Archives for May 2010

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

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/12/crime-victim-rights-and-the-courts-dc-public-safety-nova/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

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 media.csosa.gov. 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 leonard.sipes@csosa.gov. You can follow me via Twitter at twitter.com/lensipes, 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 www.trynova.org. www.trynova.org. 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 Leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or follow me via Twitter, that’s twitter.com/lensipes, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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

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Domestic Violence-Family Justice Centers-DC Public Safety-NCJA

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/12/domestic-violence-family-justice-centers-dc-public-safety-ncja/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Leonard Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have an extraordinarily interesting program today. We are back talking about domestic violence. It is one of the more comprehensive programs in the state of Washington and throughout the country. This whole concept of family justice centers – it’s not just an issue of a crisis center, it’s not just not an issue of it being a hotline, it’s just not a shelter as to where battered women can go with their kids, it’s everything. All the services are packed into one particular center. This program is being brought to you by the National Criminal Justice Association. Those of you who listen on a regular basis to this show are familiar with the fact that they bring a wide series of programs to DC Public Safety, and we are certainly appreciative of that. Before we get into the gist of our program, I do want to remind everybody that we’re up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. We are just, again, continue to be overwhelmed, flattered, and sometimes a little miffed when you have criticisms, but we don’t care – we’ll take everything. We truly will. You can either go to the website and comment there, which is what a lot of people do or most people do, it’s media M-E-D-I-A.csoca C-S-O-S-A.gov. You can contact me directly by e-mail, that’s, Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T, S-I-P as in peculiar P-E-S @C-S-O-S-A.gov or you can follow me via Twitter, it’s twitter.com/lensipes. Our guests today are going to be Susan Adams and Jackie Smith. Susan is the Director and Jackie is the Grants Manager. The program itself is the Crystal Judson Family Center in Tacoma, Washington, and as I said at the beginning of the program, it is not just a singular approach to the issue of domestic violence. It embodies this concept called family justice centers, where the entire criminal justice system and the entire social services system comes together in a clean, well managed building, where women are victims, according to our statistics, 85 to 90 percent of the time, where women and their children can come and get the services they need and escape an abusive situation. And with that nice, long introduction, Susan Adams the Director and Jackie Smith the center’s Grant Manager, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Susan Adams: Thank you very much.

Leonard Sipes: Susan Adams, Director, give me a sense as to the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.

Susan Adams: Well, the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center is, as you described, is a comprehensive service center for victims of domestic violence and their children born out of an idea that in a time of crisis, and prior to the development of family justice centers, a victim might have to go to 10, 12, 15 different places to get the help they need, and on a good day that’s hard for most of us, and when you’re in crisis, you’ve been abused, you’ve got young children and there are lot of other barriers, it’s almost impossible, and so we wonder why victims have challenges with getting the help that they need. It’s because our systems have not been set up to benefit victims. They’ve been set up to benefit ourselves, ourselves being the service agencies, at our convenience. The family justice center flips that, and says we want to do this in a way that works for victims, that supports them in helping them in their road to being survivors, and that our needs as service agencies are secondary. So we collaborate with criminal justice agencies, prosecutors, police, criminal justice advocates, and then social service agencies, chaplains, civil / legal advocates, financial workers from the Department of Social and Health Services, child support workers. We have access to a myriad of different agencies and supports from shelter to safety planning, domestic violence education, and the beautiful thing is the victim walks through one door and they access it all in one place, a place where their kids can play, a place where they can eat lunch, a place they can feel safe and welcomed and honored, and it’s for their convenience in the way that works best for them.

Leonard Sipes: In a way that works best for them. What does that say about the rest of the country that doesn’t provide this level of comprehensiveness? I would imagine that there are a lot of jurisdictions throughout the country that basically do what they can do. I have been to domestic violence shelters, more than just a couple, and it seems to me that when I walk into the building, it is there to offer a safe haven. Now, she’s going to get advice and she’s going to talk to an attorney and she’s going to talk to a social worker, but it strikes me that a lot of the domestic violence shelters or places, I don’t know a better way of putting it, throughout the country have limits in terms of what it is they could or should be doing. Am I right or wrong?

Susan Adams: Well, right. Shelters typically have limited numbers of beds and space available for clients, so you’re right – shelters can be an amazing safe haven for victims who want shelter. Not every victim wants to go to a shelter. Many victims aren’t ready to make a step to go to a shelter, or they’re looking for different avenues and they have different resources, so what they need is more generalized, comprehensive services, not just shelters. I would say that while we’re the only family justice center in the state of Washington, there are 55 family justice centers throughout the country and more are popping up every day. This is national movement directed by the National Family Justice Center Alliance, and we’re seeing this more and more. Even agencies that aren’t calling themselves family justice centers are looking at ways to collaborate and do a better job of offering services in a way that is convenient. It’s just like a grocery store that offers a wide variety of things in one place. Why doesn’t a victim of domestic violence deserve just as much as someone who’s a shopper at Kroger’s store?

Leonard Sipes: Well, you’re not going to hear me disagree with that. I remember we were talking before recording the program, that my first encounter with domestic violence was as a cadet in the Maryland State Police, and that’s 40 years ago, that’s scary to say, but eventually going on to be a trooper for a short amount of time before going onto college, and I remember going up to a home and it was a domestic violence case, and it was a man who beat his wife with a frying pan. It was just the saddest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, and it took me to my core, as a human being, as to questioning the whole validity of marriage or whatever. I don’t care how you feel or what the provocation was, you just don’t hit anybody. I know you don’t hit anybody, but certainly you don’t beat them to near death, and walking into that situation and the woman refused to prosecute. Now this was back in the ’70s, where without the woman prosecuting, you ran into a big of a jam in court, so what we ended up doing was charging him for assaulting us. I won’t tell you what it is we did to get him to assault us, but that was the charge, and so at least we had him for that. We couldn’t pull off the domestic violence charge or what I considered to be an aggravated assault, which is enough right there, to me if not attempted murder, at least we had him for that and that was unquestionable and we’ll let the attorneys work out the rest of it. That, to me, is domestic violence. That, to me, is not the kind and gentle domestic violence that you see on television. It is horrific in nature, and we’re not even getting into the psychological bondage, we’re not even getting into new research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that suggests that half of these incidents are witnessed by children, and the impact that it has on children. So domestic violence, I don’t need to convince everybody that it’s a bad thing – I’m suggesting that it is one of the worst things that can happen in the lives of human beings, so that’s putting a bunch of softball questions to the two of you, but either one of you, do you want to respond?

Susan Adams: I just want to throw one thing in there because I agree with you. You don’t have to convince anybody that domestic violence is a bad thing, but a part of what the problem is in our society is while people recognize it’s a bad thing, we don’t go the next layer below that and talk about why it is that it continues to be something that is a perpetual problem in our country, and it’s because our focus is in the wrong place. When you talk about domestic violence, and even the story you were telling there, you didn’t do this, but I can guarantee that your listeners might say, well, gee, why didn’t she prosecute? And immediate focus goes onto her and why she doesn’t do certain things, and that tends to be people’s natural reaction, either that, or that would never happen to me or that would never happen to my child or my daughter. So we are focusing on victim behavior instead of on abuser behavior, and we’re judging why this is happening based on what the victim has chosen to do, and we need to delve deeper and step back from that judgmental piece about victims and say there are lots of reasons why they may have done those things. But when we as a society and a court system, civil justice system and the family law system, there is still such a focus on why did the victim do such and such? She must be crazy. That’s where we really breakdown in our ability to move forward and eradicate this problem, and I’m sure Jackie has some other comments as well.

Jackie Smith: Right. One of my comments is focusing on the children, as well, and the impact of trauma in witnessing domestic violence on children. I facilitate a group called Stepping Stones, which works with children and moms who have been impacted by domestic violence, and the long-term effects of trauma are very detrimental. It affects them in school, it affects their ability to focus, it affects their ability to manage their emotions, because so often the children are focused on the abuser’s behavior in the home and tip-toeing and stepping around and being very aware of how the abuser feels or how he opens the door or how he walks into the house, and they change their behaviors based off of his. So that’s something that we really need to focus on as a society, too, because if we’re going to break the cycle of violence, we really have to focus on resources for children. That’s why the family justice center exists as it does in terms of having a playroom, having advocates who can go in there and talk to the children and be supportive people in their lives, and also model some positive behavior.

Leonard Sipes: There are many criminologists in this country who have come to the conclusion many years ago, that we say, why crime? Why crime in America? What are the true issues? What’s the heart and soul behind crime in America, and there are a lot of criminologists who basically will say, simply, child abuse. That individuals grow up in homes, where either they have raised themselves since the age of eight or they grew up in homes that are filled with violence, and in many cases, domestic violence. How many offenders have told me throughout my career that they witness acts of violence directed toward their mother? Time after time after time. So again, I just never know how to describe this set of circumstances, because the words ‘domestic violence’ don’t do it for me. I don’t know what words would, but they just never seem strong enough to really get people to understand that this may be the heart and soul or part of the heart and soul behind the crime problem to begin with. One of the things you all were telling me before the program is that in 2009, and we’re recording this in November of 2009, so we still have another month to go, 3,243 people in the Tacoma, Washington, area, now again, you’re not limited to Tacoma, Washington, but probably most of your folks are from the metropolitan area, but 3,243 came to the center in 2009. That’s a lot of people.

Susan Adams: It is a lot of people, and the statistic I’ll add that we didn’t discuss before, was that doesn’t include the kids that have walked through the door – 977 kids have come along with those adults, as well as 711 other friends and family members. It’s a broad, broad base of folks and our clients are actually many more than just that number of kids – those are kids that have come through the door. We also track how many family members they have total that are living in the home, so as Jackie said, this has such a huge impact on so many people and on our society, and if we don’t address that, we’re looking at continuing this cycle for too long.

Leonard Sipes: The criminal justice system, back in the ’70s, we were accused of, and in the ’80s and in the ’90s and in the new century, the criminal justice system, we haven’t been that great of a team member in terms of victim’s services or domestic violence, and that’s simply because it’s not that we’re insensitive to the issue, I think we’ve got so much that’s on our plate, and being pulled in so many different directions, that it’s hard to really focus on one particular problem over another. But I think what you will say, is we have improved our service delivery to victims of domestic violence, and it sounds like you’ve got the entire criminal justice system willing to interact with you and come to the center to be a part of that comprehensive approach to victim’s services, correct?

Susan Adams: Absolutely. I started out my career as a deputy prosecutor in the county prosecuting attorney’s office. Back in the early ’90s when I was hired, I found sort of similar to what your first experiences were, we didn’t have any training with domestic violence, it was very frustrating, and we really, again, focused on the victim. Gee, she doesn’t want to prosecute, well we have about a million other cases to prosecute, so we’re just going to move onto those. There was just not a lot of training or insight given. Law school at that time didn’t teach anybody about how to deal with these cases, and in any event, we’ve come a long way from that time, thankfully. We have fantastic domestic violence coordinated units. The prosecutors and the sheriff’s department have been working together for almost 15 years now, co-located, cooperating and working together to effectively prosecute cases. Training has improved greatly, and so we’ve definitely come a long way. Do we still have a ways to go? Always. I think it’s, especially with law enforcement and prosecutors, just like you say, they are pushed in many different directions, they’ve got a huge caseload and now we’re dealing with massive budget cuts and doing more with less, so it’s that continued training, but the collaboration helps. Having us all here together and relying on one another’s expertise really then, even in times of economic downturn and doing more with less, we are able to, because we become greater than the sum of our parts when we’re working together.

Leonard Sipes: And you have, beyond law enforcement, you have a wide array of individuals providing social services, correct?

Susan Adams: Correct, and I’d like to add to that a little bit more too, because we have clients who come in, who are in the criminal justice system, who maybe don’t want to be, but here they have the opportunity to speak to the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorneys will come over to this side and talk to the victims about their case, and about realistic repercussions of if you choose not to cooperate, this is what’s going to happen. If you chose to cooperate, this is the outcome that you’re looking at, so that way they can really make educated decisions in terms of do they want to go along with prosecution? Do they want assistance with prosecution, or is that detrimental to their family? And being able to have a face-to-face conversation with a prosecuting attorney who is compassionate and knowledgeable is huge. It’s a very, very difference experience from what victims perceive the criminal justice system to be. At the same time, we have victims who want to talk to a sheriff or to a police detective, and the detective will come here to this side of the office, sit in a comfortable room, and take a statement from a client, and it’s a huge difference because they’re dressed in lay clothes and it’s very comfortable, and the advocate can sit with them and support them through the process. I think through that collaboration, the criminal justice system has an idea of what it’s like to be a community advocate, and we understand their role, and I think a big barrier that we’ve been able to overcome is understanding the different roles that we have and the different goals and objectives we have, and how do we put that down to serving the victim?

Leonard Sipes: We’re halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests today, Susan Adams, the Director of the center and Jackie Smith, the center’s Grants Manager. We’re talking about the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center in Tacoma, Washington, a comprehensive one-stop shop, if you will, in terms of serving victims of domestic violence, part of a concept called family justice centers, which is just growing throughout the United States. They served 3,243 victims in 2009 alone, and we’re only 11 months through 2009, plus hundreds and hundreds of children. We do want to remind everybody that this is a show of the National Criminal Justice Association. They produce these shows, they bring us wonderful guests and wonderful topics, in terms of what really works in the criminal justice system in the United States. The website address for the National Criminal Justice System is www.ncja.org, www.ncja.org, and in terms of a place of help, it is www.aplaceofhelp.org, and that’s the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, www.aplaceofhelp.org.

All right ladies, where do we go to from here? It is clear that you run a nice, clean, modern, comprehensive, one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence. Can we get into the larger issues of domestic violence because one of the things that always has amazed me, especially considering there are so many criminologists as I said before, who do believe that domestic violence / child abuse and neglect is the heart and soul of why we have the crime problem that we do in the United States. What are your observations about domestic violence? The response sounds like it’s gotten better, but does society understand what it is we’re talking about here? Do we all understand how complex and how difficult and how damaging this issue that we refer to as domestic violence, do they really understand how tragic it is?

Susan Adams: Unfortunately not. I don’t feel that our society is even near to where we need to be in terms of understanding the dynamics and really the root causes of domestic violence. I often think of my daughter, who is young. She is nine years old, and at school, she will be told that a boy hits her because he likes her, and so this is how our girls are being socialized in terms of violence equals liking. And if I didn’t go back and say, well, no, that’s not okay, who would tell her otherwise? As parents, oftentimes that’s the norm, that’s what we tell our families as we’re growing up, is you hit her because you like her. And there is this need for power and control that often stems from these types of behaviors, these interactions that begin in youth, and it’s also through observing domestic violence in the home settings because there are these average childhood experiences that children have either growing up in a home where they’re experiencing neglect, possibly because it’s a single parent and she’s not able to be home to take care of her child, so they’re latch-key kids. You have kids who are growing up in abuse home where they are witnessing and/or experiencing physical violence, emotional abuse, and so all this creates psychological damage and damage from the traumas they’re experiencing, which as we know, as kids grow up, they take these experiences and interact negatively in society.

Leonard Sipes: Part of it is,I was sitting in a radio station one time, getting ready to do a live radio interview for a religious station, and it’s interesting that the station housed both a rap station and a religious station in the same building, under the same network. I’m sitting there, and they were not just playing the rap songs, they had the words to the lyrics, what we refer to as a character generator – you see the words to the lyrics as the song was progressing – and I sat there for about 20 minutes waiting for my interview and I was watching the words, and to say that what I saw was sexist / dysfunctional / oh my God, is today’s understatement. There’s a certain point where you say to yourself, do we have a society that is pro domestic violence?

Susan Adams: I don’t know if it’s pro domestic violence, but we’re so incredibly desensitized again to what it is, and we’re so willing to say, oh, that’s just a piece of music or that’s just entertainment when you’re talking about the wrestling. I happened to watch an old movie a few weeks ago, the Urban Cowboy with John Travolta and Deborah Winger, and I remember watching that show as a teenager and thinking, oh, this is a really good movie. I’m watching it now as an adult and Deborah Winger was raped in this movie, she’s beaten up by her husband, and that is not even an essential part of the show. It’s just part of the storyline, but no one ever addresses that gee, this poor woman is abused, and that’s just one example. It’s just woven so much into our culture in music and entertainment, that it just becomes desensitized. I really do believe that there is a feeling among folks that haven’t potentially been victims of domestic violence that in order to sort of separate themselves from it, that it’s this whole idea that oh, it couldn’t happen to me. That happens to other people, and we just want to turn ourselves away and say that’s just an ugly thing that happens to certain people but not me, and we know for a fact that that’s not true. We see it cut across all sections of society, but there’s that protection mechanism that we see a lot. I see it when I go out and speak to groups, and folks that just say, yeah, I understand, but that’s not something that happens in my neighborhood. That doesn’t happen in my community, and until we really dispel that notion and re-sensitize ourselves, we’ve got a long way to go.

Leonard Sipes: The negative messages are in virtually every part of society. It just doesn’t seem to matter, whether it’s television or whether it’s a movie or whether it’s music, that whole concept of it’s okay to use your bulk to intimidate, gosh, I’m going to get in a lot of trouble here, the little woman, that’s their words not mine, it becomes,you just sit there and you say to yourself, did I just see that? Why isn’t there a national uproar every other day about the things that we hear and see and witness? There just doesn’t seem to be a national sense of outrage that,again, my perception of domestic violence goes all the way back, and I’ve experienced other cases of domestic violence, but I will never forget being 18 years old, being out there with the Maryland State Troopers, and going to that house and seeing that woman unbelievably beaten up, and was told at that point by that trooper and other troopers that what you saw tonight is really not unusual. As you flip that over to a television show or to a radio show or to a movie, there seems to be a huge disconnect.

Susan Adams: I agree completely, and I think it goes back to what Jackie was talking about, that we need to be addressing a lot of these issues at a much younger age, and we here at the family justice center have a teen outreach advocate that goes out into the schools and does education, domestic violence education, with young people because that’s where we really need to start focusing our attention and not waiting until they’re 18, 19, 20 years old. We need to be talking to kids that are 9, 10, 11 years old, that are now using technology and many other things, and again, with this power and control where girls think, oh, he loves me so much, that’s why he texted me 2000 times yesterday. We need to be educating and talking about it. I think overall as a society, we should be outraged and unfortunately that’s not the case, but what we are doing that I think is better than we were doing even 10 years ago, is that we’re talking about it. We’re on your radio show, we are on the radar of a lot of conversations that we weren’t even 10 years ago, so it’s a slower process than it should be, but at least we are starting to get people talking about it. We’re getting religious groups asking us to come to their churches and their church groups to talk about what we do, and as communities, we are responsible for getting out there and talking about this to anybody who will listen, getting that awareness and then hopefully creating that outrage that you’re talking about.

Leonard Sipes: Now the danger of taking it as far as I’ve taken it is, the flip side of that is that there are many instances where it is progressive, it happens over the course of years, it is psychological as well as it’s physical, it is emotional as well as it’s physical, and it’s progressive in nature. Most of the cases that I’ve witnessed didn’t start off with a beating. They started off with ordinarily a man, and I don’t want to be politically correct about this – 85 percent, 90 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women – it can be and oftentimes is progressive to the point where the female victim says to herself, oh my heavens, what’s just happened? When she sits down and realizes that the set of circumstances that she’s in is not,she’s having a hard time comprehending where she is, and sometimes it’s startling to sit there and say to yourself, oh my heavens, I’m a victim of domestic violence.

Susan Adams: Right. Oftentimes what we like to do is actually make a timeline with clients on their relationship, and we talk about the beginning of the relationship in terms of how romantic it was and how he swept her off her feet and said the right things and told her she was perfect, and then she felt oftentimes like she had to adhere to this standard of being perfect, and when she failed being perfect, it was her fault for not being perfect. It was her fault for not knowing what to do, how to do it, so she changed her behaviors to try to achieve that level of perfection. And oftentimes none of us are perfect and none of us can expect to be perfect, and so it creates this sense of responsibility, on her part oftentimes, for his behavior and his out lashes. And so when we look at the relationship on a timeline, we find that maybe the first year or maybe the first two years were good, and then something happened. Then the next time was six months, then it was three months, and pretty soon they find themselves in a cycle where everything is very chaotic and they’re trying to tip-toe around and make things okay in the home, and they’re not able to regardless of what they do. That’s when they find themselves feeling like they’re spinning, is what I often hear, and it’s hard to get out because you’re so focused on other things that really thinking about your own reality is very difficult. So that’s where an agency like the family justice center comes in, and is able to provide some education or insight in terms of what’s happening in your relationship.

Leonard Sipes: The half hour program has gone by like wildfire. We only have about 30 seconds left of radio time. Is there a way that we can sum up what is the most important take-away for individuals listening to this program to understand? Not only about the Crystal Judson Family Center in Tacoma, Washington, but about domestic violence in general?

Susan Adams: I would just say that domestic violence impacts all of us, whether it is directly as victims or as co-workers, church members, family members, and to be informed – understand what it is. Peel away the layers. It’s not just a bad thing; it’s destroying the fabric of our society. If you become aware and become an advocate on behalf of victims and on behalf of those trying to survive, you’re taking a step as a community member to make our country a better place.

Leonard Sipes: Oh, I think that’s one of the best summations I’ve ever heard in my life because I do believe so much that it does go to the very fabric of our society, and very damaging. Ladies and gentlemen, you have been listening to Susan Adams, the Director, and Jackie Smith, the center’s Grant Manager, and they both represent the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center in Tacoma, Washington. I’ve really enjoyed the time with you ladies. If people want to get back in touch with you, it’s www.aplaceofhelp.org, www.aplaceofhelp.org. The program today was brought to you by the National Criminal Justice Association. We really are appreciative of the wonderful programs that they bring to DC Public Safety. You can reach the National Criminal Justice Association at www.ncja.org, www.ncja.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We are up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for our radio and television show, blog and transcripts. You can reach us at media.csosa.gov and you can reach me directly by e-mail leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or you can follow me on twitter.com/lensipes. I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, Tacoma, domestic violence, family justice centers.

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Berks County Reentry Success-DC Public Safety-NCJA-230,000 Requests a Month

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/11/berks-county-reentry-success-dc-public-safety-ncja-230000-requests-a-month/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have our friends from the Berks County Correctional System outside of Philadelphia. They’ve done, I think, an extraordinary job. They’ve been able to reduce recidivism in terms of a program they have at the county jail. I’m going to read a quick synopsis: Of the program graduates who have been released, 69 percent have remained out of jail and 64 percent are employed. And I think that for a jail system is really, really, really a unique contribution to the criminal justice system. They’ve been nominated by the National Criminal Justice Association for an award and this is one of the reasons why we’re doing this program and a continuation of programs done with the National Criminal Justice Association.

Before we begin the program, before we talk to our guest, our usual commercial. We’re up to 230,000 requests a month for public safety television, radio, blog, and transcripts. We are really extremely appreciative of all the comments that you’ve made in terms of either the blog itself or the radio and television show where you can comment directly or to me directly via email and the fact that so many of you are following us by Twitter. You can contact me directly: Leonard Sipes at Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P-E-S@csosa.gov. You can comment directly on the Web site, which is media.csosa.gov or you can get in touch with me or follow me by Twitter or contact me via Twitter at twitter.com/len L-E-N sipes S-I-P-E-S, no gap in that.

We’re back to Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for Berks County courts, Scott Rehr, the executive director for Berks Connections, and Warden George Wagner of the Berks County jail system. Scott and Tim and George, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

All Guests Together: Thank you.

Len Sipes: We were commenting off air about the difficulties of running a program like this within the jail setting. People just don’t seem to understand how difficult a large urban jail is. It’s not like it’s a prison, a state prison. It’s not like you have 1,000 offenders and pretty much you have 1,000 offenders on Wednesday and then have another 1,000 on Thursday. With the jail system, you can really have hundreds of individuals come to you in one night as a result of arrest and leave in terms of the bail process and then you have that number who stay, who are basically individuals who are convicted of a crime, but didn’t receive a sentence long enough for them to serve their time in the state prison system, so they serve their time in the county jail. Anybody who’s been in a jail system, especially a large urban jail system, the influx of people moving in and moving out of that jail system is just enormous. It is probably the most difficult correctional facility I can possibly imagine to manage and so to Warden George Wagner, would you agree or disagree?

George Wagner: Well, I would agree, Leonard, and I think that you’ve hit the real issue, the real problem that we face in a jail system. As you mentioned, in a prison system, which is different than a jail system, you have a few people who are committed to an institution, a prison institution, a few people who are committed and who stay a long time, so they can be large institutions but you don’t have a lot of turnover. In a jail system, much like we have here in Berks, a large jail system, our average daily population varies, but it could be anywhere between 1,000 and 1200 inmates but we see 8,000 or more, sometimes as many as 9,000 people, come and go in our institution. 8,000 or 9,000 people get committed and 8,000 or 9,000 people get released in every calendar year and that’s quite a difficult task to manage.

Len Sipes: That is an enormous task to manage. I mean, again, state prison systems; your population is somewhat static. I mean, the great majority of those, if you’re running a mainline state prison, not a pre-release center, but the mainline system, you start off that year with 1,000 offenders and, at the end of the year, you basically still have 1,000 offenders and the flux in terms of people moving in and moving out could be a matter of 200 or 300. My goodness, Warden, you could get literally 200 or 300 on a night.

George Wagner: That’s true and that’s one of the reasons we look at programs like we’ve been looking at with the folks from Berks Connections and we look at the programming and the opportunities that we have to deal with the folks that are coming through our institution and try to make some changes in their lives and to help them and follow them into the community. We can make an impact here at the local jail level. We’re going to make an incredible impact on the criminal justice system as a whole.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s a perfect segue to go over to Scott Rehr. Scott, you’re the executive director for Berks Connections. What is Berks Connections? And how did you hook up with the jail system?

Scott Rehr: Berks Connections is a non-profit agency headquartered here in Reading and we’ve been around since 1975 offering programming to individuals and families involved in the local criminal justice system. But in the last several years as Warden Wagner’s population continued to grow, I think our agency along with many other agencies, the Warden and his staff and the court system led by the criminal justice advisory board, really came together with their backs against the wall with some severe overcrowding at the county jail, a recidivism rate above 50 percent, we realized we couldn’t afford to do business as usual any more and our agency really led the effort in terms of on the community side of things getting other agencies and other individuals involved in putting the subject or successful reentry at the forefront of our community.

Len Sipes: And once again the reentry within the jail system is really difficult. I mean, we have, those of us in the reentry community throughout the United States dealing with the prison systems, that is a tough job. Doing it within the jail system is just an extraordinary undertaking. Was there a point where you said to yourself, this is just too big? Scott, do you think that you took a look at this population and said, there’s no way that we can deliver meaningful services to a population that’s constantly moving?

Scott Rehr: Absolutely so. And I think what makes the biggest difference and probably the most important component of the program is that assessment. To be able to develop that assessment tool to say this person needs these services, this person doesn’t, this person will be here long enough to be able to complete these services, and this person won’t. That’s really important. And so you take that population of anywhere from 1,000 to 1200 people, you remove from that the folks that are there on pre-trial status, haven’t been sentenced yet, you’ve got the sentenced population, you use tools such as the LSI, the level of service inventory, and an assessment tool developed by all the local agencies here to identify those specific post-release needs and then you can kind of oil that whole problem down to, well, this person needs housing, this person needs employment, this person needs education, and really work on individualized reentry plans for those individuals who will benefit and will have the time to benefit from the programming.

Len Sipes: Now, one of the things I do want to emphasize in terms of the larger program is that it’s not just a matter of a non-profit agency. Scott, that Berks Connections is a non-profit agency?

Scott Rehr: Yeah. We are a non-profit agency, but again the leadership from this, where we came from, the non-profit community via Berks Connections, but it came from the Warden and from the county. If Warden Wagner didn’t say this is important to him and, as you both have said, he’s got enough issues to worry about without having to even think about successful reentry. But he decided this was important to him and so he and his staff became integral parts and leaders of this effort and then it came to the courts and the criminal justice advisory board with Tim saying this is something we want to do. The policy board, the advisory board, set up a task force several years ago with reentry as its primary focus and started working along with us with these plans. We brought 35 government and non-profit agencies in this process and so today you have over 35 agencies who are participating in helping to provide the opportunity for successful reentry for folks coming out of the jail system.

Len Sipes: And I think that is truly the impressive thing because so many of the times, so much of the time, we within the criminal justice system are sort of accused of being lone wolfs, that it’s pretty much our responsibility, whether it’s law enforcement, whether it’s corrections, whether it’s the judiciary, we like, traditionally at least, we like to go it alone. I remember in the President’s report on crime and criminal justice back in the 60’s and he said that was probably one of the biggest detriments to crime control was the fact that we are insular in nature and we do not embrace each other in terms of a common approach. And now we have Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for Berks County Courts. Tim, so you have the courts involved in this, you have the executive branch of government, which is the Berks County jail system, and you have Scott’s organization and you all have come together for the common good.

Tim Daly: Yes. We really do. I think what we have is a very unique type, group of people, of dedicated justice system professionals who go beyond, as you said, go beyond looking at their own individual needs and, kind of, look at this as a system that whatever one person does, it would affect just about anybody else within the justice system. What makes our organization, I think, very unique is the fact that we’re comprehensively represented. We have the judicial, the legislative, law enforcement, and the after care community sitting at the table. There’s approximately 34 members of this organization and they are the chief decision makers of each agency. So, they’ve made the commitment with their precious time that they would come together at the table every two months and would sit down and talk about extremely important topics and try and problem-solve amongst each other. So that the nice thing as the executive director, when we leave that room, we know what’s going to be done because the chief decision makers said that they would do this.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh.

Tim Daly: So, that becomes a tremendous asset.

Len Sipes: That becomes so important. Rather than mid-level people sitting there and saying, well, talk to our agency heads and see what our agency heads have to say. The agency heads are sitting at the table.

George Wagner: If I could comment, this is George Wagner again. One of the things that I think that we have to stress if we have this criminal justice advisory board and, as Tim Daly said, the leaders of all the agencies, the district attorney, the public defender, representatives from the chiefs of police association, the county commissioners, all the folks, all the key players, the judges, court administrators, everybody in the system that’s a key player in criminal justice sat down, we’ve been working on a bunch of projects over the years, but we got together at a retreat nearly two years ago now and, during that retreat, where we spent a day together, we sat down and brainstormed and asked ourselves what real issue do we, what do we need to solve? What’s going to make this whole system work better? And I shouldn’t even say, to my amazement, I was flattered to find that group of folks said, we need to find a way to address the population problem at the jail and to address it in a way that’s different than just saying, let’s get people out of jail. Let’s make sure they don’t come back. And that was the impetus for this program. And the result was what I think is a novel approach to community reentry, which is programming that doesn’t just start in the jail and end, but that follows inmates into the community with after care that’s provided by jail staff, community staff, probation and parole staff, everybody who’s involved, the courts if it’s drug courts. But it’s an integrated effort and just seeing how successful it is is unbelievable.

Len Sipes: I do want to remind everybody that the program we’re talking is not just an academic exercise, but again the program graduates who have been released, 69 percent have remained out of jail. Now, people don’t quite understand that the recidivism in this country is extraordinarily high. Now, the landmark study, and it’s an old study, but it’s still the landmark study, is that two-thirds are re-arrested and 50 percent return to prison. That’s people graduating from state prison systems and those are individuals who have, generally speaking, a longer criminal history and a more serious criminal history than the people who ended up in the jail system, but nevertheless, the program graduates that have been released 69 percent have remained out of jail. So, I just don’t know how to put that into context for people who are listening, but that’s extraordinarily good. And 64 percent are employed and that is also extraordinarily good because the employment rates throughout the country, generally speaking, on any given day hover around 50 percent. So, it’s just not an academic exercise of people coming together and saying, let’s help, let’s reduce the jail population. What you’ve done is extraordinarily successful; the reason why you were recognized by the National Criminal Justice Association.

Tim Daly: Well, one of the key things we did; again a plug is, we took a look and went into the jail and did the assessments of individual inmates to find out what the specific post-release needs are. So, we knew going into this that 74 percent of the people walk out of the jail without a job. So, we as a country are concerned about an unemployment rate that’s above 10 percent. For folks coming out of the Berks County jail, it’s 74 percent. So, to be able to turn that number around, I think, is a pretty impressive statistic, but I think also what really makes it work for us is we talked about when people go to the state prison, they go far away and they stay for a long time. With the jail, again, 90 percent of those people are coming back into the local community and a 50 percent recidivism rate is not good, but it also means that people coming back into communities within Berks County, if we can bring the community resources into the jail before that individual inmate is released and start working on those individual issues and then have that same agency and those same individuals assist them after the release, that continuity of care, I think, really is what makes the difference here. And, with the Jobs Program, where you’ve got 69 percent of the people working, that’s because Career Link, which is Pennsylvania’s version of the one stop employment shop, you’ve got local government, state government, and national government funding all under one roof, our Career Link with our agency goes into the jail for a six weeks job readiness course where they get signed up on the Career Link system. They get their resume done, they do mock interview, and they get all these things done with a community-based agency before they’re released. Once they’re out into the community, we work with a parole officer and make sure they get back to the Career Link, to get into our office, and we continue that follow-up for up to three years post-release.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program and I want to reintroduce our guests. We have Scott Rehr, the executive director of Berks Connections; Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for Berks County courts; Warden George Wagner of the Berks County jail system. If you want to get additional information about this program, the address is www.berksconnections.org. Also, the program is being brought to you through the auspices of the National Criminal Justice Association, who recognizes exemplary criminal justice programs throughout the country and we do radio shows with them. You can go to the website of the National Criminal Justice Association, www.ncja.org. They’re absolutely wonderful people doing an absolutely wonderful job. Okay. Back to the program. Now, okay, so we have this coordination and we have a continuum of services that we provide to offenders in the Berks County jail system and we follow-up these offenders in the community. We do an assessment in terms of the particular needs of that offender. But, again, to people who don’t quite understand the criminal justice system and who don’t quite understand corrections, the level of needs for offenders is astounding. You have national research that basically says that 55 percent claim mental health problems. Now, that’s not a diagnosable mental issue, like schizophrenia, which is about 16 percent nationally, but 55 percent claim mental health problems. 70 to 80 percent say that they have histories of substance abuse. In many cases or if not most cases, those histories of substance abuse are considerable. Most come from single family household, single parent households. Most come from low income areas. The list of problems that offenders caught up in the criminal justice system bring to the table go on and on and on and there are people out there, gentlemen, who basically say, wow, this is just too big of an issue. I don’t know how to deal with all the issues; the mental health, the substance abuse, the self-esteem, the anger management, the reuniting the offender with his kids. There’s a certain point where that becomes overwhelming, which is one of the reasons why people in correctional systems throughout the country have been hesitant to take on this issue of reentry, which makes your achievement even that much more remarkable. How do you deal with all the problems?

Scott Rehr: This is Scott. I think it really, again, comes down to that collaboration. You have to have the drug and alcohol community on board. You have to have the mental health community on board. You know, and we all know intrinsically, that jobs are critically important. Education, you’re not going to get a job, you’re not going to get a sustainable job if you don’t have a GED or your high school education. We know 54 percent of the people coming out of the jail don’t. You know that housing is a critical issue; 19 percent of the jail have told us that they don’t know where they’re going to go when they get released. So, you have

Len Sipes: 19 percent.

Scott Rehr: You have to get those services provided on board and then surround all of that with a case manager. But the other thing we’ve done working with the faith-based community is develop a mentoring program so that there is not a team of faith mentors that are also helping this individual. So, at the end of the day when that individual who’s involved in this program walks out of the doors of the jail, they’ve got the follow-up from the jail, they’ve got the case manager from our agency, they’ve got a parole officer, they will hopefully have a faith-based mentor. They’ve got a team, a support team, in place there to help them. I think really you have to do that, but you’re also right. You can’t do it for everyone. So, you’ve got to do that upfront analysis to figure out who’s going to benefit most from what you can provide.

George Wagner: A few moments ago I spoke about how we made this conscious effort to try to address these problems and to make a change and you’re right, Leonard. It’s a daunting thought, especially from someone who runs a jail system to think about well, how the heck am I going to do that? I don’t have the resources here. I’m certain that I can’t secure the resources. If I go to the county fathers and say I need more staff for these kind of things, whether it be popular or unpopular, the simple fact of the matter is it costs a lot of money to try to put together an all-encompassing program like that and, then in our discussions with the folks from the criminal justice advisory board and through Scott’s leadership with a non-profit organization, we’ve started meeting with the agencies and the groups of people, the religious community, all the agencies in Berks County who deal with these inmates after they’re released in one way or another. And that community resource network, which Scott founded through meetings, what I thought was really refreshing was we started meeting with these folks and we found that they were quite interested in helping us address the problem and that was at the point where I said, you know what? We can easily do this because we don’t have to at the jail come up with a solution. I’m looking around the room at the community resource network and I have 50 solutions in front of me.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. Which is impressive, but again just in terms of context for folks who are not familiar with the criminal justice system, nevertheless unusual, to have a wide variety of organizations coming together for the common good. Because fiscally there’s a lot of states out there that are involved meaningfully in reentry nowadays, but their principle point is fiscal, not serving individuals and their social needs. They’re simply saying, we can no longer continue to spend the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, on correctional systems. What’s the best way of helping people stay out of the prison system? And so to the folks there in Berks County need to understand, I think, that in terms of your results that you’ve been able to save the citizens of Berks County an awful lot of money. So, I know that everybody is doing this from a higher point of view, from the standpoint of helping individuals come to grips with their lives, but what that does is it saves citizens a lot of money and, consequently, it saves citizens from victimization. So, you’re not expressing that in terms of the materials that I’ve read in the conversation today, but that’s a reality, is it not?

Scott Rehr: Yeah. And it’s also the realization that a lot of these agencies had coming to these meetings was that they’re seeing these individuals anyway. I mean, the folks that are coming out of the criminal justice system and coming out of the jail system that have all of these needs that we’ve delineated, they’re showing up on the doorstep of a non-profit agency two-thirds of the way back to jail already and they’re spending a lot of time and effort to try to get that person to where they need to be. So, we can start working with that person much earlier on in the process and do it collaboratively. At the end of the day, that agency is going to spend less time and less money helping that individual if we can do it right from the get-go.

Len Sipes: Right. And, as always, it’s interesting because the letters I get or the emails and some of the comments that I end up getting is the sense of, Leonard, we desperately need money for schools. We desperately need money for an aging population. We desperately need money for infrastructure. Why are you asking us to put money into criminal offenders who have done damage to other human beings and, in many cases, damage to themselves and damage elsewhere? But it seems rather straight-forward, regardless of what side of the political side that you happen to be on, that if an individual comes out of the Berks County system and has a mental health issue and, if it’s untreated either in the jail or within the community, the probability of that person going out and bothering somebody or committing another crime seems to be pretty high. But nobody disagrees with that. Nobody says, well, okay, fine. I may have disagreements about employment programs or drug treatment, but, no, of course, if the person’s mental illness issues are not addressed, then in all probability he’s going to re-victimize society. Well, that seems to me to be straight-forward, does it not? I mean, that’s one of the things that always confuses me about this larger question of reentry that the more collaboration you have, the more money you throw at the issue and, if you do it smart like you guys are doing it in terms of a needs assessment upfront, you reduce the strain on the larger society from a public services point of view, from a taxpayer’s point of view, and from a crime reduction point of view. So, I just think it’s a win-win situation for everybody, but I note that the great majority of the correctional systems in the country are not doing reentry and there’s got to be a reason for that and I think that’s the reason because of (a) people find it overwhelming, (b) people just want to put their money elsewhere.

Scott Rehr: Right. Well, don’t think we didn’t consider that for one moment and it’s not one of the impetuses behind what we’re doing. We certainly know within the long run this is going to save money, not just for the jail system, but for the criminal justice system as a whole. If we can successfully re-integrate somebody, they don’t get rearrested without spending law enforcement dollars. We’re not spending court dollars to have them processed through the judicial system and, most importantly, we’re not spending jail dollars. In our Commonwealth, the jail is completely funded by local tax dollars. There’s no state or federal funding. And, if our rate of growth continues as it has for the last 15 years, over the next 25 years, we’re going to spend $500,000,000 here at our local jail and that’s all county tax dollars; that’s real money. We can’t keep spending money that way simply to hold people temporarily in our custody and then wish them well as they walk out the door.

Len Sipes: Well, if you provide those services upfront, maybe you won’t have to spend the $500,000,000. Think about that. $500,000,000 at the county level. We’re not talking the federal level, we’re not talking the state level, we’re talking the county level, $500,000,000. If you can save the taxpayers half of that $500,000,000, that’s an enormous savings.

Tim Daly: It sure is.

Scott Rehr: And one of the things we’re really most proud of for this program is the community side, our agency side, of this equation is funded primarily from the local United Way. So, it’s community dollars flowing into the United Way, the United Way of Berks County, that is funding a substantial portion of this program.

Len Sipes: Well, I’m not quite sure how much publicity you have gotten in the Philadelphia area. I get a newspaper clipping service delivered to my in box on my computer every day from around the country. I don’t remember seeing a lot or reading a lot about the Berks County system, but you’all, heavens, need to be congratulated. People throughout the country or beyond simply have this assumption that the criminal justice system works in lock step with each other, sits down, collaborates at the highest levels and produces results that are in the taxpayer’s best interest and I think it’s unique that, I don’t know how many letters of congratulations or congratulatory articles that you’all have received, but I simply think that people need to understand that this is both unique and effective and that’s why the National Criminal Justice system brought your program to our attention.

Scott Rehr: Well, thank you.

Tim Daly: Yes. Thank you very much.

Len Sipes: Where do we go to? We have a couple minutes left in the program. So, is this a program that you can expand? Is this a program that you can, even for that short term offender, come again, and when I say short term, in some cases, we’re only talking about a couple hours inside the system? So, I’m not quite sure what it is that you can do with an offender that is just being booked and released, but is this

Scott Rehr: Well, I think the Warden can tell you that the best and biggest part of this program hasn’t even begun yet.

George Wagner: Yes. What we’re planning to do, as a matter of fact, is with this experience that was developed through our relationship with Berks Connections, early next year we set a tentative date and we hope that we can make it and that tentative date is January 11 or shortly thereafter, if not on that date. We’ll be opening a 300-bed community reentry center here just across from the jail on the county welfare tract where we’ll be able to divert inmates into a community reentry setting and then actually introduce those folks that have been working with us from all these agencies into that facility. So, they’ll be working with the inmates directly rather than just simply meeting them, which they’re doing now, or having the connection established. They will be working with them in the community reentry center. A good example: You talked about drug and alcohol program earlier. We provide drug and alcohol programming now and then prior to someone’s release, we say, now don’t forget. You need to continue your drug and alcohol programming. Our counseling staff doesn’t do that, but you’ll need to see Mr. Smith and here’s his address in the community.

Len Sipes: That’s wonderful.

George Wagner: Well, that won’t happen anymore because what’s going to happen is Mr. Smith’s going to have an office in our CRC, our community reentry center, and that inmate will go down the hall and meet the person he is going to be interacting with in the community, probably weeks before his release, so that there will be an absolute smooth transition into the programming in drug and alcohol and many other areas; mental health, all those areas.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s a final word for this program, but stay with us. Maybe six months from the line, a year down the line, we can do another radio show talking about that expansion, the 300-bed expansion, and with the focus on reentry and basically tell us how it went. So, I look forward to doing that program. And I just want to remind everybody that our guests today have been Scott Rehr, executive director of Berks Connections; Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for the Berks County court system, and Warden George Wagner, the Berks County jail system. The show is brought to you by the National Criminal Justice Association. They see it as their job to go around the country to pick the better programs or the best programs in the country and to bring them to our attention through D.C. Public Safety, so we can tell you about them. The contact numbers or contact point for the National Criminal Justice Association is http://www.ncja.org/. The website address for Berks Connections is http://www.berksconnections.org/. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for a radio/TV show, the blog and transcripts. We are extraordinary grateful for all your attention and we want everyone to have themselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: Berks County, reentry, Berks Connections, jails, courts

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Offenders on the Internet and Social Media Sites – DC Public Safety – “230,000 Requests a Month

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/11/offenders-on-the-internet-and-social-media-sites-dc-public-safety-230000-reque/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have Shannon Blalock today. She is a parole and probation officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections in Parole and Probation. She is a parole and probation officer. She is with parole and probation intelligence and she is also dealing with fugitive apprehension. What we’re talking about today, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be criminal offenders using social networking sites; Facebook, MySpace, Digg, ten tons of others. Also, the issues of using hand-held computers, commonly known as cell phones, by individuals who are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies throughout the country. But, first, our usual commercial. We are truly grateful and, what I mean by truly grateful, we really are. We’re up to 230,000 requests a month for D.C. Public safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. We are just as impressed as impressed could be in terms of the numbers and in terms of your interaction with us. We really appreciate it. What you can do is go to media M-E-D-I-A.csosa C-S-O-S-A.gov and leave a comment. That’s what most people do or they get in touch with me directly by email, which is Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P-E-S, that’s P as in pumpernickel, P-E-S@csosa.gov or follow me directly at Twitter. That’s twitter.com/len L-E-N sipes (without any breaks). Back to Shannon Blalock. Shannon, you’ve been with the State of Kentucky for, what about four years now?

Shannon Blalock: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And you have a very interesting background. Part of your job as a parole and probation officer is to do the usual things that so many parole and probation officers do throughout the country, but somehow, someway you started stumbling onto this concept of social media sites in terms of fugitive apprehension. Correct?

Shannon Blalock: Yes, that’s right. I was supervising a caseload, a regular caseload, and one of my offenders absconded supervision on me and, at that time, our network servers blocked the use of MySpace and Facebook and other social networking sites the way many government agencies do and so when I was home one evening I decided to look him up on MySpace and sure enough he was there, but the profile was set to private. So, I looked for his wife’s profile, found her and found that she had posted a landline phone number on one of her friend’s comment sections.

Len Sipes: Oh, that’s interesting.

Shannon Blalock: Yes. So, I was able to trace down to Florida and get him picked up.

Len Sipes: That’s just amazing. So, you sat at your desk and apprehended a fugitive.

Shannon Blalock: That’s right.

Len Sipes: Now, think about that. In all of my law enforcement experience when we were trying to apprehend fugitives or when we were trying to apprehend wanted for warrants, every night, if you were working the night shift, the duty sergeant would give you about 12 warrant and he said, if nothing goes on tonight, go out and see if you can serve these warrants. And so you go and knock on their doors at 1:00 in the morning and, out of the 12 warrants, oh, maybe once or twice a month you actually came into contact with somebody and arrested them on the warrant. And you sat at home and were able to arrest an individual sitting at home using your computer.

Shannon Blalock: Right. With, of course, the gracious assistance from different agencies and in particular the one down there in Florida.

Len Sipes: Of course.

Shannon Blalock: Yes. Able to work up usable information in really just a matter of a couple of minutes and a couple of mouse clicks and did a wanted fugitive off the streets.

Len Sipes: It is this larger issue, though, because every time we take a step in terms of social networking sites, every time we take that step it opens up endless, endless doors in terms of what social networking means. In essence, what we’re talking about is criminal offenders and people have this assumption that criminal offenders are not “sophisticated enough” to go onto Facebook and to conduct criminal activities or to go on to Facebook, MySpace, or the hundreds of other social media sites and try, sex offenders in this case, and try to entice that young girl to meet him.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But they do, they do it every single day.

Shannon Blalock: Right. And it doesn’t really take that savvy a person to click onto the Web and to click onto a couple of sites and to create a profile and start meeting people.

Len Sipes: So, both of us agree that if we can do it, anybody can do it.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. And that’s one way that we’re not all that different from our offenders. I mean, if we’re on social networking sites, meeting and chatting with friends and meeting new friends and things like that, then chances are excellent that our offenders are doing the very same thing.

Len Sipes: Well, there is a problem throughout the country in terms of cell phones in prisons. And, when I say cell phones, again, it’s a wake up call. Somebody once said to me that the cell phone that I now carry, which is a SmartPhone BlackBerry, that that BlackBerry that I carry now is as powerful as my desktop computer was five years ago.

Shannon Blalock: That’s absolutely true and I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be speeding down the interstate and looking up information on tourist attractions. Yeah. It’s amazing.

Len Sipes: Well, but the point is that if they have them inside of prisons and we’re not just talking about a couple in the prison systems throughout the country, they’re reporting hundreds and hundreds in every prison system. So, if we’re talking about offenders inside there, it’s as if they have access to a laptop computer. It’s as if they have access to the Internet. They do have access to the Internet and they do have, as your child is searching social media sites.

Shannon Blalock: Right. And what we see a lot of times with our criminal offenders is that they’re incredibly charismatic and they can engage people very well in person and online and a lot of times can get them to do, get folks on the outside to do their bidding, legal or illegal activities.

Len Sipes: Isn’t that amazing?

Shannon Blalock: It really is.

Len Sipes: And the charismatic, many of the offenders that we supervise, they’ve lost their calling. I mean, assume many of these individuals should have gone into sales.

Shannon Blalock: Yes. [Laughs] I couldn’t agree more.

Len Sipes: A long time ago. It’s, like, this individual, I mean, if you’re going to hustle that hard in terms of selling drugs. If you’re going to hustle that hard in terms of conducting business over the Internet, why didn’t you just go into sales?

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. I actually told one of my offenders that one time. If he was that successful in recruiting and developing new business, then perhaps he should go into sales.

Len Sipes: I mean, they missed their calling quite some time ago, but every time we discuss this we open the door to other areas. So, we have offenders in the prison systems having access to hand-held computers, what I call cell phones. We’re talking about the average offender out there floating through life and they’re interacting on MySpace and they’re interacting on Facebook and there are hundreds of additional social media sites that they’re interacting on. Gangs constantly have their own web sites. We’re not talking about social media sites. We’re talking about web sites that they have created or had others create with them where they display acts, illegal acts.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Well, I mean, gangs, criminal activity, other people involved in the criminal enterprise, aside from it being illegal, it’s just like a legitimate business. I would look for them to recruit business using Twitter or having a Facebook page or having their own presence on the Web. They really market themselves the way that traditional businesses are doing it.

Len Sipes: I market this entity, D.C. Public Safety, on Twitter all the time and I found that Twitter is probably one of the most powerful modalities of getting the word out. Well, you go through Twitter and you search on specific key words, such as law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation, but you also search for the term, crime, and there’s been more than a couple, what I consider to be fairly nefarious web sites, and Twitter sites. So, obviously these guys are on there. The final thing I wanted to get into as an illustration as to how difficult this issue is. I saw a report on CNN yesterday as I was sitting at my desk, yes, CNN runs all day in my office. This is according to CNN. 20 million computers have been compromised by child sex offenders. Now, where they get this figure, I have no idea, how valid it is, how real it is. I wouldn’t have any idea. But what they’re saying is sex offenders are taking over your computers and using your computer to receive information, to receive obviously horrendously illegal, not just illegal, horrendously illegal photographs of children engaging in sex acts, but they’re using your computer as the interface. So, when the police knock on your door and tell you that they have a warrant for your arrest to search your computer in terms of child porn and you’re there struggling with what to say because you know it’s absurd, it may be that it’s this interface. So, sex offenders, they’re sophisticated enough to take over somebody else’s computer and to use that computer as an interface to get what it is that they need. So, the point is that they’re out there.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. And what I have found is that you don’t really have to have all that significant a technical knowledge. To be able to do anything like that, all you have to do is be motivated to seek out the information, usually available on the Web, that will tell you exactly step by step how to get these things done.

Len Sipes: Well, I just copied down something called, search engine optimization, which is basically web site marketing and sent it out to a bunch of my folks, which gives a step by step breakdown as to how to increase your presence on the Internet. So, if I can have instant access to that information and it was clear enough to me, then it would be clear enough to the outside. I do. I mean, I’m an ex-cop with a couple college degrees. I’m not a technical person as problems with the radio program prove and so if I can do this stuff, anybody can do this stuff.

Shannon Blalock: That’s exactly true. I mean, I have no formal education or training in computers or anything specific like this, but you become motivated to search for offenders or to do a certain activity online and the more you search out information, the more information you gain which leads you to more information and somehow you get it done.

Len Sipes: We’re going to give Shannon’s email address and I’ll talk about a manual that Shannon did, but I’m warning users right now that Shannon and I talked about this before we went on the program. We’re going to give her email address, but she developed a manual which is sitting in front of me and Shannon is also coming to my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, here in downtown Washington, D.C. We are a federal parole and probation entity. Shannon’s going to come up and do some training for us and she wrote this manual. Not everybody’s going to be able to get hold of this manual. You’re going to have to send a letter on letterhead and we’re going to have to be sure you’re who you say you are before the manual goes out, but what Shannon did was to create a manual developing an investigative presence on the Internet and talking about Internet strategies and we’re not going to give out any secrets in terms of this conversation. But the point is that my guess is that folks in law enforcement, folks in parole and probations, corrections are going to need to learn how to do this, how to develop investigative identities on the Internet, how to pass yourself off as somebody else, and how to, the fact that there are different web sites that you can use to search for information on just anybody.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, the amount of information that folks are willing to share on the Internet are absolutely staggering and is beneficial, not only for those of us in probation and parole, but also the law enforcement community using it as an investigative tool. It’s absolutely incredible what you can find online that people willingly put there for themselves.

Len Sipes: Including the offender population.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Now, again, I don’t want to take this too far. Look, there are people out there who are under supervision or using the Internet every day and they’re using it properly. It’s not nefarious. I do not want to suggest that every person who has a criminal background and every person on parole and probation supervision is doing the wrong thing in terms of computers, but there are plenty who are.

Shannon Blalock: Of course. Sure there are. I had an offender one time who was placed on probation and the first thing I did was to go look at his MySpace page and he’d written a blog about how badly he’d messed up and was asking his friends on his MySpace page to please assist him in doing the right thing. And so that kind of gave me an additional insight into the mind of the offender that I’m meant to supervise and then, of course, you have other offenders that you go and check their Facebook page and they’ve posted pictures of themselves doing kickstands and other things that are clearly against the rules of probation and parole.

Len Sipes: One of the things that I’ve tried to get across to my daughters is that whatever you put on, I mean, sooner or later you’re going to apply for jobs with the government or with fairly responsible entities. You sitting there smoking, I’m not suggesting they do this, I’m using this for illustrative purposes. You sitting there smoking a joint with a bottle of Jack Daniels with your friends all there is not going to be looked upon very kindly five years from now when you go for that government job or when you go for any job for that matter. So, what you post on the Internet stays there forever; it does not disappear.

Shannon Blalock: That’s right. And you would not believe the amount of folks who have even applied for internships with our offices that have been turned down simply because they show themselves engaging in illegal activities on their Facebook page.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. And so people have this natural inclination to brag about who they are and what they are and, if your bragging rights includes criminal activity; I mean, gangs will create web sites or have web sites created for them, I mean, I’ve even created a web site, it’s not that difficult. Gangs will post pictures of them with loot taken from a robbery. And now if that’s not incredibly stupid, I don’t know what is, but they don’t seem to understand what a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that whatever you put on the Internet stays there forever.

Shannon Blalock: Well, I think people operate under the assumption a lot of times that the information they put on there, it’s only going to be seen by folks who know them, but in reality, it’s out there and it’s available for public consumption by anyone.

Len Sipes: Which is one of the reasons why children, and when I say children, it could be anybody under the age of 18, that’s one of the reasons why they believe that that communication with this anonymous person through a chat room becomes a private matter.

Shannon Blalock: Yes, they do and they develop this false sense of security that they may know who this person is even though they’ve never met them, they have no idea who this person might be in real life, they develop this intimacy with somebody they’re chatting with and operate under the false assumption that they can trust them.

Len Sipes: I’m going to reintroduce Shannon. Shannon Blalock; she is a parole and probation officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Division of Parole and Probation. She is a parole and probation officer. She works in parole and probation intelligence and she works in fugitive apprehension. Now, I’m going to give Shannon’s email address in terms of the manual that Shannon developed but, once again, you’re going to have to, once that contact has been established, you’re going to have to get something to her on letterhead and a superior where Shannon and staff can get back in touch with that individual before Shannon will be sending out a copy of the manual. It’s shannon.blalock@ky.gov. Let me see if I can stumble through this once again. It’s shannon.blalock@ky.gov. Did I get it correct?

Shannon Blalock: That’s correct. Yes, that’s it.

Len Sipes: Okay. Cool. And so the manual that you put together in essence reminds all of us to create investigative identities; in other words, so we can operate on the Internet and we can cloak ourselves so it doesn’t say Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Shannon Blalock: Right. There are instances where you can get some very useful information by going onto the Web as your agency. For instance, Kentucky, our Division of Parole and Probation, we have a page on MySpace that’s dedicated to our probation and parole fugitives and we received an incredible amount of tips and helpful information from folks, members of the community, who go onto our MySpace site, see the folks on there, and then give us usable information because they don’t want absconded or fugitives in their community anymore than we do.

Len Sipes: Of course. And parents want their kids captured without violence and without them, the police would come to their house at 2:00 in the morning.

Shannon Blalock: Sure. Absolutely. And I’ve always told folks that it definitely behooves them to turn themselves in so that they don’t put themselves or their family in danger and, of course, they don’t pick up additional charges. But in terms of looking around for violators of conditions of supervision, violators of the law and fugitives, chances are you really are not going to have very much luck going on as Len Sipes, former cop. I mean, so you might want to on there under an assumed identity.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. And basically the manual provides suggestions in terms of how to go about that and there are various sites on the Web; now, I didn’t know this. And, again, I’m not a technical person, Lord knows, I’m not a technical person. Ask my wife; I’m not a technical person. If you search Google, it is referred to as the surface Web, but there are web sites there that search the deep Web and the surface Web is 20 percent of what’s there on the Internet. So, when you search Google, you’re only searching for 20 percent of what’s on the Internet. There are ways of searching the deep Web and there are web sites out there that are construed to find individuals that are available to the public and cost no money.

Shannon Blalock: That’s correct. I’ve had the pleasure of going to speak to several agencies and one of them was with the HIDTA, the high intensity drug trafficking areas, and they had not every heard of social network search engines where you can search for people specifically on a number of social networks instead of going to each individual site and typing in a search and so it’s very time efficient to be able to use a social networking site, social networking social engine, to look for the target of your investigation.

Len Sipes: So, a search is basically across the Web.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Yeah. And not only will it search, I’ve got a variety of different search engines in the manual and not only does it search social networking sites, but like you said, it will search into the deep Web to see if maybe your offender has left footprints somewhere that you didn’t know about and then can follow up from there.

Len Sipes: There comes a point where it is, one time as a police officer, as a parole and probation agent, as a correctional officer, you developed your reputation in terms of your shoe leather; how much time you spent in the community with your ear to the ground talking to a wide variety of people. Now, I’m not going to suggest that sitting there and searching social media sites is more important than getting out into the community and talking to employers, talking to the girlfriend, talking to the mother, talking to the brother, talking to the person who lives with that individual because they are an incredible source of information regarding that offender. A lot of times you can take action to circumvent something happening. But it seems to me that equally important now is this presence on the Internet and the ability and the knowledge of searching Internet sites, Web sites, social media sites to figure out what your person is doing.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Whenever I do this discussion with groups I talk about the concept of virtual home visit and what I talk about in there is, of course, it will never take the place of in-person home visits, but what you’re doing is looking at the person’s virtual home. Folks who create social network accounts decorate it any way they want to with music and pictures. They invite the friends that they want in there. They display the art and other things that are of interest to them in there. And so whenever you go to do a physical home visit for an offender, you’re getting the very best version of that offender, how they think you want them to act. But a lot of times when you visit their virtual home, you see the offender in the light that they really are or the way that they want to be seen by friends, so it just gives you an additional insight to your offender so that you can effectively supervise the ones that are on supervision and, of course, a way to apprehend the folks who’ve absconded.

Len Sipes: Now, there are people out there who are simply saying, okay, fine, Leonard, Shannon, this is all well and interesting, but if I’m not incredibly or completely stupid, I’m simply going to use another name.

Shannon Blalock: Right. Yeah, a lot of times they will do that, but we can gain information from previous investigations, look on friends of friends lists, and just look for photographs that look familiar. I know a lot of folks who don’t sign up for social network sites under their actual name. They sign up under their same name, like Happy, or Bull, or

Len Sipes: Cool Breeze. How many guys that I know back in the ’70s, it was all Cool Breeze, the ’70s and ’80s. Yeah.

Shannon Blalock: Cool Breeze? Yeah, the interesting thing about all these social networking sites is that you can search not only by first and last name, but you can search by screen name or email address. You can even browse by location and so, if you know that your offender is 32 years old, 6’1″, and is a white guy who smokes, then you can narrow down the search pretty close on places like MySpace.

Len Sipes: And my guess is that within the alias file that we all keep within various parole and probation law enforcement agencies, my guess is that people are creatures of habit; they’re going to go back and use one of the previous aliases that they’ve given themselves throughout the years.

Shannon Blalock: Absolutely. Yeah.

Len Sipes: So, if somebody, if Cool Breeze is out there and I know there are 10,000 Cool Breezes, but at least were back in the ’70s and ’80s, I mean, ordinarily you can take a look at a person’s rap sheet, you can take a look at a person’s parole and probation record and there are maybe five, six, or seven different aliases in their and those aliases can lead you to that individual.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah. And not only that, but I’ve found that a lot of times our offenders will tattoo their various aliases or nicknames onto their body somewhere, so just take a look at prison records or previous investigation reports and see what names they’ve got tattooed on their body.

Len Sipes: Now, all of that bring ups this question, I suppose: At what point do we simply say, well, wait a minute, we can’t do both. The average parole and probation agent in this country carries very large caseloads. Now, here it’s because we’re a federal agency, we’re, thank the Lord, that we have the money to keep caseloads, all of our caseloads are 15 to 1 less. They are specialize caseloads, can go as low as 20 to 1. Now, but still, even if you’ve got a great caseload or even if you have 150 offenders, taking on the Internet presence, doing that is complicated enough and time-consuming enough to the point where one almost has got to take prominence over the other.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah. And in Kentucky, what we have done, is I supervised a caseload for about three years and then after a meeting of statewide probation and parole supervisors and wardens, whenever I demonstrated what all could be accomplished on the Web, they created a specialized position for me to be able to do this for probation and parole under the Department of Corrections. And so this is what I do full-time, but other than that while I was supervising a caseload, I would pick it up here and there whenever I had a little bit of slack. But, of course, I was already pretty computer literate and savvy with social networking sites. What I would encourage folks to do is just sit down and play with it. It’s going to come quicker to you than you think if you’re not familiar with it already.

Len Sipes: Well, if it’s government, and again I feel bad in saying this because we provide a ton of training here, almost too much training it seems, but a lot of government agencies simply are not as fortunate as we are and they don’t have the money and I would imagine the overwhelming amount of people who are going to be learning this, it’s going to be through their own volition, through their own efforts.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah, that’s true. And then, of course, you also run into the roadblock of several government agencies.

Len Sipes: They won’t let you have access to social media sites. That’s right.

Shannon Blalock: Yeah, they’re not recognizing the value in that and particularly for folks who are supervising a specialized caseload of sex offenders. It’s absolutely amazing the amount of information that even our sex offenders will put on adult-type dating sites. I was looking at one one day and one of them used a booking photo from jail as his profile photo on an adult dating site.

Len Sipes: Okay. Well, that’s incredibly stupid, but

Shannon Blalock: Yes. [Laughs] But they will do that.

Len Sipes: Well, and the other part of it and the larger discussion of what I call hand-held computers, what other people call their iPhones or their BlackBerry’s or the Droid. It’s just a little too much to comprehend when it’s not your mom’s computer, it’s not the computer in your house, it’s not the computer in the library, it’s the fact that everybody out there is walking around with a computer strapped to themselves and so the sex offender says, well, George, let me borrow your hand-held computer so I can go onto one of the social media sites and see if I can track myself down a vulnerable young person. But how do you handle? That’s impossible. For most of us it’s just an explosion of opportunities which means an explosion of responsibilities that my guess is, my guess, the guess of most criminologists’ collective guess, is that we’re not prepared for that.

Shannon Blalock: No, we really are not. In terms of the training that often agencies receive is outdated or maybe just they’re just a step behind what offenders are able to accomplish, especially with gaining access to the Internet on their cell phones. I know in Kentucky we don’t allow our offenders to have cell phone plans that do put them on the Internet. Of course, there’s no way of guaranteeing that they’re not going over to a neighbor’s computer or anywhere else or borrowing a phone from somebody on the street and trying to acquire new victims that way.

Len Sipes: Yeah. Because I can see them doing that with sex offenders, but if you did that with regular people on supervision, they’re going to complain immediately is what you’re doing is blocking them from legitimate job opportunities.

Shannon Blalock: That’s true. Yeah.

Len Sipes: And so it becomes a very sticky, wicked that we all collectively in parole and probation throughout the country and, for that matter, throughout the world, are going to have to examining and stumbling with, but Shannon Blalock is coming to our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and you’re going to provide our folks with all of the training that you have so we can pretty much take it from there and to guide us and I’m really looking forward to you coming up, Shannon.

Shannon Blalock: I am as well. Thank you.

Len Sipes: Our guest today has been Shannon Blalock. She is a parole and probation officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Division of Parole and Probation, parole and probation officer, parole and probation intelligence and fugitive apprehension and now a self-taught Internet expert. Her email address is shannon.blalock@ky.gov. But after that initial introduction by email, you’re going to have to send a letter, a regular snail mail letter, on letterhead with the contact of your supervisor so we can do the proper checks and, if so, if you can prove who you are, Shannon will include a copy of her manual. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Once again, we are extremely of all of your letters, comments, phone calls, email comments, and we’re up to, thanks to you, 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for the television, radio, blog and transcript portion at media.csosa.gov. We really appreciate you being with us today and please have yourself a pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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90 Percent of Offenders Employed Upon Release-DC Public Safety

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/06/90-precent-of-offenders-employed-upon-release-dc-public-safety/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our studios in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We’re here today to talk about what I think to be, is an extraordinarily interesting piece of research in terms of what it takes to successfully employ individuals in correctional facilities, what it takes to get them employed. What is the concept, in this case, is the power of small rewards. To talk about this research, we have two principals with us today. We have Stefan LoBuglio. He is the chief of the pre-release and re-entry services division for the Montgomery County Maryland Department of Corrections, and we have Anne Morrison Piehl. Anne is a professor at Rutgers University. She has done a piece of research in conjunction with the Manhattan Institute regarding this research preparing prisoners for employment with the power of small rewards, and to Stefan and to Anne, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Stefan LoBuglio: Thank you.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, a little commercial before we get rolling with the program. We are very appreciative of all the calls, letters, emails that you’re providing to us in terms of guidance, in terms of criticism, and in terms of suggestions for new shows. Please continue to get back in touch with me via Skype. You can follow me at – I’m sorry, Twitter. You can follow me at twitter/lensipes, or you can email me at Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov, or you can continue to comment in the blog. And with that, Stefan and Anne, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Anne, if you would, please, just summarize the research. The preparing prisoners for employment, the power of small rewards. Give me the gist of that research, please.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Well let me tell you why I got into this particular piece. I’ve been leading and contributing to our literature on prisoner re-entry for many years, and I’ve been struck by the difference between academic literature and advocacy literature and the policy prescriptions that come out of that and the experience you get when you visit and see what correctional practitioners are doing about prisoner re-entry on the ground, and I wanted to look at those differences and see what we could learn from that. We all know that inmates have poor employment prospects, for a number of reasons, including their low skills and the tough labor market, etc, but when you go to some well functioning employment or work release programs, you can see that inmates are working and are getting jobs, and I wanted to see what were the mechanisms that correctional professionals use to get those kinds of results. And when I visited the pre-release center in Montgomery County, what I was particularly struck by was their use of very small kind of mechanisms to get inmates to behave in a way that helps prepare them for employment, and this is in stark contrast with the lofty policy proposals you often read about, for example, that require changing licensing requirements, or subsidizing work, or putting people into long term training programs, and I thought this was very interesting.

Len Sipes: And the bottom line seems to be, Anna, that there may be more effective ways of doing it than going after big macro related issues and focusing on, I guess, the concept of small rewards.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Yeah, that was what was provocative about it. Not only is it perhaps more effective, but it might be a lot cheaper, and also the other thing that really sold me on this program is they’re doing it at scale. They have a couple hundred people in the program at any given time, and many of the prisoner re-entry programs that get a lot of attention are very, very small.

Len Sipes: Stefan, that’s a perfect segue over to you. You are the chief of the pre-release and re-entry services division for the Montgomery County Department of Corrections in Montgomery County, Maryland, directly outside the District of Columbia, and you’ve been there for quite some time, and Montgomery County seems to have an extraordinarily good reputation in terms of re-entry services, so give me a brief overview as to what is that you do, and this whole concept of small rewards.

Stefan LoBuglio: Sure, Len. We’re fortunate in Montgomery County that we have a long tradition of our work-release program. We began work-release in the late 1960s and had 15,000 people come through our doors. As a system, as a community, we made a decision back in the 60s, and it continues to the present day, that community safety is enhanced when we properly integrate individuals who are coming from confinement, whether our local jail, a state prison, or a federal prison, and they’re coming back into our community, we’d rather they come through a pre-release program like ours where they can be attached to work, to family, to treatment and other social mechanisms to improve their outcomes and overall outcomes of the community. We’ve been doing it a long time, and I think over that period of time, we have learned what works and what doesn’t, and what we are so pleased about with Anne’s research is her sort of affirmation of one of the taglines of our program, and that tagline reads “freedom through responsibility,” that one of the principal guiding premises of our program is that the individuals themselves who are re-entering have to, they have the work of identifying jobs, of identifying treatment, of identifying community support mechanisms that will assist them in the community. And our role as a program is to provide great structure and great incentives to aid them in proper decision making.

Len Sipes: Okay, now either one of you can answer this question. Now we, in the criminal justice system, when we get together, when we talk about research, and Anne, I think you hinted at this, is that, you know, it doesn’t give you an awful lot of specifics. If you are doing surgery, if you are doing law, if you’re doing, I don’t know, real estate, there are a lot of things that are recognized as best practices, it’s been recognized via research that this is the way to go, this is what you should do, there is a consensus, and a lot of us get the sense that there seems to be little consensus regarding prisoner re-entry, and the different things that either one of you have talked about, they’ve been implemented in the state facilities and county facilities throughout the country, correct? To some degree?

Stefan LoBuglio: To some degree.

Anne Morrison Piehl: To some degree. Yeah, to different degrees, and one of the things that’s difficult about gaining practical advice is that the same term might describe really programmatic structures, right? So it does matter a great deal to think about it specifically, what’s underlying the idea that people are talking about.

Stefan LoBuglio: And Len, I would add that while we have a several hundred year history of corrections in the United States, and we have studies that date back many decades concerning rehabilitation, the current discussion on prisoner re-entry is rather recent. Some data to 1999, when then Attorney General Janet Reno and NIJ director Jeremy Travis began this discussion in trying to determine the reality of, we have all these individuals coming back. So the research is still, the conversation is new, and what I find really encouraging is that when I meet with my peers and practitioners, both at the jail level and at the state prison level, whereas 10 years ago, you’d get passing interest in re-entry, now there is firm commitment by directors and top officials of all agencies about re-entry, so there has been a sea change, and I think there’s a real eagerness right now as testament to the inquiries that you’re getting on your podcast, for what works right now.

Len Sipes: But one of the things that impresses me about the research, Anne, is that you try to examine some of the practices that have been going around the country, and what you’re suggesting is that that’s not necessarily the way to go, and you lay out a road map of specifics as to the proper way of doing this, correct?

Anne Morrison Piehl: Yeah, what I think is really interesting about the time that I spent talking to staff and inmates in reviewing some of the data at the pre-release center in Montgomery County, is that it’s quite different from what you often read about in terms of prisoner re-entry. They do not provide jobs. What they are trying to do is to motivate and help support the job search, because they consider that to be an important skill as well, so inmates find their own work, which requires, then, for them to get some help figuring out how to do online job search and online applications and a lot of techniques that are necessary, and the way they support this effort is by requiring them to search and giving them greater rewards for doing that work and for finding employment. So, for example, one’s curfew shifts by an hour the day one lands a job, and that’s a very salient short term, like that matters to people right away.

Len Sipes: There are immediate rewards for small steps, so they can see very clearly how this is helping them at least, if nothing else, improving their lives while they’re at the pre-release center.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Yeah, and I think that’s a really important insight, because many of the programs that people talk about as being necessary are things like career development programs, so that people get, not a job, but a career, and these very long term high investment kinds of ideas that require a lot of investment by the government, but also by the offender themselves, and most criminal offenders are not, are characterized by having kind of impulse issues. Their people are looking for shorter-term returns. I mean, that’s something that all of us struggle with, but that’s in the inmate population struggles with more, and the program at Montgomery County totally recognizes that.

Len Sipes: Stefan, do you feel that what Anne is saying is correct from the standpoint that, you know, it’s simply a matter of providing direct rewards for participation, and it’s simply a matter of getting the offenders themselves to do it, rather than the system to do it for them. Am I correct or incorrect?

Stefan LoBuglio: Well, I think you’re on the money. I think Anne’s findings are very true. I think it’s important to remember that 95% of prisoner re-entry programs that are discussed and researched take place in an institutional setting: a jail or prison. Ours is a community-based program. If you were to drive by our program, you wouldn’t recognize it as a correctional facility. It’s a building located near a metro station, a light industrial area, but not too far from neighborhoods either. What we do in our program is take advantage of the fact that we’re in the community. We want our clients to engage the community. Our goal is not to recreate programs on site, but rather take advantage of our unique opportunity to have the clients engage community resources in constructive ways.

Len Sipes: All right, so basically, they’re living at the institution, they’re taking, maybe classes at the institution, but basically, during the day time, they are out trying to find work on their own with your assistance.

Stefan LoBuglio: They’re doing most of their activities outside of this program. In fact, if you were to come and visit our correctional facility during the day, you’d almost sense that it was as quiet as a library, because people are out at AA meetings, they’re out on community passes, they’re out working, we have individuals that are in high school or in colleges, they are engaging community institutions that will help them. Our goal is to help them identify those institutions, those jobs that are accessible and meaningful to them that can help them in their lives.

Len Sipes: Anne, I was struck by how many offenders came out of Stefan’s institution with jobs, and how many had jobs with the same employer, I think it was 6 months later?

Anne Morrison Piehl: Yeah, so there are, I guess there’s three bits of hints that I take as being very positive about this program. The first is that every inmate in the facility that I talk to could completely tell me all of the levels of the reward structure and exactly what they needed to do to get more rewards. So that was evidence to me that they are paying attention –

Len Sipes: They’re fully engaged.

Anne Morrison Piehl: They’re fully engaged in the program, and the other thing is that the goal of the program is that people find work within 3 weeks, and most people find work within 3 weeks, and most of them are employed when they leave. About 90% are employed at the time of release.

Len Sipes: Now I do want to dwell upon that before we move on to how many were employed with the same employer 6 months later. 90% left this facility employed.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Yes.

Len Sipes: That is astounding.

Anne Morrison Piehl: And Stefan, that’s a finding that pretty much holds up over time. I mean it fluctuates a little bit from –

Stefan LoBuglio: Yeah, it does, and you know, I think we do have to recognize that we’ve had a very healthy economy, we’re in a vibrant area in Montgomery County, but as Anne said, it has held up over the years in financial downturns as well as upturns. For our clients, we know that they’re not going to go into jobs that necessarily will give a middle class lifestyle. These are entry-level jobs. These are jobs in food services, it could be in grocery stores, could be with landscapers, construction, light industrial work, entry-level jobs, and what we try to remind individuals is, there’s no shame in that. This is what gets them in the door, this gets them habituated to work, this gets money in their pockets and in the bank account. As part of our incentive system and our structure system, we mandate savings, so that they’re saving at the time of release, there are program fees that they have to pay, we are cognizant of the restitution and child support obligations, we make sure that we are developing payment plans, so they are beginning to assume their adult responsibilities, and with the right motivation, they can find jobs, and it is a very simple process, they are making cold calls, they are looking at newspapers, and they are applying to jobs online. I’ll say, recently, one of the things that we had to do as a program to keep up with the way that job search and matching occurs in our society is develop a career resource center with internet based computers, and introducing the internet in a professional facility is always challenging, but we did it carefully, and it’s been remarkably successful.

Len Sipes: If I remember correctly from the research, I think it was 50% are with the same employer 6 months later. Do I have that correct?

Anne Morrison Piehl: It’s about, from 2007, it was 54% 60 days later, and it’s, we don’t have the best follow-up data for what happens outside of this program, so this is suggestive, but I think it’s really positive in that there are a lot of reasons not to stay employed with the same employer that you get at the pre-release center, because there are lots of restrictions they place on what kind of jobs people can take. They can only have a job at a legitimate employer who is reporting those wages he’s participating in, OSHA requirements, and all the rest of that, so there could be other kind of better paying jobs that these people could get if they weren’t so restricted by the center, so this 54% is necessarily a vast underestimate of what would be, how many might be gainfully employed after that.

Len Sipes: You know, I do believe that if 90% of offenders coming out of correctional facilities throughout this country were employed upon release, our rate of recidivism would be dramatically lower than what it is. The fact is that the great majority, somewhere, if memory serves me correctly, about 2/3, are not employed upon release. They haven’t lined up a job. And a lot of these individuals are going through pre-release centers throughout the country, and that 90% figure just doesn’t hold.

Stefan LoBuglio: I think that’s the, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Very few systems have pre-release programs. Most inmates in this country are leaving from prisons and jails –

Len Sipes: That’s correct.

Stefan LoBuglio: – going back into the community, and from my own experience, I can say that it is so difficult to choreograph the job search and matching process where even if you think you have someone who is highly skilled in jail, specific skills, and you find an employer in the community who’s willing to hire him at the day of release, it’s very difficult to get that follow-through. With the pre-release program, they are here in the community, and we can see them take that job and monitor them in that job. Let me also add, a reminder that Anne provides is many of our clients are low skilled individuals, and like other low skilled individuals in our economy, they are going to turn through jobs. So like many work-release programs, I don’t expect them to hold onto these jobs as career jobs. Many of these jobs are not career jobs, but the goal of attaching them to the labor market should reduce recidivism. We know from many studies that the highest risk of recidivating is shortly after release.

Len Sipes: Right, in the first six months.

Stefan LoBuglio: In the first six months. Even the first 30 days. You can look at some of the research, and we’re doing some of it right now, and you see that the risk significantly decreasing day by day, so attaching them to work early on is helpful, helping them have a job when they leave the facility is incredibly helpful, they may jump to other jobs based on very legitimate reasons, some of which Anne has pointed out. One reason might be geography as well. Some of the jobs that they take are convenient to the pre-release program. They may be moving to a distance from the pre-release job, and that job may no longer be convenient.

Len Sipes: Okay, but, you know, let me take a risk here, it seems like you’re apologizing for the fact that people switch jobs. People switch jobs all the time. To me, 90% coming out of the facility with employment, to me, is a remarkable achievement unto itself regardless of how many hold onto the jobs. The whole point, I think, of this, is to make sure that people are gainfully employed to make sure that people do have mental health services, to make sure that people do have substance abuse services, to make sure that people understand what their rights and obligations are in terms of their own community supervision. The fact that you’re able to provide 90% with providers upon release with jobs, or they’re providing those jobs themselves with your guidance, I think is a remarkable achievement. We’re more than halfway through the program, I’m going to re-introduce our guests, and then I’m going to get back to, Stefan and Anne, what are the takeaways for others throughout the country, what are the things they need to understand as to why your program is as successful as it is. Stefan LoBuglio, he is the chief of the pre-release and re-entry services division for the Montgomery County Department of Corrections in Montgomery County, Maryland, Anne Morrison Piehl is a professor with Rutgers University, she wrote a piece of research with the Manhattan Institute, and that piece of research is called “Preparing Prisoners for Employment” – that’s hard to say – “The Power of Small Rewards.” You can look at the research via the Manhattan Institute’s website, which is www.manhattan-institute.org, or you can take a look at the activities at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, www.montgomerycountymd – that’s all basically one word – .gov – G-O-V – /cor. Okay, Anne, Stefan, what are the takeaways for everybody else? So different people listening to this program, if they’re involved in corrections, they could be business people, they could be just students, in the criminal justice system throughout the country, or throughout the world, for that matter, what are the takeaways? What is unique about your research that, what’s different about your research vs. tons of other research on employment?

Anne Morrison Piehl: So I guess I have three takeaways that I want to start with. One, I want to pick up on what you’re remarking on is the 90, nearly 90% employed at release. I think that that matters for several reasons. One, it just shows it can be done, right? And there’s some special features of the shop that Stefan runs. Mostly it’s location, but it does show that it’s possible to get people employed, and this is new for many of those residents. Many of them told me they’ve never had savings before, they had never noticed or observed adults going to work on a regular basis, so this is giving people a new experience, it might be opening their eyes to a new way of life as well as giving them a certain set of skills. The other thing that 90% says to me is that it causes me to question some of the policy recommendations that come from the literature that basically presumes that it’s just going to be impossible to employ people with the characteristics of most –

Len Sipes: But isn’t that a presumption, because the great majority of people leaving correctional facilities throughout this country do not have employment. And while we operate, I think, one of the most, one of the better parole and probation organizations in the country, on any given day, you’re talking about 55% employed, 60% employed, the key here, the issue here is that all of us within the criminal justice system has this sense of exhaustion, and sometimes we go into this with a perspective of, okay, we’re going to do the very best we can to find people employment, but boy, this is really tough, and then somebody comes along and says 90%, and that makes us pay a lot of attention.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Right, and it is heavy lifting, but one of the things that really got me interested in this issue is seeing some economics literature that plotted earnings and employment at the individual level, before incarceration and after incarceration, and some of the highest employment levels that you see in individuals’ histories are right after release from incarceration, and that just points to the importance of that as an opportunity as a time and a place to intervene.

Len Sipes: Okay, so there are obvious benefits for the 90%. Anne, did you have two other takeaways?

Anne Morrison Piehl: Yeah, so the other things I wanted to say about the way they run this program. One we already talked about is that it recognizes the short term thinking and incorporates that into the structure of the program. And the last point is that the rewards are based on behavior, on action of the offenders. It’s not based on attitudinal scores, it’s not based on assessments, and the kind of measures that are frequently used in corrections to move somebody from one placement to another. This is completely behavioral. If you get a job, your curfew changes. If you stay employed, you get more passes to have visits, or opportunity to have visitors. It’s based on what your actions are, not based on any kind of judgment, either by a psychological scale, or by the subjective judgment of any professional in the department.

Len Sipes: And I’m not going to suggest that correctional facilities throughout the country and correctional systems change an emphasis on, or an examination of what employers should be asking for in terms of criminal histories. I was taking a look at research the other day, suggestions that, at what point does a person become a safe risk to the employer, at what point is the person fully going through the process of re-acclimation, that he’s now an employable individual, he’s no longer a risk to public safety, as though there’s a way to measure that. I mean, we struggle with these larger societal issues of how much money to provide, liaisons with employers, these are all very big costly projects that involve a tremendous amount of person power, and in many cases, necessitate a good degree of money. What I’m hearing from the both of you is that there may be a more precise way of looking at this through this concept of small rewards, through this concept of offenders finding jobs on their own, but with guidance by the staff of Stefan’s pre-release center.

Stefan LoBuglio: You know, Len, I would sort of make two points. One is that I think our program, on a day to day basis, proves that correctional systems can manage relatively large correctional populations in a community setting, if the right incentive structures are in place, and the right mechanisms to ensure services and accountability are in place. On a given day, 30% of sentenced inmates in Montgomery County are in our program. We have individuals that have a whole host of different offense types. We don’t exclude by offense type other than escapees. That’s a takeaway for many correctional institutions. Most correctional institutions don’t have a pre-release program, we do. When you have a program like ours, it means, like in 2008, collectively, our population earned $2 million in revenues, in income, paid $300,000 in taxes, child support, hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support and restitution. Many benefits there. The other takeaway is when you have a program like this, and you structure it properly, what it allows us to do is to provide re-entry on an individualized basis. We set up incentives and a structure, but we recognize individuals come into our program with many different backgrounds, many different strengths, many different deficits, and rather than us point to what they need, they are led to understand what is it, what hurdle do they need to overcome that’s been bedeviling them. So in that way, it’s a more efficient allocation of re-entry resources. Oftentimes in our field, we treat offenders as a homogeneous group, and we think of this, that the intervention has to be a “one size fits all” strategy, as Anne was describing. We think we have to have a locational program of a certain type. We almost are in a position of picking winners in terms of the type of jobs that people “should” be pursuing and getting, rather than really finding out what are people interested in, what people have aptitudes about, and through our structure, through recognizing that individuals will act as rational agents, we find that they’re able to make good decisions themselves. One of the most interesting times in our program is when an individual who’s never gotten a job before gets a job, as Anne described. They surprise themselves that they can do it. By phone calls, by interviewing, buy following our guidance. It’s very empowering to them to do it, and it teaches them a lifelong skill.

Len Sipes: And I think that lifelong skill is something that is extraordinarily important. I’ve been told by people that have employment programs within various prison systems, state used industries, if you will, the concept is, in many cases, not providing a skill, but getting that person acclimated to the workaday world, that they have to work together as a team, they cannot mouth off at the boss, that they have to work together, that they may have to skip lunch to make a deadline, that sometimes basics like this are the most important things to teach, and that those individuals going through those programs have a lower rate of recidivism compared to those individuals who do not.

Stefan LoBuglio: Yeah, I think, for perspective employers, the best way to mitigate their fears about hiring an individual who has had court involvement is to see that that person has a work experience that has been successful, and they have a reference, so that if they leave our program, and they’ve had 6 months of working every day and have risen through the ranks, that will do more than anything else, than our vouching about a person’s ability. Their work record will speak for their ability to do a job for a future employer.

Len Sipes: Anne, do you have a way of wrapping all this up from the research perspective?

Anne Morrison Piehl: Well, I think the real question that I’m left with at the end of the day is how can you take these lessons and really implement them at some high level of scale, because we have many, many offenders who need help getting into employment after they leave prison, and we need to really think about how to take lessons from programs like this that can be implemented at a large scale and not in kind of a boutique fashion.

Len Sipes: Amen. Amen, and I think that was the point of the program is to try to get people to understand that there may be different ways of doing it, and different ways of doing it may involve an effort much more minute, much more direct, than the way that they’re looking at the employment of offenders.

Anne Morrison Piehl: Correct.

Len Sipes: And that sense of precision, which I feel is totally lacking, not totally lacking, which some feel is lacking within a lot of the literature, the sense is that through talking to you and talking to Stefan that it’s a matter of structure, but it’s a matter of empowering them to do their own research, it’s a matter of empowering them to create their own opportunities, and these are lifelong skills that they can take with them throughout the rest of their lives, and it may not be, and I’m not suggesting that we do not do these things, but it may not be massive job programs, it may not be massive training programs, it may be something as small as what Stefan is currently doing there within Montgomery County.

Anne Morrison Piehl: And these things seem small to us, I just like to leave with this, but to the people in the program, this is hard work. To be expected to be up every day, to be looking for jobs for hours in a row rather than minutes in a row, to really, to have to stick with the program is really, really hard work. Many of them told me, “I have never worked this hard in my life.” So we call it small, but it’s requiring big changes of them.

Len Sipes: Anne, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking to Stefan LoBuglio, he is the chief of the pre-release and re-entry services division of the Montgomery County Department of Corrections in Montgomery County, Maryland. The website for Stefan’s operation, www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cor, Anne Morrison Piehl, who is a professor at Rutgers University, did this research in conjunction with the Manhattan Institute, the research is available at www.manhattan-institute.org. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been listening to D.C. Public Safety. Once again, we do appreciate all the comments. We do appreciate all of the emails and all of the suggestions for how we can improve the show. Please continue them. And everybody, please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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