Archives for March 2015

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Community Corrections Collaborative Network-National Institute of Corrections

Community Corrections Collaborative Network-National Institute of Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

Podcast available at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety I am your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentleman the Community Correction Collaborative Network, they are back at our microphones to talk about all the issues that we can do, should do if all the organization that are involved in the correctional system come together and agree to debate and agree to disagree on certain  issues. The Community Correction Collaborative Network’s mission is to serve as a forum to develop and work with the emerging issues, activities and goals in the community corrections fields. Back at our microphone is Greg Crawford; Greg is a Correctional Program Specialist at the Community Service Division at the National Institute of Corrections. He has experience in the Criminal Justice and mental health field that includes over 14 years working in a misdemeanant Probation Department and at a Community based Mental Health Center. Also by our microphones is Phil Nunes, Phil brings extensive experience totaling 25 years in management nonprofit operations. Phil joined Avis House in July of 2014 as a Chief Programs Officer. And we have Spurgeon Kennedy, our Spurgeon Kennedy at Pretrial here in the District of Columbia. He is Director of Strategic Development for the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia and Vice President for the National association of Pretrial Services and to Phil and Spurgeon and Greg welcome to DC Public Safety.

GREG CRAWFORD: Thanks a lot.


LEONARD SIPES: You know this is an interesting concept we talked about it last time and I think it really is an extraordinarily interesting because what we are talking about doing is bringing a wide variety of organizations together at the same table to debate and agree and disagree on the topics that are so important to us. I am going to read a couple of the organizations involved American Probation and Parole Association, Association of Paroling Authorities, International Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association, International Community Correction Association, National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, National Association of Probation Executives and Greg you are going to tell me that we have a new one.

GREG CRAWFORD: We do Leonard.

LEONARD SIPES: And what is that new one.

GREG CRAWFORD: It is the National Association of Drug Core Professionals.

LEONARD SIPES: And that is extraordinarily important. Greg what is new in terms of the Community Corrections Collaborative Network.

GREG CRAWFORD: Well we are actually in town. We meet twice a year. We are in town tomorrow and Thursday. We have all of our Associations coming to Washington DC. We have a robust agenda and we are looking forward to continuing the discussion about the emerging issues of the field.

LEONARD SIPES: Now the emerging issues of the field are what? I mean the public is being inundated in terms of correctional news. I mean it is very hard to read the newspaper or watch evening television without corrections being part of the news either from a good point or a bad point of view but we have the Affordable Care Act in terms of how that is going to impact Community Corrections Populations. We have the Second Chance Act, we have Justice Reinvestment. There are a lot of different things that are happening throughout the country that these organizations find to be very important. So let’s start off with the Affordable Care Act.

GREG CRAWFORD: Well let me just, if I could, just back up for half a second. I think it is important that we just sort of lay out the state of the Criminal Justice System. If you look at our local jails we average about 11.7 million cycling through our local jails each year. Since the early 80s we have approximately a 375% increase in the US prison population. We have nearly 5 million people on probation or parole. So the system really is sort of bursting at the schemes and so now with the introduction of health care reform and reauthorization of the Second Chance Act and Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, to me this is a real opportunity to make an impact and reduce recidivism and help these people that are in the system address these underlying issues of substance abuse and mental health issues and the discussion I hope we get into today is about building capacity in the Community and meeting the needs of these new opportunities for these folks in the system.

LEONARD SIPES: And having the major Community Corrections Organization in the country all come together and all agreeing in terms of a platform would be a huge plus if we were all marching in lockstep together but these are organization that are ordinarily overwhelmed by the amount of people coming into them. There are 7 million people under Correctional Supervision. 1.5 million are in prisons and in federal prison systems and another what 500 thousand, 600 thousand are in jails then we having another 5 million people onto some sort of community Correction setting. I mean that is 7 million human beings on any given day. That is an enormous amount of people. Do we have the capacity to individually look at these people, provide treatment services, and provide remediation so they would do better upon release? 95% of them are going to come out; they are going to be released. Do we have the capacity to actually deal with these numbers. Phil do you want to go with that?

PHIL NUNES: Sure, I mean I think first of all I mean Community Corrections is an extremely important; I always use the analogy that it is the Penicillin pill for the Corrections Department. Without Community Corrections prisons over the last two decades would have just continued to grow and spiral out of control. Community Corrections has always served as an out lay and a relief valve for people coming home but in years past science is catching up and you know back in the 1940s and the 1950s there is actually a research article that says nothing works. Well today, fast forward to 2014 we know what works. We know that risk based approaches, tailoring individual and addressing needs of those in the Criminal Justice System based upon a risk and their needs has great impact on reducing recidivism. So Community Corrections is a very big and very vital important part to the Correctional World but that world is about to change and it is changing in many states in the country because we are hitting way over capacity on funding issues. But it is also changing because we just cannot lock everybody up and throw away the key. Community Corrections really serves and the seven of us organizations coming together and really speaking with one voice it is rather historic actually.

LEONARD SIPES: I do what to get back to the affordable care act that Greg brought up because of extraordinary importance to those of us in Community Corrections. Spurgeon did you want to opine about where we are in terms of resources?

SPURGEON KENNEDY: I think Phil makes an excellent point. In years past the Community Corrections field was almost a stop gap and if your jail or prison got to crowded you use probationary sources, you used parole, you use pretrial resources. That is not happening any more. Right now Community Corrections is not a stop gap we are the first option. And for most defendants and Offenders we are the best option in the Criminal Justice System. We are the thing that makes the most sense if reducing recidivism is the thing that you are trying to accomplish. Because of that we are going to be used a lot more. Jurisdictions across the country are beginning to buy-in to the idea of evidence based practices. They are beginning to buy into the idea that Community Supervision is the best way to address recidivism and with that new way of thinking does have to come new strategies and new ways of getting resources to what’s going to become a fast growing population of defendants and offenders.

LEONARD SIPES: Throughout the program I do want to remind the listeners that we are talking about a collaboration that is headed up by the National Institute of Corrections that deals with, and marches in lockstep hopefully, or in agreement certainly with most of the major Community Corrections Organizations in the Country so it is something exciting not just having the National Institute of Corrections come along and suggest something but to have all the National Associations that support Community Corrections also agree to it. But getting back to the substance of the field. Lots of people have been before these microphones claiming that we are dumping literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of people into the Community Correction systems who have mental health problems. People who would have been served under, you know 20-30 years ago by facilities at the state level to deal with mental health. We suddenly become the repository for people who have mental health problems. So first of all is that correct and secondly what is the state of the art from the National Institute of Corrections point of view and the Community Collaborations point of view?

GREG CRAWFORD: Well I would say that up until health care reform the jails and prisons had become the defectum mental health institutions in this country and now with health care reform individuals have an opportunity to receive health care to treat theses underlying issues that help lead them into the system of substance abuse and mental health issues.

LEONARD SIPES: And do we have the capacity to deal with it. If we are the defectum, repository for people with mental health problems, do we have that capacity and it leads us back hopefully to the discussion about the affordable care act?

GREG CRAWFORD: I think resources are definitely going to be an issue. There is going to be a period of time where ewe are going to have to figure out ways to build capacity in the Community in order to really take advantage and leverage the opportunities of health care reform. Phil?

PHIL NUNES: I would just add I think that the Affordable Care Act is a terrific starting point but health care is a really big ship that is taking a long time to turn as well. So we are just now on the eve of rewriting rules and regulations and I think states and the federal government actually are now starting to see exactly how do they get through some of the red tape that use to exist but also how do you leverage resources and get a provider because it is a potential issue that the infrastructure does not exist to support this new wave of new services that overnight people became eligible for.

LEONARD SIPES: But I mean people are describing this as the most, one of the, describing it optimistically in a way that I haven’t heard in the last four or five years. Now the Affordable Care Act with all its difficulties and infrastructure issues does provide us somewhere down the road with the best chance of providing individuals caught up in the Criminal Justice System with a medical and mental health and possibly substance abuse issues that they so desperately need. Spurgeon am I right or wrong?

SPURGEON KENNEDY: This is potentially one of the biggest game changes that we have had in the Criminal Justice in a very long time. It is also and again Phil makes an excellent point if we don’t use it well and if we don’t know the population to apply to the best it could be a waste as well. We need to be able to know that these are the defendants and the offenders who are in the most need of mental health services and substance abuse services. We have to get better at assessing. We have to get better at identifying and we have to get better at matching the need to the resources and this is a great and wonderful thing. We have to get better at knowing how to use it and use it well.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay but are the different organizations, Greg how many are we talking about now at National Organizations?


LEONARD SIPES: Seven, okay do those seven organizations plus your individual organizations, do you all agree that this is, this has huge potential but at the same time has huge pitfalls, all of you marching in lockstep in terms of what we can get out of this, what we should be getting out of affordable health care?

GREG CRAWFORD: Well I think as Kennedy said this is the potential to be a huge game changer for the Criminal Justice System and for the folks in the system. I mean really this is the first time that a lot of these folks has had the opportunity to receive health care and be covered to receive the treatment for these issues. And so take a look at this, if you look in Cook County, in Chicago Illinois prior to the health care reform one out of ten individuals who came into the Court room had health care coverage. Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act they now have 9/10 so that is a big difference. If you look at you know local and state jurisdictions across the county they have to be proactive in this thing. They can’t just sit there and let it unfold and expect miracles to happen. They have to be proactive in helping build that capacity in the Community in order to meet these needs.

PHIL NUNES: You know Len I would just add one other thing and for years I have been hearing this as a practitioner in the Community for Community Corrections is that sometimes you have to commit a crime to even be eligible to get in and get drug treatment, rehab. This is to me, that is the game changer part and I think the system is just going through some growth right now but when it does catch up these folks hopefully can be caught early on to get to the point where we prevent them from committing crimes and they get their drug treatment or their mental health issues back in check so that they are not going to the Criminal Justice System.

LEONARD SIPES: Does the Affordable Care Act focus on drug treatment.


SPURGEON KENNEDY: Substance abuse treatment, mental health services, also physical issues as well. So these are all risk factors when you are looking at recidivism reduction.

LEONARD SIPES: Is it agreed between the four of us in this room that resources certainly haven’t been there. We have all wondered why resources certainly haven’t been there when the great bulk of the people caught up in the Criminal Justice System belong to us in Community Corrections. I mean is that a true statement and we are wondering why the resources haven’t been there and now there is the possibility, if everything works well that four or five years down the road we could have an infrastructure that actually provides treatment services to people on Community Supervision.

PHIL NUNES: Len if I could add too, I think there is an important caveat that we need to make sure we outline too because this is going to work in states that actually took the Affordable Care Act and raised the poverty level to the 133% level because that is the game changes. I think it is 25 out of the 50.

GREG CRAWFORD: 27 Actually now.

PHIL NUNES: 27 so they have adopted that. Those states that have adopted that overnight people who, single men for example, single men in general but of course even women with children who were making a different amount of money overnight became eligible for medical services which again include mental health and substance abuse.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay the radio program today ladies and gentlemen is on the Community Collections Collaborative Network produced by the National Institution of Corrections and we really do appreciate the work at the National Institution of Corrections in terms of setting up this program. Greg Crawford is by our microphones today. Phil Nunes is also by our microphones for the first time, he is, I want to mention him because he has not been here before. He has joined Avis House as a Chiefs Programs Officer in July of 2014. Spurgeon Kennedy is back at our microphones as the Strategic Director of Development Services for Pretrial and is also the Vice President at the National Association of Pretrial Services. I do want to refer everybody to the website for the National Institute of Corrections There is a report that deals with the collaborative network, Safe and Smart Ways to Solve America’s Correctional challenges. Greg we are going to go back to you. Correctional challenges, you know when I read something in the newspaper, when I hear something on the radio, watch something on television about corrections it is uniformly negative. I don’t think the average person out there and I have seen surveys that back this up, sees us in the same light as our law enforcement partners. They see us not in the best of all possible lights. Is that part of the reason as to why corrections, especially Community Corrections has been so resource poor over time. Do people have confidence in us and is that one of the goals of the Collaborative Network?

GREG CRAWFORD: Yeah I think so, I think you know as we have kind of shifted away from this heavy incarceration push and folks are starting to realize the effectiveness of Community Corrections. I think often at times the only thing that people see is the negative stuff in the medial but the reality is that there is probation officers largely do a great job, you know addressing these issues, holding people accountable. But the reality is there has been some frustrations on both the part of the folk and the system and the probation officers with these resources. I am going to get back to that for a second. A lot of these folks have not had the funding or they don’t have jobs with the economy crashing in 08 and so forth, and now with health care reform they have an opportunity to get coverage, they have an opportunity to engage in treatment and deal with the underlying issues and that was a lot of the frustrations and the cause of these technical violations that these probations have had to deal with; was the fact that these folks could not afford treatment and now that has been removed. But what is really important is that these Criminal Justice Agencies across the country look at setting up enrolment systems and determining eligibility for these folks and assisting these folks in getting the health care coverage and probation, parole and pretrial officers can play a major role in this and education folks what’s available to them. If you look at the decision points within the Criminal Justice System between law enforcement, court, jails, prisons and community corrections, there is no wrong door for enrolment in determining eligibility and so that to me, people need to be aware that they can all play a critical role as a Criminal Justice Professional in assisting these folks to access health coverage and deal with the underlying issues that help lead them into the system in the first place.

LEONARD SIPES: There is optimism because we do have the Second Chance Act which we do what to talk about a little bit. We do have something known as Justice Reinvestment to those of us in the Criminal Justice System. We understand that maybe the average person listening to this program does not. We do have a research base that is being more and more positive about what it is that we can do to help individuals not recidivate and lowers crime, lowers the burden on the tax payer. We do have all points of the political spectrum now suddenly agreeing within the last five years as to this is the way to go. We do have organizations such as Pew, Urban again National Institute of Corrections who are basically saying there is a better way, a smarter way, a more productive way of managing the correctional system so the stars are starting to align for us in Community Corrections am I right or wrong?

GREG CRAWFORD: Absolutely Len. I would say first of all the Second Chance Act when we talked about resources a minute ago provides those resources. I mean one thing about, we can do all the great evidence based research in the world but if we don’t get to the point of funding those best practices all that research is for nothing. I think the Second Chance Act really provides a pool of funding you know and I will give a shout out to my Senator Portman from Ohio who is a big sponsor of this, to give programs and services and start to fund these programs using this evidence. So the problems we have in this field right now is you have case loads for probation officers are way unyielding. Research shows that higher risk and not meaning dangerous risk but those with higher needs or moderate needs would need more dosage treatment hours of services if it is going to go to reduce the likelihood of them recidivating and coming back into the system. The Second Chance Act actually provides a venue or a stream of funding potential for programs to continue to move forward with those best practices.

LEONARD SIPES: But the point that I am trying to make is that we are talking about funding and here we have the President and Congress supporting the Second Chance Act which is putting more money into research program, putting more money into programs in the community and researching them to see if they are affective so we do have funding from a variety of sources and that is way Spurgeon I am beginning to believe, I am beginning to be a bit more optimistic about our place in the sun. Our place in terms of how people perceive us as having the potential for improving dramatically because we are getting more money from a variety of sources.

SPURGEON KENNEDY: I think that all of the groups that you mention are now on the same page and that is the goal of any good Criminal Justice System is to protect the public. It is to reduce recidivism. It is to look for ways of keeping people who are in the system out of the system in the future. We are on the same page with that. We are on the same page with the things that are most effective, those evidence based practices that make the most sense and that yield us the best successes. The real issue now and this is we are having partners such as Pew and others in the discussion is how best to do those things.

LEONARD SIPES: And this is why the Community Corrections Collaborative Network now comes together at a very opportune time because now there is money, now there is agreement, now there is consensus.

SPURGEON KENNEDY: You have 90 thousand people who every single day do the job. They manage defendants and offenders. They work with those evidence based practices. They have to live with those shortages of resources. What they have lacked over the years and hopefully what the collaborative gives them is a voice to the people making those decisions about this is what we belief works best.

LEONARD SIPES: But national organizations are coming together and are saying hey this, we believe is the path, very powerful National Organizations, the President, Congress. It is not politically popular regardless of what side of the political spectrum you’re on. We now have again this is collaborative network of national organizations coming together yet I’m still wondering if we are convincing the average person sitting out there about our worthiness if all they are hearing is principally negative news coming out of the newspapers, television stations and radio stations. Are we doing enough to see this new collaboration, not just in terms of your network but everything that I have just mentioned all these new funding sources? Are we doing enough talking to the American people to convince them that we are players and we know what we are doing and we know which way to go?

SPURGEON KENNEDY: I think the group that we have convinced the most is those who make the decisions about where resources are going to go. If you are looking at law makers, local decision makers, even as you said before those at a national level even with the dearth of public opinion, whether you’re Liberal, whether you are Conservative you now know what the issues are regarding crime and justice.

LEONARD SIPES: The governors are certainly on board.

SPURGEON KENNEDY: True, I think we have the people on board who will listen and who can make the decisions about resources and about best practices that need to be made for us to move forward.

LEONARD SIPES: The question I have for everybody is that if we really put all these things in place. If we had the drug treatment, if we had the mental health treatment, if we had the vocational treatment, if we had reasonable case loads for people who are doing community corrections where they can actually implement best practice, where they had a shot at implementing best practices. What would change for the average American? What would change in terms of the tax payer contribution Greg?

GREG CRAWFORD: Well I think first of all we are going to get safer communities and I think one this that

LEONARD SIPES: Marginally safer communities, much safer communities?

GREG CRAWFORD: Much safer communities and here is the thing. Our country incarcerates more people than any country in the world. One out of every three Americans has some sort of criminal record or charge or has been arrested and so we need to go about things a little differently and I think what folks are going to see with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act with the Second Chance Act with Justice reinvestment with people paying attention to the fact that we have gone about things a little differently. There is a tremendous collateral consequence from having an arrest or criminal conviction. If you look at what happens a collateral consequence of incarceration, harder to get a job, you know renting an apartment or getting a load or getting a school load these are all negative things that occur and I think people are recognizing that if we want to stop this cycle we need to really take a look at changing that trend by promoting what is working and Community Corrections to me instead of long term incarceration, diversion type program where you know if you comply with a court order treatment program the charge drops off your record. We need to take a look at shifting to those type of things if we really want to make a difference in terms of you know, keeping people connected to the community rather than as Kennedy mentioned in the last broadcast, shipping people off to prison for long stretches.

LEONARD SIPES: We are getting into the final minute of the program so I am going to ask for your answers to be fairly short. Phil again if we really did have all of these resources together, Greg said there would be a significant contribution to public safety. We would definitely lower the burden of tax payers. We would throw fewer dollars into the criminal Justice System. If this is such a win-win situation why is it taking so long to come to this point of national consensus in terms of what to do?

PHIL NUNES: Len I think you can’t get past the 1 in 31 number of the Pew research in 2007. 1 in 31 adult men and women were under some kind of correctional supervision. I think that is what has awakened our country to think about this issue. I think that has opened the door to have now realistic conversation around the issues and impacting, but we have to go even further than what we are looking at and talking about today. We have to look at the 1.5 million kids of incarcerated parents and that 600 thousand are destined to come in our systems. Our system is somewhat broken and now is the time for us I think to come together and that is what our collaborative is about. We are about coming together to talk about what are the most appropriate and of course we haven’t got much into it in this show but maybe for a future show but the justice reinvestment movement that is going on nationwide, you are going to have to get to that point but any time you can keep someone a tax payer and not a tax taker it’s a win-win for I think all of us.

LEONARD SIPES: Spurgeon you have got the final point. How do you summarize all of this to the governor’s aide who are sitting there listening to this program wanting to do something better in Community Corrections what is our message to that individual.

SPURGEON KENNEDY: The use of Community Corrections not only is the smarter way of doing business now but also the cheaper and as a tax payer, as all tax payers I think we all appreciate that. I will give you an example in DC where we try to implement evidence based practices both pretrial and also probation and our jail is 51% capacity and crime has gone down in our city. Most people are supervised in the community, they are supervised well and we are safe.

LEONARD SIPES: Phil and Spurgeon and to Greg I do want to express my appreciation for doing this show today talking about an extraordinarily important topic. I do want to remind everybody that there is a document called Safe and Smart Ways to Solve America’s Correctional Challenges it is at the website of the national Institute of Corrections Ladies and gentlemen this is DC public Safety we really do appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourself a very pleasant day.


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Drug Court in Washington, D.C.

Drug Court in Washington, D.C.

DC Public Safety Radio

Podcast at

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. Welcome to the first radio show for DC Public Safety for 2015. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. The program today is the Superior Court’s Drug Court’s Program here in Washington, D.C. We have two individuals by our microphones. We have the Honorable Gregory Jackson, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He is the Presiding Judge at Judge Court. And we’re going to have Gene and we’re just going to use his first name. He is a graduate of the Drug Court Program here in Washington, D.C. to talk about everything drug court. And to Judge Jackson and to Gene, welcome to DC Public Safety.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: Thank you for having us here.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, Judge Jackson, drug courts are immensely important throughout the United States. It is really something that’s picking up steam within the last couple years. The Washington, D.C. Superior Court was one of the first to implement drug court programs, correct?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s correct. We started our program in 1993. This is now our – going into our 22nd year of operation. We’re one of the oldest courts in the United States.

LEONARD SIPES: And you work in conjunction with our sister agency here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Pretrial Services Agency plus a lot of other agencies, correct?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s correct. It is very much a collaborative effort on the part of all of the criminal justice agencies that operate here in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s service, obviously Pretrial Service Agency, the Criminal Defense Bar, the U.S. Marshal Service and the Department of Corrections, the D.C. Department of Corrections.

LEONARD SIPES: And for the uninitiated give a 30-second laymanesque overview as to what drug court is.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: Drug court is a sanction and incentive-based program. It’s an alternative to the traditional case processing that takes place in court with criminal cases. We’re one of the few programs in the country that’s a pretrial program. Most of the drug court programs around the country are post-adjudication, that is the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty and then is given the opportunity to participate in a drug court program. In our program once a defendant is arrested and charged with an offense, if he or she qualifies for the program they’re given an opportunity to voluntarily participate in the program. Treatment services are primarily provided by the Pretrial Service Agency. If you have a qualifying misdemeanor offense, you successfully complete the program, that offense at graduation, that case at graduation is dismissed.

LEONARD SIPES: Considering how long the program has been going, you’ve literally seen, what, hundreds if not thousands of people go through drug courts since the mid-1990’s?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: For the program itself there have been thousands of people who have gone through the program.


HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: In the two years that I have presided over the program, we’re probably well into the hundreds. I’m not sure that I’m at a thousand yet but well into the high hundreds.

LEONARD SIPES: And the recidivism rate is pretty good, which means that literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would have continued throughout the criminal justice system stopped being involved in the criminal justice system because you provide both drug treatment through pretrial services and other partnering agencies and the sanctions process. You know, if they do well or if they screw up they see you. You are very personally involved in these cases.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I’m directly involved with each individual. In the beginning those people who come into the drug court in the first phase and there are four phases to the program, in the first two phases of the program I see them every two weeks. They have to come to court every two weeks to essentially check in with me. I get status reports on how they’re doing, whether there are problems and if there are problems we talk collectively as a team about how best to address the problem. If they need other services, if we can’t provide them, we do referrals. And if they’re doing well, of course, we acknowledge and congratulate them and we have little token gifts that we actually give as incentives for those people who are doing well.

LEONARD SIPES: And the D.C. Superior Court has really taken the lead for the country in terms of specialty courts. There’s an endless array of specialty courts within the Superior Court structure within the District of Columbia. So it’s just not drug courts, there’s family courts, there’s a lot of different courts.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s absolutely correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, I want to go over to Gene. Gene, you’re a graduate of the Drug Court Program and I want to get your sense as to how you felt about your participation in the process. I mean, having the presiding judge here is extremely important, but I think more people are interested in what you have to say than what I have to say or what Judge Jackson has to say. So give me your perceptions about your participation in the Drug Court Program.

GENE: Well it was almost like the last straw for me, you know. At my age at the time I caught a charge and, you know, and I had a real drug habit and I was trying to get rid of the drug habit, you know. And I was just tired out there in the street and couldn’t keep my urines clean and the caseworker, the court referred me to Drug Court and I can say that’s one of the best things that happened to me. At first I didn’t know what I was getting into by going to drug court, you know, going to these meetings and once I withdraw from the use of drugs and alcohol I felt a little comfortable in the group. Cause when I first came to groups I couldn’t even hardly talk, you know, because I was going through a lot of withdrawals. You know, but one of the things is the caseworker they understood me. A lot of the people went through the same thing that I had went through, so that was a great help to me, you know, and I looked forward to coming down here, you know, because it was so much information that was given to me. And it’s like I was on my last straw.

LEONARD SIPES: Did you have a long drug history?

GENE: Yes I did. Yes I did.

LEONARD SIPES: Did you have a long involvement within the criminal justice system?

GENE: In and out of the criminal justice system, no, I was in and out – almost like a career nuisance, you know, and all my charges was drug related.

LEONARD SIPES: Now you were involved in treatment before, correct?

GENE: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, so what was the secret sauce with Drug Court, I mean, am I right, quickly tell me if I’m wrong, but am I right in suggesting that you did not do well within previous treatment programs and then you got to Drug Court and then you did well.

GENE: Well for one thing, what I like about Drug Court, you know, and it was surprising to me, all the staff members always say Mr. or Mrs., they call you Mr. or Mrs. You know, and they treated you like you was a human being. In the other treatment programs, not putting them down, it was like, you know, they was like trying to force things on you but here it was more like a mild case of treatment, you know. And if you had a caseworker that, you know, and I came real close to my caseworker that I can go to her and talk to her almost about anything. And, you know, and I still consider her as my caseworker today.

LEONARD SIPES: So you were able to establish a personal relationship between the treatment providers provided by pretrial services, you were able to establish that personal relationship and that helped you.

GENE: Yes, yes, cause, you know, one thing, you know, every time I’m down this way I stop in and I talk to her and still call her my caseworker and her supervisor and a lot of the other staff. You know, because I need all the support I can though, you know, I don’t say I have it made so that’s why I continue to come down here when I’m not working cause I am a productive member of society today. You know, so whenever I get a chance to come down here, you know, the graduation or just stopping in and saying, look, I’m doing okay or even, you know, even if I have a problem or situation going on with myself I have these people I can come and talk to and that’s a great thing for me, you know, cause this is one of the things I didn’t do in the past was to tell people my problems. You know, I tried to resolve them myself, but now I know if I’m down this way and I got a problem I can call them or either stop in and that’s a great thing for me.

LEONARD SIPES: Now here’s the question I have for you. Having Judge Jackson up at that bench and interacting with the Judge, was that a factor in terms of your clean participation in the program, your full participation in the program? Because I’ve talked to a lot of people about drug courts in the past 25 years by doing radio and television shows and they told me or suggested to me that having that judge sitting up there and interacting with you on a regular basis, you did not want to disappoint the judge, you did not want to go through that process. So is there something that judges bring to the table that the rest of the system cannot bring to the table that gives you that extra push to get involved in treatment and make it work?

GENE: Well Judge Jackson wasn’t my presiding judge at the time but the judge that it was, was similar to Judge Jackson, you know, they gave you some guidance. And all at the same time it’s like when you do something wrong and your mother spank you, if it’s like, you know, you get chastised and things and, you know, give you a lecture. But you really have to be at your lowest point though, you know, to really, to say, hey look, I’m going to listen to what this judge say and the rest of the staff say because I’m tired of using drugs and alcohol.

LEONARD SIPES: I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. But I’ve talked to so many people who have said to me throughout the course of my history and my career, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired yet they find themselves in the criminal justice system. What’s the secret sauce behind Drug Court? What do you think is the real key ingredient that makes Drug Court work?

GENE: For one thing, you know, I can’t say enough about the staff. The way they treat you. You know, and I only can talk about myself, you know, the relationship that I had with my caseworker. And I feel that everyone needs someone to talk to you and especially a drug abuser or alcohol, that we need someone to talk to and establish a relationship with your caseworker and then the rest of the clients, you know, you establish a relationship with them, people who are serious about recovery. And, you know, you get their phone numbers and if you have any problem you can talk to them about or, you know, mostly you bring it to groups. But it’s so unique, it’s hard to try to explain these meetings that we go to or went to because I just can’t say enough about Drug Court.

LEONARD SIPES: Your Honor, I’m going to go back to you. Now, both of us have been involved in the criminal justice system for a long time. I find the stories of Gene and other people who have been through Drug Court and specialty courts inspiring. We’ve been exposed to so much failure within the criminal justice system. It’s nice to be exposed to this amount of success. How does it affect you personally?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: Well, you can’t help but be motivated and inspired and moved by the change that occurs in people and in their lives when they successfully complete the program. During the course of the time that I’ve been on the program I’ve seen people physically change. They go from being very unhealthy to being so healthy at times that when their attorneys see them later on they don’t even recognize them. We see people who have poor relationships with their families, with their friends, now all of a sudden their family and friends are back involved in their lives again. We see people who are very talented but their talent is masked by the use of drugs and all of a sudden that talent emerges. And we have people who are poets and artists and can do – capable of doing all kinds of things and they start to do that again. We have people who haven’t worked in years, if at all, now all of a sudden they’re employed and they’re doing well and they’re being productive in the community. So the Drug Court experience is a life-changing experience and I’m just honored to be able to be a part of that and to be able to participate in helping people change and improve their lives.

LEONARD SIPES: Because, the question can go to either one of you, we’re not just talking about the individual, we’re not just talking about Gene, we’re not just talking about Judge Jackson. We’re talking about that individual’s family, that individual’s friends, whether or not he or she works, whether or not he or she is a tax burden or a tax payer, whether or not the kids are taken care of properly cause virtually everybody caught up in the criminal justice system has kids to one degree or another. So this is not just a program, this is a life-changing event in the lives of people who otherwise could go on to be not just a pain in the rear to society but possibly a danger to society and possibly a danger to their own kids. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is fundamentally a changing experience in the lives of these individuals.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s absolutely right. I routinely tell people who are before me that not only do they suffer from their addiction, but everybody around them, everyone close to them suffers from that addiction as well. And so as they get better everyone around them, the community gets better, the families get better, everyone gets better. And that’s one of the reasons why this process is so very important. The other thing that I think it’s important for people to understand is that one of the things that I think makes our program successful and probably works in other programs as well, we look at the underlying causes of the addiction. We talk and work with the individuals to identify what their triggers are. What we’ve discovered, or certainly what I’ve discovered since doing this in the last two years, that trauma and mental health play a big part in the addiction. So that as part of our program we’re not only working on people in terms of their addiction, we’re working on them to address sometimes trauma that hasn’t been diagnosed and treated forever, mental health issues that have never been diagnosed or treated. And so it’s a multifaceted process when we talk about the treatment that most of the program participants undergo.

LEONARD SIPES: I do want to get involved or explore that question a little bit more because I’ve been talking to people who have been through these sort of programs for years and they describe it as the hardest thing that they’ve ever had to do because they had to confront all those triggers that have lead them to be involved in a substance abuse issue. But we’re more than halfway through the program. Let me reintroduce both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a program today on Drug Courts, the Superior Court Drug Court Program here in Washington, D.C. We have before our microphones the Honorable Gregory Jackson, Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is the presiding judge of Drug Court. And we have Gene, we’re just using his first name, he is a graduate of the Drug Court Program, again, here in Washington, DC,, and for our sister agency Pretrial, Those are the websites for the two agencies involved. Gene, I’m going to go over to you for that question that I asked right before the break. Is that people who are involved in substance abuse and go through the treatment process describe it as one of the scariest things they’ve ever had to encounter. People don’t understand how difficult drug treatment and mental health treatment is because you have to confront all of the things that you went through in life that triggered your addiction. Am I right or wrong?

GENE: That’s true. And the first thing, to start off, you have to be honest to yourself, that’s one thing, and be willing to talk about yourself and feel comfortable with the person who you’re talking to about yourself. Because we as drug addicts we don’t like to talk about ourselves. You know, we, I’m going to say myself, I put up a big image, you know, that everything is okay, you know, but it’s not. You know, so I found – that’s why I talk about my caseworker, how I got so close to her and this was a woman, that I became close to that me and her used to talk about everything. And when I came in I was broken down. I was broken down. I had a lot of health issues and had to miss some groups and everything but I went to her and I explained to her, look here, I got a doctor’s appointment and she said, okay, we’ll make up for this group. And, you know, she understood, you know. The way people look at me now when I came in I was a shade darker and me and her laugh at this now, when I came here I came in with my hair all knotted to my head, like I said I was a shade darker, I had a rope for my belt and I was dirty and I was stinky, but she didn’t turn her back on me. You know, so when I felt comfortable talking to this woman, you know, I got to telling her about everything.

LEONARD SIPES: But it’s the demons, I mean, how many demons did you have to face in life to get successfully through the process of completing Drug Court. I mean, all the triggers, all the different things that contributed to your substance abuse history, confronting those is a scary process.

GENE: Yes it is. Yes it is. You know, I was at my lowest point. I feel that what worked for me, you know, I was willing to do it. You know, I was the type person I used any type of drug it is. I don’t care what type of drugs it is, you say it would change my mood I would use it.


GENE: Because I didn’t want to deal with Gene.


GENE: But today, you know, I have people in my life that I can talk to, you know, so that’s really helping me to face a lot. Because it ain’t going nowhere, the same thing is out there but it’s the way I deal with it today.

LEONARD SIPES: So we’re not talking about criminal justice policy as much as we’re talking about, Your Honor, saving human beings. I mean, in decades before Drug Court Gene would have filtered in and out of the system endlessly. He would have picked up a stretch, a ten-year stretch and he would have gone off to prison and taxpayers would have had to pay that amount of money. And we can intervene in the lives of human beings through mental health treatment, through drug treatment, through other interventions and we can successfully take people who are struggling and who are either a danger or a pain in the rear to society and stop that process. We stop the revolving door. Is that right or wrong?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I think that that’s right. And I think it’s important to recognize that over the years that science has taught us that addiction is, in fact, a disease.


HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: And for a long time we treated it as just a behavioral choice. And so the thought was well someone’s choosing to behave this way. If we tell them not to and we punish them for doing it that will encourage them or force them to change and everything will be fine. Now we understand that, in fact, it is a disease. And you have to treat the disease of addiction just as you would treat any other type of disease. And so the emphasis has shifted, we now are focused on the individual. Our treatment process is individualized. Even in court, when I hold a hearing and I have individuals in front of me, each individual is treated separately and based on their unique situation. And so, and we try to allow for that, we try to accommodate that and we try to identify what’s different about this individual and what’s different about their needs and the way the disease is impacting them and how best can we provide the treatment they need to be better.

LEONARD SIPES: But I don’t want to oversell the process at the same time, you, as the presiding judge, need to be on that bench and read more than just a couple people the riot act. Because when they turn in that drug positive or that second drug positive or that third drug positive or they don’t show up at the meetings or they show up the meetings and they don’t contribute or they show up the meetings and act as a detriment to the group process. I mean, you’ve got to sit at that bench and look at that person eyeball to eyeball and start asking that person a series of very hard questions.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s exactly right. And I think it’s important that I get an opportunity to do that. One of the big differences between Drug Court and what happens in a normal criminal courtroom is there is not that interaction between the judge and the defendant. In fact, in a regular criminal courtroom the judge will not talk to the defendant. The judge talks to the defendant’s lawyer. While there’s a defense attorney there, there’s a prosecutor there, they actually say very little. I’m able to actually personally engage the defendant because we’re not talking about their case. We’re talking about what’s going on with that individual. And I think that that helps, one, it lets the individual know that I’m engaged, involved and interested and concerned about their treatment and their recovery. It also lets them know that they’re a person, they’re a human being. And Mr. Gene’s point is very important because we do want people to know that they can participate in the program, that they have dignity, we do respect them and we’re there to help them and they’re safe.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re safe but at the same time the secret sauce in so much of the success in terms of the specialty courts seems to be the judge, seems to be the judge who gets personally involved in the life of that person. And also at the same time I think judges carry a greater sense of power than those of us in the rest of the criminal justice system. Police officers can say what we want to say, pretrial folks can say it, parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, can say it, but there’s something about the judge saying it that sometimes scares the bejebees out of people and makes them take their treatment process serious. Do you agree with that?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I absolutely agree. And sometimes I have to remind individuals that I am the judge and that I have the power and the authority –

LEONARD SIPES: To send them away.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: To send them away. And it’s necessary to do that. It doesn’t actually, you’d be surprised, it doesn’t happen often, that they get it and I don’t have to remind them of it. But there are sometimes individuals, particularly in their early stages of the program who have to be reminded of the fact that this is a courtroom, I’m the judge and I do have the authority to impose significant sanctions if they don’t participate.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve just been told by other drug court graduates, not just here, but in the state of Maryland and elsewhere that it was the judge, Gene, that s was there and simply said if you don’t comply here are the consequences. You’ve had three positives, I will not accept a fourth. That seems to carry more cache, that seems to carry more weight than coming from a parole and probation agent or a pretrial supervision officer’s point of view. Having the judge say it seems to carry the word of I don’t mean to be blasphemous here, but the word of God.

GENE: That carries weight.


GENE: That carries weight when the judge says that and that is very scary. Then you have the choice to make, do I want to continue using drugs or do I want to go to jail, you know. One thing I have to say this also though, right, you get, in Drug Court, and the judge don’t always talk about jail, he’s giving you instructions towards life, what you can do to better yourself. And even the caseworkers give you the same – they’re giving you instructions, you know. It’s not so much of we’re going to lock you up though, it’s so much instruction of how you can better yourself. And that’s where pursued it, you know, and that’s what helped me because I was at my, like I said, I was at my lowest point and I was willing to change.

LEONARD SIPES: Five minutes left in the program. Your Honor or Gene, where do we take the discussion in terms of Drug Court? You know, the sense that I get is that we could, if we doubled, tripled, quadrupled the opportunity for people to be involved in Drug Court, we could substantially lower the rate of recidivism, we could lower the burden on taxpayers tremendously. The District of Columbia has had a fairly significant reduction in crime over the course of the last ten, 15, 20 years and some people have attributed that to the fine work of the metropolitan police department and other law enforcement agencies. Some people have attributed that to pretrial and court services and offender supervision agency, but I get the sense because of the specialty courts within the Superior Court that you guys can take a lot of credit for the crime reduction within Washington D.C. Am I right or wrong?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I’d like to think that that’s true, although it is very much a collaborative effort on the part of all the different agencies that you’ve named that has resulted in, I believe, the reduction of crime in D.C. But hopefully we’re playing an important role and we think that we are. I think that it’s important that, again, we go back to the point of as the people who participate in the Drug Court Program get better, their families get better, their communities get better. Other people see them and the example that they now set in terms of the lives that they lead and they too want to get better. So it has a ripple effect on the whole of the population that is effected by the addiction that we encounter.

LEONARD SIPES: Because the average person within the criminal justice system, if you take a look at national statistics, they don’t get drug treatment, the average person caught up in the criminal justice system, the average person on parole and probation, the average person on pretrial, the average person incarcerated. I was just taking a look at data the other day is saying that the great majority of people in prison who have mental health problems do not get mental health treatment. And you provide mental health treatment as well as drug treatment.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: We do. And we look at healing the whole individual. So when you talk about addressing an individual’s addiction you have to talk about all of the things that are contributing to and impacting that addiction and very often there are health issues. We have had people who because of physical conditions were using drugs to kill the pain, dull the pain. And so we refer them for medical treatment and once they start to take better care of their health, then their need for painkillers, for the drugs, it goes away.

LEONARD SIPES: Gene, in the final minute and half of the program, what would you say to other people who are going through life and considering the Drug Court Program if they have an opportunity to be involved in the Drug Court Program, what’s your advice to them?

GENE: Give yourself a chance, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: So many people have given up. So many people say I cannot shake my addiction.

GENE: Well, you know, a lot of people would say it because they don’t want to. But, you know, one of the biggest problems, I think a lot of people revert back to drugs and alcohol is because of employment, you know, that’s one of the biggest problems.

LEONARD SIPES: Lack of employment?

GENE: Lack of employment.


GENE: You know, because they figure that, you know, hey, these people is not going to hire me because of my background, but you can’t give up. I didn’t give up though and you’ll be surprised where I’m at as far as job wise today. So that’s what I would say, one of the biggest problems is employment, you know, and I’d like to say something about what Judge Jackson said. It brings your family back to you, you know, because it brought my family back. My daughters were out of my life for years and my daughters are back into my life, you know, and I wouldn’t give this up for the world, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: Judge Jackson, the final word. So for everybody listening to this they should invest in Drug Courts, that’s the bottom line.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I would encourage the various jurisdictions that don’t have Drug Court Programs to really get serious to starting a Drug Court Program.

LEONARD SIPES: Ladies and gentleman, we’ve done a program today about Drug Courts here in the District of Columbia through the superior court. Our guests today have been the Honorable Gregory Jackson, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He is the presiding judge for Drug Court and Gene, we didn’t use Gene’s full name or last name but he’s a graduate of the Drug Court Program. To both of you, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.


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Women Offenders/Women’s Symposium on February 14

Women Offenders/Women’s Symposium on February 14

DC Public Safety Radio

Podcast available at

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen, today we’re going to have a heck of a program on women offenders. Back at our microphones, Dr. Willa Butler, Willa is a Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. Willa worked for us running groups for women caught up in the criminal justice system for decades, invented those groups. Also we have by our microphones, Kelai and that’s not  her real name but she’s a woman in recovery. She’s formally on probation and she was homeless during that time with children. She’s currently a case manager for New Day and also a behavioral health specialist working in Washington, D.C., working in mental health and substance abuse treatment. To both of you, welcome to DC Public Safety.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Thank you.

KELAI: Thank you.

LEONARD SIPES: Willa, it’s great for you to be back. You’ve ran so many groups here for women involved in the criminal justice system. So give me a sense as to what it is you did for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, your former agency and the New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Thank you for having me back Leonard. What I did here at CSOSA, I was a supervisor and I ran the mental health women, gender specific group or team. And what we did, we had a program called WICA, Women in Control Again, which I designed and it addressed the vulnerabilities of female offenders. And I retired in 2011 and I transitioned over to New Day Transitional Home for homeless women and children. And there it’s a little different but almost the same. I work with homeless women and their children who have substance abuse and mental health occurring disorders. And the vulnerabilities are pretty much the same. We have wraparound services. In other words, we can refer the women out for GED, vocational, educational training. Like we said, substance abuse, mental health as well as permanent supporting housing. And we make sure that the women and their children, all of their needs are being met. And that’s what we do at New Day.

LEONARD SIPES: Kelai, tell me a little bit about what it is that you do.

KELAI: Thanks for having me as well.


KELAI: I also work at New Day as a case manager. And for me working at New Day I see things in both lenses because I was once a resident there. I graduated from that program. I’m a case manager there where I help others like myself try to get past their barriers and try to provide them with services and encourage them that if I can do it you can do it as well.


KELAI: And I work with a court service agency on behavioral health providing intervention within the community and providing services to individuals in need.

LEONARD SIPES: So the whole idea is that you’ve been through it, you’ve lived it, you’ve experienced it and you offer yourself as a role model to the women and children that you’re trying to assist.

KELAI: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: All right, before we get to the gist of the program, I do want to remind all of our listeners that we do have a Women’s Symposium coming up on Saturday, February 14th. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency will host a Women’s Reentry Forum entitled Lifetime Makeover. It’s going to be at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon. Again, Saturday, February 14th. Also the Citywide Reentry Assembly where we put together all of our mentors, so the mentors, the faith-based mentors who help people under supervision, that’s going to be on Thursday, February 19th, 2015 at the St. Luke Catholic Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. But let’s get quickly back to the reason why we’re doing this program, to support the Women’s Symposium coming up on Saturday, February 14th at the Women’s, again, Women’s Reentry Forum at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 to 3:00. Willow, the reason that we’re doing this symposium, that reason we’re talking about women caught up in the criminal justice system is why?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: The reason we’re doing the program is to, I guess, to give our audience and people an understanding of the female offender. And what we’re doing is, they’re coming home and what we need – services that we provide for them and to let them know that we embrace them when they do come home and to welcome them and to help them and to assist them in their new life journey. We try to address their vulnerabilities, like I said, in every area that causes barriers. We look at, like I said, the mental health, the substance abuse and whatever other thing that they may need, especially homelessness. Housing is very important for women. They’re coming home. They don’t have anywhere to go. They’ve kind of burned their bridges when they were home and a lot of them cannot go home. They need to be reunified with their children especially, we work on areas in that as well. Those are the things that women face when they come home and not even looking at the education and you need a job and you need a job while you’re on supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: While you were with us at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we were part; you were part of a reorganization of services to focus of high-risk individuals, younger individuals and women caught up in the criminal justice system. So we reorganized while you were here using the methodologies that you put in place. So there’s a great emphasis on women offenders that was not there before.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, and what we did, we went gender specific because we had the understanding that female offenders and men that offend, although they’re similar but there is some differences. Women, I don’t like to use the word needy, but their needs have never been met so, therefore, we have to reach out more to them. In other words, we have to spend a lot of time with them and we have more issues to address. A lot of times when women leave prison they bring their problems home with them. They don’t leave prison mentally. So that’s an aspect that we have to address. They have to worry about their children, are they going to get their children back first of all, because sometimes their children may be in foster care, they may be with a relative, they may not even know where their children are at this point. They need mental health concerns, that has to be addressed and they need also transportation and housing. And we look at transportation as something that may seem to be minute but when you’re looking at someone who has to go around to the city, a place that they haven’t been in a while because of incarceration, they don’t know how to communicate for themselves. They have — maybe a little barriers may come in life skills. So sometimes we like to take a case manager with them. We may use the word like a little parakeet to help them maneuver their way back into the system and not only the system itself but other services that’s here in the city. And that’s why it’s so important and also when women come in, come into your office you have to establish a relationship, a rapport with them because they like for you to sit down, they like for you to talk to them. They want you to know how am I doing today? You know, whereas, with me it’s different. They’ll come in, how are you, I got this, I got that, they’ll show you their paystubs, they’ll take their drug test and then they’re gone. You can’t cut or be short like that with the female.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: You have to spend a little more time with her and show her some love.

LEONARD SIPES: Well one of the things I do want to, before I talk to Kelai, is establish the idea that women under supervision have higher rates of substance abuse, have higher rates of mental health problems, they have children who they want to reunite with. So we’re not just talking about the woman herself, we’re talking the women and her children. But they also have outrageously high rates of being abused, sexually abused, physically abused, especially as children. Am I right or wrong?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, you are right. And the reason for that is, and we go back to the risk factors again, a lot of times the women as children they’ve been exposed to substance abuse. In other words, they viewed it, they’ve seen it either in the home, in their neighborhoods. They’ve been exposed to domestic violence and sexual abuse is there too. And these concerns, those three main concerns, as a child growing up they may not have been addressed and more than likely we’re finding out that they haven’t been addressed. So at a young age they start self-medicating themselves. By that meaning they use drugs out there. And then a lot of times when they do get incarcerated and they go through different type of assessments, they find out that there is a mental health problem or they have a diagnosis, Access One diagnosis of mental health, usually depression or bi-polar.

LEONARD SIPES: Kelai, one of the things I wanted to do is to establish the sense that if women got the services to address all the issues that we’re talking about, is there hope for them? Do they do well? So society is saying to itself, look, we have all of these issues, kids need school, kids who need GED classes, older people, we have lots of needs within our communities. So to give people a sense of hope as to providing the services to women who are caught up in the criminal justice system, do these things really work, the mental health, substance abuse, do they really matter?

KELAI: Absolutely. It really does because if it wasn’t provided to me I would probably be still using or probably dead. My needs were met this time around. I was on probation. Fortunately I had a good probation officer. She was caring and that matters too. She was very caring. And first, I just want to say, when I came out of prison, when I came out of jail, I had burnt all my bridges by then. So my mother didn’t want to be bothered with me. I was locked up during the whole pregnancy. So coming home now with a baby, I delivered my baby the day before I got out of jail.


KELAI: And during the time I was in jail I was really worried because I thought my baby was going to be in the system because who’s going to take my baby.


KELAI: Nobody knows I’m pregnant. I haven’t been home. You know, my family don’t know where I am and I’m ashamed, I feel guilty, I feel worthless, hopeless. And so I remember like it was yesterday, they called my mother and asked could I come back home and she said no. I don’t want her here.


KELAI: Because she’s going to come home and do the same thing again.


KELAI: So it so happens that I was able to go home. And I went home and, of course, I went home and she was nagging cause she didn’t have the understanding of the addiction. So she was very nagging and I said, you know what, I’m not going to let you drive me crazy. So I went to my probation officer and I explained to her, I said, if I stay there I’m going to use. And I remember she said, okay, have you been to a shelter before. I’ve never been into a shelter, so I went to the shelter with my baby and when I got to the shelter that’s how I ended up at New Day Transitional Home.


KELAI: I was in a shelter for 60 days and then I ended up at New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. When I got to New Day Transitional Home for Children, I’ve never, even my own mother, ever had anyone to tell me they loved me.

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah. And I think that, what you’re describing, is typical, Willa, is it not? What you’re describing, what Kelai is describing to us right now is so typical. Women get caught up in the criminal justice system because of all the things that they’re saddled with, they don’t see hope.


LEONARD SIPES: They don’t see a bridge.


LEONARD SIPES: They see themselves as, this is it, I’m going to die, my child’s going to die. I’m going to put a needle in my arm, I’m going to medicate, the child’s not going to be mine, they don’t see any hope beyond their current circumstances. Am I right or wrong?

KELAI: You’re right. And when you’re getting high your feelings are medicated, like you don’t care.


KELAI: Like, but when you stop getting high you have to face that reality.

LEONARD SIPES: Which is the scariest thing on the face of the earth.

KELAI: Absolutely. So all in all, if my needs weren’t met, if I didn’t have a place to go with my baby, that would have been another baby in the system. Not to mention my other child that’s now in college and she’s with me, we reunited at New Day Transitional Home, that I did not even know during that time I was out there drugging and locked up that she was trying to commit suicide several times.

LEONARD SIPES: Your daughter.

KELAI: Because, yes, because I wasn’t there for her. And she didn’t understand why I wasn’t there for her.

LEONARD SIPES: Now there are literally hundreds of thousands of women caught up in the criminal justice system all throughout the United States and if they were listening to this program, if we had these hundreds of thousands, if they were all mandated to listen to this program they would sit there and go, Kelai, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve been there and I didn’t see any hope or I don’t see any hope now. How do you provide women under these circumstances with a sense of hope that they can overcome all the different things? I mean, they’ve got to overcome mental health, substance abuse, a terrible job history, the process or reuniting with their children, finding a place to live, I mean, those are almost insurmountable barriers.

KELAI: Yes, because they need the services, they need a lot of places like New Day Transition and they need more Dr. Butler. And even women like myself today because actually when I got to New Day I did not even have a high school diploma. I didn’t have that. When I got to New Day I know that someone loved me and they care, I was encouraged to go back to school. I went back to school and got my high school diploma. I went back to school and got my CAC and some other certificates that I received while I was there and established my own credit all over again so I was able to get an apartment for myself and it was just awesome, you know. I never knew that people could – when I first got there and they was giving me a hug and I love you, it was so uncomfortable to me because I never got treated that way, you know, so it does matter and women do need love, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guests today are Dr. Willa Butler, Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children and Kelai, not her real name, she’s a woman in recovery, formerly on probation and homeless with a child. She’s now a case manager for New Day and a Behavioral Health Specialist working in Washington, D.C. We have a variety of events coming up. If you take a look at our website,,, Court Services and Offender’s Supervision Agency, the Women’s Symposium on Saturday, February 14th, 2015. We will have a forum called Lifetime Makeover. It’ll take place at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. where there are going to be hundreds of women talking about the very issues that we’re talking about today. Also the Citywide Reentry Assembly coming up on Thursday, February 19th at St. Luke Catholic Church, where we have mentors who mentor to people on supervision from 6:30 in the evening to 8:30 in the evening. Both are extraordinarily powerful events. Again, you can get information about these and all the other activities for what we call Reentry Reflections 2015 at our website, All right, Kelai, this is so important because there are all sorts of people out there who are saying to themselves once again, we have got kids to take care of, we have the elderly to take care of, we have the unemployed to take care of. Women who just have made their own bed need to lay in it. If you’ve done the crime you do the time. Why should I invest money, time and effort in women who are caught up in the criminal justice system? Nobody forced them to take drugs. Nobody forced them to sell drugs. Nobody forced them to take a beer bottle and beat somebody over the head. I have other things to worry about. I’m not quite sure that I care that much about women caught up in the criminal justice system. That’s harsh but that’s real. Talk to me about that.

KELAI: Well, I kind of disagree with that because for me, I’m one of those people that was out there and would do anything to get the drugs.


KELAI: So if I did not get the help that I need then I would be out there still doing it.


KELAI: You know, stealing –


KELAI: Probably robbing –


KELAI: You know, selling drugs.


KELAI: So people like me we do need help. That’s important. So we won’t get back in the system again, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. Right. And then you become a taxpayer instead of a tax burden and your children are taken care of.

KELAI: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: But Willa talk to me about that. You know, one of the things, if you take a look at research, most people caught up in the criminal justice system really don’t get the assistance they need. Only tiny percentages get substance abuse and mental health treatment. Only a tiny percentage of women out there involved in the criminal justice system are getting gender specific types of programming. Nobody’s, very few people are talking to them about their histories of sexual abuse or violence. If women got the assistance they needed, out of every hundred women involved in the criminal justice system, how many people do you think that we could reach to the point where they become productive citizens.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: I think we could reach almost all of them, maybe 80% or more, because it starts with love. You have to have the understanding of women in the criminal justice system and what they’ve gone through and what they need. When, like I say, you give them love, you let them know, first of all, that they are worthy. Their self-esteem is so low. You have to build them up. Build up their self-esteem, build up their self-worth and let them know that we’re here to help you, we’re here to assist you and we’re here to move you forward and to give them love and understanding of that. And it starts within, we have to teach the person how to work from the inside out. I tell all of my women at least spend at least ten minutes a day with yourself getting to know yourself, getting to understand, understand why I did this, why this happened to me. We don’t always know why this happened to us and we’ll never know why it happened to us, it just did. But God gave us something, God gave us the innate strength and we can build on our residual strength and that we can go forward as long as we have someone there to help us and to assist us to get where we need to be. And I just want to say earlier you said maybe I have something special and I believe I do have something, I care. I care and I love on these women because I see who they really are. I see the queen in them that God has made them to be. And all we have to do is let them see themselves, you know, is let me see me the way you do, you know, the way God sees me, the way you see me, the way my parole officer actually sees me. If I can see me for the me who I am I can go forward. And that’s what we do, we bring that out of them and we teach them how to love themselves, you know, love yourself first and then you can move forward and have that understanding. And sometimes women reach for love on the outside through their mates, their children or whatever, but we have to also have the understanding that that love comes from us as well within the inside. Once you start loving yourself and taking care of yourself you can move forward, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve sat in on your groups before and I’ve done a variety of radio shows with you. These are very powerful exchanges between women.


KELAI: Absolutely, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: To sit there and to sit in the group with 20 women and have them talk to each other about what it is that they’ve been through, it’s scary. I’m sorry, I mean, this is so profound and so real and so unbelievably overwhelming to hear what they’ve been through and what their backgrounds are. Yet those 20-25 women are sitting there helping each other, building each other up, pulling each other up, encouraging each other, that you sit there and go, my God, why haven’t we done this a long time ago.

KELAI: And just imagine if they get the support that they need. They can help each other and pull each other up, you know, and this will be great just to think of how many people that you have helped or became clean and sober that’s reaching back and helping other people.

LEONARD SIPES: But the woman is sitting there going I’m a drug addict, I’ve been a drug addict for 25 years. Nobody cares about me. I have two kids. I was abused as a child. I have no education. And to sit there with 20 other women and say, yeah, okay, well so was I and here’s where I am today. I mean, and to sit there and watch her face as they’re saying that, it’s overwhelming.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, it is overwhelming. And that lets them know that they can move forward no matter what age they are. You know, some women think I’m 40-50 cause sometimes women have spent a lot of time in prison. Then they’re going to come out and they’re older now and they seem like I’m just useless, I’m hopeless. And we’ll say no you’re not useless.

KELAI: Yeah.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: You still have some good years in you. You still can turn this thing around, you know. And just teach them to know how can we do it differently this time and work that way. You know, just do a blueprint of confidence and encouraging each other and building each other up all the time and make sure that you center yourself around positive people. You know, people that’s going to be in your parade, help build you up and that’s another barrier that the women face when they come home. A lot of times they may go back to that same environment and the people are doing the same thing, you know, we’re going to have to move them from that environment and that’s where the transitional homes come in and it plays a big part in that. We move them out of that old environment and put them in a more productive and constructive environment that’s going to help them move forward and become more pro social within our system today, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: This is a real controversial issue but I’ve heard it in your groups a dozen times of men in the life of the women under supervision, not very supportive. In fact, in many cases the reason why they’re caught up in the criminal justice system. How many women have I talked to who have said that I got a large bit, which is a jail term, prison term, because he told me I had to transport those drugs up interstate 95 or he’s going to hurt me or hurt my child. I mean, is that part of the reality we’re talking about, the men in the lives of the women that we have under supervision?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Well yeah, that’s part of it too Leonard, but actually it’s not as big a part as we may think it is.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: A lot of times the women do it because they have to do it. A lot of times when a woman is young, they had their children at a young age, they drop out of school, they don’t have any education, they’re really homeless, they’re even living with their parents or their significant other who they had their child by and they need, in order to take care of their child they start stealing, you know.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: And they begin to boost, I mean, that’s the only way they know how to take care of themselves or fend for themselves is to steal. I guess go outside the norms of society, not saying that it’s right, but when you look at the female offender crimes it’s really, I’m at a loss for words, but what we call paper crimes, you know, in a sense, stealing, crimes on persons I mean, right.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re not ordinarily the violent crimes that most of the men are involved in.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Right, they’re not violent crimes.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve heard somebody say to me that if we provided the services that were necessary, truly necessary, we could empty women’s prisons by a third, maybe even up to a half.




LEONARD SIPES: Now could you image all the millions, hundreds of millions of dollars that would save.

KELAI: I agree.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean, but the services need to be there. How do we convince people to support programs for women caught up in the criminal justice system? How do we do that?

KELAI: Well Dr. Butler made a good point just now. This, I just did not stop using drugs one time. You know, it took me three times before I stopped and the reason that I realize now – because I kept going back to the same place. I had no place to go so all I know was the same people that I get high with.


KELAI: And thinking okay, well I been clean for 30 days or 60 days, I can go around them now and I’m not going to use, but that was a setup.


KELAI: So it does make a difference when you remove yourself from people, places and things and go into a different area and form different friends in different areas where you can focus more on you.

LEONARD SIPES: Or guys say kick the corner.

KELAI: Right. Absolutely.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Right. Right.

LEONARD SIPES: Get away from all the associates that are leading you into all that sort of bad behavior.

KELAI: Yes, that is very, very critical. That is very important.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line in all of this, because we only have a couple minutes to close, to talk about the different programs that we have coming up once again, is that there is hope. I mean, people need to understand that there is hope. If women got the services, the gender specific services that they need, we could dramatically reduce their involvement in the criminal justice system.

KELAI: Absolutely.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Mmm-hmm, yes.

KELAI: Absolutely. No doubt.

LEONARD SIPES: And how we can convince people of that is something that I think all of us need to work on, right?

KELAI: Well I’m one.


KELAI: I’m one of them.


KELAI: Now I’m giving back. I’m reaching back and helping others. I’m one of them. I’m the prime example.

LEONARD SIPES: Do want to remind everybody that we’re doing this program in support of a Women’s Symposium on Saturday, February 14th at the, what we call Lifetime Makover. It’ll take place at Temple of Praise, 7007 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 in the morning on to 3:00 in the afternoon. It is really an extraordinary event. Again, Saturday, February 14th. On Thursday, February 19th, we will have our Citywide Reentry Assembly where we talk or deal with our mentors and the people under supervision. That’s also extraordinarily interesting. Thursday, February 19th at St. Luke Catholic Church, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today have been Dr. Willa Butler, she is the Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. And we’ve had Kelai and I really do appreciate Kelai you being here and testifying and telling us what it is that we really need to hear.

KELAI: My pleasure.

LEONARD SIPES: She is a woman in recovery, formerly under probation and homeless with children. And my heart goes out to you and I hope the relationship that you have with your daughter has greatly improved. She’s currently a Case Manager with New Day and a Behavioral Health Specialist working in Washington, D.C. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.


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Community Corrections Technology-National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center

Community Corrections Technology-National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Joe Russo, Director of Corrections, Technology, Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, which is part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet,, talking about community corrections technology. Joe, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

JOE RUSSO: Thank you Len, always great to be with you.

LEONARD SIPES: Well it’s always a pleasure to be with you Joe because you’re one of the most popular programs that we have. Everybody is really interested in corrections technology, what it could be, what it really means to the rest of us. You’re on the cutting edge of it. So we have a variety of topics to talk about today. We’re talking about offender tracking and realistic expectations. We’re talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation agent mobility, virtual offices, the use of tablets, keeping our folks in the field and technology and driving restrictions. Those are the three topics. So why don’t you kick it off talking about GPS offender tracking, satellite tracking and realistic expectations.

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely. Yeah, I wanted to talk about this topic because, you know, over the last year or two there’s been a series of high profile cases across the country where offender’s tracked with GPS bracelets are committing horrific crimes. And this is very tragic and it’s set off in motion a number of investigations in California. There’s a state senator who has launched or asked the inspector general to investigate offender tracking. In New York state, a U.S. representative from New York has asked the government accountability office to investigate offender tracking, monitoring and after a heinous crime in that state. And this is all, you know, obviously appropriate scrutiny after such horrific crimes that have occurred. However, it really illustrates the importance of realistic expectations of the technology in managing those expectations with stakeholders in the public in general. When I think most of your audience understands the limitations of the technology, they’re well documented, there are inherent limitations to any technology, there are environments in which, you know, satellite tracking, GPS tracking just doesn’t work well. That’s a known. We know that these devices can be defeated, they can be cut, they can be jammed. Offenders can put aluminum foil on them and block signals or they can simply not power up their devices. So it’s, you know, fairly easy for a non-cooperative offender to get around this system. Again, these are well-known, well-documented limitations.

LEONARD SIPES: But for the rest of us in the field, we’re fairly puzzled by the negative publicity because we understand the inherent limitations on GPS satellite tracking technology. We understand that it’s not full proof and we understand that just because the person has satellite tracking technology on doesn’t mean he can’t simply snip it off, doesn’t mean that he’ll stop committing crimes. And we’re sort of puzzled when we see the various negative stories coming out in the newspapers and TV stations because we’re saying to ourselves why doesn’t everybody else understand the limitations on this equipment. So I spoke to some reporters throughout the course of years and they said, well, you all in the community corrections fields are sort of overselling the promise of GPS. And I’m not quite sure that’s true. I mean, inherent within any technology, as you just said are limitations.

JOE RUSSO: That’s exactly right. I don’t know that community corrections agencies are necessarily overselling or vendors are overselling but there is a, you know, interesting kind of dynamic. Whenever an agency is looking for budgetary funds to implement a program, obviously they’re going to highlight the, you know, the positive parts of that technology and how that technology can benefit overall supervision. But as you alluded to, you know, the affects of any technology or any program are measured in the aggregate, you know, does the input, does the program or the treatment create a benefit to an aggregate population. Obviously, you know, they’re going to have individuals who are determined to continue their criminal ways. And regardless of whether it’s GPS monitoring or, you know, anger management training or any kind of high intensity supervision, it’s less of a reflection on the program as it is of the individual. So it’s, I think, you know, folks need to step back, understanding we’re dealing with a criminal element, understanding we’re dealing with, in community corrections, we’re not dealing with  John Augustine’s’ day, you know, or probationers or debtors or public drunkards.


JOE RUSSO: A lot of these folks are serious offenders.


JOE RUSSO: And so agencies across the country are doing their best to implement technology, to implement programs to achieve positive outcomes but there will be failures.

LEONARD SIPES: The two things that come to mind is, number one, the research from a variety of sources does indicate that GPS/satellite tracking does reduce offending, does reduce technical violations, does reduce the amount of – or the numbers or the percentage of people being returned to the correctional system. But there is a fairly strong corrective incentive in terms of GPS satellite tracking done well, correct, per research?

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely. There is that and even, you know, if you take the most negative view on it. You know, in those cases where offenders are determined to continue their criminal acts, GPS has been, you know, instrumental in making these offenders accountable. GPS location data is able to match the crime, you know, incident locations and the folks who ultimately are accountable for their actions. And in many cases, you know, they probably would have committed those crimes with or without tracking.


JOE RUSSO: At least with tracking there’s an ability to hold these folks accountable.

LEONARD SIPES: And we’ve been able to track down some fairly serious offenders through GPS tracking and so that is a huge plus. Number two, we train law enforcement, not just the metropolitan police department here in Washington, D.C., but we train the FBI, we train the secret service, we train a lot of law enforcement agencies in terms of the use of our GPS tracking device so they can see the offenders who they’re interested in, in real time. So there’s a lot of promise in terms of GPS satellite tracking but it is a huge drain on manpower. And I’m not quite sure people understand how difficult it is to keep – to watch all the tracking marks of an offender on a day-to-day basis and the fact that most of us in parole and probation are not 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. We’re basically Monday through Friday, 9-5. Now there are variations on that theme and there are some offenders who we do track in real time but those are problems. Take the first one. The fact that this is very – it involves a lot of  manpower, person power to keep track of all of the data that comes in.

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely and if there’s nothing else your listeners hear today is that the resource issues are paramount. Agencies need to be clear about why they’re tracking offenders, what purpose and what they hope to achieve and they need to dedicate the appropriate resources to accomplishing those goals. You know, far too many agencies compare the cost, the equipment cost of GPS to a day in jail and make cost-effective based decisions based on that. But the labor costs far exceed the equipment costs. And, you know, and that’s probably the biggest pitfall that agencies face. They don’t dedicate enough resources to maintaining programs, addressing violations, dealing with alerts and that’s where program integrity falls. And that’s where if a case goes really bad and an offender goes off and does something heinous that’s where the agency really has a difficult day explaining to the press why certain actions were not taken.

LEONARD SIPES: Now we have here at the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, we use our vendor to track 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but just because they’re tracked 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean that we have personnel at the ready to respond. So that’s the case as it is in virtually every parole and probation agency in the country, correct?

JOE RUSSO: Oh absolutely, absolutely, even for agencies, police agencies that operate GPS programs. And you would think they theoretically are the best situated to respond to alerts and cuts. Even they can’t be everywhere at every time. So obviously probation and parole agencies, you know, have much less resources, are much less able to react in a timely manner. So, again, these are understood limitations in technology, these expectations need to be managed. I think better education needs to occur between agencies and the public and judges and the media, frankly, so that we understand what we’re dealing with.

LEONARD SIPES: Now the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence there at the University of Denver, again, part of the National Law Enforcement Corrections Technology Center, you all came out with guidelines, rather technical guidelines, rather complete guidelines in terms of the application of GPS, correct?

JOE RUSSO: We’re developing a standard right now for the performance of offender tracking devices. But more recently we published a guideline for agencies to think about GPS devices and GPS information as potential evidence. We thought that too many agencies don’t see these devices in that light. So the goal was to educate them to start thinking more about how they use these devices. And how potential evidence might end up in a court room if, for example, an offender who’s tracked is accused of committing a crime.

LEONARD SIPES: Mmm-hmm. Now, the other thing that we’re talking about is not necessarily using devices that we currently provide, which are anklets strapped around the person’s ankle. We’re talking about going to a cell phone based system.

JOE RUSSO: Well we see that in the industry, there are vendors now who are offering basically SmartPhones with GPS chips to offenders and they can be tethered or not tethered, you know, wirelessly, and basically tracking is occurring through the phone. So there’s no device strapped to an ankle in certain applications. And this seems like it might be a trend for the future and may lead to, you know, one day where the offender brings his own device to be supervised and can bring in their own SmartPhone and the officer can install tracking software and accomplish tracking that way. Now this is a little far out thinking but it certainly seems to be a direction.

LEONARD SIPES: Well everybody has always said that we’re looking for the day where the tracking device is not the size of a cell phone strapped to the offender’s ankle but the size of, I don’t know, a pen. And that device will automatically take blood pressure readings, will automatically take readings as to whether or not the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And so is that still pie in the sky or are we moving towards something along those lines?

JOE RUSSO: You know what, in different areas there are certainly components of what you described that are being developed but as you envision it or as I’m interpreting how you envision it, it may be a chip, an RF chip that’s embedded in the offender and has the ability to –

LEONARD SIPES: Well no, not in the offender himself, but the device that they’re wearing.

JOE RUSSO: Oh absolutely. I mean, that’s even easier to do. So yeah, as these technologies mature and are developed, you know, then we’ll definitely see that in the future. I mean, obviously right now we have devices that can track transdermal alcohol expiration from the body, that’s one device. We have devices that can track movement. There are certainly physiological devices, you know, that Fitbit movement is opening up a whole lot of doors in terms of using machines and computers to monitor physiological activity. So certainly, you know, blood pressure, respiration rates and we can match that information to where a location is. Or if a sex offender is near a school and his heart rate is pumping, you know, that obviously tells a supervision officer something. So yes, right now it’s all theoretical but there are pieces in place and they’re growing. And one day maybe we can put it all together.

LEONARD SIPES: Well the technical podcast I listened to this week in tech, Leo Laporte, on a weekly basis, religious basis and they talk about this stuff. Not necessarily in terms of tracking people on criminal supervision but they talk about the Fitbits, they talk about other wearable devices, they talk about taking blood pressure, they talk about monitoring pulses, they’re talking about whether or not a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in terms of safe driving. So that conversation is taking place not within the criminal justice system, that conversation is taking place in the tech industry in general.

JOE RUSSO: Oh absolutely. People are fascinated with understanding their own physiology, their sleep patterns, increasing performance. And you’re right, this is well established and growing. But you’re right, there are applications for offender management there that can be tapped into.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. Before we go to the break and start talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation, agent mobility, virtual offices, office tablets and technology regarding driving restrictions, one of the things that we wanted to talk about was analytic capabilities.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, absolutely. You know, in previous calls we’ve talked about the need for analytics to better analyze, understand and act upon all the data that GPS generates. And we talked about a couple of different initiatives that were going on across the country and I wanted listeners to know that since our last conversation one of the GPS providers has actually acquired a company that specializes in sophisticated analysis and interpretation of data. This company has a long track record working with intelligence agencies and defense agencies to make sense of big data. And recently they’ve been working with community corrections agencies to explore how their techniques might work with offender tracking data. This is very encouraging at least, you know, one company has taken a big step to provide their customers with this important capability and I think the trend will be that other, you know, other vendors will follow suit and provide similar support.

LEONARD SIPES: What sort of things are we talking about tracking?

JOE RUSSO: Well, for example, link analysis, where offenders, who they are near, other tracked offenders, are there patterns that develop in terms of the locations that they tend to frequent, are they associating with other offenders? You know, can we establish other patterns of behavior based on other folks who are being tracked? So can we establish a drop point or a chop shop based on the time that offenders are spending in a particular location where there are patterns of movement.

LEONARD SIPES: Interesting.

JOE RUSSO: So the idea is to take all of that, you know, aggregate data that GPS provides and move from the inclusion zone, exclusion zone kind of scenario to really digging deep and establishing patterns of behavior and really supporting the officer. Letting the officer know what types of information might need to be acted on.

LEONARD SIPES: So everything that we’re hearing in terms of big data as it applies to Google, big data as it applies to IBM, big data as it applies to Wal-Mart, that same application is coming to corrections.

JOE RUSSO: Very much so. Very much so.

LEONARD SIPES: Interesting.

JOE RUSSO: And GPS is one of the – kind of the easiest forays into this because we do acquire so much data in that area.

LEONARD SIPES: All right Joe, we’re halfway through the program. Let me introduce you before we’re getting on to the other topics. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Joe Russo, he is the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet,, www.justnet, Okay Joe, let’s go into the other topics that we are talking about. And I find this to be fascinating, so many companies now are moving away their own vehicles, moving, I’m sorry, moving away from offices and putting people out in vehicles all the time and it sounds like that’s what we’re talking about with parole and probation agent correctional officer mobility. Talking about virtual offices, talking about tablets, talking about giving that individual all the tech they need to stay in the field.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, exactly, and this is something that’s been discussed, you know, for some time now. There’s been a movement against getting away from the ivory tower of probation and parole work, getting away from central office and headquarters, making the offender report downtown typically to the officer.


JOE RUSSO: But in recent years, and in part prompted by economic issues, but a lot of agencies are looking at ways to get the officers in the field where the offenders are, where they live and work and where they exist. Georgia, perhaps, is the leader in this in terms of, you know, actually shutting down offices and requiring parole officers to maintain virtual offices out of their cars. And the agencies provide the officers with everything they need, SmartPhones and tablets and laptops so there’s really to come to a physical office. And in this way the early reports are that they’re seeing success because they’re able to make more contact with the offenders, more sustained contact in their environment and the outcome so far have been very positive.

LEONARD SIPES: Well I remember years ago when I worked for the United States Senate, one of the folks there gave me a laptop computer and then a couple weeks later said, you know, is the use of the enhanced technology of a laptop computer changing the way that you work? And I’m going, well, no, I mean, just because you gave me a laptop doesn’t mean that I’m any more proficient. I mean, I report to the office every day and there is a desktop. How exactly is the laptop going to assist me beyond office hours? I mean, I understand beyond office hours, having a direct link to the computers but, you know, so sometimes I get the sense that we provide technology, laptops, tablets, cell phones, mobile fingerprint readers, again, sort of like with GPS, unrealistic expectations. So I would imagine this parole and probation agent, this correctional officer is well versed in terms of what mobile technology can do for them.

JOE RUSSO: Well that would be a necessary, you know, prerequisite obviously, you know, officers need to be somewhat tech savvy, be open and willing to learn perhaps new tools for them, you know, not everyone grew up with this technology certainly. So I’m sure there’s a learning curve for some officers. But certainly there needs to be openness. But it sounds like, you know, the agency made a decision from the top down that this is what they want and this is what they want to see. They don’t want to spend their resources paying rental space throughout this, they want to spend their resources where they can make the most direct and positive impact on outcomes and that’s the direction that they took. And, you know, just looking at it objectively, not having to come and go from an office increases efficiencies over and above the, you know, the cost savings for office space. Folks need to be in the field, officers need to be in the field where the action is. And that’s just common sense and I think that, you know, more and more agencies are coming to that realization and acting on it.

LEONARD SIPES: Is mobile fingerprint readers involved in this, drug testing equipment, I mean, how far are they taking it?

JOE RUSSO: Well I think that that might be part and parcel. I’m not aware, but the primary objective is you take the office and you put it in the car.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And that makes a tremendous amount of sense to me because why be in the office when you can be out in the field especially if you’re doing surprise visits. And I understand that a lot of the visits need to be scheduled because, you know, the mother or the father, the family member, the sponsor, volunteers can be there and work with the parole and probation agent and work with the offender, so I understand that. But the idea of a spontaneous visit to that person’s place of work or where that person lives or where that person socializes, especially in the evenings, makes an awful lot of sense to me.

JOE RUSSO: Well particularly with, you know, as GPS grows in terms of tracking offenders or if, you know, one day offenders are bringing their own device and we’re tracking offenders by their phones and, you know, phones are pretty ubiquitous at this point and it’s only going to grow more so. You know, perhaps we have the capability in the future to go where the offender is and not go necessarily to the house or the workplace.

LEONARD SIPES: That would be interesting. So, in other words, GPS tracking, you know exactly where that person is and suddenly, voilà, you pop up and say hi.

JOE RUSSO: Well and that’s part of the larger, you know, internet of things, movement that’s going on in society is that, you know, we have all these sensors that are out there. We have all these machines that can be connected to the internet. They all can be networked and provide useful information. So, you know, if a GPS tracking device is linked to an officer’s GPS tracking or a GPS system in their car, which tells them what route to take to get to the offender’s location, if these systems link up and communicate and tell the officer, you know, don’t bother making that home visit because the offender is not home.

LEONARD SIPES: Interesting, very, very interesting. I mean, so we’re talking about really moving community corrections well into the 21st century and really bringing a sense of the internet of things, of big data, of mobility, of tracking, of, you know, as some people have hoped for, the mobile ability to say, hey, this person is now using drugs, this person is now using alcohol. I mean, it does bring us into contact with the people on supervision to a much more powerful degree than we have in the past, which, you know, when I was in the state of Maryland any sense of intensive contact or intensive supervision was two face-to-face contacts a month. Now we’re talking about almost continuous contacts if we choose to do it and if we have the software through big data to analyze what’s going on.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, absolutely and within that capability obviously comes challenges, right. We have somewhat privacy issues although those are mitigated because of the status of our offenders but you have the information overload issues and we’re already seeing that with just GPS technology and the need to manage that data. So obviously, you know, the more sensors we try to tap into, the more connection of machines we try to leverage, the natural result is we have exponentially more data to sift through and figure out what’s important and what’s actionable and what’s not.

LEONARD SIPES: And that’s why I’m hoping whoever’s developing all of this develops the algorithms to allow us to make sense of the data because there’s no way an individual parole and probation agent, I would imagine the average caseload in this country is somewhere in the ballpark of 150 individuals per parole and probation agent, if you had half of those under these enhanced sensors, so you’re talking about, what, 75 individuals where data is coming in on a day-to-day basis. That would easily overwhelm that human being, that parole and probation agent, that correctional officer. That person could never keep up with all that data. So somehow, some way, somebody’s got to figure out a way of making sense of that data.

JOE RUSSO: Well exactly, there’s no question about it. And then the worst possible scenario is you’re overloaded with so much of this data and we don’t know which of this data is important and which is not, that the officer doesn’t have time to do the direct contact interventions that we know are so important.

LEONARD SIPES: Exactly. So we have to plow through the invention of new data and we have to plow through the invention of new algorithms to make sense of all that data.

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. Technology and driving restrictions, we have say in the final five minutes of the program. Once again, everybody has hoped for that piece of technology to the point where the car simply would not start for those on drinking and driving programs, that the car simply would not start. Now there are cars out there with locking devices that they do blow into the tube and if they blow over a certain level that car will not start. So that exists now, right?

JOE RUSSO: That exists now and that works, you know, quite well. One of the biggest ways or the most common ways for an offender to work around that type of a scenario is to simply install Interlock on a car and meet the judge’s requirement and then drive another car.

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah, drive another car.

JOE RUSSO: So that – it’s pretty simple to get around. One of the Interlock providers has recently bought a patent on technology that’s been around for a while but is only now being seriously evaluated for viability. And this technology basically looks to identify driving behaviors. And so what we’re looking at are ankle bracelets that can detect the movements that are consistent with driving a car. So essentially there’s a unique physiological signature that’s associated with driving. So if you think about the foot movements that you do without thinking, your acceleration, your braking, sensors can determine your speed. And all of these things put together, you know, you mentioned algorithms just before, these algorithms are designed to identify those signals that are consistent with a driving episode and then alert officers that this is occurring.

LEONARD SIPES: Sort of like a black box for automobiles or a black box for human beings?

JOE RUSSO: Well it would be for human beings because, again, with the Interlock system we don’t want to monitor the car. We want to monitor the offender. So these as envisioned, these would be ankle device, ankle bracelets that detect the movements of the foot.

LEONARD SIPES: Oh, that’s interesting. So all of that is not necessarily biologically based, it is foot based.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, it’s more mechanically based.


JOE RUSSO: It’s based on the physiology of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So if you think about it, there are very few actions or movements that you would make that are consistent with driving that are not related to driving. So you’re not necessarily pressing down, for example, on an accelerator.

LEONARD SIPES: That is interesting. That is really interesting. So the bottom line is that, you know, right now we have breathalyzers, right now we have blood tests in terms of substance abuse, but you’re actually talking about something that actually measures the movement of the foot. I would love to be in court to establish that – to establish the legal basis of that. I would imagine that’s going to be a fight from the very beginning. But if you could introduce that it would be revolutionary.

JOE RUSSO: Well exactly. I mean, any new technology obviously faces those legal hurdles. And certainly that would just be one piece of evidence against an offender and our standards of evidence are much lower than a new criminal case. But if you have indication that this offender is driving when he shouldn’t be driving or he’s driving a car that’s not – that doesn’t have Interlock installed in it, then that provides an investigative lead for officers to go and find other information. So it wouldn’t necessarily be the nail in the coffin but it would be one piece of evidence.

LEONARD SIPES: Being it’s not physiologically based, that could also apply to drugs as well.

JOE RUSSO: You know, the same thinking and theory. Another example that comes to mind is folks have developed handwriting analysis as a method of determining impairment. And so what they’ve looked at is, you know, the way that you sign your name physiologically is altered if you’re impaired. Now it may look exactly like your signature sober but the movements, the signals from your brain to your hand create very distinct and minute differences in the signature. So if we capture a computerized signature of an impaired person, there’s research that suggests that you can tell if someone is impaired simply by the way they’re writing their name versus how the name looks.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ll tell you Joe, it’s always a fascinating conversation when you and I talk about corrections technology. That’s one of the reasons why this program is one of the more popular programs that we do. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking today to Joe Russo, the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet,, Ladies and gentlemen, this is talking DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.


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Family Reunification

Family Reunification

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio program at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen our program today is on family reunification and it’s an important topic. Criminologists from around the country are discussing this. And to find out what family reunification really means, at our microphones today, Wanda Tolliver, she is the Interim Deputy Director of Program Operations for the Child and Family Services Agency in Washington DC., Wanda Tolliver welcome to DC Public Safety.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

LEONARD SIPES: You know I did this program on the television side of DC Public Safety, at , the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal probation serving Washington DC. I did the television show and the television show focused on what family reunification is because the more I talked to my own people within the criminal justice system, the more they seemed to be confused about what family reunification means. So what does family reunification mean?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Okay. So when you talk about family reunification, you’re talking about when children have been removed from their family of origin, which is their birth family. They have been removed and brought into the foster care system. At that point decisions are made, what will it take in order for them to be reunified with their family?


WANDA TOLLIVER: So that’s what we’re referencing when we say family reunification.

LEONARD SIPES: But in this case, in terms of the criminal justice system, it also seems to mean, people in prison staying in contact with loved ones in the community, family in the community, and it also seems to mean some emphasis on what happens to the children that they leave behind. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And so what that entails is, if parents are incarcerated, how do their children remain connected to them? In spite of the fact that they’re not in their physical custody but how do they maintain that emotional connection?


WANDA TOLLIVER: So that is also a part of the family reunification. And historically, Leonard, it has been known that once children entered the child welfare system and if parents were incarcerated, they were forgotten.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. And that’s a big concern. I mean we have two million human beings, on any given day, locked up. We have 1.5 million in prison and another 500,000 in jails. Now there’s a huge turnover over the course of the year. So we have two million human beings that are behind bars. The research from the Urban Institute seems to indicate that the more contact they, they ones who stay, have with family, with prosocial people from the community, the better they do upon return to the community. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: That’s correct. And it’s a win; win for both the children and for the parents as well. Being able to stay connected to their children has— it’s just a win, win. It makes them, it motivates the parents to do what they need to do in order to be successful and it gives the children the opportunity to realize that, even though my parents are not physically here, I still have that connection. And that has been proven over time that they have better development. And they have better outcomes.

LEONARD SIPES: I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and we have 30 prisons throughout the state of Maryland. One of the prisons up in Hagerstown held a family reunification day where the individual inmate would spend virtually the entire day in a court yard that was set up. You know barbeque stands and try to make it as family friendly as possible, picnic tables, umbrellas, try to keep the correctional officers out of the picture, and to interact with folks that day. One of the amazing things that we found is that we could have troublesome inmates within that facility but they would do whatever they had to do. I mean the amount of violations just went down dramatically by the people participating. They would not do anything that would jeopardize spending time with their loved ones and especially their children. So I found that to be fascinating.


LEONARD SIPES: So it’s not only something for the criminal justice system to consider from a criminological point of view, from a sociological point of view, it’s something the wardens of institutions need to consider from the standpoint of peace and security within their own institutions.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And that is sometimes some of the constraints about even visitation. Because In some facilities they allow it, in other facilities they don’t. And it depends in the crime that was committed as well. So you have to navigate all of those types of things when you’re working with incarcerated parents and it can sometimes make it difficult. But I believe all throughout the country, people in child welfare, working in child welfare, are recognizing the importance of, you know, lets don’t hold biases against parents because they’re incarcerated. It is key and we need to figure out ways in which we can allow the interaction to take place. Some prisons offer Skype, you know where they can, the kids can have opportunities to visit their parents through Skype. So we’re just trying to find innovative ways in which we can keep that connection going.

LEONARD SIPES: Two things come to mind. Number one, especially in the District of Columbia, our offenders enter into the federal prison system. We don’t have local prisons anymore. So at one time the District of Columbia had Lorton, it was close by, it was in Virginia, now you have DC inmates going thousands of miles away from home. The agreement was, years ago when they federalized everything, was to try to have them within 500 miles but in the reality they are going all over the country. So contacting them is difficult, but having said that, the example that I just gave a couple of minutes ago, when I worked for the state of Maryland, you had inmates from Baltimore and they were incarcerated in Hagerstown, it’s an hour and half, two hours away. For many people, many family members, it was as if they were on the other side of the moon. We have them in rural areas spread all throughout the state of Maryland which requires hundreds of miles of travel. Even in a small state like the state of Maryland. So part of it is the physical distance, that part of it is the difficulty, correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And with that being said, I think I believe that now most jurisdictions are finding creative ways in which to not have that be a barrier for the connection and for the family. Because when you think of reunification, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that child is going to be reunified, it’s broader than that. It’s more so about maintaining that connection. That is what is so key. And if you do have a parent that’s in a Texas facility, what do you do as the social worker on the case to ensure— you may not get to have monthly visits, but maybe quarterly there’s an opportunity to take the child, or the children, to visit the parent that’s incarcerated out of state.

LEONARD SIPES: I know some jurisdictions are now going to tablets. And they’re having face time conversations with their family members via a tablet that is given out by the administration. So there are innovative ways of keeping family members in touch.


LEONARD SIPES: And again, not to beat this point to death, there are real pieces of evidence, research that shows that in terms of that eight year old boy, eight year old girl, and in terms of the inmate behind bars, it has very meaningful positive effects on all of them to stay in touch with each other.

WANDA TOLLIVER: That is so true. And research bears that out as well as just people working in this environment. They recognize that children want to know where they come from, who they come from, that this person— They want to be able to know what that person looks like, what that person sounds like. It makes a great difference, even if the recognize that there’s no opportunity for that person to be in their lives on a daily basis. Just knowing where they come from, being a part of a father or a mother that they may not have had a lot of contact with, but it eases them. It releases a certain amount of their angst and trauma also. And we have found that more and more in this profession, in the child welfare profession, that children that don’t have a connection with their birth families, they have a more difficult time as far as development, as far as maintaining their mental health stability, they deal with a lot more trauma.

LEONARD SIPES: Well I do want to get onto the kids who are left behind in the process because according to the data that I’ve seen, the great majority of people who are involved in prison systems are parents.


LEONARD SIPES: And they leave behind, in most cases, minor kids. So there is obviously that disconnect. And those minor kids, research does seem to indicate, they have higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health problems. So if we’re ever going to break the cycle, part of that process of breaking the cycle is to ensure that families are kept together or as reunified as possible.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right, absolutely. And I was also going to add that it’s just been proven over and over again. And a lot of that, Leonard, has to do with our own personal values, our personal judgments, and our biases about people who are incarcerated. But you have to look beyond all that because in the eyes of that child, or that youth because it could be an older youth, like 14, 15, 16.

LEONARD SIPES: It could be 19, 20, 24.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. We have to push aside all of that because at the end of the day, it’s what in the best interest of the child, or the youth.

LEONARD SIPES: Now that we’ve set that foundation, I want to go to the other part of the continuum and this is why people are somewhat confused when they hear family reunification. It’s that sometimes the families themselves are the problem. In terms of fathers who did not take care of the kids, fathers who possibly beat mothers, mothers who may have ignored the kids and they end up in the prison system. I’ve interviewed before, these microphones, heavens, probably 30, 40 women caught up in the criminal justice system. Virtually all tell stories of family dysfunction, of violence, and in many cases sexual violence directed toward them as children. So we have that part of it as well. That part of the complexity as well. But the interesting part is, is that even though they went through that experience and now they’re part of the criminal justice system and even though they have animosity and or blame towards their mother or their fathers, they still want contact.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. We— Sometimes you may have horrendous things that are done to children by their parents but they still want that connection. They do.

LEONARD SIPES: They still need that connection.

WANDA TOLLIVER: They need it.

LEONARD SIPES: There’s something psychologically deep within us that needs that connection to, if nothing else, to say why not, if nothing else than to have that conversation.

WANDA TOLLIVER: And also because they love their parents. It’s instinctive. And one of the things is a lot of times when parents are incarcerated; children just want to know that their parents are okay. You know what I mean? Even though they are told, you know they may have done this, they have done that, but in the eyes of that child or that youth, they just want to be able to make sure that the parent is okay.

LEONARD SIPES: At least to be able to see them if nothing else, through a tablet if nothing else. Now we do closed circuit television here. We’re experimenting with that in terms of family reunification here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. It’s a small pilot program but what we’re trying to do is figure out the best way to make sure that families do remain reunified with people who are spread out throughout the United States. But that’s complex. It’s complex because of the family history, it’s complex because of the family animosities, it’s complex because of the distance and it’s complex because of the technology. The technology may be the saving grace.


LEONARD SIPES: If we start using tablets, start using smart phones that are approved and provided to that inmate and they have face to face contact with wives and kids or husbands, that could make things better.


LEONARD SIPES: And that’s the bottom line of all this. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. Absolutely. The bottom line.

LEONARD SIPES: Let’s shift gears and go over to the kids. Now the kids become the innocent part of much of bad behavior.


LEONARD SIPES: They’re the ones who are left home. They’re the ones who are ignored. There are the ones— A lot of families are one parent households. I think President Obama, in terms of his latest research in terms of the condition of youth, starts talking about the immense number of people, kids, who are living just with one parent. If that one parent goes to prison what do they do? They’re sent off to grandma, they’re sent off to auntie. I mean this is a real problem. We’re talking about two million people in prison, we’re talking about up to ten million kids left behind.


LEONARD SIPES: And the impact of incarceration and what that means in their lives. They’re just not losing their father in many cases they’re losing everything.

WANDA TOLLIVER: But one of the good things that we have noted in child welfare, and I think this is across most jurisdictions, is the fact that now, what jurisdictions are doing now is ensuring that most of our kids end up with relatives. So that’s great because I could say, even as far back as ten years ago, that wasn’t happening. They ended up in stranger foster care. But now the trend is definitely, and it’s a good thing, that children are being placed in foster care settings but it’s with family members. And so this allows more children to have access to their bio parents.

LEONARD SIPES: We need to talk more about this because I’m extremely concerned with what’s happening to the kids who are left behind. But ladies and gentlemen we’re talking to Wanda Tolliver today, the interim director— The Interim Deputy Director of Program Operations for Child and Family Services Agency in Washing DC., www.cfsa.cov. This radio show follows the television show that we did on family reunification. And one of the things that everybody involved in that television show was talking about was what happens to the kids. The devastating impact of what happens even if they’re going to their aunts, even if they are going to their uncles, even if their going over to grandma and granddad’s house. They, in many cases have been abandoned. Now a certain percentage of them do go to the other parent but there’s got to be a point where they sit back, they’re eight years old, it has huge economic ramifications for them, it has huge personal and emotional ramifications for them. Regardless as to what dad did, dad remains dad. So we’re talking about, and I’ve never seen a firm figure on it but let’s just say out of — If there are two million people locked up behind bars it’s certainly double, triple, quadruple that number, so let’s just say eight million kids. That’s a huge burden on our society for those 8 million kids to be sitting there going, ‘I didn’t ask for this. Now what’s going to happen to me?’

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And the thing that is more troubling than that is the fact that once parents are incarcerated, society feels that they should go away. That’s what’s troubling.

LEONARD SIPES: But they did go away. We sent them away.

WANDA TOLLIVER: We sent them away but there’s an opportunity to keep that engagement for the children’s sake. Right? Give them opportunities to engage.

LEONARD SIPES: Absolutely. I think that a big part of why we have the problem that we do is because we’ve ignored the kids over decades we have built a gazillion prison cells. We have put hundreds of billions of dollars in terms of building prisons all throughout the United States. The rate of increase of incarceration in the United States has been astronomical but we’ve done nothing about the kids that are left behind. And I think that’s a social problem that may explain why we continuously have problems. You can’t take mom and dad away without there being ramifications. But there’s little for the kids who are left behind. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Very little. But it’s getting better but at— It’s not at the rapid pace that it needs to be. Because, you know, over time I can see where it’s better than it was two years ago , with them offering like Skype and— But not all prison systems offer these types of things.

LEONARD SIPES: But not all communities offer these kinds of things either. I mean one of the things that shocked me when I was talking to two individuals who had parents who were incarcerated, ones now working for us at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. One started her own scholarship fund for children of incarcerated parents. These are all very encouraging things but all of us pretty much agreed that there is little left in the community that brings these kids together with other kids who have incarcerated parents, to talk about what’s going on in their lives.

WANDA TOLLIVER: You’re right.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re the ones that feel alone. They’re the ones that feel shut out. They’re the ones who feel abandoned. They’re the ones who feel stigmatized. They’re the ones where kids make fun of them. And now, I mean at eight nine years old that’s a burden nobody should have to carry.

WANDA TOLIVER: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: So the question now becomes, is it the prison system’s responsibility to deal with the kids or is it the community’s responsibility to deal with the kids?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Or is it a combination of both?


WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. I would agree with that. You need to do more.

LEONARD SIPES: We, throughout the country need to do more to focus on kids with incarcerated parents.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. Definitely.

LEONARD SIPES: Because they have their own unique needs. They need to talk this stuff through.


LEONARD SIPES: When I talked to the two people who came from parents of incarcerated children, who again are doing very well now, they said that they felt so alone and ignored by everybody because they were going through something unique and they desperately needed to talk about it. They desperately needed to talk about it with trained counselors or their peers but there was nothing.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. I agree.

LEONARD SIPES: And people throughout the country need to start focusing on this. Correct?


LEONARD SIPES: Okay. But the criminal justice system and the social services system is overburdened. Because, I mean you’re the Child and Family Services Agency in Washington DC, you’ve got to be so overburdened with cases and needs that— And all of us in the criminal justice system, social services system, we’re all overburdened. Now Leonard Sipes and Wanda Tolliver are asking everybody to take on yet additional work.

WANDA TOLLIVER: But we need to find a way because if we can help with this situation then the recidivism, or the generational— of kids following in the same pathway, we could ease some of that. But we have to recognize that it’s a problem, it’s an issue that we have to come up with some solutions around.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean there’s a human part of it. It’s simply, again I could keep— Every time I do a radio show, every time I do a television show, I have an image of the person that I’m talking to. And I have an image of the person of who I’m talking about. And I see it as an eight year old kid, sitting there saying ‘what did I do?’


LEONARD SIPES: ‘Why do I have to deal with this? This is unfair. I don’t like this. I’m angry.’

WANDA TOLLIVER: And especially Leonard when the father, the parent, whether it’s the father or whether it’s the mom, when they disappear into the criminal justice system, incarceration and the children don’t have any contact. That’s when they really feel like, what did I do, what happened, I need— They need some type of reassurance that it’s not their fault and that their parent is okay.

LEONARD SIPES: Mom is still Mom and Dad is still Dad.


LEONARD SIPES: It doesn’t matter what they’ve done, Mom is still Mom and Dad is still Dad. And we in the criminal justice system need to come to grips with it.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Exactly. Absolutely. Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: But again we’re saying, we’re so overcrowded. Our prison systems, our parole and probation agents throughout the country are handling caseloads of at least 150 to one. In Washington DC I always remind people it’s 50 to one. We’re a federal agency and we have the funds, thank God, to offer those lower caseloads. But most people within the criminal justice system, just— It’s like again, Leonard convince us because we don’t have the capacity, we’re barely dealing with what it is we have to deal with now.


LEONARD SIPES: You’re going to have to go a long way in convincing us that family reunification is a real issue. And the people that I talk to before doing radio, and television shows, because I try to get the opinions of different people, that’s their point of view.


LEONARD SIPES: They’re saying ‘don’t let us take on anything more, please.’

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. And I would even say that a lot, maybe some, social workers feel that way too. ‘Really? You want us to take them, you know, 200 miles to see a parent?’ But at the end of the day as we, you know, child welfare systems are becoming more trauma informed. Right? Which is a great thing, and realizing that, if we don’t do this, we are putting more traumas on this child.

LEONARD SIPES: It’s the pay me now or pay me later sort of scenario.

WANDA TOLLIVER: You pay at the front end or pay at the back end, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: And the young lady who created ScholarCHIPS, that’s C H I P S, she said it was her Girl Scout troop that saved her. And come to find out within the Girl Scout troop there were other kids whose parents were incarcerated. So now it, I just don’t want to throw the burden on us, those of us in social services or those of us within the criminal justice system. I think the issue needs to go out to churches, to mosques, to Synagogues, to Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, to—

WANDA TOLLIVER: School systems.

LEONARD SIPES: School systems, to little leagues, to even— Across the board there may be opportunities to engage these kids in conversations that they desperately need to have. I’m told that biggest problem in this is that we— they have no place to go to talk through their problems because they need another child whose incarcerated to commiserate with.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Exactly. Yes, yes. It would help them.

LEONARD SIPES: Maybe all we need to do is just set up those opportunities.


LEONARD SIPES: But they also need at the same time, professional counseling in some cases.


LEONARD SIPES: They need to work through the anger.


LEONARD SIPES: They need to work through the harm. They need to work through the abandonment.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes and we are recognizing that as a child welfare system as well, whether the children are in foster care or whether they’re in the home but with some child welfare oversight that it’s critical that they receive some type of therapeutic intervention in which to process the information.

LEONARD SIPES: Because sometimes kids don’t provide the best of advice, sometimes you do need a trained counselor to help them work through the anger and the frustration of now living with their grandparents or now living in poverty or now living— Help needs to be there. I mean, there’s no website for them to go to.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean in this day and age of social media, there’s no social media site, there’s no Facebook page. It’s just a barren wasteland. Some people have said we are completely ignoring millions upon millions of abandoned kids.


LEONARD SIPES: They don’t even have a place to go to on the web.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. So what can we do?

LEONARD SIPES: I don’t know. That’s the question.

WANDA TOLLIVER: We have to find a way to do something different.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s why when I talk to my counterparts in the criminal justice system, it is, ‘oh please Leonard, don’t let us take on yet another issue.’ And it’s like, you know, if we don’t take this issue on, we’re lost.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean one of the things that the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency is doing this year is, we really are asking families for help. We really understand that family for reentry is a critical component and that’s one of the themes that we’re running with this year. But I don’t see that in, I don’t see that articulated by a lot of parole and probation agencies, that we’re recognizing family reunification is an issue for supervision success.


LEONARD SIPES: And why doesn’t— Why don’t other people? It’s the question.

WANDA TOLLIVER: It’s the question. We need an answer.

LEONARD SIPES: But I mean it is, in the final analysis we have some research from the urban institute and we have some research from other organizations and we have people like you and me talking about it and we did a television show on it and it’s now being discussed and we’ve recognized it as a priority. But I just don’t get the sense that in parole and probation it is that much of an issue. I don’t get the sense that in social sciences and social services it’s that’s much of an issue.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. And we have to be honest and recognize that sometimes they’re burdened with, as you said, a high case load or they have a— They have a different agenda. And I think that it’s important that the agenda include the wellbeing of children,

LEONARD SIPES: But I do think that President Obama has made it a point to talk about that. And now between the administration and some agencies, it is being discussed for the first time. I just find it, not whimsical; I don’t want to use that word. I just find it distressing. Somewhere in between when I talk to my peers and they’re going, ‘family what? Oh you mean connecting the kid with the inmate. Yeah that’s something we should do.’ And that’s it. And it doesn’t go beyond that. So the bottom line is, some way, somehow, we need convince everybody to get involved in this.


LEONARD SIPES: We need to convince the churches.


LEONARD SIPES: The little leagues. Everybody.

WANDA TOLLIVER: The school systems.

LEONARD SIPES: Maybe we should do a national campaign.


LEONARD SIPES: You know? Don’t leave anybody behind.


LEONARD SIPES: Because it’s going to have ramifications for you in the future. Another phrase came to mind, but you can’t say that on government pod casts. Wanda it’s been wonderful talking to you today.


LEONARD SIPES: Ladies and gentlemen Wanda Tolliver. She is the Interim Deputy Director of Program Operations for Child and Family Services Agency in Washington DC., 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.