Archives for May 9, 2011

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”

Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.
See for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

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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.

[Audio Ends]


Women Offenders-Our Place DC-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.  Today’s program is going to be on women offenders, and we have two people who are true experts on the subject. We have Ashley McSwain. She is the executive director of Our Place D.C.,, one of the most comprehensive, if not the most comprehensive women’s reentry program in the United States of America.  We also have Dr. Willa Butler.  Dr. Butler has been before our microphones before.  She’s in charge of women’s groups for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We are a federal parole and probation agency here in the District of Columbia.  Before starting the show, what I want to do is to do something rather unusual, and that is to promote two events.  We generally do evergreen radio shows.  Well, we don’t really tag events or tie events to the radio shows, but these are important coming up.  February 5 on a Saturday in Washington DC, we have the Women’s Re-entry Forum, which is one of the reasons why we’re doing a radio show on women offenders, at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE from 8:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, February 5, this Saturday, Women’s Re-entry Forum at the Temple of Praise Church, 700 Southern Avenue SE from 8AM to 3PM, come out and join us if you like.  Also, the Citywide Re-entry Assembly, which is something my organization does every year, where we bring those people involved in faith based mentoring, the successful mentors and their mentees together for a celebration of the hundreds of offenders who have been through the mentoring program.  That is at the St. Luke’s Center, 4923 E Capitol Street SE from 6:30 in the evening to 9:00, come on out and join us for a wonderful evening, an exciting evening, it is something that you have to really experience.  Again, the Citywide Re-entry Assembly at, this Saturday – I’m sorry, Saturday, boy, I’m screwing this up!  Thursday, February 10, Thursday, February 10 from 6:30 to 9:00 in the evening, and before bringing the ladies onto the radio program, what I want to do is to go over some statistics in terms of women offenders, and these I find startling.  Number one, if you take a look at male and female offenders involved in state and federal prison systems, the percentage growth for women is stronger than it is for men, so more women are coming into the prison system in terms of a percentage basis than male offenders, and we need to talk on the radio program about that a little bit today.  But if you look at other federal research, whether it’s HIV, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s physical or sexual abuse, or whether it’s drug use, whether it’s family violence, it is startling as to the difference between men caught up in the criminal justice system and women caught up in the criminal justice system.  Women seem to have higher percentages of HIV, mental health, astoundingly higher percentages of sexual abuse.  There’s a big difference in terms of male and female offenders.  That’s one of the things that we want to talk about on the radio show today, and also, in terms of physical and sexual violence, nearly 6 in 10 women in state prisons had experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past.  6 in 10 women, and 7 out of 10 women involved in the correctional systems have minor children.  So, I’ve laid out the stats, I’ve laid out the upcoming events that are coming out, and now to get back to our true experts on this topic, Ashley McSwain and Dr. Willa Butler, and to Ashley and to Willa, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Willa Butler:  Great, thanks.

Ashley McSwain:  Hello.

Len Sipes:  Willa, I’m going to start out with you.  Now the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, our agency, we have a different focus now on women offenders.  We’ve decided to reorganize how this agency approaches women offenders.  Can you tell me a little bit about that and why we’re doing it?

Willa Butler:  Yes, I’m excited about it too.  What we’ve done, we’ve gone gender specific.  We have three teams now under the mental health branch, two mental health teams and one general supervision team that only supervise female offenders, and the purpose of going gender specific is to answer the needs that women have.  We say women are needy, but it’s not so much that they’re needy, it’s just that their needs have not been met, and over the years, the traditional counseling or any type of counseling or therapy, even treatment or supervision has been geared toward the male dominated group, which was not feasible for our female offender population, and now at this day and time, which is good that we are able to answer that, and it’s 17 critical factors of vulnerabilities that hinders women or barriers, when it comes to supervision and that type of growth, and then it’s, our groups that we have, we have our WICA, Women in Control Again, which are psychoeducational groups to address the needs that the women, and address their mental health needs and the substance abuse needs and any other type of need that they may have, because women come with a multi-facet of things that are of concern, and that’s what we’re doing today.  We’re addressing these needs, and one of them, the main thing is their pathways to crime, how did they get into this situation?  One thing we’ve learned how to have an understanding of, we have an understanding of how they got there.  Now we need to move and have an understanding of how to get them out of that situation, and that’s what we’re working on today by having a gender responsive program.

Len Sipes:  The organization is reorganizing.  CSOSA, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re reorganizing.  We’re reorganizing around this issue of women offenders.  So is it to play catch-up with the services in the past that have been given more to males in the criminal justice system?  Is it a matter of catching up, or is it a matter that there seem to be more women coming into the incarcerative setting where women, on a percentage basis, there’s a huge difference between the sheer numbers of men and women going into the prison system.  I don’t want to mislead the audience, by and large numbers, it’s predominantly male offenders going into the correctional settings, but the percentage of female offenders is rising.  So is it that, is it playing catch-up, is that one of the reasons why we’re going through this big reorganization?

Willa Butler:  Actually, it’s both, Leonard.  We’re playing catch-up, not only playing catch-up, but we are designing a program to address their needs, and when we say playing catch-up, because women have always been in the criminal justice system, far back as the 17th and 18th century, but they’ve never been treated fairly.  They’ve been put in dungeons, cast away.  They’ve even been put in insane asylums.  It’s like, we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to do with them.  It’s not like we don’t know, but it’s like, they just fail to address this.  It’s like, we, we’re always looked on as being insignificant, overlooked, not recognizable, and even today, because I’m talking about 17th, 18th century, even today, you look at how women are put in the federal institutions, and they wear men’s clothes, nothing is geared towards them.  But now we’re trying to respond to what the women need, and like I –

Ashley McSwain:  I also think there’s a social stigma component that has –

Len Sipes:  Right.  This is Ashley McSwain, the executive director of Our Place DC.

Ashley McSwain:  So there is a lot of shift towards women, but a lot of what plagued women offenders has been this stigma that comes with just being female, which suggests that women shouldn’t get into these kinds of troubles, and so we’re not providing the kind of services and supports, because they really, you know, they’re not the population that behaves this way, and so it makes it very difficult to go to ask for funding when society doesn’t think that, you know, there’s a problem.

Len Sipes:  Now I do want to reintroduce Ashley McSwain, she’s the executive director of Our Place DC,, and I do want to say that Our Place is one of the most, if not the most comprehensive re-entry program in the United States of America for women offenders, coming out of the prison system.  This is a one stop shop.  They go into the prisons way before the offender comes out of the prison system, they make their initial contacts in prison, they extend the invitations, they will take this individual, they will provide housing, they will provide clothing, they will provide food, you have to come in and work with them and obey the rules, needless to say, but they work with individuals piece by piece by piece, rebuild them as human beings, if you will, and then get them ready to go ahead for the re-entry program, part of it successful re-entry.  Ashley, your program is just amazingly comprehensive.

Ashley McSwain:  Yes, it is.

Len Sipes:  I understand why you do it that way, but you know, the criminal justice system is made up of a housing piece here and a drug or a substance abuse piece there, and a legal part of it to get legal assistance over there, you’ve got everything under your roof!

Ashley McSwain:  Well, when you approach it as a female issue or a gender specific issue, then all of those different components have to fit within the needs of the female offender, and so that’s what Our Place has done, and so we recognize that there are other organizations that are providing legal support, but a lot of them don’t understand the experience of being a woman and being in the criminal justice system and all of the myriad of obligations that they have to meet in the same way that Our Place does, and so that’s the reason why the services are so comprehensive, so when a woman is still in custody, we can begin to provide her with some guidance and support.

Len Sipes:  You know, now that we’ve done the introductions, and we’ve given a sense as to what both organizations are doing here in the District of Columbia, let’s get into a larger discussion of women offenders.  They come out 7 out of 10, according to national statistics, come out, they have children in the community.  The males don’t.  Now that alone is just such an incredibly big bridge to cross.  Not only do you have to deal with your own substance abuse, not only do you have to deal with your own issues, and a lot of these individuals have histories of being abused as children.  A lot of them have histories of sexual abuse, flat out sexual abuse from young ages.  Much higher than the percentages than males.  The rate of substance abuse is higher, the rate of substance abuse is higher, the rate of mental health problems is higher, then they come out, and then they have to reunite with their own children.  That, to me, is almost impossible.  Considering the problems that we have with male offenders, and we say, 50% go back to prison in three years, that’s a national statistic, 50% don’t, by the way, but 50% do, so if that 50% are going back to the prison system, male offenders and female offenders together, throw on the obligation of taking care of your kids seems to be almost insurmountable, especially in Washington DC’s economy.  Any, who wants to take a crack at that?

Willa Butler:  Well, let me get back, address the reuniting with the children situation.

Len Sipes:  And this is Dr. Willa Butler.

Willa Butler:  That is one thing of concern, because when they come out, the main thing is, their focus is trying to be reunited with their children, and the hard part is that sometimes the children have been adopted, or they’re in foster care, they’re not, they’re going through the process of trying to get their children back, and in some instances that they really can’t get them back because of what all has, they’ve gone through while they’ve been away, while they were incarcerated –

Len Sipes:  Somebody else has been mom and dad while they’re away, and in some cases, they haven’t really come into contact, direct contact with their children for years.

Willa Butler:  Years, and some of them don’t know their children –

Len Sipes:  That’s right.

Willa Butler:  And since, and it’s kind of hard, and when we talk about the different programs being integrated, which makes it even better for the women to come out and try to work together in not only getting their kids back, but also getting themselves back together again, when you talk about an integrated treatment modality, which is feasible for addressing all of their concerns.

Len Sipes:  But again, you go back to my larger question, and that is that it’s very difficult for male individuals to come out of the prison system and find work, even if their criminality is behind them, and we have people on our caseload, by the way, that have been, it’s been years since their last positive drug test.  It’s been years since their crime.  So they’re pretty much adhering to the rules, yet they still can’t find work.  Now you have a woman offender coming out with the same set of circumstances, although she’s got kids to raise.  I mean, there’s a certain point where you can [ph] pall up so many obstacles to the point where, for women offenders, it sometimes seems impossible for them to cross the bridge.  Ashley?

Ashley McSwain:  Well, when you start thinking about the fact that this is the experience of female offenders, and you start looking at taking a gender specific approach, those are the things that you factor and consider.  Some of the women have not only their own issues to deal with, but they have the issues that come with having children, and as long as we acknowledge that that’s a part of their reentry process, then we can provide the kind of supports that they need to move forward.  Prior to this dialogue, you know, people didn’t acknowledge that women coming home also had to now deal with the responsibility of taking care of their children, and so, I mean, this is a great conversation to have to begin to think about what are the interventions that are necessary to ensure that a woman does not recidivate, or that she does not fail.

Len Sipes:  And the other part of it, and I have to close in a couple seconds to reintroduce you, not close, but reintroduce the two of you before we go on with the rest of the program, is that most of the individuals, because of that history of being abused and neglected, pushed around, you come out, you have substance abuse issues, a lot of the women caught up in the criminal justice system have led very hard lives.  They don’t trust anybody.  They don’t trust me, they don’t trust either one of you, and yet both of you put women in groups and begin to break through those barriers.  That, my guess is that out of everything that we’re going to talk about that mistrust of the system, and both of you are in one way, shape, or form, part of the criminal justice system, breaking through that barrier is the hardest part.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain:  Yeah, I would agree with that.  I mean, one of the things we try to do at our place is create a sense of community for the women.  I mean, it’s called Our Place for a reason, so that the women can get some support from each other, you know, and some hope for some differences or some changes.  I mean, that’s what the women are seeking.

Len Sipes:  All right.  Go ahead, Willa.

Willa Butler:  I sort of piggyback on your name, Our Place, and that’s kind of our perspective in what we did when we put all the women in one building, and it’s like our place now.  This is your home, and we’re here for you, and we try to present empathy and mutual respect and develop a type of rapport, and that relaxes them –

Len Sipes:  Yeah, but we can still put it back in prison.

Willa Butler:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  I mean, it’s empathy, it’s rapport, but at what point –

Willa Butler:  – a little different.  Right now, we’re going with trying to be firm, holding them accountable, and being firm as well, but also less confrontational.  In other words, we’re trying to work within –

Len Sipes:  I understand.  I’m just pulling your chain.

Willa Butler:  You know, work with them, and let them know that they can really, they can really do this.  We’re moving more into motivating them for change and working on their recidivism and bringing it out, because it’s in them, and they just never had anybody to bring it out of them, and that’s what we’re doing today, just bringing something out of you that’s already there in a –

Len Sipes:  Want to reintroduce both of our guests.  Ashley McSwain, she is the executive director of Our Place DC,  Ladies and gentlemen, somebody out there has got some money, somebody out there has got some deep pockets, and if you’re ever looking for an organization that desperately needs financial assistance, and an organization that produces incredibly good results, reuniting mothers with their kids, taking care of the kids, taking care of the moms, moms becoming taxpayers instead of tax burdens, this is the place where you need to devote a buck or two.  Our Place DC,  Also in front of our microphones, Dr. Willa Butler, who’s funded by the Federal Government, as I am, so we don’t need your money.  Give it to Our Place.  She’s in charge of women’s groups for my organization, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency,  All right, ladies, back to the second half of the program.  Okay, so, okay, so you finally break through that barrier, that woman gives you, and sometimes, hard as nails barrier, and you finally break through, and the woman comes into either one of your groups and sees that the other women are being taken care of, and she opens up a little bit.  Once she opens up, she’s going to get involved in a history that would scare the bejeebies out of most human beings, and then you start getting into the psyche of the background of the individual, why they got involved in drugs, why they got involved in crime, why their behavior is so self-destructive, and once you’ve crossed that bridge, you have just wandered into an incredibly difficult arena, that all the problems that those individuals bring to the table in terms of their background.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain:  Yeah, you’re right, I mean, but the objective is to really break it down into smaller pieces, because it can be very insurmountable when you start thinking about all of the life experiences that brought her to the moment that she’s there, so I mean, I wouldn’t recommend that we approach it from this broad, you know, place, excuse me.  Right now, we really deal with what the woman needs at the moment that she’s there with us, and then we build from there, and we often find that the women come in for one thing, but through our dialogue and conversation, she begins to identify that there are other needs and that there are other areas of support that could assist her as she moves forward.

Len Sipes:  Right.  She comes to Our Place for legal assistance, and maybe a place to stay for a while, and suddenly, she gets involved with the other groups, and the process begins.

Ashley McSwain:  That’s exactly right.  Oftentimes, they’re coming for employment, and there’s just some underlying legal stuff that has to be addressed, and she doesn’t have any clothing, so there are some very foundational things that she needs, and a lot of times, the women we see, they don’t know how to ask for what it is that they want.  They think that it’s safe to ask for a birth certificate, but there are so many other things that they really need that they don’t feel that they can ask for, but given the right setting, you know, they’ll begin to explore a little more about what it is that they really need.

Len Sipes:  And that becomes a key issue, actually, the right setting, because a lot of people, and when I respond to emails, and comments on these programs, a lot of people are saying to themselves, look, for the love of good god, Mr. Sipes, these are criminals.  What is it about the right setting?  I just want you to protect me.  That’s your job.  Protect me, protect me, protect me.  But one of the things that the research and our own experience has pointed out pretty clearly that, if you put a human being in the right setting where you hold them accountable for their actions, I mean, public safety is CSOSA’s top priority.  Protecting the public is CSOSA’s top priority, but if you’re going to break through those barriers that he or she brings to us and work on the reasons why they’ve spent the last ten years in a bottle, or why they spent the last ten years snorting, or why they spent the last ten years with a needle in their arm, they have to be in the right setting.  We’ve got to create an environment where they’re comfortable enough to talk about who they are and what they are.

Ashley McSwain:  Yeah, the research talks about women make changes through relationships, and so, I mean, as abstract as that might seem, you have to build relationships with women in order to build trust and in order for them to become accountable for the choices that they’ve made, and that’s our objective, is to help people become aware of who they are and how their choices have affected their past and how their choices will affect their future.

Len Sipes:  And the bottom line of all that, Ashley, is that it protects public safety.  If the woman is dealing with her substance abuse, dealing with her own history, she’s going out and getting a job, she’s reuniting with her kids, that makes her a thousand times less likely to go out and reengage in criminal activity, which protects you and me and everybody else.  So we talk about the right setting, the comfortable setting, but the flipside of that is what we’re talking about is public safety.

Ashley McSwain:  That’s right, and it’s everybody’s job to provide this level of support.  I mean, these women are your mothers and your sisters and your cousins, and you know, you certainly want to make sure they have the supports they need so that they can be productive, and we all can move forward.

Len Sipes:  Right, and we as taxpayers don’t have to constantly shell money out.  If they’re off of drugs, and they’ve got their kids, and the kids are taken care of, and they’re working, that’s exactly what everybody wants!  But it’s the right setting that gets us there, and the public needs to understand that.  It can’t all be hard on the offender, hard on the offender, there’s got to be a balance.  Willa, when I talk to the different people involved in your group and Marcea’s group, you know, they praise you and Marcea, and they praise the group process, because for the first time in their lives, they’re dealing with issues that have bedeviled them for their entire lives.  For the first time, they’re actually talking about who they are, what they are, and what they need to do to kick drugs, kick mental health issues, reunite with their kids, get a job, and it’s that group process that really does seem to bring all that out.

Willa Butler:  Yeah, during our group process, first of all, we start off with the question, who am I?  They have to identify who they are first.  They might, whatever they were a drug out of, an offender, an ex-offender, right now, this is what, who I am, but now I’m working on some things, and a lot of times, when women in group, a lot of things, they’ve never talked about before, and they’ve repressed their feelings, they’ve repressed everything that has happened to them, and then it comes out in group, and we start talking about it, and then we start being able to not only to talk about it, but to get them help, to get them treatment, and we talk a lot about, a lot of our women are mental health.  They have concurrent disorders, they have substance abuse disorders, they have mental health disorders, and we try to put them in a place where we can treat both of that, not only that, they suffer from, like I say, victimization.  A lot of them have never talked about the part that they’ve been raped before, I’ve been molested a few times, I’ve been raped a couple of times –

Len Sipes:  Or a lot of times –

Willa Butler:  Right, or a lot of times, and all of this comes out, but yet, we’re still able to give them the help and the resources that they need.

Len Sipes:  Now my favorite story about women offenders, and the real eye opener to me was when I was with when I was the director of public relations for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, which was law enforcement and corrections, and we’re training public affairs officers at a women’s minimum security prison, because they had a culinary arts program, and we could feed the different people who came for training.  So I’ve got people training, and I didn’t have anything to do for two hours, so I go out in the courtyard, and I light up my cigar, and those were those days where you could actually have a cigar in prison, and the women who started coming out to the courtyard to have their cigarettes, and they know me because I was in the media a lot, and they sat down and started talking with me, and there was a two hour session in that courtyard with those women offenders, and where they took me, it was like taking me to Mars and back, because they freely talked about their lives, and one person said, Mr. Sipes, you know what?  I don’t want to go home.  This is the first safe place I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m getting my GED, I’m getting my culinary arts certificate, I’ve never talked about my issues before, but now this is the first place I’m talking, here’s a human being who says I find prison to be safer than the real world.

Willa Butler:  Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.  You get three meals every day, you know where you’re going to sleep, you know, it’s unfortunate –

Len Sipes:  You know you’re not going to be abused.

Ashley McSwain:  Right, and that’s what I was going to say, because a lot of, the abuse started from the home, you know, and when, like I said, when women leave prison, you think it should be a happy time, but it’s like a road down perdition again, because there’s no change, and I’m going back to the same situation, a double up situation, I don’t have a place to stay, I don’t know where my children are, and if they’re there, somebody else is raising them, and –

Willa Butler:  And they don’t fit in.

Ashley McSwain:  Right, they don’t fit in.

Willa Butler:  And you know, we’re actually doing some research on that, and one of the things we’re finding is that the women, while they’re still in custody, they’re very hopeful, and three months after they’re there in the community, that declines.  I mean, it’s just, you know, the options are so limited, and that feeling of empowerment that they felt so excited about is reduced when the reality of not having housing and the options for employment, you know, they really set in, and so these women start out very hopeful.

Len Sipes:  And my guess is, and we’re going to wrap the program up very quickly, so any quick responses, my guess is, if Our Place DC did not exist, and Willa, if your groups here at CSOSA did not exist, I, my guess is that there are going to be thousands, and I’m not exaggerating, thousands of women would have been, went right back to crime, right back to the criminal justice system, would have cost taxpayers tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and the two of you together, and Marcea and everybody else involved in this program, I mean, you’ve saved lives, and you’ve saved literally thousands of lives.

Willa Butler:  Yes.  Yes, we do.  Right now, our place is really encouraging women to be literate, educated, be curious, knowledge, reading, I mean, that’s, we think that that’s also going to be part of their ability to be sustainable in the community.

Len Sipes:  All right.  And I just want to make the offer, I’m going to come over and wax your car, walk your dog, do whatever you need, if you get a check to Our Place DC, because the program is that worthy.  Our guest today, Ashley McSwain, executive director of Our Place DC,,  Dr. Willa Butler, in charge of women’s groups here at CSOSA,  I do want to remind everybody about the upcoming events that we have on Saturday, February 5.  We have the women’s re-entry forum, Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE from 8AM to 3PM, it will be on our website,, and also on February 10, a Thursday, the Citywide Re-entry Assembly at St. Luke’s Church at 4923 E Capitol Street from 6:30 in the evening to 9:30 in the evening, to talk about successful mentors and mentees involved in our faith based program.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes, watch for us or listen for us next time when we explore another very important topic in the criminal justice system.  I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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