Archives for April 8, 2016

Hiring Offenders-DC Central Kitchen

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/offender-employment-dc-central-kitchen/

Leonard: From the nations capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen the program today is about hiring offenders with a focus on an extraordinarily successful program here in the District of Colombia, DC Central Kitchen. We have three people by our microphones today. We have Sarah Riley. She is the program administration manager for DC Central Kitchen. We have Persus Johnson a recruitment and intake coordinator, again for DC Central Kitchen, and we have Luella Johnson. She is a supervisor revocation and development specialist for my agencies Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies. She heads up vote. The vocational opportunities for training, education, and employment division. Ladies welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sarah Riley: Thank you.

Luella Johnson: Thank you.

Persus Johnson: Thank you.

Leonard: All right, I want to go around the room and explain to our listeners first of all, what DC Central Kitchen is and then we will go over to Luella to talk about our agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in her division vote. So Sarah, you going to start us off?

Sarah Riley: Thank you. Yes, so DC Central Kitchen is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1989 by Robert Egger. Our mission statement is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. So Persus and I work at the culinary job training program, which is one of the many programs DC Central Kitchen offers.

Leonard: Okay, but DC Central Kitchen in essence is more than just a training program?

Sarah Riley: Yes.

Leonard: Okay, tell me a little bit more about that.

Sarah Riley: Well, we have a food recovery and meal distribution program that recovers food from the local community and we send it out to homeless shelters, after school programs, transitional programs, so we feed different organizations so they don’t have to spend their own money on food.

Leonard: Okay, so you act as a food bank?

Sarah Riley: Of sorts yes.

Leonard: Okay, good. So you have that distribution at intake and distribution of food, plus you have a training program, training people in culinary arts.

Sarah Riley: Yes.

Leonard: Anything else to it?

Sarah Riley: We also have a healthy corners program, getting fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks out to food deserts in wards seven and eight here in DC.

Leonard: Wow.

Sarah Riley: Then we also have our campus kitchen program, which replicates the DC Central Kitchen model in campus kitchens across America. We are in forty-two different universities.

Leonard: Tell me about that. What does that mean? Forty-two universities. You are in forty-two universities doing what?

Sarah Riley: Well, the students their kitchen space when it is not occupied, to work with their local community, so some are feeding single mothers, some are feeding the elderly, some are feeding after school programs. They work with their community to find out where the need is and then try to fulfill that.

Leonard: I am very impressed. I am assuming DC Central Kitchen is a DC centered program and you are in forty-two locations throughout the United States.

Sarah Riley: We are all over the place.

Leonard: You are really devoted to this whole concept of food and getting food in the hands of people who need it.

Sarah Riley: Yes. Using food as a tool to build communities.

Leonard: Okay, so the training part of it is just a small part of it then.

Sarah Riley: It’s our flagship program, it’s the biggest program most people know us for, the training program because we are getting men and women back to work, especially people that have been incarcerated but we do have several things.

Leonard: Well, it’s an extraordinarily interesting program and I do want to talk more about it, but I am going to shift over to Luella Johnson the supervisor revocation development specialist here at our agency. Luella, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. Tell for the other initiated, what is the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

Luella Johnson: Well, CSOSA is an independent federal law enforcement agency that supervises individuals on probation, parole and supervised release here in the District of Colombia. We are a very unique federal government agency in that our jurisdiction is strictly in the District of Colombia. I am very proud to supervise our vote unit where we have a staff of twelve dedicated professionals who identify employment training and educational opportunities for those clients, and at any given time, we have approximately about five hundred individuals on our case load that we are providing services to.

Leonard: That’s an amazing amount of people.

Luella Johnson: Yes.

Leonard: So, anybody who has an educational or a vocational efficiency, they come to your unit to re-mediate.

Luella Johnson: That is correct. There is a criteria, however. These individuals, if they are coming seeking employment, they have to be thirty days drug free before they are referred to us. We do take marijuana users in our learning labs, but that is the only drug.

Leonard: The bottom line is, is that they are ready for employment in most cases, and the bottom line is that the people who we put up for the employment process are ready for training, they’re ready for employment. In most cases, they’re far beyond any drug history at all. In most cases they’re stabilized, so when people say, when we talk about hiring people caught up in the criminal justice system, we are not talking about someone fresh from prison, we are talking about somebody who is prepared.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely, and I think we are very proud of our process, because what we do is, as individuals who are referred to us, we place them in three categories. They are job-ready, job-preparatory or adult learning and we refer individuals who are job-ready for our best training partners and out best employer partners and with that, that allows for success, it allows for us to continue to have a direct pipeline to suitable employment and training opportunities because we are continually given our partners quality individuals.

Leonard: I think that is the key into this, because we do have a problem with employment of people under supervision, in the District of Colombia. Earlier we were talking about those who are eligible for employment. Now, if you are caught up in a residential training program or if you are going for drug treatment or you are going for mental health counseling, you are not an eligible individual, but for those eligible individuals, we are only talking about fifty percent of our people being employed on any given day. We have said that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of people ready to employ now correct?

Luella Johnson: I wouldn’t say that it’s hundreds and thousands. Unfortunately, many of our offenders, they face a lot of different challenges and also when you look at they area that we are in, it is very challenging in the District of Colombia, because you have a city that has a lot of individuals who have advanced degrees, who have advanced experience, no criminal history and unfortunately many rock lines are competing with these individuals and so in that regaurd, that is a challenge for those individuals and for us we have to do what we can with the resources that we have to give these individuals prepared to compete with individuals who far exceed their experience and qualifications.

Leonard: I just wanted to say that I have interviewed lots of people who are under supervision who are looking for employment before these microphones in the past and you sit there across from these individuals in suits, coats and ties and they are carrying themselves perfectly. In many instances these people have some education or some experience and you wonder why aren’t they employed, but I am going to go over to Persus Johnson who is the recruitment and intake coordinator for DC Central Kitchen. Who do you look for up here Persus?

Persus Johnson: We are looking for various things when it comes down to an individual that we are looking for. We recruit at a lot of different agencies, so we are recruiting at places where there are citizens who are in recovery from addiction where they may be in halfway housing, where they may be in another employee training program even in find that they are interested in culinary. So we are looking in different places but when it comes to the actual individual and their qualifications, we are looking for someone who has stable housing, we are looking for someone who has 120 days drug free. We are looking for someone who, if they have children has a plan to take care of those kids during the day and they are in our full time program. We are looking for people who have a support network.

They may have been coming out of incarceration, but they may have family members or former bosses, or coaches or things like that who are supporting their efforts for them to get back on their feet. We are looking for a lot of different things and it’s a really good question but it presents the biggest challenge for us in a way.

Leonard: Right

Persus Johnson: Because everyone is different and we can never say with certainty that X individual is going to do really well because they have met all of those criteria. It’s just kind of the framework that we operate in.

Leonard: I wanted to give out the website to DC Central Kitchen. WWW.DCCentralKitchen.org. WWW.CSOSA.gov. What is the secret sols to DC Central Kitchen. Now that we gotten the preliminary taken care of. DC Central Kitchen is phenomenally successful. You have taken individuals who have been caught up in the the criminal justice system. They are working. They are working full time, they are taxpayers who are no longer tax burdens, are taking care of their families. There is something really interesting about DC Central Kitchen. We did an interview with a national culinary arts magazine a little while ago about that relationship between our folks and people we try to place in DC Central Kitchen and in fact, this coming Thursday, tomorrow in fact, we are dealing with another interview about DC Central Kitchen and the folks that we refer there. There is something secret, something interesting, something magic that’s happening with DC Central Kitchen. I want to know what it is.

Sarah Riley: Like Persus said, everybody is an individual. Persus and I, our task is to hone in on who’s ready for change. We use the word change a lot at the kitchen, because we are really looking for somebody that knows that they don’t want to go back to prison, knows that they cannot continue doing what they have been doing in the past and has some self awareness and on the continuing of change, is ready for change. Is continuance and our plan, I guess how we work it, is a holistic approach. So, we are not just doing, here are some knife skills, here is a resume, good luck int eh job field. We have a class called self empowerment, which is dealing with he trauma that we have all been through, dealing with issues that they have had stemming from childhood, dealing with issues coming out of incarceration and reintegrating back into society. And then we couple that self empowerment with the hard skills in the kitchen. You do learn how to cook at DC Central Kitchen, but then we also do job readiness skills and then we do the soft skills, time management, conflict resolution. Our holisitc approach is to get at it from all different angles and then we assist them with their employment as well.

Leonard: All right Persus, so what we are talking about is a holistic program that trains people to go and work within the culinary industry, either in DC or beyond.

Sarah Riley: Yes, absolutely, and I would add too, that we really try to meet individuals where they are. We are not trying to convince them of anything. Most of them are ready for change, but at the same time we want to meet them where they are, if they’re presenting certain challenges like they have a specific challenge with housing maybe. We want to work with them on that and not necessarily disqualify them from our program, but say how can we assist you on this one thing that would help you successfully complete our program.

Leonard: How many people have successfully completed the program?

Luella Johnson: Over 1,000. In last year alone we graduated 85 students.

Leonard: Okay. What percentage of the people that go in graduate.

Luella Johnson: The retention rate is really high. It’s in the mid 80’s.

Leonard: Okay, and that is the point that I want to get to, because I have been looking at research and been involved in the criminal justice system for decades and a lot of these programs that are out there throughout the country, the retention rate and the success rate is like 30%, 40%. A lot of drop outs. You are talking about eighty percent. That is dag on phenomenal.

Luella Johnson: In the mid 2000’s, our graduation rate was around fifty percent. We beefed up the program and added a couple of layers and that’s why we have such a high retention rate now and because we screen people so closely on the intake. Thankfully, we have been around since 1989, so people know about us. We have a really strong partnership with CSOSA, so we have a ready influx of candidates that know about the program and really want to get in, see the results and so we are really able to screen the applicants.

Leonard: Okay I am going to take one more crack at this. The reporter from the national newspaper that interviewed us about why DC Central Kitchen is so successful with people caught up in the criminal justice system. She wasn’t satisfied with our standard answer. She said there is something unique going on here that neither one of you are getting to. Anyone want to take a crack at that, I am going to give the interview one more chance. What is it about DC Central Kitchen. She suggested is that this is a creative world. A world that brings that persons personal sense of creativity to that forefront. That persons personal sense of expression, so its not like the rjkl on a construction site pouring concrete. They’re in there creating and she suggested that, that may be the secret sauce. I’m not putting words into your mouth but you go from there.

Persus Johnson: Maybe an outside perspective would help. I don’t know, Luella. Do you happen to know?

Luella Johnson: I really think its about that particular individual deciding to make a change. Generally when we have individuals who are on parole. They really do not want to go back into the bureau prisons and they want to really come out and make a difference in their lives and when you encounter individuals who are determined to make a difference; That’s a really nice tasty, spicy sauce so to speak. I mean, that is what really gets those individuals able to really be successful. All you have to do is kind of really guide them a little bit, but they are doing all of the work because they made the change.

Leonard: Its personal change and I accept that because, again, when interviewing people under supervision by these microphones for over a decade, they all say the same thing. They say you’ve go to want it within you heart. You’ve got to accept it within your heart. You’ve got to make that personal change, but the retention rate in some other jobs where they are placed is not nearly as high as we have with DC Central Kitchen. When they graduate how many people go out and actually find jobs?

Sarah Riley: Pretty much the whole class will find employment eventually.

Persus Johnson: I mean we also make it a point to, I don’t want to say stock, but we stick with our students throughout, not only the process for which they are in the program, but well after that because ultimately there success no matter when that happiness is our success. So, if at graduation they’re not ready to start a job maybe three weeks after graduation they are. Maybe six weeks after graduation they found something. Our workforce coordinators work very hard to followup and to allow DC Central Kitchen to be a space that they can always return to. I think that is an important element.

Leonard: Any percent completion rate nearly 100% rate of placement  within the occupational area in which they had been trained is phenomenal not just for people in the criminal justice system but any job training program across the board. Ladies and gentlemen we are doing a program today about hiring offenders. We have people from DC Central Kitchen and we do love DC Central Kitchen. They have a national reputation and now I know they are in how many colleges. Forty-eight?

Sarah Riley: Forty-two

Leonard: Forty-two colleges throughout the country in terms of using their kitchens for food redistribution. We have Sara Riley program administration manager from DC Central Kitchen. Persus Johnson recruitment and intake coordinator and Luella Johnson supervisory revocation development specialist from my agency Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency. WWW.DCCentralKitchen.org. WWW.CSOSA.gov, Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency dot gov. All right, where do we go to from here. People are listening to this program throughout the country. We have a national audience. Twenty percent of our audience is international. So you have got people in France, in England listening to this program now. You have got people in New Zealand. What message do we give them about people caught up in the criminal justice system in the employment process? You didn’t expect that question did you?

Sarah Riley: No we didn’t. I’ll speak to that because I find that it’s something that comes up daily when I speak to a lot of our students. That is , you know, we always talk about how DC Central Kitchen is kind of like the house of second chances. We can give second chances, but we also need for the community and the employers to buy into giving second chances because ultimately we can prepare a student as much as we want, we can vouch for them and say that they are working really hard to shake, as my mother would call it, the monkey off your back, which is your record. Ultimately we need employers to say okay, I am willing to set aside your record and take you as an individual and see what you can commit and bring to the table. You have completed 14 weeks of a program where is was rigorous and so lets give you an opportunity to work with us.

That’s kind of what we need. We get buy-in community agencies, we get buy-in from people that want to participate in the program, but we need employers to buy-in because those are the people who really the ones who are providing the second chance.

Leonard: And how difficult is that process of inviting employers to participate in the hiring of people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Persus Johnson: I think it depends, it depends on what that employers experience has been. If they have had a positive experience they are very open to it. If they have had a couple of situations where providing that employment opportunity to an offender didn’t go quit well, they may be a little susceptible, but that only means that we have, as advocates, for these offenders who are seeking employment have to really dig in deep and really do our very best to reach out to these employers and say individuals need second chances and sometimes they need a third and a fourth. If you keep that in mind that these are our neighbors, these are people that we see in out communities, then that will change the perspective. That if we are able to give them a chance, we can turn them into tax paying citizens, as opposed to someone who is a drain on our economy, if we are constantly putting them away.

Leonard: Plus making society much safer.

Persus Johnson: Much Safer.

Leonard: The research is very clear that the benefits of having people employed when they come out of the prison system or when they’re on probation, because a majority of our folks are on probation, not coming from the prison system, finding them work. Everybody does better and everybody benefits and yet we say that and I am not quite sure that message carries the day. What you are all saying is that there are good people ready to go to work today that will be a benefit to that individual. That’s your message correct.

Sarah Riley: Absolutely.

Persus Johnson: Absolutely. Individuals, like I said before, are like the people that they encounter everyday. They have families, they want to be good parents, they want to be good husbands and wives, and they want to be self sufficient. They just need the opportunity.

Leonard: But let me go back to the question opposed by that national reporter. Her sense was once again, its the creativity of working in the culinary interesting. It’s the creativity of making something. It’s the immediate gratification of a customer consuming what they’ve made. There are rewards and creative benefits that you are not going to find in a lot of jobs.

Sarah Riley: I think that’s true I think that a lot of returning citizens, a lot of people that are coming out of incarceration that come to our program have cooked while they were incarcerated. They cooked in prison, so they have experience with it. It’s something they know that they can handle and then they do get the gratification of people enjoy their food knowing they get the self confidence knowing that they can handle this job and then I think its an art. You can be creative with culinary and its one of those jobs anywhere you go. So they know everybody eats hopefully a couple meals a day and that there is job security in the culinary industry, and its one of those industries that’s forgiving to people with criminal backgrounds.

Leonard: And why is that?

Sarah Riley: That’s a good question. I don’t know… You know what, I am sorry to cut you off Luella, but I think one of the reasons is because… Persus and I both have backgrounds in the restaurant industry and they just want you to show up. Show up, be on time and do your job. If you can learn what the chef is teaching you and show up on time, that’s all there is to it. That’s one of the things we are really adamant about in the program is punctuality, and then saying yes chef. Listen to what the chef is saying, no back talk just yes chef, yes chef, yes chef. Then you can do it, its one of those jobs you don’t have to have an education for. At the program specifically you don’t have to have a high school diploma or and GED. So its open for people that might work better with their hands, but also not want to work outside all the time.

Leonard: I mean it just strikes me that if DC Central Kitchen could expand twenty fold off of the people Luella that we have under supervision who do not have jobs, would have jobs. I know that’s a stretch but never-the-less it is that opportunity, the opportunity that the culinary industry offers to people under supervision. The fact that what Sarah just said and what Persus just said. The idea that the welcoming… you know… did I get it wrong?.

Persus Johnson: That’s okay.

Leonard: Correct me, correct me, correct me.

Persus Johnson: Its Persus.

Leonard: Geez, Persus. Ill probably screw it up before… I have a group of listeners from New York City who say Leonard, you cannot pronounce a name to save your life. It is an industry that welcomes all comers, which is a bit different, a lot different from a lot of other industries that welcome mat is felt by the people that we refer.

Persus Johnson: I would say that’s true. I would say that’s true.

Leonard: You know.

Persus Johnson: I think there is also an opportunity too for people who haven’t necessarily explored what they’re interested in because they have never completed anything. So this is an opportunity for them, not only to explore and be creative, but to follow through and complete something. Its not just about the food, its not just about the creativity, but its about finishing something. Its about graduating. We had a guys who graduated last week who’s mother, this was the first time his mother was able to attend something that he had completed. The first time in his life. So I think that’s an important piece of it, is this is another chance for those coming to us to follow through with the process, complete something and actually see that there are people who can care about them who are not trying to use them or who are not family members but who are committed to seeing them successfully follow through and finish.

Luella Johnson: And Leonard I don’t think you can emphasize that enough. I know Persus and Sara talks about this buy I think we really need to emphasis the fact that you have individuals who have little to no support system and now you have an entity who is willing to walk with them from beginning to end and that end does not necessarily mean the end of the program, it means the end until they are comfortable, that they can stand on their own and I think maybe that’s the key sauce in it. That they now have the support and backing of an entity that truly cares about their success and its their own internal motivation combined that allows them to be successful. I really think that, that’s an awesome awesome thing that the DC Central Kitchen as a unit does in terms of holding that individuals hand from beginning to end until they can stand on their own. That really contributes to the success and then those individuals by word of mouth are able to say hey, this worked for me, look at where I am, this can work for you and it just continues a positive process.

Leonard: Sarah do you have something?

Sarah Riley: I would just like to add that, that is so true. Everything you just said, but also our favorite phrase is trust the process. Day 1 we sat all 25 students down and we say listen, you are going to go through some hard times, you Are going to want to fight back, you are going to want to fight us basically. Trust the process and we are not kidding ourselves we know that trust is the number one issue that our students face because they have learned to survive by not trusting. So for us complete strangers telling them, hey trust us, trust the process. They are like no, no, get out of here.

So, its an uphill battle but that’s what our culinary dog training program and CSOSA, that’s what we work really closely with all of the CSO’s the community supervision officers to really show that we are supporting you. We want to see you be successful, we are here for you. We are going to make sure you make your appointments, we are going to make sure you make your urinalysis. We are going to make sure that you are here for the program every day. So they really learn to trust the process throughout the 14 weeks but it is not easy. The first couple of weeks whoo… People who want to fight.

Slowly but surely, some people fight it until they are dismissed from the program but some people make it through and say wow I cannot believe I just did this.

Leonard: Most people do make it through, that’s the astounding thing. Now is this a realistic business model again for all the people listening throughout the country and throughout the world. Is this a realistic business model to have an employer display that level of concern for an individual. I mean is DC Central Kitchen a model, part of the secret sauce for getting people caught up in the criminal justice system, for getting them employed, or is this a little unrealistic?

Sarah Riley: Well, its realistic because its real, its happening, so its realistic.

Leonard: You are successful but will an average employer take that time and take that care and take that extra four or five steps to keep that person?

Luella Johnson: I just think that’s the wrong question. I think the question is why won’t they make that commitment to that individual. Like we had talked about before, these are members of our community, these are individuals that need a second chance and the only difference between them and some of the other individuals that are not on supervision is that maybe they got caught. So the question is not is it realistic, its something that can be done, there’s no question. The question is why won’t more employers take a chance to invest in these individuals? Why won’t they take a chance to really be true members of a community?

Leonard: And when we place individual with an organization at Court Services of Offenders Supervision Agency we do provide that support network.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely.

Leonard: We do provide a support network that DC Central Kitchen employs, but we do it for them employer.

Luella Johnson: Absolutely, and so if there are any outstanding issues, like what Sarah said we work very closely with the community supervision officers as well as the vote staff, we have vocation development specialists who are able to help provide assistance to those individuals while they go through the process.

Leonard: Fifteen seconds, how do we sum up DC Central Kitchen?

Sarah Riley: A full time training program helping people get back to the workforce. I am just going to say that we use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds and build communities. That’s what we are doing at DC Central Kitchen.

Leonard: Bottom line is that you are doing it successfully.

Sarah Riley: Thank you.

Leonard: I say it again. Eighty percent completion rate and your 100 percent successful placement rate upon graduation.

Luella Johnson: Yes.

Sarah Riley: Can we get some numbers quick? For 2014 we graduated 85 students. We had 90 percent job placement rate and at 6 months eighty-six of them were still employed.

Leonard: Incredible.

Sarah Riley: Twelve dollars and fifty-one cents average wage.

Leonard: We have been doing as program today on hiring offenders and the focus has been on the phenomenal DC Central Kitchen. Sarah Riley program administration manager, Persus Johnson recruitment and intake coordinator and Luella Johnson supervisor revocation development specialist. Ladies and gentleman this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Share

Offender Reentry and the Arts

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/prisoner-reentry-and-the-arts-woolly-mammoth-theatre-company-2/

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sikes. The topic today, ladies and gentlemen, prison re-entry and the arts. We try to bring all perspectives to this issue of offender re-entry, this will be our third program with the arts community. By our microphones is Kristin Jackson, she is the connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company here in Washington DC. Also before our microphones, Teresa Hodge, she is the founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and we also have Justin McCarthy. He is the communications coordinator for Woolly Mammoth, and to Kristin and Theresa and Justin, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Justin McCarthy: Thanks Leonard.

Leonard Sipes: What is Woolly Mammoth, Justin?

Justin McCarthy: So Woolly Mammoth is a non-profit theater company in Washington DC. We’re currently in our 35th full season of operation.

Leonard Sipes: You guys have been around forever.

Justin McCarthy: Yep, that’s right.

Leonard Sipes: You have a great reputation.

Justin McCarthy: Well, thanks very much, and, you know, a lot has changed in those 35 years but one thing that’s sorta remained constant, and I guess this is the easiest way to sort of [inaudible 00:01:08] what we do that separates us from most theater companies out there, is to say that all of our plays have a sort of civic conversation around them

Leonard Sipes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Justin McCarthy: They all address social, cultural, or political issues, and …

Leonard Sikes: Why Woolly Mammoth?

Justin McCarthy: That’s a great question.

Leonard Sikes: Yes, it is a great question.

Justin McCarthy: Well, there’s a story behind that. Our founding artistic director and the partner with him who founded the company, they were up late one night brainstorming potential, you know, theater names and in the morning they found “Woolly Mammoth Theater Company” written on a cocktail napkin.

Leonard Sikes: There you go, the hand of God!

Justin McCarthy: So, it was a sign, but I guess you could say that the inspiration there is that we, the idea is that we are sort of nomadic, like the woolly mammoths of the ore, traveling from place to place and telling our stories, like, you know, like any paleontologist would tell you a woolly mammoth did.

Leonard Sikes: There you go, all right. Lights Rise On Grace is the name of the play that is currently running which is the idea behind the radio show today. It’s running now through April 26th at Woolly Mammoth, www. See if I get this right, w-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-m-o-t-h?

Justin McCarthy: Almost. Two O’s.

Leonard Sikes: W-o-l-l-y-m …

Justin McCarthy: So it’d be w-o-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-mo-t-h.

Leonard Sikes: W-o-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-m-o-t-h.

Justin McCarthy: Why didn’t you tell me this was going to be a spelling test?

Leonard Sikes: .net. Okay, cool, but I do want people to connect to the theater company because again, it’s a large, rather established theater company and this is an amazing play: Lights Rise On Grace, Kristin you’re going to tell me a little bit about that?

Kristin Jackson: I sure will. So Lights Rise On Grace is a play written by Chad Beckham, and it is actually part of a rolling world premiere, our production, and this is through the new play network, the national new play network, and so if you don’t catch it here at Woolly you can also check it out at Stageworks in Tampa, Florida and the Azuka Theater in Philadelphia.

Leonard Sikes: So this is gonna travel from city to city that’s great.

Kristin Jackson: The play will. This particular production is unique to Woolly

Leonard Sikes: Okay.

Kristin Jackson: But essentially what the play is about is three young people, from sort of the inner city and they are trying to sort of grapple with these questions of race, and sexuality, family, and you know, what are the families that you’re born into versus the families that you create, and one of the sort of big inciting events in this play is that Large, one of the characters, ends up incarcerated, and when he returns home, he’s sort of having to deal with these challenges of, you know, how he’s changed following his incarceration and how to sort of reintegrate back into the life he had before.

Leonard Sikes: Which is always difficult, and that’s one of the reasons that we have Teresa here, Teresa Hodge, founder and director of innovation and strategy for mission launch. Teresa, you’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system before.

Teresa Hodge: I have. I actually served a 70-month federal prison sentence.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: I was at Alder’s in West Virginia, little bit different than the character, because based upon how the story looks, I previewed it, it appears that he probably went to state prison and I went to federal prison.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: And there is a difference between the two.

Leonard Sikes: Well, we should clarify for everybody throughout the country that’s listening to this that since the reorganization act in 2000 in Washington DC, you can violate DC code here in the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, but you are sent to a federal prison.

Teresa Hodge: Right.

Leonard Sikes: So most people, you’re right, the vast majority of people who are incarcerated in the country go to state prison, so you went to a federal prison.

Teresa Hodge: I went to a federal prison, I’m actually a Maryland resident and so my case was a Maryland case but it was also a federal case.

Leonard Sikes: Okay, and so what is your connection to this play, Lights Rise On Grace?

Teresa Hodge: On tomorrow evening, I will be moderating a panel discussion. We will have, with me, there will be four other people who’ve been to prison, and after the play we’re going to discuss the realities of going to prison, and just maybe answer some of the questions that the audience might have as it relates to, was this, you know some of the scenarios that came forth on stage, how real is that?

Leonard Sikes: Why is it important that the arts community address the issue of people coming out of the prison system? Everybody has their own perspective, I bet. I could talk to cops, I could talk to people at corrections, I could talk to politicians, I could talk to community members, I could talk to people caught up in the criminal justice system themselves, and everybody’s going to bring a different perspective to the issue of people coming out of the prison system. What does the arts community bring to this discussion that’s new and unique?

Kristin Jackson: Well, part of what I think the arts community brings to this discussion, and part of what I know Woolly Mammoth tries to bring to this discussion is ensuring that there are folks coming to see the show, for whom these issues and these stories are either personally, or professionally, meaningful.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: And, we use our stories to really sort of open the hearts of folks, and I think that through the work that we do both on stage and also in fostering dialogue, what we hope, what we call sort of “explosive engagement,” that we are able to create understanding, we are able to foster community, and we’re able to change people’s hearts in a way that may not otherwise be possible.

Leonard Sikes: One of the interesting things about doing this show is I talk to lots of people who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, and these are people who step out of the norm. They create their own businesses, they create their own podcasts, they create their own manuals, they do community/public speaking, and I have to remind myself from time to time that’s one-tenth of one percent of the seven-hundred thousand people coming out of the prison system. The overwhelming majority of the people coming out of the prison systems every year throughout the United States have no voice. So, I would imagine, this brings an issue that most people feel uncomfortable about talking about, correct?

Justin McCarthy: Right.

Teresa Hodge: I definitely … one of the reasons why I do what I do, I am a person who advocates and I speak because I wanna show what prison looks like, and it doesn’t always look like what we think. So, I think that’s very important that we began to humanize who’s going into prison and who’s coming home. It is a very tough topic, people, it makes you uncomfortable, and it’s a complicated and complex topic, and there’s many paths that take people to prison.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: So it’s important that we understand all the various paths that are going to be necessary for people when they come home from prison as well.

Leonard Sikes: But you, and the arts community ends up through either photography or video, or in terms of this particular play, Lights Rise On Grace, you provide a voice to people who essentially see themselves as voiceless. You provide a conduit to have a discussion that most people don’t really care about. The only thing that they hear about people caught up in the criminal justice system is what they hear on the evening news, what they see on local television, what they read about in the newspaper that ex-offender does something horrendous and goes back to prison for another 20-25 years. That’s their impression of people caught up in the criminal justice system. You’re trying to humanize what that process is and who these people are, correct?

Teresa Hodge: Yes, well, that’s probably …

Justin McCarthy: No that’s great, that’s very eloquently put. I think the important thing about art is addressing these issues, that, you know, I mean it certainly works the way that Kristin and Teresa put it. It certainly is wonderful for people who deal everyday with these issues.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Justin McCarthy: But, on the other side of the coin for people that are just interested in seeing a play, they’ll find that they’ll be engaging with these issues too. So we always say the most important part of our work, it doesn’t happen on stage, it happens before the show and after the show, when audience members are talking about the issues that we’re addressing on stage.

Leonard Sikes: It’s one of the reasons why Teresa, you’re going to be leading that larger discussion with people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, so they have the context of the play and they have the context of the people actually being caught up in the system.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. The individuals that will be coming to speak with us have been home for as little as six months, to six years, and so many of them are still facing some of the challenges of employment, of housing, a lot of them have been successful in getting back on their feet. But they’re going to be able to share what it’s like being in prison, but then also the challenges of coming home. Most people who come home from prison say coming home from prison is much harder than being in prison.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: One thing I also wanted to add, that Teresa and mission launch were very, sort of vital in helping us develop. It was part of our lobby experience for the show.

Leonard Sikes: Oh, tell me about that.

Kristin Jackson: Woolly does something pretty unique in that we have these interactive lobby experiences that help, sort of illuminate either the content, or the form, or the issues that are embedded in our plays. One of the things we did for Lights Rise On Grace was a sort of life-sized re-entry game board, where our audience members are able to go through some the, sort of, challenges and some of the, I guess you could say victories that we see that returning citizens are experiencing. So they are literally in this sort of fun and playful way, both learning about these experiences in a very personal way, and helping them to make those connections.

Leonard Sikes: But do you see the interesting aspect here in terms of the arts community, Comedy Central and Jon Stewart, so many millennials use that as their news source.

Justin McCarthy: Sure.

Leonard Sikes: I mean, they bring comedy, they use comedy as a conduit to talk about endless types of topics, and comedy brings a different perspective to it. Comedy brings a perspective that the average person, discussing whatever it is, simply wouldn’t bring up, they wouldn’t look at it that way, so you’re looking at it through new eyes, a fresh perspective. So I’m gonna go back to that question. What does the arts community, and what can the arts community, what do they do and what can they say to really drive home this point in a truly unique way? What is truly unique about this particular play and the arts community in terms of re-entry?

Justin McCarthy: What I will say is that, for Woolly in general, it’s really important to our artistic team that our shows be funny, and, you know, what that does is when you have sort of comedic elements, you know, in combination, in tandem with issues that are sort of difficult to discuss, it makes it easier to engage with, it provides a sort of humanizing element in a kind of … it makes it easier to connect.

Leonard Sikes: And you can get away with much more than you can in a straight discussion …

Justin McCarthy: That’s right.

Leonard Sikes: On the issue. I mean, I’ve been interviewed by dozens and dozens of radio talk shows, and so I have to represent a particular point of view, but with the arts community you’re free to say whatever it is that you want. So what is it that you wanna say that is not being said by those of us in the criminal justice system? Teresa, I’m gonna put that in your lap.

Teresa Hodge: Well I think, after watching this play, I think that the audience will walk away feeling like, this could’ve happened to me. It was just a very relatable moment.

Leonard Sikes: A shared experience.

Teresa Hodge: Extremely shared experience.

Leonard Sikes: Okay.

Teresa Hodge: So, I think that makes it a little bit easier for people to understand prison, prison re-entry, when you understand that, what took place, and I don’t wanna give a whole spoiler alert on the play itself, but when you actually consider the path that led this person to prison, it was a relatively easy path, and the court system didn’t take into consideration the history of his family and some other circumstances that kind of led him there. I think people will walk away thinking about this long after they’ve viewed the play itself.

Leonard Sikes: So it’s something that’s gonna stick around, it’s something that’s going to create a cathartic moment for them possibly

Teresa Hodge: Possibly.

Leonard Sikes: Something that they’re willing to discuss with their friends and neighbors, so it transcends just the audience, it goes way beyond that.

Teresa Hodge: Right and I think the next time you pick up the newspaper, or you look at the news, you’ll think about it.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and it may be, that’s the most important thing. If our only reference is what we’re seeing on television, if that’s our only reference to quote on quote “criminals,” people caught up in the criminal justice system, this is a new and fresh perspective.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. What I often talk to people, and I tell them what I do with Mission Launch, I’m amazed that they talk about ‘those people.’ They don’t think I’m one of those people when they’re talking to me.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: Then after, I let them go on and then I’ll say well, I’m actually one of the people I’m talking about, and so I think it’s just really important. I’m excited that we were invited to be able to bring five people who’ve been to prison so that the audience will not only get to see the actors, but they will actually be able to interact with five individuals who, I’m confident, if they walked down the street they wouldn’t have known.

Leonard Sikes: We’re halfway through the program, a really interesting discussion on prison re-entry and the arts community. Before our microphones today is Kristin Jackson, she is the connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. We have Teresa Hodge, she is founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and Justin McCarthy, the communications coordinator for Woolly Mammoth. We’re talking about the play Lights Rise On Grace, running now at Woolly Mammoth to April 26th, and let’s see if I can stumble through the website without screwing this up: www.woolymammoth.net, you’re shaking your heads?

Justin McCarthy: It’s almost … the two O’s and the to L’s is, it’s tough.

Leonard Sikes: Oh! Goodness gracious, www.woollymammoth.net.

Justin McCarthy: I work there and I mess it up every day.

Leonard Sikes: Just search for Woolly Mammoth, ladies and gentlemen, Woolly Mammoth and Washington DC. How many Woolly Mammoth’s can there be?

Justin McCarthy: Right. We’re the only one.

Leonard Sikes: I have this group in New York that said Leonard, you can’t pronounce a name to save your life. Now they’re gonna say you can’t give out a website address to save your life.

Justin McCarthy: This is hard, you know, those to O’s and those two L’s …

Leonard Sikes: Oh, Lord. Okay, I don’t think I’m getting, I think I’m getting very controlled answers from the three of you in terms of what the arts community can provide to this. When I sit down and talk with people caught up in the criminal justice system before these microphones, as I said before hitting the record button, the best shows are always after I stop it, and then they let loose with all of this emotion about how people just don’t get it when it comes to people coming out of the prison system, what it means for them, what it means for their kids. You take a look at some stats, and one out of every thirty people is currently, you’re gonna come into contact with, is currently involved in the criminal justice system and if you expound upon that people who have been arrested and people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system before, certainly criminologists have said one out of twenty.

So, you’re interacting every single day with people caught up in the criminal justice system. So what does that mean to the arts community to have so many people caught up in the criminal justice system interacting with us, our family, our kids, every single day? What does the arts community have to say to that?

Teresa Hodge: Well I think this is a right-now topic. Prison is an important topic, it’s a very expensive topic to our communities, and I think it’s one of those, people suffer in silence. Nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to say, “I have a family member in prison, I have a son in prison, I have a daughter in prison.” But what I’ve discovered is, when I reveal that I’ve been to prison, everybody lets me know about their secrets to.

Leonard Sikes: There we go. So many of us know people in our family, in our friends, that have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it’s not all that unusual.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. I said, in the theater last week, and so there was a hundred plus people there, if the statistics were right, five people had probably been to prison.

Leonard Sikes: Oh, probably more than that out of the hundred, caught up in the criminal justice system. The theater has led the discussion in terms of gay rights, the theater has led the discussion and the arts community has led the discussion in terms of rights for women, rights for African Americans, rights for just about every group that has marginalized within the country, so the theater community has had that powerful voice over the sense of decades and has contributed mightily to the discussion of issues that people find a hard time discussing. So, as you said, Justin, you bring a sense of humor to it and that allows you to talk about things that are ordinarily uncomfortable.

Justin McCarthy: I think so. It sort of lets people have these moments where they say, “Okay, it’s not just me and criminals,” you know, it allows for this space of connection that you don’t see, and especially with an issue like this where it’s sort of socially, I mean it’s not something that you discuss if you’re someone who’s affected by it. We’re kind of opening the door to that discussion, and it’s something that we try to do in our shows, which we don’t just produce to entertain people, we’re trying to sort of model a form of civic discourse with what we do, and particularly with our plays that address issues like this, like incarceration and re-entry.

Leonard Sikes: One of the things that Kristin said is that it is a topic that is emerging as a point of discussion, it is a topic that more people are feeling more comfortable talking about, simply because governor’s in every state in this country have taken a look at their overall budgets and said what percentage goes into corrections, and can we have an impact on that? People from both the right and left end of the spectrum are now supporting a discussion and alternatives to incarceration, and a different way of doing things. So this is a discussion that’s building momentum, but yet the average person out there is not like, “Well, gee how did the national’s do last night, what do you think the weather’s going to be like tomorrow, by the way how’s your son in prison?”

Teresa Hodge: Yeah, that’s not usually what follows how the nationals were doing that’s for sure.

Leonard Sikes: Yes. But I mean, do you understand?

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely.

Leonard Sikes: As you just said, Kristin, a little while ago, this is a conversation that a lot of people feel uncomfortable with because they’re not quite sure who those people in prison are. They see, the average person sees themselves as completely separate from those people locked up. They don’t see any connection at all to those individuals, and we’re talking about 1.5 million people it prison, another 500,000 in jail, so we’re talking about two million people who are behind bars today, and we’re also talking about another five million who are under community supervision today, so we’re talking about seven million human beings today. A snapshot in time, with about 600-700 thousand coming out of prison every year, many more than that coming our of the jail system. So, you’re talking about just an enormous amount of human beings.

Justin McCarthy: That’s correct.

Leonard Sikes: Now, it seems like it’s an appropriate time for the arts community to get involved in this and lead this discussion as the arts community has led discussions in other difficult topics throughout the years, correct?

Kristin Jackson: Absolutely. I mean, we believe in theater as a tool for social change, theater as a site for examining and understanding everyday life. We, you know, we believe that the theater can serve as a model for the sort of participatory, creative, democratic society that we want, and that we aspire to.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: So, I certainly believe that, as arts leaders, as arts makers, it is our responsibility to, you know, use the platforms that we have and work with our partners who are, you know, carrying, who are engaged in the fight already, and find ways to use these different sites that we have access to in order to, you know, bring folks together and change their way of thinking. I mean, being here in Washington DC, like that is an incredible opportunity, because, you know, Woolly Mammoth, we welcome folks from all sides of the political spectrum.

Leonard Sikes: Sure.

Kristin Jackson: And, I think that by providing the opportunity for these really diverse audiences to get together, and to hear from folks who are passionate about these issues and really think about their own positions, it’s a phenomenal opportunity and it’s what drives us, I think, as a theater company to do the work that we do.

Leonard Sikes: You know who I think does a wonderful job in terms of social change in the arts?

Kristin Jackson: Hm?

Leonard Sikes: Chris Rock.

Teresa Hodge: Yes.

Justin McCarthy: I agree.

Leonard Sikes: I love watching his concerts because he’ll get involved in issues all over the spectrum, issues that make you laugh and issues that make you feel terribly uncomfortable, but issues that make you think: “Wait a minute,” he may have a point here, and so I think that’s what the arts community does. You all have leverage that the rest of us, in government and, we have to be so careful and we have to be so diplomatic, and the arts community is just out there saying, “Look, this is something that you need to look at.” Lights Rise On Grace, I would imagine, would be that sort of play. Something that people really need to look at but at the same time enjoy themselves in terms of the experience.

Justin McCarthy: It is. It is, and you’ll see these, sort of, humorous relatable elements happening alongside these really kind of dangerous and scary moments in the play. I’m thinking of one in particular, when the character who becomes incarcerated, the first person who becomes incarcerated that the audience encounters, he meets someone in his first few days in prison who’s been in the prison for long time, and their first interaction is so very funny and comic, because it’s just the awkwardness of two people meeting for the first time, but of course it’s prison so there’s also like the threat of violence and this awful kind of context hanging over it. So you can look at it in sort of one of two ways, you know, but of course the audience ends up laughing along because it’s something that’s relatable and …

Leonard Sikes: Sure.

Justin McCarthy: Something you can kind of understand, but all of a sudden these two people aren’t just like criminals that have no connection to you, they’re people just like you and so it’s this incredible moment and the play is full of moments just like that.

Leonard Sikes: Teresa, as somebody who’s been caught up in the criminal justice system, what is it that people need to understand about people caught up in the criminal justice system that they just need to understand, it’s something that they don’t think of on a day-to-day basis, they need to understand it, what do they need to understand?

Teresa Hodge: I think that first, we just need to understand that they’re people, and I think that right across the board that’s just an important piece. There are individuals who maybe made a mistake and their worst moment was put on trial, and going to prison is very scary for the person, it’s often traumatizing for the person to be in prison, to be away from their family, to be kept away from society, to be kept away from technology.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: It is incredibly difficult to come home from prison when we live in such a technology-savvy age, and every three months, technology is doing something new and different. I think that we have to be patient, and we have to try to find creative ways to engage people because it’s very expensive for people to come home and get back on their feet. I’ve found very few people who were sitting in prison wondering when they were gonna come back to prison, but yet I’m always baffled by the number of, for me, women who I engaged and encountered while I was in prison who had real strong dreams and hopes for their future, and six months later I find out that they’re back in prison.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: It makes me stop and wonder what happened. Where did a system break down? Where were they unable to latch to a community, and how were they unable to kind of attach to that last good thought that they had, which was in prison?

Leonard Sikes: I can’t imagine a more complex set of human emotions, when you do come out of the prison system because women have kids that they wanna reunite with, you have a drug habit that you’ve got to conquer, many people caught up in the criminal justice system have mental health problems, they have to come out and find work and yet people turn them down because of their criminal histories. You have the stereotype, I mean if a person comes back and says, “Hi, I’ve spent the last five years in prison,” you know, what does that mean to the social circle and, does that repulse does that intrigue people? I mean, these are just incredible human dimensions that just crash out of these six or seven hundred thousand people on a year-to-year basis when they come out of that prison system. The emotions are raw, the issues are real.

Justin McCarthy: Oh, absolutely, and you’re seeing, what you’re talking about, Len, is all of these, just this incredible, you know, laundry list of difficulties and challenges that are facing re-entering citizens.

Leonard Sikes: And I sometimes wonder, with all of the things that people have to deal with when they come out of the prison system, I mean, I have a women offender sitting by these microphones basically saying it is almost impossible to do what everybody wants me to do, it is almost impossible to succeed, and sometimes they get the sense that we stack the cards tremendously, which is one of the reasons why Lights On Grace that is running now, through Woolly Mammoth here at Washington DC, running now through April 26th, become such an important point and I’m glad we’ve had this possibility, this opportunity to discuss the play, and discuss Woolly Mammoth, and discuss re-entry. By our microphones today has been Kristin Jackson, she is connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Teresa Hodge, founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and Justin McCarthy, he is communications coordinator for, again, for Woolly Mammoth, I wanna try this one more time: ww – Just, go ahead and Google Woolly Mammoth and DC. www.woollymammoth.net. I got it right for the first time at the end of the program.

Justin McCarthy: Nailed it.

Leonard Sikes: Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate you criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Share

The Task Force on 21st Century Policing

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/03/presidents-task-force-on-21st-century-policing-laurie-robinson/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. The title of today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Our guest, back at our microphones, Laurie Robinson. Laurie, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Laurie: Hello, Leonard, and happy to be here.

Leonard: I am going to read an introduction about Laurie. Laurie is a George Mason University professor. She was named Co-Chair to the President’s Policing Task Force or The Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The new task force is part of the White House’s response to the ongoing turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities. Robinson is Co-Chair of the task force with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Charles is a former Chief of Police here in Washington DC.

The White House said that the goals were to include new ways to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. The task force was asked to prepare a report within 90 days, which has been done. Robinson was twice appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs first by President Bill Clinton and then by President Obama. She is the longest-serving agency heads in its 45-year history of.

Laurie, I want to start off the topics. Do you have one sentence that you bring to mind as to the 80-page report, because it’s very comprehensive and involves a lot of implications for the criminal justice system?

Laurie: Yes, Len, I would say, I would sum it up as follows that every citizen and every community should be treated by the police respectfully and fairly, and then at the same time we need to recognize that law enforcement officers have very tough and very risky jobs. I think together that really sums up what we found and recommended in this report.

Leonard: It’s been called the most challenging job in America, American policing. I can’t imagine … I was a police officer for six years. I can’t imagine a tougher job, especially today.

Laurie: Right. We heard from over 120 witnesses, and got many submissions of testimony beyond that, and we heard both from community members and from a number of people in law enforcement and other citizens and professionals beyond that, and that really supports what you’re saying.

Leonard: It is extraordinarily tough. I am going to summarize the 80 pages. This is my summation, not yours. Here is what I got out of the report. Building trust between law enforcement agencies and officers and communities, real emphasis on data collection, a discussion of alternatives to arrest, improving police training, improving police communications, especially as it pertains to social media, but I think it goes far beyond that, and the best use of technology. Did I do a good job summarizing the report?

Laurie: Well, you’ve certainly kind of boiled it down to a very few sentences. Let me emphasize some of those things and kind of expand a little bit beyond that. Certainly, it does talk about the need to build community trust. We talked about, as I mentioned before, fair, impartial, and respectful policing. We talk about the notion of procedural justice as an important issue of ensuring that people are fairly and impartially treated, and the notion of law enforcement adopting, what we call, the guardian mindset rather than a warrior mindset, as a notion of protecting the community.

In the area of better data that’s something that we thought was really important, and that there is an important federal role here as well. So better data, for example, on the use of force, on officer involved shootings, on deaths in custody, on diversity of departments. Now, the Bureau of Justice statistics has gathered data on kind of the makeup of departments over the years, but it’s very incomplete.

Part of that reason, Len, is that many of the departments in this country, as you know, are very small. About half of the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in this country have fewer than 10 sworn officers. Obviously, those small departments don’t have a data collection department within them, and it’s hard for them to regularly collect data and submit it to the federal government. But we think there has to be a better effort made to collect data.

In the data arena, we think it’s very important as well for local departments to survey their communities annually to get a feel for how the community feels about the department. Now, turning to some other areas, training you mentioned.

Leonard: Yes.

Laurie: We do feel that training is a very, very important area, both for new recruits and also for existing officers. There are number of areas where we suggest that training is particularly important. One area for example is on handling the mentally ill.

Leonard: Which is a little bit tough to do.

Laurie: Very tough. And yet, there’s been training developed, what’s called Crisis Intervention Training, CIT, and a number of departments have already instituted that kind of training. But oftentimes it’s for a specialized unit and we recommend that every officer receive this kind of training because you never know when you’re going to need that, when you are going to encounter someone who may have those kind of mental difficulties.

A number of the incidents that have occurred around the country that have tragically escalated into an event with a shooting or some kind of injury, have involved individuals with mental illness. Having officers better equipped with information about how to de-escalate those events in a circumstance where nobody is in danger of immediate injury or bystanders, would be very valuable.

Leonard: It’s interesting that crime is going down over the course of the last 20, 22 years, but the incidents of amount of contact with people who have mental health history seems to be increasing not decreasing. Here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, those people diagnosed as having mental health issues and our response to it has certainly grown over the course of years. It just seems to be interesting how crime has had almost a continual decline over the last 22, 23 years, there have been … it’s every once in a while in terms of going back up, but how we are encountering more people with mental health problems?

Laurie: Right. I think we can attribute some of that to the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill over the last decade. Of course, we know that the criminal justice system has been the recipient of those individuals in many cases. Many of the mentally ill, of course, are homeless and encounter police and then the jail system and so on.

We also think the training on procedural justice, as we talked about a minute ago, is important, and also more generally on de-escalation of incidents. But one of the things, Len, that’s very interesting is that there is not much research available, we learned, on what kind of training works best. We urge that the federal government’s National Institute of Justice or elsewhere, invest more money in research to learn what kind of training for police is most effective, whether it’s scenario-based training or otherwise.

We’ve also recommended that the federal government develop and support some kind of postgraduate Institute of Policing for senior executives to educate upcoming police leaders from across the country as we are heading into the 21st century. That’s perhaps is somewhat like what Great Britain has.

They have a National College of Policing for upcoming police leaders, and something like that could be very helpful in kind of training the next generation of leaders in this country.

Leonard: But as you said 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, most of them small, it becomes an almost impossible task to try to set up some sort of comprehensive standards when you’ve got 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, as you mentioned before, we hit the record button. We’re not a European country, we’re not a unified system. It’s just almost impossible to get the word down to these 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies.

We do have police in correctional training commissions in every state, and I would imagine it’s their responsibility. But this is almost unbelievably difficult task that we’re talking about.

Laurie: I think that one of the great allies in this will be the professional associations, looking to groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Sheriffs, potentially the police unions, and also the Major City Chiefs, the Major County Sheriffs, and Police Executive Research Forum, PERF and others. I know the International Association of Chiefs of Police has held a seminar, or a webinar rather, recently to talk to their members about the White House report.

PERF has sent a copy of this to all of its members, I believe. Major City Chiefs has as well. Groups like IACP and the others are very tied to their member organizations, their member association of membership. Having peers working with peers, I think to educate them about recommendations in the report to have them involved in training of their members is one key or route to helping change the curve.

Leonard: I am going to read a quick passage from the beginning of the report. This is an incomplete passage. It became very clear that it’s time for a comprehensive and multifaceted examination of all interrelated parts of the criminal justice system. Within your report, you’re just not talking necessarily about law enforcement. You’re talking about the entire criminal justice system, because if memory serves me correctly, within the Ferguson situation a lot of the complaints were not just about law enforcement, but they were about courts, they were about fines, they were talking about the criminal justice system, in general.

Laurie: One of the things that did become clear, Len, during the course of our hearings, was that while the police are the faith of the criminal justice system to most citizens, that obviously the police are not responsible for, let’s say, the drug laws, or the length of prison sentences, and yet many citizens blame the police for things that they’re unhappy about with regard to the criminal justice system.

Oftentimes, I think the police may get unfairly blamed for things that, of course, they are not responsible for.

Leonard: Go ahead, please.

Laurie: The first recommendation, the very first recommendation in our report is that the President appoint a broader task force to look at the entire criminal justice system and look at the whole set of issues involved with crime and criminal justice, not just the system itself, but kind of harms and crimes, and how these broader issues should and can be addressed in our country.

Leonard: Recommendation number one, National Crime and Criminal Justice Task Force making recommendations on comprehensive criminal justice reforms. You see your 90-day report and your hearings throughout the country on 21st century policing and the problems that we’ve been having within communities, you see this as the springboard for a much larger discussion on the entire criminal justice system.

Laurie: Right. There is right now, as you know, a great deal of interest in criminal justice reform, on both sides of the aisle, if you will, both conservatives and liberals in Congress is an example and in state legislatures right now interested on, again both Republicans and Democrats, in looking at issues like sentencing reform, looking at drug issues, looking at mandatory minimum sentences anew. It’s a prime time to re-examine, as a society, how we’re approaching these issues, and it’s not a one-sided interest. It’s from many different viewpoints.

We thought it’s not that our recommendations should be ignored until that’s done because that probably would take a year and a half or so. But it’s definitely something that needs attention.

Leonard: We’ve had two previously, during my lifetime, President’s task force on crime and justice back in the 1960s, which propelled me into the criminal justice system by the way, and then we had another one. We don’t have these large task forces that often. It seems that now is a time to look at fundamental change within the criminal justice system once again. I wanted to make that point that these task forces that you’re recommending really don’t come along all that often.

Every once in a while we need to rethink what we’re doing, have a national conversation and rethink what we’re doing and how we’re doing. That said, what you’re basically saying is now is the time for another conversation.

Laurie: That’s absolutely correct. The 1960s Lyndon Johnson Crime Commission, which by the way I teach to my students about that at George Mason University now, had remarkable impact on the field, on the criminal justice field, as you know. It helped to professionalize police; it helped to build a criminal justice education in the whole area of criminology. It instituted the 911 system, which did not exist before. It led to the creation of regional crime labs, many, many things in our area.

Leonard: I went to college, after I was a police office based upon those grants.

Laurie: Absolute, the LEEP grants. It led to the creation of the Law Enforcement Assistance administration, as you know, LEAA, and the successor agency, OJP, which I headed. It is time for another commission or task force of that kind, and so as I said that was our first recommendation in the report.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. Laurie Robinson is back at our microphone. She is a George Mason professor, University professor. She was named Co-Chair to the President’s Policing Task Force of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing with Charles Ramsey, the Philadelphia Chief of Police. I’m delighted to have Laurie back as one of the true representatives at the national level for the criminal justice system again.

She was the longest-serving head of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice in its history. Every time Laurie goes off to do something else like teach, we in Washington fall right back into the middle of a firestorm. Al right, let me get around [inaudible 00:17:11] conversations that I’ve been having with law enforcement officers.

There is a sense of confusion on the part of folks in law enforcement, who said for decades now we’ve been browbeaten with the New York City miracle, with the broken windows philosophy, with aggressive policing, because when I was a younger police officer, we were taught not to make all these arrests. We were taught only to bring in really good cases to courts, really good, either traffic stops, or really good criminal arrest, and be available for the calls as they came in, and to interact with the community.

Suddenly, over the point of decades, because crime plummeted in New York City through very aggressive policing and then that was exported to the rest of the country. I must’ve read hundreds of articles about aggressive policing, aggressive traffic stops, aggressive stops of people in the community as long as you have a legal right to stop that individual.

Now the cops are basically saying, hey, Leonard, we’re little confused. We’ve been schooled for decades about aggressive policing, and now maybe we’re supposed to draw back. Can you help them figure this out?

Laurie: Well, I think that what we’re seeing is that aggressive crime-fighting strategies need to be balanced with an understanding of what I said toward the beginning of the program about a guardian mindset. That is not all about being a warrior mindset, but a guardian mindset. By the way, one of the recommendations we have is that, any research that’s being done henceforth to evaluate crime-fighting strategies needs to not only look at the impact on reduction of crime, but needs to look at the collateral damage that has or can arise from those kind of aggressive crime-fighting strategies, collateral damage on community trust.

We’ve never looked at those kinds of things at least very rigorously. When we look at, oh, we’ve dropped crime in XYZ bill by X percent, but without looking at whether it’s eroded community trust. To those who are raising the question, do we need to reconsider, I’d say yes, we do need to reconsider. Because at the end of the day, when you’ve eroded community trust, you actually are eroding your ability to fight crime, because you need the community on board in order to reduce crime over time.

You and I talked before the show about difficulties in recruiting for police departments, and one thing we heard during our hearings was the difficulty some departments are encountering in recruiting among African-American populations in some cities, several of our witnesses said, well, you know it is hard to recruit among young men, young African-American men, in some of those neighborhoods, and what a surprise, she said, ironically, this one witness, when they are used to being treated not very kindly by lot of the police who are patrolling in those neighborhoods. It kind of goes hand in hand that you have to build respectful relationship and then you have people more on board, right.

Leonard: Absolutely, it’s crucial I think that we have to have the communities on board. The communities need to be partners with law enforcement, need to be partners with parole and probation, need to be partners with corrections. The community has to be on board or we’re never going to completely solve the crime problem that we have in the country.

The fact that we have a problem within our communities we need to examine that. I think it’s obvious from your report and I think we need to do a much better job of communicating and carrying out the will of the communities. The cops are, again, they are confused by all of this because they’re saying, Leonard, if you go to a community meeting, oftentimes you hear community members ask for aggressive policing in terms of a person who is bothering them, a person who’s keeping them up at night, kids hanging out in the street corner.

Again, they are saying, well, we do listen to the community, but when we do this, it becomes a problem. We have to have a way of figuring out. The communities got to communicate with the law enforcement. You in your report stressed that there are community responsibilities as well.

Laurie: Absolutely, yes. The community needs to, for example, work with law enforcement, serve on those community advisory boards of reach out and work with. We talk about the involvement of law enforcement in schools, but there also has to be community involvement in those schools, as an example.

Leonard: One person mentioned that there should be community leaders riding in police cars. There should be members of the clergy out there riding with police officers, community leaders riding with police officers, so they can see firsthand exactly what they have to experience. There’s a constant communication between the community and the individual law enforcement officers.

I think that in your report talking about the focus on community responsibility towards the problem, I think, is bringing a lot of people along, because on one side of the continuum there’s a lot of police officers who feel that they’re being unfairly maligned, and on the other side, they’re saying, but it’s just as much the community’s responsibility as it is our responsibility.

Laurie: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

Leonard: Where do we go to from here in terms of bringing both parties together and making sure that law enforcement officers have the training, they have the equipment, they have the data, they have the level of sensitivity, they have alternatives to arrest that they are doing the proper job of communicating. This is going to involve a lot of money. It’s going to involve a lot of training, and it’s going to involve a lot of sensitivity.

We’re already taking the most difficult, and in some cases dangerous job in the United States and we’re making it even more complex. Police officers today need to go beyond the stereotypical enforcer to the ladies and gentlemen representing the community. That’s going to take almost a new philosophy and new training and a new kind of police officer.

Laurie: Well, one thing I want to emphasize is that a whole chapter in our report addresses officers safety and wellness. One of our key points was that procedural justice, that I talked about earlier, have to be applied internally within departments as well. There has to be procedural justice in disciplines proceedings for officers. There is a lot of stress for officers within their own departments and how they feel. Whether they feel they are being fairly treated.

Sometimes that stress can get taken outside the department in the way they might deal with citizens. They have to feel that they are being fairly treated. Generally, as we’ve been spoken about, these are very high stress jobs for them. Frequently, there are higher than normal levels of divorce, of alcohol use and sadly of suicide among officer ranks. So departments need to make officers’ safety and wellness a priority.

We recommend that the Justice Department continue to make officers’ safety and wellness a top priority for the Justice Department as well. By the way, sadly my Co-Chair Chuck Ramsey very recently lost an officer within his ranks as well. This is something that it can have a devastating impact on the departments. We recommended that every police officer in the United States have a bulletproof vest and that there be a mandatory wear policy for officers and also mandatory seatbelt wear policy.

Many of the deaths of police officers in this country come from auto accidents, not from a bullet. Because officers are so committed, they are racing to the scene of a crime and they don’t put on their seat belts. They have a lot of equipment on, you probably know this. It’s kind of cumbersome to put on the seat belt on.

Leonard: In the final analysis we all want the same thing. Community wants what police officers want, which is community safety. Everybody wants fair and respectful treatment, everybody wants everybody else to support them in a larger goal of a peaceful crime free community. In the final analysis, we all, whether we’re part of the criminal justice system, or part of the community, we all want this conversation.

I guess, there are a lot of police officers who are simply saying, folks make up your mind, what is it that you want us to do, what is it that you want us to be, and once we’ve agreed to that then let’s accomplish it.

Laurie: That’s exactly right. But I will tell you, one of the strong themes that I heard throughout these two months that we worked on this report, Americans are problem solvers. They are going to come together and work on this. I am an optimist and I think we are on the road to improvement in this area.

Leonard: Well, that’s the interesting thing because if we do, we take that first recommendation, the National Crime and Justice Task Force to make recommendations on Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform, we could, indeed, enter a new era in terms of not just how we conduct law enforcement, but how we conduct ourselves in the criminal justice system to make sure that everybody sees a sense of fairness in terms of how the criminal justice system is applied, and how the laws are applied, and would examine laws themselves as to whether or not they should be on the books, whether or not they need to be enforced or enforce as rigorously as they are.

Laurie: That’s correct and that gives me hope too that we’re heading toward a fairer and more respectful criminal justice system overall.

Leonard: Again in 45 years of being in the criminal justice system, and we’ll have just 30 seconds to respond to this before we wrap up. 45 years in the criminal justice system, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to sit down and have a conversation that’s probably overdue, probably needed. I think the average police officer desperately wants to serve the community and the average police officer desperately wants the community to see them as a participant in their best interest and not an occupying force. I think you’d agree with that.

Laurie: I’m a huge fan of law enforcement and I believe that those are their goals, and that we can achieve that kind of justice together.

Leonard: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had at our microphones, back at her microphones Laurie Robinson. She is a George University, a George Mason University professor who was in-charge of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, a longest-serving agency head in their 45-year history. She was appointed to the Task Force on 21st Century Policing by President Obama.

She served with again Charles Ramsey, Chief of Police in Philadelphia. Laurie, I commend both you and Charles Ramsey for a report that leads us into a much better direction ladies and gentlemen. This is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Share