Archives for March 18, 2016

This is Criminal-An Interview with Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s show interviews the creators of Criminal, a very popular podcast. Listen to Criminal via iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite streaming app. I found that just searching for Criminal podcast got me right to it. Criminal is a podcast from Radiotopia and PRX.

We welcome Phoebe Judge and co-creator Lauren Spohrer, both veterans of public radio who were brainstorming podcast ideas when they hit upon the idea that radio listeners also love a good crime story even if they don’t want to admit it. Ladies, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Phoebe: Thanks for having us.

Lauren: Thank you.

Leonard: You run a huge podcast, very popular. I’ve spoken to a ton of people who really enjoy, in the system, who really enjoy listening to your program. It’s just really amazing. I just want to know before I describe it, and I’m taking an awful lot from a Huffington Post article that you guys previously did, for me describe criminal. Describe what you do.

Phoebe: This is Phoebe. Criminal is a podcast about in the big sense of the word, crime, but I think what we hope to do is use the big sense of the word to kind of surprise our listeners in showing that crime can not just be tragic and sad, but also funny and uplifting and warm. We’re really trying to use the human experience of crime as the basis for all of our shows.

Leonard: The human experience is also neatly described in the Huffington Post article when they talked to the both of you. Call Your Mom covers a mother and daughter in Wyoming who both happen to be coroners. The episode focuses on the way they view death and the unique dinner table conversations that are an inevitable part of their lives. When I’ve listened to Criminal I’ve been sucked in very easily by that human dimension. Your big focus is the humanity surrounding a criminal event?

Phoebe: Yeah, I think for us we won’t really do a story even if we really want to do it, we think it’s interesting, we think it’s an interesting topic, a news worthy topic, we won’t do it unless we have a very strong personal story at the center of it. If we can’t find that person, they’re not willing to speak with us, they just, you know, we’ll pass the story down. I think for us hearing that firsthand account, hearing the emotion and the way someone has seen one of these events through their own eyes, having someone who can give us that type of perspective is critical for us.

At the basis of all of the Criminal episodes is a good personal story. I think that comes from both of our backgrounds as producers and reporters where we spent years looking for interesting people.

Leonard: Well, the interesting people part of it is fascinating because they are so extraordinarily interesting and at the same time they communicate unbelievably well. Where do you find your people? As somebody who has been doing crime and justice related podcasts for a quarter of a century, how do you find the people that you find.

Lauren: This is Lauren. I think we get asked this question all the time and we don’t have sort of a clever answer other than to say that we’ve both worked in public radio for along time, so we’re used to searching out stories. I think one thing that’s been a lot of fun for Criminal that we don’t seek out experts or analysts or academics as much as we look for regular people.

We’re here in Boston and last night we got into an Uber and our Uber driver was also a criminal defense attorney. He just started chatting us up about, he just started saying, “The case that really keeps me up at night …” Just started telling us a story. I think our favorite way to find stories to work on is just by chatting with people in our lives.

Leonard: You become enmeshed in the lives of individuals where I do a half an hour podcast. It’s in, it’s out. I edit it. It’s done. I’m assuming that you spend an enormous amount of time on every episode and I’m assuming that you spend an enormous amount of time getting to know the people that you interview. Do you come away from all of these interviews with a collective sense as to who individuals are within the criminal justice system? How they get caught up in the criminal justice system? Is there a fundamental gut feeling that you have about people that you’ve interviewed?

Phoebe: I think that while we do a lot of background work before the interview starts to figure out the facts of the case, once I start having a conversation with something I really never know exactly what’s going to come out of it. I think Lauren and I both allow Criminal to have that flexibility. There will be times where we think we know where the story is going because we’ve done all this front research and gotten the court documents. Then we actually sit down and have the interview with the person. We say, “Oh, this story is nothing like we thought it was going to be.”

Leonard: Wow.

Phoebe: I think we really let the subject dictate the end result of the episode. I also think one thing that maybe makes Criminal maybe a little different than some others, we don’t really try to force a conclusion if there isn’t one for the story. We’re not there to make moral judgements, say someone is good or bad, right or wrong.

Our job is to put forth the information in its most accurate and interesting way as possible. Because we allow ourselves as that, as our guiding principle, I think you do learn a lot more about the person and the subject because we’re allowing them to tell their story rather than us telling the important parts of the story we think you should know.

Leonard: Before I do podcasts I do reach out to some people within the criminal justice system, ask them what I should be asking my guest. Many of the issues that you discuss go to the heart of fairness and equity within the criminal justice system. Do you have any observations as to how the criminal justice system operates and what it does?

Lauren: I think it makes us a little uncomfortable to try to … You’re the expert. We’re certainly not the expert. I think one thing that we’ve learned over the course of doing this is that things are never as simple as they seem, things are never as simple as we thought they were from reading books or watching television shows or watching movies.

There’s always sort of a lot more layers, a lot more complications, especially with the court system, but also with police investigations than we ever imagined. I think we’re, if anything I think working on the show has made us less certain about what we know about the system.

Leonard: Because there are so many components to the system, so many people, so many actors, so many individuals making decisions that it’s not just the criminal justice system, but a wide variety of actors. Some of whom could be good, bad, indifferent. Is that what you come out of it with, the sense that it’s fluid, that it’s a system in motion and that it’s just an interesting story to tell?

Lauren: Absolutely and that it’s so specific. Different courtrooms are run different ways. There are different statues in different counties. There are things that I think that I know and then when I actually start digging into the facts of a particular case I’m always surprised that my assumptions were not correct. We spend a lot of time calling lawyers, calling county clerks, calling courthouses, procuring documents just to check to make sure that we really do understand what happened.

Leonard: You cover the entire spectrum of what happens in terms of an individual incident. You’re talking to perpetrators, victims, enforcers, witnesses. You’re talking to all of them to try to bring the listener in to all of the circumstances that happen in terms of that particular episode.

Lauren: Yeah, that’s right. Although I’ll say we put out a lot of requests with law enforcement and they rarely respond to us. Often the response that we get is that officers can’t comment on pending litigation, which we of course understand, but we would like to do more.

Leonard: Possibly I could help you in terms of doing more, but I would imagine that somebody coming out of the woodwork saying, “Hi, I represent a podcast and I want to talk about this particular case,” would seem rather intimidating to a lot of folks within the criminal justice system because they oftentimes don’t get those sort of requests. We get requests from the media, give me the person’s name, give me the person’s charge, what is the court date? It’s pretty matter of fact. You’re talking about an in depth conversation about what’s happening in terms of these particular cases. I’m assuming that that will be intimidating.

Phoebe: Certainly and I think that as you mentioned, there is a perception I think sometimes about crime shows, crime podcasts, is this going to be just a sensationalized, are people making shows going to sensationalize the story and get things wrong just so that they can get a rise out of their audience? I understand apprehension within people in the system who might say, “Wait a second. There’s a podcast called Criminal that’s going to do X, Y, Z.” I hope that people, I hope that what we’ve done is prove that there is a way in which to explore the criminal justice system, the criminal mentality, victims that’s responsible and fair and accurate and not sensationalized.

I think that if we can get past that first hurdle of approaching people within the system and saying, “Hold on. Don’t back away just because it’s a show called Criminal. Wait a second.” Then I think anybody that we have gotten that far within the system who has then listened to episodes that we point out I think has a better understanding of what we try to do with our show.

Leonard: I think that’s the point of getting them to listen to the show so they can understand how complex and how evenhanded it is. Why did you chose the term criminal which is in DC a fairly politically incorrect term?

Phoebe: We thought for a very long time what the name of the show would be. I think that, I like the name. I like the name of the show, but of course, it necessarily makes you think oh, these are all going to be criminals that we’re going to be hearing from which is not true at all. Actually very rarely are we talking to pure criminals on the show.

I think what we wanted to do was to have a title that would allow the listener to know exactly what they were getting in the sense of crime. We could have called it The Crime Show I guess, but something about criminal which I think speaks to the fact that we are dealing with crime, but also that we’re dealing with human stories. We’re dealing with one person. A criminal, it’s kind of in a way to say it’s going to be a personalized version of a crime event.

Leonard: Well, I love the title. I think the title says everything that it needs to say. I think it’s a beautifully crafted title because it gets to the heart and the soul of the matter. One of the podcasts, you were interviewing and individual who had committed a homicide and there was sort of stumble in terms of how to address the person. The person shoots back, “What? Are you referring to me as a murderer? Well, that’s exactly what I am.” Maybe sometimes clarity is what’s necessary in talking about crime and justice.

Phoebe: Yeah. I think for us there’s no topic we won’t take on or I think that our responsibility is to ask fair, accurate questions and portray the events as accurately as possible. If you do that you can call … As long as what you’re calling them is true, you can call someone anything you like. You can do whatever type of show you want.

Leonard: One of the favorite topics I have when I’m talking to people caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones is I’ll say people refer to you as a criminal. How do you see yourself? Sometimes that creates a beautiful conversation in terms of how they see themselves and how they believe others should see them. I like the title very much. What has been the exposure or the thought within the National Public Radio community or the public radio community or the podcasting community? How do they see your show?

Lauren: I hope people like it. We put our individual episodes up on a website called PRX that allows NPR stations to purchase it and many of them do, so that’s always nice. Our show gets played in our hometown. We live in Durham, North Carolina and our episodes get played every Sunday evening. That’s sort of a really fun thing. You make something on your own and then you can turn on the radio in your car and you can hear it. That means a lot to us. We both were trained in official public radio communities and I think it means a lot to us that our work now is aired there.

Leonard: I’ve been interviewing people from National Public Radio and I’ve had them before these microphones several times, listening to National Public Radio types of shows for decades. Your show is as good or better than anything that I’ve heard on National Public Radio. The quality of the show is superb. The choice of topics is superb. In terms of talking to people within the criminal justice system, they also like the show. I just was wondering how it was being received by the professional NPR community. I think they’re going to love it as much as I do.

Lauren: I think if they have some negative opinions they don’t say it to our face.

Leonard: Maybe that’s good. Do your parents get to listen to the show when the local public radio station broadcasts it there in North Carolina?

Phoebe: We’re both not from North Carolina.

Leonard: I’m sorry.

Phoebe: No, no, no. They live in Florida and in Massachusetts. Our parents I think are probably the most, the first people who listen to every new episode of Criminal. They are our greatest critics and they let us know what they think. They’re very attentive listeners. I think certainly my parents haven’t missed one. My father I think listens to them a number of times, each one of them, and Lauren, you’re the …

Lauren: Yeah. I love to get, sometimes I’ll send my mom a rough draft and get her feedback before we’re done.

Leonard: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. All right, we’re halfway through the program. Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer are our guests today. They are the producers of Criminal, a program, a podcast from Radiotopia and PRX. My favorite way of getting Criminal is just search for Criminal podcast and it pops up as being number one. It was there before Serial, ladies and gentlemen, and certainly one of the most popular podcasts in the country dealing with crime and criminal justice issues.

You said that you don’t pass moral judgement regarding the people that you talk to. Isn’t that difficult? Because you get so enmeshed in the lives of the people that you talk to. There’s an ongoing controversy within criminalogical circles within the media about the role of the criminal justice system, the role of law enforcement. Isn’t it difficult not to pass judgement?

Phoebe: Who are we to pass judgement? I think that there’s an interesting way to think about that question. I think maybe I feel fair and right in saying that I don’t really believe that there are evil people in the world. I think that if you walk around with that mindset you don’t pass much judgement. You rather try to understand. That’s all we want to do, understand.

We’re talking as you say, to murderers sometimes. I’m not trying to pass judgement on them. I’m just trying to understand how an individual could do something like that. I think that’s what we try to take with Criminal is a better understanding of crime of the human experience of crime with no judgement because I don’t think any of us can really know how we would act in certain situations. We can dream about it and we can speculate, but you never actually know. I think that’s the way we kind of take the worldview we have for crime, moral judgment and the show.

Leonard: You remind listeners that with every episode the truth is many shades blurrier than simply good or bad, guilty or innocent. That’s the point, that there are multiple, multiple layers to any crime story. It’s just not a matter of being being good or of people being bad.

Lauren: Yeah, I think that’s important. I think it’s the difference between reading a small news item in the newspaper, which without any context allows you to pass judgement versus actually what you hear on the show is edited down to somewhere around 20, 25 minutes, but there were many, many hours spent speaking with that person. I think anytime you have a long respectful conversation with someone, obviously things are not so simple anymore. I think it would be in bad faith for us to pretend that we had some sort of moral clarity about something that’s very complicated.

Leonard: I agree with you. I’ve sat and interviewed over the course of years, not necessarily in front of microphones, hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system. I indeed find their stories fascinating and that’s exactly the experience that I have. I don’t walk away from that saying this person is blank. I walk away from that experience saying that’s a very complex story by a very complex person.

Lauren: Yeah and this person’s life has been very different from mine in a number of ways that I can’t pretend to understand or have some sort of moral mastery over. I think a lot of times when we talk to people it becomes more clear that we all sort of do the best we can within a certain set of circumstances.

Leonard: I remember being a police officer a lifetime ago and it was a terrible automobile accident. There were three or four of us gathering up medical supplies from the back of police car. Somebody saw us laughing and it was a terrible accident with a family, multiple victims, bleeding profusely. We were trying to save their lives and we’re back there snickering and laughing as we’re loading up on medical supplies in the trunk of a car. There was a complaint.

People said, “Well, what were you doing?” We said, “We were trying to deal with the horror in front of us and to deal with it in such a way that we could effectively deal with it. We weren’t being disrespectful. We we re just psychologically trying to cope with what it was that we were seeing in front of us.” There are many different layers of complexity when you’re dealing with the criminal justice system. Where are you taking Criminal? What’s going to happen? Is it going to be more of the same? Are you looking at specific topics? Do you just float through your professional lives until somebody gives you a very interesting story?

Phoebe: No. We come out every two weeks and so we’re constantly searching for stories and looking and in various modes of production. Later this afternoon we’re off to do an interview. We also do live shows which is kind of a fun new thing that we started doing.

Leonard: Yes it is. Watched one.

Phoebe: Yeah, yeah. We travel around. It’s different when you’re podcast hosts used to being behind a microphone in a studio with no one watching you to be up on a stage and do it live. It’s a whole other ballgame. That’s kind of fun too. It pretty much, Criminal, it takes a lot of work so we constantly have our heads down and just trying to get the next episode out.

Leonard: You were doing this on a part time basis for most of the history of Criminal, correct? Just recently within the last year that you’ve started doing this on a full time basis. Doing all of that and doing the podcast that you do had to be a tremendous challenge.

Lauren: It was. It was a lot of work. We would do our regular jobs and then come home and work on the show late at night or on weekends or in the morning before work. It was so, it was then and it still is so exciting to build something yourself that I think we had a lot of energy for it that we weren’t expecting. I think this is the most exciting, challenging job I’ve ever had.

Leonard: I get reading from the Huffington Post article using this framework for storytelling Judge had investigated a book thief, an impostor, a serial killer, a notorious who raid petrified forests in search of a million year old, in search of million year old wood just to name a few of the criminal subjects, all are explored in the same compelling way.

Your interest level, it’s not like you’re looking at rapists. It’s not like you’re looking at cops. It’s not like you’re looking at judges or necessarily just people caught up in the system. You’re looking at a very carefully crafted in depth conversation with anybody who happens to come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Lauren: I don’t think we would be able to work as hard as we do if every episode was the same. I think that that’s something that’s interesting about … We just recently did an episode about a man who tried to poison a historic tree. The fact that there is also a trial and someone could be prosecuted for that and the sort of police investigation, that is to me, it’s the sort of lesser known, more unexpected angles here that really make it always feel fresh for us.

Leonard: You make it fresh by the variety of topics that you bring to the show. Is that the point? Because again, every time I listen to a different episode it’s an entirely different subject. It’s the complexity of human fault, the depth that you bring to the individual that you interview, that’s what makes it compelling and that’s the success of the show I’m assuming.

Lauren: I hope so. That’s very kind of you.

Leonard: No, I don’t think it’s kind at all. I think it’s a straight observation by somebody who’s been in the criminal justice system for close to 50 years. It is just a very strong, very compelling storytelling. How you find these people I just find amazing because they’re all extraordinarily articulate. When I bring people into this studio I never know what I’m going to get. The person is interesting, but is the person going to cooperate? Is the person going to tell an extraordinarily interesting story? How many hours do you put into every episode?

Lauren: It really depends. One thing I’ll say is that we do have a pretty lengthy preliminary conversation with them before we record. If someone, if it’s clear that someone maybe isn’t comfortable or just isn’t ready to talk about it or just doesn’t want to, we’re not going to schedule time to record with them. We do try to be somewhat strategic about how we spend our recorded hours.

We do know, when Phoebe sits down with someone for their recorded interview we know and they know exactly what’s going to happen. We do it very informally so it’s usually a long informal conversation. Then we edit that tape down. We transcribe it all. We have some great people who we work with who help us transcribe. Then we sort of read it as a document. We say what are the most important parts of this? What are the most surprising parts of this? What order, in what order should we deliver this information?

It is sort of like a writing process from there, but we do everything we can to choose stories that will sort of just tell themselves, where the events unfold naturally. It’s just a question about being thoughtful about how to present that to a listener. Sometimes it’s 80 hours and episode. Sometimes it’s less. It’s been more. It just depends on how many interviews and really how much work we put into the editing and revising process. That just sort of depends on the story.

Leonard: Do you allow people to pitch you stories?

Lauren: Oh absolutely. We love to get pitches. We absolutely get some great ideas from listeners and we really encourage that.

Leonard: We do that through the PRX website, Radiotopia?

Lauren: Or you can just go to our website, and there’s an about page. You’ll find both of our email addresses and also a catchall for the whole show. We read all of our emails and we respond to all of them.

Leonard: Well, I’m going to take the most interesting people I’ve interviewed and the next time I talk to them I’m going to suggest that you talk to them because telling these stories, they’re just fascinating.

Lauren: I’m thinking that you might have some fascinating stories for us. I think we should set up a time where you can tell us some of your stories for the show.

Leonard: Well, after 50 years the stories are endless, but I come to the conclusion that those of us in the criminal justice system have, we’re pretty cynical. We have a very strong sense and very strong opinions about the world around us, whether or not people understand who we are, people understand what it is that we do. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding police officers in terms of are these good and decent human beings. I was watching a piece on CBS where an 11 year old boy was asking his mother, “Should I continue to want to be a cop? Are cops still the good guys?” He created a benefit for police officers and police officers came from all over the country just to attend this 11 year old’s benefit.

There’s a dynamic that’s going along in the criminal justice system that breaks those of us in the system and the issues that we deal with into good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral. That’s not criminal. What you do is to get into the very heart and soul of an issue and explore it to its very limits.

Lauren: I do think that that helps us. We’re not lawyers. We don’t have any background sin criminal justice. We’re just curious. I think we were not cynical. We really were coming at it with a lot of questions. I think that is the right place to start work like this.

Leonard: The curiosity, we all start off with that same sense of curiosity and so there is a sense of me that says you guys probably have developed a sense of the system and developed a sense of the people within the system. It would be almost impossible not to.

Lauren: Saying exactly what you’re saying.

Leonard: What’s that?

Lauren: I think we should check in [inaudible 26:18]. We might be cynical then too, but that hasn’t happened quite yet. We’re only two years in so we’ll see what happens down the road.

Leonard: Okay.

Lauren: No, if anything I feel less sure about what I know. I grew up in a family of lawyers and I used to think I had a really strong grasp of the legal system. I think over the course of working on this show I have come to see how little I understand and that there aren’t any sort of hard and fast rules that you can keep in your back pocket and that will always prove to be true. That just never ceases to fascinate me.

Leonard: You said in the Huffington Post article, true crime allows the listener to be a detective for a minute. They’re allowed to collect information, evaluate it, make decisions. It’s an interactive experience whereas other stories you’re being told this is and it’s entertainment. You’re allowing the person to float through the person you’ve interviewed, to float through their lives, make an informed decision based upon the evidence that you present, allow the person to be a detective and allow the individual to come to their own conclusions. That’s why I think the show works.

Phoebe: We want the listener to remain just like as completely invested as possible because we’re not telling them what to think I hope.

Leonard: That’s obvious. The whole idea is to make sure that they come to their own conclusions and that you’re telling both sides of the story. I plan on using my experience with the Criminal podcast to get everybody to listen, to get them to understand that it’s just not all, all the coverage of crime and criminal justice, it’s not just the 30 second soundbite or the one 20 minute package. That there are people out there doing in depth interviews and just basically presenting the evidence and letting other people decide. I think that’s the heart and could of Criminal and I think that’s why you’re going to be popular with people who work within the criminal justice system.

Phoebe: That’s great. We would really welcome that audience and hope that people within the system do appreciate what we’re trying to do.

Leonard: We’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve had a wonderful time talking to Phoebe Judge, Lauren Spohrer. They are the creators of Criminal. It is just an extraordinarily interesting podcast on crime and the criminal justice system. It’s on iTunes, Stitchers or just go to your favorite search engine and listen from there. It’s a radio program from Radiotopia and PRX> you can contact them on their own website, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.


Tablets in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic is tablets in corrections, a pretty interesting topic, I think so. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relationships for Edovo,, is by our microphones. Randy Kearse, a re-entry consultant at … Randy has a book and a video. The video is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. To Chenault and to Randy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Randy: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Leonard: All right. Guys, give me a sense at to … I’ll start off with you, Chenault, and give me a sense at to what Edovo does, and how you got to meet Randy and incorporate Randy’s materials into what you’re doing.

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. Edovo is an educational technology company that operates in correctional facilities, and we use tablet technology to bring daily access programming to incarcerated users across the country. We focus on educational programming, meaning academic, vocational, and behavioral therapy programming. We connected with Randy. Actually, Randy reached out to us about bringing his theories and the work he does onto our tablets. I’ll let him speak more in depth as to what he does, but his resources and his time, both in incarceration and [inaudible 00:01:36] work he’s done since, has been enormously interesting to us. Particularly, from a social psychology perspective, it’s always more valuable when you have people who have been in their shoes, people who have been incarcerated, and people who have been successful afterwards, talking to you as an incarcerated individual. That’s how we connect with Randy, and I’ll let him tell you exactly what he does. We’re really excited about it.

Leonard: Randy, go ahead.

Randy: As you know, I’m a prison re-entry consultant, based on my personal experience of being incarcerated. I have a company Prison Re-entry Strategies, and we create media content to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals successfully transition back to society. What we do through books, and film, and interactive media, we create programs that will hopefully help people make that transition back to their communities, their families, and society as a whole. I connected with Edovo because I liked what they were doing, the innovative, bringing tablets into prisons.

Most importantly, I did the research on them, and I liked their model for focusing on the education and vocational, and all of the things that they do to prepare people. I’m sure we’re going to get into the pros and cons of tablets being in the prisons, but I created a film series called Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. It’s a series that focuses on people who have formerly been incarcerated and have transitioned back to society successfully, so it was a good fit. What they did was take what I’ve done, the film series, and created a whole curriculum around that film series, which … It’s an awesome opportunity to help people make that successful transition back to society.

Leonard: Many in corrections see tablets as the holy grail, allowing unfettered contact with family and other pro-social elements, plus use of tablets for educational and vocational purposes. I say that from the standpoint and with a recognition that I’ve been around the re-entry movement now for decades. We’ve all talked about the need for vocational training, for substance abuse training, for mental health issues, for making sure that the offender inside of a prison has constant contact with pro-social elements, his family members, his mom, his dad, other people in the community that could help him. Yet, all of that, that whole package, everything that I just described turns out to be enormously expensive, and most correctional systems don’t have the money to do it.

The sense was that if you could have a person in the country, say, from one location, say, the Department of Justice, say, it’s Randy, and Randy could be doing courses either recorded or live, and deliver that information via tablets, we could open up vocational, educational programs, substance abuse programming, to inmates, millions of inmates, if necessary, throughout the United States. That’s the hope, that’s the dream, that’s the promise. I’m going to start with you, Chenault. How far are we away from that, in terms of technology?

Chenault: Even in the few years that we’ve been operating, we’ve seen a huge shift in the mindset of the administrators in corrections. A few years ago when said we’d like to bring wired technology and tablets into facilities, some people looked at us like we were crazy, and now we’re finding a really receptive audience that’s aware of the benefits that the technology and tablets can bring for education, for programming, for a number of reasons. Like you mentioned, some statistics have only 20% of those who are incarcerated getting regular access to programming, and that’s really detrimental.

Edovo was started because we were in the Cooke County Jail and saw that people were watching Jerry Springer, and people were watching the Price is Right, and didn’t really have access to that programming. Like you mentioned, there’s many in corrections who want that to be different, but it’s a real challenge to have programming with an in-person teacher for a lot of reasons, being cost, the fact many incarcerated [users 00:06:04] are not at the same level of education and don’t have the same interests. What we see, and what I think many in corrections are seeing is the tablets are helpful because they’re scalable.

If you have someone like Randy’s program curriculum, upload it, and, as you said, millions could access it. You’re also able to meet users at their level. If they’re at the GED level, if they’re at an early literacy rate, if they’re post-secondary, content can be on there that they can access at any level. It’s also really valuable from a data perspective, and from a continuity of care perspective. What our model does and what tablets can do is give administrators in a facility the ability to see how users are learning, what’s popular. We can use that data [inaudible 00:06:58] offer more courses like that.

Our hope, and what we’re working on now, is making sure that parole and probation officers also have access to that data, and the ability to say, “Look, we see that you completed three courses on substance abuse, here are resources for you now that you’re back and out in the community,” or, “We see that you’re halfway through your GED course, you can continue that course from your time incarcerated now that you’re on the outside.” We see that potential, you see that potential, and we are finding a lot of receptive people in the corrections arena, as well.

Leonard: Now, Chenault, are these programs online or are they loaded into the tablets?

Chenault: What we do, and this is different based on the tablet providers, we have wired technology. The way we explain that is, if you think of the internet as a highway system, what we’ve done is created an internet access point that really acts as a tunnel with no on-ramps and no off-ramps. There’s no access to the broader internet, like Google or Facebook. You are only able to connect to Edovo itself. We think it’s really valuable and important that these devices are connected to the internet.

That is how you’re able to have data, that is how you’re able to track your progress, that is how you’ll be able to use your work and your certificate on the outside, and continue to [fill 00:08:23] your educational and vocational programming. It also allows us to upload new content, so the work that we’re doing with Randy, we’re able to upload videos of success stories and add to our curriculum in a way that’s meaningful and important for those who are inside. We have a connectivity, but it’s not just the broader, if that makes sense.

Leonard: It does. It is online, but only through channels that you provide, nothing else?

Chenault: Exactly, through a secure server. Obviously, in corrections, security is an issue, so we use a server through an [ABTN 00:09:01] tunnel, the same type of security that the finance sector uses, that healthcare data uses. We’ve obviously really thought about this, and this is an essential piece of making this work.

Leonard: Chenault, I do want to come back to you in terms of questions of security, because that’s what’s on the mind of every correctional administrator throughout the country. Randy Kearce, let me go over to you for a second. You and I both know, for you, from your personal experience, and me, from my experience within the criminal justice system and the research that I read. I think Chenault is being generous when she’s saying that 20% of inmates are gaining some sort of educational services. The last time I took a look at data, it was closer to 10%. Whether it’s 10% or 20%, the overwhelming majority of people sitting in a correctional facility are not getting any services at all, period. We’re saying that isn’t it better, that if they have access to Randy Kearce and the material that Randy produces, or the material that other people produce, isn’t it better for inmates to be exposed to vocational, educational, substance abuse, decision-making materials on a tablet. We would prefer a instructor, we would prefer a classroom. We’re never going to get that, so if we don’t do it via tablet, it’s not going to get done, am I right or wrong?

Randy: No, you’re absolutely right. We got to go with the times, and times is dictating that technology has to be brought into these facilities because it just makes sense financially for institutions to implement these type of technology, because you get more bang for the buck. More people will be able to use it, more people will be exposed to the materials, and it just makes sense because if you’re trying to prepare someone to come out into society and function on a level of being able to take care of themselves, you have to prepare them and give them the tools and the resources to help prepare them. The thing we have to look at is, number one, what type of programming will these tablets have? You’re going to have several or more companies come online and say, “Wow, this is a great idea. How can I make money from it?” This is the problem.

I think this is the thing that we have to ask ourselves, is what type of material will we allow inmates to be exposed to. We don’t want an inmate to sit there and be watching videos all day of music videos, or entertainment videos. There should be an allowance for some of it, but the majority of it should be focusing on them being able to properly prepare for getting out, and changing their mindset, and changing their behaviors, and things like that.

Going back to the questions of family and keeping in contact with family, you’re going to have companies that come aboard, and now that there was the decrease in how much phone companies can charge incarcerated individuals to call home, now you’re going to have companies trying to basically monopolize off of these tablets on, “How can we generate money by allowing people to use emails,” or just focusing on how they can stay in contact with their family. Those are the things that we have to watch out for. Those are the things that we have to be prepared for, so it doesn’t become a money-making machine versus an entity that can help people integrate back into society.

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s profit.

Randy: Excuse me?

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s a profit motive. Why do it unless there’s a profit motive? I’m just curious. I don’t want to go in there deeply, because I would love to see state government, federal government, come out and pay for these sort of things, but at the moment, they’re not going to do it unless there is a profit.

Randy: One of the things that attracted me to Edovo is that they have a more social model. They don’t focus on profit. I can’t tell you the specifics or how they operate, but it’s not profit-driven. Go ahead.

Leonard: Let me get back to the larger question. Randy, do giving information via tablets in the correctional setting … The correctional setting is loud, it’s ruckus, it’s noisy, it’s not very conducive to a learning environment. You’re sitting in your cell, and your watching programs dealing with substance abuse, or an educational program, or a vocational program, or job hunting. How effective could or would tablets be?

Randy: Very effective because that allows you to go in your cell and tune everything else out around you, that’s going on around you that’s not positive, that’s not productive. You can go in your cell, and you’ll basically have your own teacher. You have your own facilitator teaching you or showing you different programs and taking you, walking you, through these programs. They would be very effective. I guess one of the best-selling items in the commissary would be a radio. Everybody has a radio in the prison because that allows you to escape.

These tablets would definitely be a tool to keep people focused on the journey ahead, and not what’s going on negatively around them. When you factor in the privilege part, as well … Tablets are a privilege, they’re not mandatory. People are going to be on their best behavior to have access to these tablets. You’re going to cut down in a lot of areas when it comes to discipline, when it just unfocused behaviors going on around you, because everybody’s going to want to keep their standings to be able to use those tablets. Trust me on that one there.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program. Let me re-introduce both of you for a second before we get on to the rest of the program. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo, E-D-O-V-O,, and Randy Kearce, my Facebook friend and a very nice man, re-entry consultant, He’s produced a video and a slew of materials including a book, but he didn’t want me to promote the book. He wanted me to promote the video, Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. I appreciate both of you being on the program with us today. All right, for the second half of the program, Randy, I’m just going to be a bit more of a devil’s advocate before going back to Chenault on the security question. You’re not going to be able to teach a person to lay bricks, you’re not going to be able to teach a person to be an electrician via a tablet, you’re not going to be able to teach a person how to read via a tablet. These are things that almost require classroom instruction, do they not, or am I wrong?

Randy: I have to disagree with you.

Leonard: Go ahead.

Randy: I have to disagree with you vehemently because a lot of things that I’ve learned in the last two or three years, I’ve learned on YouTube. Video is very great way to teach people because a lot of people can learn by looking and being able to follow the instructions of … Like Chenault said, literacy is a big problem in prison, and everybody’s not reading and comprehending on the same level, so what people can see, they’re more apt to want to be able to follow those instructions. Everything and anything that you want to learn is on YouTube, so this is just giving people a better or more opportunity to learn in a different kind of way. We’re living in a video society, we’re living in a technology that … We have to incorporate instructive learning via instructors that will be able to give them great courses where they can be able to learn in that way. Video’s the best and great way to help these guys prepare for getting out.

Leonard: Chenault, the security question that I alluded to before … Every correctional administrator in the country is saying, “Leonard, I get it. I think tablets would be nice. I think having online access would even be nice, but how do you do that and protect public safety at the same time? Anything that we bring in via the internet is going to be abused, and in fact, a lot of prisons don’t have any internet connection at all, simply for security reasons.” Do you want to comment on that?

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve seen a couple people … It’s not a couple people, many facilities that, fortunately, are addressing that security issue head-on. What we’ve done in a lot of facilities is we do need to come in and bring in that connectivity to a facility. As I mentioned earlier, the way we operate, and I think that the way that … There really is the potential to have connectivity and access to wonderful resources … Is that you can only access Edovo. You have a tunnel vision of internet that can only access Edovo. There’s also the ability to access communications in certain tablets, depending on the facility, and depending on their provider.

What we’ve seen really is that this hasn’t been the issue that people were afraid it would be in the facilities that we’re operating in. What we’ve seen is that all of the content that we’re putting onto these tablets is that it’s both by us and by the administration in these facilities. They have final say on everything. We’re not giving access to Google and Facebook. What we think instead is that having access to technology is really valuable. As Randy said, and we actually spoke a couple weeks ago, he learned about the internet by reading about it from the newspaper. When he was released from the facility, he’d never used the internet, he’d never seen a tablet, he’d never used a cell phone, like an iPhone.

It’s crucial to have that technological literacy. Technology’s only going to become more important in our communities, and [you see that 00:18:59] … I’m sure every one of us every day uses technology in a massive way. This really hasn’t been the security issue that I think a lot of people expect, because we’ve done a lot of diligent work to make sure that we’re using the security mechanisms that the finance sector does, that the healthcare sector does. We’re using our own servers, as well. I understand the concern, but I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about bringing tablets into the facility go visit one of our facilities, and talk to the administrators there. This is something that we’ve figured out.

Randy: Let me add to that little piece.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: In any prison environment, you’re going to have the guy that is going to try to hack the system. That’s just going to be, but what these tablet providers have to do is just stay diligent and be prepared for those who will try to connect to the internet, find some type of backdoor, whatever the case may be, and if it happens, how to learn from that, to make it even stronger and better. Listen, some of the best organizations or people get hacked. You got financial, banks get hacked. Everybody gets hacked, so what we have to do is learn from those experiences to make it better so that the masses will be able to enjoy and be able to benefit from them. That’s the reality right there.

Leonard: All right, I’m going to take both of you past your comfort levels, and it’s not what Edovo is currently doing, it’s not what Randy Kearce is currently doing, but this whole concept of using tablets as a way of communicating with mom and dad at home … Everybody that I’ve talked to at my organization today, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, when I was telling them about the phone call and the interview this afternoon, they simply said, “Okay, we are all for pro-social contact, but how do you keep the nefarious person off the line?” Whether it’s an email back and forth, which requires pure internet access, or whether it’s a phone call, or whether it’s a video chat, this is a way, theoretically, of constantly having pro-social contacts, even doing job interviews in the community over a tablet, but how do you do that in such a way is to make sure that public safety is not jeopardized and that the right person is on the phone, not the wrong person. I know this is taking us way beyond the boundaries of what we talked about, but Chenault, do you have any sense as to that?

Chenault: Sure. What I would say is that video visitation, and phone calls, and emails, are already occurring in facilities, not all facilities, but in many. The same security protocols and the same monitoring that occurs currently could easily be adapted to communication on tablets. As we’ve seen in the research, some of the most valuable things you can do while incarcerated to ensure successful re-entry are to have access to meaningful, high-quality programming, and to have access to communication with the outside world. We are 100% in agreement with [inaudible 00:22:18] that that’s valuable. I think using security protocols that are in existence, and adapting those to the tablet is not a huge leap. Some of these facilities are already utilizing these forms of communication, and tablets would allow greater access to that.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: When I was incarcerated, we only had phone calls, but, number one, you had to get an approved phone call list, you had to get approved people. They had to be approved for you to be able to call that certain number. You didn’t just have an opportunity to pick up the phone and call numbers randomly, that’s number one. Number two, you had someone who monitored most of the calls, all of the calls, going in and out of the prison, at any given time. When someone in the administrative felt that the conversation was suspect, or wasn’t going according to the policy of the prison, and there was some type of [thread 00:23:15], or whatever the case may be, they shut it down, they shut you down. Your phone call privileges could be taken, they could be even monitored even more, scrutinized. Those type of security process can be applied to the tablets easy, and I think it would probably be easier because you got a guy sitting there watching, and he can gauge whether or not this conversation is going the way it’s supposed to, and there’s any type of problem, so I don’t see that being a problem. I don’t really see that as being a problem.

Leonard: Both of you alluded to Randy’s lack of technology-savvy when he was in prison, and Randy learned about all of this a little bit in prison, but mostly when he came out. The average inmate is not technologically-savvy. The average inmate has never picked up a tablet in their lives. The average inmate may know about Facebook, may know about the computer, but the tablet technology would be foreign to them. How comfortable are they going to be with this tablet, Randy, and how amenable are they going to be to pick up quickly on this new technology?

Randy: The first thing inmates have a lot of is time, and they’re always looking for something to occupy their time. The tablet will give them an opportunity to fill the void of time, that’s number one. That’s why it’s important to have the necessary resources and tools on the tablets, so when they’re trying to just pass time, that they’re not just passing time like they would do in a day room just watching TV, frivolously doing nothing. You have a huge opportunity to provide them with the necessary tools, and programs, and resources, that as they’re trying to kill time, that they’re learning at the same time. That’s most important right there.

Leonard: Chenault, how many correctional facilities is Edovo involved in now?

Randy: Yeah, we’re operating all across the country, and we have over … We’re launching a couple in the next month. We have around a thousand tablets in the market right now, and we’re working on increasing that number. Just to piggyback off of what Randy said, when we come into a facility, we train people, we train the correction officers, we train the administrators, we also interact with the incarcerated users to make sure that they’re comfortable. This really is something that we put a lot of time and thought into, and it’s a user-friendly interface. As Randy said, this is a two-in-one benefit. You’re both getting access to educational programming, and you’re learning how to interact positively with technology at the same time.

Leonard: Do either one of you envision the day that I spoke about at the beginning of the program, where you have a person at a central location providing GED instruction to literally tens of thousands of inmates at the same time? It’s exactly what colleges are doing now, in terms of long-distance learning and virtual learning. It’s really no different from what many colleges are doing now. Many colleges are doing it live. When I taught for the University of Maryland, and when I taught an online course, it wasn’t live, but a lot of colleges are going to the live format, which I really welcome. Any vision of doing a live format for prison inmates throughout the country?

Chenault: I think that’s a great idea. We’re already utilizing open-educational resources, like you spoke about. I definitely envision the day when we [see 00:27:01] tablets in a number of facilities that are reaching many of those who are incarcerated. Something to add there is that … You asked Randy about headphones, and if this is a good learning environment. What we see is, we come in to a facility, and officers and administrators are skeptical of the value of a tablet at times, but within three to five minutes, the facility is quiet, and there’s real engagement going on. You see decreased instances of violence, and officers and administrators really bought into this, because it’s win/win. I’m really optimistic, and I’m hopeful also that in programs that already have teachers and educational programming, that we can be a supplement to that learning, as homework, or as documentaries, or as extra [inaudible 00:27:55] or real-time videos. That’s something that we see, as well, so absolutely.

Leonard: I’ve been in and out of prisons hundreds of times, Randy, and they’re noisy, they’re raucous. It’s really a chaotic experience. The vision that I have is walking into a prison and seeing eight hundred inmates walking around with tablets and earphones, and it’s quiet, and they get a wide array of educational programming that will keep them content and satisfied throughout the course of the day. Is that your vision?

Randy: That’s my vision, and we’re heading in that direction. It might take a while to get everybody [staying 00:28:33] on-board and seeing that vision, but that’s where we’re headed. Re-entry, it’s a big issue that we have to conquer, and that’s pretty much bringing technology into the [fore 00:28:46] will help that. I just want to say that I envision a day that one day my programs and what I’m doing, and maybe even me, will be like you said, beamed into prisons all across the country, and I’m giving that course, I’m giving those instructions to audience. I think we’re a little far from that, but we’re heading that direction. It just makes sense. It just makes sense, because when it comes to financially, having the ability to do that, it’s going to be more cost-effective to use technology to give people a better opportunity than the old traditional ways. You can pay someone $30, $40 thousand dollars a year to [crosstalk 00:29:27] …

Leonard: Got to wrap-up quickly, Randy. Go ahead.

Randy: Yeah, I see us going in that direction. Technology is here to stay, and it’s making its way into the prisons. It’s just going to be more beneficial as we go forward.

Leonard: Our guests today, Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo … That is Randy Kearce is also by our microphones. Once again, re-entry consultant, … Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.


Parole in America

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen today’s show is Parole in America and today’s guest is Beth Schwartzapfel. She is a staff writer for the Marshall product Beth welcome to DC Public Safety.

Beth: Thanks for having me.

Leonard: The Marshall project give me a quick overview.

Beth: We’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers the criminal justice system. We’re very much like a traditional newspaper magazine where all of us come from a world of newspapers and magazines but we don’t rely on advertisers we just rely on foundations and readers to support us.

Leonard: To my listeners I go to the Marshall Project every single day. They give us a nation of news throughout the United States and throughout the world, it’s extraordinary interesting again You wrote an article Life Without Parole and I’ve read it several times give me a quick summation.

Beth: Basically we took a look at the system of parole boards across the 50 states in our country and what we found was we’re in this area where there seems to be this political consensus from both sides of the aisle perhaps there is a temporary pause in that consensus as the Republican Presidential candidates battle it out. In any case, until the primary season heated up there seems to have been a political consensus from both sides of the aisle and from all walks of life in this country. That our criminal justice system has gotten out of control. There’s too many people in prison, that when they go they go for too long. That there’s this net that ensnares too many people for way too long for low-level crimes. There’s even been some talk that even for more serious crimes people are there for too long, there’s not enough rehabilitation and they’re not getting out with enough tools to succeed in the outside world.

As we’ve sort of began to examine each step in the process we are having this national conversation about policing, we seem to be having a national conversation about sentencing. There is this giant part of the Criminal Justice System that nobody had really taken a look or accounted for and that’s parole boards. Because in so many cases in this country how long a person serves in prison is actually not decided by a judge or a jury but actually by a parole board.

Leonard: For the initiated, give me a definition of parole and why it’s different from maxing out which we know is mandatory release and probation. What is parole?

Beth: In many states when someone is given a sentence for a crime or in some states it varies what type of crime whether they’re given this type of sentence but it’s called an indeterminate sentence. That means they might be sentenced to five to ten years, or 25 years to life. What that means is they could be released at any time in that window. In a five to ten years sentence they could be released at 5 years, 6 years, 7 years, 8 year, 9 years, 10 years. The decision about when in that window they get released is made by a parole board.

Leonard: Now let me see if I can summarize this, my impression is this, is that during the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s parole was used a lot and the whole concept was isn’t it better to have this person prepared. Ordinarily the person in the prison system goes through GED courses, vocational courses, substance abuse courses if they are available. They behave themselves while in prison and the parole board rewarded them with an early out in lopping in some cases a significant number of years off of their sentence and releasing them under parole supervision. That at one time was the mainstream method of getting out of prison in the United States and that has shrunk considerably, do I have that right?

Beth: That’s precisely correct. The one thing I will say is at that time it wasn’t even really considered early release because when a judge would sentence somebody that judge would sort of in the back of their mind know that it was in all likelihood that the person would be released at some early point in their sentence if they could prove that they were rehabilitated because that’s just kind of how the system works. Early release is often used interchangeably with parole but I would say that since parole is built into the sentence anyway it is not necessarily early.

Leonard: Good point. But you agree with me that it’s declined and declined dramatically throughout the years and now we are re-examining the use of parole now.

Beth: Considerably. In the 1970s somewhere in the neighborhood of three quarters of all American prisoners were released by parole boards. The number now is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 quarter.

Leonard: What happened?

Beth: A number of things happened, the short answer is the 1990s happened, the tough on crime era. During the tough on crime era there seemed to be this political move towards parole being seen as soft on crime. Parole being seen as we just talked about as early release. Governors who were looking for a way of posturing that they were not soft on crime, would move to abolish parole, not just governors of course legislators too. During this time period parole was abolished in more than a dozen states. In other states that maintain their parole board’s, parole became increasingly hard to get. Part of the reason for that is parole board members are by and large political appointees. In 44 States they are appointed entirely by governors and then almost all of the remaining States they are appointed at least in part by governors.

In many of those states they’re also confirmed by legislators. The parole board members were and are explicitly sensitive to political wins let’s say. During this era when the public was calling for more cops, more prisons, more jails, locking more people up, the parole board was very sensitive to that. So here if somebody came before that would have been a shoo-in for parole, somebody who had really cleaned up their act and did a really good job in prison the parole board would say no way I’m letting out a murderer because this is going to be in the paper tomorrow and the Governor might boot me off the parole board.

Leonard: In the state of Maryland about 20 years ago where I was Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Safety and Correctional Services. Some of my agencies were a piece of cake like the law enforcement agencies, the correctional agencies were a bit tougher but I also represented the parole board in the state of Maryland. I spoke to the various chairs of the parole board, the parole commission throughout my years there. We were all startled buy all the headlines throughout the country about the parole board getting in trouble because this person went out and committed another violent crime. The fear and the acknowledgement of the political liability of releasing folks with history of violence became real. My guess is that if we experienced that in the state of Maryland that experience transcended the state and one throughout the country.

Beth: Certainly and continues to this day. I heard from an inmate in Ohio who went to a little in-service training that the parole board put on for inmates who are eligible for parole to sort of help them to understand what to expect. A large part of the training was this news clip they all had to watch about this guy who got parole and went out and killed somebody. The parole board members as part of this presentation talked about what a very complicated position they are in politically speaking. How they are public servants accountable to the public and the public doesn’t want to see people like them released. Certainly this is a reality every where you go.

That said when you talk to experts who study the issue they all say look you’re dealing with human behavior it’s impossible to expect a parole board to never make a mistake. It’s even incorrect a lot of the time to call them mistakes. Sometimes the parole board does overlook some major red flags or doesn’t have processes in place to get paper or some kind of paperwork that would have indicated the presence of a red flag. More often than not the person really does seem in the board’s best estimation to be rehabilitated.

Nobody has a crystal ball and every parole board member that I spoke with told me this. It’s just impossible to think that they’re never going to release somebody who goes on to commit a crime. It’s just human nature. When a criminologist at Temple University sort of did this post-mortem of the parole board there after one of these incidence, he looked at it and he said the board was just doing their job, they didn’t do anything wrong and it’s unreasonable to say that we should no longer parole people because occasionally somebody goes out and commits another crime. That’s just going to be if you’re going to have parole then that’s just inevitably unfortunately, going to happen from time to time.

Leonard: We’ve been in agreement throughout the program let me try something else. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the criminal justice system. My counterpart’s spokespeople throughout the country over the course of last 10, 20 years. This is something that I think is somewhat accurate that every Governor has spoken to every Secretary of Public Safety, every Director of Corrections in every state throughout the country saying we are spending way too much money on corrections. I need money for roads, I need money for universities, I need money for education. I need money for all sorts of things and all I see from the corrections budget is that it goes up and up and up. Somehow some way you’ve got to figure out a way of operating and decreasing your budget what can you do. Part of that decreasing of that budget, the decreasing of the prison population would be a reliance upon the parole board to release more people, am I right?

Beth: Certainly. I think there has been instances in recent years of positive ways to implement that kind of strategy and not as positive ways to implement that strategy. For instance, the parole board chair in Nebraska testified to the legislature there that she felt pressure to release inmates that she didn’t feel comfortable releasing. Because the Department of Corrections was leaning so hard on the board to release as many people as possible. These of course were back room hints dropped and meetings where there was subtle or not-so-subtle pressure applied. An alternative way that I’ve seen an approach like that that is in Texas where there was very public hearings where the board through help with some kind of committee adopted a set of target release rates where it was clearly laid out for them that inmates with a certain risk score who had done certain crimes the board should expect to parole X percentages of those people.

When the system is working correctly Texas actually releases a report at the end of each year to show how well they’re meeting these expected benchmarks. Are they actually paroling say, I’m making this number up, but 75% of drug offenders. Are they actually paroling say 25% of violent offenders. Again, I’m making those numbers up but the point is there was this transparent process where the expectations were laid out for the board of how many people in the different categories they were expected to parole each year. Now there are a lots of complaints about how untransparent the Texas system is so I don’t mean to say that they’re doing an awesome job as far as transparency is concerned. What I am saying is that there have been states that have tried to use the parole board positively as a way easing the burden on the number of people that are incarcerated and the millions of dollars that the state is spending on that.

Leonard: Beth I think we’ve nicely set up where the state-of-the-art is now in terms of the parole in terms of the United States. Then I want to get on to a series of questions about the problems in terms of implementing parole. If we have States that are saying to their Secretaries of Public Safety, to their Directors of Corrections you need to decrease the budget, we can no longer pump endless amounts of money into corrections. If we agree to that and we agree that parole is one method amongst many that people are advocating that we use to decrease the pressure on prison systems and to release other people who are deemed not to be a significant risk to public safety then why isn’t it happening, why isn’t it occurring?

Beth: My reporting seems to indicate that it’s largely because of politics. Because the system is set up the way it is, because so many board members are appointed by Governors and confirmed by legislators they are ultimately beholden in some way to public sentiment. Look the average person on the street does not want to see a murderer released from prison. That’s just a sort of knee jerk totally natural reaction of the public. It does not square with the data right of all categories of inmates, murders are actually the very least likely to re-offend probably followed by sex offenders who are also extremely, extremely unlikely to offend. Yet those two categories of offenders are the most despised by the public.

If you have a body that’s responsive to public misinformation, then they’re going to act on that and they’re going to say look it looks to me like you committed this crime in the heat of the moment when you were 20 you’re now 45 you have grandchildren. You have a home to go home to, you have a GED, you have a journeyman’s certificate in plumbing or whatever it is. Get out of here you’re costing us a lot of money and you’re going to cost us even more money as you age. That is sort of the rational evidence-based move for a parole board to take. When you fear that your job is on the line if you make a decision that would be unpopular on the pages the next day then that’s not how you’re going to make decisions.

I did see a number of states that were trying to get away from this model, there are a handful of states where parole board members are civil servants for instance. Where they’re sort of insulated from the political process. There are a couple of states, Hawaii comes to mind where there is a nomination process where it is separate and I think the governor does the ultimate appointing but the names that are floated up to the governor are chosen by this very interesting panel that’s comprised of people from a real mix of backgrounds. Somebody from the state Social Worker Association, somebody from the state’s DA Association. The people who end up in the pool for the governor to choose from have been extremely well bedded and have really deep backgrounds in the subject matter.

Another really interesting system I found was in I believe it was in South Dakota where the coming into prison all inmates have to make a plan for themselves. They sit down with a social worker, there is a system set up where by they layout a map, a road map for their time in prison. They set certain goals and the person works with them to make sure they are realistic goals, such as I will get my GED, or I will complete this anger management class or I will attend AAA every week or whatever that is. If you are found at the end of your incarceration to have been “substantially” compliant with this plan that you made and again the rules of what substantially compliant are clearly laid out. Then you never go to the parole board you just get paroled. If you are not substantially compliant then you go before the parole board and if there are good reasons you weren’t compliant then you can make your case to the board. If you were substantially compliant then there is no deliberation, there is no politics you just get out.

Leonard: Our guest today is Beth Schwartzapfel she is a staff writer with The Marshall Project Beth you wrote this article Life Without Parole it’s an extraordinarily interesting article and I’ll put it in the show notes for DC Public Safety so others can get to it. You and I have been having a running e-mail conversation about the effect of the parole. I took a look at the data and it’s aged data I will admit from the Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics. It indicates that those people who successfully complete their time under supervision that people paroled do better than those people who are mandatorily released. Do you have thoughts on that?

Beth: I have not found any consensus in the community of academics who study this on whether people who are released on parole do better than those who max out. I’ve seen studies that say they do, I’ve seen studies that say they don’t. I’ve seen very passionate academics use data to make the case in both directions. I will say that it makes intuitive sense that people who are released on parole do better but not for the reason you would think. I think advocates for parole board say that people who are released on parole do better than those who max out because the parole board is very good at only releasing people who are bound to do well on the outside. To me it seems clear that the parole board’s are so very conservative that they’re really only going to release people who they know are not going to come back to bite them.

Therefore, of course the people who they release are going to do better. Because they’re just not taking chances. If they have somebody who is sort of a jump call, a jump ball somebody who looks like they might do well but they might not, the way the system is set up right now they’re probably more likely to keep them in then to let them out.

The numbers are going to be higher on parole, excuse me the recidivism numbers may turn out to then be lower among people who are released on parole then people who max out. I definitely heard skeptical people say is this really the measure we want to be using. What do we mean when we say recidivism does somebody say committed a sex crime did they commit another sex crime or do they commit, did they rob the corner store. That’s not to say one is better than the other of course but it is to ask what do we want from our parole boards and what do we want from our criminal justice system?

Leonard: Inst that a question across-the-board I do want to touch upon that for the rest of the program. It is a matter of perception if we have this sense that we’ve got to decrease pressure on prison systems. Some suggest that we over incarcerate it is true that we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. People are saying what can we do and there is a variety of discussions on a variety of issues talking about ways to reduce the reliance upon incarceration. Many at the front-end many at the back end. People are saying parole you should be doing a better job of releasing more people going back to the models during the 60s, 70s and 80s when most people got out on parole. People don’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the parole process and my guess is that because we’re so secretive about what is parole, how decisions are made, how it operates, what it does. I think people lack confidence in the paroling process and I wanted to get your opinion.

Beth: I think that’s 100% true. As the board chair in New Hampshire told me people can’t trust what they can’t see. The interesting thing is the clip that I was mentioning earlier, the news clip that the Ohio Parole Board shows to people to sort of demonstrate why they’re in such an uncomfortable position. What struck me when I watch that news clip is that the television reporter who did that segment was incredibly frustrated by not being able to get an answer from the board about why they released this guy. They weren’t even calling the board out for releasing him. They were calling the board out for not being able to explain why they released him. I really think and this is what emerged in the course of that Temple University study that I told you about earlier, that when the board can explain why they made the decision that they made when they have really clear guidelines they follow consistently and that they’re transparent about.

I think the people have a lot more empathy towards them and understanding for the reason that they make the decisions that they make. In our democratic society if people understand why the boards are doing what they’re doing and they don’t like it they can pressure their legislators or they can pressure their governor to sort of change the way the system works. If we don’t know what they’re doing, if they’re just hiding behind these sort of veils of secrecy then yeah people are going to be extremely frustrated.

Leonard: Here I go back to my Maryland experience in all states of our national … and we have Federal Privacy Acts but every state has a Privacy Act and in every state medical and psychological information are required prohibitions. I could lose my job and go to prison if I gave out information on an offender that dealt with medical and psychological information. Some states such as Maryland had a sociological provision which what is sociological. If you have all of these privacy laws and all of these restrictions on what you can give regarding a particular offender, how can the parole board’s be open and honest.

You can have a person with a raging substance abuse history, or raging cocaine history and maybe through the process he has gone through the prison system he’s no longer testing positive, he’s been through all of the courses so he seems to have his drug substance abuse problem under control. That may be a really decent reason as to why the parole board chose to parole him considering that there’s very strong evidence correlating the degree of substance abuse and criminal activity. There’s a good reason for moving this person along giving, this person an opportunity but you can’t talk about that.

Beth: I would say that’s never prevented our criminal justice system from transparency before. That kind of material is routinely introduced into evidence in criminal trials and all of the records for criminal trials are public records. I don’t see why the parole board needs to operate under different rules than any other players in our criminal justice system.

Leonard: Because a Judicial System operates under a different set of rules than the executive system. The executive branch of government which we all belong to make these required prohibitions.

Beth: Well what some people would say, what I heard from some people who are calling for the abolition of parole boards for instance the model penal code which is this very influential document written by legal scholars and is revised every number of years. The most recent revisions of the model penal code calls for ending the system of parole and instead implementing a second look system. The Colson Task Force also recommended a system like this a second look system that transfers the function of the parole board back to the Judiciary where after people have served a long portion of a long sentence, they can go before a judge who can evaluate whether circumstances have changed enough to warrant a changing of their sentence. It’s for precisely that reason that our judicial system has all these rules in place to protect and safeguard people’s constitutional rights. Since parole board’s don’t operate under those same safeguards they’re feeling, the feeling of these critics is those kind of decisions really belong in the courtroom.

Leonard: We are going to be doing to radio shows in the near future on the Colson Task Force called reforming Federal Corrections. We’re going to be touching upon all of that in the near future with people, with members of the task force. In the final analysis what we need is a way of mechanism for taking individuals who are of reasonable risks and moving them through the criminal justice system, assuming that they’ve done well on prison. Assuming they’ve taken the proper courses. Assuming that there has been victim input, assuming that they have bettered themselves as much as you possibly can considering the lack of services within a lot of prison systems. They become reasonable risks and society should expect those reasonable risks to take place as we did again, throughout the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80s. Am I right?

Beth: I know as a reporter I’m not here to make policy prescriptions but yes that’s what many people who are calling for the reform of parole board’s are calling for precisely that.

Leonard: The whole idea is as you said a set of specific criteria that if they meet that criteria the presumption would be the presumption to release. If a person went infraction free in the prison system and considering how crowded our prison systems are, that’s very important in terms of running safe and sane institutions. If a person had no infractions, went to his GED courses or completed them, got his plumbing certificate, completed substance abuse. Then the presumption at a certain point from a statutory point of view this is something and acted from a general assembly would be that unless there was a compelling reason that person probably would be released.

Beth: Correct, that is the system in South Dakota and what I will also say is that if you talk to wardens and correctional administrators they all say that a predictable parole policy is a really great behavior management tool. Because if people know and trust that if they follow the rules that they will be awarded parole accordingly. Then they’re much more likely to follow the rules and do what they’re supposed to do. Whereas in states where parole feels arbitrary, like some guys who follow the rules get it and other guys don’t for reasons nobody can’t quite discern. Then it no longer seems like a good incentive to do the right thing. It’s kind of a crap shoot if you do the right thing whether you’re going to get parole or not.

Leonard: Where do you see parole in the next 10 years along the lines of the model that we’ve been discussing?

Beth: That is a really good question. I’ve seen the one place that there seems to be some movement on changing their parole system is Virginia. Governor Terry McAuliffe called a some kind of commission to study whether the state should reinstate it’s parole board. Virginia was one of the states that abolished parole during the 90s. That commission is currently hearing testimony and studying and I honestly don’t know what they’re going to decide to do. Because there is a really big debate going on, if you can call a handful criminologist studying this tiny corner a big debate. But among those that study it there really is a debate of whether it makes sense to rely more heavily on parole as a way to control prison populations.

Assuming you can reform the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability and sort of systematized the way parole board’s do business. Then on the other side of the debate there’s people that just say there’s not enough constitutional protections, there’s just no way to not have the whole process be tangled up in politics. It’s better to just jettison it altogether and build a second mechanism into the judiciary. I really don’t know what direction it’s going to go in.

Leonard: Transparency becomes the key because the average citizen sees a transparent process and understands where they’re going with it, they’re going to be more prone to accept it.

Beth: I certainly think so and one thing I will say is there is this researcher in Canada his name is Ralph Ceron and he’s piloting this structured decision making model that really allows for a new and interesting level of transparency.

Leonard: Our Guest today has been Beth Schwartzapfel she’s a staff writer for The Marshall Project, Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticism and we want everyone to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Change in Juvenile Justice

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, this show titled today is “Change in Juvenile Justice,” and we have a national expert by our microphones. We have Jake Horowitz. Jake is the policy director for the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust. Before joining Pew, Jake worked for the National Institute of Justice, which is the principal research arm of the US Department of Justice. He was at the House of Representatives and the Eckerd Youth Alternatives organization. Jake, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Jake: Pleasure to be here with you.

Leonard: All right, juvenile justice. One of the things that I figured out, Jake, is that a lot of us who were in the adult system really don’t have a clear understanding of the juvenile justice system. Before getting on to that explanation, give me a sense as to what Pew is doing and what you’re doing to advance the calls of change in juvenile justice.

Jake: The Pew Charitable Trust is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that brings the best research to bear on today’s most challenging problems that’s applied in our Public Safety Performance Project where we assist states that want to take a fresh look at their sentencing and corrections system and choose data-driven, fiscally sound sentencing and corrections policies in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems that can protect safety, hold offenders accountable, and contain corrections costs.

Leonard: Pew has been at the forefront of change in the adult and juvenile criminal justice system. I mean that needs to be said upfront.

Jake: Well, we’ve had a good run of it right now. We’re about 10 years in to our Public Safety Performance Project. We started as a pretty modest initiative, looking to bring together policy makers from across the country who are working on these issues, bring new research to bear, and also provide direct technical assistance to state leaders who, as I’ve mentioned, want to take a fresh look at these issues. We also hit it at a key time. States were spending about $50 billion a year on adult prisons. They were getting returns that they didn’t like. Recidivism rates were stubbornly high. But crime was really low. Crime had been falling since the early to mid-’90s. It was a key moment, almost an inflection point in Americans’ consideration of sentencing and corrections issues, and that has certainly be motivated as much on the juvenile side as on the adult side of the ledger.

Leonard: I keep setting up questions and then deferring to other questions. Before getting on to the change in juvenile justice, which has been remarkable, there’s been, in my sense, a lot more change in juvenile justice than the adult system. In essence, give me a layman’s explanation as to what the juvenile justice system is because people are confused, even those of us in the adult system. We don’t quite understand that the juvenile justice system is there for the best interest of the child, not like in the adult system, accountability and punishment.

Jake: There’s a bunch of ways to break this down. You’re absolutely right that American criminal justice is a fractured system. You’ve got 50 state systems. You’ve got thousands of county systems with their own jails. You have district attorneys and judges and defense attorneys working at the local and county and state level. You’ve got a federal system. You have DC’s bifurcated and complex system that we were discussing earlier before the show.

You’re absolutely right. One other way to break down the system is between adults and juveniles. Every state sets its own age of jurisdiction that demarcates at what age people are processed either as a juvenile in the juvenile justice system or an adult in the adult system and under what conditions they can be transferred, so there’s actually fluidity between the systems. The reasons, as you pointed out, is that overall the motivation for a separate juvenile justice system in this country comes from the understanding that kids are less culpable. They’re cognitively less developed. They’re emotionally less developed. They’re much more a product of their environment than adults.

Because of all of that, these are all seen as partially mitigating circumstances in a sense, not legal sense, but in a moral and ethical and how the system chooses to respond to delinquent or criminal behavior. I wouldn’t say it’s so much that it’s not about accountability, but you’re absolutely right that many states actually have in statute statements that the decisions shall be in the best interest of the youth. The idea is that the first response to juvenile crime should not be one of punishment but asking the question: what can we do at this point to reduce recidivism, to maximize public safety and to hold juveniles accountable? Very few states or state policy makers would ever say this is not about accountability.

Leonard: Well, I probably mischose my words, but the point is is that if you have a system that is predicated to be in the best interest of the child, there’s going to be a different reaction than if you have the person at 15 and that person’s tied up in 3 or 4 burglaries. These reaction to that individual is going to be different in the juvenile justice system versus 3 or 4 burglaries done by a 25-year-old in the adult system.

Jake: I think that’s accurate. Another we see happening right now is some of that thinking, and let me just characterize that thinking, that the question we’re trying to answer is not how do we show we’re tough on crime or that we are holding people accountability? The question is what is the best use of our resources right now to maximize public safety. That thinking has always been on the juvenile side of the ledger, and now it’s actually starting to seep into the adult criminal justice system.

Leonard: That’s interesting because the fundamental change … that segues nicely into the next question. The juvenile justice system in essence … Here’s my laymanesque view of the juvenile justice system. 10, 15 years ago, it probably wasn’t hugely different from the adult system. You had institutions, not prisons, but you had institutions that were there, again, for the best interest of the child, but you still locked up a tremendous amount of people who were caught up in the juvenile justice system. They may have gotten treatment that you don’t get in the adult system, mental health or substance abuse, but in essence it was institutional-based and the bulk of individuals went into those institutions, filtered into juvenile justice’s form of parole and probation. That has dramatically changed, correct? What states are doing in terms of putting people into, I don’t want to call them prisons, institutions, the reliance upon facilities and placing juveniles into those facilities has lessened tremendously over the course of the last 15 years, correct?

Jake: You’re absolutely right. Let’s go back even a little further. In the approach to the mid-’90s let’s say, crime was on the upswing in this country.

Leonard: Yes.

Jake: There was massive growth in the number of facilities, the number of people in facilities and the overall incarceration, and on the juvenile side we refer to it as a commitment rate, and so those went upward quickly in that period of time. What’s happening since about the millennium is fascinating. Here’s where the 2 systems really diverge. On the both the adult and juvenile side of the ledgers, crime rates, violent crime rates have plummeted. If you look at the period 2001 to 2012, juvenile violent crime during that period fell 42%.

Leonard: Wow.

Jake: It’s massive.

Leonard: Yes.

Jake: In any other area of major policy in this country …

Leonard: Correct.

Jake: … that would be heralded as a almost unprecedented shift in public safety.

Leonard: That’s right. That’s right.

Jake: Here’s where things differ a little bit. At the same period of time, actually it’s a little different time frame because of the different data sources, but from 2001 to 2013, the juvenile commitment rate fell 53%.

Leonard: The juvenile commitment, juveniles going to institutions, we’re not calling them prisons, juveniles going to institutions decreased 53%.

Jake: That’s right.

Leonard: Where on the adult side it’s increased.

Jake: It’s essentially, yeah. The adult side’s a little more complex. It grew till about 2007, 2008, and then it started falling, but it fell much less than on the juvenile side despite the fact that crime fell almost in lock step.

Leonard: But the declines in the adult system have been minuscule.

Jake: They have been very modest, yeah.

Leonard: They’ve been very modest.

Jake: Yeah, we’re talking 1 or 2%.

Leonard: When you’re talking about a 53% reduction in juveniles being put into institutions versus the adult system where the declines have been very modest, there’s a huge difference.

Jake: Right. Let me just qualify this. I just said 1 or 2%. What it actually is that 1 or 2% per year reduction for the past 4 or 5 years in adult incarceration. That adds up to about a 10% reduction in the adult incarceration rate since 2007. It’s nothing to sneeze at, but it is not on the level of 53% we saw on the juvenile side. Here’s the way I think state policy makers in particular are framing this, because juvenile justice, even more so than the adult criminal justice system, is a state focus because there’s almost no federal presence on juvenile justice in this country in terms of the court adjudication and disposition of federal cases.

Here’s, I think, the takeaway as state policy makers look at that. What they’re saying is juvenile crime is clearly a cost. It has victims. It is bad for communities. It is harmful to families. We know that. They’re also saying juvenile commitment, the placement of kids, taking them from their families and putting them in residential facilities, whether or not those groups homes or industrial homes or boot camps or wilderness residential programs, is also a huge cost. This involves taxpayer cost. You’re separating kids from their families. What’s happened here is really fascinating. The thing that is really drawing state policy makers to it is saying we’ve achieved both a massive reduction in the cost associated with juvenile crime and a massive reduction in the costs associated with the commitment of juveniles to out-of-home residential facilities.

Leonard: And why?

Jake: Why did it happen?

Leonard: Why has that happened? Why have we been able to achieve that kind of reduction on the juvenile justice side where on the adult side it’s been a lot less than that? I mean in essence what we are saying is that we’re going to do, quote, unquote, something else with a 16-year-old. We’re going to do something else besides putting that person in some sort of institution. Where in the adult side, we basically haven’t made that decision as of yet or the reductions have been far more modest. Why did in happen in the juvenile justice system, and why hasn’t it happened in the adult system?

Jake: There’s 2 parts to this equation I think. Let me just preface all this by saying that you see different stories from state to state. It’s not necessarily 1 national story, but I’m going to characterize what we see when we look at the data across the nation. There’s 2 things that could be driving this reduction in the … let’s call it the out-of-home or incarceration population. The first is overall crime rates. If there are fewer kids, juveniles, committing crimes, it’s going to be fewer referrals to court, fewer referrals into the juvenile justice system from schools. You have fewer cases, fewer adjudications, fewer dispositions, etc. There’s a funnel that you can see almost narrowing at its widest point. On the juvenile side, that has to be part of the equation. Part of the reason that juvenile commitment has declined is because there are fewer juvenile crimes per capita.

Leonard: But we just talked about there are fewer adult crimes.

Jake: That’s right. That’s only a partial … so essentially …

Leonard: It’s happening concurrently.

Jake: That’s right. I’m trying to explain why the juvenile committed population has gone down. Part of it is the crime reduction. The other part are the policy decisions. When you look into some of these states, what you’ll see is a decrease in admissions to juvenile facilities but an increase in length of stay.

Leonard: Ah.

Jake: So policy plays a role and sometimes that policy role can actually swamp the reduction in crime. What we see in the juvenile side is definitely reduced commitments from reduced crime, some policy choices [clearly 00:11:44]. A bunch of states have been doing reforms for more than a decade and so that also has to have an effect. But we also see some policy choices that run counter to that that actually maybe mean the population didn’t decline as fast as it otherwise would have but for policy decisions made by leaders of states. Now the question is, I think a great question, why hasn’t the adult system done this? I think a couple reasons. One is that the juvenile system by its nature is time limited. You can only be a juvenile for so long and every state sets that in statute. As crime comes down, the juvenile system, in its essence, clears very quickly because you can only be in a juvenile facility for a limited number of years.

Leonard: Good point.

Jake: Whereas on the adult side, we have some sentences. Now there’s a lot of variation from state to state and across crime type, but it’s not uncommon to come across cases of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25-year sentences in the states. There nothing like that on the juvenile side. Once the crime rate starts going down, you don’t have the stacking effect of all those long sentences which we do see on the adult side of the ledger.

Leonard: Again, there’s a 53% reduction in the use of some sort of out-of-home placement as you put it. Other people would say institutionalization; other people would say prison. There’s a dramatic reduction that hasn’t happened in the adult system. Pew is looking at this from the adult system and the juvenile justice system. Between you and Adam Gelb, who has been before these microphones before, Pew has been working on this, systematically working with states, working with local jurisdictions to analyze the criminal justice systems, and to come up with alternatives and to help them implement those alternatives. I know you and Adam Gelb and the staff at Pew have sat down and say, “Gee, how come we’re able to accomplish such big changes on the juvenile justice side and modest changes on the adult side?”

Jake: Part of it I allude to. I think part of it is a length of stay discussion, but really the big umbrella over this is policy decisions.

Leonard: That’s what I thought.

Jake: It’s not a question for how did the juvenile justice system do it? On some level it’s a natural outcome of reducing crime on the juvenile side. The question is why hasn’t the adult system done it? We can certainly dive into what are the policy decisions that are driving this, but we know that there are 2 determinants of an adult prison population. It’s how many people come in the front door and how long do they stay, and both of those are determined by policy.

That policy can be statute: what’s written in the laws. It can be policy on the sense of administrative policy of a department of corrections of awarding earned time or of a parole board in deciding who to release and when. It can be a policy about probation and parole and who gets revoked for how long under what conditions. Then there’s practice of course, which is you may have great policies on the books but are people actually implementing them the way they were meant to be implemented? I think in all those cases we can point to areas on the adult criminal justice system where the intent to use incarceration in the most economical way, focus on the most chronic violent offenders, and find more cost effective approaches for the lower level offenders that better reduce recidivism have not been pursued.

Leonard: Is it fair to say that throughout the country and we’re talking about 50 states and 7 territories … is there a sense through osmosis, through some sort of unwritten contract that everybody seems or most people seemed to be saying let’s take risks on the juvenile justice side that we may not want to take on the adult side? Let’s be a bit more amiable to fundamental, systemic change on the juvenile justice side.

Jake: Going back to the reasons for why we have a separate juvenile justice system to begin with in this country, I think there’s certainly something to that. People view juveniles differently than they view adults. I think I wouldn’t go so far as to say people are more prone to second chances or leniency on the juvenile side. I think what’s motivating at the state level right now is a question of how do we get the best return on our investment in terms of public safety, in terms of recidivism?

Leonard: That’s been Pew’s motto from the very beginning: how to get the best returns on investment?

Jake: I think it’s our motto because it reflects the discussion going on at the state level.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. Jake Horowitz is the policy director for the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust. Pew has just had an amazing history in terms of involvement in the criminal justice system. As far as I’m concerned one of the leading entities. Yes, there are a lot of them out there, but I think Pew has taken the lead over all of us who are looking at change within the criminal justice system. I didn’t write this down before the program, Jake, www.pew. …


Leonard: Again, an amazing amount of data there, original research coming out of Pew taking about what’s happening both on the juvenile justice side and on the adult side. There has been less of emphasis on separation/incarceration/institutionalization on the juvenile justice side. What do you think we’ve gotten as a result of that? Are we safer? What is the state of the art in terms of juvenile justice? We’ve implemented lots of programs concurrently to try to focus on juvenile justice. Programs that the juvenile justice system has had for decades that we don’t have in the adult system interestingly enough. I find the amount of money spent on juveniles to be 5 times that in some cases than what we spend on the adult system. So we’ve done all this and focused on programs and use of alternative and that meant what? What has come from all that?

Jake: Let’s see. There’s a bunch of ways we could cut this question up. I think one way of looking at is state policy makers are looking to make investments. They make investments through policy choices and through appropriations because that determines where the youth go and what services and supervision and sanctions they receive. One of the first things that I think this reflects about states is that they’ve actually really absorbed some of the research on this front. Part of the question is people might ask, “Wait, you’re saying the commitment rate went down and crime went down. How are those 2 things reconcilable?” What the research says here is actually really quite powerful, which is that by and large lengthy out-of-home placements and residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than noncustodial sanctions. This catches people by surprise. They think, “Wait, of course a kid is going to be deterred by an out-of-home sanction. Of course it’s going to reduce their risk of recidivism.” This is why it pays to invest in research.

There’s a study called “Pathways to Desistance.” That study is the largest longitudinal study of serious adolescent offending ever. It follows more than 1,000 kids for more than 7 years in Maricopa County, which is Phoenix, and Philadelphia County, which is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. What they found after controlling for a host of variables, in fact more than 5 dozen variables, is that putting a kid in a residential facility does not reduce the likelihood they recidivate. It further found that the length of stay doesn’t matter. Holding a kid 6 months versus 9 months versus 12 months has no affect on future recidivism. What that shows you is that we can make modifications in our use of out-of-home residential placement without affecting recidivism and public safety. It also really points to the issue of opportunity costs. We haven’t touched on this yet. Another difference between the adult system and the juvenile system is that the adult system cost about $25,000 to $30,000 per person per year for incarceration. The juvenile system, it’s more like $80,000. In several states it’s $150,000 to $200,000 per youth per year.

Leonard: Big difference because the focus there is on programmatic activity.

Jake: Programmatic and staffing levels are low so it’s a higher ratio of … Sorry, I don’t mean staffing level are low. The ratio of youth to staff is lower, and there are a bunch of other costs. The facilities tend to be smaller, a bunch of more specific reasons. The point is there’s huge opportunity costs with residential placement, so the more money we’re spending on these facilities, that’s less money we’re spending for the things you were alluding to earlier which are the things that actually reduce recidivism.

You can turn to resources like the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative or the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and take a look at their rating of programs based on does it reduce recidivism and what’s the benefit to cost to ratio on these programs? You can point to programs from functional family therapy to multi-systemic therapy, a lot of cognitive behavioral type interventions and say, “These work, they’re cost beneficial, they reduce recidivism, and we shouldn’t be putting our money in some of the programs that don’t work.”

Leonard: Summarize that for me. I understand that Scared Straight programs do not work. I understand that boot camp programs do not work. But again, you’re saying for the noncriminal justice people out there, cognitive behavioral therapy. Can you summarize it in a laymanesque way as to what does work on the juvenile justice side?

Jake: I mean eventually it begins with focus your resources where they’ll matter so pay attention to risk and needs. What this means is we need to understand whether or not a juvenile before us presents a high risk of recidivism or a low risk, and we need to focus our resources on the high risk.

Leonard: Assess the risk, and once you figure out the person is high risk or medium risk, what do you do with that person that’s effective?

Jake: What basically cognitive behavioral therapy tends to focus on is asking the youth in what conditions are they triggered to do the kind of delinquent or criminal behaviors that have gotten them in trouble in the first place.

Leonard: Decision-making?

Jake: Decision-making, perception of risk, overall social and emotional development, understanding the different peer groups that they get in trouble with and don’t get in trouble with.

Leonard: Is that the heart and [hull 00:21:21] of it? Or is there a drug treatment component? Is there a mental health component?

Jake: Drug treatment, mental health, employment, education are a big part of all this, family strength and things like that. But the highest risk factors are usually antisocial thinking, antisocial behaviors. It’s not necessarily whether or not the kid’s in school. Oftentimes when that kid’s in school is triggered by whether or not they have antisocial or negative peer groups, and that’s what leads to that, so you want to address some of the underlying reasons that they’re getting in trouble.

Leonard: We’ve able to show that if you don’t have to necessarily rely upon incarceration, removal, whatever we’re going to call it and if you focus on programs, you can lower the rate of recidivism.

Jake: That’s right. Another …

Leonard: By how much?

Jake: You take a look at these programs and you tend to see recidivism reductions on the order of 10 to 30%.

Leonard: So it’s not much different from the adult system where it’s basically 10 to 20%.

Jake: Not massively different. The one big difference is that a lot of youth desist on their own. If you’ve ever looking at these age crime curves that show how many arrests does a typical person pick up every year of their life? That peaks at around 18 or 19 years old. A lot of people, if you don’t do anything with them, even if they’re getting in some trouble as a 16 or 17-year-old, will desist on their own. You don’t have need an intervention.

Leonard: I’m told …

Jake: That’s different from the 30 or 40 year olds.

Leonard: I wasn’t going to go here, but I’m told years ago that the average person who comes into contact with the criminal justice system does not remain in the criminal justice system, that we never hear from then again. In other words 14 year olds, 15 year olds can do something incredibly stupid or illegal and harmful, but the odds are they may not come into contact or will not come into contact with the criminal justice system ever again. Is that true?

Jake: Yeah, it’s absolutely the case. I think we see the folks who are released from prison and it’s their first time going to prison have a much lower recidivism rate than the people who’ve been there before. Ditto on the juvenile justice system. There’s always a first interaction for someone who’s in the system. Oftentimes those folks have much lower risk of recidivating.

Leonard: The fundamental issue here is sort of similar to the adult system, be careful as to how much you intervene because you may end up doing more harm than good.

Jake: I’m so glad you raised that. The same study that I mentioned earlier, “Pathways to Desistance,” found that for the lowest risk youth who are removed from their homes and put in these facilities, the intervention, the placement in an institution actually increased their risk of recidivism. Same from a study of the RECLAIM Initiative in Ohio that found that for low and moderate risk youth who are placed out of home actually increased the risk of recidivism versus a noncustodial sanction. One of the most humbling findings from a lot of this research is that we should be really careful about intervening in the lives of youth lest we do harm.

Leonard: There’s no national stats on recidivism as there is in the adult system. There are no national statistics on the juvenile justice side as to how often they recidivate, how often they come back to criminal justice system.

Jake: That’s right. The data sets on the juvenile side tend to be more fractured, and so we don’t have a national figure. Working at the state level, we’ve seen figures anywhere from 50 to 75% of youth are either readjudicated or reincarcerated within 3 years at least.

Leonard: That’s a very high number.

Jake: Really a high number. It’s stubbornly high. Folks are asking, “Wait, we’re spending $100,000 to $200,000 per kid per year and we’re getting a 50 to 75% recidivism rate. There’s got to be a better alternative.”

Leonard: But you go into the opposite side of that argument and people are saying, “Well, if you’re spending that much money …” Again, it’s not like I know a lot about the juvenile justice system, but I know that the juvenile justice spends far more on their system than we do on the adult side. I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. If we’re getting that sort of return, then isn’t there an inevitable frustration and a questioning as to the programmatic initiatives? If we’re spending that amount of money and our recidivism rate is that high, somewhat comparable to the stats on the adult side, people are going to sit there and go, “Well, why spend that much money?”

Jake: Right. The way to find dollars if you want to spend them in a different way is through reducing the use of out-of-home placement. Again you could spend $80,000 per bed per year, or you could move that into a continuum of supervision services and sanctions at the community level which research shows will reduce recidivism. One of the tricks here and one of the questions is if we know the research says to do this, why aren’t we more naturally moving in that direction? There’s plenty of evidence that we have moved in that direction. Those were the national trends we began with. There’s inefficiencies baked into the system in the way that jurisdictions are aligned and funded, and you see this on the adult side, but juveniles are adjudicated and disposed of at the county level generally through county level judges and prosecution and defense but the state pays the tab for …

Leonard: The decision [crosstalk 00:26:14].

Jake: … the equivalent of juvenile incarceration. There’s a perversity in this. It’s not just that from the local or county perspective that out-of-home placement is subsidized by the state. It’s more that if I want to keep a kid locally, if I want to provide true supervision, real services in my community particularly if I’m a rural area or a non-urban area of the state, the money doesn’t follow the kid. “I don’t think this kid belongs in one of those facilities, but I’d like to keep them locally,” but there’s nothing locally. If I keep him locally, no money’s going to follow. That’s a bad incentive. In fact when you talk to the stakeholders in the system, whether or not they’d be judges or prosecuting attorneys, 1 thing you hear consistently is, “I’m not sure this kid needed to be removed from home and put in a facility, but there was not a viable alternative where I live.” What they’re saying is it’s either slap on the wrist, nothing deferred adjudication or deferred prosecution, or I send them to a state facility. There’s nothing in between.

Leonard: I want to begin to close out the program because we’re running out of time. Pew, the Public Safety Performance Project, Adam Gelb at the adult level, you at the juvenile justice level, in essence you’re going in, working with states, working with counties, analyzing data, it’s a data driven process, talking to stakeholders, figuring out what that jurisdiction wants to do and help them implement those things. Certainly Pew has been a dramatic part of the sense of doing something else with people on the adult side and juvenile justice side in terms of something else besides incarceration. That’s the bottom line.

Jake: Yeah. States want this. This is the most important part. I mean there’s a view that this is a advocate-driven initiative or that reform in general is something … There’s certainly a case … I mean that has happened. There are folks who want this, who are pushing for elected officials to move in this direction. I think what’s just as remarkable and even more remarkable is that state leaders and federal leaders we now see up on Capitol Hill and in the administration want to move these reforms forward.

What see happening at the state level, to play out an example here, is that a governor, a chief justice, a Speaker or Senate president of the state legislature will say, “I’m looking for an issue that I believe in. Here’s an issue many of my constituents are bringing to me. I may have come out of the system myself” in the sense that many of these elected officials previously worked in the criminal justice system as prosecutors or as judges, volunteered their own time, mentored a youth. The governor of Georgia is a former judge and a family of folks have come out of the criminal justice system working professionally …

Leonard: But they’re all asking themselves, “Why are we spending all this money and not getting the results? We need to get better results.” That’s where they bring in Pew and allied organizations.

Jake: They’re asking that question and they’re forming a bipartisan inter-branch work group to tackle these issues. They ask for our assistance to help run the numbers and analyze the system. They bring in leaders from other states and researchers to tell them about what works and what innovative programs are available. Then they forge consensus. This is the impressive part. All these folks are on the table representing different stakeholder groups saying, “We can agree on a package of reforms that we prefer over the status quo, and we’re going to advocate for it in legislation, court rule and agency policy.” The last thing I’d say here, too, is the public support. We’ve done public opinion polling on this, and across the board, [Rs, Ds 00:29:28], independents, crime victims, law enforcement families say it’s not how long a kid spends out of home or even if there’s sent out of home, it’s whether or not we’re able to reduce recidivism.

Leonard: It’s been a fascinating conversation. 30 minutes goes by way too fast. Jake Horowitz is the policy director for the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.


Successful Reentry Through Employment-Transcript

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Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. Today’s show focuses on successful reentry through employment. Criminologists recognize that employment is crucial to successful reentry.

CSOSA understands that we have to do everything in our power to prompt employers to hire those we supervise. If you have questions or suggestions about CSOSA as a source for hiring, please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. We will post this number throughout the program.

To discuss this important issue, joining us today is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Deborah Carroll.

Director Carroll, welcome to Public Safety.

Thank you for having me.

First, I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Department of Employment Services and the implications it has for those that we supervise, folks who are coming back from prison or who are under community supervision.

So my vision actually is to really build a system. Right now, the programs within the District of Columbia work within our silos and we do that fairly well, but in order for us to really an effective work force system we have to work closer together. That means reducing some of the duplication that happens across some of the agencies, making certain that businesses are aware of the services and the talent that we have in the District and communicating that better to the public. Then third, of course, making sure that folks have access to our services and systems. So what the means for CSOSA and the clients that you serve as well other returning citizens in the District is that being more accessible is going to be key to any success and ensuring that we have quality programs and services that can serve that.

One of the programs that we really found to be extremely helpful for our folks under supervision is Project Empowerment, but I know you have several other programs that you’re about to put in place that you’d like to share with our audience. I’d certainly like to hear more about them and the implications for the opportunities for those that we serve.

I’ll start with Project Empowerment. Project Empowerment is a program that’s been in place since 2002. The District has served more than 10,000 returning citizens and other hard-to-hire residents in the District. Typically these are individuals that have historically cycled on and off jobs and had difficulty retaining their jobs or because of their characteristics have had difficulty accessing employment.

What’s really important about this program is there’s a three week intensive that happens prior to putting anyone on a worksite. That three week intensive really focuses in on what those barriers are to the person being successful in employment. It helps them to deal with workplace related stress and how to handle that better. It focuses in on career pathways and understanding what their career goals are and really helps them to establish a roadmap to success.

It’s then followed by up to six months of work-related subsidized employment. We have a number of businesses that support returning citizens and others in the workplace. During that time period, that resident has an opportunity to demonstrate their skills while earning a wage at the same time.

What we have found historically is that programs like subsidized employment or programs that provide some kind of stipend tend to have better results in terms of longevity and completion rates in the program. I think what’s really critically important is that for residents that have trouble retaining jobs having a period of steady work experience that they can put on their resume is critically important and at the same time learning a skill in the work place.

So we’ve taken the successes of Project Empowerment and then tried to replicate certain other programs maybe from other populations or maybe even the same population but different variations of the same theme. My history is, of course, working with families and in analyzing the successes and the challenges around individuals that have children in particular is the problem with having steady work histories. When a business is trying to make a decision about a candidate, if they see someone with sporadic employment then a person that has good employment, obviously they’re going to pick the person that has a steady employment.

So during the time that I was working in that space, we really realized that  work experience is really critical. Also earning and learning at the same time is also critical because we found through our data analysis that residents sometimes will stop a program, whether it be educational program or other type of training program, because they need to support their families or they need to support their household.

We don’t want residents to have to be put in a decision of making a choice between getting their GED or a credential that can propel them to the middle class to having to find employment. So Project Empowerment and programs like that are the direction that we’re heading in.

One of the new programs that we’re working on is the Career Connections program. That program, in particular, is critically important because it’s part of our Safer Stronger D.C. initiative with the mayor. We’re doing that in particular. We’re targeting justice-involved youth aged 20 to 24 and specifically in the priority police service areas in the District. That’s going to be our priority group that we’re going to be focused on.

Through this investment, about $4.5 million was invested by the city, we are going to be working very closely with CSOSA as well as other organizations that serve justice-involved youth to really both identify youth and provide them with a suite of professional development services including programs similar to what Project Empowerment offers along with a period of work experience. Within that program, we will be providing incentives for those residents to also pursue their education. So we’re combining, again, some of the good things we know coming out of the Project Empowerment program and then marrying it up with a younger population that oftentimes needs education to help support them through their career path.

That population is, as you know, one of the areas that we really want to focus much more attention on in the District of Columbia because we have a number of programs. Some are youth employment, but they really need steady income so I think that those are real innovations that will help our city substantially, in particularly with this population.

I’m really excited about it because there are also other initiatives that we’re going to fold in to both Project Empowerment and the Career Connections program. That’s, of course, the Tech-Hire Initiative.

The Tech-Hire Initiative is an initiative through partnership, again, with CSOSA and other organizations we’ll be working with youth and teaching them the skills that will help them to build a pathway in the IT industry. Many youth now are very tech savvy. They oftentimes have cell phones. They use the internet. Those are skills that they already have. We want to be able to introduce the concepts of A+ certification and network administration along with maybe cyber security and ethical hacking. All of those programs have certifications where a person can complete them, demonstrate their work experience, and have the potential to earn a living wage and definitely move into a pathway of the middle class.

That’s great because I know that the whole field of IT and technology is an open field. If we can get some of our folks involved in that and learning at a young age and building on the skills that they already have and the knowledge that they already have, that would be substantial.

Yeah, I think that the work force development industry is changing. It’s changing in a good way, in the sense that it’s now understanding better what businesses need. It’s also projecting what we need for the future and of course, IT is one area that the United States as a whole needs better expertise in and there’s no reason why our friends coming out of CSOSA’s program or any of our other programs shouldn’t be a part of that.

The other thing is that people usually learn better when they’re doing. There’s been this myth, I think, that long-term unemployed residents don’t have the skills to be successful in the work place. I can tell you now just from my short experience with DOES and some of the youth that I’ve seen coming through the programs and the people that I’ve encountered that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s our job to make sure that we profile them to the public and to businesses in a way that shows that they can actually be successful and build better relationships with business and have different support mechanisms in place that allow for businesses to thrive while they’re working with residents and helping them to be successful in the work place.

Again, these earn-and-learn opportunities I think is one way to do that. The other is expanding our on the job training resources, being able to provide support to businesses that hire residents, making sure that they’re aware of the work opportunity tax credits and other incentive programs that the IRS have provided to businesses that hire the harder to employ citizens in this country.

Are you finding that a lot of the businesses are taking advantage of those incentives?

There is a growing interest, I think, in the subsidized employment space. Borrowing what we’ve learned from summer youth employment this year and the success we’ve had in getting residents that are in that 22 to 24 year old range placed in jobs. We’re finding really a growing interest in that. In particular because that’s an age group where you have a certain level of maturity that allows them to be open to learning. What we’re finding is that they’re not squandering those opportunities. They’re coming to work on time. They’re doing the things that are necessary for them to be successful in the work place.

I think it’s exciting that you’re dispelling some of those myths about our young people and their interest in employment and their willingness to do what they need to do to maintain those jobs. A lot of times they do need a lot of help and coaching and those kinds of things. Are there any plans within DOES in terms of working with young people to make sure that they stay in those jobs?

So we’re making sure that we provide the supportive services in the program. I think what’s going to be unique about Career Connections and what we’re also changing in our Project Empowerment program is that follow-up after they’ve been employed. Our goal is to have them retain those jobs at least for a year because if they do that then typically they’re on their way to being able to really be successful in that job. So we’ve heard definitely from businesses that sometimes those first few months are the most difficult.

Then also looking at any gaps that are available in the system that we can add support. A good example is transportation. There are some areas of the city where transportation is more difficult depending on where you have to go to go to work or what time you have to be at work. A good example is construction and they start at five in the morning. If you have children, there’s no child care available or not as many child care slots available in places that open at five a.m. so what do you do in order to make sure that your children are taken care of. That’s just one example.

Those are important aspects of maintaining a job. Certainly our partnership with the Department of Employment Services offers another resource through CSOSA to support some of the work that you’re doing. We’re very excited to have you here in the city. Are there any other initiatives for older individuals in the District that you want to discuss?

One area that we are focusing on is looking at ways that we can expand the subsidized employment to older residents and really building the similar model that we have in both the Project Empowerment program as well as the youth program for our seniors and those 35 and up range. Those are things that we’re looking to leverage right now.

We have the LEAP Academy which again is focused on younger people but in our work that we see in the District we have a lot of talented residents that want to either get back into the work force or are looking to increase their employment. They may be underemployed. So we’re really being mindful of that as one of our areas of focus.

The other is our professionals that are looking for employment and having a different suite of services available for them. Most times they don’t stay unemployed for very long. We do have some though that have been maybe caring for family members that have been sick and have been out of the work force for a while and need to get back into the work force. Others that are looking for different career paths as they transition out of unemployment. We’re trying to develop a whole suite of services connected to them.

We’re excited about all of those opportunities. Surprisingly, we have every single one of those types of individuals so we’ll be taking advantage of everything that you have to offer. We look forward to working with you and letting us know how we can support the work that you’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

On that note, I’m going to wrap up our first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Deborah Carroll, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Stay with us for the next segment as we continue our discussion on employment and successful reentry with two new guests.

Thank you so much Director.

Hi and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. We’re continuing our conversation on successful reentry through employment in the second segment with two employers who have hired people under the supervision the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

My guests for this segment are Marianne Ali, director of training D.C. Central Kitchen, and Omar McIntosh, CEO of Perennial Construction.

Marianne and Omar, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I’d like to start this segment off just asking you to tell us a little bit about what you do and then we’ll talk a little bit about the work that you do with our clients. So why don’t I start off with you Marianne?

Sure, Nancy. Thank you. My name’s Marianne Ali, and I’m the Director of Culinary Job Training for D.C. Central Kitchen. We run four culinary job training programs at the Kitchen, three at another location working with a local partner. We work with a lot of returning citizens, and we have a longstanding relationship with CSOSA that I’m really excited to talk about.

I can’t wait because you all have done an outstanding job in working with some of our clients.

Mr. McIntosh?

Thank you. Perennial Construction is a Washington D.C.-based commercial general contractor. We also have self-performed capabilities in structure repair and restoration and commercial demolition. We have had a great relationship with CSOSA and hired up to about 50 individuals over the last year and a half in our self-performed crews.

Excellent. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about how long you’ve been hiring men and women under supervision and what your experiences have been. I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and some of the success stories. I’ll start of this time with you Leo.

Certainly. I think that we started in early ’14, we had a labor need on a project. I went to my community resources and I met Mr. Tony Lewis with Project Empowerment. Through Tony we had a table of about 12 eager individuals, and I think that we hired every one of them for a specific project. Of that crew, I think four are still with us to this day. One has risen to the ranks for foreman. He’s a crew leader right now on a project in Washington D.C. So we’ve had great success. Our crew is led by three individuals who we all found through CSOSA and Project Empowerment. We also have a great network now to go back to CSOSA and vet and train new employees.

Excellent. And Marianne?

D.C. Central Kitchens has been in existence for 25 years. Since its inception, we have always worked with returning citizens. I think that our relationship with CSOSA has been at least 15 years of my tenure that we’ve worked closely with you all.

The organization itself has about 140 employees and 42% of those employees are graduates of our culinary job training program. About 50% of those folks are directly from CSOSA so we are excited about that.

Great. We are excited too obviously.

Some of the challenges that you’ve faced, if any, that you can share with our audience?

You know Nancy, when you think about culinary job training or culinary you think about food but our approach is we can teach folks how to cook but we really understand the challenges that our folks come in to us with. So we address each and every, well the majority of those challenges. We start off every morning with a self-empowerment group that has absolutely nothing to do with cooking at all but everything to do with changing your thinking and your behavior. That group is really, really helpful. At our graduations, folks are always talking about cooking was fine but this is what really helped me.

We also offer a transition group that’s specifically for folks that have just come home in the last year and a half and have those challenges, having to balance their time, reunifying with their family, child support, to really sort of help them navigate through those challenges successfully. Because those are the kind of things that people get tripped up on and we want to make sure that we help them manage that in a way that they don’t go back, that they don’t recidivate.

We also have a women’s group, gender specific that talks about challenges with being under supervision, sometimes it’s getting your children back and those kind of things. So we look for every area that there may be a need for that support and we just infuse it into what we do on a normal everyday.

That’s so important too because you know how hard it is a lot of times for the folks that come under supervision, particularly if they’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, to reintegrate successfully and to navigate, quite frankly, the community again.

Leo, can you talk a little bit about challenges that you might have seen? The folks that you’ve worked with?

Sure. I think in construction a lot of our success is based on our ability to react. When a client calls or has a need, we have to respond in a timely manner, we have to perform in a timely manner. So when it comes to our CSOSA hires it’s been about getting to work. That’s the first challenge. So employees who haven’t been working gainfully for years or weeks at a time, the cost. There’s a Metro card that has to be purchased and it has to take about two weeks before they get their first paycheck.

We have gone above and beyond our requirements by providing Metro cards. I keep smartcards. I keep them reloaded at all times in my office. We hand them out to new employees and they give them back to me on their first payday. I shake their hand and we exchange the paycheck for the card. It sounds simple but it’s necessary. We’ve had instances where individuals couldn’t get to work and you can imagine if you’ve been away from society for ten years, the concept of the metro, the taxi cab, or the bus is a little far out of reach. We’ve stepped in where there weren’t answers to provide those solutions. Yes it causes us to have a little higher margin on our work but hopefully our clients respect our work and will pay for those services.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredible that both of you all have taken the time to consider those issues and to try to address them like you have. Are there any incentives to hiring men and women who’ve been under supervision or who are coming back to society from incarceration?

Absolutely. We’re aware of many federal and local programs, even the tax abatement programs are available to us, but more importantly there’s a labor need in the city. There’s lots and lots of work in construction, infrastructure, industrial side, and we’re focusing very sharply on those areas. Where there’s a need, we’re trying to fill it. We’re trying to get our folks to work as soon as possible. There are programs. There are benefits. But more importantly there’s a need and a need to develop these individuals, all individuals with a positive attitude that want to work hard.

Excellent. Marianne?

Sure. Our approach is to work with our employers on the tax incentives. We have a huge employer base that we try to get involved into working with our students, our graduates.

One of the things that really is a consideration I suppose when you’re working with folks under our supervision are their criminal history and how difficult it is for them actually to get opportunities. What advice could you give to someone who’s reentering Washington D.C. or who is under supervision but has a criminal history in terms of seeking employment?

We advise our graduates to be honest but we also advise them to talk about what they are doing now, what they have done since they’ve come home, that they’re honest, that they’re eager to work, they have a great attitude. Nancy, we’ve had chefs come into the kitchen on a regular basis and the number one question and answer that we ask those chefs, “What do you look for?” And they’re looking for somebody, they’re not looking for somebody with a bunch of skills, they’re looking for somebody who is eager and has a great attitude.

That’s the critical piece right there.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve hired pretty much every individual on our crew directly. I’ve spoken to them at length about what our expectations are, expectations of our clients, and expectations of their peers. I’ll tell you that we’ve had tremendous success because they respect their peers and they work together. Now that we’ve had two years working together as a field performance crew, there is a natural pecking order, and it’s seeming to work out for us at this point. So the attitude is a tremendous part of the hiring requirement. Not so much in your past but where you’re headed and how hard you’re willing to work getting there.

So critical. One of the things that we’d like to encourage more employers to do is consider this population. As an employer looking for someone, how would you encourage other employers like yourselves to consider this population? What kinds of things would you ask them to make consideration of for this hiring process as an employer?

I would say expectations need to change. I say that because a lot of employers expect you to walk in learning how to use the full suite of Microsoft tools and you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got money in the pocket to get to work and get home. Those are not real expectations. I think that there’s a very, very large capable workforce that is serving time or under supervision right now. I would tell you that if your expectation is you’re going to help people be gainfully employed, build careers not just jobs, and have a long term sustainable career whether it’s with me or someone else that is what the expectation needs to be. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

That’s fabulous.

The way we do it at the Kitchen, Nancy, it’s a 14-week program. Our students are with for seven weeks and then they go on four weeks into an internship, then they come back to us for the last three weeks. We engage our potential employers to come to the Kitchen and be a part of the actual process, the training process. We hand pick our internship sites. We want to know that those chefs have been to the Kitchen, who understand our population, who want to give back, and want to work to help develop our students into great employees.

Both of you are extremely successful. I’ve been to your graduation Marianne and it’s so exciting to see the chefs come in, all the people that support the D.C. Central Kitchen. To just expose our folks who are under supervision to that is just incredible for their self esteem.

For you Leo, you’ve just got a number of projects in this city that you’re already involved in that you can tell our audience a little bit about if you’d like.

Out of respect for my clients, we don’t disclose most of our project sites but we do have several commercial sites under demolition and construction. Some in the Dupont Circle area and the downtown central business district as well. Our crews have traveled as far as Rock Hills, South Carolina working for public utility clients and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland on infrastructure projects. So we are very busy. We look to stay very busy and hopefully look to find a home for people in the communities we work in.

Excellent. Marianne, for you you’re working with many of the chefs, very important chefs, all around the city and the country quite frankly. You want to talk a little bit about some of those networks?

Of course there’s Jose Andres who’s a very good friend of the Kitchen, who also supports us on multiple levels. The students are exposed, for example, we just had our annual fundraiser and there were chefs there who are battling chefs competing and the students get to meet those chefs and work with, for example, Tyson’s came in. They came down to the kitchen, and the chef worked with the students. So they’re exposed on a regular basis. It’s really to get them comfortable in talking and understanding that those folks give their time because they want for you to end up working alongside them.

It has to be very encouraging and really an opportunity for you to feel that you’re giving back to the city when you’re hiring these men and women and also to watch their self esteem grow. Do you want to comment a little bit on some of the things that you’ve seen with the folks that you’ve worked with?

At the end of the program, we have a brunch that graduation morning. It’s a more intimate setting with the graduates and the staff. I’ve heard some incredible things. I’ve heard people say that they never have finished anything but a prison and now, “I’m graduating and I have a job. I’ll be able to give back to my community and come back to D.C. Central Kitchen and give back to D.C. Central Kitchen.” Women who have been able to get their children back doing the training program. It’s just incredible stories when you see folks the first day that come in and they’re sort of slouched over like this, and at the end of the program, their head is high, their eyes are open, and their shoulders are back. I can’t tell you the feeling that we get.

I’ve watched them. Omar, you’re going to end us.

I’ll tell you these stories are a labor of love but watching the progress and the levels of progress from earning your first paycheck to training a work crew to learning how to use tools and skills has been excellent.

I appreciate both of you joining us and sharing your experience and most importantly, being willing to open your heart and your businesses to this population who are very much in need of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Marianne Ali and Omar McIntosh. Again, if you have questions or suggestions about using CSOSA as a source for hiring please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. Thank you for watching today’s show. Please watch us next time. We explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Have a great day.