Archives for March 2014

How Effective Is Correctional Education?

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, an extraordinarily good program, How Effective Is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go to From Here? A new research report from the Rand Corporation and the US Department of Justice by our microphones today is Lois Davis, she’s a senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation and John Litton, he is Director of Correctional Education for the US Department of Education. I want to very briefly read a synopsis of this report. The study’s key findings is that correctional education is effective in terms of reducing recidivism for incarcerated adults and there is some evidence that it’s also effective, especially for vocational education in terms of improving a person’s likelihood of post-release employment. Every dollar spent on correctional education, $5 is saved. John and Lois, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lois Davis: Thank you.

John Litton: Thank you Leonard.

Len Sipes: Alright Lois, the first question goes to you. A very prestigious report, you have briefed folks at the capital and you’ve just come from the White House, and we’re honored, White House to DC Public Safety. I’m not quite sure if that’s too big of a step down from the White House. But you briefed Congress; you briefed the White House, what were your primary thoughts about the briefing, and give me a sense as to the report itself.

Lois Davis: Well, I was very pleased with the turnout. It was impressive that there was quite a range of representation across, not just within Congressional staff, but also outside of Congress. And so, it clearly says that they idea of correctional education resonates with a lot of different people. One of the main messages that we wanted people to understand for this report is, once we really look at the effectiveness of correctional education that it’s important to understand that indeed it is effective in reducing recidivism, improving post-release employment and outcomes, but also it’s cost effective. So the debate moving forward should no longer be about whether or not it’s effective, it’s really about what can we do to move the field forward, and where can we fill in our gaps in our knowledge.

Len Sipes: John Litton, you’ve been involved in correctional education for an awfully long time, you and I worked together in the state of Maryland with the US Department of Education. This report is very important to the US Department of Education, correct.

John Litton: Yes, we’re very pleased to have the benefit of this report. It was mandated by Congress and the Bureau of Justice Assistance did a competitive process to award the opportunity to do the report, do the whole study to the Rand Corporation. The Rand folks did an excellent job and the findings are very interesting and we think quite compelling.

Len Sipes: Now the research indicates there was a 13% overall reduction in recidivism, which is extraordinarily important, but I do want to point out that I’ve seen reports, Maryland was one, three-state survey was done about 20 years ago now, where you had a 20% reduction in recidivism. So you’re going to get variances in terms of the individual pieces of research that you looked at Lois, so some are going to be higher, some are going to be lower, yours averaged out to be 13%.

Lois Davis: Yes, in fact one of the things we did was a systematic look at the studies that have been published all the way back from 2008 to the present. And 1980 to the present. And so what we’re doing is using a meta-analysis, which is a statistical technique to synthesize results across studies. And so to give a single estimate. So if we look at correctional education for the United States, I think our study shows that on average, within the United States, that you can expect a 13-percentage point reduction in the risk of recidivating. Another way that translates, which is a dramatic number, that also means that’s a 43% reduction of the odds of recidivating. So that alone I think is compelling evidence about its effectiveness.

Len Sipes: Now one of the interesting things that I find is that it doesn’t take a lot, and I’m getting this now, the Washington State Public Policy Institute did a little research a little while ago talking about what percentage of reduction it takes to be cost effective in, in any jurisdiction. They looked at, not research in just the state of Washington, but research throughout the country. And one of the things that I found from that research and one of the things that I’m getting from your research is that it doesn’t take a whole heck of a lot in terms of that percentage reduction for it to be cost effective, so it’s almost foolproof, it is not in terms of returning more dollars than it takes?

Lois Davis: That’s a really good point. When we look at it from a cost effectiveness analysis, what you see is that breakeven, so in other words, for the cost of a correction education programs to be break even in terms of the cost of incarceration, you only need a reduction of about 1-2 percentage points. But indeed we’re showing that it’s a 13-percentage point reduction.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lois Davis: So it’s a significant payback, so to speak, in terms of your return on investment.

Len Sipes: So John what we’re talking about is, you know, people say 13%, well Leonard, son of a gun, that doesn’t seem that high to me, the cost effectiveness part of it I understand, but what we’re talking about is if you extrapolate and apply this to all 50 states, if you can somehow, someway apply it to jails, you’re talking about literally hundreds of thousands, eventually millions of crimes not committed, correct?

John Litton: Yes, crime reduction as well as the cost benefit and one thing I just wanted to add to Lois’ comment is that incarceration is very expensive. So anything that we can do that reduces future incarceration, even a small percentage, can really payoff financially. So there’s been a tendency in recent years to disinvest treatment programs, putting more and more money into the bricks and mortar aspect of corrections, and I think that it’s time that we took stock of that and realized that very small investments and effective treatment programs can really be a good return on the taxpayer’s dollar.

Len Sipes: Well, speaking of the taxpayer’s dollar, the other point that I wanted to make is that we are talking about the potential for saving, again, states, not just crimes, but savings the states hundreds of millions, eventually billions of dollars if you can take that 13% recidivism rate and again, it’s going to be higher in some studies, lower in other studies, but if you can take that 13%, extrapolate it, you’re talking about saving states a tremendous amount of money.

John Litton: Very significant savings.

Len Sipes: Ok, now the question goes to either one of you. Because John mentioned it a couple seconds ago. There seems to be a disinvestment in correctional education and that doesn’t surprise me. We just went through a tremendous recession, states are really upset as to all the money that they have to throw in to their correctional systems, they find it to be burdensome, the challenge that they’ve placed upon all of us in the criminal justice system is to find a better way of doing it, so the fiscal burden on the states will not be that much. So they have cut back though. And that does create a significant conundrum for the rest of us, right?

Lois Davis: That’s exactly true, and in fact, one of the things when we started the study is that in our discussions with state correctional educational directors and others, it was clear that the recession had a huge impact. So what we did is we fielded a national survey that really allows us to get a picture, what is correctional education look like today, but also to get a sense of what the impact of the recession was. So for example, what we see is that states had a dramatic in reduction correctional education budgets, particularly in large and medium-sized states. By large and medium, I mean states that have the largest prison populations. And so the results of that were actually a contraction in the capacity of the academic programs within the system.

Len Sipes: Fewer people got programs that were necessary.

Lois Davis: That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes: Now one of the things that puzzles me again, the question goes out to either one, but John you would be the most logical person to take this. From my 25 years in terms of dealing with correctional operations, correctional programs keep prisons safe, do they not?

John Litton: I believe that’s true, yes.

Len Sipes: That’s not one of the points of the research, but when I dealt with, throughout my time, my 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, it was always emphasized to me by wardens, by assistant wardens, by security chiefs, that the more programs that you had inside of that prison, the calmer that prison was, the less violence occurred and made it a safer place of everybody. The correctional officers, the correctional staff and the inmates. Is that a correct observation?

John Litton: Well, I’m not a corrections expert, I’m more of the education person but I certainly personally believe that that’s true and I think it’s important that people be engaged in productive activity. If incarcerated individual and persons incarcerated for an extended period of time limited physical opportunities, limited mental opportunities, limited opportunities for social development, the opportunities for that returning citizen to come out and be productive and be productively engaged, common sense would say that it’s diminished. So it’s important that there be a range of constructive opportunities during the period of incarceration. I think it’s important also in terms of the message that we’re giving to the incarcerated population, that we really do have expectations for a positive outcome and that we believe that investing in you as a person that’s being prepared to return to free society, that we expect you to take advantage of those opportunities and to be engaged in a positive way when you’re released from incarceration.

Len Sipes: Lois, please.

Lois Davis: I’d also like to add to that it’s been interesting to see that as we talk to correctional officials across the country that they see correctional education as a really good news story. To them, it’s a program that they point to as being a real success, both in terms of increasing safety and security within the system, but also in terms of ultimately being able to point for example, to GED completion rates as a good news story for them. So they too recognize the importance of an education.

Len Sipes: Now I’ve been talking to folks at the Department of Education and I’ve said that I was going to do this radio program and one of things that we were talking about was this, and you touched upon it in your report, is that distance learning, remote learning seems to be just as effective as classroom learning. And I understand that has an awful lot of implications, but some people envision a centralized location in the state of educators, pumping information in to every prison in that state, thereby dramatically expanding the capacity of correctional education or vocational education. Right now, we’re in the process here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, of learning green screen television production. There is a company out there called, that has the most wonderful pieces of video, instructing you on every little detail, every little piece of doing green screen television. It’s transcribed, so you can print that transcription so you have something to read. Long distance education seems to be taking prominence now and if it’s just as effective, or close to being just as effective as classroom education, isn’t there the possibility that every state can do that, provide vocational and educational opportunities throughout their state system through long distance learning. Anybody want to take a shot at that?

Lois Davis: I actually wanted to; in the report where we look at it is the effect of computer-assisted instruction. And we do see that we don’t detect a difference for example, between an outcome of say reading the math scores for those that receive computer assisted instruction, versus those that receive traditional instruction. Now, when we think about distance learning, there’s a lot of potential there, but it doesn’t necessarily replace the need for the face to face interaction, the one on one interaction with instructors, so there’s a real need for us to really look at some innovative examples out there and try to assess really where the capacity is for improving the capabilities of distance learning.

Len Sipes: John, is it everybody in the ballpark when they’re saying to themselves, maybe we can get everybody involved if we do long-distance learning because we’re never going to be able to afford the classroom capacity? Is that right or wrong or should we be looking at it that way?

John Litton: I think there’s, we definitely need to be looking at that question and I don’t think it’s an easy answer. But one of the things that happened in corrections is that there have been many security concerns about access to the internet and most distance learning is internet enabled, and I think there’s some feeling that perhaps we can move past the security issues, we have some solutions for the security issues. And that might rather quickly open many new possibilities for using distance learning. So as Lois has said, we really need to take a, have an open mind in terms of doing some pilot programs and doing some research and studying the effectiveness. There definitely is importance for social learning. We don’t think that just replacing interaction in a classroom, interaction with a teacher, interaction with other learners with a computer is probably the end all and the be all, but we certainly think that technology is being under-utilized in correctional environments and it’s a great potential to use our resources more effectively by using distance-learning resources and certainly as you were pointing out Leonard, when people need some of these technology skills to be effective in our communities today, because the world has changed, so it’s a really, really important area. One that was given quite a bit of emphasis in the report and we’re quite excited about following up on that.

Len Sipes: The interesting thing is that every correctional administrator that I’ve ever talked to and every parole and probation administrator that I’ve ever talked to has said I would wish and pray that there was a certain point where everybody in, who’s incarcerated had that opportunity to go and get their GED, get their 8th grade certificate, learn how to read, learn how to write, go to brick laying class, and come out fully equipped, fully skilled. If every correctional administrator in this country, I can’t speak for them all, the ones that I’ve talked to at least, seems to be very supportive of correctional education, if every parole and probation administrator, and again I haven’t talked to them all, but every one that I have talked to has said this, if everybody is so supportive of this, then why isn’t it more expansive and more extensive than what it actually is?

Lois Davis: Well, I just wanted to comment a little bit about that. When you talk to the educators, they would say that that kind of the security concerns about access to the internet kind of a drive a lot of the decisions about whether or not they can, the extent to which they can use computer technology in the classroom. Now, there’s good simulated internet programs that allow you to address giving access to some of the online courses for inmates to get the experience of using the internet-based system, without it actually being the real internet. So that’s an important step that we need to make, we need to advertise more broadly, that is available. Because the security concerns are definitely one that are constantly in the background of the decision making about this area.

Len Sipes: We’re more than half way through the program. The program today is How Effective Is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go to From Here, done by the Rand Corporation and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to the US Department of Justice. Our guests today are Lois Davis; she’s a senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation. John Litton is Director of Correctional Education for the US Department of Education. So the real concern seems to me to be this, we are all supportive of this, those of us in the correctional field. Is there really a disagreement that somehow, someway be it remote, or be it in person, that this needs to be offered to virtually every person that occupies that prison bed?

Lois Davis: That’s, you know, the survey that we did was, we asked the question, in your state, is correctional education mandatory or is voluntary? And what we learned, particularly for individuals for example who had less than an 8th grade education or lower levels of educational attainment, indeed in most states, it is mandatory. But for the bulk of inmates, it is something they can self-select into. And so we don’t really see it as something that should be part of a core piece of the rehabilitative process that we require everyone to participate in. But it is definitely something that many people can benefit from.

Len Sipes: My problem is that in so many instances when I take a look at substance abuse, when I take a look at mental health, I’m finding the numbers to be very small, in terms of the people who actually go through substance abuse or even mental health treatment within the incarcerated setting. In some cases, those figures turn out to be 10 or 15%. Again, I understand that there are some states that push that to 20 or 30%, but in most state system and most research that I’ve seen, the numbers are fairly small. Do we have a sense as to what percentage of inmates within the incarcerated setting within prisons are actually getting vocational and educational programs? Do we have that sense?

Lois Davis: You know, we do know that it’s the story where you have basically; most correctional systems offer correctional education, particularly GED, adult basic education. To a lesser degree, for example, post secondary education or vocational training, but then the flip side of that is so how many inmates within that system actually get access to those programs. And that’s where there is a disparity. The recession really did reduce the capacity of the number of inmates to go through these programs, and so the fact that we’re seeing less offerings available, I think is something to be concerned about. But the numbers vary from state to state in terms of the percentage of inmates who are participating in these programs.

Len Sipes: When you talk to people at Congress, when you talk to people within the White House, did they seem to understand the importance of doing this and the importance of what it would mean, both at the state and federal level in terms of fewer expenditures, fewer crimes committed? Do they really understand the implications of the research?

Lois Davis: Yes, it’s actually been very gratifying to see the response. It really is an opportune time, because with the focus at the federal level now on re-entry and understanding what programs we really need in place individuals, this is really the great timing in terms of attention being paid to; let’s think about what programs are effective. And so our report has been very well received and I know that we’ve heard anecdotally for example it’s informed strategic planning both within the Department of Justice as well as the Department of Education and in other areas. I think people really are getting it.

Len Sipes: People in supervision have sat by these microphones in the 11 years in my being here, and 14 years with the state of Maryland I’ve interviewed hundreds of people who were currently caught up in the criminal justice system. To a person, they have said it’s the programs that have helped them cross that bridge, as I like to put it, to a crime lifestyle to a crime free lifestyle. Going from tax burden to tax payer. The programs always seem to be the bedrock. Now they had to have the motivation and they had to really believe in themselves and really believe in a future beyond drugs and beyond crime, but the programs helped them cross that bridge, the programs helped them become the people they are today. I mean, they’re in the community, they’re supporting themselves, they’re supporting their children, they’re being good community members because they went to a brick laying class in the Maryland prison system, John. I hear that all the time. So talk to me about that, the importance to the individuals caught up in the criminal justice system with these programs.

John Litton: Well, I think you’ve said it Len. We’ve heard from so many individuals that really do attest to the fact that an opportunity really meant something to them, really did make a difference in their life. One thing that we’ve been focusing on a little bit more recently and I’m proudest of the work we’ve done on this is that we’ve realized that many people come out of prison and really face tremendous obstacles in terms of moving directly into employment, and so we’ve been focusing somewhat on opportunities to continue education post-release and use their association with educational agencies and institutions entities to make the bridge to employment. That our traditional model had been that we would take care of the educational needs during the period of incarceration, the person would be job-ready when they come out and I think we have a little bit more of a nuanced view of that now. And I think it’s important that we encourage our returning citizens to continue to be involved in educational programs and educational institutions. I really think it can make a difference for individuals.

Len Sipes: What I was surprised of in terms of reading the report was the number of states participating in collegiate programs. Now I understand that this brings a certain level of controversy. And I remember college programs, and we used to advertise them in the state of Maryland put out a press release and then people would call me and yell at me. As to why we’re giving this guy a college education and why he can’t afford to give his own kids a college education, so I understand its implications and I understand the controversy. Yet college programs were in what, Lois, how many states? Is it 32 states had college programs?

Lois Davis: Yes, something like that. Yes.

Len Sipes: And I find that amazing. I didn’t realize it was that extensive, and there is research out there that says that collegiate programs are some of the most powerful programs in terms of getting people to create for themselves a crime-free lifestyle.

Lois Davis: Yes, and two things that I want to say about that. One is it’s important to recognize that when we think about college programs, those are usually paid by the inmates’ families. Or by family finances or in some cases foundations. It’s not necessarily that we’re using federal dollars for those college courses and to a little bit of extent, we use state dollars, but I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s really the inmate and their family that are trying to support those efforts. The other point I wanted to make is that one of things that is really encouraging is that it’s not simply college courses, but it’s really there’s a movement now that’s happening in various states, various initiatives to provide college courses that are going to lay the foundation working towards a degree. And I think that’s important, so it’s not simply a course here, a course there, but it’s really thinking about a program that will allow this individual to works towards an AA degree or a BA degree and that is something that is very encouraging.

Len Sipes: Let’s was philosophical in terms of the remaining moments of the program. You’ve got great reception at the White House; you got great reception in Congress, every correctional administrator that I’ve ever encountered, every parole and probation administrator supports these programs very, very strongly. We do have an emphasis on re-entry, within this administration and within previous administrations. There seems to be an across the board support for these sort of programs from both sides of the aisle, so it’s no longer republican or democratic, we’re getting very strong support from both parties in terms of getting the biggest possible bang for the tax paid dollar in terms of the results of correctional programs. So we have all this ground swell of support in terms of making sure that individuals have the skills that they need to be successful upon release from prison. So from this report, where do we go to from here? What is the hope, what is the dream, what is the possibility?

Lois Davis: Well, from our perspective, one of the things that both policy makers as well as educators, correction officials also, that they need is more information about what tradeoffs can they make and still maintain effective programs? So one of the limitations of the data right now is that we can’t answer some of the more complex questions that are needed to inform those kind of decision-making. And so for example, what models of instructions are associated with the most effective programs? Does dosage matter for example? Those are the kinds of things that we need to really push the evidence base to get at those answers because if you’re an educator and you’re being asked to cut your budget by say 10%, then you’re making choices about both dosage, about program delivery as well as who gets into those programs. So those are the kinds of information that we need to focus on next in order to really help inform those debates.

Len Sipes: But we also really need to get across the point that if you’re going to break the cycle of recidivism, we have 700,000 human beings coming out of prison systems every year. We have, I’ve seen figures saying it’s 4, to 6, to 8 times that in terms of jails. So we have an awful lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system on any given day, 7 million and that doesn’t count again the people who are in and out of the jail system on a fairly regular basis. This is a huge impact, we’re talking about, you know, collectively, millions of people over a certain amount of time. If we want those millions of people to live crime-free lifestyles and stop being tax burdens and start being tax payers, we have to put more money into these programs, correct?

John Litton: We have to put more money in but we have to put more money in a smarter way. And I think that’s one thing that we’re inspired by the report is that is really does a good job at articulating some of our knowledge gaps, that we don’t have the information to guide policy to the extent, policy and practice to the extent that we need to, and that some key questions, as Lois was just recounting, really do need to address, to be addressed and we hope that at the federal level we can provide more effective leadership in terms of giving the type of information that would allow program practitioners at the local or state or federal programs the opportunity to really gear up programs as effectively and as cost effectively as possible to get the best results and extend those resources across the population where it will have the most impact.

Len Sipes: And that would help us establish say what the kind of correctional education is the most powerful, whether or not it’s vocational or educational, whether it’s a combination of the two, if it’s vocational, ok so, maybe plumbing doesn’t work but maybe heating and air conditioning does. I would imagine those are the sorts of things we’re talking about?

Lois Davis: Yes, but also it’s how do we deliver programs. What model of instruction is going to be most effective? But it’s also when you were talking about for example does welding matter? I think that’s another part of the story is understanding where is the demand for jobs? We’re going to be the opportunities for individuals coming out of correctional settings and insuring that we’re providing them those kind of training programs and the kind of nationally industry recognized certificates that will allow them to be ready to find employment upon return.

Len Sipes: Because traditionally the jobs have been in the construction market and the hard labor market, where you’re teaching electricity, plumbing, brick laying, those sorts of things, maybe we should be out there teaching software. Maybe we should be teaching maintenance. Maybe we should be teaching IT. Maybe we should be teaching other things besides the traditional brick laying courses.

Lois Davis: That’s exactly right. It’s really understanding what the demand for jobs will be in particular regions of the country, but also recognizing that our 21st century workforce is going to be very different now.

Len Sipes: This has been a fascinating conversation with the two of you. I really do appreciate you being with us today. How Effective is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go To From Here is the wonderful title from the Rand Corporation and from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice. Our guests today have been Lois Davis, she is the senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation and we also had John Litton, the Director of Correctional Education for the US Department of Education. Really appreciate everybody’s participation in the show today and we really appreciate your participation, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Victim Assistance and Cyber Crime in America-NOVA

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, back at our microphones, Will Marling. He is the Executive Director for the National Director for Victim Assistance,, We’re going to be talking about a variety of topics in terms of victim assistance in America. Will, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Will Marling: Len, thanks so much. You know this is one of my favorite things to do. I just really enjoy our time.

Len Sipes: Well, the remarks that I get from Linked In and the other social media sites plus our own website seems to indicate that you’re very popular. Every time I bring you on we get nice comments, so we want to start off with a constitutional amendment for victims. One of the things that always boggles the minds of everybody is that the overwhelming majority of the criminal justice system is there to protect the rights of defendants, but very few rights are there to protect the rights of the victim and we have a variety of states, somewhere about 30 that do have state constitutional rights to protect victim rights, but what we’re talking about a federal law to establish a strong victims’ presence in the courtroom and then law enforcement and the rest of the criminal justice system protecting victims’ rights when a federal law is violated. Correct?

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. I mean we’re talking about the highest law of the land, which is the United States constitution, our founding document. So this represents an amendment to that founding document to affirm rights for victims of crime specifically.

Len Sipes: And how is that coming?

Will Marling: Well, it’s moving. We’re moving forward, you know, a lot of folks that listen to your program; things like this aren’t clearly visible because there’s a lot of activity. There can be between 10 and 12,000 bills introduced into Congress during the course of a two-year session and so you know, there’s a lot of noise, as I might say it, in the bills but we are continually educating house representatives specifically. It’s House Joint Resolution 40, and the main thing that we’re doing apart from just educating them is asking them for their co-sponsorship. They can literally put their name on an official support list and said yes, I will co-sponsor House Joint Resolution 40 and so it’s a continual effort to build momentum, to educate, and to move it forward.

Len Sipes: How could you not support victims’ rights? I mean, I would think the entire Congress would get behind this.

Will Marling: Well, we agree. The reality is that when people are asked on the street, should victims have rights? It’s an overwhelming response in the affirmative. And most people, even those who might resist this would affirm victims’ rights. There are some folks who are purists and we shouldn’t amend the constitution and you know, I agree, maybe not very frequently, but the reason it’s to be amended, is because it needs to grow and change. There are some that are concerned that it would impact the rights of the accused or defendants, and we simply respond that is not true either. We affirm that those rights need to be there and the Bill of Rights, the amendment is designed to protect those accused of a crime need to be vigorously upheld. We’re only saying that victims of the crime of which that person is accused, they need to be able to have standing under the law to affirm dignity, affirm the right to information, the right to restitution if this follows through, and the right to be part of the process officially. That’s really what this means.

Len Sipes: Well you have a lot of federal crimes that are in the news lately in terms of the military. So what you have is a situation where a lot of women in the military are basically that they were sexually assaulted, and advocates have stated that they have been ignored, that their rights have been ignored, this would provide them with the rights they seek, correct?

Will Marling: Yeah, it would, because an American under the constitution can affirm rights that are inculcated in the constitution. We say inalienable rights and what we mean by that is there are some things we just know are true. The average person knows they’re true. But we still have to state them in the constitution, they have to become part of a written document, so that someone can say hey, right here, we’ve said this. And in the military context, that’s especially true under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, historically, there really are no rights as such for victims of crime. Now, I will say, that in the latest National Defense Authorization Act, the NDAA coming out, there have been some very positive progress with the affirmation of protections for victims. But nonetheless, this is, as I like to say, an amendment would cover a multitude of sins. It would address this issue of victims’ rights, crime victims’ rights, but also it would affirm at large, even those people who don’t engage in the criminal justice process as victims, it would create a national discussion about what rights are, what rights should be and hopefully raise the level of prominence, the needs that people have when they are harmed by others.

Len Sipes: And about 30 states or so have these rights, and the process in those states that do have a constitutional right, a state constitutional right, guarding the rights of victims of crimes, it’s worked in those states, it’s been a sea change. My experience has been that everybody is now very much attuned to the rights of victims because it’s the law. And in some cases you’ve got to spell it out and in some cases you’ve got to make it crystal clear. That’s what others have said to me. Is that correct?

Will Marling: That’s exactly right. Now I will affirm that of the 33 states that we know have crime victims’ rights in the state constitutions, the affirmations in the state constitutions vary from place to place. In other words, what they affirm as a right can be different in another state. But let me give you the example of Arizona, that has had victims’ rights for 20 years and they’ve been able to demonstrate that the process can be safely adjudicated so that the rights of the accused are not impinged upon, and the rights of the victims can be affirmed so that a process can pursue justice. And equitable justice. We know that there are inequities in the system, in many ways, and I recognize that even in my victim advocacy role that the accused many times, can be shortchanged from anything the defense attorney that they’ve been assigned or whatever. But we want to and vigorously want to affirm that the rights that everybody should have and we also say, victims want a good and healthy process for everybody. They don’t want a process where the accused is getting shortchanged, because commonly that just means an appeal, another trial, more and more pain and suffering for them. So you know, that’s really why a fair and balanced system can serve everyone.

Len Sipes: But speaking of pain and speaking of a sense of injustice, the average person going through the criminal justice system before a state constitutional amendment would often times say that it’s the criminal justice system itself that acts as an inhibitor to the healing process. If the state criminal justice system or the federal criminal justice system is going to be so difficult to deal with and where rights are not respected, can you imagine a person going through a violent crime and a family member is a victim or a violent crime and then now, they find that it’s just an impossible process in terms of getting the information that they need, getting the information that they seek, getting the respect that they deserve, and having their day in court, if that was not recognized, if that was not embraced. Then that victim is almost re-victimized, and I’ve heard that from crime victims before the constitutional amendments over and over and over again. The criminal justice system re-victimizes me by not respecting my rights.

Will Marling: You’re exactly right, and it’s one of the many reasons I like you, because you’re in tune with many different facets of the criminal justice system. What we hear as well is re-victimization, re-traumatization, common themes. Why? Because the system itself is a system. It’s a machine. It’s designed with sometimes harsh mechanisms that are without respect for humanity, that’s the system. But the people in the system are the ones that affirm the dignity and compassion that need to be affirmed for people who have suffered so egregious losses. And so, that’s all we’re doing, we’re wanting to affirm those things and we’d love for people just to do that automatically. We’d love for people in the system to affirm inalienable rights of crime victims, that actually many people believe are already there. They have no idea that they’re not there. But we know that those need to be affirmed. So that a victim can say I have the right to this, and I want to assert that right and I want that right protected.

Len Sipes: If you’re interested in additional information or if you would like to support the National Organization for Victim Assistance in terms of this endeavor,, Will, we’re going to move on to the next topic, distance learning with the victim assistance academy. You guys are doing an awful lot of training. You were doing training for the Defense Department in terms of training the trainers, if I remember a previous conversation. All throughout the history of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, you all have been involved in training victims’ advocates throughout the country, throughout the world. Then the next big step, a little while ago, last year was your work with the Defense Department and now you’re talking about a distance learning victim assistance academy. Talk to me about that please.

Will Marling: Yeah, thanks. Just stepping back a little bit just to you know quantify what we’re doing. You’re exactly right, we do a lot of training and it’s in particular in this area of victim advocacy and our side of house with crisis response. Lot of these things revolve around the skills necessary to advocate for people but also trauma mitigation, trauma education in working with those harmed by crime and crisis. With the Department of Defense, we are actually the secretariat for the SAC-P. The Department of Defense Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program. So we’ve actually collected subject matter experts and they are part of a committee built upon the national advocate-credentialing program that certifies victim advocates specifically in the United States military, all branches. And that’s been a wonderful experience for us of course and we’ve been grateful for the privilege of serving in that way, but also encouraged by steps, small and large, that are being taken in dealing with sexual assaults specifically in the military. And out of that kind of context of seeing needs and the like, we hit on this issue of a distance learning victim assistance academy. Now let me explain that one. Since the mid 80s, when we actually have the vocation of victim advocate emerge, there are a number of states who have developed their own victim assistance academies. And it’s kind of a standard approach, standardized approach, with a 40-hour basic training that touches very skill-based aspects of advocacy. And it’s a very important training, in fact, it’s foundational if you’re going to be a national advocate, nationally advocated credentialed person, you’re going to have at least a 40-hour basic, and what we discovered in our work was that not only are there a number of states that don’t have academies, but are a number of people who are far-flung who don’t have access to that kind of training very readily. And so we have recently launched NOVA’s national victim assistance academy, and it’s a distance-learning concept. In other words, it’s real time, with an instructor, using technology, so that there’s a classroom and people are logging in, in their remote sectors and they’re seeing the instructor as well as seeing a presentation and they can talk to the professor. In fact, we encourage that; we encourage live audio Q&A interaction. And the powerful thing about this is that distance learning dimension means that distance is removed. People are actually taking this training in all parts of the world. All across our country, they’re in Asia; they’re in Europe, and other parts. So we are not only pleased and honored by this, we find that people are extremely receptive to this, plus the instructors we’ve lined up are heroes in this field. Incredible subject matter experts, and many people simply wouldn’t get access to them otherwise, you know, we just can’t ship them around. So it’s a great step for us.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line is that anybody, anywhere in the world can receive this training and you have been on a previous program, we talked about the fact that you’ve been interacting with other countries throughout the world in terms of you know, this whole concept of a constitutional amendment. This whole concept advocating for victims, it’s not just an issue within the United States. You’ve been interacting with people all throughout the world.

Will Marling: Indeed. In fact, we’re starting really a consortium non-profit international and enterprise called Victims of Crime International and I know that isn’t especially creative, but what it does represent this true focus of many people in other parts of the world understanding that victims, victims of crime specifically need support, they need resources, and their voices need to be amplified to their national, their local and national leaders. And that’s what this enterprise is about, specifically Victims of Crime International. And I think the training is going to contribute to that, hopefully as we give people, basically anybody that can get access online can be part of this.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program. I want to re-introduce Will. Will Marling is the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance,, Will, I do want to ask you in terms of your interactions with people in other countries; I would imagine everybody has the same issue. I would imagine there’s not a lot of difference between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Katmandu. I would imagine when you’re victimized; I would imagine the criminal justice system is often times not the most receptive place to, not the most supportive place in terms of dealing with victims, dealing with their trauma, dealing with the emotional aspects of being victimized, dealing with their informational needs. I would imagine those problems exist wherever you are in the world.

Will Marling: I would agree. There can be varying reactions to, and you can understand that from the standpoint of even countries that maybe aren’t strong on human rights, we’re experiencing that. I think it’s kind of funny, you name two places, I actually have talked to people about this very issue. Katmandu and New Mexico, of course all across the country there are incredibly gifted and committed people, and even in Katmandu, it’s fascinating the young lawyer that I talk to there, who is really trying to propel the notion of victims’ rights in the context of humans’ rights and he’s just an amazing fellow. The challenge that we do face in varying ways, and I say we, because the human collective represents a commitment to justice anywhere and everywhere. And what we see is sometimes there’s a difference in resourcing, that can be an issue. And that can be here, you can find remote locations in the country where there aren’t as many resources to assist victims of crimes, or you can find locations here where people aren’t maybe well oriented as professional to the needs that victims face, but certainly that is in other parts of the world. That’s why we’re really trying to propel a global voice and a global concept for folks, so that we can shout on behalf of other people in other places that their voice should be heard, we believe that can be beneficial for them. As well as for victims here.

Len Sipes: But it does get back once again to whether you call it a US constitutional amendment, or embodied within the law in different countries, if it’s not embodied in code, if it’s not part of law, if it’s not part of the training of the judiciary, the law enforcement, individuals within the court system, individuals within corrections, if it’s not embodied within law, it tends to be ignored. Or not taken as seriously as it should be taken.

Will Marling: Indeed. And in fact the European Union passed incredibly powerful legislation to affirm victims’ rights and services, and this is, it’s called an EU Directive in that context because the European nations don’t have a constitution as such, they’re a union. Essentially it’s a confederation of states. So they have to have treaties between all of the member states, the 28. And yet their highest level at this point is an EU Directive and the most, this victims’ rights EU Directive that’s being implemented over the next year specifically. There has to be a plan put in place by every member state, but then of course promoting and implementing that goes well beyond. And so that’s what we’re seeing, you know, Europe is seeing the need for this.

Len Sipes: The steam is picking up; the momentum continues to move forward. Just in the United States and throughout the world.

Will Marling: That’s exactly right. The word momentum is a great word, Len, because it represents what we’re trying to see happen and what we are see happen.

Len Sipes: Alright, we’ve talked about the philosophical underpinnings of victims’ rights in the United States; let’s get down to something very practical and very real. Target credit cards, now the National Organization for Victim Assistance has been involved in cybercrime for the last two or three years. You told me on a previous program that you’ve got so many calls from so many people regarding cybercrime that the National Organization for Victim Assistance was willing to move beyond its traditional role in terms of what I refer to as garden variety street crimes and domestic violence and sexual assaults and robberies and burglaries and those sorts of things into cybercrime because simply there was a demand for it, correct?

Will Marling: That’s right. What we were seeing was cyber of course is an extremely popular type of crime, and naturally, the cyber permeates everything we do. We’re all inter-connected. And so we’re getting victim assistance calls, we take thousands of victim assistance calls on our toll free victim assistance line and every year, and when we began to see this uptick, definitely in request for help and assistance, we said ok, we need to pay attention to this. Quite honestly, it just meant, definitely boning up on a lot of the dimensions that are impacted here. So we began to train ourselves internally. We did a lot of training with staff, so we do victim assistance that way. And the Target breach represents, quite candidly, one of many different types. It was a high profile event, and we had calls on behalf of folks who had experienced compromise there. Ironically, Target itself is considered one of the stronger security committed companies, and they have a lot of appropriate and meaningful policies in place, but when you’re talking about a breach that as I see it or understand it occurred, you’re talking about mechanisms that were able to break into basically vaults of information. So it’s very profound and it scared people.

Len Sipes: The Washington Post the other day editorialized that it’s time to embrace the European model, and from what I understand in terms of the European model is that it’s a chip and code based system. So if you don’t have the chip and if you don’t have the code, you don’t have access to the information in the card, but the really interesting factor is, is right now, if you’re victimized through your credit card, you’re not liable. You don’t have to pay those credit card bills. In the European model evidently, once they market the move over to the chip and the pin system, then suddenly you’re stuck with paying those bills if a bad guy gets a hold of your credit card information. Is that correct?

Will Marling: That’s right. Well, the chip and pin is a significant mechanism to protect information. In our country, of course, a credit card compromise like that is considered technically a crime against the bank. That’s why it gets a little complicated because people’s lives are impacted by it. When my credit card number was breached, I didn’t lose track of my card, they got the number from somewhere, the bank was the one that took on the liability. Now under federal law if you report your loss, you can be liable. It’s three days, you can be liable for $50 up to three days, between that and 60 days, your liability can be $500. I’ve never heard of any bank charging that you know to that consumer. So they consider it, I think, a cost of doing business. But what the chip and pin can do, and I used to live in Europe where the chip and pin was important, that chip and that pin have to be, you know, they have to work together. And that significantly limits the risk associated with breach. And it also means there’s, for the bank’s sake, it’s an opportunity to detect when the consumers are actually committing the fraud because you know, in some ways, they have to say, I’m taking you at your work. I had to sign affidavits, I basically swear that I didn’t cause this, I’m not making a false claim, you know, to affirm that I didn’t make those charges, that somebody else had. I actually think that it could be helpful for everybody. But you know, in our society, it’s an issue of convenience and that’s what we’re trying to encourage people to think about. Ok, so it takes a little bit more time to make a transaction. That’s ok. So it’s takes you another 15 seconds. That’s ok.

Len Sipes: Give everybody and those of us in the criminal justice system the three quickest tips to keep ourselves safe from this sort of crime.

Will Marling: Well, yeah we kind of work from a principle, we try to use principles that kind of can be a little pithy that can help people remember. We tell people you are your data. Think about it in that way, when you get a call and it’s a voice, you don’t actually know who that person is. You think you do, because you want to believe what they’re saying to you. But you have to think, they want your data and they’re going to try to get that out of you. Another principle is very simple. If it has a lock, use it. If your phone has a lock, use it. If anything electronic has a lock, your computer, use your lock. Very few people, even if they would say they live in a safe neighborhood, they lock their car when they get out of it. They use their remote, lock it up. We also, this is a really important one in my view, if somebody asks you for information; it’s perfectly acceptable to say, what for. And when they tell you what for, you can decide, mmm, I don’t know if that’s important enough.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line is being unbelievably judicious in terms of providing that information to anybody and if you have questions as to whether or not you’re talking to the real deal, if you’re interacting with the real deal in terms of an internet message, is to call the bank, call the store, not through the telephone number that they provide, but you look it up, you go on the internet, you look up the number, and you call them and you call the billing department and say ok I’ve got this email message from supposedly you guys, is this legit?

Will Marling: That’s right. There are all kind of scams. I’ll give you one that just came to me yesterday. I got an email, allegedly, from the Arizona court of appeals.

Len Sipes: Really?

Will Marling: Yeah. So the idea was that’s terrifying, what’s going on? Well, I knew it was bogus, but you know, we’re busy, you’re not paying attention and so, even there, you say, when asked for, they asked me to click this link and follow up. Well, I’m saying to myself, well what they want that for? Why would they be emailing me? Of course they wouldn’t be. So once we even stop, most of the time, if we just stop and ask a couple of basic questions, wait a minute, then it all rings false, and then we can just stop, but it’s easy to get paranoid these days. Especially if people telling you stuff like this.

Len Sipes: All of us in the criminal justice system, even those who are suspicious of everybody because we’ve been in the criminal justice system for so long, we still get fooled.

Will Marling: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s a common, primarily because we’re busy people and there’s a lot of data passing. And so if an email gets your network and somebody doesn’t reject it and they forward it on to you, that could be, right there, the lynch pin pulled to access your network. How does that happen? It’s not hard. I mean, again, we’re busy people. So it’s diligence.

Len Sipes: Just a couple minutes left Will. You know, when I did auto theft campaigns years ago, we recognized that if the auto industry just implemented certain security procedures in cars it would drive down auto theft considerably and auto theft over the past five, six years has plummeted because of that. There are many people who are basically saying, look, they’re out there stealing iPhones, they’re out there stealing iPads, they’re stealing my electronic devices, why aren’t the companies making these devices to the point where they can be completely worthless, the companies can shut them down. People are saying why can’t the credit card companies make a credit card in such a way that it’s useless if somebody steals it or steals the information. Do you guys get involved in those sort of endeavors working with the automobile manufacturers, working with the credit card companies, working with Apple and other smart phone manufacturers to improve the security of devices?

Will Marling: Well, we sure would. We’re willing and committed to speaking into these issues, not just from a victim’s standpoint but from a potential victim or consumer standpoint, but you find a lot of forces at work. We know right now that within any given cell phone, you can have basically a kill switch. And there are pros and cons at different levels on that. Some people would be concerned that my phone could be killed if somebody decided to do that outside of me. But we know that technology is available. One of the areas where we kind of stumbled into this is an area where cell phone contraband is making it into prisons. And that is making inmates accessible, it’s giving them access to the outside world, we know that they have committed significant crimes, they’ve called contract hits on perspective witnesses, they’ve harassed, they’ve stalked, and that’s the kind of thing, it’s actually a big problem. And one sweep in a California prison, it was 6,000 phones that were found. So it’s things like that that have ancillary effects as well, not just some of the things that even you named, I lose my phone and all my information is on there, man I’d love for that thing to be destroyed, you know, remotely. Because I don’t want anyone to have access to it. And I don’t want them to have access to your phone, Len, because you might have, we might have been talking about sensitive things, you might have an email from me, my contact information, that’s private. So it behooves us all to pay attention to that very thing.

Len Sipes: Well, I’m going to let you have the final word on that topic. I really do wish that the National Organization for Victim Assistance and everybody who supports victims’ rights throughout the United States to be supportive of a United States constitutional amendment for victims of crimes currently working its way through the House of Representatives and also we are all supportive needless to say of additional, every state in the United States should have a constitutional amendment protecting victims’ rights and I think Will would completely agree on that. Ladies and gentlemen, our guess today has been Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance,, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Employing Ex-Offenders

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

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the show topic today is Employing Ex-Offenders. We have two people under our supervision here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and a Job Development Specialist to talk about this whole process of employing people caught up in the criminal justice system. We have Kenyan Blakely; he is with the Department of Human Resources, the DC Department of Human Resources as a Support Services Assistant. We have Kenneth Trice; he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities. They’re doing facilities and maintenance. And we have Tony Lewis, star of the Washington Post and lots of other media. He is a Job Development Specialist here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency,, On the front page of our website we have radio shows, televisions shows, trying to entice employers into a discussion called crowd sourcing in the social media world, to try to gain some sense of perspective as to what it takes for us to employ or to prompt the employment of people under our supervision. On any given day we have 14,000 people under our supervision, any given year, 23,000, but half are unemployed. Tony Lewis, your job is a Job Development Specialist for CSOSA, welcome.

Tony Lewis: Welcome. I mean, thank you for having me Mr. Sipes.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate all of you guys being here to have this discussion, extraordinary important discussion. Tell me how easy is it to convince employers to hire people under our supervision.

Tony Lewis: It’s not that easy. It’s pretty difficult actually. You know, the analogy that I always use is it’s like as if I have a store, right, and all the merchandise in my store is perceived to be broken and I’m trying to convince the customer to buy it because I have faith in it, I know that it works, but to them they feel like it’s broken. So typically that’s what I do every day all day is trying to convince people that something they perceive to be broken is not necessarily broke and it actually can get the job done. And I think we have a lot of talent in terms of our client base. We have a lot of motivated people, talented people that are ready to go into the workforce.

Len Sipes: Now, I have been doing this, doing radio and television about the criminal justice system for about 20 years. I have spoken to hundreds of people under supervision, who used to be under supervision who are currently employed and their lives are going along just peachy.

Tony Lewis: Sure.

Len Sipes: We know that the research indicates that when they’re employed, the better they do under supervision, the less they recidivate, the less they come back into the criminal justice system. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. You and I have both talked to hundreds and hundreds of people who have successfully made that transformation from the prison system to being good citizens through employment. So what’s wrong with our message? What are we not doing that we should be doing to prompt the people, employers, to hire people under our supervision?

Tony Lewis: To me I think we are taking all the proper steps. I think what happens is that there’s a stigma associated with people that have been incarcerated, previously incarcerated. And so when one person or two people, you know, so to speak, that happens to get an opportunity and blow their opportunity or reoffend, I think it can never—it has a much more significant impact than a hundred people that do it the right people. And I think that’s the issue more so than us not taking the proper—cause we’re preparing our offenders that we supervise, we’re taking them through steps for them to prove their commitment, we’re presenting talented and people with the proper skill sets to do the job and I think hiring policies across the board is probably the biggest barrier. Because hiring policies take like such a broad stroke in terms of have you ever been convicted of a felony or, you know, it’s no case-by-case basis. People are not looked at as individuals. They’re grouped into these pools and they’re put into groups where these stereotypes are really prompted by one or two individuals that made bad decisions. And so I think we’ve got to chip away at the hiring policies and maybe look to redefine those.

Len Sipes: is the website. On the website you’re going to find radio and television shows, again, designed to prompt that conversation with the employment community. We’re inviting people to come and talk to us and give us information in terms of what it is that we can do in terms of making it easier for people to hire people under our supervision. I want to go to our two gentlemen who are currently under supervision. And we have Kenyan Blakely as I said and Kenneth Trice. Gentleman, either one of you can go and run with this question. So, everybody, not everybody, there’s a lot of people out there who have the stereotype that people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, I’m just not going to deal with them. I’m not going to hire them. I don’t care about them. I’m not going to support programs for them. It’s a little harder when you’re sitting here face-to-face as I’ve talked to literally thousands of people who are doing well, who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, but now they’re doing well. People use the word criminal, well that applies to both of you. They say I’m not going to hire criminals. So I’m going to start off with Kenneth. Are you a criminal, is that how you see yourself?

Kenneth Trice: No Leonard, I’m not a criminal.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Kenneth Trice: I just made bad judgments.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: And now I’m okay.

Len Sipes: And you’re okay because of why, because of how, what happened? I mean, you’re with one of the greatest faith institutions in Washington, DC, the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. I mean, it’s known, not just throughout the District of Columbia, it’s known throughout the country. Is that how you were able to cross that bridge, by working with them?

Kenneth Trice: No. It came from my CSO.

Len Sipes: Your Community Supervision Officer?

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Otherwise known as Parole and Probation Agents for everybody listening throughout—beyond DC.

Kenneth Trice: Yes. It started with him. He put me on GPS leg, angel bracelet.

Len Sipes: Right, Global Positioning System monitoring.

Kenneth Trice: And then he referred me to the VOTE Unit and from there I went into Project Empowerment and from there I got placed at Greater Mount Calvary. From there I was just in the program and then once my time was up they picked me up, I started as a part-time worker. That phase lasted for maybe four or five months and then they hired me full-time, benefits and everything and now I’m just focused. It’s all about determination and perseverance. You’ve just got to be—you’ve got to know what you want, bottom line. If you feel that you—you’re going to do wrong regardless, its just nature, but you have to I guess overlook it, I guess.

Len Sipes: What did the job mean to you in terms of crossing that bridge?

Kenneth Trice: Well, it means a lot. I’m no longer, I mean, I’m still looked at as maybe an offender. I don’t want to call myself a criminal. I’m looked at as an offender but now that I have gainful employment I feel that another employer will hire me. They may overlook my background being as though I’ve been working now.

Len Sipes: But you believe that you’ve proved yourself, that you have crossed that bridge, you are now a taxpayer, you’re not a tax burden, you are what everybody in society wants you to be.

Kenneth Trice: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: Okay, and how does that feel?

Kenneth Trice: It feels wonderful.

Len Sipes: And what message would you give to other people who have the opportunity to employ somebody like you?

Kenneth Trice: Please employ them.

Len Sipes: And they would do that because of why? They would employ somebody caught up in the criminal justice system for what reason?

Kenneth Trice: To give them a chance to prove themselves.

Len Sipes: All right. And Kenyan, Kenyan Blakely, again, working for the Department of Human Resources for DC Government, a Support Services Assistant, the same questions are going to go to you, I mean, these are tough questions. I use the term criminal advisedly. I have heard from employers in the past I’m not going to hire ex-cons, I’m not going to hire criminals and it is like they—what they are meaning is is that everybody falls into one category. They have a mental image of exactly who they are. They have a mental image of the fact that they’re going to create problems for me, thereby; I’m not going to hire them. But then again I sit down with the two of you and I don’t see fangs, I don’t see blood dripping from your teeth, I see just two regular guys who are now doing well partially because of employment, correct or incorrect?

Kenyan Blakely: Correct.

Kenneth Trice: Correct.

Len Sipes: All right, well tell me that. Get closer to the microphone.

Kenyan Blakely: I’ve always—I’ve had jobs, you know, I’ve been on—probably since prior to being on CSOSA and I went on a bunch of job interviews, went on job interviews this go round and I’ve had people pull me to the side and say your resume is excellent, your work ethic, everything, but it’s just, you know, it’s just that background. You can’t pass that background check or it’s not in my hands, it’s in someone else’s hands and they want to go with—but they took a chance on hiring them. Why you can’t take a chance on hiring me? You have people who have committed no crime ever in life, but their work ethic sucks. So you have to take a chance on someone, why not take a chance with someone who has a lot to loose, but a lot go gain too also. So, you know, it’s give and take with it. Like I’ve had people straight up tell me to my face outside of the office, I want you, I want you for this position, but I can’t bring you in. And they would just tell me, you know, don’t stop looking, and I’ve never stopped looking. I’ve always had two jobs. I’ve always had a part-time job on the weekend and now I have full-time employment. Like I said, I’ve started in the program with Tony a whole, almost a year in the program and I got a phone call and it’s like come upstairs you’re going on an interview. I’m like interview for what? They were like people watch you.

Len Sipes: That’s great. What does the job mean to you in terms of your ability or inability to return to crime?

Kenyan Blakely: It was never really—it was choices that we made. Those choices were wrong. I admit those. I’m the first to admit anything that I’ve every done wrong, but now, you know, as a father, I’m a father of two, you know, you just want to be able to not leave them anymore. Not to lose everything that you’ve gained, lose it over and over and over, come home to have nothing, now I’m building to have everything that I lost to have back. You know, I have a daughter that’s six, I have a son that’s 12. I never want to leave them again. I never want them to look up and be like where’s my dad. I can’t talk to him when I want to. I can’t see him. So those are the things that linger in the back of your head at all times. So when I come to work on them days I don’t feel like getting up, those are my get up, let’s go and it’s no holding back, no, oh, it’s cold outside, I don’t feel like getting, no, I’m in there every day.

Len Sipes: Tony Lewis, we have credits, tax credits—

Tony Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: For people who do hire people under supervision, we do have a bonding program, there’s a Federal bonding program that mitigates the amount of risk that they have. All of this is available on our website, All right, so from a societal point of view it is extraordinarily important that people who we supervise find work.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely. It increases public safety for one. Like you spoke about people working are less prone or less likely to break the law and these two gentlemen can attest to that. They’re a representation of many people—the ones that we are able to get employed. And the program that they spoke about is the Transitional Employment Program that we have here at CSOSA. That’s in partnership with the DC Department of Employment Services. Where we basically place individuals in jobs where we pay they salary. It’s a stipend, a subsidized wage, but it gives them an opportunity to audition and so you can see these people for themselves and not just a person on paper that broke the law in the past. And that may be ten years ago, it may be two years ago, it may be 20 years ago, it gives an opportunity for that person to highlight their skillset, learn new skills and it’s for people to see them as human beings and not just a quote, unquote, criminal. And so the beauty of that program is that that’s what it affords to no cost to the employer. Now I know that’s not something that exists all across the country, but when people have an opportunity to see these guys every day and to gauge their work ethic and see their personalities and to know that they’re fathers and things like that, it really helps the employer to see them in a different light.

Len Sipes: But that’s the thing that always killed me gentleman, and anybody can come into this conversation, is that you can have the image; you can watch the 6:00 news and hear the news about somebody doing something terrible to another human being. You can watch the 6:00 news, the 11:00 news, pick up the newspaper, read the same sort of stuff, there’s a certain point you say to yourself, man, the people involved in this stuff, I’m not going to have anything to do with. I’m going to move as far away as I possibly can from them and I’m just not going to have anything to do with them. But then, again, you sit and talk eyeball-to-eyeball as we’re doing now and you’re just regular guys. You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news. You’re just regular guys.

Kenneth Trice: Exactly.

Len Sipes: You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news, you’re just regular guys. How can we transmit that, hey, I’m a regular guy, I just need a chance. I understand I screwed up. I understand I made mistakes, but please do not hold that against me for the rest of my life. How do you transmit that information to people who hire?

Kenneth Trice: I think a lot of companies need to change their hiring process. Not just to—you’ve got two strikes against you, you have one, either your credit is bad or you’re a criminal. Why should those two things stop you from gaining employment? Like you need employment. If you don’t have employment for people they’ll turn to do other things to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: They’re going to say, but I’ve got plenty of people who don’t have those backgrounds. I’ve got plenty of people with good credit without a criminal background, why am I going to hire the dude—

Kenyan Blakely: I got a point for you.

Len Sipes: Go please.

Kenyan Blakely: If you have all those people that you work for, do a background check after the fact, a lot of them won’t tell you that they have a criminal past after they’ve been hired. So you will never know if you don’t go back and do a background check every year or so often on an employer. You have employees who’ve been at companies prior to them getting in trouble but the company will never know, but they’ll be like, oh, we don’t—once you have the job it’s okay. What you do before that—

Len Sipes: Because they get to know you.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: They get to see you as a worker so the criminal background disappears because all they see is a good worker. How do we get people to that point? But hold that thought cause I want to reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We’re talking about employing ex-offenders. We’ve got Tony Lewis, Job Development Specialist with my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, We have Kenyan Blakely, he is with the Department of Human Resources for the District of Columbia, Support Services Assistant and we have Kenneth Trice, he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities & Maintenance. How we convince, again, you know, get beyond the stereotype, get you in there, sit down, talk to you because all three of us, four of us in the room know that after six months that criminal history disappears. All we have to do is get beyond that point of hiring and that point of success. How do we get to that point?

Kenyan Blakely: Give people a chance.

Len Sipes: Okay, but there again, they’re going to say, once again, I’ve got some people here without a criminal history and I’ve got some people here with a great credit background. If I’ve got to give somebody a chance, I’m going to go with a guy without a criminal history and without a bad credit history. I’m going to increase the odds of a successful employment in their minds by employing the person without the background.

Kenneth Trice: I think what happens, Mr. Sipes, is that when you find, from a business standpoint, it’s about the bottom line, right.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: So for me as a job developer, my thing is to say I’m not asking for a hand out, I’m here to help you by being able to connect with talent, right, something that’s going to increase your bottom line, going to increase your productivity. And the other part of that is that it’s no way, you know, when you hire whomever, no matter what their background is, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. So businesses have to, I think, take a standpoint to say if this person’s crime does not have a rational relationship, so let’s be very clear, we’re not saying if you robbed a bank, you should be able to work at Wells Fargo, right.

Len Sipes: Or if you’re a sex offender you should be doing daycare, nobody’s saying that.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely, no, nobody’s saying that, but if I committed a crime five years ago that has no relationship to the job, why can’t I work there?

Len Sipes: We have, the bottom line I want to make is that we have good people right now under our supervision; we have 14,000 human beings under our supervision right now, 23,000 human beings under our supervision in any given year. We’ve got people right now ready to go who are not a risk to public safety, who have real skills, who don’t have drug positives, they’re ready to go right now. We can give them tax credits to get them involved in the bonding program, plus they have their Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, who can help the employer deal with problems if they come up.

Kenneth Trice: And a Vocational Development Specialist.

Len Sipes: And a Vocational Development Specialist and in many cases training that we and the District of Columbia and other cities throughout the country get involved in and plus we have GED programs, we have educational programs, we have job readiness programs. Why would you not come to us if we can deliver a talented person ready to work.

Kenneth Trice: Sure. And sometimes people that you’re hiring, even if the person’s out of college, sometimes people out of college haven’t necessarily even, in my mind, had the training. I mean, I think about the training that we provide here at CSOSA and I think about, wow, if I had that going into the job market, like if I learned things, I mean, just whether it’s interviewing, whether it’s, you know, just gaining a concept of workplace expectations. I learned that on the fly. We’re preparing people to enter the workforce and stay there through our programming. I mean, you know, and even we’re taking steps to even interface with people pre-release, myself and Mr. Blakely, our first communication started when he was in River’s Correctional Institution via teleconference. And then he met with Whittington and she did what she does and then he got referred from her to the program. Kenny Trice met with Dr. Sutton and she did what she does in terms of prepping him and gauging his readiness and gauging his commitment. Then he got referred to the program. So there’s rigger in terms of what we do because when we present people to the workforce, we’re trying to present someone that we’re going to be confident in, somebody’s that already proven to us that they’re legit and that they’re ready. So it’s not just like, hey, somebody gets off a bus from prison and we’re sending them to you as the employer and saying, hey, you should give them a job. No, we’re taking the proper steps to ensure that whoever we refer to you is somebody that’s going to come in and increase your productivity.

Len Sipes: Okay, and so, and anybody can jump in on this conversation, don’t hold back. Okay, so, generally speaking, within the District of Columbia, generally speaking, within major cities throughout the country, you have unemployment somewhere around six to eight percent. We have unemployment at 50%.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Okay, so all the wonderful things that we’ve just said, bonding programs, tax credits, training, GED, workforce development, you’ve got all that going for us, you’ve got a Job Developer whose going to work with you, you’ve got a Community Supervision Officer, ala, Parole and Probation Agent, but yet you can not escape the numbers, six to eight percent versus 50%. Why is that?

Kenyan Blakely: I think a lot of people just need to wake up from what they’re doing and really understand that you need gainful employment, like you can’t play with it, I don’t care what it is that you do, but, bottom line, you don’t want to be too old and not be able to get a job. Like me, I just want them to know that I have skills; every day that I go to work I’m showing you my skills.

Len Sipes: But, bottom line, how many people are there like you?

Kenyan Blakely: There are a lot. There are a lot.

Len Sipes: So tell me, how many?

Kenyan Blakely: I think there are over 20,000 in this city that want to work.

Len Sipes: All right. So we’ve got thousands of people right now—I can’t speak for everybody in the District, I’m talking about people under our supervision here at CSOSA. We all know the folks. We interact with them every single day.

Kenyan Blakely: Sure.

Len Sipes: And we know that some aren’t ready, we know that some are still struggling, we know that some are pulling drug positives, we know that some are hanging out on the corner causing problems.

Kenneth Trice: Right, but we’re not talking about them.

Len Sipes: We know that, but we’re not talking about them.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: We’re not asking for charity.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay, so if we’re tossing them off to the side and we’re talking about people, real grown-ups who are ready to work and who are going to do a good job for you, how many are we talking about?

Tony Lewis: I think we, in the City, I mean, under supervision I think probably out of your 14,000, I think you probably, strongly, probably half. I’m going to give you 7,000.

Len Sipes: Seven thousand human beings that aren’t employed that are ready to go. They’re not employed for what reason?

Tony Lewis: Some people I think they just need a chance or just some people they have to show that they want to work, like the work ethic. Like everybody that comes through the program isn’t going to make it, everybody that comes through CSOSA, we already know isn’t going to make it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: You know, you have those who like, when they come through the door, hey, I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: Life doesn’t work that way. Until you get that in your head that you’ve got to follow these rules, cause most people, we don’t want to get up and go to work, we want to sit home, you know, you have to work, that’s just it. I have never been the type person that didn’t want to work.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve never been able to figure out how to get around not working. I’ve been looking for that my entire life and I haven’t found it yet. But, you know, Kenyan, I talked to you, you’re interviewing perfectly, you have bright eye, you know, eye contact, delivering everything perfect, I would hire you in a second.

Kenyan Blakely: Appreciate that.

Len Sipes: I would hire you in a second. You know, Kenneth, same way with you. You’re looking at me direct, you’re interviewing well, I would hire you in a second. What is it that I am getting that everybody else is not getting? Everybody else is sitting out there and saying, okay, dude, look they’re caught in the criminal justice system. I already told you I’m not going to hire somebody caught up in the criminal justice system.

Tony Lewis: Most companies just can’t get past that.

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that, it’s background.

Kenneth Trice: The hiring policies, and especially Len, when we’re talking about today’s world, talking about 90% of job searches done via the internet and you have, you know, questions, have you ever been convicted of a felony. And a lot of times you check yes, that’s it for you, that’s an eliminator. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it doesn’t matter what you did, it’s like no. And especially, we’re talking about here in the District of Columbia where you have probably the most bustling job market in the country, right, where you’ve got the most moved to place America. People are coming here solely because of the strength of the job market but we have native Washingtonians, we have people under supervision who can’t get a job at all. You know what I mean? It shouldn’t even be an issue but at the end of the day people aren’t being judged on their skillset, they’re being judged just solely based on crime.

Len Sipes: All right. And there’s a certain point—what we’re saying is is that fundamentally, morally, ethically, that could be wrong, is wrong, but more importantly, we’re saying to a business person, because business hires, does 80% of the hiring, you’re not protecting your bottom line because there are good people that you could be hiring.

Kenneth Trice: Precisely.

Len Sipes: You’re not making the money you could be making, you’re not doing as well as you could be doing because we’ve got 7,000 people ready to rock and roll right now.

Kenneth Trice: So, and 7,000 people, something that Kenyan brought up, that may possibly work harder than your just normal Joe Blow, because they have everything to lose. They’re going to value their job because they know they just can’t go anywhere and get a job.

Len Sipes: You know, in the 20 years of interviewing people that’s one of the most powerful points is that I’ve got so much to lose I am not going to screw this up.

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s a powerful incentive, I mean, look, I mean, Kenyan just basically said, I’m not going to leave my kids again.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And we’re not talking about just people under supervision, we’re talking about the fact that most people under supervision got kids.

Kenneth Trice: That’s right. Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re not just talking about them, we’re talking about kids. So now instead of the 7,000, let’s times it by two just to be on the average, so now we’re talking about 14,000 human beings.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: Let alone spouses, you know—

Kenneth Trice: Sure. Sure.

Len Sipes: And another 7,000, we’re up to 20,000 people. We’re up to 20,000 people affected and their lives are coming to a halt because you’re saying to yourself, Mr. Employer, this guy ten years ago committed a burglary, I’m not touching him.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Is that it? Is it that stark? Is it that real?

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that real.

Len Sipes: And what we’ve got to do to get beyond that reality is what gentlemen? How do we convince them?

Kenyan Blakely: Give them a chance.

Len Sipes: Give them a chance.

Kenyan Blakely: Just give them a chance. But like me, for instance, my last interview that I went on, they looked at everything, they asked me questions about it, they went straight to it and I told them if you give me a chance I won’t let you down. Everybody that sat in front of me—there was four people on the panel. I left out, an hour later I got an e-mail, offer letter and everything, you know, just like we’re going to give you a shot. It was two other people and they gave me the shot and I was happy. And to this day they’re still looking at me like, Kenyan, you’re in here. I’m trying, like I don’t want to—like I’ve been at my job almost a year. I come from—my first agency was, as a matter of fact, what was that—the Agency for Public Affairs, and I was under the Mayor’s Office, I worked for Officer of Partnerships and Grant Services and now I work for DC Department of Human Resources. And like I met so many people through the agencies, through District Government and, you know, they don’t know your story until you talk to them and then when you give them some insight they’re like wow, like you came from that to this. Yes, I did. Like a lot of people can’t walk in those shoes.

Len Sipes: Tony, you’ve got 30 seconds before we have to wrap up. I’m going to give you a chance to close. What do we say to people, what do we say to employers, what do we say to their husbands and wives, what do we say to get them to give people like Kenyan, like Kenneth, a chance.

Tony Lewis: Bottom line is that we have talented, motivated people that can potentially bring new ideas, can increase your productivity and an overall sense, I think it’s just better for society and our community when we have people gainfully employed. It leads to a safer environment, it leads to a more productive environment and, you know, we need everybody who can help should and I think we’re moving in the right direction and at the same time the people that we supervise also have to be accountable to continue to do the right thing and not reoffend.
Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to pull together.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to row the same boat in the same direction.

Tony Lewis: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: All right. Gentleman, I really want to thank you very much for being with us today. It was an extraordinarily important topic. I do want to remind all of our listeners, again, at our website, We have a series of radio and television shows where we talk about this issue of hiring people under supervision. We really do want people to call us, contact us, let us know how we can do a better job of preparing people to be employed with their company. You can always give me a call, 202-220-5616, 202-220-5616. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Reentry in D.C.-Upcoming Events-Interview With Nancy Ware-200th Radio Show

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes and for our 200th radio show, we started our programs, ladies and gentlemen, in 1996. The topic of today’s program is Reentry in the District of Columbia and reentry reflections, an array of activities here in the District of Columbia celebrating and discussing the successes and challenges of those returning from prison. Our guest today is Nancy Ware and Nancy serves as the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. She leads 800 Federal employees in providing community supervision for over 14,000 adults on probation, parole and supervised release in the District of Columbia, that’s 23,000 individuals every year. Nancy has over three decades of experience in the management and administration of juvenile and adult criminal justice programs. She was the first Executive Director for the DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council where, for eight years, she forged a cooperative relationship between DC government and Federal agencies to improve public safety. Miss Ware also served as the Director of Technical Assistance and Training for the Department of Justice’s Wait and See Program and as Director of the National Program for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier in her career she also served as the Executive Director of the Rain Coalition, the Citizen Education Fund and the District of Columbia Mayor’s Youth Initiative. Nancy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy Ware: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: All right. We have some events coming up and I briefly want to go over those events before talking about reentry in the District of Columbia. On Saturday, February 28th, an event that I absolutely adore, the Women’s Reentry Forum where we talk about women coming back out of the prison system and also women who are currently under our supervision, Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00. We’ll mention these a little bit later. And on Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. a really interesting experience, a Citywide Reentry Assembly where we’ll recognize the accomplishments of our faith based initiative and our mentors and mentees of the year. That happens at St Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, again, on February 20th from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Nancy, you know, this concept of reentry, you know, this is being discussed all throughout the United States. It’s being debated all throughout the United States. So first of all, let me go into some basics, what is reentry and why is it important.

Nancy Ware: Well in the District of Columbia we look at reentry as a process through which an individual transitions from prison and returns back to their community. But what’s important about reentry for CSOSA is that we expand that definition to include individuals who are under supervision and we see reentry for them, not only those returning from prison, but also those who are under supervision returning to become constructive, positive members of their community and free of all crime and free of all the burdens that crime and the history of crime bring with it. So for us reentry and the definition of reentry and that process is a very broad definition.

Len Sipes: We need to do reentry in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States because it’s within everybody’s best interest to do reentry, correct?

Nancy Ware: Right.

Len Sipes: I mean, if we do nothing we continue the crime problem that we’ve always had in the past.

Nancy Ware: That’s true. And, as you know, our mission here in our agency is to reduce recidivism, to improve the successful reintegration of men and women who are under supervision and to transition them back to stability so that they can, again, as I said before, become productive members of their communities. But we also want to be sure that we address a part of the city’s population who are often the most disenfranchised and marginalized. And so it is an important initiative to look at reentry broadly and to embrace folks who are trying to get their lives back on track again so that they don’t feel that they have to return to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: Now this isn’t just an issue for the District of Columbia, this is an issue for the entire country. It’s an issue that goes beyond, in fact, the United States. These discussions are happening in France, are happening in Canada, they’re happening in Great Britain, they’re happening in Asian countries. So this whole concept of making sure that people have the services both in prison and after they leave prison to cut back on the rate of recidivism, that conversation is happening. Now it may be happening in some jurisdictions because states are saying, hey, you know, we just cannot, no longer afford the amount of incarceration that we’ve had in the past. It’s been done for that reason and it’s also being done because people simply see it as a more effective way of administrating justice.

Nancy Ware: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think that we’re in a time now that probably offers us some opportunities that we need to take advantage of as it pertains to reintegrating folks back into their communities constructively. Because, as you mentioned, throughout the United States, and I’m sure this is true in other parts of the world, but particularly here in the United States, we want to decrease the numbers that we’re placing in prisons unnecessarily. And by unnecessarily I mean those people who haven’t committed violent crimes, who are low level offenders, don’t need to be populating our prisons to increase over crowdedness because we really are not finding that prison is the most rehabilitative places for people to get their lives back on track. We feel that they have more opportunities for rehabilitation once they’re back into the communities and they can get those supports, treatment, housing and jobs that they need.

Len Sipes: And what you’re talking about is justice reimbursement, not reimbursement, what am I talking about.

Nancy Ware: Reinvestment.

Len Sipes: Reinvestment, thank you very much. And we’re going to be having the folks from PEW and the Urban Institute by these microphones to talk about that very topic in the upcoming near future. But the whole idea is that there’s safer, saner ways to administer justice and to keep our resources focused on higher risk individuals that do pose a risk to public safety and to do quote, unquote, something else with lower risk individuals, right?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct. And we definitely have to use our partners as part of our continuum of supports because we couldn’t do it alone, just as the police department can’t do it alone as far as protecting our citizens and providing public safety. We all have to be partners in this effort. Thus we talk about reentry reflections month because it is an opportunity for us to educate the public on why this is such an important effort and an important area to focus on. And we use that month to provide us an opportunity to reflect, to dialogue, to educate and to celebrate because we have a lot of things that we can celebrate, a lot of people that we can celebrate who make it possible for men and women to successfully reintegrate into the community.

Len Sipes: And we’re doing a better job here at CSOSA in terms of the 14,000 people, on any given day, 23,000, on any given year. We’re doing a better job of improving our success rate. So there are more people doing our period of time more successfully than before, correct.

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and, you know, CSOSA has done a yeoman’s job in supporting public safety in the District of Columbia because of our efforts in supervision where we hold offenders accountable but also provide them with opportunities through our risk and needs assessment, through our treatment and support services and, as I said before, through our partnerships with other agencies that provide those services as well, treatment, jobs, housing, education and the like.

Len Sipes: What’s your personal feeling on all this? I have seen you in action when you were in charge of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. And I’ve seen you in action in dozens of community events discussing this whole concept of doing it better, doing a better job and we’re talking about a better job. We’re talking about a better job in terms of reducing crime; we’re talking about a better job in terms of having a system that is fair, more just but more effective. That’s been, every time I’ve listened to you talk about reentry, those have been the themes that you’ve talked about. So talk to me about those cause you’ve been in the community a lot, talking to a lot of people about this.

Nancy Ware: Right. Well I think that, first and foremost, it’s important for us to educate the public on the promise of reentrance. We always talk about the failures, but we need to talk more about their needs and the promise of reentrance. And by that I mean that we need to shed a light on the fact that there are many men and women among us who are working in stores, who are lawyers, who are working with the legislative branch, who are on radio shows and who are empowered to promote the issue that or the notion that folks who return from incarceration or supervision can also be productive citizens and have a commitment many times to becoming productive citizens if allowed those opportunities.

Len Sipes: Seven hundred thousand people leave prison throughout this country every year according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I think it’s seven times that number leave jail. Every year there’s about 2,300 people that come back to the District of Columbia from Federal prison. So what we’re talking about is something of enormous value and having an enormous impact on our day-to-day safety, our day-to-day lives. People coming from the prison system, people coming back from jails cannot be ignored. If they are ignored it is at our own peril.

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and we have to also appreciate that there are unique issues facing folks who return. There are unique issues facing women who oftentimes have had histories of violence, abuse, sexual and physical abuse and there are special issues related to young people who are of a different culture who often need programs that are really focused on what they can relate to and adhere to. And we also have to focus on our specialized population, those who’ve been involved in domestic violence, those who are mental health clients, so that we provide them with every opportunity for successful reintegration.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why you’ve chosen CSOSA to focus on high-risk offenders, to focus on youthful individuals, to focus on women caught up in the criminal justice system. Those have been your three hallmark priorities after being at CSOSA, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and that brings us back to some of the events that have been taking place during this prestigious time of reentry reflections. One of the events that I recently participated in was on Sunday, January the 19th. It was our Justice Sunday. It kicks off our reentry reflections month throughout February and it was held this year at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast. And it was an awesome event under the leadership and guidance of Archbishop Owens and his wife, Reverend Owens. We had an event that must have had more than 2,000 people participate in his church.

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy Ware: It was just amazing.

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy Ware: And it was particularly inspiring because Bishop Owens, during the service, recognized his cousin who had just returned from prison several days before the service. And the struggles that they had gone through to get him released to Bishop Owens’ family and the struggles ahead for him, but the efforts that they were taking in committing themselves to personally to help him get on his feet again. And you could see even from his affect during the service that he’s already well on his way to getting on his feet again. But during the service we also the opportunity to observe a call out that Bishop Owens made to his congregation and we must have had over 200 members from the congregation come up on the pulpit to connect with Bishop Owens and to admit that they’d had involvement in the criminal justice system. So you see here in DC we have a huge population of folks who have come in to the criminal system one way or another and are looking to find ways to provide an avenue for themselves and their loved ones to get reconnected with their community constructively.

Len Sipes: But you’re talking to people throughout the United States, you’re talking to people in several countries overseas and I’m not quite sure there’s anybody amongst us who does not have a friend, family member, somebody close to us who has not been caught up in the criminal justice system. So I don’t think it’s just the District of Columbia, I think this is a national issue. I can’t think of anybody who is not personally involved in this topic simply because they have experienced it personally.

Nancy Ware: And that’s why since 2002 CSOSA has really committed our resources to promoting the reentry events during reentry reflection. Because we feel that one of the major things that we need to do is to increase public awareness and to engage the public in stepping forward, mentoring men and women who are returning or who are under supervision and need positive role models. So part of what we want to do throughout this month is to encourage folks to step forward and work with us to help men and women to retrieve their hope and to retrieve their belief that they can, again, become stable and reintegrate successfully.

Len Sipes: I do want to talk about those two issues in terms of women in the criminal justice system and our faith based mentoring program, but we’re halfway through the program and I do want to reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, for our 200th radio show, we started this whole process back in 1996. Today’s guest is Nancy Ware. She is the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender’s Supervision Agency. We’re here to talk about reentry in the District of Columbia. But in particular we’re interested in talking about two, we’re promoting two events that are coming up in the near future. The Women’s Reentry Forum on Saturday, February 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 in the afternoon, Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast, extraordinarily interesting event. And the City Wide Reentry Assembly, which to me is one of the most colorful, interesting, sound, loving, you know, just really heartfelt events that I’ve ever witnessed in my years within the criminal justice system. That’s at the St Luke Church Center at 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast. That’s Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Nancy, let’s talk about women caught up in the criminal justice system, which is one of the reasons why we’re having the Women’s Reentry Forum. I had an individual, and I’ve had individuals beyond her at our microphone, had an individual in the previous show talking about the difficulty women experience when they come out of the prison system. I mean, you know, mental health is very high, sexual abuse is very high; substance abuse is high, higher than the male populations. Seventy to 80% have children. They come out and they need housing, they need to be reunified with their children. They have to deal with all these issues. They have to find work. As I said to my last guest, we were talking about the Women’s Reentry Forum, it sometimes seems almost impossible for them to overcome all the difficulties that they face.

Nancy Ware: But we’ve had some inspirational stories of women who’ve overcome a lot of those obstacles. And what we’ve observed is that a large percentage of women who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system, it results from domestic violence often and women finding—having to find ways to take care of themselves, often taking care of their children and often being easily pulled into criminal activities in order to survive. And that’s not an excuse but it is something that we need to take into account as we look at the history of many women who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system and their trials and tribulations and their odyssey towards reintegration. And so in recognition of the special needs of women we have a number of initiatives that we put in place to try to address their needs better under supervision. We have general gender specific supervision units that work exclusively with women on some of their issues and concerns and history. We have teams that have been created on special floors in our Reentry and Sanction Center, which is a residential facility for our returning citizens. And then we have a center that provides intensive assessment in a gender specific context. So we’ve done a number of things within our agency to better address the needs of women. And women with children is a whole unique area that we’re beginning to explore now through some of the work that we’re doing with the Bureau of Prisons to try to better connect women who are still in prison but scheduled to come out with their children through video conferencing. So we’re very excited about that new initiative and we’d like to keep our listeners posted on how we progress with that.

Len Sipes: Now it’s just not new initiatives, you reorganized the agency around women and around youthful offenders, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And that’s extraordinary. We’re not just talking about introducing some new programs; we’re talking about changing things in a fairly substantial way, reorganizing, and making sure that we have the resources directed to the best possible people who really need them.

Nancy Ware: Yeah, I think folks need special training to work with these diverse populations. So that’s what we’ve done here at CSOSA to be sure that we have staff trained that understand the needs of their populations that they work with and that can do the best that we can do to help them as they move through their journey. One of the things that I love about this agency is that we have committed staff who work very hard to try to get folks back on track. But we also have the unique approach, which I think is very progressive, that we don’t see ourselves just as a law enforcement agency. Although public safety is our primary mission, we also see ourselves as an agency that addresses the needs of the individuals under supervision so that we can try to provide them as much as possible the resources that they are in need of to get them back on their feet again.

Len Sipes: I just looked at research from the Washington State Policy Institute. Now it’s a state agency but it does probably one of the best jobs in terms of reviewing the research and providing research summations. And new research came out the other day where they said just supervising individuals gets us no return from a dollar point of view. Supervising individuals, prioritizing their needs, prioritizing them in terms of risk and providing them with the services does have a huge impact—does have a huge payoff. So, in essence, what we are doing is employing the state of the art. There is nothing that we’re doing that has not been advocated. Now CSOSA’s been doing this for a long time, I do want to make that point, but everything that we’re doing is advocated by national experts, national criminologists and the Department of Justice in terms of doing risk and needs assessments, figuring out the best possible modes of supervision and treatment for individuals under supervision. And providing those who need services, providing them with those services or gaining partnerships with other agencies especially our faith based volunteers, lots of others, in terms of making sure that they have the services that they need. This is all basically state of the art, right?

Nancy Ware: It is and we base a lot of our practice on best practice around the country and around the world. Things that we can glean from the research that’s been provided in the field, we try to bring it into the agency so that we use the most up-to-date practice to address the needs of those under our supervision. And I think this also takes us to why it’s so important to have these partnerships. And one of the partnerships that I feel, as I mentioned earlier, is a very strong one is with our faith community. As you heard earlier we kicked off Reentry Reflections with our Justice Sunday at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church because they’re one of the primary partners that helps us with our mentoring program. And they have been exceptionally supportive to those men and women that we serve. But in addition to that we have other faith community partners throughout the District of Columbia who provide long-standing support for those returning from prison and those under supervision as well as other government agencies and community groups throughout the city who are able to provide some of the services that we are not funded for. Clearly we can’t do it all. So our partnerships have to engage other agencies, other community based organizations and our faith partners so that we can maximize, throughout the city, the resources available. And to that end, at the end of Reentry Reflections we always have a wonderful tribute to our partners and that’s done, as you mentioned earlier, on February 20th, Thursday, the City Wide Reentry Assembly, which is truly a celebration. It’s a celebration of those partnerships. It’s a celebration of the success of the men and women who’ve worked with mentors and tried to get on their feet again and have been successful. There’s song, there’s music, there’s speakers, we have food. We encourage the community to come out and join us to celebrate and to shed a light on this issue and the success of so many who’ve really made it.

Len Sipes: It is absolutely one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting, events of my career. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for over 40 years and I can remember my first reentry celebration at St Luke’s. And I just sat there and stood there and I just said to myself, wow. If people could only see this, experience it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it, I mean, it’s just loud, it’s raucous, it’s interesting. We ordinarily have a choir there. It’s a very, very, very uplifting event.

Nancy Ware: Yes.

Len Sipes: And when we in the criminal justice system have an opportunity to do something uplifting, it is rare, but at the same time exciting and so people should come to this event.

Nancy Ware: And it is going to be held at another partner of ours, the St Luke Center, which is on 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, which you mentioned earlier. And it’s in the evening so folks can leave work, come on over, get a bite to eat. We serve a full dinner. And we just would love to have as many members of the community who are interested to come and join us. It’s from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Len Sipes: Now the partnerships, before getting away from them. I mean, there are too many partner to mention. I mean, we have on our website, we keep track of the different people providing services and there are dozens and dozens and dozens of organizations here in the District of Columbia. And I would also remind everybody who’s listening beyond the District of Columbia; it’s in your city as well. It’s in your state as well. But it seems, in my mind, interesting that the District of Columbia seems to be really supportive of the concept of reentry. There are, again, I think the last time I took a look there were like 200 organizations in total. I mean, anywhere from the Salvation Army to dozens and dozens and dozens of churches and mosques and synagogues to lots of non-profits. I mean, I would guess that we may be better off in the District of Columbia on the topic of reentry than a lot of other cities through the country. There seems to be—we seem to be galvanized around that particular point of doing whatever it is that we can to assist individuals coming out of the prison system, caught up in the criminal justice system.

Nancy Ware: Well that’s very, very true Len and one of the things that I think is the beauty of CSOSA is that we’re creative. We definitely come with creative solutions. We’re constantly challenging ourselves as an agency to continue to grow and to continue to figure out ways to better address the needs of our population. For example, many of you know, in our listening audience that the District of Columbia no longer runs its own prison system, so we work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And that became a true challenge for us when that change occurred because it meant that men and women who committed crimes and were sentenced to the Bureau of Prisons would go anywhere across the United States although we have worked closely with the Bureau of Prisons to try to keep them as close to DC as possible. But to that end, the creativity that we’ve shown in working with the Bureau of Prisons to better address the prerelease planning that has to occur for men and women has been phenomenal. One of the things that we’ve been able to do, as you know Len, is to put in place video conferencing throughout the prison system, the Bureau of Prisons. And we’ve expanded from one to two prisons that we were able to video conference men and women who were, particularly men, who were close to the time for them to be released back into the District. Now we are working with 16, 17 prisons throughout the United States.

Len Sipes: We have our own network.

Nancy Ware: A whole network of prisons to be sure that we connect resources here in the District with men and women who are in those prisons and they can ask questions of the various community based organizations and agencies that are here to help them.

Len Sipes: A couple minutes left. I want to talk about two things. Number one, the dedication of our employees, which is a bit of a softball question, but without our employees and without them being dedicated to this; it’s not going to work. And number two, what are your personal hopes for reentry? Where do you see reentry being two years, five years down the road?

Nancy Ware: Well I definitely want to do a shout out to our staff. Our staff is fabulous. They work very hard with limited resources, unfortunately, that we have available to us specifically to our agency, so, thus, they have to reach out to other agencies as we said before and to our community of resources in the District and they’ve done a yeoman’s job in supervising folks. So much so that I think we’ve contributed substantially to the reduction in violent crime in the District of Columbia. In terms of where I’d like to see reentry over the next four to five years, I think it’s just important for us to continue to shed a light on it, to make sure that the public is aware that there are men and women who are ready, who can be your very best employers, employees if you gave them a chance. And so I would love to see our ability to employ men and women that we’ve prepared and that we’ve gotten ready to go back into the world of work again, for our city to embrace them and to support them and to engage them.

Len Sipes: And for every city throughout the country to do the same.

Nancy Ware: Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s extraordinary important. Ladies and gentleman, our guest today is Nancy Ware. She is the Director of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. I want to briefly go over one more time the event that’s coming up,, is our website, and all these and more events will be listed on the website. The Women’s Reentry Forum, Saturday, February 8th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00. You will not be disappointed in terms of coming and listening and participating in this Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast. And my absolute favorite, the City Wide Reentry Assembly, what we refer to internally as the City Wide, Thursday, February 20th, 2014 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the evening, St. Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, again, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Woman Offenders-Upcoming Events-From Violence to Reentry-Interview With Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen the program today is Women Offenders. We have an interview with Lashonia Etheridge-Bey; she is with the Mayor’s office on Returning Citizens here in the District of Columbia, www.oc, I’m sorry, Let me give you a bit of background about this extraordinary woman and I think you’ll understand what we’re interviewing her today. Lashonia is a 40-year old Washingtonian who was born and raised in southeast DC. As a youth she made a series of bad decisions that landed her in prison for a violent crime where she spent almost half her life. Lashonia was a teen mom, a high school drop out where she was unemployed and addicted to marijuana. During her 18 years in prison she set out to rehabilitate and reform herself. She received her GED and began pursuing a college degree. She has been employed on a full-time basis, like I said; she’s enrolled in college. Last April she was hired as the Staff Assistant for the Mayor’s office on returning citizens, and like I said before, she’s in the process of completing her second year at Trinity University where she’s pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Relations. We have Lashonia here for a specific reason. Every year we’d have a series of reentry events and three this year. We’re focusing on women caught up in the criminal justice system and I’ll have the information about all three in the show notes. Lashonia is responsible for two, she will be speaking at the other on Tuesday, February 4th, the gender specific reentry conference at One Judiciary Square. That will be in the show notes, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And then we have women’s reentry forum done by my agency, Court Services, a super efficient agency. I can’t—Lashonia, I screwed up the name of my own agency, Court Services, an offender supervision agency on Saturday, February 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And then on Thursday, February 27th, the reentry forum, The Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers. Lashonia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: All right. That’s a huge introduction. You’ve spent half your life in prison. You came out. There was a film about Lashonia that I thought was extraordinary. And that will also be in the show notes, done by a person who’s been at this microphone before. A film, about a 15-minute film on your life and it struck me that your life has been a profoundly painful, profoundly difficult; you have heaped a tremendous amount of blame on yourself in the past. You have had to deal with animosity from your own children when you came out, you have two. The process of coming back out, reestablishing yourself, it was very, very honest, honest portrayal of who you are and what you are. Tell me about who you are and what you are.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Well, first and foremost, I’m a resilient woman who has had to overcome a lot of difficulties in my past, mainly my own challenges have been being destructive, being angry, being violent, being addicted to drugs. So I’m a woman who has had to face all of those obstacles and overcome them and I’m also a woman who’s continuously working to progress in terms of rebuilding my life. I’ve only been home for two years now. So pursuing my degree, I’m building my career, seeking to reestablish myself within my family unit and just taking it one day at a time.

Len Sipes: When I watched the video two things came at me pretty clearly. One was the level of self-blame that you have heaped on yourself and number two, you’re involvement in physical fitness activities. You are very fit and so exercise is part of your rehabilitative process.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, definitely. I always say that when I became incarcerated I attacked myself physically, mentally, spiritually and psychologically because I engaged in a lot of therapeutic programs. I was in a residential trauma program. I exercised. I pursued academic endeavors. I did everything that I could to rebuild myself in every aspect. So exercise has definitely been a huge coping skill for me and a way for me to deal with the challenges that I face whether it be challenges in school, challenges in my personal life. I love to run; I love to do strength training and all those things to help me get through those challenges.

Len Sipes: The crime that you were involved in, in Southeast DC was a very violent crime.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: So you went to prison for that. You spent half of your life in prison for that very violent crime but, again, I go back to how your own self-perception, the video is stark, the reality is certainly abundant in terms of how you felt about yourself. So where did all those feelings come from?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I mean, you called it self-blame but the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that I was responding to my circumstances and I pretty much built an image and a reputation and started to display behavior that I thought I had to display in order to survive in my environment. The fact of the matter is that I’m still responsible for the choices that I made. So even the violent acts that I brought on other people and in addition to the violent acts that was brought on myself, I put myself in those positions by the choices that I made, the people that I chose to be around, how I chose to respond to potential danger in my neighborhood. So I was never—I’ve always been one to just be responsible for my actions because I know at the end of the day everybody has a choice regardless of what situation they find themselves in. There are a lot of people that grew up where I grew up at who didn’t choose to become violent and commit crimes as a result of their environment and I did.

Len Sipes: But let me ask you a series of basic questions, substance abuse?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, I was addicted to marijuana and I had just began to smoke PCP around the time when I was convicted of this crime.
Len Sipes: When did you start doing drugs?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I started doing drugs I guess when I was about maybe 15, 16.

Len Sipes: Okay. How was your family life?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: My family life, I was pretty much raised by a single parent mom. My dad was always in my life, but my parents weren’t together. And I had a host of older siblings who were in and out of prison on drugs. I didn’t really have a lot of positive role models. My mom, obviously working and trying to take care of us, didn’t get an opportunity to really raise us and teach us the way I’m sure she would have liked to been able to. But I pretty much was drawn to the street as a result of that. And I grew up in a really tough neighborhood. I went to Hart Junior High, so all of the projects were surrounded by that school, that school was surrounded by all of the projects in that area, so—

Len Sipes: But the self-directed anger that I saw on the video, which again, we’re going to put the address of the video in the show notes, that came from where? I mean, there’s a certain point where it shows you coming out of prison. And it shows you reuniting with your kids, the difficulties of reuniting, the difficulties of getting out, the difficulties of going through all the things that you’ve gone through, but one of the things, the stark things, not to beat a point to death, was the self-directed anger. That you really had a lot of anger inside of you that you expressed to others when you were on the street and that you’re, you know, were expressing towards yourself when you got out. Where did all that anger come from?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I don’t know if it was necessarily anger that I was expressing. I just pretty much built an image because I had to respond to the violence in my neighborhood. So it was either you’re going to fight back or you’re going to get beat up.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: You’re either going to fight back or you’re going to run and I wasn’t raised in a family that allowed me to run home and run in the house and lock the door when somebody’s chasing me.

Len Sipes: All right. So what you’re saying is violence and the street culture was of a very logical process, a very logical decision based upon what was happening around you.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Definitely. It was what I was taught. It was what I was prone to do because for me it was a survival mechanism.
Len Sipes: For so many women that I’ve talked to before these microphones, they have been sexually violated, they came up in single-family households. I’m not asking whether you were or whether you weren’t. Substance abuse was very common. Most of the women that I’ve talked to who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it is a real struggle in terms of who they were at the time of that crime and can you talk to me about that. Am I right or wrong?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, fortunately for me I haven’t had that experience of sexual abuse and physical abuse in my family and growing up, but I did notice when I was incarcerated that the vast majority of the women that I was incarcerated with had that issue and had that trauma that they was dealing that lead them down that path of drugs and crime. With me, my trauma was violence. You know, violence inside my home, violence outside of my home and mainly the violence in my community. It was kind of like survival of the fittest. And like I said, I built that image to protect myself and at some point I had to live up to that image. And I was put in a position where I did something that cost someone dearly and I had to pay for it.

Len Sipes: But the process of—I’ve been to more than a couple women’s groups and I hear two things. I hear, again, just a lot of, you know, anger at the world, anger at themselves, anger at their families, anger at their friends. But, you know; now they have to deal with all of this coming out of the prison system. And there’s a certain point where I find that, and the research backs this up, that women do better than men coming out of the prison system. They do better in terms of rehabilitative programs. They do better in terms of recidivism than men because a lot of women come out and say to themselves, all right, this is my one shot. I have no other choice. I’ve got to make this work. I’ve got kids. I’ve got to reunite with my kids. I’ve got to establish a life for myself. Women have a tendency of making it work at higher numbers, better numbers, greater numbers than males caught up in the criminal justice system. But there’s still an unrelenting anger towards themselves and towards the world around them that they have to deal with before they get into prison, what brought them into the prison system and afterwards, right or wrong? Be honest.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Again, for me anger has not necessarily –

Len Sipes: Not necessarily for you, but for everybody.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Well I can’t speak for those other women. All I can say is that for me the thing that motivated me to get caught up in the life of crime that I was caught up in was more so pain and fear.

Len Sipes: Okay. All right. Most women coming out of the prison system have kids, correct?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And it’s very difficult, I mean, the average person coming out of the prison system has a very nasty background. They don’t have a lot of skills in terms of going out and getting a job. They have to deal with all of the issues that they have to struggle with personally. Mental health amongst women coming out of the criminal justice system is very high, mental health problems, higher than any other group. Substance abuse problems very high. They come out and they’re being reunited with their kids. They come out and they’re trying to find employment and they’re trying to find a way of sustaining themselves. It’s almost impossible to put all that together, is it not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It’s definitely a huge challenge. It makes me think about Zora Neale Hurston when she said that women are the mules of the world because in addition to trying to find your place as the matriarch of your family and rebuild your family unit, you’re also trying to rebuild your personal life and gain employment and maybe pursue your academic goals. And women, I think one of the biggest differences with men and women is the need to be safe. I’d like to think that men coming out of prison regardless of how much time they served are not struggling with whether or not they feel safe in an environment that has left them vulnerable and allowed them to be so severely hurt and afraid in the past. Then going in to a system that has further damaged them and further degraded them and coming home, I think that the need to be safe, the need to be a mother, the need to be, like I said, the matriarch of their family, the need to become independent but yet still establish healthy relationships. I don’t think that men, who are returning from incarceration experience that personal trauma that women experience.

Len Sipes: Most women coming out of the prison system have looked at me and said it’s almost impossible to do all this. It is almost impossible to do all this and people need to understand that regardless of how motivated I am not to go back, it is almost impossible to pull all of this off.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I would agree.

Len Sipes: And, statistically speaking, it’s correct.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I would agree and I’m one of those people who believe that I can do anything. I’m really convinced that if I put my mind to it I can do it. However, I would have to agree that in terms of me rebuilding my life and, you know, pursuing my academic goals and pursuing my career goals, those things have come easy for me, but the challenge has been rebuilding my personal life and my relationships. I mean, you’re only one person and there’s no way you can spread yourself that thin and put the necessary energy into all those different areas and be successful in every one of them.

Len Sipes: But isn’t it amazing where, two things, and they’re contradictions, almost impossible versus women do better than men coming out of the prison system. So almost impossible turns into possible turns into success for literally hundreds of thousands of women coming out of the prison system every year. How do you come—how do I or you or anybody else come to grips with that, almost impossible yet most women seem to find it in themselves to create a successful life after prison.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Resiliency. And I think the women that do become successful at reentry are the women that find a healthy balance between being a mother and being a nurturer and having healthy relationships and building a healthy personal life and doing those other things in terms of career and education. My director always says, and I’m always glad when he says it so that I don’t have to say it, as a man he always says that when women come home the first thing they think about is their children, but when men come home the last thing they think about is their children. And obviously that’s a blanket statement, maybe it’s a stereotype, who knows, but the fact of the matter is that men don’t necessarily have to allow that—don’t necessarily have that challenge of how am I going to rebuild my family, how am I going to regain my position in my family. Men don’t necessarily face that challenge, they can do all that other stuff, whereas, women they try to do it all.

Len Sipes: When I talk to my wife about it she simply says, well it’s simple, Leonard, women are better—smart than men. We have, ladies and gentlemen, Lashonia Etheridge-Bey. She is with the Mayor’s office on Returning Citizen Affairs here in the District of Columbia, She and we are doing three events dealing with women caught up in the criminal justice system. Tuesday, February 4th, Gender Specific Reentry Conference, One Judiciary Square from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00. And then my organization, Court Services, an Offender Supervision Agency, and this time I said it without screwing it up Lashonia. Women’s Reentry Forum at the Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue from 9:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, always what I consider to be an extraordinary event. And Thursday, February 27th, Reentry Forum, the Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers, Union Temple Baptist Church, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. I’ll have all of these issues in our show notes. And, you know, Lashonia, this is just an amazing transformation for you, but it’s not just an amazing transformation for you, it’s an amazing transformation for literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of women coming out of the prison system every year. Seven hundred thousand people leave the prison system every year. Heaven knows three to four times that number come out of jails. So, and the research is clear, that the women do better if though they carry greater burdens. And both of us, I think, suggest that it’s because they come out having to take care of kids, 80% of people coming out of the prison system have kids, correct?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. When you came home and after watching your extraordinarily honest video, your kids were not kind. Even though you had a real good relationship with them and even though they visited you in prison, there’s a certain point—you said that you thought you were going to escape the dilemma of the kids dumping on you for being in prison. And even though they weren’t—they didn’t do it when they visited you, when you came back out it was a different set of circumstances, right?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. And I think that maybe to some extent they were empathetic towards my situation. So they were just nice to me when I was incarcerated. They never expressed anger or were ornery towards me. And in my son’s defense, he is just the most optimistic person I know and he has not expressed any harsh feelings towards me or been, you know, mean to me since I’ve been home. And I think that that has a lot to do with the gender dynamics as well because boys just love their moms for the most part. The biggest challenges have been with my daughter. She’s the older of the two and she has her own children, her own family, and her own challenges.

Len Sipes: She felt abandoned by you.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yeah, she felt abandoned.

Len Sipes: And she told you as much.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Mmm-mmm. She felt abandoned and we had one incident where she expressed some really harsh things to me and it was difficult. I got through it, I guess. I wasn’t really expecting it, but when it happened I just—I took it and I kept it moving.

Len Sipes: A woman coming out of the prison system has got to say to herself, you know, I’ve got to deal with mental health issues, not unusual, substance abuse issues, not unusual. We talked about it before in terms of sexual violence or violence in general in your case. So we have to deal with all that and then we’ve got to figure out how am I going to find work and I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to reunite with my kids and I’ve got to figure out a place to stay and I’ve got to deal with a lot of legal issues. And there’s a certain point where this is just too frickin overwhelming to comprehend.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: And so I run.

Len Sipes: So what?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I run.

Len Sipes: You run. You do run. How many miles a day?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I just run three miles a day only in summer and spring though.

Len Sipes: Just.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Cause I don’t run in the winter time, it’s too cold.

Len Sipes: The video shows you doing pull-ups and everything else. I mean, that’s your—that’s how you deal with it, how do women when they sit down after the first week or two or three and it really—all of this really sets in—how does a woman get up and go.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: And I have to admit to having a strong support system. I think I’ve really been blessed to be living in the District of Columbia, born and raised. And I thought when I came home I was going to relocate cause at the time my daughter was living in Richmond. But they say if you want to get a good laugh tell God your plans because my relocation was denied and my daughter ended up back home in DC and I’m back home in DC and I’ve had a phenomenal support system from Reverend Cooper, the people I met at the Reentry Sanction Center, even Nancy Ware, Cedric, you know, everybody has just always—

Len Sipes: The Director of CSOSA and the Associate Director of CSOSA.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, supported me in all of my endeavors and Director Thornton, giving me the opportunity to be the Staff Assistant at ORCA.

Len Sipes: The Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, yeah.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. Everything that I have been, you know, my support system and I have to admit, you know, even I have some family members who are there for me, but my support system has been community leaders and that’s been my rock.

Len Sipes: What does that mean to you to have the support of everybody?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It’s meant everything to me. It’s the reason why I’ve made it, you know. You asked me how do you get up every day, you get up every day cause you know you’ve got people that believe in you, people that call on you and people that expect you to show up. And, you know, being spiritually grounded, being a member of the  [indiscernible] of America and being able to, you know, when I first came home I was so busy trying to get my life in order I might have went to the Temple a handful of times. And since 2014 has come in, you know, I’ve been attending my meetings more regularly and just getting the nourishment that I need to face this daily drama that I’m living.

Len Sipes: So it’s faith in the fact that significant others have come to your rescue and have been your mentors and who have encouraged you to stay on the path.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Is that available to every woman coming out of the prison system?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I’d like to say yes if they’re open to it.

Len Sipes: We do have a faith based reentry program here under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and lots of churches, even and Mosques and Synagogues beyond that, participate in program for people coming out of the prison system. So it’s there but I’m not quite sure the average woman coming out of the prison system feels that. I’m not quite sure they share that experience with you, am I wrong?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: There are some—there’s a chance that some women may not be aware of the resources that are available to them and there’s also a chance that some women may not be open to that support. They have to be open to it. You know, I met Our Place DC staff members when they first opened up back in who knows what year it was, 2000 maybe, 2001, 1999, I don’t know. But some of those staff members who are no longer with Our Place.

Len Sipes: It’s a tragedy that Our Place is closed.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Are still in my support system.

Len Sipes: That’s one of the things that bothers me very deeply. Cause not only did I give money to Our Place DC and for people living outside of Washington, DC, Our Place DC was a comprehensive soup to nuts agency that dealt with every conceivable need a woman could have coming out of the prison system legal, being reunited with the kids, healthcare, substance abuse, mental health, sexual violence, it didn’t matter, they took care of it and they’re no longer here. And I don’t want to say that everybody else has picked up their pace, but, you know, there’s a lot of agencies here in the District of Columbia that really do support the reentry processes, are they not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: There are a lot of agencies. Our agency, obviously, is a District Government agency that’s responsible for men and women returning from incarceration. And I think that we have developed a really—we’re spearheading a really great effort to do more for women returning from incarceration as a result of the void that has been left by Our Place. My director has allowed me and supported me as I have developed The Wire, which is Women Involved in Reentry Effort and that’s a network of women who have successfully reintegrated into the community who have pledged their support to women who are currently incarcerated and women who are returning from incarceration. And we want to be mentors, we want to establish family reunification activities, we want to help raise awareness within the community about the needs of the women returning from incarceration. And we want to work with children who have mothers in prison who are facing the difficult task of just existing, striving, building life skills and things of that nature. So a lot is happening despite the fact that Our Place has closed and I just love the way you put it because, I mean, Michelle Bonner, the Our Place attorney was there with me at my initial hearing. Our Place was the reason why I was able to see my children once a year when I did see them, when they would come up to Danbury, Connecticut or they would come to Hazleton, West Virginia. And like I said the Our Place staff, even those who no longer work for Our Place are still a huge part of my support system. So that organization was just awesome in the support that they provided for women.

Len Sipes: We only have three minutes left. If these programs did not exist, if the faith based mentors, if the offices like yours in terms of all the other volunteer organizations did not exist, if there was no support mechanism at all for women coming out of the prison system, what would happen?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It would be tragic because recidivism would rise. Children would be further traumatized by the fact that their moms would come home and very likely go back. I mean, not only would it just drain the system itself, but so many women would be hurting and suffering so much without the support services that we have right now.

Len Sipes: When you’re talking through this program, and I always like to use the term Mayor of Milwaukee, I don’t know, it just rolls off the tongue nicely, or the aide to the Governor of Hawaii, when you’re talking to them about women reentry, what must they think about, what must they keep in mind?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: The children. I think that if everybody in America could keep in mind that when women are incarcerated they’re not just incarcerated women, they’re incarcerated mothers. Most of them are the primary caregivers for their children when they become incarcerated. So the children are then abandoned and pretty much left on their own to raise themselves. Even when they have a caregiver it’s not like having your mother, it’s not, you know, I have one young man, his mom is serving 30 years in prison, he hasn’t seen his mom in seven years and he was raised by an uncle who loves him dearly. And he said to me, I asked him how does he feel and he told me he couldn’t name—I gave him a piece of paper with a bunch of feelings on it, I said pick one. He said I feel all of them. I said well just pick—just tell me, pick one or two of them. He said I feel miserable. Fifteen years old. You know, it’s like he feels like his life is over. His life is just beginning. You know, and he’s suffering and paying for what his mom did. So I think that if people remember the children, support the children and support the women when they come home then we can help break that cycle of crime and incarceration.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line if we want to end the crime problem that we have, if we want to deal with the pain, I mean, I’m not making excuses for women being caught up in the criminal justice system –

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Right. Right.

Len Sipes: But there’s real pain, there are real backgrounds in terms of substance abuse, in terms of mental health, in terms of sexual violence and there are real kids associated with these women. If we want to put a stop to all of that and help everybody gain a good footing in life then they have to support reentry programs for women.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. You said it.

Len Sipes: That’s the bottom line, is it not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: You said it.

Len Sipes: All right. I’m going to give a long close to the program, ladies and gentlemen. I have just been just really pleased with Lashonia’s performance today and her willingness to be so honest. I really appreciate it Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens, Again, the three events, Thursday—Tuesday rather, February 4th, Gender Specific Reentry Conference, One Judiciary Square, 10:00 to 3:00. Saturday, February 8th, Women’s Reentry Forum Lifetime Makeover, Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Thursday, February 27th, Reentry Forum, The Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers. All of these will be in the show notes. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]