Archives for June 12, 2013

CSOSA’s Youthful Offender Program-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen, our program today is on youthful offenders and it’s extraordinarily interesting. A topic that not only resonates within Washington DC, but it resonates throughout the entire country. We have three guests with us today. We have Lisa Rawlings. She is the Special Assistant to the Director here at my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Supervisory Community Supervision Officer Rosa Lara. She is again, one of the people who have been instrumental in terms of putting together this program. We also have Supervisory Treatment Specialist Sheri Lewis. And to Lisa and to Rosa and to Sheri, welcome to DC public safety.

Lisa Rawlings: Thank you.

Rosa Lara: Thank you.

Sheri Lewis: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right, you know, one of the things that the audience needs to understand from the very beginning is that our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’ve prioritized within the last couple years in terms of two different groups. One, woman offenders, two, high risk offenders, but now we’re gonna be talking about youthful offenders. Now we’re gonna be specializing or taking the idea of high risk offenders and pushing it over towards youthful offenders. So I find this to be an extraordinarily important topic because people throughout the entire country are wrestling with this. So Lisa, the first question goes to you. Why create a special supervision team for young adults?

Lisa Rawlings: Well, we found that the young adults actually represent just a subset of the high risk offenders and so they are at higher risk for reoffending and that they’re less compliant with some of the requirements for supervision and because of some of their unique needs, we also felt that we would need to design supervision that would better respond to these unique characteristics.

Len Sipes: Okay, and so they go to – Rosa, who’s eligible for the Young Adult Supervision Program?

Rosa Lara: Currently we’re working with a pilot program. So our pilot program consists of general supervision offenders – so those are offenders that were sentenced for a general case. They’re not in any of our specialized units. Ages 18 to 25. And there’s a particular reason for that. With young adults, a lot of experts will say, and will argue that the frontal lobe, the lobe in the brain that develops and is able to make decisions about what’s good and what’s bad is not fully developed until the age of 25.

Len Sipes: Right.

Rosa Lara: And of course, depending on who you ask, that may fluctuate, but for the most part, for males it’s around 25. And so with that in mind, we knew that there was a special need within this population. And so right now our pilot program, there are two teams. One is located in our Northwest field unit and the other one is in our Southeast field – one of our Southeast field units. So those are 25 and under, they are male for right now, they’re general supervision and they’re all supervision levels. So you will see intensive, all the way to really medium for the most part. There are some scattered minimums, but for the most part, when talking about the young adults, we’re talking about the higher intensive and maximum level.

Len Sipes: Right, we’re talking about the higher risk offenders who are young?

Rosa Lara: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay, fine. All right Sheri, how will the Young Adult Supervision Program differ from the way that we ordinarily supervise people?

Sheri Lewis: Well, one of the things that we’ve decided to implement with the young adult teams is that we’re going to have close collaboration between supervision and the treatment side, as well as the VOTEE teams to help these offenders, meet their needs, but basically from a strength based perspective. So we’re not gonna focus on the deficits hat they’re missing, but we’re going to work on looking at their strengths and seeing what they need and then addressing those needs based on what they’re presenting with and what they have. And so we’re meeting them where they are as opposed to just telling them, “Go here, do this.” So they’re going to work very closely with each young adult to help them focus on what their goals and what their strengths are.

Len Sipes: Okay, and in terms of VOTEE, that means the vocational unit and educational unit here at CSOSA right?

Sheri Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now that we’ve gotten through these very stiff and formal questions and in terms of an introduction, the bottom line is this: is that in terms of younger offenders, they’re not doing nearly as well within CSOSA and throughout the country from the literature that I’ve read in terms of older individuals under supervision and I think that’s a concern. Again, this program has just as much relevancy; the San Francisco has just as much relevancy to Nevada, as it does to Washington D.C. So the issue is is that younger individuals do not do well on supervision, correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Correct. And we’ll actually find that because they represent a disproportionately higher percentage of those cases that screen into the highest levels of risk, that they require more resources from the agency and we’re really not seeing the results for all this investment and time and services. And so we’re finding that there are a smaller percentage of these cases are closing successfully as compared to the older population and that they’re also less compliant and responsive to any of the supervision requirements as well as some of our treatment and intervention services. So we realized that we’re investing a lot and we’re not really getting the return on that investment. So we had to rethink our approach and this pilot is really a way to test out whether this hypothesized approach is really gonna be effective.

Len Sipes: Okay, so the bottom line is that we have said as so many others have said throughout the country, we really have to put more resources, more time and more effort in terms of that young offender. The first thing we do however, the public needs to understand that we have a critical needs and risk analysis to try to figure out where these individuals are in their lives – what their risk is to public safety and what their needs are to help them successfully complete supervision, right?

Rosa Lara: Yes, one important thing that I think that we should set kind of in the beginning is the term ‘young offender’. One of the preliminary, I think it was one of our very first work group presentations, the sub–group came up with totally abolishing the label and it goes back to my previous point about the frontal lobe not being fully developed. And so these young people, they’re really at that stage in their life, we all have been there, trying to discover who they are. And so one of the things that we recommended early on was instead of ‘young’, ‘youthful’ or ‘young offender’, why don’t we just call them young adults. And so that was one of the recommendations but it goes deeper into building that rapport. And so when you, when you’re able to connect on that human level and really call him or her a young adult, it really does establish a openness and an ability to connect and one of the biggest researchers in terms of evidence based practices is that building that rapport is critical for success and so if we’re able to kind of remove the label and meet them and try to connect on that human level, then our probability of being able to address all of the needs are a lot higher.

Len Sipes: That’s what we call motivational interviewing.

Rosa Lara: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And it also goes back to a criminological theory that is decades old called ‘labeling theory.” That people live up to the labels that other people place on them, so that’s all, so it’s very criminological, it’s evidence based in terms of the approach that you’re taking. Sheri, talk to me about that breaking through the barrier. A lot of the young individuals – I mean, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for a long time, I’ve done ‘jail or Job Corp kids’, where the judge said, “Go to jail or go to Job Corp. They were my responsibility, I ran group at a prison system at one time and I used to be a gang counselor when I was putting myself through college. I’ve worked with a lot of young offenders. Most of the individuals that I’ve had contact with really threw up a barrier, really threw up a wall for a lot of different reasons. How do you break through that barrier?

Sheri Lewis: Well, as Rosa mentioned, the rapport is critical. If we can’t even sit down and be civil to our clients, we’re not going to reach them. And we’re never gonna get any information for our screeners, for our assessments, unless we build that rapport. We’re going to take our judgments out of it and meet them where they are. We have to be flexible; we have to understand that for them, a sanction is nothing. They wear GPS like a badge on their leg, they can do sanction group standing on their head, they can go back to jail, but we have to be flexible, we have to be able to listen to what they’re saying and really build that rapport so that they know what we’re doing and they’re able to make their decisions based on knowing for a fact what’s going to happen.

Len Sipes: But the bottom line, either, any of you can take this question. The bottom line, however, in this program is public safety. The bottom line is making sure that that individual – not making sure – to the best of our ability, reducing the amount of recidivism, making our society safer, so that’s what we’re talking about. I mean, it’s not just people would say, “Oh, well that motivational interviewing, that’s a touchy feely approach.” It’s not, it’s really practical, it’s really the only way that you can break through to individuals and it’s the only way that you can help them cross that bridge.”

Rosa Lara: Right, but within the recommendation, there is a containment model. And so in the containment model, really, there are gonna be young adults that are after building that rapport and after really delving into their life and really trying to understand and un–layer all the layers in this onion, because bottom line is, when people use drugs, there’s an underlying reason. So if you’re able to build the rapport and you’re able to understand that person in front of you, understand the reasons why they use, then the probability of you helping and guiding that person in the right direction grows, obviously.

But you know, one of the things that we do have in the recommendation is the containment model because no matter how much rapport you wanna build with certain people, they’re just not ready and for those young adults, we will be able to utilize some of our resources like the reentry sanction center, which is a 28 day assessment program where we’re able to take them out of the community for 28 days, do a thorough assessment which includes mental health, psychological assessment, to determine if maybe there’s some underlying mental health needs that are contributing to this person’s risk in the community. And so we do have a containment model in the recommendation. It’s not just a touchy feely – there’s also that public safety piece. And one of the very interesting and very different approaches is the role of the supervisor on these pilot programs. So currently we do a case review. When we receive a new intake, as a supervisor, I review the case and based on the person’s history, I give instructions, very specific instructions to that CSO, to the officer.

Len Sipes: Right.

Rosa Lara: In this role, in the pilot program, that supervisor will also be doing an initial case review that will be called a ‘stabilization plan’. So you know, we can talk about public safety, but if someone’s hungry, I mean, the basic needs have to be met, and so it gives in the very beginning of this assignment, it gives that CSO kind of the ability to flag these very urgent needs to ensure public safety.

Len Sipes: Okay, and CSO – most people around the country call, what we call a CSO is a Community Supervision Officer – Parole and Probation Agent. So I just wanted to bring that clarity. If an individual, Lisa, comes out of – let’s just say they come out of the prison system. If they come out with a mental health need, if that mental health need’s not addressed, then the probability of that person going back to the criminal justice system rises significantly. I mean, there are issues here that need to be dealt with, resources need to be applied – correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay, and we also recognize that there’s no parole and probation agency in the country that has all the resources it needs. So we have to prioritize. Correct? Okay? And that’s one, that’s why I open up the program with the fact that we have recently reorganized around women offenders, around high risk individuals and now young adults. And that seems to be the natural continuum of placing the resources where they have the greatest need. Sheri, do you wanna play with that?

Sheri Lewis: Yes, and that’s part of what I was saying about the close collaboration, why a treatment specialist is assigned to the teams, so that assessments can be done. Most of our treatment specialists have some substance abuse, if not mental health background, so that they can do brief assessments, they can do a clinical interview with the client to say, “Okay, maybe this client might need to go to the RSC to get a mental health evaluation. Maybe this client is toxic so they need to detox immediately before we start working with the client.” Because if we don’t address those needs in the beginning, we’re going to wind up with seeing them either revoked or back in the system or a public safety risk.

Len Sipes: And we address these needs, not necessarily just through CSOSA, available goods and services through CSOSA, we also aid in agent partnerships with other agencies. We also use our faith based program. We use a variety of modalities to try to get that, give that individual the tools that he or she needs to become tax payers rather than tax burdens, to cross that bridge, right?

Sheri Lewis: Absolutely. And Len, if I could just go back to the touchy feely comment a few minutes ago?

Len Sipes: Please.

Lisa Rawlings: Because I want to dispel the myth that really starting where the individual is and seeing them as a person first with needs and drives and desires is a touchy feely approach, because that’s really gonna drive their behavior, whether it be offending or otherwise. And so all of the staff who will be working with this group have been selected for their really, their sensitivity to this population, for their experience in working with this group and their interest and desire to really work with young people. But also, they’ve been trained on a model called the “good lives model” which really kind of embraces this approach to understand that we all have aspirations, we all have needs, and that our behavior may be ways of getting those needs met and it helps us to better understand what those needs are and to find other ways that might be more appropriate or more effective at actually meeting those needs. And so in essence, this approach rather than kind of just being touchy feely allows us to really meet the person where they are, understand their needs and to help them be more effective at achieving their own goals.

Len Sipes: Well, I totally buy into it because when I did the jail or Job Corp kids that’s exactly what I had to do. You had to approach that person as an individual, regardless of how they acted out, what they did, the problems that they were getting into. I had to connect with that person as an individual. It was eyeball to eyeball. It was somehow, some way finding a connection with that individual, that that person would open up to me so I could begin to help that person. So I – that’s one of the things that people need to understand, is that we need to establish that relationship with that individual. I simply know from my own experience is that it’s a lot harder –

Lisa Rawlings: It is.

Len Sipes: Than what a lot of people make it out to be. Sheri, you’re smiling – you have?

Lisa Rawlings: And I would just say that that’s why we were really careful about who we wanted to be involved in this because it is really tough work and that, we’re really excited about the teams that we’ve amassed so far, that people have expressed a lot of interest and really shown a lot of dedication to this work.

Len Sipes: Okay, we’re halfway through the program. I wanna reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re doing a show on youthful offenders. Lisa Rawlins is the Special Assistant to the Director. We have Supervisory Community Supervision Officer, Rosa Lara, and we have Supervisory Treatment Specialist, Sheri Lewis. The website for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is As always, we welcome your comments. Okay, so we’ve established the fact that there has to be a need. We’ve established the fact that there has to be prioritized resources. We’ve established the need, the fact that prioritized resources have to go to offenders who pose the highest risk and we’ve established the issue that we, as human beings, need to reach some pretty tough individuals for that change process to take place. Sheri, where do we go to from there? So we collaborate with lots of other organizations in terms of providing either substance abuse or mental health or we provide them ourselves, educational, vocational services. Rosa, you talk about a containment model. We have all sorts of ways of intervening in their lives either through Global Positioning System tracking or day reporting or a 28 day assessment in terms of residential assessment – there’s all sorts of things that we have at our disposal, but, unless we can break through those barriers that these individuals present, we’re just not going to be successful. So, what is the principle model of breaking through?

Sheri Lewis: I would say, and I always, when I’m coaching my staff, I always approach it this way. You are where you are for a reason, in life, okay? And if you had a carrot, so once we’re able to build that rapport with the young adult and find out more importantly, not only identify the problems, but also identify his or her drive. So once you realize and once you’re able and that person trusts you enough to share with you what their carrot is, use that to your advantage in guiding the behavior. So for example, I’ll give you an example of a young adult, most recently on my team. His biggest, and this was something that I was able to get out of him on day one by just having a very casual conversation about – “So why are you here?”And you know. . . and so one of the things that was very important to him was his mother’s love and acceptance and this case brought shame to his mother and that was what, he said that if there was one thing that he could do, and you know, if there was one thing that he could do, it would be to make his mother proud. So as a supervisor, getting that information day one, I was able to have a one on one conversation with that CSO who would be then supervising that young adult to say, “Whenever he falls off track or whenever he’s kind of you don’t know what’s really going on, say, ‘How do you think your Mom will feel about this behavior?’”

Len Sipes: And you know, in terms of all the criminological theories and all the things that we’ve just discussed for the last 15 minutes, I think that example that you gave really does drive home the important parts of the program. All the programs that we just mentioned, whether it be high risk offenders or women offenders, we have community supervision officers, again, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, who volunteer for these programs, who volunteer to be trained in terms of that particular modality. People who are sensitive to women’s issues, because women offenders need to be dealt with differently from male offenders. I think we all agree on that.

Lisa Rawlings: Yes.

Len Sipes: But I think anybody listening to this program would agree on that. So why would it be any different for young offenders? We have to be trained, we have to be sensitized, we have to have a modality that works for that particular population, correct?

Rosa Lara: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that’s the whole idea. We have, how many teams are we talking about?

Rosa Lara: Right now our pilot program consists of two teams, upper Northwest and Southeast quadrants of D.C.

Len Sipes: Okay. And how many, what’s the ratio of community supervision officers according to the research that you’ve given me, it’s about 35 to 1.

Rosa Lara: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that is astounding because the average parole and probation caseload in this country is minimum 100 to 150 to 1. I’ve seen jurisdictions throughout the country where that ratio is much higher. We on average, here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency have a 50 to 1 caseload. You’re talking about a 35 to 1 caseload. That’s phenomenal. So that’ll give the community supervision officer the time and space to deal meaningfully with the individuals on that caseload, right?

Rosa Lara: Correct. And that 35 to one is a ceiling that it shouldn’t exceed that, but they may fluctuate as we again, launch the pilot, as it is being implemented. But the thought really is to be able to have more quality interaction, to not just be able to count the number of face to face visits, but to really, to be able to allow the officer an opportunity to really develop the rapport and to be able to collaborate with their team members who are from other disciplines. The treatment specialists and the vocational specialists, to really understand who this person is, what are their needs, and how can they be supportive of them in this process?

Len Sipes: Because that community supervision officer is not on their own. You’ve mentioned it a little while ago. It’s a team approach, so there’s a treatment specialist involved in this, there’re supervisors involved in this, there is people from the faith community who are involved in this. If there’s somebody on the outside that’s providing mental health counseling, they’re involved in this. So it’s a team approach to each and every individual under supervision, right?

Rosa Lara: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s astounding.

Rosa Lara: One of the other things that we’ve been doing is we also know that some of these young men are also involved in other systems. So some of them may be dually involved in the Juvenile system as well as with CSOSA or some of them may also be in the Child Welfare system and also involved in CSOSA, since in D.C. they can stay in Child Welfare up until 21. And so we wanted to make sure that we’re communicating with these other social workers or other officers so that they’re not being overly committed – that they don’t have to report, you know, they don’t have an agenda that’s overly packed and that it’s impossible for them to meet the requirements of any one of the, any one of these agencies. So really that collaboration within the team and across agencies in the city is really gonna be important to the success of this initiative.

Len Sipes: And that’s what’s worked so well with the women offenders. I mean, the idea of going to one place and getting services across the board in terms of one place, in terms of the group setting. We do a lot of groups for our women offenders and that seems to be powerful. I mean, I’ve had dozens in the 10 years of being with CSOSA, women under supervision before these microphones and they tell me about the power of coming in and having everybody, the team there, dealing with them at one time. So I would imagine that’s the same power that we’re trying to bring to young adults.

Rosa Lara: Yeah, and one of the earlier themes of the work group and I think it’s made it all the way up to the pilot and it’s something that we’ve discussed with all of the wonderful officers and supervisors who have taken on this task is that it really comes down to “it takes a village”. It takes a village and our village consists of in-house partners, you know, the supervision side, the treatment side, you know, DYRS, which is our youth rehabilitation program, the Child Welfare system, so it really does take a village, because when it comes to these young adults, it’s really like I said earlier, many layers. And so you know, there may be a time where they were very open with their DYRS, their juvenile probation officer, and they have information that we may not have and vice versa. So having kind of those open lines of communication is in the best benefit of the young adult.

Len Sipes: You know, I apologize for the contrast, going back and forth between women offenders, but I love our Women Offenders program – I mean, it’s just phenomenal. And I’ve loved interviewing people who have both graduated from our program and currently under supervision before these microphones and to hear their enthusiasm, that, “Thank God somebody finally listened to me.” But, when you sit there with them, it’s like they come out with mental health problems, substance abuse problems, they have children. 80% of the people, women that we have under supervision have children. They’re indigent. They come out and they may have burned their bridges with their family. There’s a certain point where you sit back and go, well how many cards in this deck are stacked against this woman in terms of being successful? That’s why I love talking to the women who have been successful before these microphones. Isn’t that sort of the same way with the young adults? They come to us with a wide variety of problems. Most are coming from single family, single parent households. Most are coming from histories of substance abuse. I’m not quite sure of the percentage who have mental health problems, but I would assume that it’s fairly high. So we’re talking about individuals with real challenges.

Rosa Lara: Yeah, one of the things that we did was a focus group, because we, you know, exactly along the lines of what you’re talking about, Len, we wanted to know, not only because as practitioners, you know, we kind of bring a collective experience based on the practitioner’s experience. However, we wanted to hear from the young adults. And one of the things that we did in preparation during the work group was having a focus group. So we held three focus groups in two different quadrants of the city and really asked those questions to the young adults, to ensure that this pilot program really addressed their needs and some of the over arching needs were the importance of their interaction with the CSO, which goes hand in hand with what the evidence tells us is very important to establishing that rapport very early on. Another overarching concern or you know, item that came out during the focus group was their needs. Their needs from housing stability to substance abuse, to something as simple and some people may think it’s simple, but for them it’s a real deal, transportation challenges. And so one of the things that the program has is the opportunity to provide tokens for people that are compliant. And so just you know, we did that in a very human way, by bringing them in and asking them, “What is it gonna take for you to succeed?” And so we had a lot of input and those were recommendations that were actually implemented into the pilot recommendation.

Len Sipes: We have four minutes left. What am I missing here?

Lisa Rawlings: Well, one other thing I would just add into that is that though they do come with many challenges, there’s a great opportunity here. Because many of these young people are somewhat early in their criminal career and if we can really divert that and abort that at this point, it really can save, it can just cut that trajectory off and so we see that their crimes are less violent than their older – they do have lower mental health needs, but we really have a great opportunity here to really intervene before their criminality escalates and that’s something that we’re really excited about being able to do with this initiative.

Len Sipes: The research is very clear – 15 to 25 are the most criminogenic age group, so if we can intervene here, if we can successfully reach these individuals at these younger stages, we can save literally hundreds if not thousands of crimes over time being committed. That’s the bottom line behind what we’re talking about, correct?

Sheri Lewis: Right an most of our, most of – well, all of our participants who are actually on these teams, the treatment specialists, the CSOs, the vocational staff, they’re all trained in CBI –

Len Sipes: CBI?

Sheri Lewis: Cognitive Behavioral Interventions.

Len Sipes: Thank you.

Sheri Lewis: So they’re dealing with the thinking that is behind some of the behaviors that cause our young adults to reoffend or to engage in behaviors that are not engaging them in pro-social or positive behavior.

Len Sipes: And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the person who doesn’t recognize the term means what? Thinking for a change, helping that person make better decisions through life.

Sheri Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay? And a lot of people don’t understand that, when I say that in terms of the need for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s one of the most successful modalities we have in terms of community corrections per the research but a lot of people just don’t understand how the training and upbringing that many of us received from our parents may not have taken place in the life of that young individual and that person needs to be cognitively restructured from the very beginning, right?

Sheri Lewis: Right, and it makes for a more meaningful interaction with the young adult, so that in the beginning you might spend more time, but in the back end you’re gonna spend less time because if they’re actually getting the information, you won’t need to meet with them as frequently or as often or for the same length of time.

Len Sipes: And it shortens the time frame of breaking through the barrier, it shortens – I mean, I’ve said that some people come to us with chips on their shoulders the size of Montana and getting, breaking through that barrier becomes an art to itself. The sooner you can do that, the better the intervention and the more effective the intervention’s going to be right?

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And we want to get away from just supervising the case and the charges but also supervising the individual so that they are not only successful in their outcomes but they’re also will have better tools to be able to make better decisions down the road.

Len Sipes: Lisa, you have the final word, ladies and gentlemen. This is DC public safety. We’ve done a show today on youthful offenders. Our guests today have been Lisa Rawlings. She’s the Special Assistant to the Director, Supervisory Community Supervision officer Rosa Lara, and Supervisory Treatment Specialist Sheri Lewis. I thank all three of you. Ladies and gentlemen, again, this is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all the comments that you provide. We even appreciate the criticisms and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]