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Fathering Court in Washington, D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s show is on Fathering Court, and let me tell you I think the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has done an extraordinarily good job in terms of their Fathering Court. They are showing real reductions in recidivism, and they’re also showing real leadership, not just in the District of Columbia but throughout the country. Our guest today, back at our microphones, is the Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr., the presiding judge of Fathering Court. Judge Lee, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Thank you so much for having me once again.

Len Sipes: You know, this is really exciting to me, this whole concept of specialty courts, Fathering Court being one of them. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia has a whole series of specialty courts. Specialty courts seem to be gaining prominence in criminal justice systems throughout the country. Do you have a sense as to why that’s happening? Why are Fathering Courts and specialty courts becoming so popular throughout the United States?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: One of the most important things that I believe judges have come to grips with is that it’s incredibly important for us to process cases, process them efficiently, fairly, get just results, but we’ve looked at models like the Drug Court from Miami and they’ve taught us an awful lot over the years, that sometimes the more personalized, more holistic the problem-solving approach to justice is equally as consistent with the efficient processing of cases, just processing of cases, and it gets us to a point where we really do intimately come to grips with the problems that bring people to the court. So we’re not just fashioning sentences, determining how to resolve cases. We’re really making an effort to deliver service to the people that come before us so that we make every effort possible to make sure that they do not come back, to cut down on recidivism, and that’s where the problem-solving approach really comes from at its core.

Len Sipes: But many of us within the criminal justice system, we do, in essence, many of the same things that you would find in a specialty court. We provide drug treatment. We provide mental health treatment. We provide cognitive behavioral therapy. I could go on and on and on. Our results ordinarily are not as good as those within specialty courts, and I’m guessing, from talking to different people around the country, there’s something very unique going on with specialty courts that has to do with the judge. He or she is doing something special that the rest of us are not doing. Am I right or wrong?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I think absolutely right, and I think one of the things you just have to recognize is that there is a certain authority and a certain tone that comes from the court when things are said, when orders are given, when directives are provided to people. It’s different when a judge says it, and when you have a judge who is really committed to looking at the bigger issues for people, then I think the message is received a little differently.  So it’s one thing for a probation officer to say, “Hey, this is what you need to do.” It’s another thing for someone over in the Department of Human Services to say, “We’re going to send you off to a particular program. We want you to get the benefit of it.” Those are all well-meaning, well-placed options. When the judge says it, and there’s this threat of response from the court, I think people receive it a little different.

Len Sipes: Yes, and that’s exactly what people have told me who have been before these microphones representing specialty courts from throughout the country. That judge providing a sense of both fatherly or motherly guidance to that individual plus hanging that heavy hand of fate over top of their heads, interacting with them respectively, but they do clearly understand that they’re not talking to a treatment provider; they’re not talking to a parole and probation agent; they’re talking to a judge. They’re talking to the person who can send them back to prison if they so choose. So some people have suggested that seems to be the magic ingredient as to why the specialty courts are going so well, so they seem to agree with you. Okay, tell me about Fathering Court.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, Fathering Court is this partnership that was created. It has five years of existence right now and we’ve had five graduating classes, and when I say it’s a partnership, it really is a partnership. I think of the court as being the cornerstone of the partnership but it’s for the reasons that you just articulated. It’s one thing for a group of people to say, “This is what we want to do. We want to accomplish certain things.” It’s another thing to have those group of people come together and really kind of have the support of the court behind it.

And so our chief judge years ago, Ed, in 2006, we had a town hall meeting, and we brought together all of these community-based providers. – It was government; it was private sector – and everyone sat down and said, “Look, we’ve been doing child support a certain way for a long period of time. Is there another model that we could work on to develop a more holistic approach to not just transferring money from one parent to another parent but looking at some of the deeper issues?” – And town hall meeting grew into a group of people from really every section of the city who developed this concept of a Fathering Court, and we spent most of 2006, all of 2007, really putting together what the model looks like.  And then at the end of 2007 when we got a grant from the Department of Justice, our first funding piece, we started to take people into the program, and it’s really designed to do a few things. We’re really trying to be innovative in the area of child support. We’re looking at everything that faces a family. We want to create responsible dads but we want moms onboard as well, and the goal is to simply do this. – And, because it’s a re-entry model, its designed to address men coming home from a period of incarceration who have child support cases or they have child support cases on the way, and so we use that as really the foundation for what we’re doing.  So we want to make sure the dads come home and they get employed – critically important. They have to work, and if they work, that means that they can pay child support, and if they can pay child support because they are working, it’s amazing how easy it is to then to transition over to what I would suggest to you is the toughest, most difficult but most important part of Fathering Court. It’s getting dads to co-parent with moms and to be responsible dads.

Len Sipes: You know, that’s an amazing array of things that you’re taking on because the individual comes out of the prison system; the individual often times has a great difficulty finding work, so when they work, they are starting off at the lowest part of the continuum and not paid all that much, and so they’re struggling to find themselves a place to stay in one of the nation’s most expensive cities, and so they’re going through this whole process, and then somebody comes along and says, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got to support your child.” And, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got to pay so much in terms of your child, and by the way, you have to be a responsible father and be part of that child’s life.” They’re all extraordinarily important goals for a safe and sane society but how do you convince a person to do that?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I will tell you right upfront – most people really don’t believe it’s accomplishable, that’s how daunting a task it is. And so I know every quarter from working with folks in law enforcement, particularly the folks in this office in CSOSA who have been one of our partners from the beginning. We know who’s coming home from the Federal Bureau of Prisons every quarter, and we look at that list, and we work with a child support agency here in the District of Columbia, the Office of the Attorney General of Child Support Services Division.  We look at that list and we see who has child support cases, and we look to see who might fit into our criteria for a Fathering Court, and it’s not particularly exclusive. We just look for folks who we think that we can work with. We get them, in most instances, immediately when they return to the District of Columbia, and in some cases we’ve actually done video chats with folks while they’re still incarcerated, getting them prepared for release.  They hit the ground in the District of Columbia; they pick up supervision right away. We will farm out for a job readiness program, and we really had two models. One model was to use the Department of Employment Services here in the District of Columbia, Project Empowerment. If you’re a D.C. citizen, you’re eligible for those services. That’s one of the partners, and because they’re one of the partners, we can orient people coming home directly to that program. They get them through job readiness; it’s about a three-week endeavor, and then they place them in a subsidized work environment. It works very, very well.  We also, because we had some money from Justice and the Department of Labor, we were able to get some private, professional job counselors from a group called Education Data Systems Inc., and they just developed relationships with employers and connected those employers with people coming home from prison. We did not try to hide who the folks were. We were right upfront. We got folks ready for their interviews, and they did amazingly well. No, you’re right. It is not high-level jobs. It’s entry-level jobs but it’s important for people coming home from a period of incarceration to get right back into the foundation of the community.

Len Sipes: Agreed.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: So when they start working, you have an incredible response, and we get immediate wage withholding, and so the child support starts coming out right away. Now, here’s one of the keys to Fathering Court. It’s because of the partnership with the Child Support Agency. We’re not asking for the men coming home to pay a lot. We’re asking them to pay 25% of what their order would normally be. So if they had a $400 order, they would pay, for the first 90 days, $100, and they’d get a foothold in the District of Columbia, and as they work through the year of the program, when they get to the end of our program, they should be paying their presumptive amounts. So, each quarter, it goes up 25%. Because they’re working, it comes out of wage withholding, the money’s coming in. We have solved the employment piece; we’ve solved the child support piece right away, and now we can get down to the core of what we’re trying to do. We get mom on board; we get the kids on board, and we start getting these dads ready to be responsible fathers. Now, that takes a lot of work.

Len Sipes: I was going to say; now how does one do that? I can understand the job provision. I can understand paying child support. Those two I understand. The third part of it, the cognitive part of it, how do you take an individual who has been absent for a couple of years and doesn’t necessarily feel a connection to that child, and develop an emotional connection to that child so that he is involved – I don’t want to over use the word “emotionally” – that he is involved meaningfully in that child’s life?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: You started off asking me about problem solving courts. You know, one of the keys to what we do is we really make an investment in these families, and we make an investment at their core, their children. You know, a lot of dads come in and an equal number of moms come in, and they really do not believe we’re going to do all that we say that we’re going to do. They’ve never really had that type of response in court cases before. They don’t have a great deal of faith that this is going to work out But once we get the employment piece in and the money starts rolling in, we actually give most custodial parents, and most times it’s moms, they’re encouraged by what they see.  The dads actually start to have some self-confidence. They feel good about being able to go to work, that someone is supporting them, including me in the courthouse; something that they’re not always accustomed to from a judge. And then we have case managers, and the case manager, really, they’re professional social works. They work with dad and they work with mom to bridge the gap and to bring them together. Every dad in the program goes through parenting classes called Quenching the Fathering Thirst. It’s a curriculum that’s developed by a national organization, and the idea behind the curriculum is to get dads to understand their obligation, and then it’s up to us to give them the tools to carry it forward.  And so every year we sponsor things like family trips to baseball games for the nationals. We’ve gone to Georgetown basketball games. We’ve had lunches where the families come in. It’s not court business; Len, it’s family business. They come in; they meet the players, all of our providers, all of our supporters. They sit down and they talk about what families do. Just this year, and I usually try not to give specific instances, but just this year we had a gentleman who was struggling with getting connected to his child. He had been in prison for five years. His child was now 8, 9 years old. In a sense, this dad was terrified of his child.  So we made arrangements, and mom was incredibly supportive. I mean, she was just the salt of the earth. She said, “I want them to have a relationship. That’s what’s most important to me. The money’s important too but I work for a living. I’ll be fine with limited child support. Get them together.” So we made arrangements for the dad to come up to a basketball game at the Verizon Center. They took in a college basketball game. They had a great Saturday afternoon. They all met right out in front of the arena, went and spent the day. We sponsored the tickets for them because, you know, when you’re doing something positive like this, people offer you things to help parents move themselves along.  The next Wednesday, that dad was supposed to go to school and have lunch with his kid. Now, we thought the basketball game was going to be the highlight so he went on Wednesday to visit his son for lunch at school. He came in to see me next Friday, and this is what mom and dad told me, “Thank you very much for the basketball game. It was great. You know what was better? – My son had his dad visit him at school, meet his teachers, and then meet his friends on the playground.”

Len Sipes: Because one of the things we’re really talking about here is not so much a Fathering Court, is not so much parenting, but the fact that kids that are involved with an incarcerated parent have a much higher rate of fill in the blank – of emotional problems, substance abuse problems, problems in school, and a much higher rate of being involved in the criminal justice system themselves. So we’re not just talking about justice for the mother. We’re not just talking about justice for the child. We’re just not talking about reinvigorating that family relationship with dad. We’re talking about solving some major social ills within our society.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: You know, what I do on the days that don’t involve Fathering Court is a juvenile delinquency calendar, and I see countless single parents coming in, trying to support their kids and doing the very best they can. You know what really makes a huge difference for kids, and I think this crosses all lines, is when kids know they have parents that love them, that love them unconditionally and will support them. Even if the parents aren’t living together, just knowing that you’ve got a rock in a dad and a rock in a mom, it makes the difference for them. That’s what we’re trying to promote.

Len Sipes: It makes a difference for them, and it makes a difference for the larger society. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re more than halfway through the program. Our show today is on Fathering Court with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr., he is the presiding judge of the Fathering Court. I do want to give out the website. It’s Just look for the media page. Again, look for the media page. You’ve had a lot of success with this, Judge Lee. You really have. Talk to me about how many people have been through the program and talk to me about the recidivism rate.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: You know, I think we’re somewhere – I can’t give you the exact number, and I’m ashamed of that, but we’re somewhere in the 50s for graduates, and so we’ve averaged roughly about 10 graduates a year out of the program. We started off very cautiously, very slowly. I know we hit 2 the first year, I think we had 8 the next year, and then, this past year we just graduated 12 men, and I think the year before that was 14, 15, somewhere around there, so we’ve had some success. It’s a yearlong program. It’s really not for everyone. There are some people that just can’t come to grips with their responsibilities of being a father, going to work every day, working hard sometimes for less than what you think you’re really worth but dedicating yourself to doing that because your kids are just so important to you. But do you know what the real success has been? — We’ve had three groups of participants who actually got married.

Len Sipes: Wow. Interesting.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: They came back to get married. They rode off into the child support sunset because they thought it was the right thing for them to do. We’ve had three other cases where moms have had their own difficulties trying to manage kids, and they’ve had their own issues, sometimes substance abuse, and we’ve had dads that have done so well that in three cases, kids have actually been placed with them, and that’s a real achievement.

Len Sipes: Yes, it is.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: To see people come home from a period of incarceration and essentially turn their life around 180 degrees, and this is what dads tell me, and this is the key to the recidivism piece. For the first time in many of our fathers’ lives, they feel connected to the larger society. They feel like they’re an important part of it. They work for a living. They’re responsible for their kids. They actually pay their child support. They don’t mind coming to court to see me because they’re—

Len Sipes: They’re doing well. You’re there to give them positive feedback.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: And it really means, and I try very hard to give them all the positive support that they deserve, and when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, I’m the most critical one in the group. But when they really get some success, it’s no magic that you see a reduction in recidivism because now they’ve got too much to lose. It’s too important to them.

Len Sipes: But I’ve been told that this is, in reality, a learning experience for everybody – for us, for the Superior Court, for the people involved in the program, in terms of its future expanding, in terms of getting bigger. We had to start off – I mean, Fathering Court is an interesting concept because there’s a lot of people who simply feel that you can’t cross that bridge. Yeah, you can enforce child support; you can enforce getting a job, but you can’t support being a good father. You can’t force a person to be a good father but it sounds as if, through a variety of steps, you’re encouraging them to be good fathers, and they’re turning out to be good fathers. So this is a learning step for the most important variable – being a good father.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: We all have to come to grips with a reality that is simply inescapable. There are a good number of our dads and our moms that are in the child support system that grew up in families where they didn’t have dads as a role model, and so when you’re asking men to become responsible fathers, you have to do more than ask. You’ve got to teach; you’ve got to show; you’ve got to support. – And it’s only by doing those things that you help them develop what they really want to be, and I really believe that.

I think most dads want to do it; they’re just not sure how to accomplish it, and they are afraid of failing their children. We give them the tools to do better, and once they start to see the response from their kids, then it is really inescapable that we get to the conclusion that we get to. They want to be good dads. They want to promote their kids. They want to do something that they didn’t necessarily have in their lives, and then when you see the results and when you see them at the baseball games, at the basketball games, or you actually see them in court with their kids, those are the moments that solidify everything that we’re doing in Fathering Court.

Len Sipes: For so many people under supervision, it’s interesting as to how that family connection is the principle motivator. You know, we within a system, we talk about cognitive behavioral therapy; we talk about finding work, and substance abuse and mental health treatment, and preparing the person for work, and at the same time, most of the successful people that I’ve ever talked to throughout my career, and I’ve interviewed hundreds of people both on radio and television who have done well, they count either a religious affiliation or the devotion to that family member as being the key ingredient that helped them kick cocaine, that helped them stay off the corner, that helped them go to work, that helped them become a better peons.  So I think you’re centering in on a key issue here as to why people do well. If it’s not for your child, then who is it going to be for? I mean, so many men I’ve seen caught up in the criminal justice system who have been lost, the only thing that ever saved them was a religious affiliation, a faith-based mentor, friends coming to their aid, or the fact that they were ashamed as to how their mother felt about them, that they were ashamed as to the fact that their child was being abandoned.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I think that it’s no different for the guys coming home than it is for the guys that get up and go to work every morning to support their families. All we’ve ever done is give them the means to do what they’ve always wanted to do, and here’s one of the good things about Fathering Court: if the gentlemen who are in the program are really not serious about it, you figure it out very quickly, very, very quickly. The rubber meets the road in Fathering Court.

Len Sipes: Sure. Right. Absolutely. But I mean, again, you’d have to bring people in and you have to figure out whether or not this is going to work. What’s the key ingredient? What are you looking for?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, you know, when we started talking about who we were going to take in to Fathering Court, there were a lot of limitations placed on the type of returning citizens that we looked at, and so early on, many people in planning and the model development stage said, “We can’t take any violent offenders” So we looked at who’s coming home to the District of Columbia from the federal bureau prisons – we wouldn’t have had any participants because a good number of folks come home with offenses that fit into the violent classification or dangerous crimes.

Len Sipes: Well, looking hard enough, virtually all of them are going to have some history of violence.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: So we really had to move away from that notion, and this is what we really did. We have a team approach this, and so we have a project manager; we have a case manager; we have a representative from the employment piece, and we also have a representative from the Office of the Attorney General, the folks responsible for child support cases. They make the assessments. So when we get these referrals, they sit down with the folks that are coming in and they make a determination about whether they’re really motivated, whether they’re really going to follow through the way we want them to. They meet with mom to make sure that she consents to being into the program, that we’re not missing any issues like domestic violence that may be out there.

Len Sipes: I was going to ask about that.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, that’s a big concern for us, and when we see cases where there’s domestic violence, it raises a red flag. It’s a concern. And remember, we don’t force anybody into the program, but there are limitations and terms of what we can do, and sometimes the domestic violence cases are a deal breaker. We also look very carefully at sex offenders because their supervision model is a little more rigid than what we can work with, not because we don’t want to work with it but we need folks to be available, and we need to be able to get out participants into the appropriate job training programs and employment. Sometimes the sex offender supervision just interrupts that, and we recognize that, but we don’t take anything else off the table.  For example if someone comes home and they’re really struggling with a drug problem, and they’re still struggling with it – we’ve got the ability to get them into drug treatment. We go right through APRO. We work with CSOSA folks, they go to the re-entry sanctions center, and so we have the ability to address those issues. The same is true for individuals that suffer with mental health issues. The key for us is to identify the issue, connect them with the resource to address the issue, and then watch them respond to the resource delivery, and then we’re ready for them.

Len Sipes: But I’m going to go back to the whole concept of specialty courts. I don’t think the key is any of that. I think the key is the judge. I have seen this in the Bronx, New York. I have seen this in dozens of communities throughout the country where the criminal justice system – we don’t talk to each other a lot of the times. I mean in D.C., we do have a good relationship with each other in D.C., and I’m not saying that just because I represent the nation’s capital, but I’ve also been in other cities in the criminal justice system, and what happens in the District of Columbia is special.  But what’s happening in these other jurisdictions is that judges are bringing people together. You can’t say no to a judge. Don’t care how many times you like to do it, you can’t say no to a judge, so prosecutors are bringing defense counsel; they’re bringing law enforcement; they’re brining parole and probation; they’re bringing providers of social services. They’re bringing businesspeople to the table. Why? Because they have the power to bring them all to the table, and they have the power to sit everybody down and say, “You know what, this is a problem. Let’s figure out a better way of handling this problem than we have in the past.” Judges seem to be at the center of all of this.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I’m not going to disagree with you since I’m one of the judges. I’m on board with that. I think you’ve got to connect the will with the skill, and the court has the will to make that happen. You’ve got out and get the other pieces of the partnership puzzle, the other stakeholders that have the skill, bring them all together, and that’s how you develop things like Fathering Court. I travel around to other jurisdictions; talk about Fathering Court all the time, and I tell them that you’ve got to have the court involved not because the court is better than anyone else but it’s such a central piece too it for all the reasons you just articulated.

Len Sipes: But law enforcement says, “I have a problem. Let me sit down with the prosecutor and parole and probation and a defense attorney,” and we could say, “Well, okay, it’s your problem, not ours,” but we can’t do that to a judge. We can’t say, “Hey, Your Honor, that’s your problem, not ours. Have yourself a pleasant day.” Or to give what sounds like approval and what sounds like agreement but really isn’t. I mean, we can’t say that to a judge so that’s why I think what’s happening throughout the United States is special, and what’s happening in Washington, D.C. through the Superior Court is special. It is unique. It’s judges taking leadership in areas that maybe judges haven’t taken leadership nearly as effectively before. I’m not quite sure that’s a sentence.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: There’s really no doubt about it, and you’ve seen it in all of the specialty courts, the problem-solving courts, that have caught on. Just thin, we’ve had drug courts now for 20 years or so, and the reason they have staying power is because it’s a different model of processing cases and the results are clear. And there are certain pieces, there’s certain features you just can’t ignore. You’ve got to have a very involved judge. You have to have a judge that’s willing to take off the regular traditional role and really do some things that are very different for judges, and you’ve got to have a judge committed to that.  I try very hard to be as personable as I can be with the folks that come in before me, and so I try to pay attention to the fact that I know the kids’ names; I know their birth dates are coming. I know what’s going on in your life, and without this team approach, having a case manager, I’m really not going to have all of that information, but because I have it, it really is a personal design in terms of what we do.

Len Sipes: Less than a minute left – where do you see Fathering Court going in the future?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Here’s the goal. It’s a model that I can say to you, not because I’m involved with it, that it works, but because the data supports the notion that it works. It’s an innovative way of looking at child support. My goal is not just to limit it to the re-entry population but to try to expand it to those folks who simply need it, and not everybody needs it. It’s true. There are people who come in; they have a child support issue; you give them a child support order; they’re actually quite happy with the result, but there are a good number of families both for folks who are re-entry but otherwise who need these additional services. We can take this partnership, this team approach, this problem-solving approach, if we can deliver it to them, the results that we get for the re-entry population, we can get for the greater population.

Len Sipes: And again, it’s not just for the re-entry population, you would be the first to say this; it is for the good of society itself if not for the good of the children directly involved?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Absolutely, 100%.

Len Sipes: All right. It’s been a pleasure talking about this, and congratulations on a successful program. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ve been talking about Fathering Court with the Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr., Presiding Judge of the Fathering Court here at the Court of the District of Columbia. The website for the Superior Court is Go to the media page and get information about Fathering Court.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Evidence Based Community Corrections-Joan Petersilia-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very proud to bring you Dr. Joan Petersilia. She is in essence one of the best-known and best-respected criminologists in the United States. I’ll quickly read her background from the website there at Stanford.  Dr. Joan Petersilia has spent more than 25 years studying the performance of U.S. criminal justice agencies and has been instrumental in effecting sentencing and corrections reform in California and throughout the United States. She is the author of 11 books about crime and public policy, and her research on parole reform, prisoner reintegration, and sentencing policy has fueled changes in policies throughout the nation. A criminologist with a background in empirical research and social science, Dr. Petersilia is also a faculty co-director for the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, focusing on policies related to crime control, sentencing, and corrections, and developing non-partisan analysis for recommendations intended to aid public officials, legal practitioners, and the public in understanding criminal justice policy in the state and national levels, and like I said, in essence one of the best-known and most-respected criminologists in the United States. Dr. Joan Petersilia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: My pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: I am just absolutely thrilled to have you before our microphones. I want to start off with the quote. Now, I saw this in terms of the National Institute of Justice speech that you gave, and I’m reading from a document, and I’ll read from this, and then I promise the entire program will go over to you. Let me read a quote, “There’s a long history of over-promising and under-delivering that has contributed to the constant pendulum swings in punishment practices. There is nothing in our history of over 100 years of reform that says that we know how to reduce recidivism by more than 15% to 20%. To achieve those rather modest outcomes, you have to get everything right. The right staff delivering the right programs at the right time in the offender’s life, and in a supportive community environment, and we have to be honest about that. – And my sense is that we have not been publicly forthcoming because we’ve assumed that we would not win public support with modest results.” Joan, can we start off with that quote and get a sense as to why you wanted to say what you said?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I’ve been around the criminal justice policy world since the 1970s, and, in the 1980s, 1990s, and now 2000 and the next decade, we have seen these huge shifts in terms of endorsing tough-on-crime and building up prisons or endorsing probation and community alternatives, and we just seem to go back-and-forth and back-and-forth. And I know that I think most of us, and in fact most of us in the public but certainly, I think, your listeners, practitioners, academics favor non-incarceration if at all possible. And so, you know, we’re kind of trying to get there. We’re trying to get evidence and public opinion to support the notion of community corrections but when I say we over-promise and we under-deliver, that’s really what I’m talking about, but I’m also talking about we over-promise and under-deliver in terms of the impacts of prison. So I think for both sides of the coin, if you think about the coin being this pendulum swing – community corrections, soft-on-crime versus prisons, tough-on-crime – we just simply go back-and-forth because we don’t really have solid evidence that would allow us to choose one option over the other. And so I think, you know, my hope, and I think we’re really primed to deliver a decade now, which can be different. You know, I think about the decarceration period, which we’re now going through, and we are at a space in U.S. crime policy which, literally, we have not been in ever, where we are closing prisons. We’re reducing prison budgets. We’re reducing incarceration populations at all levels, and we’re discharging probationers and parolees in some instances. So we are downsizing correctional control at all levels, and that’s an amazing story to tell, and I don’t think that most people who aren’t involved in criminal justice realize that that is now a major policy change that we’re having. And the question for us who care about this issue is will we be able to keep the population down or will we simply have another pendulum swing when all those people we have decarcerated, decriminalized, discharged, etcetera, don’t behave well?  And so how can we set the stage – and this to me is the $64,000 question for all of us in crime control policy – how can we do better this time around so that pendulum does in fact not swing back to the kind of building-up of prison capacity that we saw when we tried this exact same experiment in the 1980s?

Len Sipes: I talk to a lot of criminal justice practitioners, Joan, and they remain a bit frustrated. What they’re saying is that we hear from the research community a lot of different things about what it is we should be doing. Number one, we really don’t have the money to do all the different things that people are asking us to do. Number two, the research seems to be murky; it doesn’t seem to be crystal clear, and sometimes the folks in the academic community are a bit more, they come from advocacy more than they do research.  And so they feel comfortable with where we are regarding re-entry. They want re-entry to work. They want people who are released from the prison system to succeed. Everybody seems to be dedicated to that but different people are coming along and saying, and some states have said, “We’re getting 30% reductions, 35% reductions, 50% reductions,” and then they back off those statements. So the practitioner community is confused by the lack of guidance and the lack of clarity in terms of what works, what doesn’t work, what is meant by evidence-based, and how you implement that. That gets to the heart and soul of your over-promising and under-delivering continuum, correct?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Yes, and I actually think they have every right to be confused. If you ask the question, which is what they’re asking, is what works and what can the research offer them in terms of program design in order to get what works, and this is really complicated because the research community offers a number of things. What we often hear about is kind of the risk-responsivity program, you know, kind of the evidence-based corrections, which is driven from a psychological model.  Let me just state that what it basically tells people to do is in a risk assessment, it is an individual approach which highlights cognitive or therapeutic approaches. It is a psychological model. Now that model actually is one way of doing things, and certainly, as we know from the literature, that might work with some people particularly who are moderate and high-risk individuals, and that we get some. There are some re-entry programs and there are some good programs that do that. That individualized model is very, very expensive and so when we tell practitioners to take that individualized, which is really therapeutic model. It is an individual, psychological, counseling-based model, highly expensive. – And not only is that not appropriate for many offenders, it also is not, in some ways, the kinds of models that also practitioners believe really work.  And let me contrast it with a community-based model which I think doesn’t get nearly, because it’s so difficult to evaluate, but I think it doesn’t get nearly the kind of respect that it should, and I’m talking about the programs that I actually have seen work in my own 30 plus years. It involves much more than just an individual probation officer speaking with a probationer. It involves getting those community-based organizations to be the effective hand-off or collaborator to effective interventions, and I think what we do when we sell the cognitive behavioral approach and the evidence-based approach, we’re forgetting what I think academics have proven time and time again is that formal social control, such as that a probationer or parole agent can do, is probably only the jumpstart of real reform for an individual.  It’s going to take connecting that person eventually with family, churches, work, housing, and of course that individual counseling model doesn’t really get to any of those additional things, which are life skills. You know, at some level, they do. They talk to the person about motivational therapy, and they try to get him confident and all of that, or her.

Len Sipes: Right. Making the right decisions.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: But it’s just not enough, and I think that’s the frustration that practitioners often feel. They know that these community-based programs are often some of the best programs they operate. They’re very expensive. There’s actually very little data because, as I said, it’s very hard to evaluate, but I think that’s the frustration. In their heart they know one type of program works and yet what they’re being told is kind of evidence-based, is this much more narrow but easy-to-evaluate programs, and I think there’s a tension there.

Len Sipes: Though some people have said that, “Look, I was told that evidence-based was drug test everybody and now we’re drug-testing all of these offenders at the lower level and we’re bringing them back into the criminal justice system but they don’t pose a risk to public safety, but we were told that drug testing everybody was evidence-based.” They will say that, “We’re told to get people into programs in the community but the programs in the community are being cut, and we’re told to work on a collaborative basis,” and I believe that. I mean, I thoroughly believe that it should be done on a collaborative basis with community organizations, but community organizations are stretched to the limit.  So that leaves practitioners with a sense of what truly is evidence-based and what isn’t, and certainly there’s a certain point where, to do these well, these programs should be funded and funded in such a way that we control the budget so we can make sure that we get the biggest bang for our buck because if they’re turning them over to a local community-based organization, they’re basically ceding control of that individual to the community-based organization, and so when they go out and commit a robbery or a homicide, and people start pointing fingers at the criminal justice system, they can say, “Well, we simply don’t have the money to do this as comprehensively as we would like.” Again, the frustration.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, and I think it even has another aspect that we’re going to see for the first time that I think we have never seen in that the pressure to actually discharge. So now, if you don’t want that responsibility, I think you’re absolutely right. Nobody believes that they are investing in exactly the kinds of programs that would lead to long-term success, these kind of broad-based, community-based initiatives, so what they often can invest in is kind of these much more narrow programs, and I’m not sure that they even think they have the money to invest in those.  So I’m seeing at least here in California, and I think this is happening elsewhere, because of the budget crisis, we are discharging people much faster, and part of us are thinking, “Well, that’s a good thing.” I think, personally, we over-expanded who we put on probation and parole, etcetera, and we kept people involved in community corrections for perhaps longer than they needed to be but now we’re doing exactly the opposite, and because the state doesn’t want to be responsible for them and doesn’t have the money to really provide them the services that they know they need, the best way they can do to not be responsible is to simply discharge somebody.  Let me just give you an example for California that I don’t think that maybe your readers have realized but in California, in just the last 18 months, our prison population – average daily prison population – has declined by 25,000, and since 2007, we’ve actually reduced our prison population by 42,000.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: 42,000 people that were in prison just in 2007 are not in prison, and on parole, the decline has even been more dramatic. Just in the last 18 months, we’ve down-sized our prison population by two-thirds. We used to have 120,000 people on parole in California; today we have about 60,000. The question is, and many people are celebrating this huge decline, but the question I ask myself, as somebody who really celebrated the pressure for decline, is where have all those individuals gone? And many of them are now discharged.  We used to discharge people at 3 years. We’re now discharging parolees at 6 months, and I’m now getting calls from parolees who ask a question I never thought I would ever hear which is, “How do I get back on supervision because I really need those services.” And I don’t think any of us who were advocates for the decline of kind of government and correctional control understood that that wasn’t the endgame. The endgame was not to simply downsize without services. It was to downsize with a plan, and I think that there is some problem with the academic community because I think that some of us were advocating the downsizing of prisons as if that was the endgame, and I think it’s not.

Len Sipes: You’ve called it the biggest penal experiment in modern history in terms of a recent article. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re more than halfway through the program. Dr. Joan Petersilia is before our microphones, and she is an Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law there at Stanford University. She is a faculty Co-Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, and again, as I summarized at the beginning of the program, one of the most respected criminologists in the United States.  Joan, here’s my fear. My fear is that there are elements there within California that are now contesting what California calls realignment that has just as many implications for parole and probation as it does for mainstream corrections as it does for jails. Now they’re beginning to say that what’s happening is beginning to add to the crime problem in California, which is at historic lows, and so the fear that I have is that because we over-promise sometimes in terms of what we can do and in terms of community corrections, that individuals will be caught up in crime, the crimes will be extraordinarily well-publicized, and somebody will come along and reverse all of this, and then the pendulum will swing, as you said, in terms of your comment, in terms of over-promising and under-delivering, that the pendulum will swing and will go back in the opposite direction and this wonderful opportunity to provide services, although services are being provided, that’s part of the budget there in California, but the question is are they being provided systematically? Are they using evidence-based practices? Are they doing enough to make sure that they’re reducing recidivism by as much as humanly possible? Those are a lot of issues, and much depends upon it because some people say as California goes, the rest of the country goes.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I do think you’re right in that we are running here in California the biggest criminal justice experiment, I think, that has ever been undertaken in this country, and part of what makes it so unique is that California has invested, already in just the last 18 months, invested $2 billion in terms of giving communities discretion about how to use their criminal justice dollars. So the state basically put out funding with a formula, depending on how many people you would have sent to prison prior to this realignment law, and they sent the county a check, and they basically said, “We want you to use this on evidence-based corrections but we trust the local community enough to you decide what program would best work. So we’re sending you the check and we’re now closing the doors. You can’t send this certain class of prisoner who would have gone to prison historically – the door is shut.” Over 500 felonies in California were changed as a result of realignment, where they used to go to prison and now the maximum penalty for those 500 crimes is a jail sentence.

Len Sipes: A jail sentence of six months?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: A jail sentence of up to one year with time served will equal six months, and so counties were said, “You can send them all to jail if you want, and if you can afford the capacity and if you have the capacity, or we’re giving you money to invest in community-based alternatives.” We’ve got 58 counties here in California that are running every experiment imaginable. Some are investing in expanding their jail capacity. Some are investing in electronic monitoring. Some are doing day reporting center. Basically $2 billion being spent over just 18 months, and it will continue, and it’s now constitutionally-guaranteed. That money will now, it’s in our state constitution, will fund this community-based experiment. Counties, I think the first year, honestly, I think it was too much, too fast. We here at Stanford have four grants to look at the impact of this realignment experiment across California, and what I’m really noticing, after the first year, which honestly I thought really was – the counties were just unprepared, and their first knee-jerk reaction was to send everybody that used to go to prison, just send them to jail. Now, they’re starting to actually do some really important and interesting experiments. They’re funding non-profits; they’re bringing in sheriffs.  One of the most interesting things that I’m observing in California is that sheriffs are taking the lead for community corrections. They are starting to operate their own programs. They’re working closely with probation and parole. They are becoming the spokesmen for an effective community-based correction. And what we saw in the last intermediate sanctions movement which was kind of in the 1980s and 1990s which I wrote about in those periods; about kind of what did we learn from that whole decade?  The one thing we learned is that community corrections didn’t have a really credible spokesperson. Nobody kind of believed or took seriously what a probation chief said because they were seen as too pro-offender. But you’ve got the sheriff saying the exact same thing in many of these counties now, and now people are listening, and I think that is going to be the real promise in some of our counties where they are really trying some of, I think, the most innovative things we will see, and of course our evaluation which will continue for the next several years will try to highlight some of these best practices that we will in fact see as California does this downsizing.

Len Sipes: Whether people within the practitioner community throughout the rest of the country or the general public realize it or not, the biggest correctional experiment in this country’s history, possibly one of the biggest correctional experiments that the world has known, is currently happening right now in California. So the bottom line is that there is a consensus, correct, that done correctly, somewhere between 10% and 20% is what we can expect in terms of the reduction of recidivism, of people coming back to the criminal justice system. That does seem to be a consensus amongst the criminological community, correct?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Yes, that is definitely a consensus, and we need to make everyone know that because we’re setting programs up for failure when we say that recidivism can be reduced by 50%, per se. Never in the history of corrections, here in the United States or anywhere, has recidivism ever been reduced in a serious population by 50%, so right off the bat we’re making false promises, and we will never be able to deliver. So I think one of the first things we can do with radio shows like this is set our expectations at a realistic level.

Len Sipes: Now, what we can do in terms of the provision of evidence-based practices plus with good evaluations to really hammer away at what works and what doesn’t work, there is the possibility of increasing it beyond 20% but it’s not going to be 50%, it’s not going to be 40%. We can tweak it and get it above 20%, done well and rigorously evaluated, correct?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Correct, and the other big thing is who are you dealing with, and so people also, it’s not just the program element; it’s what’s the target population. We’re talking about youth, first offenders, adult probationers, adult felons, adult parolees, they all represent quite different populations and they’re harder to treat and harder to get those large reductions in recidivism. So those two things together – it’s not just the program model and the community it’s all about, but we’ve got to overlay that with what’s the target population.

Len Sipes: Part of the discussion on the target population and what is evidence-base is that there is a segment of that population that we shouldn’t bother with at all. Bringing them into the criminal justice system, my example a little while ago of drug testing everybody, bringing them back into the criminal justice system serves no purpose. If you use an objective risk instrument, which I understand is certainly not perfect, but an objective risk instrument, if they score in the lower categories, then maybe we should not be interacting with them vigorously at all to marshal whatever resources we have to look at higher-risk offenders. Are we correct or incorrect?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: We’re very correct at that, and one of the things that we now do that I think has been the biggest advance in the last 10 years in criminology is solid, good, risk-prediction instruments. If we have just one more moment, I’d like to make what I think is an important point —

Len Sipes: Please.

Dr. Joan Petersilia:  — on this evidence-based – you know, we’re all wanting evidence-based programs, and in fact in our California realignment legislation, it says people should be funding with these dollars evidence-based corrections. What is a practitioner to do? Where are they to find what are programs that are evidence-based? It’s the definition of evidence-based that I also think confuses practitioners, and if we don’t have a body of evidence that shows a program works, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It simply means we haven’t an evaluation that shows that it works.

And let me say this again because I think people will go up to or any of the websites that have a listing of programs that have been show in the past through rigorous evaluation to reduce recidivism, but 99% of all programs in criminal justice that we are doing today or have done historically have ever been subject to re-evaluation, to any evaluation, and so I think this is also the frustration with practitioners. They say, “Well, my program, the ones that I know work best, aren’t on that approved list of programs.”  And so if you in fact say that you have to fund programs that are on that approved list, you’re only picking from like 1% of programs that just happen to have an evaluation attached to them, and we know that funding for drug program treatments has always been the most evaluated program because they get major sources of funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, so the regular garden-variety, criminal justice intervention doesn’t show up often in those lists of evidence-based programs.

Len Sipes: But that’s what confuses them because the Washington State Public Policy Institute, I always screw that up, came along with an overview of substance abuse programs within the criminal justice system. They gave recidivism reduction rates of reductions of 4% to 9%. So that’s, again, what they’re saying, “Well, gee, where are the big reductions?” So that’s the confusion. Is there a point where people within the criminological community of your stature need to come together and lay out specific guidelines for the rest of us in terms of how we should be proceeding?

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, I think that would certainly, you know, I could imagine that helping. What I do in my own world here, and I think what the research community needs to do, is pick a state, pick a county, pick a location. I think that this stuff is so complicated that I’ve now, for at least the last five to seven years, focused solely on helping California, and I think that the research community cannot really speak as one voice because across the states we have different sentencing structures. We have different prisons. Certainly some prisons are therapeutic in themselves, have a lot of programming, some have re-entry. The communities that greet people are different. Everything is so, you know, we don’t have a national system of sentencing and corrections so it’s very hard for any national body, I think, to speak truth to power, if you will, because unless you know that system and the details of that system, you’re just talking at generalities.  So my hope is that academics who care about this issue will attach themselves to kind of their own local situation, and particularly I think where the game is now for academics is in-state legislatures. They need help. They’re facing budget crisis. They want crime solutions. We need to be much more forceful at getting what we know to those people who have to pass legislation, have to understand what do we mean by evidence-based, and then we have to attach evaluations to kind of legislation that gets passed, and so that would be my wish.

Len Sipes: For the final minute of the program, I’ll give one example. A practitioner comes to me and says, “Alright, I understand that objective risk instruments would certainly help us figure out who to deliver services to. What is the best objective risk instrument out there?” My response: “I have no idea.”

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Well, there are some excellent risk assessment tools. There are several. I also think that no risk assessment tool, unless validated with your population, is going to be sufficient.

Len Sipes: Agreed, but my only point was that neither one of us knew where to go for that list of objective risk instruments so he could begin his assessment.

Dr. Joan Petersilia: Hmm. Hmm. Well, I don’t want to endorse any particular, because now they’re all proprietary. That’s the other thing is that now you have to pay an arm and a leg, and what I would tell people is yes, there are some well-known that now everybody uses but I tell people here in California —

Len Sipes: About 30 seconds.

Dr. Joan Petersilia:  — until it’s validated on a California population, I wouldn’t trust it.

Len Sipes: I hear you. Dr. Petersilia, you have got the final word. Joan Petersilia, ladies and gentlemen, has been our guest today. It’s been a real honor, again, one of the best-known and respected criminologists in the country.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all the comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want you to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Transition from Jail to Community-Urban Institute-NIC-DC Public Safety Radio

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an extraordinarily interesting program today, the Transition from Jail Project, funded by the National Institute of Corrections, and our folks from the Urban Institute are back at the microphone. We have Jesse Jannetta, who’s been before our microphones before, been on our television show. He is a Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute; and Janeen Buck, again a Senior Research Associate, again with the Urban Institute: This particular program has its own website: What I want to do before turning the microphones over to Janeen and to Jesse is to read a one-paragraph description of this project and then we talk about re-entry from jail systems. This is from their executive summary. In 2007, the National Institute of Corrections partnered with the Urban Institute to develop and test an innovative, comprehensive model for effective jail-to-community transition. Designed to address the unique challenges and opportunities surrounding jail re-entry, the Transition from Jail Community Initiative advances systems-level change through collaborative and coordinated relationships between jails and local communities to address re-entry. Enhanced public safety, reduced recidivism, and improved individual reintegration outcomes are the over-arching goals of the model. And, the other fact that I want to do before turning it over to my guests – 9 million people are released from jail systems every year versus 700,000 from state prisons. Again, Janeen Buck and Jesse Jannetta from the Urban Institute, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Janeen Buck: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here today, Len.

Len Sipes: All right, this is an extraordinarily interesting program because I’ve had discussions with staff members and, you know, they tell me, and from my own experience, there’s nothing tougher than a jail. I mean, it is extraordinarily difficult to run an urban jail. It is chaotic; it is noisy; it is just loud, and if it has a booking center attached to it you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people processing in and out of this chaotic atmosphere every single day. How in the name of heavens do we plan on doing a re-entry program within an atmosphere of a large urban jail? Who wants to take that?

Jesse Jannetta: Well, I can start, Len. I think that really what you’re describing is one of the fundamental challenges that the TJC model and project is trying to address is just how quickly the jail population turns over. Everyone goes to jail; that’s where you go. If it’s a booking facility after you’re arrested, to you have people are in there bonding out or being released in pre-trial status pretty quickly. You have people there awaiting trial if they haven’t been able to make bond or if they’re not going to be released. You have parole and probation violators.  So it’s a very diverse population coming in and out often pretty quickly, and so what TJC is trying to do, among other things, is to help jurisdictions think in a data-driven way about who they’re looking for to intervene with in terms of how likely they are to reoffend, in terms of the needs that they have, so that they can take whatever resources they have and target it where it’s going to have the biggest positive impact on their local community, and so they’re not trying to deal with the whole haystack, so to speak, but they’re really looking for the needle.

Len Sipes: All right, a yes or no question – can this be done within this very chaotic, I mean you’ve done the research and you had jurisdictions where you tried this. I mean, obviously it can be done but the average person sitting out there who knows Corrections is saying, “No, this can’t be done.” It can be done, Janeen?

Janeen Buck: It can be done, and in fact it was done. We started our work and partnership with the National Institute of Corrections, as you mentioned, in 2007. Our first task was really to work with NIC and a large group of external advisors that drew from jail administrators, community-based service providers, local law enforcement – a whole host of folks who were very familiar with this issue, if not on the front lines of this issue, to devise a flexible and comprehensive model for jail transition and then to go out and actually test that model in the real world setting of six communities.  So we started with six communities in 2008. We started working first with Denver, the city and county of Denver, which was a more urban jail setting, as you mentioned.  Then we also worked with a smaller, more rural county, Douglas County in Kansas, which was a much smaller jail. We started working there to implement the model, and we expanded to four additional sites the following year in 2009, working with one of the largest jail systems, Orange County, bringing them on in 2009.

Len Sipes: Orange County, California?

Janeen Buck: California, yes, as well as a number of other sites, again, that were diverse with respect to size, structure of their system, and we found that, yes, they were able to implement the model.

Len Sipes: What are the key elements of the model?

Janeen Buck: Well, I think, first and foremost, and I think Jesse would agree with this, it’s really collaboration. It is a systems approach that requires, like re-entry does, working across systems, so it’s the jail and the community and other members of the criminal justice system as well coming together to really jointly own this issue and work together collaboratively to create a model that works for them.

Len Sipes: Is the whole idea exposing or attaching people caught up in the criminal justice system to services on the outside, is that the heart and soul of it?

Jesse Jannetta: I think it’s both because what you want to do is have a process that starts in the jail, and again you have often pretty short periods of intervention or unpredictable as well. You know, people may be with you in the jail for a while but you may not know that at the outset of their time there, but even if it’s just doing in-reach from community-based organizations into the jail to start meeting and identifying potential clients, you want a piece of it to begin pre-release, if at all possible.  And the other fundamental I would say is what we call the triage approach so that you’re trying, through data, doing a pretty minimal, in terms of resource, risk-to-reoffend screener at booking so that you can see particularly who your higher-risk portion of your population is. That’s who you want to target first and foremost for programming, and at the same time who are the people who are lower risk who you want to keep into a more minimal intervention track. So again, you’re really focusing the resources that you have and the time and energy that you have, which are limited, on the people who need it the most and that the community needs to get at the most.

Len Sipes: Okay, so you’re talking about the three categories of people who come into the jail system: those who are booked, those people who are there on a pre-trial basis, and those people that are serving short sentences. You’re talking about all three populations.

Jesse Jannetta: Right, and I think that jurisdictions have come down that we’ve worked with in different ways on that. Some have preferred to work only with the sentence population; others have said if they’re in the right risk category and if they have the identified needs, we’ll start working with them regardless of whether they’re there on pre-trial or sentence status because many people, you know, if they’re in the jails for a substantial period of pre-trial, if and when they are sentenced, they may be sentenced to time served. So if you’ve been in the jail for three months awaiting the completion of your adjudication, you may then be sentenced. The judge will say, “Well, the three months you’ve been in jail already is sufficient to be the sentence,” and so if you wait to work with them, you will have missed your window of opportunity for intervention.

Len Sipes: Technical assistance was provided to the jails?

Janeen Buck: Um-hum.

Jesse Jannetta: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And what sort of technical assistance?

Janeen Buck: Well, we went in and helped first really get a handle on the jail population that was there, again, working this angle of a data-driven approach. Who’s in your jail? How long are they there for? What kind of information do you have about your jail population? Again, I think bringing evidence-based practice or best practice to bear and providing technical assistance around that, so as Jesse mentioned, having a universal screener for risk of re-offense which allows you to get a very quick sort on your jail population and which really drives that next approach, thinking about, where do you put your resources, who should go on for in-depth, a risk needs assessment to help drive decision-making around services that need to be received through provided technical assistance around both kind of re-entry practices with respect to screening and assessment and looking at programming, evidence-based programs, as well as evaluation-related technical assistance.

Len Sipes: All right, so we’re talking about collaboration. We’re talking about getting everybody together, figuring out what’s in the community, how can these community resources be brought to the attention of people who are in the jail system, in the three categories of the jail system, providing technical assistance, making sure that they know what they’re doing, using objective risk instruments, triaging people to ferret out the people who don’t need services to those people who desperately need services. – And I’m assuming afterwards, after you do all that, there’s some sort of connection between that individual and services in the community upon release.

Jesse Jannetta: That’s right, and I think the case planning is a key piece of that, so what you want to do through your triage process. So first you find your higher-risk folks through the screener, and then out of that group and often looking at people who are going to be in the jail for at least long enough to begin an intervention continuum; those are the people who would get a full-risk needs assessment to tell you what they need, and then that’s got to be tied into the case plan so that you’re taking this is what we know about, what we need to address to reduce their likelihood of recidivism, and these are our goals. This is who we’re trying to connect them to, both the programming in the jail and then in the community.  Something that we did a lot of work on in the participating communities is talking about and trying to have continuity of approach between the way the programming’s delivered in the jail and in the community. So as you’re addressing substance abuse, for example, which is a common issue in this population, are the in-jail programs and then the people providing that programming in the community you’re trying to hand people off to, are they doing this kind of work in the same way or are they even really aware of how each of those pieces of the system is addressing it because if you hand somebody off from a substance abuse program in the jail that’s doing things in one way, and then they go into the community and it’s a completely different modality and philosophy, that can be really counter-productive particularly with the client who may feel like, “Well, I don’t know who to listen to. I’m getting different messages.” Whereas, if you can integrate that, then what you can try and do is build on a common approach and have them be mutually reinforcing.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now I’m going to put on my – oh, go ahead, please, Janeen.

Janeen Buck: And I would just add to that – I think another key piece was even developing that shared knowledge and understanding around screening and assessment, and using to the extent that you could a shared instrument so that there was that continuity of understanding around the needs too.

Len Sipes: Right, everybody’s singing from the same sheet of music, right?

Janeen Buck: Exactly, and you build a common vocabulary that makes sense.

Len Sipes: Okay. I’m going to put on my practitioner hat, and you dealt with these individuals as how many jurisdictions, Janeen?

Janeen Buck: Well currently all together right now we will have been working with 14. We worked with 6 in the first round.

Len Sipes: 14, and that’s a lot of jurisdictions. All right, I would imagine the average person is saying, pardon my sexism, “Lady, don’t you understand how difficult it is to run a jail? We’ve got to do this and that,” and it’s going through their minds. A dozen issues are going through their minds. “Do we really have the time to do this and is this really going to be successful?” There had to be a certain level of cynicism on the part of hard-bitten criminal justice administrators when this issue was first brought up.

Jesse Jannetta: I would say that although one thing to bear in mind is we had a competitive application process for the opportunity to be in a TJC site, so we are working with jurisdictions that in a sense —

Len Sipes: That want you there.

Jesse Jannetta: — put their foot forward. But with that said, and particularly when you’re talking about a large collaborative endeavor, the jurisdiction or the person who wrote the application for the jurisdiction may feel that way but there’s a real diversity of opinion within everybody in that jurisdiction about how feasible it was, and we have had to deal with that as well as, you know, we started with two sites in ’08, another four in ’09, working with them in phase one through the middle of the financial crisis when spending of all kinds of resources of all kinds in local government have really been in retrenchment, and that did bring skepticism. But I think that one of the things that was really heartening in what we found in phase one is the degree to which our local partners said, “No, these budget cuts” – and some of our participating jurisdictions experienced quite substantial budget cuts in some of the core, whether it was the sheriff’s department or probation or the community providers – but that for them was not a reason not to do TJC but was in fact a reason that the kind of strategic approach that we’re doing, they felt was as important as ever because now resources are even more limited, and it’s all the more important that we’re making sure we’re using them in as targeted a way as possible, and they really hung in there through some tough times.  You know, a lot of local jurisdictions, the degree to which there was already some degree of programming or connection to community resources, there’s a lot of great stuff going on at the local level and a lot of jail re-entry activity going on all around the country. So while there is that skepticism, we also had the opportunity through TJC – and this started when we brought together our network of jail practitioners at the beginning – to build on what everybody has been doing at the local level and learning already –

Len Sipes: Enhance it. Improve it.

Jesse Jannetta: — and put it together into a common approach, and then try and bring that out to the field.

Len Sipes: The second question I want to get to right before the break and that is this – you know, I’ve been in this business for a long time – a lot of people at the community level don’t particularly appreciate people caught up in the criminal justice system. They find them hard to deal with versus a very motivated person. This is the classic example from a drug treatment provider who a woman has three kids and she’s strung out on cocaine, and she desperately wants to get off of it for her sake and her kids versus my guy on parole or mandatory supervision who was forced into it by a judge or by the member of the parole commission. They say, “I’d much rather have the woman who wants to be there than the person who was forced to be there.” So was there any resistance in terms of expanding the number of contacts through the jail systems?

Janeen Buck: I don’t think there was resistance to that. I think people were on board with that. I do think having the information at their disposal about who to target, when, and how much was very helpful, having that evidence-based approach, both from the community and the jail side. Does that make sense? Jesse, what would you add?

Jesse Jannetta: Yeah. What I also say, if you’re a community organization working on a lot of different social issues, it’s a really open question, and part of the data-driven approach that we can do can illuminate this. How different is that really from what you’re already doing? I mean, if you’re a community organization working with people who have serious mental health issues in the community; you’re working with a population that’s in and out of jail, same with addiction issues. People at the career centers, a lot of the folks who are coming in off the street who really need help, getting attached to employment have been criminal justice involved.  So in many cases, you know, the fundamental insight is on the community side, whether you know it or not, you’re already working with the population that’s in and out of the jail so why don’t we collaborate so that that work can be more effective? I think that a lot of community organizations, even if they’re relatively new to this effort, found that that was the case that they’re not finding new people.

Len Sipes: Well, right after the break I do want to talk about some of the successes that you’ve had. I mean, there has to be many successes considering the amount of jurisdictions that you were in. But ladies and gentlemen let me reintroduce both my guest and the program. We have Janeen Buck, Senior Program Associate, and Jesse Jannetta, again, Senior Research Associate rather from the Urban Institute: The specific website for this project, the program is called the Transition from Jail Project,  Janeen or Jesse, certainly you have your fair share of success stories from this. I mean, people are sitting there going, “Okay, now I get the concept, and now Leonard has defended the practitioner community by these over-eager and over-optimistic researchers,” but this is something that’s necessary. I mean, we’ve been talking about using jails as a triage facility and connecting them with community resources for years but people have said, “We just don’t have the resources to do that.” So, out of all the jurisdictions that you’ve been with and interacted with, give me some success stories.

Janeen Buck: I think really all of our jurisdictions have been success stories, specifically with that. You know, they had very committed networks of community-based partners and providers. Some, obviously, had much broader networks than others but everybody really came to the table through this and were very committed, and I think to Jesse’s point right before the break, it’s important to note that many of the providers who were at the table knew these people, knew that their clients were a part of the jail population, had a stake in coming to the table, and I think they were excited to be a part and invited to the table and to help because they really were already owning this issue but to work collaboratively in that way. That said, I think we saw in all of the jurisdictions that we were working in an expansion in terms of the network of community-based providers, community participation that was at the table, both at an assistance level in terms of collaboration but also in terms of the nuts and bolts coming to the table, doing in-reach, or being willing to change or modify their practice to have that continuity of approach. Jesse, what would you add?

Jesse Jannetta: The biggest thing that I would add is I think it’s fair to say that when we started phase one, not one of those jurisdictions was really having validated risk and need information guiding who was getting programming services in the jail and in the community.

Len Sipes: Which is crucial.

Jesse Jannetta: And sites reached different degrees to which that information was driving the process but every one of them had it. Every one of it had it integrated in a process where it was, in fact, informing who was getting program services so they were moving towards this point where they were confident or gaining confidence that now we are serving who we want to. You know, in most jurisdictions that we’ve worked with, if you ask who determines who gets programming in the jail, the answer number one is usually the inmates. It’s their volition, and often it’s the judges for some of the mandated programming, and what they wanted to do is say, “No, we as a system have to say who ought to be in that programming,” and then, you know, there’s challenges convincing the inmates to do it or sometimes, you know, if you have to go back to the bench to get them to be on board with that strategy but if you can’t even say who’s supposed to be getting the programming, you could never get there strategically, and they got there, I think.

Len Sipes: Help me with my misunderstanding. Is this solely an in-house program or is it a connection to the community program or both?

Jesse Jannetta: I would say both, and I think it may be easiest to give some examples. A good one I think is in the city and county of Denver, so what they did is do a lot of work on enhancing their continuum between the Jail Life Skills Program that they have where their jail program officers were doing programming of a lot of different kinds, and then they had community capacity through what was called the Community Re-entry Project, and the primary hand-off they were trying to do is get people to go to the Community Re-entry Project which had capacity to do a lot of different kind of services there or refer out, and I kind of think of that as the hub and spoke.  So they were trying to identify who were the priorities to get programming in the jail, get them in Jail Life Skills, have them meet initially with staff from the Community Re-entry Project prior to release, and then get them to go there where a lot of things that they needed could be handled there at CRP or they could refer out. – But that was the primary door they wanted people to go through in the community.

Len Sipes: And was there meaningful success in terms of hooking people into programs? I mean, once you figured out, in terms of your objective risk instrument, who needed services and who didn’t – I mean, and anybody who’s been on the floor of a booking center or the floor of an intake area of a jail, it’s pretty obvious who needs psychiatric treatment as they walk in through the door; who’s withdrawing from drugs as they’re walking in the door. We know that many offenders commit their crimes while under the influence of some substance. It’s pretty easy to understand that this is a population in dire need. So considering the dire need of that population, do you feel that the jurisdictions really succeeded in terms of hooking the right people up with the right services?

Janeen Buck: Yeah, I think that they did. Is there room to grow? – I’m sure there is but I think over the life of the technical assistance period, we really saw a movement toward that in each jurisdiction. Jurisdictions implemented cognitive-based restructuring programs where it used that risk-and-assessment information to really link the right individuals to those services.

Len Sipes: Okay, so thinking for a change, teaching people how to make good judgments throughout life, yes.

Janeen Buck: Right, exactly, kind of a foundational piece to thinking about change, how you’re looking at your circumstances, and using that kind of as a foundation for linking them and building that continuum of other services. So to answer your question, I think they did. Again, I think we saw substantial movement there. We’re doing a sustainability assessment in the six sites, going back to look and see what’s been sustained since the technical assistance period ended, how are they building on things, and we’re seeing in the jurisdictions that we were working in, they’ve kept the screening and assessment procedures. They’re still using them. They’re thinking very strategically about who to target for programming, and they’re continuing to build their continuum of programs and thinking very much about risk and need and who to put there. So I think we saw movement there. I think it’s something that will continue to stand.

Len Sipes: So in all the jurisdictions that you work with from a technical assistance point of view, they embraced this, they embraced it seriously, and more people are being plugged in to more programs, and more importantly, the right people are being plugged into the right programs?

Jesse Jannetta: I think yes, and I think they’re –

Len Sipes: That’s extraordinary!

Janeen Buck: Yes, it is.

Jesse Jannetta: And in programming that in many places didn’t exist. I mean, we had several that didn’t have any cognitive-based programming were able to implement Thinking for a Change. Several put in programming units in their jail facilities so that the people living in that housing unit were all people who were in the target population for programming, and the programming was delivered there which wasn’t happening. I mean, they didn’t have the screening and assessment information. – And the other thing, although this was in some ways the biggest TA challenge, making a lot of progress in having an ability to measure –

Janeen Buck: I was just going to say that, yes.

Jesse Jannetta: — to do performance measurement around their transition processes. You know, there is huge limitations in the data systems locally. So they know that data-driven processes are the way to go, they know that these things they’re doing are important to measure but it’s very hard to do it. Some of that is about the data systems they have. I often think a bigger limiting factor is the number of trained staff who know how to pull that information, analytical capacity in the counties. There may only be a few people who know it, and there are huge claims that those skills are very valuable, and often the people who know how to do that are shared not only with the jail or the justice system but with the entire county, so it’s challenging to get down into the data and know what’s going on but really valuable.

Len Sipes: We only have about four minutes left. What message would you give to other correctional administrators throughout this country that run jails? Again, the numbers are enormous compared to those released from prison. 700,000 come out of the state and federal prisons every year versus 9 million coming out of the jail systems. So to the jail administrators, correctional administrators that you’re talking to – mayors, governors, aides to mayors and governors – what message would you give to them as a result of your experience as part of this National Institute of Corrections-funded project?

Jesse Jannetta: There are tremendous resources already going to the population that is going in and out of the jails but often not in a very coordinated or coherent way. Most jurisdictions, without getting a dime of additional resources, can be more effective in working with that population if they use something like the TJC model to be more strategic. – And to the community partners, people who are not criminal justice system or don’t work in jails, most people coming out of jails aren’t under probation supervision. They walk out of the jail with no necessarily formal responsibility to anyone in the criminal justice system. So for jail transition to work, other community partners have to step up to the plate and be willing, as full partners, to work with those folks coming back from the jail, and people in the criminal justice system, for this to really work, have to be willing to invite in the community partners and let them participate as full partners, otherwise you’re going to be really limited in what you’re able to do.

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Janeen.

Janeen Buck: And to add to that, I think, you know, part of collaboration and inviting people in too is being willing to share information back and forth about practice. I think, again, speaking to the importance of that data-driven piece to being able to measure what you’re doing and not just the outcome of “is it effective,” but do you have data? Are you willing to share that information to see that you are serving the right people, that you’re serving them in a timely fashion, that you’re addressing their needs; and being open to looking at the data, I think to use that to make system improvements, which was a key part of the TJC model too.

Len Sipes: And I would imagine the strength of all of this is a team approach in terms of working with these individuals caught up in the criminal justice system. So it’s just not the Salvation Army; it’s just not mental health people; it’s just not substance abuse people; it’s just not people helping women with children, or people with HIV. It is supposedly, I am assuming, a comprehensive approach of trying to bring as many partners to the table as to this one person as humanly possible which gets us the biggest bang, possible bang for our dollar, correct?

Janeen Buck: Right. That’s absolutely right, and jurisdictions did that in different ways. The jurisdictions that we worked with in Ken County, they really brought everybody together. They had a strong community base there, had substance abuse providers, mental health providers, working with correctional officers in the jail, really had a team approach from not just a coordinated case plan but coming to the table together and discussing cases together.

Len Sipes: There is hope. What you’re telling me is that, from years of experience, funding by the National Institute of Corrections, a researched technical assistance project from the Urban Institute, there is hope. People listening to this and saying, “There is no way I can do it in my chaotic jail,” what we’re saying is that you can.

Jesse Jannetta: Right.

Janeen Buck: Right, and there are tools available for this.

Jesse Jannetta: Yeah. You know, we’ve had the opportunity, as we’ve said, to work with 14 jurisdictions. There are 2,800 jail systems in the United States, and IC knew that our impact would be really limited in only the 14. So the model is deep-dive in these 14 different places, capture everything that we’re learning, make it available to everyone else. The project website is the place to go for that. If we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, what you need is there.

Len Sipes: Okay. Jesse Jannetta, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is the Transition from Jail Project, funded by the National Institute of Corrections. Our guests today have been Janeen Buck, Senior Research Associate, and Jesse Jannetta, again, Senior Research Associate from the Urban Institute: The website for this program is  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments; we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Corrections Monitoring and Re-Entry-DC Public Safety Television

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

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  Hi.  Welcome to DC Public Safety.  I am your host, Leonard Sipes and ladies and gentleman, today’s show is on corrections monitoring and reentry featuring the work of the Corrections Information Council of Washington DC.  This is really interesting.  They’re the only civilian body authorize to go into the institutions of the Federal Bureau of Prisons throughout the country.  So to talk about the work of monitoring what goes on inside of correctional facilities, we have two guests with us today, Michelle Bonner.  She is the chair of the Corrections Information Council and Reverend Samuel Whitaker.  He is a board member of the Corrections Information Council.  And to Michelle and Reverend Whitaker, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  Thank you, Leonard.

Michelle Bonner:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  This is really an interesting concept because you have government bodies throughout the country that go into correctional institutions and they inspect and they certify but this time, Michelle, it’s a civilian body doing it.  So give me an overview of the work of the Corrections Information Council.

Michelle Bonner:  Sure.  The Corrections Information Council is a civilian body as you said with two members appointed by the Mayor and one by the City Council of the District of Columbia.  And our mission and our mandate is to inspect and monitor the prisons’ jails and halfway houses where DC residents are incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Now, we’ll go over that a little bit because this is interesting and we have to explain this for the audience throughout the country.  The people who go from the District of Columbia, in this case, just because they are violators of the local law, they go to a federal institution and that all goes back to August of 2000, correct, in terms of the Revitalization Act?

Michelle Bonner:  Yes.  And that’s how the Corrections Information Council was actually formed back in that 1997 Revitalization Act where DC does not have a prison.  And so all of those residents who are convicted of felonies are sent to over 100 different Federal Bureau of Prison facilities throughout the country.

Len Sipes:  Right.  And this was to ostensibly take the burden off of the District of Columbia and to put it along to whether it would be ordinarily would be ostensibly a state function.  So Baltimore, Baltimore doesn’t have its own prison system.  Baltimore has the State of Maryland that takes care of corrections.  In this case, due to budget constraints within the District of Columbia, certain functions were federalized and part of that were DC code violators, people who are convicted of DC crimes, they go to federal prisons throughout the country.

Michelle Bonner:  Exactly.  And as DC is not a state, we don’t have that state system to which to send our residents who have been convicted of crimes.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Michelle Bonner:  That’s why we have our DC residents sent to Federal Bureau of Prison facilities.  And right now, we have about 6000 DC residents who are incarcerated, and like I said, in about 100 facilities across the country.

Len Sipes:  Reverend, now, they’re spread all throughout the country.  Now, they’re supposed to be what?  Correct me if I’m wrong, 500 miles of the District of Columbia that was the original intent of placing DC offenders into the Federal Bureau of Prisons – I think within 500 miles.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  To my understanding that was their original intent…

Len Sipes:  Right.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  …but since then it just sort of grew and mushroomed and they sent them out at least 33 states.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  All over the place, like Michelle said, over 100 institutions.

Len Sipes:  Now, that’s impossible for the families to connect with the person who is incarcerated and makes it extraordinarily difficult to keep the family and community ties when your hundreds of miles away from the District of Columbia.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  You’re right.  It is impossible, henceforth, the Corrections Information Council because that’s what we do.  We will go visit where families can’t visit and we will oversee where the families – nor our government could oversee.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  We have a small board that we are working with.  Preferably we’ll grow more but we are just instituted it this past summer and I think we are making good headway as of beginning.

Len Sipes:  And Michelle, that gets to the larger point of the mission of Corrections Information Council because as Reverend Whitaker just mentioned, they represent the families.  If the families can’t make it down there, somebody from the District of Columbia who goes into all of these different prisons to make sure that the prisons are operating with.  I mean, first of all, there is a security issue and that’s got to be taken care of.  I mean they are there because they’ve committed a crime but, nevertheless, there are programmatic issues to be taken care of.  There are family issues to be taken care of and that’s I think hints at the work of this civilian body, the Corrections Information Council, in terms of what you do.

Michelle Bonner:  That’s exactly it.  And we consider ourselves the eyes and ears of the DC residents, of the citizenry of the District of Columbia to go into the facilities to ensure that the constitutional and the human rights are protected and beyond that, we do look at beyond the bricks and mortar or the standard policies of the institutions to look at some of the programming and how DC residents connect back to the District of Columbia prior to coming home.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michelle Bonner:  Because, as you know, reentry starts on the day that you enter prison not on the day that you –

Len Sipes:  And that is something the Federal Bureau of Prisons makes very plain.  That’s their goal is that reentry starts the day you walk into the door.

Michelle Bonner:  And so we provide that perspective for the DC citizens, the average DC citizen and although there are government inspections, there are others, you know, corrections accreditation agencies that go in and inspect.  There are actually may be lawyers who go in and inspect and legal cases, we provide that perspective from the ordinary citizen on what would we want our relative to have if, unfortunately, they were incarcerated understanding that it is incarceration.  We are not expecting Club Med, but just that the basic needs are met and beyond that that people are prepared to come home when they do return home.

Len Sipes:  And Reverend, I think that that’s a very important part of all of these because programs do play such a role.  I mean, I’ve taken a look at a variety of pieces of research that said that programs, whether they be GED or plumbing certificate or welding certificate, learning how to read, focusing on substance abuse or focusing on mental health issues, all of those are extraordinarily important to keep that person out of the criminal justice system when they come out of that Federal Bureau of Prison facilities in Arkansas or North Carolina, that they come back prepared and that’s one of the things that you go into those institutions to look at.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  Yes, and that’s one of the things we do look at because when we talk to returning citizens, we ask them are they meeting your needs or are they giving you any skills or vocational skills to help you when you leave this place.  And sometimes, they will say yes, but sometimes they would say no.  And if the answer is no, we would shed light on why isn’t this person getting the vocational skills he needs that’s going to help him when he gets outside of these facilities.  So that’s a very important question and it has been answered in positive and negative.

Len Sipes:  But I just find this so unique because it’s a civilian body.  I mean, when I came from the Maryland Department of Public Safety, we had tax paid employees from the state that would go out and inspect the correctional institutions of the counties I mean.  So the idea of people going into correctional facilities and taking a look at them and taking a look at how they operate is not unusual but you guys, it’s a civilian body, so are you welcomed with open arms?

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  Let me share this.  Recently, I was in Houston, Texas on a business – church business and I have called out program analysts and I let the chair know that since I was close enough, I was going to visit Beaumont, Texas where USP Beaumont is.  And in two days, I’m calling the BOP office, my program analyst got me accessed to go visit Beaumont which I got to see some of our inmates that were in there.  So they do respect our authority and they know what we’re about when we come in because through Charles Samuels and his office, they gave us access and they were very pleased to have – our inmates, the DC inmates were very pleased to have somebody from Washington DC to come visit them.  I mean after they got over the shock, they started giving me their attention.

Len Sipes:  It’s that connection, isn’t it?  It’s a connection with whom the research seems to indicate that connection with home is very important in terms of that person either continuing a life of criminal activity or the person becoming a tax payer instead of a tax burden, having those home connections.

Michelle Bonner:  And I think that it’s a public safety issue.  The DC Corrections Information Council, we are under the Deputy Mayor’s Office For Public Safety And Justice and we take that very seriously in that the preparation that people get while they are incarcerated from when they come back home, we know that it’s important to obtain employment and obtain housing and to have those stable job and stable housing so that it does reduce recidivism.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michelle Bonner:  And that decreases the number of people who go back to prisons.  That decrease the costs of further incarcerations of people who go back to prison and also by reducing recidivism, it makes our community safer.  And so we all, the families of those incarcerated as well as the rest of the community, find it very important to see and make sure that people who are incarcerated come back to a more stable situation when they do come home.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  Now, you also inspect not only the institutions of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, you also inspect the DC jails.

Michelle Bonner:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Michelle Bonner:  We have two jails in the Department of Corrections here in DC and we are mandated to inspect both of those facilities as well as the halfway houses and we have had a few meetings with the Director of the DC Department of Corrections and have gained access and have been on tours of the facilities and also have monitored the video visitation and we will be issuing a report on that shortly and so, yes, we are mandated to do that and as those facilities are local, we will be doing that on a regular basis.

Len Sipes:  Here’s a question.  I spent 30 years in corrections.  I started off at law enforcement and I’ve spent 30 years in corrections mostly community corrections, but when I was at the State of Maryland, we had a variety of prison systems.  Now, you guys are not part of the formal criminal justice system as I have been over the course of the last 30-40 years, what’s your impression as to what you see?

Michelle Bonner:  We come from different backgrounds.  Our third board member, Catherine Huffman, has a legal background and she is a consultant and she does consulting work on legislative affairs, some involvement of criminal justice system, so she does have some experience there.  And Reverend Whitaker can of course share his connection and I have had experiences as a criminal defense attorney and have done criminal defense work in my past. So I come to it from a perspective of an attorney in doing legal visits but it’s very different going in as an independent civilian monitoring persons who goes in and is looking at all aspects of the facilities, not just the legal visiting hall, but looking at the kitchens and looking at the medical facilities and looking at the programming.  It is very different.

Len Sipes:  You just gave me a lawyer’s answer, Michelle.  What is your gut sense?  Reverend, I’m going to give you a shot at this call.

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  Well, being a native Washingtonian as I was younger; I was running from law enforcement most of my time.  Okay.  But you know, as I started pastoring and go in ward 7 and a whole lot of the incarcerated come back to ward 7.   My impression of law enforcement is that they are really trying to help.  They are really trying to help those that need help.  They are really trying to help them once they do come back from incarceration because they know who they are.  So when they see them on the street, they would stop and they would have conversations with them and let them know they don’t want to go back to where they’ve been so they help try not to have them return to the same lifestyles that got them in there in the first place.

Len Sipes:  That I understand but I’m talking about your impression of the correctional facilities and we have only a couple of minutes left.  When you toured these institutions, what is your gut reaction?

Rev. Samuel Whitaker:  My gut reaction is that those law enforcement officers are doing the best they can to help those inmates that are incarcerated.  That’s my gut reaction.

Len Sipes:  All right.  Michelle?

Michelle Bonner:  Well, my impression is that when we come, so far we’ve only had announced visits and announced tours.  The staff has been very accommodating and we had the opportunity to speak to DC inmates at the facilities and I think that’s very important.  I understand that there is some cleaning up that’s done before we arrive.  But to be able to speak to DC residents one-on-one and we’ve been given the opportunity to do so when we do the tours is just that we’re able to do that, just that we are able to enter the facilities to conduct the work of the CIC, I’ve been very impressed by the access and accommodations.

Len Sipes:  And Michelle, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentleman, stay with us as we go with another round of experts on the second half as we discuss this very interesting concept of civilians doing corrections monitoring and looking at the focus on the reentry in correctional facilities throughout the country.  We will be right back.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes:  Hi and welcome back to DC Public Safety.  I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes, and we continue to discuss corrections monitoring and re-entry in the United States, the work of the Corrections Information Council here in Washington DC and, again, I find this so unique, it’s a civilian body throughout the rest of country, they have government employees that go and inspect correctional facilities here at the District of Columbia and throughout the country where we have District of Columbia offenders housed by various institutions within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  They go throughout the country and they visit these institutions, they visit the DC jail and they interact with the community and that’s supposed to be the conversation we will have on the second half.  Cara Compani, she is a program analyst for the Corrections Information Council and we also have Courtney Stewart, he is the chair of the reentry network for returning citizens.  And to Cara and to Courtney, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Cara Compani:  Thank you.

Cortney Stewart:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  All right.  Cara, work at the community, I mean we have this civilian body that goes into correctional institutions that’s so unique and so different in the United States and we talked to Michelle and Reverend Whitaker on the first half about this but the community component, working with the community is very important, correct?

Cara Compani:  Correct.  Yeah and I think that’s one of the things that makes our body so unique is that the community, their experiences, and their concerns are of the utmost importance to this body.  Our job is to inspect and monitor conditions of confinement and it is – we are unable to do so without hearing from formerly incarcerated individuals, returning citizens to their families, their loved ones, and also advocates in the DC community to tell us really, hey, this is what’s going in certain facilities and you need to look at these issues.

Len Sipes:  And that’s difficult though because somehow someway you’ve got to explain what these correctional facilities are capable of from a budget point of view and what the expectations of the community are so that I can see there being quite a gap between those expectations and what correctional facilities are capable of doing.

Cara Compani:  Yes.  And so an independent body, we look at all those concerns.  We hear from citizens.  We also talk to people at correctional facilities, at the Federal Bureau of Prisons or DC Department of Corrections and we take all that into account and make the recommendations that are best suited to serve our residents across the country and here in the district.

Len Sipes:  All right.  Courtney, now you represent a re-entry community.  And so you’ve been doing this for quite some time.

Cortney Stewart:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  You have impressions.  You’re a part of the council.  You work with the council.  You probably bring a more authentic point of view that anybody sitting in this room because you’ve experienced and you’ve lived it and you worked with people coming out of the prison system every day.  What’s your impression of the work of the CIC and what’s your impression about the correctional facilities that people are coming from?

Cortney Stewart:  Well, my impression of the CIC is that it’s a need especially now and the community, they are concerned with people returning that are unemployed, for instance, or are walking around the neighborhood with nothing to do or they can’t get housing and the shelters are all crowded.  So the community is very concerned about this because they are the last line of defense, so to speak.  So the CIC’s mandate is very important to the community, actually the community needs to know more about the CIC so that they can be involved and help to support the things that they are going to be doing.

Len Sipes:  But the question goes either to one of you, again, like the question I asked Cara, you live between two worlds.  I mean there are the people coming back out of the prison system who are re-entering into the District of Columbia, but they are going re-entering into every city of the United States.  They all have the same issues.  We want programs.  We want substance abuse programs, mental health programs, training for jobs within the prison system.  They want reentry programming but these prison systems, not just the Federal Bureau of Prisons, any prison system, I mean we’re all taking budget cuts.  It’s very difficult to provide that programming.  That was not their mission 10 years ago.  Their mission was to constitutionally incarcerate.  Now, suddenly we are coming along and saying reentry, preparing individuals in the prison system for their successful transformation from tax burden to tax payers.  That’s now important.  That’s a brand new mission for them.  Isn’t that difficult in terms of explaining that to the community?

Cortney Stewart:  Well, we made changes from reentry to humanity because DC specifically, these individuals are all over the country and in some instances and so family members, people even their lawyers, people who are supporting them cannot get to them.  So a lot of times when they do return back to the community, they haven’t had any contact, any connection with anyone so this is critical specifically to the District of Columbia.  And it’s an issue.  It’s an issue of when you have a loved one that you have not seen or been in contact with it’s almost like out of sight, out of mind.  So when these individuals return, a lot of them are unskilled.  A lot of them are trauma, you know, they’re dealing with different types of emotions and disabilities or mental relapses or whatever you want to call them and so the support system wasn’t there.  So you can see the disconnection.  They come back, they’re a lot of the property and a lot of changes have been made throughout the cities so to re-integrate is almost – you know, where do they start?  So I think that when you look at the District of Columbia, it’s a little different from other jurisdictions.

Len Sipes:  It is different from other jurisdictions but I think there are far more commonalities and then there are differences in this.  What you’re describing applies to just about every correctional facility in the country.  Go ahead, Cara.

Cara Compani:  The real difference is this – it’s the distance.  We have DC residents in California and Texas, Washington state, all over the country, they don’t have the same connections to services that returning citizens need to employment services, to their families, to their loved ones.  I get letters from people and they say, I haven’t seen my kids in five years.  That same problem does not exist around the country in the same way it does because DC residents are transferred to Federal Bureau of Prison custody.

Len Sipes:  Okay and so everybody who is watching – who is watching this program is now saying given themselves passionate answer, Cara.  Does the work of the CIC, is it effective?  Does it transcend that distance?  That 500-mile distance between the District of Columbia and that prison?  And I’ll disagree with you a little bit.  When I was with the Maryland System, if you have somebody in Baltimore and they are incarcerated in Cumberland, that’s like the other side of the moon.  I mean even 200 miles is 200 miles versus 500 miles.  So this is – I still think this is common – a common discussion throughout the country to a large degree but what’s the impact of the Corrections Information Council?  Why is it important?  And how does it transcend those boundaries?

Cara Compani:  Well, our goal is to make recommendations so there can be a bridge there.  So there can be a bridge to services that people need when they return to the district and also so that their family members and loved ones and the government of the district can know what’s going on at these facilities.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cara Compani:  So concerns as medical care.  Just really basic human concerns, we need to make sure that those are being met in addition to programming and everything else because we’re so far away, we don’t have the ability to do so as a state would.  So that’s why the Corrections Information Council is so important.

Len Sipes:  Courtney, do you agree with that?  Do you think that it’s powerful enough to have that connection?

Cortney Stewart:  Absolutely, when you think about the community, the community feels like they have been dealt a bad deal you know what I mean.  Especially within the last five years with the r-entry being highlighted in all of these different areas of concern especially since you talk about budget cuts and the city does not have the safety net that it used to so the community is almost – you know this has dropped in their lap of families and community organizations and CBOs and things of that nature.  So it’s a big concern.  The CIC helps bridge that concern, helps support, you know, put these individuals at ease, so to speak, when it comes to their families.

Len Sipes:  But I think that that may be the best summation of the CIC is work and the larger message for people watching this from throughout the United States and beyond the United States, it is the community.  The community is that entity impacted by people coming out of the prison systems unprepared.  So you are that bridge.  You are representing the community.  So you’re not just representing the District of Columbia, you are representing the community and that’s something that anybody can identify with.  Cara.

Cara Compani:  Yes.  As I started out with the DC community is of the utmost importance to us and that’s who we looked in for information.

Len Sipes:  But that’s the impact.  They’re the recipients of people coming out of the prison system.  We are all the recipients of people coming out of the prison system.  So you are actually the representative, the direct representative of the citizens of the District of Columbia or for that matter, the citizens of any city throughout the county through this conception.  You’re the representative of the citizens.

Cortney Stewart:  Absolutely.  Reintegration, I mean right now, I heard you mentioned programming.  You know reintegration for the DC residents in particular, I mean, we need reform.  A lot of these individuals, if you think about someone post incarceration, for instance, the CIC getting involved with someone after they have been sentenced and then finding out what their destination is, a prerelease – a prerelease plan.  Because right now, you have individuals who are coming back to the city, they don’t have the skill set because they might have been mopping floors in one of these federal institutions and they come home and they cannot get a job as a janitorial or they may have been doing hair, you know, a bob [PH] or, you know, something that requires a license.  You could not get that license based on having a felony, for instance, so we could – you know these individuals are going to need some help.  They’re going to need some additional support so it would do us great to understand going to these facilities and finding out whether or not our residents are receiving the proper –

Len Sipes:  So now people watching this program is saying, well, are you having an impact?

Cara Compani:  I believe we are.  And what I hear from the community is that we are, too.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Cara Compani:  We’ve already been to several facilities and Federal Bureau of Prison facilities, halfway houses here in DC, and also DC Department of Correction Facilities.  We’re writing up our recommendations and serving our residents here and I do believe we are having an impact.

Len Sipes:  Is there any commonality in terms of the recommendations as you go from one facility to the other.

Cara Compani:  That’s something that we can’t report on yet because we haven’t been to enough facilities.  As Michelle stated, we are in over 116 facilities in 31 states.  So we haven’t reached a large enough portion of those facilities yet to make that determination.

Len Sipes:  All right.  And in the final two minutes, I’m going to stick you guys with the same questions I had to Reverend Whitaker and to Michelle.  What is your impression as you walk – I mean I can remember the first time I walked to a prison.  And I’ve been in prisons hundreds of times.  And I always have a certain impression when I’m in and out of a correctional facility.  What is yours?

Cara Compani:  Well, I really enjoy speaking with our DC residents wherever we are.  So that’s actually my favorite part of our visits is talking to them and seeing what’s going on.  But I really enjoy it.  We’ve had really great visits so far and just to see what our residents are up to.

Len Sipes:  Courtney, what’s your thoughts about – well, you’ve been in there before so what’s your impression about going back?

Cortney Stewart:  Well, you know, I’m not going back but my impression is that they’re very clean, that’s for sure.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons, they do a very good job of keeping them nice and clean.  I think that they need more improvements though.  We are in the 21st century and so a lot of things -you know when you talk about budget cuts and I don’t think that that is a good substitute for someone who could end up in the prison industrial system the rest of their life, you know what I mean.  And so these institutions, they could do – reform to me is the key.  You know when I went to prison, I studied, I did went to Control Data Institute.  I was in UDC and various other programs.  Yes, the University of District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  And those were important to you.  We have to close.

Cortney Stewart:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  Right?

Cortney Stewart:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And the whole idea of the programs meant something to you and meant something to your successful life.

Cortney Stewart:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  All right.  Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been watching DC Public Safety as we discuss the work of corrections monitoring and reentry of the Corrections Information Council here in the District of Columbia.  Watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in today’s criminal justice system and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


CSOSA’s Youthful Offender Program-DC Public Safety Radio

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[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]