Archives for May 2011

Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders – UDC Sound Advice

Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders – “UDC Sound Advice”

“Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders” features a discussion with a policy maker within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a Cluster Coordinator with CSOSA’s Mentoring Faith Based Program and an individual currently under CSOSA supervision.

Guests for this program:

  • Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director, Office of Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs – Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA)
  • Reverend Kelly Wilkins, Cluster A Coordinator for CSOSA’s Faith Based Mentoring Program
  • Tonya Mackey, an offender on CSOSA Supervision.

The show is hosted by Shelly Broderick, Dean of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) David A. Clarke School of Law.

See for our radio shows, blog and transcripts.

Television Program available at

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[Video Begins]

Shelly Broderick:  Hello, I’m Shelley Broderick, Dean of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law and your host for Sound Advice.  In the District of Columbia, approximately 70% of convicted offenders serve some portion of their sentence in the community.  As such, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (or CSOSA)’s effective supervision of convicted offenders provides a crucial service to the courts and paroling authority and is critical to public safety.  Establishing partnerships with other criminal justice agencies, faith institutions, and community organizations is very important in order to facilitate close supervision of the offenders in the community, and to leverage the diverse resources of local law enforcement, human service agencies, and other local community groups.  Approximately 2,500 men and women return home to the District of Columbia from prison every year.  Among the challenges they face are the need for housing, health care, education, and employment.  With me today to discuss how CSOSA meets these challenges are Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director, Reverend Kelly Wilkins, Cluster A Coordinator, and Tonya Mackey, successful returned citizen and day care assistant.  Welcome.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Shelly Broderick:  Let me start with you, Cedric.  We go back many years.  It’s so nice to have you on the show.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Shelly Broderick:  And I don’t get complacent, we’ll get you back, too!  Because you have a lot to talk about.  Tell us what CSOSA’s mission is and what its reach is, because it’s hugely important in the District of Columbia.

Cedric Hendricks:  CSOSA is a public safety agency responsible for supervising men and women on probation, parole, and supervised release.  So we have about 16,000 individuals under supervision on any given day, and about 60% of them are on probation, meaning that they went to court, were sentenced, and went home, and then about 40% are on parole or supervised release, meaning that they experienced a period of incarceration and have come back home.

Shelly Broderick:  Okay.  And what are, and you know, it’s such a crime what we do, because when we send people to prison, we don’t provide education, we don’t help people get the housing they need, and we don’t, you know, we just don’t take care of business, and so often, people come back and don’t make it.  And so that safety net that CSOSA is helping to provide is just critical to people being able to succeed.  So how many folks work at CSOSA?

Cedric Hendricks:  We have about 900 employees that work at the agency, and we’re a fairly unique federal agency because our mission is focused solely on the District of Columbia, and so the men and women that we supervise, for the most part, are residents here, and what we are trying to help them do is successfully complete their periods of supervision which can involve a few months to several years, and so what we see across the board, and this is what those who are on probation as well as those who have returned home is that, as you’ve indicated, housing, health care, education, and employment are the major challenges that they face, and so we’re very active in trying to partner with the District government, the faith community, and nonprofit resource and service providers to try and help those we supervise meet the needs that they have.

Shelly Broderick:  Okay.  Tonya, let me turn to you.  You’re a returned citizen.

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  You were locked up for how long?

Tonya Mackey:  For about five years.

Shelly Broderick:  And you came back to the District of Columbia?

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  All set, you were ready to go, everything was perfect?

Tonya Mackey:  Not –

Shelly Broderick:  No, okay.  It’s not surprising.  How did you, you went to CSOSA, because you were required to –

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly, for reentry.

Shelly Broderick:  And tell me what advice they gave you.

Tonya Mackey:  The advice they gave me was just some little simple things that, at first, didn’t sound so simple, but I knew I wanted my freedom and I wanted to be on the street, and so I did what was necessary.  It took, it wasn’t all good, but at the end, I’m on top because I’m successfully completed, and through CSOSA, what they told me was, is that I needed to, I needed to get some help from some other women, and a lot of times, women like me never really wanted to communicate with other women because we didn’t, I didn’t think that we had anything in common but being a woman, but thank god that CSOSA sent me to a faith based program where I met Reverend Kelley, who is now my spiritual guidance, and I have a mentor from a program which is from women based empowerment, it’s a program called Empowerment for Women.  Ms. Mignonne who teaches it, I got a whole lot out of it, and what they help me to do was deal with my mom, coming home in society, dealing with other women, dealing with getting an education, dealing with how to ask someone how you get housing, where to go and ask, believing in myself again and believing in God, and –

Shelly Broderick:  Talk about your mom.  Talk about your mom.

Tonya Mackey:  My mom, who has been there with me for my whole entire life, she, I have always done, I felt like I have always done wrong to her, and now I’m trying to make a difference in her life and my life, actually my life first, and then her life, because that’s the only way I can do it.  My mom is a cancer survivor, she’s been diagnosed, she just –

Shelly Broderick:  She just found out.

Tonya Mackey:  – just found out she was diagnosed with cancer, and I went on actually my first cancer walk with her last year, so –

Shelly Broderick:  Wow.

Tonya Mackey:  – to be, the grace of God, and I always say, to be, to God, because without him, I know that I wouldn’t be on this journey, and other people that help me along the way so far, CSOSA, and faith based led program.

Shelly Broderick:  So you came out of all this in West Virginia –

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  – and you came back, and one of the first things that happened is you found out your mom had cancer.

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  Now is that the kind of stress that can really –
Tonya Mackey:  – take me back out, or would have.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s right.

Tonya Mackey:  Would have.

Shelly Broderick:  I mean, that’s the kind of thing that makes people go back on drugs.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  As one of my friends, a drinker, says, what’s so great about reality?  You know, right?  So it’s one of those things that can just turn you upside down.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  Reverend Wilkins.  You met Tonya around that time.

Kelly Wilkins:  Yes, actually, I did, and Tonya, when I first met her, she came to the group.  It was Purpose Empowerment, women’s empowerment group.  She came to the group, and she really was not participating that much.  You know, she really didn’t want to be there.  She didn’t really see the reason why she needed to be around a bunch of women because she had never really had any bonding relationships with women before, and so I would say about, let’s say two months into the program, they started in December, somewhere about February, we had that, we had awful snow in the District of Columbia, and I remember people in the group calling me saying, is there a way we can still meet at the church?  And I’m thinking, like, no, there’s no way!

Tonya Mackey:  We can’t get there!

Kelly Wilkins:  So the facilitator who was just, she created the program, and she’s completely committed to it, figured out a way for them to talk on the phone, to really deal with whatever stresses they were dealing with, being locked in the house because of the snow, so I mean, awesome support for Tonya, and I saw her grow.  I mean, she just grew so phenomenally from December, and she graduated in May, the first week of May.  So yeah, it was a 17-week program at that time.

Shelly Broderick:  What does that feel like?  Was it hard at first?

Tonya Mackey:  At first, yes.  I was like, didn’t want to be there, I wasn’t going to participate, I was going to go pass and go through –

Shelly Broderick:  Check it off your list.

Tonya Mackey:  Right, right.

Shelly Broderick:  Check it off.

Tonya Mackey:  But after a while, you know, even after I finished the program, now I’m returning back.  So it was real, it was a real blessing to me because now I have, like Ms. Kelly says, I have women that I can call, we can talk, we can bond.  We can talk about anything that’s going on.

Shelly Broderick:  What kinds of things?

Tonya Mackey:  We talk about how we hurt our families, we talk about how we can make a difference in other people’s lives, how I can come back, and this right here is even a blessing to me, because I was like, oh wow, somebody’s calling me and asking me to be a power attraction to someone else, whereas I had low self esteem, low self worth, didn’t think that I could become better than what I am today, and I feel real good about where I am today, and where I’m at today is that I’m helping my mom, even with her cancer, the part of surviving, you still have to go back and get treatments, but I’ve been able to be accountable today.  You know, I’m not stealing her money today.  I’m not lying today.  You know, it feels real good.  You know, a lot of times, she still may have doubt, but that’s not up to me.  As long as I stay on this path, I know that everything’s going to be all right, because she’s along with me to take care of her children today, that she had just started her business, her own day care business, so now I am an assistant to her, and it feels real good, and like I said, I graduated from the empowerment, women’s empowerment program, and I still go back, and I still constantly go down to the courts every now and again, and just to hear cases, and to find out how I used to be and how I can go back, and I don’t want to go back.  I want to stay where I’m at today, and being here with you guys makes me feel so good, lets me know that I’m accomplishing something.

Shelly Broderick:  It lifted me up, I’ll tell you that!  I was a defense attorney for a long time, and I watched some of my clients go away for a good long period of time, and it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes you can feel like it can be a good thing, just put a stop in the action, get away, it’s not a good place you ever want to send anybody, but get to a place where you’re out of this environment and get it together and come back and make it work, and you know, for so many people, it doesn’t work because they come back and they don’t have the safety net and the support system and the help.  You come back, you can’t get into housing.  You can’t get public housing.  Okay, where are you supposed to, oh, back in the old neighborhood!

Kelly Wilkins:  Yeah, and let me just say, support is very critical to recovery and reentry.  Without support, we can’t do it by ourselves.  Even the faith, the faith based community can’t assist returning citizens by themselves.  That’s why we need Court Services to be a partner with us.

Shelly Broderick:  Tell me what the partnership looks like.  How do you enter in?

Cedric Hendricks:  We came to recognize at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency that we couldn’t do it by ourselves, and that we really needed to have solid partnerships with the natural resources, the natural systems in the community.  There are many neighborhoods in the District of Columbia where you can find a church on every block, and all of these faith institutions have ministries. They’re about the business of serving their congregations and their communities in a wide variety of ways, and so what we saw to do was tap into that network.  So back in 2002, we put out a call to the faith community through using a strategy called re-entry Sunday, and through having collaboration, communication with faith institutions, we were able to build a network that was willing to work with us, and from the congregations of those faith institutions, many men and women came forward to serve as mentors for those men and women who had come home from prison.  So that work continues to this day, and we continue to match men and women who are coming home with mentors so that they can have someone to talk to, as Tonya indicated, many of our mentors are returned citizens as well, and we’re allied with faith institutions across the city who are opening their doors to be helpful in so many wonderful ways.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s fantastic.  So my first job at a college was at Lorton Prison doing group therapy with inmates.  Now why did they hire a 21-year-old white girl?  I don’t know!  What were they thinking?  But anyway, you know, I learned way more than I taught, and I had an opportunity to meet a lot of guys who it was clear to me didn’t need to be there.  Guys who got in trouble when they were real young, just 20 to life, right?  20 to life is what everybody got.  And they just did maybe 15 years of that, no education, no job training, just, and they were poets: smart, interesting, thoughtful people being wasted, and I think it had a huge amount to do.  Actually in college, I worked at a halfway house on Euclid Street for inmates within six months of release.  I was at AU, I didn’t know anything.  But I was interested.  I don’t know why.  And then I ultimately went to law school and became a defense attorney.  So this is a world that I care very deeply about, and I’m so glad to hear, because it really, it’s so important to put these families back together, because what happens is the kids don’t know Dad or Mom, and there, it’s just, it’s destructive forever if we can’t make this kind of connection and help you make it work.

Tonya Mackey:  That’s what, actually, I was getting ready to say something on that part right there about you saying that a lot of times, the parents, you know, don’t really have the time to be there, and then they get subjected to some things you might have just one father, one mother trying to do the best that they can, and a lot of times, we make our own decisions too, you know, but when we get the help that we need.  I know it’ll be a lot more than me that would do better than they’re doing.  It’s just that we have to want to do the best that we can, and today, I’m just choosing, saying, I wasn’t great, I wasn’t good all my life, and that’s why I’m here saying that if we put forth the effort, we can be the best people that, we can be whatever we want to be.

Shelly Broderick:  It’s a wonderful think.  So Reverend Wilkins, talk about your church and how this came about for you and –

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay.  Well –

Shelly Broderick:  We love your church, and we want to give them full credit.

Kelly Wilkins:  I attend Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, which is on South Capitol Street SW.  My pastors are Drs. Christine and Dennis Wiley, and at our church, I serve as the associate minister of social justice and reentry, and we also have a nonprofit, which is called Covenant Full Potential Development Center, and that’s really how we are able to work with Court Services is through our nonprofit organization, and our church, we have a, we’re a very progressive church.  We have a very strong social justice stance in our community, so we, this is our area.  We believe that helping the least of these is our calling and our job.  We’re located in Ward 8, and Ward 8, which most of the returning citizens return home to Ward 8, a large portion of them, and it’s a lot of poverty in Ward 8, and –

Shelly Broderick:  And not very many jobs.

Kelly Wilkins:  Not many jobs –

Shelly Broderick:  Not housing that –

Kelly Wilkins:  That’s right.

Shelly Broderick:  – folks have access to.

Kelly Wilkins:  But they’re good people in Ward 8, and they just need the support, and they need the support of our faith community as well as our federal agencies, and I think advocacy is really at the top, and when we look at returning citizens, I think the environment, the whole attitude towards returning citizens has begun to change because of advocacy in the community.  There are plenty of advocacy groups, and our church tries to partner with as many as possible so people know that, you know, just because you were incarcerated doesn’t mean that you’re not a person, that you’re not human, that you don’t deserve a second chance, that you did pay your dues, so it’s time to allow people to have a second chance, and so our church takes that stand as the lead institution for 7 and 8.  When you say Cluster A coordinator, that means I actually recruit mentors and services for 7 and 8, but we do a lot of citywide events and services as well, and so part of our church’s stance on returning citizens is, not to be silent about it.  Let’s not be silent about incarceration anymore.  I think the, particularly, African American community has felt ashamed about incarceration, where you talk about the number of years that people went away, and we didn’t know the impact of that in our own families.  It has exacerbated our families in our communities.

Shelly Broderick:  It’s so true.

Kelly Wilkins:  And so we didn’t know what the impact of that was going to be, but what has happened is, particularly the black church, but our faith institutions, have always had a strong social justice stance, and so incarceration wasn’t a part of that.  So it is the tendency for churches and faith institutions to be silent about it.  So we want our partners to talk about incarceration: the pain, the struggle of the family, the needs, all of that.  We want to educate pastors and tell them, look, don’t be quiet about incarceration in your family.  You have people in your pews who are returning home or families who are struggling because of a family member missing, and so that’s the kind of things that we want to educate our community and our faith partners on as well.

Shelly Broderick:  It really, you know, when I was a little girl in Maine, there was a prison called Thomason Prison, and they had a store.  They had people doing crafts.  And so every time we went past there, we used to go into the store, they had prison inmates working in the store, you know, getting close to getting out, so I grew up thinking prisoners were all white, because in Maine, they’re all white, and they’re really good at crafts!  I still have this set of three paintings that we got.  I still have the stool in my kitchen made at the prison.  My sister gave us each Christmas stocking gifts last summer, all from the prison, because that was my conception as a kid.  You know, and because the prisoners I knew were getting close to coming out, it was just all very natural and, you know, we don’t do that.  We send our prisoners a million miles away.  They are completely hidden from society, and we don’t have that kind of easy give and take back and forth that I experienced.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, you know, one of the challenging things about the District of Columbia is that the District’s prison, Lorton, that you mentioned you worked at closed back in 2001, and all of our inmates were dispersed across the United States.  And that has made it, I think, extremely difficult to maintain contact with your loved ones.  So if you were locked up in Louisiana, Idaho, you’re not going to get visits from your family.  It’s even going to be challenging to get phone calls from your family, and if you’re away for five years, as you’ve mentioned, and you don’t have regular contact with your support system, it does create, I think, challenges to come back, and so it is essential that we have mentors from faith institutions to kind of step in while folks are coming back trying to reestablish connections with the community, because sometimes families are slow to embrace their loved ones when they come home.

Kelly Wilkins:  They’re mad.  Sometimes they’re mad because you left them.

Tonya Mackey:  – you took my stuff and, hey, I just don’t want to be bothered with you, I felt you have to prove a point to me, and I’ve been there, because that in and out of, coming out of jail and nobody believing in you because you said it over and over again, so when do you change?  When do we stop?  It has to.
Shelly Broderick:  Well, you make a good point –

Tonya Mackey:  But you have to make a community.

Shelly Broderick:  First of all, Alderson is, what, six hours away?  You were just right around the corner in West Virginia, but six hours, that’s crazy!  You can’t, like, there’s no plane there.  It is a trek!  It is so hard.

Kelly Wilkins:  And if you have children, how do they eat in the ride going down there, when they get down there, do you drive six hours, and then you visit an hour, and then you drive six hours back?

Shelly Broderick:  And can you afford to stay in a hotel?  Is there a hotel anywhere nearby?  A motel or anything?  No, it’s crazy.  And then, they don’t lock women up very often unless they’ve got a history, so you –

Tonya Mackey:  Yeah, I had a history.

Shelly Broderick:  You did, in and out –

Tonya Mackey:  In and out of jail.

Shelly Broderick:  – locally and all that.  So you had a mountain to climb.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  You had a mountain to climb.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  So talk to me about your mentor.

Tonya Mackey:  Well, what happens is, a lot of times, when I go to my other program, Empowered by Women, we stay in touch, me and Ms. Mignonne, and me and Ms., my mentor, we stay in touch, Ms. Kelly, and what happens is, just like she called me today, and she was like, well, I need to kind of like, help me out.  I’m in a spot.  Not a problem, and that’s what it’s about, me being accountable today.  Even though I was at work –

Shelly Broderick:  I see that.  I’m guessing you don’t wear that on Saturday.

Tonya Mackey:  But thank god that I’m able to do that today!  You know, thank god I was able, like I said, not just come home and get a job, because I still have some things that I have to do, but I’m just helping my mom, because like, she’s going through her cancer situation, which I know God already having, and I’m her only child to speak about it, so I took my mom, when I got locked up, she was locked up, and a lot of us don’t realize that until after we get a certain amount of clean time, people in our life who we can share the real gut level things about how you treated your moms when you was on the street, and then a lot of people don’t have their mom, so I’m real grateful today that I have my mom to talk to, and like I said, I talked to Ms. Willis and them, and Ms. Kelly, like, on a regular, because it’s like, I need people in my life to keep me on the right track when I need to stay outside of myself, when I get angry, and it feels like there’s nobody in my corner, you know, I’ve learned how to pray.  I mean, it’s like, I talk to God, at first I was like, I don’t know how, I don’t know where, but I’m like, God, can you just help me.  Next thing I know, there’ll be a phone call.  I’m here.  And that’s only through the grace of God, because, hey, I always wanted to become a positive role model.  I just didn’t know how.  So today, I’ve learned how to become a better person and a better human being.

Shelly Broderick:  We’ve got about four more minutes.  You’ve got two, and you’ve got two.

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay, great!

Shelly Broderick:  What else do we need to know?

Kelly Wilkins:  Through the faith-based initiative, we look for faith partners.  I’m always…

Shelly Broderick:  You’re recruiting right now.

Kelly Wilkins: I guess, I’m always recruiting mentors, and I’m always trying to recruit services that will help our returning citizens –

Shelly Broderick:  How do you become a mentor?  Somebody who actually wants to, hey, you know what, I’d like to work with somebody like Tonya!  I think I could do that!  I like her, and I could do that.

Kelly Wilkins:  Be a concerned citizen.  We are looking for concerned citizens.  We have a mentor training that, a mandatory mentor training that we ask that you go through.  There’s the application and interview process, and then once you complete that process, then what happens on a regular basis is CSOSA refers clients to me.  Their parole officers, or what they call Community Supervision Officers, refer clients to us, and we will match those clients with a concerned citizen in the community, and that person, just an hour or two a week, just to make sure they’re talking to their mentees and making sure, maybe they may have certain needs.  We create a mentor plan for them, each individual in the mentor plan.  So making sure their needs are getting met –

Shelly Broderick:  I lied.  We only have one more minute.

Kelly Wilkins:  You only have one more minute?  Okay.

Shelly Broderick:  I’m going to give it to you –

Kelly Wilkins:  No problem.

Shelly Broderick:  And then you’re going to have to come back.

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay, no problem.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s what it’s going to have to take.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just say, at CSOSA, what we’re after are people successfully completing their community supervision, and that’s why Tonya’s here with us as an example of what is possible.  And so we want to let the community know that, in order to realize the success, we need help.  We partnered with the faith community, we actively partnered with the District of Columbia government, so anybody listening who wants to join this effort, they should contact me at 220-5300, and we’ll pull them into the network of help and support.

Shelly Broderick:  Absolutely fantastic.  I am so glad, especially you, Tonya, but for both of you, just to have you on and let people know there are so many positive things going on, and there is a place to get help and to get support.

Tonya Mackey:  There’s hope.  There’s hope.

Shelly Broderick:  If you are interested in learning about CSOSA and reentry programs regarding men and women returning home from prison, please visit CSOSA’s website at and click on the offender reentry link or call Cedric Hendrick’s at 202-220-5300.  CSOSA and their faith partners, partnerships, are committed to assisting our returning citizens come home and stay home.  They invite the public to assist them with achieving that goal.  I’m Shelley Broderick.  Thanks for watching, and please join me next time for more Sound Advice.

[Video Ends]


Women Offenders – DC Public Safety Television 2011

Women Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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

See for our radio shows, blog and transcripts.

Television Program available at

We welcome your comments or suggestions at or at Twitter at

[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is on women offenders, and one of the reasons we’re doing today’s program is the fact that there are more women coming into the criminal justice system, both in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.  Now the other issue is the fact that women offenders have higher rates of HIV, of substance abuse, of mental health problems.  But the thing that really astounds me is the difference between sexual violence when they are directed towards women offenders as children.  There’s a huge difference between the women coming into the criminal justice system, and male offenders.  To talk about what we’re doing here in Washington, D.C., and the what’s going on throughout the country, we have two principals with us today.  From my agency, we have Dr. Debra Kafami.  She is the Executive Assistant for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We also have Ashley McSwain, the Executive Director from Our Place, DC.  And to Debra and Ashley, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Thank you.

Ashley McSwain: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right.  Well ladies, we have this issue of offenders coming into the criminal justice system, and of greatly concern to us.  And they’re different from male offenders, and we need to say that straight from the beginning, that there’s a big difference between male and female offenders, people caught up in the criminal justice system.  Debra, our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re reorganizing everything that we do around women offenders.   Why are we doing this?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well, CSOSA is an evidence-based organization, and a lot of research coming out has shown that women are very, very different from male offenders.  And we started to look at what were we doing for female offenders. And they were kind of like just in with the men, and we weren’t doing a whole lot of specialized programming for women, yet they have very different needs and they have very different pathways into crime.  So we started to realize that the numbers are also increasing.  We had probably about 12% of our population ten years ago that were female offenders, and now we’re up to around 16%.  And nationally, the women entering the criminal justice system have outpaced the men.

Len Sipes: Right.

Dr. Debra Kafami: From 5% to about 3.3% since 1995.

Len Sipes: Right.  Now on the second half of the program, we’re going to have Dr. Willa Butler, she runs women groups for us, and we’re going to have an individual currently under supervision.  So she’ll talk more about the practical reality of what we do at CSOSA in terms of dealing with women offenders.  But one of the things that Willa’s group has been able to demonstrate is that they have a pretty good success rate, once you take women offenders, put them into a program, put them into a group setting where they can talk through these issues, where they can sort of help and heal each other.  So we’re reorganizing in CSOSA, in Washington, D.C., around these groups, correct?  And we’re going to add a day reporting component, and all women offenders are going to be reporting to one field agency.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re just reorganizing everything we do!

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes.  What we decided to do was to create three teams at one of our field sites, centrally located near Union Station and have the women report there.  We’re establishing a day reporting center, just for female offenders, so they can come in one place and get services.  And their programming will be completely separate from the male offenders, which we did not have before.  Women behave differently even when they’re in groups, and they’re less likely to open up when they’re in groups with male offenders.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve attended a couple of Willa’s groups, and I have to ask permission to come in, and the women have to get to know me and like me before they even allowed me inside the group.  But once there, it was a really extraordinary experience.

Dr. Debra Kafami: We’re also especially training our staff to work with female offender.

Len Sipes: In terms of the gender specific?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  Ashley McSwain, Executive Director of Our Place, DC.  First of all, Our Place — and I’ve said this constantly — is maybe the most comprehensive one-stop service for women coming out of the prison system anywhere in the United States.  It’s amazing!  Instead of sending the people coming out of the prison system over here for legal assistance, over there for clothing, over there for HIV, you’ve got all of these services under one roof.  I have no idea as to how you do it.  And I’ve heard so many women caught up in the criminal justice system speak so highly of Our Place, DC.  So tell me a little bit, what is Our Place, DC?

Ashley McSwain: Okay.  We work with women who are currently and formerly incarcerated.  So we actually go into the facilities and we offer employment workshops, legal clinics, HIV programming, and we offer case management prior to women ever being released.  So we have really good relationships with the prisons, the jails, the half-way house.  In addition, when a woman is released, she can come to Our Place and we have a drop-in center where she can just drop in, and we offer her tokens for the metro.  We offer birth certificates, identification.  We have a clothing boutique where she can get clothing.  We have HIV prevention and awareness programming, so she can get condoms, and we have a HIV 101 that every woman is subject to.  We have an employment department to help women get resumes.  We actually have a legal department, so we have two full-time attorneys on staff, which is one of our biggest programs.  We take collect calls from women.  We get five hundred calls a month.  We have a case management program so we work with women four months before they’re released, and then we work with them after they’re released.  So it’s very, very comprehensive.  We have a visitation program where we take family members to various facilities to visit their loved ones.  So, yeah, we do quite a bit at Our Place.

Len Sipes: That is amazing.  We did a radio show a little while ago, and I said, during the radio show, that if anybody out there is looking for a wonderful 501c3 tax exempt organization where they can donate money, they need to look at Our Place, DC.  And the website for Our Place DC is going to be shown constantly throughout the television program.

Len Sipes: All right, so CSOSA, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Debra, our agency, we’re a Federal Parole and Probation Agency.  Women are a part of who we supervise, Ashley.  Women come into Our Place, D.C. and get all of these comprehensive services.  I love the fact that you’re inside the prison system, making contact with women long before they come out.  So let’s get to the broader philosophical issues of women offenders, if we could for a second.  There’s a huge difference between men and women.  Certainly one of those issues is the fact that the great majority of women coming out have kids.

Ashley McSwain: Yes.

Len Sipes: And so, I don’t want to be overly stereotypical, and I’ll probably get phone calls, but the sense that I get from a lot of the male offenders is that they don’t see themselves as responsible.  The sense that I get from the women offenders is they want their kids back.

Ashley McSwain: Yes.

Len Sipes: How do you do that?  How do you come out of the prison system with all the baggage that you have to carry, in terms of finding work and re-establishing yourself, and taking care of a couple kids?  That, to me, almost seems to be impossible.  Ashley?

Ashley McSwain: Yes, it’s extremely difficult.  And one of the things that’s happening now, since we’re looking at gender-specific issues, is this idea that women have to not only build a foundation for themselves when they’re released, but they also have to build foundation for their children.  And acknowledging that as being their reality is helpful, as we help them prepare for their future.  It’s very difficult.  What we do at Our Place is try to build some of the basic foundations, you know, so housing, and dealing with whatever the underlying legal issues are, and helping them identifying jobs.  And then we tackle this issue of getting custody of children and identifying visitation, and those kinds of very serious issues.

Len Sipes: We talked about higher rates of substance abuse, Debra.
We talked about higher rates of HIV.  We talked about higher rates of mental health problems, and this astounding issue of the rate of sexual violence being directed towards them when they were younger, a lot of cases by family members and friends.  Most of the women offenders that I’ve come into contact with throughout my career have got a rock-hard crust.  If we’re going to have any hopes of — I mean, public safety is our first priority.  We’re not going to hesitate putting anybody back in prison if that’s going to protect public safety.  But if we’re going to really succeed in terms of getting these individuals through supervision successfully, we have to have programs.  For the programs to be successful, we’ve got to break through that hard crust.  How do we do that?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well it’s not an easy job, that’s for sure, and that’s where our specialized programming comes into play, with our specially-trained staff that we have.  I know Dr. Butler will talk about the Women in Control Again Program, but that’s just one example.  We also want to address the substance abuse issues.  Many of them don’t get enough treatment while they’re incarcerated, and they need that.  We also work with them on traumatization and victimization issues.  Housing — housing is another big issue for the women, trying to find stable housing.

Len Sipes: Especially in Washington, D.C.!

Dr. Debra Kafami: They face, really, an insurmountable — almost — number of problems. — And family reunification is another very big one.

Len Sipes: Right.  But I mean, getting, breaking through that hard crust, I mean, sometimes they can be as hard as nails.  When they come out of the prison system, they don’t trust you.  Why should they trust us?  We just put them in prison.  Why should they trust government?  Ashley, isn’t that one of the most difficult things when a woman comes out of the prison system and gets into Our Place, isn’t that one of the most difficult things that you have to deal with, and your staff?

Ashley McSwain: Well, one of the things that happens is that because we are working with the woman prior to her release, we’re actually establishing a relationship, a trusting relationship, with her before she’s released.  Our Place has a really good reputation of being a safe place, and so when the women come here, there’s this welcoming environment that says that it’s a safe place, a safe space to be.  And not only that, it’s a place where you can trust what it is that you’re sharing is confidential.  We don’t send people back to prison.  We don’t have those kinds of authorities, and so the dynamics are a little different.  So we can build a trusting relationship in a way that CSOSA and other organizations may not be able to.

Len Sipes: Yeah.  We would have a hard time because we’re a law enforcement agency, and at the same time we’re trying to break down those barriers and help them in terms of programs.  We all agree, the three of us agree, that substance abuse programs, mental health programs, HIV programs, and programs to deal specifically with this history of sexual violence, are all necessary if that individual is going to successfully complete supervision.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain: Yeah, that’s correct.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Definitely.

Len Sipes: I mean, we’re living in a day and age of cutbacks. We’re living in a day and age of limited government.  So we’ve got to be able to tell people that these programs save tax dollars.  You know, one of the programs that we have, the great majority of people successfully complete the program, which means they don’t go back to prison, which means they save tax-paid dollars, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of tax-paid dollars.  So there’s an economic incentive as well as a social incentive to be doing these things, correct?

Ashley McSwain: Yes.  I would also say that Our Place helps a woman begin to implement a plan.  So many of the women, while they’re incarcerated, they don’t know where to begin.  And so this idea of saving tax-payer dollars, you know, someone has to have a plan in which to begin to develop in order to stay out of prison.  And so that’s one of the really important services I think we offer is the ability to work with a woman so that she has some hope and some ideas about what her next steps are going to be.

Len Sipes: Okay.  And Debra, the national research does show that if you’re gender-specific in terms of your approach of dealing with women offenders, you’re going to have a much higher rate of success in terms of them successfully completing supervision.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes, and better outcomes.  And I did want to add that when the offender comes to CSOSA, the first thing we do is a risk-and-needs assessment, and we also come up with a prescriptive supervision or an intervention plan.  We work very closely with Our Place staff too, so our Community Supervision Officers are on the same team, with Our Place staff, to try and help guide the offender.

Ashley McSwain: I just want to say, one of the things we do is that we don’t actually create release plans.  We help implement the plans that were created by CSOSA and the Bureau of Prisons, which is really helpful for the women.

Dr. Debra Kafami: And sharing information.

Len Sipes: And sharing information.  It just strikes me that — and Debra, you and I come from the same system in the State of Maryland — the women offenders just came home and they were home.  That’s all there was to it.  I mean, there were no programs specifically for them.  There were no efforts.  We have CSOSA and we have Our Place DC.  I mean, there really is a focus now on making sure that that individual woman gets the programs and assistance that she needs, and if we do that, fewer crimes are going to be committed and fewer people are going to go back to prison, saving a ton of tax-paid dollars.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well, not to mention too, that the women, most of them have children, and that separation from their children is not good for the children or the mother, and if we can help the women be successful and not go back to prison, it’s going to only help their children.

Len Sipes: Right, by every woman offender we help, we’re helping two or three or more other individuals have a much greater chance of having a pro-social life.  Research is clear that the rates of the children going into the criminal justice system or having problems in school are much higher if a parent is incarcerated.  So this is not only dealing with her, it’s dealing with three or four other human beings.

Ashley McSwain: Right.  And that also speaks to this issue of gender-specific.  When a woman goes to prison, you’re not only dealing with that person — woman being a mother, she’s someone’s daughter, you know.  So all of these people are impacted when she’s incarcerated, and also they’re impacted when she’s released.

Len Sipes: Right.  So I think we’re going to out the program with that.  I really appreciate the fact that you two were here and set up this whole program.  On the second half, ladies and gentlemen, what we’re going to do is talk to Dr. Willa Butler.  She runs groups for women offenders, and we’re going to talk to an individual currently under supervision.  Please stay with us as we explore this larger issue of women offenders in the criminal justice system.  We’ll be right back.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes: Welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.  I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  We continue to have a conversation about women offenders.  In the first half we did talk about the fact that there are more women coming into the criminal justice system, and the question becomes what is our agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, doing about it, and what’s happening throughout the country.  With the bottom line behind all of that are gender-specific programs, and the research is pretty clear that if you have these gender-specific programs, programs and treatment specifically designed for women offenders, they have much better outcomes.  And we have two individuals to talk about much better outcomes, Dr. Willa Butler, she’s a group facilitator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, and Talynthia Jones is a person currently under supervision by my agency.  And to Dr. Butler, to Willa, and to Talynthia, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Dr. Willa Butler: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Willa, this whole process with the group — you’ve run the group.  I have seen some of the groups.  It is an amazing place to be when the women under your supervision open up.  Some of the stuff that they talk about is scary.  I always like to refer to it as a trip to Mars, because their experience probably is not your experience.  It certainly hasn’t been my experience in terms of all of the issues that they have had to deal with in life.  A lot of these individuals come to us battered and bruised, and we’re not making excuses for their criminality, and we’re not saying we’re not going to send them back to prison.  We will in a heartbeat if that’s going to protect public safety.  But your group has a good track record of getting them through supervision successfully, and considering the issues they bring to the table, I find that astounding.  So tell me a little bit about this group process.

Dr. Willa Butler: What it is, WICA — Women in Control Again. It’s a group that I developed some years ago for the agency, and it deals with the issues and concerns of the female offender. — Their pathways to crime, how they got started in the criminal justice system, and knowing how they got started lets us know how we can keep them from returning and breaking that cycle of pain.  And what we deal with in group, we deal with first of all we start with who they are.  And a lot of women don’t know exactly who they are, because they’ve been out in the drinking and drugging for so long, and at such an early age, it’s like, “I really don’t know who I am today.  And now that I’m clean, I’m trying to find myself”, in a sense.  And that’s what we deal with, things of that nature.  And we deal with the substance abuse, and the whole gamut, the parenting skills, housing, whatever issues that concerns them.  That’s mainly what we deal with.  There’s basically seventeen critical issues that we deal with in that group process.  But the main thing is showing empathy, showing that you care, and developing a trusting environment, where they can not only trust you, but trust each other.

Len Sipes: The criminologists call it cognitive restructuring, and there is plenty of research out there that indicates that that works.  Now “cognitive restructuring” to the average person listening to this program is helping individuals think differently about who they are and what they are.  My guess is that a lot of the women involved in your groups have never dealt with that subject before in their lives, have never had an opportunity to say, “Who am I?  What do I want to do?  Where do I need to go?”  Is that correct?

Dr. Willa Butler: That’s correct.  And when you talk about cognitive restructuring, it’s basically getting to the core, getting to the core factor as to why I do the things that I do.  And once we find that out, then we can start changing, because that begins to empower the person.  And we know what our limitations are, and we also know what our assets are as well, and it helps us to develop.

Len Sipes: I’m going to go over to Talynthia in a couple seconds.  But you and I have had other programs together about this topic, and my favorite story is when I was with the Maryland Correctional System and sitting down with a bunch of women offenders, and they actually told me that prison, in this pre-release center, was preferable to going home at times.  And I always found that astounding, why would an individual find prison to be preferable to life on the outside.  And they said to me that they’ve never felt safer.  They’re getting their GED.  They were getting at that point a food certificate, a culinary arts certificate.  And they were running groups.  And for the first time in their lives, they weren’t trying to figure out who they were and where they were going with their lives.  And also, it was safer in prison because they had been so beaten up on the outside.  So there’s a larger, really societal issue that is at play here that we’re not going to be able to solve.  But Talynthia, over to you.  Thank you very much for being on the program.

Talynthia Jones: You’re welcome.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate it.  Now you’re currently under supervision by my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and you’re currently involved in a lot of groups.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  Does that group process work for you?

Talynthia Jones: It’s working very well for me.  Dr. Butler is a good counselor.  She’s helping me to deal with me, to learn me, to get inside myself, to know what’s going on with me and why I keep using, why I keep doing the things that I’m doing to go back in the system.  And I’ve been doing this for too long.  And as we do the group sessions and the work papers that we do, you know, in the groups, it’s helping us to not just wonder how dominate we can be to stay strong, but how dominate that we can put ourselves into another place, to learn how getting your life together is much better than to just cover it up with some mess.  And I’ve just been feeling good about myself here lately.

Len Sipes: Wonderful.

Talynthia Jones: And I love, I love every minute.  I get up early in the morning, I’m always there early, because I can’t wait to talk about me.  Because I’m tired of just having all this bottled-up junk inside me that’s keeping me going back into the places and the phases that I’ve been doing.

Len Sipes: Is this the first time in your life that you’ve had an opportunity to really sit down and talk with other people about everything that’s happened in your past?

Talynthia Jones: Yes.  It’s actually been the very first time that I’ve actually even dealt with women, because I have women issues.  And Dr. Butler is teaching me how to communicate with women, how to communicate period.  And it is very good, it’s very good.

Len Sipes: Now in terms of sharing that information, I mean, was I right before in the program where I said that a lot of women who come out of the prison system were rock-hard.  They don’t trust anybody.  They don’t trust any one for any reason.  How did Dr. Butler break through that barrier to get to you?

Talynthia Jones: She broke the barrier with me because I don’t see Dr. Butler as a Court Service Agency.  I see her as a mother figure.

Len Sipes: Right.

Talynthia Jones: Because she don’t look at us as criminals.  She look on us at people, as children, you know, children of God, you know.  And she loves us unconditionally, and she’s willing to help us. When other people out in society, they look at us, “Well, she’s nothing but a drug addict.  She’s nothing but a criminal.  She keeps doing this and she keep doing that.”  But Dr. Butler doesn’t see us that way.

Len Sipes: And in terms of this group process, if you weren’t involved in this group process, where would be now?  If you came from the prison system and all we did was supervise you and put you under GPS and drug test you and hold you accountable for your actions — if that’s all we did, we didn’t supply this gender-specific approach, this group process, where would be now?

Talynthia Jones: I would be still using.  I would be back in the penal system. Because all drugging do is cover up your feelings, covering up your emotions.  It’s covering up what you dealing with instead of you dealing with it on your own, or dealing with it with someone that’s going to help you to get involved with yourself, to let all these emotions out so that you won’t cover it up with drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.  And how to cope with life without turning to drugs.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: And so, you said you had women’s issues or issues with dealing with other women, how difficult was that? — Because you’re in these groups, you share that experience. You share all these ugly things that have happened to you throughout your life, sharing that with a group of women.  Was that easy or difficult or what?

Talynthia Jones: It was difficult when I first got in, until I saw Dr. Butler, because I was able to talk to Dr. Butler before.  And she really lets you know that it’s okay.  It’s okay to talk about what’s going on with you.  And see, I’m a person that’s afraid to talk about what’s going on with me because I’m afraid of what somebody going to think of me.  And that’s what most women think, you know.  And doing the things that we do, if we talk about it, somebody won’t think something bad about us. It’s always come to me and my attention, as brought up, that what I did was my fault.  And I know everything that I do is not my fault.

Len Sipes: Right.  Well, before we get back to Dr. Butler for the close of the program, getting back to that whole issue of how other people think about you — most people, you’re coming out of the prison system, they’re going to say, “You’re a criminal.  I don’t want to fund programs for criminals.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry.  Let’s give it to the church.  Let’s give it to the PTAs.  I don’t want programs for criminals, and I don’t want to hire criminals.”  Okay, you’re a criminal, technically.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  That stereotype — that’s the difference between what people have in their mind of criminal, and there you are, a pretty young woman who’s successfully dealing with all the issues in her life.  How do you feel about that?

Talynthia Jones: Well, it makes me feel bad for the people out there, because they don’t realize that the women here are dealing with so much emotional things, and because they are dealing with it in the wrong way, and the people don’t want to help them, it shows that they only think of themselves.  They’re worrying about themselves.  They’re not caring about what we feeling and what we going through, why we’re doing this.

Len Sipes: And you’re not that stereotype, is the bottom line.

Talynthia Jones: I’m not that stereotype.  I want the help.  And some women are out here that don’t want the help, they just want to get off paper.  But me, I want the help.  I know I need the help, not for me, but for my family.  And I have to think about me first, because if I don’t care of me, I can’t take care of no one else.

Len Sipes: Understood.  Completely understood.

Talynthia Jones: And see, and that’s what the society needs to know, that if we get the help that we need, and not only from the government, well maybe from family members, the support that we need, the love, the care and affection that we didn’t get back in our childhood that causes us to grow up in adulthood to do the things that we do.

Len Sipes: Right.  Willa, the great majority of the people that are in your groups complete them successfully.

Dr. Willa Butler: Yes.

Len Sipes: The rate of successful completion is much higher than it is for men.  It’s much higher than it is for everybody combined.  I think what Talynthia just said, and it was very impressive and I thank you for sharing that story, is the heart and soul of it.  She’s getting the help she needs and she’s doing fine because she’s getting the help she needs.  Is that the bottom line behind this?

Dr. Willa Butler: Yes.  And that is the main bottom line behind, like you say, is to give them the help and support; but not only that, but to have an understanding of what’s happening.  Most of the women who have been through the criminal justice system have been raped or molested at a very early age, and that’s something that comes out in the group process.  And it gives them an understanding, like Talynthia said, and why we drug through that.  We’re not using it as an excuse, but when you’ve gone through a trauma like that, and then there’s no one out there to help you or assist you, and that’s one thing that the women don’t have as children, they didn’t have that support, that healthy network and system.  So they turn within by using drugs or whatever else was out there, and then they ended up in the criminal justice system, because they’re trying to support their habit or whatever, and live out of the normal society.

Len Sipes: And you’ve got the final word.  First of all, thank you very much, ladies, for being on the program.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching us as we explored this issue of women offenders.  Look for us next time as we look at another important topic in today’s criminal justice system.  Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


ROOT, Inc (Reaching Out to Others Together) “DC Public Safety” Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From our nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  At our microphones today is Kenny Barnes, MS.  He is the founder, CEO of ROOT, Inc.  ROOT is one of these organizations in Washington, DC, very similar to ant-crime organizations throughout the United States, although ROOT has had a very long and illustrious background.  These are individuals who work with ex-offenders.  These are individuals who work with kids in the community.  These are individuals, and this is an organization that is renowned for getting in and solving problems within the city of Washington, DC, working on the streets, working where the problem really is.  Kenny is a recent recipient of the National Service Award from the U.S. Department of Justice for his work with victims.  Joining Kenny today is Clint Murchinson.  Clint is the community outreach coordinator of ROOT.  The address for ROOT is, and with that introduction, Kenny Barnes and Clint Murchinson, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Kenny Barnes:  Thank you for having us

Len Sipes:  Kenny, you’ve been around a long time.  You’re well known in Washington, DC.  Everybody likes you, everybody respects you, and everybody knows your work.  But remember, the audience for this program, well, 80% of the audience for this program goes beyond Washington, DC.  In fact, 20% of it goes international.  So give me a 30 second explanation of what ROOT incorporated is and does.

Kenny Barnes:  ROOT is an acronym.  It stands for Reaching Out to Others Together.  It was founded back in 2002 after the horrific murder of my son by a young man who was a product of the juvenile justice system in the District of Columbia.  It also stands for; we need to get to the root of the problem, what is creating such violent young children today.

Len Sipes:  And what, by the way, as long as you bring that up, what is the root of the problem?

Kenny Barnes:  Well, we need to learn, we need to know that violence is a learned behavior.  It’s not innate.  So the root of the problem is, we need to deal with issues that create violence rather than waiting to react to violence.

Len Sipes:  And what are those issues?

Kenny Barnes:  Mental health issue, the trauma that’s imposed on a community, the trauma that’s imposed when youth are exposed to violence, when youth are exposed to drugs, proper parenting, dysfunctional parents in the home, collaborative effort between all agencies and organizations working together, which we’ve not had in DC, which we’re striving to get in DC.

Len Sipes:  Well, I would dare say, and before we get into these larger issues, Clint, you’re community outreach coordinator.  You’re the person who does what?  You’re the person on the street who directly works with individuals who have come out of the prison system who are acting out, who are being disruptive, you are the person who’s there to deal with them one on one, and my guess is that you’re there to get them back into a GED program if they’ve dropped out of school, if they’re acting out, to talk about anger management, if they’ve got potential, to get them into job training, your job is to show them the better nature of what it is they want to be and what it is they want to do and get them out of a life of possibly mugging and thugging, as some people like to put it, and move them in a better direction.  Am I right or wrong?

Clinton Murchinson:  Exactly, you are right.  And one reason why I do what I do is because, you know, I’m ex-offender, as was mentioned, and I know the potentials and a lot of the people that’s out here, and I don’t just deal with ex-offenders, but I’m dealing with those who are out here in society and are being misguided, even though they don’t realize the misguidedship that they are, going down the road, so like, what I do, I work with them, pull them out, and do what ROOT said, reach out to others together as opposed to just mentioning ROOT, Inc, and having them come for us, we reach out to them, unlike other organization does, and when we work with them, you know, like I said, we listen to the kids, the young people’s concerns, because a lot of them want attention, and we listen to their concerns, and in listening to that, then we found out that, okay, this has a lot to do with their household, their upbringing, as opposed to just, you know, living on the streets, playing video games, listening to so called rap music, gangster rap, it starts at home.  It starts at home, and I myself, as mentioned earlier, I’m an ex-offender, and yes, I was out there doing what I thought was right, even though my mother and father was always telling me, don’t do this, don’t do that, I became curious, and becoming curious, I had associates who I thought were friends and thought they were going to lead me right, but they led me down the wrong road –

Len Sipes:  I’ve had a lot of people who come out of the prison system basically said, you know, Leonard, you can kick drugs, kicking drugs is easy, kicking the corner is impossible.  Kicking your friends, kicking what you grew up with, kicking what you’ve become accustomed to is very, very hard to give up.  You know, Kenny, I want to go back to larger issues, root violence, community violence, perception of violence, I mean, everybody in this country wants the golden key to preventing violence in cities.  Everybody in this country essentially wants the same things.  They want people who are caught up in the criminal justice system who, regardless of who they are, because in Washington DC, we’re talking about African Americans, in Minneapolis, we could be talking about whites, and in another city, we could be talking about Hispanics, and in another city, we could be talking about Indians.  It is essentially the same set of dynamics regardless as to where you go and what particular group you look at, everybody wants these individuals to succeed.  Everybody wants them to finish high school.  Everybody wants them to go out and get a job.  Everybody wants them to go on and get job training or education.  Everybody wants everybody else to stay off drugs.  Everybody wants everybody else to do well.  Yet we have a society where we have the Kenny Barnes of the world, and we have ROOTs, and we have organizations like ROOT all throughout the country, and yet here we are sitting in 2010, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem to get any better.

Kenny Barnes:  I’m going to slightly disagree with you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Okay, go ahead.

Kenny Barnes:  I think that we have, I know we have a city that reacts very well to violence.  I know we have a country that reacts very well to violence.  We have a prison, school to prison pipeline.  We have a society that believes in incarceration that believes in locking people up instead of, that believes in prevention.  I know this, because in a lot of the funding that is available, it’s not so much available for prevention.  So I think that’s where we need to start gearing our attention.  Ideally, what you were saying is true, ideally, we wouldn’t have a lot of the issues that we have if what you were saying is totally correct.

Len Sipes:  Well, the question is, is that you go back all throughout criminology.  I mean, there’s a book that all, when I left the police department years ago and had to, when I went to study criminology, Street Corner Society, which is a classic book that every criminology student has to read about Italian street corner gangs in New York, they didn’t say New York, but it really was New York in right around the 1920s, and the dynamics from the street corner gangs today and the Italian street corner gangs back in the 1920s, it is in essence the same thing.  There are differences, there are, you know, the level of violence wasn’t there, but these are people who carried guns, these are people who loved to do substances, these are people who dropped out of school, these are people who mistrust authority, these are people who don’t see themselves as having a future, these are people who see themselves as fate decides what happens to you.  I mean, these are all the same things that happen on the street corner of Washington DC, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, it doesn’t matter.  My point is that there just seems to, decade in, decade out, there seems to be, if you don’t mind me saying this, an underclass, regardless of what race they happen to belong to, that are caught up in the criminal justice system that are caught up in mugging and thugging, and they don’t see a way out for themselves.

Kenny Barnes:  Yes, but I want to make a difference, is that from a criminologist’s perspective, my background is clinical psychology.  So we may have a different viewpoint as to what causes this, I don’t know, because I’ve not studied criminology, I have studied psychology.  The fact of the matter is that we live in a system that almost demands an underclass.  There almost has to be an underclass for this system to be successful.  Now when you throw in racism and you throw in poverty and you throw in lack of education, you throw in dysfunctional families, you throw in dropping out of school, you now add on top of that, you already have a fire burning in the community already.  Now what you do is you add on top of that music, kill, murder, drugs, b, whore, and you add that on top of that to an underclass that is already on fire, that’s like pouring gasoline on the fire, so now what happens is you see children now that are, and I have to say, it’s still a small percentage.  I’m not saying all children, it’s still a small percentage, but it’s growing, and I see children that are almost out of control.

Len Sipes:  And you know, you’ve said so many things, and we could move in so many different directions, and I, there are people out there who just take a look at the music and cannot fathom how it was ever created and how it was ever produced and how it was ever embraced because the messages are so self-destructive to younger people, yet the next person who comes into this studio will see it as an art form and as a form of urban expression and as an expression of who we really are.  You’ve touched upon a lot of different things, but it’s almost not that we have, that this system creates an underclass, needs an underclass, the music part of it is beyond comprehension, because it’s so self-destructive, and that’s something I’ll never quite understand, but I’m glad you brought it up.  Clinton, I want to get you in here.  Somewhere along the line between the two of you gentlemen, I want to get to three things, and we talked about them at the beginning of the program: prevention, the fact that we can’t glorify former offenders, and the fact of what it is that ROOT does, but we need to leave a message to people today from all across the country all around the world who are going to be listening to this program, what communities need to do to lower crime and to get kids in school and to create an atmosphere of success for these kids.  What is it?  You work on the street, you know these kids better than anybody else.  What is it, what should we do?

Clinton Murchinson:  Well, a lot of people might disagree with me, but what motivates me in helping these kids and understanding these kids is understanding myself first.  You know, recognizing how precious life is in the beginning, and in doing so, you know, I look at how I want to be treated.  And a lot of people don’t do that.  They don’t do that.  They do not look at how they really want to be treated, and I, myself, for one, is a person who loved myself, which in turn, make me love others.

Len Sipes:  All right, so you’ve got to know yourself, number one, and there’s got to be respect given and respect returned.

Clinton Murchinson:  Exactly, because that’s one thing that is motivating a lot of youth out here in society –

Len Sipes:  Oh, lord knows!

Clinton Murchinson:  – you know, is respect.  They don’t respect anybody.  They don’t even respect themselves.

Len Sipes:  Got it.  Now where does that come from?  Number two?

Clinton Murchinson:  Where did it come from?  I think that comes from a breakdown in the household again.  You know, you have one parent household, the father might be in jail, or he might have ran off, messed with some other woman, and therefore the woman has to fend for herself, and then she, in turn, are doing what she thinks she has to do in order to get by.

Len Sipes:  All right, I’m going to stop you right there, and now the question’s going to go to both of you is, there’s a lot of people who believe that the root cause – the root cause, I love the term, because ROOT Inc. is here before our microphones, ladies and gentlemen, the root cause of all of this is what’s happening in the home, the root of all of this is child abuse.  The root of all of this is that even if Mom is the last one there, even if Dad’s not part of the picture, that kid’s, in essence, raising himself or herself from an early age, and that kid is growing up feeling abandoned and unloved, which goes to the alcohol, which goes to the drugs, which goes to the violence, and is that anywhere, is that feasible as in terms of being the major contributor to the problem that we have today, Kenny?

Kenny Barnes:  I’m going to go heavy on you, Leonard, for a minute.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead, please.

Kenny Barnes:  Okay, as I said, my background is clinical psychology, and so what you do in a scientific experiment, you look at what is variables and interchanging variables.  What is going on today that didn’t go on 40 years ago, 50 years ago?  Why are children becoming more violent today?  Why do we have, and it’s getting younger, why do we have some of the most violent young people we’ve ever had in the history of the United States?  What’s changed?

Len Sipes:  Why?

Kenny Barnes:  Number one, this is going to cause some controversy on your show, you’re going to get all kinds of calls about this.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Kenny Barnes:  First of all is, African Americans, we don’t live in a patriarchal society.  We live in a matriarchal society.  We need to understand that first of all.  We need to understand that a lot of times, black men weren’t in the families before just as they’re not there today.  The only difference is that if they were in the family before, all they did was basically brought a paycheck home.  The woman was always the strength of the family, always the black family.  So number one, what is the first missing variable is that women of today are no longer the matriarchs like they were years ago.  We have three types of women that we see dealing with these children.  One is the good mother that’s out there struggling and trying to keep her family together.  She’s working, she can’t afford it.  No man around.  The second mother is the type that’s out there running the streets chasing men all over the place or hanging out running the streets.  And then the third type of mother is the one that’s on drugs and alcohol, but under either situation, children are raising themselves together.

Len Sipes:  Well, okay, we agree.  Kids are basically raising themselves or getting up in the morning and pouring their own cereal.  We’re talking about 6 year olds, 7 year olds, they are pouring their own cereal, they are sitting down in front of the television, they are dressing themselves, and if they go to school, they’re going to school by themselves, Mom’s not in the house, or Mom’s sleeping it off.

Kenny Barnes:  And Father’s not around.

Len Sipes:  And Dad’s not around at all.

Kenny Barnes:  That drives them to gangs, because why do you join a gang?

Len Sipes:  Right, for companionship.  Or family.

Kenny Barnes:  Or either for safety.  The gang’s got my back.  Okay, that’s the first problem.  The second problem is going to create some controversy to, and you’re going to say, wow, I didn’t think about that, is the church.  Before years ago, churches were an integral part of the community.  It was a part of the family, extended family.  Churches have become corporate entities now, more concerned about making profit than they are about the community.  Their doors are no longer open to the communities and families.  It’s more about making money.  That’s a second issue.  And the third issue, when you take those two issues, it goes back to what we talked about.  From the time a child wakes up now, they see 18 hours of video or TV every day, and that subconsciously has to have an effect on your mind.  So you put all these three factors together, and I’ve got to say this one last thing.  I want you to think for a minute, if you’re a black child in America, and you have a mother that you can’t respect, then who can you respect?

Len Sipes:  If you can’t go to the church because the church has lost its authenticity, if you can’t go to the mosque because it’s lost its authenticity –

Kenny Barnes:  You can’t go to government.

Len Sipes:  – if you can’t go to the government –

Kenny Barnes:  You can’t go to the police.

Len Sipes:  The only person that you’re going to go to are gangs.

Kenny Barnes:  That’s all you’ve got left.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, we’re halfway through a program that’s streaking by like a comet going through the evening sky.  I want to reintroduce our guest.  Kenny Barnes, MS, he is the founder and CEO of ROOT, Inc.  ROOT is a grassroots organization here in the city of Washington DC working on the streets with individuals, ex-offenders, people in trouble, people caught up in the criminal justice system to try to intervene.  He is the recipient of the National Service Award for victim services from the United States Department of Justice.  With Kenny Today is Clint Murchinson.  Clint is a community outreach coordinator.  The address is  So in essence, let’s get back to the conversation, gentlemen.  The bottom line is this, that you’re talking about it in terms of the African American community.  I want to talk about it in terms of any community, and I’m not trying just to be politically correct here.  If you go and work with, I did street counseling on the streets of the city of Baltimore.  I was out there doing gang counseling on my own.  Clint, I used to do what you’re doing.  And all I had was the Appalachian kids, from the mountains, whose parents brought them down to Baltimore City, and so I’m out there, you know, 11:00, midnight, 1:00 in the morning on the streets with the Appalachian kids.  There were some black kids there, there were some other kids there from some other races, but it’s principally Appalachian.  Kenny, what you just said applies to them.  And we’re talking about during the 1970s and 1980s –

Kenny Barnes:  Let me tell you the difference, though.

Len Sipes:  Okay, go ahead.

Kenny Barnes:  Okay.  You picked out one segment, and I’m not going to debate you, I wouldn’t debate you about economics plays a role.  It does.  But look what you did.  You picked out one segment of the white community, the poorest segment of the white community to make a comparison.  What I’m talking about takes place in every major city in the United States of America.  What you’re talking about, you picked out one segment, right?  Okay, that’s the difference.  We’re talking about a problem that is systemic and endemic in the African American community, not one segment of it.

Len Sipes:  Is it systemic regardless of what community you go into, or is it just the African American community?

Kenny Barnes:  The issues that I’m talking about, let me show you the difference.  When I talk about this, and it does offend people, I’m not going to lie about that.  But if you look at a black family, and you look at a mother raising her children, when the black man leaves his family, his children, he’ll leave his children, he will go to another family, and he will help raise the other family, and he’ll raise children from the other family, or have new children, and forget all about the children he left behind.  With a white family, the mother and the father will fight, they may hate each other, they may try to kill each other, murder each other, but they will fight for the death of their children, and let me give you another example –

Len Sipes:  What do we do about all this?

Kenny Barnes:  Let me give you one more example.  I went to Loyola, Loyola College in Baltimore.  I was in the doctoral program there; I was the only African American at the time.  I looked at, because the fact of the matter is, white people, 80% of rap music is more about white people.  That’s the fact of the matter.  I looked at these kids who were trying to be cool when I was at Loyola, listening to rap music.  Now again, the difference is, when they graduated, Len, they went on to become right wing Republicans!

Len Sipes:  That’s the point, that’s –

Kenny Barnes:  But to us, it becomes a way of life.

Len Sipes:  You know, when my kids screwed up, they had safety nets.  They had a mother and a father who was going to get in their face and threaten them and say, we’re going to cut you off and yadda, yadda, yadda, we worked hard for these kids –

Kenny Barnes:  But that’s my point.

Len Sipes:  – loving them, threatening them, doing whatever is possible, most kids caught up in the criminal justice system, they don’t have that luxury.  They don’t have parents who are fighting tooth and nail to try and pull that kid out.  They’re on their own.

Kenny Barnes:  Well now, you just validated what I’m trying to say.

Len Sipes:  No, no, it’s not that I disagree with what it is that you’re trying to say.  I do believe that an awful lot of it applies to any group, an awful lot of it applies through, not just to today, but it applies all throughout the history of criminology within this country –

Kenny Barnes:  But the difference, Len, the difference is, if you look at percentages, look at percentage of homicide.  52% of the homicides taking place in America today are black people killing black people.  If you look at the prison system, the percentagewise, the largest percentage of people in the prison system, percentagewise, are black people.  If you look at the economy, the largest percent of the people unemployed in any city you go in are black people.  So we have to stop the systemic and endemic, directly affecting black people.

Len Sipes:  We’ve got 10 minutes to solve all this!

Kenny Barnes:  That you can’t correlate with overall society.  That’s what I’m saying.

Len Sipes:  Kenny and Clinton, we’ve got 10 minutes to solve all this.  So the point of this is that I have, every time I listen to music, and I’ve heard the lyrics, it’s like, oh my god, why don’t we just stop playing this crap?  How self-destructive could this possibly be?  But it just explodes and continues and moves on, and it gets mainstream, I mean, sometimes you begin to wonder, okay, is the only solution here to move away from the problem, which seems to be the preferred solution of people, regardless of what city you go to, to get away from all of the ills of society, you just move, and that doesn’t really solve the problem.  What do we do with all this information?  If we know what’s causing the root of the crime problem in our cities, what do we do about it?

Kenny Barnes:  Well, again, we have a system that, in the prison system, once again, it’s a for profit system right now, which means that it’s about money, it’s about making money, it’s about numbers.  It really isn’t about rehabilitation anymore.  It’s about how many people, because the more people you have in prison, the more money you make.  Okay.  So when you look at it from that perspective, you begin to understand why.  You begin to understand –

Len Sipes:  So we want the system to fail?  We don’t want these kids to go to school, we don’t want these kids to get an education, I mean, so the society is set up to the point where that’s our desire?  Our desire is to have the kid fail and go to prison because it’s a money making enterprise?

Kenny Barnes:  Well, let me say this.  From my perspective, if you know, and what we are both agreeing to, that if there is no support system there, you’re doomed almost to failure.  It takes an extremely strong individual with no support system to come overcome their situation.

Len Sipes:  I agree, I agree.  How do we get to that support system?  Clinton?

Clinton Murchinson:  Well, like, I kind of differ on some of the things that Kenny has mentioned as far as, like, you know, the prison system not rehabilitating.  Yes, being incarcerated, I have noticed that back in this 80s, they have gotten away from the theory of rehabilitation, but I’m going to say in the 90s, they’ve taken things away from you that they was giving you in the prison system, like certain magazines, you couldn’t even order.  I’m talking about, like, what is it, Ebony Magazine, and one reason for that, because they have pretty women in there, so they use that to kind of curtail a lot of sex offenders that were incarcerated, right?  And musical magazines, because of the rap music.  They take all that away from you in prison.  This was in the 90s they started doing this, and I myself have seen that that was a form of, like, rehabilitating you by taking away from you what was motivating you, but again, that goes back to a person has to understand themselves.  I’m talking about not just understand that I’m black, or I’m from DC, or I’m some, understanding the nature of being a human being, and that ties in with spirituality.  Once a person would tie into that, then they’ll want to do good.  They want to do what is right, because they fear the ultimate punishment.

Len Sipes:  Every person coming out of the prison system says that you’ve got to make that decision for yourself.  I do agree with Kenny from the standpoint that only 11% of people in this country, in our prison systems in the criminal justice system get drug treatment.  11% who need it get it, which means that the overwhelming majority don’t.  So for those people who say that they believe that the system is self-perpetuating, and it’s set up to be self-perpetuating, that it’s going to just continue, well there’s a piece of evidence right there that the vast majority of people who need the drug treatment programs, need the mental health treatment programs, they don’t get it, and I’m not talking necessarily about the federal prison system, I’m talking about any prison system, the money is not there to help them, and the research is pretty clear that, if they got the help, then they would do a lot better.  But let’s get off the prison system just for a second, and we can do an entire additional show on the prison system if you like.  So what do we as a society do?  I mean, what I’m hearing is religion, what I’m hearing is ethics –

Kenny Barnes:  No, no.

Len Sipes:  – what I’m hearing is changing –

Kenny Barnes:  You heard that from Clint.  You’re not hearing religion from me.

Len Sipes:  Well, tell me.  Tell me.

Kenny Barnes:  No, religion, not at all.  When my son was murdered, and I saw a bullet hole in his head, and a minister came to me and said, that’s the will, turn it over to Jesus, that’s the will of God, I didn’t want to hear that.  When you have people that are hopeless and despair, and you have ministers that are out there trying to get them to give them their last dollar, people have a tendency to sort of shy away from religion.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  So what do we do?  What do we do then?  If it’s not spiritual –

Kenny Barnes:  Okay, what we do is, first thing we do is we know that the, turning to violence, research shows that it starts to begin from early kindergarten and elementary school to middle school.  We know that the transition starts to take place.  So what do we need to do?  We need to go in early on and start doing preventative measures early on, early on prior to transitioning for violence to take place.  That’s what we need to do, number one.

Len Sipes:  I agree, by the way.  You know what?  There’s a review of research, talking about the most powerful prevention programs out there, the most powerful prevention program is working with the young mother early on when the kid just begins –

Kenny Barnes:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  So you are 1,000% correct.

Kenny Barnes:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  What’s your next point?

Kenny Barnes:  Okay.  The second point is, it’s almost like the public health model, the way the public health model is the tertiary model.  You have prevention early on from elementary school and pre-elementary school, you have prevention methods.  By the time a child gets to middle school, some thoughts and theories have formed in their mind.  Some things begin to take place.  Then you need intervention.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so give me something specific.  Okay, so we’ve said we’re going to send, the first example, we’re going to send social workers in to work with a mom to make sure that she’s reading to the kid, be sure that she knows she can’t hit the kid, be sure that she knows she’s got to give the kid a hot breakfast every day, basics that she may not know.  So now we’re taking it into, the kid’s now 7 and 8 years old, though, what do you do for that kid?  Prevention, you’re talking about prevention.

Kenny Barnes:  I’m talking about prevention.

Len Sipes:  Give me an example.

Kenny Barnes:  Okay, we can talk about issues that create violence.  We can talk about gang violence, how to prevent them from joining gang violence.  We can set up a default system for parenting.  We can give parenting classes.  We can give therapy.  We can give psychology.  Okay, we can do all type of interventions, and it has to be a multimodal comprehensive approach.  It’s not any one answer.

Len Sipes:  So what you’re talking about is replicating the gang.  You’re talking about a gang for good.  You’re talking about making sure that the kids are in a group environment, and they’re being supportive of each other and getting the services that they need.

Kenny Barnes:  You know Maslow’s theory of hierarchy.  You know about that.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Kenny Barnes:  What is the foundation for Maslow’s theory of hierarchy?  Public safety, housing, food, shelter.  If we don’t provide basic fundamental security for young people, why do we expect that they won’t join gangs?

Len Sipes:  Okay, and getting into the last minutes of the program, give me one more.  You’re doing a good job.  You’re doing a good job laying out specifics.  Give me one more.

Kenny Barnes:  Education.

Len Sipes:  Education.

Kenny Barnes:  Education.

Len Sipes:  School’s got to be 1,000 times better.

Kenny Barnes:  Education.  The other thing is community policing.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Kenny Barnes:  Community policing, and what I mean by community policing, I mean we’re policing the community, actually begin to understand each other with, and I didn’t say more police, I said community policing, with a strong emphasis on violent offenders, because we know, you know and I know, that most violent offenders are recidivists.  So we have to pay close attention, and I don’t care, I don’t care what age they are, we have to pay close attention to violent offenders.

Len Sipes:  You have done what I consider to be an extraordinary job, because most of the people that come to the microphones, they can tell you why they have the problem.  We all know why we have the problem, but very few people can come up with specifics in terms of how to deal with the problem, and you’ve just given us four.  We’ve got 30 seconds left, Kenny.  You want to sum up?  I mean, in the final analysis to the child listening to this program, the mother listening to this program, the mayor of Minneapolis listening to this program, you say what to that person?

Kenny Barnes:  We must learn how to prevent violence rather than react to it, and we do, far too many instances react to it, and that’s what’s increasing a prison population that’s increasing and bulging at the seams.

Len Sipes:  You’ve got the final word, and Kenny and Clinton, you guys are invited back.  There’s just no way that you can cover this within a half an hour, just went by way too fast.  Kenny Barnes, MS, he is the recipient of the National Service Award for Victim Services from the United States Department of Justice from our current U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, he is the founder, CEO of ROOT, Inc, Clinton Murchinson, he is a community outreach coordinator for the ROOT, Inc. program here in Washington, DC, that’s  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  I’ve been your host, Leonard Sipes, and we really appreciate your participation in the program, the emails, the letters, and the comments that you give us.  Look for us next time as we explore another topic within the criminal justice system.  I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Special Courts in Washington, D.C. DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  The program today is on special courts, and we have two extraordinarily honorable individuals today to talk about special courts within the District of Columbia.  We have the Honorable Judge Milton Lee, Jr., of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the Honorable Judge Melvin Wright, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  There’s a variety of special courts within the Superior Court system here in the District of Columbia.  There are quite a few of them, and you know, special courts have been in the news a lot lately.  We have the Center for Court Innovation talking about community courts, putting out a new film recently, and the Justice Policy Institute, they put out a new report talking about drug courts widening the net of the criminal justice system when they should be a public health issue, so special courts is in the news, and there are a lot of them in the superior court, and to Judge Lee and Judge Wright, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Milton Lee, Jr:  Thank you very much for having us.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Judge Lee, there are special courts in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.  Please describe them.

Milton Lee, Jr:  I think we’re at a total right now of nine specialty or treatment model courts.  We started with a drug court back in the 90s, we now have community courts on both the U.S. side and wards 6 and 7, we have a DC traffic community court as well, we’ve got the new housing conditions court, we have a prostitute and John court, juvenile drug court, family treatment court, we also have, what I preside over is the fathering court, and then one of the newer courts that we have, our mental health diversion courts on both the adult and the juvenile side, I think that covers the gamut.

Len Sipes:  That’s a lot of special courts.  Judge Wright, why do we have all of these courts?

Melvin Wright:  Well, part of the reason for the courts is to solve the problems that come in.  Traditionally, most of these courts were involved in prosecution, and the traditional model doesn’t always work, and so part of what community courts do is to get involved in finding out what the roots of the problem are and try to solve it with the goal of trying to keep those cases from coming before us in the first place.

Len Sipes:  I think people, when they hear of all these special courts, I’m not quite sure if all people who listen to this program understand this, but I’ve interviewed judges from around the United States, and a lot of programs, a lot of the innovation within the criminal justice system today seems to be coming from the judiciary.  There are a lot of justices, Red Hook up in Brooklyn, New York, comes to mind, where they really literally changed the face of the criminal justice system in that area in Brooklyn and dramatically reduced crime, and that was a judge led program.  Now I could rattle off another 10 or 20 programs that were judge led, but it strikes me that after my 40 years in the criminal justice system, where judges were sort of in the background, sort of only there to bring, to adjudicate cases, now a lot of judges seem to be stepping up and taking leadership roles, and that’s the sense that I’m getting from you guys in terms of the numerous special courts that you have in the Superior Court.  Who wants to take that?

Melvin Wright:  Well, I think that’s true.  One of the reasons that we started the drug court program many years ago was because of the revolving door that we saw with defendants who would come before us.  What would traditionally happen is, someone would violate a crime, speaking specifically regarding drug charges, someone would be charged with either possession or distribution of drugs, they come before the court, they would plead guilty or be found guilty, they’d be put either on probation or incarcerated, but they would never receive any treatment, and so they would get back into the same habits that got them there in the first place, and so one of the things that we thought about, and one of the reasons for the drug court program was to try to treat the individuals.  If you don’t treat someone who has a drug addicted problem, and because of budget cuts and many reasons, there wasn’t a lot of treatment going on in the jails, when they’re released from jails, they come home and fall back into the same problems that got them there in the first place, so the drug court program specifically was designed to help treat the people who had these drug addicted issues.

Len Sipes:  So the whole idea is to solve a problem, not simply to adjudicate people as they wander through the criminal justice system.  I mean, all of us who have been around for any length of time at all understand that people flow through the system.  There’s an endless, endless flow of people.  Crime is at record lows throughout the United States.  In terms, crime generally speaking, at 20 year lows according to the FBI and to the National Crime Survey, but nevertheless, there doesn’t seem to be, there seems to be an endless supply of people being arrested and being processed by the courts, so unless we intervene at some level, that issue of that constant flow of people coming into the criminal justice system never stops, correct?

Milton Lee, Jr:  I think most people, if you would look at just the traditional model of processing cases, people come into the system, they figure out the guilt or innocence issue, whether it be by a plea of guilty or going to trial, and you get to that issue about what do you do at the end.  And part of what our experience has been is that we can frontload some of these services, really connect to people, give them what they need to try and solve some of these problems, and really have a different result at the end.  The idea of delaying service until there’s an adjudication is really an older model.  Treatment courts, you move it right up to the front and you hope that you solve some of those problems, and at the back end, the idea is to reduce recidivism.

Len Sipes:  Right.  The whole idea is not just to reduce recidivism, I understand your term, your use of the term recidivism, but to the public, it’s reducing crime.  The fact that these people are going to get drug treatment, get mental health treatment, they’re going to be more meaningfully involved with the treatment process, and they’re not going to commit future crimes, correct?

Milton Lee, Jr:  Absolutely, and I think when you look at the way that the courts have functioned, that’s exactly what you see.  Now we’ve started to branch out into other areas, like the new housing conditions court, where its essentially the same model, it’s a problem solving approach to what is brought to the court.

Len Sipes:  Now tell me about that.  So people are saying, okay, I understand drug court, I understand mental health court, and there are even veterans’ courts out there throughout the country, but a housing court, tell me about the hosing court and what it does.

Melvin Wright:  Well, the housing conditions calendar began because of, sort of corroboration between the court and the legislature.  There were many citizens in the District of Columbia who were complaining about the fact that they had problems with their house or apartment, and the landlords were not making repairs, and the only way that they could get the matter into court was to wait for the landlord to sue them in landlord-tenant court, and to raise those issues as a defense, and so the court took on the role of trying to create a means in which we could expedite these kinds of cases, and so what we did is we followed the model that is in landlord-tenant and small claims court, where a person can file a complaint, they don’t need to have a lawyer, and they can come before the court and explain what the situation is, and then the court can have the landlord come in, and the court can find out what the problems are, and so a tenant does not have to wait until they are sued by the landlord to come into court, they have a remedy by being able to bring their own lawsuit to have the landlord brought into court, and the judge, once having both parties in front of them, can resolve the problems.

Len Sipes:  Now Judge Wright, okay, to the average person listening to the program, they’re saying, and this means what?  We understand the concept; we understand where you’re going with that.  What does that result in, in terms of the greater good for the larger community?

Melvin Wright:  Well, if you have a problem with rodents, if you have lack of heat, if you do not have appliances that work, a stove, a refrigerator, the essentials that you need in life to survive daily, you can come into court and get those matters resolved fairly quickly, as opposed to the traditional legal model, where you would file a civil action, you would wait several months before you would even see a judge, and then the disposition of that case may take anywhere from six months to a year.  Under our system here, the design is to have it done within 90 days, and so if you don’t have heat in the wintertime, that is a life threatening event.

Len Sipes:  Which is the very essence of the concept, problem solving courts, because what you’re doing is solving problems within the community?  Am I taking this to too broad of a degree when I suggest that people move, they abandon homes, communities are hurt because these problems remain unresolved, and that what you’re doing is resolving these issues now, keeping people in their homes, satisfying both the landlord and the tenant, and that stabilizes community, and that reduces crime?

Melvin Wright:  Yes, I think that’s true, and the other benefit is that, as Judge Lee suggested, we can be more proactive instead of reactive.  The traditional model, as Judge Lee has pointed out, is one where we wait until the end before we do anything.  Under these scenarios, we can take care of them immediately, so if we have a landlord who comes in, and I have 5-10 tenants in that same building, then I know there’s a problem with that particular landlord, and we can deal with that immediately as opposed to waiting some time down the line to try to resolve the problem, so the whole idea is to get a jump on the situation before it can get out of hand, and the court has an interest in doing this, because if we can, it’s much easier to address a problem closer to the beginning than it is at the end.  Once it deteriorates, it makes it much more difficult to find solutions, and the bottom line is, is that whether it’s sentencing, or at the end of a civil action, we’re still going to have to come up with some kind of solution to the problem anyway.

Len Sipes:  Right.  So why not do it when the problem is solvable, why wait until the problem deteriorates to the point where there are no real solutions, and you’re going to have to impose, I guess, draconian levels of resolutions, why not take care of those issues up front?  And that streamlines the issue for the court and creates a better housing, a set of housing conditions for the citizens of the District of Columbia, correct?

Melvin Wright:  Correct.  So if we can get a landlord to fix the property before it becomes in such disrepair that it needs to be condemned by the city, then we’ve saved the citizens and the city an enormous amount of time and money.

Len Sipes:  Now, but again, get back to this issue of leadership within the judiciary, because again, my criminal justice training, when I started off 40 years ago, judges were unapproachable, they didn’t come to meetings, they didn’t sit down with law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation, juvenile justice, and they didn’t sit down with anybody, they basically heard cases, and you can see decade after decade after decade, judges saying, you know, I think there’s a better solution to these problems.  I think that we, within the judiciary, can be problem solvers.  I’m going to convene and get together with other parts of the criminal justice system, and we’re going to explore this issue, and we’re going to see if we can do a better job.  That seems to be happening more and more.  Am I correct?

Milton Lee, Jr:  I think you’re right 100%.  Judge Wright and I sit all day long on our calendars, and then we meet all evening long, and then during the lunch hours, and every other nook and cranny of time that we have to try to develop these partnerships, because this is not something that courts can do alone.  It can’t be done in a vacuum, and so you look at every single one of these problem solving courts, and you’ll see a number of other government and private sector entities that are the partnerships that really make it go.  You can say the court is the leader, because that’s where the court, where the case comes to, but it can’t be done without this collaborative approach.

Len Sipes:  But there does seem to be, in my mind, I mean, I was trained to view judges as those who walk on water.  I was trained to view judges on this lofty plane, put them up there on that pedestal, and whatever the judge says is fine.  You never disagree with the court.  It’s Your Honor this, and Your Honor that, and that’s how I was trained.  That’s my training, and in terms of my 40 years involvement in the criminal justice system, but I spoke to one drug court judge a couple years ago who, she said “I’m sick and tired of seeing this problem unresolved case after case, year after year, decade after decade, I took leadership because I was sick and tired of seeing the system fail and continue to fail in terms of the way that we traditionally did things.  When you have a judge do that, that takes on a special connotation for the rest of us in the criminal justice system.  I sometimes get the sense that judges carry an enormous amount of weight, and so when a judge says, I want you in this meeting, Mr. Chief of Police of Madame Chief of Police or Parole and Probation, or courts, or jails, or whoever it happens to be, those people show up, and they really do pay attention to the judge.  I think judges carry a special status within the criminal justice system.  I think the public sees it that way, I think the criminal justice system sees it that way, and I think offenders who we deal with on a day-to-day basis see it that way.  Your opinion.

Melvin Wright:  Well, I think you’re correct, and I want to second what Judge Lee said, that this is not just judges alone.  This is clearly a partnership.  Every one of those community courts that we have doesn’t work unless we have the partnership of those people who are involved.  That being said, somebody has to help with the leadership role, and because the inherent nature of our position permits us to have power, it gives us the opportunity to bring people together.  Now I always believe that the fact that you have power doesn’t mean you need to use it, and so if you can have cooperation, then there’s no need to use the power that you have.  However, when you don’t have cooperation, then you have the opportunity to exercise the power that you have.  For example, in the housing conditions calendar, if a landlord comes to me and tells me he does not want to make repairs, I have the authority to tell him that he can either be sanctioned with money, he could be put in jail, there are a number of things that can happen if he doesn’t want to cooperate.  I fortunately haven’t had to do that in the majority of the cases, and so I think the very nature of the position helps people see that they’ve got to cooperate and to do the things that they are legally required to do.

Len Sipes:  The judge who I interviewed from the Red Hook community from New York basically, I’m not, these aren’t his words, but my impression from just talking with him, it was, look, I was sick and tired of this problem, I called everybody together, and nobody’s going to refuse a judge.  That’s the sense that I got.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’re halfway through the program, quickly halfway through the program, we’re talking today to the honorable Judge Milton Lee, Jr., Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the honorable Judge Melvin Wright, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  I want to go down the list of special courts that we have here in Washington, DC: housing court, prostitution court, fathering court, family court, drug court for both adults and juveniles, mental health court, community courts in ward 6 and 7, traffic community court and mental health community court, and I do want to get into drug court questions.  The basic philosophy behind drug court is what?

Milton Lee, Jr:  Well, the basic philosophy by a drug court is to treat people who are drug addicted and who are committing crimes to support their addiction.  If you can, if you steal, if you rob because you need to have money to support your addiction, if you’re able to treat someone so they don’t have the addiction, then the natural consequence is there’s no need for them to rob or steal from somebody.  So the point of the drug court program is to treat those people who commit crimes, and in most cases, the reason they commit the crimes is because they’re trying to feed their habit, so if we can get them to get rid of their habit, then it serves our purpose in terms of reducing crime as well.

Len Sipes:  I spoke to a judge one time in a rural area who said, you know what, Leonard, we’ve been doing these specialized courts forever.  It’s just that we in a rural area have the wherewithal, I know the chief of police personally, I know the head of parole and probation personally, I know the person who runs the jail personally, I have lunch with them occasionally, and we know the offenders who come before us personally, so we’ve been working these special courts.  He said, you all in the urban areas, you have these special courts, and we have been doing diversion in terms of putting a person in drug treatment for decades, so the sense was, is that we within urban areas, in the cities throughout the United States, had to create what happens naturally within the smaller courts.  Am I in the ballpark, or am I completely wrong?

Milton Lee, Jr:  He may well be true, but one of the things that you just have to keep in mind for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, on average, we see 10,000 people a day in the building in the various courts.  It’s an extraordinary number of people.  The court has really become the central focus of so many people in their lives, and that’s why we have so many services available, because people come to us looking for solutions now.  These problem solving courts is an outgrowth of that.

Len Sipes:  10,000 people.  That’s an enormous amount of people.  I’m right down the street from the Superior Court, and when I have my morning cup of coffee, I look down and I see the lines, so those 10,000 people are evident just in terms of the people waiting to get into the courts.

Melvin Wright:  And if you think about how we were treating the drug cases before, there was a period of time where there was a lock them up mentality.  Let’s take them off the street, let’s incarcerate them and take them out of society, but the problem is that there was a cost to that.  If you look at the cost to incarcerate an individual, it can be anywhere from $30-40,000 a year, and we’re talking about any criminal offense, so if you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’re going to tax, drain your tax base.  When you look at the treatment model, that cost can be anywhere from $3-5,000, so there’s a tremendous, and we’re talking about per person, so there’s a, so if you don’t believe that you should try to help people, then the argument that it’s fiscally responsible to do it should work as well, so we’re taking a position that both work.  We have a responsibility to try to get people who are addicted off drugs, and the programs themselves are very intense.  This is not a walk in the park.  We’re not letting people off.  We drug treat, drug test them twice a week, so if they’re using, we know immediately, and if they are using, there’s immediate punishment, so the model that we have set up not only is effective in a responsible way, but is also fiscally responsible as well.

Len Sipes:  A lot of accountability and you know what’s happening throughout the country is correctional systems throughout the United States are really suffering.  There are governors in states, and I get a variety of news summaries that are sent to me on a day to day basis, and you can see it every single day, of this state cutting out 20% of their lower end population, the other state releasing lower end offenders two months early, that the judges, the governors are basically saying that we can no longer afford to provide this level of service, so the entire country is looking for a model, a different way of doing things, because the states can no longer afford record levels of incarceration.  So the fiscal issue is there.  Does, do these special courts satisfy the individual citizen’s need for justice?  Not the person attending the court, but the individual citizen’s perception as, that this is, this floats my boat, this provides me with a sense that justice is being done?

Milton Lee, Jr:  There’s probably a two part answer to that, and I’m going to speak really specifically about the fathering court program, because I preside over that.  And this is what we ask the men who come into the program to do, and it’s essentially four things.  We ask them, when they come home from a period of incarceration to start working, and we will get them employment.  Second, we ask them to pay child support.  If we get them working, we’re going to get child support, because it comes through wage withholding.  We get the money before they get their money.  We ask them to have a significant connection to their children, and we ask them lastly not to reoffend.  If we can accomplish those four things, I think what you’ll see is families that begin to heal.  You’ll see men being responsible fathers, you’ll see mothers appreciative to have any assistance that they deserve to have.  Now I don’t know how you frame justice in that context, but that type of response to the issue of child support and raising children in the District of Columbia is certainly just to the kids.

Len Sipes:  It’s just to the average person, the average citizen is going to say, yep, that’s justice.  That is justice.  The father is reconnected with the family, both fiscally and hopefully spiritually, and this is obviously in the public’s best interest.

Melvin Wright:  From the drug court point of view, most families have been struggling with the individual’s use of drugs for many years before they even come, and so they’re always asking us to get their son or their daughter treatment.  They’ve had the experience of having their child or son or daughter steal from them personally, trying to find ways, trying to convince them, because sometimes a person who is addicted needs to be in a situation where they don’t, no longer have the choice.  They have the choice to be in the program or not be in the program, but once they’re in the program, there’s discipline that is applied that they must follow, and if they don’t do it, then there’s consequences.  So from the community’s point of view, I think they’re, one of the reasons this started was because people said, these people need treatment, not jail, and so from that point of view, I think the community applauds us, and I think that’s one of the reasons why this has been adopted throughout the country.  We started this early in the 90s, but now Maryland, Virginia, and practically every state in the union, if they don’t have a program like this, they have some modified version of it.

Len Sipes:  Right, there are hundreds of drug courts throughout the country.  I guess what I was looking at it from the standpoint was, the victim’s point of view, because if I’m the victim of that person, there’s a certain sense of retribution, I guess, that I’m looking for, or justice that I’m looking for, and I think what people don’t quite understand is that being in drug treatment and being held accountable for the first time in your life and exploring why you’ve been involved in drug use for these past decades and being constantly drug tested and being constantly under supervision by community supervision officers, that’s one of the hardest things that they will ever encounter in their lives, so I think, once it’s explained that way, the public sees it both sides.  The offender is being held accountable, and he is paying a price through drug court.  Am I right, or am I being utopian about it?

Melvin Wright:  No, you’re absolutely right, and I think what you’ll find is that most victims, as you describe them, would want a person to have drug treatment.  I don’t think people who are victims of persons who have been drug addicted have this idea that they need to go to jail and stay there.  I think if they understand what the person has gone through to get to this point, I think they follow the model that most citizens do, that we need to help this person become a citizen, a productive citizen, and one of the things that was most impressive to me when I was in the drug court program is that you’re really dealing with people, and quite frankly, my experience there was the best experience I’ve had since I’ve been on the bench, because you as a judge talk individually to the defendant, and you have an interaction with each other, which you don’t have in any other court, and so they get to know you, you get to know them, you talk straight to them, you make them realize that, look, we can still send you to jail.  Those things haven’t gone away.  So someone doesn’t follow the treatment model, doesn’t want to cooperate, we still have the same things that we have done traditionally, but here’s an opportunity for you to change your life, and I can’t do it.  You have to do it.  I can be here, and all the people here in the program can help you, but the bottom line is that you’re the one that has to perform.

Len Sipes:  And the research seems to suggest, Your Honors, that a police officer can say this, a parole and probation agent can say it, somebody at the jail can say it, it doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as that person wearing the robe in that court with the flags, with the bailiff, with the court reporters, there’s something about a judge saying it that carries weight that the rest of us do not have.  Now I’m not, it’s not my suggestion, I’ve read this in a variety of research reports, so it strikes me that maybe, just maybe, all of this conceptually may not be the driving force.  Maybe the driving force is the judge behind the bench saying it, and not the parole and probation agency saying it.

Milton Lee, Jr:  I don’t disagree with you at all, but I want to underscore something that Judge Wright said.  It’s easy for judges to use power and to be coercive.  These things work because the people in the program want to make a change, and when the judges take the role of having a very personal interaction with the people before them, it’s different from the regular model.  As you see, people respond to that, because if they’ve been through this system before, they haven’t had that type of response, and they do respond to it, because they know for a change the judge is intimately involved with your success.

Len Sipes:  And you’re not just a figure in the system.  If you come back, and you now have those three drug positives, Judge Lee and Judge Wright’s going to know about you.  You’re not an anonymous figure; it’s not like morning bail hearings where you’re going through hundreds of individuals.  You know the individual coming back to your court.  You know his circumstances, you know her circumstance, that’s a little frightening, I think, to offenders who have traditionally gone through a criminal justice system rather anonymously.
Melvin Wright:  Well, an analogy I like to use is, it’s like the pitcher in baseball or the quarterback in football.  Yes, we as judges have a large role in that, but we can’t do anything without other players, so to speak, so the pitcher can throw the ball, but if there’s not a catcher back there, it’s not going, it’s going to go far away and never be seen again.  So if the quarterback doesn’t throw it to the wide receiver, he’s not going to score a touchdown.

Len Sipes:  Your Honor, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, at our microphones today, the honorable Judge Milton Lee, Jr., Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the honorable Judge Melvin Wright of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  Ladies and Gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate the calls and letters and emails.  Keep ‘em coming, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Kentucky’s Recidivism Rate Hits 10-year Low–“DC Public Safety”

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  At our microphones today is Secretary Michael Brown.  Secretary Brown has been there in the State of Kentucky with the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet for the last four years.  He has a long history of public service as a judge, as a prosecutor, as a law director for the city of Louisville, U.S. Army as a Captain, he’s a gentleman that’s been around for quite some time, and one of the reasons why we asked Secretary Brown to be by our microphones today, is that he’s gotten a lot of news.  We have a couple news services that come into us here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and the first one that caught my eye was from the, and it said “State’s Two Year Recidivism Rate Hits a 10-Year Low,” and all of us within the criminal justice system were struggling to do just that.  We’re struggling to bring down our recidivism rates, that’s enough to make it interesting, but it goes on to the Courier Journal, in terms of Gov. Beshear’s signing a new act in terms of rearranging the way that Kentucky does business, and it goes all the way to the Wall Street Journal, where a recent article says that “States Rethink Drug Law,” so the state of Kentucky has gotten an awful lot of publicity lately, national publicity, and a lot of people are looking at the state of Kentucky in terms of what it is that they’ve done, but again, for me, the most intriguing part of this is the headline “State’s Two Year Recidivism Rate Hits a 10-Year Low,” and with that introduction, I present Secretary Michael Brown, secretary for the last four years.  Mr. Secretary, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Michael Brown:  I’m glad to be with you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Now, what we have with the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, you have an operation much like mine in the 14 years when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, where we had State Police, we had corrections, we had a lot of agencies.  You have the same thing for the State of Kentucky, correct?

Michael Brown:  That is correct.  It is the largest cabinet in state government, and we have right around 8,000 employees in the cabinet, and my major units include the department of corrections, the Kentucky State Police, our juvenile justice, and then we have medical examiners and criminal justice training and drug control policy, and just a number of agencies that are attached, including our public defenders.

Len Sipes:  One of the things that you mentioned in terms of the pre-interview is that at one time, Kentucky had the fastest growing prison population in the country, correct?

Michael Brown:  Well that is correct.  Actually, Gov. Beshears took office in December of 2007, and shortly after his first address to the General Assembly in January of 2008, the Pew Center on the States came out with a report that listed Kentucky as having the fastest growing prison population by percentage in the country.  That was something that took a number of us by surprise.  We knew that corrections had been an escalating budget item.  We didn’t know that we had crossed the finish line first in that particular situation.

Len Sipes:  Now one of the things that Kentucky, as well as virtually every state in the United States is struggling with is this concept of a corrections budget that a lot of people in a lot of statehouses throughout the country, they’re coming to the conclusion that the corrections budget is growing out of control, that it’s taking up too much of the budget, that there’s no way that you can sustain that level of an increase in the prison population.  It’s taking away from funding for college, it’s taking away from funding for seniors, and it’s taking away from funding for schools.  It has a tremendous impact on not just criminal justice, but has a tremendous impact in terms of the overall budget, and what a lot of states are trying to do, what they’re trying to wrestle with is this whole concept of how do we rein in the corrections budget without having an adverse impact on public safety, and that’s why I keep coming back to the same issue, recidivism, you hit a ten-year low.  How did you do that?

Michael Brown:  Well that was a target that frankly, we just decided we had to aim at.  When we were looking at our population, and clearly, the only way to reduce your, or the main way to reduce your prison budgets, your correctional budget, is by means of population, and when we look at our population, we know it’s made up of basically two segments.  We have people who have recently committed a felony that they’re going to be sent to our facilities for, but we’d also found that a fair percentage of all the people who come through the doors each year are coming back.  They’re returnees.  They’re return customers.  And that’s a recidivism rate, those who are coming back after a 2-3 year period of being released, and when we looked at those recidivists, we realized that a fair amount of them are what we call re-entry figures.  They’re ones who have gotten out, they’ve gone back out into the community, within, as everyone in this business knows, the likelihood is failure is highest in those first few months to a year, and those individuals then come back.  When they do come back, they come back and stay, generally, for a longer period of time than they were in for the first period.  So that becomes a, and I’ll give you an example.  In Kentucky, if you have a, you committed a crime, and you’re eligible for parole after serving 20% of your sentence, and then you go out and you violate your parole and you’re returned, it’s likely that you’re going to be in for a period of time longer than that initial 20%.

Len Sipes:  Understood.

Michael Brown:  So we, in my cabinet, I cannot control what the courts are doing.  We cannot completely control what the legislature is going to do vis-à-vis what becomes a crime, so our target had to be, by just a natural process, how can we improve our re-entry efforts, how can we cut that recidivism rate, and a cut of 1,000 prisoners at $21,000 or so a year starts to add up to real money if you can succeed at this.

Len Sipes:  Now you said that you went to the Pew Center for the States, and they provided some technical assistance?

Michael Brown:  Well, that was well down the road.  What had happened was, we had taken a number of different approaches to try to address this issue.  The Governor, in January of 2008 had asked me to convene what’s called our Criminal Justice Council, it’s a large body involving all the stakeholders in the criminal justice system, to make recommendations on the penal code and the drug laws, and we came up with reports but were unsuccessful, to a large extent, in getting many things passed through the legislature.  Then the legislature itself came up with a joint resolution creating another committee to look at these issues, and then finally, this most recently concluded legislature had come up with a task force on the penal code and substance abuse, which was a very small group.  Only seven people.  And historically, those seven, it was bipartisan, a Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary, a Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court sat himself, I represented the executive branch, we had a retired commonwealth attorney, a former public advocate, and a county judge executive.  We started work on reviewing, particularly targeting what we were going to do with probation, parole, and reentry, and also our drug laws.  Then, in the middle of that process, somewhat in the middle of it, the Pew Public Safety Performance Project partnered with us, the legislature put up some seed money of $2,000, and last August, and August of 2010, we announced a collaborative effort where Pew would give us technical assistance, primarily working with the committee I described to come up with a legislative package which was, in fact, introduced in the session which most recently concluded.

Len Sipes:  Now what do you, the group of, the small group of individuals, did you feel comfortable with a game plan coming out of that, and then Pew was technical assistance beyond that, do I have that correct?

Michael Brown:  Well, what happened was, the task force had started its work, and we had narrowed the focus of this particular task force, particularly to looking at our drug laws, recognizing that that was the largest driver of, certainly our revolving criminal population.  There’s always going to be a place for those incorrigibles and those offenders, the violent ones, but as I looked at Kentucky’s population of 20-odd thousand, clearly, if you took away those who were in as persistent felony offenders and the most violent offenders, that still left about 15,000 individuals that were in, and the bulk, I’m talking about the very large bulk of those 15,000, were in because of something to do with drugs.  Now, what the Pew folks brought to us was the ability to bring evidence based, basically studies, and attempts from all over the country on how to deal with some of these issues and boil them down in a manner that we could literally take the best practices from all over the country and then, if they had a recipe, we had the seasoning to make it come out to a Kentucky perspective, so to speak.

Len Sipes:  Well, that’s a beautiful description.  I love that!  What do you think was the most important, give me a couple of the most important policies that came out of all this.  Different people have been caught up in crime and drugs for decades, it’s not easy to get them out of that cycle, it’s not easy to break the cycle.  What were the principal ingredients in terms of how you proceeded to cut that recidivism rate?

Michael Brown:  Well, the first thing is, you have to recognize that the cycle needs to be broken, and it’s not simply, it’s not just a matter of “Just Say No.”  We have, for example, some really successful drug courts here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but the requirements for those coming into the drug court system, which is somewhat of a diversionary process, were pretty strict, and that really didn’t do much for those who had already offended and managed to find a way into the facilities to stop them from coming back.  We have to recognize that breaking that cycle of a true abuser is going to take long term treatment, anywhere from 6-9 months.  It’s not just simply going to be, you know, tell them to stop taking it.  And it also involves a situation where our probation and parole practices have to be aimed at reinforcing those principles once an individual is either on probation or parole, because there are relapses.  Recognizing that, we don’t want the relapse to take someone all the way back behind the fence, as we like to say.

Len Sipes:  Right.  So in essence, what you have is a prison population, they’re eventually released, they come out onto the street, and a lot of them, and for a lot of states throughout the country, when I was with the Maryland, at times, it approached 70% of the people coming into the prison systems were already on parole and probation.  I’ve seen figures ranging anywhere from 50% to 70% of the prison intake are those people already on parole and probation, so that revolving door, that sense of life or prison or the criminal justice system on the installment plan seems to be alive and well in most states, so in essence, what I’m hearing is that what you all decided to do was to stop that cycle, to break that cycle, and it sounds like you’re focusing on specifically, is it nonviolent or violent offenders, but your principal goal is to get them involved in long term drug treatment?

Michael Brown:  Well the first thing, we want to recognize what were the biggest drivers, and the biggest driver in the population was drugs.  That entailed us making adjustments to our drug laws which hadn’t been made in many, many years, and to include provisions in those, which are going to drive these individuals, well first, it was going to drive those who are the users.  We definitely wanted to separate the traffickers, those who are truly involved in the criminal enterprise, the profiteers, and separate them from what you might call the peddlers, or just the abusers.  And we know that that’s how it breaks down.  We also needed, in Kentucky, because of our, and I don’t want to call it unique, but it definitely is different from, say, some of the other states we looked at, we have a diverse sort of drug problem.  Parts of our state, our drug problem is driven almost entirely by the abuse of prescription drugs.

Len Sipes:  Ah, that is different.

Michael Brown:  Pills that generally come in from other states.  Florida in particular, if you don’t mind me taking a shot at a governor I won’t name right now, but we have a large influx of prescription drugs that come in from other states, and they are having a devastating effect on one part of our state.  Other parts of our state, we see some of the more traditional things that involve meth, cocaine, or heroin to a certain extent, and then of course, you know, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kentucky was the second largest eradicator of marijuana, which is probably our largest crop of any other state in the country.  So our drug laws had to be tailored to address this, you know, multifaceted issue, but going for a moment, just to go back to what you were saying about the returnees’ situation, I had it said, and I was actually called cavalier for saying this, even though it’s true, if my population today is right around 20,500, if they live long enough, all but about 105 of those individuals are going to get out of prison and are going to come back in those communities, and that is a percentage that the public doesn’t have.  The public perceives that individuals commit a crime, they get caught, they get prosecuted, and then they go away forever.  Well they don’t go away from us, and what we have to do is do something about those 95-99% that are coming back into that community.  You break that cycle, that’s where you make the real gains in public safety, you make real economic gains, because if you can turn a large segment of those folks back into productive citizens as opposed to where we supply all their needs, my medical budget is around $60 million just for our felony population.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, and people have no idea how difficult it is to run a huge prison system and how expensive it is to run a huge prison system.  I don’t, I just get the sense that people have no clue, but they’re finding out because of all of the controversy as to the money going in the correction systems, and people are saying, gee, wouldn’t this be better spent, in terms of other programs, but again, I reemphasize this, it’s just not a matter of dollars here, it’s just not a matter of reducing the correctional dollars, you’ve been able to cut the rate of recidivism back into the state of Kentucky for a 10-year low, and so you’re doing it and protecting public safety at the same time.

Michael Brown:  Well, that’s the ultimate goal.  That’s the win-win.  Obviously, public safety is our primary concern, but clearly, when you recognize that by breaking these cycles, and by decreasing that recidivism rate, the benefit there is, in fact, public safety, because that individual doesn’t go out and commit that crime, is not a bane on society anymore –

Len Sipes:  Right, and they’re huge savings in terms of crime, in terms of the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to track him down, to convict him, to put him back into the prison system, I mean, this is an ungodly expensive proposition, and what you’re doing is not just saving money, but there are fewer crimes being committed.

Michael Brown:  That’s the goal, and we are in a situation, we had, as you know, the states, our state certainly, we have to operate under a balanced budget, so we can’t spend more than we have.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program ladies and gentlemen.  I want to reintroduce Michael Brown, the Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet for the State of Kentucky.  The website,  I’ll be giving out that website at the end of the program.  Okay, Mr. Secretary, we’ve set up everything, I think, I mean in terms of the 10-year low on recidivism, we’ve set up the fact that you’re trying to break the cycle, that you’re looking not at traffickers, but you’re looking specifically at the users, that you have a prescription drug problem and a marijuana problem there in the state of Kentucky, it sounds like you have across the board cooperation on the part of both sides of the political spectrum, the Republicans and the Democrats coming together and agreeing to this overall philosophy, so that part of it I’ve got correct, correct?

Michael Brown:  That is correct, and the recent bill that passed, which is House Bill 463, which Pew assisted us on, and that task force worked on, it passed our Senate, which is a Republican controlled Senate, unanimously, went back to the House of Concurrence and passed 96-1.  That’s an overwhelming approval for the work of the task force and recognition of the issues we have to deal with.  Now we should only be so cooperative on the other issues in the state, but at least on this one, we had virtual unanimity.

Len Sipes:  There’s an organization called Right On Crime, which is key Republicans at the national level who are coming together to endorse this concept, and a lot of individuals have said to themselves, okay, well this is no longer a Democratic issue, it’s no longer a Republican issue, it’s now a bipartisan issue.  They want the criminal justice system, they want we within the criminal justice system to be more effective and prove that effectiveness, and that is why I’m beating this point to death.  There are a lot of states who are doing this, and they’re starting to do it, and they’re examining it, and they’re putting money into programs in the prison system, and they’re putting money into the programs at the parole and probation level, but they haven’t yet produced data that shows a reduction in recidivism, and to the average person listening to this program, recidivism, again, are people coming back into the criminal justice system because they’ve either committed new crimes or technical violations, but as our people like to point out, a technical is a person doesn’t show up for supervision, that’s a technical violation, so the term  technical violation becomes minimized in the minds of some because it sounds trite, but if you don’t show up for supervision, or if you’re ordered to go into drug treatment and you don’t go or you don’t cooperate, those are technical violations as well, so some of this is a matter of taking greater risks with the individual that you have under supervision, that you don’t automatically send them back to prison, you try to stabilize him through programs in the community, and you understand that relapse and problems come with the supervision process, and just because you have 2 or 3, you don’t automatically send the person back to prison.  Do I have that correct?

Michael Brown:  That is correct.  In fact, some of the things that we had done in the budget bill, and that, which have been also codified in a new piece of legislation, is to give our parole and probation officers some additional tools to work with, including, for the first time here in Kentucky, some intermediate sanctions, where rather than, in the prior world, an individual would violate a condition of parole or probation, there would be a warrant issued, they’d be arrested, they’d go to jail, they’d sit in jail awaiting a process involving going before the administrative law judge, the administrative law judge, if they found probable cause, would then turn the case to the parole board, most of that time, that individual continued to sit in jail awaiting the outcome of it, and then if the parole board revoked, they’d go back to prison.  We found that a better way to approach some of those individuals, obviously, this doesn’t work for anybody, but is to make use of intermediate sanctions, and they can be a ramped up scale of sanctions, everything from, we’re going to put you on an electronic GPS monitoring device to make sure you don’t go where we told you not to go, maybe have that thing vibrate on your ankle as you approach some place where we know you’re likely to get back into trouble, or we can put you back in jail, but for limited periods of time without having to go through that whole process, so we don’t cut off whatever positive ties someone has created, either with a job or family connections when they have been outside of the institution, because as I’ve said, once they come back on that violation, statistics show us that they’re going to serve a longer period of time having violated than they served initially.

Len Sipes:  And the whole idea, I’m assuming, is one of the universal issues that states are struggling with, is that the question becomes, who do you want to be in, who do you want to occupy that prison bed?  Do you want a nonviolent offender who’s tied into drugs to occupy that prison bed, that very, very expensive prison bed, or do you want the violent offender, someone who’s posing a clear and present risk to public safety?  That dichotomy, I would imagine, exists in Kentucky as well, and I would imagine that was part of your discussions.

Michael Brown:  As was said many, many times during our hearings, and as we visited with all the stakeholders, we’ve got to differentiate between the people that we’re scared of and the people that we’re just mad at, and you know, once you get past being mad at these individuals, the key is what do we do, in many situations, to stop them from returning. Now Kentucky had been very fortunate, a few years back, we got one of the grants from the Second Chance Act, we had started our reentry program, we had started working with a new risk assessment tool, and in fact, that use of the risk assessment tool has been so successful that it’s built into the new legislation with the aim that we’re going to get that LSI used from Day 1 that someone comes in the system, so judges will eventually be looking at some of these factors when they’re making bail decisions, so that our pre-sentence officers are making use of that assessment as they give judges recommendations for sentencing, so that when an individual is processed into the institution, we have a lot of data available into what, if any, programs are going to work for a particular individual, and that’s far different from a shotgun effect that we used to take.  Our approach before, and I don’t blame anybody for this, this is not throwing a rock at the system, but it’s how you view your job, and our job before was to simply keep these people away from the public, count them and make sure you have the same number you started out in the morning when they go to bed at night, and then do it again.  Now some of our focus, both institutionally, and certainly in parole and probation, is to how can we prevent this particular individual from coming back to see us again?

Len Sipes:  Well, you’re going towards the larger scale, because that’s not just the state of Kentucky, again, this is something that every state in the United States is wrestling with, the attorney general, Eric Holder, the assistant attorney general, Laurie Robinson, the folks at the U.S. Department of Justice, the people who are trying to develop this whole sense of justice reinvestment, which is essentially, if you save money in terms of people coming back into prisons, the states would put more of that money, so if you save the state, any state, $50 million, and the fact that you didn’t send that many people back, a certain amount of that $50 million would go back into programs and go back into efforts to keep people from coming back into the system, so this is a larger, this is not just a conversation for the state of Kentucky, this is a conversation that’s happening in virtually every statehouse in the country, and again, not to beat a dead horse, but you’re the one who’s proven that you can reduce recidivism.  Other states have reduced recidivism, but you hit a 10 year low.  That’s what intrigued me, and that’s why, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you.

Michael Brown:  Well, and again, a lot of it is, you know, I hate to use the cliché, if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.  But if you go around and you really get a focused effort in, these are very smart, dedicated professionals, and it’s simply a matter of saying, here’s what our goal is, this is what our mission is going to be in this situation, and believe me, most of our probation and parole officers, they don’t want to just be in the arrest business.  They don’t want to be, they would rather have people succeed, because when they do these home visits, and when they do these assessments, they run up against everyone else who’s touched by these individuals, and it’s much, much better that these individuals succeed than fail on the outside.

Len Sipes:  I’ll give you one example.  In the state of Maryland, where we had a person come out of the prison system, his wife let him come back home, he was getting along well with the wife, getting along well with the kids, he was working, and he was making his restitution, and he was going to substance abuse therapy, he was doing everything that you want him to do, and yet he celebrated by getting high.  He celebrated his successes by getting high, and there’s a certain point where the 4th, 5th, 6th positive drug test, I mean, you have to sit down with him and say to him, look, you’re about to blow the whole thing.  We’re about to send you back to prison, there’s a certain point we have no choice.  You know, when you have a couple more, and then finally, we were able to intervene, and he finally stopped celebrating his successes by getting high, but if that person had committed a crime while that happened, the newspapers would have come to us and said you knew he was doing drugs, why didn’t you put him back in prison?  That’s a big dilemma for people at the state level, that’s a big dilemma for us all within the criminal justice system, because we are taking somewhat increased risks with the people that we have under supervision.

Michael Brown:  Well, and that’s where, as I said, the beauty of this law, it’s building in, and one other thing I do want to touch on is the reinvestment aspect, but it’s building in a way to make these risk assessments.  Nothing is going to be 100% perfect.  But the key is, rather than, sometimes our intuition is just flat wrong.  We think that, oh, that looks like a great program.  Why?  Well, it would work for me.  Well maybe your criminogenic factors are not the same as the people you’re actually dealing with.  So it might work for you, we’ve proven that it doesn’t work for this population that we have been locking up, so let’s use what works for them.  One of the things that 463, this bill did, it codified a way to return some of the money that’s saved back into the reentry systems, and into our local jails and counties.  Kentucky also has a fairly unique, when I say fairly unique, it’s just us and Louisiana, where one third of my felon population resides in our county jails.  So if we don’t find a way to enhance the programs and what’s going on in those county jails, we also miss an opportunity to cut this recidivism rate, and thereby not take the fullest advantage of our public safety dollars.  So 25% of the projected savings from one of our efforts, and please remind me, please ask me about the mandatory supervision provision in this bill, which I think is the key.

Len Sipes:  Well, go ahead and say that, but we only have about 30 seconds left, so we have to wrap up soon.

Michael Brown:  Well, in wrapping up, then, I’d say one of the key parts of the bill is, we recognized that the early part of failure happens in those 6-9 months, so we’re going to put in a program where the last 6 months of an individual’s sentence are now under mandatory supervision with probation and parole.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Michael Brown:  We’re very excited about that.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking to Secretary Michael Brown, who has just focused, refocused an entire criminal justice system focusing on high risk offenders, being sure that they’re incarcerated, and taking some chances, and actually doing, getting some great results in terms of a 10-year low in his recidivism rate for everybody else.  He’s saved the state and the collective wisdom has saved the state literally, millions of dollars, so Secretary Michael Brown, we congratulate you on these successes.  Again, if you want to take a look at the website for the state of Kentucky, it’s  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  I want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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