Archives for March 11, 2016

Families and Reentry-Jocelyn Fontaine-The Urban Institute

Families and Reentry-Jocelyn Fontaine-Transcript

DC Public Safety Radio


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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, back at our microphone is Jocelyn Fontaine, senior research associate for the Urban Institute,, talking about families and re-entry. Jocelyn, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Jocelyn: Thanks for having me.

Leonard: Okay. There are three projects that you have been involved in and I’m going to read very quickly about them. Safer Return with a research program in Chicago that you published findings this past July. Part of it was engaging families and that was one of the core goals of the program. You’ve also done research on Responsible Fatherhood Reentry Projects and Promising and Innovative Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents. You’re one of few researchers who have really looked at families and reentry.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that there is a growing interest in the families and, in particular, the children that are left behind as a result of the incarceration of men and women. Recognizing that many folks who are behind prison walls leave families and children behind who must suffer the burden of their family member’s, which includes both emotional and financial challenges for them.

There has been an interest among a large set of government providers, or government agencies rather, as well as foundations in really looking at the importance of families in the reentry process and their own unique needs. Doing a range of research and evaluation projects to understand how can better meet the needs of families who are left behind as a result of incarceration, as well as what we can do to bring family members and children into the reentry process to better help men and women get back on their feet when they come back to the community.

Leonard: It’s interesting, I’ve interviewed probably 100 individuals caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television shows over the course of 20 years. When they talk about their parents when their parents were incarcerated, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the background because for many of them they had strained relationship with their parents, they needed their parents in their lives and that was a common theme throughout. It didn’t matter what happened. It didn’t matter about the agreements or the disagreements or the frustrations of growing up in families that are struggling. They all needed contact with their mothers and fathers.

Jocelyn: I appreciate you saying that because that’s what we find in our research as well. We’ve done dozens of interviews and focus groups with formerly incarcerated persons or individuals who are in the community, asking them about their family relationships, pretty extensive focus group conversations with them. We’ve also done them from the perspective of family members as well asking about what it’s like to have someone who’s behind bars and what it’s like to support them when they come home.

We hear from both sides that, yes, there are these feelings of shame and stigma. Often there are strained relationships felt by both sides, family members as well as the incarcerated person due to a number of issues, but recognizing that they need each other in order to, you know, feel whole emotionally as well as from the folks who are coming from prison and jail. They need their family members in order to get back on their feet. We find through numerous research studies that individuals are most likely to live with their family members on the first night at their home from prison or jail and that makes sense. Where else are they going to go? They really need them.

It really makes a lot of sense for service providers as well as parole agents or parole departments that are in this space to recognize the importance of families to do as much as they can to support families. It is a low-cost vehicle or it’s free in a lot of sense to provide them support because those individuals are there and the more supported family members feel, the more support that they can extend to family members that were incarcerated. When I say support I don’t just mean monetarily. I mean emotionally as well.

Family members who can have outlets to talk about what it’s like to be a family member of an incarcerated person and what it’s like in supporting them, those kinds of things can go a long way to furthering the reentry process again from individuals who are coming back from prison and jail as well as for the family members themselves who are part of this process.

Leonard: Out of all the research, what’s the most important finding regarding families and reentry? Was that just it, the fact that they need each other?

Jocelyn: The fact that they need each other but I would also say an important finding is just that family members are also strained, and they need services and support too. A work that we’ve done in Chicago in high-density reentry neighborhoods, meaning neighborhoods that are dealing with a lot of poverty, a lot of crime, a lot of disadvantage. The family members who were there who have an incarcerated person in their life who they’re supporting need a lot of stuff too.

We find really high rates of poverty among them, really low educational attainments. Not a lot of them have graduated high school or gone beyond that. A lot of them have really fractured limited employment histories as well and those are the individuals who now need to support someone who’s coming out of prison with a lot of challenges. It really knocks me in the gut, actually, all the time when I look at that data just to see how disadvantaged family members are with the knowledge that they also now need to support individuals who also have disadvantages.

I think that there’s a lot of space for service providers to recognize that we are very much putting additional, and I don’t want to say burdens because family members do it willingly, but we’re putting a lot on family members to support individuals coming back from incarceration, who themselves need a lot of stuff as well. They need education. They need employment. Some of them are dealing with substance abuse histories. Some of them are dealing with their own criminal justice histories and are now needing to support a returning citizen.

Leonard: We’re now having a national conversation through the president of the United States who is now visiting various locations throughout the country talking about the reentry process. The reentry process has its good points and its bad points. Research has not been overly encouraging in terms of the rate of reduction, in terms of recidivism. There have been, in some cases, some fairly decent rates of recidivism reduction, but most don’t.

We in the criminal justice system come together and say, “What is that factor? What is that issue that we can use to our best advantage that we haven’t been using?” I think a lot of us come to the conclusion that the overall family needs to come to the assistance of that individual. If they don’t, it considerably increases the chances for the person not doing well.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Everyone needs support, right? If we think about ourselves after just going through an incarceration experience, on our first night home, who would we rely on? We’d rely on our family members and our friends. There are some share of folks who don’t have those social support networks and so that’s when we see programs, reentry programs, reentry service providers providing that social support network for folks.

For others who are fortunate who have mothers, who have sisters, who have intimate partners, it is very often women who are providing that support. Those families need support as well and need to have as much at their disposal by the way of understanding what resource exist. How can they support or facilitate more successful reentry. Just a better understanding of what it’s like, how they can support individuals, what resources are in the community I think is really to strengthening that support that family members already provide.

Leonard: There’s a certain point where we recognize that we within the criminal justice system are probably going to be the frontline troops in terms of interacting between that person coming out of the prison system and their families. Here within Washington, D.C., within my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have caseloads of 50 to 1 and we have some of the lowest caseloads in the United States. I talk to my contemporaries throughout the country and anybody who’s listened to this program before knows that I harp on this. They have 150 to 1 caseloads, 250 to 1, 300 individuals to 1.

There we have a paradox because we’re asking parole and probation to be an intermediary at times and a facilitator to somehow, someway come to an understanding with family members that they need to support the individual coming out of the prison system and, in many cases, you have strained family relationships.

I’ve had, before these microphones, women caught up in the criminal justice system who routinely tell me that they were sexually abused by a family member or by a person within the family. You find that the families will say, “He’s stolen from me way too many times. He’s not welcome in my home.”

You find the individual coming back and living with his sister, but her husband is not exactly thrilled about the individual coming back. There’s a lot of human dynamics that are going on and somehow, someway, somebody has got to get in between the two parties and say, “What can we do to promote this person’s successful reentry? What can we do on our side? What can we do on your side?” Correct?

Jocelyn: Right. I think that people coming back from prison are getting services somewhere, right? Let’s just call that group of people, outside of whether they’re under community supervision, circus providers. They’re getting, hopefully, employment services; hopefully, some housing service. Some of them are getting substance abuse and treatment services. That core group of service providers who are interacting with the reentry population, all of them need to be cognizant about the importance of families.

When I use the word families, perhaps a little bit different than how you were referring to them, I mean that broadly defined. It’s probably more accurate to just talk about folk’s social support network, recognizing that for some individuals, yeah, it is not appropriate in the case of sexual abuse or domestic violence cases that an individual will return to their intimate partner. Sometimes sons don’t want their sons to come back to their homes because of strained relationships.

Leonard: They can’t let them back in because of restrictions in public housing.

Jocelyn: Public housing, of course, but there is somebody, I like to believe, in everybody’s life that is part of their social support network that they see as family and that can be included in the reentry process. That could be friends that they’ve met in the institutions or in the community. It could be mentors. It could be the faith community.

The point that I’m trying to make is that service providers broaden how they think about family and social support to be not just biological family members but others who are in the individual’s social support network and think about the ways in which the services that they are providing can incorporate that broader social support network to make sure that they understand the larger context with which people are returning back into, if that makes sense.

Leonard: Our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, what they’ve told me is that they do … because we do plans before they come out of the prison system, and we interview the families, and make sure that they’re welcome, and what the support network is going to be. There are issues such as violence or sexual violence that we have to deal with if the parents themselves or the people who that person’s going to live with is caught up in the criminal justice system.

These are all factors that we’ve gone to go through in terms of that interplay. What they’re telling me is that it takes an enormous amount of time. They say two things: the more, the greater, the larger the social network, the larger supportive network, as you’ve just said could be uncle, could be a neighbor, could be the faith community, the larger that supportive network, the better he or she is going to do when they come out of the prison system.

Is there a way to rally that social support network. Would you please take the person inside your home? Would please provide him with the necessary monetary support in the first couple of months until we can find the individual an employment, recognizing full well that our employment statistics are about 50%? That finding, I find, is not unusual for people under supervision throughout the United States. There’s an enormous amount of discrimination against people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. How do we, as parole and probation agencies, find the time to do those interactions, to do that home plan to gather the resources, to gather that larger social network together to support that individual when it’s that labor intensive, when it’s that time intensive?

Jocelyn: As a person who doesn’t do a ton of research on the organizational capacity or structure of parole and probation departments, it’s difficult for me to identify how they find the time other than to really underscore the importance of it that it is a more effective way of doing reentry planning. As we’ve discussed, families are there. They’re important. Yes, it may be labor intensive, but I would still argue that that’s one of the more important things that parole and probation officers can do.

The more that they do this work, this foundational work, I believe, in supporting families, then the less that they have to do supervision and monitoring, I would argue. Not that that means that they should totally take their eyes off of the ball, but the point is that this is an effective way of supporting formerly incarcerated persons. The logic is if they can do more of this, then that will get them better outcomes in the long run.

The other thing that’s important to mention, we found this in our Safer Return demonstration, is that when parole agents know that there are family members there and there’s case managers who are also using family members as part of the reentry process, then that is another kind of eye that they have on formerly incarcerated persons on their caseloads.

If they feel like someone is perhaps slipping, going down, maybe not doing criminal activity but starting to exhibit behavior that they think that they’re going down the wrong path, then that’s another check-in that they have. They can check-in with mom or the intimate partner and say, “How is this person doing? How is [Glenn 00:16:30] doing? What additional can I do to support him? What can I do to support you?

Leonard: I do want to talk about that and I also want to talk about t research in Chicago, but we’re more than halfway through the program. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Jocelyn Fontaine, senior research associate for the Urban Institute,, talking about families and re-entry. Jocelyn, that’s exactly what we found because mothers will call and say, “He’s hanging out on the corner again. You need to talk to him. You need to intervene.” Fathers will say, “Look, he’s tried to find jobs. I’ve tried helping him find jobs,” and it validates the job-finding experience. Now we have to ask for proof of that.

We have family members who are actively engaged every single day because they don’t want to see this individual go back to prison. You do have cousins, you do have uncles, you do have neighbors, you do have different people who are trying to exhibit and support this individual, and they do contact us when he’s not doing well.

Jocelyn: Yeah because they’re interested in supporting them. They want good outcomes as well. They want them to stay out of trouble and to stay out of prison. If family members feel like parole agents or probation agents support them and feel like they want them as part of their processes, then family members would be more likely to interact and engage with them, and provide that kind of “additional surveillance” or just more information.

Leonard: I just think a lot of us in parole and probation need more training, need a greater sense of being sensitized to these issues, and the potential for a family. Again, I agree with your definition of family. It’s much broader than mom, and dad, and brother, and sister, but that if we can broaden that support and that work, we’re going to have less work to do, and we’re going to have greater numbers of check-ins because family member check-in with us all the time, and they bring problems to our attention. We’ve got to nip this in the bud right now.

Jocelyn: Right.

Leonard: I saw him doing spice or synthetic drugs the other day. That’s not going to work. He’s not going to live in my house. You need to talk to this individual. You need to talk to my son, and you need to convince him to stop doing this, and you need to start testing him for K2 and spice. We do have those interactions all the time, which is I think one of the reasons why our success rate has increased from 63% to 69% who have successfully completed supervision over the course of the last couple of years because we’ve done more family intervention.

Once again, I’m going to get calls and emails from people in parole and probation throughout the country and go, “Leonard, I’m sick and tired listening to your 50 to 1 caseloads. I have 150 to 1. I don’t have the time as your folks do to sit down and do this interactive mentoring with this larger family group. I’m really struggling here.” That’s always the issue. The research community comes along and says, “This is probably the way to go. This is probably a fairly decent idea. Boy, we wish we had the resources that you folks in D.C. have to do these sort of things.” I’ve got to acknowledge that frustration.

Jocelyn: If I could, just to insert some of the lessons that we’ve learned from the Safer Return demonstration.

Leonard: Oh heavens, yes because that’s what I want to talk about.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Safer Return included a lot of things that was based on a lot of work that had done working with practitioners and the research community to identify what are the best and promising practices to support prisoner reentry, or prisoners coming back from prison, or individuals coming back from prison, and included job training, mentorship, and a host of other things.

What I wanted to highlight, in the context of the conversation that we’re having right now, is one of the core components of it was a strong partnership with parole agents and the program. The program case managers were using family inclusive case management practices. They had been trained in how to use a broad definition of family to incorporate them in the case management process for the individual participant, but they were also supposed to extend their case management to include parole agents so that parole and the case managers for the program were doing this what they called co-case management, which just means they were teaming up together to have …

Leonard: Yes. These were social service providers, not parole and probation agents. The social service providers were teaming up with parole and probation agents.

Jocelyn: Yes.

Leonard: Okay.

Jocelyn: One of the great findings of Safer Return is that it did reduce re-incarcerations due to parole violations relative to a comparison group and it also was successful in getting more people jobs. More jobs, higher wages, and they got those jobs quicker relative to a comparison group. We really feel, based on this finding, that it really demonstrates the importance of parole and practitioner partnerships and, in this case, it was Safer Return case managers. In other cases, it’s just other folks who are providing the other social services for reentry. We strongly encourage, based on this finding, that parole agents make these connections with the service providers who are doing reentry stuff.

It could be a housing provider; it could be an employment provider; it could be an education provider to get this more comprehensive perspective of individuals, to have another check on the person to say, “How are they doing,” and both of them using their position, the parole agent has … what do they have? They have the stick and the program folks with the carrot, like this is what you get, as two complimentary perspective sand a way to get individuals to move forward and to be more successful.

Leonard: It dovetails very nicely with the research on cognitive behavioral therapy where you engage the individual coming out of the prison system in such a way that the person opens up. It’s really a two-way conversation between two people rather than the coppish in the past, parole and probation agent, who is there to revoke you when you’ve reached that point. That individual tries to get into the heart, get into the mind of that individual. That’s the only way you’re going to find out about the fact that yes, I’m living with my sister but her husband is not appreciative of my being there.

You’re not going to get to that point unless you were able to have a conversation, a meaningful conversation, unless you can break down the barriers because most people caught up in the criminal justice system don’t look at us as people who they really want to talk to. They look at us as the possibility of people who can send them back to prison. Doing cognitive behavioral therapy, getting involved in the life of that individual, finding out what their issues are, and once you find out what the issues are, then you can talk to the husband and say, “How can we work together on this?”

Jocelyn: Yeah. Talking with the organizations, the individuals who are providing other services for them is another way to just get greater perspective on folks because they may not be willing, they’re probably not willing to tell their parole agent when they’re struggling. They may be telling their case manager and we certainly wouldn’t argue that that’s what the parole agent should use in order to revoke the person, but it would give them a greater understanding of what some of their challenges are, and provide greater context, we believe, in probation and parole planning, and supervision as well.

Leonard: There are seven million people caught up in the criminal justice system on any given day. Seven million individuals. Five are on community supervision. They’re under the auspices of parole and probation agencies throughout the country. That’s just an enormous amount of people. We’re not talking about juveniles in this and we’re not talking about the jail population, I think, in this. We’re talking about principally five million people under adult parole and probation supervision. Overwhelming numbers of people.

Return to prison rate, according to the Department of Justice, has been two-thirds rearrested, one-half go back to prison. Governors throughout the country are basically saying, “We’ve got to get better rates of return.” People on both sides of the politic [while 00:25:11] are basically saying, “We’ve got to do better in terms of not sending people back to prison, stabilize them, do as much as humanly possible.” The governor is a screaming bloody murderer because they’re saying our correctional budget is the second most costly item within our budget. They’re turning to parole and probation and saying, “Look, you’ve got to do better.”

One of the things that we are suggesting, I think, through this program and the television show, and I’ll put this in the show notes, the link to the television show on what we called, at that point, Family Reunification, was that unless you involve pro-social elements int community, you’re not going to get better rates of return.

Jocelyn: Right. That’s right. To the extent, and this is certainly the case in Illinois, that returns to re-incarceration are largely as a result of violations of the community supervision, that is right, violating their parole. Then if we can make some meaningful changes in the way parole departments engage with families, engage with other social service providers to reduce those technical violations, then we can have meaningful reductions in the re-incarceration rate which translate into significant cost savings.

Leonard: The story out of Baltimore County, I’ll mention the county, when I was with the State of Maryland for 14 years. The guy comes out of the prison system and the wife accepts him back inside the house. They’re trying to make a go of it. We were trying to help them adjust to each other and he is doing pretty good. He’s being a good husband, being a good father, going to work, and he was doing all the things we asked him to do, but he kept [pulling 00:27:05] positive to marijuana.

We’re up to 5 and we’re concerned, and then we’re now worth a 10. Now we’re approaching 20. What we did was to arrange for a family intervention. The parole and probation agent in the State of Maryland was not successful in terms of reading this individual [inaudible 00:27:26]. He was doing so well that he wanted to celebrate. We were saying, “But you can’t celebrate through substance abuse.”

We had the family confront him and it was an emotional event, tearful event, and he stopped. That’s the power of the family versus the limited power of the criminal justice system. Our ability as people, parole and probation folks, to convince people to look at life differently is very limited compared to what their mother can do, what their father can do, and what their cousins can do, and what their neighbors can do.

Jocelyn: Yeah. That’s a tremendous story. Thanks for sharing it. It’s possible because, in that case, you’re willing to involve the family. Otherwise, if they were just constantly testing dirty, then you’d be more likely to violate them because you have no other lens, no other way to bring them around to changing their behavior, really feeling like there’s no other option other than to send them back to prison.

When you know that there’s family members there, know that you can use them to bring the individual around, then feeling like there’s more options other than I just have to violate this person because I see no other options, no other opportunities, and no other way to get them to change their behavior.

Leonard: Had the person gone out and committed a violent crime and somebody said to the media, “Oh, by the way, he had 20 drug violations within 6 months,” then the newspaper headline would be parole and probation fails. That’s the other part of this. Getting families involved early is the key to possibly mitigating some of these technical violations that come along. It’s not just getting them involved but getting them involved at the very beginning of the process.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that’s right.

Leonard: It’s a fast [leading 00:29:26] conversation. Jocelyn Fontaine, Urban Institute,, talking about families and reentry. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We really appreciate your comments, and we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective-Lamont Carey

Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective-Lamont Carey-Transcript

DC Public Safety Radio


See radio show at

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, Lamont is one of the most interesting spokespeople for this whole issue of reentry, people coming out of prison. We’re titling today’s program View on Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective. Lamont Carey, welcome back to DC Pubic Safety.

Lamont: Thank you for having me.

Leonard: All right. The best programs we do are with Lamont. Now when you go to an event and Lamont is speaking at events, because Lamont is an author, he’s a trainer, Lamont is everything. He’s a filmmaker. There’s nothing that Lamont does not do, but the most interesting thing that Lamont does is he gets up and he gives these monologues on our understanding of crime in the criminal justice system. Lamont, I want you to start off the program with a one to two minute monologue so that people have an idea as to what it is that you do.

Lamont: All right. See when I walked out that gate, I looked straight, leaving prison behind me, leaving the streets behind me. But my mother always told me that my past would always find me. See I had been looking for a job for almost a year and wasn’t nobody hiring. I’m glad that they done banned the box, but it’s that empty block on my resume that seems to be whispering, “He done been to the penitentiary.” They told me to forget my past and change people, places and things if I really want to change. Now I’m in this new job interview not knowing what to say or what to do, so I say what I’ve been taught, that I’m a hard worker, that I’m a fast learner, that I’m a dependable. She leaned over and said, “Sir what does that mean because that ain’t what we’re looking for? We’re looking for somebody with expertise in sales.”

I smiled on the outside because on the inside I was screaming, “That’s the reason that I went to jail.” Once I was able to tell her what I knew about sales without actually telling her what I knew about sales, I got the job. See they say when things go wrong we revert back to what we know, but there’s some skills from my criminal past that are indeed transferable. iTunes. All that stuff you can get that, the whole copy.

Leonard: I do love that. I heard that live a couple weeks ago and i was just absolutely fascinated with it. You understand, after listening to that monologue how convincing Lamont is. A very eloquent spokesperson, and a very forthright and forceful spokesperson for the issue of reentry because we’ve done radio programs before where we’ve argued, we’ve yelled at each other. People just need to understand what it is about people caught up in the criminal justice system and what it is that we should be doing. Crime is rising in some cities throughout the United States. People are starting to get angry at the criminal justice system again, and what we’re saying is that if you supply the programs both in prison and outside of prison, and if you supply community support, we can dramatically reduce the amount of people who are going back to prison, dramatically reduce the amount of criminality that people get involved in and we have been saying that, I have been saying that for a quarter of a century.

Lamont: Preach.

Leonard: I’m not quite sure people get it. I’m not quite sure people listen to what I have to say. Maybe Lamont Carey, they listen to what you have to say. What is the message?

Lamont: You said it. When I hear criminal justice system, let me just be straight up, I hear the system. From my personal perspective, my community reflects all the images that I see of the criminal justice system.

Leonard: What does that mean?

Lamont: That means on the news when there’s a crime committed and the picture is flashed, ninety-nine percent of the times it’s an individual that looks like me, that comes from the community that I come from. Actually on my way here, I saw a video of a young black girl, African American girl in the classroom. I don’t know what the whole story is, but this police officer forced, she was sitting in the chair holding onto the chair as tight as she could, slammed the chair back, snatched her out of the chair and tossed her. This is a grown man. This is a young girl in school, and I can’t think where’s the justification in her being treated so harshly.

She didn’t have a weapon in her hand that she was brandishing at anybody. She was holding onto the desk. Those images are what I saw growing up on a consistent and constant basis, every time I saw the police they were taking somebody that I know, somebody that I love. For me, that created that gap, that divide between me and the police because I saw the police as a threat to my well being, and that is how I saw the criminal justice system and also I saw the criminal justice system, because again, I say the system, is when I was in school and I stayed back in Kindergarten. I don’t know how you stay back in Kindergarten when all you do is color and sleep, but I stayed back in Kindergarten and I stayed back in the first grade.

When I got passed on to these other grades, I knew that I wasn’t ready. Now I’m seeing statistics and hearing people say that they’re basing third grade test scores on how many prison beds that they will need in the future. The criminal justice system for me begins in my community, and if those statistics are what they’re using as fact, that mean that there is an opportunity for there to be an intervention in third grade if that is what’s leading to defining where they will end up with the rest of their life. Why aren’t we being proactive and putting money into programs? Not only money into programs, why aren’t we getting rid of teachers and curriculum that aren’t preparing out children to go to the next grade where they will be producing test scores that say they are going to prison?

Leonard: Okay, you’re bouncing all over the place. Number one, there’s a basic mistrust either in the poor African American community or other communities, white communities, Hispanic communities towards the criminal justice system. You’re probably going to suggest that it’s more pronounced within the African American community.

Lamont: No, I’m just speaking of from my perspective.

Leonard: From your perspective, that’s what I’m looking for. Number one, what I’m hearing is there’s mistrust of those of us within the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: In your mind there’s probably a pretty good reason for that mistrust.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: From the very beginning in terms of the schools, the schools are improperly prepared to lift people up even those people who want to be lifted up?

Lamont: Right. To you it might seem that I’m bouncing all over the place but to me it says it’s connected. It’s based off those test scores and it defines who goes to prison and nobody is trying to stop that, so all of that is connected. It’s saying these young people will end up in the criminal justice system. If nobody is not interrupting that, then they’re embracing it.

Leonard: What you’re saying it’s preordained and it’s embraced by the large society?

Lamont: Yeah. How else could I read into that?

Leonard: Why would it be embraced by the larger society?

Lamont: If this is the truth and they’re not putting money there, they’re not switching out the curriculum or the teachers, then this has been accepted as the norm?

Leonard: Why?

Lamont: Why?

Leonard: Yeah.

Lamont: Why was it accepted as the norm? Well it may be I know I’ve been hearing, I haven’t actually seen them so it may not even be true that there are contracts with prison systems that’s guaranteed that a certain amount of bed space will be filled, so maybe this is a part of that process of making sure that the states meet those quotas so they won’t end up in court because they have guaranteed that these bed spaces will be filled.

Leonard: Your sense is that it’s all preordained for whatever reason, whether it be race, whether it be class, whether it be for whatever the reason is, it is preordained for young men and young women coming up in our society throughout the United States that they’re not going to do well in school and they’re going to end up in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right. My thinking is if it’s not embraced as this is the norm, then it must be embraced that there is something truly wrong with African Americans, right? That we’re going to commit crimes, that we’re going violate the law in some form or fashion that’s going to put us behind bars. That’s saying that we are born criminals and that’s impossible for it to be true. I know we come from situations, in my community I grew up that my father wasn’t allowed to live in my household for my mother to receive the Section 8 housing.

Leonard: Is it because he was caught up in the system?

Lamont: No. What I’m speaking of, again, when I hear criminal justice I hear the system. Internally that’s what it says to me. I’m just stating from my view as a young person growing up to now as an adult trying to understand all of my experiences as a young folk. If my father was hiding under the bed and jumping in the closet so he wouldn’t be found that he was in my mother’s home so she wouldn’t lose where she was living. One, it seemed like my father, for whatever reason, that he wasn’t able to have a job that he was able to pay the rent for the housing for us, whatever that reason was that he couldn’t do that, but now my mother has housing and apparently she was under an agreement that says, “If we provide housing for you and your kids, the man can’t be living here.”

Leonard: For what reason? Was he caught up in the criminal justice system?

Lamont: No, it was just public housing.

Leonard: It was just public housing?

Lamont: It was just public housing.

Leonard: It excluded your father because they didn’t want men?

Lamont: They didn’t want men.

Leonard: Oh wow.

Lamont: He could not live in a house with us. I know in D.C., because it wasn’t HUD. HUD said it wasn’t their policy, it was the policy of the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority in D.C. is re-looking at that and trying to bring families back together.

Leonard: The bottom line, what I’m hearing you say Lamont is that there is institutional bias towards people, towards themselves caught up in the criminal justice system, caught up in failing schools. They grow up a certain way viewing the criminal justice system a certain way, viewing society a certain way.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: what does that mean? You grow up in tough schools, you grow up in tough communities, you grow up mistrusting the criminal justice system and all that means what?

Lamont: All that means, for me I felt isolated. I felt like that there wasn’t options for me, that I felt limited. Because I heard things like the school system isn’t preparing you for a future, the textbooks are old or the white man is not going to let you be nothing. This is what I heard verbally. Now I see on TV every year, every couple of months about how bad the inner city or the public school system is. Now it’s not something that I’m hearing verbally from people who have given up on life, but now it’s being broadcast and so it’s the same messages that’s being fed to our kids.

As a kid, growing up, I’m like, “All right, why should I go that route if they’re saying that route is a dead end.” I chose the streets.

Leonard: You’re not going to succeed anyway, so why not choose the streets?

Lamont: Right. How the streets seemed like an option, because those who chose the streets lived better than I did. I wanted to get out of this despair. People in my neighborhood, you can look in their eyes and see that they have given up, that they are completely hopeless. I didn’t want to be a drug addict. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic living on the corner. The drug dealers because the difference in my community. They had the cars, they had the money, they moved out of the community and it was accessible to me. I learned how to sell drugs playing in the yard.

Leonard: You understand that what you are describing, I’ll name the following five groups and there’s going to be somebody who will object because I have [inaudible 14:13]. You’re talking about Italian street corner gangs, you’re talking about Jewish street corner gangs, you’re talking about Greek street corner gangs.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: You’re talking about just about any other group out there. Everything that you’re describing describes exactly all the other folks who got involved in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Guess where I learned that out.

Leonard: Where?

Lamont: I learned that in prison.

Leonard: Tell me about that.

Lamont: I learned that each group has the same or similar issues as the African American communities deal with. Italians kill, rob, sell drugs to Italians. Asians do the same and vice versa. I’m only speaking from a perspective that I grew up in. I can’t talk about an Italian kid, how they grew up.

Leonard: I want to get back to that and I want to get around the criminal justice policy, but I still think that our program should be two hours long, not thirty minutes. It’s impossible. The discussion about all of this, Lamont Carey’s at our microphone. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, views on prison reentry from a former offender’s perspective., L-A-M-O-N-T-C-A-R-E-Y dot com. It’s impossible to describe Lamont in terms of his public appearance, in terms of writing books, in terms of video, in terms of other projects that Lamont is involved in. It’s just a fascinating, fascinating person., go to his website.

We have fifteen minutes left. In terms of criminal justice property, in terms of something that everybody else listening to this program right now needs to understand about the reentry process is what? Everything that you experienced as a child, put that off to the side for a second.

Lamont: And go to as an adult?

Leonard: What does the large society need to understand, what does the larger society need to do to reduce crime, to reduce the amount of people going back to the prison system? Then reduce of our tax burden?

Lamont: Okay, so starting from inside of the criminal institution, starting inside of prisons. One of the things that was life changing for me is that I had access to education. With me saying that, the Pell grants are so important because …

Leonard: Federal funding for college programs.

Lamont: Federal funding for college, right. Having access to education broadened my worldview. As I said in the poem that I was reciting earlier, that people told us to change people, places and things if we really want to change. If I didn’t have access to education while in prison I would have came out worse than I went in. I wouldn’t have only grown as a criminal. Education combated that. Education when I was in business management, it taught me that I was a businessman, but I just had illegal product. All I had to do was change my product and the services that I offered. Without access to education, I wouldn’t have learned it. That is how I’m in front of you now with books out, with films and plays. Education helps change the way a man or a woman sees themselves, sees the world and it shows them what exists out there.

Leonard: Before prison, you said you viewed yourself in a certain way and you saw your future as hopeless. How did that change in terms of college programs in prison?

Lamont: I didn’t see myself as hopeless, I saw myself as finding a way out and that’s why I chose turn to selling drugs, even though it was the wrong choice. How did that help me in prison? It made sense of my life. It made me see that black people wasn’t the only people that existed in the world. There are black people that are successful, and if you figure out what you want out of life and you be determined enough to achieve it, having access to college in prison helped me create a roadmap to success. It taught me that I can take my life, package my life, which I have done because I don’t have a product or service. My business is created of me, of my experiences that I was able to turn into books and CDs to motivational speaking. That’s what college did for me. If not having access to college, I wouldn’t have know that I could do that.

The other thing that we need, having a job, having housing is phenomenal, but more than that we need goals. We need to be able to set life goals for ourselves. We need to be able to think, be able to make decisions that’s going to benefit our life. We need life skills that’s going to help us to confront and overcome those obstacles we’re going to face.

Leonard: You’re talking about fundamentally rearranging how people see themselves through education.

Lamont: Yes, and education somehow, whether that’s a trade or whether that’s just through education, because we work. What society doesn’t understand is that in prison you have two choices. You either work or you go to school. It’s not like we have never worked before. We get up every morning, probably depending on what your job is, and work just about seven days a week. We are accustomed to working. We are accustomed to being on time. I think we just need the opportunities and that the community as a whole, employers understand that there is some value. One, we have skills. We’re used to working, and that we have skills that we’re not even utilizing. One of the skills that have that I learned from the streets is that I learned I know marketing. I know customer service. I know branding. Those were skills that I learned from a criminal lifestyle. I figured out through college programs how to see that in a different light, see that in a positive light, and repackage that and turn it into a positive product or service.

Leonard: We cut the prison programs, we cut most of the prison college programs. President Obama is trying to re-institute them on a limited basis, on a trial basis, but we cut most of the programs that you find near and dear. Most prison systems throughout this country lack career programs, lack vocational training for all offenders. They have them but only a small percentage of the prison population can take advantage of them. Vocational training is not there as necessary. Educational training, substance abuse, mental health, all these programmatic activities, they exist in every prison in the United States but they only serve small numbers. Why is that? If you’re saying that that is the key, then why do so few prison inmates actually get to be involved in these sorts of efforts.

Lamont: In some institutions it depends on how much time you’re serving.

Leonard: Correct.

Lamont: Right?

Leonard: Right, if you’re a lifer you’re not going to get it. If you’re there for nine months, you’re not going to get it. But for the eighty percent left?

Lamont: My thinking is that everybody should have access to some form of program. It shouldn’t be voluntary, it should be mandatory. If you don’t have a high school diploma, like when I went to prison because I was a juvenile, because of federal laws or what have you, I had to go to school and get a GED. That was the eye opener for me. That’s what led to college. Because at first I didn’t think I was smart enough to be able to take tests to pass grades, but once I got the GED I was like, “Okay.”

Leonard: I want two quick answers from you. Why is there a lack of programs, and B, if we had the programs, what would be the impact? Would we reduce recidivism by fifty percent, sixty percent, twenty percent? Why don’t we have these programs?

Lamont: I think the institutions focuses on warehousing for the most part. It’s on warehousing and maybe the impression is that we don’t want to learn. I’ve went to a prison in North Carolina, they have no program. They don’t even have a law library. In my opinion, I believe that it will have a great impact on the recidivism rate if you have those kind of programs. Most of us don’t even know that we have mental issues. Today I know that I’m affected by my incarceration because if my wife open a door in the bedroom, I still pop up or my eyes pop open because it was a safety measure in there. Those are some things that could have been addressed beforehand. Me, you know me, man I’m writing a book on.

Leonard: Yes you are.

Lamont: How to identify institutional behavior and possible ways you can help them overcome it. I think having education and access to programming, it’s cool if they give us the programming and education, but society has to be willing to accept that we have this training and if they’re going to offer us programming in the institution, let us be certified in it.

Leonard: That’s the other part of it, the larger society has got to care about people coming out of the prison system. They’ve got to be personally invested for their own protection. I mean just in terms of …

Lamont: Of safety.

Leonard: … crime, just in terms of their own tax paid dollars. It is in our collective best interest to give a break, to have some degree of understanding the people coming out of the prison system.

Lamont: Let me tell you, when I felt like I was a part of the American dream, when I cast my first ballot. I think it’s important that individuals that return home from prison should be given their voting rights back because I had never paid attention to politics until I was in prison because it was on TV.

Leonard: how much of all of this is the individual person’s responsibility? Because people listening to this program are going to go, “Okay Lamont, fine. Programs fine, I’ll give you that. Acceptance, fine, I’ll give you that. How much of it is the responsibility of Lamont Carey and everybody else coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont: It as a huge responsibility of Lamont Carey, but you also got to look at in a lot of institutions it’s controlled by gang activity. Either you’re in a gang or you pray. I just always stood on my own, was willing to deal with whatever and learn how to navigate those systems. An individual who doesn’t have the same outlook on life and confidence in themselves going to end up in those gangs, but if you give them opportunities like education and job training, that’ll help combat some of that stuff that’s dealing with the gang and all of that, because if we don’t put programs and I’m trained as a gang member. Quickly, I ended up in the federal prison when they closed D.C. Prison Lawton down. Now I’m in there with cartel leaders that could easily say in conversations say, “Lamont, when you get home I’m going to make sure you’re all right. I’m going to supply you with a hundred kilos or a thousand kilos.”

Leonard: I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry about it.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: Nobody else cares about you, we do.

Lamont: Right. Before I came to the federal prison, I didn’t have access to cartel leaders, but because I had access to education while I had access to cartel leaders, I chose to use the education that I got versus the opportunities that the cartel leaders were presenting me. That’s what’s important when you’re talking about reentry. Either we’re getting a good education or we’re getting an education that’s going to help teach us how to prey on the community. The majority of the individuals that I was incarcerated with, they want to come home and they want to be upstanding citizens. They don’t want to do wrong, but they come home and we hear all of these no’s. No to job, no to voting. We don’t have access to so much stuff.

Leonard, out of all the amazing things that I’ve done since I’ve been home, I still can’t go on a field trip with my son. That’s not allowing me to be a hundred percent father. I can’t go on a field trip, and I go in schools and I talk to kids about being at risk, ending up in a prison incarcerated, but I still can’t go and volunteer.

Leonard: Regardless of your success and your success has been profound, you are still an ex-con.

Lamont: Yes. I’m still an ex-con. I still can’t even get in the White House. I’ve been on programs and I can’t get in.

Leonard: There’s a bit of a contradiction there.

Lamont: Out of all the success that I’ve had, imagine somebody with no success. Can’t even participate in a field trip with their kid.

Leonard: I think the larger issue, I mean there are the Lamont Carey’s of the world that do extraordinary things. I’ve had dozens of them before these microphones, the other people like Lamont Carey, and there’s ninety-seven percent who are still struggling with the basics. You’re laying out the issues for all of them. It applies to everybody.

Lamont: My goal is to use myself and any other individual that came home and successfully transitioned to change the face of reentry. Because I think when people hear ex-con, they still see the image of who I used to be. They don’t see this individual that’s sitting across from you or this individual that was the lead in a production at the Kennedy Center last month. They don’t see that individual that can go into a company and teach companies employees on professional development.

Leonard: They just see your past.

Lamont: Right. As long as you see my past, you’re going to miss how extraordinary I am today, because that’s what I am Leonard.

Leonard: But it applies to other people as well.

Lamont: Right, because there are thousands of us.

Leonard: That’s your point. Is it the majority, is it twenty-five percent, is it fifty percent, is it seventy percent? What is it?

Lamont: I think depending on what community that you’re in, it’s a minimum of fifteen percent of the individuals come home and successfully transition. Then again, there are those of us who have jobs, that the employer told us, “Don’t let nobody know that you ever been to prison.” If you out there listening, I need for you to get on board to abandon the box, removing “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” from the job applications. Support getting the Pell grants back into the institutions.

Leonard: Always a very fascinating conversation Lamont Carey. Thank you very much for being here. Ladies and gentlemen, DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Synthetic Drug Testing in Washington, D.C.

Synthetic Drug Testing in Washington, D.C.-Transcript

DC Public Safety Radio


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Leonard: From the nations capital this is DC public safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the topic for today is synthetic drug testing. This is a topic of great importance throughout the United States and we have a new capacity here in the nation’s capital as of October 1. To do synthetic drug testing, to discuss this new capacity we have two guests, Leslie Cooper, deputy director of pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia, Gerome Robinson, he is the director of forensics research again for pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia. To Leslie and Gerome, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Leslie: Good afternoon thank you.

Leonard: All right, you know this is a really interesting topic because this is an issue that is, that parole probation agencies, pretrial agencies, criminal justice agencies, throughout the United States are facing right now. We have this new capacity and new equipment, new protocol to test the different people we have under supervision for synthetic drugs. Now, the amazing thing about this is that that’s like twenty-five thousand samples a month, all the samples that we take ordinarily we are to start testing for synthetic drugs. So before getting into synthetic drugs, Leslie, tell me a little bit about the pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia.

Leslie: The pretrial services for the District of Columbia is a small federal entity, we’re actually housed under the umbrella of the court services and offenders supervision agency. We have a fairly simple and straightforward mission which is to promote pretrial justice in enhanced community safety.

Leonard: Is this considered one of the best pretrial organizations in the United States? You have higher rates of compliance, I’ve taken a look at the national averages for pretrial, and the national averages throughout the United States, you have more people returning to trial than just about anybody else.

Leslie: It’s true. I think that we benefit here in DC. We have a very strong statutory structure which allows us to operate from a system that presumes that the best path  is for someone who is awaiting trial is release to the community. Our responsibility in that regard is to conduct risk assessments for individuals who are arrested, and then make recommendations to judges prior to their appearance, and then for those persons who are actually released while [inaudible 00:02:58] we provide the supervision through their appearance.

Leonard: And drug testing. Okay, the presumption in the District of Columbia is release unless there is a public safety reason to hold that person, correct?

Leslie: That it correct.

Leonard: All right so that makes us unique. So it’s not a money bail, in the District of Columbia.

Leslie: That’s correct.

Leonard: Now pretrial does the testing for our agency court services and offenders supervision agency as well as pretrial services, correct?

Leslie: That’s correct, so in addition to our supervision and release detention recommendations function, we serve the primary purpose of providing drug testing for individuals in the adult criminal justice system in the District of Columbia, which includes probation, parole, pretrial, supervised release. We also do some testing for respondents with matters in the DC family court.

Leonard: Okay, but we also do lockup, and this question goes over to Gerome Robinson, director of forensic research for pretrial. Gerome, we have it a bit complicated. We test at lockup, where people who are arrested in the District of Columbia. It is essentially voluntary and, let’s just say 60-80 percent of these individuals do provide samples unless a judge orders it. So, it’s voluntary unless a judge orders it, but the majority do provide samples, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: Okay. Pretrial, which is the second part of this, is that those court-ordered by the judge, which are the vast majority of individuals under pretrial supervision, right?

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: Okay. Parole and probation, which is us, court services and offenders supervision agency, like Leslie said, we are a federal agency with a local mission. We tested intake and we do a lot of testing, once or twice a week. It can be that high, you can gradually come off it if you test negative, if you test positive you go back to the original testing schedule, but tests are also based upon the risk level of the person under supervision, do I have that correct?

Gerome: That’s basically correct.

Leonard: All right, so it’s a tri-partied series of tests. I know, Leslie, you mentioned family court and instances, but basically speaking we test at lockup, we test for pretrial, and we test under parole and probation supervision. Those are the three, and twenty-five thousand samples a month.

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: That’s amazing! Twenty-five thousand samples a month, we’re testing for from those three populations, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: That’s amazing. That’s a lot of drug testing, and we ordinarily test for blood, cocaine, amphetamine, PCP, what else? Marijuana in some circumstances …

Gerome: Marijuana, methadone, opiates.

Leonard: Methadone, and opiates. Oh my Heavens, I forgot opiates. Considering that I’ve been around the criminal justice system for 45 years, how did I leave opiates out of that? We understand that, at all three levels, whether it be lockup, whether it be pretrial, whether it be under parole and probation supervision, some people that come into contact with us are going to use synthetic drugs to escape testing positive. Some sample is going to do that, correct?

Gerome: That’s, yes that’s correct.

Leonard: And there’s research out there that indicates that there are somewhat substantial numbers of people who tested negative but when we retested those urines, we come to find out that they tested positive for synthetic drugs.

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: Okay, so synthetic drugs is a problem. It’s a problem in the District of Columbia, it’s a problem throughout the United States, and ladies and gentlemen in the show notes, we did a television show about a year and a half ago on synthetic drugs and I’ll be putting the link in the show notes to the television program that we did. So, we’re talking about overall between these three populations and twenty-five thousand samples a month, we’re talking about somewhere in the ball park between twenty-five and twenty-six percent testing positive within any sample.

Gerome: Yeah, overall population.

Leonard: Overall population.

Gerome: Right.

Leonard: Out of all these tests, do we have a sense yet as to who’s testing positive for synthetic drugs? So, we don’t know the number yet because we just started it October 1st.

Leslie: That’s correct, what we have been doing, and I’ll let Mr. Robinson talk a bit about the partnership that we have that started our synthetic testing program, but we started our testing program October 1st and we anticipate having data on the actual prevalence of synthetic use within this population over the next few months.

Leonard: Okay. That is gonna be, the results are going to be instructive as to how many are using synthetic drugs. Now, synthetics can change the ingredients, of what we call synthetic drugs, can change, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: Gerome, you were talking about, before we hit the record button, as to how you work with the coroners office and the drug enforcement administration and other sources because we have the capacity to change what we’re testing for, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct, and it’s one of the things that has really made this work for us, and for the region, and for the district. It’s the collaoration between the different parties: the DEA, the office of the chief medical examiners, the toxicology unit, the different DC government agencies, social entities, and so on. We’ve all come together to talk about this and give the information and knowledge that we have in our special field. They pulled all that together, and we’re at a good place now in terms of staying close to the cutting edge of the drugs that are coming in, because of this collaboration. The DEA keeps us [inaudible 00:08:33] of what they’re picking up on the packets, and then once we hear that we say, “Well let’s go look and see if we can get a standard on this, or if we can find a metabolite that we can run.”

Leonard: Ah.

Gerome: So that’s what has happened, that’s the key, in my opinion, of why it’s worked so well for us.

Leonard: Okay.

Gerome: Then, of course, we have the support of the agency, the leadership and the agency, to get this done.

Leonard: Okay so everybody’s talking to each other to figure out what we’re going to be testing for, and what it means, so if new trends come up we can be right on top of it.

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: We bought our own equipment to pull this off?

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: That’s a heck of a commitment.

Gerome: Well, yes, it is, and the last piece of equipment we got was a LCMSMS, which is quite expensive, but necessary.

Leonard: Yeah, prior to that we had all of the instrumentation we needed. So, and I’ll explain maybe later on in the program how we went piecemeal in monitoring this stuff, one technique to another and then moving on to something else, and doing the partnerships and collaboration and all of this. So yeah, they provided the instrumentation that we had prior to getting the LCMSMS, and then they went and they got the LCMSMS, and I’ve been extremely excited and happy about that.

Leonard: Now, we have committed within our budget to test for every sample that comes in. Twenty-five thousand samples a month, we’re going to be testing all twenty-five thousand samples a month for synthetic drugs.

Gerome: Correct.

Leonard: That’s an amazing commitment.

Leslie: It is. We realize, though, the severity of the issue. We, as Mr. Robinson said, are very close partners with the Metropolitan Police Department, with the entire district government, up through Mayor Bowser’s office, with the United States attorney’s office, and everyone is talking about synthetics and with PSA being the agency that does the testing, we recognize that that placed a responsibility on us to actually go out and to procure the equipment that would allow us to provide this critical information to the community at large.

Leonard: Okay but my conversations with my peers throughout the country when we talk about synthetic drugs is that very few people out there are testing for synthetic drugs. We’re not just testing, we’re testing every single sample of every person at lockup, every person on pretrial that’s going through drug testing, every person who’s going through parole and probation supervision through court services and offenders supervision agency, that is a huge commitment.

Gerome: Yes it is.

Leslie: It’s absolutely a huge commitment, again, but out investment in the Washington DC community requires that. Everyone is interested in ensuring and maintaining public safety here in the district and we see it as an investment that’s well worth it. We’re trying to keep DC a safe place for people to live, work, and visit, and we see that as part [inaudible 00:11:35] of our responsibility in carrying out that mission.

Leonard: So the bottom line is, in terms of what it is we’re testing for, the various components of synthetic marijuana, or synthetic drugs, the vast majority, all of those components, we’re testing for and as they change, we’ll change as necessary for all twenty-five thousand samples a month. Again, to me, that’s a huge undertaking that’s not happening throughout the rest of the country. That’s just my information, I don’t know if that’s completely accurate, but that’s the sense that I’m getting from talking to my peers throughout the country. Synthetic drugs are obviously illegal, I mean I want to make that point clear just in case we have anybody caught up in the criminal justice system listening to this broadcast.

Gerome: They have to be scheduled. I mean you have to realize, I think you already know this, that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of compounds that come under that terminology.

Leonard: Yes.

Gerome: Of course, the DEA doesn’t schedule every one of those, they schedule ones that they see as becoming a problem. If they hear of people getting sick or dying from some of these compounds, they’ll put it on their schedule. So, you know, we monitor the schedule that they create, and we base our components on that schedule. So right now, in the LCMS, we’re looking at thirty-one compounds.

Leonard: Okay.

Gerome: The screening looks at about, I think close to the same amount.

Leonard: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Gerome: It depends of what they are.

Leonard: But we’ll change it as necessary, I mean, the coroners office says, “Hey, we’re discovering this new compound.” The DEA, “We’re discovering these new issues at the east coast.” So we can change, and reflect, and report that back to the courts, report it back to the parole commission.

Gerome: I mean, that’s what we’ve seen. When we first started, we saw JWH-018073 and then that dried up, and then we had to move to something else, then UR-144, and the XLR-11 came in. What has amazed me, though, is that’s been several years and UR-144 and XLR-11 are still showing up, and that’s what we mostly see. Recently, they’ve been AB, AB-FUBINACA, AB-PINACA, all these -aca names, have been added to the profile.

Leonard: So the bottom line is, if that person who is caught up in the criminal justice system is using synthetics to get around the drug testing requirements, that person is in for a big surprise, very shortly.

Leslie: That’s the message that we’d like to convey.

Leonard: That is the message, where if you were doing this to get, to fool us within the criminal justice system, that stops on October 1, 2015.

Leslie: Correct. We think that part of the reason why you may see certain spikes in use is for that very reason, that people believe that you can use these substances while under criminal justice supervision, and use them undetected. So we recognize that challenge, we are prepared to meet that challenge to the extent possible. To your earlier point we are constantly trying to keep on top of the changing compounds just to make sure that we are trying to keep pace as quickly as possible with what we see out in the samples.

Leonard: Synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana, is often times being sold in storefronts throughout the District of Columbia. This is, I want to make this perfectly clear being we have a national audience, this is happening throughout the United States. This isn’t, it’s in Milwaukee, it’s in Los Angeles, it’s in San Diego, and I would daresay for twenty percent of our audience, that are international it’s in your city as well. It looks almost like a pack of hot rocks from years ago, from decades ago, I mean they’re very colorful packets, they look like something that you would buy for fifty cents, like candy almost. You get the impression when you buy synthetic marijuana, synthetic drugs, that this is something that has to be legal because gee, look at the packaging. I mean, heroine’s not packaged that way, cocaine’s not packaged that way, amphetamine’s aren’t packaged that way, this is packaged in such a way to convey to people that this must be a legal drug, because my goodness I’m buying it from the local grocery store, I’m buying it from the local gas station.

Gerome: Also, to attract the younger individuals in the community: teenagers, and so on. Although, a large portion of adult populations are using it too.

Leonard: Obviously, we deal with adults on supervision, we’re talking about, you know, [inaudible 00:16:36], it’s twelve thousand on any given day. The population for pretrial on any given day, Leslie, is about seven thousand?

Leslie: Just over four thousand.

Leonard: Four thousand, I’m sorry. So, right there you’re talking in the ball park of thirty thousand human … I’m sorry, twenty-thousand human beings on any given day. The people going through lockup, I mean that’s tens of thousands of people a year, I’m assuming.

Leslie: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Leonard: I don’t know the number, off the top of my head, so this is an adult population taking this, but the really scary thing is these packages make it seem to kids that this is safe to take.

Leslie: Certainly, I mean the packages are labeled, “Not for human consumption,” however, we know that as they are presented they are fairly attractive and I think you are absolutely correct in that when you see something on a store shelf you make an assumption that it is safe for some type of human interaction.

Leonard: I would make that assumption.

Leslie: So, again, our hats are really off to this city for the efforts that it has undertaken to crack down on the sales of these particular substances. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job with both regulatory efforts and enforcement of those, to really try to get these products out of the stores, just because of the dangers that can be associated with their use.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program, the topic today is synthetic drug testing, the fact that as of October 1 pretrial services agency, who does the testing at lockup, that does the testing for pretrial, and does the testing for court services and offenders supervision agency, those on parole and probation, as of October 1, all twenty-six thousand samples a month, twenty-five thousand samples a month, are going to be tested for synthetic drugs. At our microphones today, Leslie Cooper, deputy director pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia and Gerome Robinson, director for forensic research, again at pretrial services agency. Both of our agencies are federal agencies,

So, what do we see, what do you expect is going to happen come October 1? I would imagine word is getting out, little bit by little bit, to the population that we’re now testing for synthetic drugs. What will that mean?

Leslie: I think what will begin to happen is people will begin to recognize the use of synthetic drugs in a way we already recognize the more commonly known substances. So again, from a risk mitigation standpoint on both the pretrial and the [inaudible 00:19:10] side, what you’ll see is our continued existing response to abuse of any drug. What we do in those instances, when positive drug tests are received on and individual contributor, we coordinate with the releasing authority, alert them to their use, we may impose …

Leonard: Which means the courts, in your case, for pretrial.

Leslie: Correct. For us, it’s going to be the courts on the [inaudible 00:19:31], it will be the parole commission, or the court for someone who is on probation, and so we will notify that releasing authority, let them know what our efforts have been internally, to try to stop the abuse. Then, when we’re unable to stop the use on our end, after providing probably both sanctions and an opportunity for treatment, we then do refer back to either the court or the parole commission and ask them to take action.

Leonard: Okay so the bottom line is that this is a person that could be really facing jail time, prison time, if the person doesn’t comply with their standards of supervision, what is expected of them on the pretrial level, and on the parole and probation level.

Leslie: That’s correct. In violation of a drug test in condition by repeatedly testing positive could result in revocation of supervision, so yes, that’s correct.

Leonard: And we do know that those individuals, taking a look at your data Leslie, the individuals that don’t do well on pretrial supervision are the individuals who are caught up with heavy duty drug use.

Leslie: We do have information that shows that those people who are suffering from some form of addiction tend to do more poorly in terms of their outcomes. Again, our primary outcomes at pretrial are to ensure that they’re not re-arrested during the pendency of their case, and also to make sure that they show up for court each and every time, and we do find that there are variations in the outcomes for individuals who are using drugs actively during the period, yes.

Leonard: We find within court services and offenders supervision agency those folks who were in pretrial, I mean those folks who were on probation or coming out of prison, that it’s the heavy duty drug users who don’t do well, the people with mental health issues, drug issues, co-occurring disorders, so finding out who the synthetic drug users are, and intervening meaningfully in their lives, is part in partial to public safety.

Leslie: Absolutely, we consider substance abuse to be one of the primary domains that is necessary to be examined in order to put together a community supervision plan and that’s either at the pretrial or post-adjudication phase.

Leonard: Criminalogically speaking, that’s been the basis for drug testing for decades. I mean, the best practices as of decades ago, is to drug test, and research indicates that the more you test, the less they get involved in drug use and the less they get involved in criminal-based activities. So, drug testing has been in-partial, and we probably do more of it than just about any other criminal justice agency I’m aware of.

Leslie: I think one of the benefits is that we do have our in-house testing laboratory, so again, having the ability to test in-house and then have a quick turn around for result does help drug testing become a substantial part of the supervision planning process, yes.

Leonard: You know, Gerome, in a lot of agencies, they take their drug testing requirements and they farm them out, and they send them out, to an outside lab, and what we have done, as of, since the beginning of [00:22:49] pretrial …

Leslie: Actually, even prior to that.

Leonard: Really?

Leslie: Prior to that. Pretrial existed prior to that, and Mr. Robinson can probably speak because it’s near and dear to his heart that pretrial was one of the first agencies to actually have it. I think the first pretrial agency to have in-house testing, that dates back to 1984.

Leonard: Wow, and Gerome, have you been around that long?

Gerome: I got here in October 1989.

Leonard: Okay.

Gerome: So, they had a few years on me.

Leonard: So the whole idea is that bringing it in-house, having complete control over the process, is part in partial to public safety. When it’s not sent out, we control the whole thing [inaudible 00:23:31].

Gerome: Yeah, and you can adjust, to whatever is coming down the pike, like Franciscan synthetics, I mean, we’re able to adjust I think very well to testing for this.

Leonard: We control cost that way, correct? I mean, it’s a lot more expensive if you farm this stuff out.

Gerome: It can be, yes.

Leonard: So we control cost and we have the flexibility to move in any direction we want, and I think that’s part in-partial to the federal commitment to the public safety in the District of Columbia, the fact that we have brought it in-house, it’s always been in-house, it’s under out control, and we have the flexibility to move in any direction we want. We’re not dependent upon re-negotiating a contract with an outside vendor.

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: Okay. So, what is the major misconception about synthetic drugs?

Gerome: First, is that they’re not dangerous, right. That, in the early stages, they may have been not as dangerous as they are now.

Leonard: But they have gotten increasingly more dangerous.

Gerome: Yes, the thing is, they change it so much, they tweak it so much, you don’t know what you’re getting, and so now, like I mentioned, some of those other compounds, they’re coming in. If you remember the problem we had this summer with the people in homeless shelters, overdosing and what not.

Leonard: Yes.

Gerome: I suspect that a lot of these new compounds were coming in and affecting populations.

Leonard: We really never have, it’s not like it’s and FDA approved drug, where they say, “Oh by the way we’ve changed the compounds,” when you ingest this stuff you don’t have a clue as to what you’re ingesting.

Gerome: You haven’t, that’s the big problem, you don’t know what, I mean the chemists don’t know how it affects people, they just change the drug and put it out. There’s no quality control in this business.

Leonard: So what worked in terms of testing last week may not necessarily work immediately because we would have to get the data from the DEA, get the data form the coroner’s office, get the data from other criminal justice agencies and change our formula in such a way to be sure that we’re testing for what’s on the street.

Gerome: Well we have to, of course like you said be aware of those compounds, and work with our partners and the industry to cover those drugs, so that’s a little much, a bit off a lee time, you have to work on that, but it’s doable.

Leonard: Okay, and Leslie, the bottom line in terms of all of this, in terms of the biggest message we want to get out about synthetic drugs, is he folks, we’re testing!

Leslie: The bottom line is do not roll the dice. It is not a safe bet to assume that if you are under criminal justice supervision in the District of Columbia, that you can us synthetic drugs and get away with it.

Leonard: And if you’re not currently under supervision of pretrial or probation or people coming out of the prison system, or just being locked up for it. If you’re locked up and it’s turned into a positive, then that’s something that can’t have an effect in terms of either your release or your future involvement in the criminal justice system. So the bottom line is beyond health reasons, because I’m not quite sure why anyone would ingest something they are completely unaware of what it could do, I mean, the chief of police here in the District of Columbia, Cathy Lanier has said that there are people out there who just pass out, who are committing bizarre behaviors and are being involved in criminal activity. I’m not quite sure that they set out that evening to be involved in bizarre or criminal behavior. I think that being under the influence of synthetic drugs has a way of creating, or contributing to violent behavior, correct?

Leslie: I think you make a very good point in that synthetics pose a tremendous challenge to both the public safety and the public health systems, I’m pleased to hear that within the District of Columbia we are partnering very effectively, I think across both sides of that, just to make sure that we’re covering that from every aspect. I do want to just underscore what you just said, which is that you don’t know what the outcome will be. You don’t know what it’ll be on your health, you don’t know what it’ll be with your status within the criminal justice system, and those to me are two very good cautionary reasons to why you should avoid using synthetics.

Leonard: The Metropolitan police department here in the District of Columbia, and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are cracking down on the use of synthetic drugs, because, again, anything if you’ve ever seen the television show, and we’ll post the television show in the show notes, that we did about a year and a half ago, the packaging of this makes it so conducive to kids who end up taking this, and that could produce a psychotic episode. That could have an impact on a child for the rest of their life.

Gerome: Yes.

Leonard: So this is something that everybody needs to stay away from, and the criminal justice system is now testing it and recognizing it, it’s dangerous, and that’s the bottom line, correct?

Gerome: That’s correct.

Leonard: All right. Anything else that I left out, Leslie? Anything that you want to put it?

Leslie: Just to reinforce the fact that we are definitely committed to continuing to look into new and emerging drugs. My hat is absolutely off to Mr. Robinson and the entire team over in pretrials laboratory, that is actively working day in and day out to identify those new compounds and really help to keep us on the cutting edge so that we, again, can keep the city a safe place to be.

Leonard: Because the bottom line is that the components of drugs are always gonna change to some degree and we’ve got to stay on top of this, and so we are staying on top of it by having folks like long term veterans, Robinson, and bringing in that process in-house and having our own equipment and then committing the budget.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Leonard: To twenty-five thousand samples a month. I want to thank my guests today, Leslie Cooper, deputy director of pretrial services agency for the District of Columbia, and Gerome Robinson, the director of forensic research,,, ladies and gentlemen this is DC Pubic Safety. We appreciate you comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.