Archives for August 4, 2014

Criminal Justice Best Practices-Washington State Institute for Public Policy

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes, today’s show is an examination of best practices at the state level. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been looking forward to doing this show for the longest time. At our microphones is Elizabeth Drake, a Senior Research Associate for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Elizabeth, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Elizabeth Drake: Thank you, Leonard. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Len Sipes: I appreciate the fact of you guys being here. Ladies and gentlemen, let me put this in perspective for a second. The State of Washington may be the best example of an exhaustive examination of research at the state and national levels to guide public practice as to criminal justice and additional public initiatives. The research that they’ve offered over the course of decades is easy to read, it’s easy to understand, and they contain a cost-benefit analysis. So even though we’re talking about the experience today in the state of Washington, we are talking about an organization that has had a profound impact, profound influence all throughout the Unites States. Whenever I get into debates or discussions about criminal justice issues and criminal justice practices, the research from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy always come up. Elizabeth, anything I’m saying is an exaggeration to you?

Elizabeth Drake: No. It’s definitely, that’s not an exaggeration. Thank you for the nice thoughts.

Len Sipes: I don’t know of a state that has had this impact. I mean there’s the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. They’ve been around for a long time. Ohio has been around for a long time. Different states are known for doing good research. But no state, no individual state organization, research organization, has had the impact that the Washington State Institute for Public Policy has, and I’m sort of wondering why that is. I think I know why that is, but you tell me.

Elizabeth Drake: You know, I think it could be a couple of different things. I think we’re set up pretty uniquely unlike other states. I think from our experience in talking with other states and sort of traveling around and doing presentations in other states, we’re set up, we were created by the legislature in 1983, and we do nonpartisan research directly for the legislature, so all of our projects are assigned to us through policy bills or budget bills. We also have a board of directors and so our projects can be assigned in that capacity as well. And so I’m not certain that many other states are set up quite like ours. And so that could be one possibility.

We have also been around a long time, like I said, since 1983. So we started our work doing criminal justice projects and have been around since then. We do research in a lot of other areas as well, including education and child welfare and adult behavioral health services and now in public health and other areas as well. So I think sort of growing in that kind of grassroots way, doing research and then getting assignments directly from the legislature and expanding into other areas is sort of what has kind of given us this maybe, different, capability than other states. I don’t know.

Len Sipes: I think it’s that plus. I have sat with folks from the Urban Institute, from the Department of Justice, from lots of other organizations, and the question I always ask is, “Why can’t your research, your very complicated, esoterical, methodologically laden, extraordinarily complex research, why can’t your stuff be as simple to read, as easy to read as the material coming out of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy?” I think it’s the fact that you communicate to the average person. You don’t have to be a criminologist, you don’t have to be a sociologist, you don’t have to be a methodologist to read and understand the impact of various programs and whether or not they’re cost-effective an whether or not we recommend implementing them. And if you implement we believe that this, that there’s a 15 degree, a 15% reduction in recidivism, and we think that you can expect a similar reduction in recidivism. I think it’s the clarity of the material that you create is the secret sauce.

Elizabeth Drake: Len, you’re absolutely right. And that’s something that our Director, it’s something that he tells us all the time. It’s the way that we present our findings, either in presentations or in reports, it has to be readable to the everyday average person, because it really is complicated. It’s complicated message wise, the research, the things that we’re doing, and all of that information is really important. That kind of stuff goes in the appendix. When you’re conveying bottom line information to legislators or policymakers, it absolutely comes down to that front summary box and summarizing things in a very clear and concise way. And I think also a lot of it too is the fact that we are nonpartisan researchers. So there’s a lot of thought that goes into every single word that ends up being put to paper, and we have a really serious editing process to make sure that when we’re writing reports, reports are getting read by several of us in the office, and just to make sure that, “Does this make sense to someone who would pick this up, they don’t anything about this particular topic?”. So that really is something that I think is an important key ingredient to conveying information to policymakers.

Len Sipes: And as I talk to the Urban Institute, and as I talk to the folks over at the Department of Justice, and as I talk to other organizations, they cite your research in terms of the clarity and simplicity, and they’re beginning to try to emulate it. I think Urban has done an extraordinarily good job of taking the complex and making it simple. So let’s move on a little bit, because, but I do want to give the audience a sense as to why you guys have been as successful as you have, a state public policy institute driving the agenda, not just for the state of Washington, but for the rest of us throughout the United States. Okay.

So all of this came out of the Washington State legislature. You get your assignments from them and they say, “Hey, we want you to take a look at recidivism, we want you to take a look at all the programs that apply to people on supervision, offenders on community supervision, programs in prison, and we want you tell us what programs work, what programs don’t, what programs will be cost-effective, how much can we expect for every dollar we invest, and what is the expected percentage decrease in terms of these programs?” And you just don’t look at State of Washington, you look at, you do what we used to literature review. You look at programs that are methodologically correct, which means they’re done properly throughout the Unites States and beyond to come to your conclusions, correct?

Elizabeth Drake: Yeah, correct. We got two kinds of assignments I would sort of put into two different categories. We will often get outcome assignments to look at outcome or do an outcome evaluation, specifically in Washington, that’s sort of one research project that we might get. But oftentimes, more often lately what we’ve been getting are these assignments to look at systematically what works to improve outcomes – either programs that are effective at reducing recidivism, programs that are effective at increasing high school graduation rates or decreasing substance abuse, reducing child abuse and neglect. And so you’re right in that we take the systematic approach to reviewing the research literature and coding all of those studies to see whether or not, say, for example: Are drug courts effective at reducing crime?

And so we take this average effect of studies that meet our minimum standards of rigor, and we have these minimum standards of rigor because we want to be able to reliably provide sound advice to our legislature. And so if we can’t have confidence in a study in terms of its rigor, we don’t include those studies in our systematic review. So that’s something that’s sort of a what works approach, looking at the literature to see what works to improve outcomes and then doing this cost-benefit analysis. And we have a piece of software that we’ve developed in-house that computes benefit-cost statistics, benefits to taxpayers in the state of Washington and return on investment statistics so that we have a sense of how these programs – that’s an internally consistent approach and apples to apples approach so that we can compare different policy options. So then policymakers can look at this sort of consumer reports type list to see which programs have the highest return on investment. So that’s sort of our two step research approach when we’re doing these systematic reviews of the literature.

Len Sipes: And now we have an entire audience that’s sitting there going, “All right, Leonard, stop plugging them and praising them, and, Elizabeth, stop talking about your process.” They want to know from your findings what have been some of the most effective programs in terms of reducing recidivism, coming out of the prison system or being caught up in the criminal justice system. What are some of the most effective programs? That wasn’t on the list of what we were going to talk about. But I just said to myself, “My heavens, we’re driving our listeners crazy.” They want to know what in terms of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s research, what programs truly are effective.

Elizabeth Drake: Sure, yeah. So for adult corrections a lot of our work has really been focused on corrections in the criminal justice system. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one program that has a pretty return on investment, pretty effective at reducing recidivism. Different drug treatments, therapeutic communities for chemically dependent offenders, sex offender treatment, supervision when it’s coupled with treatment is fairly effective, and supervision when it’s focused on the risks and needs and responsivity to offenders, that kind of supervision is even more effective than just traditional supervision that’s more of a surveillance style. In the juvenile justice system some of the programs that are heavily invested in here in Washington are invested in, we’ve invested in them, or the state has invested in them because of how effective they are at reducing crime. And some of those programs include aggression or placement training or functional family therapy, multi-systemic therapy.

We have a pretty comprehensive list on our website. These days we’re putting our benefit-cost results directly to our website so that users of our work can find them really easily. We have these sort of reports over time that are static reports. And they’re sort of in a library on our website. But our benefit-cost results now are available on our benefit-cost page to user. So you can click on any of these research areas: Juvenile Justice, Child Welfare, General Prevention of Substance Abuse and see which programs are the most effective. And we rank them by the highest return on investment.

Len Sipes: Elizabeth, what is the website for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy?

Elizabeth Drake: It’s

Len Sipes: Okay. That’s www.wspp –

Elizabeth Drake: Ipp.

Len Sipes: Ipp?

Elizabeth Drake: Yeah.

Len Sipes:

Elizabeth Drake: Right.

Len Sipes: Okay, cool. And one of the things that I discovered in terms of your research was that the that one program in particular that had the highest rate of recidivism reduction were early intervention programs with juvenile offenders working with the parents and working with the offender himself or herself when they were juveniles. I was sort of astounded that by, well, just the impactful program was that particular program. Am I right or wrong?

Elizabeth Drake: Which program are you talking about?

Len Sipes: I don’t remember the name of the program.

Elizabeth Drake: Okay.

Len Sipes: It specifically dealt with going in and dealing with a parent or parents –

Elizabeth Drake: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Of the person caught up in the criminal justice system.

Elizabeth Drake: Well, and there’s several. I would say in the juvenile system many of those interventions take this sort of multi-systemic approach, multi-systemic therapy, functional family therapy, multi-dimensional treatment foster care. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons why they are so effective is that they’re taking an approach that includes both the youth, the parents, the schools, and it’s a multi-dimensional approach. So several of those programs are on our list and being done here in Washington State.

Len Sipes: Well, but were they right in terms of the fact that they seem to have higher percentage decreases in recidivism than other programs designed for adults?

Elizabeth Drake: I don’t know about design for adults, but definitely compared to other juvenile justice interventions, yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. I mean that’s what I came out of it. I came out of it with most of the adult programs will give you reductions in the 10 to 15% range. And several of the early intervention programs dealing with the mom and dad or just the mom of the juvenile offender caught up in the criminal justice system, oftentimes those were in the 20 and higher percent reduction levels. So it seemed to me just as a layperson, that reading that seems to say that if you want to get the biggest bang for your buck, intervene early in the lives of people caught up in the criminal justice system. I know that statement carries baggage because we don’t want to overly involve ourselves in their lives and we want it to be appropriate because we don’t want to start focusing on lower level people, we want to focus on higher level people, but nevertheless the juvenile justice initiatives seemed to have a greater impact than the adult initiatives.

Elizabeth Drake: Right. And I would say that that’s probably true for two reasons. One being that you’re intervening with the youth when they’re in their sort of high crime years, that peak of committing crimes; and over time generally people will tend to age out of crime. So that’s one reason why I think that we see a higher return on our investments for these juvenile justice programs. I think the second reason is that we’re trying to take advantage of what the literature tells us, not only about programs and their effectiveness, most of these studies specifically measure the impact of the intervention on crime. But at the Institute for Public Policy we also look at how outcomes may impact other outcomes.

So for example, what we have found is that when we look at the literature that says that if you can get a youth to graduate from high school they’re less likely to commit crime. And so in our cost-benefit model for those juvenile justice interventions we’re able to monetize that information about high school graduation. And so benefits that are included in those particular programs include not only crime benefits but education benefits from graduating high school.

Len Sipes: Our guest today is Elizabeth Drake; she is a Senior Research Associate for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. They produce some of the best research and most impactful research, not just for that particular state, but throughout the rest of the country. We follow every report that comes out fairly religiously, is the website. Did I get that correct, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Drake: Yes.

Len Sipes: Now, Elizabeth, I do want to talk to you about the ramifications, the real-world ramifications about doing evidence-based research. All of us talk a good game throughout the United States in terms of doing evidence-based research, in terms of doing best practices research, but Washington State is one of the few states out there that really has embraced it and implemented it. Have you ever gotten any pushback from it? I just talked about juvenile offenders and intervening early in the lives of juveniles and intervening with their parents.

But, again, I mean there’s people out there – as soon as I said that said, “Wait a minute, Leonard, we don’t want to be intervening in the lives of all juveniles.” Most of these people age out. I was reading a Department of Justice report yesterday about how most age out without continuing, without being involved in the criminal justice system. I know the research is very clear that we’re supposed to be focusing on high-risk people, not necessarily low-risk people. Does the process of putting out research and giving all this advice, is it uniformly embraced or does it come with stumbles?

Elizabeth Drake: No. It’s definitely not uniformly embraced. And I think what I would say is that our success in getting our state to use research really hinges upon building relationships with legislators and legislative staff. And I think when we receive an assignment and we can provide information that the legislature can rely upon and know that this is nonpartisan, unbiased information; I think it’s something that we get from both chambers and both parties. It’s helpful to them. And so I think that’s one of the reasons why we can be successful in certain areas and we’ve been particularly successful in corrections, both adult corrections and juvenile justice, but not necessarily in others. And I think it does go back to sort of that grassroots, homegrown, you’re building these relationships over time. So it’s not just an overnight thing.

We’re starting to I would say get more assignments in education. Part of that is hinging upon the fact that our state supreme court ruled last year that the state of Washington was not fully funding basic education. And so now I think that budget decisions are having to be made about how public education is being financed. And so people are starting to use our work a little bit more in education as well. We’ve gotten an assignment with the Initiative 502 that was passed by that state of Washington, our first assignment that we’ve received through an initiative actually for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and we were named in that initiative to study that implications of legalizing marijuana. And I would say that there are people who are skeptical about who we are and what we’re doing in that particular project. It’s a very long-term project. And it just will take time in building those relationships I think and having people understand what it is that we do exactly.

Len Sipes: But I’ll give you an example. Again, all of us are supposed to be evidence-based practitioners, all of us are supposed to be research-based practitioners. And we like to believe that we here at my organization, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is that we are best practices based, we are research based. But boot camps, especially for younger offenders, the research says overwhelmingly that they don’t work, yet they remain popular throughout the country. So there seems to be a point where you can say, “Hey, this is the best practice; this is what the research tells us.” And people are going to say, “Well, we don’t care. I like this program. I’m going to move forward with this program.” So there’s always that yin and yang between best practices and state of the art research and what people are actually willing to do.

Elizabeth Drake: Right. Yeah. And I think that that does happen in Washington and I think luckily there are some people who have an understanding that you know, in the juvenile justice system, for example, we got one of our very first assignments looking at a supervision probation program that you know, the claim was that it worked and we did an evaluation of it and found out that it didn’t work. I think, you know, we were fortunate in that many of the juvenile court administrators at that time said, “Well, you know, if this doesn’t work, we have, it’s incumbent upon us to provide to our clients something that does work.” And so they – they have a good attitude about it and you know, and I think that that’s what led to the systematic review of, “Okay, well what does work for use in the juvenile justice system?”

You know, it’s not always that way with everything that we do and sometimes you know, there are lots of times that people don‘t necessarily use the research that we come up with and you know, eventually, maybe sometimes it just takes time for those things to happen.

Len Sipes: And there’s always the inevitable argument. Okay, so it reduces recidivism by 10 to 15%, and different people are going to come along and go, “Well, Leonard, that’s really not a lot.” So you can say it’s effective and you can say it’s cost effective, and you can say it will return $4.00 for every dollar invested, but you know, a 10 to 15% reduction in recidivism is not grand and glorious, so you have to deal with the fact that, okay, it is effective, but it’s not super effective. Do you know where I’m coming from?

Elizabeth Drake: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I think our response to that is that, you know, crime is expensive, and so even a small reduction in crime, percentage reduction in crime can yield big taxpayer benefits. But you know, on the flip side, what I would say too is there’s just, you know, one thing that we’re looking at and that’s a reduction in recidivism. Sometimes there are programs or policies that exist out there for – they have different goals or different purposes and one of them, you know, can be punishment, for example. And so we’re just speaking to – in those instances, we’re just speaking to recidivism.

You know, sometimes you might have – for example we did an evaluation looking at earned early release from prison and found that the people who did not get earned early release were eligible for it, that they actually did better when they were eligible for earned early release but you know, the governor wasn’t, at that time wasn’t interested in expanding earned early release [INDISCERNIBLE 00:25:45] time.

Len Sipes: Understood. And you know, when I say 10 to 15%, don’t get me wrong, 10 to 15% could save a state billions of dollars over time and could reduce rates of crime by the thousands. So a 10 to 15% reduction is certainly worthy of anybody’s consideration. It’s just that I hear from different people, “Oh, Leonard, it’s only 10 or 15%.” And I just wanted to get your thoughts on that. So we only have a couple minutes left in the program. It’s going by like wildfire, a lot quicker than I would want it to. The lessons learned in all of this – what lessons do you have for the rest of us who want to invest in state of the art practices, research based practices, best practices?

Elizabeth Drake: You know, I think some of our lessons, biggest lessons learned you already touched on building relationships and that’s a big one. Another one of our lessons, I think big lessons learned is that quality assurance matters and we found that out the hard way. You know, I think that knowing what works is the first step, and then implementing it and implementing those programs with fidelity is a whole ‘nother thing.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Elizabeth Drake: So we had, you know, found several programs in the juvenile justice system that were effective at reducing crime, implemented those programs here in Washington, did our own outcome evaluation to follow up with those programs, to see and actually sound that when therapists were not delivering the program with fidelity to the model that those kids were actually worse off than the kids who did not participate in the intervention at all. And so the juvenile courts then implemented a state-wide quality assurance for, I think it’s four or five different programs and it’s now being done. So that I would say is one of the biggest lessons learned. The State Department of Corrections is also now implementing quality assurance for several of their programs as well.

Len Sipes: We can do – we within the criminal justice system can do damage. I mean, I have seen research out there that has, that where programs have made recidivism worse, not better. So if they’re not implemented properly and if we don’t follow best practices, we can do more harm than good.

Elizabeth Drake: Sure, yeah. Absolutely. And I think that that’s, you know, one of the important things about doing outcome evaluations, especially when you’re relying on these systematic reviews then I think it’s a good idea to go back in and do an outcome evaluation here, you know, in Washington, once we’ve implemented the program to see whether or not we’re getting the results that we expect.

Len Sipes: And you know how interesting and how different that is from the experience in most states? You do an exhaustive review as to what’s happening throughout the country, an exhaustive review as to what’s happening in the state, you measure it, you provide the results, you do the benefit-cost analysis, you make these recommendations and then you follow up and do your own research to see if the program was implemented properly. That is the state of the art.

Elizabeth Drake: Yeah, I think it is. Yeah.

Len Sipes: And that’s unusual, in a lot of states.

Elizabeth Drake: Yeah, it seems to me as though it is unusual. You know, we have – we have a project that we’re working on right now – we’ve –

Len Sipes: We have about 15 seconds.

Elizabeth Drake: Oh sure. It’s funding from the Pew Center for the States and we are partnering with about, I think it’s 14 other states out there and I think that that’s what our colleagues at Pew Center for the States would also say is that, you know, in their experience, that this is not something that everybody’s doing, but seems like a really good idea.

Len Sipes: And we’re really remiss in terms of all the programs that I mentioned before, who have done a great job in terms of communicating with the public – Pew is certainly one. Our guest today has been Elizabeth Drake, a senior research associate for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. We talked about the wonderful job this organization has done over the last two decades in terms of analyzing criminal justice as well as public policy. And to provide guidance, not just to the State of Washington, but to the rest of us. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, we really appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Expanding Correctional Education Through Technology-Correctional Education Association

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. And back at our microphones, Steve Steurer is the Execute Director of the Correctional Education Association. The program today, ladies and gentlemen, is Expanding Correctional Education Through Technology. We’ve just come from the conference, the national conference that Steve put on in Arlington, Virginia, where he had federal secretaries of different agencies and people from all over the country talking about the expansion of correctional education through technology. I think it’s a really exciting concept. I think this is a very important program. Steve, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Steve Steurer:  Thank you, Len! I really appreciate it.

Len Sipes:  All right. We’ve got a great story for you to tell about what happened in Ohio, but I want to start off the program with two basic constructs and you tell me if I’m right or wrong. By and large, whether it be vocational education, drug treatment, mental health treatment, GED programs, advanced education, basic education, by and large, those programs are vastly underfunded within just about any prison system in the United States. Am I right or wrong about that?

Steve Steurer:  You’re absolutely correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and what we’re trying to do is through technology and remote training, it may be the answer as to dramatically increasing inmate participation in basic GED and advanced education, correct?

Steve Steurer:  That would be correct, I’d say.

Len Sipes:  All right. So tell me about that. Tell me about this idea of using technology to expand correctional education.

Steve Steurer:  Up until now, the correctional systems in this country have for the most part been just dead set against any kind of internet hook up that goes beyond an officers’ desk or an officials’ desk. Only recently have some teachers been able to get some internet connectivity on their desk in the classroom in the prison, but the inmates are not allowed, and so that’s very closely gauged and watched, and that’s for a very, very simple and very good reason – because they’re afraid of gang communication and those guys getting out there and doing terrible stuff at porno sites or what have you. That’s a legitimate concern. We have said and we’re trying to prove now, that you don’t have to worry about that. We have enough capability to block that. Not that occasionally somebody would sneak through it, there’s always somebody out there, but we would probably have very few incidents using current technology.

Len Sipes:  So in essence the security part, the security concerns have been addressed?

Steve Steurer:  They have been addressed and there are many people that agree with that now, even correctional officials.

Len Sipes:  All right, so you had this wonderful conference. You had hundreds of people from all over the United States, you had two federal secretaries, you had lots of experts talking about correctional education, and what was the buzz within the conference? Was it enthusiastic about the idea of taking technology and dramatically expanding correctional education? What were the perceptions on the part of the people who came to the conference?

Steve Steurer:  The people that came there were really enthused. I’ve talked to a lot of folks and I’ve talked to other folks who’ve talked to other folks. They’re really enthused because of what they’ve learned and what they participated in, in terms of technology applications from different places in the country. And we even prototyped, we did a WebEx live from Ironwood Prison in California with Hollywood Producer Scott Budnick, who has devoted himself to this cause now. We had fifteen inmates in a room with a captain, Captain Roe, doing the technology and the WebEx and also in the hotel room interacting with these students back and forth with questions. There are how many prisons in this country have an internet connection in a classroom, able to do a WebEx, the distance learning on this from coast to coast, nobody’s ever done that.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead please.

Steve Steurer:  Well I was gone to say, and I mean, I have some other example but just to start, just to have that in the conference, people said they’d never had such a terrific, that was the teacher of the year dinner event. They’d never seen anything like that. It was the best they’d ever had.

Len Sipes:  I interviewed Dr Lois Davis. She works for the RAND Corporation. Their report in 2014 “How Effective is Correctional Education? Where Do We Go To From Here?” Within that report she did, and we interviewed her, and we’ll put a link to that interview in the show notes, but within that report, I got the sense that what she was saying is that using remote tools, using technology to provide an educational experience, again whether it be learning how to read, whether it’d be basic education, GED, advanced education, that the individuals participating in remote education have the potential for doing as well as having a teacher in the room. Am I overplaying that? Am I underplaying it? Give me your assessment.

Steve Steurer:  Well I think she’s not 100% right. I mean in my opinion I think that using and having the technology and then having the back up of experienced teachers working with it just will make it even more powerful because the population we’re working with, we’re working with for the most part, is not engaged in education on the street even where they have the technology. So there’s another human factor that needs to be put in there other than remote technology. But that’s a debate that goes on among professionals. But she has come out with a study that has shown us that there’s just a dearth of, a lack of technology being used in a situation where it could be so effective.

Len Sipes:  But the bottom line, and again, this is what I want listeners to do because a lot of people listening to this program are going to be from the Criminal Justice System and they’re going to be saying, “Leonard, tell me something I don’t know about the lack of programs within prisons.” But there’s a lot of other people out there, the aides to mayors, aides to congress people, congressional aides, aides to county executives, who don’t know. And I think the point needs to be reinforced that the studies that I’ve looked at indicate that in terms of drug treatment, mental health treatment, ordinarily you’re talking about 10% of the prison population or below that. In terms of educational programs you’re talking about less than that in some cases.

So the overwhelming majority of prison inmates, they’re sitting there for five years. Basically their needs for either mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment and I know that’s not what we’re talking about today, but educational programming, they’re not being met. So the only way we’re going to meet those needs is through technology, hopefully supplemented by real, honest to God teachers, trained teachers. But again, the premise of the program, and tell me if I’m wrong, is that if they’re not going to get it through technology in all likelihood they’re not going to get educational programs at all.

Steve Steurer:  That’s correct. That’s correct. And if I had a choice, if somebody said you can’t bring the teachers in but you can bring technologies in, I’d be the first person to carry the first computer in and help wire a place up, but then I’d start fighting for teachers that are technologically astute to be part of that. But we need to get technology in there and a lot of staff can be helpful with that. They don’t have to necessarily be teaching staff to have some kind of an impact.

Len Sipes:  Tell me about the program in Ohio. You did a pilot program and now they’re expanding it?

Steve Steurer:  Well, you know, the whole thing is nobody wants to take a chance. We’re not going to bring in even tablets because inmates can get off there one way or the other and do gang communication which is probably the biggest fear. And they’ll be sitting there looking at pornographic sites, which is you know, political death for people trying to run a prison and somebody finds that out.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Steve Steurer:  And so we got a project going in Ohio, where at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution last fall, with tablets from Union Supply, a company we’re working with, it’s a commissary company. They created a tablet that’s very secure. It can go to the Internet with Wi-Fi but it’s been locked down tight and blocked with the kind of software protections they have. Nobody’s been able; they’ve been using it as a media thing in many states. Nobody’s been able to get off that, nobody’s been caught on the Internet. So we turned into a classroom situation. Ashland University provides post secondary education for years in Ohio prisons, including Lake Erie. We issued twenty tablets from Union, put on college level courses, course in first semester with full credit entry level collage courses. The fellows had to qualify to be in these courses, so they met all the criteria.

The course was loaded onto an angel, which is like a blackboard program, online program, and they were put on tablets. The tablet also has a keyboard that you can plug and play so they can type rather than just picking away on the screen of the tablet. It has Microsoft word in it so they can write papers and save them. And twenty students started that course, eighteen finished it successfully, and there was not one tablet that was abused. They came out without any problem being broken or cracked on. Nobody, the correctional officers could open those tablets at any time, and they did to look and see what these guys were doing inside. Nobody attempted to mess with these tablets to create something different, to get out on the Internet. It was a total clean operation.

The Corrections Corporation of America has now signed off on these tablets for use in their facilities and they’re looking to do it in other places. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which work with them, and owns, they co-manage that facility, has okayed tablets in Ohio for other uses. So the Ohio Central School System which is the school system by law, which operates the Prison Education Program in the state prisons, has now ordered and finalized a purchase for three hundred and fifty tablets to be deployed in various situations in the adult prisons over the next year and we’re working with them on that.

Len Sipes:  I’ll tell you I had a conversation and I’m not going to identify the person, and he said, here’s his vision; let’s just take the state of Richmond for an example, that you have somebody in the state of Richmond, somebody in the city of Richmond, doing classrooms, and there are twenty, thirty, forty classrooms going on at the same time, and that every person who wants to participate in the state of Virginia, that these programs are automatically going out to these individual inmates. Many of them are live instruction. In some cases the hope is that you can take questions, that you can ask questions back and forth between the teachers and the students spread throughout every prison in the state of Virginia.

And then that person said, “Well, Leonard, you know, if we can do that for any particular state, we can do it for every state in the United States. We can do it for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. We can constantly pump out again, basic education, 8th grade certificates, GED, reading programs, collegiate programs, vocational training, and we can also put on programs dealing with mental health and substance abuse. We can also have families talk to the individual inmates.” He saw it as a revolution in terms of correctional education. Is his thought just pie in the sky or is this something that actually can happen?

Steve Steurer:  It has happened in bits and pieces everywhere, and it will, and I’m hoping that we can make it happen, all those pieces together in lots of places. I mean you do have inmates now writing email. It goes through a secure server out to the family and back. And it’s the same thing like writing letters. The staff would sort of look at the letters in the mail coming in and out you know, and the same thing is now on email. That’s been done, that’s been done for a good number of years now. In the United States it’s happening, it’s happened in Europe quite a bit. We have now shown that you can use tablets safely, if you want to get it on wifi. We have had courses in various places going out on the Internet and teachers at the university nearby or something connected up, but it’s only happened in a few places and it’s usually more of a less a secure place.

But you know, we did this WebEx in California last night. We had fifteen inmates in the class in the middle of the Ironwood Correctional Facility in California. There was a correctional officer in the room, Captain Roe, who is very tech oriented. He was running the WebEx on one end and I was on the other end running our talk with the participants, we had three hundred people in a room we had teachers of the year. We were talking back and forth. We were applauding each other. We were asking questions of each other. You know, we could’ve run a video that everybody could see for some instructional purpose if we had wanted to. We could’ve provided paper on each end to do some subsequent work afterwards. We could’ve, you know, this could be done, it has been done, it’s being done in that one prison in California. In fact, that is being considered now in some of the other places because we’re doing it. It’s very secure and you know, you can go and find little bits and pieces of this stuff happening everywhere. It’s possible. It’s secure. And the enthusiasm of the students when they get involved with this stuff is terrific.

Len Sipes:  We’re almost halfway through the program. I might as well reintroduce you now, Steve. Steve Steurer, he is the executive director of the Correctional Education Association. The program today is about expanding correctional education through technology. It’s piggy backing on the conference that Steve just had over the course of the last couple of days in Arlington, Virginia, right outside of Washington DC. It’s also piggy backing on a rather substantial piece of research; “How Effective is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go to From Here?” by Lois Davis and I did interview Lois on another program and I’ll put the link to her program in the show notes as well as everything else we’re talking about. Steve, you had representatives from the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice at this conference, correct?

Steve Steurer:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And what was their take on all this?

Steve Steurer:  Well, the US Department of Education has been terrific in the last several years. And so we had the Deputy Secretary Johan Uvin, who is in charge of what is Career and Vocational Education, they call it OCTAE now. It used to be called OVAE. And he was there and he discussed with Gerri Fiala, the Assistant Secretary of Department of Labor, issues of workforce preparation, and services that are available through the Federal Departments and some of the things that they’re supporting with some upcoming small amounts of competitive funds. And then we had, the next day we had an assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, who is in charge of the Second Chance grants and lots of other areas, BJA, Dennis works for her, and Solomon works with her, people that you and I know very well; and she was talking about particularly focusing on juvenile issues, juvenile justice issues and so that they were sharing some efforts they’re doing, some things they want us to be involved with and so the audience received us very well. We’ve never had that level of Federal participation in our conferences so that is very optimistic to me that we’re getting the message out and people are listening at a level where hopefully they can do something where it will affect policy.

Len Sipes:  But this concept has been kicked around for years in Washington DC. The sense is that okay, the states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons do not have the money; it’s not that they don’t want to do it, they just don’t have the money for the expansion of correctional education. We’re talking about over two million adults incarcerated in US prisons every year, with seven hundred thousand leaving Federal and State Prisons every year. We’re talking about a 50% rate of recidivism in terms of re-incarceration. We’re talking about the possibility that if Lois’ research is correct in terms of the effectiveness of correctional education and where do we go to from here, if we can impact the rate of return by 10, 15, 20%, through educational programs, or through contacts with the community, contacts with employers, contacts with family, again all the different programs we’re talking about, if we can have a 10 to 20% reduction in recidivism, it will substantially remake the Criminal Justice System, it will reduce the crime rate in this country substantially and it will reduce the burden on tax payers by billions of dollars. So this seems like an obvious win-win situation.

Steve Steurer:  Well it does and the problem I run into however is you can now convince most politicians, you know  they can be skeptical, “Well I studied via the prestigious RAND corporation that summarizes all the studies that have been done for years”, people will still doubt that but most people will say, “Okay, that’s great. It’s not the priority right now because we’ve got too much stuff going on in our public schools here and our colleges and students in the free world are just being burdened with tuition, why should they stick the money over here?” So that’s what we’re fighting now. We’ve won the battle for the most part, at least with people who are in the know like you and others who read and discuss this issue. We’ve won the battle that education and drug programs and such can reduce recidivism and help public safety, help drop the crime rate, etc.

It’s the priority now with the country in such a bad budget situation and tight dollars, to shift money over there. So technology can help us here because we can do a lot more, can reach a lot more with the same amount of dollars for technology than we’d have to spend on hiring a person to teach and only reaching so many people. So this is very exciting. We have another example here. I invite you to come, nearby here to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, I’m running this little project with Rob Green, the Warden, and Art Wallenstein the Director of Corrections. We have thirty tablets.

Len Sipes:  For Montgomery County. Yes.

Steve Steurer:  For Montgomery County. I’m at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility up in Boyds. Teachers are using the tablets, the students are being taught how to use the tablets in the class, taking them back to the cells, bringing work back, and the correctional officers helped me set it up. I didn’t go in with the teachers, I went in and talked to the officers. Well the officers were so enthused about it, that instead of having me come in and load software, Officer Powell was in charge of security, he said, “Teach me how to do it, I’ll do it. I got kids and they’re doing stuff at home and I can help this, I think it’s a good thing for these guys and gals.” And it was a co-ed class, we had men and women there, and it’s working out very well so they’re gonna get some more tablets.

Len Sipes:  But you know… go ahead, please.

Steve Steurer:  And this is a key thing for me. All of a sudden people around the county are saying, “Well, what are you doing with those tablets? Now they’re looking at them. But, you know, I think this is, a piece of this is getting correctional officials to feel secure enough to make these leaps and use technology, especially when one of their peers they respect like Rob Green or Art Wallenstein are doing it. They’ll take a look at it. We’re beginning to crack that with the Corrections Corporations of Americans saying, “We’ll buy these tablets now.” The Ohio Department of Corrections, Rehab and Corrections led by Gary Mohr, Secretary Gary Mohr. They’re buying them. They’re talking to their peers at the American Correctional Association Conference and showing off. Gary Mohr was playing with a tablet at the last ACA meeting. “Oh I hadn’t seen ‘em! Oh this is great!” And he’s showing the next guy at our table who might’ve been running New Jersey. So it’s word of mouth. It’s the security that you’re friends are doing it, your colleagues, that’s what’s gonna do this. I mean that’s what I’m hoping’s gonna do it and that’s my belief and that’s why I try to meet with all the folks and talk with them and get the word out.

Len Sipes:  Well everybody’s excited about this Steve, everybody, but I just want you to know that nobody here at my agency, the Court Services of Offenders Supervision Agency here at Washington DC, we just did a computer network, a virtual network to twenty Federal Prisons yesterday, where we spent the entire day bringing in people from Washington DC, instructing inmates from Washington DC at these various Federal Prisons, plus other inmates as to what their resources are in DC when they come home, what they can expect, what they should take advantage of, how do they get their GED, how do they get their plumbing certificate, how they take advantage of collegiate programs, where do they go to get their identifications, what are the roles of supervision. I mean we’re doing that now. We have our own television network of prisons throughout the United States. So this technology is possible, this technology is here now.

Steve Steurer:  Right, it is, and it’s a matter of letting it go deeper into the prisons, where it’s not just up on the correctional officers’ desk down at the end of the hall, and maybe on the teachers’ desk, but it’s in the classroom and you got a computer set up, and then you got a land going, but it can go out, be switched on and go out to the centers, into certain sites where there are a lot of resources available. And it’s a cost factor that people have to have money to do that. Montgomery County is better off than lots of counties and so they’re able to play around with this. They’ve got the community collage coming in with another tablet. I’m gonna have two tablets in the school. Technically, the school is run by the Correctional Education Association by the way, the Montgomery County brought us in seven years ago, when they were having budget problems and so they actually work for us.

And I go there. And so I wanna keep my hands on in this business. And so you know, it’s happening and we can get out there with it but we’ve gotta get the word out to more people and what I’d like to make a comment on real quick about your television – giving these inmates all this information [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:40] hookups, remote hookups, and television and all that, that’s terrific and that’s been done for a long time. What we need to do on the other end of that, with the inmates, is to have tablets and things in their hands, or computers in their hands that are secure. Where they can go, start playing around with this. Teaching these guys how to use these things other than for phone calls and text messages, is absolutely necessary. You have to make people computer literate.

Len Sipes:  But the hope and dream of all of this is at your time, at your leisure, so the person can learn, go through a learning to read program from ten o clock to twelve o clock and then pick it back up again at three o clock to four o clock, and then pick it back up again at seven o clock to eight o clock, or it can be live instruction. I mean the possibilities here are endless.

Steve Steurer:  Yeah, and that’s what happens in Montgomery County. They don’t have enough tablets, ‘cause they have thirty, so the other students want them now. So these thirty people go back and they’re working in their cell. They can’t take it out in common areas, so they have to be, so it doesn’t get passed around like a toy or something; and they’re wanting to do this. They’re sitting in their cell, working on stuff, bringing it back the next day. I had one woman drop one of the tablets. She thought she broke it. She was so upset. I mean, can you imagine if we could’ve taped this, this woman comes back from her cell, she’s in jail for who knows what, and then she’s about ready to cry. She says “I dropped my tablet and I was doing my schoolwork,” and it turns out the tablet was not damaged and I guess she was probably afraid she was gonna have to pay for it too which we weren’t gonna charge her but everything’s fine. She’s happy. I mean they guard those, you know, when you give them the opportunity to start, showing them what to do, they get enthusiastic and then want more. You know, that’s what the story of good education is.

Len Sipes:  Well the enthusiasm, I think, is running across the board from anywhere from the inmate population to Washington DC to state capitals because I think some people will suggest that things are changing in terms of prison education, in terms of remote education within correctional facilities, because states are saying, “We’ve got to bring down our rates of recidivism because we can no longer afford the billions of dollars that we’ve been throwing into mainstream prisons.” So I think across the board whether it’s politically, I don’t care what state you’re in, every governor has told every correctional commissioner that they’ve got to do something to lower the recidivism rate because they can no longer afford to keep putting the same amount of money into their prison systems as they have within the last twenty or thirty years. So I think you, we may find ourselves surprised as to how well this will be accepted in the next five, ten years.

Steve Steurer:  Well I hope so and I really think in our business it’s a matter of peers convincing peers and then if they get all enthusiastic and they go to deal with the politicians and they’re well respected in their work, they can convince the politicians that they don’t have to defend why they gave a couple bucks for a piece of computer equipment to a prison and the public schools you know, some of them need some more stuff. So you know, we’ve got an attitude in this country to break through. I’m very confident correctional officials wanted to do more and do better. I think that they’re fighting their battles trying to convince the public, and trying to protect their jobs you know, sometimes because this is not a popular thing to talk about. So, we have to somehow turn the public mind around on this to accept this that we have to actually educate the people that we throw behind bars or they’re gonna come out and do the same thing or worse, and we can do this and you’re gonna have to be a little bit more liberal on your attitude about whether they should have some special thing like a laptop they’re working on or a computer or whatever, a pad. You know, so we’ve got a battle to do here.

Len Sipes:  I’ve talked to a lot of wardens, and I’ve walked through a lot of prisons and a lot of jails in my career and I’ve yet to find a warden that was not enthusiastic about correctional education because he or she will suggest that it keeps the institution safe, that inmates that are gainfully employed in educational or vocational programs throughout the course of the day, that makes for a happy, safe and sane prison. It’s the prisons that don’t have these things that become dangerous places. I would tend to believe that you would agree with me on that.

Steve Steurer:  I would agree with you on that. I think there are a lot of people who where we’ve started programs that that’s their main motivation; the wardens and you know, they wanna keep the place secure, they don’t want a lot of trouble. They don’t want guys fighting with each other and they like the inmates to be halfway content with the situation they’re in and then it’s easier to run the place and get something done. But I think there are a good number of these people who originally come from program areas themselves and up to the leadership as the warden or whatever, that also see it beyond that as a really good thing for the community, for people that can change, that they’re optimistic that some of these, fifty 50% of people don’t come back, not all of them have changed but at least you know, they’re not getting arrested. Hopefully not committing crimes but 50% are coming back, if we could drop that so it’s 75% don’t come back, I mean that’s going to require an investment. [OVERLAY]

Len Sipes:  And if you could go, if you could change the recidivism rate from 50% to 25%, that entity would win the Nobel Prize.

Steve Steurer:  Oh, it would.

Len Sipes:  It would save the state billions of dollars, save a lot of people from being victimized and it would be a win-win for everybody.

Steve Steurer:  Yeah, and I don’t know what the time limit is here.

Len Sipes:  Very quick Steve, we’re running out of time.

Steve Steurer:  We ought to take a look at what some of the other countries are doing, like Germany, and their attitude about what programs, what the program priority is behind bars. I mean those Americans that go and visit abroad say, “You know, we have a whole different political attitude” and I don’t know how we can change that but you know, lots of other countries, particularly in western Europe think about this stuff in a much different way than we do.

Len Sipes:  All right, Steve Steurer, is my guest today, Executive Director of the Correctional Educational Association 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 pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Discover Corrections Website-American Probation and Parole Association

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, Discover Corrections is our topic today. It’s a website for job seekers and employers, for mainstream and community corrections. At our microphones is Mary Ann Mowatt, she is with the American Probation and Parole Association Council of State Governments, and she is heading up this website that includes literally hundreds of jobs from employers and people looking for work all throughout the correctional system. Mary Ann, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Thank you!

Len Sipes:  Alright, tell me a little bit about your website. Describe the website to me.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  The Discover Corrections website was launched in February 2012, and the website really was designed to not only provide the public with a positive image of corrections, but also provide employers and job seekers an avenue to, number one for job seekers, to look for employment on a national basis, and for employers to recruit on a national basis. What Discover Corrections enables you to do is to, for employers, is to reach a local and national audience of informed and interested, qualified candidates. It also allows agencies to provide a profile about their agency and to add specific information so that the employee or the you know, possible job candidate, is able to make a good decision about applying for that position. Also employers can search resumes, registered job seekers, and they can do this at no cost. And that’s what we find is very appealing to agencies.

Len Sipes:  It’s an amazingly comprehensive website. You’ve got little vignettes up there about jobs and corrections, and about what different people have done over time, so it’s an interesting website, and the bottom line is anybody interested in a career in corrections, so you could be sitting there in Rhode Island and say “You know, son of a gun, I’ve always wanted to live in Hawaii. I wonder what parole and probation jobs are or what correctional officers jobs are available in Hawaii.” Correct?

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Correct. And you can easily go to the Career Resource section on the website and click on the state you’re interested and look at the various corrections agencies, be it jails, detention centers, prisons, and community corrections agencies.

Len Sipes:  Now you have juvenile agencies as part of this process as well, correct?

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Correct. And most recently we added additional content regarding juvenile detention centers and just juvenile, what am I looking for Leonard? You know the area of juvenile corrections.

Len Sipes:  Oh juvenile justice, yes.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  And really what that needs.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Okay

Mary Ann Mowatt:  And tribal…

Len Sipes:  And tribal.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  …justice as well. So it is more of a comprehensive view of both of those focuses.

Len Sipes:  Now you’ve got close to three hundred jobs as of today on that website. That’s three hundred jobs that are all good paying, that are probably 95% government jobs with good benefits, and they are there. Right now people are looking for candidates for those three hundred jobs, right?

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Oh exactly. And I don’t wanna forget our private agencies. If you look at our website, one private agency has sixteen job openings currently. And that includes you know, training and procedure coordinators, a licensed electrician, case manager positions, client monitoring positions. So there’s a variety of positions that people really can consider outside of what we, you know, think of the traditional positions such as correctional officer or probation officer; it also includes positions such as IT and nurses, and dentist positions. So we want individuals to consider a career in corrections.

Len Sipes:  Well considering that we have seven million people on any given day who are under the auspices of a correctional organization, whether again it be mainstream, whether it be parole and probation and that doesn’t even begin to include jails to my knowledge, if I remember that correctly. So there, you know, this is just, and people are gonna say, “Well gee that’s a sad commentary letter,” but this is a growth area. Whether we like it or not, regardless of the how we feel about it or not, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of jobs in the correctional field and you know, I’ve been inside of prisons, I’ve walked alongside of correctional officers as they’ve made their rounds. That’s one of the most interesting and toughest jobs I can possibly imagine. You need a good, solid person to be a correctional officer. And I do believe that correctional officers, they really do not get the respect that they deserve, and that’s a very tough job. I mean, I’m a former police officer and you know, to be a correctional officer I think it’s tougher and probably more interesting than anything I ever did in law enforcement. So first of all we need good people to be correctional officers and there are correctional officer positions available. Correct?

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Correct. There are many and actually as I’m looking at the list, there are a number of correctional officer positions throughout the country:  Wyoming, California, just to name two of the states. And it is a very honorable position and when people apply for this job I hope they’re thinking about a career in Corrections as far as what steps can they take. Can this lead to promotional opportunities? Can it lead to other positions within the criminal justice arena?

Len Sipes:  And within any huge bureaucracy there are always opportunities for advancement, so if you start off as a correctional officer, I mean look, I started off as a cadet for a state police organization. You don’t get any lower than a cadet for the state police. So we all start off at these lower level positions and we go throughout our careers and we build and build and build, but you’ve gotta start somewhere and these entry level jobs within Corrections are just one excellent way of involving yourself in the criminal justice system. That doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Yes, we do want them to make a career out of it so we do want them to go into K-9, we do want them to go in Intelligence, we want them to go into the special tactical teams, we want them to go into rehabilitation programs. So, there’s endless opportunities for advancement, endless opportunities for career advancement, for pay advancement, for benefits advancement.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Exactly. And I just, just a highlight, there was an article in our, you know, I live in a major metropolitan area, and it talked about the millennials not viewing government jobs as attractive or having stability but yet, you know to counter that, you know, government jobs offer pensions, which is very difficult to find in today’s world. Also medical benefits, health insurance, short term and long term disability. All of those are very attractive and I know for some young people, and certainly when I was in my twenty’s I didn’t often think about, “Okay, what am I looking at when I’m forty or forty five?” Pensions are very attractive. It’s an income you know, for the rest of your life.

Len Sipes:  As I approach retirement I’ve never been more sold on that concept. I think it’s extraordinary. And in a lot of cases there are twenty-year retirements for people in law enforcement and people in corrections. But let’s shift gears for a second. Parole and probation agents, now again, the emphasis here is that there are doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, public affairs people, there’s all sorts of positions at the Discover Corrections website. But in terms of parole and probation officers, again I’ve been out with them, I’ve worked with them, I’ve seen them doing what it is that they do. And again, immense respect that I have for parole and probation agents. Here in the District of Columbia we call them community supervision officers. They have an extraordinarily difficult job, sometimes a bit of a dangerous job, but the challenge is immense and the interesting jobs that they have, I mean, I don’t think there’s any more interesting job on the face of the earth than being a parole and probation agent, and you’ve got plenty of those.

Mary Ann Mowatt:  And let’s not forget the rewards, because many of us enter this career and I certainly had a long career in community corrections, because of the rewards and assisting people in behavioral change, and seeing those successes. Those are all very positive things that contribute to an individual’s career and it’s hard to conceptualize those rewards, those types of rewards.

Len Sipes:  Well we do want people to enter the Corrections field, we want to get the very best people we possibly can and that’s the whole idea behind doing this abbreviated version of DC Public Safety today, and to basically say “look, if you’re interested in a good job with decent pay, with decent benefits, with a retirement system attached to it, with the opportunity to be mobile, with the opportunity to build, with the opportunity to move into dozens of different areas, and you never will be bored in terms of a job in Corrections. It is the very antithesis of a boring job. You will always find yourself immensely challenged whether you go into mainstream corrections, or community corrections, or juvenile justice, right?

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Absolutely. And I just wanna add, please visit us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. We also have a section if you’re really wondering about a specific career; we have stories from the field. It is about real people telling about their careers and their experiences and where they’re at today.

Len Sipes:  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Discover Corrections blog, and also in the show notes I’ll put in those connections and I’ll put in the RSS feed for those of you who understand what an RSS feed is, but the whole idea is that you’re all over the place trying to promote the idea that you want a career in corrections, you want a good career, you want a stable career, you want an interesting career, you want a career with ten tons of benefits and good pay, decent pay I should say, then you go to right?

Mary Ann Mowatt:  Exactly!

Len Sipes:  All right! Mary Ann Mowett, she’s been our guest today. She is with the American Probation and Parole Association of the Counsel of State Governments. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Justice Reinvestment-The Urban Institute

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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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, Justice Reinvestment in America, or how I like to call it, Reinventing the American Justice System. Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne. She is the principle investigator for the Urban Institute. There was a piece of research that she was the principle investigator on, Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report, from the Urban Institute, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice; the website

I’m going to briefly read from the executive summary. “States across the country are increasingly seeking cost-effective and evidence-based strategies to enhance public safety and manage their corrections and parole and probation populations. This model, Justice Reinvestment yielded promising results supporting cost-effective evidence-based policies projected to generate meaningful savings for states while maintaining a focus on public safety. Congress appropriated funds to launch the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2010 in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts. 17 states are participating.” Nancy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy La Vigne: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Len Sipes: You’re back at the microphones. You’ve been here before. I absolutely adore having you. I consider you one of the chief spokespeople for Justice Reinvestment in the United States, a pretty complicated topic. Let’s start off with what is Justice Reinvestment?

Nancy La Vigne: Well, you’re right. It really is complicated. And it’s not the kind of concept that can be answered in what I call an elevator pitch. It takes more than three sentences, so bear with me here.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: The Justice Reinvestment model is actually a seven step model. And it kind of mirrors the problem solving model. So, trying to understand the underlying causes of a problem and then using data and evidence to drive how you might change that problem and then being sure to assess is after the fact. So if you take that rather simplistic model and apply it to state criminal justice systems you have a lot of things that need to be in place. And critical to that, and this is the first step of the model, is establishing a bipartisan working group. You have to have everyone on board.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: And in the context of the state, we’re talking about the House Majority Leader, the Senate Leader, different names in different states.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Democrats, republicans, you want all branches of government on board, and this is usually led by the governor. So you need a governor who sees the vision and the opportunity for criminal justice reform and really wants to spearhead the effort. So that’s the first step.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Then you need to analyze the drivers of your criminal justice populations and costs. And of course the most costly component of a criminal justice population are those who are behind bars. So who’s going to prison, for how long, how’d they get there, when are they released, what happens when they’re released, who ends up getting returned and why? These are kind of detailed questions that require very –

Len Sipes: Sure are.

Nancy La Vigne: Good data and really strong data analysis. That’s where the technical assistance provider comes in. So you do your data analysis and that leads you to a variety of policy options that are related to the drivers of your system. You have those policy options. You continue to work with the working group. All the stake holders need to be on board. And you make policy changes that are codified in the legislation that’s enacted. Do we declare victory and move on at that juncture? You passed a bill right?

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So you’re supposed to say, “No, Nancy. I don’t think you do.”

Len Sipes: I’m –

Nancy La Vigne: “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

Len Sipes: I’m just trying to follow your lead, because this is complicated. I have these discussions all the time with my peers and other reporters, Justice Reinvestment, what it means. It’s hard to encapsualize.

Nancy La Vigne: So I’m only on step four –

Len Sipes: Okay. Go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne: Right? I’ve got a few more. So the legislation is passed and enacted, but that’s still on paper, right? Then you have to go about the hard work of implementing it.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: And that’s a big component of Justice Reinvestment, is working with the practitioners on the ground to ensure that what was passed is actually implemented with fidelity, as we call it in the research community. So here’s the catch. Do you remember the name Justice Reinvestment?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: Have you heard me say reinvestment yet?

Len Sipes: No.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. It takes so long to the reinvestment word.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: But that’s step six, because what you do is you implement the changes that are supposed to thwart the growth in your prison population, if not reduce it, and with that reduction comes massive savings.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Nancy La Vigne: Across all of the 17 states that we studied, they are projected to save 4.6 billion dollars.

Len Sipes: That’s an amazing amount of money.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. It really is. And some share of that gets reinvested.

Len Sipes: Into?

Nancy La Vigne: Into programs, services, evidence-based practices that help support a lot of these alternatives to incarceration.

Len Sipes: Is it too easy to say that if I save the state of Missouri a billion dollars, then half of that comes back to programs in the community that furthers the reduction and recidivism?

Nancy La Vigne: That’s safe but for the percentage. Each state has chosen to reinvest a different percentage and that varies dramatically –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Across the 17 states we studied.

Len Sipes: The heart and soul of this is that we need to manage the criminal justice population better, more efficiently, to protect public safety and to lower the cost at the state level. That’s the bottom line behind all of this, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: That is. And I think the emphasis on cost-effectiveness is really important, and both of those words, cost and effectiveness. So this wasn’t driven by cost alone, right, although, a lot of states that did engage in Justice Reinvestment were strapped for resources and were looking at the opportunity cost of continuing to spend more and more money on incarceration. It’s the effectiveness piece, in that a lot of these states were looking and saying, “We’re just, we keep incarcerating more and more people at great expense, but we’re not getting much return on that investment, recidivism rates weren’t budging a bit.”

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: “So what are we getting out of this? There’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a way that we can invest resources, perhaps even less than we’re investing now, on evidence-based practices that will lower recidivism.” And of course that’s going to be addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior.

Len Sipes: Sure. But my peers in the different states have all said and in the 14 years when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, I mean every year the governor had a discussion with their public safety secretary about cutting back on cost. I think every governor in this country is saying to themselves, “We’re in a recession. We’re taking in fewer tax dollars. We’re in trouble. 8% to 12% of our expenditures are going into corrections.” I know it’s different for different states. Is there a way that you can bring that down, yet at the same time, maintain public safety? I would imagine a lot of this is coming out of those discussions with governors and public safety secretaries and directors of corrections.

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. And it’s no coincidence that Justice Reinvestment has taken off at a time where crime rates are historically low levels.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: So it becomes a very safe space to experiment in alternatives to incarceration.

Len Sipes: Right. Almost continuous 20 year, almost, because in the last couple years it’s fluctuated in terms of crime going up according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and some FBI data. Although, the latest FBI data says crime is going back down. But basically over the last 20 years the trend line has been less crime. So it is a safe space to have this discussion.

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: Okay. So go ahead. So why, if it’s so complex, why did the 17 states decide to get involved in this?

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Well, we were just talking about the issues of not getting the return on investment of continuing incarceration and increasing incarceration rates in many, actually, most states. They look to the states that predated the work that we did. I guess I should clarify. The report that we just released focuses on 17 states under what we call the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which was launched in 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, with appropriations from Congress. BJA had invested in Justice Reinvestment at an earlier time, as did the Pew Charitable Trusts. BJA and Pew actually partnered on the 2010 initiative. It’s a public-private partnership. It’s rather unique.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Pew is able to dedicate resources to a lot of what we call “the ground softening” that needs to take place in states. They’ll do public opinion polls to demonstrate that the public really has more of a tolerance for alternatives to incarceration than some might think. They’ll engage in educating members of Congress in ways that government funds couldn’t go towards. And they also do their own technical assistance. So it’s been a terrific partnership, but I do want to note that these are just the 17 states since the 2010 initiative, and then much, much came before that, and that the models evolved quite a bit over time. But a lot of these 17 states looked back to those earlier examples, Texas stands out as –

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: A big one that everyone holds up. Texas engaging in this level of reform is noteworthy in and of itself.

Len Sipes: A conservative state. And one of the things that I did want to point out is that this is now a bipartisan relationship. This is now a bipartisan discussion where you have people on the conservative side taking a look at the state government and basically saying, “Okay, we are giving you 800 million dollars a year or a billion dollars a year to run your correctional system, what return am I getting for that expenditure?” That’s a very fair question.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. It’s quite powerful, and then looking at other examples and saying, “Why aren’t we doing this?”

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So that was a big, big driver for states getting onboard with it. And you need that, because it’s a complicated process. It’s both complex and complicated.

Len Sipes: Well, but again, I think every person that I’ve talked to representing states throughout the country has said that their governor has had that conversation. Every state is tweaking their criminal justice system. Every state out there, whether their part of this study or not, are trying to figure out different ways of holding down on expenditures, and at the same time, getting a bigger, stronger, more powerful return on tax pay dollars. Every state is doing this to one degree or another.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: At least the people that I’ve talked to.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: All right, so this has many ramifications for parole and probation. I represent a parole and probation agency. Most of the people I talk to are involved in community corrections. This really does. Because I remember sitting down and doing an analysis in the state of Maryland. 70% of the people coming into the prison system in one particular year, 70% were revocations from parole or probation, 70%. And the public safety secretary would look at me, and he goes, “Leonard, we can’t maintain 70% returns. I mean are all the people coming back really, do they all really need to return to the prison system?” And again, I think that conversation is going on in every state.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned revocations, because across the 17 states that was one of the biggest drivers of all of their prison populations, probation and parole revocations on average feeding about 50% of the growth in the prison population.

Len Sipes: And I’ve seen it much higher –

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: From other research reports.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. And this is just on average across the states. So, yes, that was one key policy response was thinking differently about what to do with revocations. The solutions included graduated sanctions, so a lot of other responses to violations of conditions of probation or parole, short of incarceration; kind of ramping up supervision; adding electronic monitoring; so on and so forth.

Len Sipes: Project HOPE in Hawaii.

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. Yeah. Several states included Project HOPE in part of their policy initiatives –

Len Sipes: That’s great.

Nancy La Vigne: Because it held such promise, those short-term stays over the weekend in jail that don’t disrupt one’s employment and –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Enable them. But they feel it. It’s got teeth.

Len Sipes: It’s got teeth.

Nancy La Vigne: And it’s swift and certain.

Len Sipes: And they’re off the street quickly and it did dramatically, dramatically reduce recidivism. It dramatically reduced technical violations, it certainly did get the attention of the people in supervision.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. Another thing they looked at in terms of reducing revocations is, well, certainly the technical violations are huge and need not result in a return to prison per se, even some low-level offenses, does that really merit a return to incarceration? Or what is the length of stay of any kind of term for revocation, can that be narrowed?

Len Sipes: The question I hear oftentimes is by re-incarcerating so many lower level offenders; we don’t have the room for the truly serious violent people who pose a risk to public safety, who pose a danger to public safety. That’s the discussion that I’ve heard.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. That’s absolutely right and it remains true today, although, I think that increasingly you’re seeing that people behind bars in state prisons have done some pretty serious crimes, because states have over time tried to divert folks from incarceration. The revocation piece is the one piece where I think there’s still room for reform.

Len Sipes: But the idea here is to, again, lower rates of recidivism – follow the research, I’m sorry. It really is a focus now in the last ten years of taking a look at evidence-based practices. A body of research has come out that has provided us with best practices and it’s asking those of us in the criminal justice system to employ those best practices. And through that we can figure out who needs services, who needs supervision, the people who don’t need intensive supervision or services, we do not do that much with them, but the services and the supervision really goes to those who pose a clear and present danger to public safety

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. And you actually just hit on the number one policy response across the 17 states. 16 of the 17 states implemented, expanded, and/or validated risk and needs assessments to make decisions –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: On who needs to go in, who need to be supervised, who needs treatment, etc. etc.

Len Sipes: What we’re saying is we have a pretty good sense now after, I say the last ten years. We’re actually talking the last 30, 40, 50 years of research. We have a pretty good sense now as to how community corrections, how parole and probation agencies can operate, should operate. And if we operate in that way, we lower the risks of recidivism and we save tax paid dollars all at the same time. There is enough evidence at this stage of the game that indicates that that’s the way to go.

Nancy La Vigne: I think there is, but speaking as a researcher, there’s always opportunity to analyze those policies more carefully.

Len Sipes: I’ve never talked to a researcher in my life who didn’t say, “Well, we’ve found this out, but we need to do this and this and this.” Well, we’re more than halfway through the program. I do want to reintroduce Nancy La Vigne. She is the principle investigator for this particular piece of research at the Urban Institute. It is Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report. It was done by the Urban Institute, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You can get the copy of the report from the website at the Urban Institute, Okay. So we’re talking about parole and probation. And we’re talking about also sentencing practices and policies. We’re talking about at the very beginning what judges do and what decisions they make in terms of who goes to prison, who goes to the jail, and who goes to community supervision, and if they go to prison, for how long.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And tell me about that, talk to me.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Well, we were just talking about risk and needs assessments, and those apply to every step in the criminal justice process when you think about it, and starting with pretrial, does one need to detained or not. And a couple of the states that we assessed they have unified systems, so pretrial populations are important to states, not just to localities. So using actual risk assessment to better understand who can safely remain in the community pending the sentencing process is important. Using risk and assessment tools to guide sentencing decisions, the in/out decision need to be in prison –

Len Sipes: Isn’t that unique? So judges are going to be using risk and needs assessment tools to figure who should go and who shouldn’t.

Nancy La Vigne: Well, we surely hope so.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Nancy La Vigne: I mean that’s I like to say that the devil’s in the details of implementation when it comes to Justice Reinvestment.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: And I mentioned it earlier. It’s a critical piece. We can’t assume, especially in the case of judges and prosecutors, that they’re going to do, they’re going to change their behaviors in any way, shape, or form, really, when it comes to changes in sentencing policy or anything that expands discretion. You hope that things will change. I mean looking at the federal level and there’s a lot of talk about reducing or even removing entirely mandatory minimums. That doesn’t guarantee that judges are going to behave differently.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: You need training.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So a lot of the implementation piece of Justice Reinvestment, what we call phase two of the process, involves training of judges, training of probation officers on how to use risk tools, a lot of training that involves almost cultural shifts in how people think about their jobs and interacting with clients.

Len Sipes: Well, I love listening to tech podcasts. And one of the things that was brought up in a tech podcast the other day was the fact that you take a look at certain companies, Kodak, they saw the digital revolution coming, they were one of the first inventors of the digital camera, but yet, at the same time, they went under, they went belly up, the company went out of existence, because everybody switched over from film to digital, even though they saw it coming and even though they were one of the first inventors of the digital camera. Sometimes organizational DNA gets in the way of meaningful change, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: It does. It does. But we talked about some of the bottom line outcomes of Justice Reinvestment coming from our assessment report and earlier in the show I was saying that across the 17 states they’re looking at projected savings of 4.6 billion dollars.

Len Sipes: And that’s an amazing amount of money.

Nancy La Vigne: It is. And also I did want to mention that those states also are planning to reinvest 398 million dollars, okay, which is a fair chunk of change.

Len Sipes: But what the research says that we have to have the programs. So this is one way of getting the programs.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes: If we going to lower rates of recidivism, if we’re going to reduce crime, the programs have to be there. That’s one way of getting the dollars for the programs.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right. But those are I guess what I’d call the hard metrics, the quantifiable outcomes. But we’re talking about cultural change. And I wanted to mention that there’s some softer outcomes that we measured as well, through interviews with stakeholders and so forth. And we’ve observed a huge cultural change in these states that are engaged in Justice Reinvestment, first of all, just embracing data to make decisions. If you think about going in a state house and imagining someone saying, “Should we pass this new crime?” right, and a legislator saying, “Well, what does the data say?”

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: It actually is happening now. It’s stunning.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne: Because they’ve become to learn the value of the data in understanding what’s driving cost, right. And that’s through the support of technical assistance providers. I did want to acknowledge those providers, Council of State Governments Justice Center, is one, and the Vera Institute of Justice, and then I already referenced that the public-private partnership involves Pew, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and they also do their own technical assistance. So these folks come in and really work with the data and help demonstrate how the data can drive decision making. And we’ve also seen a real embracement in evidence in terms of what does the research say what really is effective.

Len Sipes: Right. So the states are going through meaningful change. I mean when we started this process there was pushback. When we started this process there was immense amount of discussion at the state level in terms of what proper, what are we doing, why are we doing it, how are we doing it. Different people were saying, “No, wait a minute. This just, we feel very uncomfortable about making these changes.” What we’re having in these 17 states and other states throughout the country is a very intense policy discussion in terms of what the criminal justice system is doing and how it should be doing it. And now they’re going to data to answer those questions, which is wonderful.

Nancy La Vigne: It is.

Len Sipes: And that really didn’t happen, that data driven assessment didn’t happen until Urban and Pew and the Council of State Governments and Vera and the Department of Justice came along and asked states to take a look at their systems.

Nancy La Vigne: I don’t know that that’s fair to say, because I know that in individual states they have engaged in this kind of data analysis for at least a few decades. I think the challenge is that it takes a lot of work to get the data. The data aren’t necessarily in a good shape out of the box to do these types of analyses in a lot of states, especially in the budget cuts that we’ve witnessed have shrunk their research staff not expanded them, and some have no real research support whatsoever. So having that TA is really critical.

Len Sipes: I’m guessing I’m referring to the intensity of the discussion. I mean this discussion is now taking place at the county level, at the state level –

Nancy La Vigne: It is.

Len Sipes: Within corrections, within the governor’s office, within law enforcement, within parole and probation. I’ve never seen in my career the intensity of the discussion about what works, what doesn’t work, and what the data has to say. That I think is new, even though states have always used data to some degree.

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: So it’s the intensity of the discussion.

Nancy La Vigne: I think that’s right.

Len Sipes: Okay. And then so I think that, again, Urban, Pew, Council of State Governments, Vera, the Department of Justice, has pretty much led that discussion throughout the country. And we’re coming up with a premise that basically says, “You can do it quicker, you can do it better, you can do it smarter, we can save you money, you can reinvest part of those savings back into state government, and you can protect public safety all at the same time.” That’s a huge undertaking.

Nancy La Vigne: You just summarized that so much better than I did earlier in this show.

Len Sipes: Well, no, no, but –

Nancy La Vigne: Can I just take you around with me when I’m talking about Justice Reinvestment?

Len Sipes: No. I mean but this is. This is a discussion, this is a level of intensity.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. It is.

Len Sipes: Correct?

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: I mean we’ve always had, I mean in the 14 years I was with the state of Maryland, we always sat down with our budget and with our researchers and we have always had these discussions, but lately the level of intensity and the degree of discussion has just multiplied tenfold. People are saying, “What does the evidence have to say?”

Nancy La Vigne: It’s true. It warms a researcher’s heart. I mean let me tell you.

Len Sipes: It’s the return of the prominence of the criminologist.

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: The criminological community, which in some cases people have somewhat joked their being ignored over a certain period of time, well, that’s not true anymore.

Nancy La Vigne: I think that’s changing.

Len Sipes: I think it is changing. Okay. So we get in the problem solving courts. This is just one example of a program that consistently reduces recidivism. If you take a look at problem solving courts, drug courts, mental health courts, other kinds of courts, they consistently come in on the plus side of the research; they consistently reduce recidivism to the point now where problem solving courts, drug courts, are in every state in the United States.

Nancy La Vigne: They are. And, yeah, I think you’re aware Urban studied the drug courts –

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: It’s a pretty massive undertaking. And one thing that I think about with drug courts is, you know, they’re pretty expensive. We found that they were cost-beneficial. But it’s almost like you don’t have enough to go around when you look at the extent of the population who could benefit from them. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the training of judges when it comes to implementation of Justice Reinvestment Initiatives and in problem solving courts. And one thing we found in our study of drug courts was that judge demeanor is really critical and independently critical. So the degree to which the judge remembers the client’s name and aspects of the case, treats the client with respect, kind of engages in problem solving with them, rather than just kind of issuing orders or directives or reprimands –

Len Sipes: They may ignore the rest of us in the criminal justice system, but they do not ignore a judge.

Nancy La Vigne: Right, right, but feeling that your judge really cares about your case. So that’s another way, that’s an evidence-based practice that could be used to spread further reform and impact on crime.

Len Sipes: But I am right in terms of the research where it says that it’s just not a matter of supervision. Supervision doesn’t reduce recidivism. You have to couple that with programs.

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: And those programs could be across the board, they could be drug treatment, mental health treatment, they could be vocational, they could be thinking for a change, they could be a lot of different programs, but we have to have the programs to do all this, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. You do. And importantly, that is also very expensive. So you want to make sure that the programs are going to the people who need the most –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: And that programs are scarce resources like everything else. So –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: That brings back the importance of using risk and needs assessments.

Len Sipes: Right. Because the judge may say, “Well, gee! I don’t know you don’t have a history of substance abuse.” then again, everybody does, 80% of our population. I’ve seen other national studies where 70% have histories of substance abuse. Not everybody needs substance abuse treatment. So you do the analysis to figure out who needs that treatment and you apply it to them, not everybody.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And that’s where you get your biggest return for your dollar and that’s where we get into needs and risk assessments at the judiciary level.

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: Okay. So tell me more about this. The problem solving courts, we’re talking about mandatory supervision requirements, sentencing changes, community based treatments, accountability measures. We’re not talking about letting people off the hook, we’re talking about accountability. In some cases I’ve seen drug treatment as being not a free a ride. Sometimes I see drug treatment as being one of the hardest things that that person under supervision will ever face in their entire lives.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s true. And when it comes to supervision there’s some people who don’t need to be supervised and there’s some research that suggests that supervising low-level offenders can actually be more harmful than helpful. And what we’ve seen across the Justice Reinvestment states is that in some cases they’re choosing not to supervise certain people and in other cases they’re choosing to supervise people who wouldn’t normally be supervised, and those I’m talking about the max-outs, right, who when people max-out it means they’re usually in for some pretty serious crimes.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: They probably pose the greatest risk to public safety –

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Nancy La Vigne: When they get out, and yet they get zero upon release.

Len Sipes: Another interesting thing is that I remember the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics from years ago where they did year after year after year analysis of who recidivated the most. The ones on parole always had a 15% to 20% less rate of recidivism than those mandatorily released. So now parole is being rethought, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. I mean I think there’s much still to be learned about parole and what works. And a lot of it is hard to study, because in a lot of places it’s hard to disentangle revocations for technical violations versus new crimes in that there may some share of technicals that actually are new crimes, but are just not being reported that way, because no one bothers to do the charging. So it’s complicated, but I do agree that you need to be focusing your supervision resources on the most high-risk people.

Len Sipes: But all I’m suggesting is that 20 years ago parole was a dirty word. Now parole is starting to be rethought.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes: And the whole idea is taking a look at that long-range data and saying, “Well, wait a minute. If they’re doing so much better than those mandatorily released in terms of coming back to the criminal justice system, why aren’t we doing it?” Isn’t that an evidence-based practice?

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: So the whole idea is to protect public safety, the whole idea is to reduce recidivism. And what we’re talking about are fewer people being victimized by crime.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right. That’s the goal.

Len Sipes: Fewer people being victimized by crime and savings across the board.

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: All right, Nancy La Vigne. She has been the principle researcher of a wonderful piece of research, Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report, again, done by the Urban Institute, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the US Department of Justice. You can get the research at, I’m sorry, 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 pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]