Archives for January 2014

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Systematic Change and Criminal Justice-Pew Public Safety Performance Project

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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, our title for today’s show: Public Opinion, Sentencing, and Parole and Probation. We’re very happy to have Adam Gelb. Adam is the Director of the Public Safety Performance Project, which helps advance policies and practices in adult and juvenile sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control correctional costs. As project lead, Adam oversees Pew’s assistance to states and also research. He’s been involved in crime control and prevention for the past 25 years as a journalist, congressional aide, a senior state government official. He graduated from the University of Virginia, and holds a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Adam, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Adam Gelb: Great to be with you, Len.

Len Sipes: Full disclosure. Adam and I worked together in the state of Maryland when he was a senior aide to the lieutenant governor, who eventually ran for governor. And I was leading public information for a state agency, law enforcement and correctional agency. So Adam and I have worked together. I’ve seen Adam lead this charge in person. Nobody is a more passionate person and a more knowledgeable person on the issue of crime and justice. I want to read very quickly from one of the findings from Pew, in terms of the research that they do. “American voters believe that too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on prison. Voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.” Number three. “Support for sentencing and correction reforms, including reduced prison terms, is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender, and racial and ethnic groups.” Adam, the whole idea of Pew and the Public Safety Performance Project, give me a definition in one sentence.

Adam Gelb: You said it very well yourself, right?

Len Sipes: Yeah, I did, but I –

Adam Gelb: We have –

Len Sipes: We need to hear from you, in one sentence.

Adam Gelb: We help states advance policies and practices that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

Len Sipes: When you and I talked in the past and I say, “Adam, this whole issue of offender reentry.” You said, “Leonard, we’re not an offender reentry program. We’re about systematic policy change within the criminal justice system; within the United States. That does the things that you just articulated.” Correct?

Adam Gelb: That’s right, yeah. Our project does look at the bigger system than just the very tail end of the system and making sure that when offenders get out of prison they’re set up for success.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: We look at the whole system from front end to back end, and, right, the bulk of what we do is join into partnerships with states. When the governor, senior legislative leadership, the chief justice, and judicial leaders, say, “We’ve got a problem here, we’d like to take a look at it, see what we can do about bending the curve on our corrections growth and making sure that prisons are holding the right people.” And then we come in, and working with a bipartisan, inner branch taskforce, take a look at the state’s data. What specifically is driving the population, what’s caused it to rise? We also do a look at the corrections and reentry policies. To what extent is that agency or agencies implementing what we know to be evidence based practices? Based on that, and at only at that point, once we’ve taken a look at the data and the trends, do we then start to fashion policy solutions. And based on what the research says about what works, based on what other state experiences have been about what works or not, then we help the state put together a set of policy recommendations. And then thirdly, and this is really important about what we do, is that we don’t just help the state and that taskforce put together a nice pretty report with fancy graphs and great recommendations that’s going to sit on the shelf. All right, there’s an integral involvement of all the stakeholder groups and agencies from the get-go, and certainly the governor and the legislative leadership. And so our reports tend to make it across the finish line in the legislature and not sit on a shelf.

Len Sipes: What you’re looking for is systematic change at the state level. You’re looking for systematic policy changes that reduce cost to state yet at the same time improve public safety.

Adam Gelb: That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes: All right. And through that – and I’m going to say this, and it’s not my opinion. I’m not expressing my opinion at all. I’ve talked to a wide variety of people at the national level, at the state level. Some people believe – again, I represent the federal government. I work with a lot of federal agencies. I do not mean to embarrass them. I love them half to death. But a lot of people express the opinion that Pew is not a leader in this issue of systematic change within the criminal justice system, Pew is the leader. Pew writes material in such a way that the average person can understand it, the average member of the general assembly, that person’s aide; citizens can understand what it is that you’re talking about. You have a wonderful flow in your writing. You have a comprehensive strategy in terms of your media events, of the video that you create. There’s something very, very strategic in terms of the way that you communicate. You communicate in a way that government seems to be incapable of doing. Am I right or wrong?

Adam Gelb: Well, we have a few advantages there, both in terms of resources and in terms of the politics, right? Pew is an independent organization that’s self-funded to do this work and so we do have a little bit more freedom to be creative in the way that we communicate.

Len Sipes: And government cannot. That’s the interesting thing. People have simply said Pew can, that’s the answer they’ve given, that Pew has the ability to communicate, government has an innate inability to communicate.

Adam Gelb: Well, take the polling that you started off the segment with here.

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Adam Gelb: We are able to go out and partner with some of the top pollsters in this country. One of the top Republican pollsters and one of the Democratic pollsters team together on the poll that you mentioned and were able to document, with research and public opinion, where people are on this, right. And I think the point that you’re making and one of the reasons why we’re seeing so much change around the country at this point is that elected officials are, I think, finally catching up with where voters and citizens are on these issues. People are sick and tired of the revolving door.

Len Sipes: How many states are you talking about, that Pew is involved in?

Adam Gelb: About half the states. Over the past seven years –

Len Sipes: So you’re talking about 25 year – 25 states over the course of the last seven years, systematic examination as to how they do business, systematic examination as to how they can change?

Adam Gelb: That’s right.

Len Sipes: 25 states in the United States and you’ve been able to do that on a systematic basis.

Adam Gelb: We’ve been working hard. We’ve had a tremendous amount of help from our partners at the Council of State Government’s Justice Center, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Crime and Justice Institute, and many others.

Len Sipes: Office of Justice Programs, yes.

Adam Gelb: BGA and the Office of Justice Programs, an integral partner in this effort. And it’s been an amazing public-private partnership, particularly in that our strength and focus of our dollars can be on the front end of these reforms, trying to make sure that there is a solid policy package put together and making it across the finish line to legislature. And then BGA has been able to really come in after that and provide some support to these states to make sure that the changes, and there are lots of them in many of these comprehensive packages, are actually implemented. Because I think we all realize that a lot of this structural policy change that you’re talking about sometimes isn’t worth the paper that it’s printed on unless there’s real follow-through by the courts and by probation and parole agencies.

Len Sipes: Okay. I do, just out of respect for Pew, is to get across the point that Pew is multilayered, Pew has been around for, what, 150,000 years, and multilayered, they do a lot of different things. It’s really surprising how Pew is a daily part of my life as a bureaucrat within a federal agency in terms of daily news summary, in terms of the material that you give me, in terms of public opinion of polls, Pew is multilayered.

Adam Gelb: It certainly is. There are projects in many different areas of public policy, health policy, environment policy, and it’s been fabulous that the Institution has committed as much energy and resource as it has over the past seven years to an area that is not really commonly thought of in a lot of philanthropic circles.

Len Sipes: Okay. Let’s get down to the 25 states. Office of Justice Program, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Pew, Council of States, I mean the lot of organizations involved in terms of systematic change within states. I talk to reporters and reporters say, “Okay, so this is all going on, this sense of systematic change at the state level. How many criminologists have we talked to over the course of our careers who said, “I really believe that we should systematically do it differently,” that we do over-incarcerate, that there should be more alternatives to incarceration? I contend that reporters and street cops are two of the most jaded groups of people on the face of the earth. They’re cynical. They look at me and their question is, “So what? Show me the results as to where the alternatives, whatever they happen to be, that are truly having an impact in terms of reduced crime, and improved justice, and at the same time reductions in costs for the criminal justice system. Show me. Show me. Show me.” When I respond, I run off a list of research that has had an impact, and their response is, “Okay, that doesn’t quite do it for me.” Because most research projects when they are successful, not all are successful, run in the ballpark of about 15% reduction in recidivism. They’re interested in a safer America. Can you deliver on a safer America?

Adam Gelb: I think we’re seeing governors and state legislators and judicial leaders across this country in those 25 states that have gone through the justice reinvestment process, I think we’re seeing them deliver.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: Right? And they are. And I hope it’s well known with your audience that Texas was one of the first states to go through this kind of process, and that in Texas, in the last seven years, the prison population has stabilized. They expected to have to spend at this point now more than two billion dollars to accommodate the increased growth that they were projecting. They haven’t had to spend that money. The recidivism rate, pro-revocation rate, in that state is down by well over a third. And public safety, the most important piece of this puzzle, has improved across the state. The crime rate in Texas is back down to where it was in the 1960s.

Len Sipes: And reporters are going to say, “Well, Leonard, but most states have seen reductions in crime across the board.” We’re just coming off an almost continuous 20 year reduction in crime across the board, as measured by the FBI, as measured by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, for the last couple years, it’s starting to go up, both on the property and violent crime. So the fact that there have been reductions in the past in any state can be explained, as a journalist would say, by the reductions in all states. So how do we through  systematic change, prove that we’re improving public safety, that we’re making people’s lives safer?

Adam Gelb: I think the numbers clearly show it, right. There’re national trends and then there are state by state trends. And what you really have to do if you want to examine this closely is take a look at Texas, take a look at South Carolina, take a look at Georgia, take a look at Ohio, and some of the other states that have made these changes. And what’s clear is that they’ve been able to save a tremendous amount of taxpayer money by not having to build and open and staff new prisons. And they’ve been able to do so while continuing along with that general national trend towards lower crime over the past several years. And in the last couple years the numbers also sort of mirror the national average. So what’s starting to happen, Len, is that there’s the myth that incarceration and crime rates move together in some lock step. That myth is being shattered. It’s being shattered in state after state across the country, where states that have reduced their incarceration rates have also reduced their crime rates. In fact the 29 states that have reduced their incarceration rates over the past few years, the crime rate has gone down in all of them but three.

Len Sipes: So and that’s your point. The point is, is that there has been systematic change in these states if you’re going to predict the fact that there’s been less incarceration, that your crime rate has gone up, that hasn’t happened.

Adam Gelb: No it hasn’t and –

Len Sipes: So it’s gone down concurrently with a reduction within prison population?

Adam Gelb: It has. And I think the conversation at the national level when you talk at sort of a big conceptual level, that it immediately does go toward, “Well, what’s the relationship between crime and incarceration?” At the local level, the state level, what policy makers are starting to realize, when they’ve seen, “Okay, we’re not building these prisons, okay, we’re scaling this back and crime is going down.” or it’s maybe starting to tick up a little bit, nationally what’s going on here? They start to look at other factors that influence the crime rate, particularly the police. And this is where, right, that you need to make sure, in part of these conversations, what’s happened with the ranks of police forces across this country gets some time in that conversation. Because police forces have had to lay off, in some cases, tremendous portions of their –

Len Sipes: Oh, in New Jersey there are towns that have laid off 50% of their people.

Adam Gelb: So –

Len Sipes: It’s been amazing what’s going on throughout the country.

Adam Gelb: Right. So at the local level people are starting to see, this is not all just about how many people you put in prison and how long you keep them there, definitely one factor. Nobody in this conversation, in a serious conversation about these issues is going to argue that the increased imprisonment didn’t have any impact on the reduction in crime.

Len Sipes: And that’s a good point.

Adam Gelb: What we’re seeing now, though, is that most people, including policymakers, realizing that we have passed a tipping point on this. We’ve long since now passed a point of diminishing returns, where not only will more prisons not necessarily reduce crime, they’re just not even close to the most cost at more prisons, not close the most cost-effective way to reduce crime.

Len Sipes: I want to get very quickly to the other thing that I’ve heard from reporters, this issue is principally a way for states to cut costs, not necessarily public safety, but a way to cut costs. But before I get to that I’m going to reintroduce you. Adam Gelb is at our microphones today. He is the Director of the Public Safety Performance Project of Pew. And certainly Pew, as I said before, I’m not quite sure that I can be more praise or suggest more praise for Pew than I possibly can. It is either the leader of change in the criminal justice system in this country or certainly a partner with a lot of other organizations in terms of systematic change within the criminal justice system within this country., The criticism that, “Leonard, okay, so all these states are doing all these things because they’re tired of spending so much money on incarceration and that’s all you’re doing. Yes, you’re cutting costs and that’s well documented, but they’re doing it solely for that, they’re not doing it for systematic change within the criminal justice system.”

Adam Gelb: Budget trouble is definitely bringing states to the table; it’s just not the meal.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: Right? Policymakers across the country are not holding their noses and saying, “I know this going to really cause an increase in crime and I hate to do it, but we do have to, at the state level, make ends meet, we have to balance our budget, so we’re just going to have to make some of these tough policy calls.” That is not what we see happening in state after state. What we do see happening are three things. First is they are seeing the success of states like Texas and South Carolina and other states that we just talked about, states that have significantly bent the curve on their prison growth, and even reduced population, and are seeing reduced recidivism because of the reinvestment into stronger probation and parole programs, and they’re seeing those state crime rates go down. So they’re starting to see this iron linkage broken between locking up more people and having safer streets. The second thing that’s happening is they’re becoming increasingly aware of where the public is on this and I think our polling has helped there; but more and more just in daily conversation you find that people realize at this point after 25, 30 years of ever increasing prison populations that we’re not going to build our way to public safety and that there are much more effective and less expensive approaches for lower level offenders. They also are aware and think that they don’t have some specific amount of time that they want to see offenders behind bars for. The want to see a high percentage of the sentence served, but they don’t really care if that’s a five year sentence or a three year sentence. They just want to know when the judge says three years; you’re going to serve pretty much all that three years. That is starting to seep into some of these conversations. Other parts of the public opinion constellation here include victims speaking out and also saying, “Now, this is not all about locking up as many people for as long as possible.” This is, “I realize these people are going to get out and I want them to pay restitution, I want them to be held accountable, but I also don’t want them to claim new victims.” And so we need to strengthen reentry. We have business leaders, Len, stepping forward in many of these states and saying this is now an issue just the overall economic vitality of the state. The corrections budgets have been the second fastest growing part of state budgets behind only Medicaid.

Len Sipes: That’s what I want to explore.

Adam Gelb: And this is not the right way to go. Let me just add that you certainly have a lot of conservative voices that you’ve mentioned that are speaking up here now and realizing that having 1 in 100 adults behind bars is not consistent with conservative notions of limited government and fiscal discipline.

Len Sipes: Let me get into that. For the first time in my over 40 years within the criminal justice system, I’m seeing people on both sides of the political asile come together under one banner, under one topic, and that is, again, systematic change. Doing it differently, getting a better result for our criminal justice dollar. I’ve not seen that before. I’ve not seen some of the public opinion data that you’re sharing swinging in the direction of, “Hey, let’s not have 75%, 80% recidivism in terms of re-arrests, let’s not have 50% recidivism in terms of re-incarceration. The state simply can’t afford that. My God! We don’t have money for schools; we don’t have money for colleges. Can we reduce this rate of recidivism? Can we rearrange how we do things?” I’ve never seen such a coalescence of opinion from despaired groups before on this issue of crime and justice.

Adam Gelb: There’s a tremendous shift that’s happening and it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why it’s happening. Why is Jeb Bush, why is Newt Gingrich, why are Grover Norquist, Bill Bennett, David Keene, why are these folks who are and have been leaders of the conservative movement coming forward now and saying the system has gotten too big, it’s gotten too expensive, it needs to be rethought dramatically?

Len Sipes: It needs to be more effective at what it does.

Adam Gelb: And it really derives – right, the point in time is sort of what’s hard to fix. The reasons behind it are not difficult to discern at all, right. One is straightforward limited government. 1 in 100 behind bars, almost 1 in 31 under some form of correctional supervision, prison, jail, probation, parole, it’d be even a little higher if we counted pretrial. That is big and it’s costly. And so that’s one perspective, the limited government perspective and the fiscal discipline perspective. There’re also big strains of this movement that look at the victim piece of this and recognize that serving time in a state prison does not do anything to help make that victim whole, particularly lower level property offenders, that it’s more consistent with conservative notions of justice.

Len Sipes: The focus is violent offenders versus nonviolent offenders. And so much of this focus is looking at the nonviolent offenders and can we do, “Something else with the nonviolent offenders.”? The violent offenders – we’re basically making room for the more dangerous folks, are we not, in terms of this whole concept of effectiveness?

Adam Gelb: That is a constant theme in the States. What policymakers tell us they want to see out of the policy packages, and they certainly see this when they look at the data, in terms of increasing numbers of technical violators taking up prison space, is that’s not who they want behind bars. They want behind bars the serious, the chronic, the violent, and the high-risk offenders.

Len Sipes: Okay. We only have eight minutes left in the program. I want to ask a personal question and I want to move on to more policy issues. Number one, you’ve ridden this horse from the very beginning, and I would imagine, as you’re sitting on top of your horse, when started with Pew, when you’re looking out at all you can see is 10,000 cattle milling about. And you’re saying to yourself, “It’s impossible to get all these critters moving in one direction.” And you have. So what is your personal sense of accomplishment after all these years, or non-accomplishment?

Adam Gelb: There are a lot of cynics who think that this is all about the budgets. As you just said, that we’re really not adding a lot of value here, this would be happening anyway or it’s happening only because the budgets. That there’s really not some fundamental shift in the national conversation here and even if there is it’ll be temporary and it won’t last much longer beyond when budgets recover. That’s not what we see happening. We do see a fundamental shift in the conversation and the perspective on this issue happening. We had for a long time a situation where policymakers thought it was the right approach to this issue and it was their job to say, “How do I demonstrate that I’m tough on crime?”

Len Sipes: Right.

Adam Gelb: Now what they’re saying is, “How do I get taxpayers a better public safety return on their correction spending?” And I think that’s an important shift and it’s one that’ll last.

Len Sipes: Give me five specifics. Because I think it was a very modest answer. I think I would’ve been scared half to death sitting on top of that horse looking out at the sea of cattle that I’m trying to get moving in one direction. I think you’re being modest. Number two. And I think Pew is being modest. I think Pew should crow more about what it’s done. I think it’s been a sea change. Number two. Give me, and reporters ask me this all the time, give me the five fundamental changes that one needs to advocate for to provide a systematic change that reduces cost and improves public safety all at the same time. The first from a parole and probation perspective that I always give is to do an independent analysis of that individual to judge their risk to public safety and to judge what their need are so you’re dealing with that person individually and not just as a class so you can design a program that will specifically deal with what it is that he or she needs. Risk and needs assessment. That’s one of my answers, do you have others?

Adam Gelb: There’re many. To build off of what you were just saying. We do know now what works to stop the cycle recidivism. No magic bullets. No way to guarantee that somebody’s not going to commit another crime. But we do know how to do risk assessment much better. We do have much better surveillance technology. We know –

Len Sipes: GPS, is that what we’re talking about?

Adam Gelb: We’re talking about GPS; we’re talking about rapid result drug tests.

Len Sipes: All right.

Adam Gelb: So we know more about how to change behavior, we have better technologies to help us do that. We need to get –

Len Sipes: To better accountability tools?

Adam Gelb: Across the board.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: It’s very different. The challenge is less so in terms of knowing what to do but in terms of actually getting it done.

Len Sipes: Right.

Adam Gelb: And what we’re seeing in these states is the recognition that there are a good number of lower level offenders in the prison system, particularly those who are technical violators and not having committed a new crime or not been convicted of a new crime. And if you can change laws and practices about who goes in, and you can capture some of those savings and reinvest them into some of the probation and parole programs that follow the evidence based technologies then you can have a tremendous impact on both cost and on public safety.

Len Sipes: All right, so the state saves 20 million dollars, you want 10 of that reinvested in the programs, parole and probation or rehab programs or treatment programs that could have a direct impact on the rest of the people staying out of the criminal justice system.

Adam Gelb: That’s the formula.

Len Sipes: Okay. What else?

Adam Gelb: One of the things that we’re seeing a lot of interest in the states in is in swift and certain sanctions. The states are realizing that you have to hold people accountable –

Len Sipes: Sanctions mean the guy under supervision screws up and you’ve got to do something about it.

Adam Gelb: There’s an immediate and a swift response, but it’s not severe. You don’t wait until somebody violates 10, 12 times and then do something about it. There’s a lot of interest in incentives, all right? For a long time the prison system has incentivized good behavior behind the walls by saying you could earn credits off your sentence. What we’re seeing now is a lot of states interested in transferring that concept to the community and saying, “If you’re out on probation or parole and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re going to treatment, you’re testing clean, and so on, you’re paying your victim restitution, then you can earn time off your supervision period.” And that does two things. It incentivizes good behavior by offenders in compliant behavior, and then it calls off the lower risk offenders off of case loads, right, so that supervision officers can actually spend their time on people who are not complying. And that’s what research tells us is going to produce the biggest impact on public safety.

Len Sipes: People have suggested to me that we’ve got to reduce the amount of time spent on parole and probation. If you have a person for five years on parole and probation that person’s going to go back. You cannot, the pope could not live a clean life during an endless period on parole and probation. I apologize if I’ve been disrespectful to anybody. Few could live five years on parole and probation without messing up, without the possibility of returning back to the system. So what some people suggest is that you tell the person, “You give me one good year of no violations, you work, no drug positives, you do all the things you’re supposed to do. If you’re a nonviolent offender, I’ll go back, and then after a year of compliance, I’ll go back and recommend that we no longer supervise you.” But across the board, people are recommending lower times for supervision on parole and probation.

Adam Gelb: That’s right. I think practice is starting to catch up with the research on this question.

Len Sipes: Anything else quickly? We’ve got about 30 seconds left.

Adam Gelb: Yeah, I think you were asking about interventions and programs.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Adam Gelb: I’d like to really put the emphasis on the process.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: I think one of the reasons why states have been as successful as they have been working with us and CSG and others on this is that they have not put the cart before the horse. They’ve taken a look at their data; they’ve taken a look at their systems, and from that, determined what policies and programs are missing and what’s the best fit. And that has just been an absolutely critical part of this process. It’s changed the whole thing around from, “What’s a good program? Or what should we do ideologically?” to “What does the data say?”

Len Sipes: So if we’re going to have systematic change we need systematic analysis. And that’s where Pew, and BJA, and OJP, and the Center for State Governments, that’s where they all come in.

Adam Gelb: That’s right.

Len Sipes: All right. Adam, it’s been a fascinating conversation. It went by way too fast as it always does. Adam Gelb is the director of the Public Safety Performance Project for Pew., Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticism. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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An Interview with Irvin Nathan, Attorney General for The District of Columbia

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. Our show today, ladies and gentlemen interviews the Attorney General of the District of Columbia Mr. Irvin Nathan and Andrew Fois, head of the Public Safety Division. They’re both at our microphones today to talk about crime in the District of Columbia and to the Attorney General, and to Andrew Fois, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Irvin Nathan: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Len Sipes: All right, so first of all DC and crime. Crime has really decreased in the District of Columbia over the course of the last 15 or 20 years, it’s been remarkable. We’ve had a variety of criminologists, both in the District of Columbia, and throughout the country, who have talked about the decrease in crime. What’s your perspective, Mr. Attorney General?

Irvin Nathan: Well, I agree. There’s been a remarkable decrease in the crime rate in the District of Columbia. Our homicides are down significantly over the last several years. But we’re still concerned; and we’re concerned about the proliferation of robberies, a lot of it dealing with cell phones. So we’re still vigilant to deal with the crime problem and working very hard at it. But it has gone down and we’re very gratified about that.

Len Sipes: What’s the cause of the decrease?

Irvin Nathan: Well, I think the community policing headed up by Chief Lanier is a principal reason for the decrease. I think increased programs, diversion of youth who get in trouble, and obviously, we’ve had some tough sentences from our courts, and the combination I think has led to the decrease.

Len Sipes: And homicides have hit a 50 year low. Now think about that. I mean we have cities in the United States, such as Chicago, such as Baltimore, many others, who are really struggling with homicides, yet in the District of Columbia, homicides have hit a 50 year low.

Irvin Nathan: Yeah. We’re very gratified by that, but also very chagrined over the mass killings at the navy yard this year.

Len Sipes: Uh huh.

Irvin Nathan: That was a very unfortunate situation, and it deals with an issue that’s very important to us, which is gun control. I think we have a very good gun control system in the District of Columbia, but we’re always subject to litigation on that. We have litigation going on, and we have the oversight by the Congress, which hasn’t always helped our gun control situation.

Len Sipes: Now, armed robberies in the city have always been a problem. They’re a problem in any city. And in District of Columbia, a lot of it has to do with cell phones and tablets.

Irvin Nathan: Correct. And so we’re trying to deal with that as well. Make these go away useless after they are stolen and other steps that we’re taking to try to reduce the incidents of robberies. And of course we’re very concerned about the armed robberies in that situation. But so we’ll be vigilant, and try to work on that as well, and we’re continuing to do that.

Len Sipes: Now your office is unique. One of the – we get a lot of new reporters here in the District of Columbia, in fact I have a fact sheet on my organization, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, for all these new reporters. And a lot of times they will call me and say, “Leonard, what is the difference between the United States Attorney’s Office and the DC Attorney General’s Office? Who prosecutes what? We’re very confused as to how that works.” DC has a very complicated criminal justice system from the standpoint of federal agencies and local agencies. Explain your office?

Irvin Nathan: It is a difficult concept. And of course it all stems from Congress, and it stems from a century ago. In the District of Columbia, as a result of congressional legislation, the US Attorney’s Office prosecutes the normal street crimes, the crimes that we think of as local problems. So they deal with the murders, and rapes, and robberies, on our street, as well of course as federal crimes, which all US Attorneys do throughout the country. And those prosecutions of the street crimes take place in, by the US Attorney’s Office in our Superior Court, for the most part. They may also sometimes be in the Federal District Court. Our office deals with all the juvenile crimes, which are quite significant in our dealing with juvenile crimes, which is a very large part of the criminal problem in the District of Columbia. We deal with very significant problems, including murders, and rapes, and robberies, committed by juveniles, and usually on juveniles, but not always.

Len Sipes: So everybody under the age of 18 falls under the auspices of your office?

Irvin Nathan: Right. Now, there are some rare circumstances where juveniles can be tried as adults, and when that happens, it’s tried by the US Attorney’s Office. But for the most part, we try all the cases that are under 18, and there are some very serious cases. When it’s not so serious, we try to use diversion to avoid getting the juveniles into the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes: Now that carries a certain level of controversy, because there is an awful lot of people, I mean I’ve been in the system for over 40 years, I would guess that you have as well. We’ve both been exposed to criticism as to, “My God! This person just did this or did that, burglarized, or did graffiti, an act of graffiti, or stole from me, and I want that person prosecuted, I want that 16 year old, that individual prosecuted.” In some cases it’s better for justice to divert that person from the criminal justice system, especially if they do not have a significant record, correct?

Irvin Nathan: Absolutely. If it’s a first time offense and if it’s nonviolent we’ll try do a diversion. But of course if it’s a recidivist, and it’s violent, then of course we will proceed criminally, it’s in the family court, and they could be incarcerated up to their 21st birthday.

Len Sipes: Okay. Mr. Attorney General, do you hold an elected position, are you appointed, how did you assume this responsibility?

Irvin Nathan: My position was appointed. I was appointed by Mayor Gray at the beginning of his administration in January 2011. However, there is going to come a time when this position is going to be an elective position. In 2010, the Council voted to make it elective, and there was a referendum, and the populace of the District of Columbia decided they wanted to have an elected Attorney General. However, the council has recently postponed that election, which originally was scheduled for 2014. And that election has to be at the beginning of a term of a new mayor, and so currently that election is set for 2018, and the person would take the position in January 2019.

Len Sipes: How long have you been in the position?

Irvin Nathan: I’ve been here for three years, since January of 2011.

Len Sipes: Now three years is enough time to know, and more than enough time to know, and you probably knew it way before you got here. What did you do before you got here?

Irvin Nathan: Immediately before, I was the General Counsel of the United States House of Representatives, when Nancy Pelosi was the speaker. And before that, I had been in private practice, but I’d also been at the Department of Justice on two occasions. I was at the Department of Justice in 1979, in the Criminal Division, serving as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General. And then I was also in the Department of Justice at the beginning of the Clinton Administration as the top aide to the Deputy Attorney General.

Len Sipes: So you have been around for a long time? You’ve been –

Irvin Nathan: I’ve been around a long time.

Len Sipes: You’ve been in the criminal justice system for a long time. And so what’s your perspective after three years as being the Attorney General for the District of Columbia?

Irvin Nathan: Well, I think the system works well, and that we’ve cooperated well with the Department of Justice, but I do think that there should be some changes. When I first came in, we had a situation where we had a corrupt city councilman, and our investigation disclosed that. But we, because we don’t have felony jurisdiction of adults, could not bring a criminal charge. As a result we brought a civil suit to recover the $400,000 that he had stolen. We got a settlement, but we also had to refer the matter to the US Attorney’s Office. I think the law should be changed so that crimes that are committed against the District, where the District is the victim, such as where there’s thievery from our public officials, that we should have the opportunity to prosecute that. And I’ve been working with the US Attorney here, Ron Machen, and with the Department of Justice, to try to seek Congressional legislation, so that in certain circumstances, in serious cases of theft from the District of Columbia, and other crimes like that, we would have jurisdiction to prosecute.

Len Sipes: Andrew, I want to bring you into this conversation as well. Again, one of the things I started off with, and in terms of explaining the District of Columbia, and the criminal justice system. We’re the parole and probation agency for the District of Columbia, but we’re a federal agency.

Andrew Fios: All right.

Len Sipes: The courts receive federal funding, Pretrial is a federal agency, Public Defender’s Office receives federal funding. You couple that up against, or with, not up against, but the United States Attorney’s Office, which is federal, the District of Columbia Police Department and Metropolitan Police Department, which is local, the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services for Juveniles, which is local. So you have this mishmash of federal and, if you will, state agencies, federal and local agencies, and you would think that that would create a problem, but, you know, I came from the Maryland criminal justice system, and I see more cooperation in the District of Columbia and better sense of people getting along than I ever saw in the state of Maryland.

Andrew Fios: Well, I think despite the problems that you point to of structural differences, and different funding sources, and different authorizations, that we do our work together remarkably well. And that work is done mainly by about three taskforces and working groups that all of the various agencies participate in, one at the federal level that Ron Machen chairs, one at the local level that the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Paul Quander, chairs, and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee that Mannone Butler chairs.

Irvin Nathan: Right.

Andrew Fios: And they’re both – well, everyone comes to the table, all the stakeholders, federal and local, and when we need to something in tandem, we generally do it through the auspices of one or more of those three groups.

Irvin Nathan: I want to make one correction.

Len Sipes: Yeah, please.

Irvin Nathan: What I understood is exactly right. But Mannone Butler is the Executive Director of the Coordinating Council, and Paul Quander, and now Nancy Ware of CSOSA are the chair.

Len Sipes: But every city – I mean we’re all students of the criminal justice system, especially you, Mr. Attorney General, because you’ve been at the federal level for a long time. We recognize the fact that the structures that we just talked about exist throughout the United States. There are criminal justice coordinating councils out there, there’s a mixture of federal and local agencies out there. I maintain that, in the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia is extremely well served by this combination of agencies, because most of them are federally funded; they have the resources in the federal government. We have, in CSOSA, have more resources than the average parole and probation agency. The coordination level seems to be there, everybody’s talking to each other well. I guess my basic question is why? Why does everybody, why does the system seem to get along as well as it does, because it doesn’t in other cities?

Irvin Nathan: Yeah. Well, I think first of all, when I was at the Department of Justice, we made very significant efforts to make it work across the country, by committees and cooperation, and we brought people together. I think it works in the District, because first of all, it has existed for a very long time, and second, because people who take these jobs are committed to making it work and recognize that you have to work together to make it effective. And I think, for example, Ron Machen and I get long extremely well, we coordinate our activities, and we know what each other is doing, and I think that that helps significantly.

Len Sipes: But your office is not a small office. We’re talking about 20,000 cases a year. We’re talking about 60 attorneys. We’re talking about a variety of divisions. That’s a lot of cases and that’s a lot of people. I mean you have a larger Attorney General’s Office in states.

Irvin Nathan: Well, yeah, there are –

Len Sipes: In some states.

Irvin Nathan: Yeah, our Attorney General’s Office actually is about 700 people. And that includes 150 lawyers who are in the various agencies that we supervise. For example, there’s a General Council of the Department of the Metropolitan Police Department and a General Council of the Fire Department, and we supervise their activity. So it’s maybe not quite as large as it sounds. In terms of litigation, Andy’s team is much smaller than the 60. How many lawyers are there in the – we’re doing the prosecution.

Andrew Fios: Well, about 45 that do the day to day prosecution of our juvenile work and our adult misdemeanor work.

Irvin Nathan: Uh huh.

Andrew Fios: The number 60 that you used is right when you put in some of the civil folks who bring civil nuisance abatement cases, and then the lawyers from the six general councils, that are under the auspices of the Public Safety Division, and they don’t litigate but they service the MPD, Fire Department, Department of Corrections, those agencies in the public safety cluster.

Irvin Nathan: So what I wanted to emphasize is that there are actually fewer prosecutors, maybe, so we have about 45, to handle all of those cases. These are people who are very hard working, who are overburdened with very large case loads. And frankly, I think that the next budget session we’re going to have to ask for some increase in terms of the numbers of prosecutors, the people that we have that are trying cases. One thing we haven’t mentioned in terms of – because when you started on our criminal part. We do all of the juvenile cases, but in addition, we deal with some significant misdemeanors that are adult misdemeanors as well, including impaired driving. And drunk driving is a serious problem in the District as elsewhere, and we have a large contingent that are committed to that, and we pursue that. We’ve had some problems there that we inherited from the prior administration when we had these breathalyzers that weren’t calibrated quite correctly and we couldn’t use the scores. We’ve now corrected that situation. We’ve changed, we’ve had an amendment of the statute that has made it more, clearer, and we’ve gotten larger sentences as a result. So we’re very serious about prosecuting impaired driving, which means not only drunk driving from alcohol, but also impaired by drugs.

Len Sipes: Well, as a former state trooper, I thank you for that. But I do want to, before we get to the break and before I reintroduce you, I want to nail this down. You are in essence the prosecutor, the attorneys representing the District of Columbia…?

Irvin Nathan: Correct.

Len Sipes: Which is larger in terms of a lot of states, or some states out there? You have responsibility principally for juveniles, people under the age of 18 committing a crime in the District of Columbia, the drinking and driving cases, and there are other misdemeanors, from what I understand, that you are responsible for.

Irvin Nathan: Right. There’re quality of life misdemeanors that we deal with as well.

Len Sipes: Our show today is featuring the DC Attorney General talking about crime control and how his office operates. It’s a very, very interesting office. Irv Nathan is the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Andrew Fois is the head of the Public Safety Division. Gentlemen, we return back to the structure of the program. So when people say the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, again, I know what the United States Attorney’s Office does. But do they instantaneously recognize the importance of your office? Do they fully understand that you are a major player within the criminal justice system in the District of Columbia?

Irvin Nathan: Well, I think they do. But obviously our responsibilities extend far beyond criminal responsibilities. I just need to mention that briefly. We represent the District in all of the civil litigation, both the affirmative civil litigation that we bring to defend the interests of the city and to defend against law suits that are brought against the city. We provide legal opinions to the mayor, and to the agencies, and on occasion, to the City council. We also deal with abused, neglected children, with foster children too. We pursue noncustodial parents who do not provide the support payments as they’re required to do by court order for children in the District. So we have a broad range of activities, which is why we have so many people in our office. But of course, the criminal part of it is a major part and is recognized as such by the US Attorney’s Office and by the other agencies within the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes: We’re talking about 16,000 criminal cases a year?

Irvin Nathan: That our office processes.

Len Sipes: Right. That your office, that your offices –

Irvin Nathan: That does not include of course the criminal cases that the US Attorney’s Office is handling.

Andrew Fios: And that’s not the juveniles either.

Len Sipes: Right.

Andrew Fios: 16,000…

Len Sipes: Oh, that’s not the juveniles.

Andrew Fios: Adult misdemeanors.

Len Sipes: How many cases total between the civil cases, between representing the city government, between all? Put all of these combined, I mean it’s a huge number.

Irvin Nathan: It’s well over 20,000.

Len Sipes: That amazing. Well over 20,000 individual cases on a yearly basis.

Irvin Nathan: Correct.

Len Sipes: That is a huge responsibility.

Irvin Nathan: Correct.

Len Sipes: My heavens! I mean I did not realize that the scope of it was as high as it is. Traffic cases, you deal with those as well, correct?

Irvin Nathan: We deal with traffic cases. We don’t deal with the homicides in traffic cases. Those are handled by the US Attorney’s Office. But very severe offenses we do handle.

Len Sipes: Okay. Firearms, quality of life, traffic, tax and welfare fraud, I mean that’s, again, it really is a huge responsibility. Anything else about the drinking and driving, the impaired driving part of it because, again, as somebody who spent six years law enforcement that’s pretty close to my heart?

Irvin Nathan: Well, we work with a variety of agencies in the impaired driving situation. First of all of course we work with the MPD, and our office of the Chief Medical Examiner, who are responsibility for getting these instruments, and getting the calibration right on our breath control equipment. But we also work with the Capital Police, with the Park Police, and with others, who also make arrests for drunk driving, and we prosecute the cases that they bring that are within the District of Columbia. So it’s a variety of agencies that we are working with that we have helped train on the new equipment and train in the new statute that the Council has passed in the last year that we drafted and that provides for increased penalties, including, for example, penalties of commercial drivers, taxi cabs and truck drivers, and also requires restraints by children, that if there are children in the car and they’re not properly restrained, that adds penalties to anyone who is caught driving in an impaired fashion.

Len Sipes: You also work in terms of cross-prosecutions for the United States Attorney’s Office. There was one. There was a very serious homicide at a Metro station, Metro, meaning a subway station.

Irvin Nathan: Right. Yeah, we had a very serious murder at a subway stop about a year ago. And there were a number of youths involved. We worked closely with the US Attorney’s Office. They took some of those perpetrators as to be tried as adults. We tried the remainder as juveniles. All of them were convicted and have been sentenced. And the cooperation was exemplary in that case between our office and theirs. In addition, we have the ability to be cross-designated as Assistant US Attorneys and to prosecute that where our lawyers are involved. But those cases are brought in the name of the US Attorney, in the name of the US government, and the decisions there are made ultimately by the US Attorney.

Len Sipes: There are other homicide cases involved with your office as well, right?

Irvin Nathan: Absolutely. We have three attempted murder cases that are being tried right now. These are juvenile cases so I obviously can’t, because of confidentiality rules, we can’t disclose the names or the circumstances of those matters, but I can assure you, these are serious matters. They’re very significantly contested. The public defender service in the District is very aggressive and provides very good representation to the defendants. The courts take the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence very seriously in these matters. So these are very hard fought and difficult cases and our prosecutors have done an exemplary job in them.

Len Sipes: I want to get back to your history once again because I find it to be extraordinary that you have been in the Department of Justice, you have advised senior people at the federal level way before coming to this position here.

Irvin Nathan: Correct.

Len Sipes: We talked before about what I believe is, and not me, but lots of people believe are the dysfunctional aspects of the criminal justice system throughout the country. There are some cities that have cut their law enforcement agencies back by 50%, and New Jersey certainly comes to mind. There are some cities that have cut back on parole and probation agents. The prosecutor’s offices have been cut back, the public defender’s office, especially at the federal level – there’s been a huge hue and cry in terms of the fact that they’re questioning the ability of performing at an acceptable level. They’re talking about justice itself being placed in peril. That does not happen in the District of Columbia. And that’s why I sometimes wonder if the folk in the District of Columbia, if the folks in the metropolitan area within the District of Columbia, if they realize how good they have it compared to other cities throughout the country.

Irvin Nathan: Well, we know that public safety is a very important issue for the District of Columbia. First of all it’s the capital of the nation; it’s a showcase for the criminal justice system. And also tourism is a very major part of the economy in the District. And we recognize that unless the place is completely safe and it overcomes a long ago reputation as not being safe, that tourism will decline, and that the people that make our federal laws will, and who supervise the District of Columbia, will see this and will react. So we have worked very hard to make this a very safe place to come and to visit and to work for the federal officials who work here. I think we’ve succeeded in that regard.

Len Sipes: We’ve had officials from RAND in front of these microphones; we’ve had people from the Urban Institute in front of these microphones, talking about what the District of Columbia used to be. Now I worked for the National Crime Prevention Council a long time ago. I worked for the Department of Justice’s clearing house a long time ago. I remember the District of Columbia. It was not a pleasant place. Downtown was not a pleasant place. The neighborhoods were not pleasant places. Crime has plummeted in the District of Columbia. I mean there’s been a significant reduction in crime, significant reduction I do believe in fear of crime, although I can’t think of a measure right off the top of my head, and I’m just not quite sure that everybody in the District of Columbia understands the profound difference between 1980, 1990, and current year.

Irvin Nathan: Well, I think one thing that you need to focus on is that we know have home rule in the District. We have officials both on our city council and the mayor who are elected and responsive to the citizens who clearly want a safe city for themselves. And I think that that has had a major impact on the provisions in the city that have led to a safer, more livable, more enjoyable environment for us. And that’s really what I’m promoting in terms of some additional legislation from the Congress to be sure that the Attorney General’s Office, including in the future, an elected Attorney General’s Office, will have more control over the criminal prosecution of certain kinds of crimes where the District is the victim of those crimes.

Len Sipes: Uh huh. Andrew, did you want to chime in on any of that? You’ve been around for a long time yourself.

Andrew Fios: I have been. I’ve been living here since I was 17, and I’m 55 now, so you can do the math. It was 38 years ago.

Irvin Nathan: You’re a youngster.

Andrew Fios: And I –

Len Sipes: A young man in this room.

Andrew Fios: But I have seen the city change substantially from when much of it was burned out with high rates of violent crime, just double on what the Attorney General said. And also you can see it in the behavior of people and businesses. People are moving into the city, young people, in the desirable demographic of 25 to 35, and with money. And businesses are sprouting up and there’s construction all over. And those sorts of activities would not be going on if they weren’t aware of the fact that they were moving into safe neighborhoods and safe communities.

Len Sipes: And it’s critical. The concept of safe neighborhoods and safe communities is critical for everything else that goes on within the District of Columbia. And that formula applies to every city in the United States and every state in the United States.

Irvin Nathan: I think that’s absolutely right. And that’s the motto of the mayor is “One City.” And so it’s important that throughout the city, in all parts, not just the downtown areas, not just the parts that the federal government occupies here, but where the citizens reside, is safe and a pleasant place to live. And I think we’re working on achieving that.

Len Sipes: We only have a couple minutes left. Before leaving I did want to get around to truancy. Truancy is a huge problem, again, in every city in the country. And the District of Columbia it seems to be attacking it systematically, it seems to be attacking it in a way that other cities are incapable of attacking it. Tell me about that.

Irvin Nathan: Well, truancy is serious problem in the District as well as in other cities in the country. I think there are other cities that are working hard to reduce truancy, and the District certainly is committed to reducing truancy, both the mayor has task force on it and the city council is very interested in reducing truancy. As far as it being a law enforcement issue, we take the position that it’s a last resort rather than a first resort. This is a social problem and we need to provide social services to the families of those who are truant, be sure the parents are involved; understand the importance of education and understand the importance of attendance in the schools. And we’re working with the social service agencies to reduce truancy, and obviously working with the school system, which is in the District, under the control of the mayor.

Len Sipes: Okay, in the final minute of the program. What you’re talking about, what I am hearing from both of you is a measured response to individuals caught up in the criminal justice system. In the case of juvenile diversion, in the case of truancy, find a sense of leniency and diversion for first time defenders, trying to divert them from the criminal justice system, but when necessary, bring the full force of the criminal justice system down on the people who pose the greatest risk to public safety. Is that it?

Irvin Nathan: That’s a very fair summary. We have to be sensible about this. We don’t want to have our prisons populated with juveniles. We don’t want juveniles connected to adult felons. We want them to be rehabilitated after a commission of a single or a nonviolent crime. So we’re very interested in diversion and getting productive, educated youth in our society.

Len Sipes: Mr. Attorney General, I really appreciate you being at the microphones today. Andrew, I appreciate you being by the microphones today, because your office is extraordinarily important and DC is such a success. I keep harping on that. But DC is a success. And it’s a success because of the Attorney General’s Office and also the allied criminal justice agencies, law enforcement, prosecution, parole and probation. So I think everybody can take a bit of bow in terms of getting along with each other.

Irvin Nathan: Well, we very much appreciate it. But we need to be vigilant. We need to keep up the hard work. We need to have the right appropriations from our legislatures. Thank you very much.

Len Sipes: Our guests today have been DC Attorney General Irv Nathan, and also Andrew Fois, head of the Public Safety Division. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate the calls. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Victim Rights in the US and Europe-A US Constitutional Amendment-NOVA-DC Public Safety Radio

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

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Our guest back at our microphones, Will Marling, he is the Executive Director of the National Association for Victim Assistance, Today we’re going to be talking about victims’ rights, international activity on the part of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and a constitutional amendment, our favorite topic. Will, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Will Marling: Thank you, Len, as always, wonderful to meet with you.

Len Sipes: Where do you want to start, Will? I mean I’m always interested in the constitutional amendment, so I’d like to start off with that. And just to refresh everybody’s memory, that we have somewhere in a ballpark of about 20, latter 20, 30 states out there that have constitutional amendments protecting victims’ rights, but there is no United States constitutional amendment that applies to federal crimes, correct?

Will Marling: That’s exactly right. Now, there are 33 of the 50 states have state constitutional amendments for victims’ rights, but at a federal level, there are none. And that contrast with upwards of 23 prescribed rights for those who are accused of a crime. But if you take that same crime where somebody is accused, and of course in our system we treat that as an accusation that needs to be tried and considered thoughtfully in a court of law, but in that same crime victimization, the victim of that same situation has no right to rights under the United States Constitution.

Len Sipes: Right. And the whole idea is to expand rights as they apply to federal crimes. But in particular, I’m going to make a leap and suggest that the states that don’t have constitutional amendments protecting victims’ rights, they will be further inclined to consider a constitutional amendment, their own constitutional amendment for victims’ rights, because of the fact that there’s now a federal constitutional amendment for victims’ rights. Am I right or wrong?

Will Marling: Well, certainly. I mean actually that’s a good insight that states constitutions could be amended – 17 states that don’t have it could be amended to include victims’ rights. I think the main push for us is that at a federal level, since we don’t have a victims’ rights amendment to the United States Constitution, we certainly have the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which as a federal act, does provide rights, and services, and provisions for federal crime victims, but of course that’s 5% or less of what goes on. Most crimes are tried at a state and local level. So a United States constitutional amendment would do two major things, two big things. One big thing is that, similar and parallel to the average citizen who might be accused of that crime, the process of providing protections under the law for that accused would be there, but also the victims. And so, just like we have things like Miranda that went all the way to the Supreme Court, we could also have, victims could argue their case under the Constitution. And secondly, another dimension that’s quite intriguing to us is that soldiers would also have victims’ rights. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there are some legislative rights, just like there are even in non-constitutional states, but from the standpoint of victims’ rights, this would actually address that. A U.S. soldier who is a victim of a crime could also appeal to the United States Constitution as a victim to protect those liberties, for the rights of that victim.

Len Sipes: And where that’s really important are the accusations of rape and sexual assault against female members of the Armed Forces. So there, they certainly have protections that they never had before.

Will Marling: Well, that’s true, and just to kind of bring in a balance there, the military is 85% male, and so numerically actually sexual assault against men is the preponderance. Now, since there is a 15% female population in the military, sexual assault has a higher proportion against women, but sometimes people don’t actually recognize that men as well as women in the United States Military are being sexually assaulted. And of course, both need to be respected in the service, they need to have rights affirmed, and then they need to have fair just processes to protect them going forward.

Len Sipes: A very important clarification, something that did not come to mind. You’re doing victim assistance training, I remember from a radio show months back, for the Department of Defense, correct?

Will Marling: Well, yeah. The Department of Defense project that we’re working is actually certification. The Department of Defense has the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office, it’s out of the Pentagon, and that office has been specifically tasked with dealing with the problem, the crime, of sexual assault. And we work with that entity to certify the victim advocates in the United States Military and those come under the moniker of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program. Great, long military acronym as usual. But it’s an important one, because what we’re doing is we’re affirming standards of care for those advocates who are serving sexual assault victims in all branches of the military.

Len Sipes: Now, where are we with the constitutional amendment, any progress, any more support? I mean between the federal shutdown and debates over the Affordable Care Act, they seem to be busy with other things. Are they being supportive of…? Do they have additional members of…? The constitutional amendment starts off in the House, correct?

Will Marling: In this particular exercise and this particular strategy, we are working in the United States House of Representatives to start.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Will Marling: Under Article 5 of the Constitution, to amend the Constitution you could work through Congress first, either side. Both houses, both sides of Congress, have to amend, well, they have to approve by two thirds majority, any amendment to the Constitution, and then it would go to the states for ratification, three quarters of the states need to do that. You could start with the states and then work to Congress. We’re starting with the House of Representatives, because that’s the place that probably, from the standpoint of where we are, is maybe the biggest hill to climb.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Will Marling: But when we get that then we move forward.

Len Sipes: So you can start either in the House or the Senate, you just chose to start at the House?

Will Marling: We chose to start in the House in this particular context, just because of the current environment, the structure of the House at present; we felt it was a place to really address first. There’s been strong support historically anyway, for constitutional amendment in the Senate, and the last foray into this particular arena was started in the Senate. And so, yeah, it came two votes shy of cloture which was moving it to a vote, moving it out of committee, into a vote. And we just needed two votes to get it out and then to the floor, and there were forces at work, but that shows how much progress can be made.

Len Sipes: All right. So you were two votes short in committee in the Senate. I don’t mean to be too technical about this. So but for whatever reason you decide this time around to go in the House of Representatives to start there.

Will Marling: Right.

Len Sipes: Okay. How much support have you gotten?

Will Marling: Well, we’re currently quietly and carefully educating members of the House of Representatives. And what I would say is obviously it’s a big issue. To give perspective in any two year session of Congress. You can have between 12 and 14,000 bills presented.

Len Sipes: Right.

Will Marling: So between 2% and 4% of those pass. And when you’re talking about amending the Constitution, of course you’re talking about a smaller number. So we’re taking the time and giving the effort to going door to door in a sense, educating members, because they have so much that’s pulling at their attention, vying for their interest.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Will Marling: And so we just want to – we’re being very systematic in saying, “Here’s the amendment as it stands to propose. It’s House Joint Resolution 40. Give it some consideration. Let’s continue to educate-talk about the value that this represents, not only to the nation now, but to our posterity.”

Len Sipes: Well, are you encouraged? Do you think it’s going to go through this time? Do you think you’ll have enough support in the House? And consequently, do you think you’ll have the equal amount of support in the Senate?

Will Marling: Well, it’s about timing. We have, from the Senate side, Senate leadership I think has inferred and indicated that, “Hey, let’s see what you can do in the House side.” because that’s kind of a heavier lift, it’s a larger body of people, there are a lot more things at work, a lot of more issues at play. And if we can get through there then I think there’s a focus for the Senate to say, “Okay, there’s momentum, let’s work on it from our side.” In the House side, I would say I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making. I can’t specify for you specific benchmarks as such. It certainly can garner co-sponsorship and folks in your listening network who have the mind to look it up and contact their legislator to say in the House, “Hey, would you consider co-sponsoring House Joint Resolution 40?” We’re all for that. What we’re finding there are, as you mentioned right at the outset, there were a couple of big forces at work, including the shutdown and then the deliberations over the Affordable Care Act. So actually Congress, many parts of Congress, many would know here, because I’m in the Washington D.C. area too, people were working, there were things that were going on in Congress, and we did see some activity, and we were having conversations even then. So I’m encouraged, that’s how I would say. It’s a long slow deliberate process and of course timing is everything here, as you know, Len.

Len Sipes: Oh yeah. And it’s a bit of a risk because you’re starting off in the House, and the House; they only have two year tenures.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right.

Len Sipes: [OVERLAY] said that they have six year tenures.

Will Marling: Right.

Len Sipes: So you could find people who are supportive and they could be voted out.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. But what our hope is in this particular term, if we can get the House to approve it, then if the House changes and we move over to the Senate to get approval, we’ve got that kind of momentum, as opposed to vice versa. Because you can educate, go to the Senate, maybe they approve it, then you have another election cycle, more changes, more education. And so we’re trying to play this smart.

Len Sipes: Constitutional amendments are extraordinarily rare. I mean everybody listening to this program needs to understand that. It’s difficult to get an amendment to the United States Constitution. There simply aren’t that many of them.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. I mean, I don’t know what the average is. My speculation is they’re like 20 years at best, in terms of how often we amend the Constitution. And some would contend that amending the Constitution shouldn’t be done, or even very extremely rarely, and I agree. I mean my personal principal is, yeah, that’s true. It was not a perfect document, but a strong document. I’ve been reading about the early days of our Constitution and its founding. But at the same time, the founders wisely understood that it needs to be amended. And we know historically, there were important things to give citizens in this country a freedom, for one, and give other members of this society the right to vote, for another. And of course, if we didn’t have a process for amending, or if we didn’t make a commitment to amending, that would not have happened. So helping people understand by and large that victims of crime, those who are drawn into the systems, the justice systems of state, local, and as well federal government, without rights, they have no standing in that system under the law, they just don’t. They work for the government as such, as a witness, at best.

Len Sipes: And we understand that that’s fundamentally wrong, that victims of crimes should have constitutional protections at the federal level and in every state throughout the United States.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. Because the average citizen, if you walked out on the street and just started interviewing people, and said, “Okay, if you’re accused of a crime, let’s say you’re arrested, what are your rights?” And most people, my kids, I’ve got teenagers, and they’d say, “We have the right to remain silent. And if you give up the right to remain silent – on, and on, and on.” Why? Because they’ve seen Miranda played out on television shows.

Len Sipes: Right.

Will Marling: If you turn around and say, “Okay, you’re the victim of that crime, what rights do you have?” They’re going to say, “Uh, well, uh, hmm, I’m not sure.” But that victim should have rights. Most people would contend that victims should have rights, because at the heart of it, they’re the one that experiences the brunt of the harm. And it’s always shocking for people to experience that firsthand, that, “Oh, I don’t have the rights I thought I did.”

Len Sipes: Well, I interviewed Lisa Spicknall, who is a victim’s advocate, and went through a tragic experience of having her own two children, infant children, murdered by a former husband, domestic violence and victim’s issue all rolled up into one. And as a victim’s advocate, that’s one of the things that she said very, very clearly, is that very few people understand that the criminal justice system is built around the offender not the victim.

Will Marling: That is exactly right. And our contingent is not to take away one right from the accused, at all. If I’m accused of a crime, under the Constitution, I want every protection, because I didn’t commit that crime, I’ve been falsely accused, and I want a deliberate consideration of the truth of that matter. At the same time, victims not having rights should change; because the treatment, the respect, the dignity, the right even to know what’s going on, is not a given in our society, believe it or not. The right to be told how this process is moving forward, how prosecution is interacting with the accused, in some sectors, you don’t have any right to any information about a case that applies directly to you.

Len Sipes: I just find that astounding. I, as a member of the criminal justice system for well over 40 years, I just find that astounding. But we’re more than halfway through the program. Let me reintroduce you, Will. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Will Marling; he is the Executive Director for the National Association for Victim Assistance, On your website,, you’ll find information about the constitutional amendment and find information about victims’ rights. How many people does the National Organization for Victims Assistance on a yearly basis, Will?

Will Marling: Well, it depends on how you want to calculate that. We have a toll free victim assistance line, 800-trynova, and that is nationwide, North American as well, we get some Canadian calls, we also get an occasional international call, but we take about 6,000 victim assistance calls a year on that line, and as well, we take a number of victims’ assistance e-mails. We will tell people that I would let people know, we don’t do a lot of victims’ assistance over e-mails, specifically because e-mail is not secure…

Len Sipes: Right.

Will Marling: Especially in some contexts. You do not want a domestic violence victim communicating details that could be accessed by a perpetrator. And also, it’s just complex. We know we’d like to talk to people real time to ask meaningful questions that help get to the resources they need. But otherwise we do take those e-mails, and then of course we do a lot of training with advocates. So we feel like, as a network, we touch literally thousands of people beyond even our victims’ assistance [INDISCERNIBLE 00:16:14], because of the great network we have, incredible, incredible, people.

Len Sipes: Well, that is the heart and soul of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the fact that you are all involved in certifying and training and assisting victims’ advocates throughout the United States. And that’s one of the reasons why you are certifying the victims’ advocates for the US Department of Defense.

Will Marling: That’s right. Yeah, I mean we’re extremely proud of that. It’s humbling; I will admit to you, because there’re so many that do such good work. We are one of other really good, viable, committed, national, and local, and state, victim assistance type organizations. But I’m honored to lead the organization that actually tends to be, has to be the oldest. And some of my European colleges indicated that they believe that they believe that Nova is the oldest victim assistance organization of its kind in the world, let alone the nation. But many good organizations have emerged after that. I sometimes say, in hopefully a humble way, that a good bit of Nova DNA actually does transmit out to many of the wonderful organizations that are at work today in this area.

Len Sipes: Well, what I’d like to joke about, and it’s really not a joke, and take it in all seriousness, is that as a member of criminal justice system for, again, over 40 years, and at the national and state level, when you got a call from Nova, you paid a lot of attention to whoever was on the end of the phone, because Nova carried a lot of clout. So Nova’s carrying a lot of clout internationally. Tell me about the international activities that Nova’s been involved in?

Will Marling: Yeah, we’ve been meeting with some international colleagues. And it’s a very informal process at the moment. We’ve established a small working group, two weeks ago, very recently, obviously, to this program. We met New York City. And representatives of Victims’ Support Europe as well as a group from Korea, there’s a crime victim assistance network there. We met in New York City, in Manhattan, near the United Nations, as a focal point to discuss how we could collaborate and raise the voice to victims internationally. And we’ve established what is simply called the Victims of Crime International. I know it’s not real creative, but…

Len Sipes: Oh, it’s very Google friendly.

Will Marling: Yeah, thank you. And for search engine optimization, we’re trying to be really functional. But what it represented is a working group, to bring together thoughts on how we can better organize, and of course, as an entity, pursue some funding that might help facilitate these conversations and collaborations internationally. The reality is that I even mentioned here, we have some growing to do, even with our own Constitution and victims’ rights. Europe is taking some leadership with a very recent directive that is probably one of the most powerful national, internationally – a European Union directive for victims’ rights and services, that touches all 28 member states in the European Union, and of course like 120 languages. And bringing those voices together with ours and with those in Asia, some really good victim services and victims’ rights being done in Asia, we believe the opportunity is ripe for us to join those and affirm really international standards for these kind of things, and an international commitment. Because in some countries the human rights is a consideration that should be on the table, let alone victim rights. So we believe the time is now really to enhance the needs of victims around the world.

Len Sipes: Here’s an observation. I don’t know if it’s true or not. I remember a lot of victims’ work decades ago being done through the United Nations. Now it seems as if the European Union is taking the lead in terms of international victims’ rights. Am I right or wrong?

Will Marling: Well, you’ve got some good observations. The United Nations has focused on victims’ rights, and it’s not specifically or solely focused on crime victims’ rights in that sector. They have different foci; they have different dimensions to that. They do have an area that focuses on crime victim related issues. But the European Union has demonstrated some very strong leadership in the past two years, specifically, related to this directive. Victim Support Europe has been functioning for 25 years. And so I think it’s a combination of both, that the United Nations has obviously large peace agenda items – I mean the issues of war and peace and the demands on them to try and facilitate those things are big – along with human rights and then the issues related to crime victims’ rights. So what I’m hoping happens is that it truly becomes synergistic and that it become collaborative, even at a EU, European Union, and United Nations, level.

Len Sipes: Now, what prompted the activities and the connections in terms of the European Union? I mean was it part of recognizing that Nova is the oldest organization in probably the world, in terms of protecting victims’ rights? Did they come to you on that basis or is there something spurring the development of victims’ rights? Is there a new victims’ rights movement in Europe that’s spurring this?

Will Marling: Both. Both of those were really keen observations, Len. The first thing was that, relationally, Nova and Victims Support Europe, we ended up kind of speaking at each other’s conferences, and talking, and getting to know one another. So there was this, I call it a providential relational overlap, where we said, “Oh, wow! You’re doing that and we’re doing this.” And we started kind of cross-collaboration and training. And that caused us to start talking more specifically about the similarities and differences with our works, but also the needs around the world. At the same time, the issue of victims’ rights has emerged. In July, no June, of this year, European Union leadership, as well as the US Attorney General, met in Dublin, Ireland before, I think it was the G8 summit or after, I can’t remember which. But they met and the agenda item specifically was victims’ rights in our two particular sectors, Europe and the United States. And so, yes, there is this focus right now, for whatever reason, on victims’ rights and services, and the importance they should have to both the United States and the European Union.

Len Sipes: I don’t want to get into a larger discussion of crime, but crime tends to go up and down. Not necessarily in the same percentages, but the trend lines seem to go up and down, regardless as to whether it’s the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Western industrialized countries, Japan, I mean there are a lot trend lines that are similar. And I’ve noticed that the Bureau of Justice Statistics came out a couple of days ago and said that we now have had two consecutive years in a row of rising property and violent crime in the United States. So it seems to me that, possibly, because we’ve had coming off a 20 year decline overall, in terms of violent and property crime, that the issue of victims’ rights may have taken a bit of backseat, because the overall crime issue has taken a bit of backseat. But with rising crime, do you feel that that gives a greater emphasis, that places a greater emphasis, and the proper emphasis, back on victims’ rights?

Will Marling: Well, that could be true. I would track with you that there are these larger trends sometimes that are beyond even the more obvious things of financial declines or whatever. There are a number of forces, as I’ve read, that can create increases and decreases in crime rate. What I try to always bring in terms of my role as focusing on the needs and the voices of victims is that even when there’s a decline in the crime rate, there’s still a lot of victims.

Len Sipes: Oh, yes.

Will Marling: Even when it goes down. And of course we celebrate every percentage point that crime decline represents. At the same time, there are still profound needs that exist there. So I suspect that you’re right. My sense is that with a greater focus on the rates going up, that there’s greater media exposure, and some interest in this kind of story. And what are we going to do about it? What needs to be done about it? Of course, how can we affect, hopefully, a decline in the crime rate? And that could well be why we’re seeing that greater interest.

Len Sipes: One of the other topics that you want to talk about. Well, you’ve had some additional information on victims’ rights beyond the international and beyond the constitutional amendment, anything new there?

Will Marling: Well, internationally, the victims’ rights issues?

Len Sipes: No, no, no, I mean are there victims’ right issues that are coming up, bubbling up, in the United States that go beyond what we’ve talked about in terms of international activity, and go beyond what we’ve talked about in terms of the constitutional amendment?

Will Marling: Well, there certainly can be specific and isolated battles for just dignity and respect for victims. You worked for 40 years with law enforcement and you’re, in many ways I’ve told you, you’re my poster child for the kind of officer the victims would want to have and take that report because you have a sensitive concerned spirit, but you’re also extremely competent. Both of those things –

Len Sipes: But I think most of us in the criminal justice system are pro-victims. I think it’s the bureaucracy that simply gets in the way of treating victims as if they need, as they need to be treated. We’ve had cutbacks throughout the country in terms of law enforcement officers. We’ve had cutbacks throughout the country in terms of parole and probation agents. I mean we’ve had some police departments, some major police departments, where they’ve lost 30%, 40%, and in some cases in New Jersey, 50% of their police officers. When you’re struggling with cutbacks and you’re struggling with lack of manpower lack of person power, you don’t have a lot of time to give to victims of crime. So I think we are pro-victim, but I think at the same time there’s only so much time that you can give. And when you cut the time back that far, I think victims get hurt in the process.

Will Marling: You’re right. There’s no question about that. And when we take victim assistance calls here, and I try to do my part in assisting there, and use my expertise, but also contribute time to helping a victim on a victim assistance call, it’s not uncommon for me to try to educate them, it’s not an excuse for them, because when they’re struggling, they’re looking for help, and it’s hard to say to them, “That officer couldn’t give you as much time as you would’ve wanted.” Why? “Because they’re stretched thin.” At the same time, we try to educate on those very issues to give people context for the limitations of resources that might exist, and also to encourage our officers, and prosecutors, and the like, that even sometimes the smallest simplest declarations of respect and also control, small demonstrations of giving control, can make such a profound difference. We go back to the issue of trauma with victims. The cause of trauma primarily in folk, is when they lose control. And that control is beyond their capacity, either to respond to, or to react to. And then, when having lost control that has resulted in a loss of life, or an injury, or even finances, or as we many times say, the loss of innocence now, when we give them back an opportunity to control, that can be very therapeutic in their lives. And so it’s hard. You’re exactly right. When you’re stretched thin and you’re running from call to call – my heart goes out to these folks who are working so diligently, and it can be hard to be – exude more patience in that context. At the same time, I can encourage them that whenever even the smallest step of respect and control is offered, they might not know how big a difference that can make.

Len Sipes: Well, and I think that’s the message to all of us within the criminal justice system, is that we must reach down deep, and I know we’re busy, I know we’re running from call to call, I know parole and probation agencies have huge caseloads, I know correctional officers have huge caseloads; but all of us need to reach in deep and get beyond the moment, and realize that that’s somebody’s mother, that’s somebody’s father, that somebody’s brother or sister. I mean we really have to have some sympathy and provide some respect for the victims, as well as making sure that we protect the rights of victims, and that’s best done through a constitutional amendment.

Will Marling: You are spot-on. I couldn’t have said it better.

Len Sipes: I mean sometimes it takes that, it takes the law, it said, “Okay, it’s no longer optional, folks. It’s the law.”

Will Marling: That’s right.

Len Sipes: We must follow the law. So regardless of how busy we are, we need to adhere to the law and respect victims.

Will Marling: That’s right. But we live in rule of law society and that means that law is king. Not a person, law is king. And so we refer – what does the king say? The law as king says, “This is the way it is.” And until we really, we can say we believe so many things, we can say there are inalienable rights, but we have to articulate those in a constitutional sense, or a legal sense, at the very least, to say, “This is what matters to us.”

Len Sipes: Well, –

Will Marling: And that empowers the system.

Len Sipes: Well, you’ve got the final word, ladies and gentlemen; we’ve been talking to Will Marling. He is the Executive Director of the National Association for Victim Assistance., We appreciate your calls. We appreciate your e-mails. We even appreciate your comments and criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective-Lisa Spicknall-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

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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 think a very moving program we have for you today “Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective.” We have Lisa Spicknall. She is a program manager for the “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, She’s been a victim’s advocate for 14 years. She tells an incredible story of perseverance under unbelievable circumstances. What I want to do is read a piece from ABC News, because she has been covered by People magazine, ABC News, lots of national publications. These publications at the same time call Lisa a hero. But I want to give you a sense as to what it is that Lisa’s been through, so I’ll read very quickly from a piece from ABC News.  “When Lisa Spicknall was thrown down the stairs by her husband Richard with her toddler in her arms, she decided to pick herself up and walk out on her marriage. After eight years in a troubled relationship, she left the marriage for the sake of her two children, three year old Destiny and two year old Richie. ‘That night he could have killed my son.’ Said Lisa. ‘That’s when I made the decision that enough was enough.’ Nine months later, in September 1999, her estranged husband murdered both of her children. ‘He wanted the ultimate hurt and he found it.’ she said. The murder of her two children was not only a crime committed by a man who was trying to get back into a soon ex-wife in a wife’s life in a horrific and unimaginable way, it was a crime that could have been prevented by laws that stop accused abusers under protective orders from buying handguns and it was a gun crime that shed light on a state-wide problem that could have had, and can have fatal consequences.” Lisa, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lisa Spicknall: Thank you very much, Len.

Len Sipes: Lisa, you know, it is just unimaginable, the fact that your former husband killed your two children, strapped in the back of a vehicle. He had custody rights and he took the children, supposedly, on a vacation, murdered your two children. That’s something you have had to live with your entire life. I’m not quite sure I really want to dwell on that particular issue, so much as everything that you’ve done past that, but I wanted to acknowledge for the audience the tragedy that you went through.

Lisa Spicknall: Thank you very much.

Len Sipes: And I think that it’s been an unbelievable journey for you and an unbelievable journey for the rest of us involved in the criminal justice system, because ladies and gentlemen, I do get the sense that we within the criminal justice system still, at this point, do not treat victims of crime with the compassion that we need to employ and we, I think many times, we, within the criminal justice system, do not acknowledge the legitimate rights of victims. Correct Lisa?

Lisa Spicknall: That’s correct. Although it has gotten better over the past 35 years, I think there’s still a long way to go and I still think that victims are treated a lot differently than we should be, when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes: We do several shows a year with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Will Marling comes on to this air and talks about things from a national perspective and talks about the possibility of a federal Constitutional Amendment protecting victims, but I wanted to do a show from a victim’s perspective, because again, every day, every year, there are millions of violent crimes in this country, millions of property crimes in this country, and there’s millions of people who are stuck with dealing with those of us in the criminal justice system. They’re thrust in it. They didn’t ask to be here, they don’t want to be here, and they’re going through this unbelievably traumatic moment and then they’ve got this huge, and sometimes uncaring, bureaucracy, confusing bureaucracy – they have to deal with us. So that’s one of the hardest things in the world that I can possibly imagine a person has to go through, during an unbelievably difficult time in their lives.

Lisa Spicknall: It really is, especially when you’re thrust into this criminal justice system that you, most of the time, know nothing about. Most victims of crime have never dealt with or been touched by the criminal justice system at all except maybe, you know, a minor traffic ticket or something along those lines. But when you’re dealing with innocent victims of crime, they’ve never dealt with any of this. They’ve never worked with a prosecutor, they’ve never had to sit before a defense attorney or talk to a victim advocate about what their rights are, or what their rights aren’t. You know, a lot of times we start out in this process as victims and we think, “Well, it’s us against them.” And it’s really not. You learn very quickly that it’s the State against the offender in your crime. It’s them who are going to make all the decisions and all the choices. You know, you have the right to be notified and the right to be present and the right to be informed, but you learn very quickly that you don’t have the right of say so. You generally don’t have the choice of, “Yes, I want this prosecutor to do this, this way.” Or, you know, “I want them to file for the death penalty as opposed to not filing for the death penalty.” “My loved one was killed, why wouldn’t they file for the death penalty?” So you learn very quickly that you don’t have a lot of say in what happens and it’s very confusing, it’s very – it’s not at all like what we see on television and I think that’s hard for a lot of people to accept and to come to terms with.

Len Sipes: Those of us in the system, we have to deal, whether you’re in the law enforcement side or the corrections side, we have to deal with thousands upon thousands of events. Which means thousands upon thousands of victims. Which means that you’ve got to be almost machine like in terms of your ability to process either as a police officer, to process a crime scene as a prosecutor, to bring the case to the court. There’s only so much emotion, there’s only so much sympathy, if that’s the right word, there’s only so much empathy that you can bring to the table, because beyond the Lisa Spicknall’s of the world, there are 100 others right behind her. Do we, can we do a better job of humanizing the system to victims of crime?

Lisa Spicknall: I think the most important thing that I talk to – I do a lot of prosecutor training, a lot of police officer training, and I think one of the most important things that I tell them is, treat these families how you would expect and want your family to be treated. You know, there’s always going to be that separation, there’s always going to be that case that touches you and rips your heart out and sets it on the table and makes you more humanized to what’s going on and but there’s always going to be those cases where you push aside and you know, breaking and entering of an 80 year old woman, who, “It’s no big deal. Nobody got hurt, everything’s okay.” But for that person, their life is completely changed. And I think if people start to realize that as much as the, you know, violent homicides and the, you know, different types of crimes that really effect and touch people, you’re going to start to see a lot more compassion coming from prosecutors, coming from police officers, coming from the different justice professionals to say, “Wait a minute, if I treat these people how I would want my 80 year old grandmothers to be treated, it’s going to give not only the victim, but it’s also going to give the officer or the prosecutor a different outlook on the way things should be.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve been told that if we did that, we’d become much more effective in terms of gaining the trust of the victim and we would become much more effective in gaining the trust of the family. We would get more information, better information in terms of prosecuting the individual. But again, it is, it goes back to a variety of things. Number one, there’s a lot of people who make very basic, fundamental, life decisions – not on the violent crime, it is a property crime. If their house has been burglarized two or three times, the move. A lot of individuals will simply say, “That’s it, I don’t want to live here.” Cities, counties, urban areas are tremendously hurt by property crimes. The car is stolen – I know of an individual that came to the city of Baltimore and he came there as a television executive. Wanted to live in the city of Baltimore, had his garage – not his house – his garage broken into three times and the bikes of he and his wife and his children were stolen three times. He moved. Now he had an entirely different view of the city, he had an entirely different commitment to the city of Baltimore based upon a non-violent crime that didn’t even involve his house. So if people feel that strongly about these sort of crimes, could you imagine what it would be somebody who has to deal with the fact that their loved one has been murdered or their loved one has been raped or their loved one has been robbed. Doesn’t that change their lives dramatically?

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely it does. You know, any time you’re touched by crime, it changes your life, no matter what the extent of. You know, and a lot of times people don’t realize that crime touches not only just the individual affected but it touches the entire community. So you’re looking at a community problem where eventually communities are going to, for [INDISCERNIBLE 00:09:44] and things like that, they’re going to pick up and start moving. They’re going to change what they do on a daily basis and they have to. But I think a lot of that comes from treatment, it comes from the way that they’re looked at, the way that they’re judged. You know, you have victims out there who are looked at, “Well, if you didn’t do X, Y and Z then this wouldn’t have happened.” Well, that’s not necessarily true. We can’t look at victimization as the victim’s fault, we have to look at it as, “What can we as a society do to help prevent this type of victimization from happening?”

Len Sipes: But a lot of people do that, do they not? A lot of people say, “If she had not done this, if they had better secured their garage, if they had done this, if they had done that, they wouldn’t have been victimized.” I think people have this sense of they cannot allow the understanding that it wasn’t somehow, some way, the victim’s doing something, not doing something, because if they go to this sense that regardless of what the victim did or did not do, that crime probably was going to happen, that makes them feel that much more vulnerable, does it not?

Lisa Spicknall: It does. And it also takes away from that “it can’t happen to me” syndrome. You know, you have people who immediately, “Oh, that could never happen to me. Just can’t happen to me, because I do X, Y, and Z.” Well, you know, it can happen to you and it can happen to anybody. I currently work for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving and one of my biggest fears is innocently driving down the road and being hit by a drunk driver. You know, we hear about it all the time. And we see it and it can happen very well. I’m one of the biggest, “It can’t happen to me. I know what to look for, I know to see if somebody’s swerving.” But you know, I have to step back from that and say, “It could very well happen to me.” You know? It happens every day. It happens – there will be, in the State of Maryland this year, about 25,000 arrests just for drunk driving. And that’s the arrests that were caught. That doesn’t include the drunk drivers that get away. So all of those people on the road, driving, you know – we all need to step back and say, “This can happen to me.” And what – we need to stand up as a society and say, “You know what, we’re tired of this happening. So what can we do?”

Len Sipes: So the lessons just aren’t for the criminal justice system. The sense that I’m getting is the lessons are for the larger society. Stop blaming victims, do acknowledge that it can happen to you, take the steps to make sure, to the best of your ability, that it can happen to you and if you’re in the criminal justice system, for the love of heavens, as you’ve just said, treat me, treat that victim as if you’re, as if you would want your mother treated, as if you want your wife or husband to be treated, as you want to be treated. Treat the person with all the respect you possibly can.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And I think sometimes the best people who are in the criminal justice system have been those who have been victimized somehow. You know, I have prosecutors who have come to me and said, you know, “My sister was killed x amount of years ago and this just really focused me to be the person that I am today.” And you can see a difference in treatment of victims by those people. You know, I have police officers who have lost friends, who – different circumstances and different situations have happened that have given them that drive that they absolutely treat people differently. I’ve also heard prosecutors say to victims, in a drunk driving case in particular, “It doesn’t matter if they hit a mailbox or if they hit a person, you’re no different.”

Len Sipes: Well, and the bottom line is that again, this is the real, I think, heart of the problem, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned. We, as individuals, we as human beings, can only process so much. How many people can we assist in terms of victims of crime, to the point where… The sympathy I think that those of us in the criminal justice system – the sympathy for victims is there. But there’s only so many horror stories you can process as a human being and when you have case upon case upon case, you‘ve got to proceed as quickly as you possibly can and quite frankly, I get the sense, from those of us in the system, that sometimes victims just get in the way. Victims can be demanding in terms of time, in terms of explanation, and sometimes you feel, rightly or wrongly, and in this case I’ll say wrongly, that you lack the time. Not the empathy, but you lack the time and you lack the emotional ability – victim after victim after victim – to give that sort of treatment to that victim as if you would your grandmother, as if you would your husband, as if you would your own son. Sometimes we lack the ability to do that.

Lisa Spicknall: And that’s when I would suggest leaning on your victim advocates. Most agencies, most departments, most prosecutors have victim advocates and if they don’t, there’s organizations out there that do have victim advocates that will work with victims. That’s what our jobs are. You know?

Len Sipes: And that becomes very important, because you did, for many years, work as a victim’s advocate for a law enforcement agency.

Lisa Spicknall: Correct, and I still work as a victim advocate, for a non-profit agency now. So I still do the victimization work and I still work with the victims. You know, like I said, in some of my training it’s one of the biggest things I tell. “We’re here for you. We’re here as victim advocates to help you. If you have a case that you need that extra, you know, needs that extra push or needs that extra hand holding or shoulder to cry on, give us a call, because that’s what we do. That’s what our focus is and we have that time to dedicate to those victims that you may not have.”

Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce Lisa Spicknall. She is a program manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, The show today is “Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective.” Lisa, let me ask you this, is that considering everything that you’ve been through, both personally and professionally, does it ever exhaust you?

Lisa Spicknall: It does. And there comes times where you need to step back for a little bit and take a break and take a breath and find something to reenergize yourself. I have heard some fantastic speakers, I have come away with reaching points where it’s like, “Okay, I can’t do this anymore.” And then I’ll think about my children. I’ll think about Destiny and Richie and say, “You know what? This is why I do what I do.” It reenergizes me. It really – my goal and what my goal has been for the past 14 years, is to make sure that there’s never another Destiny and Richie. And although I can’t prevent what happened to me from happening again, I can at least speak out and I can say, “This is what happens, this is how you don’t treat somebody, this is how they should be treated. And let’s see how we can work together to fix the issue that’s going on.”

Len Sipes: But the system is sloppy, is it not? The criminal justice system, I mean, I don’t watch any crime shows on television because I can’t. You know, you have young people who are in the prime of their lives with equipment that Apple would be jealous of – Google would be jealous of. They’re surrounded by state of the art equipment, they’ve got all the time in the world, they’re running all of these tests, and that’s not the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system is this huge entity that plods along under its own steam and sometimes we, you know, we just don’t have the precision that people expect from us. I constantly laugh at crime scene investigations because there are very few crime scene investigations, if any, that go down the way that it’s portrayed on television. So do we have, does society have an unrealistic expectation of those of us in the criminal justice system in terms of what it is we can do, could do, should do?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we do. I think, you know, and I’m with you – I don’t watch the crime scene shows. I try to steer far away from that. It’s just something that I’ve chosen a long time ago not to do. But I think we do. I think seeing the CSIs and the different shows like that, it really gives people, “Well, this can be solved in a one hour program.” Well, it doesn’t work that way in real life, and you know, I tell victims all the time – they want to make sure all there i’s are dotted, all their t’s are crossed before they can give you any answers. Sometimes that arrest doesn’t happen in the first five minutes or the first, you know, 24 hours. Sometimes it’s days, it’s weeks, it’s months at a time – if not…I’ve seen cases go on for years without arrest.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Lisa Spicknall: And trying to explain to the victims, take everything that you know, everything that you think you know, and throw it out. And let’s start fresh. Let’s start with reality and what reality is. I think TV does us a very large disservice in how the criminal justice system actually is and it gives people a very unrealistic expectation of what goes on and what can happen.

Len Sipes: Agreed, agreed, agreed. Now, what do you do with victims – and I’ve been dealing with victims throughout my career. And when I was a law enforcement officer I had a direct contact with the victims of crime. And from time to time I would go back and check on them. And again, these are not necessarily violent crimes. It could be an elderly couple with a burglary. It could be an individual whose child has left and we don’t know if the child left – an older child – we don’t know if the child left voluntarily or if the child was kidnapped. I mean, there are so many uncertainties. I would check back with them and in many cases, I would find them mired in one place, that they could not get beyond what happened to them. Again, making the decision to move or making the decision to leave an area or with a violent crime, not being able to get beyond it. What do you say to people under those set of circumstances?

Lisa Spicknall: Something that I’ve learned over the past many years that I’ve done this is, a victim’s going to be as healed as they can possibly be by five years. Once they’ve reached that five year point, there’s no further, no back –that’s how they’re going to be. And I see that a lot. You know, I think you going back six months, a year later, two years later, just to check on them, they’re always going to remember that, and they’re never going to forget that, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic that you were able and did that, because they’re going to remember that, and that’s going to help them make some decisions and make some hard decisions in life. You know, you’re still out there looking for that runaway child or that kidnapped child – somebody’s still thinking about them and somebody’s still keeping that case there. But I think for people to realize that it usually takes anywhere between five and seven years for people to get to a state of normalcy or what their new normalcy is going to be. You know, I’ll be completely honest, there’s some days still that I – knowing that it will never happen, but still have that thought in the back of the head, you know, “Are Destiny and Richie going to walk through that door today? Am I going to see them again?” Knowing that it’s never going to happen, but you still have those songs, those senses, those different little reminders that pop up.

Len Sipes: This is something that’s a life-long event.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And I think those of us in the criminal justice system need to understand that. For us it is the time that we involve ourselves with the victims on a professional level. For the victims, it is a life-long event and that life-long event applies to lesser crimes as well. So I did not want to demean that person who went through those burglaries and who decided, you know, to spend $1,000 on a security system, or to leave that community. That’s an event that will be with them for the rest of their lives and shape who they are.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And that’s going to change things that they do. I think about now, when I walk out into a parking lot, you know, I have two young boys and I make sure that they are with me, especially – more so at the holidays. I mean, they’re always with me, but more so when times are a little tougher, when you know things are happening and there’s been a rash of burglaries in the area or you know, pocketbook snatching, things like that, I always make sure I have my keys in my hand when I walk to my car. I just did it when I left the courthouse this morning. Had my keys in my hand, I have an auto start on my car, I make sure my car is running. When I get in, I lock the doors. Nothing’s happened to me, but I think that the job that I do and the crimes that I’ve seen have kind of shaped me more into that person.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lisa Spicknall: Just because you know what can happen, you know? One of the questions that we ask a lot of our police officers, “Does your job make you do things differently than before you were a police officer?” Absolutely it does.

Len Sipes: My daughters would complain bitterly that they have an ex-cop/criminologist/spokesperson for the criminal justice system as a father, because I had something that I called the parking lot drill. We do not dilly dally in parking lots, we get in the car, we do not examine what it is we bought, we do not discuss the day, we get in the car, we lock the doors, we keep our eyes open and we leave nice and peacefully.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So they would say to me, you know, “Boy, you’ve done made us paranoid.” And I said, “Well, that’s, sorry, you were brought up by somebody who’s been in the criminal justice system for 40 years and I don’t want to see you guys victimized in the same way that I’ve seen so many other people victimized.” So this is something that is part of everybody, every victim’s day to day process. It could have happened 15 years ago and yet it’s still going to be part of who they are.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. It changes who you are, it changes who you become, and it changes what you do and what your decisions are each and every day.

Len Sipes: Last five minutes of the program. So for those of us in the criminal justice system, and we talk to lots of aides to mayors, county executives, state executives. We talk to aides up at Congress. We simply need to be, to humanize the process and to be as service oriented as we possibly can.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely, absolutely.

Len Sipes: What else?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we need –

Len Sipes: What else do we need to know?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we need to put victims first. You know, a lot of – I attended a hearing today, it was a post conviction hearing and everything that happened in the courtroom today was the offender’s needs, the offender’s wants, the offender’s – the offender, the offender. And I sat with a family of about 20 victims and had to explain to them that unfortunately, at this time, this is the way the criminal justice system is. I think we need to start looking at victims and start realizing what their needs are and how a postponement affects them physically, emotionally, every ounce of their being. They’ve built themselves up so much to do and take the next steps, that when the next steps fall through, they just – it really takes them back to day one. So I think putting victims first, I think humanizing the crime and I think treating people, essentially, as you would want to be treated in this situation is very helpful.

Len Sipes: For virtually all major criminal justice organizations including ours here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency we have victims’ advocates that work with individuals from the larger community. So part of it is relying upon the victims’ advocates that you have within your own organization and everybody listening to this needs to understand that there are victims’ advocates in every major criminal justice organization. But the victims’ advocates are going to be dealing with that individual, oh, I don’t know, afterwards. The key interaction that they’re going to have, that victims are going to have, are going to be with the cops, are going to be with the prosecutors, are going to be with the parole and probation agents and we just need to up our game when it comes to victims.

Lisa Spicknall: Right. I agree.

Len Sipes: Laws, legislation – I know that Will Marling of the National Organization of Victim assistance is trying to get a constitutional, national constitutional amendment to protect victims of crimes. Is there something else the system can do formally?

Lisa Spicknall: I think getting the national constitutional amendment would be a step in the right direction. I think it would give us and afford us protections federally, as opposed to just state by state. So I think that’s the best start and that’s where a lot of energy needs to be focused.

Len Sipes: So much of my early training in both law and constitutional law and law enforcement was that victims were to be treated with respect, but kept at arm’s length.

Lisa Spicknall: Right.

Len Sipes: That was the original, that was my original training, it really was. That victims are there to be kept in a bucket, off to the side and don’t be nasty to them and try to list all the information you possibly can, but you know, son of a gun, sometimes they get in the way. And so my sense is, and my guess would be that your sense is is that it still permeates the criminal justice system today.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And I think until we can really get in there and get to the root of that and have everyone realize that that doesn’t work anymore, then it’s not going to change.

Len Sipes: Do people look at your, do you tell people about your background when you’re dealing with victims?

Lisa Spicknall: Not a lot of times. Quite often people put the name together. It might take them a little while, but they’ll put the name together and realize that they’ve heard it somewhere. When I work with victims, I am specific to their needs, their case and what’s going on in their life. I think my situation and where I’ve come from makes me a better advocate, it makes me more understandable for what happens and gives them a whole new insight into the criminal justice system and what can happen, just because I’ve walked the path.

Len Sipes: But when you talk to people like me and when people like me bring it back up again, then, you know, when I turn the record button off and hang up the Skype connection, then you’ve got to sit back and do what? You’ve got to process the fact that you had to, for the one millionth time, deal with what happened to you.

Lisa Spicknall: I do, but you know, what, everybody who hears this program, and everybody who hears our conversation is going to walk away knowing Destiny and Richie, and that’s why I do what I do.

Len Sipes: And that’s the important thing, because their tragic deaths have brought a lot of relief to literally thousands of victims through the effort on the national, state level, through all the publicity. When I was doing the Google searches for your name and your circumstances, it’s really amazing to me as to how, you know, ABC News, Parade magazine, lots of other publications, people have gone so far as to call you a hero. Do you believe that you’re a hero?

Lisa Spicknall: Um, I think I’m a mom that wants to do, still do good by her kids.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the best possible answer. Lisa Spicknall, ladies and gentlemen, we’re discussing today victim’s rights from a victim’s perspective. Lisa is program manager, a program manager for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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The Affordable Care Act and Drug-Mental Health Treatment for Offenders-Pew Charitable Trusts-Stateline-DC Public Safety

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: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, at our microphones, is Michael Ollove, he’s a staff writer for Pew Charitable Trust–Stateline and he’s here as a health policy writer, talking about an extraordinarily important article to those of us in corrections, especially those of us in community corrections and parole and probations. An article that came out back in April, in 2013 – Ex-felons About to Get Healthcare Coverage, Michael Ollove from Pew, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Michael Ollove: Thanks Len. Good to be here.

Len Sipes: I’m really impressed with this article, Michael, because so many people I’ve talked to find this topic to be the most important topic criminologically speaking, that they’ve encountered in the last five, maybe ten years. The overwhelming majority of us in parole and probation do not possess a dime for drug treatment; do not possess a dime for mental health treatment. So you know, let alone vocational and educational training, and let alone cognitive behavioral therapy. The overwhelming majority of parole and probation organizations, if the judge or somebody comes along and signs that “this person needs mental health treatment” that “this person needs substance abuse treatment” they simply refer them to the local health clinic, where they ordinarily wait in line for months at a time until an opening comes up and it’s questionable whether or not the treatment modality for mental health for drug treatment is designed around that particular person. Oftentimes it’s just described as a cookie cutter approach. What people in community corrections are really excited about is the possibility of real funding for mental health treatment, real funding for substance abuse treatment. In terms of the article that you wrote, there seems to be that possibility, correct?

Michael Ollove: Well, at least for the people that are coming out of prisons.

Len Sipes: Right. And we’re talking about the seven million people in corrections, five million are under community corrections, five million are in parole and probation, so the overwhelming majority of adjudicated individuals who are caught up in the correctional system would be eligible for this?

Michael Ollove: Yes. And for all years previous – all ex-offenders.

Len Sipes: Right, so what we’re talking about is Medicaid. We’re not talking about Medicare, we’re talking about Medicaid and we’re talking about not necessarily the Affordable Care Act, as it stands now. What we’re saying, according to this article, is that this went into effect back in January?

Michael Ollove: No, no, it goes into effect this January.

Len Sipes: Oh, it goes into effect this January? Okay.

Michael Ollove: It is part of the, it is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Len Sipes: Affordable Care Act – okay. Because – help me understand this. Part of the Affordable Care Act is that the individual comes out and is at that point eligible, if he wants to or she wants to purchase their own medical healthcare plan. So that’s one part of it, correct?

Michael Ollove: That’s one part of it.

Len Sipes: Starting this January, under Medicaid, there is the possibility for enhanced funding for medical treatment if you’re below a certain income level, correct?

Michael Ollove: That’s right. None of this was directed specifically toward ex offenders. It was generally for the, a poorer population and the change made in the Affordable Care Act is it’s widening the eligibility for Medicaid to – this simplifies it, but it’s mainly going to offer Medicaid for the first time to single people. All single people under a certain income will be eligible for Medicaid for the first time.

Len Sipes: What income level will that be?

Michael Ollove: It’s up to – States have to – would have to make someone eligible for Medicaid up to 133% of the poverty level. But this is with a big caveat. Because of a Supreme Court ruling, originally all the states were going to have to do this, but the Supreme Court said this is now optional. So 20 – I think it’s 27 states, I might have that off by one or two, 27 states have opted out at this moment from the Medicaid expansion. So in those states, this single individual under a certain income is not going to get Medicaid.

Len Sipes: Well, then, that leaves a lot of states, though, where there is a possibility of people getting or having access to Medicaid if they’re under a certain income limit, if they’re on community corrections – if they’re on parole and probation.

Michael Ollove: That’s right. And for that population, I mean, that population is largely male and largely single and largely poor.

Len Sipes: And filled with a lot of health problems.

Michael Ollove: And filled with terrible health problems.

Len Sipes: The thing that’s astounding to me is that I cannot – because every survey I read, every piece of research I read in terms of mental health is, ranges from anywhere from a certain diagnosis mental health problem – a formal diagnosis, which runs anywhere from say, 10 to 15% to individuals claiming problems with mental health issues which ranges to 50% and up. So what we’re talking about is if 5 million people under community supervision – if we’re going to say conservatively that 50% are self-identifying with mental health problems, 10 to 15% have a specific diagnosis for mental health problems. We’re talking about literally 100s of 1000s, if not millions of people.

Michael Ollove: Right, who before would have almost no access to mental health services.

Len Sipes: Right, and the research basically says that there is a correlation between mental health issues and people going back into the prison system, so if we can stabilize these individuals through mental health interventions then we literally save the states hundreds of millions of dollars by deferring people going back and we save lots of victims of crime, if they get mental health treatment. But at the moment, the bottom line is, from my perspective, is that in most states they’re not getting it or they’re not getting it in sufficient doses.

Michael Ollove: Not at all, not at all. And you’re absolutely right about recidivism. In places that have had mental health in place for prisoners, there’s been a sharp reduction in their re-

Len Sipes: Their going back into the system.

Michael Ollove: Their going back to prison. Yeah.

Len Sipes: Let me read from your article because I find it’s really intriguing. “Newly freed prisoners traditionally walk away from the penitentiary with a bus ticket and a few dollars in their pockets. Starting in January, many of the 650,000 inmates released from prison each year will be eligible for something else: Healthcare by way of Medicaid, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. A sizeable portion of the nearly 5 million ex offenders who are on parole and probation on any given day will also be covered. The expansion of Medicaid, a key provision of the Healthcare Reform Law, is the main vehicle for delivering health insurance to former prisoners. Researchers and those who advocate on behalf of ex-convicts hail the change as monumental, saying that it will help address the generally poor health of ex-offenders, reduce medical costs, and possibly keep them from sliding back into crime. And we haven’t even talked about substance abuse because substance abuse is a medical problem, as defined by virtually everybody – the AMA and everybody else. Our population here, in the District of Columbia, self-identify 85% of them as having substance abuse histories. I can’t think of one study out there that puts the figure below 70%. So the overwhelming majority of the individuals caught up in the criminal justice system have drug problems, and have alcohol problems. The – let’s just say conservatively, 50% self-identify as having mental health problems. So we’re talking about out of the five million individuals coming out of prison, or currently on parole and probation supervision on any given year, there’s 650,000, there’s 700,000 released on any given year. We’re talking about literally millions of people in need of mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment who are not getting it.

Michael Ollove: That’s right. And the consequences are shocking. I came across a statistic when I was doing the story that really blew me away, which is that prisoners in the first two weeks after their release from prison have 12, more than 12 times the chances of dying in the first two weeks than people in the normal population. And the two leading causes of death for the newly released inmates are drug overdose and cardiovascular disease.

Len Sipes: Right, because they’re in prison and we all know that prisons are not completely drug free, but ordinarily they are.

Michael Ollove: Right.

Len Sipes: And so they come out and they immediately start doing it once again and their systems cannot take it and the risk for death is rather high.

Michael Ollove: And they have nowhere to go, realistically very few options for drug treatment in those first days.

Len Sipes: They really have a sense when they come out that there really is nothing for them.

Michael Ollove: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s what states are beginning to do. States are beginning to try to channel them into the Medicaid provisions of the Affordable Care Act and to try to get them to understand that they do have access to, if they’re under a certain income level, they do have access to mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment.

Michael Ollove: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now, let’s talk a little bit about Stateline. And it’s one of the things that I do want to compliment Pew about. I read Stateline every single day, and you can segment Stateline in a variety of different topics. I, needless to say, I look at the Crime and Justice segment. But people really do need to understand that Stateline, under Pew – if you just go ahead and use the search engine of your choice – I was reminded one time that I should not use the word “Google”. Use the search engine of your choice and do, and put in Pew and put in Stateline and you will get an amazing amount of daily coverage from all over the United States and original content written by writers there at Pew, correct?

Michael Ollove: That’s right.

Len Sipes: Why did Pew decide to take this on? I mean, this topic on? I mean, you have Reuters, you have the Associated Press, you have all sorts of other news distribution services. Why did Pew decide to take this on?

Michael Ollove: Well, Pew does a lot of research related to states and state governance and Stateline provides coverage of state [PH 00:11:26] houses and state issues so Pew thought that that was a natural, there was a natural relationship between what they were doing and what this journalism was doing.

Len Sipes: It’s a great idea, because every day I get the summation of the most powerful news stories from throughout the country state by state by state. So within a 10 minute glance, I have a pretty good sense of what’s going on in the criminal justice system throughout the country or another person could look at the healthcare issues or another person could segment it another way. It allows you within 10, 15 minutes to have a good sense as to what’s going on through the rest of the country. But regarding your particular issue, so I think Pew should be really congratulated for that, and also Pew is very involved in the issue of looking at sentences, sentencing reform, looking at parole and probation practices as well. I’m not quite sure that’s under your particular section, but Adam Gelb is going to be before these microphones in about a month’s time, and he is also with Pew. So Pew is really dedicated to this concept of getting news out and at the same time looking at the possibility of reform in the criminal justice system. Now, what about this – getting back to this. So many people have said, “When are you interviewing this guy from Pew? Because I’ve been talking to my counterparts throughout the country and everybody’s excited about this interview today because this is such an ungodly, important topic. But 27 states have opted out. That’s discouraging.

Michael Ollove: Yes, it’s, I mean, this is not going to be any secret to your audience, but it’s a political fight. The Republican governors and legislatures have not, in many states, signed on. Even though the Medicaid expansion in the first three years, the federal government is going to pay 100% of the costs of that expansion –

Len Sipes: Wow.

Michael Ollove: And in 10 years, it will eventually go down to, it will be 90%, but that still means that the states that have refused to come along are turning aside millions, 10s of millions of dollars, each of those states. And there’s a lot of thinking that even though they’ve said no to the first year, there’s opportunity to sign on, successive year, even in the middle of a year. And I think a lot of people believe that that money’s going to be impossible for them to continue to turn away. Especially since they’re denying – they’d be denying their poor populations medical care.

Len Sipes: I desperately want to stay away from politics, but the Affordable Care Act, it’s almost impossible to stay away from politics entirely. I do note that there’s a lot of folks within the conservative wing, there’s something called “Right on Crime” that is headed up by some of the leading conservatives in the country who are advocating very strongly for programs like this, because they’re sick and tired of the states spending billions upon billions of dollars that they’re spending now for correctional care. So we do know that these programs have an impact – not an overwhelming impact. I interviewed Joan Petersilia from Stanford Law, one of the leading criminologists in the country, who warned the rest of us not to overpromise in terms of these programs and the impact of these programs, but if you have a 10, 15, 20% reduction in the return to states, that is a savings of billions of dollars and that’s a savings of my God, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of crimes. So providing these services, mental health, specifically, and substance abuse – if they’re so strongly correlated with criminal activities, so strongly correlated with the people out there, seems to have great sense in terms of lowering the rate of return to prison systems, lowering the rate of return of crime, and that seems to be becoming increasingly a bi-partisan issue.

Michael Ollove: It is, it definitely is. I did a story about a year ago in an unexpected place about a program where prisoners that were identified as seriously, mentally ill – before they left prison they were set up with support services on the outside. Housing, job training, education, mental health. And the surprising place that was doing this was Oklahoma. They realized that there was a – the exact correlation that you mentioned. That if you can prevent these people from using again, and returning to crime, and therefore returning to prison, you are saving your state dollars.

Len Sipes: Enormous amounts of money –

Michael Ollove: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Enormous amounts of money. And the states are strapped. They’re cash strapped. I mean, it’s one of the things that Pew has covered through Stateline over and over again and it may be the principle story of the last five years as to the budget difficulties that states have had to face. So this is one – it’s one way of tackling those budget difficulties.

Michael Ollove: Right.

Len Sipes: Right, I want to reintroduce our guest, ladies and gentlemen. Michael Ollove, who I used to know, who worked at one time as a writer for the Baltimore Sun and Mike and I go way back and he is now with Pew Charitable Trust, writing for Stateline. He is a staff writer. We’re look gin at health policy. So Mike – and Michael, just this article, I, again, I have passed it out to my peers, we’ve discussed it within parole and probation organizations throughout the country and this is one of the most anticipated radio shows as far as my peers are concerned because this is, they see this as an opportunity to really provide services and really lower rates of recidivism. Ex-felons Are About to Get Healthcare Coverage again, April 5th, 2013, by Michael Ollove from Pew Charitable Trust. You say within the article that states are trying to make sure that inmates, upon release from the prison system are aware of the possibility of this coming up and trying to channel them into Medicaid related programs, if they’re eligible in terms of their financial means?

Michael Ollove: Yeah. Some states have taken steps, they’re not waiting for the prisoners to get out and they’re not taking the attitude of “prisoners are just going to have to find their way once they’re on the outside. They’re trying to ease their transition to Medicaid to make sure that they have coverage from the moment or nearly the moment that they leave.

Len Sipes: And a sicker population, I’m not – I can’t imagine a sicker population.

Michael Ollove: No.

Len Sipes: People have a view of people caught up in the criminal justice system, and I’m not quite sure exactly what that view is, but in reality, that view is one of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of very sick people. Not necessarily limited to mental health, not limited to substance abuse but limited in terms of sheer, day to day physical ailments and this is a very sick population.

Michael Ollove: It’s a very sick population. Higher rates of chronic and infectious diseases, particularly asthma, hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV Aids, they are all higher than the general population. They come out, they are sick people.

Len Sipes: Much higher.

Michael Ollove: Much, much higher.

Len Sipes: And as you walk into this building in downtown DC, where we’re broadcasting from now, there are about 800 people who come into this building every single day for parole and probation or pretrial services. Many are in wheelchairs, many are on crutches, many – you can tell that many are struggling with their physical ailments. So I would imagine the whole idea of the health writer is that if you get to this population fairly early, let’s forget substance abuse, let’s forget mental health. If we focus on their physical ailments for the early and give them ways of dealing with them and ways of contributing to their health, that’s also eventually the potential for a huge savings down the road.

Michael Ollove: It is, and with this population, it was pointed out to me by people that work with this population – you know, they have so many, I mean, leaving aside what the reason was that they were in prison in the first place, when they come out, they have so many deficits, you know, in terms of making it on the outside, getting jobs with a record, their education deficits, just figuring out how to open up a bank account, that sort of thing. So the point was made to me that health – caring for themselves is something that can stand in the way of their success on the outside. If they are not healthy or it might prevent them from getting employment, from getting a stable life, and possibly returning to crime if they can’t make it.

Len Sipes: Yeah. And I would invite you at a certain point to sit in on one of our women’s groups. Because there, and I’ve sat in four or five times, and I’ve interviewed maybe 20, 25 women on supervision and formerly under supervision on this radio show. Their ailments are endless. I mean, it is – they come from histories of abuse, neglect, child abuse is just an amazing part of their lives, sexual violence, directed towards them as a child is a major part of their lives. They all have children – 80%, 70, 80% have children. The majority of males are fathers. So in this case, they’re coming out of the prison system, they’re trying to deal with mental health, they’re trying to deal with substance abuse, which I would imagine is applicable to probably 70 to 80% of the women that I’ve talked to caught up in the criminal justice system. They’re trying to deal with these issues and they’re trying to stabilize their lives and they’re trying to find employment and they’re trying to reunite with their kids. And there comes a point where I’ve oftentimes said that the odds are stacked so heavily against them that it’s almost impossible for them to succeed. So just for the sake of their own children, getting off of substance abuse or dealing with their substance abuse issue, dealing with their mental health issues, which are enormous, especially considering their backgrounds – if there’s no funding for that, then the possibility of them returning to the prison system and the possibility of the state picking up for the care of their children is just unbelievably high.

Michael Ollove: Yeah, you’re right, it’s completely stacked against them. No matter how earnest they are about making it.

Len Sipes: Right. Because I have sat down – and I’ve sat where you’re sitting right now, of women who are in the middle of all this, and they will tell you bluntly that it’s impossible. It’s almost impossible, and we have, within the District of Columbia, some fairly decent systems are in place in DC. Other sorts of organizations that will take women in, that will provide all these different services – but there’s, you know, these are donated services on the part of physicians. Now we, through this program, through Medicaid, through the expansion of the Affordable Care Act, there’s the possibility of them actually getting funding for dealing with these issues.

Michael Ollove: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that to me is just enormous. I mean, in terms of dealing with all the different things that we’re talking about, suicide, cancer, liver disease, HIV, overdoses – I mean, if you don’t have the money, what are you going to do? I mean, what traditionally have they done in the past?

Michael Ollove: Well, I think the recidivism rate has been very high. Homeless – this contributes to the homeless rate. A lot of them have psychiatric – are acting out because of psychiatric problems, on the street. They’re going back to jail or prison. You know, there is no good result without this kind of care.

Len Sipes: The article, reading again from the article, “New York, Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois, and California are among the states that already have pre-release programs aimed at connecting at least some outgoing prisoners with Medicaid. Some states, including New York are also investigating ways of connecting ex-prisoners with full service medical homes that coordinate healthcare services to manage patient’s care. The states that get ahead of this are going to have fewer people incarcerated and healthier societies, according to one individual at Brown University that you interviewed. So again, the different people that I’ve talked to in community corrections, in parole and probation organizations throughout the country see this as the green light, see this as maybe one of the most important issues within the last five or ten years for people coming out of the prison system.

Michael Ollove: Absolutely. It’s a game changer for that population.

Len Sipes: Yeah, and a game change means basically no substance abuse treatment, to getting substance abuse treatment. Now, I don’t know if it’s going to be the sort of designed substance abuse treatment and designed mental health treatment that is advocated by professionals, but at least it’s going to be something that was there, that was not there before.

Michael Ollove: Yeah, and you do raise a good point that is, that affects more than this population. The ACA, when the number of uninsured goes down, that is, people get insurance for the first time, we already have a primary care, a shortage of primary care doctors and we have a shortage of mental health professionals. The ACA is going to bring tens of millions of people, new patients, into the system. And there’s a real question about whether there are enough providers. I mean, we know there won’t be enough providers for all of those people. It’s been a problem, even aside from the ACA, having enough primary care doctors and psychiatrists. So you know, whether there’s – that community is big enough to handle this population is a big question.

Len Sipes: Yeah, and you know, it’s interesting. I was at my doctor’s office the other day at Hopkins, at Hopkins Community Healthcare, and that’s exactly what they were saying. They said that, because we were talking about how busy it was and how difficult it was to get in to deal with my rather minor medical ailment and he said, “Well, wait till the Affordable Care Act kicks in.” And so that applies – so it’s going to have to be sorted out over the course of years in terms of, okay, now that we have the money, do we have the wherewithal to provide these enhanced services to people coming out of the prison system?

Michael Ollove: Exactly. That’s the next big dilemma.

Len Sipes: But once again, I don’t know where else to take this. This is a start. You know, somewhere in the next five years we’ll figure it out. Somewhere in the next five years we’ll have the opportunity to provide meaningful, hopefully meaningful medical care, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment to literally millions of people who at the moment currently aren’t getting it.

Michael Ollove: And it may have the biggest impact on public safety of anything that has been tried previously.

Len Sipes: You know, and that is the interesting thing. That’s what some people are suggesting. Some people are suggesting that this may have a major impact that was totally unanticipated. That nobody really thought about this in terms of its application to people on community supervision, but this may have the most significant impact both fiscally and criminologically of anything that we’ve done in the last 10 years.

Michael Ollove: Yeah, and the irony is, my guess is that as Congress was voting for the ACA, voting for or against it, it hadn’t occurred to anybody that prisoners, ex-prisoners, were going to be eligible.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s why when the article came out I became so excited. Because I have a group of fellow spokes people for both correctional systems and parole and probation systems and I immediately sent this out to them and everybody was going, “Wow, this is the greatest thing since nickel beer. This could be a game changer.”

Michael Ollove: Yeah.

Len Sipes: All right. So I really appreciate Michael Ollove coming in today from Pew Charitable Trust-Stateline. He is a health policy writer, staff writer for, again, Pew and I really appreciate the job that Pew does in terms of keeping the rest of us informed on criminal justice issues and healthcare issues and all the other issues throughout the country. I think Pew does a wonderful job. And ladies and gentlemen, we appreciate you listening. This is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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