Archives for September 2012

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Film and Video Artists and Offender Reentry


Radio program at

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Today’s topic, ladies and gentlemen, is film and video on offender reentry.  We have three people in the studio today, three experts, in terms of doing videos on the topic of offender reentry.  We have Gabriela Bulisova.  We have Greg Upwall, and Yavar Moghimi.  Gabriela is an independent photographer and instructor in Corcoran College of Art and Design.  Her website is And Greg and Yavar, they’re graduates of the George Washington University Institute of Documentary Filmmaking.  They produced a film called Released to Life that’s gotten a lot of acclaim.  It’s currently under and you can also go to  And to Gabriela, Greg and Yavar, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Greg Upwall:  All right.  Thanks for having us.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Thank you.  Pleasure.

Len Sipes:  All Gabriele, how badly did I screw up the name?

Gabriela Bulisova:  You did great.

Len Sipes:  Did I get it?  Was I in the ballpark even?

Gabriela Bulisova:  Absolutely right.

Len Sipes:  All three of you … I’ve had a lot of fun with talking with all three of you over the course of the last couple months.  And Greg and Yavar, we put together Released a Life.  I had a small part in terms of advising you.  That video won a slew of awards.  It won number one in the first place award in the Washington, DC Film Festival.  It’s won first place awards for a lot of film festivals.  That’s an interesting concept, Released to Life.  Tell me a little bit about the film.

Greg Upwall:  Well the film is basically a short documentary that we produced as students in the Documentary Filmmaking Center.  And it’s a composite character of different folks, basically, going through the reentry process in different stages and having served a different amount of time.  And kind of looking at the challenges that they’re facing coming back into society.  And having some experts kind of also weighing in on what the challenges that they see are.

Len Sipes:  Gabriela, you’ve done video, you’ve done still photography, you’ve worked this concept in a variety of mediums.  Why did you chose offender reentries?  I can think of puppies, I can think of children, I can think of older people, I can think of veterans coming home from war, I can think of a lot of other topics that are probably easier to do than people coming out of the prison system.  Why did you choose that topic?

Gabriela Bulisova:  I actually was introduced to the topic indirectly.  I was in process seeking to work on incarceration and reentry.  I was invited to speak at a [PH] colloquium at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  And the topic was Women and War.  And I worked with refugees, primarily Iraqi refugees for quite some time.  I worked with them in Syria, in Middle East, and in Washington, DC.  So my first thought was I have to go to Iraq and document women in the war zone.  And then because I teach, my schedule, especially travel schedule, is quite limited.  I thought I might look the word war through a deeper or wider prism.  And I looked at war as conflict, as injustice, as violence.  And connected then conflict and women.  And did some research locally and found an organization called Our Place DC.

Len Sipes:  Oh yes.  A fabulous, fabulous place.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Absolutely.  Wonderful, small, underfunded organization –

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Gabriela Bulisova:  – that deals with gender-specific issues and does tremendous work helping women who are coming out of prison to readjust to society.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  So you like the easy topics of life.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  War in Iraq, women returning from the prison system.  Greg, let me go over to you.  You were involved; you and I have been talking more than anybody within this room about this concept of offenders coming out of the prison system.  Look, you guys are filmmakers, I’m part of government.  I’m stodgy, I’ve been around for a long time, I’m jaded, the system gets on my nerves.  You’re filmmakers, you’re artists, you have a fresh perspective, you have that artist soul.  You’re taking a look at the concept of people coming out of the prison system, why?  Greg, I’m going to start with you.

Greg Upwall:  Well it’s a good question, Len.  The group that made the film at GW, none of us really had a strong, personal history with the subject except for one student who was a DC native.  The others of us had a lot to learn.  We chose the topic because we felt that it was an important one, clearly.  But I don’t think any of us really understood what we were getting into.  We quickly realized that the situation is quite bleak when you look at the numbers coming out and the statistics of recidivism, and the lack of funding that exists.  And so as we began to conceptualize what this salient message of our film should be, we realized that our interest was to make a personal story out of the film. And we realized that many people can quickly get desensitized when you look at statistics and numbers, but sort of reflecting our own personal discovery was that these are human beings.  And I remember coming to this realization.  And a lot of the listeners out there might think well of course that’s the case, but we really connected with people.  We met people with real lives that clearly we could empathize with, that clearly had gotten on the wrong side of a situation.  And that was really where our passion and our interests kind of grounded itself.

Len Sipes:  And that was apparent in the film.  If you look at Released to Life and SnagFilms, or if you go to, you see that.  You can see the power of the filmmaking.  You can see the power of the stories. But Gabriela, I’ve seen your photography.  The question is more this, you’re bringing a fresh perspective to it.  You’re bringing the artist soul to it.  What you’ve just said all of us within the correctional or criminological community we know.  What is it that the artist sees that we’re not seeing, in terms of telling that story, anybody.  Gabriela, go ahead.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Exactly right.  As I said, I was new to the issue of incarceration and reentry.  And working with the women, I produced a combination of audio and still images.  I produced a project called Convictions where the women directly tell their own stories in their own voices.  And then I moved on to … then I started doing more research and I learned, as Greg said, the overwhelming statistics of the number of people just in DC, ten percent of DC population being incarcerated or having a criminal record and so on.  But still those are numbers, statistics.

Len Sipes:  What did you feel in your heart?

Gabriela Bulisova:  Right.

Len Sipes:  What was going through your heart, your mind, your soul when you were dealing with this topic?  That’s what I’m interested in.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Right.  As a documentary photographer, as a photo journalist, you want to learn more.  You ask questions why.  And when I … I moved from working with women to working with men.  And when I started working on a new project called Inside Outside, I was reminded of what an Iraqi friend of mine told me when the War on Iraq began.  He said, “I wish I can tattoo faces onto Iraqi people.”  And what he really meant was I wish that people here can see the real people, the real faces of the Iraqis, and thus we can connect with real people, so we can turn them from mass numbers or from news headlines into real people.

Len Sipes:  So you felt that the people that you were dealing with were rather anonymous, they lived anonymous lives.  And somehow, some way through your artistry you would try to capture who they are as human beings.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Absolutely right.

Len Sipes:  Yavar, you have to weigh in on this subject.

Yavar Moghimi:  Yeah.  I think the whole process of documentary filmmaking is about storytelling in the end.  And so especially making social documentaries, you want to tell the story that most people don’t know.  Or if they know, they don’t know why they should care about it.  So that’s … it doesn’t take much to listen to these people’s stories and realize the struggles that they’re facing and the limitations in a lot of the services that are out there to really help people transition back into society.  And then when you sort of look at it from even a financial perspective, too, you kind of wonder what are we doing in terms of all the money that’s being poured into this, and people are being sent back.  So it’s not only affecting the people themselves, but the tax payers as well.  And so we try to craft the message that was geared towards this is an issue that you should care about whether you know somebody who’s gone through the criminal system or not.

Len Sipes:  So why … and from a filmmaker’s perspective, from a creative perspective … what are we doing, what are we not doing to spread that message?  Because when I sit and talk … in the past with my dearly departed mother about the subject of reentry, she said, “Leonard, for the love of heavens we’ve got the elderly to take care of, we’ve got … ”  I’ve told this story a dozen times.  The listeners of this radio program have heard this story a dozen times.  “We’ve got the elderly to take care of, we’ve got school kids to take care of.”  My wife who was Vice President of PTA said, “Leonard, the money needs to go to the kids not to the people who have done harm to other human beings.  We’ve got to start with the kids, that’s where the great bulk of the money needs to go.”  We have a society that basically goes, “Ah, they’re not my favorite people.  I’m not quite sure I’m interested in this topic.”  And I’ll throw out a statistic just to consider.  That 80% of people caught up in the criminal justice system have substance abuse histories.  Approximately ten percent when they’re in the prison system get treatment.  So basically what we’re doing is not helping them transform, to cross that bridge from a tax burden to a tax payer.  We’re not doing that.  Why, is the question.  And I want to ask you guys.  Not as criminologists, but as artists.  Why are we not doing that?

Greg Upwall:  Maybe I can jump in there, Len.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, Greg.

Greg Upwall:  I think what we sort of … like I said before … what we really recognized is that a lot of people see the issue as an us and them situation.  It doesn’t affect them.  It’s a situation you can read about in the news; you hear statistics and so forth.  But quickly we were sort of impacted emotionally by the idea that it’s certainly not us and them.  And that families are involved.  And our whole justice system, we’re all … we take our civics classes growing up and we’re led to believe that our constitution provides fair justice and that once you’ve paid the due for your crime that you’re able to move on with your life.  And we realize it’s just not that easy.  Our goal quickly became … as I know myself and several others in our crew … we’re not the type to quickly give the benefit of the doubt to a criminal.  I came at it with my own biases.  But we realized that our goal ought to be to show that you can’t treat it as a black and white situation.  And it’s also become an issue that’s being done a disservice by reality TV programs have tend to portray prisons as violent places, and all criminals as violent people, and it just wasn’t the case.  We couldn’t avoid that fact.

Len Sipes:  Right.  I talked to an employer who watched Hard Time on one of the cable stations.  And basically said, “You want me to hire somebody from there?”  And I said, “Look, I’ve been in and out of prisons hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.  It’s not like that.”  I said, “You have that that goes on in prisons on a periodic basis, but the overwhelming majority of prisons you go into, they’re some of the safest places on the face of the earth, believe it or not.  I’ve walked through dozens and dozens of prisons totally unescorted, totally without an ounce of fear.”  But that’s what they see.  So if that’s what they see on the six o’clock news, if that’s what they see in Hard Time, if that’s what they read about in the morning paper, that doesn’t create a lot of sympathy for what they call “ex-cons”.

Greg Upwall:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  Gabriela, you want to … the question becomes how do you reach an audience?  How do you … these are extraordinarily powerful stories that all three of you have documented.  How do you convince people to take those very powerful stories seriously?

Gabriela Bulisova:  These are really good questions.  And I think their answers are very … questions are complex and the answers would be complex as well.  So I think you can dissect it to so many different aspects.  But if I may, I agree with what your mother was saying.  I think money should be put towards kids.  I think money should be put towards ward seven and ward eight and should be put towards education and treatment and prevention.  Because I think that’s how we can eliminate the later large rates of incarceration.  And unfortunately majority of the people in Washington, DC who are incarcerated, come from the poorest socially, economically deprived wards. So I certainly agree that that’s –

Len Sipes:  But remember this show goes out all throughout the country and all throughout the world.  And that applies to any city not only in the United States, but any city in the world.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Absolutely right.  But also again, just to use some numbers, we now … we’re so lucky to live in this country, we have so many advantages.  But then you look around the world, and this is the country that has the highest incarceration in the world.

Len Sipes:  Yes, it is.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Why do we incarcerate, what is it, 740 people per 100,000 people?  In Finland, I believe it’s 60 people per 100,000.

Len Sipes:  Huge difference.

Gabriela Bulisova:  So I think we have some homework to do here.

Len Sipes:  Want to reintroduce our guests, ladies and gentlemen.  We’re doing a, as you well know, a piece on film and video on the subject of offender reentry.  We have three experts in the studio with us today.  Gabriela Bulisova, Greg Upwall, and Yavar Moghimi.  Gabriela is an independent photographer instructor with the Corcoran College of Art and Design.  The website is  Greg and Yavar are graduates of the George Washington University, the Institute of Documentary Filmmaking.  They did an extraordinary film called Released to Life.  It’s won three first place awards.  You can see it on, go to the website and search Released to Life.  Or you can go directly to their website, Gabriela, so we have the energy behind audio.  We have the energy behind video.  We have the energy behind stills.  These are very powerful stories.  Are they reaching the larger population, or are they just reaching the already converted to the topic?

Gabriela Bulisova:  We are independent filmmakers, photographers, so we can certainly use some help in terms of promoting our work.  But that is my hope.  If we … as you mentioned before, why should a population care about somebody who just came out of prison and is unemployed or homeless and so on?  And to me feel like if I can just engage, even if it’s a small number of people into a dialogue about that people need second chance, that it’s going to actually … that if we give somebody a job or ability to go to school and better their life, we’re going to improve public safety, community safety, create stronger families and so on. So is it reaching all the people?  I would like it, not yet.  I’m hopeful that it’s going to communicate to more people.  But for example just this past Friday an exhibition opened in Anacostia at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions called Inside Outside, where people can come and see photographs, see the video, and hear the stories of the people that I worked with.

Len Sipes:  Greg and Yavar, you and I have sat and talked on a couple different occasions about reaching this mass audience.  It is the contention of some people that unless we reach that mass audience, unless we move way beyond the already converted, the already convinced, unless we reach that audience we’re not going to make much difference.  Again, the idea that 80% of offenders caught up in the prison system have histories of substance abuse, ten percent are getting drug treatment.  There’s a gap that needs to be addressed.  The only way that that’s going to be addressed is through political will and money.  These sort of things cost money.  To do that you’ve got to convince the larger audience.  We’ve talked about public service announcements in terms of reaching a larger audience.  Is that possible, is that doable?  Do you think that we can appeal through art to the unconverted, to the general public, and convince them that this is a topic that they want to take on?

Greg Upwall:  Well I’ll jump in there.  I think that again, the answer would be yes.  And I think it is it in the way that that message, as Yavar said, it’s a question of storytelling.  The real message is not, “Hey, you should care about criminals, and that should be something you think about when you wake up in the morning.”  The message is more that I experienced individuals that were some of the most inspirational and driven individuals I’ve ever met in my life, that I’ve never met just in the general population.  That told me something about the power of rehabilitation and truly … one of the guys in our film says, “I was in the news once for doing something wrong.  I intend to be in the news again for doing something great.”

Len Sipes:  And that’s powerful.

Greg Upwall:  It’s powerful.

Len Sipes:  These stories are powerful, powerful stories.  When you sit … I’ve sat in prisons amongst 20, 30 offenders and we’ve had hour-long conversations about their lives, about their hopes, their dreams and what it is they want to do.  Now statistically speaking, 50% are back in prison within three years.  That’s a real problem.  There’s not enough being done.  So again, the outreach to the average person to convince them that this is something that is in their best interest.  Is it from a standpoint of morality, Yavar?  Is it from the standpoint of political correctness?  Is it the standpoint of religion?  Or is it from the standpoint of just it’s in your self-interest, it’s in your best interest from the standpoint of tax-paid dollars and your own safety, to support these sort of programs?  What’s the message?

Yavar Moghimi:  Right.  Each audience is going to have a different way that you can target them.  But I do think to get the broadest appeal in terms of the message, I think a big part of it does have to come down to you feeling safe in your community.  In one of our … Dwayne Betts, who’s one of the folks in our movie and he’s a Soros Justice Fellow, a previous ex-con who then is a poet and writer now.  In our movie he talks about we know that we lock people away, but we don’t know what the product is that’s coming out of that.  And I think that’s an important piece.  We’re putting people away for crimes that they committed, and the assumption is that somehow they are being rehabilitated in the process.  And if they’re coming out and they’re coming out safe for our communities.

Len Sipes:  Does anybody really believe they’re being rehabilitated in prison?  The surveys that I’ve seen is that most people don’t know and most people don’t care.  That’s part of the problem in terms of communicating.  And we have three communicators who specialize in this topic.  So tell me, is it that the public doesn’t care?  Not that they’re callous human beings, but they have so many other things on their plates.  Greg.

Greg Upwall:  I was going to say I think most people will sort of respond to the issue of their own safety and their family’s safety within their communities.  And also the issue that this is something that their tax-payer dollars are paying for, the prison system.  And we, time and time again, found individuals who had had access to educational training programs, books in prison.  This isn’t to say they were on some sort of a holiday, or being served at luxuries.  But the basic, you’re there, you’re serving time, what are you going to do while you’re there.  And it became for us pretty clear that those who had had access to those things, certainly did better by them.  And so it became a question of how do you use those incarceration dollars most effectively.

Yavar Moghimi:  Or even those that … and one of the centerpieces of our movie is the DC Central Kitchen which is a culinary job training program in the DC area.  A lot of the folks they work with are ex-offenders.  And to just see what they do, not only in terms of job training skills, but life skills, group therapy, substance abuse, they tackle a lot of the issues.  And they have a very high success rate in terms of getting folks employed, keeping folks out of jail, keeping folks out of drug treatments.

Len Sipes:  So all three of us agree they’re very, very powerful stories.  All three of us agree to the ones who are successful, they are very interesting from a human interest point of view.  All of us know that there are certain programs out there that can dramatically cut recidivism.  I’ve got the three of you here.  I’m going to keep hammering away.  Gabriela, what’s the theme?  Okay, now if we all know this, and we all understand this, and we all think wow, what a great topic from a journalistic point of view, from a human interest point of view, from a public safety point of view, from an effectiveness for your tax paid dollars point of view.  What are we missing in terms of communicating that to the larger audience?  There’s got to be a way.  There’s got to be a way.

Greg Upwall:  Yeah.  I will say that while we’ve gotten a lot of awards for our films, they tend to be student film festivals.  I would quickly say that we haven’t reached a mainstream audience.

Len Sipes:  How do you reach the mainstream audience?

Greg Upwall:  And I’m not sure we have the answer for that.  But I do know that the messages that are being portrayed about the violence of prisons and things, that it is important, I think, to find ways to show the other side of that.

Len Sipes:  How do we do that?

Greg Upwall:  And so maybe it is a public service announcement.  Maybe a series of campaigns.  I think it’s finding engaged people, like ourselves, that want to take on these topics in a sensitive manner with … that are looking at more than just the sort of sensationalized way of portraying things.

Len Sipes:  But we all get together and talk to the converted.  That’s my only problem with this issue.  It’s not going out and talking to the person who lives 20 miles outside of the city.  Look, this is an issue that has a profound impact on any city in the United States.  It’s an issue that has a profound impact on any city in the world.  The crime and justice issue.  If we can take 50% of these individuals and provide them with the services and they stay out of the prison system, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars saved.  You’re talking about tens of thousands of crimes going uncommitted.  You’re talking about something that is clearly what all of us want, yet … if I say cancer, people go, “How can I help?”  If I say child abuse, people say, “How can I help?”

Gabriela Bulisova:  Right.

Len Sipes:  If I say offender reentry, they go, “Well, what about the children?”

Yavar Moghimi:  This isn’t a problem that’s unique to criminal justice.  I feel like there’s a tendency in general to put money in … and you think about healthcare.  Spending money when people are already sick.  Spending money when people need the emergency room as opposed to putting it up front for their preventative public health visits, you know, those types … this is a common sort of short-sightedness of a lot of bureaucratic processes where the money just isn’t put up front and it’s sort of an out of sight, out of mind mentality until all the people who are coming out of prison from the war on drugs are suddenly all back in society again.  And what do we do with all these folks?  I think there’s just a common problem of short-sightedness in general with a lot of these issues.

Len Sipes:  Well here’s a work assignment for six months from now.  Because [Ph] we’re redo this show six months from now by the way.  Because you guys are my guinea pigs.  What is the theme?  What is the central message that we can communicate to citizens in general to really say, “Hey, you know what, it’s probably in my best interest to support these sort of programs for people coming out of the prison system”?  That’s going to be your homework assignment.  So when we reconvene, you’re going to say, “Hey, I came up with successful themes.  This is what we need to say.”  Right?

Greg Upwall:  Sounds good.

Gabriela Bulisova:  Sure.

Yavar Moghimi:  Yeah.

Gabriela Bulisova:  If I may, I would just say that again the topic is so massive, so abstract.  And I think all of us grew up with that notion of incarceration bad, prisoners bad, felons bad.  So I think the topic is so stigmatized and the people are so stigmatized that it’s going to take some time to actually remove that stigma of incarceration.  And I think that’s where we can come in as filmmakers, as artists.  We might not have the answers, but perhaps we can at least start to engage people in a dialogue.

Len Sipes:  People ask me why I was doing this radio show today.  And I said, “Because we in the bureaucracy aren’t going to convince anybody.”  I said, “That’s either going to come from the offenders themselves, or it’s going to come from the artist community.”  They’re the ones who are going to figure this out.  We’re not.  We’re bureaucrats.  We’re government bureaucrats.  We’re not terribly creative, we’re overly cautious, we’re going to be pressed.  And the answers going to come from the offender community itself or from the artist community, because they’re the ones who are going to tell us, “Hey, this is the direction we need to go in.”  Am I being patronizing, or does that have a thread of truth to it?

Yavar Moghimi:  Well as you were talking about what are ways we can have this message heard, I think TV is so powerful in that way.  And whether it is through a public service announcement … or I wonder how we could affect these shows that are sensationalizing being incarcerated.  And realize that they’re having a damaging affect in society.  Because I … there are –

Len Sipes:  But they’re not going to go away.

Yavar Moghimi:  They’re not going away, but there’s got to be a way to at least consult or have some sort of role in having a different message being told, too.  And part of the internet and social media and things like that are also new, powerful tools to really spread that message too.

Len Sipes:  Thirty seconds.  Is it powerful to counteract the cable news shows?  Is social media powerful enough to counteract the bad news that comes out from the morning newspapers or from television coverage or from the cable shows?

Greg Upwall:  Well, whether it is or not, Leonard, my answer would be that that doesn’t mean we don’t keep pushing those messages.  And I think that people do like positive messages at the end of the day.  And we found some positive stories among these individuals.  And those success stories need to be told.

Len Sipes:  Well we’re going to bring you all back at a certain point.  We’re going to talk about those success stories.  Because we’re going to come up with some sort of PSA and it’s going to go national and you’re all going to get awards and it’s going to be powerful and it’s going to be influential.  I know that in my heart.  In any event, ladies and gentlemen, our show today has been on film and video on offender reentry.  We’ve had three guests with us today.  And one I’m going to try for … wants to get her name correctly, Gabriela Bulisova.  Greg Upwall, Yavar Moghimi.  Gabriela is studying portrait photography, journalistic photography the Institute of Documentary … oh, I’m sorry, that’s Greg and Yavar.  She’s an instructor to Corcoran College of Art and Design., it will be in the show notes.  Greg and Yavar, they are graduates of the George Washington University Institute of Documentary Filmmaking.  Again, they did the award-winning film Released to Life, which you can see on  You’d go to SnagFilm and just search Released to Life, or go to  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate your interest and comments.  And please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.


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Faith Based Programs for Offender Reentry


Radio program at

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen the issue for today’s program is faith-based partnerships.  It is amazing as to how many people all throughout this country how many congregations are involved in helping people caught up in the criminal justice system.  And the amazing success that they’ve had to talk about this issue.  We have today Eugene Schneeberg from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  It’s also part of a White House initiative,  Eugene, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Thanks so much for having us back, Len.

Len Sipes:  Eugene, it’s really exciting because we just recently did a radio show … and oh, by the way ladies and gentlemen the reason why Eugene is late today is because he had a meeting at the White House.  So you don’t get that excuse all that often except in Washington, DC — “Oh, I’m sorry I’ll be late for the radio show today because I have to go to the White House.”  Give me a sense as to what faith-based initiatives are as they apply to people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure.  Well I would say that faith-based organizations play a critical role in cities and towns, municipalities all throughout the country as key partners with law enforcement because of their long standing in communities, the sense of credibility that churches, synagogues and mosques have throughout the country.  They’re places where people can go when they’re in need of help.  And so for decades faith-based organizations have been really involved in helping prisoners transition back successfully from incarceration, helping them with real practical needs, whether it was clothing, food, shelter, counseling.  The houses of worship often times function as places where people can go when they need help.

Len Sipes:  Moral authority, I think that for me is a key issue here because in the criminal justice system who has the moral authority?  Both of us I think would pretty much agree that society polices itself.  It’s not necessarily the criminal justice system that works; it is the moral authority of the larger society.  To me nobody carries more moral authority in larger society than faith-based institutions.  So if anybody’s going to have the authority to say, “Hey, you should be doing this.  You shouldn’t be doing that.”  It would be the churches, mosques and synagogues.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  I would agree with you.  And additionally, Len, I just would add that many religious organizations have spun off parachurch organizations which are essentially the service delivery arms of the houses of worship.  So many organizations have their own non-profit organizations that are specifically designed to provide these much needed services.

Len Sipes:  Three hundred and fifty thousand congregations throughout the United States.  Again churches, mosques, synagogues, 50% … according to your literature … of all volunteers in this country.  Now that’s amazing come to think of it, 50% of all volunteers in this country are faith-based.  That’s powerful.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  I think most, if not all, major religions have in their tenants the desire to serve, the desire to be there for the least of these.  And so it’s definitely a strong motivator, faith is, and the desire to help those who are in need of help.

Len Sipes:  Eugene, you have a unique story in terms of this whole faith-based initiative.  One of the reasons that you gravitated towards this arena was that of your own background, correct?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Absolutely, as a young person … Len, we talked about this on the last broadcast … but grew up not knowing who my father was, grew up in a very high-crime community.  And it was really the faith community that was there for me, my local church, my pastor who played the role of the father that I never had.  And I was able to grow my own maturity, grow in the faith.  And I’ve seen firsthand in my life and also in the lives in the young people that we’ve served over the years, the power of when a community comes around someone who’s in need, it’s incredibly transformative.

Len Sipes:  In a system it doesn’t have a lot of good news stories … the criminal justice system at times can be downright depressing … we have high rates of recidivism in this country.  About 50% of all offenders say after three years are back in the prison system, two thirds are re-arrested.  You take a look at these numbers and those of us that deal directly with people under supervision, there comes a point where you say — well this is something a Public Safety Secretary said to me years ago.  He said, “Leonard, are we just spinning our wheels in terms of the high rate of recidivism?”  And the faith-based community basically says, “No.”  Because they embrace this individual coming out of the prison system.  Maybe nobody else wants him; maybe his own mother doesn’t want him.  So he either ends up in a gang on the street or he ends up in a gang for good.  One of the two.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, I might need to steal that from you.  A gang for good, I think you know, again in many religious traditions, there’s a tenant of forgiveness, of grace, of redemption.  And so it makes a lot of sense.  I think also in many of our criminal justice institutions, whether it’s parole, probation, the courts or our prisons and jails are just overwhelmed.  And as a result of that, oftentimes they just don’t have the resources necessary to provide all of the services that are needed for someone that’s trying to rebuild their life.  And so faith-based organizations are in a strategic position where they can come along side and help to catch those who fall between the cracks and not try to replace the criminal justice institutions, but really come along side then partner with them.

Len Sipes:  I’m part of the criminal justice system.  Why should anybody listen to me?  There’s something powerful when a person comes along, he’s not being paid for it … I’m being paid for what I’m doing today … he’s not being paid for it, she’s not being paid for it, comes along and embraces this person … now I do want to emphasis as I always do when I talk about the faith-based program is that they are not allowed to try to convince these individuals coming out of the prison system.  They’re not allowed to try to convince them to partake in their religion.  They are specifically told not to do that.  But if I’m there and if I’m by myself and I’m alone and somebody reaches out their hand to me and says, “You don’t have to come to church but why don’t you come … I mean to a church service … but why don’t you come to our church.  Let us find out what it is you need in terms of food, in terms of clothing, in terms of going on a job interview, maybe we’ve got some connections, maybe your child needs some daycare.  Come to us and let us discuss your issues.  And maybe you want to open up and tell us a little bit about your life and who you are and what you are.”  That’s profound.  Either they get us, the stodgy old criminal justice system who’s seen everything and there’s a certain point where we lose our enthusiasm.  Or you get this genuine human being who’s reaching out their hand to you.  That’s such a dramatic difference.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  I think there are some limitations in terms of scope of responsibilities that say a probation officer has.  They have a kind of narrow focus.  And their job is to monitor and supervise.  And often times that person from the faith community, whether it’s a mentor or an advocate of some sort, has a different goal in mind.  And has perhaps their goal is to see that person restored or to some sense of wholeness and also to support their families.  And so again,faith-based organizations are key partners.  I just think about here at DOJ, through our Second Chance grants, there’s a category funding for mentoring.  And that’s available for non-profits and faith-based organizations.  And in I think it was 2011 I think we got well over 1,000 applicants throughout the country, many of whom were faith-based organizations.  And we could only fund a fraction of those.  But I think it was just an indication of the outpouring of level of interest and activity that’s going on in faith community.  Likewise we held a webinar at the beginning part of this year and it’s available to see and hear on our website on faith and community based approaches to reentry.  And we had over 2200 registrants Len.  We set a record for the Department of Justice.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Eugene Schneeberg:  And so that, I think, sent a message that said faith-based organizations, non-profits … and law enforcements particularly interested in this.  I hear from so many police chiefs –

Len Sipes:  Oh, sure.

Eugene Schneeberg:  – wardens, decision makers within the criminal justice system that say, “Hey we want to work with the faith community”.  Maybe we don’t know how, but there’s a desire to do that on both sides of the coin.

Len Sipes:  Well this is an old tradition that goes back decades.  When I was in law enforcement, if somebody was in a jam but he wasn’t a threat to public safety, but he was a threat to himself, we’d gather up the responsible people in that particular community and always the faith-based part of it … there was always a faith-based component.  There was always a priest.  There was always a minister.  There was always a rabbi.  There was always an imam.  There was always somebody there that we grabbed in terms of intervening in the lives of that individual.  So the law enforcement have been reaching to the faith community.  It may not have been known back in the 1970’s as a faith-based initiative, but that’s what it was.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  I think you hit the nail on the head.  I think in law enforcement there’s a recognition … you hear this all the time, it’s almost become cliché … where they say we can’t arrest our way out of the problem.  We can’t incarcerate our way out of the problem.  And so there’s a recognition that tough on crime oftentimes isn’t the answer.  It’s better to be smart on crime.  And in being smart on crime, that means that pulling together all the stakeholders in the community, not only the faith community but the non-profit sector, the business community, et cetera.  And I think the faith community would be wise to likewise recognize that they can’t do it alone.  You can’t pray your way out of this situation.  There needs to be these authentic partnerships across the board that cut across silos.

Len Sipes:  I do want to remind the listeners that we do have at the court services an offender supervision agency, a faith-based program involving some 500 places of worship.  You just sit down with these individuals who have been through the faith-based program.  And you talk to them about their successes.  And you talk to them about their challenges.  And to a person … I always ask the same question … what would happen if the faith-based program was not there when they came out of the prison system, to a person.  No exceptions, to a person they would say, “I would either be dead or back in the criminal justice system.”  That leaves me profoundly moved when you have that level of interaction.  I’m not going to suggest that this happens to everybody.  I’m not going to suggest that this happens to 50%.  I’m going to say that there are significant numbers of people who credit their lives and their wellbeing to the faith community, and if the faith community wasn’t there, they wouldn’t be here.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  Len, and I think that’s what led to the creation of the faith-based office.  President Bush felt strongly about that and created the White House Faith-Based initiative.  And President Obama feels very strongly as well and that’s why he expanded the responsibilities of the faith-based office in 2009 when he came into office.

Len Sipes:  Now what your office does is basically to coordinate with clergy of religious organizations, criminal justice organizations, neighborhood organizations throughout the country to try to really prompt people to consider being involved in faith-based initiatives.  It doesn’t necessarily mean criminal justice.  It could mean criminal justice, but there’s endless arenas that are quasi-criminal justice where the faith community can reach out to people in need, correct?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure.  And so I get this question a lot, Len.  There are 13 satellite offices throughout the Federal Government all coordinated by the central White House Faith-Based office.  I head up the faith-based office at the Department of Justice.  But there’s one at Agriculture, the VA, SBA, Labor, HUD, HHS, all throughout the Federal Government.  Each of which work to strengthen partnerships with faith-based and secular non-profit organizations with the missions of their agency.  So at DOJ we do concentrate entirely on criminal justice issues but which includes mentoring, delinquency, prevention, victims, a lot of things that you might not traditionally think of.

Len Sipes:  For information about our program by the way,, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  I’m going to give out the website again for Eugene Schneeberg’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  It’s also a White House initiative., Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.  Eugene, how do we get people involved that may be sitting on the fence?  Somebody listening to this program right now either at a church, mosque, synagogue and they say, “Well gee, maybe we should be participating in this effort to help people come out of the prison system.  We have individuals who maybe they have a background here.  A long time ago they were caught up in the criminal justice system and now they’re doing fine.  But, boy, they would make great mentors.”  How do we convince them to get off the fence and really consider this?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, I would say first off thanks for plugging our website.  But I would encourage your listeners to go ahead and go to the website and subscribe to our e-blast that goes out.  We send out regular updates of activities that we’re doing, partnership opportunities and highlighting best practices all throughout the country.  On our website you’ll find a number of different I think very practical, very useful step by step tool kits guides for faith-based organizations along different lines, whether it’s mentoring, whether it’s working with prisoners, whether it’s youth violence prevention, whether it’s responsible fatherhood activities.  They’re all on our website.  And also feel free to email us at

Len Sipes:

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  Also folks can feel free to give us a call at area code 202-305-7462, that’s area code 202-305-7462.  Len, we really have a open door policy.  We love getting calls from people with questions all throughout the country everyday, people that want to get involved.  And so I would say as a first step you could talk with your local police department.  Many times there’s Crime Watches.  There are city wide steering committees, and I think the law enforcement would love to have more participation on the behalf of the faith community.

Len Sipes:  But do you agree … and I’m pretty sure you do, I think this is a softball question, but I’m going to ask it anyway … but do you agree with this sense that we within the criminal justice system, we within government, we’re somewhat limited compared to the average person out there?  If somebody’s caught on the fence, if somebody’s involved in crime, if somebody is drifting over towards that side of the equation that’s going to get them into a jam, somebody’s now doing drugs, somebody’s now stealing, somebody is now doing a little hustling on the side, they’re moving in this direction.  It strikes me that ‘we’ within the system have limited abilities to persuade this person not to … somebody from the neighborhood, somebody connected to a church, mosque, synagogue that they would have far more power than we would in the criminal justice system.  Not just to help a person coming out of prison, but to persuade a person to move in another direction.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, a couple responses, one I think law enforcement, if we’re talking about police in particular, they have a job to do.  They need to keep us safe.  And thank god for police officers.  I have a brother who’s a police officer.  And so nobody wants a community without any police, it’d be chaos.  But they’re not social workers.  And they’re not equipped to do much of the work that non-profits, social service organizations do.  But on the other hand to your point, oftentimes if it’s someone that does have kind of is in the street life or the criminal mentality, often times they’re viewed as having an adversarial relationship with law enforcement.  And so the fact that someone from the faith community can come alongside someone particularly like you said as a volunteer, not being paid to do so, and there’s obviously more of an opportunity to create the authentic relationship.  And like you mentioned the moral authority.  There’s a moral voice to it that says, “You can do better.  We’re here to support you.  There is hope.  There is another way.”  And that’s incredibly powerful.

Len Sipes:  The other thing about it is that churches will come together as a group to deal with a wide variety of neighborhood ills.  So it’s not just a church or a mosque or a synagogue, it’s the group of them.  It crosses religious boundaries.  That’s the thing … when I see a church, a Baptist church and a mosque and a minister and an Imam standing there side by side with a priest addressing neighborhood ills, there’s just something about that that says okay there’s hope.  There’s hope for us within the criminal justice system if we could marshal that sort of power.

Eugene Schneeberg:  You’re absolutely right again.  You see in cities throughout the country alliances, collaboratives where communities speak as one voice.  And it’s incredibly powerful, particularly when you’re talking about advocating for a particular issue like preventing violence or like stopping mass incarceration or banning the box or some of these other issues that we see today.  So that idea of folks working together, that there’s power in numbers is incredibly important.  And we see that in ministerial alliances in other examples as well.

Len Sipes:  Because just last week we had a discussion in this studio with a group of filmmakers.  And there were three videophotographers.  They were all award-winning individuals.  They had won some rather prestigious awards, all three of them.  Dealing with films and still photography, dealing with the subject of reentry.  And I kept hammering away at them what is the magic formula for reaching out to the larger community?  Sometimes I think we in this business speak to the already converted so many times.  And that unless we reach out to the larger community beyond the already converted, we’re not going to get that terribly far.  The example I gave last time was that 80% of offenders caught up in the criminal justice system have histories of substance abuse according to data, ten percent get drug treatment when they’re in a state prison.  So the overwhelming majority of people who need drug treatment aren’t getting drug treatment.  Okay if I’m off by five percent or ten percent, the overwhelming majority still aren’t getting drug treatment.  The reason for that is that we haven’t convinced the larger society that these are programs in their best interest.  But wouldn’t the average person out there see the faith community as in their best interest?  Wouldn’t the average person say, “Well I may not care for whatever reason,  I may not care about a person coming out of the prison system.  But I do care about “the church”, or the faith or the synagogue?”  So doesn’t this strike you as being a way of enlargening the pool who are supportive of programs for offenders caught up in the prison system coming out of the prison system by doing it through the faith community?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, I think you’re right.  I think a lot of people get informed as part of their religious expression, whether it’s through weekly announcements or from the pulpit directly.  And so it’s incredibly powerful when leaders in the faith community take up this issue, take up issues of justice.  And we see that being done in all faith’s traditions.  And so you’re right, there’s an opportunity there to reach a population that might not be traditionally tied into some of these criminal justice issues.  And so we meet with regularly groups of faith leaders that come together across denominational lines, across religious ideologies but are concerned about similar issues.  They’re concerned about reentry, they’re concerned about mass incarceration, they’re concerned about employment barriers.  And they come together with a collective voice representing, oftentimes, thousands, if not millions, of congregants in some of these larger denominations.  And they speak with a pretty powerful voice.

Len Sipes:  I think that I’m just … in terms of this last radio show that I did with filmmakers at a radio show that we’re doing today, it just struck me.  They’re talking about doing a national public service announcement.   And it just struck me that … and I was pounding away at them in terms of what’s the theme.  What would you say to the non-converted?  What would you say to the average person?  And it just struck me then maybe the PSA should be somebody representing Catholicism, somebody representing the Protestant churches, somebody representing Islam, somebody representing Judaism coming together at the same time within the frame and saying, “This is something that you need to support.  It’s not only in your best interest, but it’s what God commands.”  I remember from my religious upbringing Jesus didn’t say you have an option about dealing with people in the prison system.  I remember Him saying it was a command to go into the prison system.  Now I don’t expect anybody to be going in the prison systems.  But it really was a command from my religious deity from Christianity that this is something that I had no choice about.  It’s something I had to do.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah.  I think some people feel that it’s more than an occupation, that it’s a calling.  And I think there’s large organizations that focus on what we call prison ministry, the work is done behind the walls.  And then there are organizations particularly over the past ten years that are becoming more sophisticated and recognizing that not only is there a need to meet the spiritual needs of individuals behind bars through Chaplaincy and other types of prison ministries, but really there’s an overwhelming need to provide those services when people come out to help them find jobs, help them get back into school, housing, supportive services like you mentioned for substance abuse and the like.

Len Sipes:  We have about five minutes left.  What is the future for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships?  Again, it’s Department of Justice, it’s a White House initiative, it’s within all federal agencies.  So where do you go to from here?  Is it just a matter of continuing to do exactly what we’re doing now and put out the call?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure, Len.  Well since the last time we were on your show we did roll out our website, which we think is a great tool to reach people throughout the country.  Our subscriber list is growing daily.  On our website we have three webinars that have been extremely well attended.  We had one on faith and community-based approaches to prisoner reentry, faith and community-based approaches to responsible fatherhood, and most recently we had one on faith partnerships with law enforcement.  So I encourage folks to go on our site, check out those webinars.  We’ve also worked closely with our colleagues at the White House to help put on a Fatherhood Heroes events throughout the country.  It’s part of President Obama’s fatherhood and mentoring initiative.  Where we’re going around the country catching dads doing the right thing.  It’s far too often we hear about all the negatives associated with father absence and dads not being around.  We wanted to go around the country and lift up examples of every day dads sticking it out, being there for their children, being there for their families.  And so we started off in DC, then we went to Los Angeles and Orlando and most recently we were in Texas.  And we hope to continue to take the show on the road so to speak.  We’ve also hosted events at the White House called Champions of Change events.  We’ve recognized leaders in the fields of youth violence prevention, of fatherhood.  We hope to have a reentry Champions of Change at the event at the White House sometime in the fall.  We’re rolling out a tool kit for faith-based organizations on how they can get more involved in various criminal justice efforts.  Again we continue to work with cities throughout the country on the national forum on youth violence prevention helping cities to set up comprehensive youth violence prevention plans.

Len Sipes:  Which a big effort on the part of the Attorney General.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Absolutely.  His leadership in that space is critical.  And additionally we also help to support the Attorney General’s interagency Reentry Council, where he’s called together his colleagues, several cabinet members.  And I think at this point we’re up to about 20 federal agencies that are all looking at the issue of reentry through their unique lens.  Agencies that you might not ordinarily think of when you think about reentry, but groups like the IRS, the Office of Personnel Management, all trying to identify ways to reduce barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals, increase public safety and save the taxpayer dollars.

Len Sipes:  Well I’ll tell you it’s, once again, I keep repeating the same things and that’s one of my favorite topics within the criminal justice system.  We did just finish a television show for our audience that will be coming up on our website.  Again,, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  It’ll be up on the website in about a month or so.  And I do want to give time to go over slowly a lot of the numbers that you gave out today.  So it’s the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  It’s a White House initiative.  And I’m going to let you give out the telephone number, it’s 202-

Eugene Schneeberg:  202-305-7462.

Len Sipes:  202-305-7462.  And that’s, in terms of email.  And you’re one of the very few bureaucrats that I’ve ever met in my life who’s basically said, “Contact me.”  Getting a federal bureaucrat to give out their email address is pretty rare.  They don’t ordinarily like to do it.  And you’re saying, “Hey, call me, email me, go to our website, we’re accessible.”  That’s the kind of guy you want to be.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well you know I take my lead from my boss at the White House, Joshua Dubois.  And really the Faith-Based offices are designed to be kind of open door to the government.  Yeah, to the government which can be quite complex and so we just want to be a servant and we want to be of assistance to the community.

Len Sipes:  Well and again a lot of people say that.  A lot of people — again, I spent 42 years in the criminal justice system, how many times have I heard a bureaucrat say I want to be a servant to the community?  But I’ve never heard of anybody giving out their phone number and their website address.  So any final things to wrap up?  You’ve got about 30 seconds.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure.  Well, I just again appreciate you having us again and please check out our website, email us, call us.  We just think that this is a critical issue.  It’s a critical time in our country where the numbers of folks coming home from incarceration are unprecedented.

Len Sipes:  Seven hundred thousand people ever single year are coming out of federal and state prisons, 700,000.

Eugene Schneeberg:  One of the stats that really motivates me is a stat out of the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, which indicates that roughly about 14 young people are victims of homicide every single day in this country.  So there’s much work to be done and appreciate you, Len.

Len Sipes:  Oh, I appreciate you being here, Eugene.  Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety.  Our guest today, Eugene Schneeberg, U.S. Department of Justice Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  Again, a White House initiative.  Ladies and gentlemen, we really do appreciate all of the contacts, the emails, calls and for suggestions in terms of improving the program and sometimes even criticisms.  We’ll take them all.  Feel free to contact me directly at Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D .Sipes, S-I-P-E-S at  I am the Senior Public Affairs Specialist for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in downtown Washington, DC.  And have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.


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Advanced Practices in Parole and Probation

DC Public Safety Radio

See radio show at  .


Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Today’s show is on advanced practices in parole and probation.  Our guest is Professor Faye Taxman of the George Mason University.  Faye created a document titled Advancing Practice.  Advancing Practice is a newsletter created by a center at George Mason University focusing on what works; and in this case, offender reentry.  Faye’s a nationally known expert on evidence-based practices in the criminal justice system.  Faye, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Faye Taxman:  Hi Len.  How are you?  Thanks for having me today.

Len Sipes:  Faye, it’s wonderful to have you.  I’ve known you for decades.  I’ve known your work in terms of offender reentry.  You’ve been a staunch advocate and a person really, really focused on evidence-based practices.  So I’m honored to have you today.

Faye Taxman:  Thank you, Len.  I’m honored to be here and share some information about what works, what doesn’t work, and what we need to do to implement better quality programs and services.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  What I want to do is start off with a recent quote by Joan Petersilia.  She’s a criminologist as you well know, Stanford Law, who stated at a recent National Institute of Justice Conference that we’ve got to stop overselling community corrections and under delivering.  Yet the evidence, as you’ve stated in your newsletter, as to residential treatments, substance abuse treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy and other modalities seems to be encouraging.  So where are we in terms of evidence-based practices?  What can we say to mayors and governors and people who run counties or people who run criminal justice organizations?  What can we say to them regarding where we are in terms of our knowledge of advanced parole and probation practices?

Faye Taxman:  Well Len, this is a critical area.  Right now we have seen a period of time for the last 30 years where we have depended upon incarceration-based practices, locking people up in prisons and jails as a way of managing the offender population.  And we’ve learned that that’s very expensive.  And not only that, it actually helps to create people to be more criminals, and more criminal genic.  So people are turning to community corrections.  So while the science tells us the sort of what we should do, the real heart of the problem is that the average community corrections agency today is catching up to put in place what’s out there in science.  So like Dr. Petersilia said in her address of NIJ, we need to be realistic because for 30 years we have not invested in these community corrections agencies very much so they could deliver effective programs and services to reduce offending behavior.  They have the capacity and we have the tools out there, but we need to put them in place.

Len Sipes:  Well that’s the first question, if we had the tools, if we had the capacity.  One example is that the average parole and probation agency in this country operates with huge caseloads — 150 to one is conservative in some cases.  I know of some jurisdictions that are doing 200 and more for every parole and probation agent.  That’s almost impossible to be effective when you’re supervising 200 offenders to one parole and probation agent.  So obviously we need to bring caseloads down.  But if we did all of this, if we reduced the case loads, if we implemented evidence-based practices, what would happen in terms of recidivism?  And what would happen in terms of the fiscal burden as to the states?

Faye Taxman:  So if we implemented … and there’s a short cadre of things that we need to implement and we can talk about those in a second.  To answer your question, if we implemented, we could realistically reduce recidivism rates around 30% for a moderate to high risk offenders.  Those are the people that we’re mostly concerned about.  And we could do that in terms of the likelihood of the person ever going to prison and jail.  So we have a great potential out there if we can put in place the proper tools for the average probation agency.  So like you said it’s not rocket science to think that a person can manage 150-200 people effectively.  We need to figure out ways to reduce case load size.  And there are tools available.  For example, there’s the risk needs instruments that are highly promoted as part of the evidence-based practices model.  Now what we know from that risk needs is that we really need to manage people differently.  So if you have someone that has a shorter criminal career and they’re pretty stable in the community.  They have jobs.  They have a decent place to live.  They have a high school education.  These are people that we should supervise less or even better, we should think of alternative sentences for that population, like fines.  Fining people or good community service projects where they have to pay back the community for the harm that they did from the crimes that they did.  Those people are less likely to ever really reenter the criminal justice system.  But they need appropriate punishment to be able to make amends for their behavior in society. If we did that, we could get rid of 30% of the population on the average parole, probation officer’s case load.

Len Sipes:  I want to go back to that 30% reduction.  One of the things I want to do before you continue is to give out the website and the fact that you’ve recently wrote a book, Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices, and also to give out the website,  If we’re talking about Faye, 30% reductions, a lot of people just don’t quite understand.  Well you’re talking about 30% fewer criminal victimizations.  We are talking about 30% fewer people coming back to the correctional system.  We are talking about saving literally if we did this on a national basis with 700,000 people leaving our prisons every year, if you’re talking about 30% of that 700,000, you are talking about literally saving the states hundreds of millions of dollars.  So with all of that on the table, with all that knowledge, with the potential that we could save 30%, why aren’t we doing it?

Faye Taxman:  Well I wouldn’t say we aren’t doing it.  Like I said, we’re catching up.  So we’ve had a period of time where we only invested mostly in prisons and jails in this country.  And probation and parole just sort of pitter, pattered along.  I don’t mean that in a way … they didn’t have the resources.  So places like California now, California is giving local probation agencies more resources to manage the population.  They’re helping those organizations adopt evidence-based practices.  They’re putting in place risk and need tools.  They’re looking at what types of services that will reduce recidivism.  Should they be offering in their system?  They’re looking at issues related to: how do you manage the offender population when people aren’t doing well?  What do we need to do?  Should we be sending them back to prison?  The available research says, sending them back to prison doesn’t do much good.  If we put people in residential treatment programs in the community, provided them with opportunities to learn employment skills … although the research around that is less promising … but we would be able to basically reduce the re-incarceration rate.  So I think the answer is Len, that where we are today is we are catching up.  The public wants us to catch up overnight, but these are large organizations that we really have to be able to figure out.  How do you deal with this existing case load?  How do you deal with offenders that are out there?  And how do we build our service delivery system?  A couple years ago we did a national survey of probation and parole, prisons, jails in the United States.  And we know that the offender population has a high demand for drug abuse.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  They’re four times more prevalent to have drug addiction than the general population.  But any given day our survey four years ago basically told us that less than ten percent of the offender population could get into a treatment program, ten percent.

Len Sipes:  Well I guess that’s my point.  Faye, my point is somewhere along the line it’s show me the money, is it not?  There’s a certain point when we’re talking to mayors, when we’re talking to aides to mayors, when we’re talking to aides to Congressional people on Capitol Hill, you have to look at that dichotomy that 80% of the people in the criminal justice system have a history of substance abuse.  And yet when you’re incarcerated, only ten percent are getting treatment.  That’s a gap.  That’s not a short gap, that’s a huge gap.  So how do we convince people?  How do we convince people that you know what we can reduce recidivism dramatically.  We can save you a ton of money.  We can do a lot of different things differently within the criminal justice system.  How do we convince people of that?

Faye Taxman:  Well that’s why I think some of the national initiatives called justice reinvestment, where people are looking, states are looking at taking funds from prisons and jails and putting them in community corrections.  Although those initiatives haven’t focused right now on expanding services, but that’s where they need to go.  They really need to focus on what services do we need in the community.  And the things we know that we need that we don’t have is sufficient substance abuse treatment services.  We don’t have enough mental health services to help people who are having difficulty stabilizing.  We don’t have enough housing for people who have been incarcerated for years and it’s more difficult to find a place to live.  So there’s some basic elements.  But these justice reinvestment efforts have basically acknowledged that we have to transfer the funds back to the community.

Len Sipes:  And explain that.  Explain what justice reinvestment is.

Faye Taxman:  So in a simple way justice reinvestment is saying if we want to decrease the number of people in prison, then we need to basically provide the same amount of money that we would provide for if they needed a certain type of service in the community.  So if we reduce a prison in a state by 1000 people, we could take half of those funds that the prison would have needed to operate and put in those communities where those offenders are reached.

Len Sipes:  All right, we take those savings and we put them back into the parole and probation system of the community correction system?

Faye Taxman:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Faye Taxman:  A portion of those savings.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Faye Taxman:  But we need to focus on that issue, back to where people go to.  You can’t distribute them all over the state; you need to put them back in the community.

Len Sipes:  Where most of the people are coming from.

Faye Taxman:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.  If we are saying, “Look I can take your intake, your yearly prison intake,” and just for kicks and jollies let’s just say 1,000, but far more than that … it’s like 7,000, 12,000, some states 25-30,000 … but let’s just take 1,000.  And I’m saying to you, “I can reduce that 1,000 by 300.  And I can reduce your expenditures by over the course of time $32 million.  So what we’re asking for is you take half of that, that $15 million and put it back in these programs that can help offenders stay out of prison.”

Faye Taxman:  Right.  You put them back in the community treatment programs.  So you build the infrastructure of those programs.  And ultimately what we want is to have enough support in those communities that people don’t need to be involved in the justice system.  They start realizing they can go to their community treatment centers.  That’s one of the techniques we’re going to have to really focus on.  We need to develop within these communities’ strongholds of care so that when people have difficulties, life difficulties; they have a place to go that does not involve the justice system.  Now there is no reason that someone who has a drug problem should be in the justice system.

Len Sipes:  Or a mental health problem.

Faye Taxman:  Yeah, or a mental health problem.  There’s no reason if someone didn’t finish high school that they shouldn’t be able to go to their community college and get adult education.

Len Sipes:  Faye, what do you think is the most important component of all this?  Okay, so you’re talking to somebody, a mayor, an aide to the mayor of Milwaukee right now is listening to this program.  What would you tell him or her is the two or three most important first steps?  And then we’ll go into the break halfway through the program.

Faye Taxman:  So the first important steps in terms of building their communities or in terms of correcting probation?

Len Sipes:  In terms of improving their parole and probation, their community supervision apparatus.  Keeping people from going back to the prison system, keeping people from committing additional crimes.

Faye Taxman:  Right.  So the three things … I’d go for three … the three that I would do is first of all, I would drug test people on a routine basis.  Because what we know is if you drug test people, only the people who are … mostly the people who are addicts … can’t clean up by themselves.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  So if you put … and it’s a low cost technology … so you basically use that as a means to help identify who is your drug-dependent population.  For those people who are drug dependent, you want to basically escort them right into treatment services –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  and the treatment needs to be cognitive behavioral therapy.

Len Sipes:  What does that mean?  Cognitive behavioral therapy means what?

Faye Taxman:  Cognitive-based therapy is a type of treatment that focuses in on people’s behaviors and their thinking patterns.  So you’re basically trying to help people relearn how to become … retrain their brain so that they can function without drugs.  I should also mention that if we have people who have opioid dependent problems, like heroin abusers, we have a cadre of medications that we should be using for that population.  They go from methadone to buprenorphine to Vivitrol, which is a long-acting drug.  And we should really be integrating good health care into the care of people who have drug dependency.  Because that’s going to accelerate their productivity and their lack of involvement in the justice system.

Len Sipes:  Before you get to your third point, I’m going to reintroduce you because we’re more than halfway through the program.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Faye Taxman, Professor Taxman of the George Mason University.  They have advanced practices newsletter of a center that they have created to take a look at advanced practices.  Faye, is it just advanced practices in terms of reentry, offender reentry, or advanced practices in the criminal justice system across the board?

Faye Taxman:  So we developed this newsletter, The Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, focused on improving better uptake of evidence-based practices to deal with learning about new practices that are effective, looking at how best to implement effective practices and particularly the evidence-based practices.  And then, a key issue is sustainability.  Our last edition was on reentry.  We focused on different aspects of reentry.  This summer in about a month, we will have a new edition focused on implementation.  How do you do it?  How do you make it work better?  All those critical issues.  That particular issue, Len … just let me … Steve Belenko from Temple University and myself just finished a book on implementation published by Springer and we have a lot of key tips there on how to improve that process.

Len Sipes:  And that’s Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices, the website,  Faye, I cut you off in terms of your third overriding communications objective as we in the public relations profession like to say, in terms of the three top things that you would advise the aide to the mayor of Milwaukee to tell the mayor of Milwaukee.  And the third would be what?

Faye Taxman:  And the third would be incentivize your workforce, the probation and parole officers, because they’re dealing with a difficult population.  They’re good staff.  They really want to help public safety in their communities.  But for the last 30 years they’ve been daunted by these unbelievable case loads.  And so now we need to incentivize people to really learn and practice some of the evidence-based practices.  What we’ve learned on that end, Len, and it’s that basically that we can train probation and parole officers to use what in the therapy literature is called motivational interviewing, motivational enhancement technique, to break through some of the criminal dynamic subcultures that offender populations practice.  So we have a workforce, probation and parole officers that we’re not using effectively.  And these are good people who work hard every day at their job.  And they need support by their mayors, by their governors, by the directors of their agency to be able to really be effective in terms of turning around people’s lives.  And we have scientific evidence.  We did a randomized control trial in Maryland that was published in 2008 that showed that if officers used these particular practices, we could reduce the odds of recidivism by 40%.  There’s some recent literature coming out of federal probation where they also are using a model that they’re calling [PH] Stars that shows significant reductions in recidivism by officers that practice this.  We have evidence in Scotland and Canada.  So around the world there is growing evidence that if you want parole and probation officers to be effective, they shouldn’t subscribe to merely an enforcement compliance process.  They need to manage the offender behavior.

Len Sipes:  And we’ve interviewed – We’ve interviewed a lot of people from all over the country.  And we’re about to start interviewing people from around the world who have been able to document fairly substantial reductions in recidivism.  But I’ll go back to the … I’ll be the devil’s advocate here … and I’ll go back to the main point.  The great majority of people that I talk to throughout the country are basically saying, “Leonard, we don’t have the money.  We’re in cutback mode.  We’ve been in cutback mode for well over a decade.  The money is not there to reduce case loads.  The money is not there to put drug treatment and mental health treatment on the table.  We may substantially, substantially reduce our case loads by putting maybe 50% … or some jurisdictions that are putting 60% and higher into caseloads where they’re being supervised administratively or other methods like kiosks in New York City for probationers, so they can focus on high risk offenders.”  But states and counties are saying we don’t have the money.  Am I wrong?

Faye Taxman:  No.  It depends on what you mean by, “We don’t have the money.”  I think most places start out with, “We can’t do this.”  But if we look at the flip side, there are steps you can take to move in that direction.  So one step you take is I identified retooling the workforce as a major issue.  Well there are resources available that organizations can use.  And one of my pet peeves is almost every corrections agency every year mandates that their staff have training.  So if you could designate that annual training for the next two years to focus on evidence-based practices so that you’re tooling the line officers to be able to do this, you’re just reallocating your existing money to do better good.  And there are tools that are available.  We have a tool for example with funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance called SOARING, which is an online system to really help officers learn how to do evidence-based practices.  That tool is currently … we’re about ready to implement it in five jurisdictions across the U.S.  But it’s an online tool.  And it’s something that organizations can use to really begin that retooling.  The National Institute of Corrections has many online tools that are available at no cost.  So it’s about priorities of these organizations.  And that’s a big step in implementation.  One key element in implementation is the leadership has to embrace that it’s important to move in this direction.  And that means that leaders, even when money is tight, have to begin to say, “We need to make small shifts in a direction to reinforce to our workforce that the work they do is important and there’s techniques they’re going to have to use to make it even more important.  So a leader that is caught in this fiscal crisis can begin to look at how do I train my staff more efficiently?  What do I need to do?  And there’s dragon’s out there.  And there’s like I said there’s products out there that aren’t that costly that can really make a huge difference.  That’s one issue.  The vacuum in mental health and substance abuse treatment services, that’s going to take a little time for us to fill that unmet need.  But there is a system there.  So probation and parole, mayors, probation and parole officials, mayors, governors should be talking to the head of their substance abuse system to say, “You need to reallocate your services.”  Because that’s a workforce officer that has an evidence-based field and that they really need retooling also to better deliver services.  For example, a lot of services in this country are what are called substance abuse education services.  We know from the scientific literature that we could do a lot better if those were converted to be more cognitive or behavioral therapy.  If you have an existing workforce, you can train them to do that.

Len Sipes:  The bottom line in all –

Faye Taxman:  The bottom is leadership and commitment to adopting the [PH] science.

Len Sipes:  And the fact is that anybody who’s interested in this, anybody who’s interested in doing it better, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice put out a new what works website in terms of the evidence that is there.  They are about to start a consulting desk where people can call and gain additional information.  You have –

Faye Taxman:  OJP has crime solutions.  You can go to our website at the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence at George Mason University.  And we have tips.  People can send us questions.  We have a question and answer.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Faye Taxman:  Every week I answer one or two.  I’m happy to answer more questions.

Len Sipes:  The point is is that there’s assistance there for people who want to learn more about this concept.

Faye Taxman:  Right.  And so Joan’s point that we started out this conversation is that we have to stop overselling.  And what I think her point mainly is is that we have a cadre of things that work.  But organizations need to be honest with themselves of where they are.  So they need to assess where they are.  And they need to basically say, “I need to basically improve in these two or three areas and make a commitment to do that.”  Because you can reallocate existing resources if you have the heart and soul to basically do that.  And that’s part of what we’ve learned through implementation.  Leadership is critical, a vision on how your system could be different is critical.

Len Sipes:  But the bottom line is that the guidelines are there.  The assistance is there.  There are people, there are organizations anywhere from the Office of Justice Programs to George Mason to [PH] PU to lots of other organizations.  And there is a state of the art and we just need to do a better job in terms of implementing that state of the art.  Don’t you think that’s the bottom line?

Faye Taxman:  Yeah.  I think the bottom line is the information is there.  There are strategies.  I think part of it is is people being convinced that this new body of information is worthwhile to their organization.  And I think that … but the undercurrent here is … and I think this is what Joan was trying to talk about with overselling … is, is that just basically for example a lot of organizations have implemented a risk needs tool.  But they’ve just taken a tool that someone else has done without really modifying it to their jurisdiction.

Len Sipes:  To their particular needs.

Faye Taxman:  Yeah.  And they’re not using the tool to be able to say, “Oh, these are pockets of offender types that we’re going to have to deal with.”  For example one of my bugaboos is we know we have a tremendous problem with DUI in this country.

Len Sipes:  Yes.  Driving while intoxicated.

Faye Taxman:  Driving while intoxicated.  Particularly people who are chronic.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  Now there are … and yeah, we don’t have definitive public policies to deal with this chronic driving while intoxicated offender.  Yet there is technology out there, the interlock technology where you basically limit people’s access to their cars, reduces part of the crime right –

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Faye Taxman:  – that jurisdictions can use.  There are techniques that we can use to help people with alcohol problems including the use of medications.  And so we have the technology but we just have to basically use these risk needs tools to identify who’s this population in my jurisdiction and what am I going to do?

Len Sipes:  We have less than a minute left in the program, Faye.  But that’s one of the things that puzzles me is because you take a look in a straight technological intervention of ignition locks, where you can’t drive the car until you blow into the tube and prove that you’re sober.  And yet these are things that just seem to take a little bit longer than I would like to see them catch on.  We have technologies.  We have best practices.  We pretty much know what to do.  I guess I express a little bit of frustration from time to time in terms of the length of time it takes to get these things going.  We got about 30 seconds.

Faye Taxman:  Well so one thing we know about good ideas and moving them into a practice is it takes an average of 22 years.  It’s a long time.  So my advice to the public is and to folks who want to make improvements is we have to make a concerted effort to cut that time to get uptake.

Len Sipes:  Amen to that.  Faye, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen our guest today has been Professor Faye Taxman of the George Mason University.  She’s written a book called Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices and she works down at the George Mason University for the Center of Advanced Practices.  And the website down there is,  Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate all of your comments.  We appreciate even your criticisms.  Just contact me at my email address Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D dot Sipes, S-I-P-E-S at  We’ll have the book and the website and the show notes today.  And I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.



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Faith Based Programs for Offender Reentry–DC Public Safety Television Show

DC Public Safety Television Show–Faith Based Programs for Offender Reentry

Television show at (CSOSA social media website) (CSOSA website)

[Video Begins]

Len Sipes:  Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is on the Faith Community and their involvement in terms of offenders coming out of the prison system.  You know the faith community has long been an important force in improving public safety, offender reentry, and victim services.  Many faith-based organizations are uniquely suited to bringing together residents and local leaders to address challenges.  There are more than 350,000 religious congregations in the United States.  Faith-based institutions engage 45,000,000 volunteers; nearly half of the total number of American volunteers.  The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has worked to improve collaboration.  The Department of Justice is one of 12 agencies that have a center for faith-based and community initiatives.  Here in Washington DC, my agency, the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency has joined 100 faith institutions resulting in 200 mentors being matched with 300 mentees, approximately 500 offenders have successfully completed the program since August of 2007. Our guests today represent a national perspective and efforts here in Washington DC.  They are Eugene Schneeberg, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the U.S. Department of Justice and Christine Keels, the Supervisory Program Analyst, and the FBI Leader, Faith-Based initiative Team Leader at CSOSA.  And to Eugene and to Chris, welcome to DC Public safety.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  That was a terribly long introduction.  But what I wanted to do, Eugene, is to get across the full flavor of the fact that this is a massive undertaking, 350,000 religious congregations throughout the United States.  Whether they be Christian churches, synagogues, whether they be led by imams.  The whole point within the Islamic religion, the whole point is that this is huge; getting the religious community involved in this concept of offenders coming out of the prison system is a huge issue.  And you’re part of the coordinating efforts for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, thanks, Leonard, for having us, first of.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Eugene Schneeberg:  You’re absolutely right.  This is a major issue and the faith community has for decades been out in front on this issue of providing needed services for the most vulnerable among us.  And so President Obama recognizes that the Federal Government can do a lot to help people in need, but most often it’s the faith community or it’s non-profits in local communities on the ground, grass roots organizations that are going to have that face-to-face, direct contact with organizations. And so in that, we partner with faith-based organizations with secular non-profit organizations to let them know about what resources available to the Department of Justice, and we’re proud to do it.

Len Sipes:  Now there’s a certain legitimacy in terms of the faith-based community that we in government do not have.  There is a certain moral responsibility, there is a certain, I guess, sense of respect in terms of the people who live within that community.  They embrace their own faith organizations.  I’m not quite sure they embrace us in government, but they embrace them.  They embrace the congregations, they embrace the leadership.  And it doesn’t matter, again, whether it’s a synagogue, whether it’s a mosque, whether it’s a church.  They embrace that. So getting to them, getting them involved, in terms of people coming back from the prison systems.  That seems to me to be extraordinarily important.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well you’re right on.  I think faith leaders have kind of an innate credibility within them.  And they have the respect of the people in their community.  They’re oftentimes when people are in need the first place they go is their local congregation, their church, or their mosque, or their synagogue.  And so it’s a great opportunity, it’s a great asset for the Federal Government to be able to partner with these organizations.To be able to make grant awards, and provide training and technical assistance.

Len Sipes:  Christine, you and I go way back from the Maryland system before both of us came to the Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency. You’ve revitalized this whole concept of the faith-based effort here at CSOSA.  You have a lot of people, 100 institutions, where am I on this list.  Two hundred mentors resulting in 300 offenders being matched with a mentor.  Approximately 500 offender mentees have successfully completed the program since August of 2007.  That’s a lot of organizations; that’s a lot of human beings being assisted.

Christine Keels:  That’s correct.  It’s a lot of energy, a lot of good energy around doing some very positive things for people who need our assistance.

Len Sipes:  Now throughout this program, ladies and gentleman, one of the things I do want to emphasize is that we have a yearly celebration of the faith-based program in Washington DC and throughout this program you’re going to see a lot of B-roll.  You’re going to see a choir leading us in and out of these segments.  And you’re going to see a special presentation by a gentleman on the second half talking about the streets calling his name, but nobody else remembered his name, but the streets call his name.  So we’re going to again, focusing on this faith-based celebration, yearly faith-based celebration that we have in February every year. And Christine, the success of this program, I’ve talked to so many people within our program who were down and out, coming out of the prison system, nobody cared, nobody wanted them.  But the faith-based organizations embraced them.  They didn’t just provide food.  They did, in some cases, provide shelter, and some cases provide clothing, in some cases provide substance abuse counseling, and other cases alcohol assistance.   It’s the embracement of the individuals of saying, “Okay, yeah I know that you’ve been out of the prison system, but you’re still a human being.”  Embracing him and accepting him seems to be the bridge that allows a lot of people to cross over from law offending, to law abiding behavior.

Christine Keels:  Yes.  Having a role model is important for all of us.  And so our mentors serve as life coaches, they provide resources, they help with decision making, and most importantly, they help people get off supervision successfully.  We’ve had a number of early terminations as a result of those good relationships and those partnerships that have developed.  And we’ve learned in the criminal justice system based on analysis, that what we’ve been doing in the past really hasn’t worked.  So what work data’s telling us now, is that we need to work on cognitive behavior, and building relationships.

Len Sipes:  Right.  The cognitive behavior means teaching them a different way of looking at life.

Christine Keels:  That’s right.  Approaching things differently, having different options to be able to work with and being able to use their creativity to solve some of their problems.

Len Sipes:  Eugene, what do we say to people who … you’re part of a national effort and part of the White House effort, in terms of encouraging people within faith communities, to reach out and to join the institutions.  They have to be trained; they have to go through a certain amount of training.  They’re just not put out by themselves.  Some cases it’s team mentoring, correct Chris, where we have two or three mentors working with one mentee.

Christine Keels:  Uh-huh.

Len Sipes:  How do you convince people, how do we convince people that this is something in this day and age of there are kids that need to be taken care of?  There’s the elderly that need to be taken care of.  There are people who are out of work that need to be taken care of.  How do we convince people to give time, support, and money effort to offenders coming out of the prison system?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure.  That’s a great question.  And so it’s the argument and the case that we try to make often at DOJ.  Which is these folks are coming home back to our communities.  It’s not like when you lock them up, you throw away the key, they’re never going to come home.  Ninety-five percent of people that are incarcerated are coming home.  And without the proper support, the likelihood of them reoffending is high.  In some cases, it’s high is about 60%.   And so not only is it the moral thing to do, but also from a fiscal perspective, we can’t afford to continue to incarcerate folks.  I think in Massachusetts or some state, to incarcerate a juvenile for just one year is well over $100,000.  You can send someone to Harvard University for less than it costs to incarcerate a teen in Massachusetts. So the burden to taxpayers to continue to fail people when they’re coming out of incarceration is way too high.  And so it makes sense to make small investments, strategic investments, in organizations that can be effective and oftentimes community-based or faith-based organization can keep someone out of incarceration.  Help them get a job, helping them get housing, for a fraction of what it will cost to keep them incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Seven hundred thousand people leave state and federal prisons every year, 700,000.  Now you go to national research, and 50% are back in the prison system in three years.  If you can hook them up with a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, if you can get them to be embraced by that community, and also at the same time, serve their needs, housing needs, or need for alcohol anonymous, or the programs or drug treatment, you can really dramatically reduce the costs, the fiscal burden to states and the federal government in terms of people going back to prison.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Absolutely.  If you go to our website, there’s links there to the work that the National Institute of Justice has done to evaluate community-based and faith-based organizations.  If you go to the National Reentry Resource Center website,, there’s all kind of research that just really demonstrates the impact that community-based organizations are having.

Len Sipes:  And we’ll be putting up these websites all throughout the course of the program. Chris, talk to me about what I said earlier about the fact that we in government have limited authority.  The church, the mosque, the synagogue, they have the authority.  They can communicate with individuals in a way that we cannot, is that correct?

Christine Keels:  That is correct.  It’s returning to our good ole’ fashioned American values of helping our neighbor and doing what we can to empower the person who lives next to us or who exists next to us. And, of course, as the Federal Government we cannot prosthelytize or force people to go into any religious –

Len Sipes:  Oh, thanks for bringing that up.

Christine Keels:  – into any kind of religious programming.  However, our mentors are very well trained.  That it’s really showing love through deeds and helping people to be able to make good decisions based on the experiences that our mentors have had. If our mentors walked the path, why not share that path with someone else so that they don’t go the wrong way?

Len Sipes:  And know in the second half we’ll have a mentor/mentee team as part of a CSOSA effort and they will talk about their particular story.

Christine Keels:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  But I’m glad you brought up the fact that they cannot bring up their … they cannot try to convince somebody to join their church, or join the mosque.  It is completely agnostic and that’s one of the points I’m glad that you brought up. You’ve got training throughout the course of the year.  This is a big, involved program.  You train new volunteers all throughout the course of the year.  You offer training for the new faith-based institutions.  And then we do this huge, big celebration in February that people are seeing the Biro of all throughout the course of this program.  What you’re doing is a big operation.

Christine Keels:  It is.  Like I said, lots of energy, lots of good energy that keeps us going.

Len Sipes:  Well interestingly enough, it’s the energy.  Is it … either one of you can answer this question.  Because look, we’re from the criminal justice system.  It’s a tough system.  It’s not exactly a joyous system.  We have to deal with some tough people and some really tough issues.  And this is probably one of them enlivening activities I’ve been in in my 42 years in the criminal justice system.  The fact that you go into our faith-based celebration and you see hundreds of hundreds of people who have reached out to each other and have helped each other. That’s a positive thing that very few people, Eugene, hear about.  And I think that’s one of the messages that we need to get across today, that this is something positive.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well Leonard, I get calls and emails from all over the country.  From faith-based organizations, some secular non-profits that are doing great work around reentry.  I can think of none really better than what’s going on here in DC with CSOSA’s faith-based initiative.  It’s really remarkable.   And I think, as we talk about celebration, I think in many of our congregations that sense of community, sense of belonging is what’s at the foundation of faith-based organizations.  So they’re almost designed to be able to embrace folks, and embrace the vulnerable, embrace the broken, and celebrate what we have in common.

Len Sipes:  But am I correct where the White House recognizes the limitations of government.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Of course.

Len Sipes:  The Department of Justice recognizes the limitations of government.  We only have a minute left, who wants it?

Christine Keels:  I’d like to have that minute.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

Christine Keels:  In our mentoring and mentor relationships, we have developed 12 special emphasis group, classes and programs that support the relationship between the mentor and the mentee.  So that they can get together and work on the problems together.  We have Celebrate A New Life, which is the men’s relapse prevention program, where the mentor and the mentee engage together in looking at new ways of handling things and looking at other options.  relationship restoration, parenting classes.  In fact this past Tuesday we graduated 43 of our offenders from the program.

Len Sipes:  And that’s always amazing to go to one of those graduations.  Eugene and Chris, thank you very much for being with us on the first half.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Thank you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, watch us on the second as we talk to an actual mentor/mentee combination.  And they’re going to talk about their life with each other and how they’ve been able to assist each other.   We’re also going to open with a piece from Lamont Carey, called The Streets Know My Name.  We’ll be right back.

Lamont Carey:  See today is my first day back on the streets.  And I got a secret to tell because this was a rude awakening for me.  See all them nights that I sat up on that block and dreamed about this day.  Now reality and hope just don’t look the same.  So instantly I’m in a drain.   See this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever felt ashamed.  See I have to go live back at my mother’s house.  And including her, everybody in there, they want me out.  See they say I’m just another mouth to feed and there isn’t no place in there for me to sleep.  And then the streets start to whisper to me, “Lamont, come back.  You ain’t got to live like that.  The streets ain’t changed, you still know this game.”  See, the streets keep calling me by my first name.   And all my buddies I thought was going to take care of me when I came home, now they moving in that cell I just left or they’re dead and gone.   So I’m out here alone trying to fend for myself.  And every time I look in your direction you roll your eyes in your head.  So from you I can’t get no help and then the streets start to whisper to me.  “Lamont, come back.  You ain’t got to live like that.  The streets ain’t changed, you still know this game.”  See, the streets keep calling me by my first name.  And on the day I go to see my parole officer, and she’s telling me that I got to do A, B and C, well she’s going to guarantee me they’re going to take me off the streets.  And all I want to do is say, “Miss, just help me.”  But it seems that she got her guards up like I’m here to try to make her job rough, so I keep my mouth closed and promise myself that I’m going to do as I’m told.  But then the streets start to whisper to me, “Lamont.  Come back.  You ain’t got to live like that.  The streets ain’t changed, you still know this game.”  See, the streets keep calling me by my first name.

Len Sipes:  Hi, ladies and gentleman, welcome back to DC Public Safety.  I remain your host, Leonard Sipes.  We have two unique individuals with us.  We have Artis Thomas.  He’s a person being mentored by our program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  And James Fulmer, the mentor, the person who mentors Artis. But wasn’t that a great segment?  We started off with Lamont Carey who gave a two-minute presentation on “The Streets Call My Name.”  And the point behind Lamont’s artistry is the idea that nobody else is there to help him.  Sometimes family members are there and they’re not there.  Sometimes other people are there, but they’re not there.  But the streets always call my name.  The streets are always ready to call the person back to a life of crime. And so Artis, and then to James, I wanted to talk a little bit about that before getting into that piece that we just watched.  James, give me a sense as to why you decided to get involved in the mentoring program.  What church are you with?

James Fulmer:  I’m with Mount Lebanon under Reverend Lionel Edmonds.  Wonderful.  Awesome.

Len Sipes:  And you got involved in mentoring people coming out of the prison system why?  There are a lot of easier people to deal with.

James Fulmer:  Well, first of all, God didn’t pick what people he wanted to be involved with.  And I truly, truly believe that He picked me to be involved with these people.  Because what He did was for me, was brought me up out of the addiction.  What He did was save my soul.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

James Fulmer:  And I have just decided to give back what was freely given to me.

Len Sipes:  So you’ve lived that life, you’ve been there, you’ve been redeemed, you know it’s possible to be redeemed.  And you decided to give that to Artis.

James Fulmer:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  So Artis, you were caught up in the criminal justice system?

Artis Thomas:  Quick, fast, in a hurry.  I came up too fast for myself, think you know everything.  Just took matters to my own hands, and then ’til I surrendered to God, I found out that I can’t think for myself, I have to be led.  Which is okay to feel that way, especially when you not living right.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Artis Thomas:  And I’ve been hit with abundance of good joy from going … being in Faith-Based.  Because Faith-Based … what faith based got me is this.  They showed me that I can be shameless.  Talk about myself or the bad things I did to get over it.  Okay.  Then once you start doing that, right, it will direct you to a path where you start being productive.  Then once you start being productive, you get on a cosmic path and you start just seeing things, seeing brighter views of different things.  You’re not thinking like you normally think. And for a lot of us who give Faith-Based a chance to see what it could do for you like it done for me.  I can’t speak of them, but I’m just saying, if they was to give them a chance, Faith-Based really is there for us.

Len Sipes:  If the faith program wasn’t there, Artis, where would you be today?

Artis Thomas:  I would … to be honest … I might, probably be back in jail.  Because for the simple fact I didn’t have nobody to take time, to walk me through my suffering.  Because like the streets say, “It’s easy to swallow you up.”  But I had something else on my mind to keep me from the streets.  Like going to different programs, speaking at different churches with their own faith based, and doing stuff like that got me to win the Mentee of the Year award, all this kind of stuff.  But then there people paying attention to me, hey, this is where I supposed to be.

Len Sipes:  It’s a success story.

Artis Thomas:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  But let’s go back to that piece that we saw when we were introducing this program by Lamont Carey, The Streets Call My Name.  The streets are always calling the names of people.

Artis Thomas:  And they will always be there.

Len Sipes:  Why not the churches and the synagogues and the mosques?  Why aren’t they calling this individual’s name?

Artis Thomas:  Because we’re not crying out for help and we need to.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Artis Thomas:  See, when you ask for something, you get it.  But if I sit back and try to handle this myself, I really can’t handle this myself.

Len Sipes:  Well James, how powerful is this concept?  The streets call my name, but we want the churches, and the mosques, and synagogues to call this person’s name.  How difficult is that to pull off?

James Fulmer:  Well first of all I had to surrender to this fact that there is a Savior out there for me.  And when I surrendered, then what I did was start going to church and participating.  And my pastor, I have an awesome leader and a pastor that shows us the way.  And he’s into involvement in the city in trying to help people to do things.

Len Sipes:  Did people know your background when they embraced you?

James Fulmer:  In the church?

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

James Fulmer:  Yes.  They did.

Len Sipes:  So they embraced you regardless?

James Fulmer:  Regardless.

Len Sipes:  Is that the most powerful concept on the face of the earth?

James Fulmer:  That is powerful.  Nobody’s putting you down.

Len Sipes:  Nobody’s calling your name and yet now you’ve got hundreds of people embracing you.

James Fulmer:  Exactly.  And what happens is that we’re able to talk freely about our past to bring this us up to the present.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Artis Thomas:  And that’s a good feeling.  That’s a feeling that we don’t get that much.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Artis Thomas:  When you can talk about your past and don’t nobody hold it against you, and can still show you how to do the right thing, that’s a person you want to connect with.  That’s why this is my mentor right here.  Because … and not just there, I got two of ’em.  I’m greedy, I got two mentors.  Okay.

Len Sipes:  That’s not unusual.

Artis Thomas:  Can I say his name?

Len Sipes:  Sure.  Of course.

Artis Thomas:  His name is [PH] James Butcher.  I got two because I knew it gonna take more than one person to help me out.

Len Sipes:  By the way, we’re running the footage all throughout this program of CSOSA’s faith-based, city-wide celebration.  It is amazing for those of us hard-nosed people within the criminal justice system to go in there and then see hundreds of people redeemed.  That’s just amazing.

Artis Thomas:  ‘Cause I was angry.

Len Sipes:  Because we’re so used to failure and now we see success.

Artis Thomas:  Right.  I was angry.  I thought I couldn’t be a success.  There was so much anger in me that I didn’t know I had, it take someone else to get it out you.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Artis Thomas:  It certainly don’t matter what you did, you can make it.

James Fulmer:  One of the things that I love about Artis is that he was so open to “about change.”

Len Sipes:  Yes.

James Fulmer:  He was participating.  He comes back, even after he graduated.  He graduated two or three times because he sees the need to change.  And then so he’s open to listening to what the program has to offer.  He’s one of the best, easiest guys I’ve worked with, to show them that there is another way.

Len Sipes:  I want to ask what I asked of Eugene and Chris on the first part of the program.  If everybody coming out of the prison system had … was embraced by the church, by the mosque, by the synagogue, if everybody had that support system –

Artis Thomas:  They’ll make it.

Len Sipes:  How would that cut recidivism, people going back to the prison system?

Artis Thomas:  They wouldn’t be going back.  Because you know why?  They be coming out to a welcome.  And somebody that’s looking, know what they went through, know what they’re going through, not holding it against them.  You ain’t gonna find a better spot than Faith-Based.

Len Sipes:  But how difficult is it to get everybody involved?  Because people say, “Leonard, we’ve got kids that need to be taken care of -”

Artis Thomas:  They’ve got to surrender to God.  They’ve got to surrender.

Len Sipes:  “- we’ve got older people, we’ve got unemployed people.  Do you really want me to give this level of effort to people coming out of prison or criminals?”

Artis Thomas:  Okay.  The question is do you want to leave criminals out?  Not should you help the older people, the handicapped people.  If you leave the criminals out, you’re going to get more crime.

James Fulmer:  One of the things that is very outstanding to me, is the President, he did, he put his energy into this program and wanted to put a lot of energy in there.  And it’s the same thing as when I came back home from Vietnam.  Nobody was there for us when we came back.   Now there’s a thing where we need to be there for people coming back from prison.  Because the Faith-Based initiative program is that’s what it has, an open arm to people that is come back from different types of walk.  The war is the same as the war out there in the street.

Len Sipes:  It is a war in terms of what many come from.

James Fulmer:  You understand, it’s a war.  And so to have someone to embrace you and show you that there’s a new way of life that we can have, and we can love each other versus fighting and trying to take from each other.  That there is a way of life through Christ Jesus who saved us to move on to have a better way.

Len Sipes:  Because the alternative is me, my agency, a parole and probation agent, and sporadic help from the family and from friends in the community.  You are the alternative.

James Fulmer:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  You are the alternative to government.  So who are people who are going to buy into that person who needs assistance coming out of the prison system, that mother who’s trying to reconnect with her kids, who’s trying to shake drugs, that guy who’s trying to find work.  It’s either me or it’s the faith community.  Who would you pick?

Artis Thomas:  I think they should pick their faith.  The reason why I say this you go through the faith because you get some type of spiritual guidance.  See we can’t do it without that.  You got to surrender, you got to submit.  And then when you do that openly, you’ll be tested.  And people are going to talk against you and think you’re not doing the right thing.  Then you just go back and say, “You know what, shoot, that ain’t nothing, [PH] these what’s worse than this.”  So then you’re okay.   You stay on that path.  Keeping going through it.  Things not going to happen when you want.  But like I say, it’s going to happen on God’s time.  He know when He want it to happen for you.

Len Sipes:  One of the points that I wanted to make in terms of the faith community is that we’re also talking about the provision of food, sometimes the provision of shelter, clothing, for job interviews, help for to get a job interview.  There’s a wide array of services.  Some of the institutions are providing drug counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous programs.  So it’s just not the embracement, it’s just not the encouragement, it’s the provisions of programs.  A lot of the mentors are driving the mentees to different job interviews.

James Fulmer:  Exactly.

Artis Thomas:  Right.

James Fulmer:  Those are the things that we … that our faith initiative program has in place.  I facilitate drug abuse and coming into a new way of life.  Going into … providing job interviews for them, providing a list of job places for them to go to apply for new jobs. We have a program set up where we actually talk to them about what they need to — how they need to dress, how they need to put their self together, how they present their self in different programs.  So what we’re trying to do is just show people that there is love out there, and we want to love you.  We want to bring you back and come in and come together as one so that this world can be a better place than it is.

Len Sipes:  Why is the street so powerful, Artis?  Why does the street overwhelm … in some cases, the faith-based institutions [PH] like call of the street.  I’ve talked to people who have said, “Kicking drugs was easy, kicking the corner, kicking the street was impossible.”

Artis Thomas:  Kicking drugs are never easy.  See, he said earlier, love.  The streets don’t show you love.  Streets show you support, or getting something fast.  But when people start being treated with love, that’s something we all need and we all crying for, we all wanting.

Len Sipes:  James, how do we convince the average person that this is something they want to get involved in?  How do we convince people out there with money, people out there with jobs, people out there who could be volunteers?  How do we get them to cross that bridge and to come and work with people coming out of the prison system?

James Fulmer:  What we would really like for people to do is come out and sit with us and talk about what we are really doing.  Come out and actually go to our meetings that we provide to show the people, show them some success stories, and things of that nature to turn their thinking around. There are people out here that are crying for help.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

James Fulmer:  But if we don’t have anybody in place to help them, then we’re going to be lost.  It’s going to be a lost battle.

Len Sipes:  Well I think both of you are an inspiration.  Both of you have told a story of redemption.  Both of you had told a story of struggle.  And now that you here as taxpayers, not tax burdens, now you’re here as solid citizens.  And I think that’s one of the most important things. Artis, we only have just a couple seconds left.  What would you say to the person who is considering getting involved in the faith community?

Artis Thomas:  Okay.  I’d say, “If you was an ex-felon like I was and you really want to change, don’t try to change yourself.  Plug into something, get you a mentor, find you a church, and just wait it out.”

James Fulmer:  I think we just need to just give God all the praise and honor for what our faith-based program is putting out there.  And it’s going to work and it’s going to get better.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, thank you.  I really appreciate you being on the show.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching as we discuss that extraordinarily important issue.  The power of faith, in terms of helping people coming out of the prison system.  Watch for us next time as we address another very important topic in today’s criminal justice system.  And please, have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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