Archives for 2011

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2011/03/kentuckys-recidivism-rate-hits-10-year-low-dc-public-safety/

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

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From 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 dailynews.com, 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, www.justice.ky.gov.  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 www.justice.ky.gov.  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]

Share

Women Offenders-Our Place DC-DC Public Safety Radio

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2011/02/women-offenders-our-place-dc-dc-public-safety-radio/

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

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From our 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., www.ourplacedc.org, 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, www.ourplacedc.org, 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, www.ourplacedc.org.  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, www.ourplacedc.org.  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, www.csosa.gov.  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, www.ourplacedc.org, www.ourplacedc.org.  Dr. Willa Butler, in charge of women’s groups here at CSOSA, www.csosa.gov.  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, www.csosa.gov, 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.

[Audio Ends]

Share

Successful Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts. We now average 200,000 requests a month.

Television Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2011/01/successful-offenders-%E2%80%93-dc-public-safety-television/

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

[Video Begins]

Len Sipes:  Hi, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  You know, every year, over 700,000 human beings are released from prison systems throughout the United States, and you’re well aware of the failures, the 50% within 3 years who are returned to the prison systems.  You read about them in your newspapers, you’re exposed to them through radio and television, but the question is, what about the other 50%?  The 50% who do not return back to the prison system?  To talk about the successes, if you will, we have four individuals under supervision with my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C.  We’re a federal parole and probation agency.  We’re going to talk to four individuals currently under supervision for people who have turned the corner, who have crossed that bridge, who are now successes, who are no longer tax burdens, they are now taxpayers.  And on our first segment, I want to introduce India Frazier and Tracy Marlow, and to India and to Tracy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Tracy Marlow:  Thank you, Len.

Len Sipes:  All right, we’ve had a wonderful conversation before the television show, before filming this show today, about what it is, the stereotypes, when people think of the term “criminal,” “convict,” and they have this image that immediately comes to their mind in terms of what ex-offenders are.  Now in the first segment, the two of you, then we’ll have a couple guys in the second segment, but that’s the issue, is it not, Tracy?  That stereotype that people have of you.  I was watching the other night a couple television shows, just flipping through the channel: National Geographic and A&E, and they had shows about people in prison, and the public comes away with that, saying, thinking that everybody who touches the prison system, they don’t want to hire them, they don’t want to fund programs for them, they don’t want to give them a second chance, they stereotype them.  Are you that person that they stereotype?

Tracy Marlow:  Yes I am.  I’m one of those people that they stereotype.  Society always publicizes what we have done, the bad things we have done, but nobody shows what the good things we are doing now.  What I was, and what I am today is two different people.  I have my own business now.

Len Sipes:  You’re going for your third ice cream truck.

Tracy Marlow:  My third ice cream truck.

Len Sipes:  Your third ice cream truck.  You’re your own business owner!  You have gone from prison to owning your own businesses!

Tracy Marlow:  Yes, yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing!

Tracy Marlow:  With the help of CSOSA and some groups and other people backing me up in my life, it was not on my own that I done this.  It’s not because, I’ve been turned down on jobs so many times, but one person gave me a chance on a job.

India Frazier:  But when you go through your struggles in life, if anything’s ever given to you so quickly, so fast, and easy, you’re not going to appreciate it.  You’re not going to hold onto it, you’re not going to build to the next step.  You know what I’m saying?  So you have to go through your struggles.  You have to be patient.  And see, that’s what you were.

Tracy Marlow:  It comes in believing in yourself.  If you don’t believe in yourself, self-esteem is so important coming out of prison.  I didn’t believe in myself.  I thought what people, society say, you’re nothing, you’ve been in jail, you’re never going to be nothing.  I believed that for so many years until one day, I can’t tell you when I woke up, when I woke up and knew that I was somebody, and I worked on this, and I worked on this now, I’m my own business person.  I have people that work for me today, and I have to interview them now.  So now, the roles have changed, and I have people that’s been locked up, and you work with money with me, because I have ice cream trucks, and I don’t want to be like the public was with me.  So I have to interview these people, and I have to give them a chance, and you deal with a lot of money some days, and I say, wow, God, just give me the strength.  Now I haven’t been robbed.  And some ones have been good and bad, but somebody gave them a chance like they gave me.

Len Sipes:  And I think that’s the point, in terms of the fact that, okay, 50% do go back, 50% don’t, but nobody ever tells the story of the 50% that don’t, and that’s what we’re going to start doing today.  India, set up a little bit about your experience, if you will, please.

India Frazier:  Well, my experience is, my experience came when I was, first and foremost, I asked God to change my life.  Give me a direction that I needed to go into.  And I set goals in my life, and then when I came home and I looked into the eyes of my grandson, it was not an option for me to go back to the streets.  It was so easy, it’s so easy to fall back into that life, you know what I’m saying?  And like I was telling Tracy a minute ago, you have to go through trials and tribulations and struggles to get where you need to go or get where you need to be, so I went through my changes, you know, but unlike you, I’ve always believed in me.  I knew I was supposed to accomplish the things that I am accomplishing today.  As of right now, I’m driving, I work through the leaf season and snow season for DPW, the Department of Public Works.

Len Sipes:  DPW, the Department of Public Works.

India Frazier:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  In the city of Washington D.C.

India Frazier:  In the city of Washington D.C, and I have a CDL Class A –

Len Sipes:  Okay, Commercial Driver’s License.

India Frazier:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

India Frazier:  Yes, sir.  And I know I can drive.  I love doing what I do.  You know what I’m saying?  And I love coming home to my family and seeing that my grandson and my daughter’s okay, and I love knowing that my grandmother’s fine.  These are the people that believed in me and pushed me to do and be all that I can be, and then I have, Dr. Butler and Miss Ishman, who is my direct parole officer, and she inspires me.  I mean, it’s not a point in time that I can’t pick up that phone and call Miss Ishman and say, Miss Ishman, so and so, and so and so, well, Miss Frazier, let’s look at it like this.  I might be upset, and then I’ll call her, and then she’ll just get it, she’ll just iron things out for me.

Tracy Marlow:  You built a network up.

India Frazier:  I built my network.

Tracy Marlow:  And that’s what we need to know in society is you can make it if you build a network up.

India Frazier:  – people believe in you and give you that chance.  See, this is it.  You can’t look at me based on a television program, or you can’t understand who I am until you get to know who I am, until you sit down and talk to me and find out who I am, and that despite something happening 10 years ago, it’s where I’m standing at today.

Len Sipes:  But society doesn’t give us that opportunity.  If society is going to say ex-con, criminal, I don’t like you, I’m not funding programs for you, I’m not going to give you a second chance, I don’t want you in this job, and I understand, all three of us understand the fears of the public.  How can you not watch evening television without understanding the fears of the public?  But what do you want to tell the public directly?  What are the key things that you need the public to understand, because you’re not one of the failures, you’re one of the successes, but yet, you’re still facing the same baggage.  So what do you want to tell the public?

Tracy Marlow:  I want to tell the public, don’t look at what I’ve done, look at what I’m doing.  My past is my past, and only we’re going to leave it behind if you give me a chance.  All I’m asking for is a chance.  I’m not saying that I’m going to be perfect.  I’m not going to sit here and tell this, oh, I’m going to be a perfect and never do this, but I’m going to live for today and try to do the best I can do in society under society laws.  It’s not breaking up anymore.

Len Sipes:  Right. India? And what do you tell society?

India Frazier:  I have to tell society that you can’t base my life today on my past.  I’m a totally different person.  I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, and don’t look at me and make a judgment call on what’s on paper.  Look at me and make a judgment call on how I carry myself.

Len Sipes:  We only have a couple minutes left.  My heavens, this segment just flew by like wildfire!  What is instrumental in your lives?  Was it programs, you mentioned, Tracy, the group, or India, you mentioned the group process through Dr. Butler.  What is it, drug treatment programs, job programs, what is it that we need to help you and others like you cross that bridge?

Tracy Marlow:  Drug treatment first, program, and aftercare.  After we come out of treatment, you need some aftercare.  You need sessions, groups.  The  group that Dr. Butler runs is wonderful.  Somebody’s talking about everyday life.  We need to know about every, going on in your life, this life, productive other people in life.  We need groups and more programs.

Len Sipes:  If we had sufficient numbers of programs, how many additional people could we create, if you will, taxpayers instead of tax burdens?  How many additional people would cross that bridge over to the taxpaying side of the coin?

India Frazier:  You would probably have, maybe, at least 25% more instead of a 50% going back in, you might have 25% more.  I’m not going to say 50%, because, you know, like Tracy said, it’s not, everybody’s not perfect.  Everybody’s not ready to live that right life.  You know what I’m saying?  Everybody’s trying, some people try to find the easy way out.  But you would have at least 25% turnover.  I would say at least 60-75% wouldn’t go back.

Len Sipes:  If society was willing to look at you as individuals, especially in terms of jobs, and if the programs were available, would that make a significant difference in terms of how many people go back to prison and how many people commit additional crimes?

Tracy Marlow:  Of course.

India Frazier:  Definitely, yes!

Tracy Marlow:  Definitely!

India Frazier:  I mean, you have jobs in the District of Columbia that, for real, for real, could save a lot of people’s lives.  People gotta eat!  You’ve got to feed your family!  You know what I’m saying?  You’ve got to pay your rent!  You know, the rent lady don’t want to hear about, you can’t pay your rent because you couldn’t find a job.  You’ve got to pay your rent.  So what you going to do?  You’re going to go out there and do something stupid and go right back to where you were.  So if you have these openings within the District for these ex-offenders, or parole, probation, you know what I’m saying, that would gear them towards working harder toward accomplishing things they need to accomplish, the goals they need to accomplish.  It worked for me.

Len Sipes:  I think the point is, is that, again, we hear the failures.  We are never exposed to the successes.  I’ve spent 40 years in the criminal justice system, 30 years talking to people caught up in the criminal justice system.  I see a lot of success stories.  But those success stories are simply never told.  That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this program today, is to talk about the fact that there are successes.

Tracy Marlow:  Yes, it is.  It is.  And I’m definitely one of them, and the best is yet to come!  Because I’m not finished.  I have kids, I’m raising kids, and they are not going through the system!  They are not going to go through the system.  I am raising them to understand that, if you break the law, these are the options that happen.  We have to break the cycle.  The cycle has to be broken.

Len Sipes:  And the cycle is broken when mom comes out of the prison system, gets programs, gets treatment, gets a job, and the case, your case, your own three ice cream trucks, you didn’t let anybody stand in your way, Tracy!  And you’re saving, not just yourself, you’re saving your kids.  India, you’re doing the same thing.

India Frazier:  Yeah, I love my family.  I love my family, and my grandson, he’s the most inspirational power, power behind every move I make, because I want him, I don’t want him to go through what I went through, you know what I’m saying?  I can’t make the choices for him down the line, but I don’t want him to go through what I went through, and I’m going to give him and push him, I say, lead by example, and the rest will follow.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Now, again, so many people come out of the prison system, and they say, Mr. Sipes, or Leonard, I’m not going to go back.  I’m not going back, I’m not going back, I’m not going back.  6 months later, they’re back.  Now that’s a reality.  There are individuals who cannot make it, or they’re not ready to make it in society, and they go back to the prison system.  So we have to acknowledge that.  Again, part of the fears and the perceptions on the part of the public, but I’ve encountered, again, hundreds, thousands of people just like yourselves.  One out of every 45 individuals caught up in the criminal justice system are in, I’m sorry, one out of every 45 people in the community are caught up currently in the criminal justice system.  That’s like one out of 20 minimum, if you count people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system in the past.  That means that all of us are running into offenders and ex-offenders and people caught up in the criminal justice system every day!  By the scores!  We’re running into lots of people.  I mean, is the question, do we want them to get the mental health treatment, do we want them to have drug treatment, do we want them to be involved in programs, do we want them to be employed, or do we want to interact with these individuals without those programs, and without those skills?

India Frazier:  Well, if you don’t implement programs, if you don’t implement treatment, you don’t set aside a certain amount of money or set aside programs to help these people take their life and create a new person within, you know what I’m saying, or guide them, or steer them towards the goals they need to go towards, you’re going to keep on having a return rate of 50%, you know what I’m saying?  So yeah, we need mental health.  We need drug treatment.  We need voc rehab.  We need certain little groups that Dr. Butler be having.  You know, you need all of these things because they’re reconditioning your mind to go towards what you need to go towards to be a better person.

Len Sipes:  The final minute, Tracy, in terms of, we’ve heard Dr. Willa Butler several times throughout the program.  She runs a women’s group where people who have been in the prison system as women offenders, they come together, they talk about their issues, they talk about how to solve their issues, that’s tough.  You’ve got only a couple seconds.

Tracy Marlow:  Yes it is.  Yes, because that is very powerful, because women need women, and when you talk in them groups, you get real deep.  You talk about some personal things that’s going on, because one thing, to deal with a person that’s on mental health status, is really something, because first thing society, oh, they crazy!  People have complications, anxieties, pressures in the world, and they can’t cope with it and deal with it, all they need is somebody to talk to, and these groups are very important.

Len Sipes:  And that’s the point that I wanted to make.  Thank you, ladies, for being on the first segment.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for sticking with us as we explore this whole issue of offenders coming out of the prison system who make it, who become taxpayers, not tax burdens.  Look for us in the second segment as we continue to explore this topic with two additional guests.  Please stay with us.

[music playing]

Len Sipes:  Hi, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.  I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  Our guests today on the second segment are Cortez McDaniel and Donald Zimmerman, both individuals currently under the supervision of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  As I explained in the first segment, we are a federally funded, a parole and probation agency here in Washington, D.C.  The concept is people being released from prison.  50% go back after 3 years, they go back to the prison system, but 50% don’t.  The story of the 50% who don’t go back just doesn’t seem to be told.  Again, you’re exposed every day to the media about the stories of people caught up in the criminal justice system who do go back, you’re never exposed to the fact that there are lots of individuals who don’t.  To talk about that, Cortez and Donald, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, and Cortez, we’re going to start with you in terms of the second segment, and what is it that you think the public needs to understand about people coming back from the prison system?  I mean, they say the word convict, they say the word ex-con, they have another vision in their mind.  I’m not quite sure they have you in mind.  Correct or incorrect?

Cortez McDaniel:  That’s probably correct.  What I would have the public to think about is how they’d like to be associated with us as homecomers.  We like to refer to returning citizens as homecomers, and understand that these folks are coming home anyway, whether you like it or whether you don’t.  Now how the public is associated with them is kind of up to the society as to how they accept them back.  They need to understand the impact that we’re capable of having on society in a positive way, the value that we have, the talent that we have is a very, very large talent pool, and a large number of men who are very capable of being productive members of society.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and I think one of the reasons, in terms of doing this program, they come to my mind, is employment.  There’s literally thousands of individuals under our supervision at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency who would make perfectly good employees out of the 16,000 on any given day.  They are years away from their crimes, they are years away from their last substance, positive substance abuse test.  But they can’t find work, and they’re having trouble finding work, and that makes it difficult for them, it makes it difficult for us.  To me, that stereotype of ex-con, ex-offender, is the barrier.  So what do you say to people in terms of, in terms of that?  They have this sense that, you’ve been in the prison system, I don’t want to hire you, that’s all there is to it.  I’ve got lots of people to choose from, you were there, you’re not getting this job.  What do you say to that person?

Cortez McDaniel:  Well, I would ask them to actually look at forgiveness and what that encompasses.  If a person has served their amount of time that they’ve been given to serve in prison, if they’ve done that, and they’ve successfully completed that, and they come out, and they do the things that they need to be doing in terms of supervision, then there’s absolutely no reason why this person doesn’t deserve to be able to experience some quality of life themselves.

Len Sipes:  Now Cortez, I’m completely at fault, I didn’t properly introduce you when you came onto the program.  You were with who?  What is your job today?

Cortez McDaniel:  Again, my name is Cortez McDaniel, I’m a transitional coordinator with the Father McKenna Center.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and what is the Father McKenna Center?

Cortez McDaniel:  The Father McKenna Center is a daytime service for homeless men, underprivileged men of Washington, D.C., predominantly African American men who come in for our services during the course of a day.  What we do is we assess men, and we act as a triage to link people up with whatever their needs might be, whether it be drug and alcohol rehabilitation, whether it be mental health services, housing issues, whatever the issues might be, we try to work with them and link them up with agencies that will help them in that direction.

Len Sipes:  Did you have a hard time getting that job?

Cortez McDaniel:  Actually, the way I got that job is I’m also core counsel person on the, with the Phelps Stokes National Homecomers’ Academy, and we were asked, as a result of a newspaper article, to send some people over to speak to that group of men, and once we were there, the people, the administration in place there were pretty impressed with what we had to offer, and so a relationship started with me there –

Len Sipes:  And that’s how you ended up getting the job.

Cortez McDaniel:  That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Donald, you’re with the same operation, correct?

Donald Zimmerman:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  And tell me a little bit about your story.  You came out of the prison system, and what happened?

Donald Zimmerman:  Well, I came out of the prison system, and initially when I came home, I was a general manager of a trucking company –

Len Sipes:  Before or after?

Donald Zimmerman:  This was after my incarceration.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  How did you get a job as a general manager of a trucking company?

Donald Zimmerman:  Some friends of the family, you know, they just –

Len Sipes:  Okay.  You had family connections.

Donald Zimmerman:  Yeah.  They just hired me on, and I learned the business, and I was doing that for a while until the economy folded, and then I went to school to be a chef, so now I’m currently working at a Hospital through a temporary agency called Food Team, and I do temporary cook positions there, but –

Len Sipes:  Can I get into the larger issue?  I started off with the larger issue before a proper introduction of both of you, of once again, the stereotype.  Now I’m not going to be upset with society about their stereotypes.  With the ladies on the first segment, I was watching television, I turned to the National Geographic channel of all channels, and then there was a story about guys in prison, and then I’m flipping through the channels, and there’s the Arts & Entertainment channel, there’s another story about guys in prison, and I sat back and said, you know, if that’s the public’s perception of people caught up in the criminal justice system, there’s no hope.  The story they’re telling was a perfectly accurate story.  They weren’t being dishonest, but it scares people.  The evening news scares people.  What happens when they read their newspapers scares people, and then we have the two of you, and you’re not scary.  So what does the public need to understand about this issue of people coming out of the prison system?  What does the public need to understand to get them to support programs or to get them to give you a chance at a job?

Donald Zimmerman:  The first thing that the public needs to realize is that we’re human, and that we have made mistakes like everyone in life, and we have learned to overcome our mistakes.  They have to learn to accept us and give us that second chance, as if, like a parent would do with their child.  They say, once you finish your prison sentence, that your debt is paid to society.  But is that truly happening?  We tend to have labels put on us like ex-cons and ex-felons, see, but the thing is, you have to take all them labels away and recognize that I am a man and I am a woman and I will stand for something, and I will push, by any means necessary, I will be accepted, and with that positive attitude, only good things will happen.

Cortez McDaniel:  I don’t want to take away from that, the homecomer’s obligation to change their whole approach to life, their whole thought process, and matter of fact, before I came home, about three years actually before I came home, I wrote a book called recidivism prevention workbook.  For people that don’t know, recidivism is commonly used to describe the tendency of a person who’s been convicted of a crime to relapse or return back to criminal behavior.

Len Sipes:  That’s a wonderful –

Cortez McDaniel:  So I thought about that through my own life, and I thought of how valuable it could be to a lot of men.  So in a sense, in my own life, I realize that my whole thought process had deteriorated into how my approach to life was a way of criminal thinking, and so I had to change my principal system, my moral judgment, everything about that had to be looked at, and I had to be man enough and willing to change that.  So I started, I don’t like to use program again, because it’s beginning and end to that, but I started this class that encompassed criminal thinking and criminal behavior, and it was very successful in prison, and I came out here in society with the same ideology that we are capable of being refocused, and that we have a responsibility to approach life differently.

Len Sipes:  How many people who come out of the prison system come out of the prison system with that understanding?  Lots of people who have told me, I’m getting out, and when I used to work inside the prison system, I’m getting out, and I’m not going back, came back.

Donald Zimmerman:  Well you have a lot of –

Len Sipes:  Came back pretty quickly.

Donald Zimmerman:  Well, you have a lot of men and women who come out with the intent that they’re not going to go back, but when they get out and they see the situation that they’re, no jobs, or they don’t want to accept a job, because I have the notion that there are jobs, people just don’t want to go work at McDonald’s, don’t want to go work at Wendy’s, whereas when you were in the federal prison system, you work for $5.25 a month.  So with that being said, they see their situations, and they don’t have that support system on the outside that will reeducate.  See, one, you have to reeducate yourself into, like, your morals and your values, saying, you know, positive things to you, like, you know, you can do better, you can find a job.  It’s not how much money you make, it’s what you do with the money you make.  You know, when you start to understand the simpler things in life and start, you know, understanding true happiness and just knowing that you have to, you know, first, that you’re on probation or parole, you have to first comply, take it one situation at a time, then you can move to the next step.  Once you start to comply, then you can start going to your meetings, then you can start building relationships, and then eventually, as time progress, you will start to reeducate yourself with better understanding and more.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so the point in all of this is that, if you are willing to go through that process, and if you’re willing to seek help, you can cross that bridge.  You can go from the tax burden to the taxpayer.  You can be employed, but it’s really upon you if you, and how much –

Cortez McDaniel:  Well, the support system is very, very necessary.

Len Sipes:  That’s the point I want –

Cortez McDaniel:  And that’s, with Phelps Stokes, that’s what we’re all about at Phelps Stokes, the Homecomers’ Academy.  That’s what we’re all about is providing a support system for a homecomer that lets them understand that, and helps to reinforce these ideologies in him and helps him understand that he has certain responsibilities that he needs to live up to, but also that he’s not alone, that he has some support and some assistance in getting to where he needs to get to.  A lot of times, people will come out of prison with, have purposed themselves never to go back, but they get out, and the support falls through.  A lot of times people have become estranged from their families for different reasons, and they don’t, they lack people who care or people who are willing to take a chance on them.

Len Sipes:  And that’s what the ladies said during the first segment.  If you’ve got that group of people who can support you emotionally and get you through this process, that really does increase the chances of you doing well.

Cortez McDaniel:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  So the point is this.  The final minutes of the program is that what I said on the first segment is that there are thousands of you guys out there struggling, but they’re ready to make that move.  They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.  They’re sick and tired of being caught up in the criminal justice system.  They would be good employees, they would be good citizens.  There’s a certain point where society does have to recognize who is at risk and who’s trying, who’s struggling and who’s trying to make it, correct?  I mean, that is incumbent upon employers and incumbent upon people, I mean, we have to fund a certain amount of programs to help people cross that bridge.  Am I right or wrong?

Cortez McDaniel:  Well, yeah.  I think we have to have entities.  Like I said, I don’t like to use the word program, because when I talk about a program, I’m talking about a beginning and an end.

Len Sipes:  And this is lifelong.

Cortez McDaniel:  But we believe in relationships, and we believe in those relationships being everlasting –

Donald Zimmerman:  Brotherhoods and sisterhoods.

Cortez McDaniel:  The dynamic may change as things evolve, but we believe those relationships are important –

Len Sipes:  And the same with the research on Delancey Street out in San Francisco 25 years ago.  That’s exactly what they said in terms of the former offenders coming together as a group to help each other out.  So that’s the bottom line.

Donald Zimmerman:  What we need is real people dealing with real problems trying to find real solutions.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  And you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve come in contact with Cortez McDaniel and Donald Zimmerman.  This is D.C. Public Safety.  We really appreciate the fact that you’ve been with us today to explore this very important topic of people who are successes who have come out of the prison system, and yet at the same time made successes of themselves.  We appreciate your attention, and please stick with us and watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in the criminal justice system.  Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]

Share

Violence Reduction Program-“DC Public Safety”

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts. We now average 200,000 requests a month.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2010/12/violence-reduction-program-dc-public-safety/

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

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today, we are here to talk about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. CSOSA is a federally funded parole and probation agency with responsibility for parole and probation issues in the great city of Washington, D.C. To talk to us about this program we have three extraordinarily interesting people. We have Zoë, and that’s not her real name. She is an individual under supervision of Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency to talk about her participation in the violence reduction program. We have Tanesha Clardy, and she is a community supervision officer, and we have Michelle Hare-Diggs, she is a treatment specialist, and to Zoë, and to Tanesha, and to Michelle, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tanesha Clardy: Thank you.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Thank you.

Zoe: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We’re going to start off with you, Michelle, and you’re going to explain what the violence reduction program is all about.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: The violence reduction program was put into place by CSOSA to, it’s to successfully help the offenders on probation to successfully complete parole and probation. There’s three phases to the group. Phase one kind of gets everybody comfortable with being in the group, comfortable with the group process, so we do a lot of, I guess I would say icebreaker exercises, which is treatment readiness exercises. That runs three weeks, and they come twice a week for three weeks, and then we move on to phase two, which is the meat of the program, and we do a whole slough of, we learn a whole slough of activities, and it’s not just violence. Most of the techniques can be used in everyday life: communication styles, different communication styles, relaxation techniques, so everything that we do in the group can also, it just doesn’t relate to just violence. And that phase runs 12 weeks, and they come twice a week. And then we move on to phase three, which is, the purpose of phase three is to help, we want the offenders to, in turn, want to be able to help someone else to successfully complete parole and probation, so we integrate them into community activities, and that phase runs six weeks, and they come once a week.

Len Sipes: So in essence, what we’re doing is helping people, the theory in criminology called cognitive behavioral therapy, where it’s sort of thinking through life’s event differently than what they’ve done in the past, and I would imagine that’s sort of what we’re talking about now, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it is how to stay away from situations of violence, potential situations for violence, how to extract yourself, how to deal with all of that in such a way not to land you back in the criminal justice system.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Exactly, and there’s situations where you can’t do that, how to make a better choice, what would be a better choice.

Len Sipes: A better choice. Okay. We were talking beforehand, my wife constantly tells me about better choices. I get angry at my daughters, and she’ll tell me to go cool off. I mean, this is sort of a lifelong learning situation for a lot of us, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. So it’s just situations where we try to, if you’re in a situation where you can’t just walk out, what would be the better thing to do, how to take a time out in your head. Some of the techniques sound corny, but they really work. Things that you would never think of, how to count to ten, and we hear it, but do we really do it? How to shout loudly, stop it, to yourself, so you’re able to not give yourself that continuous negative self-talk.

Len Sipes: And Tanesha, we’re going to go to you for the next question. You work with these women, the women offenders on a regular basis. Do you deal just with the women, or with the men, or both?

Tanesha Clardy: I deal with both.

Len Sipes: With both. Do you have any preferences over which group? Are women easier to deal with than men? Or do they, or they bring their own unique issues?

Tanesha Clardy: All of them bring unique characteristics to the program.

Len Sipes: Because the average person is going to –

Tanesha Clardy: What I’ve discovered is that women, they have different issues, totally different issues that come from, as far as growing up and being a female, you have molestation, you have rape, you have substance abuse, and you just have emotional, physical abuse. So those are different issues that women more deal with than men.

Len Sipes: And that’s pretty much clarified by the criminological literature, by all the studies basically, talking about the fact that women offenders, women caught up in the criminal justice system have much higher rates of substance abuse than men, have higher rates of mental health issues, and the rate of prior sexual abuse is astounding. It is one of the highest correlates or the things that are connected to crime, it is astounding as to how many women caught up in the criminal justice system come from that sort of a history, and the women offenders that I’ve talked to in the past, they’re, they’ve had a lot of explosive anger going on with them and throughout their lives, and a lot of it’s self destructive, which I would imagine a lot of the emotional issues and substance abuse issues come from that history.

Tanesha Clardy: True. It’s all about their defense mechanisms. It’s things that women internalize more, so when it gets to the point where you can’t take it anymore, it’s easier to just lash out, and so it’s probably easier for them to just, you know, commit an act of violence when they feel as though they have to defend themselves. They have to protect themselves, because here you are, you’re coming up against me. And so that’s what I’ve just, you know, just noticed on my women offenders.

Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this question now. We’re talking about basically a four month program where we take individuals with a history of violence, and we sort of restructure who they are and what they are in terms of their day to day ability to cope with the stresses of life. Correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

MD: But I think the group is, because it is four months long, it gives you time to really think about behaviors and how it may have impacted your decisions in the past, so that’s the real purpose of the group. We want you to see how your past behaviors now, how have they impacted your decisions, and for whatever reason, have put you on parole and probation, and how can you rethink those past behaviors, and how can we use them differently in the future to help us make better decisions.

Len Sipes: Right. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence, so this protects the public. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence because it protects the taxpayer, because the person theoretically does better, and the research indicates that individuals do better with these programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, or violence reduction programs. So this is a win-win situation for everybody. What we’re doing is helping people understand that the stuff that they’ve done in the past, they cannot continue to do in the future, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. And in turn, we also, not just for themselves, but because some, like with the women offenders, some of them are mothers or sisters, the skills that you learn, even again, they sound corny, but as you’re at home, I’m sure, they joke about it later on. Like, we did this skill. But if you really practice it, and this is something that you try to practice with your siblings at home or your children, or your significant other, it’s not something that they themselves are just learning, they’re also teaching others.

Len Sipes: And that’s important. I mean, what you teach individuals, they teach their sons, they teach their daughters, they teach their peers, a lot of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system who are now doing well, people sort of wonder, well, why are you doing so well? And one of the reasons why they’re doing so well is they’ve learned a new way of thinking about who they are and their lives. Most people don’t want to return to the criminal justice system. I get a sense that a lot of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system don’t quite understand how they got there to begin with. All they were doing were hanging out with friends, drinking a beer, doing whatever, and somebody said the wrong thing, and they lashed out. It’s not like they sat down and said, gee, I want to assault somebody violently with a beer bottle tonight. Stuff happens.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And stuff happens quickly.

Len Sipes: Stuff happens quickly. It happens rapidly. And sometimes you’re not even quite sure why you did what you did, correct?

Tanesha Clardy: Very true, very true. But I’m, I guess, that’s the benefit of the program, because instead of just reacting the way you normally would act, you sit back and you think about, okay, what is my next move? Like, you have to make a choice, and hopefully the choice is a positive one.

Len Sipes: All right. Now we’re going to go over to Zoë. Zoë is, what we said before the program, was the truly authentic person sitting in this room. The rest of us are paid by the federal government to do what we do on a day to day basis. Zoë, you’re here, because I’m quite sure you volunteered to be on the radio show, and just absolutely adored the idea of sharing your feelings with the public.

Zoe: Absolutely!

Len Sipes: Okay, cool!

Zoe: The public needs to be informed.

Len Sipes: Cool. Why does the public need to be informed?

Zoe: Well, because everyone that commits a crime or commits an act of violence isn’t a bad person. It’s just a way, you have to rethink the way that you’re going about things, think about how you’re going to approach this situation, and think about who you’re in the situation with. You can’t react the same to everyone, so that’s what I take most out of the group, that even though we’re not talking about something that directly applies to me, I can take the message out of that and apply it to my life, and it’s helpful.

Len Sipes: Well, what we’ve said before throughout the entire program is the sense that too many people are being caught up in too many acts of violence. They need, what we call in the field, cognitive behavioral therapy, what the other person, the average person listening to this program would be, come to you-know-what meeting, or come to reality meeting, or whatever, you know, our parents read us the riot act in the past, we got punished, we were instructed by uncles, aunts, others, people in the community that what we were doing was inappropriate. We had no business doing it. Are we suggesting that people didn’t grow up with those guidelines?

Zoe: Well, some people didn’t. Everyone didn’t have that uncle or aunt or cousins or family members around to give that positive reinforcement, or even still, just the things that you were doing wrong, no one told you they were wrong. No one really reprimanded you for it. So that catches up with you in the end, and pretty much here, we’re just reversing, kind of, the bad learned behavior.

Len Sipes: Well, there are two questions. Is it too easy to get involved in acts of violence?

Zoe: Yeah –

Len Sipes: And, you know, again, most of the people that I’ve talked to have been caught up in the criminal justice system, didn’t say, you know, I set out that evening to beat my brother over the head with a beer bottle because he insulted my wife. I mean, that’s not how it went down.

Zoe: No, it went down, in the flash of an eye, before you knew it, someone was hemmed up because of whatever internal anger that, well, that I had, this is my personal experience. Yeah, so before I knew it, I was already at a 9, and just that one little small incident just took me to 27 somewhere, and I ended up in the system.

Len Sipes: It was an explosion.

Zoe: It was an explosion.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been through the criminal justice system, and you have been through the violence reduction program –

Zoe: Currently in the program.

Len Sipes: You’re currently in the program, and what does that mean to you now?

Zoe: Well, for one, when we first started the program, I was kind of sketchy about, I just really didn’t understand why I was in the group, but now, I look forward to coming to the group. These are just people, these are my friends, now, actually, and we talk about different experiences that we have throughout the week, and it’s helpful. It’s really helpful. Whether I’m actually joking around, or we come in there and play around, but at the end of the day, all right, we actually got something out of this, and it’s valuable to put forth in your everyday life.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing to me, because that is something the average person doesn’t hear. The average person listening to this program is saying, wait a minute, people who are violent belong in prison. They don’t understand that the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the correctional system or in the street, they’re under parole and probation supervision. Parole meaning, they’ve come out of the prison system, probation means the judge decided to sentence them to a period of community supervision, and not necessarily prison, but prison’s always hanging over their heads. So the overwhelming majority of people caught up in acts of violence aren’t in prison, they’re in the community.

Zoe: Yeah. Your next door neighbor.

Len Sipes: Their next door neighbor, the person you interact with at the gas station, the person who serves you at your local restaurant, the person who hands you your dry cleaning, it’s one out of every 45 people in the community are under active community supervision. Now most criminologists have said, well, if it’s one out of every 45 under active, current community supervision with correctional systems, it’s at minimum one out of every 20. So you’re encountering people every day by the scores who were either once caught up in the criminal justice system or currently caught up in the criminal justice system. So these programs, this particular program, what does it mean to you, and what does it mean to public safety?

Zoe: Well, as far as public safety and, the program really just has people to, I don’t really –

Len Sipes: It’s a hard question. I’m sorry, it is a ridiculously hard question to answer. But I mean, the bottom line is, if more people were involved in programs like this, would there be less violence?

Zoe: Yes, there definitely would be less violence.

Len Sipes: Okay, and why is that?

Zoe: Because it changes your way of thinking about it. Change the way of thinking about the situations that you’re in, and things that may seem like a threat to take you from 10 to 27, they’re not, they don’t bother you as much anymore.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: I also think the peer interaction they’re getting from the group, the peer feedback that they’re getting, things that they would, there are situations where we’ll come out, somebody in the group will come up with a scenario that may have happened over the weekend where they didn’t think that there was any other way to handle it, and the peer interaction or peer feedback that they’re getting inside the group like, okay, maybe you could have tried this, you could have tried that, and then it seems more realistic. Like, okay, maybe I could have done that, where some people, sometimes you think, the only thing I could have done was hit this person or lashed out or cussed the person out, or have, however you may have acted before, the interaction that the peers give, the interaction in the group from the peers is just, it’s amazing. The feedback, well, next time, maybe you could try this, walk out, come back in, things that you would never think that you yourself could do, you know, they test themselves, and I really like that.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, and I’m going to reintroduce everybody here at the microphones today. Zoë, not her real name, but an individual kind enough to participate. She is currently in the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Community Supervision Officer Tanesha Clardy, and what most people call parole and probation agents, we call community supervision officer, and a treatment specialist, Michelle Hare-Diggs, all three are before our microphones talking about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Now ladies, I’m going to go back to my experience when I ran groups in the Maryland prison system, and one of the things that I discovered is how folks react in a treatment setting, and how they act in the community can be two different things.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, I think what makes this group unique, because I’m a treatment specialist and I’m not a CSO, they kind of see it as separate, so I think the group tends to be a lot more real. It’s not as, I think what most people would consider as fake, and Zoë, you can correct me if I’m wrong.

Zoe: No, I agree with you. I like, okay, at first, I wasn’t sure about it, but I like the fact that it’s, the time period, the length of it, because if we were meeting once a week for a month, I wouldn’t know these people, and I wouldn’t tell them anything. It wouldn’t be a conversation, it’d just be Ms. Hare-Diggs talking to us. She’d just be talking at us pretty much, vs. us interacting.

Len Sipes: A lot of people go through these programs because they’re stuck with going through these programs. How authentic is this? Any one of you can answer. How real is this? How deeply do we get into the lives of the individuals, and is there real change? That’s what the public wants to know?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, it is a real change, because one, you don’t have to be there. You can just be at home, and next thing you know, you’ll get someone at your door taking you back to jail. You don’t have to be there. But you come, and then you choose to participate. So you can come and not say anything, and you can come and share your experiences, so just by that, and just us learning to trust each other, we can talk about these things and throw ideas off the wall and give each other constructive criticism or just say pretty much whatever we’re thinking without it becoming an issue. So the fact that we have that freedom, that ability to just let it all hang out and put it out there. We get a lot of things accomplished. We talk about a lot of different issues, and we hear each other out. We’re more receptive to our peers, because they’re not someone talking down at us, they’re someone that’s going through the same thing I am.

Len Sipes: How scary of a place is that? I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been through drug treatment describing it as one of the scariest events of their lives, because they had to confront all the garbage that has gone on in their lives that calls them to be caught up in the criminal justice system. Sometimes treatment is not pretty. Sometimes it’s dragging a person through everything that happened beforehand and coming to an understanding that it doesn’t matter what happened to you beforehand, what happens is now and how to control yourself now.

Zoe: It definitely gets ugly at times where, you know, the group forces an individual to look at their own behaviors and stop putting the blame on everybody else, from the PO to their mother to, sometimes, it’s really difficult to look at your own behavior sometimes, so it gets ugly when the group forces that person to address and take some ownership in their behaviors.

Len Sipes: When I did group, it was like going to Mars in many instances because, no, you went to a different planet. You got involved in an extraordinarily intensive examination of people’s lives. In my life, the lives of the participants in the program, it was scary at times, because, not because of what they said, not because of threats or anything along those lines, but you dig deep into the individual’s life, and suddenly, they are dealing with issues of their past for the first time. They’ve never really dealt with them before. Am I right or wrong?

Tanesha Clardy: You’re definitely right, because I’ve definitely seen a change in, especially the females who weren’t very interested in being in the program at all. Like for Zoë, she definitely came a long way. She didn’t want to do the program, she didn’t understand why she had to do the program, she understood the charge, but to her, I’m not an angry person, I’m not a violent person, the situation happened, it is what it is, I just want to do this and get on with my life. But she comes to group, she actively participates, she’s very open, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and I’ve just definitely seen a positive change in her.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the most meaningful part of all of this. When you go through interacting with a whole bunch of people, and they come to understand what’s happened to them in the past, and they come to understand that they can control it, there are a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system who have been, I don’t know, I mean, ships on the ocean without sails. I mean, the wind’s just pushing them all over the place, and suddenly, they learn how to put up sails and move in the direction that they want to move in. Boy, that’s a great analogy, isn’t it? I just thought of that! And then there are people who are listening to this who are going, you know, Mr. Sipes, you’re so full of hooey, don’t you understand that they’re just jiving you, they’re just doing what they have to do to get through the program, and –

Zoe: Well, they show. When you show back up, and you’re locked up, it’ll show whether you got something out of the program or not, and it’s all about what you put into it. You can’t expect to, okay, well my life has changed, when you don’t even talk in group. You don’t even participate. It’s not going to happen. And they’ll see you again. So if you’re trying to put your best foot forward, just go ahead and actively participate, pay attention, try to get something out of it, and you won’t, hopefully you won’t have to be in the system again.

Len Sipes: My guess is that an awful lot of people involved in the criminal justice system could use this type of, who could use this kind of program, that this kind of program would be valuable to them. It’s just not people who are ostensibly “violent offenders.” There’s a lot of people with nonviolent charges who have a history of violence. And you, we can judge that through our own instruments. We’ve pretty much come to a good understanding here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency through our instruments as to who that person really is, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Correct. I think anyone can benefit from the program. You could probably benefit from the program yourself because it’s all about conflict resolution, different communication styles, and coping skills, because it’s nothing but a table that separates me from Zoë. I could have been in that same restaurant, and someone pushed me, and I turned around and slapped them, and here I am, I’m on supervision.

Zoe: That’s what happened. No, that’s what happened.

Len Sipes: Yeah, but that could happen to any of us. But I mean –

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It’s all about how you react and the choice that you make.

Len Sipes: And according to the research, most individuals who are caught up in the criminal justice system at the time of the arrest were under the influence of something. And most were young. So if you have a younger individual full of pee and vinegar who doesn’t feel that good about themselves, who –

Tanesha Clardy: Pee and vinegar?

Len Sipes: As Tanesha tries to recover from that statement, and, no, no, no, I mean, this is the reality of what we’re dealing with, is it not? I mean, tell me if I’m wrong. It’s, they’re young, they’re very emotional, they’re caught up in the moment, somebody has insulted them, or there’s a perceived insult, may be real, may not be real, and that person just explodes, and that person, they don’t have to be young?

Tanesha Clardy: No, they don’t have to be young. I mean, we don’t have many old people in our group, but there’s a few. Yeah. And they, they get just as much out of the group as I would, or as the next person. So you don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be a male or a female to get caught up in the moment, and next thing you know…

Len Sipes: But you do have to be willing to understand how you became involved in the criminal justice system, how you came to be arrested that evening, and that arrest is oftentimes just the tip of an iceberg. I mean, people caught up in the criminal justice system, they’re here for a burglary, but you know, they’ve been down the road before. They’ve been involved in the criminal justice system. We just don’t know about it. Most crimes aren’t reported, most reported crimes do not end up in arrest. I’m talking about national statistics, and most reported, even when they’re prosecuted, most felonies in this country don’t get prison time. So I mean, to be involved in the criminal justice system, you’ve really had to do something, or you did a series of things before they send you to prison. So, I mean, the point is, is that people are actively engaged in lots of different things that could get them involved with our agency or put them behind prison bars. I mean, it’s just not one instance in many cases, and in many cases, there’s a history of violence, there’s a history of crime, there’s a history of acting out.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right, the group also focuses on trying to get the individuals to understand what they did and how it has led, again –

Tanesha Clardy: Ownership.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Ownership, taking ownership to their behaviors, because a lot of things are learned behaviors, and they don’t see anything wrong with it, so we have to really focus on what you did and how it’s affected your life.

Len Sipes: And it’s not just, I guess the point that I’m trying to make, Zoë, is that it’s, in many cases, it’s not just one altercation. We’re talking about a history of inappropriate behaviors.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: So we try to focus on learned behaviors and unlearning behaviors, and it can be done.

Len Sipes: That’s the interesting thing where the audience does need to hear that. I mean, you can be 27-years-old, according to Zoë, you can be 47 years old, and you can have this whole life of not making the best of decisions, and you can come out of these sort of encounters making much better decisions. It does work, is the question the average person listening to this program is saying, ladies, does it work?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It does. I mean, it’s hard for an individual, if you’re 47, 27, whatever, if you’ve been reacting the same way your whole life to whatever situation, if you’re used to lashing out, holding off hitting somebody, smacking somebody, spitting, whatever, and then you’re in a group with other people who have the same issues, some of the similar, some of the same, similar incidents have happened, and you can hear how somebody else is able to react to a situation, it makes you think at some point, okay, maybe I can try that, you might, you might not want to try it the first time, maybe not even the second time, but the third time, be like, okay, I can try that, and then if it works, it works, if not, we use so many different skills, you can try a different one, a different type of coping skill –

Len Sipes: Like retreating.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Retreating, right. Or counting to 10, removing yourself, some people are like, I’m never going to walk out. I would never do this, and you just try something different. So every skill doesn’t work for everybody, but we, thinking errors, you think about, what have I been doing all these years, I’m sorry, what have I been doing all these years, and you have to think, how has it gotten me to this place? And I think that’s the biggest thing that we learn in group, so many, we do the same things over and over and over again, and if it doesn’t work, what can we do differently?

Len Sipes: I talked to a guy who went through this program who was telling me about being involved in a confrontation on the street, and for the first time in his life, he retreated. He removed himself from that situation. It was a tool that he learned in group, and he was able to use that tool and extract himself, and he simply said, my going back to prison is not worth an altercation with this idiot. And that was a huge revelation for this individual. It prevented a violent crime from going down. It prevented him from being further caught up in the criminal justice system. It saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of incarcerative dollars. That was effective. I mean, just simply saying to himself, I’m going to extract myself from this situation. I’m getting out. I’m not going back to prison.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And I guess another thing, when you have that peer interaction in the group, the peers tell you, it’s okay to walk away. It’s not such a bad thing. Whereas before, you might have said, I’m not walking away. If this is a way of living, you’re not used to walking away, you’re used to handling things in a violent manner, or in a physical manner, and you’re hearing everyone say it’s okay to walk away, you keep telling yourself that, and if my freedom is on the line, sometimes you need that, the cost, the interaction from your peers telling you, what’s the better thing to do in this situation?

Len Sipes: We just have a couple minutes left. Ladies, I mean, to me, this has been an extraordinary half hour. To me, it really has been. The two of you who are paid to be doing this, and Zoë who got sucked into it, but I mean, the explanation, the explanation is, I think, powerful, that people can change through the right kind of programs, and if we had more of these programs, more people could change. Is that overly simplistic? If you had programs in place for more people, we could, we could have a greater impact on public safety.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yeah, sure.

Zoe: Definitely. Definitely.

Tanesha Clardy: This is something that could be put into the community. It doesn’t have to be called a violence reduction program. It could just be at a community center, just have people come in from the community, sit down, just learn these different skills, like, be the bigger person. You don’t always have to, of course, defend yourself, but you don’t have to do anything drastic to where you’re going to actually hurt the other person, but just turn away, walk away, I have something to live for, I have a life, I love my freedom, so okay, I’m going to let you get away with this one, and I’m going to just keep moving, because I don’t want to go to my PO and be like, yeah, I got arrested.

Len Sipes: I’m going to let you get away with this one because you are of no consequence to me. I am of consequence to me, and I’m going to protect my kids. I’m going to protect myself, and I’m going to protect my family by getting out of it –

Tanesha Clardy: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Because, my man –

Tanesha Clardy: It’s not worth it.

Len Sipes: – you’re nothing to me.

Tanesha Clardy: I have way too much to live for.

Len Sipes: I have way too much to live for. So he’s not getting away, his opponent is not getting away with anything. He’s getting away with a much better life.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

Zoe: Right.

Len Sipes: And that’s the whole idea behind this program, right?

Tanesha Clardy: Yes.

Zoe: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Any final words? Before we close?

Zoe: Well…

Len Sipes: Okay, Zoë. You’ve got the final word. What is it? Is it meaningful?

Zoe: Well, the program is meaningful. I do appreciate now, I can say this now, once again. I do appreciate being chosen to be a part of it, just, just so I can see, okay, this behavior is not right. Something has to change. And now that I have some of the tools in place and some of the methods in place, I’m able to do that and not just take it to the extreme every single time.

Len Sipes: Well, for me, it’s been a wonderful half hour, ladies. I’ve really enjoyed this, and I think it’s been very meaningful, and I think a lot of people and the public are going to learn from it. Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, Zoë, who, it’s not a real name, but she’s a person under supervision with our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in the violence reduction program. We have community supervision officer Tanesha Clardy, and we have treatment specialist Michelle Hare-Diggs. Ladies, again, thank you for being on the program. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, radio programs from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

Share

Drug Courts in Washington, D.C. “DC Public Safety”

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts. We now average 200,000 requests a month.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2010/11/drug-courts-in-washington-d-c-dc-public-safety/

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

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From our nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to talk about drug courts. Drug courts seem to have a pretty impressive research history from the U.S. Department of Justice and other sources essentially stating that people involved in the drug court process do well, better than the people who do not go to drug court, people involved in substance abuse, they go to drug court, they interact with the judge, they interact with supervision staff, and generally speaking, the outcomes are positive. To talk about the program that we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have two principals with us today. Carline Claudomir and Amanda Rocha, they’re both community supervision officers assigned to our drug court, but before we get into the program, our usual commercial, we are up to 220,000 requests for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. If you need to get in touch with us, and we really appreciate all of the emails, we really appreciate all of the comments in the comment line, and whether it’s criticisms, or whether it’s platitudes, we embrace whatever it is that you have to say to us, and we take it very seriously, and we appreciate all the suggestions in terms of future programs, you can get in touch with me directly via email: Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov, or you can follow us via twitter at twitter.com/lensipes or you can go to the site itself, www.csosa.gov and look for the radio and television programs, or you can go to media.csosa.gov directly and take a look at these programs and comment through the comment line and back to our guests, Carline Claudomir and Amanda Rocha, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carline Claudomir: Hi, Len.

Amanda Rocha: Hi, Len.

Len Sipes: All right, Carline. How many times did I butcher that first name? And last name? Carline Claudomir!

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. And I know I’m going to get the emails saying, Leonard, you can not pronounce names correctly! Amanda, you’ve been before our microphones before, correct?

Amanda Rocha: I have, Len.

Len Sipes: You’ve done some other stuff for us.

Amanda Rocha: Yes, I have.

Len Sipes: All right, so you’re star of stage and screen.

Amanda Rocha: Oh, no!

Len Sipes: And you’re very used to the microphone process. Drug courts. You know, ladies, the research on drug courts is positive, Carline, and the first question’s going to go to you. The research is positive. Drug courts do seem to work. Individuals going into the drug court process do seem to do fairly well. The whole idea behind, or the history of drug courts, for the audience, was to try to provide an alternative to incarceration, and an alternative to doing nothing. If you take a look at national research, out of all of the offenders caught up in the criminal justice system, 11% get drug treatment.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Now, the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the criminal justice system do not get drug treatment. That’s amazing to me. That’s amazing to me, considering all the social ills that are out there. But here, what we do is provide drug treatment, and in some cases, we simply provide supervision services. We do whatever is necessary to stabilize that person with a substance abuse history, correct?

Carline Claudomir: You’re correct.

Len Sipes: All right, tell me about it.

Carline Claudomir: My name is Carline Claudomir, and I work with the STAR/HIDTA team. STAR/HIDTA stands for Sanction Team for Addiction Recovery. Our program entails the clients being assigned by either their judge and their attorney, or coming through transfer from other teams at CSOSA, or through our pre-trial drug program. Once they come to STAR/HIDTA, they are signing a contract stating that there are a number of things that they will and will not do while on probation, and they understand that there’s immediate consequences for any positive drug test or noncompliant behavior.

Len Sipes: Okay, so if they screw up, there are immediate consequences –

Carline Claudomir: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: – and that’s what seems to work, correctly?

Carline Claudomir: Yes, it’s the blessing and the curse for some of the clients.

Len Sipes: Because we need to understand that people with substance abuse histories, shall I say, always screw up. Recovery, problems are part of the recovery process, so it’s not, go to drug court and never do drugs again. It’s go to drug court and work with that person as that person faces their addiction history and relearns how to live life without drugs.

Carline Claudomir: Yes, and a lot of times, when they come to us, they sit, stand up in court before the judge and say, Your Honor, yes, I want to do probation, Your Honor, yes, I want treatment, then they come to the office, and then they reread the contract and realize it’s not only treatment!

Len Sipes: Oh, my heavens! What have I gotten myself involved in?

Carline Claudomir: Yes, it’s treatment and sanctions, so if you continue to use drugs, unfortunately, there are jail sanctions involved, which are treatment, tough love all the way.

Len Sipes: You’re tough love all the way, but that’s what is necessary. Amanda Rocha, in terms of that sense of tough love, correct?

Amanda Rocha: Yes, absolutely. It really does help to have that median sanctioning, because it puts a little fear in the offenders so that they don’t go back and use, it gives them that second thought before deciding to use, oh, that’s three nights in jail if I go ahead and do that, or oh, you know what? I’m on my fourth sanction or fifth sanction, and now it’s seven nights in jail. So they don’t want to continue going back and forth. It gets old for them to have to do that, and so kind of helps them along the way a little bit.

Len Sipes: Well, I think it’s important for people to understand just that, because, you know, this whole concept of treatment, the research is pretty clear that the reason why most people don’t get drug treatment is not its availability or lack of availability. The principal reason for why people don’t get drug treatment is that they don’t feel they need drug treatment, and in many cases, in terms of the criminal justice system, we basically coerce them into a) getting drug treatment, b) sticking with it because of the sanctions along the way. If you have a positive urine, we don’t care if it’s for marijuana, we don’t care what it’s for. If you have a positive urine, this is what’s going to happen to you, and those punishments, if you will, are going to increase as you continue your substance abuse, correct?

Carline Claudomir: It’s the accountability factor, and a lot of times, they come to us never having to be held accountable for their drug use, never had to be held accountable for their actions, and when they come to us, they realize every time they mess up, there is no passes, there are no passes, so immediately, you go see the judge, and you can explain to the judge why you felt it was okay to make this decision, regardless of the consequences.

Len Sipes: You know, the interesting thing is that there’s an increasing number of research programs out there, studies that, interestingly enough, it’s the judge who seems to be at the centerpoint of a lot of these mental health courts, substance abuse courts, reentry courts, there’s something magical about the judge being involved in this process, I think.

Carline Claudomir: It’s the authority, because if I say he needs treatment and the judge says he needs treatment, that holds a lot of weight. You don’t want to go to a judge and say, no, he doesn’t need treatment. No, it doesn’t work that way. The judge says he needs it, then you’re going to listen, because they’re in the midst of the battle.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now it’s extraordinarily confusing for the people of this audience, because it goes way beyond Washington D.C. 20% of our audience is international, and the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area is not our top city in terms of people listening to this program. So we have to explain that under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, administratively, we have an entity called pre-trial services who are their own independent agency with their own board and their own mission, but they fall under the generic auspices of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, both are federalized, and they also have a drug court program focusing on pretrial individuals, correct?

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, and I know you can’t speak for them, but in essence, the gig is that the person goes before a judge, and if he completes, or she completes the provisions of the drug court program, the charges are dropped.

Carline Claudomir: It has an affect on the charges or what is actually ending sentencing.

Len Sipes: All right, there you go. It has an effect. You should be a public affairs officer. But ours, what we’re talking about is post-conviction. We’re talking about probationers.

Amanda Rocha: Yes.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, and the probationers, we’re talking about, the incentive here is early termination, it’s where the judge or the attorney feels that this person has a substance abuse background, not necessarily currently doing drugs, but having a substance abuse background, and this person may not be new to the criminal justice system. This person may have multiple arrests and multiple contacts with the criminal justice system, correct?

Amanda Rocha: That is correct. We have people who are 18-years-old up until, well into their 60s, so yeah, it could be somebody who is their first charge, or it could be somebody who’s, it’s their 20th.

Len Sipes: Right, and that part, by the way, the process in terms of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and older. I’ve had a chance to encounter them, in terms of the write-alongs that I’ve done with our folks, and that’s sad, don’t you think? I mean, when you walk into this apartment of this guy who’s been through heroin, who’s been through crack, I mean, these older heroin addicts, these older coke guys, you know, they just have the hardest time staying away from drugs. It’s just amazing to me to go into the home of a 50-year-old and 60-year-old because they continue to do drugs.

Carline Claudomir: Can I go back to the incentive process?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Carline Claudomir: I always hear the biggest incentives for our program is the fact that you can come off of drugs, and you can be successful in the community without using illicit substances. We actually have a client right now, he is part of the TAP program, but we also see some of those clients sometimes, and he’s working, he’s successful, he’s drug free. That is the biggest incentive. Most of our clients, however, see early termination, and that’s their goal, and they don’t actually think of, to get there, I have to also be drug free.

Len Sipes: Here’s my guess, and either one of you, feel free to tell me whether I’m right or wrong. My guess is that they think that they’re entering this program, and the early termination is the only thing that’s on their mind, and getting off of drugs is way, way, way, way, way back on the list of –

Carline Claudomir: – priorities.

Len Sipes: Yeah, priorities, because a lot of people, they’ve done drugs the good part of their lives. You know, 12, 13 years old, starting alcohol, 14, 15, starting marijuana, 16, 17, graduating to the harder drugs, a lot of these individuals that we supervise here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and this applies to any parole and probation agency in the country. You know, they work with people who don’t know how to live life without self-medication.

Carline Claudomir: And unfortunately, in their minds, they believe it’s recreational, even though they have a 20-year history of drug abuse and treatment situations, they still believe it’s recreational, I can stop at any point in time.

Len Sipes: I can handle this.

Carline Claudomir: And unfortunately, when they get in front of, into the STAR/HIDTA program, and there’s consequences, and they realize, well I’m just going to jail because I can’t stop using, is that really worth it? And that’s when it may click in their mind, okay, I really do, I have a problem. I can’t do this on my own.

Len Sipes: We, we have this come to reality be, again, I’ve used other terms, but I don’t want to be disrespectful. Where that becomes a defining moment in their lives, does it not, that they have lived their life with the needle, lived their life with a powdery substance, lived their life smoking reefer, they really don’t know what to do without drugs.

Amanda Rocha: And I think, for example, we have somebody assigned to us right now. Her grandmother had a history, apparently she’s not using now, but of use. Her mother is actively using, and she’s a young girl, 19 years old, and is using, so that, not only has she been using for a good amount of her short life that she has had so far, but she also has been living with this substance abuse through her generations.

Len Sipes: Right. I guess that’s the point that I’m trying to get across to the audience, because we have this extraordinarily simplistic sense as to the problem that we have with people, the 16,000 people that we supervise on any given day, and most of the people in the audience that I talk to understand that out of the 7 million people under correctional supervision, 5 of those 7 million are on community supervision. So when we talk about corrections in this country, the overwhelming majority of these individuals are in the community being supervised in the community. The overwhelming majority of these individuals have substance abuse histories. The overwhelming majority of these individuals just don’t smoke a joint every couple weeks. That investment in drugs is a long term early age of onset life altering experience, but they don’t know how to have a life without drugs. So every time the boss gets in their face, they smoke a joint. Every time life takes a turn, the needle goes in their arm. That’s who they are, that’s what they are in terms of their own self definition. Now am I exaggerating, or am I in the ballpark?

Carline Claudomir: No, even when they’re successful, the way they celebrate is by using drugs!

Len Sipes: That’s right! They reward themselves. We had a case one time when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety. The guy comes out of prison, reunited with his family, he’s going to drug treatment, he’s working, he’s getting along with the kids, and he’s doing so well, that what he does is fire up a joint to celebrate! And he kept pulling positives for marijuana! First positive, second positive, third, fourth, fifth, sixth. Now there’s a certain point where we’re sitting down and saying, my man, you’re very close to going back to prison, and your wife let you come home, and the kids, you’re getting along with the kids, and you’re working every single day, and you’re going to drug treatment, and the drug treatment folks say that you’re progressing, and you’re within a hair’s breadth of going back to the prison system! What’s up with you?

Carline Claudomir: Well I have clients like that right now in my caseload. I had a client who, by some confusion, believed that her termination date was a month earlier, and so when I called her in, I said, I need you to come in and drug test, because I’m sorry, you actually terminate in May instead of April, and that drug test was positive for marijuana, and her explanation was, I thought I was off of probation! But she had not tested positive in close to 7 months!

Len Sipes: But that’s not the point!

Carline Claudomir: It’s not the point!

Len Sipes: So you, the criminal justice system, in essence, in these drug courts or other modalities that we have here at CSOSA, when we involve people in long term residential group substance abuse, that is, for the first time in their lives many of these individuals come face to face with the prospect of never using drugs again, and facing the prospect as to why they use drugs to begin with. That is a pretty scary place to be, is it not?

Amanda Rocha: I would think so, yeah. Some of the offenders have already had drug treatment, though, and this is their second time coming around, because like you were saying, it is a scary thought, so maybe that first time they weren’t open to it. They didn’t really reap the full benefits of receiving that treatment, so here they are, back in the criminal justice system, and we’re giving them another chance, and we’re hoping that this time, they are receptive, and they do keep that open mind, and they aren’t so put off by the whole idea of addressing that issue.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, ladies and gentlemen. This is DC Public Safety today. We’re talking about drug courts. We have two principals with us. We have Carline, let’s see if I can actually pronounce Carline’s last name correctly, Claudomir, and Amanda Rocha, both community supervision officers with drug court. Again, there are two drug courts in the District of Columbia, ours under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which is post-adjudication, which means the person’s on probation, and we also have one on the pretrial side of it, and the whole idea is, when the judge or the attorney takes a look at this individual’s background, they say that this person’s involvement in criminal activity is principally due to substance abuse, and that person may not be new to the criminal justice system. This may be the person’s fifth, sixth, seventh, twelfth time, but he has a substance abuse history, she has a substance abuse history, and what we try to do is to get them involved in treatment, but the interesting part of it is that treatment may not be the first stop, correct? We have other, we assess the individual –

Carline Claudomir: When they come in to this, the HIDTA drug program, initially, some clients actually are [INDISCERNIBLE] from either the pretrial or from a request from their judge. A lot of our clients come in, and we assess their drug, their current drug test to see, what level they would actually go into. Some clients come in and never drug test positive, and they had dealt with their issues prior to coming to –

Len Sipes: Or they make the voluntary decision to stop as long as they’re under supervision. So the interesting part, this was the point I was trying to get to, and both of you were looking at me, so why did I, the interesting part of it is research years ago that basically said offenders take vacations from their drug use all the time. There’s a certain point where even the person involved in substance abuse will say, I’m doing it too much. I need my wife or my significant other, or for whatever reason, I’m going to be drug tested, I’ve got to stop for the next 3 or 4 months, and then oftentimes, the person goes right back to it. So this sense of an uncontrollable craving for drugs, that craving is always there, but the person can stop for a certain amount of time.

Carline Claudomir: It depends on the person, but yes, sometimes we do have clients who may have tested positive three or four times at the very beginning, and we never, and then complete their whole probation with no, with no positive drug tests, but then we’ll see them later on in court, and they got another charge, and they tested positive at some other point after they leave the STAR/HIDTA program.

Len Sipes: So with the criminal justice system has the wherewithal, and mothers have the wherewithal, and pardon my sexism, wives have the wherewithal, and in the case of women offenders, husbands have the wherewithal, people who have a certain amount of power regarding the offender, have the ability to get that offender to stop doing drugs, at least for a certain amount of time.

Carline Claudomir: Specifically when the consequences is jail time. A lot of our clients, after they sit, do their first sanction which is a jury box sanction for three days, and they see the judge stepping back, client after client after client for a positive drug test for three nights or seven nights or 14 nights or 28 nights, they look at that and say, oh, I’m not going to do 28 nights for a positive marijuana. I can stop for –

Len Sipes: That’s the point, isn’t it?

Carline Claudomir: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Isn’t that the point? I mean, it’s like we have these endless debates about substance abuse and what works and what doesn’t work. Well, holding a 28 day setback, as we refer to it, of spending 28 days in jail for smoking a joint seems to be an awfully heavy price to pay, and a lot of these individuals under our supervision consciously make the choice not to continue to smoke marijuana because they simply don’t want to spend 28 days in jail, correct?

Carline Claudomir: Correct, but the flipside is those who actually are in the grips of their addiction, no matter how many sanctions you provide, they’re not going to stop.

Len Sipes: They’re not going to stop.

Carline Claudomir: And those are the ones we really try to focus on and really try to get them out of the community immediately, because every time they pick up, they’re, one, they’re breaking the law, and they’re violating their probation contract, and they’re violating probation, and they’re hurting themselves, and they may become a threat to the community, so we try to get them out of the community as fast as we can through treatment.

Len Sipes: All right, and then some cases, through residential treatment.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So let’s walk through those steps, those sanction steps, because we have, sitting in the jury box for three days, which is a real pain.

Carline Claudomir: First violation.

Len Sipes: Okay. Second violation –

Carline Claudomir: – is going to be 30 days on GPS with [INDISCERNIBLE] conference.

Len Sipes: So 30 days being tracked electronically through global positioning system satellite tracking, so wherever you go, you’re tracked.

Carline Claudomir: With a curfew.

Len Sipes: With a curfew.

Carline Claudomir: And sometimes, a stayaway. You can’t go to the neighborhood where you usually get your drugs from.

Len Sipes: There you go.

Carline Claudomir: If you do, we know where you are.

Len Sipes: There you go. So he’s being watched all the time. Okay, so that’s pretty cool. Now the next sanction after that?

Carline Claudomir: Third sanction is three nights in jail.

Len Sipes: Three nights in jail. In the D.C. jail.

Carline Claudomir: D.C. jail.

Len Sipes: Well that’s a lovely place to visit! Is it on the weekend, during the week?

Carline Claudomir: It’s whenever they get their sanction.

Len Sipes: It’s whenever they get their sanction.

Carline Claudomir: It starts immediately.

Len Sipes: Okay. Fourth?

Amanda Rocha: It would be a case staffing. So Ms. Claudomir and I, or our supervisor or other team members get together and discuss this individual’s case to see what we can do at this point, because in the past, what has been going on isn’t working. So a plan, in a sense.

Len Sipes: Is that, is that where you give your riot act pronouncement to the individual, basically saying, hey, you’re this far from going into prison?

Carline Claudomir: They’ve been getting it the whole time! And we tell our clients when they come in, if we get to the case staffing stage, please understand you’re leaving the community and going to treatment. There is no if, but, can I, can I get one more chance? No, your chance was when you stood in front of the judge and said you would be clean and sober.

Len Sipes: And there’s a certain point where we will send them away to residential treatment.

Carline Claudomir: That’s the case staffing stage.

Len Sipes: That’s the case staffing stage. Okay, after that, what happens?

Amanda Rocha: Then we have the seven nights in jail sanction.

Len Sipes: Okay, and then it just basically goes from 7 nights to 14 nights to an entire month sort of thing.

Amanda Rocha: That’s right, and if somebody gets placed in residential treatment and gets discharged unsuccessfully or voluntarily chooses to leave, then that would be 15 nights in jail.

Len Sipes: The average person listening to this program, people within the criminal justice system are going to say, eh, that’s pretty much common business, drug positives and sanctions. The average person outside of the criminal justice system listening to this program would be appalled. They’re going, how many positives, how many bites at the apple are you giving this guy? You’re telling me that he’s got 15 prior contacts with the criminal justice system, and now we’re up to our fifth and sixth drug positive? For the love of good god, put that person in prison! Obviously, that person doesn’t want to comply. Obviously, that person is posing a public safety risk. Just put him back in prison.

Carline Claudomir: But see, you look at the context of the situation, the average individual on probation actually provides a number more of positive drug tests are a lot more noncompliant. We get them immediately, after the first, second, third, fourth, fifth. So in the context of probation, sometimes a client won’t be able to go before the sentencing judge until the 20th plus drug test because we can’t get a show cause until then to tell the judge he is noncompliant with probation.

Len Sipes: Okay, but that’s a technicality, and I’m glad you brought that up, but the principal issue here for the average citizen is, you know, are, the people that we have under supervision are not exactly the most popular people on the face of the earth.

Carline Claudomir: No, but they are your neighbors.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s a good point. That’s a good point. But my, the other point is that, you know, when we go out, the citizens asking them to support, whether it’s mental health programs or substance abuse programs or educational programs or vocational programs, the response oftentimes is, Leonard, we’re going to give to the church, we’re going to give to the schools, let the money go to the kids, let the money go to the elderly, I’m really not all that enthused about giving criminals. Money for programs, so the point is, is that there’s a frustration level and a tolerance level on the part of the average citizen as to how many chances we’re going to give that individual from the standpoint of public safety, and we need to explain why we do that.

Carline Claudomir: Public safety is our number one concern, so we always talk to our clients in regards from the aspect. When you become a threat to public safety –

Len Sipes: Boom, you go.

Carline Claudomir: – you need to leave the community.

Len Sipes: That’s right.

Carline Claudomir: But up until that point, we have to work with you, because once you leave probation, you’re done with this. You go back into that same community, because you don’t walk around with a sign saying, I am a criminal. You walk around into those churches, into those schools, pick up your children, those same places that the public wants to provide their money, those clients are there with them.

Len Sipes: 1 out of 45 individuals, according to national research are on probation right now or community supervision. Now, if you can, these are active. So if you count people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it’s at least 1 out of 20. So every time, regardless of where you go, where you shop, those, you’re going to encounter hundreds of individuals who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. So I think the rationale is, is that we want them to quit drugs, we want them to become taxpayers, not tax burdens, we want them to stop criminality, and I think that’s what we try to do with these individuals in drug court.

Amanda Rocha: That’s right. We want them to make that lifestyle change, so they’re not back in and out of the system.

Len Sipes: We want them to toss off substance abuse for good.

Amanda Rocha: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And stop messing with us.

Carline Claudomir: The problem is, sometimes it doesn’t happen in one try. I have sat in drug court and did my cases in drug court and have turned to the left, and looked into the jury box and saw a client I had a year ago who got off on early termination who is now back on pre-trial.

Len Sipes: That’s exactly right. And it is the process of recovery, and when we do live talk radio, people have a hard time listening to this, because their sense of the criminal justice system is, you’re getting a break, buddy, and maybe one, maybe two, but you hit three, and I want you to go back to prison. I think the average person in the larger community, not in the criminal justice system, feels that way. So we have to be accountable to the average citizen and explain to them that recovery, in terms of substance abuse, is a messy process that takes, in many cases, two, three times at treatment, and in many cases, involves multiple positives for drugs until we can convince that person to stay away from drugs, at least for the period of their supervision, or go to jail.

Carline Claudomir: I have a client who has been on probation since 1995, and he has been through every team at CSOSA, and when he finally made it to STAR/HIDTA, and he started messing up, and we did the warrant initiatives and went into his home and arrested him, and we brought him in front of his judge, the judge said, no, we’re going to give him one more chance, and that is it. One more chance. And it just continues on. But I will say that after this last opportunity, he has been clean and sober for 7-8 months, is working full time, and now, he is back, part of society. But see, it didn’t work the first, second, third, 10th, 15th time.

Len Sipes: You know, the interesting part of this is that the average person hearing it has a low frustration level for people caught up in the criminal justice system, but that is our reality. Our reality is that we have individuals who don’t know how to live life without a needle. They don’t know how to live life without a hallucinogen. They don’t know how to do it, and what we do is we teach them how to live life without using drugs, and that created a much safer society, a much saner society in the long run, and we turn people who are tax burdens into taxpayers, and I think that’s the heart and soul of it. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, sometimes it’s hard to explain to the general public, but we take individuals who are problems and we turn out individuals who are no longer problems, and we do that more often than we don’t, correct?

Carline Claudomir: And sometimes we’re the only ones who hold up that mirror to that individual and make them see how sloppy and messy they are, and they have been living their life, and hold them accountable, and when they think they’re almost done, hold them accountable even more and make them be the successes that they say they want to be when they first came to probation.

Len Sipes: It’s a fascinating process. Most of the people that I’ve encountered after a certain point, especially the older guys, sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are. I mean, it is just a terrible process of being arrested and rearrested and rearrested and reincarcerated and reincarcerated. These aren’t necessarily violent criminals. Most of these people are involved in nonviolent crimes, but there’s a certain point where they just get sick and tired of being constantly put through the criminal justice system, and they finally quit. They finally make that break. So I think what you’re doing is intervening in that process earlier, if at all humanly possible to get them to that point where they understand that they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, correct?

Amanda Rocha: Well, and also, think about the example that I gave before where this young adult has this generational, you know, substance abuse that she’s been around, and those people who have dropped out of school in the sixth grade, or who have all these different issues, and they’re using to kind of, you know, make themselves feel better about the issue, or they’re trying to fit in with their peers, or with their family. So you have all these issues that are going on, and part of probation’s job is to address those issues, get them into an employment training program, get their GED, so now that they have these positive things in their life that they didn’t have before that would help them to stop using or even wanting to go back and use.

Len Sipes: Or put them back in jail or prison, and either one protects public safety.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: That’s the bottom line. All right, ladies and gentlemen, we’re out of time. Carline Claudomir, and I said it for the first time correctly, community supervision officer with our drug court unit. Amanda Rocha, also a community supervision officer with our drug court unit. You can find information about CSOSA at www.csosa.gov. You can also access the radio, television shows, the blog, and transcripts through the CSOSA website, or directly through www.media – M-E-D-I-A – dot-csosa – C-S-O-S-A – dot-gov. You can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/lensipes, and you can also email me directly, Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov. Ladies and gentlemen, I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

Share