Archives for February 5, 2016

Mental Health and Recovery – DC Public Safety Television

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Nancy Ware: Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. Today’s program is on mental health and recovery. There are approximately 700,000 people leaving prisons throughout the country every year and it’s vital for public safety to make sure they successfully reintegrate into society. But reentry is complicated by the fact that so many have either diagnosed or self-reported history of mental health challenges. Today’s program provides an overview of mental health issues within the criminal justice system from the DC Department of Behavioral Health and the Jail and Prison Advocacy Project of University Legal Services, plus we have interviews with two CSOSA experts. What are the lessons learned from research and application? What should society do about mental health within the criminal justice system? My guests for the first half are Stephen T. Baron, Director DC Department of Behavioral Health. Welcome, Steve.

Stephen T. Baron: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy Ware: And Tammy Seltzer, Director of Jail and Prison Advocacy Project, University Legal Services. And to Steve and Tammy welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tammy Seltzer: Thank you for having us.

Stephen T. Baron: Thank you.

Nancy Ware: We’re really, really excited about this segment, because, as you know, the mental health system is a great partner to the criminal justice system, but we still have many challenges that we’re trying to overcome as we try to address the needs of this population and when they’re reintegrating into the community. So first I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the challenges that we see here in the District of Columbia, and I want, Steve, for you to talk to u about exactly what does the Department of Behavioral Health do and what are some of the challenges that you see as you move forward with your vision and your view of where we need to go.

Stephen T. Baron: Thank you, Nancy, and it’s great to be here. The Department of Behavioral Health is a year old tomorrow.

Nancy Ware: Wow!

Stephen T. Baron: A year ago the mayor and the DC Council created the Department of Behavioral Health as a merger with the Department of Mental Health and the Addictions Prevention and Recovery Administration, which was previously in the Department of Health. So we’re a brand new department, even though we bring a legacy of both APRA and DMH of many, many years of service in the District. But we as the Department of Behavioral Health oversee a network of providers that serve over 20,000, over 30,000 individuals –

Nancy Ware: That many. Wow!

Stephen T. Baron: For both mental health and substance abuse disorders. Our biggest challenge with folks in the criminal justice system is that we need to be there when people need the services and provide the range of services people need. We’ve put a number of things in place in the District. I’m proud to say that one of the most intensive mental health services is called Assertive Community Treatment, or ACT, and nationally probably in most states or most jurisdictions about 2% or 3% of the people in the public systems are getting ACT, which is an evidence-based practice, in the District between 8% to 10% of the enrollees in our public system for mental health are getting Assertive Community Treatment. We also realize we have to have strong partnerships, both of course with your agency, helping work with folks once they leave incarceration, with the Department of Corrections, and also with the Metropolitan Police Department, the District’s police department, where we have worked very collaboratively to establish the District’s Crisis Intervention Team program, CIT –

Nancy Ware: Yes.

Stephen T. Baron: As it’s known nationally. We call it here Crisis Intervention Officer, CIO, and we’ve trained over 600 MPD officers.

Nancy Ware: Now, is that throughout the whole police department or just certain teams?

Stephen T. Baron: No, throughout the whole police department.

Nancy Ware: Which is excellent.

Stephen T. Baron: And at all levels we basically focus on the patrol officers, but their emergency response teams have been trained, sergeants, some operational folks have been trained, and it’s a very popular training, and it’s been going on for five years now.

Nancy Ware: That’s excellent.

Tammy Seltzer: And I would add to that DC is a jurisdiction that has other law enforcement agencies involved and you all are involved in training them as well.

Stephen T. Baron: Yeah. Thank you, Tammy. Also Capital Police have participated, Amtrak Police, Georgetown University Police, Housing Authority Police, I think there’s 30-some police departments in the District and we’re trying to include as many of them as we can.

Nancy Ware: That’s possible.

Stephen T. Baron: But our primary customer has been the Metropolitan Police Department. And they work very closely with, we have a mobile crisis team that’s available seven days a week, every day, for 16 hours a day.

Nancy Ware: Which is, you know, the training across these law enforcement agencies is so critical, as we’ve seen in the news, because you never know who’s going to be the first responder and who will come in contact with someone who has mental health issues, and it’s so critical that we take the responsibility here in the nation’s capital to be sure that we equip our law enforcement and our first responder officers with the tools that they need to recognize some of the symptoms of mental health and mental illness in particular. Tammy, I want to ask you a little bit about some of the challenges that you see in DC, because you’ve worked as an advocate, and we’re very pleased that we have a partnership with you to make sure that we do our due diligence in meeting the needs of this population. As you know, as we talked about earlier, there are approximately 700,000 people coming out of our prisons and jails with mental health issues, and many of them have major depression, manic mania, serious psychosis, so some of those challenges are things that we have to take into account as we deal with reentry. Can you talk a little about your experiences with the District?

Tammy Seltzer: Certainly. The DC Jail and Prison Advocacy Project has been around about seven years and it was created to help DC residents who have serious mental illness, and in that case we’re talking about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, to help them with reentry. And initially it was started to help with reentry from the jail and the correctional treatment facility, which is where women are housed here in DC. But DC is a unique animal, we don’t have a state prison, and so DC residents who are serving a longer sentence, more than a year, end up in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And so their challenge, on top of being incarcerated and having a criminal record and having a mental illness, is also that they are being held in facilities that can be anywhere in the country, there’re over 100 facilities. And this can mean that they’re hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their families. So whatever supports they may have had in the community and with their families, they don’t have that, and then it makes it much more difficult to plan for that discharge planning piece.

I would say that most of the people that we work with, our clients have difficulties with housing. We know nationally that people with serious mental illness are twice as likely to be homeless at the time that they’re incarcerated, and then they also have a difficulty with having some sort of a stable income. Most people with serious mental illness who’re involved in the criminal justice system are not employed and they really depend on disability benefits. So the challenges we see for people are getting them, for some people getting linked to mental health services, some have been linked before, but that link has been severed by being sent so far from home. For other people, like a young man who called me yesterday, he’s in his 20s, he’s been incarcerated for four years, he didn’t know he had a mental illness until the behaviors occurred that caused him to get arrested in the first place, and so he’s never been linked to mental health services, and those are the, we will help him get linked to mental health services. But those are the kinds of challenges that our clients are facing, and some of them are unique to DC, but I think a lot of the reentry issues, people with serious mental illness are coming out of the Federal Bureau of Prisons every day –

Nancy Ware: Yeah. That’s true.

Tammy Seltzer: And so those are issues that apply in every state in the country.

Nancy Ware: Yeah. And I’m really glad you brought up the young man, because we know that sometimes some of these symptoms don’t really materialize until their 20s, their early, late teens, early 20s. And so we’ve had a lot of challenges in dealing with young men and women in our system. Have you seen special issues coming out with women in particular as you’ve been working with that population?

Tammy Seltzer: Absolutely. We have a special project right now to assist women who have mental illness in getting their disability benefits from Social Security before they come out, because it’s really critical. If you don’t have a place to live, you don’t, you’re not, if you don’t have a steady income you’re going to have difficulty finding a place to live. It’s really hard to take advantage of services and treatment unless things are stable for you. So that’s something that we’re working with. And as part of that we’re serving more women. And we had a woman the other day who after coming out of prison she became unexpectedly the custodial parent of her one-year-old.

Nancy Ware: Oh, wow! That’s a whole [INDISCERNIBLE 00:09:56].

Tammy Seltzer: And so all of the sudden on top of trying to take care of herself and meet her own basic needs for housing and income and making sure she keeps up with her terms of supervision and stays clean and sober and goes to mental health treatment she has to worry about, “How am I going to take care of a baby?” And actually it was really wonderful that her community supervision officer at CSOSA was able to help her with parenting classes, because she said, “I’m getting frustrated.”

Nancy Ware: Don’t know what to do.

Tammy Seltzer: “I’m getting frustrated. I don’t know what to do.” And wonderfully a parenting class was starting that provided childcare and food so that she can attend these series of classes and gain confidence at being a mom, which she hasn’t been –

Nancy Ware: [INDISCERNIBLE 00:10:42] –

Tammy Seltzer: Because she’s been incarcerated.

Nancy Ware: That make or break their success, so that’s excellent. Now, the two of you have really worked closely together, and I know that University Legal Services has also worked very closely with the Bureau of Prisons, as has the Department of Behavioral Health, and we’ve been really as a system here in DC trying very hard to make sure that there’s prerelease planning for folks who are coming out of prison. Can the two of you talk a little but about some of the work that you’ve done together on this?

Stephen T. Baron: Yeah. Well, the most important thing of course is transitions from people leaving incarceration after a couple years, even leaving the DC jail after four or five months these transitions back into the community are just so important, and the more upfront planning you do the better it is, the more likelihood it is it’ll be successful, really putting you heads together to look at housing opportunities. I think in the District the real challenge is around the affordable housing.

Nancy Ware: Yeah.

Stephen T. Baron: We have worked very hard to increase the intensive services, like I spoke about earlier, through assertive community treatment and other types of services. But it is around the housing and having the time to plan for it and have the person participate. I do know we’ve worked with, I’m sure University Legal has been involved, but definitely your office, the Bureau of Prisons, and some of the offsite facilities, like in West Virginia and North Carolina, to do some offsite tele-meeting –

Nancy Ware: Teleconferencing.

Stephen T. Baron: Teleconferencing –

Nancy Ware: Yeah. That’s true.

Stephen T. Baron: To do some planning.

Tammy Seltzer: Yeah. The best situations are when we get advanced notice –

Stephen T. Baron: Yes.

Tammy Seltzer: That somebody is coming out. And we have a great relationship with some of the psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who work in some of the Bureau of Prison facilities. Allenwood, for example, we have a psychologist or psychiatrist who calls us practically every week giving us cases with advanced notice. And when we have advanced notice and it’s a situation, a lot of these situations are people who’ve never been successful in the community with their mental health treatment, and so we have taken advantage of the Assertive Community Treatment teams that you’ve been talking about, the ACT teams, Steve. That’s been very important for our clients to be successful, to have that level of intensity in the community. And so when we get advanced notice that we –

Nancy Ware: It makes a difference.

Tammy Seltzer: It really makes a huge difference.

Stephen T. Baron: It makes a big difference. It’s critical, the Friday at four o’clock mandatory release.

Tammy Seltzer: Those are the cases that keep me up at night are when people come out at the last minute –

Stephen T. Baron: Yeah.

Tammy Seltzer: That we don’t know and they don’t have a place to stay and they’re releasing to a shelter and –

Stephen T. Baron: Right.

Tammy Seltzer: And what’s the best thing that we can do. And definitely working together, our three agencies, to try and come up with an emergency plan and then a longer term plan is what we try to do.

Nancy Ware: I want to thank again Steve and Tammy. And, ladies and gentlemen, please stay with us as we continue our discussion on mental health and recovery with two new guests. We’ll be right back.

[ Commercial Break ]

Nancy Ware: Welcome back to DC Public Safety. I’m Nancy Ware. I stated during the first half of the show successful reentry from prison is vital for public safety and strengthening our communities. To continue our discussion on mental health and recovery we have two new guests from our agency CSOSA, Associate Director Thomas Williams and [PH 00:14:21] Ubah Hussein, a social worker in the mental health unit. And to Tom and Ubah, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Ubax Hussein: Thank you, ma’am.

Tammy Seltzer: Well, glad to be here.

Nancy Ware: Glad you’re here. To start off, Ubah, I’d like to ask you to talk a little about what you’re seeing in terms of mental health issues among our clients who’re coming into our system on probation and parole and supervised release.

Ubax Hussein: I think that people are coming home with a lot of co-occurring behavioral health conditions, some of which Director Baron has already talked about. The other subpopulation of concern is that as is happening with the rest of society the returning citizens are also aging. So we’re seeing a higher number than I remember last year of people that have onset of dementia, for example, and who are needing nursing home services. So the coordination of reentry planning has really focused on those people that have age related dementia, the population that we’re familiar with working with that have the co-occurring schizophrenia and maybe a PCP addiction or something, and then another population of people that are coming home with significant medical conditions, renal failure, diabetes, HIV disease. And so planning around all of those service needs, both behavioral health, age related services, and medical services, has been a challenge that I think CSOSA is meeting very well in terms of partnering with our community providers.

Nancy Ware: That’s quite a menu.

Thomas Williams: Yeah. And I think one of the reasons that we’re seeing this change or this shift in the population has to do with the number of previous periods of incarceration that happen over time, five and seven year periods of incarceration, and then the individuals are coming back. We’re trying to do the best that we can when they are in the community and then something else will happen and they go right back again.

Nancy Ware: So they go in and out of the system.

Thomas Williams: So there’s almost, you hate to kind of say revolving door kind of a situation, but the multiple periods of incarceration are leading to the things that we’re seeing now in the population. That makes it a little bit more challenging for us to try to address adequately and then try to get the service needs accomplished, both on the mental health or the behavioral health side, as well as on the physical health. Now they got two different issues that we’re trying to address simultaneously.

Nancy Ware: So what is our best approach as a supervision agency to all of these challenges that you’re seeing with this population coming out of prisons and jails?

Thomas Williams: Well, first and foremost it’s the qualities of staff that we’re able to bring within the organization, and we can’t say enough about the quality of the staff that we have working for us. Number one, they have, several of them have advanced degrees, they’re really dedicated to the population, and they have a passion to work with the groups that we are charged to supervise, and I think that’s one of the key things. The second thing that we have to do is to ensure the level of training is at a level which is highly functioning, so that we’re able to identify the help that is needed for the population and then make sure with that training and the passion that the staff will bring to the job, that we can then identify what is actually needed at the appropriate time and then have a strategic plan to work with that individual through the course of the supervision period. And we can’t stop without having first the assessment, that’s so fundamentally important and getting information from the institution or the jail that the person was in, in terms of what was happening while they were there, and then making that plan consistent when they actually come out, so it’s not a disjointed effort, but something that’s really consistent.

Nancy Ware: So that continuity of care, are you seeing some changes now over the course of the last several years? We heard from our guest from the first segment some of the work that they’ve been involved in, in trying to help CSOSA, which is Court Services and Community Supervision Agency, to better meet the needs of this population. Ubah, do you want to speak to some of the things that you’ve seen?

Ubax Hussein: Sure. I think one of the most important things that’s happened is we’ve always had reentry planning in place as an informal kind of setup, but two and a half years ago Mr. Williams took the initiative really formalize that into a working group. And so within that working group we do a monthly telephone conference, we have a forecast, for example, our October telephone conference is going to be on who’s coming home February 2015.

Nancy Ware: And this conference is within whom again?

Ubax Hussein: The conference is with the Bureau of Prisons; it’s with Department of Behavioral Health, and CSOSA.

Nancy Ware: Excellent.

Ubax Hussein: And so this three core working group, we know what the needs are, we know what the deficits are, and when appropriate someone might need the advocacy services, for example, of ULS. So we’re able to get – early planning is the best. So we get the releases of information signed, we get in contact with families, we confirm the releasing address, we have them in many ways initiate Medicaid before they come into the community, referral to ACT teams, all of that paperwork, which takes time to work its way through the system, we can get started on individual reentry planning 120 days ahead of their release date.

Nancy Ware: That is critical.

Thomas Williams: It is. But one of the things that, with the process that Ubah just discussed is a real challenge for us is that the system itself within the District of Columbia is one that were dependent upon to try to help this transition smoothly, because unfortunately a lot of times the family members aren’t there –

Ubax Hussein: That’s right.

Thomas Williams: To try to pick up – as Ubah had mentioned, some of the population is aging a little bit and some of the activities that happened while the individual was in the community –

Ubax Hussein: Yeah.

Thomas Williams: The families are saying, “I love him, but he can’t stay here.”

Nancy Ware: Right.

Thomas Williams: Or –

Nancy Ware: And this population is particularly challenging alone without being involved with the criminal justice system. Many families abandon family members who are having mental health problems, because they’re so difficult to manage, and then you couple that with being in the criminal justice system.

Thomas Williams: Justice System itself.

Nancy Ware: It puts a lot more weight on I guess the probation, parole [OVERLAY].

Thomas Williams: It does. And that’s, as I mentioned, that’s one of the challenges that the staff are facing is that the person needs to live somewhere, and a shelter is not the appropriate place for any individual who has mental health issues, and we had, would be worried about medication management. It’s not an environment for which we could have that’s supportive enough to support the individual in some of the things that they’re actually facing.

Nancy Ware: So, Tom, tell me a little bit about what CSOSA has done to address this population.

Thomas Williams: Yes.

Nancy Ware: I know you’ve had some innovation over the last few years. So what are some of the things that have been put in place to address this population better?

Thomas Williams: Well, one of the things we did we hired Ubah, and that was something that was on the planning stages for a long while, because what we recognized is that the line staff, the CSOs, the community supervision officers, albeit while meaning and compassionate about the work, we were needing someone else to help them in terms of being a consultant to what they were doing.

Nancy Ware: So Ubah’s job is to…?

Thomas Williams: Ubah’s job is to bridge the gap between the agency and the stakeholders and –

Nancy Ware: She’s like a coordinator?

Thomas Williams: Yes. And also it’s to act as a consultant to the line staff as they are dealing with difficult cases. So pretty much what Ubah will do for us, as the staff are working out assessment issues with the individual in terms of what that plan is, they will then call Ubah and then use her as the consultant and say, “Look at this plan. Does this plan make sense based on this individual?” And we’re looking at the prior history of the individual in terms of the prior episodes that the individual may have had with regards to hospitalization, medication management, and all of them Ubah will then give input into the plan. And then what the staff will do will coordinate with Steve Baron’s group, the Department of Behavioral Health, in terms of what is the best plan for this individual while he’s in the community and what do we see as potential barriers for that person in terms of trying to get that individual healthy enough to operate basically on your own, and that’s really the goal that we’re trying to get to. There’s one if the person can navigate within the society on their own with some assistance or they need to identify where they need to go to get assistance when they need it and also to have a supportive environment to help them when they do have difficulty.

Nancy Ware: So, Ubah, you work with who in the, within CSOSA? Do you have teams that you’re working with? And talk a little bit about that.

Ubax Hussein: I work closely with the behavioral health supervision teams for the men and women, and I partner with the treatment specialist for the sex offender teams sometimes, because the population’s needs overlap. In the community really my primary partnership is with DBH, Department of Behavioral Health. There’s two cases that actually we’re working on. There’s a lady we’re trying to bring home, her release has been delayed from September to November, 71 years old, wheelchair bound, onset of dementia, only family member is her older brother.

Nancy Ware: Wow!

Ubax Hussein: And she has a senior apartment, but she’s not at a place where she can live independently. I mentioned that because I think regardless of the innovations and the planning and the collaboration that we’re doing, there’s a limit to the available community resources in terms of continuum of housing services, supported housing, and especially in terms of sometimes we have another gentleman whose release has been retarded more than a year, because the recommendation from his BOP team, Bureau of Prisons team, is that he needs to be in a secure setting, based on his high risk, as well as his high need.

Nancy Ware: Now, let me ask you about secure settings. Does CSOSA have a secure setting that addresses co-occurring disorders? You’ve talked a lot about that being a challenge. Tom, can you talk about that?

Thomas Williams: Sure. We have been fortunate in terms of the funding that we receive from Congress to have a reentry sanctions center, and basically that’s a location on the grounds of DC hospital, DC jail complex that is there, and we’re able to address mental health issues, as well as those individuals who are in the community and having some difficulty. Instead of having the court or parole commission revoke that individual, we actually can kind of do like a timeout, if you will, work on those things that got that person into difficulty with precaution and noncompliance and then bring them back.

Nancy Ware: That’s great.

Thomas Williams: Unfortunately for us though, the group that Ubah is talking about, which is a subset, are those that we classify as severe and persistent mental health, these are persons who have very severe issues with regards to their mental health functioning and they have some physical issues as well. And we don’t have a facility, a really secure facility currently in the District that can handle that and that’s not a negative for the District, it’s like national –

Nancy Ware: Yeah.

Thomas Williams: That the severe and persistent mental health population unfortunately we don’t have a place for them to go.

Nancy Ware: So we’re still working with DBH, Department of Behavioral Health, and others to figure out how we can get through that.

Thomas Williams: Yes.

Nancy Ware: So you have two units in the Residential Reentry and Sanctions Center?

Thomas Williams: Actually it’s five floors. We have two for males and then one for females.

Nancy Ware: Okay. And that’s where co-occurring?

Thomas Williams: That’s correct.

Nancy Ware: Okay.

Thomas Williams: And one of the innovations that we did within the organization several years ago is that we, as Ubah mentioned, we split the population. We recognized that the female population –

Nancy Ware: Yeah.

Thomas Williams: With mental health needs is a little bit separate and needs to be separate from the male population. So we had three teams, one is general supervision, and two are mental health or behavioral health for the female population, and we have five teams for males. And unfortunately, as Ubah had mentioned, with the increase that we’ve seen in the mental health population we had to create another male team. So we’re going to have eight teams all total.

Nancy Ware: So let me ask you. Within the total population under supervision are you seeing an increase in the behavioral health needs of that population?

Thomas Williams: We are. We have about 18,000 cases under supervision with the new organization and about 20% of that population –

Nancy Ware: Yeah.

Thomas Williams: Is now, have behavioral health issues.

Nancy Ware: My goodness.

Thomas Williams: So I’ll be able to have units; our branch basically has really expanded. And about a year and a half ago we actually split that behavioral health branch, because it was becoming too large.

Nancy Ware: Yeah.

Thomas Williams: So our average we have about a seven to one ratio, one supervisor to seven staff members working with the population.

Nancy Ware: Good. And in closing, Ubah, can you just tell us very briefly what some of the challenges are with the women that you’ve been working with, very briefly?

Ubax Hussein: Research shows and our experience shows that women come with really complex psychosocial needs, including history of childhood sexual trauma, many of them may have lost their children, custody of their children, and so in addition to supervision and behavioral health needs, there’s family rebuilding that they’re engaged in, and that requires a lot more support.

Nancy Ware: Well, I want to thank our two expert guests from CSOSA. We’re very proud of the work that you’re doing in our agency and we look forward to some of the new innovations that you come up with as you meet the challenges of our population. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching today’s show on mental health and recovery. Please watch for us next time as we explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very pleasant day. Thank you for joining us.

[Video Ends]


Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys – DC Public Safety Television

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

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Television Program available at

[Video Begins]

Nancy Ware: Hello, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. We have a very special program for you today. We will be discussing the justice experience of black men and boys from a congressional view, which we’ll provide an opportunity for two members of the U.S. House of Representatives to address one of the most important issues facing the country. Also discussed will be efforts to assist people with skills and programs to successfully re-enter society from prison.
I am honored to have with us today the honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia and the honorable Danny K. Davis from Chicago, Illinois, who are the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, and true leaders of change within the justice system. As you know, we’ve had a lot of discussions across the nation about what’s been happening  with black men and boys related to Ferguson, New York, and other parts of the country, so I want to ask you to talk a little  bit about the mission and creation of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys. And we can start off with Eleanor  Holmes Norton. Congresswoman Norton.

Congresswoman Norton: Well, this is, this, we think, is an important development in Congress to focus the entire Congress on this very special issues facing black men and boys across the country. We know that black people generally have issues of their own, but black men and boys have not been given, shall we say, equal treatment. I’ve had a commission on black men and boys in the District of Columbia for more than 10 years, and I have seen how important it has been to bring out issues that simply aren’t being discussed in the public. Because Danny has been a leader in re-entry, and in trying to ameliorate incarceration of black men, we were a perfect partnership when it came to deciding to form the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys.

Congressman Davis: Well, let me just tell you how great of an opportunity it is for me to work with someone who is as esteemed  and has such a long history of advocating for the rights of all people, but especially for African Americans, and taken a  good look at African American men and boys. This issue is so intricately webbed into the history of our country, and lots of  people don’t like to look at it that way. They don’t wanna think that slavery and everything that has happened up to this point is part of the cause, part of the problem, and part of the need. So, working with Delegate Norton is just great because she has those kind of insights and know what it takes, and we are having some good experiences with the African American men and  boys and with other entities really, that are emerging and developing and are part of this movement.

Nancy Ware: And it is a movement, and I wanna just also second the fact that you’ve brought this conversation to Washington  D.C., Congresswoman Norton, in terms of pulling together a network of men and boys and women to discuss, you know, the ever-increasing domination, unfortunately, or disproportionate confinement of men and boys in our prison system, and under  the criminal justice system at large. Can you talk, both of you, either one of you, talk a little bit about the mission and  the creation of the Caucus on Black Men and Boys?

Congressman Davis: Well, I think the mission is to create an environment and an atmosphere at the highest level of thinking  in our country so that issues surrounding the why, why are there so many African American men and boys who get caught up in the criminal justice system? Why is the treatment so disparate? So different? How do we have justice when in so many  instances, people end up spelling it just us? I mean, when you go to certain kinds of judicial proceedings, even if it’s  traffic court in many places, it is just us. If you go to child support court, it is just us. When I visit penitentiaries  and jails, as I do often, every Christmas for the last 20 years I’ve gone to the Cook County jail to visit with the inmates, and I can tell you, it’s generally just us.

Nancy Ware: That’s a good point. I know that you’ve definitely, Congresswoman Norton, been focused a lot on some of the institutional issues that face black men and boys going into the criminal justice system. Do you wanna speak a little bit  about how that has influenced this movement of sorts?

Congresswoman Norton: Certainly, and first of all, we, our own Commission on Black Men and Boys in the District began with a  commission consisting of black men who have credibility in the African American community, and we decide which kinds of issues  are cresting in the community and need discussion, but before we get to the notion of incarceration, we’ve got to get to why black men, black boys, and notice it’s called Black Men and Boys, both in Congressional Caucus and our own local Caucus, it’s ’cause you gotta begin with boys, and because you see these disproportions from the earliest years. You see them in
drop-outs. You see them before drop-out. You see them in suspensions. You finally have come to a point in our country where there is a huge disproportion in almost every phase of life between black men and black women, for example, in those who finish  high school, in those who finish middle school, in those who go to college. You’re going to have a people where, as we finally  see, marriage becomes less often. Because if you have black women who’ve finished high school, going to college, and you have  black men who got cut off somehow in the early years of life, you are not gonna have marriages of a kind that have been  traditionally in the African American community. So this runs up and down the line, and by the time you get to a young man, then the notion of whether he can remain out of prison. For example, just let me give you the latest situation in the District, I’ve gone around fighting now, because the Council of the District of Columbia passed a bill to legalize marijuana. Now,  nobody wants anybody to smoke dope, even these weeds. Of course, people tend to outgrow marijuana. But why did they pass that? Unlike in the four western states that have passed similar laws, they passed it because of two independent studies that show  that blacks and whites in this town, and by the way, throughout the United States, use marijuana at the same rate, and the
progressive District of Columbia, 90% of those who are arrested are African Americans, and most of them are African American  men or boys. Now, think of it. You are now 18 years old. Your drug conviction is for a small possession of a small amount of  marijuana. On your record, when you go to apply for a job, you have a drug conviction. You have black skin. Forget about that  job. That then sentences you, if you will forgive the use of a word, I think it’s apropos here, to the underground economy, or worse, unemployment. And we wonder why our jails are just us, Danny.

Congressman Davis: Oh, no doubt about it, and there are just so many factors which contribute. I mean, we still have the  problem of parents too soon. That is, of young individuals who aren’t ready for parenting to continue to produce children. We have the enormous problem of poverty. We have a lack of opportunity. For example, I cite the fact that finding an African American male teacher in early childhood education is practically nonexistent, and so many boys grow up, for example, with the idea that education is a girl, female, kind of thing, and so by the time they’re third grade, many of them have sort of  decided that this formal education thing is not for them. That becomes another factor, and so we have to find a way to cure
that element of causation.

Nancy Ware: Those are really cross-cutting issues and cross-cutting concerns that are often overlooked by, you know, the general population. People don’t always appreciate the gateways to the criminal justice system for men and boys, particularly  African American men and boys. So that’s quite a big charge that you have ahead of you for the Caucus to embrace, for public  policy to begin to speak to. Are there any policies, specific issues that you wanna present to our audience that you’ve begun to see coming out of the Caucus?

Congressman Davis: Well, one of the things that we recognize is that, if individuals, say for example those who’ve been incarcerated, once they get ready to return, if they receive assistance, if they receive help, that will have a great impact on whether or not they go back, which means that one of the first things that you can really do is try and reduce recidivism for those who have already done, what society calls, offended in some kind of way. So if you can keep them from going back, that’s going to help reduce the numbers who are incarcerated. It’s also going to help them become productive citizens so that  they can get a job, they can earn money, they can pay taxes, they can become contributing members of society.

Nancy Ware: Well, you have both been powerful role models for the nation in terms of this issue. Are there any things that you think our viewers should consider in terms of supporting the work that you’ve done? You spoke about the hard work that you’ve done in the District of Columbia, and across the country, quite frankly. Are there things that you’d like our viewers to hear that you’d like us to consider?

Congresswoman Norton: Well there is a hunger for people to participate in this work, and one of the things we wanna do with  the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys is to encourage communities to do what we’re doing. First, to air the issues.  Some of these issues are painful to air, but if black people step up and air them, then the community is very much open to hearing them, and then you can work on remedies. But if you won’t even talk about them, such as the kinds of discussions we have in forms of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, then of course, they disappear, they don’t exist.

Congressman Davis: Everybody can help. I think that’s the key. Churches, organizations, groups, fraternities, sororities, every kind of group you can mention actually has the potential of helping with this process.

Nancy Ware: Well, I wanna thank you both. We’re going to take a brief break from our first segment and we’ll be moving into our next segment in just a few moments. So thank you both, and we’ll take a break now.

[Commercial Break]

Nancy Ware: Welcome back to the D.C. Public Safety show. I’m your host, Nancy Ware, from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia. We have today the honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton and the honorable Danny K. Davis, and they’re back with us on the second half of our show as we discuss the justice experience of black men and boys from a congressional view. A separate topic of prison re-entry will be our focus for the second half. I’d like to start with talking about the needs of juveniles within the justice system and why that’s important to the two of you.

Congresswoman Norton: There’s beginning to be some horrific exposure of what happens to juveniles in the justice system. For example, we know that solitary confinement is, should be forbidden for adults. Now we’re finding that it happens, some of the time, for children. If a child gets into the criminal justice system, you have a magic moment to make sure that child does not progress in that system the way he progresses in school. But I’m afraid juvenile justice systems too often become escalators to the next segment of criminal life for a child, ’cause it usually means there’s been some family disruption, some failures in the community that led this child into the juvenile justice system.

Nancy Ware: And it’s a pretty challenging issue. Congressman Davis?

Congressman Davis: Of course, in some jurisdictions court systems have come up with programs to avert or to keep individuals out of incarcerated situations to the highest level that they can. That is, finding alternatives to incarceration, and those work quite well where judicial systems have made a determination to really do it, and so we have to prevent to the extent possible our young people from getting into the culture of incarceration. I mean, things that you learn there, in many  instances, just causes them, when they get out, if they get out, to be in worse shape than they were when they went in. So I think there has to be a comprehensive approach to the extent that they can be developed, and I think all units of government,
that is, from the municipal level, to the county, to the state, to the federal level, have to put resources into activities. If there is no money, there is no fund, and if you don’t put in resources for programatic efforts, then they’re not going to take place and you’re just going to see the continuation of what we see now, and that has to stop because it’s non-productive, it costs money, and it creates more reliance on a prison or incarcerated system rather than having people be out learning to be productive citizens.

Nancy Ware: And both of you have touched on some of the indicators that often lead young men, and particularly juveniles, into the justice system, such as educational deficits, mental health issues and challenges, economics. Can you speak a little bit about what you see as some of the remedies for addressing some of those issues?

Congresswoman Norton: Well it’s no accident that those who most often find themselves in the criminal justice system are among the poorest in the country. And by the way, it’s been that way when there were immigrants in this country, it’s that way now, when you have black and brown people in the system. So you’ve got to look at who your population is and while they’re in this system where they, I must say, tragically may have resources that they will not even have in the community. It seems
to me those, you’ve got to take advantage of that period, but the notion of diversion that Danny was talking about is so very important, but you don’t want to divert ’em back into what may be the kinda culture that brought them to the attention of the authorities in the first place. So, how do you divert children so that when they just begin to surface in the criminal justice system you’re able to guide them away? I mean, this a very complicated issue because they’re not moving out of that community. They’re not moving out of poverty. Takes a lot of social work, and yes, a lot of surrounding of resources from various segments of government itself.

Congressman Davis: We know that political advocacy is always appropriate and greatly in need, and political types do that, but then there are things that others can do. I mean, one church, one family. One church, one child. One Boy Scout. I mean,  Boy Scouts is a way if we can get young, I advocate that there ought to be a Boy Scout troop on every block. On every block. That boys should be able to get that experience. But you’ve gotta have mentors. You must have volunteers. And so people who  don’t wanna get their hands and feet and their minds dirty doing politics, they can do other things. They don’t necessarily just have to do the hard-nosed political work. They can be engaged at their own level of comfort, and that helps. You can’t measure how much mentoring actually will help young people.

Nancy Ware: And I’ve seen that work, but I have to say that it is really a tribute to both of you to have you as advocates on the political level because leadership is so critical and bringing this issue to the forefront is so critical because  otherwise there wouldn’t be the kinds of discussions that we’re having today, which you mentioned earlier. And so, I don’t  wanna underplay the importance of that political advocacy in kinda guiding people towards some of those remedies that you discussed. Are there programs in particular in prison that you’d like to see increased? Things that you think while people are imprisoned, either in the juvenile system or the adult system, that you think would help to increase opportunities once people are released?

Congressman Davis: There are indeed. Of course, once again, it becomes this question of putting resources in place and not cutting everything to the bone. I mean, we’ve seen over the last several years, I can think of programs that used to exist where individuals, for example, who were incarcerated, all they could actually earn college degrees, they could come out with, you know, skills that had been developed, and then we go into this business of cut, cut, cut, cut, and you don’t have those resources in play and in place, so we have to be smart in terms of what it is that we fund and where we place money, and we can’t take the idea that these individuals are going to somehow or another emerge as good, solid citizens without the  help that need to be provided.

Nancy Ware: Are you beginning to see these kinds of reforms taking place?

Congresswoman Norton: There’s a very important period of reform emerging now. It’s led by the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, who was of course U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. You see him beginning what is real reform  it seems to me. For example, in this leadership that is producing a cut-reduction in the sentences of low, of those who are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes, so we’ve had the over-incarceration of African American men that they’re bringing down. We even see some on the Republican side calling for less incarceration and beginning to understand, as Danny says, that
without resources, very little will happen. Now, one of the things that’s driving less incarceration, saves the government money. Fewer people, you know, being held in high-cost prisons, ’cause it’s very costly to keep someone on a daily basis in prison. Now, what Danny and I share, despite the fact that prison systems are state systems, is that all of our constituents in the 50 states and the District of Columbia will be in federal prisons. Now, of all the prisons, of federal prisons, the Bureau of Prison has the best reputation. I would like to see some of the programs of the federal prisons more often in state prisons. For example, one of the things that the United States Congress keeps the Bureau of Prison from doing, state prisons allow, and that is that you cannot get a college degree in a federal prison, though you can in some state prisons. We got
somebody who wants to get a college degree while he’s incarcerated and we’re denying him the opportunity to do that? Now, I’m not sure, Danny, whether you can even get a Pell Grant now when you get out of prison if you’ve been in prison. I know at one point you could not.

Congressman Davis: Depends on the kind of crime that you have been convicted of and all of that. One of the other things I think that I certainly want to commend the Attorney General for has been convening all of the agencies, the departments, of the federal government as part of the implementation of the Second Chance Act for all departments to take a look at what it is they can do. How can they be effectively involved in reducing the prison population? In reducing recidivism? And that’s something that I certainly hope that whoever becomes next will continue that effort because every agency can do a little bit.

Nancy Ware: To help towards…

Congressman Davis: And if you get a lot of people doing a little bit, that becomes a whole lot.

Nancy Ware: That’s true, that’s true. And our agency has been involved in that, so I’ve seen first-hand some of the  opportunities for federal agencies to participate in resolving some of these issues. I do want to ask a little bit about what you think we need to think about as we move forward in the correctional arena in terms of addressing some of these areas that you’ve mentioned, substance abuse, I mentioned mental health, economics you talked a little bit about, education, beyond opportunities for folks to get their college education there, are there other things that you can think of that we might wanna push for in our prison systems, and even in our community corrections and under probation?

Congresswoman Norton: Well I think one of the most important things the Bureau of Prisons does, and it doesn’t have enough resources to do it for every incarcerated person, is to help people get rid of and no longer want narcotics. Because one of the first things that will happen, if you go back in the community that you’ve just come from, is you’re exposed to the drug culture. So to the extent that we can wean people off of drugs while they are in prison, we have done a great service to them and to the society to which they are returning.

Congressman Davis: And we know that an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure, which means that those things that we can do of a preventative nature obviously will reduce the likelihood and the possibility that people will get caught up. One of the things that we’ve been doing lately has been, and it was very pleasant, taking children to actually visit their fathers who were in prison. We did that just before Father’s Day, and it was just a great experience in terms of what individuals themselves feel and can do, and if they’re motivated, stimulated, and activated, yes, there are things that each person can take the responsibility of doing for him or herself, and that does not let society off the hook, but there has to be, and there need to be a partnership existing between the individuals and the systems.

Nancy Ware: And the communities that they come from.

Congresswoman Norton: You have all the things, studies show, of all the things that work in keeping people out of prison, it is providing that kind of relationship with a support system or their own families while they are in prison.

Nancy Ware: Well, I wanna thank both of you, and ladies and gentlemen, I wanna thank you, our viewers, for watching today’s show. Please watch for us. Next time we explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Again, I wanna thank Congresswoman Norton and Congressman Davis for your leadership and guidance in this area. It has been so critical to the African American community and to helping to resolve these issues that are very complex facing men and boys entering the criminal justice system. Again, thank you and have a great day.

Congressman Davis: Thank you.

Congresswoman Norton: Thank you.

Nancy Ware: Thank you very much.

[Video Ends]