Archives for February 2016

Human and Labor Trafficking in the US-Urban Institute

Human and Labor Trafficking in the US-Urban Institute

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio Show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/10/human-and-labor-trafficking-in-the-us-urban-institute/

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety and I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We are doing a show ladies and gentlemen on human trafficking. Back at our microphones from the Urban Institute we have Colleen Owens. She again is with the Urban Institute. She did a heck of a program last time on the issue of human trafficking. Joining her today is Justin Breaux and also Isela Banuelos. Did I get that correctly Isela, so I want to welcome all three of you to DC Public Safety.

Colleen Owens: Thank you.

Isela Banuelos: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Alright now we are going to go with Colleen because Colleen did the program before and Colleen gave me a very quick overview of what it is that we mean by human trafficking.

Colleen Owens: Well thanks so much for having us on the program Len we are really happy to be here. So human trafficking as it is defined in our federal law, which was passed in 2000, essentially, you know, centers on the use of three elements of forced fraud or coercion to compel a person either into I guess two very broad areas of labor trafficking or sex trafficking. If the person is under the age of 18, for sex trafficking you don’t have to prove forced fraud or coercion but for labor trafficking you would.

Len Sipes: I was running the research report. This is the one statement that just really jumped out at me: “To a public largely unaware of it crimes resembling slavery take place in America.” Is that overkill or is that a justifiable description of what we are talking about when we talk about human trafficking?

Colleen Owens: I mean that is absolutely justifiable. If you actually look at the root of the law that we have on human trafficking in the United States, it’s based upon the 13th Amendment principles of slavery. The language is actually directly relation to the language that we have since the 13th Amendment around debt bondage, peonage and slavery and so what we are talking about is actually, you know, the limitation of a person’s liberties and freedom. And this crime that we call human trafficking is somewhat new parlance since about the early 2000s but it is a crime that has existed for a long period of time in the United States.

Len Sipes: Now we are talking about literally tens of millions of people throughout the world?

Colleen Owens: The best estimate that we have actually comes from the International Labor Organization and there estimate is that 21 million people are victims of forced labor around the world.

Len Sipes: And so, but we don’t know the exact number of human trafficking/slavery in the United States but we do know in all probability that millions are involved in this type of behavior in the United States?

Colleen Owens: Right, we don’t have actual any estimates on the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States but we do know that victims have been identified both of labor trafficking and sex trafficking across the country.

Len Sipes: Because last time you and I did the show, in preparation for all my shows I do talk to different people about the topic before actually doing the show and to a person they just said human trafficking in the United States, they found that incredulous and they did not buy into the fact that there is human trafficking in the United States. So to satisfy them, once again, is there human trafficking in the United States?

Colleen Owens: Yes absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay. So this is appalling, I mean this is absolutely literally appalling that we have forced labor and forced sexual bondage within the United States right now and it’s not all that unusual nor is it all that rare and it is probably happening throughout the country.

Colleen Owens: It is defiantly. I would say that no community is immune to it.

Len Sipes: You did a report which I do want to site and I will put it in the show notes. “Understanding the Organization, Operation and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking In The United States.” You did this again with Urban Institute coupled up with North Eastern University?

Colleen Owens: Right.

Len Sipes: And so this, I have been seeing in my email lots of material coming out of Urban on human trafficking. This is something that Urban is taking very seriously in terms of putting out seminars and reports on it. I mean it is just not a one shot deal. You guys are steadily pounding the streets talking about human trafficking.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely it is an issue that we see as very central and important in the research field and it is something that myself and my colleagues Justin and Isela and Meredith Dank, also of Urban Institute, as well as my colleagues at North Eastern University – Amy Farrell and Jack McDevitt have dedicated a lot of our time conducting research on over the years and it is something that we do feel strongly. There is still so much that needs to be known, a lot of unanswered research questions and it is something that we do remain committed to conducting research on in the future.

Len Sipes: Isela give me a sense as to the report. You’ve talked to what 28 victims and 58 social service providers to get a sense as to what’s actually happening in terms of human trafficking, not just in the United States but throughout the world but in terms of this report particularly in the United States.

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct so we have talked to service providers and victims who have been able to get services and we talked to people who were trafficked into various industries including agriculture, domestic work, hospitality and also restaurants. Thank you, right.

Colleen Owens: Restaurants.

Len Sipes: These are people who are hiding in plain sight according to the report. These are people who we interact with every day; we just don’t know they are being held in bondage. Correct?

Colleen Owens: That is correct.

Len Sipes: And it strikes me that there is a parallel here and any one of you can enter into this conversation. I’m from the main stream criminal justice system and I have dealt with an awful lot of women who are caught up in the criminal justice system who we have supervised in my experience, over the course of the last 25 years and it is not unusual, there is a new piece of research out for one particular state were 85% of the women caught up in the correctional system had histories of violence and sexual violence before the age of 18. And so many of the women who are involved in the criminal justice system are there because, stereotypically I understand but it is true, some male has used physical force or a threat of physical force or a threat of economic force and basically told her, “I’ve got two pounds of cocaine you are going to drive it to New York City.” They are going up Interstate 95. They get pulled over, the drug dog alerts on the car and suddenly she’s in jail or prison for the next 10 years, because principally she was forced to be there. It is sort of a type of bondage as far as I am concerned. And you sit down and you talk with them about their background, it verges on being disgusting. I get the sense that when we talk about human trafficking; we are talking about basically the same thing, force, threat of force, psychological bondage, people who feel paralysis and other people who take advantage of them, Justin?

Isela Banuelos: I think you would want to add fraud in there. What we found was that in most of our cases that was, you know most of our survivors were heavily defrauded in terms of their interview, their recruitment and things of that nature.

Len Sipes: Am I over playing my hand in terms of comparing human trafficking to what I see in the main stream criminal justice system, in particular women offenders?

Isela Banuelos: I think there are absolutely some similarities there and in fact in some of cases, women came to the United States, and you know they were working in homes, they were forced to board flights, and they really didn’t have any choice in the matter.

Len Sipes: The bottom line and the heart and soul of all of these issues that we are talking about today is physical or physiological coercion, to coerce a person in terms of doing something by threatening them physically or threatening them psychologically. So that is a form of slavery.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But in terms of human trafficking, they’re hiding again, as we said in plain sight. We interact with people on a day to day basis but they don’t feel that they can get out of it. The victims don’t feel that they can escape it because they are not quite sure that the criminal justice system is going to be sympathetic towards their cause, even though they are in the county legally and I do want to get around to that part of it. They feel that they’re going to be deported. They think that terrible things are going to happen to them, happen to their kids, happen to their families back in the countries that they came from, so they don’t escape it. That is a form of bondage. Correct? Talk to me about it.

Colleen Owens: Absolutely, well you know we collected a lot of really interesting information around the escape experiences and my colleague Isela can speak a little bit more on that, but you are absolutely correct that folks are laboring you know in plain sight, often times. They are working in hotels. They are working in construction and restaurants. They are here on a visa for work in these industries, primarily in our sample, that’s what we found. And they are under threat of deportation, threat of being reported to the police if they complain. Their family members are being threatened back home because oftentimes they have been recruited back home in their country of origin and a lot of information has been collected about their personal background. So the traffickers use this against them.

Isela Banuelos: Sorry can I also just add that in addition to having this threat of you know having their family members hurt in their home countries, I think that for folks who are coming into the country authorize and unauthorized, there is this tremendous just fear of contacting law enforcement because of their visa. So contacting law enforcement would mean that they are jeopardizing their status, and so because they don’t want to be deported so they are not contacting law enforcement.

Len Sipes: But Justin, they are here legally and not just the fact that they have visa’s when they come, but they paid.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Right, exactly.

Len Sipes: They paid to come here and they paid quite a bit of money.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Right and I think it starts with the recruitment phase. So we were looking at the continuum of the labor trafficking experience and what we found was that it all begins with recruitment oftentimes in their home countries, through their social networks they come across this opportunity. They usually meet with a recruitment agency. This agency will use high pressure coercion tactics to convince them. Many times they are using fraud. The victims are paying large fees. On average it was over $6,000. So that sort of sets the stage. So now they are in debt. They have used their family’s money as collateral and that really lays down the foundation.

Len Sipes: They are here legally, which meant they had to get visas, which meant they had to come into contact with the State Department.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Precisely.

Len Sipes: So there is nobody at the State Department asking questions?

JUSTIN BREAUX: We also highlight that in our report. It is sort of these actions that are taking place and what we found was that for many of the survivors that we interviewed, they had very routine sort of interactions with the State Department. Our survivors were often coach by their traffickers on what to say. In a few instances the trafficker actually participated in the interviews with the victim and the State Department and in that situation the victim, you know had no, didn’t speak English and really didn’t say anything throughout the course of the interview. So we did find that the traffickers played sort of a critical part there. But we do want to add a little bit of a caveat in that we are looking at a subsample of the individuals who have been victimized and received visas from the State Department. We don’t know the universe of individuals who are at risk of trafficking, who have applied for visas and been denied.

Len Sipes: You can only talk about what you know and I understand but there is a certain point where we do need to extrapolate beyond your numbers to the larger issue. The criminal justice system does not come off very well in this report. Again, we are inundated with rapes, robberies, burglaries, what I call the garden variety types of crimes every single day. I have been in law enforcement, I have been in corrections. I understand the stresses and strains upon our system. If you came to me as a police officer and said human trafficking, I guess my response is going to be, what? Because, again, I am overloaded with the day to day crimes that people are very concerned about and nobody at a community meeting brings up human trafficking. Our politicians don’t bring up human trafficking, the medial doesn’t bring up human trafficking and suddenly you present me with an extraordinarily complicated case where I don’t know the law, I don’t know the procedure, I don’t exactly know what to do with this. All I see is a mountain of work and when you are talking about a person being brought over and being worked half to death in a factory, I’m saying to myself what a minute, did you voluntarily come here, do you have a visa? You went through the States Department, you know, you paid for this and your complaint is what? So.

Isela Banuelos: That’s it. I mean that is a very legitimate response and perspective. You know that is something that other research has been done on actually NORC did a study a few years back that indicated that over half of law enforcement, including investigators and prosecutors that they surveyed, had no knowledge of the fact that their state had a law against human trafficking and that there was a high level of misinformation around definition. So folks thought maybe trafficking equaled smuggling. That there had to be movement involved. And so I think that there is a lack of awareness but I also think, and a huge need for training, but I also think something that’s distinct for labor traffic from sex trafficking that we found is that there is really a question about who’s job is it to enforce the laws around labor trafficking. And essentially we found what I would call a black hole of enforcement and it makes sense when you actually look at what we did in our study, which was we categorized and we reviewed cases of labor trafficking victimization and found that there were high rates of labor exploitation. So folks were experiencing crimes that you know sort of civil violations rather, that fall under the jurisdiction of Department of Labor. So wage and hour violations, you know denial of pay or you know failure to give someone a pay stub. You know, lack of meal breaks for example. That is all under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor. What is under the jurisdiction of law enforcement are when it rises to a criminal level, so you know, monitoring and surveying your workers, basically using the threats, the violence, the coercion against them.

Len Sipes: Human bondage is not a Department of Labor crime; I mean what we are talking about are real crimes that we would define them as being real crimes. We are just a little confused when a person comes here voluntarily on a visa that has been processed by the State Department and we would have one person’s word against another. I mean that is almost an impossible situation but we are talking about real crimes. We are talking about real bondage. We are talking about sexual abuse, we are talking about rape. We are talking about some extraordinarily serious issues.

Isela Banuelos: Exactly, but I think Department of Labor is in a place where they could be doing more to help identify because they are going into work places routinely. When you look at local law enforcement your prior experience, you know as a law enforcement official, it is not really in the routine of law enforcement to be going into work places and looking for crimes unless maybe somebody calls because they were assaulted for example.

Len Sipes: It’s a fascinating conversation. We are more than half way through the program and these programs do go by very quick because again I find this to be extraordinarily interesting. The report, “Understanding the Organization, Operation, Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in The United States” as put out by the Urban Institute www.urban.org. Back at our microphones we have Colleen Owens from the Urban Institute, we have Justin Breaux and we have Isela Banuelos, am I getting that correct.

Isela Banuelos: Banuelos.

Len Sipes: Banuelos, okay than you very much and again all from the Institute in conjunction with North Eastern University. Is this Department of Justice supported?

Isela Banuelos: Yes it was funded by the national institute of justice.

Len Sipes: Okay the National Institute of Justice, so some rather prestigious organizations are involved with this and I would imagine Justice is involved in this because they see a problem that nobody seems to be willing to deal with, am I right or wrong?

Colleen Owens: Well basically the study came about because we have been, you know the field has been doing research around human trafficking, I would say, for a little bit over the past decade. And what we have all sort of come to is that we know more, though we still need to know more, about sex trafficking but we really don’t know much about labor trafficking. Does this exist in the United States, what does it look at, how are people being victimized? And so the study came out of that question. And we know that if we wanted to find – our approach was to find cases that have actually been identified and to study those cases.

Len Sipes: You don’t have an empirical basis to make this statement but I have read a couple of your reports and certainly it is justifiable to suggest that you are talking about a couple of hundred thousand people, if not more in the United States who are going through this problem and it is criminal in nature, more than it is labor in nature. I mean, I am trying to set the stage for the person listening to this program who is trying to relate to this. Again, human trafficking, the conversation I had with other people surprised that there is human trafficking in the United States. It impacts more than just a couple of hundred people.

Colleen Owens: Sure absolutely. I mean some of the cases that we looked at actually we may have been reviewing, you know, the cases of one or two victims but in fact the actual labor trafficking case had hundreds of victims that were victimized through that one experience.

Len Sipes: That one experience but is there, we have to somehow in some way put some sort of, I mean people are trying to wrap their heads around what it is that we are talking about and they are sitting there now saying well this is horrible, this is disgusting I did not know about but again it is not really prevalent in the united States. It is, is it not?

Colleen Owens: Well we know that , you know thousands of people have been identified that have been victims of labor trafficking. And I think based on what we found out in our report in terms of how difficult it is for those folks that have actually come forward, to come forward, and all of the barriers that they face in doing so, it does raise question about the extent to which this is happening. And I think also we looked at, I think what was surprising to me was how systematic a lot of this is. That it’s, you know, a lot of the factors that are leading to the labor of folks, of workers being forced you know exist through a lot of these temporary work visa programs. Not to say that they should be cancelled but we that we really need to you know have some serious oversight and look into making some adjustments around these programs to, you know, limit the risk that the workers are facing coming in under those programs.

Len Sipes: But Justin the bottom line is that we, within the criminal justice system have got to start paying attention to this so it has got to be on our radar screen. We’ve got to be talking to our attorneys. We’ve got to be talking to experts. This isn’t anything that we can ignore. This is something that we just should be paying attention to.

JUSTIN BREAUX: Yes you are absolutely correct and in our interviews with law enforcement what we did find was, in fact, a lot of confusion about the issue. Oftentimes they referenced it as being a purely a labor issue. So yeah, there is the need there and there is the need to raise awareness within the public as well.

Len Sipes: And again this is why I am playing this card too many times resembling slavery taking place in America. I’m trying to get a point across that we are not talking about somebody working 60 hours instead of 40 hours in a factory, who is from another country.

JUSTIN BREAUX: So what we are talking about is for example one of our cases. A woman made a mistake, she was a domestic worker. The family, the traffickers said she made a mistake; she was not given food for four days. When she “stole” two pieces of chocolate, she was forced to stand from 4am to 6pm for the remainder of the day. So those are the types of situations we are talking about. Death threats things of that nature. “If you try to run I will shoot you.” I mean these are things that sort of came out in our findings.

Len Sipes: And again this is something, I think, is just happening way too much in the United States. So they got here from what countries, principally what Asia and Latin America?

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct yes.

Len Sipes: Okay and they got here through visas.

Isela Banuelos: Yes the majority of the people in our sample came here through a visa and 79% like actually don’t quote me, 71% yes and they were flying in. I mean if you are thinking about places like Latin America and Asia these are folks who are coming in through there.

Len Sipes: They are not coming across the Canadian line, walking across the Canadian or the Mexican border. They are flying in with a visa?

Isela Banuelos: That’s correct, yes.

Len Sipes: There is a certain point where most of their visas are now expired?

Isela Banuelos: Yes and that creates further challenges for escaping. Right? So you have a situation where someone did everything right to come into the country legally and now they are caught in a trafficking situation, and their visa has expired. So that’s just creating future challenges to contact law enforcement since they know that they are now unauthorized.

Len Sipes: Justin, go ahead.

JUSTIN BREAUX: One of the first things that the traffickers did upon arrival into the United States was actually seize those documents and that was one of their primarily mechanisms of control over their victims.

Len Sipes: Alright, they believe because their visa has expired that they cannot go to law enforcement, they cannot escape because their visas have expired they are simply going to be deported back to the countries that they came from?

Isela Banuelos: Yeah, that is one of the many challenges that they have to overcome and I think there is also physical barriers. You are talking about people who work in agriculture. We are talking about folks who live in very rural parts in the country and you know it is going to take miles and miles until they come into contact. With some other folks who are in domestic work that is illegal in the privacy of someone’s home and don’t have any contact with anyone. They are under constant surveillance and so how do you create an opportunity for them to access other people?

Len Sipes: And how do they escape.

Isela Banuelos: So the majority of our people in our sample, 59% escaped by running away and the second most common way of escape was through the support of a friend. And you know I think it is important to recognize that for folks who have to be under constant surveillance and there is physical barriers, there is psychosocial abuse from the traffickers and there is a very complicated relationship with law enforcement because of their immigration status, they are relaying on narrowed windows of surveillance to escape. You know we had a situation where a women, you know the trafficker left the door open and she just ran out and waved down a cab. That was one of the stories we heard and for other folks who are working in maybe a more populated setting like hospitality, they are relying on a network or support of friends or colleagues who can help them, you know be more strategic about their exit. Helping them find a way to escape. So it’s, I can’t emphasis the importance of bystanders in this process of escape. A lot of times it took just someone you know to stop someone in the street and say like, “You know, there is something off. What is going on here?” and them having, you know, the power to contact law enforcement to check on the situation and I think that is really, really important.

Len Sipes: Nobody is taking them; nobody from the criminal justice system is taking them back to the trafficker are they? They are not making that mistake are they?

JUSTIN BREAUX: Well so we did have one person that we interviewed and she actually was able to call 911 and when law enforcement arrived they interviewed both the trafficker and the victim and they sided with the trafficker and actually told the victim that if she called law enforcement or 911 again, she would go to prison.

Colleen Owens: Yes, exactly and there was another case where an agricultural worker was shot at by the trafficker farmer and basically then he was arrested and put into deportation proceedings because his visa had expired. And it’s all as a result of the trafficking experience that happens.

Len Sipes: I’m just hoping that people who have listened long enough to this program at this stage of the game are now beginning to get a sense as to what we mean by human trafficking. I just get the sense that it is not taken seriously. And it’s – people see it as a matter of a labor dispute, it’s not. It’s bondage, it’s bondage in the United States. All right, so what is the role of the public to get them to understand how difficult this is? What should we do? Not just the criminal justice system but the general public.

Colleen Owens: Well I think as Isela mentioned, one of the things that we found that was so important was the role of bystanders and how much they were actually involved. And sometimes there was unrealized opportunities for escape. So. you know, we heard from survivors that for example they were out cutting the grass with scissors, you know, a domestic worker at 4am. And a neighbor was coming home and saw that and they tried to reach out and maybe they had, you know, limited English capacity but they were at least able to communicate that something was wrong and it was an unrealized opportunity for escape.

Other stories we heard they would, you know, ask neighbors for help but they might say, “I don’t want to get involved.” So there were these opportunities where folks were reaching out. What’s really key to understand, I think, and what is different in some cases from what we see with sex trafficking is that in our sample at least of labor trafficking victims, about 96% of all of the victims that we looked at in our case files actually realized something was wrong and they didn’t call it labor trafficking, they didn’t say, “I’m a victim of labor trafficking” but often they would say things like “I realize I am being tricked and I realize that I am being coerced” and so I think that is an opportunity where they are reaching out for help. They do realize something is wrong and it is getting the resources and the awareness out there so that we can actually capitalize on that and get people the help that they need.

Len Sipes: But maybe it’s the term. I mean I am not even quite sure that I understand and I have been in the criminal justice system for 45 years. I mean I’m not quite sure I understand labor trafficking. Human trafficking gets me somewhat to where I need to be and that is why I am constantly brining up this sense of bondage because that, that’s what we are talking about. So isn’t that what we need to get across to the American Public? I mean we are talking about human beings in bondage.

Colleen Owens: Right, but I think we also need to pay close attention to the psychological forms of coercion because sometimes the focus on bondage is important and it’s important to underscore the fact that, you know, people are laboring against their will but sometimes they think people get hung up because they might see a case, for example, of a domestic worker and they might say, “Well why don’t they just leave?”
Or, “They’re a farmer, why don’t they just leave, why do they stay?” and it is really important to understand all of the mechanisms that are being used against them to compel them to stay. The difference with slavery of the past is that people aren’t in chains for the most part but there are other forms of coercion that are being used to keep them in bondage, so –

Len Sipes: But the same question is being asked of domestic violence victims and I am not going to suggest that the question is repulsive. I understand that the question may be somewhat natural but they don’t understand all the complexities involved in this and this bondage. This is psychological bondage in terms of domestic violence. It sounds exactly the same things is happening here. You can entrap a human being in chains but those chains could be psychological. If the trafficker is going to say that your kids are going to be sold off or, you know, “I am going to make sure that your family back in Guatemala goes through utter and complete hell and I am going to make sure that they have no livelihood if you continue fighting me.” That is just as strong of a chain.

Colleen Owens: Right, exactly and back to your original question I mean it’s important then for the public to understand that and so awareness campaigns need to be created that really highlight not just, “are you a victim of labor trafficking” but “have you experienced these thing and if so, you know here is the number to call.”

Len Sipes: You know, again it is just an amazing report. Understanding the organization, operation and victimization process of labor trafficking in the United States. Our guests today: Colleen you bring a sense of real insight in terms of this so it is the second time you have been here but you are always welcome back.

Colleen Owens: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Justin and Isela both of you guys, I really appreciate you being here, again it a program or a research effort by the North Eastern University by the Urban Institute and by the US Department of Justice. You can find the report on the website of the Urban Institute: www.urban.org. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate you criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Religion in Corrections-National Institute of Corrections

Religion in Corrections-National Institute of Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio Show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/09/religion-corrections-national-institute-corrections/

Len Sipes: On the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen today the topic is Religion in Corrections. We have Ronald G. Turner, JD and PhD with us today. Ron is a frequent speaker in inmate religious rights. He had led workshops on the topic at the 2011-2013 American Correctional Associations Annual Congress of Corrections. In May this year he was a panelist on the National Institute of Corrections two day training on Religion in Corrections. He led workshops sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections in Denver for the Chief and Legal Councils and Food Service Directors for Prison Systems across the Country. He has also presented on the topic for the American Correctional Chaplains Associations and Corrections Cooperation of America. Ron welcome to DC Public Safety.

Ronald G. Turner: Thanks Len I’m glad to be here.

Len Sipes: Ok, First of all before we get into the program the program is produced by the National Institution of Corrections specifically Donna Ledbetter we appreciate Donna producing of the show. Ron this, Religion Corrections has been called the hottest legal topic in Corrections today. Is that correct?

Ronald G. Turner: There is no question about it. Since January 1st of this year 238 law suits have been filled by inmates across the country in Federal Court asserting religions rights. That is almost one new law suit a day.

Len Sipes: Now that’s amazing, I mean when I was in mainstream corrections for the state of Maryland for 14 years it was, people were astounded because they said how do you spend your day and is it talking about rehabilitation, is it talking about security, is it talking about reentry and I said no, the bulk of our day is spent in talking about or dealing with inmate medical care because that was the hottest topic at the time 12 years ago and now the hottest legal topic in corrections today is religion that is astounding.

Ronald G. Turner: Well there have been some legal developments in the last 15 years that account for that. We have a long history of freedom of religion in this country and the population itself has exploded in the last 25 or 30 years. So there are a lot of reasons for it. Many people will hear that statistic and assume that 90% of those law suits are frivolous and ought to be thrown out, from my experience that is not the case. A number of them are not frivolous.

Len Sipes: In 2000 the US Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Industrialized Persons Act and in an article you wrote recently you summarize it three ways, that Government must have a very good reason to limit inmates sincere religious practice, limits on religion must be imposed as gently as possible and inmates may exercise their religion in ways not necessarily required by their faith. That is putting a big burden on Correctional Systems to interperate all this and to put it into play, correct?

Ronald G. Turner: Well it is and it is really tough to jump right into that because when you start digging into that language particularly to your prison or jail administrator. You would throw your hands up and say why won’t congress do this to us and we can get into those three aspects of the law and I need to say it is the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, it is people who live in institutions primary prisons, jails and some hospitals.

Len Sipes: How important is religion in all of this. I interviewed an awful lot of chaplains either from the Islamic faith, from the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish faith throughout my career. I found my discussions with chaplains to be some of the most interesting in all the broadcasts that I have done on the American Criminal Justice System. They all seem to assert that religion is extraordinarily important for reentry for coming out, to maintain themselves while in Correctional Institutions. So religion is an integral part of the Correctional System and always has been from its very roots. Is that correct?

Ronald G. Turner: Absolutely, and we have a number of studies that have been done. My own PhD dissertation dealt with the impact of religious faith and spirituality on inmates particularly while they are incarcerated and you’re exactly right. It makes a difference while they are inside and once they get out and here again there is a stereotype from the movies that you know inmate find religion in prison and then they lose it the day they walk out the gates. That happens to some folks but it very often is a very real and sincere aspect of the lives both in and out.

Len Sipes: You have received your Law Degree and Masters in Theology studies as well as a PhD in Public Administration from Tennessee State University. You have quite a background in terms of looking at it from a theological point of view as well as the legal point of view so it seems as if you are the top person to talk to in terms of what happens in correctional systems and the topic of religion.

Ronald G. Turner: Well I appreciate it and let me just say that my Law Degree and my Masters of Theological studies were from Vanderbilt International and then I got the PhD at a later stage in life in Tennessee State but I think one thing that I bring to this, first of all I have a deep interest in it and an abiding interest in it but I have been a college Professor. I taught college for seven years. I practiced law for over 20 years and I do have the theological training as well as the PhD so I can talk to votes recruiters, like everybody who is sitting around the table when this issue comes up. From Correctional Officers and wardens to chaplains, their academics to commissioners and it is a fascinating topic. I think, frankly I am not surprised that it is as hot as it is because the law that we are talking about we will get into in a minute has been on the book since 2000. A US Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2005 and inmates from my experience all over the country are familiar with the law and they are becoming more and more willing to assert their rights under the law. I think a number of prison systems have been a little bit slow to catch up to it but now they are being overrun by it. Particularly if you talk to any of the attorneys who have worked in the prison systems all over the country, they are spending lots of time on these law suits.

Len Sipes: I just want to remind all of our listeners that the Program Religion and Corrections is available at the National Institute of Corrections website. It is www.nicic.gov if you simply search for religion you will find the seminar on Religion and Corrections on the National Institute of Corrections website. Ron before we go onto the specifics of the program I do want to return to the importance of religion. I mean we run, we at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency run a fairly substantial faith based initiative and we pretty much recognize that the faith community really is an integral, very important component in terms of people leaving the prison system, coming out in terms of being gathered and mentored to and helped by the faith based community they provide. In some cases clothing, shelter, substance abuse, alcohol, remediation. There are a lot of services the faith community offers both inside and outside the prison system so again the role of faith was an integral part of the American prison experience from the very beginning as it is now. So let’s talk a little bit more about that importance.

Ronald G. Turner: Well there is no question that what you are saying is exactly right. I do want to specify or mention the fact that one of the purposes of this law we call it RALUPA, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. One of the purposes of it being passed was to protect the religious right of all institutionalized persons and I probably will refer to them for the rest of the program as inmates because we are talking primarily of prisons and jails.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Ronald G. Turner: So its inmates of minority religious faiths that are protected as well as Christian and other inmates of larger faith groups and the congress was very specific about that when they passed the law.

Len Sipes: But it is interesting in terms of the role of chaplain’s, I was reading in an article that you created that the role of chaplains also has to be their insistence that everybody is taken care of. The role of prison chaplains is to see that religious rights of inmate of all faiths are protected. So in essence that means that regardless to your religious orientation the chaplain is responsible for everybody within that institution to be sure that their religious faith is protected.

Ronald G. Turner: Well unless that responsibility has been assigned by the warden to someone else and usually it is not, it is usually the chaplains responsibility and from my experience as Director of Religious Services here in Tennessee for five years that is probably the most challenging aspect of being a prison chaplain because certainly, you know Tennessee is a conservative state. We have 16 state paid chaplains in 14 institutions and they are all Christians. Some would call themselves evangelical Christians and they make no bones about the fact that they were called to the ministry to save, you know to bring people to Jesus which is fine outside the prison setting or even inside the prison setting if the inmate comes to the chaplain and says tell me, you know tell me about your faith. Then the doors open but if a chaplain of any faith Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, you name it starts imposing their faith on inmates, if they are getting their pay check from the state that is where you have some constitutional problems.

Len Sipes: You know back in Maryland, this would be fairly stereotypical. I remember these conversations, do we allow certain people who use marijuana within religious ceremonies, do you allow marijuana to be used as part of this religious ceremony. There are some American Indians who fervently believe that smoke lodges or sweat lodges are an integral part of their religion so the question was do you allow sweat lodges, do you allow the use of marijuana. It is far more complex than that correct?

Ronald G. Turner: Well it is but with regard to that example there is a pretty simple answer. The Government has a compelling Governmental interest in plain English and a really good reason to maintain safety and security in the prisons. That compelling governmental interest is a reason to impair an individual’s religious practice. So even if a Native American has a sincere belief that they need marijuana or that they want marijuana in their religious practice, it won’t be allowed because it is a risk to institution safety and security. Safety and Security will always trump religious faith.

Len Sipes: Prisons are the very epitome of the word institution so they run in a very bureaucrat round peg in round hole sort of approach. They are cities to themselves; I have been in and out of prisons that have held over 2000 inmates. These are very large structures. When you start talking about individualized diets, a vegetarian diet or a non pork diet or the allowance of a particular religious ceremony or the length of an inmate’s hair, these are all things that the prison system has a hard time dealing with because they are used to walking in lock step. Again if it is not round peg in round hole they really don’t know what to do. When I was reading your article you were advising chaplains who work closely with attorneys for the state prison systems and again that the law says that institutions need to tread as lightly as possible on the religious right of individualized inmates. So prison systems are now required, as long as they do not have an impact on the security of the institutions to provide individuals with services that formerly were not provided.

Ronald G. Turner: Let me comment. I generally agree with what you just said. Safety and security is a compelling governmental interest and across the board it is. But we at the institution have to be sincere when we say there is a safety and security issue. Let’s use sweat lodges as an example and I suppose everyone listening knows what a sweat lodge is. It is essentially a structure that is constructed and used by Native Americans but there is some other groups that use them and they will have a fire outside and they will heat lots of rocks and bring the rocks inside and create, essentially it’s like a sauna and they will stay in there, the inmates will stay in there and its dark, for maybe four hours and it is a spiritual experience for them. It is a genuine and sincere spiritual experience but there are obviously some security aspects to it. It is dark, there are many time they want to go in without any clothes on and so forth. As a result some states allow sweat lodges and some states don’t allow sweat lodges even though RALUPA is a Federal Law that was passed by congress. It is enforced in all 50 states. It applies to all prisons and jails and other institutions that receive federal funds so that will be 99% of them. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the question of sweat lodges so what we have is Appellate Courts what we call the Circuit Courts of Appeals ruling in different ways on sweat lodges. Some are saying it is a security risk, we can’t allow it and others are saying well they are ways we can modify to protect the security risk and so we are going to allow and so it a pretty important rules on that question, that we are going to have a split circuit on that question. We have splits on a number of questions prayer oil, length of hair and beards, diet and that is one reason the job is so difficult right now of chaplains and prison officials enforcing the law because the provisions, there are provisions in the law that just have not been clarified by the Supreme Court but there is a case coming up later this year and we can talk about that later that might answer some questions.

Len Sipes: Our topic today ladies and gentleman is Religion in Corrections our guest is Ronald G. Turner extraordinarily qualified he has his Law Degree and his Masters Degree in Theological studies as well as a PhD from Tennessee State University. The program has been arranged and produced by the National Institute of Corrections and there is a seminar Religion in Corrections on the National Institute of Corrections website www.nicic.gov. The email address for Ron is rturn787@gmail.com. Ron okay so religion in corrections, you are dealing with prison populations, you’re dealing with the United States history but you are dealing with the first amendment that says the freedom of religion shall not be interfered with, shall not be infringed I think.

Ronald G. Turner: Yeah, the exact language is Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof what we call the establishment clause and free exercise clause that basically says we will not have an official state sponsored religion in this country. Likewise the government is not going to come in and tell you how to worship. Now that is a broad brush explanation of it but if I could I would like to take just a second and get into the reasons that congress passed this law in 2000 in the first place because it has created a lot of activity. In the 90s in the early 1990s congress held some hearings to find out whether religious, whether inmates in prisons and jails and folks who lived in other institutions were suffering religious abuse. Either they were not allowed to practice their own religion or another religion was being imposed on them. They found wind spread abuse. They found what they call arbitrary and capricious abuse. In other words there were time that things were denied to the people and there was no reason for it as a result. Congress passed a law in 1993 called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, actually it was much broader then just applying to prisons and hospitals but the purpose of it was to expand the religious protection of virtually all citizens under the first amendment. Four years later 1997, the Supreme Court struck down that law and said it only applied to Federal Institutions, it did not apply to the states. Okay. So you essentially have a see saw battle going back and forth here between congress and the Supreme Court. Congress did not like that, they are big supporters of freedom of religion and so a new law was prepared called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and Congress passed it in 2000 and I want to read a quote the co-sponsors of that law in 2000 were Ted Kennedy and Oran Hatch they were the co-sponsors in the Senate. Ted Kennedy said this about that law. The pioneers who founded America came here to practice their faith free from government interference convinced of the need to assure that all Americans at all times, the right to practice their religion unencumbered of course Senator Kennedy was a Catholic Democrat, Liberal. Senator Hatch conservative Republic Mormon from Utah had this to say. This law is important for the preservation of religious freedom of all American people especially those who’s religious beliefs and practices differ from the majority. It is pretty clear from their statements they were wanting to protect their religious freedom of everybody specifically the minority religious groups. So they passed RALUPA. Many people say why in the world does it have such a crazy name. well in addition to dealing with institutionalized persons the same law deals with religious discrimination in zoning matters and in a nut shell that comes up where a group of people buy a piece of property. They want to put up a church but it is not zoned for a church or a temple or a synagogue. They go to the local zoning authority or city council and they submit their application that covered everything in the application that anybody else would cover, it is in good form and so forth and the application is denied. It is pretty obvious that it has been denied because of religious discrimination. Well congress did not like that either so in the same law they dealt with that type of thing and it is way beyond the scope of our program but that is why it has such a fun name.

Len Sipes: It says in plain English the law says before we substantially limit inmate religious exercise we need a really good reason. The inmate must be sincere but the request need not be required by the inmate’s faith. So it is almost a self imposed by the inmate you know you could be a Roman Catholic but not follow the tenants of Catholicism and you could come up with your own interpretation of what they believe Catholicism is. Is that correct?

Ronald G. Turner: You are putting your finger on what I think is probably the toughest part RALUPA. Let me go back, this is what RALUPA requires and I want to talk about each component for just a second and of course this is not the legalese you can pull up the statue itself if you want to but in plain English congress is telling us that before we, and that is prisons and jails, sustainably limit an inmate’s religious exercise we need a really good reason. So the first things we might say is well we did not substantially limit the inmates exercises, the problem with that or in using that is that courts had not interpreted the word substantial in a very different way than we might off the top of our heads and many times they will find a burden on an inmate’s religious exercise to be substantial when we would say “What? Are you kidding?” So be careful if you are going to use lack of substantiality as a basis for denying a request. Secondly, it only applies to religious exercise so we can so well, this does not deal with religion. A Native American wants a feather, what does that have to do with religion. It has a lot to do with that Native Americans religion so here again before you deny a request saying a) this is not religious you better get your lawyers involved and let them do some research and find out what the cases have said about, you know what is religious. Another aspect of the law as it says before we burden religious exercise we need a compelling governmental entrance or in plain English a really good reason. Safety and security is a classic example of a really good reason because obviously the government has a compelling interest in maintaining safe and secure prisons but just as the inmate must be sincere when they submit a request to us and they do have to be sincere, we have to be sincere when we say no you can’t have it and the cases in the last few years have taken an interesting turn up until a few years ago when a prison official, a warden or a commissioner got up on the witness stand the Judge would usually defer to their professional opinion and say you are the expert, you know how to run prisons we don’t. We will defer to your judgment. Now under RALUPA if the prison system denies a request based on Safety and Security they courts are now saying, tell me why Warden or Commissioner why is it a Safety and Security issue and what alternatives did you look at because not only did congress tell us that we can’t substantially limit an inmate’s religious exercise it says if we do limit a religious exercise it has to be in the least restrictive way or the gentlest way and I can give an example of that. Let’s say you have this Native American inmate who wants a feather, I mentioned that before, and so we say you can’t have any feathers, no feather whatsoever they are a safety and security risk and a feather can be because you can stab somebody with one right. What is the most restrictive response we can give is you can’t have any feathers, no feathers and absolute no is the most restrictive response. What would be less restricted from that, what we might say, what might we say.

Len Sipes: Well I don’t know because either you provide feathers or you don’t provide feathers it seems to me to be fairly straight forward.

Ronald G. Turner: Okay well we could say small feathers. The reason a feather is a risk is because it is big enough and sturdy enough to stab somebody. Let’s say you can have feathers six inches or smaller. That is allowing some feathers, so in other words you are not saying absolutely no feathers which was the most restrictive response you are giving a less restrictive response by saying you can have small feathers.

Len Sipes: I do find this fascinating this law makes the world of difference from past years because the burden was on the inmate and now it’s on us so as you said.

Ronald G. Turner: That is exactly right.

Len Sipes: So as you just said. The warden goes in the court and in the past the court would defer to the warden, you are the expert we are not, you tell us. Now the burden is on us to prove that we are providing for the constitutionality of that religious service.

Ronald G. Turner: As long as the inmate is sincere and it deals with religion then the inmates gets it unless we can show compelling ways in why they shouldn’t and most of the time that is going to be safety and security that is 180 degrees different than the law before RALUPA.

Len Sipes: Yes it is.

Ronald G. Turner: It has turned being a chaplain in prison on its head. A number of chaplains are retiring now because this is not what the bargained for. It is not what they came in to do. Even those who want to minister to inmates of all faiths find it much more difficult now than before. In the good old days of pre RALUPA if an inmate came into your office and said, if a Buddhist came into your office before 2000 and asked for something you would pull your book off the shelf, a handbook of religious practices and you turn to the chapter on Buddhism and you might, let’s say he wants a meditation mat, you find in their meditation mat is approved so you can say yeah you can have it. If it wasn’t on the list he would not get it.

Len Sipes: It’s relying, I go back to a point that I made before and this is something from the 14 years when I was with the State of Maryland these monolithic institutions, it is almost impossible to make these individualized decisions to protect the rights of individuals. it is a burden beyond all comprehension because to run that institution and to run it on a budget at a fairly low budget, you have got to run things a certain way and now it is saying no, the burden is upon us, the burden is upon the state to protect the constitutional religious rights of the inmates and that may mean a whole host of individualized decisions to allow that inmate to practice his faith in a way that he thinks is valid, as long as he is “sincere”. That is a huge burden on correctional facilities and I understand why chaplains are having a hard time with it.

Ronald G. Turner: There is no question about it and it is one reason there are so many law suits pending right now. You mentioned meals. Religion in correction is the hottest topic, meals under religion in prisons is the hottest part of the topic right now particularly kosher meals and halal for muslim inmates and so forth and the courts are going all over the place with regard to whether we are required to provide kosher meals. The big question is which inmates are entitled to have kosher meals. Most courts are saying under RALUPA, you don’t have to have been Jewish on the outside to go through a conversion process and this applies not only to Jewish inmates but inmates of any faith. If you can sincerely show a religious basis for requesting the meal, let’s say kosher, you get it.

Len Sipes: We only have a minute left and I don’t want to leave this out. Hope versus Hobbes is an upcoming Supreme Court process.

Ronald G. Turner: O yes.

Len Sipes: Give me a 45 second submission of Hope versus Hobbes.

Ronald G. Turner: Hope versus Hobbes is going to be insured by the Supreme Court later this year so the first Supreme Court case under RALUPA since 2005 it is a beard case out of the eight circuits where the prison said you can’t have any beards for religious reasons. Well the court of appeals agreed with the Trial Court based on the fact that 39 other States now allow beards under RALUPA. My best prediction is the Supreme Court will allow beards. The question is whether the court will use this case as an opportunity to interpret some of these other ambiguous areas of RALUPA. It bears watching because the Supreme Court can answer a whole lot of these questions later this year if they want to.

Len Sipes: And the complexity that is going to go along with it for correctional administrators it is an amazing topic Ron.

Ronald G. Turner: Well it is fascinating.

Len Sipes: Quickly.

Ronald G. Turner: as I tell folks, federal judges are interested in protecting constructional rights and running the prison many times they will say that is the legislature’s problem or the executor’s problem.

Len Sipes: Alright Ron I’m going to stop you there. Ladies and Gentleman our guest today, it has been a fascinating conversation with Ronald G. Turner, PhD and JD we were talking about Religion within Correctional Institutions Ladies and Gentleman this is DC Public Safety we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms so we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/07/truth-reentry-former-offender/

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, he is President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com. The show today is the truth about reentry from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont has been around. He’s been in front of Congressional Committees, the Associated Press, he’s had plays at the Kennedy Center, he’s been on HBO, BET, author of four books, and he has been a public motivational speaker. And to hear Lamont speak is really, really, really a treat. And he talks about reentry, talks about life on the street passionately, talks about reentry passionately. He did serve 11 years and 4 months in prison and since coming out he has really turned heads. And what I wanted to do was to invite Lamont to talk about reentry policy from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Lamont Carey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Okay. You’ve been on our radio shows, you’ve been on our television shows, I’ve seen you perform; a lot of people listen to what you have to say. When you do your bit, when you do your public performance it’s The Streets Call Out My Name. It’s like –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s really amazing from a criminological point of view, because I’ve had guys tell me that kicking crime and kicking drugs is one thing, but kicking the street –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Kicking the corner is one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. Talk to me about that.

Lamont Carey: Well, I mean because I was raised, well, I like to say I was raised in the street, because I had been involved in criminal activity since like the late age of 11, so that was all that I knew. So when I went to prison as a juvenile and I come home, prison and the streets is all that I knew. And so with my efforts of trying to live a positive and legit lifestyle, those thoughts of my memories from that time in my life is always was present. Like if I try to get a job and I don’t get hired, I immediately think about how can I get some money, and the only other options that I know existed at the time was returning back to the streets. So that’s what I mean by the streets keep calling my name.

Len Sipes: And if you heard Lamont, it’s absolutely powerful if you go to his website, it’s there. It is just an extraordinary performance as to how the streets keep sucking you in, how the streets keep calling you back. So what do you mean by the streets? Are you talking about the people, are you talking about the friends, are you talking about the lifestyle?

Lamont Carey: The lifestyle. The criminal lifestyle is bigger than the friends. I mean because it is where we felt most powerful, it was where we had resources, and so to change my life and try to start this new life without no resources – and so any time I’m rejected from any resources I remember how easy it is to obtain money through the streets. I remember how I used to be praised like I was celebrity because of that lifestyle –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: The drug dealer lifestyle. And so when you come in, when you’re running into mistake after mistake, not being able to overcome obstacles, you, we resort back to what we know –

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lamont Carey: Where we’re comfortable. I mean some of my best years when I came home was from when I was doing really good as a drug dealer. And so naturally if I can’t find a job I’m remembering those times where I was able to go to the store and spend 1,000 dollars or take a trip whenever I wanted to take a trip. Now I can’t do none of these things and I can’t even get a job because of my felony convictions. So naturally, it’s like the streets keep saying, “We won’t judge you. We won’t stop you. We support you in whatever it is that you want to do.” And so criminal lifestyle is one of the, where it’s perceived as one of the easiest things to go back to, especially if you’ve already been there. And so –

Len Sipes: Guys have told me it’s the heroin of all heroin, it’s the drug of all drugs.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: The street, it’s the reinforcement, it’s what you’re familiar with, it’s what you’re comfortable with –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s where you get your platitudes, where you get your pats on the back. It’s where you are embraced.

Lamont Carey: Identity.

Len Sipes: How can you give that up?

Lamont Carey: Identity. Well, the thing, you can give it up, because I was able to give it up. I had to recognize that it was false. All of those praises didn’t continue when I went to prison.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: So it was a false existence. And so as long as an individual remains mindful of that, that will equip them, empower them to continue on trying to go down this righteous path. But, even with that being said, it takes some effort from society to be completely in support of me changing my life, or any individual changing their life, for them to successfully do that, because if you’re not allowing me to feed myself, then you are giving me no options but to go back to the ways I know how to feed myself.

Len Sipes: And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss on this program. I’ve had Assistant Attorney Generals, members of the White House; I’ve had some of the best known researchers in the United States at these microphones talking about exactly what we’re going to talk about today.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re the first – now, you’ve been on this show before, but I’m going back to my roots. I’m going to bring you and two other people on who are former offenders, who have done well for themselves. But I need to hear and everybody needs I think to hear and they’re impressed by, probably more impressed by you and people who have served time in the prison system, their perspectives on what’s going on with reentry –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What’s happening after a person gets out of prison. They’re more impressed by what you had to say than what they have to say –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Or what I have to say. So that’s the whole idea behind this show. Because I talked to, and somebody who’s going to come to these microphones in just a couple weeks, a parole and probation expert who says, “You know, Len, I’m really concerned that we’re just not getting the money, we’re not getting the support for reentry, it’s just not there. We’re talking about it, talking about it, talking about it. There are very positive things. People on both sides of the political aisle, they’re now supportive. We have a President who is supportive. We have the Second Chance Act. We’ve got a lot of things that are rolling in our direction.” But his concern is the money’s just not there. So I want to ask you, Lamont Carey, why isn’t the money there?

Lamont Carey: It’s a whole, I think it’s a whole lot of reasons why the money isn’t there. They’re expecting – if you look at the people that have the most interactions with ex-offenders it will be the grassroots organizations, because those are the people that’s in our community, those are the ones that’s trying to welcome us into their doors. But with them we run into waiting lists, long waiting lists, because they’re not allowed to grow their staff or they’re not allowed to like effectively carry out their task on trying to help us transition from prison to society, because they don’t have funding. And then I think another issue that I have with governments is the relationship that they have with private prisons. And that relationship to me it seems like it works against the reentrance, because if the prison systems and the community are supposed to be responsible for us transitioning, then how can you legally agree to keep anybody’s prison filled to any kind of capacity without, in my opinion, some form of corruption has to spring from that?

That means if I’m a mayor of a city and I agree with a private prison to keep 50% of their facilities full, then that means that I have to tell my captains at the precinct and whoever’s in charge, the chiefs and all that, that they have to increase their arrest records, then I have to tell the prosecutors that they have to expand the charges, then I have to tell the judges that they have to increase their conviction numbers in order to stay within this agreement. So for me knowing this, it’s like how can they really be working to help me transition successfully in my community when they’re working with, when they have agreements with people that are saying they’re going to keep people in prison? So that may be one of the reasons that the funding, some funding is not going to where it’s needed, because what I need and what – I’ve been in probably 11 prisons throughout my incarceration, and majority of the individuals in there, I probably know two individuals that said they was coming home to break the law. Most of us were in there working on reentry, even though they didn’t have really reentry programs. We had a plan on what we wanted to do when we come home. But it seems like when we get out that gate, when we go out for parole, my biggest road block was when I went up for parole that I couldn’t use my home address, because I can no longer live there. My mother was on Section 8, and it’s supposed to be that I am, because of my convictions, that I am not allowed to live –

Len Sipes: Live with your mother.

Lamont Carey: On those premises.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So let’s say I’m starting off my reentry as a homeless person, and then I’m hearing that they’re paroling some people straight to homeless shelters. Now, the problem that I have with that is that every time I went to a new prison my aggressive mentality resurfaced, because I’m thinking I may have to prove myself again.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So I’m on guard. For anything that happened, I’m going to deal with it as harshly as I possibly can. So when you transition a person from prison to a shelter, that’s the kind of environment that you are putting us into.

Len Sipes: All right, you’re going to talk to right now a governor.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: A mayor, a county commissioner.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re going to talk to them. They’re listening right now. And we get a lot of aides to – we get congressional aides, aides to mayors, aides to governors, where you’re talking to the governor himself or herself. What do you say to that person about supporting programs for individuals coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: Well, what I would say to them is this. This, in my opinion, this is one of your biggest public safety issues, because a reentrant that can’t find a job, that can’t find housing is more likely to return to criminal activity, which endangers the citizens of your state, your county, and your country. So as a governor, what I would like to see is our rights restored. Ban the box if you haven’t already banned the box. Give us a –

Len Sipes: In terms of employment.

Lamont Carey: In terms of employment. Give me the opportunity to make it past the application phase so that I can plead my own case on why I’m qualified for a job that will help me take care of myself, take care of my family, and add to the taxes that the state collects. And in terms of the programming – I mean all of us have different kinds of needs. I mean when I first came home, my first probably two years most of my stuff was congested in my bedroom, then I got an apartment with a living room, a dining room, and all that, but all of that was in my bedroom, because that’s what I was used to, living in that small space. And so the kind of programs that I think would be beneficial is job training. Some job training in fields that the city, the county, or the state is really looking to fulfill, not no job training that’s just going to last for three months or four months, because then I’m starting right back over. And then for programs that you have where it’s supposed to provide me job training, extend that, give them more funding, because right now in DC people are running into waiting lists, a six month waiting list. And so if I just come home and I need services, I don’t have six months to wait.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s just not DC; it’s all throughout the country.

Lamont Carey: Right. But I’m using DC as an example –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: Because that’s my direct experiences.

Len Sipes: Okay. And that governor is going to look at you and say, “Mr. Carey, I’ve got schools to build, I’ve got roads to build, I’ve got all these people constantly coming to me looking for money for this program and that program, I’ve got older people that need to be taken care of, I don’t have a lot of money.”

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Why should I take what limited amount of money that I have and throw it towards programs for people coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont Carey: The reason that you should do that is because you’re giving the individual a real chance of succeeding, a real chance of changing, because it’s twofold. The things that they are asking you money for, if I turn, if individuals start to commit crimes it’s a hassle to the school. It’s a danger to the school children in terms of recruitment for, to enter the criminal enterprise. It’s a danger to the teachers, the principals, and what have you. Then they become targets because they are known to have I mean have a paycheck. So every citizen in your state, your county that has a paycheck becomes a potential victim for robbery if I can’t find a job. If you need, if they’re asking you to, you’re trying to repair your roads then this may be one of my dream jobs of doing labor. Me personally I’m not one of those guys, but we have hundreds and thousands of individuals that are good with their hands that’s looking for their outlet to be able to build. How it affects seniors, because the seniors becomes a target of crime.

Len Sipes: So what you’re saying is the 700,000 people that come out of the state and federal prison system all throughout the United States every year, 700,000 come back to the communities, what you’re basically saying is that the crime issue affects everything, the crime issue affects –

Lamont Carey: Everything.

Len Sipes: Everybody. If you can help these folks and it reduces recidivism, they’re coming back into the criminal justice system by 20%, 30%, 40%, it’s going to have a huge payoff –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: On every aspect of society.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Schools, employment, churches, communities, factories, it affects everything.

Lamont Carey: Right. Now, and I’m not saying, I’m not telling the governors and these representatives that as a fear factor. What I’m saying is that we are untapped resources. Like me coming home – right now I can do marketing, right?

Len Sipes: Uh huh.

Lamont Carey: I do event planning, I publish, I do videos, I have all of these skills that if I went and applied for a job for a lot of them that I wouldn’t be hired for because of my past conviction. And so by you removing that barrier for me on the application it gets me in front of the employer and I can stress these skills that I have that can be an asset to those companies.

Len Sipes: We’re going to go for a break very shortly, but I do want to ask you when you come back from that break as to whether or not there is a general prejudice. Regardless of race, there’s a very general prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system. But, ladies and gentlemen, were talking to Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com, www.lamontcarey.com. Lamont has been a passionate speaker, a passionate advocate for people coming out of the prison system in terms of fair treatment. Is there fair treatment, Lamont, of people coming out of the prison system? Is the prejudice towards these individuals so strong as to the point where they’re not getting the programs that they need to successfully reintegrate? When I talk to people who’ve been in the prison system, when I take a look at research, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting mental health treatment, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting drug treatment, I see obstacles after obstacles when people are coming back into the community. So people are frustrated over the crime problem, and, quite frankly, people are frustrated with people coming out of the prison system for not doing the right thing.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: But those barriers seem to be there nevertheless.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Why are those barriers there? Is there an overarching prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: There certainly is.

Len Sipes: And why?

Lamont Carey: People claim that they are, that they forgive, they forgive mistakes, but when it connects to prisoners and ex-offenders that’s not the case. Fear comes in or some need to further punish us. If the judge sentenced me to 13 years in prison, that is my punishment. My punishment shouldn’t remain after I complete that 13 years. And so but society seems to don’t see it that way. There is a fear. Now, Leonard, I’m going to be honest with you.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: As an employer, right, when I have a project and I’m looking to hire somebody, even I want to know if, one, can you do the job, two, if you have a background. And that is because I want to make sure that, one, that you’re capable of doing the job and, one, that people are, the people that I bring you around are going to be safe, right?

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?” That’s what –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What you’re saying to them.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?”

Lamont Carey: Right. And so by having those policies set in line or just on the application, “Have you been convicted of a crime?” and you write yes you don’t even get to make it to the interview process. So I’m denied on something that is supposed to be I have done my time for. And so in prison, when I was in prison the programs generally sucked, for the most part.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Lamont Carey: One, I got my GED, and so I was, I began, I became excited about education, because I dropped out of school when I was on the street, and so now I’m being reintroduced to education, so when I get excited and then I’m about to enter the college program they remove the funding from the college program. And so how – I understand. They said it was people that was in society saying that they have to bust their tail to send their kids to school, so why should I get a free education?

Len Sipes: That’s what they ask.

Lamont Carey: And the reason why I should be able to get an education is because the individuals in prison that I knew that got a college degree they act different, they talk different, they think different, they had bigger plans. And so when you remove, when you deny me from continuing my education, that told me that I can no longer grow, that denied me the ability to learn more on how to be productive, how to think past go, how to actually implement my good plans when I come home. And so rehabilitation really supposed to start inside of prison. Teach me entrepreneurship, right, teach me how to – Leonard, this is how I was able to stay home. I was in a prison and ASPIRE taught me nonprofit. ASPIRE was giving a nonprofit class, right, in a federal prison. And so that taught me how to operate as a business, right? And the marketing classes that I took it taught me that I was running a business, I knew supply and demand, I just knew in an illegal way, so these things changed my way of thinking.

Len Sipes: I want to know how many people in the prison system, in terms of your own opinion –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Are you and how many are just lost. You seem to be different. I mean, look, the average person who comes out of the prison system is not speaking to congressional committees, they’re not talking to the Associated Press, they’re not, they don’t have plays at the Kennedy Center, they’re not involved with HBO or BET, yada, yada, yada. I mean that’s – are you really substantively different from the average person coming out of prison or are they all like you?

Lamont Carey: I think there are levels. I’m not unique. I know hundreds if not thousands of ex-offenders who are doing superb as productive members of society. But a lot of them don’t even admit that they even been to prison, because they’re afraid that there are going to be repercussions.

Len Sipes: That people are going to judge them based on [OVERLAY].

Lamont Carey: Right, judge them based on that, and they’re going to lose what they have already been able to establish. We’ve seen that in some of the companies that have been hiring ex-offenders for years and then they change their policy –

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: And those individuals lose their jobs. So I’m not unique in any way, but I’m just determined. My focus shifted to be on me. Before, the thing I realized, before I can take care of anybody else I have to take care of me.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: An so that means I have to, if I get a job once I’m able to take care of me then I can contribute to my family, I can contribute to my community. But the thing I think trip up so many individuals who come home from prison is that they put family, taking care of family before they’re taking of self, or they make promises that they can’t really keep once they come home. Leonard, I’d be the first one to tell you, the hardest thing for me was to somebody accept my phone call when I call home from prison. So you know what happened when they did accept my call?

Len Sipes: Yeah, go.

Lamont Carey: I agreed to anything they said. If they said, “Lamont, man, you’re going to get any kind of job, you’ll work at McDonald’s and all that?” Leonard, I said yeah, Leonard. But I knew that that wasn’t what I was going to do, but, Leonard, I needed that connection to the outside support, I needed to feel needed, I needed to feel like somebody loved me in order for me not to give up. And so when individuals come home from prison now their family members are looking at them like, “Look, I thought you said you was going to get a job at McDonald’s, I thought you said you was going to do this, I thought you was going to, said you was going to do that. Momma is sick. We need more – you need to be contributing. You need to be paying child support.” All of these needs of the community [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:20] in the family start hitting us in our face and we’re like, “What in the world. How in the world do I supposed to do this? I’m trying to find a job.” So a lot of them panic, Leonard, a lot of them start selling drugs again or getting their criminal lifestyle again just to get away from the pressures that they’re enduring wherever they’re laying their head at.

Len Sipes: So it’s got to be family. Family’s got to be supportive.

Lamont Carey: Yes

Len Sipes: Family’s got to be understanding in terms of what it is that you need to go through. You need to take care of yourself. Society needs to step up in terms of programs to help people transition out of the prison system. And if everybody did this –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: If everybody gave everybody coming out of the prison system a decent second chance –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: We could reduce a lot of crime in this country.

Lamont Carey: Right. Yeah. I think we can. And it’s not, and don’t, and, please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t take give the wrong way. I’m not looking for a handout. And if you check a lot of these organizations waiting lists, these individuals are not looking for a handout, because if they were looking for a handout they wouldn’t be on the waiting list trying to get in to something that’s going to help them better their lives. That’s not what – we’re looking for opportunity. So get giving us something us something confused with opportunity. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s what I needed, was an opportunity. But I was determined. Regardless of what it is that I am going through, what I’m facing, if I had to live, be homeless under a bridge, I was not going to commit another crime, because I knew as long as I’m free something’s going to happen, some good opportunity, some good fortune, somebody out of their good graces is going to give me an opportunity to prove myself, and that’s what happened. And look at me. I’m excelling. I’m excelling in so many different areas, from publishing to motivational speaking to writing plays, directing plays, to going into schools, speaking at, giving a commencement speech, or speaking to honor roll students. I’m literally affecting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people’s lives directly and indirectly, and if you look at the social media it’s millions. And so I have been a contribution to society than I have ever been as a criminal.

Len Sipes: And you know what? I’ve interviewed hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television, hundreds. Yet you can’t overcome the newspaper talking about the ex-felon committing the crime, you can’t get beyond what they’re watching on the evening news. You get a steady barrage of people caught up in the criminal justice system going out there and doing terrible things.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: That’s what it is I think that we’re trying to overcome when we’re talking about support for reentry programs. The overwhelming majority of the news is negative.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Not everybody hears Lamont Carey speaking passionately about reentry every day.

Lamont Carey: Right, right. And, again, it goes – I mean there are individuals that’s committing crimes, and it seems that the media pounces on that he was an ex-offender, he was a former offender, or whatever the titles may be, but where’s the good stories of the individuals in that state who have added more good to that community than have taken away? Because all of the returning citizens, ex-offenders that I know that are doing good things are affecting thousands of lives –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: And nobody’s writing about that. No news is flashing that in comparison to those that come out and commit other crimes. I know it’s happening, ladies and gentlemen. I know people are coming home and they’re committing other crimes. But just compare that to, figure out from the day that they came home what have they tried to do up until that point. A lot of people, again, I’m not unique, but a lot of people aren’t as determined or as committed to success as I am. Some people run into enough walls that they just completely give up and they revert back to what they know.

Len Sipes: Final minutes of the program. So I hear family, I hear society, I hear government, I hear a need for programs, I hear a need for understanding. If you put all that on the table, if you put all that on a table, everything that people are looking for from the reentry perspective, you put it all on the table, what happens?

Lamont Carey: You put it all on the table and pushes it through I bet you that you will see a drastic change in recidivism. But this, not just outside the gate, it has to begin behind those prison walls, it has to, because you just can’t wait until we come out and then try to create a plan for us when we’ve already created a plan for ourselves. But the biggest that I think is missing, Leonard, is that they don’t, nobody asks us really what it is that we want to do. They always give suggestions or they say, “This is what we’re offering.” Leonard, I was never going on a construction site and breaking no bricks, that was never my goal. I was coming home to be an entrepreneur, Leonard. And so by me coming home and pursuing that and accomplishing that, Leonard, I’m thriving, Leonard. And I think if you create the kind of programs that individuals want, not what we think they should have like we’re kids, but what we need, what we think we need for us to succeed, and I guarantee you, you will see the recidivism rate drop.

Len Sipes: And every governor in this country is, they’re dismayed by all the money going into corrections –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Because they’re saying, “I don’t have the money for roads, I don’t have the money for schools, I don’t have the money for the elderly.” So that would cut back on the correctional budget tremendously.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It would be a win-win across the board, less crime, less burden on taxpayers.

Lamont Carey: I agree.

Len Sipes: You have people living more productive lives.

Lamont Carey: Agreed.

Len Sipes: So in the final seconds of the program, why aren’t we there?

Lamont Carey: It’s we’re not there because we’re not willing to take a chance on previous offenders.

Len Sipes: And I think we’re going to have to close with that. Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com, www.lamontcarey.com. I really appreciate you being on the program, Lamont. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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