Archives for June 2012

Technology in Corrections-Corrections Technology Center of Excellence-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. Today’s show – do parole and probation caseloads have an impact on offender recidivism in crime. To discuss this topic, we have two principles. We have Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She is an associate at Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and public policy analysis with research interest in Criminal Justice Program Evaluation, Michael Kane. The second guest is a Senior Associate with Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. He’s been working in the Criminal Justice field for the past eight years. They wrote a really interesting piece of research on the fact that caseload size done right seems to reduce recidivism and when I say ‘recidivism,’ I remind most people that that indeed involves reduced crime. So let me, for the next 15 seconds, read the beginning of it and we’ll have an interview with Sarah and Michael.

“A Criminal Justice researcher has studied caseload size to determine whether smaller caseloads improve probation outcomes. With exceptions, the findings have been disappointing. Reduced probation officer caseloads have not reduced criminal recidivism for high-risk probationers and have increased revocation rates.

One explanation is that officers with reduced caseloads do not change their supervision practices when caseloads are reduced. This raised the question – would reduce caseloads improve supervision outcomes for medium to high-risk offenders in a probation agency that trains its officers to apply a balance of control and rehabilitative measures”

To Sarah and Michael, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Thank you.

Michael Kane:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Okay, that was a ridiculously long introduction, but in setting the stage, it’s really difficult, but Sarah, also give me a sense. You work for Abt Associates Abt. In my 42 years in the Criminal Justice system, Abt Associates always seems to have been there and producing some of the better known research throughout this country and throughout the criminological community. So tell me a little bit about Abt Associates.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Sure. We’re based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and we are probably one of the oldest public policy analysis companies and we have, as you mentioned, been doing a number of projects for the Department of Justice and various other government agencies. Mostly in the [INDISCERNIBLE] program evaluation. We also do global international technical assistance and evaluation for various governments and government agencies domestically.

Len Sipes:  This research is funded by the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice. Michaels Kane, give me a sense as to the Crime and Justice Institute at the Community Resources for Justice.

Michael Kane:  Sure, Community Resources for Justice is a nonprofit operating in Boston. Our larger organization also operates halfway houses, both federal and state, and homes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Crime and Justice Institute is a division of CRJ and we work to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice systems nationwide. We provide nonpartisan consulting, policy analysis, evaluation services and technical assistance to improve public safety in a lot of jurisdictions working directly with corrections and community corrections agencies.

Len Sipes:  The website for Abt Associates – The website for the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice is Alright, so both to Sarah and Michael, let’s begin talking about this. In the research that you did – again, funded by the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice – it took a look at parole and probation or, in this case, rather probation caseload size and we said in the introduction that caseload size really does not seem to matter in terms of the research in the past. In fact, reducing caseload size, making it the number that the parole and probation officer or the probation officer in this case has to supervise and to assist, lowering that number in the past seemed to increase the rate of recidivism, but basically what you guys said was, “Well, if you guys lowered the ratio, if you made the caseload smaller, if you trained this parole and probation agent or probation agent in evidence-based practices, if you gave him the top skills, the top knowledge that we had today,” I wonder what would happen.  Am I summarizing the research correctly?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  I think that’s right. I think one of the reasons that the National Institute of Justice felt that this was important to revisit is that some of the best evaluations in Criminal Justice were done on supervision intensive probation. These were large, random assignment studies that produced some pretty irrefutable outcomes, but as you said, decreasing the caseload size for probationers who are supervised intensively did not seem to improve outcomes and, in fact, worsened outcomes in a lot of ways. The takeaway from that research was both that these were probationers, not in the traditional sense. These were people who were diverted from jails and prisons and put onto probation and supervised in the community very intensively, but also, there were a couple of exceptions to those core findings in a couple of agencies. They did combine the sorts of things that we associate today with evidence-based practices with these reduced caseloads and in those couple of places, they had improved outcomes. So there’s really a foundation for revisiting this now that evidence-based practices have become so widespread in probation agencies across the country.

Len Sipes: So it’s just not a matter of trail them and jail them. It’s just not a matter of enforcement. It has to be combined with services if that person has any chances at all of not going back to prison and in saying that, there were two jurisdictions that you studied out of the three where not only were there reductions. There were significant reductions in terms of the overall rate of recidivism. I think in the Oklahoma City area there was about a 30% reduction in recidivism. In Polk County, Iowa, in one case, was up to 40% in some categories. So that’s significant and that’s what immediately caught my eye and said that I wanted to interview Sarah and Michael today because , ordinarily, when you get successful outcomes for reentry programs, if you will, they generally range in the 10-15% range. These are significant – 30% for Oklahoma, 39% for some categories in Polk County. Those are significant reductions.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct and I want to just clarify one thing in that we’re talking about reduction in risk of recidivism, which is a fine point to make, but I think important because it’s a probabilistic kind of thing rather than an absolute these people stopped reoffending. So there’s a little bit of a difference and that’s due to the nature of the study design.

Michael Kane:  It’s not a 30% absolute reduction in recidivism, but compared to the control commission…

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  What it would have been otherwise.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael Kane:  It is a 30% reduction. Yeah, that’s important to point out.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but I mean do you…

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  You’re right. These are significant. You’re right.

Len Sipes:  That’s my question. My premise is considering the low percentage rates in so many other programs that I’ve encountered, this seems to be doing significantly better than previous reentry-related research programs. Am I right?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes, but I do want to qualify that a little bit because reentry programs are generally dealing with offenders who are coming out of jail and prison and because of that, are at higher risk for recidivism. We’re talking here about probationers who, at least for this particular offense or case, they have not been incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Right, but you are talking about medium to high-risk probationers.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct, but probationers in general, overall, are a little bit lower risk than say parolees.

Len Sipes:  True, but it’s not unusual for them to have prior incarcerations in their backgrounds.

Michael Kane:  Right, the population don’t overlap.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct and higher risk probationers often do have a more extensive criminal history. So, yes, we are talking about who are people who are at high risk for recidivism, but not quite as high-risk as a parolee.

Len Sipes:  Michael Kane, we talk about evidence-based practices within the confines of this study. What are we talking about?

Michael Kane:  Sure, within the confines of this study, we’re talking about three major things. The things that we look for in the sites that we chose were sites that had implemented a third-generations risk and needs assessment and used that risk assessments to target based on risk.

Len Sipes:  Figure out who the offender is.

Michael Kane:  Right, figure out who the offender is and concentrate probation services on offenders that are medium and high-risk. The second thing we looked for were sites that do some kind of case planning based on need. The third-generations need assessments, they typically generate a list of criminogenic needs and these sites base case plan on what needs are determined by that. The third thing that we’re looking for is sites that train in and practice motivational enhancement techniques. In some cases, that might be like motivational interviewing. So those were the three things that we looked for in terms of [INDISCERNIBLE].

Len Sipes:  So it’s basically– they implemented a risk needs assessment. They figured out who this person truly was. They engaged a case management process based upon that risk and needs assessment, which is basically saying, “You’re low-risk. You really don’t need these services nearly as badly as somebody with a high score in terms of antisocial personality or violent tendencies. So we’re going to figure out who gets what based upon their scores in terms of the risk and needs instrument and training the officers there on how to motivate the people on their caseloads to do better.”

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  That’s the heart and soul of it.

Michael Kane:  Yeah and so I think it’s important to know that we’re not saying that that’s all evidence-based practices are or trying to condense them, but we had to make some decisions about what kind of things we were looking for in sites and those are the three things that really stood out to us. They’re also things that are easier as researchers to measure. We can see what the risk and need assessment that they’re doing is and we can see whether or not they target individuals based on their risk level and whether or not they target based on need. They can program evidence that they did the training around motivational enhancement techniques. So those are kind of things that we can confirm. There are plenty of other components of evidence-based practices that are more difficult to confirm.

Len Sipes:  Right, but the bottom line of this is that they went through all of this – the case management, the risk and needs assessment, the motivational interviewing – to get them involved in programs. You guys didn’t measure the programs. You measured those things that I mentioned, but all of this is predicated on getting them involved in the programs that were necessary even though you didn’t measure that part of it.

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Because that part of it had some methodological difficulties.

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Alright, what are we talking about in terms of caseload, Sarah? I mean if this whole discussion and research is predicated on reduced caseloads, what do we mean by reduced caseloads?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Well, I think we mean a couple of things. One is a relative measure. As you know, caseloads fluctuate throughout the country and so agencies have very high caseloads depending on their resource levels and some have more medium size caseloads. I would say almost nobody thinks that their caseloads are too low, but for Oklahoma City, when we introduced the reduce caseload and randomly assigned officers to either the reduced caseload or the regular caseload, during our study, their caseload was about 106 probationers per officer on the regular caseload and 54 on the reduced caseload.

Len Sipes:  Okay, basically on probation agent to 54 offenders.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right, for the reduced caseload.

Len Sipes:  Okay and Polk County?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  In Polk County, it was a little more complicated to determine, but we’re looking at a little bit higher-risk offenders in Polk County and so we were looking at their intensive supervision programming and their caseload was roughly, over the study period, 30 probationers per officer.

Len Sipes:  Okay, about 30:1.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yeah and about 50 in the comparison officers.

Len Sipes:  We should establish again for anybody listening who doesn’t have the context to understand the discussion in terms of caseload numbers, I have personally witnessed in the state of Maryland, which I was Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Safety for 14 years, caseloads of 130:1. These are 130 real cases. If you counted the inactive cases, it was much higher than that. I’ve known jurisdictions throughout this country that have had 200 offenders on their caseloads. These are regular caseloads. They aren’t administrative caseloads or interstate compact caseloads, but regular caseloads exceeding 200 per parole and probation agent. So first of all, do we agree with my assessment as to the comparison numbers?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes.

Michael Kane:  Yeah, I mean I’ve heard 180. Yeah, I’ve heard all kinds of, what I consider to be, fairly high numbers. So, yes, I think that that’s a good range. It really just differs across jurisdictions.

Len Sipes:  It’s amazing as to how any parole and probation agent could ever possibly be effective with those numbers, but we’re halfway through the program. I’m going to reintroduce the two of you and then we’re going to get into – what I consider – the fun part of the program. It took me 15 minutes to set up an understanding of the program and now we’re going to get into the policy implications. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re talking to Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She is an associate at Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and Public Policy Analysis with research interest in Criminal Justice program evaluation, Michael Kane is a Senior Associate with Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, Okay, Michael or Sarah, either one of you come in. So to the aid to the mayor, to the aid to the governor, to the aid to the congressional person, to the aid to the parole and probation assistant director, to the different people listening to this program right now, what are the principle policy takeaways from this research that if we lower caseloads and have them do the right thing, we can reduce the number of people coming back to the Criminal Justice system significantly and do I have that correct?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes and I want to repeat something that some of the many people of advisors for this project emphasized to me a number of times, which is you can’t just do one. You can’t just introduce these techniques associated with evidence-based practices and keep caseloads the same size because officers don’t have time, as you mentioned. They don’t have time to learn all of these new techniques and still supervise their active caseloads, but you also can’t just reduce caseloads without giving the officers the tools to really make changes and how they supervise probationers. So I think that one major takeaway is that it’s really important to do both and our study kind of highlights the importance of that. We can’t tell from our study which particular components of evidence-based practices that are the most cost-effective or the most beneficial, but what we can say is that this the context in which you should reduce caseloads in order to be most effective for recidivism and probationer outcomes in general.

Len Sipes:  Michael, do you have anything to add to that?

Michael Kane:  No, I mean I think Sarah has it right. We know that both of these things have to go along together. I think that that is really a key finding here. I think another thing that is maybe less associated with recidivism reduction is that from our discussions with officers that were on a reduced caseload size, they really did reflect that they felt they were better able to use the techniques that they learned, that those evidence-based practices that they have learned, they were able to spend more quality time with the offender and help them to explore their issues that they were really able to do a better job in terms of making referrals. Those things that it seems like probation and parole are turning towards, it just seems like in the cases we were able to speak with the officers that had the reduced caseload that they felt like that extra time really enabled them to employ the techniques that they learned.

Len Sipes:  Well, it does take time because I’ve seen both in Maryland and the nine years of being with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which is a federal parole and probation agency here in Washington DC. When I was out with one of the – what we call – community supervision officers, what most jurisdictions call parole and probation agents, encountering a woman who basically she was thrown out of her place where she lived. It was violent. It was nasty. Knives were pulled and words were exchanged and she had to escape with her child. I mean the complexity that so many offenders bring to the parole and probation arena requires time. It just required time. If you’ve got somebody who is on their fifth positive for marijuana, yet they’re doing everything else okay, but yet they’re hanging out on the street corner. They’re being a little too loud, the fifth positive for marijuana, it takes time to intervene in that individual’s life and get them into the right treatment modality. These are time-consuming activities.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  They’re time-consuming and also things officers feel responsible for. In many cases, they are responsible in terms of job performance and in some cases they’re responsible in terms of liability for the people that they’re supervising and I think one of the important implications or sort of a finding is that in Oklahoma City, the officers who were on the reduced caseloads stayed in their jobs for the length of this study. The officers who had the double caseload, the regular caseload of 106 offenders, they left. They took other assignments. They left the agency. They got burned out pretty fast and they called us and told us that. They said, “Look, I’m really sorry to be leaving the study, but I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t feel like I can do my job anymore because there are too many people that I’m supervising.”

Len Sipes:  That applies to most parole and probation agents in the country. That’s my sense of it.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  I’m talking about anywhere between 80% and 90%.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right and this study does not cover what the overall retention rate of probation officers in local jurisdictions are, but I think you’ll find that their staff turnover is pretty high. At least, I know anecdotally it is and if you think about the costs associated with hiring new people, training new people to do what’s a pretty responsible job in a community, think of all the money you’ll save if your officers were happy and they stayed and they felt like they were being effective at their job. So I think it’s larger than just finding improved recidivism. I think it’s also a question of is the community safe because I have experienced officers who have a professional commitment that they feel that they can live up to.

Len Sipes:  If you’re talking 30% ballpark and another figure and I know it’s no really as simple as I’m making it out to be, but I’m just going to try to make it simple – 30% in Oklahoma in one category, 39% in Polk County. I mean you’re not talking about a lot of people not returning to the Criminal Justice system. You’re talking about a lot of people not going to jail. You’re talking about a lot of people not going back to prison. You’re talking about 700,000 individuals released from state and federal prisons every year. Now, if we could do 30-39% reduction of people not returning to the Criminal Justice system out of those 700,000, you’re talking about saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  That’s right and I think we all know that the level of incarceration in this country is unsustainable physically and that people are going to be released. The question is how well are they going to be supervised in the community post-release, but also how well are they going to be supervised in a community before they get to jail and prison. I think it’s a really important point to make that when people fail on probation and people recidivate while they’re on probation, they often are going into incarcerations whereas they were remaining in the community and everything. The potential, anyway, to be productive, to be employed, to really both contribute to the community and to improve their own lives and those opportunities are greatly diminished once people fail on probation and end up incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Right. Is there a secret sauce, either one of you, in this in terms of your own guts and I know that the metrological community, the research community hates this question, but it’s what practitioners are interested in. it’s all those people I talked about – the aids to the mayors and governors. They’re sitting there and saying, “Okay, I’m listening to this.” What do you think, Sarah and Michael, is the secret sauce the key ingredient that really prompted reductions in recidivism beyond the fact of reduced caseloads? Is it getting them involved, figuring to who the person really is and getting the right person involved in the right treatment modality? I’ll start off with that.

Michael Kane:  I mean…can I take a stab at this?

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Sure, of course.

Michael Kane:  I think that it’s really the application of the risk and need principles, for me, that those individuals that are the highest risk based on an objective assessment –  in this case, the third-generation risk and need assessment – that those individuals receive more probation services than low-risk individuals and that we objectively assess what their needs are. One size fits all does not work and I think we know that in probation and parole. We can’t say that everyone should receive substance abuse treatment because while a lot of individuals may have substance abuse issues, that’s not the case for everyone. In some cases, we can be giving them services they don’t need, don’t reduce the recidivism rate and so I think the current climate economically in this country where in governmental budgets we’re making tough decisions, what we need to do is make smarter decisions about who we’re giving what. I think that that’s really at the core of implementing evidence-based practices in probation and parole agencies. We have to use the information that we have – in this case, risk and need assessment – and make decisions about resource allocation based on that so that we’re getting the most for our dollars. I think that’s relates directly to this caseload study because we know that if we supervise individuals on a lower caseload and use these techniques, we’re going to get better outcomes. So it is a tradeoff, certainly. There’s certainly a tradeoff in what we’re able to do with those lower-risk cases, but I think that’s really the takeaway for me.

Len Sipes:  I do want to be fair to the research and the listener community. There was another jurisdiction involved, another state involved, but they did not fully implement the evidence-based practices, so they didn’t have the reductions that you had in Oklahoma and Polk County, correct?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Well, yeah and I think something important to note about that jurisdiction is that they, in fact, were one of the earliest adopters of evidence-based practices and they did a really good job when they implemented it in the 90s, but they had a series of fiscal crises and were not able to maintain the continuous feedback loop that’s necessary to keep programming like this going and operating well. In fact, during the period of time that we had data for the study, it didn’t appear that a lot of these elements of evidence-based practices were fully implemented, but afterwards, towards the end of the study, they kind of doubled-down on their efforts to do some training and to improve their programming. Who know? Today, those study results could be really different.

Len Sipes:  Could be dramatically different, right.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right, it highlights the need to not just put something in place and say, “Okay, we’ve got this. We should be good.” It really needs to be a continued effort over a long period of time.

Len Sipes:  Got it. Okay, we have one minute left and the question to either one of you is evidence-based practices reduced caseloads do have a way of reducing crime, reducing people coming back into the Criminal Justice system. It’s unfortunate that a lot of states simply are so cash-strapped for money that they have a hard time doing what is, obviously, in everybody’s best interest.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yeah, when you have incarceration, that’s a fixed cost. You need to maintain your prisons and your jails and probation is not such a fixed cost, so I think in my opinion – this isn’t a fact proven by the study – I think probation is a little bit easier to reduce money for than it is for, say, incarceration, but in a perfect world, I think policymakers could see that investing in probation really pays off when you compare those costs to the costs of incarceration.

Len Sipes:  Sarah, you have the final word. Our guests today have been Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She, again, is an associate with Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and public policy analyst with research interest and Criminal Justice program evaluation – Michael Kane is a Senior Associate with the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. Again, that website there is Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. One again, we really appreciate all the interaction. We appreciate your emails, telephone calls. We appreciate the fact that you agree and disagree with some of the observations of our programs. We really like it when you come up with suggestions for new programs and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Identity Theft-NOVA-DC Public Safety Radio

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.  Our program today, ladies and gentlemen, identity theft and scams, and back by popular demand, Will Marling the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance,, and Denise Richardson, she is a consumer advocate and an ID theft education specialist.  She is at, and to Denise and to Will, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Will Marling:  Thank you Leonard.  Good to be with you.

Denise Richardson:  Thank you Len.

Len Sipes:  Well, it’s always a lot of fun.  I mean I was laughing hard right before I hit the record button because we have such a good time because I’m amazed all the time as to the new things both of you come up with in terms of what’s happening with identify theft, what’s happening with computer-related  theft, what’s happening with fraud.  But—well, before getting into all that, where are we with the constitutional amendment?  At the last program, we were talking about a federal constitutional amendment regarding victim’s rights and set the stage for that most of the states in the United States do have a constitutional amendment protecting the rights of victims and now what we’re doing is going for a federal constitutional amendment, correct?

Will Marling:  That’s right.  Thirty-three of 50 states in our United States have constitutional amendments in the state constitutions.  There’s a lot of story and history and research behind all this, but we know now’s the time to have a thorough and consistent constitutional amendment for victims.  Twenty three rights for the accused in our United States Constitution, of course, appropriate to that need, but zero for victims of crime and so we see the need to change that.

Len Sipes:  Well, it’s—what do you think the odds are of actually getting it through?  I mean any constitutional amendment, if anybody knows anything about constitutional history; they know that amendments don’t come easy.  It sometimes takes a long time to get a constitutional amendment through the United States Constitution.  What are the odds of this actually happening?

Will Marling:  Odds are high.  I’ll tell you why.  First of all, we’ve been working on this, not just for months, but 20 years or more and this has made its run on numerous occasions and has not made it for different reasons, but now is the time, and I’ll tell you why.  First of all, the country needs this.  We need a social change perspective about the needs and rights of victims.  Secondly, we’re in a unique period where the change is afoot.  We’re going into a big election year.

Len Sipes:  Yes, we are.

Will Marling:  And as well, I mean most legislatures aren’t gonna stand against victim’s rights.  They know intuitively that’s the right thing—

Len Sipes:  Especially during an election year.

Will Marling:  Yeah, and so, but there—we believe they’re gonna stand with this.  It’s really building the momentum and making the case, which is appropriate for legislators to understand that this is—the amendment reads well.  It reads like a constitutional should and it reflects the constitutional rights that people inherently think should be there.  I mean, I use this example, if I might, just historically, most people knew that slavery was wrong.  They just knew it was wrong, and yet we had to have a constitutional change for rule of law and will firm what every—but what most people already knew.  Even people involved in it knew that it was wrong—same thing with voting.  I mean, women were not given the right to vote until not that long ago.  We all inherently knew that women should vote, but we needed to change the constitution.  People in the United States know inherently that victims should have rights, and that’s why we simply need to inculcate that in the United States Constitution as with many other social needs and social issues and rights and so forth.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, the National Organization for Victim Assistance is one of the oldest and one of the most respected organizations in the United States in terms of victim assistance.  They’ve been at this for how many years Will?

Will Marling:  Since 1975.

Len Sipes:  Since 1975.  And as member of the criminal justice system, when you get that call from, you know, somebody from the National Organization for Victim Assistance it’s like, oh my heavens, what did we do or what did we not do.  So you all have the clout.  You all have the reputation.  In fact, your reputation is so good you’re now training everybody in the Department of Defense certifying their victim assistance people.

Will Marling:  Well, that’s so kind of you Len.

Len Sipes:  No, it’s true.  It’s true.  I just wanna make sure that everybody understands the prestige of a National Organization for Victim Assistance.  You all have done fantastic work.  And again, for the curious, because most people associate your organization with victims of rape and robbery and other violent crimes, you got involved in this issue of identity theft because of why?

Will Marling:  We got involved because we were starting to get calls for assistance, we have a toll-free victim assistance line, and we started to get these calls, and we weren’t really sure what to do with them historically; violent crime was our particular area of expertise, and we realized, now wait a minute.  There’s something going on here and, of course, we got involved and said, let’s do something about it.  Have—work to focus on remediation, victim assistance, but it’s also opened our eyes that identity theft, and the cyber issues that we’re focusing on actually touch many other crime victimization areas like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking.  These electronic tools can become electronic weapons much like anything else.

Len Sipes:  It’s all intertwined.

Will Marling:  It’s all intertwined, yep.

Len Sipes:  And give me the example that you were talking about before I hit the record button.  I find this astounding that you were talking to a grandmother whose supposed son called her.  This isn’t done via e-mail; it’s not done via a letter, but they actually called the grandmother basically saying, hi.  It’s me.  It’s Chris, and I’m down here, and I’ve got into a jam, and I need for you to send me $500, and they got all the information they needed to make the story credible off of a Facebook page.

Will Marling:  That’s exactly right.  This is a common scenario.  Somebody gets a call.  They purport to be a relative, like a grandchild, they speak English articulately and so the thresholds for questioning that can be lowered as the person says, okay, this might be my grandchild and because the child is in need or purports to be in need, that, of course—that concern also can lower that questioning, that discernment.  Because if your grandchild is in trouble, and they’re only asking for 500 bucks to get out of a—to deal with a speeding ticket that they achieved in Canada, then you’re more likely to say, well, okay it’s, you know, it’s—I want to help my grandchild.

Len Sipes:  And if you go on the Facebook page, and if you’re getting all this information, you know, and you know that they prefer to be called by their grandkids, grandmommy, and grandmommy, look, you know, I really, you know, need you, you know, I know you’re all the way down there in Baltimore, but I need for you—I mean, you know, they can throw in information that makes it—makes the call come alive.

Will Marling:  Well, absolutely.  And here’s the thing.  Thirty-three percent, according to the recent research from Javelin, 33%—I think it’s 31 actually—31% of people put their full year and birthday on there.  So you know exactly how old somebody is.  It’s not just the—so there’s a test for an older generation person who’s probably gonna have grandchildren and then if you have all this other information, you can add those things today simply to become seemingly more credible.

Len Sipes:  Yep, looking forward to seeing you on your birthday in July.

Will Marling:  Yeah, exactly.

Len Sipes:  Yep.

Will Marling:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  Amazing.  Denise Richardson, consumer advocate ID theft, education specialist, Denise we’ve really enjoyed in the audience, really enjoyed your participation the last time.  It was really interesting.  You come up with some of the most interesting things.  Give me your perspective as to what Will just had to say.  You know it’s startling to me.  I know about e-mail frauds.  I know about phishing schemes.  I know about letter—kind of contacts by letter, but it takes a tremendous amount of gull to pick up the phone and call somebody.

Denise Richardson:  It does and as Will was saying, you know identity theft takes many different forms, and they can—these bad guys have gotten very good at what they do and I always come at it from the perspective of my own life experiences, the consumers that come to me and tell me their stories, the consumers that share their stories on my blog, and though they always seem amazed that they had heard of this latest scam, I continue to be amazed at how little information is out there until someone has already been tripped up by it and fallen victim to it.  My own mom—I share my own life experiences too because I encourage other people to, but I shared not too long ago a situation that happened to my mom several weeks ago where her first thing she said to me when I answered the phone was you’re not going to like this.  And I thought, oh know.  And she proceeded to tell me that, you know, she had started seeing a new doctor, and she lives, you know, in a different state, and she started seeing a new doctor and so, when she got a call from someone asking for her information, in her mind, because she’s an elderly senior, she thought it was Medicare.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Denise Richardson:  And so, when she gave little bits of information, oh, are you calling about my Medicare bill, of course, they’re gonna go along with what she gives them, and she ended up giving them her social security number and other information, which, of course, immediately I knew why she said I wasn’t gonna like it.  But one of the things I found out in this particular telemarketing scam, it led me to learn something that came—you know when you think you see it all—my mom was particularly stressed out by this and scared, rightfully so, that she did this.

She was upset with herself, but in order to try to correct it quickly it made her more panicked and there’s no easy way to contact the Credit Bureau and incidentally you know, notify them, put a fraud alert on.  Because if you’ve ever tried, you get these automated, you know, most places now you get these long menus that you call and that just intimidated her and made her more upset, so there needs to be some sort of way that, especially seniors or even, you know, more challenged vulnerable people in our communities, our families, have a way to access someplace quickly to notify that you’ve become a victim.

Len Sipes:  Okay, let’s just get into prevention measures.  We go into a thousand different directions every time we talk—because I want to get back to this concept of the fact that people are calling, and you take a look at your caller ID, and it shows a local number, which gives it credibility.  In one case, it gives the identification of the local police department who is calling you to say that you have unpaid parking tickets, and then you’re looking at your caller ID, and it says, well, you know, Baltimore Police Department and you assume that this is not fraudulent, but first—I mean let’s go back.  Bottom line is don’t give out any information over the phone period.  They’re not gonna call you.  Reputable organizations are not going to call you.  Is that the first rule?

Denise Richardson:  Absolutely.  And do not trust your caller ID.  The caller ID—there’s a term—it’s being coined spoofing.  They can spoof your caller ID and cause the display to be any entity they want.  They could be calling from another country, and it could say the name of a bank, a credit union, or an electric company.

Len Sipes:  So, just because it comes up as a legitimate, excuse me, as a legitimate identifier on your caller ID, does not mean it’s legitimate.  The bottom line is don’t give out information over the phone.  If your bank calls you, you say thank you very much, what is your name, what is your telephone number, and then you go and look up a number that you know is a correct number—that there is no question that it’s a correct number and then you call them.

Denise Richardson:  Sure, check on your latest billing statements.  You can look it up in the phone book, but call the number that you know is legitimate, and it really is someone calling from your bank or from some institution that you do business with and you tell them, you know, I’m a little leery of identity theft, I’d like to call you back.  They’re going to say certainly, on that extension 1324.  You can go look up the number and then when you get that specific legitimate company—

Len Sipes:  But don’t call them back at that number though.

Denise Richardson:  No, no.  Never call them back at the number that you receive in an e-mail, text, or voice mail or on the phone.  Look up the number first.

Len Sipes:  Will, was it you or Denise, who said that there really was a scam where supposedly the police department called about unpaid parking tickets, and the name of the police department popped up on the caller ID?

Will Marling:  Yep, yep.  We have those cases.  Indeed, yeah.

Len Sipes:  My God, that’s so wrong on so many levels and could be so disastrous to the well-being of human beings.  What if you got a call from the local police department saying, come out now and come down to the station, we need to talk about something, and if I saw the local police department up on my phone I’d probably do it.  I mean I keep saying to myself, I’ve been involved in the criminal-justice  system for over 40 years, and you keep telling me stuff that even I would buy into, and I don’t trust anybody.

Will Marling:  Right.  Well, the issue here that Denise is making—the point that she is making, as well as I make, is that the basic issue of paying attention.  Just paying attention and asking some questions on the very front end is completely appropriate.  For credible legitimate people calling, which seems to become rarer and rarer, they’re gonna be willing to cooperate.  But for others, you know, they’re gonna try to talk you into some quick decision, get information out of you as quickly as possible because they might be nearby, but to be honest, they might be in another country, and you don’t know where they are.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.

Will Marling:  I mean it can get really complicated that way.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.  All right—

Denise Richardson:  They’re very tricky at what they do and make sure when you hang up the phone with them that you hang up and pick the phone back up and hear your dial tone because there’s been instances where they have stayed on the line, and someone picks up the phone, and you’re dialing your number, but you really still have the scammer on the other end of the phone.

Len Sipes:  Oh, this is too amazing.  We’re half way through the program, ladies and gentlemen.  Are we all frightened now?  We’re half way through the program with—

Denise Richardson:  And I’m glad you said that Len, because really, and I know Will feels the same way—these are not stories.  These are factual things that we hear from people who contact us, but in order for us to share this information, some people may say well, you’re scaring us, but really the only way you can get this information out there is—

Len Sipes:  This is vital information.  People need to hear this.

Denise Richardson:  And often times they don’t understand it with just, you know, shred your documents or whatever.  They need to hear about the types of scams that come across where they could easily fall for them.  Like you said, you’re a very intelligent man.  You’ve been in the justice system and you—there’re so savvy that they could even trick you.

Len Sipes:  It would fool me, and that’s the thing that scares me.  All right, let me reintroduce both of you.  Ladies and gentlemen, more than half way through the program, Will Marling the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance,  Denise Richardson, she is a consumer advocate and an ID theft education specialist,  Both of those websites will be in the show notes.  All right, where do we go to from here?  What’s new on the identity theft and fraud horizon Denise?

Denise Richardson:  Well, the types and varying trends.  A lot of what I’m seeing and hearing—you know, we—we’re telling people don’t give your information to strangers, don’t give your information to people who call you, e-mail you, or come door-to-door, but you also need to be aware that whatever information you are giving, sometimes to trusted individuals, does not mean that you’re immune from an identity theft.  In a lot of situations lately, especially where I live in Florida which is number one on the list always for all sorts of fraud unfortunately, and I think it can be somewhat attributed to if you are a criminal do you want to live in, you know, in a populated where—

Len Sipes:  Do you like snow or do you not like snow.

Denise Richardson:  Exactly, exactly.  So we’re accustomed to all sorts of scams and frauds, but we’re number one because we still are gonna fall for it, but not only that.  You go into hospitals.  You give your information to hospital employees.  Think of all the places you give your information to trusted individuals, whether they’re bank tellers, whether they work in a government office.  Each of those—

Len Sipes:  Your cable company.

Denise Richardson:  Exactly.  Each of those places—I could point you to actual arrests of rouge employees in those particular businesses who have sold the business or the organization’s information.

Len Sipes:  How do you stop that?  All right, I mean I—everything else falls under the umbrella of do not reactively give information to anybody under any circumstances regardless as to how credible they seem.  Thank the person, stop the e-mail, stop the phone call, put down the letter, and contact that entity through a number that you know is valid.  That’s the number-one rule.  So in terms of those people who legitimately get our information, how do you stop that?

Denise Richardson:  Well, you know, and Will may have a different view on this, but my view is you can’t stop that because you never know when any company out there is gonna have a data breach or how—or if there’s gonna be an insider who is approached by an ID theft ring who offers you money to give them information, which has just been in the news a lot down here where there was hospital employees, or you know a lot of our police and fire had their social security numbers sold by insiders, rogue employees.

Len Sipes:  Oh, that’s terrible.

Denise Richardson:  Yeah.  You cannot stop it, but what you can be is aware and know what to look for.  Check your bank statements.  Check your credit reports, you know, do what you can.  I always say, you know, living here in Florida I can’t stop a hurricane from coming.  I certainly can’t control Mother Nature, but what I do is I get batteries, and I make sure come hurricane season I have all the supplies and you know, things that I need to lessen the impact.

[Len Sipes:  All right, so the bottom line is check our statements, check your credit card statement, check your bank statement, check all statements and make sure that the information on there is accurate.

Denise Richardson:  Correct.  And if you see any red flags, you know, then you can know, you know, instinctively in advance.  You’re more prepared, and I guess that’s the message.  Just don’t put your guard down.  I’m not saying you have to live paranoid, but live wise.  You know, just pay attention to your bank accounts and your credit reports and do what you can to minimize the impact if it does hit you.

Len Sipes:  Will, this harkens back decades ago when I was in the crime prevention business for the Department of Justice’s Clearinghouse in the National Crime Prevention Council.  I mean it is—what we said back then is use common sense in terms of where you go, how you dressed, what your environment is.  It’s pretty much incumbent upon you to keep yourself from being victimized, so there was some responsibility for you know, not walking down the street as I did when I—I remember working for the National Crime Prevention Council, and I remember getting money from somebody, and I remember walking through Fell’s Point in Baltimore City, which had a crime problem, and I was counting money.  And then I stopped dead in the street going I’ve just did exactly what I’ve told thousands of people not to do.

Will Marling:  Well, yeah true.  You know we also focus on the fact that crime victimization—the blame rests with the perpetrator period—period.  I mean no woman gets blamed for how she dressed.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Will Marling:  No businessman gets blamed for how he’s dressed.

Len Sipes:  Agreed.

Will Marling:  There’s discretions.  Of course, there’s wisdom driving in appropriate places, but that’s part of the challenge with this.  In reality, consumers need to be educated on the front end to make a difference here.  Let me give you a very simple principle as we move into, you know, ever increasing, ever evolving, technological tools turned to weapons here and that is the concept of if it’s convenient for you, in terms of commerce, it’s probably as convenient for a thief.  For example, we’re getting into wireless transmissions, transactions with our phones.  Is your phone built for that?  Let me give you a simple analogy.  We used to have the Hummers that were military grade.  And then we came out with this commercial-grade Hummer.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.

Will Marling:  Let me ask, is your phone a military-grade piece of equipment or commercial-grade piece of equipment?

Len Sipes:  You can put—I heard on a technical podcast the other day that you can put key logging software on a cell phone, which means—

Will Marling:  Your phone can be compromised like a computer, just as easily, and it with later effect.

Len Sipes:  Yes.  Your phone is a computer, and it’s fairly easily compromised.

Will Marling:  It’s more than a computer because it’s got a GPS in it that your computer doesn’t care to have.  It’s got a camera in it, which many computers do have.  It, of course, has microphones.  It has recording devices.  So, anybody who can compromise that phone has actually access to everything that phone can do.

Len Sipes:  And it shows your location if you activate the GPS device.

Will Marling:  Yeah, well, and they listen to your phone calls.  They can read every text.

Len Sipes:  So what is the lesson?  What is the lesson in all of this?  So if they can do that, is it not to use your cell phone for banking?

Will Marling:  Well, my recommendation is to think about whether the convenience really is that necessary.  If we think about banking, do—when you build a bank—you build a bank, you start with the vault, and then you build the building around it.  I’m not gonna convert my house into a bank, but basically that’s what we’re doing with cell phones.  So when you think, oh, this is a really cool option, the question is, do you really want to have that option on your phone for a lot of different reasons.  First of all, it could be intercepted.  The phone could be compromised, lost, and/or stolen, so there are mechanisms to help secure phones if it’s been stolen and this kind of thing, but the question is, do you really need to do all of those things on your phone?  Do you need a bank on your phone?  I don’t, and I won’t.  I refuse to.

Len Sipes:  No, no.  I—no, no I hear you loud and clear.  Or what about your home computer?

Will Marling:  Well, you know, again that’s at least internal and while, you know, there are house—there are robberies that involve just people taking the computer cause they know it’s gold—it’s, you know, the value in it, at least you can secure your computer, and people do transactions, but those can be done safely, once again, but your phone is mobile.  And it’s connected to you, and it is out there and I just have serious concerns personally about where this can go.  Again, a lot of that could be forwarded simply by our appropriate aware use of the tools that we have.

Len Sipes:  And also a good long complicated passcode to get into your own computer.  Not the simple things that we use on a day-to-day basis.

Will Marling:  Well, yeah and the same thing with our phone.  Anything that gives you an opportunity for a passcode, the deal is use it ‘cause there’s a reason that passcode was put there, as the option was there.  People find it inconvenient to type in their passcodes on their phone, but you know, do it.  It’s a nominal inconvenience, one again, for an extra level, an extra layer of security.

Len Sipes:  Most people don’t use the passcode for the phone.  Most people don’t even know they have a passode for the phone.

Will Marling:  Yeah, it’s too bad too because again, you’re just a low-hanging fruit.  You know that phrase.  And we just tell people constantly well, we know this is out there, and you can’t control what other people do, like Denise said, with our information, but let’s control what we ourselves do with it and let’s raise our fruit.  At least raise it up a hair.

Len Sipes:  Denise, we only have four minutes left in the program, and every time I do this program I just want to keep going and going and going because we never do cover all the ground that we said that we were going to cover.  All right, so give me—so we did say last time that in terms of places to contact, it would be National Organization for Victim Assistance at, your own website,, the Federal Trade Commission,, for additional information and also, ladies and gentlemen, the FBI puts out a lot of information on fraud, and you should feel free to contact and look at, especially, their computer crime related sections.  They have a lot of good consumer tips.  Anything else in terms of sources of information?

Denise Richardson:  Well, definitely.  There’s a Federal Trade Commission identity theft hotline, especially for, you know, people who want to just make a call and report any type of scam, and you can call 1-877-438—

Len Sipes:  877-438—

Denise Richardson:  4338.

Len Sipes:  4338.

Denise Richardson:  Exactly, and you know I just want to back Will up on what he just said as far as definitely, you know, control what happens in your life by taking care of what you can do.  It’s just like I don’t want to scare anybody, I just want to raise awareness and—

Len Sipes:  Oh, scare us.  We have to be scared.  We have to.

Denise Richardson:  We can’t stop driving on highways.  We’re—an accident is just around the corner for each of us, but it’s not gonna stop us from getting in our vehicles, and that’s what we need to realize.  We can enjoy these phones.  We can enjoy our computers.  We can—not stop us, but just like when you get a new car.  What you do?  You put your seatbelt on, you know.  That’s what you need to do if you look at it that way.  Contact security experts to figure out if your computer and your access points are safe—same with cell phones.  And spend a little time, I would say, on the web looking at and being up to date on these latest types of scams that we barely touched the surface of today, but at least it helps to have that awareness.

Len Sipes:  Well, don’t react to anything.  Contact the source independently through a number on the computer or through the Yellow Pages, even your local police department now-a-days, and it sounds like it’s a matter of passcodes and the use of the passcodes and it sounds like it’s a matter of checking up your bank statements and your credit card statements.  It sounds like those are the three principal things that came out of this quick conversation today.

Denise Richardson:  Those are great starting points, absolutely.

Len Sipes:  But for additional information contact, or National Organization for Victim Assistance, or I’m gonna give out that number again for the Federal Trade Commission, 1-877-438-4338, 1-877-438-4338—anything real quick Denise, Will?

Denise Richardson:  Talk to your kids.  Talk to your kids who are on all these social-networking sites, Facebook, and let them—and talk to your—you know, your family, seniors you know.  I say spread awareness.  Let them know what type of risks that are out there, so they are less likely to fall for these telephone scams or door-to-door.

Len Sipes:  Okay, got it.  Denise you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We’ve dealt with the issue of identity theft and scams today.  Will Marling, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance,, Denise Richardson, consumer advocate and ID theft education specialist,  Ladies and gentlemen, we appreciate all the interaction that you provide us in terms of e-mails and phone calls, and guidance in terms of what you like and what you don’t like and, especially, in terms of new programs, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


An Interview With Ex-Offender Randy Kearse-DC Public Safety Radio

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.

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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 program is an interview with ex offender Randy Kearse, his website www.Randy R-A-N-D-Y  Randy is a five-time publisher, reentry advocate, speaker and entrepreneur, has several stories to tell.  Once deemed a menace to society by a judge who sentenced him to 15 year in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, he served his lengthy sentence which in his show notes he has exactly down to 13 years, six months and two days and returned to society a changed man.  Randy’s been on a bit of tear ever since coming back.  He’s written a variety of books.  He’s been interviewed by the New York Times and the New York Daily News, The Amsterdam News, The Colbert Report, Wendy Williams Experience just to name a few, and to Randy Kearse, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Randy Kearse:  Oh, thank you for having me on Leonard; it’s a pleasure to be here.

Len Sipes:  Alright Randy, what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about a variety of things, about your experience in the prison system and there are three things that I really want to focus on, this whole concept of prisoner reentry, how society views people who come out of the prison system and what the criminal justice system is doing or not doing to keep people out of prison.  So let’s start off with the things first in terms of your own experience, you served 13 years in federal prison, 13 years, six months and two days to be specific in federal prison for a crack cocaine conspiracy charge.

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, I got caught up in the whole whirlwind of the crack explosion epidemic that swept through the urban communities, actually the nation during the late 80’s, early 90’s and you know I was sentenced under the harsh mandatory minimums of crack cocaine, 100 versus one,

Len Sipes:  Right.

Randy Kearse:  The whole, you know, the whole thing.  So, you know basically being that there’s no parole in the federal system, I wound up spending 13 years, six months in federal prison.  My experience with the federal system is it’s a mixed bag of nuts for me.  I went in 27 years old.  I was very at the end of my, I guess you could say my criminal career and just basically figuring that I was going to be there for over a decade at the time.  So it’s a long kind of journey that I document in my books, especially Changing Your Game Plan.  As far as speaking specifically about rehabilitation and reentry, we can just fast forward past the time that I spent and I’m about to get out.  During my experience of being in federal prison, what I was able to get out of the whole reentry thing and what the federal system provided for you was actually non-existent.  I mean they had this so-called program that was supposed to prepare you for getting out that you attended maybe like six months to a year before getting out.  But it was a joke to be honest with you.  I mean whoever implemented that program, I don’t know if they did it just for the sake of saying that they had a program, but there was no accountability to the people who were supposed to be giving the program, the staff.  There was no accountability for anything.  I mean you came in, you signed in and you went about your business.  They gave you some papers and if you didn’t show up there was no penalty.  There was nothing.  As long as you had your name on a piece of paper, I mean pretty much that was the extent of what you were, you know, looked for to do.  So basically I mean I went to a couple of the classes and I sat in and just I mean it was a joke, to be honest with you, it was a joke because they kept telling you things about how to prepare for getting out in a way that I guess was textbook.  It wasn’t from anybody’s personal experience.  It wasn’t from the reality, just say the unemployment numbers for ex-offenders.  It wasn’t, you know, any of those things wasn’t taken into consideration.  And you could sit there and really guess like how many people would not make it when they got back out to society based on this program itself.

Len Sipes:  Well, if you look at national statistics, most people go back to prison, most people are re-arrested, the national data at the moment and it’s years old, it’s fairly old data, but that’s what most people quote is that most people are re-arrested.  About two thirds are re-arrested and about 50 percent go back to prison.  This is after three years.

Randy Kearse:  I mean the thing is I mean how do you prepare a person who’s been away from society say five, ten, fifteen years and you start preparing them a year before they get out and then the program that you’re providing them is only what, an hour, two hours?  You talk about resumes, you might not go back for another week or two weeks and, you know, it’s just a checklist of things that you have to say that you did in order to want to make in your exit to say that you fulfilled those requirements.  But again, there’s no real preparation, there’s no skill based preparation.  There’s no academic based preparation.  There’s no real life housing preparations.  I mean I know guys that got out and had to go to a shelter.  There was nothing that really can prepare a person for actually getting out, to be honest with you man.

Len Sipes:  What should the system do then Randy?  I mean part of the problem, one of the things that we were talking about before the beginning of the program was the fact that 80 percent of people in the criminal justice system, who are caught up in the criminal justice system, have substance abuse histories and according to the latest data, about 10 percent receive drug treatment within the correctional setting.  So obviously there’s a disconnect.  80 percent have histories of substance abuse, 10 percent get the treatment and nobody’s talking about the quality of that treatment.  It could have been just, you know, following some sort of a process like you’re describing and we’re not even talking about how good the treatment was.  But the numbers involved are startling.  80 percent need, 10 percent get, there’s the disconnect.  Why is there that disconnect?

Randy Kearse:  Again, I mean I’ve participated in a so-called drug program.  I mean even though I wasn’t there, it wasn’t mandatory for that that I go, but I participated in what they call a 40 hour drug program.  I mean you sat there and again it was some textbook stuff that you went through.  They showed a couple of films.  But there was no accountability to say whether this program would actually have an impact on whether or not a person, once they got out would return to that type of behavior.  What should they be doing?  To answer that question, you should be preparing a person pretty much as soon as they enter the system, whether state of federal or local.  You should be preparing that person because it’s a mindset that you have to recondition people to get away from thinking from a criminal aspect.  So once you can kind of recondition a person’s thinking and show them that there are possibilities, that there are opportunities in society for them, it makes a greater chance for them to make a positive reentry back into society.  And when I say prepare them, I mean you got to give them hand’s on skills that they can use when they get out, construction, maintenance, air condition, all of the things, computers, all of the things that would give them an opportunity to have a leg up on society when they get out.  I mean just to let a person go through their sentence and not focus on what they’re going to be doing when they get out is an injustice to be honest with you because if you’re talking about corrections, corrections is supposed to be fixing the problem that brought a person into the system in the first place.  So if the system doesn’t provide any type of mechanisms that will allow a person to change their ways and change their thinking, that’s when you’re going to have this high percentage of recidivism because there’s a bleak outlook for that person once they return to society.  One of the things that I’m really advocating now is bringing programs into the system that would teach people business and entrepreneurial skills.  We have a lot of people who are in the federal and state systems that have managerial type of skills, business order type of skills but they don’t know how to transfer those into real working settings.  So if you allow a person like myself, I mean I’m a self-published author, entrepreneur, I sell my books online; I sell my books hand to hand.  I do a lot of different stuff and basically what I was able to do was transfer a lot of the things that I was doing illegally when I was selling drugs and transfer those skills into a legal setting where I just switched the product.  So it was drugs at first, now it’s the books, now it’s workshops and skills that I already had the concept of but I was able to transfer it to a legal setting.

Len Sipes:  Randy, I want to talk a little bit about your personal background because the average person comes out of the prison system is a fairly powerless person.  The average person coming out of the prison system, when I say the average, I’m talking about 99.9 tenths percent don’t talk to anybody.  They don’t talk, I mean you’ve talked to The New York Times, you’ve been on the Colbert Report, you’ve talked to the New York Daily News, you’ve written books, you’ve done a lot of different things that talk about your experiences, but the average guy, the average woman getting out of the prison system doesn’t talk to anybody about anything for any reason.  Why did you have that experience?  How did you manage to come out of the prison system and become so well known?

Randy Kearse:  Well what I set out to do when I left prison was to show society that people do change number one, people do deserve chances number two and that not everybody is your stereotypical criminal.  I mean let’s not, some people need to be in prison, let’s put it like that; you know what I’m saying?  There are some people who are just evil.  They will never conform to society’s constraints and things like that.  And there are cases where people actually need to be incarcerated.  I mean I know guys that I met in prison that I wouldn’t even want to live next door to.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Randy Kearse:  So I mean I’m not an advocate of saying that, you know, we need to not have prisons.  But my thing was just put a human face on people who do come home.  We always see the statistics about the high recidivism rates but what about the statistics of people who never go back, people who actually go on to start their own business, own homes, contribute to society, pay their taxes and never ever get in a situation where they’re back in the criminal justice system.  I think we need to put a face on that.  We need to showcase those people in order to encourage those who might be wavering, who might not see any opportunities past incarceration that, you know, you can go on.  There’s life after prison.  You know there’s life after parole.  There’s life after probation.  We have over two million people incarcerated now at this particular time.  But imagine over the last just say 20 years, how many people have filtered through the criminal justice system.  So you’re talking maybe 10, over 10 million people who have a criminal

Len Sipes:  Well there are 700,000 people who come out of state and federal prisons every year, 700,000.  And you can easily do the math times the last decade.

Randy Kearse:  And that’s just it, I mean that’s a staggering number.  I mean [INDISCERNIBLE]

Len Sipes:  It is a staggering number.  But you’re still not helping me fill in this blank.  You came out, how did you attract the attention of people?  I mean if the average coming out of the prison system has a hard enough time finding a job and finding a place to live, let alone talking to The New York Times and ending up on the Colbert Report.  How did you end up doing that?

Randy Kearse:  I think that people gravitated towards my story.  I think they gravitated towards my optimism towards the future.  I think that they gravitated to the fact that I didn’t let prison define me that I defined who I am.  I think that as a society even though we sometimes cast away people who have been through the criminal justice system, we champion sometimes those who have been able to pull their self up by the bootstraps and, you know, really actually show the American dream still does work even for those who have been incarcerated.  And I think that people kind of especially under economical times, were impressed by the fact that I didn’t allow anything to stop me from doing the things that I’m doing.  And I think that as human beings, we love to see people who have been able to rise above their situation.  I think that the reason why a lot of people who have come from prison don’t take that stance of, you know, how I have because they already feel in their mind that society won’t accept them.  So I came home I was like you know what, listen man, I’m human, I made mistakes.  I don’t think there’s anybody that never made a mistake before.  And we all have made mistakes, some have been graver than others, some have been in different areas than others.  But we’ve all had a challenge.  We’ve all had some adversity.  We’ve all had something that we’ve had to overcome.  And I think that my story resonates to that, you know, so that’s why I’ve been able to get the recognition that I have.  But again, it’s not about me, it’s about the other two million people that are still fighting for a place.  And hopefully through me I give them a voice to show society like, you know, it’s better to rehabilitate and have someone make a positive re-entry into society overall because I mean it costs a lot to keep somebody incarcerated and taxpayers have to pay for that, you know what I’m saying?

Len Sipes:  Well your point a little while ago was important, 50 percent go back but 50 percent don’t.  And we in the criminal justice system very rarely ever tell the story of the 50 percent that don’t and that’s

Randy Kearse:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  One of the things that we’re trying to do today, that there’s a lot of people who choose to cross that bridge, but it’s a hard bridge to cross.  You’re talking about society’s perception of offenders.  I mean it’s not very good.  If you look at all the cable shows that come out at night, if you take a look at Lock Up and Hard Time and all the rest of the shows, why would anybody after watching one of those shows give any attention or allegiance or favor programs for people coming out of the prison system if all you hear on the 6 o’clock news is ex offender does this and ex offender does that and you see these cable shows.  I mean how do you,you know, it’s almost impossible to compete against that.  It’s almost impossible to say hey, 50 percent go to prison but 50 percent don’t.  Let’s tell the stories of the 50 percent that don’t go back.

Randy Kearse:  I mean that’s why it’s important for shows like yours, it’s important for people like me to get out there and even against the odds of being able to be heard, be able to highlight those stories and tell those stories and give encouragement to society that, you know, let’s face it.  I mean no matter how much you lock a certain amount of people up, a good majority of them are going to come back to society.  I mean that’s just a fact.

Len Sipes:  The overwhelming majority are coming back.

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, I mean that’s what I’m saying.  So it’s best to have those type of programs or mechanisms in place that they will come back and hopefully not do any damage to society.  So it’s in society’s best interest to pay attention to what’s working and not what’s not working.  It’s easy to look at what’s not working but to look at what’s working would be the challenge.  I mean let’s face it

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway, let me reintroduce you Randy.  We’re more than halfway through the program.  We’re doing an interview with ex-offender Randy Kearse.  He is at www.Randy R-A-N-D-Y  The website will be in the show notes.  And one of the reasons why I’m interviewing Randy is because different people have said to me in the past, Leonard, when you’re dealing with former offenders; they’re all from the DC metropolitan area.  Can’t you get somebody from outside of the DC metropolitan area?  Randy you’re from what, New York City?

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, I’m from New York.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so

Randy Kearse:  But I travel to DC, I travel all around again advocating reentry and putting more into the programs that would help ex-offenders make that successful transition.

Len Sipes:  And I really enjoy keeping up with your postings on Facebook.  So you have a very interesting point of view.  Alright Randy, so you didn’t get the programs that you thought were necessary.  Just answer this one question.  If the programs that you felt were necessary to help people to do right when they come out of the prison system not to go back to the criminal justice system, if those programs were in place in prison, if those programs were in place when the person is released, what do you think that that would do to cut down the recidivism rate?

Randy Kearse:  Oh, it would cut down the recidivism rate greatly because you give a person a sense of being able to have a sense of pride; you give them a sense of dignity back.  You allow them to feel, you know, that they’re part of the back in society and doing.  But overall, I mean just look at it.  It’s better to have a larger number of people contributing to society, paying taxes, maybe starting their own business, helping because it helps the overall fabric of society especially when it comes to the economy.  That’s why I advocate teaching entrepreneurial programs in prison because I mean let’s face it, a lot of these employers will not hire someone who’s been formerly incarcerated.  So why not teach those who are teachable how to start their own business so they don’t get discouraged when they can’t find a job and then the chance of them going back to the criminal behavior is greater.  So teach them how to start a lawn mowing business.  Teach them how to paint and start their own painting business.  Teach them how to open up a barber shop.  Teach them how to do these things so when they are in the position to, they’re not only helped by not going back to prison, buy they also contribute to society as far as the services and needs of society as a whole.

Len Sipes:  To take control over their own lives and not having their

Randy Kearse:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  lives in the hands of so many other people.

Randy Kearse:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  Alright.

Randy Kearse:  That’s very important.

Len Sipes:  Let me get down to this point.  Everybody I’ve interviewed and all the times that I’ve been in the criminal justice system where I’ve talked to people who have done well after the prison system, and you’ve just done it, you did it a little while ago.  They all basically said to me it was me who made the decision.  Is it that internal drive?  It is that self-sufficiency?  Is it that determination not to go back or is it programs or is it a combination of the two?

Randy Kearse:  It was self-determination Len.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Randy Kearse:  I mean for me failure was not an option.  I didn’t have a choice because I knew that I didn’t want to come back to prison.  I knew that I hated prison.  I mean I hated people telling me what to do, where to go.  I hated giving up my freedom.  So I made a vow to never do that again.  So it was my sheer determination not to go back.  If I had relied on what was available to me in prison, oh man I would definitely be in a greater percentage, I’d wind up being desperate and, you know, God forbid doing something can just put me back in prison.

Len Sipes:  But help me with this Randy, everybody says when they leave prison they’re not going back.  Every single person said man, I’m not going back.  I’m not going back.  And 50 percent do in three years.  So there’s got to be a disconnect somewhere.

Randy Kearse:  Maybe in a person’s mind they’re telling them that they’re not going back, but they weren’t properly prepared for leaving in the first place.  So that’s why a lot of times people wind up going back because preparing is a process.  You can’t figure out what you’re going to do six months before you get out.  You can’t figure out what you’re going to do once you get out.  You have to know what you want to do and what you’re going to do.  You have to know the steps to take.  It’s a process.  When I got out, I got a minimum wage job 10 days after being released from prison after almost 13 years.  So I knew that employment was very important.  It didn’t matter.  I didn’t care if I had to pick up cans or if I had to sweep floors.  That wasn’t important to me.  But I knew what I needed to do and I had the plan.  So people have to have a plan that is doable.  I mean you can’t come home thinking that you’re going to, you know, own a baseball team as soon as you step out the door.  But you have to have a plan.  And I think that it would be in society’s best interest to go into these prisons and help people put together a foreseeable, doable plan; you know what I’m saying?  Get your CDL license or whatever your pursuit is; provide some type of mechanism that would allow people to connect with the resources that would help them to be able to pursue their goals when they get out.  Because I mean it’s easy to say oh I’m not going back, but getting out is only half of the puzzle.  What are you going to do when you get out?

Len Sipes:  Okay, the larger society, Randy, is and it’s something again you and I talked about before the program, the larger society is not terribly keen on people connected to the criminal justice system.  Again, if you watch the cable shows, if you listen to the 6 o’clock news, it’s not like you’re going to get a lot of positive stories about people connected to the criminal justice system.  The average person out there is saying to themselves, you know, I’ll support programs for kids.  I’ll support programs for the elderly.  I’ll support programs for veterans.  Heck, I’ll support programs to spray and neuter pets before I’ll support programs for people caught up in the criminal justice system.  How do you get beyond that?

Randy Kearse:  I think that if you asked the average person on the street and not the talking heads about what should be done and what’s not to be done, I think the average person on the street would say we need to do something to help these people reintegrate back into society and help them do a positive reintegration back into society and help them.  The talking heads are pretty much against that up to a certain point of helping people make a positive reentry.  Cause let’s face the facts.  Prison is a big business.  Prison is big business.  Prison industrial conflict is a big business and there’s a lot of money that would be lost if you had a larger population not going back to prison or not going to prison.  If we went back to the numbers of people who were incarcerated 20 years ago, we would lose over a million jobs that were tied into corrections.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but the people on the opposite side would say nobody’s forcing anybody to commit an armed robbery.

Randy Kearse:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And so they’re going back for the armed robbery, they’re not going back because I want to create a job.

Randy Kearse:  No, so it’s them that would more or less be promoting we need prisons because people keep going back or we need prisons because, you know, it helps society.  Those would be the people that would be promoting, you know, not to have successful or impossible reentry programs because again, if you were to integrate people back into society and people were not going back at the staggering numbers that we see now and it dropped dramatically, then you have to downsize prison industry.  Then you have to lay people off and the same people that you laid off might become the criminals.  So I don’t know.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but you do understand, I mean a lot of people are out there saying the reason why we have the prisons is because people commit serious crime.  It’s there because we have no choice and but every–

Randy Kearse:  Studies show that a large majority of people that are locked up in prison are in for non-violent offenses, mostly drugs.  So we should more get away from lock them up, throw away the key and rehabilitate them as far as what their needs are for substance abuse.  That would be a more suitable solution to this whole prison thing.

Len Sipes:  We only have about four minutes left.  So you’re talking to the average person in society.  You’re talking to an aide to a mayor and plenty of aides of mayors listen to this program, aides to governors, aides to congressional people.  You’re going to tell them what Randy?

Randy Kearse:  That I’m pretty sure that they know somebody, maybe not immediately, but they know somebody who has been affected by the criminal justice system.  It can happen to anybody and everybody.  Everybody makes mistakes.  Everybody deserves a chance to prove that they can make it back out of society.  There are a certain amount of people who will never conform to the rules of society.  We do need prisons.  I mean I’m not advocating we don’t need prisons.  But we need to find more and there are programs out there that help ex-offenders make their successful transition.  We need to take what’s working and build on those programs so we can have a more suitable avenue for these people to come home and be successful.  And that’s what I’m out here doing.  I’m out here showing society, I’m showing the world that, you know, there’s life after prison.  We all make mistakes man.

Len Sipes:  Well, you know, I’ve known hundreds of people in my career who have crossed the bridge, who have served very hard time in prison.  And I always bring up this example and he’ll kill me if I say his name, but a guy who served some really hard time in the Maryland prison system, who is out there selling insurance.  And he lives in a beautiful home, beautiful kids, you know, he’s got the whole suburban lifestyle and he’s a two-time ex-felon.  So it is possible and 50 percent don’t go back but that story is once again not told.  So we have a disconnect.  We have a disconnect in society.  We can lower rates of recidivism.  We can lower the numbers going back to the criminal justice system.  We can save taxpayers scads of money.  We can improve the climate of our cities and our metropolitan areas by not having so much crime, but to do that you’ve got to have good solid programs in place.  I mean is that what you’re saying.

Randy Kearse:  Definitely, definitely, 100 percent.  You took the words right out of my mouth man.

Len Sipes:  You know and reason why those programs aren’t in place is my guess is and I shouldn’t say my guess, the guess of  a lot of people that I’ve talked to is that simply society is very reluctant to support programs.  People are saying there’s not enough money to go around.  I mean we’ve got crumbling schools.  We’ve got elderly people who need to be taken care of.  There’s only so much tax paid dollars out there.  Why do I want to give money to somebody who’s put up a gun against somebody’s head and said, you know, give me your money or I’ll blow your head off?

Randy Kearse:  Yeah, but in certain states they had to cut their educational budgets in order to supplement the money for their prison budget.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Randy Kearse:  So I mean come on, I mean where is there checks and balances here?  The reason why a lot of programs are not working in the system is because there’s no accountability.  There’s nobody who’s taking the time to really make sure that these programs are working in a way that will have an impact on the overall fabric of recidivism.  And that’s just the bottom line.  I mean the federal reentry program is a joke man, to be, you know, just to be short of words.  It was a joke.

Len Sipes:  Okay, we talked about and you only about 20 seconds left, we’ve talked about what you would say to the society at large.  What do you say to the average guy, average woman getting out of the prison system?  What’s your message to them?

Randy Kearse:  Be patient.  Be patient, don’t be in a rush to do anything.  Just be patient, pace yourself, believe in yourself no matter what everybody says and listen, you’d rather have your worst day on the streets than your best day in prison.

Len Sipes:  And you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been doing an interview with ex-offender Randy Kearse.  He is at www.Randy R-A-N-D-Y,  Been interviewed by The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Amsterdam News, the Colbert Report, Wendy Williams Experience.  He’s written books and he lectures throughout the country.  Randy, I want to express my appreciation for you being on the program today.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We do appreciate the cards, the letters, we appreciate the comments, the criticisms.  Please keep them coming and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Parole in the US-National Institute of Corrections-US Parole Commission-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we have two guests today to talk about parole in the United States. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about parole. That’s one of the things that we’re going to be talking about today, on today’s program. I’m really honored today to have Commissioner Cranston J. Mitchell. He’s the Vice-Chairman of the United States Parole Commission. Also at our microphones is Robbye Braxton-Mintz, she’s the Correctional Program Specialist for the National Institute of Corrections, and to Commissioner Mitchell and Robbye Mintz, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Robbye Mintz:  Thank you.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Hello.

Len Sipes:  All right. Commissioner, we’re going to start with you. The average person out there, even those of us within the criminal justice system are sometimes confused as to what it is we mean by parole. What is parole?

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, Len, let me give you the short answer. Parole is a discretionary act that is taken by the executive branch of government, both federal and state, and it is to make determination on whether or not an individual can be released from a correctional facility, a prison, and serve the remaining portion of their sentence within the community. I think what makes it so complex for people and difficult to understand is that there are 50 different states, and each one of those states have different parole policies. And so, when you’re listening to a news clip or news bite, it’s not universally understood. If you’re talking about a situation that happens in Nebraska as it relates to parole, well, the rules that apply in Rhode Island or Alabama are very different than would apply in Nebraska. So we’re mixing apples with oranges when you talk about the issues around parole. But my initial comments in terms of a simple description of what parole is, it is, again, the discretionary release of individuals from a correctional setting.

Len Sipes:  So there’re two kinds of releases from a correctional setting. There is what we call mandatory in the business, which means that the person serves 85% of the sentence or a specific number of years or percentage within the prison system. And then the state can no longer legally hold them. And with parole, it is a group of individuals or an individual who makes the discretionary release to the point where they’re saying to themselves, we think that the person a) either served enough time or b) no longer poses a significant risk to public safety so we’re going to release him from the prison system. And ordinarily, there are reasons for that, completing programs, doing well in prison, showing no signs of an antisocial attitude. Do I have those, that bifurcation there?

Commissioner Mitchell:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  Either mandatory or discretionary release?

Commissioner Mitchell:  Yeah. That’s pretty accurate. I mean, mandatory is, again, is used kind of generically as we talk about the truth in sentencing times and legislation that went across this country, and also what exists in some systems is that mandatory means that is the expiration of your sentence. So it just kind of depends on which kind of terms you’re talking about. But clearly, you’re absolutely correct. Parole is the opportunity to leave a prison setting sooner than your mandatory date.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Commissioner Mitchell:  And that date is generally, that release is generally driven by many other things you pointed out, in terms of is this person still a risk to the community, do they have the necessary support systems out there in the community?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Commissioner Mitchell:  To make a successful transition from prison back to the community.

Len Sipes:  And ordinarily, when they’re released, they’re under the supervision, not all, because there are some expiration of sentences where the person doesn’t get out early at all. I mean, they serve day for day, but that’s pretty rare. The overwhelming majority come out under some sort of correctional supervision via parole or a probation agency like mine.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, that is the prevailing thought across the country, that, that is the best practice. That an individual leaving the system should leave with some sort of supervision in some way to monitor their reintroduction back into the community.

Len Sipes:  Now, the United States Parole Commission, as you said in the opening, every state’s going to have their own Parole Commission. And that always tickles me pink because whenever I look at television, and the television, the accountable parole commission, it kind of looks like a court hearing. Even to the point of people sitting on a bench, looks like a judge, and in most cases, parole hearings in this country seems to be a specialist who makes the decision and then that specialist goes to one or a couple of people who either confirm or deny that specialist’s recommendation. So it’s not nearly as formal as what you see on television.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, again, it varies. When I was with the National City Corrections, before I came to the Parole Commission, I travelled around the country and visited a multitude of parole authorities, and some actually do have a very formal courtroom setting where the actual decision makers sit. In some states, you have professional staff people who conduct the inquiries with the inmate and then, they present a recommendation or a report back to the commissioners. For instance, at the US Parole Commission where parole has been abolished, although within the federal system, although we still have people who are under the law, at the time they were incarcerated, they had the opportunity for parole, we use hearing examiners and none of the commissioners actually formally sit at a parole hearing. So in some of my opening comments, in terms of the variety of systems out there, they look very differently.

Len Sipes:  The concept of the US Parole Commission is what, federal law and also having jurisdiction over DC code offenders?

Commissioner Mitchell:  That’s correct. It is federal law. Correct.

Len Sipes:  Now, but basically, what we’ve said is that they now serve 85% of the sentence and when they come out, they’re under the jurisdiction of the US Parole Commission.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Within the legislation, the US Parole Commission, which was abolished, has authority over the offenders who were in the system prior to the abolishment of federal parole.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Commissioner Mitchell:  We have responsibility over military individuals who are court martialed. We have our true to transfer offenders, and we have our people who are under protection in the Witness Protection Program. And we also have the District of Columbia offenders. We have those who are eligible for parole to exercise our discretion over this group, and then we also have this supervised release responsibility for those who do not have the opportunity for discretionary parole but are released on a particular mandatory date.

Len Sipes:  Right, so they come out and they serve their final 15% of their sentence in the community under supervision of our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and if there’s a problem while they’re on that 15%, we present the case to you.

Commissioner Mitchell:  That’s correct. But you’ve got to understand, the mandatory legislation is only attached to certain crimes.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Commissioner Mitchell:  And so, if you’re not convicted of a certain type of crime that carries a mandatory sentence, then what goes into effect are the guidelines that were set here in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  Before August of 2000.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but that’s very confusing to those people sitting in Honolulu going what in the name of heavens are they talking about? Let’s get back to the larger issue of parole. The concept is, in the minds of the average person out there, their principle view of parole is either through a television show or waking up to the morning headlines saying parolee commits X crime. And so we come away from that concept, I think at times, with the sense that parole is somehow bad and that throughout the country’s history, over the course of the last 20 years, parole has been severely restricted. But the interesting part of that is that there’s national research, and it’s been consistent year after year after year, people in parole do better. They recidivate less, fewer crimes, they go back to the criminal justice system far less than those who come out non-parole. So is my premise correct? Is what I just said. . .?

Commissioner Mitchell:  Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. I mean, the notion that what we have within media, certainly, when there is a sensational case that goes bad, everybody is painting it with the same brush. The interesting point that you made, and it’s very accurate, has been consistent over the years, is that more people are successful on parole than there are those that reoffend. So it is always that kind of dynamic. Well, there was a few years ago a program on A&E, they went around the country. And they conducted parole hearings within jurisdictions. I mean, it was very enlightening. I don’t know what happened to the program  itself, but it certainly pointed out how different systems work and the formalities and the level of complexity of the process.

Len Sipes:  It’s also fair to say though, that people in the criminological community over the last five, six, seven years are now saying, you know, we did away with parole in so many jurisdictions, but now, shouldn’t we have done that? Because parolees have always done much better that those just released without parole. So considering that success level, this is something that we should be taking a look at, don’t you think? This is what the criminological community is saying.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, there are a lot of people who would like to revisit this whole idea of the elimination of discretion or elements of discretion within paroling authorities across this country. And that has happened. And parole has certainly been given an additional level of discussion of recognition in terms of the benefit that it provides for people in terms of release.

Len Sipes:  And just making it clear, because we talked about this at the beginning of the program. People who are paroled, ordinarily speaking, they are the people who engage in programs while in prison. They’re the people who behave while they’re in prison. They’re the people who make preparations for release. They’re the people who find work. They’re the people who don’t pose an obvious risk to public safety. So there are reasons why the parole commission in any state would say okay, we believe that 50% of the sentences for this person, for this unique individual, we think it’s enough. We think we can safely release this person to the public.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Absolutely. It is an individualized process and it turns on the uniqueness of that individual in terms of how they have conducted themselves, what kinds of support systems they have available to themselves.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Robbye Braxton-Mintz, I haven’t forgotten you in terms of this entire discussion. You represent the National Institute of Corrections. You’re a Correctional Programs Specialist. You know a lot about this concept of parole. So our point here is that it’s a matter of best practices. As long as we employ those best practices, we can make informed and effective parole decisions that don’t jeopardize public safety.

Robbye Mintz:  That is correct.

Len Sipes:  And tell me about that.

Robbye Mintz:  What we’ve been trying to do at the National Institute of Corrections is to begin to try to push boards to adopt some of what we believe to be some best practices in making paroling decisions. Recently, there’s been this resurgence around reentry and second chance, and the parole boards are gatekeepers.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Robbye Mintz:  It starts with them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Robbye Mintz:  And so, what we’ve been trying to do through our training programs and the different publications that we’ve put out is we’re asking parole boards to try to adopt a different way about making decisions, about who to release and who not to release.

Len Sipes:  Okay. But what we’re saying is that there’s state of the art ways of doing this, that protect the public, and ease the burden—I mean, look, if the person doesn’t pose a significant risk to public safety, if we can release that person earlier, and make room for a person who does pose an obvious risk to public safety, that’s in the public’s best interest. If the research shows that people released under certain circumstances recidivate less, they commit fewer crimes, they don’t go back to the prison system, so what we’re saying with the National Institute of Corrections is saying, that if you do it right, if you follow evidence-based practices, you can do it better and protect the public safety, make room for the hardened criminal who does pose an obvious risk to public safety and saves taxpayers money.

Robbye Mintz:  Absolutely. All those things are benefits to what happens when we can begin to get boards to make what we call structured, we call NIC, we call it parole structured decision making.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Robbye Mintz:  Where there’s certain domains or areas, if you will, that are rooted in evidence, that tell us a little bit about whether a person is going to reoffend.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Robbye Mintz:  And again, by abiding by some of that, asking questions around those areas, right, we have a person who comes home to the community, who is ready to be a productive member of society. We’ve moved some space. We’ve got some space in the institution, and we’ve saved some money.

Len Sipes:  Well, tell me about the evidence-based process though, because the average person listening to this is going, wait a minute. We have heard all these stories in the newspaper about all these crimes committed by all these parolees, and now we’ve got experts from the federal government who are saying, “Ah, there’s a better way of doing this.” What is that better way of doing it? I mean, certainly, how to assess that individual. We’ve moved light years in the last ten years, in terms of getting a much better sense as to who that person really is by an objective assessment tool. So we can predict to a much greater degree whether or not that person’s going to go out and create problems or not, correct?

Robbye Mintz:  That is correct. And so what the model says, this is related to an NIC initiative, is that there are seven different domains, if you will, that if you’re going to look at, if you’re assessing whether or not an offender should be paroled, you should need to have a discussion about it. So those things include a risk assessment. What does a risk assessment tell you? You want to look at what their adjustment is in the institution. Okay, you want to look at the responsivity of the programs. It’s not just a matter of has this person taken it, this particular program, but is it the right program for them? What have they learned from it? Are they ready to practice that once they’re out in the community? And so we look at whether or not the offender is ready for change. There are things that tell us about whether or not they are ready to change their behavior, so there’s a couple of domains that we look at, that guide us toward making a better decision.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests today, Commissioner Cranston J. Mitchell, Vice-Chairman of the United States Parole Commission. www.justice, where you will find the commission. Robbye Braxton-Mintz, she is a Correctional Programs Specialist for the National Institute of Corrections. and what we’ll do is we’ll have resources about parole that was supplied by Donna Ledbetter of the National Institute of Corrections. We’ll have those in the show notes and have the websites within the show notes. Commissioner Mitchell, if I could go back to you. I mean, this is a tough topic, is it not? I mean, we go back and we tell the public, hey, we can do a much better job at this, for all the different reasons we’ve just discussed, and yet they’ve remained skeptical.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, let me say this, Len. Over the years, there have been a number of paroling authorities across this country that have done an exceptional job in terms of structuring their decision making, where they have created and developed [PH] twos that were germane to their population in terms of risk assessment and need assessment, and so they have taken some of the science to push the decision making process forward. But what has happened within the last ten, fifteen years is just this robust research that has identified those things that releasing authorities should pay attention to in terms of their level of risk, in terms of their level of need, in terms of what things are beneficial, where has success occurred and where it has not. How do you manage and monitor the behavior and the tools that are being used today, in terms of GPS, in terms of drug testing, and all of those different aspects. There are therapeutic communities that are cropping up across this country. So there’s a lot more meat on the bones, let me say, in terms of this whole issue of managing the people once they’re released.

Len Sipes:  And we go back to Robbye Braxton-Mintz from the National Institute of Corrections. There are a wide array of reentry programs now that are coupled with the paroling process. Drug treatment, mental health treatment, there’s employment programs. There’s a lot of things that are on the table now, certainly not in a, not as far as I’m concerned, in sufficient numbers. But certainly, there are a lot of programs that are on the table now that may not have been there ten, fifteen, twenty years ago that are lowering the rates of recidivism, correct?

Robbye Mintz:  That is correct. A lot of institutions now are beginning to look at the offender and the programming. When they walk in the door, we’re no longer waiting until they’re three to six months before it’s time to be released. We’re starting to look at what are their needs when they walk in that door and how do we continue that when they’re out in the community.

Len Sipes:  Right. I’m not quite sure that this is criminologically-driven, I’ve always though it’s budget-driven, because what states are saying is, is that we don’t want the guy to come back, so we’re going to use whatever tools we can to be sure the person doesn’t come back, and if those tools are drug treatment or mental health treatment, or reentry programs or housing, or whatever it is, we’re going to employ those tools because quite frankly, we can’t afford to have that person come back.

Robbye Mintz:  That is correct.

Len Sipes:  So they’re coming to the National Institute of Corrections, as the experts in corrections for the United States and for, as far as I’m concerned, for the world, they’re coming to the National Institute of Corrections and they’re saying, help us develop modalities to keep this person from coming back.

Robbye Mintz:  That is correct. As the Commissioner just said, there is a lot of research out there now that we didn’t have before and so, NIC has done things like we’ve got programs that are cognitive-based for the inmates, thinking for change, that we’re working with inmates in institutions and in the community now. So there are a lot of different resources that we now have that we didn’t have years ago.

Len Sipes:  And I’m going to come back to you, Commissioner Mitchell, because in the different states, the governors, every governor, it doesn’t matter who they are, every governor in this country is saying to themselves, “I can’t afford that level of spending on corrections that I did five years ago.” And suddenly, parole becomes now, becomes part of discussion, part of a mix that was not there five years ago. So it seems to have come full circle.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, what’s interesting Len is that governors have taken a more serious look at who they put in these positions. It has become such a pure public safety issue that the selection of people who do this parole business has enhanced itself in terms of the governors. And now, you start looking at this whole issue of managing, assisting the state in managing the population in terms of the cost of incarceration. It’s a tremendous cost and there are a lot of people who argue that there are people who are serving sentences, they probably could serve that sentence more successfully in the community. And so those are the kinds of dollar and cent issues that chief executives of states are asking their paroling authorities to look at. So you have to be a little bit more, in the selection process, governors again are being a lot more selective because the stakes are very high.

Len Sipes:  The stakes are extraordinarily high because if they go south, they could cost you an election. So that’s the other part of it. I mean, the public wants public safety, but by doing this, by picking the right people for parole, picking the right people for community release under programs, and not sponsored by but guided by the National Institute of Corrections, you free up prison space for those people who truly risk, poses an obvious risk to public safety. So it seems to be a win-win situation all around through the programs and through the possibility of parole.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, Len, what common sense tells us is that we’re going to have failures. That’s part of the business.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Commissioner Mitchell:  But I think we can better manage that whole process in terms of the level of risk, the types of supervision that’s required for different people depending on what their level of risk is and what their needs are. And the system has improved tremendously in those areas.

Len Sipes:  But I think that’s the bottom line behind this whole discussion, is that yeah, we’ve had decades of watching that newspaper headline saying parolee does this and parolee does that, but we have gotten 1,000 times better. It’s not perfect. I asked Donna Ledbetter to put together a show on risk and needs assessments because you get different answers from different people. Some say 80% accuracy, some people say 65% accuracy. So it’s not perfect.

Commissioner Mitchell:  It’s a tool.

Robbye Mintz:  Yeah.

Commissioner Mitchell:  It’s a tool to assist decision makers who are equipped, have gone through training at NIC, who have looked at some of the literature that’s been put out by NIC in terms of helping to develop these kinds of decision makers. So it’s a tool to assist, but you still have to use some intellectual judgment.

Len Sipes:  Sure. Oh, absolutely. And I think that’s one of the issues, again, at the heart and soul of this discussion, is that if it’s just cut and dry, if you’re going to say you’re going to serve 85% of the sentence and that’s all there is to it, then what that does is that person may not pose a risk to public safety anymore. He could be pure aged. I mean, the person could be aged out of the criminal justice system. But that person’s occupying a bed that could be used for a person who is dangerous to the public.

Commissioner Mitchell:  And that’s what a lot of state correctional systems are facing. This senior citizen population that are draining many of the coppers of the state in terms of their needs.

Len Sipes:  And Robbye Braxton-Mintz, I mean, again, we want to assure the public that you have training programs for parole commissions, you bring them together you train the various members of the parole commissions throughout the country, you provide them with orientation, you provide them with research and you provide them with guidance in terms of best practices. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in Arkansas or in California or New Mexico or Maryland, there’s a resource for you in terms of the National Institute of Corrections, of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, of the US Department of Justice that can guide you in terms of what best practices are.

Robbye Mintz:  Absolutely. And what we’ve done with the trainings is actually, we do training for parole board members, parole board chairs and parole board executives. So these are three distinct trainings. Different audiences to try to get them to focus on where they are and where we want them to be. And that training is available to everyone.

Len Sipes:  You know, I always tell this story that when I first started doing public affairs, I worked ten years for two national organizations but then I was going to work for a criminal justice agency for the first time and I called up the National Institute of Corrections, and then, I think within six weeks I was in Boulder, Colorado receiving public affairs training. And I said to myself, this is an agency that is very informal and I expressed a need, and they fulfilled the need. So I’ve always had a fond feeling for the National Institute of Corrections ever since then, because I didn’t have to fill in ten tons of paperwork, I didn’t have to wait a year and a half. Commissioner Mitchell, has that ever been your experience? You’ve worked with the National Institute of Corrections. NIC is a fairly informal bunch of folks who seem to get to the heart of the matter quickly.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Oh, absolutely. I mean, there’s this network out there in terms of the profession. And we seem to be, all the emerging issues that are facing the criminal justice system, NIC has their finger on the pulse. And they bring together some of the best minds in many of these different areas especially to develop some type of framework to address the problem. To give states and other entities information and systems to assist them in terms of doing a better job.

Len Sipes:  And a way of exchanging information between members of the parole commissions and parole commissioners.

Commissioner Mitchell:  Absolutely, yeah. There is this collaboration that takes place, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch when you’ve got the right decision makers at the table.

Len Sipes:  Okay, we have a minute and a half left. What is it that we want to say to a citizen who’s listening to this and says, ah, you’re all a bunch of – this is a bunch of malarkey. I just want these people to stay in prison and not get out, and I don’t like this concept of parole. It’s early release and you do the crime, you do the time. Is what we said throughout the course of the program, Commissioner Mitchell, has been sufficient to satisfy that person that there may be a better way of managing resources?

Commissioner Mitchell:  Well, I think it hopefully provides additional thought direction for thought in terms of, we’re faced with truth in sentencing legislation and truth in sentencing laws across this country, but still, there is this discretionary piece that has tremendous value and it holds people accountable, and it provides great opportunity and there is this whole emerging constituency in terms of victims. And the victims’ involvement and input into the process, this is National Victims’ Week. And so, it just further enhances the whole process as it relates to the issue of parole.

Len Sipes:  And we are saying, Robbye, that the victims of crime need to be part of this process, lock, stock and barrel. Not just in terms of notification as to what’s happening with that offender, but the ability to go in and testify, the ability to go in and let the parole commissioner or the parole commission, to let them know that the harm that the person has done to themselves and to their families.

Robbye Mintz:  Absolutely. Victim advocate groups are always a part, should always be a part, of the parole decisions. So yeah, they’re definitely involved.

Len Sipes:  But I keep having this sense in my mind that the person goes in at age 20 and now, they’re 50, and it’s 30 years later and that person probably doesn’t represent a risk to public safety anymore, and can be released and that bed can be freed up for a person who does pose a risk to public safety. That’s the thing that comes across my mind.

Commissioner Mitchell:  And so, looking at him at age 30, after he’s been 20 years, is a better time to look in terms of what kind of risk does this person pose, has maturity set in, you know, and those changes occurred?

Len Sipes:  I’m really proud of having this program today, doing this program today. I’m really proud to have both of you. Our guests today have been Commissioner Cranston J. Mitchell, Vice-Chairman of the US Parole Commission, Robbie Braxton-Mintz, Correctional Programs Specialist for the National Institute of Corrections. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We’re really appreciative of all the input that you’ve provided us in terms of your emails and phone calls, and even an occasional letter, providing suggestions for future programs and comments and criticisms. And please, have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Successful Probation Practices in Travis County, TX, DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I am your host Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is about successful probation practices in Travis County, Texas, where they have reduced recidivism over the course of the last six years, and have saved taxpayers in excess of $21 million.  Our guest today is Dr. Geraldine Nagy, Director, Travis County Community Supervision and Corrections.  Geraldine, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Thank you, I’m glad to be here.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Geraldine, this is a program that has received a lot of publicity.  There are a lot of notices in the literature that I read, the people that I talk to about the wonderful things that you have done down there in Travis County, Texas, in terms of probation.  In essence, one of the things we said before hitting the recording button is that you’ve basically taken the probation department and have gone beyond the usual instructions of most probation departments, which is to follow the orders and the mandate of the courts, and what you have done is actually reduced recidivism, which means reducing new criminal offences.  You’ve saved taxpayers, literally, tens of millions of dollars.  How did you do all that?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Well, it took a lot of people doing a lot of work.  But it began with a very honest look at probation, and probation in Travis County, but probation in general, and we decided that our mission in Travis County was not only be to make sure that people complied with their conditions of probation, but we had a responsibility to do what we could to reduce crime in Travis County, Texas, through our interactions with the probationers.  So we redefined our role and we expanded our mission and we put numerous changes in place in order to accomplish that.

Len Sipes:  Now, you’ve had a 17% reduction in recidivism, and that’s based upon what, new arrest?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  That’s new arrest statewide, so it’s any kind of arrest in the state of Texas.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And that’s an [PH] average reduction.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  And for Travis County, what would be the recidivism rate?  Was it still 17%?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  The recidivism rate at this point is 24%.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.  That is absolutely amazing.  And the fact that you’ve been able to save $21 million in the process.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yes, you know, I think there are a lot of things that are remarkable about this.  I think first of all, it hasn’t required a huge infusion of money into Travis County Probation.  We’ve basically, in our processes and cost efficiency, and stay focused on that goal of protecting the public and reducing recidivism, and evaluated everything we did with that goal in mind.  And so most of what we’ve been able to do has been a better realization of resource and taking a more focused approach to what we do.

Len Sipes:  Now, this whole idea of evidence-based practice, what you did was take a look at the literature, take a look at the research and basically said to the folks when you were hired, I think I can do a better job utilizing the research and bringing evidence-based practices to Travis County, Texas, and I think I can reduce recidivism, and I think I can save taxpayer dollars.  What was their reaction to your proposal?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, what I found with the probation officers, and the other – the managers and the leadership here, is that everyone was on the same page with regards to having probation being meaningful and being able to measure the results with measures that mattered to other folks in the community, the judges, the people who live here and things.  And so, I didn’t get a lot of resistance from staff.  I think the average probation officer back in the older days really had wished, would have wished if they had known, to have this information available so that they could do their jobs better.  So I think there was some excitement about new opportunities.  So there wasn’t a lot of resistance from staff.  It required a lot of education.  It required strong leadership throughout our organization.  But people were willing to try something new if they thought it was going to make a difference.

Len Sipes:  Well, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 42 years.  If somebody, if I was doing the same thing the same way for 20 years, and somebody came along and said, “Leonard, we’re going to try an entirely new way of conducting public affairs,” I would be very anxious. I would say, “Oh, my heavens, look.  I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, and I’m sure some people felt that way, but, you know, I just felt that it was so important not to diminish what they had been doing.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  They had been doing what they had been doing quite well.  They were serving the courts quite well.  So this was not saying what they had done was wrong or unimportant, but they could do more.  And that we could reallocate our resources and we could actually reduce their caseloads by being smarter, how we did things, so that they could make a difference with their folks.  And so, yeah, I’m sure there was some anxiety, some not knowing, but I think that’s part of making any meaningful change, and people for the most part stuck with it.  Our turnover rate has been very low.  And I see a big difference in how people relate to their jobs now.

Len Sipes:  Can I ask you whether or not, is it your belief that most probation agencies in this country follow your model?  My guess would be that most do not.  My guess would be that most still follow a very traditional model of basically doing what the courts ask them to do and to follow the mandate of the courts.  It’s quite a change to go over to a model that basically said, hey, I’m going to make things dramatically better.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  I think there’s a growing interest in evidence-based practices and making changes at the local level.  I think there’re some challenges to do that, and so I think what is different from Travis County is we were successful in really, over the course of the years, doing a top to bottom change to bring us into alignment with a broad array of knowledge and research.  And I think that required a great deal of planning and doing it in a very methodical way, and that is the [INDISCERNIBLE] which describes the process that we went through, is to give some assistance for people who know what to do, but they aren’t quite sure how to do it.  Because it is complex change.  That takes time.

Len Sipes:  Well, from the list–

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  There was a lot of interested–

Len Sipes:  Go ahead, please.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Oh, I’m done.

Len Sipes:  Okay, just on the list that I’m looking at, it includes so many things in terms of motivational interviewing.  I just did a radio show on motivational interviewing, redesigning conditions of supervision, a uniform policy on sanctions, reduced caseloads in the regular units of felony revocations, staffing and review committee, technical violation, court and document of mental health integrated services program.  I mean, I can go on and on and on about this list.  A reentry drug court, a DWI court for repeat offenders, an absconder unit, web-based interactive workforce, redesign of the sex offender management program, establishing a counseling center for intensive outpatient operations.  I mean, enhance job skills training, retooling of job performance measures, that’s a lot, Geraldine.  That is just a huge amount of work.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  It is a lot.  And I think our key was to do a lot of planning upfront, planning the [PH] class, [PH] work through the important steps, because I think the mistake that many people make when they start a significant change is they throw something out without a lot of warning.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  About why they’re doing it and how it fits the bigger picture.  So we’ve really worked on educating folks.  We’ve worked on working very closely with our judges, our prosecutors, our defense bar, and we really, you know, one person cannot do this.  Even your top administrative team cannot do this.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  It needs to be leadership at all levels throughout the organization.  So we had to develop folks to be able to manage workgroups and produce products, and to work fairly independently.  And that took the first year.  So there’s some development that has to take place.  But the second most critical thing is putting a structure in place to actually implement things and manage the work so that it gets done.  And I think that’s what we did here in Travis County, that brought us quite a bit of success much sooner than I expected.  So I think that was key.

Len Sipes:  You had to sell this to, I would imagine, the court, the county commissioners, local law enforcement, your treatment partners.  You had to sell this to lots of different people, correct?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yes, I think for probably the first year I did 30 or 40 different presentations.

Len Sipes:  Wow.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  To community groups, to commissioner of court, to the prosecutor’s office, to the county attorney’s office.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  To commissioners because I felt that what we needed to have is a clear understanding of what we were going to do, why we were going to do it, what I expected the outcomes to be, and to build confidence in our department.  Because we are not a county entity.  We are a judicial entity, we are funded primarily through state, so I needed to build those alliances and yes, we needed support.  We worked very closely with many people.

Len Sipes:  Geraldine, what’s the essence of the program?  I mean, I just read a long list of the individual initiatives.  Some of the individual initiatives that you took on, that you implemented, what is the heart and soul of probation agencies in order for them to be successful, in order for them to have the same results that you’ve had there in Travis County?  What’s the secret sauce?  What is the heart and soul of it?  If you could give an elevator speech in terms of what makes for a successful probation agency, it would be what?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  I think it’s working with the local system collaboratively as a whole, and secondly, creating a culture that knows how to make decisions, relies heavily on research and data, and will take an honest look at itself and change what it needs to.  And so, our way of doing business is probably the biggest change – you listed some of the things that we did, but probation is a living dynamic sort of thing and there are always new problems, there are always new issues, and those need to be based on research and evaluation rather than opinion or emotion.  And so, we’ve taken a different approach to how we do business.

Len Sipes:  Now, in terms of the offender population, you assess them, correct?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Right.  Yeah, an assessment is a foundation of effective probation.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Apart from what I just said, if you [PH] take one thing, it’s in order to be effective, we must know who we’re dealing with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  On an individual level.  So we need to know how likely they are to reoffend, we need to know what issues are contributing to their criminal behavior and then we need to develop strategies, either through probation supervision or treatment, just focus on those specific areas.  But the foundation is assessment, and the foundation for the courts as well is assessment because they set the conditions of probation.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  That’s the start.

Len Sipes:  Once you have an assessment, what do you do with them?  I mean, do you divide them into high risk and low risk, can provide different strategies based upon levels of risk?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yes.  If you were to look at the research, it would say one thing that I think cannot be disputed.  That is, if you over-supervise, over-treat low risk people, people who have support in their lives, have a lesser criminal history, they’re unlikely to reoffend, then you will do them harm.  They are actually more likely to go out and commit a new crime.  If you take your high risk person, and you only see them monthly, for example.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And send them to a treatment that is not very intensive, you can pretty much expect that they will go out and commit a new crime frequently.  So the idea is that we reallocate our resources and sort these [PH] folks, for lack of a better word, so that we know who to spend our time with.  So it’s really somewhat like an emergency room.  You expect to go in there for people to triage the people.  The same thing should happen in a probation department because it really is in some cases life or death for a potential victim in the future.  I mean, that might be the rare case, but still, we’re making important decisions here.  And so, it’s important to be informed.  It’s important to be fully informed and to respond to that.  The key, I think, for probation departments, many do assessments, it’s how they’re used by the courts, by the probation officer, at the point that there’s a non-compliance, at the point in deciding should this person get off probation, all of those are key decision making points.  So the assessment needs to be utilized at each of those decision points.

Len Sipes:  My guest today is Dr. Geraldine Nagy.  We’re halfway through the program.  Dr. Nagy is Director of Travis County Community Supervision and Corrections, well established within the [INDISCERNIBLE] as having one of the most successful probation programs in the country.  A significant reduction in recidivism, a savings to taxpayers of over $21 million and that’s why we have Geraldine at the microphones again today.  A high risk offender, Geraldine, has to receive the bulk of the services.  The low risk offender, you’re talking about a danger of over-supervising them, that’s something a lot of people have a hard time understanding.  So the judge sentences this person to probation, and he’s been in touch with the criminal justice system a couple of times for say, non-violent crimes.  He doesn’t have a substance abuse history.  Is that the kind of person we’re talking about for low risk?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah.  And there’s two types of low risk folks.  Some, it’s a situational one-time thing; they’re corrected at the point of arrest.  They’re not going to do it again.  For those [INDISCERNIBLE] are low, low that we supervise in very large caseloads.  Those other low risk folks that do have some issues, maybe some treatment requirements, and so, we put them in treatment, but it would be a lesser intensity treatment than what we would provide for a high risk person who has a longer history.

Len Sipes:  I had a judge one time said, “Be careful when you ask for treatment for low risk offenders because if I impose those conditions of treatment, those conditions of treatment are enforceable.  And so, the person doesn’t like the program, doesn’t like the group, doesn’t like the facilitator of the group, and the treatment modality doesn’t fit that particular person’s needs, if you come back and tell me that he’s not in compliance, I could possibly send that person back to jail or prison.  So be careful what you ask for,” is that what we’re talking about here?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, and low risk people exactly like you have described have been going to Texas prisons for some time.  I mean, our legislative budget board looked at who exactly is going to prison in the state of Texas and there’s a substantial number of low risk people that end up in the state prison.  So, yeah, piling on extensive conditions for low risk people puts them at greater risk of being revoked, but it also puts them, if they comply, in situations where they’re interacting with high risk people, but it also interferes with their ability to do the things that makes them low risk, like maintain employment.  Do what they need to do with their children and families.  So there’s a number of reasons that low risk people need to be supervised less.  But the greatest one is if you’re supervising them, you can’t supervise the high risk.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  At the level that you should.  So that really is, when I talk about the allocation of resources, one of the biggest shifts in our department was moving that attention to high risk people, so now, they’re watched more closely, but they also have more requirements.  Then there’s that constant interaction to make sure that they’re benefitting from those requirements.

Len Sipes:  Now, it’s interesting that well over, I guess, 35 years ago, I remember that when I left law enforcement and went to college, and started studying criminology, there was a book I read many decades ago called Radical Non-Intervention that said exactly that.  Be careful of what you do with the low risk offender.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is not interact with that person, interact with that person as little as possible.  Don’t bring them full bore into the criminal justice system.  You’re going to create more problems than you solve.  That concept’s been around for decades.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, you know, not everybody understands the concept because I think not everyone realizes that we have the tools and methods to identify those low risk folks well.  And that again, [PH] goes back to assessments.  So I often hear people that say, “Oh, no, that’s not going to work.  What if this one person…?”  And the question is, can we do a good job in making those judgments with the tools that we have?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And yes, much better.  Much better than we could than we did before, certainly, when we just kind of looked at a person and said, “Oh, you look low risk and you look high risk”.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Right.  And using the tools.  It’s not perfect.  I mean, it’s not 100%, but I’ve been told by people in the field that it does approach 80 – 85% accuracy.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Well, and low risk is not no risk.  It’s important for us to recognize that.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  But still, when you look at the research, over and over and over again, it shows that if you over-supervise or treat these folks, they are more likely to go out and commit crime.  In other words, it doesn’t stop them, it makes them more likely to [PH] commit a crime.

Len Sipes:  So now you have the resources that focus on the higher risk offenders.  Now, they come into contact with your probation officers on a much more frequent basis.  They can keep a stronger eye on them and you can get them involved in the programs that they need because there’s a substance abuse history for the bulk of offenders, there are mental health issues for a large percentage of offenders on criminal caseloads, so now you can get them involved in the programs and now you can keep a much better eye on them, and hopefully, through the programs and through the supervisions, lower their recidivism risk.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Right.  And we did a lot of training with our officers to build the skills to be able to do that well.  You mentioned one of those things, motivational interviewing, which is really a strategy for assisting offenders to break through denial and to make a commitment to action-oriented steps to deal with their drug addiction, for example, and really, you know, making sure that they’re addressing the things that for that particular individual, put that person at risk of committing another crime.  So there’s a different level of interaction between the officers and probationer now.

Len Sipes:  And it’s not necessarily confrontational in terms of reading them the Riot Act, again, motivational interviewing is breaking down, as you said, breaking down those barriers and getting the person to understand what it is they did and the steps that they need, cognitive behavioral therapy or what some people call thinking for change, getting them to think differently about who they are and what they do.  And that’s proven to be successful.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, if we want to really make a change in a person, we all know that we have to change their thinking.  And we have to get them to recognize for themselves the importance of the change, and that’s what motivational interviewing and supervision is about.  It’s really helping that person take responsibility and giving them the tools, now that they know they need to take responsibility, how can they solve problems.  How can they manage their impulsivity?  Those are just two examples.

Len Sipes:  But it’s interesting that there’s a lot of people within the criminal justice system, let alone outside of the criminal justice system, who, they sort of scoff at this concept of motivational interviewing and they sort of scoff at this concept of incentives for good behavior on probation, yet these are the things that seem to prompt change in terms of people who desperately need the change.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, one of the things that we do now, is we do what is called [PH] fidelity study, in which we look at case files and evaluate individual officers and the department as a whole as to how much they’re adhering to these new strategies [INDISCERNIBLE] level.  Just an example.  We think that probation officers don’t matter.  I have in front of me a preliminary study, but it looks to see, do offenders who have an officer that does a very good job on their supervision agreement or plan, does that have a relationship [PH] risk with [PH] revocation and recidivism?  And what we found was that there are officers that do well, have offenders with a 17% reduction in technical revocation, a 10% reduction in revocations as a whole, and they’re less likely to have arrest at 12% level.  That’s just one little element.  That’s just one little element.  So I guess what I’m trying to say here and want to be clear about it, that quality of what that officer does with the offender starts with this plan, and people who have a good follow-up plan are significantly less likely to be revoked, a 10 and a 17% reduction is great for this one small, little area.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And a [PH] 12% reduction in recidivism.  So officers matter.  They make a difference in what they do in that office with the probationer.  And that’s what this is all about.  Really changing that interaction so that people are successful.  And that’s probably the biggest change we’ve made.

Len Sipes:  Well, I think it is.  I mean, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to bring it up, because you see motivational interviewing and people just don’t understand how important it is for that officer to guide that individual in terms of the proper way of conducting their lives.  And that the officers’ embracing of motivational interviewing, maybe there needs to be a different way of phrasing it or describing it, but that seems to be the heart and soul in terms of getting people to do what it is they should’ve been doing from the beginning.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, when I go to a doctor and he just doesn’t even look up to me and reads from a chart, and we don’t have an interaction, I think I’m less likely to comply with what he’s told me to [PH] do.  But if, has a very engaging conversation, listens to me, talks about my problems, and problem-solves with me, I am likely to do that.  And I think that’s true of [PH] probation.  I think that’s true with the probation officer, and so that’s really what we’ve switched from, is going through routine process and a checklist, to actually having a problem-solving session with somebody who’s trained to help you solve your problems.  Whether it be drug abuse or impulsivity or hanging around with the wrong friends, or not having a job, any of those.  And so, I just think it’s — [PH] we believe in proving that that it makes a difference and it’s a viable alternative.  That when people go to prison, which is very costly, and has all sorts of other ramifications for a society, that it’s a viable alternative to doing that, where they don’t get that sort of assistance.

Len Sipes:  We have three minutes left in the program.  You know, Project Hope in Hawaii, which was able to reduce recidivism and returns to prison significantly, you know, it was interesting that they responded very quickly to violations in terms of incarcerations.  But one of the things that I was really sort of surprised about is that their focus on programs was really a change in philosophy in terms of how you deal with the offender, in terms of both motivational interviewing and enforcing the conditions of supervision rather stringently.  And I remember asking about the impact of programs, and programs were an important part of it, but not necessarily the most important part of it.  Do you feel that that’s true there for Travis County?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, I agree.  One of the things I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood about is that while officers are working with people to change, they’re also an officer of the court, and so those officers that are able to maintain that authority and hold people accountable, are also more effective in getting people to take responsibility for their actions and to change.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And I think that’s what Project Hope does, is very quickly it shows that this is serious business.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And that’s what we expect our officers to do as well.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Now, the response needs to be appropriate.  We don’t want to throw somebody in prison, but jail I think can be a very useful tool.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, well, certainly and in terms of Travis County and Project Hope in Hawaii, that seems to have been borne out by the data.  Do you feel that you have — well, first of all, no parole and probation agency in the country feels that they have all the resources necessary in terms of mental health, in terms of drug treatment, in terms of job assistance.  But do you feel that you have enough for your higher risk offenders?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  No.  And there’s probably no director that’s gonna say, as you said, say the answer to that is [PH] yes.  But we have a certain issue here in Texas.  People are funded by the number of people that are on probation.  And what’s happened in Travis County as we get more successful as a criminal justice system and diverting low risk people, even from prosecution, and sentencing people to probation, rather than to prison, our population is changing, so our population is [PH] growing some, meaning we get less funding for operation because we don’t have all these low risk folks on probation anymore.  So our caseloads are almost all-high and medium risk, and yet we’re not getting [PH] funding for that.  And so, there’s some challenges to funding.

Len Sipes:  That’s got to be a huge challenge.  All right.  Now, you’ve been written up so often and accolades have come your way, so what is your principal advice to other directors of parole and probation throughout the United States or for that matter, throughout the world?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Well, I think that people often don’t initiate major change because they know that it’s going to be difficult.  And they anticipate all the challenges from the beginning.  And what I would say to other directors is success, when you’re dealing with any major change, in the middle, it can look like failure.  You can look at people who have created change in our culture and then in the middle, there were substantial challenges.  And the way that I see that is that the challenges are just part of the puzzle, so don’t stop because you don’t have solutions to those from the get go.  People will help you solve those problems.

Len Sipes:  I want to thank you for that.  Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, has been Dr. Geraldine Nagy, Director, Travis County Community Supervision and Corrections.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We want to thank you for all of the contact.  We’re up to 133,000 requests on a monthly basis for the radio/television show’s blog and transcripts at media,  Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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