rights are in place? So having rights in place and enforcing it, and having the system really deal with it, I think are two different things, and I think that’s the lack of comfort. We all want to move in the best interest of the victims. We all want to move in the best interest of public safety. We all want to move in the best interest of the offenders that we’re dealing with, and sometimes we’re just scared that the victim is going to somehow, someway, mess things up. I think that’s the heart and soul of it; that’s what we’ve got to get over.

Will Marling: Sure. And if I could speak to something there on behalf of the victims, the issue of educating the victims in the process gives them an opportunity to understand how they can contribute to that potential conviction. They don’t want it overturned anymore than the judge does. That’s what people don’t understand. The problem is, in terms of educating them, if we can work with the victim to educate them as to how this process works, then they will serve us by in large. Will they be impacted by emotion? Yes, but many victims have to learn under incredible pressure how to demonstrate a real resolve against demonstrating any emotion. Imagine if we could work with them to communicate, here’s the process, which is what this is supposed to be doing. That’s what advocacy does. It informs them about these things, so that in that process, they actually will contribute in meaningful ways to the appropriate just outcome. The fact is, that whoever is accused, the victim is still there. It’s the same victim. If you acquit this guy and then arrest somebody else and bring them into the same courtroom, it’s still the same victims, and sometimes that’s what’s completely missing here. The accused should have rights, of course, for a balanced process, but there is always a victim and they still have to deal with the realities of their losses.

Len Sipes: Again, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), who’s been around for decades, has a superb reputation in the world of victim assistance and throughout the criminal justice system. Richard Barajas, the Chief Justice, Senior Status for the Texas Court of Appeals in El Paso, Texas, has had to leave and go to another appointment, so we’re going to continue the conversation with Will. Will, to summarize the first half, basically what we were talking about is the idea of the judiciary getting more actively involved with this issue of victim’s rights, even to the point of the judge from the bench, and we all know how the judge from the bench reads the rights of the defendant and makes sure that the defendant understands his or her rights upon prosecution. He was even suggesting that the judge reads the rights to the victim, so the victim or the victims understand exactly where they stand within the criminal justice process. I think that that’s an extraordinarily powerful incentive, so I really do thank Richard Barajas for stopping by today and talking about that. But let’s continue with the conversation, because if you work with victims beforehand, I guess principally on the law enforcement end of things, and if you build your case well, and if you really respect victim’s rights because in most states there is a constitutional amendment respecting or delineating or spelling out victim’s rights, if you do everything before you get the person to court, the less the court has to worry about victim’s rights, correct?

Will Marling: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Thirty-three out of fifty states have victim’s rights in their constitution, and of course the idea of victim’s rights, Constitutional rights is an important one because it doesn’t really affirm what we already hold to be true, and of course, we articulate those rights because then we want to make sure that people know that, they’re articulated that way, and then enforcement of those rights, protecting those rights. Well, if we were to articulate and protect the rights of the victims, then a lot of things happen then. The respect for that person who’s been through a horribly traumatic situation and suffered probably great losses if it’s a survivor of homicide for instance, and then helping that person address the issues that they’re facing. The unique thing about a crime victim, of course, is the added dimension of trauma, and that’s sometimes what is so assumed, that the person’s been traumatized, but it’s how you work with that person. I will admit that say, for instance in law enforcement, when you’re dealing with somebody who’s been traumatized and maybe you’re not trained in that, you learn to deal with it, but you might not really understand what’s going on there inside that person. So the trauma,if you know how to address that person, if you know how to speak to them, if you know how to support them meaningfully, they are going to be most likely an asset to the case that you’re trying to build in the violation of law and the prosecution of this case. That’s what we would promote.

Len Sipes: One of things that we discussed in the first half of the program was the fact that in my training, at least in my 40 years in the criminal justice system, it was 99.9 percent the training was focused on the rights of the victim, and the message was consistently there – if you focus on the rights – I’m sorry, focus on the rights of the defendant, and if you screw up those rights, if you violate those rights, if you do not appropriately read him his Miranda rights in terms of a custodial interrogation, now, it’s funny because you didn’t have to read the individual’s rights unless you were going to interrogate him, but everybody sees on television that as soon as the arrest is made he’s Mirandized, but our folks were saying, oh, no, go one step further. Advise him of his rights right up front, even though you don’t have to and even though it’s not required by the court because we don’t intend on asking him anything because we have a witness who basically saw him do what he did and that’s all we need. It goes that far. It’s like protect the rights of the defendant and the victim? Well, the victim is there to help me prosecute – what more do I need to know about the victim? If we did a better job, if we made sure that the victim was properly prepared, if we respected the various rights mandated in most states of the victim, the right to,just basically the right to be informed and the right to proper treatment on the part of the criminal justice system, that would make for a better case. It would be easier for the state to prosecute that case, but we’ve got to do that upfront.

Will Marling: Yes, absolutely, and the education of victims in terms of this process, the judicial process, the criminal process, that comes into victim’s rights. A lot of the victim’s rights statements, whether they’re legislative or some kind of statutory decree or in a Constitutional setting, those rights are an articulation of information for those victims. They have the right to know about certain things, to be fully informed of the process. Well, when people are made aware, typically that helps them understand how to contribute. You’re not going to find a victim who wants to cause a problem in a court setting. They don’t want to jeopardize those proceedings, but they don’t actually know that what they might do could jeopardize that, for instance, an emotional outburst in front of a jury. So what happens is, if they’re historically even allowed in the courtroom, and may times a defense attorney would simply put them on the witness list even though they were never intended to be called, they couldn’t participate in that. We have lots of stories of people listening to their trial of their deceased loved one, murdered, as they stand outside the courtroom with their ear pressed against the door. They’re not even allowed in. Of course, they’re the one most impacted by it. If they are allowed in, but they don’t realize that that outburst could cause a problem in terms of the proceedings, they don’t know. Well, if they’re informed of these kinds of things, how this process works, why it’s important for you to maintain your decorum, why it’s important for you to recognize if this is too traumatic for you, then that helps everybody because we want to have fair and just proceedings, but in every case, there is going to be a victim. Even if you change the setting for the accused, the accused is acquitted and somebody else is arrested, it’s still the same victim. They still have to go through that same process, so that’s why if this concept of victim’s rights were to be more firmly implanted into our processes, as we are trying to do with the Constitutional Amendments and so on, that in and of itself would put it on our radar. We would recognize the victims in their role, and of course respect that. Historically, it’s the state versus the perpetrator, and that, of course, is one of the reasons why we have such a challenge when dealing with the perpetrator’s rights.

Len Sipes: And I always go back to the same concept – an individual who is about to be thrust into the criminal justice process, that is just beyond my comprehension. Thank God I have never been the victim of a crime. I have certainly known lots of people who have, and I’ve certainly tried to help walk them through the process, but to them it is just,the criminal justice system is this wall, and this wall is 150 feet high, nobody’s smiling, nobody’s holding their hand, nobody is giving them all the information they need. It’s just a wall, and they see that wall, and that’s got to effect that person’s decision as to whether or not to help law enforcement or to help prosecute the case because all they see is this gigantic wall, and that’s why we have victim service representatives or victim assistance representatives, where we can sit down with that individual, explain the entire process, and make sure that they’re very comfortable with what’s about to happen. But it can’t be just the victim representative on the part of law enforcement or the prosecutor’s office or parole and probation or corrections. It has to be everybody that’s going to come in contact with that victim. Everybody has got to understand that they could blow the whole thing simply by being insensitive, and 99 percent I think, and you correct me if I’m wrong, of what victims want is simply information about how the process unfolds and what’s going to happen now.

Will Marling: And you’re basically right. At maybe a higher level, they want to pursue a notion of justice, but at a personal level, there is this emotional impact of dealing with a system that is really not compassionate. It is simply a system. So does it have compassion of people in the system? Well, we hope so, and that’s what,some people seem to think that if you demonstrate compassion to a victim, you’re in some way imbalanced or inequitable in terms of your ability to render justice, but again, every victim in this situation is a victim, so you can just recognize that as a fact. Now we all struggle again with the emotional impact some people demonstrate, but if at every point the folks in the justice system would make a meaningful contribution to the forward movement of that victim, I personally believe, and I think we can be demonstrated by testimony of the victims, that it would move everything forward. It would mean a fair and just system, or a fairer and more just system, and a process that victims themselves could come away saying, you know, I understand the system itself is not compassionate, but I appreciated the sensitivity and the pursuit of justice in the course of my victimization, and that to me is a meaningful thing.

Len Sipes: But Chief Justice Barajas did bring up, I think, a very important point that the judiciary still needs to guarantee the rights of the crime victim. The judiciary used to sit back and be separate from the rest of the criminal justice system, and I understand that sense of impartiality. I understand that need, that legal need to separate themselves. They’re not part of the prosecution, they’re not part of the arrest process – they’re simply there as to be fair arbitrators of the facts and the law, and that’s their job. I understand the detachment, but nevertheless, you can have that legal detachment and at the same time be extraordinarily sensitive to the rights of the victim. I think that’s what the judge was saying, and so I don’t want to let the judiciary completely off the hook, regardless of the job the rest of us do in terms of victim services. When that victim gets to court, that judge should still ensure that that victim, that his or her rights are taken care of and the judge should ask. He said, why can’t the judge ask from the bench? What’s there legally to stop the judge from asking from the bench about the rights of the victim? So I still think that’s a great idea, and this is one of the reasons why I think that it was pretty neat for a former Chief Justice, Richard Barajas, from Texas Court of Appeals in El Paso, Texas, to come onto the radio program for the first 15 minutes and explain that concept.

Will Marling: That’s exactly right. Now, I think what happens is, some people would argue that you have to pit rights against rights, so if you give more rights to victims, actually you’re taking away from the rights of the accused, but that’s really not the case because they can run parallel. If it’s an understanding, just like the judge was saying, if you get up and say, we want to affirm the rights of the accused, we want to affirm the rights of the victims and move forward to protect the rights of both parties in this endeavor, wow, that’s a powerful way to handle this. But if you do think that it’s a take-away, if I give you more rights I’m taking more rights away from this other party, then that’s a problem. But no victim really, I don’t think, wants the wrong person accused of a crime. They really don’t because that means that the person who truly did it is still out there and has not been held accountable.

Len Sipes: They simply want justice for themselves and they want justice for their families and justice for their communities and justice for the rest of the criminal justice system. Well, you’ve got the final word. We need to wrap up. Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, one of the most respected, I guess, advocacy groups within criminal justice circles, been around for decades and decades. I really appreciate you being on, and Richard Barajas the Chief Justice, Senior Status, Texas Court of Appeals in El Paso, Texas. Chief Barajas is now doing a college program at Cathedral High School at El Paso, Texas, and so we really appreciate him coming on today. The website for the National Organization for Victim Assistance is Feel free to get in touch with them via the website. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We are up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for the radio and television shows, for the podcasts, for the transcripts, and for the blog, and we really appreciate all of your comments. We appreciate even some of your criticisms and suggestions in terms of new shows. Feel free to get back in touch with me via or follow me via Twitter, that’s, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Terms: court, judicial, victim, victim rights, crime victim, judge, NOVA