Archives for April 22, 2016

Childhood Trauma and Criminality

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/childhood-trauma-criminality-and-prison-reentry/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guest today is Dana Goldstein who wrote an intriguing article titled “Meet Our Prisoners”. It’s a comprehensive study of 122 men and women released in state prisons in the Boston area. The title of the show today is Childhood Trauma and Criminality. Dana, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dana: Hey, Len. I’m happy to be here.

Leonard: I’m really happy for you to be here. You’ve got a long history of writing about criminal justice issues. She is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. Her work has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic and other magazines. She’s the author of Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

You know all about this issue today. Tell me a little bit about the study, who did the study, who they interviewed and how you’ve retained or they’ve retained these individuals in the study.

Dana: Yeah. It’s really hard to study the lives of people who’ve been recently incarcerated because they change jobs very often or are unemployed. They don’t have regular addresses. They often have many different phone numbers over the course of a year. It’s even difficult for something as comprehensive as the census to pick these people up and really track what’s going on in their lives.

Three leading scholars: Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist, Anthony Braga of Rutgers who is a criminologist, and Rihanna Cole who works for the state of Massachusetts, they really wanted to find out what we can know about this population. They came up with something called the Boston Reentry Study. It’s a small sample size. It looks at 122 men and women. They were all released from state prisons to Boston neighborhoods in the years of 2012 and 2013. The study retention is amazing at 90%. This is basically unheard of with this population. The way they did it is that they paid each participant in the study $50 every time they came in for an interview so that was a really strong incentive. Beyond that, they also paid the relatives of these participants $50 to keep in touch and have interviews. This ended up being crucially important because for many of the former prisoners, the female family members: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, they were their connection to the community and connection to society after being released from prison. Having the cooperation of those family members in the study ended up being really key for the retention.

Leonard: One of the things that you point out in the article is up to 2/3 of people in previous interview panels dropped out. The fact that the researchers had a 90% retention rate …

Dana: Yeah. That attracted my attention as a journalist right away because when I look for research to write about in this column I write, Justice Lab, I’m often dealing with some methodological weaknesses with this particular population of justice-system involved individuals. This was a very strong methodology with a 90% retention rate.

Leonard: The bottom line is that this is a high-quality study, a 90% retention rate, involving people out of the prison system and their family members. The way that the researchers were able to retain them at the 90% level was the fact that individuals received a stipend for every interview, correct?

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. The researchers also took other extraordinary measures. They told me that one person in the study had 15 different cell phone numbers over the course of a year so a lot of … That was something, when my editor read the draft of my pre-shoot she went, “Oh, wow! That’s fascinating!” A lot of what the research team and their assistants were doing was just tracking these people, calling them constantly and saying to them, “Oh, if you’re running out of minutes on your phone, please just call us and let us know what the new number is.” The diligence really did pay off.

Leonard: That’s what fascinated me because when I first read the article, it was like, “Oh, another panel study of individuals coming out of the prison system.” I saw 90% and I said, “Wow! This is a really high-quality study” and it’s something that all of us in the criminal justice system need to pay attention to as the study rolls out. When is the completion date for the study?

Dana: It’s going to be completed over the next year or two. The first two sections, which I write about in this piece, one deals with the lifetimes up until incarceration of these folks so everything that happened to them in their childhood and their adolescence. It’s so sad and so fascinating. Secondly, the second part deals with what happens to them when they reenter society after being incarcerated. Do they find a job? Where do they live? What are their relationships like? The third piece is, I think, going to get a lot of attention. That’s going to be on recidivism. How many of these folks end up being incarcerated once again? We’re still waiting for that piece.

Leonard: In this, with a 12 month study, right? Followed the individuals over the course of 12 months?

Dana: I believe so, yes.

Leonard: Okay. It’s fascinating. I’m going to start off with one of the first observations that it’s no surprise that former prisoners are likely to be poor. Many have had troubled upbringings. Over 40% said they had witnessed a homicide. Half had been physically abused by their parent. Spanking did not count. A third had witnessed domestic violence.

I interview a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system on this show. Their story mimics what you’ve told in your article. Can you talk to me about that?

Dana: Yeah. One of the things that really surprised me so much was that statistic that 40% of the 122 people in this study had witnessed a homicide. That’s extremely big number for something that you would assume would be very rare. I think what really is driving what we’re talking about here is the segregated high-poverty neighborhoods where these people are growing up. They are living in neighborhoods that are essentially segregated from middle-class America. Crime is concentrated in these places. Family poverty is concentrated. The schools are not particularly effective.

The homes that the children were living in as described in the study were very noisy and chaotic. One person in the study named Patrick, he had his mother who was addicted to heroin and he grew up in his grandparents’ house. There were a dozen other relatives that were constantly moving in and out. The uncles were constantly getting into physical fights with one another and sometimes would set things up on fire. Patrick, as a child, just thought this was normal behavior. It was only as an adult reflecting back decades later, after serving time in prison himself, that he realized that everything that set him on his path to becoming a lawbreaker really began in this chaotic childhood home that struck him as completely normal at the time. I think it’s really important to remember that many of the people in our state prison system, in our jails, they’re coming from a traumatized background that may not even register to them as out of the ordinary.

Leonard: I sent the article out to 4 people who are administrators within the criminal justice system because I always get input from other people before doing radio shows. They said it’s their experience that what Dana is describing in this article is not unusual. It’s just not Boston. Again, I’m fascinated by the high retention rate. I’m fascinated by the quality of the research. The researchers themselves should be really complimented for doing something unique. What they’re saying, what they’re telling me is that what Dana is describing is commonplace. That’s one of the other things that I wanted to get, do you have a sense that this is just the Boston area or this really is something that you can extrapolate to other parts of the country?

Dana: No, absolutely not. These are similar life stories that you’d hear from any group of incarcerated people. I think normally you hear this sort of anecdotally. What this study does is it really gathers a random group of people that are coming out of prison in one year in one place and it’s giving us some data to work with. These are the sort of stories that social workers around the country who deal with this population, probation and parole officers, will tell you that on any day of the week.

Leonard: I do want to tell our audience right up front that I’m quite sure that I’m and Dana, we’re not making excuses for criminality but the reality of what it is that we in parole and probation, because the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington DC, but we in the criminal justice system, especially community corrections, mainstream corrections, this is the population who we have to deal with. People come along and say, “You need to reduce the rates of recidivism. You need to offer programs. You need to provide incentives.” All of which we thoroughly agree with and we’re one of the better-equipped agencies in the country in terms of providing social services to people under supervision but this is a rough group of individuals to help succeed.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. Another thing that was very poignant in this study was that the participants’ crimes often looked really similar to the victimization they had experienced or witnessed as a child. For example, one man in the study, Peter, when he was 12 years old, he watched a man get stabbed to death in a brawl outside a bar in his neighborhood. Well, what do you know? Later on as an adult he was incarcerated after a series of stabbing assaults. There’s this cyclical quality to the type of violence that a child is exposed to. Then for some children, of course not all, many people are exposed to violence and don’t perpetrate violence, but of the population that’s in our prisons, it is a cyclical quality so it’s just really important to consider that when you think about what services are going to be available to people.

Leonard: When I was putting together the program today I did talk with the Commissioner of Corrections. He and I years ago sat down and interviewed younger individuals who were charged with homicide at the Baltimore City Jail. There was quite a few of them. We didn’t use their names. It was for a governor’s crime summit. We were just trying to understand life through their eyes. One of the things that they said was violence is normal. My words, not theirs, but violence is normal. We learned violence in our communities. We learned violence from our immediate upbringing. Violence is something that is good. It protects us. It protects our family. It protects our property. This is something that is normal. This is something that we think is in our best interest and why you don’t understand that, we don’t understand that. Your article, based upon the research, sort of mimics that experience.

Dana: Yes. I think a lot of what’s going on is the sort of the slice against masculinity, ideas of respect. Those are very powerful currencies in the communities where many of our incarcerated people are coming from. What looks like a relatively trivial conflict can often lead to violence in these neighborhoods and communities that are extremely high-poverty and living with extreme scarcity. Those are the experiences that are in the past of the population we’re talking about.

Leonard: You’ve described already that many former prisoners and their family members describe noisy and chaotic childhood homes. We could go on about that if you’d like a little bit more and then we could move over to schools.

Dana: Yeah. I think I basically already described that but it’s basically the sense that there’s no stability. Many of these children are passed from caretaker to caretaker over the course of a childhood. There may be a mother or father who’s a drug addict. They could be passed to a grandparent and then passed into the foster care system and then eventually come out and be reunited with a parent. All of this lack of stability has profound effects on the child’s ability to do well in school, the child’s ability to envision a productive adult life. The child could end up, in the midst of all this instability, looking to their peer group for support and guidance. If the peer group happens to be gang-involved, if the peer group is involved with crime, that can really lead the child astray.

Leonard: You say that school was really a refuge for participants. 81% were suspended or expelled, many as early as elementary school. Few received support services such as counseling or tutoring. Eventually 60% dropped out of high school. If you come from that background educationally, if you come from that background emotionally, the deck is going to be stacked against you.

Dana: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things that was disheartening about looking at the school portion of the study is that whereas in many middle-class or affluent families there would be a lot of interventions for a troubled kid. A kid who was acting out, a kid who seemed depressed, a kid who had some sort of traumatic experience at home, the school might spring into action and line up a therapist to meet with the child. Parents would be advocating for that. In those kids’ lives, a lot of times the schools looked the other way. It might not necessarily be because the teachers or principals didn’t care but they were overwhelmed. They would have a school where hundreds of children were dealing with similar trauma. The schools didn’t have the resources or the extra support they needed to provide each and every student that needed it with the extra help. School was not a place that was “rescuing” kids from these environments.

Leonard: You’ve already said that violence seemed normal to Patrick, the person that you specifically mentioned. Ultimately 41% of the study participants served time for violent crimes. Violence is an integral, everyday, normal process in the lives of the people who were interviewed.

Dana: Yeah. That’s really important to think about because I think the entire criminal justice reform conversation right now, a big part of it is about decreasing the sentences and being more rehabilitative for people who have done nonviolent crimes. We have this image of the kid who’s maybe picked up for selling a little bit of drugs or maybe he was driving in a car and his friend was the one who shot the gun. Actually, a huge proportion of our prisoners have themselves been involved in multiple incidences of violence. If we’re really looking at turning around our criminal justice system, decreasing mass incarceration, focusing more on rehabilitation within our criminal justice system, we must have this focus on those who have been convicted of violent crimes.

Leonard: I do want to talk about that but we are at the break. The program is going by like wildfire. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She writes for Justice Lab and reports on the intersection of education and criminal justice. You can reach her at themarshallproject.org, the marshallproject.org.

Dana, that is the issue right now because there is a huge conversation going on in the country. I’m assuming, I’ve been told that every governor has talked to every correctional administrator in every state basically saying we can no longer sustain the level of incarceration. We’ve got to cut back on the numbers of people that we incarcerate. We’re spending far more money on prisons than we are on colleges and schools. In that light, you are now finding bipartisan support for justice reform across the board but nobody is really quite sure what justice reform means. Your comments before the break are correct. We’re really focusing on the nonviolent rather than the violent but so many individuals who are being charged with nonviolent crimes have violent histories. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to come to grips with who the individuals are within the criminal justice system and provide services if we’re going to break the cycle of incarceration.

Dana: Yeah, Len, you’re exactly right. Even those who are convicted of nonviolent crimes as you rightfully point out may have a violent history in their past. You think about the bipartisan movement across the country that’s springing on us and saying “We’re really going to reduce our prison population.” That’s, in my view, a very positive saying but where the consensus can unravel is exactly this question of can we look to a more rehabilitative, less punitive approach for our violent offenders? Oftentimes, when you talk to the conservative folks who support criminal justice reform, they actually would like to maybe even stiffen sentences for violent criminals. I’ve written another article about this which reports on the Cut 50 Movement, the idea that you need to reduce the prison population by 50% which so far some of the conservatives are quite skeptical of. There is consensus but underneath that there is still debate about how exactly do we want to treat those who are convicted of violent offenses. This Boston Reentry Study is, I think, quite powerful in humanizing who those people really are.

Leonard: I think that’s one of the reasons why we bring current people caught up in the criminal justice system and people who are off supervision because the issue is that I’ll sit there and I’ll have three people in front of me and I’ll say, “Okay, you are a criminal.” I say that specifically just to provoke a reaction from that individual. That person will sit back and go, “Look, Leonard. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not a criminal” which is the best possible answer. Then I would elicit from them what was created for them, what did they create for themselves to remove themselves from the criminal justice system to do better while under supervision. Services, services, services, programs seems to be such a huge issue, yet if you take a look at surveys of state prison systems, 10% are getting drug treatment. A similar percentage are getting mental health treatment. If 80% of the people caught up in the criminal justice system have histories of substance abuse, if 50% have histories of mental health, unless we provide the programs we’re not going to break the cycle.

Dana: You’re absolutely right. That’s just appalling that there are not more available than there are, given what we know about this population. Since you mentioned those with mental health issues, one of the interesting things about the Boston study that I’m writing about here is that female offenders, although they were only 12% of the sample, some of the findings on them were very interesting. They were much more likely to have mental illness issues, for example. We know that the women in prison especially need some of these services.

Leonard: You say that nearly all of the female offenders in the study, 12% of the sample, reported being survivors of sexual violence.

Dana: Yes. That is stunning in and of itself. Basically, all of the women in prison in Boston had experienced sexual violence in their life previous to being incarcerated. I think there’s two things that come from that. First, you want to make sure that prison itself is to the extent possible as free of sexual violence as possible. We know we’re on a nationwide effort with PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, to deal with that. It’s very important for women inmates as well as male inmates. Secondly, again, it’s an area where therapeutic services need to be available. There needs to be space within the system for women to talk about and heal from these experiences.

Leonard: We run groups here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for women. The groups that I participated in, and they have to vote to let me in, and for the ones who I’ve interviewed by these microphones, virtually to a person they have talked about the fact that they were sexually assaulted by a family member, or a friend of the family, or somebody in the community before their mid-teens. This is a common experience, I think.

Dana: Yes, that’s very, very common. It’s very common.

Leonard: Okay. I want to ask a larger philosophical question and then I want to get into the fact that those who were picked up from prison and who had welcoming parties and spent fewer hours alone, they seemed to adjust better than those who didn’t because people are intrigued by the next phase of it.  What works? What can we do? What can the system do? My question is this: If we are dealing with individuals with such profound emotional histories in terms of childhood trauma, in terms of not doing well in school which is an understatement, if they’re dealing with histories of violence directed towards them, and women, sexual violence, and virtually all the women that I’ve talked to have had children, does it get to the point where it almost becomes impossible for the criminal justice system, let alone the larger society, to deal with people who have such profound issues?

Dana: I hate to say impossible because I know that there’s probation officers and therapists within prisons that are helping people turn their lives around every day. What I do want to say is what’s clear from these findings is that our prison system has become our social safety net of last resort. In the absence of a robust mental health system, in the absence of a robust drug-addiction treatment system in this country, in the absence of a robust effort to reform and improve all urban schools, not just a couple of famous charter schools, we see the prison system step up and be the place where society chooses to send these folks that fall through every other crack. We know the cracks are large, the cracks are gaping for this population of people so what we’re asking the prison system to do in turning around these people’s lives is in fact basically an unrealistic expectation given that we haven’t provided a lot of other safety nets to help these folks.

Leonard: There are programs, you would agree, that do cut recidivism by anywhere from 10-20%. 10-20% fewer people going back to the prison system can mean eventually the savings of billions of dollars and smaller prison systems so the programs … There is a point where the programs do apply. There is a point where the programs do work but the programs have to be there. The programs have to exist and they have to exist in sufficient numbers to have an impact.

Dana: Right. We know that there’s wonderful programs that help people get jobs that cut recidivism rates, that college classes behind bars significantly cut recidivism rates. We know that anger management in our cognitive behavioral therapy can help cut recidivism rates. We do know that there’s all these things that work but they’re not available to every person that needs them.

Leonard: Let’s talk about life after release. Those who were picked up from prison by loved ones who had welcome home parties and who spent fewer hours alone in their first week of adjustment seemed to do better than others which echoes a theme that we have here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in terms of family support for those people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. There seems to be some connection between family support and how well they do.

Dana: Yeah. It’s not that there was anything so magical about having a party. It was really the fact that you had the party and that you spent fewer hours alone meant that you had the family and friends that were checking in with you and cared about you and that you had kept in contact with them while you were incarcerated enough that they were there for you when you left. It’s also really important to mention the issue of age here. The median age in this study was 34. The people who were coming out in their late teens or twenties or early thirties had significantly more family support than the older people who came out in their forties or fifties or even later.

Leonard: Really? Okay.

Dana: We have very long sentences in this country and people sometimes are in state prison for a very long time. People who came out when they were younger had a better adjustment period.

Leonard: That’s interesting.

Dana: That’s important to think about when we think about what is the utility of these super-long sentences.

Leonard: 6 months after reentry more than half of the participants remained reliant on family, typically mothers, grandmothers, or sisters. About a third were living in marginal housing. That data mimics our data here.

Dana: Yeah, absolutely. The female relatives were really still pulling these men along after them. It was very, very stressful on the families of the reentering people. For example, oftentimes an order of protection would prevent a man from going home to live with his mother. He might be 19 or 20 years old and have nowhere else to go. The mother has to make the decision. She’s going to let her son come back and live in the house and she’s going to lose her Section 8 housing voucher. Her and the rest of her younger kids will be kicked out of their apartment or she’s going to send her son out to the street. For Jeff, one young man who was in the study, his mother did have to make the difficult choice to tell her son, 20 years old, that he could not come home and live with her. This is the way people end up homeless.

Leonard: You say that only 59% were employed before they were incarcerated. 6 months after reentry, 57% of the men were working and just 27% of the women. Is that sexual discrimination or are there other factors?

Dana: Yeah. The men were about as likely to be employed after incarceration as before which I think suggests that they suffered from very high unemployment levels both before and after. For the women, incarceration had a devastating effect. They were 20% less likely to be employed after being incarcerated. There’s two potential reasons cited, the researchers pointed out. The first is that the women who are incarcerated were more likely to be mentally ill or drug-addicted. That may really impact them as they’re coming out and trying to find a job in a negative way. Also, on the more positive side, relatives are more likely to take a female relative into their home. If women were getting housing support from their mothers or sisters, then perhaps it wasn’t so important for them to go get a job immediately after leaving prison.

Leonard: There is national data that suggests that women under supervision have higher rates of mental health problems and higher rates of substance abuse problems. You add that to kids and as the women have said to me sitting before these microphones, “How are we supposed to succeed, come out of prison, find a job, reunite with our children, deal with mental health issues, deal with substance abuse issues, deal with the trauma issues in our own lives and succeed?” There is a point where the women have said, “It’s almost impossible for us to meet your expectations.”

Dana: Yeah. It’s important that, as you mentioned earlier, almost all of these women are mothers. This is a double-generation issue that we’re talking about when we’re talking about women and reentry after being incarcerated.

Leonard: Okay, I want to quickly, because we’re running out of time … Ban the Box in Massachusetts didn’t seem to have that much of an impact.

Dana: Yeah, that’s what the researchers found. Even though employers are no longer allowed to check right away about the criminal history of the job applicant, they can still check the criminal history later in the application process, after the interview. In the words of Bruce Western, the sociologist who did this study, “It looks like they’re still checking their criminal history and it doesn’t matter if they may have met the person and he seems like a pretty good guy. They’re still discriminating heavily against people who do have that criminal history.”

Leonard: Those on parole and probation, thus under the [inaudible 00:28:14] supervision were more likely to be re-incarcerated which again mimics other national studies.

Dana: Right.

Leonard: They were arrested most often not for committing new crimes but for violating the rules of probation or parole.

Dana: Yes. We’ve certainly seen this in California and a lot of other places where this has been looked at. This is a bit of a sneak peek about what’s coming next from the researchers who are looking at this very fascinating population of adults in Boston. They are finding that those who are re-incarcerated, a lot of times they have failed a drug test, broken curfew, missed meetings, that type of thing.

Leonard: The study’s overall findings … We should increase our empathy for people who go to prison, most of whom came from brutal poverty. If we were in these situations, the researchers suggest, if we were in these situations and if we were to encounter these complex combinations of circumstances, could we be confident that we would exercise our moral agency to do something different, there for the grace of God [inaudible 00:29:16]?

Dana: Yeah, that’s what Bruce Western, the Harvard sociologist said. He really wants us all to think about if we had grown up in a home, a home like Patrick, would we have turned out very different from Patrick? Perhaps the answer to that is no. That’s one of the big questions that a study like this should leave in our minds.

Leonard: Fascinating interview, went by so fast. I have a thousand other questions but they’ll have to wait until next time. Dana Goldstein is a staff writer for The Marshall Project and she writes for Justice Lab. Her work has appeared in Slate, Atlantic, and other magazines. She is the author of The Teacher Wars, a History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, themarshallproject.org is the website. 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 pleasant day.

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Communications in Law Enforcement and the President’s 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/2015/05/law-enforcement-and-justice-communications-presidents-task-force-on-policing/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is D.C. public safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Communications in law enforcement and the president’s task force on 21st century policing is our topic today. I want to make it clear from the very beginning that the discussion applies to all of us within the criminal justice system. To discuss the issues I’ve asked two experts on criminal justice and communication to join us today. One is Deborah Winger, she is the director of undergraduate journalism, associate professor of the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. She is at www.advancethestory.com. We also have Ted Guest, he is the Washington Bureau Chief of the crime report, www.thecrimereport.org. To Deb, and to Ted welcome to D.C. public safety.

Ted: Thank you.

Deborah : Thank you.

Leonard: All right, the president’s task force on 21st century policing, I’ve read this several times. I’ve had one of the two co-chairs Laurie Robinson, who used to be a deputy attorney general at the U.S. of Department of Justice on the program previously. I’ll put the connection to the prior program in the show notes, in essence, I’m reading the report as dealing with communications, a fundamental pillar. They indeed did call their particular sections that they wanted to draw attention to pillars. I am going to read just a couple. Building trust and legitimacy, guardian mindset rather than a warrior mindset, culture of transparency and accountability, dealing with social media and a focus on community policing. All of these suggest to me a different way of communicating between law enforcement and the community and the criminal justice system in the community. So that’s my understanding of the president’s task force of the 21st century policing, that the big focus is on communications.

So I wanted to ask you a series of questions about that. They are talking about issues; creating a positive interaction with the police? My question is, with the focus on social media and the focus on communications do we in the criminal justice system and to those of us in law enforcement, are we really equipped to have a sophisticated conversation with the public as to policing or other aspects of the criminal justice system. Ted did you want to go first?

Ted: Yeah, I would say we don’t have such a sophisticated system. By the way, I don’t think the criminal justice system is much worse than any other government agency or any other entity in the United States, some specialize in this so I don’t want to be seen as saying the criminal justice system is the worst. One thing we should keep in mind in this conversation, the criminal justice system in this country is very diverse, it has various elements, the basic ones, the police, the courts, corrections agencies. We should keep in mind there is something like 18,000 police department in this country.

Leonard: Yes.

Ted: There is not a central authority. So when, we are going to have to make generalizations in this broadcast. We should all keep in mind, most of our listeners will know this there is no central authority telling people to do. This task force I thought had a lot of good ideas but it’s basically an advisory body of a bunch of experts but no one has the authority to implement this on a national scale, an individual police department or part of the justice system could agree or disagree with any of the recommendations, I think the recommendations are basically good. To answer your question, I don’t think on a broad scale I don’t think we are really equipped right now to implement them.

Leonard: Deborah, did you want to tackle that question?

Deborah : Yes, I want to follow up on something that Ted said about entities in general. Whether it’s a governmental agency, a law enforcement agency, a brand, a news organization, we are witnessing a major paradigm shift in the way communication happens in general. The rise of audience power, for law enforcement agency the audience is anyone you’re serving or protecting, right? Their ability to communicate with you and to engage with you if you do practice social media has never been greater. It’s really changed the dynamic of the relationship for communicator’s. We used to be able to simply broadcast to simply publish, and have very little knowledge about how we were being perceived or whether the information was understood. When you use these new technologies effectively you should be able to communicate in real time with real people. Most of us do not have the infrastructure to make that happen. Even news organizations that this is their reason for being, right, to communicate information. They are not always doing as good of job as they should at engaging and interacting with the audience.

Leonard: The processes of communicating is changing rapidly. It’s changing rapidly, for mainstream media, its changing rapidly for organizations that are trying to communicate. In the middle of all of this whirlwind of change, new technologies, new apps, new social media platforms, podcasting is going through a resurgence. How are we going to expect law enforcement agencies, Ted said it, 18,000 individual law enforcement agencies around the country. There’s certain police department, like the Washington D.C. police department, the New York police department, they do an extraordinary job of communicating with the public but most law enforcement agencies and I think most of us within the criminal justice system do not know how to communicate. When the president task force in 21st century policing comes along and since communicates a huge part of our ability to do a better job to serve the public. I’m sitting there whoops there’s a disconnect here.

Ted: It depends when we are talking about communications we are talking about a wide range of things. Some of the communications are coming from the police department or law enforcement authority to the community. Let’s say alerting people to some kind of emergency, I think on that level we are certainly doing a better job then we are used to. Of course, a lot of people in the public may not have the technology either may not own it or may not have it available and may not be hearing the message. That is just one very elemental level of communication. Let’s remember why we are having this discussion about the 21st century policing task force.

Why did this happen? It happened essential there was a big episode that most of our, all of our listeners should know about. Last summer in Ferguson, Missouri in which the shooting of an unarmed black man got a huge amount of publicity and generated a huge amount of controversy. A lot of the controversy, I think as far as communications was concerned had to do with the police departments not talking about it when it first happened. Again, that kind of thing I am not sure the 21st century policing task force really make a firm recommendation on. That’s the kind of thing that I would like to see among many other things. When should a police department, or law enforcement agency be talking about an incident that is controversial. Again there are many different kinds of communications. Not to forget the obvious, just basic communication about crime in your community.

One thing that has changed a lot in recent years, is much better communications to people there used to be a police blotter that used to be published, and still it’s published in a lot of newspapers but now we have the available via social media so just again that is a very basic thing when did the crime occur in the community just so you know that information. In this conversation we should take into account there are many different levels of communication, many different kinds of incidents we should be discussing its just not one central thing, communicating everything.

Leonard: That’s my point. My point, Deborah in all of this is that the average police commander in the average police department in this country reading the president task force on 21st century policing with its emphasize on social media, with its emphasize on communication, with its emphasize on building trust, with its emphasize on building legitimacy, he or she is sitting there going “Oh my heavens, what in the name of heavens am I supposed to do with this information, what communication platform should I engage in, what builds legitimacy, what builds trust”. I think it is very confusing to them unless someone comes out and provides some sort of firm guidance in terms of what we means in terms by communications it’s all going to go by the waist side. Some have suggested that to me. Do you have the sense Deb?

Deborah : Well one of the things to follow what Ted was saying with Ferguson is I would say that any police or law enforcement organization needs to understand a couple of things the control of information, we no longer control as much information as we had in the past. To think that we don’t say anything about the incident, that someone else is not going to say anything about the incident if anybody still believes that they should quickly disabuse themselves of that perception. I would say that any organization that is going to be involved in communication information to the public that every organization needs to have a crisis communication plan. They need to be prepared for information about an incident involving law enforcement to not go there way and to know how to respond to that and to be prepared to monitor twitter, to see what topic’s are trending relating to this issue. To be able to quickly leverage the trust that they’ve built prior to the crisis occurring to have people who are going to already be followers re-tweeting the correct information if wrong information is getting out there.

Go ahead.

Leonard: No please.

Deborah : I was just going to say all of this needs to happen on the front end before the first crisis occurs, you cannot try to tackle this when there’s an incident.

Leonard: Law enforcement is no different than the average organization. They all believe it is not going to happen to them. I am not quite sure that Ferguson the day before the incident  ever dreamed that they would be up against national and international media and be up against hundreds of thousands if not millions of social media messages. That takes organization, that takes pre planning, that takes an offal lot of preparation to handle something like that. The average police department is not going to deal with that, heck the average company is not going to deal with that. My guess is that there is a reluctance to invest that level of time and trouble and energy into something most people feel they are not going to face until it actually happens.

Deborah : I think you are correct. I think you could look at it as this incredibly time intensive, resource intensive effort. I think if that had … again we weren’t there, in the middle of it with the law enforcement officials, I think you are probably right that they never did have a discussion about how are we going to handle the communication around any type of crisis. I think that is where it has to start. You at least have to, you might throw the plan out but you have to dedicate some time to at least discussing on a very fundamental basic level. Who are we going to pull in to manage the twitter account or the Facebook account looking at the report we that we referencing today. It looked like a majority of law enforcement have either a Facebook or a twitter account. We know we can narrow it to that, but who is going to be there monitoring what is being said and responding with accurate information in a professional manner, again leveraging the trust that you hopefully have built through your efforts in social media prior to this event occurring.

Leonard: That’s my fear. Ted go ahead.

Ted: One thing, going back to my 18,000 police departments statement, we should keep in mind here some of our listeners may not know this, most of these police departments are very small. I think Ferguson actually was one of the bigger ones which may surprise people, like fifty officers. Sometimes we think of New York City which has 32,000 officers but they are way on the extreme. Many departments in this country I think as many as a third or more have ten or fewer officers. These people no matter how well meaning they are really don’t have the time and expertise to develop these kinds of policies which is one reason why possibly this policing task force is good because it will help focus people’s attention on some of these issues. Even focused people’s attention on them, you have to think of these small police departments of 10 people are they going to have this has high as high on their agenda. They probably have it higher on their agenda now then they did a couple years ago, we should keep that in mind.

Leonard: Let’s go back, I do want to refocus away a little bit from crisis communications to day to day communications. They are talking about creating a positive interaction with law enforcement, levels of trust, diversity, recruitment, a regular forum, recognizing the voices of youth, interactive distance learning, public engagement all of this signals a digital platform of communicating. Before the show I said, either an individual police officer can go to a community meeting and discuss their plans with thirty people or you can have individual police officers taught how to better interact that they encounter within the community or you can go to a digital strategy and talk to thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands at the same time. So it seems to me that clearly that a digital straggly would and a social media strategy that the report calls for would be a productive way to interact with citizens as long as citizens had a way of answering and responding the polls, so police officers or anybody in the criminal justice system can learn from the interaction. It seems to me a digital strategy is vital.

Deborah : I agree.

Ted: It certainly is. Again to go back to what I said before and I am pretty sure that Deb will agree with you have to know what the message is, what are you trying to get across. We could have all of the techniques in hand which a lot of departments do and a lot don’t. We don’t have time on this show to go into all the controversies about policing but there’s a big dispute right now going on around the country about what should police be doing about minor offensives. You know, there’s one argument is they should be very aggressive about dealing with every kind of minor offense because the person involved could end up in major offensives. Then there’s another group of people who say no we should emphasizing violent crime, serious crime, police shouldn’t be dealing with people smoking pot on the street. That kind of thing.

Well a police department has to have its own policy, I am just using that as an example, decided so it can communicate that kind of thing to the public. We assume police want to communicate more than what I described earlier as the police blotter there was a burglary  yesterday on Pennsylvania Avenue, that’s one thing to communicate but do communicate policy issues you got to have the message straight as well as the actually technique of doing it.

Leonard: Ladies and gentleman, I want to reintroduce our guest Deborah Winger. She is the director of Undergraduate journalism, associate professor of the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. She has her own site advancethestory.com, which I find fascinating and I’ve gone to several times since I’ve done the last radio show. We have Ted Guest, he is the Washington Bureau Chief of the crime report, thecrimereport.org, to be unquestionably best daily summation of crime news throughout the country.

Let me swing it back, because if we got a discussion what police should do we would be here for the rest of the show. Ted is right, I’ve read a variety of reports, a variety of newspaper articles through Ted’s service I should say thecrimereport.org and there is massive disagreement all throughout the United States in terms of what we want to do operationally in terms of law enforcement. If we don’t have a core message, if we don’t have a core national understanding as to what it is we want to do within law enforcement what in the name of heavens are we going to be communicating to citizens.

Deborah : I think that is exactly what any agency regardless of size needs to figure out. What is the purpose of our social media account and to be realistic about the resources. I think a mistake a lot of organizations have made is to try to put all the social media control in to one person’s hands and you know you certainly understand the rational behind that is because you want a controlled message. If it’s only in one person’s hands and there on vacation you are out of luck. You know the social media works best when you have lots of people in your organization allowed to post to social media that there’s a clear understanding throughout the organization of what is the type of content that we are going to share and how are we going to interact and again that takes training, that takes time. If the end result is better policing, a safer community then it certainly seems worth it. The very beginning you have to decide what resources do we have that we can put towards this effort and what is our goal. Is our goal to reach youth? Well then we are going to have a very different strategy then if our goal is to communicate crisis.

For me part of it again having that first conversation and making sure everyone in your organization law enforcement or otherwise understands what you are trying to do with your social media account.

Leonard: That’s part of the divergence and complexity of social media, with every audience you may have different strategy. There are some people out there that use Instagram as an example to communicate with younger audiences, and a possibility of using Facebook to deal with older audiences. Yet [inaudible 00:20:38] can out with a report that basically said, “No, the young folks are still on Facebook and there hasn’t been a huge shift to Instagram”.

Deb, you may know this because we are part of the social media community and Ted is part of this discussion but how is the average chief of police in the average city going to figure this out. A new form of communicating with the larger community if it’s indeed podcast or television shows or Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, where does he or she go to for guidance to learn all this stuff, to implement it in a meaningful way in the community and figuring out what measurement tools are available so he or she can get the feedback they are looking for from the larger community. That is an unbelievable difficult task for the average law enforcement agency or anybody within the criminal justice system.

Deborah : I think I would say two things right off the top of my head. One is don’t get attracted to the shiny. Just because Meercat and Periscope are available for live streaming for Twitter doesn’t mean you have to jump on it. I mean, yes experiment with tools and somebody in your organization should be that perons who is geeked out by communication technology and it’s always experimenting. I would actually consider trying to hopefully you have a relationship with local media and leveraging their knowledge about the community and the social midday tools that are used most commonly in the community. Meeting with the webmaster or the digital producer of the local television station or someone in the newspaper and say, “How are you reaching audiences?”. I mean learn from what other people are doing versus reinventing the wheel. Especially if you don’t have the resources to send your PIO to training or you know you don’t have a staff of people in your communication office. I would say try to learn what other are already successful in these platforms what they are doing well. You know try to translate that to what you are trying to accomplish as law enforcement agency.

Leonard: Ted, can the average chief of police go to the average newspaper and television station and say “Help me engage in social media platform”.

Ted: Yeah they can certainly go, I mean I think every news media organization in this country wants to have relationships with the police departments. They might not always be pleasant and positive relations but a lot of are. We deal with police departments daily. I am talking about the news media in general. I am sure that news directors and editors would talk to that doesn’t necessary have to be the police chief but as least the department have a public information officer or as Deb said someone designated to be the social media person.

Also again we have been talking about talking to the community a lot of the bigger police departments do periodic surveys of the police department. Whether it’s an informal thing or some kind of an actual survey, not only what you think about our policy on this or that but they could include in that how do you get information, which social media do you use, is their any information you think you should be getting you are not getting. Again I realize we are talking about we are talking about a small place department is not going to be able to do what huge [inaudible 00:24:23] type survey but I think police department should be able to do that in some way. Actually as social media makes it easier when we are talking about e-mail when we are talking about doing a survey. Again not that you would necessarily be guided by everything the public said but at least it would give you a better idea about what information they are getting and what they would want.

Leonard: There are free tools out there like Survey monkey that can allow them to do that. I am going to throw out another suggestion. Partnering with colleges, partnering with the communications and journalism classes with colleges and sit down with them and say, “How do I communicate, how do I get feedback, how do I quantify that feedback, how do I make that it a meaningful exchange”. I think journalism is changing, they are just as challenged as everybody else, the journalism schools. At least they are examining this issue they would be wonderful places to assist local law enforcement agencies. Agree or disagree?

Deborah : Absolutely, I mean certainly here in beautiful Oxford, Mississippi where the University of Mississippi is located our local police department is very active on Twitter for example, and if someone came to us and said “Hey, we want a crash course in better engagement on Twitter”. I know there are several faculty that would be delighted to do something like this. I think that is an excellent idea as well.

Leonard: So I am not suggesting replacing community meetings, community meetings are essential. I go back to the idea where you can go and sit with 100 or you can go and talk with social media and talk with thousands. I am suggesting the possibly of doing both. If you are going to do it digitally it has to be not just you suggested a little while ago Deb, not just the public affairs person, the chief the deputy chief the commander at various districts need to be able to do this as well correct? They need to have this constant check in with the community, what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, where are we messing up. That has to be across the board throughout the agency, there has to be a larger sense not I think what others have said more communication with media. Media is in the position of being in the conduit to get the word out beyond social media. Correct?

Deborah : Absolutely, and something that you said, “Not giving up on the community meeting”. Why not make the impact exponential go to the community meeting come up with a hashtag for the meeting and encourage everyone at the meeting to tweet about what they are hearing at the community meeting. Then you had the one on one interaction then you spread it to those who cannot be included to that particular meeting. Figure out how to leverage the things the things you are already doing and expand them through the use of social media and part of that is to train more than one person in the department on how to do this properly and effectively.

Leonard: Ted, we have one minute left. In terms of working with the media being more open and approachable to and more cooperative to with the media, we in the criminal justice system we have a hard time doing that. Do we not?

Deborah : You know…

Ted: I don’t know its hard to generalize that. Some agencies do it every well, other agencies don’t do it very well. A lot of agencies unfortunately perceive that the media is interested in so called bad news about your agencies and in those cases it can be pretty hard to communicate

Leonard: A question to either one of you. Can we partner with the media then? Can the criminal justice system partner with the media, in terms of communicating with the public and getting reation to the public? Is that permissiable?

Deborah : I think the media and law enforcement need each other. I think most smart folks in both areas understand that. I think the more they can do to build relationships and whether that’s you know, training for each other or simply sharing the practices the better off the community is and each of the individual entities.

Leonard: It’s a fascinating conversation with both of you. I appreciate so much both of you being before the microphones today because this is a very complexing issue, the proper communicating between law enforcement, the criminal justice and the public it is a very complex issue. So thank you very much for being at the microphones today. Ladies and gentleman we had Deborah Winger, she is director of undergraduate journalism, associate professor at the Meek School of Journalism University of Mississippi. She has her own blog, extraordinarily interesting, advancethestory.com. Ted Guest is the Washington Bureau Chief of the crime report and somebody who has been around journalism for decades. Somebody who I really trust, thecrimereport.org. Ladies and gentleman this is D.C. public safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Violence directed towards offenders in prison

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/offenders-impacted-by-violence-effects-on-reentry-urban-institute/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leanard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a very interesting and important show: Violence directed towards offenders, how it affects their behavior. We have Janine Zweig. She is a Senior Fellow with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, where her work addresses issues related to violent victimization, primarily intimate partner and sexual violence.

I’m going to read briefly from a new study that Janine is responsible for. It indicates that adult men and women who are physically assaulted or threatened with assault while in prison have negative emotional reactions to such experiences, which can increase the likelihood of negative behaviors after release and have a detrimental consequence for their long-term mental health and well-being, specifically in prison victimization leads to hostility once prisoners are released to the community, and this hostility in part leads to further criminal behavior, including violent behavior and mental health problems.

Janine, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Janine: Thank you for having me.

Leonard: Janine, this is an important piece of research, because a lot of us don’t understand all of the implications of victimization while in prison. The violence that is directed, the violence that is witnessed regarding inmates while incarcerated does have an impact upon their behavior upon release, correct?

Janine: Correct, it does. These consequences make their reentry transition a little bit different for those who may not have experienced those kinds of victimization incidents when they were inside.

Leonard: Now, give me a sense of your studies. There’s a couple studies here that are in play. One is taking a look at violence at prison. One is taking a look at violence before prison.

Janine: The other, it was looking at violence for a population on community supervision, so those who were diverted from incarceration, so both cases.

Leonard: Let’s go back in terms of the folks who were in prison and how it affected their behavior. Give me a sense as to the study and the results.

Janine: Okay, great. This was a sub-study of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, which was a major evaluation of reentry programming funded by the Department of Justice. We looked at a sample who completed surveys 30 days before their release from the facility, 3 months after their release, 9 months after their release, and again 15 months after their release. We have 4 different time points that we spoke with these individuals. We found that among that population about 53% reported that they had experienced either a physical assault while they were inside or the threat of a physical assault.

These numbers are a little bit higher than what has been found in other studies. For example, Wolff and colleagues did a study of 14 prisons and found that about 20% of females and 25% of males reported physical assaults by another inmate. There’s also around about 30% of males and just under 10% of females reported assaults that were staff-on-inmate assaults. Our studies found a little bit higher prevalence rates, likely because we also included the threat of physical assault in our measure.

Leonard: Give me a sense as to what that means. If your study indicated higher rates of assault or threats of assault, other studies just looked at assaults. When you include threats, what you’re saying is that according to your research it was twice as high.

Janine: That’s right, because threats are more common, and then the Wolff study was looking at individual, actual violent experiences toward the individual.

Leonard: The serious violent offender research was done several years ago, correct?

Janine: Yes. We conducted that study. Interviews that were still while the person was incarcerated were conducted between July of 2004 through November of 2005, and then the followup interviews came after that, as I said.

Leonard: You went back and re-interviewed the individuals involved?

Janine: That’s right. These were individuals across various programs in 12 different states. First of all they were incarcerated and interviewed then 30 days before their release from prison, and then a series of followup interviews conducted at 3, 9, and 15 months post their release. We’re really able to look at preexisting in-prison experiences and then their reentry experiences at 3 different time points.

Leonard: Recidivism rates were rather high. Am I correct on that? The 5-year point when they went back and took another look, there were some reductions for some groups, but all in all the rates of recidivism, if memory serves me correctly, for this particular population were rather high.

Janine: Correct. That is true across many who are incarcerated, that two-thirds recidivate within a number of years. In this particular sample, we were looking specifically at the role of victimization in other consequences and how that relates to the recidivism behavior as well as their substance use relapse. We looked at both types of outcomes related to their reentry back into the community.

Leonard: You went back and took a look, interviewed these individuals, and talked to them about their in-prison experiences, and from that you found out that when you include the threat of assault, it’s high, that violence seems to be an integral part of prison life …

Janine: Correct.

Leonard: That has detrimental consequences upon release.

Janine: That’s right. What we did was we felt there was a real gap in knowledge of what does it mean that these violent experiences are happening for people who are incarcerated? What does that mean for them once they’ve come back to the community? What we did was we relied on a theory called general strain theory, which really tries to identify the steps toward delinquency. The idea behind that is that there’s experiences that are considered noxious strains, or for a better term maybe harmful or unpleasant experiences, that happen to people that relate to feelings about those behaviors, which then in turn contribute to behavioral outcomes. The presence of a negative or noxious strain like victimization is predicted to create negative states of emotions.

Those are particularly negative experiences for a number of reasons. For example, victimization experiences are often seen as unjust, they have a large emotional impact, and individuals have less personal control in that situation. These are considered particularly noxious strains that people are exposed to. When you have a negative feeling and reaction to something, this can be either an externalized feeling, so for example anger, hostility, or frustration, or it can be an inner-directed feeling such as depression or anxiety. The idea behind this theory is that once you have those feelings, you have a behavioral reaction in relation to that feeling, so an externalized behavioral reaction related to the outer-directed negative feelings.

To put that more simply, if you are experiencing anger or hostility in reaction to an experience that you’ve had, you may commit violence or delinquency. If you are experiencing internal behavioral reaction to depression or anxiety, then you might turn to substance use or that kind of thing. That’s the idea behind this. We thought this theory might help explain some of the reaction to these in-prison victimization experiences.

Leonard: It talks about the detrimental impact of going to prison, what that means to individuals, what it means to their own mental states, what it means to their own emotional states. In essence, what you’re saying is that because of that exposure to violence, that sense that it’s happening in prison, that they’re having a harder time dealing with the realities of coming out. They’re having a harder time dealing with life on the outside because they’re bringing all of these pent up emotional feelings, this sense of hostility towards their own environment, that transfers out into the community.

Janine: That’s right. In both of these cases, looking at both criminal behavior, including violent re-offending, and then relapse to substance use, we found that the in-prison victimization experiences did play a role. It was a partial role, but it’s a role nonetheless, and it’s important to make those links. These physical assault experiences or the threat of physical assault led to feelings of anger and hostility. As you said, you bring those feelings of anger and hostility back into the community when you return. Those feelings what we call mediated the relationship to criminal behavior and violence. In other words, they contributed to their participation in criminal behavior and violent re-offending.

This is above and beyond the other kinds of things we think contribute to recidivism. For example, in these statistical models we included other kinds of things that contribute to recidivism behaviors. A person’s long-term criminal history is predictive of what they’re going to do upon reentry. Their ability to get employment, their family support, these kinds of other things all work together to contribute to someone’s likelihood that they’re going to recidivate.

What we did was we accounted for all those other things, and then looked at, okay, on top of all that, how does this prison victimization experience contribute to these feelings and then later to their behavior? We still found that, yes, indeed, these victimization experiences matter for their likelihood of recidivating and violent re-offenses.

Leonard: What about before prison? Because the practitioners are going to say that many of the individuals that they have interviewed, many of the individuals that they have focused on, say in parole and probation in the community setting, they talk about instances while in prison, but they also talk about instances while outside of prison. I’ve had a variety of female offenders before these microphones who routinely tell me that they were subject to sexual victimization before they even entered the criminal justice system. There’s that component of it as well, correct?

Janine: Absolutely. I will say that the victimization experiences and offender behaviors are deeply connected, and there’s lots of research that shows that, that people who commit criminal behaviors often have had damaging and traumatic experiences happen to them through their own victimization, and that’s very important to keep in mind. We did actually try to account for pre-prison victimization experiences as well. Now, we did not measure sexual victimization, to be clear on that, in this particular study. In the other study we did, but in this particular study we only measured physical assault.

That was one of the other things we accounted for in our models, to be able to say, “Okay, taking all of this into account, does the in-prison victimization experiences matter?” and, yes, we still found those relationships. I’m saying this in terms of the re-offending behavior, but in terms of relapse to substance use, which obviously plays a critical role in someone’s likelihood of re-offending, but also many, many offenders also struggle with substance use issues, we found that those in-prison victimization experiences increased the likelihood of substance use, but through the feelings of depression.

For people who had an emotional reaction that was in line with depression versus anger and hostility, that depression led to a greater likelihood of relapse to substance use.

Leonard: The bottom line is, whether it happens in prison or whether it happens in community, your research took a look at the prison experience. If you have a person who has been constantly victimized, exposed to violence, whether it be in their own neighborhoods, whether it be their own families, whether it be their own friends, whether it be while in prison, by the time we get them in parole and probation, it’s a real challenge in terms of dealing with a long history of violence, exposure to violence, perceptions of violence. Then they come to us and we have to deal with them as individuals oftentimes through cognitive behavioral therapy, through mental health interventions, and through substance abuse interventions.

We note that our population, and I think it’s fairly common, 80% have histories of substance abuse. We’re finding that mental health problems are increasing and seem to be increasing dramatically within the populations that we both supervise and serve. It’s becoming a real conundrum in terms of what to do with individuals who have such a long history of exposure to violence. Correct?

Janine: I think that’s correct. I think that one of the findings that you find across various literatures, for example you find it in the substance abuse treatment literature, that if trauma is left unaddressed, then someone may not be able to get all the benefit that treatment might provide them. It might be misinterpreted as being resistant to treatment, when really this person has larger issues around victimization experiences and trauma that have been left unaddressed in that treatment scenario.

I think we could learn from that in this context as well. If someone seems to be resisting changing from a life of criminal behavior or these kinds of things, there’s so many things contributing to that behavior, but one that might be left unaddressed by supervision agencies might be this person’s own experiences with victimization, and then the trauma that they have as a result of those experiences and addressing that trauma in an appropriate way.

For example, you brought up sexual assault. In the sexual assault world, it is widely believed that specific trauma-informed care for sexual assault survivors is really key to helping them move past those experiences. That’s not a typical therapy, I use that word a little bit loosely, but it’s a particular kind of therapy. That kind of offering, it’s not clear the extent to which that’s being addressed in supervision agencies.

Leonard: I want to reintroduce our guest, Janine Zweig. She is a Senior Fellow with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. The particular piece of research that Janine is responsible for is, for prisoners who face violence, reentry is a challenge. That is the show today, dealing with individuals who have a history of violence, whether it be in prison, whether it be in the community. It becomes a lesson for those of us in community supervision and for the larger population.

Janine, somebody once suggested that the people that we deal with on community supervision … and, again, I’m with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we are a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington, DC … many cases, I’m told by our parole and probation agents, and I’ve told by therapists, that some of the individuals who we deal with under supervision almost are like war victims, the level of violence, the level of trauma in the community, in the prison.

By the time they get to us, they are in many cases traumatized individuals who have a very difficult time expressing who they are and what they are, because quite frankly they’re not sure. A very large distrust of the criminal justice system, a very large distrust and profound distrust of the treatment process. Am I in the ball park?

Janine: Yeah, I think that sounds like what we found here. Although we didn’t measure posttraumatic stress disorder specifically, we do know that victims of physical and sexual violence from the literature do display symptoms of PTSD, and that that would be analogous to what someone who has experienced war would experience.

Leonard: What does it mean to us in terms of community supervision? What does it mean in terms of the incarcerative process? How do we deal with this? Because the recidivism rates, generally speaking, are described as two-thirds re-arrested, one-half re-incarcerated after three years. You get different measurements from different studies based upon the length of the study, but basically the rate of re-contact with the criminal justice system is high. This could be part of the underlying structure as to why it is as high as it is.

Janine: I think that is true. I think that when trauma is left unaddressed that it leads to health-compromising and life-compromising behaviors like re-offending, like violent re-offending, and things like substance use and substance abuse. If a person has these experiences that have caused trauma in their lives that they have never addressed, their well-being is damaged, and their ability to move forward is potentially damaged as well.

It isn’t clear to me the extent to which community supervision agencies actually assess for victimization experiences, whether it be in prison or in the community. As you noted, we have another study with a community supervision population who are diverted from incarceration, and similar patterns apply here, that victimization is related to recidivism and substance use in that population as well.

Leonard: Tell me about that.

Janine: Sure. This was an evaluation of a drug court program. We asked questions related to victimization in the year prior to their participation in our study. The focus was on the drug court population, but our comparison sample were also individuals who were on probation and under community supervision functions. It was a community-based sample of offenders where we looked at their physical and sexual victimization, and then applied the same theoretical premises we talked about before to look at what was their emotional reaction in terms of depression, anxiety, and hostility, and then also what was their likelihood of recidivating and relapse into substance use.

We found that the same patterns apply in terms of substance use, that a victimization experience led to depression, which then led to substance use relapse. Then we found a more direct relationship with recidivism, and that is the victimization led to recidivism behaviors. Again, this is taking into account all kinds of other aspects of their lives going on at that same time to try to say, “Does this victimization matter beyond other things that might contribute to recidivism?”

I think there is some idea behind the idea that when you leave a trauma unaddressed that it can lead to offending and violent offending, and that’s an important … It does matter for their long-term consequences.

Leonard: What is the principal modality in terms of dealing with a history of violence? What can we do in community supervision, parole and probation agencies, community-based agencies? How can we [meaningly 00:20:40] intervene in the lives of people who have come from violent backgrounds?

Janine: I think that when community agencies focus on victimization, they typically mean the victim of the crime of the person they’re speaking with, so the person under supervision, who was the victim of their crime. I don’t think there’s much focus on assessing the offender themselves, the supervisee themselves, for their own victimization. I think the first step is identifying the extent to which their probationers or parolees report these experiences, and if they’re reported then programming and referral beyond there. The first step would be what kinds of assessments are happening in these agencies to even identify who among their population might need help with dealing with traumatic victimization experiences of their own.

Leonard: Will they tell us?

Janine: I think that in our experience they do talk about their victimization experiences. They might not describe it in … I think there is best practices around how you ask about victimization experiences. In other words, instead of saying, “Are you a victim? Have you ever been a victim of domestic violence? Have you ever been raped?” there is best practice that shows when you label the kinds of victimization, people are less inclined to tell you, yes, they are a victim of that. If you say, for example, “Has your partner ever held you down so you couldn’t leave and forced you to have sex?” or, “Has someone slapped, kicked, or hit you?” people are more inclined to ask those behaviorally-focused questions versus questions that label them as a victim.

You could then assess from there, if they were saying, “Yes, I’ve had those kinds of experiences,” more deeply. Are those experiences recurring? Are they with their partners or not? Then addressing followup referrals and treatments that might make sense for the particular kinds of violence that they’re experiencing.

Leonard: Once we find out about that background, once we’ve established that background, what do we do with that individual, considering the context and the research saying that the vast majority of people just for substance abuse, very few people within the incarcerative setting, very few people in parole and probation or who are on parole and probation, get treatment for substance abuse issues, very few get treatment for mental health issues. This sounds like it goes way beyond that. It connects to it all. All of this behavior is interconnected. There’s no such thing as just a substance abuse problem, just a mental health problem, just a violence problem. Somehow, some way, as you just said, we have to assess that individual and then we have to meaningfully intervene.

Within the context of a system that is short on resources and having caseloads that are skyrocketing, what can we do to meaningfully intervene in the life of an individual who has such a profound exposure to violence?

Janine: I think perhaps it might be about doing better matches between what the person’s needs are and the treatment that’s being offered. If there are limited resources for treatment, just sending everyone who assesses for a substance use issue, for example, to the same treatment is a one-size-fits-all kind of characterization that might not work for everyone, because, for example, those who are dealing with the trauma of victimization by using substances, that person needs a different kind of care, what we would say is trauma-informed care, than someone who doesn’t have that background.

Maybe a better targeting and matching of particular individuals to the limited resources and treatments that you’re able to refer to is one way of trying to use the limited resources more wisely.

Leonard: We at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency believe in a group process. I’ve sat in on a variety of groups, of violence reduction groups and groups for women. This is not an easy process. Getting people to talk about what they’ve been through, what they’ve experienced, is profoundly difficult, and getting the answers. You have to have a lot of trust in the person running the group and you have to have a lot of trust in your group members to be able to share at this level. Sometimes that takes weeks or months of effort to get that person to finally feel free enough to admit to everything that’s happened to him or her.

This is a profoundly moving experience in their lives, and this is something that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. Whether it happened in the community or whether it happened in prison, it’s not easy to talk about this stuff.

Janine: That is surely the case. I do think that finding the right treatments and methodologies for caring for these individuals is beyond the scope of what we studied here, but what we could say is that better targeting might be one step toward it. I would also say that, in terms of partnering with local agencies that have expertise in some of these areas … For example, one of the pushes under the Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards is around partnering with local agencies that have expertise in treating survivors of sexual assault. If the in-prison experience is of sexual victimization, or even in the community, if it’s a sexual victimization and that’s what you discover is the issue at hand, then not necessarily relying on your own means to address that but partnering with agencies that that’s what they specialize in, is helping individuals who have had that kind of experience deal with it and move beyond it, and so tapping into other community resources and expertise that we wouldn’t necessarily expect a supervision agency to have.

Leonard: The bottom line behind all of this, and we only have a minute left in the program, the bottom line behind all of this is that we within the criminal justice system need to understand that the people that we deal with, and we’re experiencing rather high rates of recidivism throughout the United States, that we need to understand that individuals who come to us are oftentimes traumatized by their own experiences while in the community, while in prison. Prison certainly doesn’t help in many cases in terms of furthering that victimization, that sense of trauma. We have to understand that as a bottom line construct if we’re going to have a shot at helping these people overcome their difficulties, get off of drugs, deal with mental health issues, deal with anger issues, and reintegrate successfully. Correct?

Janine: I agree. I think that we often don’t think about offenders as victims, but their victimization experiences matter as well.

Leonard: That’s the interesting thing, because in our life we see people caught up in the criminal justice system as victims all the time, because, again, we’re the ones who go through that experience with them in a group setting and what happens to them. To talk to a woman … It’s very common for women to be sexually victimized by family members, by people who they know, before they even got into the prison setting. Same thing in some cases happens to men, just violent victimization. These are often traumatized individuals. Like I said before, they’re almost like, people have described them as being victims of war.

Janine: Right, and that victimization likely played a hand in their criminal behavior and offending to begin with.

Leonard: We’ve had Janine Zweig, ladies and gentlemen, a Senior Fellow at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, talking about the show title today: Violence directed towards offenders, how it affects their behavior. I really want to express my profound appreciation for Janine and the Urban Institute for taking something like this on, because we within the criminal justice system must come to grips with the people who we have under our supervision if we ever hope to reduce the rate of recidivism.

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

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