Archives for March 2012

Research on Women Offenders-Justice Policy Center-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne. She is the Director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute, , one of the premier research organizations in the United States, non-partisan. I think everybody at any level of government, federal government, state government, local government, has used research from the Urban Institute in terms of looking at whatever it is that they want to look at. They have an extraordinary reputation and one of the things that I want to do is to focus on a program that they did. It’s called…or a piece of research called Returning Home. Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry, which represents the only published empirical research with a good sample size, looking at the statistical differences between the experiences of women versus men as they come out of the prison system, thus the title of the show today is Research on Women Offenders. Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy La Vigne:  Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Len Sipes:  Alright. Nancy, I said that you’re non-partisan, that you’re extraordinarily well-known. None of that, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration in any of that. The Urban…but from your lips, the Urban Institute does what?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, the Urban Institute was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, non-partisan research organization, originally designed to evaluate the great society programs of President Johnson, but it has since expanded to include both domestic and international work. We have ten different research centers spanning education policy, health policy, tax policy and, of course, I’m the head of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and within the Justice Policy Center we span a wide array of research from gang and youth violence prevention to courts and, of course prisoner re-entry is one of the cornerstones of our research portfolio in the Justice Policy Center.

Len Sipes:  I mean you’ve looked at law enforcement practices, correctional practices. Heck, you’ve even looked at cameras, speed cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh. Public surveillance cameras, yes.

Len Sipes:  Public surveillance cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  I mean you’ve looked at just about everything there is to look at within the criminal justice system. I always find it delightful when I have an opportunity to talk to you, but this particular piece of research, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry, you’re talking about a piece of research and for the lay person out there, I mean it’s all sorts of research, some good, some bad, some empirically correct, some not empirically correct. What you have is a large piece of research and you’re talking about several jurisdictions where you take a look at men and women coming out of the prison system to establish the differences between their experiences and one of the things that is, I think, extraordinarily important from your research is the fact that there is a huge difference in the experience in men coming out of the prison system. Empirically, women have a greater degree of substance abuse, a greater degree of mental health problems. They don’t have the economic training or the job training before…

Nancy La Vigne:  You’re stealing my thunder here.

Len Sipes:  Oh, I`m sorry. I`m sorry; this is profound. There is a profound difference and I`m not quite sure everybody realizes this.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah. Well, let me start a little by explaining the impetus behind the larger study called Returning Home because at the time we launched it, which was now several years ago, there weren`t a lot of studies that looked beyond what we call recidivism. So there would be researchers who looked at people who were released from prison and determined what percentage of them ended up being returned to prison and with the available data they had, which was mostly administrative records from the Department of Corrections, they were able to say, well, people who were sentenced for these types of crimes or for this length of time were more or less likely to return to prison. That`s what I call recidivism studies, but no one had really done a re-entry study, understanding that re-entry is not a point in time. It`s a process, right? So no one had conducted the kind of study that looked at all the different aspects associated with re-entry success and failure and the only way to do that is to interview people behind bars and track them in the community after their release and interview them in the community as well. So much of the data that helps us explain re-entry success or failure has to come from the people who are experiencing re-entry.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  So that’s why we decided to launch Returning Home. It was a tremendous effort. It involved four different states and, of course, in one of the states we did look at women exiting prison, actually, two because in Maryland we did a pilot where we did a small sample of women there. We ended up looking in Texas because Texas had such a large volume of all kinds of prisoners leaving that we could get a sufficient sample size of women in a relatively short period of time.

Len Sipes:  Second largest correctional system in the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes, but what we learned in Maryland about women in our pilot study, it was similar to what we found in the Houston sample and rings true when I have conversations both with women who have experienced re-entry as well as service providers who are supporting their successful re-entry. So I think there’s a lot to be said about the experiences of women that perhaps is understudied because when we think of re-entry we look at the numbers and we see that the vast majority of people leaving prison are male and while this is true, it’s also true that the share of women behind bars has increased at a greater rate than that of men.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: Over time. So even though they’re a small population, they’re an increasing populationand their experiences are different, as we’ll discuss in ways that I think have relevance for the development of re-entry programs that may often be overlooked if you’re only looking at a male population.

Len Sipes:  Now, in no way shape or form am I going to try to create a sense of sympathy or justification for crimes committed. If you do the crime, you do the time. I think that’s the prevailing wisdom in so many jurisdictions throughout the country, but women offenders are not only different from male offenders in terms of their experiences when they get out – tell me if I’m right or wrong; feel free to criticize me or if I don’t get it correctly – most women offenders, before they go into the prison system, have multiple histories of abuse by somebody. In my mind, so many of the women offenders that I’ve been in touch with throughout my now 30 years in corrections, were tragic figures. I mean they suffered immense abuse, sexual abuse. Rape is not uncommon not only by people who they know, but in many cases family members. To me, there is no wonder that the rates of substance abuse are higher, that the rate of mental health problems are higher because they come from such violent backgrounds and there is a huge difference between the violence that they encountered in their younger years versus males. Am I right or wrong?

Nancy La Vigne:  I would say that you’re right. I mean certainly women who end up behind bars have extensive histories of substance addiction and mental illness that are very difficult to disentangle from their personal histories of sexual victimization and it’s hard to know which came first, but you can understand how they’d all be interrelated.

Len Sipes:  Most of the women I’ve talked to tell very tragic tales. We’ve had many women offenders before these microphones and they have told, for public airing, their experiences and you just feel as if you’ve just gone through a hugely emotional experience after interviewing them. A lot of times after the program, I’ve said, “Do you really want this to go out on the air? Do you really…you have the choice. I won’t even put this out.” I said, “Do you really want to be that honest and that brutal about your background,” and a lot of them, to a person, they have said, “Yes. I want this to go out. I want to talk about this.”

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, I imagine in some regards it’s cathartic and also I think that a lot of women want to share their stories to shine a bright light on this issue and help people understand better that, yes, they may have committed crimes, but there’s a bigger story to be told.

Len Sipes:  And that bigger story, generally speaking, is not told, correct? I mean one of the things that’s astounded me in my years within the criminal justice system is how little the story is told. It’s as if we’re free to confront the massive amount of abuse and in many cases flat out child abuse in terms of the families that these individuals come from.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. I think that’s right. I’m certainly no expert on the child abuse and specific to women who end up being in the criminal justice system, but thanks for it. That’s right.

Len Sipes:  But before we get into the points of your research, I just wanted to sort of set a stage in terms of the fact that if people are wondering why there’s such a difference in between men and women coming out of prison, it’s my contention…you don’t have to respond to this. It’s my contention that it has much to do with the environments that they came from before they went into the prison system. I was reading in your report where there were two sorts of responses from men and women in terms of getting out. One was I want to control my own life. That was men. And women, I want to reunite with my children.

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh, it’s actually a little bit more colorful than that.

Len Sipes:  Oh, go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne:  So we, in the interviews that we had with people prior to their release, we had a question at the end, which is what survey designers would call an open-ended question, so we didn’t give them the answers. We invited them to come up with their own answers and it was what are you most looking forward to after your release? And, literally, and I’m not exaggerating, the most common answer among men was pizza.

Len Sipes:  Pizza.

Nancy La Vigne:  And second to that, calling my own shots and the single greatest, by a long shot, answer among women was reuniting with my kids. Seeing my baby again and it really speaks to different priorities as well as potentially different support systems.

Len Sipes:  The majority of women getting out of the prison system have children. I’ve seen stats up to 80%.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So, when they come out, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of substance abuse, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of mental health problems, they’ve got to figure out some way to find work. Then they have less of a work background than men and they have to reunite with their children and somehow support their children. That stacks the odds against women offenders to a degree that it almost seems impossible that they can accomplish all that.

Nancy La Vigne:  No, it definitely makes it more difficult for women that when we compared women to men in our Texas study, we found that they were twice as likely to end up back behind bars than their male counterparts and clearly these challenges that are great for anybody leaving prison, but to know that they’re even more extreme for women, it’s…

Len Sipes:  They were twice as likely to return to Texas?

Nancy La Vigne:  Mm-hmm.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  Mm-hmm.

Len Sipes:  That’s truly amazing and do you think that the stats that you came up with in terms of your own research provides a bit of that explanation?

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh. Yes, for certain, particularly with when it comes to substance abuse. Women were more likely to engage in substance abuse following their release and we know, already, that they had more extensive histories of addiction. It’s very hard to address addiction behind bars, especially if you have a treatment program that doesn’t continue in the community. The research is very clear in that regard and so even if you have the best intentions and you do get access to treatment behind bars, if you don’t get in the community and you’re susceptible to all these temptations, you’re more likely to use and those who are more likely to use are more likely to end up back behind bars. The thing of it is, though, what we found in Texas and it’s hard to know how much this rings true in other locations, but in Texas we found that women were less likely to have access to substance abuse treatment even though there were much, had much greater histories and addiction levels.

Len Sipes:  It seems as if…again, I don’t want to go overboard with this. I talked about what happened before prison. Now, we’re talking about what’s going on inside a prison and the research focuses on leaving prison. They have greater histories of substance abuse, mental health issues, but they do not have the same opportunities that many male offenders have. They’re…

Nancy La Vigne:  To have treatment behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Again, it just seems that the deck is continuously stacked against women offenders.

Nancy La Vigne:  But it has real implications for policy and practice.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  Just to know that you can make a difference by giving these women more access to services and treatment behind bars. I mean, that’s huge.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, it’s huge. The research does indicate that not many people get any of these services at all within the custodial setting throughout the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right. Yeah and we’ve actually found that there’s a high degree of mismatch between those who get it and those who really need it as well.

Len Sipes:  Right and then…

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s not…that’s the scarce resource that’s not even well allocated.

Len Sipes:  That should be allocated towards whom?

Nancy La Vigne:  Those in most need and who they…the women.

Len Sipes:  But the higher risk offender as well as the women offender?

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely. I mean if you’re looking at, you know, you have a re-entry program. You want to look to medium and high risk because that’s where you can make the biggest difference.

Len Sipes:  In terms of going over your stats in Maryland, half the women we interviewed reported daily heroin use. Daily heroin use in the six months leading up to the most recent incarceration compared with slightly more than a third of men and half of women also reported daily cocaine use during that period compared with 22% of men. So we’re not just saying that there is a disparity between use. We’re talking about huge disparity.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s huge disparity. Now, the heroin use statistics may be unique to Baltimore, which has historically had a heroin…

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Nancy La Vigne:  But then that doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding, but still. I mean you see the differential between the men and women and it’s tremendous.

Len Sipes:  From a policy point of view, where do we go with all of this? I mean it’s pretty abundantly clear that we are ignoring women offenders. I read somewhere along the line that women do better in treatment programs than male offenders considering the fact that they’re 80%, I think. This is the figure that I’ve read, so just say somewhere between 60 and 80% have children. This means a lot to society to provide these programs because we can take them out of circulation, out of the criminal justice system, if they do better in treatment programs than men and all those kids suddenly have a source of income. They have their mom. They’re being taken care of. There are huge ramifications from a societal point of view in terms of your research.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah, I would agree with that. I’d also clarify a point that…

Len Sipes:  Please.

Nancy La Vigne:  Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around because we talk about children. We think that they’re minors. They’re children, right? But, actually, when we delved deeper into the issue of support systems for both men and women when they were leaving prison, we looked at family support and we asked people do you have someone in your life who is there for you, who supports you, who will provide housing for you, support you financially, etc. and we were heartened to learn that women did, almost as much as men. They reported roughly the same degree of family support but the sources of support were very different. For men, it was usually either kind of senior maternal figure in their lives – a grandmother, an aunt or a significant other, partner, sometimes a sister. For the women, it was typically their adult children. So when you talk about children, actually, a lot of these women have adult children. If you look at the average age of release, it’s something like 34, 35 years. Maybe a little bit older for women than men and they have adult children of their own who they are relying on to support them.

Len Sipes:  Good point. Good point. Thanks for the clarification. I do want to get on to the issue of family support and I do want to get on to the issue of the difference between men and women when they come out dealing with that level of family support, but let me reintroduce you; ladies and gentlemen, Nancy La Vigne. She’s the Director of the Policy Justice Center…Justice Policy Center – I’m sorry – for the Urban Institute here in Washington, D.C.,, so family support is crucial for all offenders coming out of the prison system. Your research shows that the greater the degree of family support while they’re incarcerated, the better they do when they get out, correct?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, actually, the greater the support post-release, the better that you do. However, that is predicted by more contact with family behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Right. If there’s continuous line of communication while they’re behind bars that paves the way…

Nancy La Vigne:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  For more communication, more interaction, more…

Nancy La Vigne:  More support.

Len Sipes:  Support, more cooperation when they get out. Most prisons are located literally hundreds of miles from the areas where these offenders came from.  In the District of Columbia, they all go to federal prison.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right. Most of the women are housed in…oh, I think it’s Pennsylvania and some of them as far as Texas.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm and West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas, but they are spread out all over the place, but even when the 14 years when I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, Hagerstown, Cumberland, the Lower Eastern Shore, they were within the state, but they might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right, in terms of transportation.

Len Sipes:  Right. Cumberland’s not easy to get to.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  From the Baltimore, Prince Georges County areas where most of Maryland’s crime occurs, I mean it’s quite a hike to get to some of these prisons. So they’re isolated and they’re far away. How do you maintain that level of contact when you’re isolated and far away?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah. Well, it’s very difficult and we did have a family component of our Returning Home study where we interviewed family members and discussed both the challenges of staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones as well as the challenges associated with welcoming them back into their homes and communities and by far, the single greatest reason for not having contact with their incarcerated family members was the distance of the prison from home. Texas was unique at the time. They didn’t allow phone contact…

Len Sipes:  Really?

Nancy La Vigne:  With prisoners at all, which is stunning. So it was mostly letters. That’s it.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  I believe that’s since changed, although, in other states, other jurisdictions, you will hear complaints about the high cost of toll calls and it’s actually a tax on the inmates and their families, which I’ve heard some correctional administrators justify as the only means that they can have to raise funds to provide programs and services, but it seems a little bit wrong-headed to create barriers to contact with prisoners and their family members just to generate resources to serve them. It’s almost like they go against each other, those two efforts.

Len Sipes:  I think it’s the State of Washington and I read this just within the last couple of days is they’re now providing video contact between offenders and family members and that struck me as being the best of all possible worlds.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right and they’re looking into that for the DC code felons as well and it’s something that I would recommend as a great compromise given the distance. It’s really so disruptive to a family to set out to journey to a prison to see their incarcerated family member, not just the actual distance or cost of gas, but the nature of a prison setting is such that you never know when you arrive whether they’re going to be in lockdown and there’s no visitation. It could be either cancelled for the day or more likely what happens is they say we’re on lockdown. We don’t know when we won’t be on lockdown, so you’re just waiting and wondering what to do. Often, people bring children because they think it’s important for the children to see their incarcerated parent and yet, these environments aren’t kid-friendly.

Len Sipes:  No, they’re not. As somebody who’s been in and out of a lot of prisons, it’s downright brutal.  It really is for the family members and for the kids.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right, so video conferencing is a great way to achieve that family contact that’s so important in shoring up support on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Now, in terms of employment. One of the things that we find is that per your research is that they don’t have the same employment opportunities or backgrounds as males and they come out and that lack of employment and the lack of skills really hurt them upon release. I mean it just keeps going on and on and on in terms of the disparities between males and females.

Nancy La Vigne:  And that’s right and if you…it’s no surprise when you consider that if women have more extensive histories of substance addiction, they’re going to have more spotty employment history, so they’re already going into it at a disadvantage. Certainly, after release they’re less likely to find employment. Even those women who do find employment end up earning less than males at about $1.50 less per hour than their male counterparts and then – I know, I feel like a broken record on the substance addiction issue – but to me, I know a lot of people say the key to successful re-entry is finding a job and I always say, “Is it really?” Because what good does it do to find a job if you haven’t dealt with your addiction issues?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s just giving you resources to go and buy drugs and continue your habit and soon enough you’re not showing up at work. You’ve lost your job. You’re committing crimes to buy drugs and you’re back behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Or your mental health issues.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  I mean most of us these days…I say us.  You and I, Leonard, are really immersed in this issue of prisoner re-entry, talk about a holistic approach that you can’t really just tackle prisoner re-entry by looking at one thing and certainly employment is critical but especially for women, you need to look at it holistically.

Len Sipes:  Well, I mean, look. Just the differences on employment between males and females where 38% of men had jobs lined up, 17% of women had jobs lined up before leaving. In the prison system 61% were employed upon leaving – men.  37% of women were employed upon leaving the prison system. Obviously, the stats show and I don’t want to beat this point to death, but I don’t want to leave it alone either. I mean the disparities between men and women are huge. I go back to the same thing I said before. They do better in programs than men. They have better track records.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think I know why.

Len Sipes:  Go.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think it’s because…one of the findings we had in comparing men to women is their expressions for need for help and…now, granted. We’ve already given a lot of examples of why women should need more help, but they’re also more willing to say I need help. So that’s a different kind of an attitude entering a treatment program knowing that you need help and admitting it readily and I think that makes you more open to receiving it and benefiting from it.

Len Sipes:  I did one year of jail or job corps where the younger individuals were given the choice by the court – go to job corps or go to jail. Seventy percent of the women that I encountered were wonderful compared to maybe 30% of the men. Now, that may just be my own internal bias, but the women that I encountered said to themselves, “I’m in a jam. Job corps can give me a skill. It can give me the tools. It could relocate me if necessary. I want to reunite with my kids.” The women were by far my best students.

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, you just referenced reuniting with children. I’m getting back to that topic. I mean, clearly, that women have a bigger stake in making good on the outside because of their ties to their children, whether they’re grown children or not. Certainly, if they’re minor children, they have even more of a vested interest and we even found that among the men in our research, those who had stronger ties to their minor kids…

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  Did better on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Did better. Everybody does better on the outside.

Nancy La Vigne:  More likely to get a job, more likely to stay out of prison.

Len Sipes:  They have the motivation and it’s the kids and family that provides them with that motivation and it’s the contact that they have while in prison that builds that bridge to that motivation.

Nancy La Vigne:  But make no mistake, I mean just having a child doesn’t give you that stake. I mean what we don’t know well, although, we know some from our research, is what those relationships were like before the incarceration. So in some cases, including in the case of women, they had very little, if any, contact with their kids because they were on the street.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  Someone else was caring for their kids and had been for some time now.

Len Sipes:  But the idea of being in prison and having the opportunity to contemplate who they are, where they are…

Nancy La Vigne:  What’s important to them.

Len Sipes:  What’s important to them. Where they want to go. Most of the individuals that I have met within the correctional system that is the first thing that they express. That they express a) regret for everything that’s happened and b) they really have this burning desire to reunite with their kids. I’m not quite sure, quite frankly, that that burning desire is there with the men.

Nancy La Vigne:  No. I think it’s not. There’s been some more qualitative research in the UK looking at fathers and trying to get them more bonding with their children prior to their release that suggests that it’s possible and that there are great benefits from doing so, but we’re starting at a different place, I think, with men than with women.

Len Sipes:  I think we’re starting at an incredible different place between men and women. Final couple of minutes – if you’re talking to the Mayor of Milwaukee, if you’re talking to an aide to a Governor in California, what do you say?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, certainly, don’t cut your re-entry programs. We understand that financial times are very difficult right now and that it’s easy to think about the things that people don’t see as the easiest to cut, what to put on the chopping block. Are you going to close a prison? Are you going to cut a program? I would argue keep the programs in place and look at those programs and think about whether they are truly catered to the people that you’re trying to serve. In the case of women, I’ve heard some people argue that you can develop re-entry programs that are the same for men and women and I think that there might be some truth to that, but it doesn’t acknowledge the different way women approach treatment, approach learning and approach life. So programs that are more tailored to women who are leaving prison, I think, could really benefit them greatly.

Len Sipes:  About 30 seconds left. Are women the low-hanging fruit of the criminal justice system? Women offenders, are they the ones who, if you provided the resources, would get you a good bang for your dollar, a good investment for your correctional dollar?

Nancy La Vigne:   I don’t know that I can say that. I think that because of their extensive drug addiction histories, they’re a tough population to deal with. Certainly, the benefits can be great, but it might take more effort at the outset before you can see those benefits.

Len Sipes:  But if you have an impact with women offenders or offenders across the board, that can save states literally tens of millions of dollars.

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely and, of course, in the case of women, if you’re supporting their successful re-entry, you’re also supporting their families and kids.

Len Sipes:  Nancy La Vigne, the Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute.  Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on DC Public Safety. Before we go,, it’s the website for the Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your cards, letters, your phone calls, your emails, your suggestions, your criticisms. We appreciate your participation in the show and have yourself a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Media and Criminal Justice Issues-National Public Radio’s Laura Sullivan-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  We really have a wonderful guest, ladies and gentlemen, today Laura Sullivan from National Public Radio.  I invited Laura to be on the program to talk about media in criminal justice issues.  It’s my contention that the coverage of crime and criminal justice issues by both the national media and the local media has declined and declined dramatically within the last ten years.  Laura Sullivan is an NPR news investigative correspondent.  Laura Sullivan joined NPR in 2004 as a correspondent on the national desk for six years.  She covered crime and punishment issues with reports airing on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and other NPR programs.  Over the years, Sullivan’s work has been honored by many of journalism’s highest awards including two Peabodies, two, and two Alfred DuPont Columbia University Silver Batons with that lofty introduction, Laura Sullivan, National Public Radio.  How are you doing, Laura?

Laura Sullivan:  Good.  Thanks so much for having me.

Len Sipes:  Laura and I go way back.  Laura was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and she came over to National Public Radio, and my first question before we get into the crime and criminal justice issues is, what happened to become, you know, to leave the print world behind and to go in front of the microphone?  That had to be a pretty scary operation.

Laura Sullivan:  Well, you know, I used to drive down to the Washington bureau of the Baltimore Sun in DC where I covered the Justice Department and terrorism after 9/11.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And I used to listen to NPR all the time in my car.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Laura Sullivan:  And I would drive – it was a long way.

Len Sipes:  Doesn’t everybody?

Laura Sullivan:  I think – we hope so.  We certainly hope so.  And we would – I would always listen to Radio Expeditions with Alex Chadwick.

Len Sipes:  Oh, yes.

Laura Sullivan:  And I would sit in my car in the morning, and I would think that he would be like, you know, you’d hear the crunch, crunch, crunch, we’re hiking through the woods to find the rare spotted owl, and it was just this clichéd quintessential NPR story, and I used to think, God that guy has the best job in the whole world, and you know, it’s funny, even as I was listening to all these stories in NPR, I never thought that I would go become a radio journalist.  I thought once you join print, you’re in it for life and that’s it.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And then all of a sudden an editor from the Baltimore Sun jumped ship and went to NPR.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And it was like this: it was like the clouds cleared and I said, “Well if he can do it, why can’t I go to NPR too.”

Len Sipes:  I’d do it.

Laura Sullivan:  And it helped because I knew him, so I could kind of – I mean he was helpful in sort of getting, passing my resume around, and you know sort of getting it in the door, which is always helpful.

Len Sipes:  But it’s not just being a good reporter.  You have to work the mike.  You have to project a certain personality through that microphone, and you don’t know whether or not you can do it until you do it.

Laura Sullivan:  Well, they radio test you.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laura Sullivan:  They did.  They radio tested us, and you had to go in – they have to see if they can turn your voice into the NPR voice.

Len Sipes:  The NPR voice.  This is NPR.

Laura Sullivan:  This is NPR.  So you have to lower your voice a couple octaves and have that voice and sound –

Len Sipes:  And a quasi-British accent.  Never heard –

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.  Sound very calm, and it also helps if you have a very unique name, which I don’t unfortunately.  I should have changed it to something else, but like Ned Ulaby.

Len Sipes:  Joe.

Laura Sullivan:  Or, you know,  Snika Verache or Kojima.

Len Sipes:  Yes, yes, yes.

Laura Sullivan:  It’s always helpful to have a really great name.  You know, Yuki Naguchi, which, she sits next to me, and I always tell her, she’s very fortunate to have a great NPR name.  I do not.  I have a very standard Irish name, but I guess it was okay.

Len Sipes:  But you come from a wonderful investigative background.  You did a lot of stuff with the Baltimore Sun.  You did a lot of stuff in terms of national stories that got a lot of attention, and this is Mr. Marina we’re talking about.  He brought you, he brings you over and so you go through this process, and at what point do you feel accepted by the NPR staff?

Laura Sullivan:  It took about a year, and I remember it took a long time because the structure of print stories is so different, and I had done print for ten years, and it’s – you go out on to a story, and you know before you even walk into the door how your story is going to be structured, how you’re going to start.  What’s the middle? What’s the end?  You know what quotes you’re looking for.  You hear that quote, you’re like, “Okay.  Check mark in my head, done.”  I don’t even need to interview this person anymore.  You have half written the story on your way back to the office, and because you’ve just done it, it’s just so routine, and so I got to print, and it was a complete – the stories are on their heads, you know?  There’s a nut graph in a print story which is the intro, and it confused me to all end, and it took me a long time to just – I felt like a basic reporter again.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Laura Sullivan:  Trying to figure out, what is the beginning, middle, and end of how to tell this story, and I remember some of the best advice I got from an editor was just get out of the way of your tape.  Find your best tape, what is the most interesting thing something said to you, and get out of the way.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  You know, don’t try to write around it and everything.  So that was helpful, but I remember about a year, I had been at NPR at about a year, and we were having sort of one of our national desk conferences, and a reporter named Robert Smith was doing a segment on how to make the best use of your tape, and I said, “Well, I’m sort of new at radio.” and he said, “Enough with the new.  I now anoint you a radio reporter.”  So from there on out, I’m like, all right, I’m no longer a former, a rookie, a reformed print reporter.

Len Sipes:  Before getting into the jist of the program, I do want to ask: Does everybody over at NPR pause right before they say anything?

Laura Sullivan:  A little bit.

Len Sipes:  Laura.  How are you today?

Laura Sullivan:  I know.

Len Sipes:  This is NPR.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.  It has to – you know, we don’t want to – we don’t ever want to upset people, you know, we like to keep it very calm, very civilized.  We like to take it slow.  It’s the NPR way. We call it Minnesota nice.

Len Sipes:  Minnesota nice.  Garrison Keillor would have appreciated that.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so at the beginning of the program, I said that it’s my contention that coverage of crime and criminal justice issues has declined.  National Public Radio has always made crime and criminal justice issues a priority.  First of all, do you buy into my contention that crime and criminal justice issues?  I mean it’s NPR, CBS, and I’d be hard pressed to go beyond that in terms of maybe Christian Science Monitor.  Maybe papers like the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, are leading the charge, but everybody else seems to have backed of crime and criminal justice issues, so would you agree?

Laura Sullivan:  I think that’s absolutely true, and I think that that’s really just more of the symptoms of the decline of the newspaper industry.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  You know, 10, 15, years ago, there were beats all over the country that covered crime as a topic.

Len Sipes:  Yep.

Laura Sullivan:  Not as a breaking news issue.

Len Sipes:  Yep.

Laura Sullivan:  And that all has gone by the wayside because nobody can afford it anymore.  Nobody can forward to have a reporter specializing in this topical area.

Len Sipes:  A 25, 30 percent reduction in the news staffs across the board.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  In the last ten years.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  So the news organizations can no longer afford to have specialists.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.  Especially not a specialist that – they have police reporters, but they’re so under staffed that the police reporter are covering the breaking daily crime news.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laura Sullivan:  And so are television reporters.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And then when crime gets above that and reaches the national news, it’s a crime event.  It’s like, you know, the Casey Anthony trial.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  It’s an actual crime thing that happened.  It’s not, it’s very hard to cover it as a topical area where you’re looking at trends in crime, why things are did – why society is doing it this way or that way, why prisons are going this way or that way.

Len Sipes:  And much of it is entertainment.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And so who out there is taking a hard long look at the criminal justice system.  I mean very few people are doing it.

Laura Sullivan:  Criminologists.

Len Sipes:  Well, criminologists, yes, but, I mean, NPR is doing it, so the question becomes why.

Laura Sullivan:  Why?  Well, I mean NPR had the money to do it because of a large grant from the Joan Kroc Foundation, which created this beat, actually for NPR.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Laura Sullivan:  So when I came to NPR, I actually applied for this crime and justice beat.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And because it was new, you could kind of make it what you wanted to make it.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  And I knew from the very beginning that I did not want to run around the country and cover the Casey Anthony trial.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  Or this crazy thing, you know, drowning of whatever – mother drowns kids.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  I didn’t want to cover anything like that, or the Michael Jackson trial, or just, you know.

Len Sipes:  Right, right, right.

Laura Sullivan:  The stuff.  I wanted to do sort of the issues, the things that I found interesting.  The things that made me curious.  Why do we do it this way?  Why is it happening this way?

Len Sipes:  But even though NPR had the funding, NPR had to make a decision somewhere along the line that this was a very basic issue.

Laura Sullivan:  It was important.

Len Sipes:  Important to all Americans.  I mean we are talking about, in essence, what the criminal justice system does, has an impact on everybody.

Laura Sullivan:  Right.

Len Sipes:  In terms of their public safety, in terms of their personal freedoms, in terms of the Constitution itself.

Laura Sullivan:  Right.

Len Sipes:  That’s why I’m astounded to see the decline in crime and criminal justice, but somewhere along the line, NPR, regardless as to the funding.

Laura Sullivan:  They chose this.

Len Sipes:  As to the funding source, they had, yes, this is an important issue to cover.

Laura Sullivan:  Right, well it was just a bucket of money, and they got to choose what they wanted, what beats they wanted to create, and they created a business beat, and they created another arts desk reporter, and somebody – it was – they’re gone now, but the people at the time there said, you know, for this fifth beat that we have, we want to do crime and justice, and it’s funny, outside the prison they call it crime and justice, but inside the building, I’m the police and prisons report.

Len Sipes:  Police and prisons report.  Well that harkens back to your Baltimore Sun days.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly it really does, and for them, I mean, I think it was NPR’s answer to – I think that they say, well look, we’re not going to do the CNN or the – we’re not going to do sort of this large sensational crime drama type of stories.  What can we do instead?  And that’s why they created crime and justice because they decided it could be a good topic, you know, it could be interesting and fruitful.

Len Sipes:  It is something that affects every human being.

Laura Sullivan:  Everybody.

Len Sipes:  In the United States.

Laura Sullivan:  And that is the hardest thing to do with this beat.  Is you have to – the problem covering crime and justice, and I think this answers a little bit of your question is that, – for a reporter, it’s very easy to do.  I get pitches all the time, you know, we’re doing under water basket weaving in the prison and everybody’s reformed.  You should come do a feature about it, or we’re doing an art project in this thing, and it’s helping all the people make their lives better.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  And the problem is that the public says, responds to that as often, why are you?  Why are we spending tax payer money on this?  How is this affecting me?  How is this?  This doesn’t have any effect on my life.  Why do we even care about people in prison?  And you always have to bring it back to this idea that most of these people are getting out.  This is your tax payer dollars, how do you want them used?  How do you want people to be rehabilitated?  Do you want people to be rehabilitated?  How?  And you have to remind people all the time that crime as a whole effects everything, and how we spend taxpayer dollars on criminal justice effects everybody.

Len Sipes:  Or I get back to the constitutional issue, I mean I’ve been a former police officer.  I’ve spent six years in law enforcement, and I always can maintain, contend that there’s nothing more dangerous than a bored young cop.  I mean we are talking about our basic liberties.

Laura Sullivan:  Right.

Len Sipes:  So it goes beyond the crime issue.  It gets into a larger issue, a comprehensive issue about crime and criminal justice, but some of the stuff that I take a look at in National Public Radio, I’ve worked with you in the past year on burglaries.  Okay burglary, everybody is concerned about burglaries, so that’s almost a given, but let me go over some of the other stories.  The jail burden.  The US keeps jails stuffed with inmates.  Doubts rise in 1972, Angola prison murder, rape cases on Indian lands go uninvestigated, thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement.  These are extremely minute, very probing, very thoughtful issues that do not apply to a lot of people, and I imagine somewhere along the line folks at National Public Radio are saying to themselves, wait a minute, okay so fine.  We’re going to – I’m not saying that rape cases on Indian lands going uninvestigated is not important, but it doesn’t apply to 98 percent of our listeners.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah, I mean there’s always going to be some of that.  I mean there is some of that, but for the most part, if you – I mean what I look for – I think there’s a lot of trust.  You know at some point they trust you that whatever you’re going after isn’t going to be a complete dud, and if it is, I kill it long before it ever gets to the airway, so they know that there’s something about it that’s interesting.  There’s something about it that is – that should have other people in society care about it.  The rape on Indian – this is one in three Native American women are being raped on Native American lands, largely by people from outside the reservation.

Len Sipes:  Which is a tragedy.

Laura Sullivan:  Which is outrageous.

Len Sipes:  It is a profound tragedy.  It’s outrageous.  But NPR has a business sense.

Laura Sullivan:  It is outrageous, but what NPR is asking, and what I, as a reporter, is asking is not just to say this is happening, but why is this happening?  Who needs to be held to account?  Who is responsible for this happening?  And in that particular case, it was the lack of the federal government to prosecute cases because only they can prosecute cases.  So there was somebody responsible, and when you elevate the story from this is happening, or this exists, to why is this happening? and who is responsible for it? and what should tax payers know about how their federal government is responding to this atrocity?  That makes the story.  It elevates it to something that everybody go, that’s an outrage, and I’m kind of mad that this isn’t being taken care of.

Len Sipes:  And these stories by the way, 10, 20, years ago, that would have been filled with the CBS news and NBC, and Christian Science Monitor, and New York Times.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  These are the stories that were pretty much run of the mill stories, these hard hitting investigative stories at NPR, and I think CBS are probably the only two that really – Christian Science Monitor really picking up.  You just don’t see it anymore.

Laura Sullivan:  You don’t see it anymore.  And the beauty about NPR, because we’re not covering crime on a daily basis, is that we can go deep.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And that’s – I mean you can’t do that if you’re trying to cover crime on top of all that.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program.  Very, very quickly.  Our guest today is Laura Sullivan.  She is a national investigative correspondent for National Public Radio.  Again, she’s been with NPR since 2004.  Over the years her work has been honored.  She has two Peabody Awards and two Columbia University Silver Batons for her reporting.  WWW.NPR.ORG, WWW.NPR.ORG.  Laura so we go into some of these others.  I must, again, get the same philosophy, I mean as people in solitary confinement, I would imagine if we ask the average American how much do you care about the fact that there’s an inordinate amount of people spending time in solitary confinement?  They’re going to say, I don’t care.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah, not my problem.

Len Sipes:  Not my problem.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  So why does NPR choose that issue?

Laura Sullivan:  That’s the hurdle?  Well that’s – I mean I make a pitch for it.

Len Sipes:  That’s intriguing.

Laura Sullivan:  I make a pitch to my editors the same way I make a pitch to the public, and I say, 95 percent of the people in solitary confinement right now are going to be released into the public one day.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  What quality of person do you want being released into the public one day, so that’s why we want examined, exactly what was happening in solitary confinement.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  When I first told my editor that I wanted to do a three part series on bail bonding in the United States.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, that’s the other one.

Laura Sullivan:  He said you’re insane.  We’re not doing this.  This is crazy.

Len Sipes:  Okay, well – now that’s the conversation I’m looking for because the average person will say, I don’t care if they get out?  Why would I care?

Laura Sullivan:  Well, and so I, I had to tell him what I had just learned half an hour earlier, and I said, do you know that if you get picked up and you hire a bail bondsman, you don’t get your money back even if you show up for your court?  And he said, “I’d no idea.” and I said, “I didn’t either.  Isn’t that crazy?”  I had no idea how this worked, and then, “Do you know that it’s this multibillion dollar lobbying effort that keeps the system in place.  That is not in the best interest of tax payers?”

Len Sipes:  And it’s crushing in the budgets of county and city governments throughout the country, and there’s a whole mess of people there who could be safely released on their own recognizance or through pretrial supervision as we do here in DC.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  So it becomes, again, a Constitutional issue.

Laura Sullivan:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And, again, the philosophy of what you take from the poor, people caught up in the criminal justice system that can apply to you as well.  What you take from them, you take from everybody.

Laura Sullivan:  Well, I mean this, exactly.  I mean for me, this – that whole story idea.  They always – these story ideas come from the strangest places.  They’re always the last places you expect, but I was at a conference with criminologists at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, actually just right down the street.  It was mind numbing.  It was so boring, and I was sitting there, and they were talking about crime trends, I mean it was just really – and they had this coffee break and the Director of the Pretrial Justice Institutes came up to me and said “Hey, are you the one from NPR?” and that always makes me really nervous because I never know what’s coming next, I’m like, Oh, no –

Len Sipes:  Yeah.  You know you’re going to get a pitch.  Here comes the pitch.

Laura Sullivan:  Do they hate NPR?  Do they like NPR?  You just never know what’s coming, and –

Len Sipes:  My check bounced for the pledge.  What do I do about it?

Laura Sullivan:  Or, you know, they’re a liberal left wing, bla, bla, bla, and you have to, you know, answer all that, but he said, “I really think you need to do a story about the bail bonding industry in the United States.”

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  And he starts going off on this whole thing about the percentage of costs per inmate, and the – and I looked at him, and I said, you know I work for National Public Radio, right?

Len Sipes:  And he said, “No, no, I really, really, mean it.  It’s a really good story, and he’s like look, I think if you looked at it, you’d find, if you crunch all the numbers that this is costing tax payers like 8 billion dollars a year.”

Len Sipes:  Oh, yeah.

Laura Sullivan:  And I looked at him and I said.  “Hmm.  Let’s go to lunch.”  So we went to lunch and he, you know, explained his sort of perspective on bail bonding.

Len Sipes:  But to those of us in the criminal justice system, we understand both the philosophical, the criminological points that you are making throughout these reports.  Extraordinarily well-done, extraordinarily well thought out.  They have applications to everybody, but I’m not quite sure everybody realizes it at first brush.

Laura Sullivan:  No, no, no.

Len Sipes:  And I – again I go back to NPR, like any other media entity, has a business case.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  And they want to attract as many as listeners as humanly possible.

Laura Sullivan:  That’s true, that’s true.

Len Sipes:  And somebody out there is going to go, when they first hear about bail, they’re going to say, “Okay, what?”

Laura Sullivan:  They’re like my editor.  What?  They hear Robert saying.  We have 20-minute story coming out on bail?  People were like, that’s insane.  I don’t want to hear 20 minutes on bail.  What’s there to know about bail?

Len Sipes:  What’s there to know about bail?  Keep the bad guys in.  Give them a high bail, and –

Laura Sullivan:  don’t worry about it.

Len Sipes:  Then don’t worry about them.

Laura Sullivan:  What’s the problem?

Len Sipes:  What’s the problem?  But again, it has a huge fiscal ramifications for cities and counties, and it’s only in the last ten years or so that all of us within the criminal justice system, all government agencies have had to reduce our amount of spending, have we taken a hard look in terms of who we’re keeping and why.

Laura Sullivan:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And those constitutional and philosophical questions come up, so it is a public safety issue.  It is a fiscal issue.  It is a Constitutional issue.  Again – which is what you guys do, which is why it leads me to the next stories about doubts rise about 1972 Angola prison murder.  Now the story weaves this wonderful tale of Angola and the prison and how it’s in the deep South, and it’s huge, and it’s lush, and it’s a prison industry, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, and inmates basically have run that prison for years, and it’s not just a story about a homicide.  It’s a story about corrections in America.

Laura Sullivan:  It’s a story about corrections in America.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And it’s a story about corrections in the South.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And a lot of, sort of the racial turmoil that, you know, tainted all – most Southern prisons for decades.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And they’re just sort of now coming out of.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  I mean, even now, Angola, the officers are largely white and the inmates are very – almost entirely African American.

Len Sipes:  But that’s not uncommon in many jurisdictions.

Laura Sullivan:  It’s true.  That’s true.

Len Sipes:  Especially those on the East Coast.

Laura Sullivan:  But they have a very, very difficult racial history at Angola that they’re sort of trying to overcome, and this murder of a white prison guard by allegedly by a group of Black Panther activists , African-Americans, was very telling of this transformation for this prison and what it had gone through, and the fact that there are a lot of questions about whether or not the two inmates in this story actually did it?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  And they had been held in solitary confinement at this prison.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  For 36 years.

Len Sipes:  Right.  So it was not a story ostensively about an Angola prison murder.

Laura Sullivan:  No.

Len Sipes:  It was a story about corrections in America.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  In the south.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  With all the racial issues attached to it, with the solitary confinement issues attached to it.  I mean it was a profoundly moving story about much larger issues than one homicide, but then again, that’s how NPR advertises it, is that, as, you know, we’re going to take a look at a 1972 murder in a prison in the deep South and the average person is sitting there going, and that means what to me?

Laura Sullivan:  Why do I care?

Len Sipes:  But it tells – I mean it’s a transformational story about all these larger issues we’re talking about, and what I would imagine that is why you pick these stories.

Laura Sullivan:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Because it’s not the narrow issue of women on an Indian reservation being raped, and people, specifically from outside the Indian reservation, are getting away with it?  It’s a larger issue about rape in America.

Laura Sullivan:  Right, and the lack of prosecution.

Len Sipes:  It’s a larger issue about corrections, about the lack of prosecutions and the lack of concern on the part of the criminal justice system.

Laura Sullivan:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And what are we doing in corrections, and are we Constitutional? and are we moral? and by the way, race filters into this, and you have to examine race.  I mean these are the larger issues.  I’m not quite sure the average person sitting in their driveway, pulling into their driveway after a long drive home understands that when they hear a 1972 investigation of a –

Laura Sullivan:  Well, hopefully, if they get to the end of the story, they will get it.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laura Sullivan:  You know, they may not get it when Robert Siegel comes on and does the intro, but hopefully by the end, if we’ve done our jobs right, they understand that this is not just one little thing.  We’ve not just covering one crime or one particular case, but we’re actually looking at a larger issue that is interesting to humans.

Len Sipes:  Yes, yeah.

Laura Sullivan:  And to society, and how we interact with each other.

Len Sipes:  How does this impact you, personally Laura?  I mean we were joking before the beginning of the program that many of the crime reporters that I knew years ago were hard-bitten, two-fisted, beer-drinking, foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking, you know, they were part of that life-style, they’re cynical, they viewed the word cynically.

Laura Sullivan:  I know a lot of them.

Len Sipes:  They view us in government cynically.  You know, you don’t investigate figure skating champions who come through endless adversity and win the big figure skating championship.

Laura Sullivan:  No, unless they’re a victim of a crime.

Len Sipes:  You’re dealing with the Angola murder of 1972, bail, rape on Indian reservations.  I mean you deal with these topics.  Has it affected you personally?

Laura Sullivan:  A lot of people tell me that they think that my job is really depressing.  I actually don’t agree with them.  I think that my job is very dramatic

and I find I get very emotionally invested in these stories, and I throw sort of my whole sense of self into them, into trying to figure them out and trying to understand them, and for me, I mean the – yeah, there times I just spent a year doing investigation in South Dakota and a spent long time, many, many, afternoons on the couches of grandmothers, crying.  It was a story about foster care, and things that were happening in that arena, and I think that those are the times when it just weighs on you personally.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  Because you go to bed at night, and you think about them, and you think about how much pain and suffering some people are in, and it’s hard.  It’s hard to put that aside and still sort of get up and do your job, and I think that’s where the cynicism comes from.

Len Sipes:  You’re a mother of two young kids, and you’re married to a reporter, Washington Post reporter.

Laura Sullivan:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And somebody who I know well.

Laura Sullivan:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Hi.  And I mean you’re away on these assignments.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  And you’re not going to Jamaica.  You’re not going to Hawaii.  You’re going to –

Laura Sullivan:  I’m going to the middle of South Dakota in the middle of winter.

Len Sipes:  And I’ve been there.  I know how desolate, and I know how isolated it is.  It’s not the garden spot of the world, although both of us find it enchanting and found the Native Americans there enchanting in many ways, and we could go on forever talking about those stories, but it is tough.

Laura Sullivan:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  You’ve picked tough topics.  You’ve picked a tough beat that takes you away from home for good amounts of time.

Laura Sullivan:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And that has to have an impact on you personally.

Laura Sullivan:  Oh, yeah, absolutely, and I think about that every time I get on a plane, which I try not to do too frequently, but I do a lot, and that’s because the stories have to mean something to me.  They have to be important enough for me to want to effect change, to want to share them with the world, to give up – sort of how hard it is on your family to make that happen.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Laura Sullivan:  Luckily because it’s not a daily beat, it allows me to be here.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Sullivan:  Day in and day out, and sort of picking up the bulk of the weight when I am here, but then once – I would say I travel, well it depends, it goes in spurts, but if, you know, when I do have to hit the road, and then I’m gone, hopefully that makes up for the –

Len Sipes:  But you haven’t become cynical and morose like the rest of us who have surrounded ourselves with these issues for the last 30 years, 40 years.

Laura Sullivan:  Cynical maybe, morose, no.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Laura Sullivan:  But sometimes cynical.

Len Sipes:  Is being a woman an advantage or a disadvantage?  I apologize for asking.

Laura Sullivan:  Oh, it’s both.  No, I appreciate the question.

Len Sipes:  The criminal justice system is male dominated.

Laura Sullivan:  It can be both.

Len Sipes:  And sometimes I get the sense of Laura Sullivan walking into a criminal justice system that’s 85, 90 percent male.

Laura Sullivan:  Lots of prisons.

Len Sipes:  Lots of prisons, lots of cops, lots of prosecutors, lots of tough guys.  Does that have an impact?

Laura Sullivan:  I find it most in sort of the prison setting, and mostly with the inmates, and it’s either, you know, it’s either helpful because you don’t remind the inmate of the people that are looking over their shoulder, and you don’t seem like you’re one of them.  One of the hardest things when you walk into a prison is that you want the trust of the prison administrators, and you also want the trust of the inmates, and trying to establish both is almost impossible.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Laura Sullivan:  So, on the one hand it’s helpful sometimes to be a woman.  On the other hand, it’s terrible because you can run into the wrong inmates, and they can make a good five minutes miserable for you.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Laura Sullivan:  And so you just say, next, can we see a different inmate.  So, you know, it has its advantages and disadvantages.

Len Sipes:  Is the criminal justice system any more open, any more transparent? or are we still the same sloppy, Oh, my God there’s a reporter at my doorstep, let’s run for the hills.

Laura Sullivan:  I mean there are few –

Len Sipes:  Have we gotten any better in the last ten years?

Laura Sullivan:  There are a few agencies across the board where I just think the world of, where I just think that you guys get it.  You are one of them.  I’m not just saying that because I’m sitting in your studio right now, that, where I just think, I wish that there were more agencies like you guys that understood that we’re not the devil.  We’re not coming in to do the hit job.  At least give us a chance to prove that we’re not coming in to do the hit job.

Len Sipes:  Right, right.

Laura Sullivan:  I’m sure there are some out there, but give us a chance, the opportunity to come in, and then there are others that are just the polar opposite, and I would say, I would say it’s actually worse than it used to be.

Len Sipes:  Really.

Laura Sullivan:  And I –

Len Sipes:  Seriously.

Laura Sullivan:  Yes, I really do.

Len Sipes:  And all this day and age of transparency, and social media it’s got –

Laura Sullivan:  Because I think that’s why.

Len Sipes:  Really?

Laura Sullivan:  That’s why.  I think it’s instilled a lot of fear, and I think that there’s a real fear to allow – people do not see any benefit to allowing a reporter into a prison.  You have to really – there’s no premise that yes, you can come in unless we decide not to.  It’s no you can’t unless you can prove that there’s a reason why we should do it, and you can argue the public interest and that these are behind closed doors, and that the public is paying for this, can we see what’s happening? and still you run up against this idea that whatever it is you’re after, it can be no good, and so we are just trying to make your life as miserable as possible.

Len Sipes:  I’ve got 30 seconds before we have to close.  The future of NPR crime coverage, anything you want to share with the rest of us in the next third seconds?

Laura Sullivan:  I think it looks really good.  I mean this is a priority for NPR.  This is something that the editors are interested in.  I’m interested in, and our listeners have really responded to.  So it’s going to keep going strong.

Len Sipes:  Laura Sullivan, an NPR investigative correspondent.  She, again, joined in 2004, has a whole slew of awards.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to go on the website, WWW.NPR.ORG and listen to Laura’s stuff, she weaves a story and information as beautifully as anybody I’ve ever heard.  Winner of two Peabody awards and  two Columbia University Silver Batons.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate your time, interest, your phone calls, your emails, your comments, and your criticisms, and I want everybody to have yourselves a very, very, pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Research on Employing Offenders-Council for Court Excellence-DC Public Safety

See for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

Radio Program available at

We welcome your comments or suggestions at or at Twitter at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, the issue today is employing offenders.  We have a piece of research today from the Council for Court Excellence and what they did was to go out and ask individuals, ask individual employers what it takes to hire people under community supervision.  I spent a good part of the morning taking a look at previous research on the issue of employing offenders and to my knowledge, this hasn’t been done before or it’s been very rarely done where an individual organization goes out and asks not just people who hire, but also former offenders themselves what their issues were in terms of employment, what it takes to hire people under supervision.  So with that lofty introduction, we have two people at our microphones today:  June Kress, the Executive Director of the Council for Court Excellence, and Peter Willner, the Senior Policy Analyst, again for the Council for Court Excellence.  And to June and Peter, welcome to DC Public Safety.

June Kress:  Thank you.

Len Sipes: June first of all, the first question goes to you.  What is the Council for Court Excellence?

June Kress: The Council for Court Excellence is a non-partisan, non-profit civic organization.  We’ve been around since 1982 and our mission, simply put, is to improve the administration of justice in the District of Columbia.  We watch the courts and related institutions and agencies of justice and we make policy recommendations to improve things.  But our work, even though we’re focused on the District, our work has serious implications for jurisdictions all over the country that are interested in improving how justice is administered.

Len Sipes:  And the Council for Court Excellence, you know, I’ve been to several of your meetings, they’re very well attended, well debated.  You look at a variety of issues in terms of the larger criminal justice system and in terms of larger criminal justice issues, so you work goes way beyond the District of Columbia because in essence, Milwaukee is facing exactly what we’re facing right now in Washington D.C.  Anchorage, Alaska, Honolulu, Hawaii – it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, 20% of our audience is worldwide.  I would imagine the same thing is happening in Paris, France.  What you’re doing has implications for the entire country, correct?

June Kress:  That’s absolutely right and when we do our work, we certainly take a look at best practices elsewhere to inform what we’re doing here.  So it’s really an exchange between Washington and everywhere else in the country.

Len Sipes:  All right we have a unique opportunity in terms of recent research that you all conducted and to my knowledge, it’s one of the first, if not the first, where we’ve actually sat down with individual employers and asked them what are your perceptions of hiring people on community supervision.  And there was a wide variety of research; findings that came out of this, 50% were unemployed, regardless of the economics.  So in good times and bad times, 50% of the individuals under community supervision are unemployed.  Now that has huge ramifications for the entire criminal justice system. The research is abundantly clear. The better odds of them being employed, the more they’re employed, the less recidivism there is, the less crime there is, the less costs there are to taxpayers and this has huge implications.  If only 50% are going to be employed regardless of the circumstances, that simply means more crime.  Reducing crime means what can we do to bring that number down, correct?  Peter, you want to…?

Peter Willner:  Yeah, yeah, I think the answer to that is a clear yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but I mean how do we do that now?  If 50% are unemployed, regardless of the economics, regardless of the circumstances, what can we do?  I mean, you know, one of the findings that you had is that 77% of the individuals, when they were caught up in the correctional system, whether it’s prison or jail, they didn’t receive any assistance at all in terms of getting ready for employment so obviously, what we do within the correctional setting has an impact in terms of how they are when they get out.

June Kress:  That’s right. And in fact, that’s one of the recommendations, that the Bureau of Prisons and in terms of locally, the District of Columbia jail, begin to try and do something about this, what we believe is a disconnect between the kind of training and education that exists in institutions today, vis-à-vis the kinds of employment opportunities that exist in our particular jurisdiction and in jurisdictions around the country.  The world has changed a lot.  No longer, you know, is there a market for barbers and we believe that Bureau of Prisons needs to take a look at the kind of training that people are getting and make that much more relevant.  I mean, everybody knows that re-entry begins at the beginning, we’ll go into the institution and it shouldn’t begin when people are coming home.

Len Sipes:  Well, we say that, we say that re-entry begins the day they enter the correctional system, but the research on drug treatment is terrible.  Only 10% of people end up getting drug treatment.  Only a small portion are ending up with mental health treatment and by your research and prior research, only a small portion are receiving occupational assistance.  So in essence what we’re say is, is that when we send them into any prison system, state or federal, the great majority are not getting the services that they need in order to hold down crime rates when they get out.

Peter Willner:  That’s right and I think the thing that’s important for your listeners to understand is that the District of Columbia’s prison system is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The District doesn’t have its own local prison system and so that is part of the national implications I think of our study. We heard from lots of people who were former offenders who were saying they wanted to try to do some job searches before they got out, they wanted to try to put their resume together, but they didn’t have access to the internet, they didn’t have access to anyone who might help them do that search or put their resume together.  And I think part of the context of our study was, we had BOP on our committee and we understand that they are resource-strapped.  And I think the broader conversation that has to happen you know, in this country and across the country is that you know, our prison populations are increasing. I don’t know that BOP is getting the necessary funding to be able to handle that adjusting population.  Part of what they need to get funding for in my view, is to be able to think more systematically about how they can make that goal of re-entry starts on the day they enter more of a reality, not only as it relates to employment but to mental health and drug use and all that.  And I think that’s a legitimate – that was a legitimate concern we heard from BOP.

Len Sipes:  But everybody who I’ve talked to has said that jobs – the people coming out of the prison system have said jobs are the crucial issue.  Regardless of their substance abuse history, regardless of their mental health history, it’s jobs that seem to be the key component when they come out of the prison system.  So my question becomes, if this is such a key issue and if the research is so abundantly clear that the more they’re employed, the less they recidivate, the less crime they commit, the less – you know, we’re talking about saving hundreds of millions of tax-paid dollars if they don’t go back to the prison system – then why not?  What does that say about us as a society that we’re not providing that employment assistance?

Peter Willner:  Well, the District, I think, has made a good first step just late last year when they passed legislation that for the District of Columbia government, that would for a lot of lower level jobs at least, they would not look at a criminal record at all in terms of the hiring process.

Len Sipes:  Um-hm.

Peter Willner:  And so I think the DC government, following the State of Minnesota who adopted that same approach, is trying to take sort of the moral lead in that area.  And I think there are a number of other states that we see – I would include again, Minnesota in this – who have adopted legislation that would encourage private sector employers to hire people and that’s one of our report recommendations, which is private employers are concerned, they’re concerned about their bottom line, but they’re also concerned if they hire someone with a record that for some reason they might be – it might subject them to a liability or lawsuit.

Len Sipes:  Right.  They’re concerned about being sued.

Peter Willner:  That’s right, and so there’s a legislative fix for that where if they – where if an employer goes through a several-step hiring process to make sure they’re looking at the person’s record, making sure that it is not, when they hire that person, there’s no greater risk to public safety or on the street.  If they go through that process, that can severely limit their ability to be sued for negligent hiring and Minnesota’s adopted that, New York State has that in place and that was one of our recommendations that you know, we understand the DC Council might be taking that up very soon this year.

Len Sipes:  Now I do want to get to that but I don’t want to leave this issue of jobs within the correctional setting.  I mean, if say bricklaying – bricklaying is a viable alternative, being an electrician, being a plumber, being an apprentice electrician or a plumber or a bricklayer.  These are all hard skills that are going to transfer into just about any economy.  If we had a system that produced people with those skills as they came out of the prison system, what impact would it have on crime?  What impact would it have on public safety, what impact would it have on taxpaying dollars?

Peter Willner:  It would have a good impact on that I think.  You know, I think what we were finding, though, when we were going through our research, the challenges, you might have that skill set but the next step is getting a license to do that.  And I think that that’s where you know, state-to-state, there might be some variance, so you might come out with that skill set.  But if you’re not – if you don’t have the ability to get a license, then you’ve built the skill set that means nothing at the end of the day.  But your premise is correct though, that if you do train folks in these areas, it will be a benefit, but we have to make sure we’re also careful about giving them the ability to get a license.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so we have to do – the first part of the solution is dealing with the training within the correction settings and the fact that the great majority according to your survey said, 77% said they received assistance in jail or prison in terms of occupational training.  The second thing we have to do is to deal with things at the home front, is assuming even if they came out of prison, assuming they came out with a hard skill, there has to be laws and legislations in place that allows them to get the certification that they need to go on and practice that occupation, so that’s step number two.  Is that what I hear?

June Kress:  That’s right.  And also – I mean, the crux of the problem is the criminal record.  Something like 80% of people that we interviewed said that they were asked all the time about their criminal records.  So this has become such a barrier, both in good times and in bad, and so what do you do about – I mean, Pete was just talking about the legislation to remove you know, to remove that problem from the folks that – from the government sector, but it still exists in the private sector, so our research and our recommendations are about trying to incentivize employers, which is why you know, where we came up with removing employer liability.

Len Sipes:  But you did talk to employers –

June Kress:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  – this is one of the exciting things about this study.  I mean, you reached out to the employment community in a very systematic fashion and you spoke to a lot of individuals within the employment community – that’s exciting, because that’s one of the first times it’s happened.  We’ve tried to do that here at CSOSA, we’ve tried to crowd source this issue, not terribly successfully, only about 20 calls –

June Kress:  Right.

Len Sipes: – as a result of it, but you spoke to a lot more than that and so what are you hearing from the employment community, the private sector, in terms of what it’s going to take the higher people under community supervision?

Peter Willner:  Well, I think the, I think the benefit is that people who are under some sort of supervision, employers I think are attracted more to those folks than people who are not under any sort of supervision.  We did find, it’s not reported so much in our report, but we did find that employers were very interested in people who had some level of case management.  But what employers were more interested in was not being sued as a result of hiring someone who had committed a prior criminal offense.  They were also very interested in knowing that the person was in good standing with the conditions of their release and so those were the things that currently don’t exist in DC, they don’t exist in a lot of places in the country and I think that is something that will help to incent private sector employers to hire.

Len Sipes:  But will they hire people with criminal records?  I mean, what I’m hearing, what you’re saying is that the answer is yes, as long as their level of liability is limited.

Peter Willner:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  That becomes the key issue.  I mean, so it’s not outright discrimination against people with a criminal history.  I mean, one of the problems that I have in this whole issue is that I’ve interviewed a lot of different people, both on radio and television and they are years away from their last crime. They are years away from their last issue of substance abuse.  These are very good risks and some of them have real skills, some of them have real solid work histories, but they’re unemployed. They’re years away from their last crime, years away from their last positive drug test, so that to me is a bit of a tragedy.  We’re not talking about somebody fresh out of prison, we’re not talking somebody who’s still in the game, somebody still taking drugs, somebody still involved in violent crime.  We’re talking about people past that, yet they can’t find work.  So there’s got to be something else at work here besides liability, correct?

June Kress:  Well, we’re also recommending that a certificate of rehabilitation program or certificate of good standing program be conceptualized and implemented and monitored in the District of Columbia and the recommendation calls for the bringing together of all of the relevant criminal justice agencies, including the Office on Ex-Offender Affairs, to talk about how this would best be undertaken.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program already; it’s gone by very fast.  June Kress, Executive Director of Council for Court Excellence; Peter Willner, Senior Policy Analyst, again, for the Council for Court Excellence, to get a copy of this fascinating report in terms of interviewing both offenders as well as employers as to what it takes to increase the level of employment for people under community supervision.  June, I’m going to go right back to you.  In terms of this certificate of rehabilitation, that’s tough for any bureaucracy to do.  Now all of us have been around the criminal justice system for a number of years and we’ve all taken a look at lower level offenders and found to our dismay, at a certain point, where they do end up in serious crimes.  So when we issue a certificate of rehabilitation, whatever agency is going to issue that certificate, their reputation is on the line.  If we say there is a certification of rehabilitation for John Smith and John Smith three years down the road commits some crime, then the agency issuing that certificate of rehabilitation is going to be held accountable.

June Kress:  Well absolutely.  I think those kinds of details will need to be worked out and we’re not indicating that if someone walks in with a certificate of good standing, that they’re automatically going to get a job.  The point, though, you know, this is very much a part of the 5% solution concept, which is, we believe that this could be and has been in other jurisdictions, a conversation starter.  It puts formerly incarcerated folks at the top of the pile in terms of trying to, you know, the resume pile, in terms of trying to get their foot in the door in order to get an interview.

Len Sipes:  But it gets to be right back to the proposition that I made, excuse me, before asking the question, there are – I have sat down and talked to hundreds of people throughout my career who are bricklayers, who are electricians, who you know, their last conviction was three years ago.  They haven’t had a positive drug test in the last 2 ½ years.  They are clean, they’re not working.  So it gets back to how do you convince employers that this person, regardless of the fact that he’s had an armed robbery, he’s beyond that.  He’s ready to go.  He wants to work.  So a certificate of rehabilitation is one of the things we need to consider.

June Kress:  Absolutely.  And you know, Len, we don’t think that stigma, the stigma that ex-offenders, formerly incarcerated persons face, is going to be wiped out through the publication of this report.  It’s going to take a very long time to change people’s minds. I mean, it’s kind of like you know, seat belt use.  It didn’t happen overnight.

Len Sipes:  Correct.

June Kress:  It’s a whole see change that the country is beginning to go through and I think it’s important to point out that this report took into account the perspective of employers and ex-offenders and also law enforcement – very much reflecting the kind of balanced work that the council has done for 30 years.  We made a very, very conscious effort to make sure that those three perspectives are balanced out, because this is, you know, at the end of the day, this is all about public safety.  We want to make sure that you know, it’s not just simply assisting people in getting jobs, to help them and their families and to help entire communities, but to help jurisdictions that are faced with a serious public safety interest.  Because if people can’t find jobs, chances are that they will engage in crime.

Len Sipes:  Or they’re going to come back to the criminal justice system, they’re going to victimize somebody else –

June Kress:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  – they’re going to continue to cost us literally hundreds of billions of dollars.  I mean, 710,000 people every year leave the prison system throughout the country, either the state prison systems or the federal prison systems.  That’s an enormous amount of people – 710,000.  Now if we do, the national recidivism rates at the moment are 50% after three years of returning to the prison system, so we’re talking about 350,000 individuals at the cost of, my heavens, at least $20,000-30,000 a year, the cost of building prisons, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.  So there’s a lot at stake.  If we can find work for them, if we can find employment for them, that number of people returning back to the prison system goes down dramatically.  That’s the bottom line, correct?

June Kress:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, now I’m looking at the New York Times, a recent editorial, in their opinion page by two very prominent criminologists, with the idea of, there’s a certain amount of time, there’s certain point where that person loses their stigma as to being dangerous.  There’s a certain point where that person loses that stigma as being a threat to public safety, compared to people who are not involved in crime, they’re in essence saying that after seven or 10 years or so, that that person’s rate of recidivism is no worse or any better than the general population’s rate of recidivism.  So there is a numerical number statistically speaking, as to when these people even out in terms of the risk of public safety.  So it’s that stigma of carrying that criminal record for decades.  Something that happened at 18 and now you’re 38 and the person doesn’t get the job you know, 20 years later – that doesn’t hold water criminologically-speaking, correct?

Peter Willner:  That’s correct.  And you know, I would add to that though that you know, if there are a lot of challenges, like we’ve come across the example in certain industry sectors, so banking or the insurance industry, which are federally regulated.  We’ve learned that in those sectors, they are not free actors to hire whomever they want.  When they hire somebody, it has to be run through a federal agency, so we’ve heard anecdotally that an insurance company tried to hire somebody, the federal regulating agency that oversaw them, found that person had a criminal record from 25 years ago and denied them the ability to hire that person because of that conviction.  So there’s a whole series of federal regulations that are industry-specific that add to the complexity of this challenge and that you know, I think trying to factor in some of the criminological research to come up with a better approach to this is something that’s certainly worthwhile but tackling those various federally-regulated sectors is going to be a challenge.

Len Sipes:  But the low-hanging fruit here is that certainly we can all agree – I mean, everybody, not just the three of us in this room, but everybody can agree that there is a certain amount of time where the person’s criminal history should no longer be held against them, so issuing a “certificate of rehabilitation” for somebody who’s 10 years past their crime, according to the piece that I was looking at in the New York Times, that certainly everybody would agree that you can’t hold him responsible for the actions of his youth forever.  I mean, if I was held responsible for the stupidity of my youth, I wouldn’t be sitting here, I wouldn’t be a member of the criminal justice system.  There is a certain point where forgiveness is in society’s best interest and we should move on.

June Kress:  Well especially if someone has served their time.

Peter Willner:  Right.  But even if they’ve served their time, they could be fresh from prison.  I mean, they could say to themselves, okay, well let’s see how well he adjusts in society before I give him an opportunity to hire.  I’m simply saying there is a point where we could easily agree and we could disagree as to the years.  I think they were, in the research, we’re talking about seven years.  There is a certain point where it just doesn’t make any sense to continue to hold that person responsible for what happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago.

June Kress:  Well the collateral consequences are too great.

Len Sipes:  Right, right.

Peter Willner:  Yeah, and I would just add that you know, I’m not sure that it’s in anyone’s interest to have an agency certify that someone is rehabilitated.  I think there are a lot of good, you know, I think really saying anyone is rehabilitated is a –

June Kress:  Risky business.

Peter Willner:   – considerable challenge. And I think really, what we found when it came to what employers were interested in, they just wanted to know if that person was in compliance.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Peter Willner:  With the conditions of their release.  And so I think a much more accurate way to describe what we’re talking about is to call it a certificate of good standing.

Len Sipes:  A certificate of good standing.

Peter Willner:  So, I –

Len Sipes:  That’s an important point.

Peter Willner:  Yeah, I don’t think an employer wants to know that somebody’s rehabilitated, I mean, appreciating what we’ve seen here in the District recently regarding you know, people who’ve been convicted of embezzling and all that who’ve never had a criminal record.

Len Sipes:  Right.

June Kress:  Right. When I said risky business, I meant that because the definition of rehabilitation is such a loaded definition open to you know, many, many different interpretations by many different people.  Opting away from using that term, I think is the way to go.

Len Sipes:  The conversations I’ve had to the employment, with the employment community – and we only have five minutes left in the program – I’ve had some surprisingly frank conversations with people in the employment community and they’ve essentially come to me and said, Leonard, what you just said a little while ago – if you tell me that the guy or the woman is a clean risk, will show up every day, will work hard, I’ll consider hiring that person.  I’m not going to say as a class I’m not going to hire anybody caught up in the criminal justice system.  You heard a lot of that, correct?

Peter Willner:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  I mean, it goes against the stereotype; I’m not going to hire you because you’ve been in the prison system.  Any employer sitting down at night and watching these network programs, Hard Time, Lock Up, I mean, how in the name of heavens do we ask that person the following day to consider somebody who is out of that environment.  If I sat there and I spent my night watching those programs, I wouldn’t hire anybody coming out of the prison system because that’s the stereotype I have of that individual.  But yet, surprisingly, the employers that I’ve talked to said, no, I will.  You’ve just got to make it easy for me.

Peter Willner:  Well, and I think that you know, a lot of the folks that we’ve talked to and I’m referring to former offenders, a lot of them have gotten to the point where they’re highly motivated people, that I think that they possess a lot of the attributes that employers are looking for and it’s a lot, you know, 50% of the game when you’re hiring somebody is, can you show up?  Will you be reliable?  Will you do what I ask, what I want you to do without a lot of fuss?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Peter Willner:  And I think there are a lot of people who have, when they’ve been in prison, they’ve had a chance to reflect and they are ready to make that next step and they’re highly motivated employees.

June Kress:  I would just add that they’re also – it can be extremely good role models for other people. They have been through challenges and have surmounted those challenges, and that to me is a very good role model.

Len Sipes:  Well, it just doesn’t have to deal with that particular individual because the great majority of the people under our supervision have kids.  So it’s just not him, it’s just not her, it’s them.

June Kress:  Right.

Len Sipes:  In terms of being a role model, in terms of setting an example, in terms of breaking a chain throughout the course of the years, in terms of just putting you know, them in a nice place to live and food on the table.  So much of this has real implications for the larger society.  But the sense that I got from the employers is, I’m not here to deal with the larger society, I’m here to make a dollar.  The great majority of hiring comes from the private sector and you’ve got to prove to me that this person is going to help me accomplish my purposes.

Peter Willner:  Yeah, I think that’s right but I think that, you know, I think you can’t discount that there are … I mean, not every private employer is exclusively motivated by the bottom line.  I mean, that certainly is a major factor in what they do but there are private employers who have a sense of moral justice and you know, what’s right and trying to promote you know, people and trying to help people and families, that can also edge your bottom line.  If you’re helping families near your neighborhood store, for example, if you can help them become more economically stable, that might have you know, longer term effects on your business.

Len Sipes:  I was being the devil’s advocate because I –

June Kress:  You know, I would, I understand though –

Len Sipes:   – I’ve interviewed those employers, I’ve interviewed those employers who sat through the microphones and said, it’s in society’s best interest for me to hire.

June Kress:  Well, but even if we all agreed that the bottom like is you know, making money, any employer who really, really gets it, knows that this is a worthy investment to get people back on their feet, to ensure that the taxes are paid – it all goes back into the community, which then helps their bottom line.

Len Sipes:  We only have a minute left, so to the Mayor of Milwaukee, to the council person here in the District of Columbia, to the congressional aides sitting there on capitol hill, what must they understand based upon your research?  Certainly, certainly the fact that this is in society’s best interest and they’re willing to hire if they’re given the right set of circumstances.

Peter Willner:  Right, and I think that there’s, that there are lots of people who are coming out of prison and jail who are at that point where they are ready to be contributing members of society and a lot of them are at the point where they would make excellent employees and be excellent contributors.

Len Sipes:  Peter, you’ve got the final word.  June do you have something quickly?

June Kress:  I would just add that to those mayors of Milwaukee and other jurisdictions, we would encourage them to have a community dialogue about collateral consequences like employment and all of the other collateral consequences of long-term imprisonment.  It’s good for the community to talk about this.

Len Sipes:  And I think what the Council for Court Excellence has done is extraordinarily valuable, not only to here in the District of Columbia but to this issue throughout the county.  I think you all have produced an extraordinarily important piece of research and we thank you for it.  Ladies and gentlemen, today our guests have been June Kress, Executive Director, Council for Court Excellence; Peter Willner, he is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Council for Court Excellence.  The report on employing offenders, Court excellence is one word.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We thank you for your letters, we thank you for your cards, we thank you for all of your input at the show – suggestions and in terms of ways that we can improve what it is that we do.  And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Interview with Former Offender-Advocate Lamont Carey-DC Public Safety Radio

See for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

Radio Program available at

We welcome your comments or suggestions at or at Twitter at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I am your host, Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a real pleasure today to have Lamont Carey. Lamont’s been around for a long time.  He’s a fixture, not only in Washington DC, but throughout the country.  Lamont spent 11 years in the federal prison system for committing a crime in Washington DC, and he’s been an outspoken individual regarding the condition of people coming outside of the prison system and in the world where the overwhelming majority of people who come out of the prison system are basically ignored.  He’s gotten an awful lot of press.  Let me tell you a lit bit about what Lamont Carey has done within the course of the last 10 years, 11 years:  HBO, for the Def Poetry Jam, on Home Box Office, he’s done The Wire, again, with HBO, probably the best crime and justice program ever on television.  Black Entertainment Tonight, Lyric Cafe, he worked, he’s spoken at the National Cathedral multiple times talking about the plight of ex-offenders.  He’s done a ton of media both in the United States and Canada.  He’s been with Al Sharpton, with the National Action Network, and he has written a book called The Hill, just out, about his journey through prison, and he’s also, in progress, his film, a video called Outside the Gate.  Lamont Carey, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lamont Carey:  Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  All right, man.  Again, what I said at the beginning, what I said in terms of the introduction is that the overwhelming majority of people coming out of the prison system, they don’t talk to anybody.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  I mean, they don’t even talk to their own sister.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And here it is that you’re talking on – you know, you’ve been with a couple HBO productions.  You’ve been at the National Cathedral.  You’ve been at media throughout the United States and Canada.  You’ve been with Al Sharpton.  You’ve been at the National Cathedral.  You’ve been with BET.  Why is all this going on when everybody else is ignored, you’re getting all this airtime.

Lamont Carey:  Well, I think the difference between me and everybody else is that I’m not afraid of where I come from.  Most people don’t talk about the things that they think will hurt them, so I was once labeled a product of my environment.  Now I use those experiences as my product, and that is how I make my living.

Len Sipes:  But everybody goes through the same thing you went through.  What is it that – I need to know this.  What is it that distinguishes you from everybody else?  Everybody is talking about this, but they’re just talking to each other.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Everybody is going into group.  Everybody is talking to their friends.  Everybody is standing on the corner.  You’re standing on the corner at HBO with The Wire.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so, there’s got to be something unique and something different in your experience versus everybody else.

Lamont Carey:  Well, when I came home from prison, before I came home, I decided I was going to be successful.  I decided I was going to give back to my community, and with both of those goals in mind and the developing in it a grasp of entertainment, I figured that I would combine all of those and that would be how – One, I remember where I come from but also use it as a stepping stone to get where I’m going, so I’m fearless.  I turn all of that into a business, and so that, I think, what makes me a little different than most.

Len Sipes:  Okay, I’m going to try this one more time.  Okay, I’ve been interviewing people out of the prison system for 20 years.  Everybody wants to give back.  Nobody wants to go back to prison.  Everybody wants their voice heard.  Nobody’s voice is heard.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  There is something unique about you, I mean – that I’m still trying to get at.  Everybody’s said what you’ve just said.

Lamont Carey:  Yeah, but I’m driven.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Lamont Carey:  I’m driven to succeed underneath it all.  That’s what it is.  I’m driven to succeed.

Len Sipes:  All right, all right. WWW.LAMONTCAREY.COM, WWW.LAMONTCAREY.COM is Lamont’s website for all the different projects that Lamont is working on.  All right, let’s get around to the former offender coming out of the prison system.  All right, so the guy comes out.  The woman comes out.  He hits the street, and what happens?

Lamont Carey:  Well, a lot of – what I think throws a lot of people off when they hit the street is that they deviate from their plan that they created in prison.  Everybody has a plan.  I have a – I’ve been incarcerated in 11 institutions, and every individual that I came into contact with had a plan on what they was going to do when they come home.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  But when they get home, they – I guess because they try to live up to the expectations of their family members, they think they have to rescue their family, change their whole standard of living, and so they get thrown off, and they go after jobs, or get on another route that they didn’t plan for, and I think that’s another difference between me and a lot of people is that I didn’t deviate from my plan, so they come home.  They get everything isn’t like they thought it was going to be, I mean, even me, when I was coming home, I thought that all the doors was going to open for me, I was going to be celebrated as a hero or what have you, and then when you get home and you face reality – that I have to go live back at my mother’s house, and she’s doing as bad as I thought she was doing, and I felt those urges, or those desires to want to save her, but I can’t save nobody unless I get myself right, so I had to stick with my plan and follow it to the letter.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so 50 percent, according to national stats, 50 percent of people go back to the prison system within three years.

Lamont Carey:  Right, right.

Len Sipes:  That’s just within three years.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  I mean beyond three years, more go back.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  A ton of people go back to the prison system.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  There can’t be mass hysteria in prison.  Everybody’s got to know how difficult it is when they’re going to get back.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  That they’re going to be labeled an ex-con.  They’re going to go and try to find jobs, and people are going to go “Hmm.  How many years you spent in prison?”

Lamont Carey:  Right, well I think.

Len Sipes:  Well, you know, everybody’s got to come out of there with a sense of man, it’s going to be hard when I get back to the street, I mean, how could it be any other way?

Lamont Carey:  But they don’t, I mean – a lot.

Len Sipes:  Are you serious?

Lamont Carey:  Yeah, a lot of people don’t because you got to – something that – what took place with me in prison – prison – it’s like you’re living inside of three different worlds.  You’re living off your past, you’re living off of – you got to follow the rules and regulations of the institution.  You’ve got to follow the rules and regulations of the convict, and then you got this future that you’re dreaming of happening, so a lot of individuals assume that when they come home that this woman is going to help them find a job, or the man that they used to hang out with, he’s working at a company, and he said that he can get them a job there, so a lot of times, we believe in there what somebody else is telling us so we don’t see that we’re going to have to, like face applying for a job and not getting it.

Len Sipes:  Somebody’s going to hook you up.  Somebody’s going to take care of you. Somebody’s three hearts and a card.

Lamont Carey:  Yeah, it’s the hook up.

Len Sipes:  Somebody’s going to give you a place to stay.

Lamont Carey:  Right, right.

Len Sipes:  And nobody in prison is sitting there going, Dude, we got a lot of guys keep coming back.

Lamont Carey:  Well, I did that.  I figured that – the one thing that I knew:  One, that I’m not a construction worker.  I’m not doing no labor.  Two, I knew that I never had a job before.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  And so, I knew that the chances of me getting a job that is going to pay me 20 dollars an hour like I deserve with no work experience, I knew it was impossible.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  So I decided that I wanted to work for myself.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  So I think that is what made me different.  I didn’t expect – what I did expect – I didn’t expect that they were going to give me stuff.  I looked at it as they owed me because they wasn’t there for me while I was in prison, so when I come home, that they was going to give me this, and they were going to give me that, but I also had to face the reality.  What it was, was that they weren’t doing as good as I thought they were doing, but I didn’t get to see that until I came home because most of the time, people don’t reveal that they’re doing as bad as they’re doing.  They might say they can’t send me no money.

Len Sipes:  Right, right.

Lamont Carey:  But, we live – and prisoners live in a fantasy, like I havn’t met too many prisoners that said they’re the corner boy.  Most prisoners say they were the kingpin or close to the kingpin, so a lot of times.

Len Sipes:  Everybody’s on the corner.

Lamont Carey:  Right, so yeah – but that’s not what they say in prison.

Len Sipes:  But do they really believe that?  Does everybody else really believe that?

Lamont Carey:  Well, not really, but what else do we have to go off of?

Len Sipes:  All right, so it’s the convict world.  There’s two things come to mind.  The convict world is what rules in the prison system, not the correctional personnel.  I mean that world –

Lamont Carey:  Right, right.

Len Sipes:  is what rules, and so what you’re saying is that people invent a sort of fantasy world that allows them to exist with some sort of dignity while in the prison system.

Lamont Carey:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And when they come back out, sometimes that status gets in the way of clear thinking.

Lamont Carey:  Right.  Because it’s distorted, because you have been incarcerated for two years or ten years, and you’ve been – you get to believe in this lie that you told yourself, and so when you’re telling people what you going to do when you come home, it’s exaggerated, you know what I’m saying?

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Lamont Carey:  My guy, when I come home, my man, they been doing this.  They been doing that.  They going to give me –

Len Sipes:  They’re going to take care of me, yeah.

Lamont Carey:  Probably a few thousand, so we come out, and that bubble is burst.

Len Sipes:  Now, I have talked to, in a career of 20 years of interviewing people coming out of the prison system, I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who have made it.

Lamont Carey:  Okay.

Len Sipes:  And they’re all encouraging, and it really is really neat to hear about the woman who suffered through a life of sexual abuse and child abuse, and she comes out and she gets discouraged, and she gets determined, and she goes out and buys, eventually, three ice cream trucks, and now she’s her own woman.  I mean she’s made her own way.  She said, I’m not going to let anybody step in front of me and tell me no.  I’m going to make my own way.  I’ve told those stories hundreds of times, but at the same time, 50 percent go back to the prison system.  Now 730 thousand people get out of the prison in this country every year.  That’s – conservatively, 350 thousand of those people are going back to the prison system within three years, more than that afterwards, so there’s two ways.  One part of it are all the success stories like yourselves, people who have risen above their own circumstances, people who have that magic moment in their lives, either through God or their families or their own sense of self determination that they’re going to make it, and 50 percent just like, you know, you ask them, “Why did you come back?” and it’s like, they can’t give you an answer.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  It’s like, dude, I was on the corner, and somebody said, “Man, we’re going to do a hit,” and, you know, people smoking reefer, and it just got out of hand – didn’t mean to get involved in it.  I mean, we’re not talking about necessarily stalking people, you know, just crap happens –

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  is the way a lot of people get caught back up in the criminal justice system.  How do you make sense of all of this?

Lamont Carey:  Well, again, the guys – with the individuals that I think become successful and not going back to prison, they become good at problem solving.  A lot of other people let stress get the better of them.  I can’t find a job.  I need a place to stay, and so when things are not happening according to the way that we want them to happen, we resort back to what we know.

Len Sipes:  Correct.

Lamont Carey:  Because one of the other things I think that ex-offenders or prisoners face is that they believe that they have to forget their whole past, that none of those skills are transferable to a positive and productive life, so a lot of them come home thinking that now they have to erase everything, so now they’re an infant again.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  And so they need guidance on what to do – I mean, what route they should take to be successful because they have never lived, really, a productive life, and so when things don’t go according to plan, they return back to what they know, and the police are more aware.  Surveillance is greater.  More people are telling, and so that’s how I think they end up – a lot of people end up back in the prison system, or those that used to use drugs fall back under the spell of substance abuse, which leads back to prison.

Len Sipes:  People have told me giving up drugs is somewhat easy.  Giving up the corner is impossible.  Giving up their friends.  Giving up their contacts, and a lot of times, they just get involved in crap that they have no business being involved in.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And again, it’s not – you know, there’s a huge difference in terms of people who are involved in criminal activity, between that person who says, “I’m leaving this house tonight, and I’m committing a crime, and I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that.” versus the person leaving the house that night, and saying, “I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do.  I’m going to check out my boys on the corner and figure out what’s going down.”

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  There’s a huge difference, and so many of these people who don’t set out that night to commit a crime end back up in the criminal justice system.

Lamont Carey:  Right, right.  Cause one of the things is that if me and you hung out before I went to prison, the way you remember me is the way I was before I went in.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  You’re not fully aware of the guy that I’ve turned into.  Most of the time you probably think it’s just jail talk, or jail letters, when I’m telling you that I changed, and so I’ve had this experience.  When I came home, a guy came to see me from my past, and he tried to – he said I got a gun for you.  That’s how he remembered me.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  So, the real test comes with whether I take this gun or not.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  And when I refused the gun, then he knows that I’m serious –

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Lamont Carey:  about my change, and so I think when I come out of the house to come and hang out with you, that’s because I’m bored.  I don’t have no plan.  When I have all these – I don’t have a job.  I don’t have all these things to – instead of me focusing on them, I just get tired.

Len Sipes:  Yep.

Lamont Carey:  And I just say, “I just want to breathe for a minute.  Let me go see what Sipes’s doing.” and I go hang out with you, and – but at the same time I’m hanging out with you, you I’m observing the drug game again.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  Or whatever it is that – you know what I’m saying, it’s –

Len Sipes:  Yeah it’s all caught up.  It all falls together.

Lamont Carey:  Right, because if you’re still in the criminal life-style, and when I come around to you, you’re always thinking as a criminal.  And so, it just so happened.  When I come around, this is the same time that you about to make a move.  You about to go sell some drugs, and you about to rob a store, and I’m there, and you’re telling me, “Man, it’s sweet.  We going to be in there three minutes.  We’re going to be in and out.”

Len Sipes:  Yeah, piece of cake.

Lamont Carey:  And my pockets are broke.  Yeah, that 50 thousand or what you say we’re going to get out of this stuff sounds really good to me right now, and I can do it in three minutes.  What’s the chances of me getting caught in three minutes?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  And then the next thing you know, the police outside.

Len Sipes:  Lamont Carey, ladies and gentlemen, WWW.LAMONTCAREY.COM.  That’s LAMONTCAREN.COM.  Again, to go through Lamont’s list of media involvement would take, for the rest of the day, The Wire, which is, again, the best TV program ever filmed in Baltimore about the criminal justice system, BET Washington, a book called The Hill, a book about his journey through prison, and currently a video project called outside the gate which is in progress.  Okay, you’ve given me some really interesting pieces of insight, Lamont, now, let me hear what you had to say to those movers and shakers, the mayor of Milwaukee, folks here in the District of Columbia, somebody in Germany which is now our second most popular outside the country in terms of people who pay attention to what it is we do here at DC Public Safety.  What do they need to know about people coming outside of the prison system, because I’ll tell you, it’s not a terribly pretty picture.  Most people needing drug treatment don’t get it.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  The stats are very clear.  Most people needing mental health treatment don’t get it.  Most people who need job training don’t get it.  So somehow, some way, there’s a disconnect.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Because we’re saying these – if we have these things, if we have these programs, we can drive down the recidivism rate, but yet society is basically going: nah, I don’t want to fund programs for people coming outside of prison.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  So talk to me about all that.

Lamont Carey:  Well, what I think is, it should start – transitioning should start inside the institution.  I guess when the individual gets within, maybe 18 months of coming home.  If you can get programs inside there that can get them thinking on survival of – a person has to – a person has to be willing to be homeless to be free, so they have to – if you can’t think – if you can’t forsee in stack how to get around obstacles, they’re going to always fall, but the one thing that I want policy makers and program providers to understand is that, each prisoner has created a plan, whether they wrote it down or it’s mental.  If you can get them to open up and try to help them stick to their plan, I think it would better their chances of success.  Like I wanted to go into the arts.  There are no arts programs right now for ex-offenders.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  So that means, my task, my journey probably was a little bit harder because I had to do it on my own, but I was willing to be homeless to be free.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  So, again, I would say, for programs that could help a individual think.  Another thing is the college system back into the prison system.  That was a kind of an eye opener to me to let me know that I had transferrable skills because when I was in the college program, I was taking up business management, and they were talking about distribution, and I was like, I know distribution.  Supply and demand, you know, from the street life.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Lamont Carey:  But what school allowed to happen was, it showed me that I wasn’t as inexperienced as I thought I was.  So – and I thought – it’s been said that, a person that gets a degree in prison is less likely to re-offend.

Len Sipes:  It’s probably, out of all the research, the best strategy that we have.  That people who come out of prison with an associates of arts degree or a bachelors degree have the lowest rate of recidivism, bar none.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And when I say the lowest rate of recidivism, I’m talking about saving tax payers literally millions upon millions of dollars, and saving victims of crime from being re-victimized, so when I use those words recidivism, that’s what I’m talking about.  Go ahead.

Lamont Carey:  So, those are two things, and since the parole officer is really our first interaction after the immediate family.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  It’s being taught in prison by guys and females that have been sent back to prison for parole violations, so they say, “The parole officer is out to get them, right?”

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  So even for me, when I came home, I was on edge with the parole officer, because I’ve been told, that’s all they’re trying to do is send me back to prison, and so, that misinformation has to be broken.  It has to be explained to the individual, chances are, the most you going to see your parole officer in your first 16 weeks, well at least in DC, is like three times a week.

Len Sipes:  Right.  There’s a lot of contact in DC.

Lamont Carey:  But that is only for like, I think the longest I think I’ve been inside with my parole officer, unless I was running my mouth, was 10 minutes.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  So we’re talking about 30 minutes out of a week –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  One hour out of one day, so, you giving up one hour out of 23 hours.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  Most of the time, all the parole officer said is, have you had any re-arrests?  Have you been getting high?  Do you have a job?  You answer those questions, and move on.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  And so, I think parole officers have to first understand that that’s how the individual is looking at them, as an enemy, because that’s what we’re taught.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Lamont Carey:  So I think the best way to break through that is parole officers saying, “What is it that you really want to do?”

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  My job is to make sure the public stays safe.  That you transition, that you get a job and all that, but what kind of job do you really want?

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  Because when I first met my parole officer, I’m sure when he asked me what kind of job that I really want, I said, it doesn’t matter, and I said that so that the parole officer won’t see me as a troubled person.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  But that ain’t my truth.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  My truth is that I ain’t going to work construction, but I’m not trying to start off this relationship on bad terms.

Len Sipes:  You want to game the parole officer.

Lamont Carey:  Right, right.  When I game them, I just don’t want to be beefing with them.

Len Sipes:  Right, right.  Sure, sure.

Lamont Carey:  So I’m going to say –

Len Sipes:  And the way to do that is to say as little as humanly possible, nod your head up and down, you go yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t worry man, I’ll do it.

Lamont Carey:  But if the parole officer say, “Okay, Mr. Carey, I understand that you have to get a job.  It’s my responsibility to make sure that I’m encouraging you to get a job, but what kind of job is it that you really want so that when you go out and apply for jobs, you not only just applying for jobs at retail stores or low end stores, but you also are applying for jobs that you really want to work at.”

Len Sipes:  Right.  Now what happens – so there’s a plan – I’m writing all of this stuff down, the plan in prison, and that it would be nice if there were programs in prison for mental health, substance abuse, and a person without job training actually got job training.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And a person who wanted a college program could go to a college program although that carries tremendous controversy.  In Maryland, whenever we talked about college programs, we’d get a hundred angry letters and phone calls, basically saying, I can’t forward to send my kid to college.

Lamont Carey:  And that’s understandable.  That’s truly understandable.

Len Sipes:  Why am I giving this guy who stuck a gun in somebody’s head and threatened to pull the trigger and took money from them?  Why am I giving him a college education out of my pocket, but I can’t – so there are controversies involved –

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  But we know that the better.  The more training, collegiate programs, therapy programs, that you have in the prison system, the better prepared you’re coming out, and to have a realistic plan is to deal realistically with the probation officer, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia.  What else do people need to know?

Lamont Carey:  Another thing is, is who they – who they come home to.  I know, for me, when it was time for me to go up for parole, I had to give a address to where I was going to be staying, and for me, that wasn’t the actual address where I was going to be staying, but, I’m going to give you what I’m going to give you so I can come home.

Len Sipes:  Right, you got to live somewhere.

Lamont Carey:  And so the problem, the problem that I see with a lot of individuals is that they meet something in prison.  They meet a girl, or dude in prison, and they be paroled to those people, and they have never lived with those people.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  And so they find out they can’t live together.  They not getting along, so that creates a problem, and now I’m rushing because I need to find additional housing, so if you can set up something where the person to return to society has housing, maybe a transitional home.  A transitional home, I think, would actually be better than a lot of places that people are staying.

Len Sipes:  You need a legal place to live because if the guy comes out and the sister takes him in and suddenly he’s a beef with the sister, or the sister’s husband, and he needs to go some place legal for three weeks, there’s some plays legal for three weeks.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Okay, what else.

Lamont Carey:  Um, now, for the sub-abuse people, it’s kind of hard for me, because I’ve never dealt with that, but I do know individuals who have, was addicted to drugs before prison, but didn’t use drugs the whole time in prison.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  And so when they come home, they again to use drugs again.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  So they got to find out, like what are those triggers?  What are those triggers? and the only way you going to find that out – again the parole officer, the parole officer is the person that can get the information to actually do something with it.

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh.

Lamont Carey:  But there has to be a relationship established, an open relationship where I can trust my parole officer.

Len Sipes:  Isn’t that hard?  I mean the parole officer has got this large case load, I mean not in DC.  We’ve got some of the best case loads in the country, but throughout the country, you’ve got huge case loads.  How are you going to establish that relationship with that person?  He doesn’t trust you.  You don’t trust him.  How do you get to that point where you help out each other?

Lamont Carey:  Well, another good thing about DC is the faith-based community.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Lamont Carey:  So when I came to my parole officer, the next thing I know, they were sending me over to a church.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  Meeting with a guy, Jean Groves, and Miss Keels.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  And so, they had, they took the time to say, “Lamont, what is it that you really want to do?”  And I was looking – I, I must want to work, so they said, “Okay, I’m going to call.”  They called the restaurant and got a job at the restaurant.  That last 24 hours because I didn’t really want to work for nobody, I wanted to work on my own, so after that experience, they were like “Okay Lamont, what is it that you really want to do?”  And so I told them, this is what I really want to do.  I want to work for myself and so when I convey that to my parole officer, and my parole officer said, well Mr. Carey, you have to be working to be in the street, and so you need to start a company where you going to be able to pay yourself, or you need to get a job, and so I went, and I started a LLC, LaCarey Entertainment, and I started off with something simple, selling socks on the corner, and I just kept taking that money, turning that money over, using the profit to reinvest, and then eventually I went into the studio and recorded a CD.

Len Sipes:  The faith based program we have here in the District of Columbia is also one of the largest in the country and having people who truly, who volunteer to come to your aid to be a mentor.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  That has helped a lot of guys, and a lot of people cross that bridge.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  It’s an amazing program.  All right.  What else?  We’re in the final minutes of the program.  We got about three minutes left.

Lamont Carey:  Okay.  The next thing, for parole officers, when you got a guy or female that you have you gone problems with, I think if we open up and create a situation where they can go talk to the young people because all of us want to give back.

Len Sipes:  Yep.

Lamont Carey:  Like you said, all the guys and the females you talk to want to give back, so if you give us an opportunity.  Instead of sending us back to prison, make us do some community service at a youth facility or somewhere where we’re telling them about – if you keep going down that road, this is where you’ll end up, because nobody is going to say, “Go out and get high.”  Most of the time, they’re going to try to show themselves in a good light, and it’s going to be connected back to what they said they wanted to do in prison.

Len Sipes:  All right.  What about all of the issues that I started off with this second half of the program.  I mean, most people aren’t getting drug treatment.  Most people aren’t getting mental health.  I mean you’re letting us off the hook here.  I mean, there’s got to be programs.  You know, if a guy comes out and he’s schizophrenic, and he comes out of the prison system, that medication is going to keep him, in many ways, out of prison.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Keep him out of trouble, keep him from hurting something.  I mean there’s got to be some sort of program set up where that person’s getting their medication.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  There’s got to be some sort of setup where somebody is knocking on his door, saying, “Are you taking your medication?”

Lamont Carey:  Well, I think even people that suffer from severe mental illness, that have never been in prison, they’re pushing them out on the street.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Lamont Carey:  So there’s going to have to be another look taken at that because I haven’t really experienced that.  It’s hard for me to say, but even I had issues.  I became an introvert.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Lamont Carey:  You know what I’m saying?  In my apartment, everything that I need was in one room, and I got a whole empty house, so again, the parole officer is probably the person.

Len Sipes:  Final minute of the program.  How people – what is fair in terms of how people look at you?  They look at you as a criminal coming out of the prison system.  You look at yourself as something else.

Lamont Carey:  Right.

Len Sipes:  What’s fair?  What should the rest of us know about people coming out of the prison system?  How should we view them because if you watch television, and if you watch Hard Time and if you watch Lock-Up, I mean, you don’t want to touch anybody who is coming out of the prison system with a 10-foot pole.  How should people – what’s fair in terms of how people should see you?

Lamont Carey:  Well, I think they should look at themselves.  We’ve all made mistakes, and now I came home.  You can’t judge me by my past, but you can, but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I’m going to do regardless if you look at me like a criminal.  I’m still going to be and do what it is that Lamont Carey is going to be, and that’s successful.

Len Sipes:  Lamont Carey, it’s a blast having you.  I want to have you back in six months and find out where you’re going with all these programs.  Lamont Carey.  WWW.LAMONTCAREY.COM.  Currently, with all the other things that he’s done, he has a book, The Hill, his journey through prison and Outside the Gate, which is a work in progress, a video in progress.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Thanks again for all of your cards, letters, emails, telephone calls, and suggestions.  Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Pretrial Supervision and Treatment-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic is pretrial and treatment in pretrial and one of the main points that I want to make from the very beginning is the fact that where we have two million people in the present system throughout this country, we have  many millions more who are involved in the pretrial process.  They are arrested, they go through the pretrial process and this whole concept of treatment within pretrial, actually from a sheer numerical point of view, takes on much greater importance than those—than the discussion of treatment within the correctional setting.  There are literally millions of people going through the arrest process, going through the pretrial process, all throughout the United States and my guess is that the vast majority of them do not receive treatment of any kind by their pretrial agency.  To talk about this issue, we have two principals.  One is Terrence Walton, he is the Director of Treatment; and two, is Michael McGinnis, he is the Deputy Director of Treatment.  Both represent the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia and they’re my sister agency for the court services and a federal supervision agency.  Pretrial Services is a federal agency like we are at CSOSA.  And to Terrence and to Michael, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Michael McGinnis:  Well, thank you, Len, good to be here.

Terrence Walton:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  All right, gentlemen, first of all, Michael, let’s go and set some basics up.  The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia does what?

Terrence Walton:  Why don’t I take that one if I could?

Michael McGinnis:  Yeah, go ahead.

Terrence Walton:  I’ll take it, all right.  Listen, the agency does a lot and it’s hard to capture it but essentially we’re responsible for two big tasks. The biggest task is and the first task is to assist the court in making release decisions. So when a defendant is arrested and is being considered for release, Pretrial Services conducts an interview, reviews criminal history, talks with the defendant directly, talks sometimes with collaterals to get a sense of who we have, and then recommends to the court either release or detention.  And if they’re going to be released, the many of them we recommend they be released with certain conditions that they must comply with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  That’s our first big task, helping the court make good release decisions.

Len Sipes:  And a good release decision is based principally upon two things:  A) risk to public safety and B) whether or not the defendant will return for trial, do I have that right?

Terrence Walton:  That’s exactly right, that’s exactly right.  There’s lots of ways to say it, but those are the two big things. We don’t want them to jump bail, we don’t want them to disappear and we also don’t want a subsequent arrest if we can help prevent that.

Len Sipes:  And you’re talking about conditions of supervision.  There are many conditions of supervision.  You could put the person under GPS surveillance; have the person constantly being tracked.  There’s a lot of reporting requirements for that person and the treatment component, the very reason why we’re doing the program today, could be a component of pretrial release, it could be a condition of pretrial release.

Terrence Walton:  That is exactly right and in fact, because a significant number of defendants who are arrested in DC are testing positive for drugs or report drug use—in fact it’s about 33% of the adult population test positive for some drug other than marijuana.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  We don’t test for marijuana at lockup, so if we did, it would be twice that number.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  But we’ve talked about cocaine, heroin, PCP, amphetamines.

Len Sipes:  The drugs with the largest correlation to serious crime.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right, 33% of our population will test positive for that coming in the door and that’s 60% of the juveniles will test positive for some drug, and in that case it’s almost always marijuana.  So the size of those populations and for many of those adults, we’re recommending release conditions that include requirements that they drug test and that’s done by our agency and processed in our own lab, as well as other release conditions.  And that’s really the second big task.  The first big task is recommending release conditions.  And the second big task is supervising those conditions and keeping the court aware of how the defendant’s doing.  But I think Michael will agree with this, that it’s not simply just us overseeing and reporting what happens.  Pretrial Services is involved in trying to help motivate defendants, help them do the right thing, figure out their obstacles that will keep them from being able to comply and help them solve those problems.  So we see—we respond to the court, we have a law enforcement responsibility but we’re very much centered on the needs of the defendant and how best we can meet those needs in a way that helps them to do the right thing.

Len Sipes:  Well, Michael, the question goes over to you now.  For many people involved in the criminal justice system, they have mental health issues.

Michael McGinnis:  Um-hm.

Len Sipes:  How do we expect that individual to do well under pretrial or do well under any sort of supervision, whether they come over to us after they’re found guilty—how are they going to do well unless they get the treatment they need to stabilize themselves and to deal with their mental health issues, correct?  I mean, it does come down to that level of basics.

Michael McGinnis:  It definitely does and one of the things that we have here at the Pretrial Services, our Specialized Supervision Unit, and this is a unit that after a defendant is assessed and would be found perhaps with a current issue and they would meet the requirements of this unit, this is a unit that would—specializes in working with that population.

Len Sipes:  Um-hm.

Michael McGinnis:   So they could either be—they would get them immediately connected into a mental health program and a substance abuse program if needed.  If they were going to move them on to a mental health community court, you know, for diversion, that would be part of their job.  But all the PSOs that work in there have a background in working with this population.

Len Sipes:  And PSOs are?

Michael McGinnis:  Pretrial Service Officers.

Len Sipes:  Okay, fine, thanks.

Michael McGinnis:  Right, have a background on this unit and a great interest in working with this current population.  Which has, since I’ve been in this field and it’s been over 20 years working in this field, is this population is probably our most increasing population.

Len Sipes:  Um-hm, yeah, no doubt about it.

Michael McGinnis:  We had, when I started with pretrial, we had one unit, an SSU unit, that’s a Special Supervision Unit, and now, because of need, we have two.  So we have almost 18 Pretrial Services offices serving over 661 people in the program.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.  Terrence, give me a sense as to all the other treatment programs that you guys put on the table for people.

Terrence Walton:  Yeah, Michael mentioned the mental health component.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  We also have a unit that does nothing but assesses. We have a social services assessment center that assesses men and women who are released and even those who are being considered for release, we conduct both addiction assessments as well as mental health assessments from that shop.  Once we identify individuals who need treatment, there are really three big options for them, drug treatment.  One is the drug court program, which is the Superior Court Drug Intervention Program, a pretrial program that has been around since 1993.

Len Sipes:  A successful program that’s been noted nationally.

Terrence Walton:  Absolutely and one of the first ever to show up on the scene.  That’s the program of choice.  It has a complete regimen of incentives and sanctions, a single calendar, lots of contact with the judge

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  Lots of opportunities for people to get the help that they need.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  For those—for folks that don’t qualify for drug court because of criminal history or some other disqualifier, we have another program called New Directions, which they can get the same treatment as a drug court defendant. The court supervision isn’t as close because these defendants are on various different calendars and they are incentives and sanctions, but while in drug court, there are both judicial sanctions, sanctions that come from the bench, from the judge as well as administrative sanctions, the ones that come from the supervision officer.  In New Directions, all sanctions are administrative, all administered by the supervising officer.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  Those are the two main programs.  There’s one other option.  Sometimes individuals are not eligible for New Directions either because they’re about to go to sentencing perhaps or some other reason.  We have another track for those, where we’ll put them in treatment somewhere, temporarily, under a sanction contract, primarily to prepare for a transition to CSOSA probation, to probation here in the city.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  So those are the three big options and they are all based on treatment needs.

Len Sipes:  So in essence it is a combination of either substance abuse or mental health, and Michael, these are all, I’m assuming, cognitive-based programs where we help the decision-making process of the individuals involved in the criminal justice system.  I mean, a lot of people don’t quite understand cognitive treatment but we really can, and the research is pretty clear on this, we really can intervene in the lives of other human beings and help them rethink their decision-making process.

Michael McGinnis:  Right, that’s the key word.  I mean, helping someone rethink what they’re doing.  You know, a lot of people that come in when they’re in the throes of an addition or they’re in this mode of what I call concrete-type thinking, that they’re repeating something over and over and getting the same result.  You know, especially in our treatment program, which is our PSA STARS program, most all of our interventions are of the cognitive, behavioral kind.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael McGinnis:   But what’s also important, I just wanted to speak to a point that Terrence was talking about.  In two of our programs, in the New Directions programs and in the drug court programs, the Pretrial Service offices that involved in those programs, they’re not only Pretrial Service offices, they’re also licensed clinicians and licensed substance abuse counselors.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael McGinnis:   So they’re providing not only the supervision but they’re also providing the clinical services, and that’s very unique to that program because they have a key perspective in working with the offender.

Len Sipes:  Well, that’s one of the points that I wanted to make.  Gentlemen, let’s cut to the chase. We are not just talking about pretrial in the District of Columbia; we’re talking about pretrial throughout the United States.

Michael McGinnis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Well, for that matter, we’re talking about pretrial in the western industrialized world.  Same situations for Canada, same situations for England, same situations for Australia, New Zealand, France.  These are all the same issues that everybody is wrestling with throughout the country.  We, in the District of Columbia, because we’re a federal agency, we have resources that the overwhelming majority of pretrial agencies do not have.  To my knowledge, the overwhelming majority of pretrial agencies don’t have a dime for treatment.  They have to put this person into a waiting list someplace and that person could wait quite some time before they get involved in treatment and for the love of heavens, they could have their trial before every get involved in treatment.  So there is that difference, we have to admit that right up front, correct?

Terrence Walton:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, the second thing is that you can tell within the stats.  I mean, we have one of the best return to trial rates in the United States.  Our stats are quite good.  And probably one of the reasons why they’re good is that we do have people involved in treatment programs because the research is abundantly clear it can’t just be a matter of supervision.  As I said to Michael at the very beginning, if you have somebody with a mental health problem, they need treatment.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So if you combine treatment with supervision, you get better results.

Terrence Walton:  I think that’s right.  And Len, I want to add one other I think difference between what we have here in DC and what exists elsewhere in the country that doesn’t cost any money and that is, we have a Bail Act.  We have a statute that really supports Pretrial Services.  Most folks don’t know this but there are very few bail bondsmen in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  Are there any?

Terrence Walton:  Very few.  There may be one or two but there are very few.  Because Pretrial Services as an industry, as a field I should say, has a belief in pretrial justice, essentially saying that if an individual needs to be detained, if they’re dangerous, they should be detained regardless of ability to pay.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  And if they don’t need to be detained, if they’re not a danger to society, then it’s fundamentally unfair for them to be held merely because they can’t afford to post bond.  So instead, we have a Bail Act, which heavily encourages the court to consider release of those who are safe to release with conditions, that pretrial supervises, that helps to assure public safety and return to court.  And that doesn’t cost money, that takes political will and it takes advocacy and it takes being able to battle the interest groups that wouldn’t like that.

Len Sipes:  Well, it does take come money because I would imagine judges sitting on the Superior Court for the District of Columbia know that there are treatment options, know that there are GPS options for following that person 24 hours a day if necessary, know that our staffing levels are probably lower than most pretrial agencies throughout the country.  My guess would be that the judge within the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia, they would be more apt to release a person on pretrial because they know they’re going into a top-rated organization that generally speaking does an excellent job of returning that person to trial

Michael McGinnis:  And I agree with you 100% and they also know that when a substance abuse problem is identified or a mental health issue is identified and is treated, the failure to appear and the re-arrest rates go down with the population that we’re working with.

Len Sipes:  Right, so they have –

Michael McGinnis:  And that is very big.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, and if a judge in Milwaukee wants to put the person on pretrial, I would imagine he or she is going to say, well, you know, well, they were handling cases of 200 to 1, 200 defendants to 1 Pretrial Services officer, they have on room for treatment, gee, I’d better stick this person in jail.  So I would imagine that you save the system money as well as have a higher rate of success.

Terrence Walton:  Well that’s exactly right.  I mean, some of us are motivated by the fact that it seems fundamentally fairer to do it this way, but others, the reality is, is it saves money. That if we can allow a person to stay in their community and at the meantime address their pro-social needs, we save in jail costs.  That’s another important point.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today are Terrence Walton, he’s the Director of Treatment; and Michael McGinnis, the Deputy Director of Treatment for the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia, a federal agency.  The website is:  As I move throughout the country and as I talk to my counterparts throughout the country, they ask about Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.  It’s one of the best-known pretrial agencies in the country and having one of the best reputations.  Principally I think, because we have a level of funding that so many other agencies simply do not have and the level of training and a level—you’re just a good agency and I think people recognize that within the criminal justice system throughout the country.  Alright, where do we go to from here?  So the average person in the District of Columbia, the average person in Milwaukee—why am I bringing up Milwaukee so many times today?  The average person in Honolulu, the average person in Anchorage, Alaska says to themselves, the police finally got this idiot who’s been bothering the community and three hours later, he’s back on the street.  Where is the justice in that?  So you guys face that issue all the time.  I mean, we have to hit that square, that nail squarely on the head and what people don’t understand is that they are defendants, they are not offenders and within our system, you are not guilty until you’re proven guilty, correct?

Michael McGinnis:  That’s correct.

Terrence Walton:  No, that’s right, and you know, there’s a balance here, that there’s a constitutional presumption of innocence and that means that unlike convicted offenders, the individuals who have not yet actually been convicted of their offense, have certain rights, and that we go to great effort to be sure that we’re using the least restrictive means possible to assure community safety.  Now I want to put a caveat there because we respect the presumption of innocence, but recognize the possibility of guilt.  And so because of that second piece, that’s the reason why we also assess criminal history, we assess the seriousness of the charge so that in the event this person is guilty, how serious is this, and that is factored into our recommendations.

Len Sipes:  And you’re not talking about a short assessment, you’re talking about a rather lengthy, well thought-out assessment in terms of trying to get at that person’s risk to the community and that person’s treatment needs and that person’s past criminal history.  I mean, it’s a pretty complete overview that you do with that individual.  When you make those recommendations to the court, you probably know more about that person than his kid brother.

Terrence Walton:  Well, that may be true and it happens in a couple of stages.  There was the initial stage, pre-release, where we do a comprehensive interview and review the records that we have to make initial decisions.  But also other factors are considered there, that there are sometimes prosecutors who have positions and defense attorneys who have information, that’s all presented to the court as they’re making a release decision.  Once the defendant is released, if he or she is released to our supervision, then if we have any reason to think they need one, we do an additional assessment, a clinical needs assessment that’s designed to look at both treatment needs, at mental health needs as well as social service needs.

Len Sipes:  And many people caught up in the criminal justice system do have needs.  I mean, there was a piece of research out a little while ago and now—I remarked on Milwaukee or kept bringing Milwaukee up a little while ago, now I’m bringing mental health back up—that 55%, according to a Department of Justice document, 55% of people called up in the criminal justice system self-assess or assess themselves.  It was not a political designation but they did a self-assessment as having mental health issues.  So this issue of mental health is something that is really driving much of our service component within the criminal justice system, assuming we have the programs there to service them to begin with.

Michael McGinnis:   I think unfortunately, our prisons have been used as our mental health treatment centers in this country and as you’re saying, most people, when they—  To go back, I just want to go back to what you were talking about—

Len Sipes:  Please, please, Michael.

Michael McGinnis: -our funding here.  It’s not only that we have the funding to provide these services.  Our Director, Susan Shaffer, is also a real believer in the treatment of the offender that comes in and she puts a lot of her energies and times into this.  And it really is a big piece of our agency because before I came to pretrial, I’d been running programs for alternatives to incarcerations, therapeutic communities.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael McGinnis:  Taking programs behind the wall.  And people are just cycling in and out of these, of our prisons without having these issues identified.

Len Sipes:  But that’s the fundamental problem because I’ve talked to my peers throughout the country and they’re going to go, Leonard, I hear you on your daggone radio programs and you focus on public safety first, but you say that you have to have these treatment components because the research is clear that supervision doesn’t work unless you have a treatment component, and I got news for you, Leonard, I don’t have a dime for treatment.  You know, but I want that person to get mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, if I want to find some assistance in terms of that person getting work or getting occupational training, I’ve go to put him in a long line, where that person basically waits for months, unless I get a court order to move that person to the head of the line.  There’s a lot of frustration out there, we all believe in treatment, we all believe in that component being necessary, but most of us don’t have the money for it.

Terrence Walton:  Well, there’s no easy answer to that.  What many communities have done is done the best they can to leverage the resources that exist.  There is professional treatment, there are faith-based organizations, there are peer support groups, which isn’t formal treatment, but it can sometimes do the same job.  There are lots of options in most communities, especially around alcohol and drug issues, for people who need help to get some of that.  You know, I also encourage—there continues to be federal monies and state monies and grants available for organizations who have a will to go after it.  It’s just worth doing it.

Michael McGinnis:   I think it’s—but it’s a great point, Terrence, because you and I were just kind of talking about this earlier this morning, is the whole field is moving more towards this recovery-orientated system of care, where we’re kind of looking at some—that treatment, that line for treatment is different for everyone and there are many options, like faith-based options, there are community options, I think a lot of these other pretrial service organizations that might not have the funding, you know, to have their own treatment centers or put people in treatment—they need to look to these community organizations, to start partnering with these community organizations in hopes of linking their offenders up to services.

Len Sipes:  Well, and everybody’s got to come together and make this a priority.  I mean, there is limited treatment monies available, but as you all have said, I mean, there’s the Salvation Army, there’s the faith-based community, there are private individuals, there are people who will do this on a pro bono basis.  You’ve got to have the will to go out there and make those connections and that becomes extraordinarily important.  But I do believe that again, one of the reasons why we do as well as we do is because look at the two of you—I mean, we have the Director and Assistant Director of Treatment for a pretrial agency.  I mean, there are people, organizations out there that would kill to have a Terrence Walton and a Michael McGinnis sitting before their microphones.

Terrence Walton:  Well, Len, you know, it starts with the will though.  I mean, it starts with the desire, recognition that it’s important, that it’s necessary. And I want to take a minute to share something with our listeners that I think is important, that helps to underscore why it’s so important that we address the underlying issues of men and women who come through our systems.  The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a really collection of physicians who practice addiction medicine and who sort of govern the field and give us guidance and space on research and medicine to help us understand addiction and addition recovery.  And they’ve recently come out with a new policy statement that we don’t have time to go over—I hope people will go to to see more details.  But they’ve given for the first time a policy statement defining addiction.  And let me give you the most interesting piece of that to me, that they have defined addition primarily as a brain disease, a disease that affects a couple of major systems in the brain.  One is the reward system, as well as the command center, the logic and reason system of the brain.  And here’s what important.  They have through PET scans and SPECT images and MRTs, they have been able to look at brain activity and identify deficits in those areas of active addicts. But here’s what’s interesting.  We’ve known that for a long time and we’ve assumed that it’s the drug use that has caused those problems.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  What ASAM and other researchers have discovered is that for many, probably most current addicts, those brain deficiencies existed before they ever picked up a drug.

Len Sipes:  That’s interesting.

Terrence Walton:  It might have been genetic or as a result of traumatic life experiences growing up that changed the –

Len Sipes:  A biological predisposition.

Terrence Walton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  That biological predisposition, by the way, is clearly there established for alcoholism as well.

Terrence Walton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  So why wouldn’t that biological predisposition be there for substance abuse.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right.  So there’s the biological piece as well as the environmental that they have done studies on monkeys and others that—and I wish I had time to tell you about one—but where they demonstrated that by changing the environmental situation, by depriving organisms of nurturing and affiliation, that they change their brains.

Len Sipes:  Give the public a sense of hope here because I’ve said that the research is abundantly clear.  They do better with a combination of supervision.  And we’re not leaving out the supervision component.  Whether that person’s in treatment or not, we still supervise that person to the best of our availability and that could include, again GPS supervision where we track them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  We’re not leaving out the supervision component.  And sometimes supervision is an integral part of treatment.  Sometimes that supervision officer, their first question is, are you taking your medication, are you going to treatment?  Well, we know whether they’re going to treatment regardless.  So sometimes that supervision component is an integral part of the treatment component but the bottom line is, to the public who, you know, say to themselves, you know, look, I’ve got schools underfunded, I’ve got the elderly to take care of, you’re talking about treatment for criminals for the love of heavens—defendants, I understand.  You know, we have to give them a sense of hope that what we do is successful and not only in the life of that individual, but we are protecting them by doing this and we’re doing that correct?

Michael McGinnis:  Well, of course we are.  I mean, I think as we all know here, there’s not enough jail cells across this country to put people in and treating people is a lot less expensive than putting people behind—

Len Sipes:  So it’s going to save them their taxpaying dollars.

Michael McGinnis:  There’s studies out for every dollar that’s invested in treatment.  There’s a savings of $4 on that individual.

Len Sipes:  And years ago, Rand said it was 7 to 1.

Michael McGinnis:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  We’re also protecting public safety though.

Michael McGinnis:  Right.

Len Sipes:  I mean, that is a message that needs to be put on the table that their life is going to be safer if we provide substance abuse treatment or mental health treatment.

Terrence Walton:  If you don’t treat an addict, if you simply incarcerate an addict, when they come out eventually, and the vast majority of men and women who are incarcerated are eventually released.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  They will still be an addict.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  And so all of the problems that causes to our property and our lives and well-being will just continue.  It is a smart investment to see if we can address those issues and the justice system is helpful because it gives—holds people accountable and it gives them a little external motivation to stick with it, to go to the groups, to take the medicine until it kicks in naturally.  It’s an essential component.

Len Sipes:  But get back to the public safety point again because I do want to keep hammering this point home.  If the person doesn’t do well, the person doesn’t go to treatment, doesn’t take their medication, is not enthusi—well, not enthusiastically involved—is not meaningfully involved in the treatment process, we go back to the court and they could choose to incarcerate that person until trial.

Terrence Walton:  Well, that’s right, there’s some whose releases are revoked based on a decision that they are a danger to society if they aren’t treated successfully.  And there’s also in the drug court, there’s a number of other possible sanctions short of incarceration that’s designed to punish the behavior quickly and briefly and encourage them to get back on track.

Len Sipes:  And motivate them all at the same time.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  To get back on the track.  Okay, final minute of the program.  We save the public, the research states that we save the public a ton of money through the treatment and supervision process, number two that we enhance public safety, their odds of being victimized by this individual are greatly decreased, so we do that.  What am I missing, what is the final word on what the public needs to hear?

Terrence Walton:  Oh, I guess the final word would be that this matters to each and every one of us, that most of us have been affected by addiction and crime, one way or the other and this is a good, wise investment for anyone who cares about this.  And I encourage communities out there to do the best they can to make it happen.

Len Sipes:  Terrence, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today, Terrence Walton, Director of Treatment and Michael McGinnis, the Deputy Director of Treatment of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.  It’s a federal agency,  The program that Terrence mentioned in terms of drug standards, substance abuse standards,  Ladies and gentlemen again, this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate your calls, we appreciate your letters, we appreciate your emails and we appreciate your guidance and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]