Archives for April 2, 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 premiere nonpartisan research organizations in the United States.  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 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 a piece of research called Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry 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 in 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:  All right, Nancy, I said that you’re nonpartisan, that you’re extraordinarily well-known.  None of that, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration in any of that but from your lips, the Urban Institute does what?

Nancy La Vigne:  The Urban Institute was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan 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 10 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 reentry is one of the cornerstones of our research portfolio in the Justice Policy Center.

Len Sipes:  You’ve looked at law enforcement practices, correctional practices, heck, you’ve even looked at cameras, speed cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  Ah, public surveillance cameras.

Len Sipes:  Public surveillance cameras.  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 the opportunity to talk to you.  But this particular piece of research, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, you’re talking about a piece of research, and for the layperson out there, there’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 experiences of women and 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 of the job training…

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

Len Sipes:  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 bit by explaining the impetuous 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 less likely to return to prison.”  That’s what I call recidivism studies, but no one had really done a reentry study, understanding that reentry 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 reentry success and failure, and the only way to do that is to interview people behind bars and track them in the community after they’re released and interview them in the community as well.  So much of the data that helps us explain reentry success or failure has to come from the people who are experiencing reentry.

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:  The 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 reentry as well as service providers who are supporting their successful reentry.  So I think there’s a lot to be said about the experiences of women that perhaps is understudied because when we think of reentry 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 over time so even though they’re a small population, they’re an increasing population and their experiences are different, as we’ll discuss, in ways that I think have relevance for the development of reentry 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 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’s 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 said, “Do you really want this to go out on the air?  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’d say, “Yes.  I want to this to go out.  I want to talk about this.”

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  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 this story is told.  It’s as if we’re afraid 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 child abuse specific to women who end up being in the criminal justice system but I expect 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 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 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.’  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 percent.

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:  It definitely makes it more difficult for women.  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.

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

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.

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:  Yes, for certain.  Particularly when it comes to substance abuse.  Women were more likely to engage in substance abuse following their release and we knew 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 things 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 they had much greater histories in 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.

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 a policy in practice just to know that you can make a difference by giving these women more access to services and treatment behind bars.  It’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.  It’s a scarce resource that’s not even well allocated.

Len Sipes:  And it should be allocated towards who?

Nancy La Vigne:  Those in most need.  The women.

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

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely.  I mean, if we’re looking at you have a reentry 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 percent of men.  So we’re not just saying that there is a disparity between use.  We’re talking about huge disparity with use.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s a huge disparity.  Now, the heroin use statistics may be unique to Baltimore, which historically had a heroin – again, that doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding but still 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’ve read somewhere along the line that women do better in treatment programs than male offenders.  Considering the fact that they’re 80 percent, I think, this is the figure that I’ve read, so just say somewhere between 60 and 80 percent, 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 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 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 dove 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 are very different.  For men, it was usually either a senior, maternal figure in their lives: a grandmother, an aunt, or a significant other, a 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 onto 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 to, ladies and gentlemen, Nancy La Vigne.  She’s the director of the Policy Justice Center, the Justice Policy Center, I’m sorry, for the Urban Institute here at Washington DC,  So as 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 their incarcerated the better they do when they get out, correct?

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

Len Sipes:  Right.  If there’s a continuous line of communication while they’re behind bars, that paves the way for more communication, more interaction, more 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, I think it’s in Pennsylvania, and some of them as far as Texas.

Len Sipes:  And West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas, but they are spread out all over the place.  But even in 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 is not easy to get to.  From the Baltimore, Prince George’s 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.  It’s very difficult.  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 for prisoners at all.

Len Sipes:  Really?  Really?

Nancy La Vigne:  Which is stunning.  So it was mostly letters.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing!

Nancy La Vigne:  I believe that has since changed, although in other states, other jurisdictions, you will hear complaints about the high cost of toll calls and it’s actually attacks 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 wrongheaded to create barriers to contact with prisoners and their family members just to generate resources to serve them.  It’s almost like you’re doing – they go against each other, those two efforts.

Len Sipes:  I think it’s the state of Washington, and I’ve read this just within the last couple of days, is they’re 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 felons as well and it’s something that I would recommend as a great compromise given the distance.  It’s 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 just 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 hurts them upon release.  I mean, it just keeps going on and on and on in terms of disparities between males and females.

Nancy La Vigne:  And that’s right.  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 histories 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 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 reentry 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.  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.  Most of us these days, and I say us, you and I, Leonard, are really immersed in this issue of prisoner reentry talk about a holistic approach.  You can’t really just tackle prisoner reentry by looking at one thing.  Certainly, employment is critical.  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 percent of men had jobs lined up.  17 percent of women had jobs lined up before leaving.  In the prison system 61 percent were employed upon leaving, men.  37 percent 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.  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 a better track record.

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 benefitting 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.  70 percent of the women that I encountered were wonderful compared to maybe 30 percent 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, give me the tools, it can 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 and getting back to that topic, clearly 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 did better on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Right.  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:  Make no mistake, just having a child doesn’t give you that stake.  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.  Someone else is 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, what’s important to them, where they want to go, most of the individuals I’ve 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 U.K. looking at fathers and trying to get them more bonding with their children prior to their release that suggest 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 incredibly different place between men and women.  Final couple 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 reentry 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 or 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 reentry programs that are 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 it can save states, literally, tens of billions of dollars.

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

Len Sipes:  Nancy La Vigne, a director of The Justice Policy Center of 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]


Action Plan for Reentry in DC-Criminal Justice Coordinating Council-DC Public Safety

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  The title for today’s program is “An Action Plan for Reentry in Washington, DC.”  There’s going to be a meeting on Thursday, February 9th at the old City Council chamber, 441 Fourth Street, from 6-8 PM.  There will be information on the website for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council,  I’ll give that out several times throughout the course of the program, and what we’re looking at today, ladies and gentlemen, is the reentry committee’s report.  The reentry committee from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council created a series of recommendations and we’re here today to talk about those recommendations.  We have three principles with us today, Cedric Hendricks, the Associate Director of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We have Charles Thornton, the Director of the Office on Returning Citizen Affairs, and we have Chris Shorter, Chief of Staff, Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, and gentlemen, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Charles Thornton:  Thank you.

Chris Shorter:  Thank you very much.

Len Sipes:  Cedric, give us an overview of the work of the council, please.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, we have the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which is a body that consists of all of the principles from the criminal justice agencies of the District of Columbia, and that’s the federal agencies as well as the District of Columbia governmental agencies, and one of the working committees of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is the Reentry Steering Committee, and it has been co-chaired by myself and Charles Thornton.  Now most significantly, in December of 2010, our steering committee convened a city-wide reentry strategic planning summit and pulled together citizens from across the District of Columbia along with government representatives, faith community representatives, and we launched into a discussion of reentry and attempted to identify the challenges associated with it that needed to be addressed in order to create an environment in the District of Columbia where more men and women could successfully return home from prison. So the outgrowth of that effort was the formation of a number of working groups to address the action items that emerged from that summit meeting.  Those work-groups were in the areas of healthcare, education and training, housing, healthcare, and juvenile reentry, and a year later we’re at the point where we have I wouldn’t say completed the work of those groups, but we have produced a report and some work product that we’re ready to share with the larger community. So the event that we are hosting on February 9th provides us with the opportunity to present our report and recommendations to the citizens of the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  Again, I want to remind everybody, February 9th at the old City Council Chamber, 441 Forth Street from 6-8 PM.  Again, information on the website of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council,  Charles Thornton, you lead the effort in terms of people coming back from the prison system into the District of Columbia.  What is your take on all this?

Charles Thornton:  Well again, as Cedric was saying, we reached out across the city and brought in, you know, the faith community, residents of District of Columbia, people who are concerned about reentry in the city, and convened this symposium and again, out of that symposium we came up with five working groups who will work on creating recommendations to move forward as a plan of action which will be the reentry plan for the District of Columbia. So involved in that plan is the District agencies, federal government agencies, as well as community partners.

Cedric Hendricks:  And let me just point out that those committee parties include returning citizens.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Right, it includes the people that have returned from prison.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, okay.

Charles Thornton:  And it’s those who have a huge impact on the – and we specifically reached out to successful re-entrants, re-entrants who have come back and they’ve successfully reentered society.  So we want to kind of look at success and duplicating success, and that’s kind of one of the recommendations that came out of the employment work group

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Chris Shorter, the Chief of Staff, Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, what is your take on all this?

Chris Shorter:  Well, let me say first that I was extremely excited to be approached to co-chair such an important work-group.  I co-chaired the work-group for juvenile reentry with Fannie Barksdale, who is the Deputy Director for Court Social Services.  We had an array of representatives from federal and District agencies in the area.  Of course, Court Social Services, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, but also the Department of Health, the office of the state superintendent of education, the Department of Mental Health, the Public Defender’s Service and, of course, representatives from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.  It was a very exciting work-group. Everyone there participated, and the agencies represented had a stake in reentry for juveniles in the district.  The work-group held focus groups with youth, families, case managers, probation officers, and they all had a lot to say about juvenile reentry in the District and how to return young people in a way that benefits the community and benefits them.  I’m excited about the recommendations and excited to continue the work of the work-group.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so the whole idea between the three of you is that everybody in the city has gotten together, the federal agencies, the DC agencies, the returning citizens, everybody, the faith-based community.  Everybody plays a piece in this.  We have an action plan moving forward.  What are some of those recommendations?

Charles Thornton:  Well, in the employment work-group, some of the recommendations – that committee was co-chaired by Charles Jones from the Department of Employment Services.  Brought a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of experience to this process, but in reference to the recommendations, one of the recommendations was that we need to definitely market the benefits of hiring returned citizens to the community, and when I say the community, I’m speaking directly to the business community, the community that hire in the District of Columbia.  There are laws that have been in the book that we haven’t been taking advantage of, tax credits.  There’s been, again, tax credits that are available for hiring returning citizens.  There’s also laws for…

Chris Shorter:  Bonding.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, there’s a bonding program, right.

Charles Thornton:  Bonding program.  Again, it’s educating the public but more importantly also arming the returning citizen with this information so when they go for interviews, they have it.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  So the whole idea is to be sure that the business community, everybody understands that there are very definite benefits in terms of hiring people who are out of the prison system, hiring people under our supervision.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay, what else, gentlemen?

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just add onto what Charles was saying because one of the other recommendations was for the creation of a model training program, and I should say that a couple of years ago, we had what I considered to be a stellar model employment training program that was focused on returning citizens.  It was called the Hospitality Training and Internship Program, and there you had collaboration of the federal government with the local government and the business community working to try and prepare people for employment opportunities in the hospitality industry.  Specifically, you had individuals who were recruited from the halfway houses, and that’s the Whole Village Halfway House for Men and the Fairview Halfway House for Women, and the recruiting was done with the assistance of the Bureau of Prisons and the halfway house staff, and then they were moved into a program that was five months in duration. The first two months of the program included classroom instruction that was provided by the University of the District of Columbia and the site for that was the Hospitality Public Charter School, and after the two months of classroom instruction, the individuals were tested and if they passed the test, they received a certification universally recognized by the hospitality industry.  Now following that, they would enter into a three-month internship at a work site within the hospitality industry.  All the while they were participating, that’s for the entire five months, they would receive a stipend that was provided by the DC Department of Employment Services, so that enabled them to sustain themselves through this training experience.  You had, of course, the CSOSA involved because many of the individuals, after leaving the halfway house, came to use for supervision.  The Hotel Association of Washington, DC was a participant in this and attempted early on to identify hotels that could provide training venues for the internships.  That program was funded for just one year.  We were able to move 60 individuals through it with some success.  I would like to see a program like that replicated, either in the hospitality industry or some other employment sector because again, what it represented was total collaboration and ultimately a successful outcome.

Len Sipes:  And I would imagine the work of the Reentry Steering Committee, the whole idea of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the whole idea is to do more of that.  The whole idea of that is to gain more partnerships within the business community, more partnerships across the board to try to gain employment and training for as many people coming out of the prison system as humanly possible, so that is the whole idea, correct?

Chris Shorter:  Absolutely, and I would say that that’s the case for adults and for juveniles.  What we found during the first six months of our work together as a working group, and that’s the juvenile reentry working group, 166 young people returned from out-of-state residential treatment centers.  Of that 166 youth, we found that they were returning from residential treatment centers to independent living programs, to group homes, to foster care homes, but the great majority – in fact, 49% of that 166 were returning home.  So it became very important in our recommendations that we articulated the types of services and supports that young people needed.  That’s including workforce development, education, and housing.  So for us, our recommendations centered around all of those young people that are coming home, and it’s a great number.

Len Sipes:  But we have economic issues within the District of Columbia as we do throughout the country, so I would imagine once again, the whole idea behind the work of the committee is to gather in as many people as humanly possible to create the partnerships to overcome obstacles of budget, right?

Cedric Hendricks:  Absolutely.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Cedric Hendricks:  And then another thing that’s important, too, is education and training.  We got a work-group that addressed that, but another deficit that we have to overcome is the skill deficit. In order for folks who have criminal histories to compete for employment, they’ve got to have skills that are valuable or marketable in this community, and we’re challenged in that – for example, I think it’s 36% of the clients that we have under supervision do not have diplomas or GEDs, which is not a good thing in a knowledge-driven labor market like this one, and while we can certainly assist people with that, you still need more in order to compete.  The benefit of that hospitality training program was that people got a certification.  There was some documented recognition of your acquisition of knowledge and skills, and we need to pursue more of that.  One of the other great programs that I think serves as a model in this town is DC Central Kitchen where they are, right now for example, recruiting for yet another class in culinary arts again in April.  We have a great number of our clients who have successfully migrated through the DC Central Kitchen training program and have gotten jobs in the restaurant industry around here.  So that program is a rigorous one.  It’s a couple of months in duration.  During the course of that, you do a couple of weeks at a restaurant perfecting your skills and then I think they have over an 80% placement rate for their graduates.  So that’s really where I think we need to invest ourselves in the future in identifying employment sectors that are open to considering individuals with criminal histories and then making sure we understand the skill sets that are required for entry into those occupational sectors and then doing our utmost working in conjunction with the other governmental partners, the faith community, and the private sector to prepare more and more people to kind of go out here and compete for knowledge-driven or skill-based jobs.

Len Sipes:  The bottom line, I think all of us would agree, is that the research is pretty clear that more individuals are hired, the less they recidivate, the less they call society.  The vast majority are parents, so they’re in a position of taking care of their kids.  I mean, this is a win-win situation for everybody.  It’s just getting through the barriers and creating more opportunities.

Cedric Hendricks:  Let me just say one of the products of the committee’s work was that in the report, you will find a listing of employment and training programs that are – well, education and training programs that are available in the District of Columbia.  There are lots of them, but what we also set out here are the age requirements, basically what one needs to know to get into these programs and who’s responsible for funding these programs. In fact, another important product – and this is going to take us into another area that our colleagues on the committee worked on – is  housing.  There is a listing of housing resources in this report, as well, that will be extremely useful to returning citizens, as well as individuals at agencies like ours who are charged with assisting them to address their abundant needs.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program.  Let me reintroduce our guests.  Cedric Hendricks, the Associate Director of the Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency, my agency; Charles Thornton, the Director of the Office on Returning Citizens, and Charles Shorter, the Chief of Staff and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.  We’re talking about a meeting that’s going to take place on February 9th at the old City Council Chamber, 441 Fourth Street, from 6-8 PM.  Information can be found at –  It’s the reentry steering committee report from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.  Alright gentlemen, will people be allowed to discuss these findings with you, debate the findings with you?  We’re encouraging the public to come to this?

Chris Shorter:  Absolutely.  It’s absolutely open to the public and we are looking forward to sort of having an open discussion about what we found.  To add to what Cedric just mentioned as far as the final report, there are a number of resources in the report that are going to be helpful not just to citizens but also to practitioners.  So part of what I mentioned earlier about us having focus groups with case managers and probation officers dealing with juveniles is just what Cedric mentioned.  They need resources.  They need to be able to refer young people to housing, education, workforce development programs.  What we found in our work is that young people returning either back into the District or returning from group homes and other out-of-home placements back home, there are a lot of great needs, and those needs are mental health, those needs are housing, those needs are education.  So how we establish appropriate linkages is extremely important.  Another resource that’s in the final report is just a full description of the reentry system that’s currently in place in the District, what kinds of programs and services are available to young people and to their parents.  Another very important aspect of the work that we did was the focus groups.  We learned from parents and from case managers and probation officers and from some extent, from the youth that we spoke to is that youth are sent away.  They are expected to go through a transformation, a treatment transformation.  They return home in a different place, but if we’re not working with parents and if we’re not working with their community, the community isn’t prepared, the family isn’t prepared, the home isn’t ready for this young person.

Len Sipes:  There’s got to be a seamless transition from a facility or from a group home back into the community. There should be services waiting for that individual and whose services should be seamless.  They should flow evenly from wherever he was before, she was before, back into the District of Columbia, correct?

Chris Shorter:  Absolutely right.

Cedric Hendricks:  And on that point, we had a work-group that focused on healthcare, and that is an area where continuity of care becomes extremely important, and in order to facilitate continuity of care, there’s got to be communication between the releasing institutions and community-based care providers.  Unity Healthcare, which is a major local healthcare provider in the city related to us that they, at their reentry healthcare center, time and again see individuals coming there who don’t have their medical records from the time that they were incarcerated who are presenting with various urgent medical needs, and in order for Unity to get the records of that person’s prior treatment, they have heretofore had to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Prisons, which is a very time-consuming thing to undertake and of course, that delay adversely effects their ability to provide responsive and timely care.

What was worked out through the dialog that occurred through our health work-group was that Unity and the Bureau of Prison sat down and worked our an arrangement whereby if Unity has assigned release of information from an individual, it can be transmitted to the mid-Atlantic regional office of the Bureau of Prisons and then a person there can secure the records, the medical records that are necessary, and then transmit them directly back to the point of contact at Unity.  So it is something that is saving a lot of time and helping to advance the delivery of healthcare to individuals who have come home with healthcare needs.  We are continuing the discussions with the Bureau of Prisons around health-related information sharing so that agencies like CSOSA, which is responsible for community supervision and has to often make referrals for medical or mental health services, we can get the information that we need, the medical records that we need in order to make appropriate referrals.  So there are accomplishments, but yet there is work remaining to be done, and that’s, I think, the message of the event on the 9th, that we have worked a year, we have completed some things.  We’ve got some deliverables that are on the table that people can put to work right now, but there’s more work that we’ve identified that needs to be done, and our hope is that there will be more individuals that will step up to the plate and join us in this work effort as we go forward.

Len Sipes:  Let me ask you about the philosophy of that, if everybody did step up.  I mean, within existing resources, if everybody did step up, if you had cooperation across the board, the bottom line of what we’re talking about is reduced recidivism once again – fewer crimes, just a dramatic reduction in terms of the money that we spend on this issue with a safer city.  I mean, that’s the bottom line.  If everybody got together and cooperated, that would be the result, correct?

Chris Shorter:  That’s absolutely right.  I mean, in fact, I’m very proud to say that DORS has a very robust partnership with dozens of community-based service providers or nonprofits that provide mentoring, tutoring, monitoring, educational supported services that we refer to as DC Youth Link.  That initiative is lead by or is in partnership with Progressive Life Center and East of the River Clergy, Policy, Community Partnership, and so we work with both of those organizations to broker services throughout all of the wards in the District of Columbia for young people who are committed to DORS.  So this is one part of that partnership and this collaboration where we’re not just talking about or relying on government to provide all those services, but we’re saying to the community we understand that young people coming back home must come back to their communities.  You know them.  You know their communities, and we would like to work with you to provide those services and support.

Len Sipes:  And it’s the same with us in terms of the power of mentoring with the faith-based program within CSOSA as the whole idea of the mosques, church, synagogues.  You’re talking about literally hundreds of people, lots of churches, lots of religious organizations coming together to help individuals coming out of the prison system, providing that direct one-on-one mentoring that is so necessary for so many people to cross the bridge.  Yet, that’s another example.  So we’re looking for business, we’re looking for the faith community, we’re looking for government, we’re looking for everybody across the board to join the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in this effort, correct?

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just say Charles Thornton’s office of Returning Citizens’ Affairs just hosted a wonderful community event where he recognized a whole host of community partners that have stepped forward to assist returning citizen.  You want to talk about that, Charles?

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely, and that was the goal of that forum was to bring in all of these partners, community partners who have been doing this work for years and just recognizing because one of the things we do know is that it’s going to take all of the resources that we’ve just been talking about to put a dent into this.  One of the things I want to go back to in reference to the recommendations.  Some of the recommendations that have come out we’ve already begun to work on.  For example, in the employment work-group, we came up with a recommendation that there needs to be some form of coordination with the BOP institutions where we found that in most cases, we had individual adults coming back to the city from institutions that just was not aware of one, the resources that are in the city, and two, there was no collaboration from Michigan or wherever with the businesses in the Districts, so people were coming back really cold.  So what the recommendation was that we need to really reach out to the BOP facilities as well as some of the contract facilities where our men and women are staying and see exactly what is available in those institutions and link them up with what’s available in the District in terms of the job market.

Len Sipes:  I do want to clarify that for the people outside of the Washington DC metropolitan area that individuals within the District of Columbia, DC code offenders, they are sentenced to federal prison.  So they go to federal prisons literally spread throughout the country, in some cases thousands of miles away.  So the coordinating their reentry back into the District of Columbia is a daunting task.

Cedric Hendricks:  Right, but Charles, for example, just led a couple of road trips to some facilities.  Why don’t you talk a little bit about that, Charles?

Charles Thornton:  Yeah, again, as part of the recommendations, so as part of establishing those relationships, what we found is that in some cases, we have to go out to the institutions.  So we put together a resource team and an outreach team, and what those teams done, and they’re made up of returning citizens, some business owner returning citizens, and what we did was we went out to a couple of the contract institutions and a few BOP institutions and went to them as opposed to them coming to us, and we did a resource day, and we went up there and the goal was to give individuals 90 days or less in terms of on their way home a real snapshot of what’s here in the District and what to expect, and we brought some of those resources with us, so you can sign up right there.  For example, the Culinary Kitchen went out on a couple of the road trips with us, and so we found out we have to be creative like that.

Len Sipes:  We only have a couple minutes left.  Gentlemen, major recommendations that we haven’t gotten to yet?

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just underscore that the areas of great challenge lie in housing, healthcare, education, and employment, and so we need to develop kind of a robust base of support in each and every one of those areas.  As I’ve mentioned, we’ve done some things, we’ve produced some products that are going to be helpful in informing individuals about the resources that are out here, but while there are service providers out here offering resources, there just aren’t enough.  In the housing arena, for example, day in and day out, we’re all confronted with individuals who have come home and have nowhere to go.  At CSOSA, we say that on any given day, we have 800 of our clients living in a homeless shelter in the District of Columbia.  These are individuals that can’t go home for various reasons, don’t have the financial resources to get their own place, yet living in a shelter really does not provide the kind of support one needs to successfully reintegrate back into the community.  So we need more transitional housing resources, but resources like that cost money.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  It’s a daunting task.  Charles, please.

Charles Thornton:  Yes, I wanted to go into, again, the going out into the institutions, and I will add that we just recently had the mayor sign off on two individuals that would make up part of the CIC, which is the Correction Institution Council, which task is to go out to BOP prisons and do a report on actually what those prisons are offering District residents who are staying there.  So the mayor sent up his two nominees to the Council, and we’re waiting on the Council’s one, so we’ll have that commissioned forum.

Len Sipes:  Okay, we have 30 seconds.  Final thoughts.

Chris Shorter:  Well, for the juvenile reentry group, and the reason I was so excited to participate with Cedric on this effort is the jurisdictions that are having the most success with juvenile reentry are jurisdictions that collaborate.  So I’m extremely excited that we are all collaborating in this way – Court Social Services, CSOSA, and others – to do a better job with reentry.

Len Sipes:  And the bottom line behind that collaboration comes on Thursday, February 9th at the old City Council Chamber, 441 Fourth Street, from 6-8 PM.  You’re going to find information about this event on the website of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, –  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  Our guests today have been Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director of Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency; Charles Thornton, the Director of the Office of Returning Citizens; and Chris Shorter, who’s Chief of Staff, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.  We appreciate your calls, letters.  We appreciate your emails, your comments, your criticisms, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

Cedric Hendricks:  And please come out on February 9th.

Chris Shorter:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  Please come out.  Thank you.

[Audio End]


Interview with Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson-Office of Justice Programs-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is the DC Public Safety.  I’m your host. Leonard Sipes.  Today’s interview is with Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice.  Ms. Robinson has served in this position under two administrations, making her the longest-serving Assistant Attorney General in the history of the office of justice programs.  For the sake of brevity, the Office of Justice Programs oversees the work of federal effort to evaluate, fund, and provide technical assistance to the country’s criminal justice system.  She’s leaving this post and now’s a wonderful time to ask Laurie about lessons learned, and before getting into the bulk of the interview, what I wanted to do was to give some examples of some of the things that the office of justice programs works on.  These are just a few of the topics:  bullying, DNA backlogs, domestic violence, elder abuse and mistreatment, faith-based programs, hate crimes, human trafficking, identity theft, indigent defense, mentoring of offenders, juvenile justice, law enforcement tactics, prisoner reentry, victim assistance, and a database as to what works.  Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, thank you.  Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  I’m really pleased that you made the time to be here today.  Can I ask you why you’re going after all this time?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I thought it was time that I be let out on parole.

Len Sipes:  Under supervision or without supervision?

Laurie Robinson:  Oh, I think probably supervision is necessary.

Len Sipes:  You’ve occupied the role longer than anybody else.  From that lofty perspective, I mean, you have.  You’ve been in charge of the federal government’s criminal justice system.  I mean, I know the attorney general is in charge, but you have headed it up under two administrations, you’ve been there for ten years, you’ve been there for longer than anybody else.  What are your observations?  What are your thoughts?  What are your lessons learned after being there for ten years?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, one thing I’d say is that the federal criminal justice system program has been around for almost 45 years, Len, and so I have been privileged to be there for almost a quarter of its history.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laurie Robinson:  And one of the things that I’ve always said to my troops is that the best ideas in this field are not invented in federal agency conference rooms in Washington, but I think we’re very good at kind of serving what’s going on around the country and then picking up those ideas and spreading them.

Len Sipes:  The best ideas do come from state and local criminal justice organizations, and they bubble up and we evaluate them and look at them and see if they really work and if we can replicate those findings elsewhere.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, for example, with drug courts.  The first drug court was, of course, in Miami, but we were very helpful through the drug court program and through technical assistance and training and seed funding in getting that program out across the country.  At the same time, the energy for it came from the state and local level.

Len Sipes:  I just read an evaluation by the Urban Institute that you all funded where it compared drug courts to not just other offenders but other offenders of other types of treatment programs, and they had double the reduction of crime.  I mean, that is an extraordinarily important finding, and that’s the sort of stuff that you do.  You figure out what’s going on, you figure out what’s most potent, and you figure out the best way of doing it.

Laurie Robinson:  That’s right, and I think that this actually points to something very important about this program, which is not only knowledge development but then knowledge dissemination and then the technical assistance in training  I’ve often felt, Len, that the technical assistance dollars are one of the best, if not the best, federal investment in this area.  It’s change agent money, it’s leveraging change at the local and state level.

Len Sipes:  It’s guiding, it’s helping the state of Arkansas that comes up with a really interesting issue.  It helps that idea bubble up to the rest of the country, and then you all take a look at it and find out what works, what’s important, how it works, and then you disseminate those findings to everybody else.  If it wasn’t for the office of justice programs, that would not happen.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, I think that that’s correct because if you think about it, no one state or no one locality can undertake that kind of in-depth research, or it’s rare, and they certainly are not in a position to disseminate it nationally or to undertake that kind of broad, broad research.

Len Sipes:  Now one of the things that you and I have talked about in the past is this whole concept of practitioner-based, a focus on the individual, law enforcement commander, correctional commander, juvenile justice person.  Have we made progress at the federal level in terms of making research come alive for them, making research user-friendly?  We’ve discussed the fact that some of the findings in the past have been pretty difficult to read, pretty difficult to understand.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, I’ll tell you.  This has been one of my highest priorities.  In the time interval between my service under Janet Reno in the 90s and when I came back under Eric Holder in 2009, I was at the University of Pennsylvania running a Master’s program in criminology, and I kicked myself that during my time under Janet Reno, I had never set up something like a what-works clearinghouse.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laurie Robinson:  To distill research information for busy, front-line practitioners.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laurie Robinson:  Because you and I both know that a detective on the street or even a busy police chief cannot have the time to read academic journal articles or go to the American Society of Criminology meeting, and what they need is distilled information, and the same is true of busy Capitol Hill staff who are rushing to put a hearing together, for example.  So within probably a week after I came back to the office of justice programs, I pulled my staff together and I said we’re going to put together a what-works clearinghouse.

Len Sipes:  And you can find the clearinghouse at –  That clearinghouse is a what-works clearinghouse, and it is the first time in my 42 years within the criminal justice system that you can go to one spot and take a look at a variety of topics in terms of research, in terms of what works, and it provides a summation as to what that research has to say.  It’s taken us 40 years, four decades, to finally do that, and you did it.

Laurie Robinson:  Yeah, it’s called, so you can also find it just by Goggling

Len Sipes:  Okay, and why did it take us 40 years to do that?  Let me ask bluntly, has there in the past been too much of an emphasis on the research community and not enough emphasis on the cop in the street, the people who work the criminal justice system?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I think there’s been a bifurcated focus, and there’s not been enough focus on getting the two of them together, and I’ll tell you, I’m a person who is impatient and coming back, I was even more impatient, and I thought if I’m going to be here, especially just a short period of time because originally I told Eric Holder I would only stay for a year and a half, and I thought I’m not going to be here long and we’re going to get this done, and I have to tell you, initially my staff said well, I don’t know, does this make sense? I said yep, it makes sense, and we’re going to do it.

Len Sipes:  One of the experiences I had when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety is a public safety secretary would come along, and this is a story you and I have discussed in the past, and he plopped this telephone-sized book of research on my desk and say Sipes, I don’t have time to read this.  Just give me a one-page summation as to what it has to say.  So that was the key to the whole thing, right?  Making it crystal clear, summarizing the research, and making the research come alive for the people in the field.

Laurie Robinson:  Right, that’s exactly right, and by the way, when I was teaching at Penn, I had my Master of Science students for their papers write one-page papers because I told them this would serve them better when they got out into post-graduation than the lengthy papers that they had to do in their other classes.

Len Sipes:  The hardest thing in the world is to write succinctly.  The hardest thing in the world to do is to get to the point, and a lot of people within the research community – you can blame this on me.  You don’t have to say this.  A lot of people in the research community have a very hard time doing that.

Laurie Robinson:  I do not disagree.

Len Sipes:  Okay now, evidence-based.  One thing that you really have emphasized in your time within President Obama’s administration has been evidence-based focused in criminal justice practices.  The Crimes Solutions database is one of them.  So the whole idea is that we, within the criminal justice system, have a degree of evidence that is easily readable that leads us to particular conclusions.  Evidence-based means what?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I think that’s a very good question and when I did come back to OJP, I started something called the Evidence Integration Initiative for us to look across OJP at what we were doing in this area and in fact, even within our own agency, we had many different uses of that term in different grant solicitations, for example.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laurie Robinson:  So what it means, of course, is something based on science, but we have to be then articulating what that is.

Len Sipes:  Well, there’s a lot of people out there who are simply – still, I say, like offender reentry, which we are very, very involved in.  It does come down to a certain degree of difficulty in terms of what practices to put in place for what kind of offender.

Laurie Robinson:  Of course.

Len Sipes:  We’re getting there.  There’s been a ton of research under your administration and previous administrations, but there’s still a sense of out in the field, well gee, what do we do?  What does this mean?  What do we mean by the high-risk offender?  What do we mean by not putting so much of an emphasis on the low-risk offender?  What is high risk?  What is low risk?  Those are just a couple of the questions that have bubbled up, so giving people clear and concise guidance is so important.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and that’s why, I think, is an important piece of guidance for the field and why we are also launching this spring something we call our diagnostic center or our helpdesk, which will be an additional tool for local jurisdictions to actually assist them in implementing the programs that are being recommended by

Len Sipes:  Okay, it’s a double-barreled approach.  It’s in terms of what works and then there’s a technical assistance branch that helps people come to grips with the data.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, for example, if you were the mayor of Des Moines, Iowa, and you were grappling with a problem, you might even know exactly what the problem is.  Maybe it’s after-school burglaries, but you don’t know what program you need it implement it.  You could call the diagnostic center and maybe even have a team deployed to go out and assess the problem and then turn to Crime Solutions or experts to assess what kind of approach is needed and then provide technical assistance to the jurisdiction to help in implementing that.

Len Sipes:  And that’s would be a godsend.  That really would because up to a couple years ago, we knew about the Department of Justice.  We knew about office of justice programs, we knew about BJA and NIJ and all the agencies that are under the Office of Justice Programs.  We knew that there was research, but sometimes the idea of coming to a conclusion was almost impossible. What you got when you contacted the National Criminal Justice Reference Service was a bibliography, and it’s like, who has time to go through this massive bibliography and figure out what data applies to your particular situation and what the lessons are.  So you’re streamlining that whole thing.

Laurie Robinson:  Yeah, and this is something I feel very strongly about.  If it’s hard for us in Washington to weave our way through the multiple funding streams – in OJP’s case, we have more than 50 different funding streams coming into our agency and multiple programs under some of those funding streams.  How is someone out in the middle of the country supposed to understand that, much less feel their way through the different programs and research programs underneath those to figure out what’s going to work in Des Moines or Dubuque or Denver?

Len Sipes:  Well, my assessment is that up until your arrival, it’s been almost impossible for them to do that.  It is a daunting task.  I mean, criminal justice administrators, as you’ve said, do not have time to read esoteric documents.

Laurie Robinson:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  They do not have time to wade through 500 pages, 200 pages, 150 pages, they just don’t have the time.  They want to say ah, drug courts, it works.  The Urban Institute even gave recommendations in terms of what were the most powerful elements of it.  They summarized a variety of research and they nailed it in terms of what the most viable parts of that program, the most workable parts of that program were, and that’s a difference.  We didn’t get that five years ago.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I fell very strongly about that kind of connection in that we need to connect federal agencies with people in the field who are the users.

Len Sipes:  You know, one of the biggest issues, and I read two news summaries every day about crime and criminal justice agencies, and for the last two years – actually, longer than that – the big issue has been the budget reductions on the part of state and local agencies, and one of the things that your emphasis does is to try to point out to cash-strapped agencies the best ways of doing things and the best economical ways of doing things.

Laurie Robinson:  Right, and I think that’s exactly right, and this also is where research is so critical.  I mean, let’s take one area in law enforcement.  We know that law enforcement agencies around the country are seeing reductions.  The report that came out from the cop’s office several months back documented how so many law enforcement agencies are having to reduce the number of officers and yet, you look at the research from David Weisburd of George Mason University about hot spots police, and if we know the areas where crime is occurring, it can really point to exactly where officers need to be deployed.

Len Sipes:  Yes, a focus on people, a focus on places.

Laurie Robinson:  On places, exactly, and that can make it so much smarter.  The Attorney General talks about smart on crime and smart policing, exactly where you should be focusing your officers is a good way to think about a smart deployment of scarce resources

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the interview.  I want to reintroduce Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, –  One of the other things that is of immense interest to us, Laurie, is this whole concept of reducing recidivism, offenders coming out of the prison system.  There are 700,000 people released from state and federal prisons every single year, and the states are screaming bloody murder as to the fact that they can no longer afford the level of incarceration that they’ve had in the past.  Reducing the rate of return back to the prison system is just not only a public safety issue.  For them, it is an extraordinarily important way of controlling their own cost.  So you’ve put a lot of emphasis on offender reentry.  For those reasons?

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, absolutely.  It is an issue obviously about public safety, about reducing victimization in the community and as you said, it’s an issue about reducing costs.  This is a very high priority, not just for the office of justice programs but for the Attorney General, for Eric Holder.  As you probably know, Eric Holder is personally chairing a Cabinet-level reentry council, and he has more than half of the Cabinet, the domestic side of the Cabinet, personally attending these council meetings.  Len, you and I have both attended, what, thousands of meetings in our lives, in our professional lives.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, yeah.

Laurie Robinson:  I have had the privilege of sitting at the table in Eric Holder’s conference room with this reentry council, and I will tell you that these two meetings that I have sat at have been the most exciting meetings perhaps in my entire professional career.  To sit at the table and see these Cabinet members personally engaged.  They’re not reading talking points.  They’re excited about what they can do to get involved and draw not only the resources but the engagement and energy, and the power of their Cabinet departments to address this issue.

Len Sipes:  Does the average citizen, though, understand that what we’re talking about is less victimization?  I mean, the good news is that there’s been an almost continual 20-year decrease in crime and certainly research in the office of justice programs have greatly contributed to this long-term reduction in crime, but if you go into Baltimore and Cleveland and so many other cities throughout this country, crime is just an integral part of their day-to-day lives.  It really has an impact on schools, on cities, and that’s what we’re talking about, are we not?  What we’re talking about is not only saving states money in terms of fewer people coming back into the prison system.  We’re talking about fewer victimizations and we’re talking about thousands of fewer victimizations.

Laurie Robinson:  You are obviously correct on that, but you raise a very good point, that while crime, of course, is down across the country, there are many communities, particularly in urban areas, where crime remains a daunting problem.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laurie Robinson:  And have we sufficiently educated the public in those areas about the importance of reentry and reducing recidivism? I don’t know that we have.  In fact, I think we have not sufficiently done that important public education job, and so there’s more to be done there, but it’s a very important job that we do because the costs are huge and the costs are great for those communities in a broader, non-monetary sense because it destroys those communities.

Len Sipes:  I won’t say who they are, but two people who are very close to me said Leonard, I know you’re interested in this concept of offender reentry, but look, we have the elderly to take care of, we have schools to take care of, we have kids to take care of.  I’m just not all that excited about pouring more money into people who have harmed other human beings.  I mean, I have struggled to convince people who are close to me that this is a concept worth considering, so that’s a daunting problem for those of us in the criminal justice system to convince people that this is in their best interest.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and I think that that’s why public education is needed, and I think, for example, on the issue of employment of ex-offenders.  When there are many people out of work in this country that this is a real challenge.  One of the things that is very heartening to me is that there is strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the states.

Len Sipes:  Isn’t that interesting? We have some staunch conservatives.  I’m sorry for bringing up politics, but we have people on both sides of the aisle who are now very supportive of this concept of reentry.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes.  I think there’s a strong belief in the faith community, for example, in the notion of redemption.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laurie Robinson:  And I find this very heartening and that there is a strong base of support for the notion of people coming back and becoming good fathers and mothers in their families, to their children, because of course we know that the children of incarcerated persons, that there’s a great deal from the research that says there’s a strong chance that they, themselves, will follow lives of crime, as well.

Len Sipes:  Right, it’s just not that individual offender.  It’s the children.  I mean, 80% of women offenders – it’s a very large number in terms of male offenders – they have kids.  I mean, it’s just not them, it’s the kids who will benefit greatly from an employed, non-drug using person.

Laurie Robinson:  Correct, and the impact on the community around them, as well, of course

Len Sipes:  We talked about basic recommendations for law enforcement.  Did you have any more?  I mean, this is exciting.  I mean, what we’re trying to do for law enforcement is to marshal the focus on individual places, hot spots policing where the most crime occurs, marshaling resources, doing crime analysis, analyzing what’s there, predicting future behavior.  Nobody quite understands all of the technical documents that comes out of your office in terms of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in terms of evaluating tires on police cars, in terms of the best way to collect evidence.  I mean, that all comes out of your office.

Laurie Robinson:  Right.

Len Sipes:  The public’s fascinated with CSI.  You are CSI.  You’re the real CSI.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and I’m probably not the best.  I’m definitely not the best person to explain all of the detail on the technical side but yes, we have wonderful people working on those issues and we fund a great deal on the side of forensics and the technical – the tire analysis and all of that, and I’m proud of the work that’s done there under our National Institute of Justice.

Len Sipes:  But as a former state trooper, as a person who as gone well over 100 miles an hour responding to calls, the best possible tires were very important to me and my life and the lives of other people, and I am just not quite sure that everybody realizes the complexity of your organization in terms of how many fingers you have in so many pies within the criminal justice system.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and actually the first research on DNA was done in our predecessor agency, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, LEAA, so there’s great history there, as well as the invention of the bulletproof vest.

Len Sipes:  The bulletproof vest research is, again, of interest to me because I have to wear one with this agency when I’m going with the parole and probation officers out in the field.  So let me go off law enforcement for a second.  Any recommendations regarding juvenile justice?  I mean, this is a field where there’s some sort of yin and yang between putting them away and the treatment part of it, which also applies to adult offenders, as well, but it seems to have a greater emphasis in the juvenile justice field.  Is that something that you want to talk about in terms of best practices?

Laurie Robinson:  Yes.  I think that in the juvenile justice field, we have actually a combination of new material both on the hard science and the soft science.  Very interesting work, as I’m sure you know, that’s been done in what I would call the hard science side that has been greatly publicized by the Macarthur Foundation and others about the development of the adolescent mind, and I think the New York Times Magazine had an interesting piece about this not too long ago that has real consequences about the kind of lack of development of the adolescent brain and how it’s not fully developed until individuals are into their 20s, and the inability for impulse control and that kind of thing that has real implications about the transfer of adolescents into the adult system, for example, and how we really deal with children in the justice system.

Len Sipes:  One of the things I found exciting as I was reading a literature review one day, and they said that out of all the things regarding juvenile justice, the idea of sending social workers into the homes of kids who are acting out and working with the parents or working with the mother at a fairly early age – that contributed to one of the highest decreases in criminal activity when they followed these individuals over the course of 25 years.  That’s exciting.  I mean, that gives us clear guidance in terms of something that we can do early and yet bring down the crime rate even more.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes.  I think this was the nurse home visitation study, and that is some of the most rigorous research that has been done, kind of gold standard research, and it shows dramatic reductions in later delinquency and really a stark contrast at relatively low cost.  So that is an excellent example.  Something else I would point to, research by Ed Mulvey, which talks about with relatively serious juvenile offenders the kind of things that can be done there to reduce recidivism  For example, substance treatment that really can make a difference.  After care is very key, and his research also shows that longer stays in juvenile confinement do not necessarily decrease or do, rather, decrease recidivism. So his work, which has really followed juveniles over a long period of time I think is quite significant.

Len Sipes:  We have just a couple minutes left in terms of a very quick program.  So the bottom line in all of this, Madam Assistant Attorney General, Laurie, is that through the years of research, we are now coming to clear conclusions in terms of how the criminal justice system should conduct itself.  That seems to be borne out in the fact that especially within the last 10-15 years we’ve had almost continual reductions in crime.  So you know, that seems to be a message, does it not, that we really do have a pretty good sense as to where it is that we should go?  All we have to do now is to make it available to the practitioner.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I do think that first of all, I’m not sure that we can claim that what we’ve been doing is responsible for the reductions in crime.

Len Sipes:  Agreed, agreed.

Laurie Robinson:  But I do think that we are on a good course as far as trying to unite the research findings with practitioners, and I am so optimistic about the kind of energy and quality of practitioners both in criminal and juvenile justice in this country.  I used to say to my students when I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania – we were right across the street from the Wharton School of Business, and on the first day of classes, I would say to them, if you’re in this business to make money, you should really go across the street to Wharton.  You know, people, in other words, are in our business because they have a passion, because they care about it, and it’s true across the country that people work in this business because they care, because they have a passion, and I see this when I travel across the country that people are so engaged, even with the challenges out there.

Len Sipes:  And those challenges are many because you know, I was just reading the other day about indigent defense, public defender offices being cut.  I mean, more than ever before, I mean, some public defenders offices are basically saying that they just can’t handle it.  I mean, the budget cuts – there’s a wide variety of agencies that are really struggling.  This means the best possible research to show people how to do more with less.

Laurie Robinson:  That’s right, but I think people in our field are so innovative and they’re open to change.  This is not true in every field, but I think we have seen over the last ten years that people in the criminal and juvenile justice fields are, at least at the state and local level, open to change and they’re willing to innovate, and they have been enormously innovative.  I think we’re at a real crossroads here because of the pressures from the budget and that taking an area like justice reinvestment, that people are willing to work across the aisle, that they’re willing to look at new approaches, and that they’re seeing results from it relying on research and relying on new approaches.

Len Sipes:  This may be an opportunity.  This may be forced change, force us to change the way we do business within the criminal justice system.

Laurie Robinson:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  And we couldn’t do that without your research.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, without the research and sharing lessons learned.

Len Sipes:  We close.  Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice, we greatly appreciate you being here, and ladies and gentlemen, as always, we appreciate your letters, we appreciate your emails, we appreciate your phone calls with criticisms and suggestions and recommendations for new shows, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]