Archives for January 2014

Domestic Violence and Problem Solving Courts-Superior Court of the District of Columbia-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes, back at our microphones after being off for most of the month of August. We appreciate your asking where. We’ve been off on vacation and a variety of other assignments. Back to our fall schedule. We have an exciting program today, Ladies and Gentlemen. Domestic Violence Courts, Problem Solving Courts. At our microphones is Judge Jose Lopez. He is the presiding judge of the Domestic Violence Unit Superior Court of the District of Columbia – Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – Judge Jose Lopez, presiding judge of the Domestic Violence Unit, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Judge Lopez: Well, thank you, thank you for having me and greetings everyone.

Len Sipes: I really do appreciate you being here, because domestic violence, I think, is extraordinarily important to me and to everybody listening to this program today. Throughout my entire criminal justice career, I cannot think of anything more destructive, anything more damaging, anything more impactful than when I was a former police officer of those cases that I saw that involved cases of domestic violence. They are tragic, they rip apart families, they damage the children, and you have to preside over these cases every day.

Judge Lopez: Yes, I do. And the only thing I can add to what you say is that I get to see these people every day – I get to see their faces and their tears and it’s no easy matter.

Len Sipes: I cannot imagine a more troublesome topic, because, I dealt with them for 45 minutes. I dealt with them for a half an hour until we either arrested them – and in the old days we didn’t arrest them at all. 90% of the time, we arrested the male, but did not arrest the woman. The vast majority of cases the woman was the victim of domestic violence. But again, you see these cases not just in terms of half an hour increments or 45 minute increments; you see them over the course of hours and over the course of days and over the course of weeks and months.

Judge Lopez: That is correct. In fact, I’m in my 5th year being the presiding judge of the Domestic Violence Unit. And it is a very difficult and extremely challenged situation because in this kind of situation, there are no winners. They all are losers. And so every time I am confronted with a case, I have to balance things. You know, it’s not simply, as you said, it’s usually the man that is the abuser, but it’s not simply, “Okay, he did it. Let’s put him to jail.” No, that’s not the solution because that family is depending on him financially as well. So I need him to continue to provide for the family but at the same time, finding a way to get him to learn and understand that he must stop that type of behavior. And it’s extremely challenging from that perspective.

Len Sipes: Now give me an overview of the Domestic Violence caseload within the District of Columbia Superior Court.

Judge Lopez: Okay. We are divided in two areas. We have the – what we call the civil side and the criminal side. On the civil side is when the individual victim can just come in and file a case without having to – you have the use of the government – and the criminal case side is when the police arrest somebody or has enough evidence so that there will be a criminal case brought against the individual. On the civil side, we bring in about 4,000 cases per year, on the criminal side, about 3,000 cases per year. Sometimes the same individual may be subjected to both, a criminal case and a civil case.

Len Sipes: 4,000 criminal cases and how many civil cases?

Judge Lopez: 4,000 civil cases –

Len Sipes: 4,000 civil cases?

Judge Lopez: And about 3,000 criminal cases.

Len Sipes: So that’s 7,000 families. 7,000 victims, 7,000 perpetrators in the nation’s capital every single year.

Judge Lopez: Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes: That’s an immense number.

Judge Lopez: The police report that they get on a daily basis about close to 90 telephone calls a day just on domestic violence cases.

Len Sipes: 90 a day?

Judge Lopez: Yes.

Len Sipes: You know, I can’t, I can’t – the tragedy, the impact of what happens in terms of domestic violence cases – I remember being a cadet when I was riding along with a trooper, a cadet in the Maryland State Police, and it was my first exposure to domestic violence and we rolled up and the woman was beaten with a frying pan and her head was twice its size. And I was shocked, utterly shocked. I mean, I grew up in a household where I didn’t see my parents argue. They took it behind closed doors. To walk into a peer in a domestic violence case with a woman who was beaten with a frying pan was shocking to me, absolutely shocking. As I continued my law enforcement career I come to find that this is not unusual.

Judge Lopez: Exactly. It is a learned behavior and as a learned behavior, it is a culturalized thing and that’s what makes it even more difficult for us to combat the problem, because it’s going to take many years of educating the perpetrators of how to understand relationships and how to deal with relationships from a different perspective. From a sane and safe perspective.

Len Sipes: Now I understand that we are part, partners – my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we are partners with the D.C. Superior Court in terms of providing education and supervision to people who are, who have been adjudicated guilty. They go to courses and we provide them with a certain level of supervision. Is there anybody else that the superior court uses to supervise and provide educational services and counseling to people convicted of domestic violence cases?

Judge Lopez: Your agency is the prime mover and when we need anybody else, your agency will get vendors to provide the necessary services.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Judge Lopez: And let me just add, your agency is one of the most significant players in the success that we have had in domestic violence in the District of Columbia. Unlike many other states, your agency supervises the people that are subject to the restraining orders, to make sure that they are complying and following up on the orders and if they do not, then the agency reports back to the judge. So it’s a very significant partner in our battle with domestic violence.

Len Sipes: Okay, tell me about protection orders. There’s a lot of confusion in terms of protection orders. At what point does the individual, the victim, which again, in 90% of the cases is a woman, at what point is she eligible for a protection order?

Judge Lopez: She’s eligible for protection order if the perpetrator commits what we call an interfamily offense. And interfamily offense is any action that ordinarily will be a criminal act upon the person of that individual, but we don’t treat it as a criminal act from the perspective that it’s a civil case and therefore the standard is not as high. So if she’s able to report that he either assaulted, threatened, harassed or stalked her, and if she’s able to prove that, then she is eligible for a protection order.

Len Sipes: Now protection orders carry their own degree of controversy, even though we put many of our offenders who have protection orders, who are under our supervision for domestic violence cases and we put them on global positioning system, tracking, GPS tracking. It’s a porous system. I mean, it is – there’s nothing foolproof about community supervision, as you well know. So anybody who’s threatened or has been a victim of violence can get a protection order and what do those protection orders say?

Judge Lopez: Okay, the protection order basically say that you shall not harass, assault, threaten or stalk or injure the individual and also in addition to that, the protection order provides, if necessary, that the individual, if they live together, the abuser has to leave the household, maybe required to pay child support, and we provide for visitation if there are children involved.

Len Sipes: Right. Now is a protection order the same as a stay-away order?

Judge Lopez: It’s the same as a stay-away order. Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now, what does this process do for you personally? What sort of toll does it take on you personally? Again, I found it immensely impactful when I, as a young police officer, many decades ago, went into domestic violence cases, family cases. I found it just extraordinarily life-changing to see people who supposedly are in love, or were in love, do what they do to each other. Now you see it in terms of the kids, you see it in terms of the victim, you see it in terms of the perpetrator, you have to explore all aspects of what happens in their lives, what happened in their life, what their lives could be in the future. That’s got to take a huge toll on you and the other judges.

Judge Lopez: It gives me a vision of what humanity is in such a way that I had never imagined. The stress level is very high while I’m in the court room dealing with the challenges of these cases. The reason why it hasn’t taken a toll on me in a way that I can say physically or emotionally has affected me is because I take it as a challenge, I take it as a necessity for the service that has to be performed for the community and most of all, I’m very pleased that I have that opportunity to solve some of these problems and help some of these individuals.

Len Sipes: D.C., the Superior Court System in the District of Columbia is famous for its problem solving courts. We’ve had a variety of judges before our microphones, talking about the problem solving efforts under the superior court in the District of Columbia. You all are very active in terms of being involved in a wide variety of issues. So this falls under the category of problem solving courts, does it not?

Judge Lopez: Oh yes it does. And it is something that we continue to explore, because we have come to learn that the age old approach to solving crimes – that is, punishment, crime-punishment, has not been working and that we need to understand what is the underlying problem of the crime. And we’ve come to learn that drugs, mental health issues are significant factors in these situations. And so we have extended programs to mental health court. We have the drug court, and we have the community court concept, which is continually expanding in the criminal cases. And it’s beginning to show some good results.

Len Sipes: Now, the interesting thing is is that in a lot of these courts there have been very interesting results and in a lot of these courts there have been reductions in recidivism. What lessons – now there’s going to be court administrators and people from the executive branch of government, students, professors, but particularly people in the criminal justice system – they’re going to listen to this program and they’re going to say, “What lessons are there from the experience here in the District of Columbia? What lessons are there in terms of dealing with domestic violence?” Because this issue is not a D.C. issue – this issue is in every judicial jurisdiction in the United States and probably in every judicial jurisdiction in the world.

Judge Lopez: You’re correct. I think just last week I finished giving a talk by WebX to a bunch of judges in Scotland about the same issue. So you’re correct there. But in terms of what lessons, I’ve learned from some studies that in 80% of the cases, where we have a protection order, there has been a reduction in violence. Of course there’s still that 20 that we have to deal with, but also in lethality, people that have died – are killed because of domestic violence, I mean, our statistics show that back in 2009 we had 21 homicides. In 2010 it was 12, 2011, it came down to 13. 2012, I’m sorry, 2012 was 6 homicides. So the homicide rate has been going down. We don’t have any clear explanation but we hope to take some credit from that based on our effort in Domestic Violence Court.

Len Sipes: And that’s a phenomenal, phenomenal finding. So what we’re talking about is a dramatic reduction in domestic violence related deaths in the District of Columbia and I’m assuming that virtually all of these cases at one point or another made their way through the Superior Court?

Judge Lopez: Yes, I’m assuming that they did.

Len Sipes: Right.

Judge Lopez: Now, one of the clear things about it, and just deviating a little bit is that when the individual comes to the court for the civil protection order, the first thing they do is they go through the intake center. What we have – it’s like a one-stop shop, where they talk to the advocates of domestic violence, we have the police there, we have housing advocates there, mental health advocates there, so that when the individual come, they get a full panoply of other services that may be necessary in order for the safety of the individual.

Len Sipes: Tell me about the substance abuse backgrounds. You mentioned that a little while ago, because you’ve had various problem solving courts within the Superior Court that you can get these people involved in: mental health, substance abuse. I’m going to guess and say that the vast majority of these domestic violence cases that come to the Superior Court, the vast majority of the cases that come to the attention of Law Enforcement, that the perpetrator at the time was using drugs or alcohol.

Judge Lopez: Well, I cannot say exactly in how many at the time was using drugs and alcohol, but one thing we have learned is that drugs, alcohol, mental health issue are just about always involved with these perpetrators.

Len Sipes: Right. And we have economic stressors. I mean, we’ve had the recession, we’ve had difficulty in terms of economics, you add drugs and alcohol to that mix, you add children to that mix and it becomes volatile at a certain point. It becomes really, really, really difficult in terms of a marriage where that perpetrator steps over the line and starts harming their partner or threatening their partner.

Judge Lopez: Oh, sure, I mean we have cases, for example that the fight between the partners started out in the shelter that they both lived in, because they were homeless. We have a number of homeless people that have problems complying with some of our orders because they are homeless.

Len Sipes: And all of that adds to the stress, all of that adds to the difficulty.

Judge Lopez: Exactly. Which of course also takes me to another situation and that is that we have to be very sensitive about these people and train our staff to be sensitive to all these things, so that when somebody walks into the courtroom with a negative attitude, arguing and so forth, we need to be understanding that this is not a personal thing, it’s the stress that they’re going through. And it is very real.

Len Sipes: And there’s nothing more stressful than the breakup of a marriage or the potential breakup of a marriage or civil union. We’re going to get on to the larger question as to can problem solving courts, can domestic violence courts actually help the people cope? I mean, is it a matter of separating them and giving them instructions in terms of how to work out their issues so that they can live their lives separately or live their lives together? Do domestic violence courts, problem solving courts, do they help reunite families? But before that I want to reintroduce our guest, Jose Lopez. He is the presiding judge of the Domestic Violence Unit for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Follow DC Courts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Your Honor, let me go back to that question; is it a point where – I know that our parole and probation agents, what other people throughout the country call parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, I know that they work very hard with people in courses and know they work very hard and they use the [PH 00:15:58] Deluth model, and they try to get them to deal with the fact that you cannot use violence to deal with day to day difficulties, that there are other ways of solving your problems, there are other ways of approaching marital problems, civil union problems, without resorting to violence. What I want to ask you is that, do any of these individuals really come to an epiphany and that improves their marriage and at the end of the period of supervision everybody walks out happy? Do you find that happens?

Judge Lopez: Well, it is a very difficult challenge and there are studies out there that are telling us that there is a positive result from some of the studies. The programs are all very new, so we don’t have conclusive studies, but we have some studies that show that as many as 50% of the cases where they go through these programs, there is an improvement on the individuals and they don’t, they’re not recidivist or repeated offenders. However, I believe that one of the things is that this is a learned behavior that is going to take a lot of changes in the culture before we can say we’ve made it. We have a long way to go, but one of the things I always think about when this question is asked is, looking at other behaviors that we had in the past that we had to reeducate society, such simple things as wearing seatbelts and such simple things as not driving under the influence –

Len Sipes: Right.

Judge Lopez: At one time it was, you know, taken for granted. But now people do it and it has taken a lot of education on the part of society to get people to understand, to see the consequences. And so I think that’s going to happen with domestic violence.

Len Sipes: I’m glad you really, I’m glad you brought that up, because this is not an issue for the criminal justice system necessarily. It’s not an issue for the judiciary. This is a societal issue. I mean, there’s a certain point where we have said we need to wear seatbelts. There’s a certain point where we have now said that there’s an agreement within our larger society that you shouldn’t drink and drive. There is now a growing sense that you have no right to abuse physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually – you have no right to abuse your partner or your wife or your husband.

Judge Lopez: Yeah. As we learn the damages and consequences of these things and the society jumps on board to prevent the issue, then you see results and I think that’s what’s happening to us now. The society’s jumping on board with addressing the issue of domestic violence.

Len Sipes: So let me go back to the other issue about the reunification of families. There are people who go through this process, they are arrested, they go to court, they go to counseling, they have a protection order in some cases where they go through this process and they do, you know, understand that you cannot hit, you cannot threaten your partner. You cannot threaten your wife. You cannot threaten your husband. And they walk out of that court, as you said, I think about 50%, walk out of that court never to be seen again. That’s a 50% reduction in recidivism. That’s one of the best reductions in recidivism of any class of offenders that we supervise. That’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Judge Lopez: Yes, but still we got that other 50% that we have to focus upon.

Len Sipes: Sure, but I mean, in my world of reducing recidivism by 15% or 20% is considered spectacular. Reducing recidivism by 50% is considered almost unheard of. So I mean right there you’re – you’ve got a really good rate of return.

Judge Lopez: I’m very pleased with that, don’t get me wrong. However, we need to address it from different angles so that we can reduce it even more. For example, one thing we’re dealing with now is the young teenagers. There is a lot of domestic violence there that they have learned and we have not been able to fully address that situation and for them, when we interview them, the domestic violence concept that we truly understand, to them that’s the normal in relationships. You know, to slap her when she disrespected you, well, she disrespected you. And that’s the normal. To give you a cell phone so he can track you down wherever you go – “Well, he gave me the cell phone, he cares about me.” And so we have it coming from other angles that we have not fully addressed.

Len Sipes: What is – I guess, right or wrong with us, this is a terribly unfair question, but I mean, it is really interesting that we do have individuals who believe that they have the right to strike either their children or their spouses or significant others. I mean, where does that come from?

Judge Lopez: It’s a learned behavior. It’s that simple. You were taught that you’re the man of the house, and you are to be respected and if you’re not respected then you take the measure that were taken to control you, you take the same measure to control her.

Len Sipes: Hmm. I have a wife that if you ever threatened or hurt her, she’d probably end up killing you. So I’ve never had to worry about that because I have a rather strong-willed wife. But I just fine it amazing. So let’s get back to the kids in all of this, because the true tragedy of this is not just the victim, not just the person involved in inflicting the pain, but oftentimes you would walk, I would walk in to cases where you would have the husband and wife, they’re going at each other, somebody hit the other person, somebody’s threatening the other person and somehow, some way, you’ve got to deal with that set of circumstances, but there are four or five other kids in the same room. And you’re saying to yourself, “How do I solve this? How do I take this person into custody, how do I protect the woman involved and how do I do it without inflicting further damage to these four or five children?” Children are an integral part of domestic violence arrangements, domestic violence hearings, correct?

Judge Lopez: Oh, that is so true. And that, of course, is another complexity there, because on the one hand, the children need both parents. On the other hand, the arguing, the bickering, the fighting is also creating a damaging situation for the children. And we have to tailor the visitation concept very carefully because of that as well as, for example in some cases where we have a supervised visitation center where the visitations have to be supervised in such a way that one parent does not see the other parent when the child is exchanged at the center and there is a social worker there while the visit is taking place to make sure that the visiting parent is not maligning the other parent that’s not there. So we take all kinds of measures to make sure that somehow we try to make it work as best as possible under the circumstances.

Len Sipes: Do we have any counseling for the kids involved?

Judge Lopez: We have counseling through the Social Services, they are counseling for the kids. There are community collaboratives that are located in various areas of the community that the children can be taken for counseling.

Len Sipes: You know, what you’re describing is probably one of the best, well – and I’m not saying this because you’re a judge and that you’re sitting across from me and my agency works with your agency on a day to day basis. I’m saying it because it’s true. This is one of the best structured, well thought out, comprehensive domestic violence programs in the country. How did that come about?

Judge Lopez: Community collaboration. Before we even had the program, when we recognized the problem, the court took the initiative to invite all the stakeholders in the community to discuss how we’re going to address domestic violence and that included the doctors, the social workers, the schools, the hospitals, the clergy, to bring to one table all these groups and to begin to discuss how all of us needed to participate. The doctors needed to understand that they needed to report the problem. The police had to understand that when they saw evidence of domestic violence, they had to make an arrest and not just simply say, “Don’t make too much noise.” The clergy had to learn that it was more than just simply saying, “But you must obey your husband.” You know? All this is took place, dialogue, and we study other areas. We went and we studied in California where there was already a movement on that, we went and visited their domestic violence program and other programs. And we borrow from the best and the best that we could find from them and we have many dedicated people here in the District of Columbia and the support of our chief judges has always been there for these programs, which is extremely valuable, and we’ve been very fortunate.

Len Sipes: So you used community collaboration, you used best practices; you used research to put together this program. And this program’s been in existence how long? I think a couple decades now, right?

Judge Lopez: It’s close to 20 years. I lost track of it because like I said, I was there from the inception, so that takes me to the early ‘90s.

Len Sipes: Now what are your personal perceptions, as we wind down the program? I mean, you know, you’ve been at this for two decades. Most of the people that I talk to about domestic violence in this city, and when I talk to other people about domestic violence throughout the country cite the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They have great admiration for your program. You’ve seen literally thousands upon thousands of victims, perpetrators, children flow through your various courtrooms with this issue. After 20 years, what’s your gut impression as to where you are? And what you’ve done?

Judge Lopez: Well, my gut impression is that we’ve done a great service to the community. I think we’ve made a lot of changes that sometimes hard to demonstrate by, because the studies are so new at that, but like I said, when you point out to the fact that in 2009, we had 21 homicides related to domestic violence and by 2012 we came down to six homicides, I think that’s something to be proud about and believe that our efforts are making some kind of a difference.

Len Sipes: And there is a clear separation, and I’ve been struggling with this idea throughout the program, between people legally knowing their roles and people sort of knowing the slots that they need to occupy, but going beyond that and going for reunification of families or a true understanding that it’s not right for you to hurt another person, it’s not right for you to threaten another person. So it seems to me that many of the domestic violence courts throughout the country are focused on the legalistic – “you can do this, you can’t do that.” You all seem to be focused on trying to, whether you stay together or don’t stay together, a peaceful resolution within that family in terms of how you deal with each other and how you deal with your children for the rest of your lives. Am I in the ballpark?

Judge Lopez: Look, my focus is the human factor. Once you have committed the crime, then I am looking beyond the punishment concept. I am looking to how are we going to salvage this family? You committed a crime for which I could put you in jail for 180 days, but at the same time, you also have a family that you’re responsible for and I also recognize that one of your problems was either mental health issue or drug issue so I want to address those issues, rather than just simply the law says I can put you away for 180 days. I’m not interested in that, because after 180 days, you going to come right back out to do the same thing.

Len Sipes: And through our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and the resources that we have, that we bring to the table, and between the resources of the superior court and other community agencies out there, again, I just get the sense that the focus is on resolution of a problem, not just a legalistic approach to domestic violence.

Judge Lopez: And that’s exactly why we call them problem solving court.

Len Sipes: Yes, right. And that’s one of the reasons why, again, that D.C. has layer upon layer upon layer of problem solving courts, because they take that approach. It’s just not a legalistic, “This is what you do, this is the requirements” but it’s how, as human beings, can you all learn to live with each other in such a way as not to inflict further harm upon each other or further harm upon the kids.

Judge Lopez: Exactly, and as a result of that, it has taken a twist for the judiciary, for judges to begin to look at themselves not just simply as applying the law, but more like, “we have to look at the underlying problem and see how we can help the family with the underlying problem, while at the same time applying the law.”

Len Sipes: Right. And for those of us in the larger criminal justice system, from the executive branch – it’s always a lot easier when a judge understands that and a judge wants that, because that forces the rest of us, that moves the rest of us in that direction, don’t you think?

Judge Lopez: Oh yes, but it puts a lot of stress on the judge because no longer do I have the simple answer that I used to have in the past: “You committed the crime, you do the time.” Now I want to look for more, I want to see families united.

Len Sipes: Well, I’m very impressed with the domestic violence courts and the problem solving courts within the District of Columbia. Ladies and Gentlemen, our guest today has been Judge Jose Lopez. He is the presiding judge of the Domestic Violence Units for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The website address is Follow them on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and thanks to Leah [PH 00:29:45] Gerwitz for putting together this program, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for listening. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Workloads in Parole and Probation-APPA-RTI International-DC Public Safety Radio

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s program is on Workloads in Parole and Probation. We have two experts with us today. Dr. Matthew DeMichele, he is with RTI International, commonly known as Research Triangle Institute. He is a Research Social Scientist. The website at RTI is And Adam Matz from the American Probation and Parole Association is back at our microphone. He is a Research Associate, Council of State Governments. Again, American Probation and Parole Association, the website for Adam, And to Matthew and Adam, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Adam Matz: Thank you, Len.

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: All right, gentlemen, this is a very important topic, this really is. I was watching a CNN program today, a big report about California and their problems in terms of prison realignment. We did a radio show with Joan Petersilia on the California prison realignment issues, and we have employees basically saying that they don’t have the wherewithal to deal with people who violate. They don’t have any options. There’s a real struggle in the state of California for what’s happening in terms of dealing with criminal offenders coming out of the prison system.  I’m not going to get into the details of that, but what’s happening in California is somewhat illustrative of what’s happening in a variety of states throughout the United States. The question is do parole and probation agents have sufficient resources, do parole and probation agents have appropriate staffing levels to deal with the offender population in such a way to help them get the services they need, and at the same time to hold them accountable. Adam, I’m going to start with you. Did I summarize the issue correctly?

Adam Matz: Yeah, I think you did a pretty good job of summarizing it. It is true that across the nation in various pockets, there are obviously issues where folks have exorbitant case-load sizes that are far beyond what’s generally recommended.

Len Sipes: And the problem is that when we’re talking about case loads, now here at the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, we’re a federal parole and probation agency here in Washington, D.C., our case loads run on average 50-to-1. Our specialized case loads run anywhere from 20- to 30-to-1, for our high-risk case loads and for our specialized case loads, and we have lot of them, so we have the luxury of having federal funding but in many states throughout the country, ratios of 100-to-1, 200-to-1 and above that are not uncommon. Matthew, am I in the ballpark?

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Yeah, I think that’s exactly the situation that’s going on right now.

Len Sipes: So what do we do? I mean, we have parole and probation. I think parole and probation agents throughout the United States are doing an extraordinarily good job of protecting the public and providing services to people under supervision. We understand that there has to be a combination of services as well as accountability if we’re ever going to lower rates of recidivism, if we’re ever going to protect the public in terms of reducing the number of crimes, but how can a parole and probation agent be effective if he or she has case loads beyond any sense of workability, beyond any sense of efficacy?

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Well, I would say they can’t be successful. I mean, if we’re not going to correctly fund and staff probation and parole agencies, then they’re going to come short of the goal of reducing recidivism. I think what has to happen and what I’ve written about with Adam and with another co-author of mine, Brian Payne, who’s at Old Dominion University, is the idea that we have to look at the things that probation and parole officers are doing and how long it takes them to do those things, and then prioritize them of what we need officers to do, and we can’t continually use probation and parole as kind of the dustbin to sweep up the burden of mass incarceration and then not fund those agents appropriately, and essentially it leaves the officers kind of there holding the bag as they’re trying to struggle to keep cases from going bad.  And just as you had described with the California situation, I mean, while California may be an exaggerated case of what’s going on around the country, it’s definitely not an isolated incident. I know I’ve been doing some workload studies and evaluations in a couple of different states and some different departments, and you do see similar sorts of issues in that officers have these very large case loads, and even while CSOSA has the luxury of having 25 offenders on specialized units, in most departments or at least the departments I’m working with, that’s not the case. That’s what it’s supposed to be but very often it’s more like 50 or 60 offenders.  And so it’s just like your job and my job and anybody else’s job, if they give us too many things to do, we’re either not going to get them done or we’re not going to get them done correctly.

Len Sipes: I want to set this up with a question and that is this, is that California is an extreme case but we know that states throughout the country are working with the Department of Justice, or they’re working with the Council of State Governments or they’re working with PEW, and they’re taking a look at sentencing policies, they’re taking a look at corrections across the board; and the sense that I get from reading these reports is that parole and probation is on the frontline of public safety more than ever before. The time pretty much is now.  Parole and probation, whether we step up to the plate or not, whether we have the proper case load ratios or not, parole and probation is not coming center stage because what these states are basically saying is that we can no longer afford the level of incarceration that we’ve had over the past 10 or 20 years. For the first time, Department of Justice research states that over the course of the last 3-years, prison populations are decreasing not increasing – at the state level, not the federal level, but at the state level – and these individuals are going to be coming to parole and probation agencies in greater numbers. Am I correct in that assessment?

Adam Matz: Yeah. I can take a response to that, if you don’t mind. Yeah honestly, you’re right, there is kind of this realization that probation and parole is a big part of this sort of correctional tie, if you will, and some of the PEW research, some of the BJS data, the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, shows that most of the people under correctional supervision are under some form of community supervision. So most of the folks in the correctional population are under probation or parole supervision, specifically about 4.2 million probation and about 850,000 are under parole. First, there’s about 2 million under prison or jail supervision.  So I think folks have kind of realized that there’s a big part here with community corrections, a lot of potential here that’s not really being tapped into, it’s not being fully realized, and so it’s great to see kind of these resources being directed at sort of the back end of the justice system, if you will. Historically it’s sort of been focused either on police or maybe in the last decade more institutions, so I think that’s a good point to make.

Len Sipes: Well, and the question is are we up to it. The overwhelming majority of people who are in the correctional system first of all, who are in prisons, are going to come out. 97%, 98% of the people in prisons are going to come out, and generally-speaking, they will be on parole and probation supervision. On any given day, what is it, Adam, 75% of the correctional population is under some form of community supervision? They’re not behind bars, they’re with us, and that’s like 7 million human beings combined with parole and probation and mainstream corrections, so we’re talking about what, about 5 million under community corrections, under parole and probation?

Adam Matz: That’s right.

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Right.

Len Sipes: All right, so when we’re talking about corrections in America, even though all the television shows we watch are about, you know, if you go to A&E and the other cable networks, they’re all talking about being inside of a prison, looking at life inside of a prison. The overwhelming majority of the people under correctional supervision belong to us within parole and probation, right?

Adam Matz: Yes.

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Right. Yeah, definitely, I mean 5 million out of 7 million.

Len Sipes: So the question becomes, are we up to it? Are we up to the task? Do we have the sufficient training, resources, and work loads to again, the research says that the need programs, if they’re going to be successful, whether it be work programs, mental health, substance abuse, GED, whatever we have to do to get them involved in programs, that’s a big part of it; but at the same time we have to hold them accountable for their actions. So for that helping role and for that accountability role, are we sufficiently equipped with the work loads to allow that to happen? – And I think the answer is very quickly “no.”

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Well, yeah, Len, I think you did a good of answering your own question. I mean, I think as we’re doing it now, I mean the way things are going now, as we just said, if we’re not going to correctly staff and fund probation and parole, it’s not going to work. – And it goes back to this idea of Martinson’s research back in the ’70s of corrections rehabilitation programs don’t work, and I think a lot of times when a parole leader or a probationer goes bad, everybody’s really quick to point the finger at, you know, probation and parole is soft on crime and it’s not the right way to punish people, but nobody talks about, you know, do prisons work.  I mean, do we really expect that prisons are rehabilitating folks the way that we’re putting them in there, and that we’re not programming folks while they’re in there, and we’re not addressing criminogenic needs or any of the rehabilitative needs? Instead we’re cycling people in and out from prison on to parole and back into prison, and then continuing to just do this revolving door of churning offenders back and forth.  So I think that as policy-makers and different organizations like APPA, CSU,  PEW, and other places have been working with the Department of Justice, because people have realized that this mass incarceration movement that we started from the ’70s till now has not been working. And as you said, we know almost all the people that are locked up today are going to be out one day and they’re going to be walking around our streets, and it’s how best to kind of redefine and reconceptualize what probation and parole is because I think that while your listeners are very aware of what probation and what parole and what those things are, most of the public aren’t. I think most of the public and even a lot of policy-makers don’t even know the difference between probation and parole, and that’s kind of what myself and Brian Payne and Adam, that we worked on with BJ, and BJ gave us two different grants to complete this work, to look at workload and then to actually develop some templates for folks to actually kind of start to measure their workload, how long it takes, because the first thing is to identify what are the things that probation and parole officers do. I think really quickly – not to dominate the conversation —

Len Sipes: No, please. Dominate.

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Well, we all know what cops do, or at least we think we know what cops do, and we think we know what judges do. They sentence people, and cops arrest people and give tickets and those sorts of things. But if you ask people or policy-makers, “What does a probation or a parole officer do?” – I don’t know that people know, and I think that with that said, and I know APPA’s been working to bring about more of a national kind of conversation around this, but then even within probation and parole, the things that happen are so different.  You know, I’ve worked with different agencies and looked to measure the amount of time it takes to do PSIs, and pre-sentence investigation, and in some agencies it take 8 to 10 hours and in other agencies it takes 30 to 45 minutes. So it’s like the same task but when you drill down into that task and look at the specific elements, you see that there’s very different things going on. And I think that what needs to happen and is starting to happen is that more and more agencies are beginning to look at the very specific things that they have to do to meet the conditions of their standards – or the standards for their conditions, rather – and that when we start to apply at least some average or some rough estimates on how long that takes, then you can just add them up and look at the number of offenders you have that fit those criteria and say, well, we either do or we don’t have enough folks to meet this need.  I mean, it’s just like if you have a surgeon and he or she can only do so many heart surgeries in a day or a week or a month or a year, and if you give him or her more than that number, then there’s going to be problems, you know? – And you can kind of use that metaphor for any position, whether it’ a car mechanic, a hair dresser, a professor, an individual doing radio talk shows – it’s like you can only do so many talk shows – and the same with officers. So I think as policy-makers and agencies start to realize this, that we need to start actually identifying, charting, measuring, and timing what it is that probation and parole officers are doing, and then that information can be used to feed back in not only to the officer, to let them see what they’re doing and what’s expected of them and about how long it will take them, feed back into their supervisors and then their agency administrators so that they know how many people they can realistically supervise, stratified by risk and need sorts of issues, right?  And then also that information can continue to go up the chain of command to policy-makers and to funding agencies because right now while whatever the number was, you know, 60^% or 70% of the criminal justice folks are on probation and parole, we know that – and I’m only guessing, and I worked with PEW to collect this data some years ago – I mean, probably 70% or 80% of corrections funds go to prisons, and one of the biggest cost that goes to prisons is the building of prisons. It’s super expensive, and we know that we’re spending $30,000 and $40,000 and upwards, thousands of dollars on average per offender, and we know that probation and parole is much cheaper, and what we need to come to is whether we continue, as PEW is doing and CSU is doing, to continue to divert some of those institutional dollars down into the community so that we can put some bang for our buck behind what probation and parole officers are doing. – And I’ll let Adam or you talk now. I apologize.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to go our break and reintroduce you but the question I want to come back to is, is it fair for society to expect parole and probation agencies to perform these miraculous interventions in terms of providing the services that are necessary and providing the level of accountability that’s necessary to lower rates of recidivism and to keep citizens safe? But ladies and gentlemen, we’re more than halfway through the program.  Again, the program today is in Workloads in Parole and Probation. We have two extremely qualified to talk about this – Dr. Matthew DeMichele. He is at RTI, International Research Triangle Institute. He is a Research Social Scientist – We also have Adam Matz. He is a Research Associate, Council of State Governments, American Probation and Parole Association. – And also, in terms of the research we’re talking about, I’ll put a link to that research in the show notes.  So we have a public expectation. I’ve been representing parole and probation agencies for a quarter of a century now, as well as law enforcement agencies and correctional agencies, but parole and probation, people have an expectation. They are going to say that if this individual goes out and commits a crime while under supervision, the first thing they’re going to do is call me and say – or call my counterparts and say – “What did you do and what didn’t you do? Did you hold this person to certain standards? Were they in compliance with the rules of the supervision? If they weren’t in compliance, why not?”  And so there’s a finger pointing at parole and probation agencies throughout the country immediately, and in some cases justified, but in some cases I’m going to guess unjustified because the workloads and the resources that those parole and probation agencies have are simply inadequate to the task. Either one of you?

Adam Matz: Yeah, I’ll kind of comment a little bit on that. I think it’s an interesting point and this happens all the time, actually. You might have maybe one bad case or one person goes out, maybe it’s a homicide or some other sort of violent offense, and they happen to be on probation or parole, and then it really lights up the news waves and gets a lot of media attention, and then that really adds the stress on the probation and parole agency in terms of, you know, did they hold them accountable and was the supervision adequate and things like that; and then it usually ends up turning into some kind of “get tough” type policies which tend to make things worse, so kind of one bad egg ruins it for everybody.  But I think one thing we have to think about too is the reality of probation and parole, and particularly for probation and parole officers, is that they’re working with a difficult population. I mean, this is a criminogenic population and a lot of them have very disadvantage backgrounds that they’re coming from, and their ability to sort of get their way out of maybe poverty or whatever other issues they have can be difficult, and so some failures in some way is almost inevitable.  We know recidivism rates have historically been pretty high, and it depends on sort of how you measure it and what sort of research you’re going to look at, so you could look at anywhere between 30% and maybe 60% recidivism rates, depending on where you look. So even in the best cases, you’re still looking at about a third failure rate, so that’s kind of a reality in this field. That’s a difficult thing to convey to the public and so that obviously ends up creating some issues.  The other thing I wanted to mention too from the conversation earlier in terms of workload assessments, and really where those pay off for the probation and parole agencies is they provide a numeric, a quantitative sort of look for probation and parole agencies to show to their legislature and show them sort of definitively, you know, this is what we’re lacking, this is what we need. Before it just sounds like people complaining and maybe it doesn’t sound legitimized so what the workload assessments really do is they legitimize this argument that, you know, we’re really overworked and understaffed.

Len Sipes: And Matthew, that was the point of the research, correct? The whole idea was to quantify exactly what parole and probation officers do, how much time it takes to perform specific tasks, and then to look at your overall resources and align them correctly, or go to the state legislatures and ask for additional funds?

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Yeah, definitely. I think it had a two-part kind of agenda. The first part was to actually find out what is that probation and parole officers are doing, and I think that when you do any task analysis – and quite frankly, workload studies have been going on for a very long time. Other fields have been doing them all the time. You look at industry, manufacturing, you look at the medical field, there’s tons of workload studies going on – the nursing field, and if you think about how nursing works, it is pretty similar to the nature of work for officers. So this isn’t something that I created or Adam created. I mean, this has been going on for over a century.  What’s ironic is that we’ve not been doing it in probation and parole but instead what we were doing is we were doing a case load sort of approach where it was like, you know, you had a certain number of offenders, it didn’t matter risk level. You were supposed to do a certain number of contacts with them, it didn’t matter whether that offender needed that or not. Whereas now what we’re calling for is just to fit into what other organizations are doing as well as we’re using this idea of evidence-based practice, we’re using this idea of stratifying offenders based upon their probability of risk, based upon the characteristics that those individuals carry, and we’re seeing that not each offender is going to have the same amount of time spent on them. You know, to do a risk assessment or a PSI on somebody that it’s their first offense versus somebody that this is, you know, on the eighth page of their acts sheet, those two people are going to take very different times.  It’s the same for a surgeon that’s getting reading to remove tonsils as opposed to doing some sort of heart surgery, you know. We have to get to a more nuanced and refined way of looking at what probation and parole officers do, and I think that – to come back to your question that you had just asked – this idea that we are blaming probation and parole over and over again for failures that happen within the correction system, and I think that Adam made a very good point that in some ways – I mean, we can’t expect that recidivism is going to go to zero, you know, and not to continually use a medical metaphor but at the same thing, it’s the same thing, that medical procedures aren’t 100% effective. Well, neither are correctional programs.  But what we do know – and you talked Petersilia, you talked about this, and I know you talked about it with other folks – what we do know is we do know that there are a set if things that can work to bring about behavior change, and by specifically targeting those things on the correct populations, we can maximize corrections dollars.

Len Sipes: Well, if we reduce recidivism rates by 10% to 20%, which seems to be the norm for those programs that are successful, recognizing that not all programs are successful – for those that are, a 10% to 20% reduction in the recidivism rate fiscally saves any state literally tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars, so there seems to be certainly a fiscal incentive for states to do it right, to provide the services that are necessary for these individuals to do well while under community supervision, and it seems to be a fiscal reality that you have to provide enough people out there to administer these services and to contract out for these services.  So if all of us are in total agreement that this reduces recidivism, it dramatically reduces costs to state government and local government, and we recognize that we have to place our resources on higher-risk offenders and do less with lower-risk offenders, if there is this criminological assessment across the board that these are the things that need to be done, why aren’t they being done?

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Well, that’s the golden question, right? I mean, criminologists have been talking about this for a long time, and policy-makers have been extremely slow to respond. Adam kind of alluded to the nature of CJ research and policy-making with knee-jerk reactions based upon media-high types of instances that happen that are very dramatic and get a lot of attention, and then we use those single instances to revolutionize the criminal justice system and create new policies.  But as a public, we’re pretty slow, and politicians are slow to push for becoming more lenient in criminal justice areas. Instead it’s, you know, “we need more prisons, we need more cops,” but nobody is ever saying “we need more” – I don’t know, maybe you have or Adam has heard policy-makers saying, “We need more probation and parole agents.” That’s not something I’m hearing. It’s not palatable to the public, I don’t think. That’s my opinion of why.

Len Sipes: But why is that? That’s the thing that puzzles me because if you go and talk to the American Probation and Parole Association, if you talk to the Council of State Governments, if you talk to PEW, if you talk to the leaders within Community Corrections within this country, if you talk to folks at the Department of Justice – all are going to say the same thing, that we need the resources, we need the person power, and with that we can do things that are very helpful to the states’ fiscal bottom line and save literally tens of thousands of people from being revictimized every year. So I go back to the original question, if there is this massive consensus, is it our fault that we’re not sending out a clear enough message?

Dr. Matthew Demichele: Yeah, well, I don’t know that that’s the issue so much as, I mean, in some ways I think for the public it’s like, you know, punishment feels good. Punishment, that sounds like the right thing to do on the face of it because I think it’s packaged in such a way that the only thing people think about is that punishment and sentences, that it’s always for these extremely violent people. What’s this guy, that he kidnapped and was holding those women hostage in Cleveland?

Len Sipes: In Cleveland, yes.

Dr. Matthew Demichele: I mean, that’s our image and those things are horrible but those are very rare events. The bulk of our criminal events aren’t anything like that, and I think the public’s perception of it is much different. So for the public, this idea of punishment, it seems natural and it seems like the right course of action to do for criminals because they are others, you know. The criminals aren’t us. Criminals aren’t voting populations, you know, is the way we conceive it. We think of them as these other people that we don’t know and that we don’t meet throughout our lives but the reality is is that most all of us know criminals, or have them in our families, or meet them at the gym or the grocery store or whatever. I mean, these are people that we are around, people that have committed criminal offenses, and they’re not all these hyper-dangerous folks that we need to lock up and throw away the key as we started doing throughout the ’80s.  And I think now as the drug war is kind of coming to a halt, this might help kind of start to push folks out of prisons and into the community. And as we start to recognize that probation and parole can be effective, but they can only be effective if they are given the correct resources and if we really understand the staffing needs, and I think that like you said, PEW, CSJ, APPA is an excellent training and technical assistance resources for agencies, and I think that as the government and agencies start to realize the benefits from those folks that they can start to tap into, you know, what those organization can offer to states.

Len Sipes: We only have a couple minutes left. Is the research going to provide a formula for states basically saying, “If you do this, the ratio needs to be that?”

Adam Matz: No, just to comment on that, it will be difficult to make a blanket statement sort of like that particularly with probation and parole just because there’s so much diversity across the states and even within the states. I wanted to point that out that one of the reasons maybe that – because you know, when I’ve been out in the field, there’s instances where folks are just starting to really get into risk assessment now, and we’ve been talking about risk assessment for a long time. It’s not a new thing.  But for some agencies, that really is new, and there’s some very rural areas where they have to deal with maybe four-hour trips to do a home visit. So there’s so much disparity in the field, and also the way the agencies are organized, whether they’re under the executive or the judicial branch. All these sort of nuances just complicate the whole process sort of from a global perspective, or maybe a national perspective. So I think that really complicates, it makes it really difficult to have sort of the unity across the field that I think we’re sort of advocating, if you will.

Len Sipes: Well, let’s end the program on a positive note. I have been in this system, like I said, over a quarter of a century, working with parole and probation agents. I love them. I respect them. I admire them. I think they’re some of the bravest, most dedicated people. They’re generally well-educated, and they’re out there doing a really good and difficult job, and they’re enthusiastic at least when they first come into Parole and Probation, and I think they really do add to public safety, and I think it’s something that, if we’re going to retain these individuals and if we’re going to keep a viable community corrections in parole and probation system in this country, I think first of all we’ve got to thank them, which is the cornerstone of what the American Probation and Parole Association and the Council of State Governments is trying to do. So we can all agree that they are good people doing a good job. They simply need the resources to do a better job.

Adam Matz: I agree completely. In fact actually, just to dovetail into that a little bit, is obviously increased workload and having too much work or too much on your plate, that’s associated with all kinds of other issues too when it comes to workplace stress, burn-out which you’re kind of alluding to, and those have not only consequences for on-the-job sort of performance but also a person’s personal health. So obviously folks need to have the resources to be able to do their job, do it well, and actually also live a high-quality life in general, so definitely.

Len Sipes: Well, in the final seconds of the program, again, the community supervision officers here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, I am just so impressed with them. I’ve been out with them dozens and dozens of times, and I think they’re miracle-workers, and I’ve been with parole and probation agents throughout the country on trips, and again, they have my admiration.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Our show today has been on Workloads in Parole and Probation. Our guests have been Dr. Matthew DeMichele. He is with RTI International, Research Social Scientist –; and Adam Matz, Research Associate with the Council of State Governments, American Probation and Parole Association –  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your calls, we appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Homicides in DC and the US-The Urban Institute-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, back at our microphone. Ladies and gentlemen, John Roman, he is a Senior Fellow with The Urban Institute – We’re here to talk about homicides in the District of Columbia and throughout the country. There’s been, generally speaking, a heck of a decrease not only in the District of Columbia but throughout the United States. I want to read three quick paragraphs from an Associated Press article, and then have a discussion with John. “The crack epidemic that began in the 1980s ushered in a wave of bloodletting in the nation’s capital and a death toll that ticked upward daily. Dead bodies, sometimes several in a night, had homicide detectives hustling between crime scenes and earned Washington unwelcome monikers such as the nation’s ‘murder capital.’  “At the time, some feared the murder rate might ascend to more frightening heights but after approaching 500 slayings a year in the early 1990s, the annual rate has gradually declined to the point that the city is now on the verge of a once-unthinkable milestone. The number of 2012 killings in the District of Columbia stands at 78 and is on pace to finish lower than 100 for the first time since 1963, records show.” Then it goes on to talk about other cities, the fact that there have been generally-speaking declines. We have had some increases such as Chicago. It’s fascinating, John, that generally-speaking across the board throughout the United States, but especially in the nation’s capital, homicides have decreased, and decreased to levels that we did not expect. The question is why.

John Roman: That’s a great question. If you are 40 years old, you’ve never lived in a safer country, and I think a lot of people find that sort of hard to believe, so I think the first step is in convincing people that this decline in violence in the United States is real, and it is, but it’s not just the District of Columbia, it’s not just the United States, it’s the whole world – Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe have also seen these declines, so there’s some clues in all of that.

Len Sipes: But isn’t that the norm that ordinarily, you’re not going to get the same increase in the level of decreases but within the Western industrialized world, whether it’s New Zealand, or as some people would consider Japan part of the Western industrialized world, Australia, Europe, Canada – ordinarily crime rises or decreases not at the same volume but the trend lines are generally the same.

John Roman: That’s true; the trend lines are the same. What’s different here though is that if you look at the top explanations that most people apply to the violence decline, what you see is that in the United States, it’s about rising prison populations, mass incarceration, and it’s about the crack epidemic; and if you look at England and Canada and Australia, they didn’t experience either of those things. So for the trend lines to stay the same even when the experiences about how they’re trying to fight violence epidemic were so different sort of really has led to a lot of head-scratching in the criminology community.

Len Sipes: Okay, we’re going to launch way beyond homicides, then, because people have been talking about this for years. I remember leaving the Police Department decades ago, going through my first criminology classes, and having the professors saying, “Do you understand that what goes up in the United States goes up in Germany, goes up in Australia, goes up in New Zealand, goes up in Japan, and comes down basically – again, not at the same levels?  All these other countries have had – well, the United States generally speaking at one time had much higher rates of violent crime than other countries but the trend lines are basically the same. So, what is explaining that? So the explanation for rising and falling crime is more Western industrialized than it is just for the United States.

John Roman: I think that’s right. I think that pattern still holds true, and I want to come back to mass incarceration the crack epidemic and talk about what it means here.

Len Sipes: Sure.

John Roman: But when you look at international patterns, I think what you’ve seen is over the last 25 years, Graham Farrell, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University, wrote a really compelling paper that said, “What’s changed is security, private security and public security, that it’s so much easier to secure your possessions, to secure your business, to secure your car in ways that make it very difficult for them to be taken. It makes people less attractive as targets to be robbed, which is the taking of something by force or threat of force off your person, or have theft of a vehicle or a possession, and that’s driving a lot of the crime decline.” And what Graham would say is, “What’s really driving the crime decline is the decline in motor vehicles thefts.” So take New York City —

Len Sipes: That’s interesting.

John Roman: Yeah, this is great. It’s a great theory. I think it’s partially true. I don’t think it gets the whole thing.

Len Sipes: Okay.

John Roman: But in New York City in 1990, there were over 100,000 vehicles stolen. People had the sign in their windows saying, you know, “No radio,” or never leave it unlocked. By last year there were 11,000, so from over 100,000 to 11,000. It’s a 90% reduction in motor vehicle theft, and it’s two things. It’s a crackdown on insurance fraud where people would report their car stolen when it wasn’t, and it’s much better technology to detect stolen motor vehicles through license plates readers, through low jack electronic stuff, and so what that means is there’s a lot fewer cars to steal to use to get to a crime or to get away from a crime.

Len Sipes: That is so interesting. I mean, my head is exploding because I want to get to homicides, and we can move in a thousand different directions with this discussion. Homicides ordinarily are a proxy for crime across the board, correct? So ordinarily if homicides are up, crime is up. If homicides are down, crime is down. That’s generally-speaking the way it’s been, right?

John Roman: That’s right. So there’s four kinds of homicides. There is domestic violence; there is parents killing infants, infanticide; there is strangers killing strangers; and there is —

Len Sipes: The non-stranger —

John Roman: — non-stranger stuff, so gangs, crews, beefs within the crew as much as beef between crews; and I think it’s really that stranger homicide that is what people are really afraid of, and it’s sort of a declining percentage of all homicides, right, and so that’s really the key indicator there. So anytime there’s an assault, there’s a chance it could become a homicide. Any time there’s a robbery, I take my gun out and tell you I want your wallet, there’s a chance that could become a homicide. So it’s really those stranger-on-stranger events that are really, that’s the indicator, and they’re way down.

Len Sipes: But any time there is an encounter, there is a chance for a homicide. I mean, I sat in front of a group of 100 kids being adjudicated for homicide at the Baltimore city jail, and we had long extended discussions with them, and they were basically saying that these were all heat of passion crimes where there was a perceived insult, and they just could not take it one final time, and the person did this in front of his girlfriend, his mother, his friends, whatever, and he felt that he had to do what he had to do. I mean, sometimes we have these hugely complex understandings of homicide. Sometimes it can be as simple as a perceived insult.

John Roman: Right. So it’s interesting, if you look – there’s two ways I can go here – but different populations respond have different drivers of homicide, right. For white-on-white homicides, it’s almost always something other than an argument going bad. It’s domestic violence, it’s kid killing kids. In African-American homicides, about half the time it’s a disagreement that escalates into a homicide so it’s got different causes there, and this is where the security hypothesis, I think then it sort of doesn’t work really well. You can say, “Well, there are fewer people stealing cars and fewer people possessing stolen cars, and so there are fewer getaway cars, and that could mean fewer drive-bys, for instance.” And I think there’s some of that, but there is clearly other stuff going on.

Len Sipes: Well, the beefs that go down and end up in homicides, they seem to be getting fewer and fewer. I think that’s the most impressive thing. People are using more restraint in terms of settling those beefs, and I’m sort of wondering why that is.

John Roman: Okay, so there’s a lot of —

Len Sipes: I’m asking you a lot of question that you probably can’t answer but I’m going to ask them anyway.

John Roman: So what I’m going to say in response to that is an opinion that’s informed by data but I don’t think there’s really any way to do a data analysis that would really tease this apart. I mean, the world is so complex when you talk about human behavior and when you talk about rare events like homicides. They’re extremely rare events, right? – 82 in a city of 615,000, that’s a pretty rare event but still way too much. So a lot of people propose that the end of the crack epidemic had a big effect.

Len Sipes: The 1980s.

John Roman: Right, and I think there’s something too that you don’t have the open-air drug markets you used to have, which is a place where you’re bringing together people and money, and they’re under the influence, and all of those things together are really conducive to violence, and a lot of that has gone away. One of the primary reasons why it’s gone away is the cell phone. You don’t have to go an open-air drug market. You can call your dealer and meet him somewhere, and so you don’t have large numbers of people gathering in a volatile environment, so that I think is an explanation.  And the most controversial one is of course mass incarceration, so from 1980 until 2009 —

Len Sipes: Huge increases.

John Roman: Right, quadrupling, right, four times as many people in prison.

Len Sipes: Highest rate of incarceration in the world.

John Roman: In the world – 2 million. You’re talking about, if you’re an African-American between the age of 20 and 29, you’ve got something like a 1-in-8 chance of going to prison at some point in your life. I mean, that’s just crazy. So a lot of people have posited that having all of those people in prison has reduced crime, and I think there’s an argument to be made for that, and the argument sort of goes like this: if only 1 out of 100 people who you incarcerate are the really high-volume dangerous people who do 25, 50, 100 crimes a year, and you’ve incarcerated 20,000 of those people, you’re talking about like a million violent events that you’ve prevented by incarcerating them, so I think that is part of the explanation.  I can think of no less efficient mechanism to reduce violence than prison. It is enormously expensive. Most of the people who are incarcerated are not violent, won’t be violent, you haven’t really prevented any crime. You’ve just spent a fortune, right. There’s a study that came out today that said that they changed the rules about the disparity between prison sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, and they retroactively reduced the sentences of lots of prisoners by an average of 29 months, and they estimated that that change alone will save half-a-billion dollars, right? And so we’re not preventing much crime with all of this incarceration because we’re incarcerating way too many people who aren’t going to be violent but it probably does explain a little bit of the decline.

Len Sipes: Washington, D.C., when I was working here – this is before the last 10 years with CSOSA, and I spent 14 years in the state of Maryland, and then before that I was with the National Crime Prevention Council – I can remember back in the ’80s, getting out, working late, trying to catch the last subway available so I could get home to Baltimore, and literally walking in the middle of the street – walking down the yellow line because there were so many homeless and it was just, Washington, D.C., just had such a reputation for violence, it was affecting business, it was affecting construction, it was affecting tourism, it was affecting everything. Washington, D.C., is basically a changed city, a dramatically changed city.

John Roman: A dramatically changed city, and I think the lessons about how it changed are really instructive in thinking about why it’s changing in other cities and why it’s not changing in some other cities.

Len Sipes: All right, I do want to get to that, yes.

John Roman: So in 2000, I moved to Capitol Hill, right, so I lived six blocks from the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Supreme Court, and I would walk home from the Verizon Center, which is about a mile-and-a-half away, and it was entirely brown fields and boarded-up buildings, and it was a scary place.

Len Sipes: Yep, I remember it well.

John Roman: If you did the same walk today, it would take a lot longer because it’s so developed with new condos and new stores and new restaurants, and you cannot find a boarded-up house on Capitol Hill where there used to be one on every street. If you go down H Street, which was really the most thriving African-American commercial corridor, it was about 13 blocks long, and it was really devastated by the riots in the ’60s, and in 2000, you know, 12-block corridor had 600 vacant or abandoned properties.

Len Sipes: And that section of H Street hadn’t recovered yet.

John Roman: It had not recovered yet, and 40 are now vacant.

Len Sipes: So basically we’re saying that a ton of money was poured into the District of Columbia that realigned the place economically.

John Roman: And the question is why, why did it happen then, right? Why didn’t it happen in 1990 or 1980, and I think the answer is sort of three-fold. One is that you had some brave people, like Abe Pollin, who built the Verizon Center at 7th and F, which was abandoned warehouses and boarded-up buildings, and he poured his own dollars into the city, and that was a signal, right? That was a very strong signal that people were willing to invest in the city.

Len Sipes: A symbolic image.

John Roman: A symbolic image, and then there’s, you know, First Movers, and so people started moving into communities they hadn’t previously been in, and then you have this wave of immigration, right, and I think underestimate how good it is for city to have immigrants. Immigrant neighborhoods, if you look at the average rates of poverty and you think about how much crime you would expect to see given how poor they are, you see much lower rates of crime in immigrant neighborhoods than you see in native neighborhoods with the same demographics. They bring with them energy and a cohesion that doesn’t exist in native communities, people who grew up there.  So they come in, and then what happened here is there was a wave of immigration in the ’80s into the city, and people forget now but there were riots in the early part of the 1990s in Columbia Heights, which is the part of the town that was really the focus of a lot of this immigration, because the police weren’t prepared to interact with a community that had different norms. The riot actually began because the police arrested some young men who were drinking beer on their own stew stoop, which is illegal but not where they came from it wasn’t.  So the police department really learned from that, and they changed how they related to the immigrant population, and this city became a very friendly place for immigrants, and that has brought with it a lot of safety in areas that weren’t safe before. So that’s, you know, improving police, immigration, and as these two things happened sort of in concert, you get this First Movers strong signal, you get some migration of people from close-in neighborhoods to place like Capitol Hill and a little further out into parts of the city that have been traditionally non-white.  And then you get sort of this virtuous cycle where all these things sort of build and create momentum and that sort of spurred the economic development and the gentrification. And so let’s talk gentrification because it’s controversial, right?

Len Sipes: Yes. Yes, it is.

John Roman: A lot of people think gentrification is a really bad thing for a city because it changes its historical makeup because it forces poor people to move, it dislocates people, it changes the culture of a place – and that’s all true. But what it also brings with it is enormous safety, and it can bring some wealth to people who were poor, right? If you own a house on Capitol Hill that your grandma owned, she probably paid, you know, $20,000 for it, and you probably sold it for half a million.

Len Sipes: Right, and you know, half a million, it’s more like $800,000 or $900,000.

John Roman: Exactly, and so you have some wealth generation. And then the other thing that happened at the same time at the end of the 1990s was that there were a lot of public housing projects around the city, that there was a federal program called Hope Six, and it was a program to tear down dense, public housing and replace it with garden-style apartments, and that happened in a number of cities, parts of this city and other cities – which we’ll get to in a minute – and that I think dislocated a lot of people, a lot of them came back, but the places where they went, they didn’t take the violence with them. The violence was about that place that had poisoned it, and when they left, they were safer and the place itself became safer.

Len Sipes: That is so interesting. Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, is John Roman. He is a Senior Fellow at The Urban Institute – I sat and watched a live feed as John did a dissertation to a variety of media throughout the country on research that he and Urban had done on homicides, D.C. homicides and throughout the rest of the country, and this is a topic that you can barely scratch the surface of within a half-an-hour.  John, I want you to come back to continue this conversation, but in the say 13 minutes we have left, all right, it’s a very complex set of circumstances that gradually, through osmosis it almost sounds, not necessarily through planning but through osmosis, gradually builds to a point where you have a much safer city here in Washington, D.C. We’ve seen lots of cities throughout the United States that have also accomplished that moniker of a much, much safer city; but then we have a whole slew of cities that have not reached that point – Chicago, big increases in terms of homicide, Baltimore continues to have a homicide problem.  You may find decreases in certain cities throughout the country but residences there can’t taste it, touch it, feel it, and smell it. In the District of Columbia and in New York City, you can really get a sense as to the incredible changes in terms of how safe those cities have become. In other cities, not so much.

John Roman: Right, so let me put some numbers around this because that’s what I do. In 1990, if you rank order the top 25 biggest American cities from most crime to least crime, you would see Washington, D.C. at the top of that list, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

John Roman: And you would see New York City and Dallas in the top ten, for instance, and you would see Las Vegas at the bottom of the list. And if you go fast-forward to 2000 and you look at the rank orderings, every one of those 25 cities experienced a crime decline, and the rankings didn’t really change much, and that’s led people like Steve Levitt, the economist who wrote Freakonomics, which I suspect a lot of people have heard of, to posit that it was really national phenomenon, that whatever was happening was happening everywhere. It was better and worse. Some places it was down 20% homicide, some places it was down 80%. Then between 2000, if you rerank everybody in 2010, you see really big changes, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

John Roman: New York drops 8 spots on a ranking of just 25.

Len Sipes: Phenomenal decrease!

John Roman: Huge! Dallas drops 8 spots, and then you see other places like Memphis and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore that you mentioned moving up the rankings, and so what is it about places like San Diego and D.C. and Houston and Dallas that differentiates?

Len Sipes: And New York, yeah?

John Roman: And New York City – I’m going to put New York City aside for just a second because I want to come back to it.

Len Sipes: All right.

John Roman: What differentiates those cities? – And this is also true for New York. And I think what differentiates them I that prosperity is more diverse across places in those cities, right? D.C. is interesting. It used to be almost perfectly segregated by Rock Creek.

Len Sipes: By Rock Creek Park.

John Roman: That’s correct, where it was white on the west side and African American on the east side, and that is not true. D.C. is a far more diverse place. There are far more neighborhoods that have a mix of people by race and ethnicity, and if you look at a map of New York City, one of the big advantages New York City has is it’s always been a pretty diverse place, right, and there’s lots of Hispanics and African Americans in Queens and Brooklyn, and now an increasing number of whites in some neighborhoods, and so it’s a pretty diverse place. It’s still more segregated than I think anybody would like to see it but there aren’t like big areas of the city where you’re never going to see somebody of a different race.  There are big areas of Chicago that are almost perfectly segregated. There are big areas of Detroit, there are big areas in Philadelphia, right, and what people are beginning to speculate is this crime decline is about places, and it’s about economic segregation.

Len Sipes: That’s interesting. That is really interesting.

John Roman: And one of the things that I’ve argued is if you can have less wealthy people living next to more wealthy people, in effect it vaccinates people who would have been at risk of being poisoned in the violence epidemics when they roll through, like we had around crack cocaine. And so if you can find ways to keep people who live here while you have gentrifiers coming in, it creates sort of this vaccine and it makes lots of places safe that otherwise would be less safe.

Len Sipes: Economic and ethnic and racial integration is paying off in terms of stabilizing larger cities, that’s what you’re saying.

John Roman: I think that’s right, and I think there have a number of studies that have come out recently and they’ve shown really – and it’s hard to talk about this on the radio – but really interesting visualizations of color-coded block-by-block, how likely you are to have a neighbor who is of a different race or a different socio-economic status, and you can really see it, and it’s really vivid, you know, how much integration there is in these cities, and it’s not a coincidence that the cities that are more integrated across all of these things are the ones that are moving down in the rankings, and the cities like Chicago and Baltimore that are very segregated are not experiencing the same declines in violence.

Len Sipes: But a bit part of this, at the same time, would be the efforts on the part of the criminal justice system, but I understand that there is a huge criminological debate that would take us the next five years to talk about, whether policing is effective or whether it’s not effective, whether incarceration is effective or it’s not effective. We talked about that a little while ago – parole and probation, the impact of it, drug treatment; I mean the whole spectrum of what it is that we do in the criminal justice system, so I’ll ask you an impossible question. Talking about gentrification, talking about economic, racial, and ethnic integration, I understand that. Does the criminal justice system have a real role to play in terms of holding down crime rates or crime totals?

John Roman: I said bad things about our sentencing policy, right, which I think is really misguided, but I have good things to say about all the other actors in the system. I think all the other actors in the system have gotten substantially better over the last 20 years. So the story begins with this guy who works for the state of New York whose name is Martinson, who famously in 1974 reviewed everything that was available at the time about how effective rehabilitation programs and corrections were, and famously concluded that nothing works in rehabilitation.

Len Sipes: He’ll say he didn’t say that but I understand, but the bottom-line message was nothing works.

John Roman: Right, and I think that that “nothing works” message really dominated the national debate for 20 years.

Len Sipes: Yes, it did.

John Roman: And I think it was only in the ’90s, it was really – I think a lot of it starts with Janet Reno in Miami, where she’s the prosecutor in 1989, and her city is overwhelmed with criminals involved in the drug trade but she doesn’t have the resources to catch everybody and lock everybody up, so she creates this thing called Drug Court, and she treats people and says, “Look, what we’re going to do is get people into recovery because when you get people into recovery, some of them will not commit the criminal acts they would commit if they were drug-seeking or high,” and it really seemed to work. – And now these Drug Courts are, you know —

Len Sipes: All over the place —

John Roman: — everywhere.

Len Sipes: — and uniformly successful.

John Roman: And they’re successful, and they’re in every medium to large county and city in the United States, and they’ve spawned a whole generation of sort of spin-offs that are trying to address other problems between alcoholics who get DWIs, and returning veterans who have PTSD, and a whole range of people, and we’ve been much more successful in treating the underlying causes that make people turn to crime, and we’ve done it in the court system, and we’ve done it may be less effectively in the correctional system. We’re doing it much better for people under community supervision, and I think it’s really mattered.

Len Sipes: And we’ve excluded a lot of lower-risk people so we could focus our resources on the higher-risk people. What about the law enforcement side?

John Roman: So the law enforcement story is really interesting. So the New York story really was about disorder, and the idea that places that looked really disorderly are more dangerous. So famously there were the squeegee men, and when you came in over the bridge or the tunnel, they’d be there at the traffic light, and they’d break off your antenna if you didn’t pay then two bucks to —

Len Sipes: They’d graffiti everything else.

John Roman: Right, to spit on your windshield and, you know. And so a lot of places went for this real hardcore law-and-order model, and those guys went to jail, and if you jumped the turnstiles you went to jail, and now they do stop-and-frisk, right? So if you’re carrying something and you’re not doing anything suspicious other than mainly being black or brown, of which a lot of people thing is really bad policy, they’re going to frisk you.  Other places like Washington, D.C., have really gone the other way, and especially under Chief Lanier here. Now what she’s done is she’s moved into a really proactive community policing model where she really wants to see – she wants people in a neighborhood to trust her officers, to talk to them, to tell them about beefs before they happen, to be willing to say, “Yes, I saw somebody shoot this other –.”

Len Sipes: So they can get the information they need to stop crime.

John Roman: That’s exactly right, and then around the country there are these other models, they call them like “the interruptor models.” There’s a documentary out now called “The Interruptors” that I would tell people to go see. It’s quite good. And what these people are, they’re people who work with gangs and crews to get in the middle of beefs and to end the cycle of retaliation, because it’s the cycle of retaliation that really is where the violence occurs, and so they get in the middle of it and they try and stop it. – And especially in places like D.C., the police have been more and more open to having these people involved, and are willing to give them the information that they need to get into the middle of these things and stop it.

Len Sipes: More open to a collaborative approach by everybody involved in the criminal justice system. We’ve got a minute left. Homicides have gone down tremendously in Washington, D.C., violent crime has gone down tremendously. Homicides have gone down in the vast majority of cities in the United States, so has violence crime. What percentage of it is societal, what percentage of it is the criminal justice system?

John Roman: Wow.

Len Sipes: Within one minute.

John Roman: Okay, so I would say it’s at least two-thirds societal and maybe a third interventions, and I think that’s good because I think the part that’s the criminal justice system intervention is increasing and the part that’s societal I think is decreasing as a percentage of the explanation.

Len Sipes: But somehow some way we as a society, whether we had this conversation with ourselves or not, whether we realized we were having this conversation with ourselves or not, somehow society has come to grips with its own problem and solved its own problem outside of the criminal justice system.

John Roman: And I think the group that deserves the most credit for it is the one that gets the most blame, and that’s the African American community because they deserve the credit for it. That is a community that said, at the height of the crack epidemic, “This is destroying our communities,” and they are a population that is by race the least likely to be consumers of illegal substances, even though they’re disproportionately the ones going to prison for drug possession and sales, the least likely to use it, and the least likely to tolerate open-air drug markets, and more and more engaged with community policing to help make their cities safer.

Len Sipes: As somebody who’s been reading the African American press for a quarter of a century, it strikes me as interesting that they are sometimes the most conservative voices for the issue of crime control, the ones who are crying out the most for interventions, contrary to some critics. So the bottom line is that society can have a wonderful way of controlling itself outside of the criminal justice system, but the criminal justice system does supply that degree of stabilization to allows them to do that. Am I in the ballpark?

John Roman: You’re exactly on target. So the societal explanation is about places. Places poison people if we let them. The criminal justice system is about helping people achieve their potential.

Len Sipes: John Roman, Senior Fellow at The Urban Institute – We could go for five hours, John. I love you by the microphones. I learn more from you in a half-an-hour than in two criminological degrees.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We really appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Transforming Offender Employment-National Institute of Corrections-DC Public Safety

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to be talking about Transforming Offender Employment – what’s new, what’s interesting in terms of finding individuals under community supervision jobs, what correctional systems throughout the country are doing to prepare individuals from coming out of the prison system into the community and lowering the recidivism rate.  Back at our microphones today is P. Elizabeth Taylor, Pat is a Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections – Pat, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Thank you, Len. Good to be back.

Len Sipes: We’ve done a television show on this, and it’s very popular. We’ve had lots of different states who are using the television show. It’s a really big topic, making sure that individuals in the prison system, that prison inmates are trained occupationally before they come out of the prison system, and that we’re doing the right things when we get them on community supervision. That’s the heart and soul of this topic, correct?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, doing the right things for the right reasons.

Len Sipes: Okay. We know that this is a problem, a big problem in terms of recidivism. We know that generally speaking from national data – which is getting old now, and the Department of Justice is saying that they’re going to be updating it fairly soon – but we’re talking about two-thirds re-arrested, and we’re talking about 50% going back to prison. Those are the current national statistics, and I find looking at state statistics that it’s not all that unusual.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: A lot of the people that I talk to tell me that unemployment is a principle driver of people going back to the prison system. Is that true?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It’s unemployment and underemployment, and I’m going to say it’s not just the process of being unemployed or underemployed but it’s the inability of the population, the justice-involved adult, to address those issues that resulted in them being attached to the criminal justice system in the first place.

Len Sipes: Now the National Institute of Corrections has a large program on DVDs, a large program that is accessible, available to people, and training which is available to people all throughout the country on this topic.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and what I like to let people know, you know, the misnomer is that the training is for free. No. Your tax dollars have already paid for the training so it’s to your advantage to take advantage of it, and our call is specific to workforce development, offender workforce development, the employment series. – And when you think about it, it’s a university model, so what does that mean? Well, it means that we start pretty much at the beginning. What are some of the best practices associated that we know works well in working with the unemployed or underemployed offender or justice involved individual getting attached to the workforce?  And if can just say right here, in terms of employment or workforce development, we’ve changed, we’ve broadened the definition, if you will. Traditionally, employment is – okay, I’m paid; I’m receiving a paid salary. If you redefine it in that whole transformational process, we’re talking about gainful attachment to the workforce, which can be via paid employment, of course. It could be a structured training program. It could be an academic pursuit. It could be by way of volunteerism. So we’re focusing on helping this population have some type of attachment to the workforce.

Len Sipes: Well, we had a program a couple of days ago here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency where we invited unions in, and the gentleman told a very passionate story about how he was caught up in the criminal justice system years ago, and I think he said he spent the majority of his teenage days incarcerated. He went to a presentation, the same presentation, a similar presentation that he gave yesterday, that how he became a cement-layer, and how that started him off on a career – good pay, good fringe benefits, and how he rose in the ranks of the union and union politics, and how he has developed into a union official today, but he started off as a former offender.   Somebody gave him an offer that he felt that he could not refuse. It was dirty, long, hot work, but the unions, the various unions basically said to the individuals at the seminar, “We don’t care what your criminal background is. We don’t care.” That’s one of the very few professions I’m aware of where they say that “we don’t care.” If you are willing to come in and work hard, you can rise up through the ranks and become a skilled carpenter, a cement layer, a steel worker all the different – I mean, so that’s still possible today.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is, and there’s this process of business necessity, and so if there is a close connection between an individual’s conviction and the known duties and responsibilities of the said position they’re applying for, they may not qualify for it. But aside from that, it is a red carpet, if you will, for possibilities, but to get to that possibility, you have to be evaluated and/or assessed because you just don’t want to go for a position because you know it’s available. Are you suited for it? Are the duties and responsibilities something that you can life with? And do you have enough information about the process that you’re willing to take it step-by-step because what you mentioned in your story is that this individual started at the beginning.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now quite frankly, most people, they want to start at the top. They are that impulsive, “I want it yesterday” type of person, and so they have to learn the benefit of taking it, you know, we say one day at a time but taking it one step at a time.

Len Sipes: Sure. Well, the prison systems throughout the country, are they doing a better job of preparing individuals to go out and find work? – Because that has been a big problem in this country. You know years ago, I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety so there were three correctional systems, and one of the things that when re-entry finally came into vogue, and re-entry was part of the issue that was put on the table, and reduction of recidivism, our folks basically said, “Look, we’re funded to run constitutional institutions, and yes, we do have some vocational training, we do have educational training, we do have this, we do have that, but we don’t have very much of it, and it certainly doesn’t touch all the individuals caught up in the prison system.”  And yet suddenly, prison systems were now given the responsibility of training people and lowering the rate of recidivism. I still get the sense that states throughout the country are struggling with that capacity issue.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is improving. I will admit that if you look at the history of offender workforce development specific to corrections, that you had people working in rock quarries breaking bricks, you had them in sewing houses, you had them doing menial-type work where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for advancement. Well, we have this organization, this process connected to correctional industries, and it provides the real-life work experience for people that are incarcerated. So depending upon where the state is, you have various types of career options, training options, again, the ability to learn that position from the ground-up, and quite frankly as the nation is moving forward, there are a lot of correctional industries that are in alignment with some of the trades’ industry programs.

Len Sipes: Well in Maryland, I was amazed because we had a printing press operation, which was huge. It did all the printing for the state of Maryland, and it was a female-owned company who hired every person who got out of prison because her equipment was exactly our equipment. She didn’t have to do any training at all. These were individuals who had been using this equipment, cleaning the equipment, repairing the equipment, maintaining the equipment for ten years, so they’re in a perfect position to seamlessly move over and work for this individual.  Now it’s funny because she would tell me stories as if the people who were there, they were wonderful workers, but they were saying, “Ma’am, can I go to the bathroom,” and she would say, “Sam, you can go to the bathroom any time you want. You don’t have to ask my permission.” Part of the institutionalization process carries over into the work process. So there are many great opportunities within the prison system. I just don’t get the sense – and other people have said this, not just me – but there’s just not enough of them.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re sometimes the best-kept secret, and I think that there are organizations – you have the National Correctional Industries Organization, they are industry programming in each of the 50 states, so I would encourage people to Google NCIA and find out what’s going on in their state. Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s a perfect process. It is not. We are still, as an industry program, we’re still on our learning curve, but it’s much better than it was, and you have the situation where an individual can say, “You know, I have skills and abilities now, and professional expertise,” and like you say, that conviction no longer becomes a big – it’s no longer an issue. That employer sees what the employee can do, not what they did.

Len Sipes: True, but states are beginning to recognize their role in lowering recidivism.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: States are beginning to recognize that it’s an economic issue, it is a taxpayer issue, it’s a matter of lessening the burden on taxpayers to provide individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, incarcerated, in prisons – it’s in everybody’s best interest to provide them with vocational training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And state to state, they need to determine how they define recidivism. Once they come up with that definition, then the goal is to support that person’s self-sufficiency. Now I will say that a job or a connection to the workforce will not necessarily keep you out of the system, but when done correctly, these job training programs, these industry programs identify those issues. – And, you know, the bigger word is the criminogenic risk. Well, it’s a lot to say, well, what does that really mean? Well, it means that those thought processes, those —

Len Sipes: Well, the bottom line behind what NIC is trying to do is to do it right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: That’s the thing that I get from all of your materials and from doing the television show with you. You’re talking about assessing the individual, using research, using data, being sure that the best person is put in the best possible job, so it’s a matter of training those people. When we talk about training in this case, we’re not talking about necessarily training inmates in prison. We’re talking about training staff to assess that individual, to find out who’s the best fit for the best job, and to use cognitive skill behavioral training, which is basically teaching them fundamental issues of right and wrong, how to respond on the job, how to act on the job, what’s expected from you on the job – that all of this needs to be systematic. It needs to be scientific. It needs to be evidence-based.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and when you look at it, and that’s the transformational piece. So with the transformative workforce development system, you’re looking at the relationship between that practitioner and the offender, or the court or justice-involved individual. So on the practitioner’s side, what type of communication skills, how am I relating to this individual? Do I see the possibility that they can change?  Will I willingly develop a relationship with them, and then guide them through a process where they can let’s say challenge – not attack – but challenge their core belief, because the reality is if you are incarcerated and you are unemployed, and you say, “You know, I don’t like this,” but you say, “but you know, it’s all right for me to be in jail,” well, there is some type of dissonance right there, and so with proper training as a practitioner, you get the skills to be able to guide that person through to address those issues, those self-perceptions, the impulsivity, the inability to respond to a work-with-authority figures. You address the issues of, you know, “My friends aren’t working but that’s all right for me. I’ll hang out with them.”  So if you can challenge and work with that person, then they can go from a point of unemployed – and I keep saying underemployment – to a point of self-sufficiency.

Len Sipes: Because it strikes me that you can train a person to be a carpenter, you can train them to be a plumber, you can train them to be a bricklayer, you can train them to be a printer, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with the issue of an unreasonable boss saying unreasonable things, making possibly unreasonable expectations. All of us go through that. Everybody listening to this program, we all go through all of that sort of stuff but we don’t blow up.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly. Exactly.

Len Sipes: And we don’t strike back verbally, and we don’t stomp off the job. – And so many of our individuals caught up in the criminal system, they need to be taught that, and so that’s what you’re talking about, right?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re talking about problem-solving skills. We’re talking about decision-making skills. So like you say, the reality is, as an employee, I will have someone that will tell me, “You need to do A and B,” okay? Well, let’s just say that my work ethic or lack thereof tells me, “I get to do what I want to do.” That type of thinking helps me become unemployed. It supports my detachment from the workforce. So if you can work with me as the practitioner to help me understand the relationship between my values, my beliefs, and how they relate to my behavior.

Len Sipes: And that all part of this larger from the National Institute of Corrections of training staff to work with the offenders in terms of their cognitive development. It’s just not a matter of teaching bricklaying. It is a matter of helping that person cope with the realities of the day-to-day work world.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Touching that emotional IQ.

Len Sipes: And that is just as important as giving them hard skills and give them training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: You know, I’ll tell you that it’s more important. I mean, we can find, the employer, he can find people that can do the job, okay, but do they have the type of attitude, temperament that will help them stay connected.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry, we’re more than halfway through the program. P. Elizabeth Taylor is our guest today, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, with the National Institute of Corrections – I can’t do that without screwing that up. – part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.  Pat, so the bottom line in all of this is that we, you know, we keep thinking about that the focus is on the individual caught up in the criminal justice system, the offender. That’s where all the focus is. The focus needs to be on us as criminal justice practitioners to properly asses that person, get that person into the right job, something he or she is going to stock with throughout the years, and give him or her the skills to survive on that job and thrive on that job. That’s the package that you’re talking about.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the package, and the other part of it is that we need to, when you think about our current situation in these United States – cut-backs, programs are just being abolished, we have less funds now – so how can we do more with less?

Len Sipes: The best possible job with the resources that we have.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and so with that understanding, we have the training that we provide, and part of the training is to help the practitioner to know, to get the best out of your current resources, identify those people that are highest at risk, however do you define recidivism, to recidivate. Now once you have that determination, well then let’s go ahead and do a reassessment and re-evaluation, and that’s what our training provides.  So we’ve gone from best and promising practices, at the next level we have theory-based career-assistance. So how do you help that individual, now that I’ve identified that they’re at risk for recidivism, and I’ve identified their needs and their barriers, so how can I assist them in that process for their attachment to the workforce? Well, it’s not just about placing them, though, and so with the transformational workforce development, we know that the focus is not on the face-em-and-place-em, it’s on the retention. – And so combining that hand-in-glove, motivational interviewing techniques with cognitive behavioral principles supports long-term attachment to the workforce, and if it’s not the job per se that keeps a person out of the criminal justice system, it’s the process of getting that job, because in that process you’re addressing those barriers and those issues, those isms if you will, that make it easy for the offender to be caught up into the system.

Len Sipes: Motivational technique, I mean, there we’re talking about making sure that the person is finding out what it is that makes that person tick, and motivating that person to stick with it, to stay the course, finding out as much as you can about that individual and using motivational tools to keep that person engaged and keep that person enthused with the cognitive behavioral therapy skills, which is basically what is an appropriate response, how do you handle stress. So it’s a combination of all of those skills.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, it’s hand-in-glove, yes.

Len Sipes: So it starts in the prison system and it’s handed off to parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia. They have to have those skills to move that person from prison to community supervision to a job, and to do it successfully.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: So what you’re saying is that you need that collaboration, and what we’re referring to now is that continuum of care. So from the prison system or jail system to the community, everyone that would touch the life of that offender or justice-involved individual needs to be aware of what works. Based on research, we know that motivational interviewing techniques, where you’re developing a positive relationship of guidance, supports the offender. We know by the research that any cognitive-based programming, where you’re able to help the offender make that connection between their values and beliefs and their behaviors, actions or reactions, is proven effective. We need to make sure, though, that everyone, all of our stakeholders within that continuum of care, have similar training to support case management and that case planning.

Len Sipes: And that’s what the National Institute of Corrections is trying to do.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Now take this training today, because I saw – and I spent a lot of time when we did the television show, looking for video footage that best illustrates what it is that you do there at NIC – is this a course where they go on campus and take the course, or is this a course where they can view the video tapes separately?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Well at the first level, the offender employment specialist training – or building bridges – that is a multi-disk set where you can self-train, if you will. I encourage people, though, to make sure that they identify good partners to bring to the table to walk through that process.  Now the next level is the offender workforce development specialist training, which is about 180 hours. It is a train-through-partnership, so once an application is made for the training, then we will go to your jurisdiction and we will facilitate the training there, whatever state or situation where it’s located.  Now at the next level, the offender employment retention specialist training, that’s facilitated or people are trained at our training academy in Aurora, Colorado. So that’s a 40-hour blended training. You come to our site. There is pre-training work. There is training definitely while we’re there, but then that was not enough because now we’re talking about new skills. We’re developing new skills, new ways of working with people. So once the 40-trianing session, and we go back to our respective states, and we’re all really good about these new tools in our toolbox, through the OWDS training, if I can call it that, we provide coaching. We want our training to be dynamic, and training is the on-going process, and I think when people develop – I’ll mention one, is a skill of reflection. If I’m not really using it, if I’m not giving back what you’re saying and that’s not a regular part of my daily work, I’ll lose the skill.  So we have quarterly coaching sessions that we’re providing, and I think at this point there may be 99 people since the pilot that have completed the offender employment retention specialist training that is sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections.

Len Sipes: Now will these individuals go out and train everybody else in their agency because we have hundreds of people here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, I mean those who are directly supervising people on supervision. They’re not all going to be able to take that level of training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and through the partnership, through the OWDS, it is a train-a-trainer type process, so through the partnership, the expectation is that once that core training group is identified, then they will assume responsibility for training others. I will say with the retention training and as you are kind of alluding to, there are a lot of people out there that may not be part of the OWDS knowledge block process, so what then? Well, we’re developing a standalone with best practices in retention training that a person can access similar to the OES. It’ll be a multi-disk set that you can facilitate at your particular site.  Now NIC, the National Institute of Corrections, will provide a technical support to make sure that the training goes as it should but it’s an ongoing process for us to make sure that we’re meeting the training needs of those individuals that are part of Corrections proper, but then also they’re stakeholders.

Len Sipes: It’s a very comprehensive program.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: I mean, what you’re talking about is a very comprehensive program that eventually, where we train trainers, and you also provide support material where they can carry that information back to their own agencies because it strikes me as this, is that if you have an individual parole and probation agent anywhere in the country and he’s trying to get that individual interested in a job, he’s trying to find out who that individual is, what they’re interested in, where they would like to go, what they would like to do, develop motivational interviewing, get that person involved in some sort of job training activity or a job.  I mean, again, these apprenticeship programs through the unions are just extraordinary, especially considering they don’t care about the person’s criminal history. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that but you’ve got to do it right to get the right person into the right job if that person’s going to have any chance of holding on to that job any length of time.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And it’s not so much that any employer may not – it’s not that they don’t care about the conviction, they want to be aware of it.

Len Sipes: Oh, of course.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And again, and then business necessity would let you know how much weight that particular conviction carries.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now through the cognitive behavioral process, we can train or teach court and justice-involved individual how to talk about their conviction in such a way where they are assuming ownership for the reality of the conviction but they’re making that segue right to those skills and abilities that make them marketable.

Len Sipes: That’s such a great idea. I mean, of all the fears that individuals have coming out of the prison system, the biggest fear is how to deal with that question. What’s your crime? What’s your time? Where did you do time? Who are you? Are you a menace? Are you going to be a good worker or are you going to cause any problems? I mean, and how to deal with those question, and how to deal with them comfortably and how to deal with them successfully become a key ingredient as to whether or not they’re going to be successful.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Through cognitive behavioral-based programming, the individual is able to understand and acknowledge the fact that the charge represents behavior is what they did, it’s not necessarily who they are, and through that restructuring they’re developing a new sense of who I am. – And part of that who I am is a taxpaying citizen that’s actively involved in my community —

Len Sipes: Takes care of my kids.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: — assumes responsibility, exactly.

Len Sipes: Responsible taxpayer.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s what people want to hear, taxpayer not a tax burden.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the bottom line, yes. Exactly right.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so if we did this, if we had this sort of a program, let’s just say that 50% of offenders caught up in prison systems had some sense of meaningful job development training, cognitive behavioral training if they went through all of this, and if they came out and they were met by parole and probation agents who understood these skills, knew these skills, knew how to apply these skills – would it make a substantial impact? Would there be a substantial impact on recidivism, on future criminal behavior, and consequently would that save taxpayers an awful lot of money?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That is the argument that we’re making. We’re starting now to do the research. Through the employment retention training, we develop an ERI, and Employment Retention Inventory, and the research that’s going to start next fiscal year is looking at that whole workforce development process. If you provide career assistance, if you provide cognitive behavioral-based programming, what will the impact be?  And so it requires that all of our partners – and our partner is anyone that’s gone through our training, any training provided by the National Institute of Corrections – at that point, that partnership is developed. So we’re looking for our partners to help us capture the data, that let’s just say for instance that if our program that’s being offered is not necessarily hitting all the right buttons, then we can modify that because the goal is really to make that impact.

Len Sipes: But we only have about a minute left. One of the things I did want to point out is the fact that there already is good data, some of the most encouraging data that I’ve seen in terms of offender re-entry of individuals being trained in correctional systems, a multi-state study including the state of Maryland where I was at, and their rate of recidivism was considerably lower than the comparison group. So there I data already out there that says “Job training programs in prison systems do work.”

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right – when structured properly.

Len Sipes: When structured properly.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: And if you have the support system on the outside.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And the collaborative relationships from the – the only way I can say it is from the handcuff key to the door key. We’re looking at those relationships with the stakeholders involved.

Len Sipes: Pat, you’ve got the final word. P. Elizabeth Taylor, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections. Let me see if I can do this right this time.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]