Archives for April 25, 2016

Violence reduction in America

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2016/04/reducing-violence-america/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have Thomas Abt discussing violence reduction in America. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction among other topics. Previously he served as deputy secretary for public safety to Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, as well as chief of staff to the office of justice programs U.S. Department of Justice where I first met Thomas. Thomas, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thomas: It’s a pleasure to be on.

Leonard: Thomas, I’m really happy to have you. You bring hard experience. You were one of the founders of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention for the Department of Justice and you’ve been instrumental in guiding the entire State of New York in terms of an innovative program. Violence is part of your forte, correct?

Thomas: Yes. It’s something that I’ve had the privilege to work on in a number of different settings.

Leonard: Okay. First of all, I want to talk about addressing violence across the board and how to address because the country has been involved in, I guess you could say, a discussion over the course of the last six, seven, to eight months we’ve had violence in Ferguson, we’ve had violence in Chicago, we’ve had violence in Baltimore. We’ve had this national discussion on violence prevention. As you well know, I call people before the program. I ask them and I’ve called four people from the law enforcement community, and they express confusion over what the public now wants us to do. Can you put all of these in terms of the focus on addressing violence in communities in the country?

Thomas: Sure. I can try. I think it is a very difficult conversation to have and we’re trying to have it as best we can, but the way the conversation about violence in the United States is currently being framed may be a barrier to making more progress. The current conversation that we’re having is very much and either/or conversation. Either you’re taking about police reform and the issues of police use of force, police lethality, those types of issues, or you’re talking about “black on black crime”, which I actually think is a problematic way of discussing it, but you’re talking about the issue of crime and violence in the community.

That’s a difficult framework that really pits anti-establishment voices which have some very valid concerns with more conservative, possibly pro-establishment voices. Instead of an either/or conversation, we need to have a both/and conversation. We can’t separate our concerns about crime control from our concerns about crime itself. The two go together. We need to think about both what the police are doing in terms of how they attempt to control crime and violence in a community in addition to the nature of the crime itself.

I think that if we can reframe this conversation, we can have a much more productive conversation that can give more guidance overtime keep our police professionals in the community who both want to change the way they do business and improve it, but they also have a job to do and they want to make sure that they’re keeping communities safe.

Leonard: You wrote an article called Integrating Evidence to Stop Shootings: New York’s GIVE (Gun-Involved Violence Elimination) Initiative. Discuss that with me briefly and then let’s take the conversation back to the larger national conversation because in your article it was rather straightforward. It was a focus on people. It was a focus on places. It was a focus on hot spot policing. It was a focus on police initiative’s research using evidence-based practices, going in and having conversations with troublesome people in the community, gang members in the community.

On one side of this discussion is a straightforward evidence-based approach and the other side of it is, unfortunately, race, politics, and people’s perception of what could be and should be. Let’s start off with the simple. There are ways of reducing gun violence. There are ways of reducing shootings. You were part of that platform and still are in the State of New York. Give me an overview of the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination Initiative.

Thomas: Sure. I helped establish GIVE, which is the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination, while I was working for Governor Cuomo, but just to clarify, I am now with the Harvard Kennedy School and I’m no longer working in New York, but I am still very much familiar with the program that we started.

GIVE is really, I think, an unusual effort in that it tried very directly to incorporate the best information that we had about how to reduce violence both gathering evidence and research, and looking at data, and then trying to translate that for the law enforcement community and others to make that information really accessible and easy to implement.

We did a six-month policy development process where we reviewed statistics, data, research from all around the country and identified some core practices that we felt showed what was most effective in reducing violence and crime, particularly as related to gun violence. We translated these down into three core principles. The first principle was in order to be effective, you need to focus on specific people and specific places.

All the research shows that crime is not evenly distributed. Crime is sticky. It concentrates in places and it concentrates among people. In any give community, when we think of a community as unsafe, that’s really an over simplification. In any given community that we think of as having a problem with violence, there are often two, or three, or maybe more spots, we call them hot spots, where crime and violence are highly concentrated, but they’re not concentrated throughout the entire community.

The same is true with people. A very small percentage of people, even in a neighborhood that we think of is an unsafe, are responsible for a significant majority of the crime and violence in those places. It’s very important when you’re working in an “unsafe” or high crime neighborhood to remember that the problem, even in that neighborhood, is not everywhere, and it’s not involving everyone. That’s the first principle. You have to focus on specific people and specific places.

Leonard: It’s not a community but specific places within that community.

Thomas: Exactly, and specific people. For instance, you have a very small perentage of your young people in a community. It is true that young men are much more likely to offend and be violent than young women, and it’s true that age range of maybe 14 to 24 is a particularly difficult and risky age range. It’s very important for members of the law enforcement and the community generally to understand that that doesn’t mean that every young man in a particular community that’s regarded as unsafe is going to be a public safety problem. In fact, it is going to be a very, very small number of young men. That really [counsels 00:09:01] against over broad mass arrest, zero tolerance approaches to law enforcement. It means you need to get much more targeted and you need to be much more specific.

Leonard: That addresses the larger issue that’s been going on throughout the country, but I take a look at your article and there’s been an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Everybody is taking their cue from the New York City Miracle. An 88% reduction in homicide, an 88% reduction in shootings where it rose 8% in the rest of the State of New York. People are saying to themselves, “Aggressive law enforcement in New York City is what created those reductions. Isn’t that a good thing for everybody?” That’s why law enforcement they’re saying, “Fine. It’s places, it’s people. We should be focused on specific areas, specific people,” but look what happened to New York City.

Thomas: Right. New York City is a very interesting example of how various kinds of legitimacy work together and how one type of legitimacy is not enough to have a successful crime reduction effort. There were, at least, three strands when we think about legitimacy that we need to break it down.

There’s legitimacy of effectiveness. Meaning do you do your fundamental job of driving crime down and violence down, and protecting the community? There is legitimacy as to lawfulness. Meaning when you’re doing that job, are you obeying the law and not placing yourself above the law or violating the law? Then there’s legitimacy of fairness and this is really a concept that’s been championed by Tracy Meares and Tom Tyler, they call it procedural justice. Does the community, even if you’re being effective and even if you’re being lawful, do they view you as being fair, and benevolent, and working in collaboration with them?

What we are seeing from the research is that you really need all three. In New York, you have the police being highly legitimate as a matter of effectiveness. They are arguably legitimate as a matter of lawfulness, although this has been disputed in the courts, but let’s assume for the purposes of this argument that they are.

That last strain of legitimacy, legitimacy as a matter of fairness, the perception is is that NYPD has not been acting in a fair and neutral manner. That’s a critical omission and that’s one of the real challenges that NYPD and, I think, that police are looking at. The NYPD is, I assume, I think, very surprised by this. They’re saying, “We’re doing a good job in terms of reducing crime and we’re doing it within the law,” as they perceive it, “What is the problem?”

The problem is is that they really haven’t listened to the community and really engaged on that fairness component of legitimacy and part of the issue is going back to people and places. The New York Police Department is very good about focusing resources in specific places. If there’s a lot of shootings in a particular area before this new era with Bratton coming in, so it was Ray Kelly era of a few years ago, they would flood those areas with police officers and do lots of what’s called stop and frisks, and people are probably very familiar with that term.

When there was resistance to this strategy and the community said, “Why are you stopping all of these people in our neighborhoods,” the answer from the NYPD was, “Well, this is where the crime is, and so we’re following the data, and so there should be no problem.” The problem was that as to place, but it wasn’t specific as to people. What they didn’t really appreciate is that even in an area that has a lot of crime and a lot of violence, most of the people living in that area are not involved. If you go into a neighborhood and treat everyone the same or, more accurately, every young man of color the same, you catch up in that broad net a lot of people who are not involved in crime and violence.

It’s really important to listen to the community. You have a lot of advocates, basically, pushing back on all types of police activity, but if you listen to communities what they’re saying is, “Look, there’s a small number of people in this community we want you to be very aggressive with, and we don’t care if stop and frisk them every 10 or 15 feet, but you need to understand our community better to know that one young man wearing baggy pants may be an active gang member and someone that law enforcement really needs to focus on. Another young man in baggy pants may be on his way to a job, may be on his way to Catholic school, may be on his way somewhere else. We want you to know our community and stay in your community enough so that you can make those critical distinctions.”

Leonard: Thomas Abt, before we go to the break, let me ask you a series of very quick questions and then we get into the larger conversation of what’s happening throughout the country. In essence, to all the people who are concerned about violence and violence reduction, we pretty much know from the law enforcement, criminal justice, parole and probation side. Correct or incorrect?

Thomas: I think it’s risky to say that we know anything with absolute certainty. All of this work is studied by social science and social science has limitations. I can tell you what we know best, but our information will evolve over time. I’d say there’s five core principles to reducing violence based on the best evidence we have today. In 10 years, this may evolve.

The first thing we know is that in order to reduce violence you need to be comprehensive. The police are a critical component of violence reduction, but they’re not the only people and that you need more than one program, more than one strategy, and you need more than one type of people involved.

The second thing we know is that if you have multiple players working together and multiple programs working together, it’s not surprise, they need to be aligned. The third thing that you need to do is be specific and that is that conversation that we just had about focusing on specific places and specific people.

The fourth thing you need to do is be proactive. You cannot wait until crime and violence occurs and then simply solve it by arresting, and prosecuting, and incarcerating your way out of it. You have to try to get ahead of the problem. Deter the crime before it occurs. Work with kids who are at risk for violence, and try to get them engaging in pro-social activities, and get them away from gangs, away from crews, and away from risky behavior. You need to get ahead of the problem.

Lastly, you need to focus on this concept of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not just about being effective but it’s also about being lawful and about being fair. Explaining why you’re in a particular community, what your strategy is, and really engaging with the community and other stakeholders so they know not just what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. We’re talking today to Thomas Abt. He is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction. Thomas, I’m going to summarize.

You gave a nice five-step summation of violence prevention. In essence, I hear two words coming out of this. One is fairness, one is quality. It’s not necessarily mass arrest, mass stops, but quality arrest, quality stops, and the perception on the part of the community as to whether or not they’re being treated fairly or not. Is it possible to break your discussion down into those two phrases?

Thomas: I think that’s a good overview. Obviously, if I was working on the ground consulting with a particular anti-violence task force, I might do that. It’s a fair overall summary.

Leonard: Okay. In essence, we have gone through the last 23 years of almost continuous reductions in crime. We have gone through, as we said in the article, an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Again, I go back to the conversations I had with people in law enforcement. They’re saying, “Well, you know, last year we were the heroes because we were sitting on top decades of reduction in crime. Now, we’re not. Now people are challenging the legitimacy of law enforcement and law enforcement tactics.” Is there anything that we can say to law enforcement officers who are terribly confused right now? It seems to me that your two concepts of fairness and equality seem to be the direction that we need to move in today.

Thomas: I think in terms of describing to the law enforcement community what happened, I consider myself a member of that community and I was surprised as well by the fervor that has really taken hold in the country. I think that one way to understand it is that we made a lot of public safety judgment calls in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in an era of high crime and increasing crime, and we thought incorrectly that crime rates were going to go up indefinitely. In the public safety community and in the broader public policy community, lots and lots of decisions and trade-offs were made in that context.

I think one of the things that’s exciting about this year and possibly years moving forward is we’re really starting a massive re-examination of all of those trade-offs, not just in terms of police using force but also incarnation and confinement rates, and lots of other questions. I think that’s a healthy thing because we are in a new era. Crime has been reduced 50%. Violence has been reduced 50% nationally. We talked about the tremendous success in New York City, but it’s happening around the country.

The first thing for us to realize in law enforcement is that times change and we need to change with them. We need to pay more attention not just to the legitimacy of effectiveness, but the legitimacy of lawfulness, and the legitimacy of fairness and realize, and this is very important, and it’s backed up by solid research, that all of these things are interconnected. If you’re perceived as fair, if you’re perceived as lawful, it will make your job catching bad guys easier.

It’s very important that we understand that this is not an either/or conversation as I said before. You don’t either make nice with the community or focus on catching the bad guys. The community is a key crime-fighting partner, and so the closer we work with them and the more effectively we work with them, the better we’ll be at catching bad guys.

Leonard: I had a conversation with a researcher from the Urban INStitute who stated emphatically, and it’s true, “We have never been safer. The United States has never seen such low rates of violent crime in our lifetimes.” In this year, we have never been safer in our lives. Thereby, you have people within the criminologic community, within the law enforcement community saying, “Wait a minute. We’ve given you the safest country in our lifetimes.” Suddenly, things have changed. What changed? What changed from the standpoint of the safest country, the safest decade, the safest year in our country’s last 25 years to this national discussion? What changed?

Thomas: President Obama actually talks, I think, quite well about this when he talks about progress in terms of racial equality. It’s important to recognize two things at the same time. Number one, in terms of public safety, that significant progress has been made; and number two, that we have a long way to go and that we’re not done. The fact that we’ve had significant progress in terms of making the country safer doesn’t mean that we don’t have more to do.

Also, it’s very important to remember that not everybody experiences public safety the same way. While listeners in suburban America may have one experience of public safety, listeners who are from or work in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage have a very different experience. For instance,  homicide for young white man and boys is the third leading cause of death, and that’s serious. For Latino young men and boys, it’s the second leading cause of death. For African-American young men and boys, it’s the leading cause of death and it causes more deaths than the nine other leading causes combined.

Leonard: In essence, what we need to do now is to come together for a conversation. We need to have an honest conversation where community members sit across the table with law enforcement officers to hammer out what it is that is susceptible in that community that until that power shift is very strong and very definitive, we’re not going to be able to solve this problem. We have a golden opportunity to solve it if we all agree to sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye, and have very honest maybe long delayed conversations that focus on your two main points, as far as I can tell, as far as I can see, fairness and equality.

Thomas: Yes. I think we also need to recognize that those conversations have been going on and there are lots of great examples of those conversations going well. Boston, in the 1900s, experienced the massive reduction in crime focusing the coming out of the Boston Gun Project with David Kennedy, Anthony Braga, and the Boston Police Department, but it was supported by the Boston TenPoint Coalition. A coalition of African-America community-based clergy, people like Jeff Brown, who were a critical element of that project and the overall effort to reduce violence success.

It’s not just about police, it’s not just about community. It’s about police, community, researchers, businesses, everyone coming together and working on the problem together. Again, it’s always about avoiding these either/or conversations. We can have a conversation that is just about police reform, but it’ll miss something. We can have a conversation that is just about crime in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, but that will also miss something. For our law enforcement partners, we need to reinforce the idea that you will be judged on not just how well you effectively reduce crime, but also how well you engage with the community and explain what you’re doing, and do that in a legitimate and lawful way.

Leonard: You did put it in perspective, and I thought it was powerful, because when you talk to people in law enforcement they will say, “I’ve been to the community meetings and I get yelled at, screamed at. Get them off the corner. They’re bothering people in the community. They are destroying the fabric of life. They are endangering our children.” A lot of folks in law enforcement is saying, “We have been listening to the community and the community has told us to take aggressive action.”

You’re saying that it really is a matter of not everybody in the community. You’re talking about very specific people and places, and that’s where the focus should be. That answers the folks in law enforcement when they express confusion. “Hey, wait a minute. The community told us to be aggressive. You’re saying the community told us to be aggressive towards very specific people and very specific places.”

Thomas: Yes. I think a lot of police forces understand that and those police forces, like the police forces in Boston, the police forces in Los Angeles, like many others, are not having the same problems that we’re having in Baltimore or we’re having in Ferguson. It’s very important to realize that there are lot of successful, highly effective, highly lawful, highly fair police departments that are really already incorporated these lessons. You don’t hear a lot about them because the community is not outraged by them.

Leonard: Because they’ve been doing it well all along.

Thomas: Maybe not all along, but they’ve certainly been doing it well for a number of years.

Leonard: The last 10 years, yes.

Thomas: There’s a responsibility to have a public conversation that goes beyond the police. It’s not just about how the police respond to this. There’s also a responsibility for journalists and a responsibility for advocates. Just as we can’t paint disadvantaged communities with a broad brush, we shouldn’t paint police officers with a broad brush. I think that they have a responsibility as well to understand that while we should keep the pressure on to introduce meaningful reforms to improve policing, the idea is not to attack policing or undermine it all together. I think that we need to understand that police are extremely important, and valuable, and honorable part of our communities, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them to a high standard.

Leonard: Thomas, we’re going to have to close there because we are running out of time, but I do appreciate this conversation and the focus does seem to be on legitimacy, the focus does seem to be in fairness, and the focus does seem to be on equality. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to Thomas Abt today. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches violence reduction. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Correctional Staff Wellness

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/06/correctional-staff-wellness-virtual-nic-conference-on-june-10/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Correctional staff wellness, ladies and gentleman, is our topic today. It’s a hot topic in today’s criminal justice system. There’s going to be a virtual conference on the topic offered by the National Institute of Corrections on June 10th from 10 AM to 3 PM eastern standard time. I’m going to give you a couple contact points and I’ll give them to you throughout the course of the program. Go to NICvirtualconference.com, not .gov but .com. NICVirtualconference.com, 800-995-6429. 800-995-6429.

To discuss correctional staff wellness, we have two individuals with us today. We have [Maureen Bule 00:00:51] and Roy McGraff and I want to read a short piece of bibliographic information on both. Maureen has been with the National Institute of Corrections since 2001 and leads in IC’s justice involved women’s initiative and the development of evidence based and gender informed policy. Additionally, she manages a compassion and fatigue and secondary trauma initiative which addresses the impact on stress and fatigue on correctional staff and their families. We have Roy McGraff. Roy began his career in 1984 as a security specialist in the United States Air Force. Upon discharge, he joined the Oregon Department of Corrections where he served as Sargent for 20 years. Roy is proactive in improving correctional worker health and safety. Roy was also selected as a panel member for a National Institute of Justice sponsored conference in 2014.

To Marine and Roy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Maureen: Thank you, Leonard.

Leonard: This is …

Roy: Good to see you, Leonard.

Leonard: This is a topic that is of extreme importance to all of us in the criminal justice system, and it applies to law enforcement. It applies to parole and probation. That is the topic of staff wellness which is the point of the conference correct, Maureen?

Maureen: That’s correct.

Leonard: Okay, so the whole idea is to recognize that this does exist. The fact that correctional officers, parole and probation agents as well as law enforcement officers stress, trauma, what it is that they experience, and what it is that they go through effects them, affects their jobs, and effects their families. Either one of you.

Maureen: That’s accurate.

Leonard: Okay, that’s why we’re having the conference. Do you ever get the sense that, because I do, law enforcement seems to be 90% of this discussion. Law enforcement officers and stress, especially over the course of the last six months, how it effects them, how it effects their job, how they respond to themselves, how they respond to communities, how they respond to people caught up in the criminal justice system. It’s all law enforcement officer stress, but I would dare say that the balk of the criminal justice system are correctional officers, parole and probation agents and yet nobody talks about that, am I correct?

Maureen: That’s true, Leonard. I think that it’s a little bit different issue within corrections than it is within law enforcement. There’s a lot of similarities, but I think that corrections is a profession that’s just not that well understood by the public, by even the folks that are coming in to do the work. I think that there’s a lot of surprises, how intense and how emotional the work can be.

Leonard: Going into a prison every day, you’re ordinarily there with 50 people who are locked up, 50 inmates. The ratio that I’ve seen is either 50 to 1 or 100 to 1. You’re basically there by yourself and your verbal ability to do the job, your verbal ability to handle situations, I mean it’s not you and a 100 other correctional officers. It’s just you surrounded by a bunch of inmates and whatever goes down, you’ve got to handle it and handle it cognitively, handle it verbally, you’ve got to use your own personal finesse to handle that. That takes a tremendous amount of agility and talent to be able to pull that off, and that’s incredibly taxing. Roy, talk to me about that.

Roy: The ratio is 224 to 1.

Leonard: Thank you for correcting for me.

Roy: It’s okay. That’s half of a shift, and yeah, it is. It’s not just verbal, it’s the presence, it’s the mindset. You get evaluated all day long. These are people, but it’s their thinking, it’s their processing, it’s their criminality and so you’re the lighthouse in this ocean of turmoil, and you have to be on all the time. You don’t get to have a down day or down time or they take advantage of you. It does take high stress, and then there are the things that these are the people that did really, really bad and society said, “We don’t want you out here anymore.” They put them in with us. They put them there and then we go in and try to lead, but they’re still doing bad things while they’re in there. It is hidden. It is out of sight, out of mind.

Law enforcement’s in the public. I’m not saying … We are part of law enforcement. The police officers are in the public eye. If we were in the public eye like they were, I think we would get as much attention, but we don’t. We don’t talk about it. We are the silent majority. It is really sad. Law enforcement, police officers have a lot of funding, where it’s corrections doesn’t if you look on the websites. We hardly get anything that we can get funding for, but Homeland Security gives money like it’s going out of style to police officers. Yeah, there is a huge discrepancy and it needs to change and I’m glad to see this conference and things like it moving forward.

Leonard: Every day in a correctional setting, you are tested, correct, by a lot of inmates? They will try to trick you. They will try to fool you. There are implied threats. There are implied benefits. Everyday is verbal judo in the correctional setting, and as you’ve said, you’re surrounded by hundreds of inmates and it’s just you and your ability to pull it off.

Roy: Yes, absolutely, and you build a reputation from day one. It either gets reinforced or it gets changed. Hopefully it gets improved over time. My reputation hopefully, other inmates help influence the new ones, you don’t want to mess with that guy. Still, even after 20 years of working with guys in my unit that I’ve known for 20 years, I got a lifer unit, and there’s still guys there that will try every single day to have an advantage and try to manipulate me and try to get what they want. Yeah, it’s every single day.

Then you got to go home and you got to try to re-adapt to being home after having that different mentality up for 8 hours, sometimes 16 hours. Depending on what state you work in, you might have worked six days in a row, 14 days in a row, because it’s a right to work state and you’re told when you need to go work and where you’re going to work and how long you’re going to work.

Leonard: Again, the conference, the virtual conference on the topic of correctional staff wellness offered by the National Institute of Corrections on June 10th, 10 AM to 3 PM. Again, NICvirtualconference.com. Maureen, why this topic right now?

Maureen: Well, again, I was saying earlier that corrections is a very, very tough profession and it’s not just the folks that work in the institutions and the prisons and the jails. This is also experienced by folks in the community, probation and parole officers. Roy, you just made a point, and I was interviewing a Sargent out of the Iowa Department of Corrections, and he gave me this great quote. He said, “Corrections and stress is like a game of ping pong. You serve it up to offenders and they serve it back to you, game on. If you’re not careful, you continue this when you get home, you will serve it up to your spouse and kids, game on.”

Leonard: You can’t leave the job. The job doesn’t suddenly disappear when you walk out of those gates. I mean I’ve never walked out of a prison in my life where I did not thank God for my ability to walk out of that prison. You can’t simply leave it behind. It stays with you.

Maureen: It does stay with you, and I think that’s the point that we’re trying to make and I know that Roy will talk more about his own experience in terms of really addressing this within his organization, but I just want to say that one of the things that we know within this profession is that we’re spending a lot of time talking about evidence based research and working with offender populations to improve outcomes. Within that, we’re not talking about how this impacts the staff and I’ve had staff across the country say, “This is great information you’re giving us, but what about us?” This is a very tough job, and if I can just throughout a couple pieces of data which I think are pretty interesting.

Leonard: Please.

Maureen: There’s research that’s emerging on this topic and one of the research reports out there talks about the most extreme manifestation of un-addressed staff, un-addressed stress within correction staff is staff suicide. Researchers in New Jersey found in 2009 when controlling for gender and age, COs had more than twice the suicide rate of police officers. In another study, COs were found to have a 39% higher suicide risk than the rest of the working age population. I mention that because it just shows how intense the work is. There’s a lot of folks that do have the balance in their life and can go home and separate it, but it’s tough.

Leonard: Well, correctional officers and I would imagine falling not terribly far beyond on that, parole and probation agents/police officers, they’ve been described as having the most dangerous and difficult jobs in America. Then we also talk about the institutionalization effect. What happens to inmates that are caught up within prison systems. Roy, the question is going to go to you, you said a little while ago, you guys are serving life. You guys are serving a life sentence, because if it’s difficult for the inmates and it has a psychological impact on them, it has a psychological impact on you and your coworkers as well.

Roy: Yes, for the rest of your life. We don’t look at society the way that the rest of the population does. You’re right, we don’t get to leave it at the door. Our way of thinking, our way of acting, our interaction with our families and our friends and society in general is completely changed. It’s probably closest to PTSD or prisoner of war surviving and coming home, you are changed forever.

Leonard: It doesn’t leave, that’s the bottom line.

Roy: Yes.

Leonard: I do want to talk more and sensitive individuals to the issues that are unique to corrections and the reason why we’re having the conference on June 10th, but once you get everybody there, what are they going to learn? I would imagine that there are techniques to help correctional officers, parole and probation agents deal with the stress that they encounter on a day to day basis correct?

Maureen: Yes, that’s true.

Leonard: Tell me about those.

Maureen: Well, I think that we’re looking a number of different things. We’re certianly making available the research on this topic to just get administrators and leadership onboard with this. I think that there will be a lot of discussion around how you just care for yourself as an individual in terms of how you eat, how you spend your free time, how you interact with your peers and your family. There’ll be discussion around some stress relief techniques, how important it is to engage in interests or hobbies that have absolutely nothing to do with criminal justice or corrections. I think one of the things that’s also important to point out is that not only does this issue impact the individual, but it also impacts organizations, it impacts administrations, and there’s a saying that the culture’s in the walls. If you have an organization where this is not attended to and we talk about staff being our most valuable resource, you can anticipate high rates of sick leave, disability, and I think that’s why it’s so important that leadership really become proactive about paying attention to this.

Leonard: Not dealing with it has it’s cost.

Maureen: Sure does.

Leonard: That’s the bottom line behind all of this. It has its costs in terms of, as you just said, sick leave. It has its cost in terms of psychological adjustment. It probably has a cost in terms of lawsuits and accusations of unnecessary use of force or illegal use of force within correctional facilities. All of that is in play unless individuals have a healthy work life balance and unless you deal with the stressors that occur within correctional facilities. Roy, did you want to take a shot at that?

Roy: Yeah, so, the ACOS, the American Correctional Officers Association, the biggest thing for us is we’re not like the rest of the population. We are more aligned with the police officers. We die between the ages of 59 and 62 on average. The last study put out by Florida showed that. So everything is skewed. We have to be proactive in making sure that our life is in balance and that we’re keeping that stuff up front, and Maureen’s absolutely right. It is an organizational thing along with an individual thing that has to be all the way around, because our lives are shorter.

Leonard: The first thing we need …

Roy: We have to do more.

Leonard: The first thing we need to do, Roy, is to get administrations to admit that there’s a problem, correct?

Roy: We have to get them to do more than lip service. We have a lot of lip service across the nation about, “Yeah, we’re aware of the problem. We’re talking about awareness.” We need them to do. We need them to put money and activity and change from what is the regular work style which is if you work for a state or federal agency, you work 8 hours then you go home and you just keep repeating the cycle. If health is so important then we’re going to have to pay people to go work an hour early or get off an hour or give them an hour lunch and let them shower so that they can get to the clinics together instead of putting it back on the individual, individual, individual. It has to be let’s do.

Leonard: Law enforcement agencies across the country are now saying this is an increasingly important issue. Yes, we have talked about it for a long period of time, but it’s clear that in some cases police officers experience the trauma of the street, they experience the trauma of their job and that trauma is taking its toll in terms of how they interact with individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, how they interact with neighborhoods and it’s not pretty. The results have not been pretty. We can see this on the law enforcement side. I would imagine that if we do not address it on the correctional side, the same things are happening or going to happen. If you have a person who is traumatized, how hasn’t dealt with it, who is under an enormous amount of stress, who hasn’t dealt with it, suddenly finds himself in a physical confrontation with an inmate, it could prove to be an ugly … I guess it could prove to be ugly by ignoring the issue of correctional officer stress, right?

Roy: Absolutely.

Leonard: We have to pay money, we have to do things, we have to invest in this topic or it has the possibility of getting out of hand and creating circumstances that we’re not going to be very proud of. Either one of you?

Maureen: Well, yeah, the circumstances can be certianly events that happen within an agency or institution or just a very unhealthy culture. I think the good news is that there are places around the country and, Roy, you can certainly speak to that within your state that have really begun to pay attention to this and have begun to create policy around the importance of correctional staff wellness, have been creating what we call peer support groups, peer to peer support within institutions, doing some of the things that Roy was talking about in terms of funding for little bit more balance in your life in terms of physical exercise, but I think that often times what happens is when this issue pops up, management or leadership may say, “Well, go to talk your EAP.” Your employee assistance personal counselor, and that really is not effective, because those folks are usually contracted to provide services and they really don’t know what goes on within an institution or within working with probation or parole. Roy, you’ve done some pretty interesting work with this Heart Set in Oregon.

Leonard: Okay, I do want to get in on the Heart Set, but we’re more than halfway through the program. Let me re-introduce the both of you and Roy, I’ll come back to you with that question and also talk a little bit more about the particulars of the conference.

Maureen Bule is with us today from the National Institute of Corrections, been there since 2001, a recognized leader in the area of evidence based and gender informed policy; also in terms of compassion fatigue and secondary trauma with people within corrections. Roy McGraff is also by our microphones via Skype. He began his career in 1984, served 20 years with the Oregon Department of Corrections and Roy is also active in this area. We are talking about a virtual conference from the National Institute of Corrections on correctional staff wellness. It is on June 10th from 10 AM to 3 PM eastern standard time. The two points of contact are NICvirtualconference.com. NICvirtualconference.com or 800-995-6429, 800-995-6429. We’ll repeat that at the end of the program.

Roy, what is Heart Set?

Roy: Heart Set is in a nutshell your ability to interpret the signals from your heart. Not just how fast it’s beating or what your blood pressure is, but does what your feeling … Is it in alignment with your thinking? You can simply go am I in harmony with what I’m doing or am I in conflict with what I’m doing? That’s what it comes down to. What your goal is to be in harmony with what is going with you. Correction officers a lot of times, we ignore that. We put a lock box on our hearts and we ignore them and then we get use to having that lock box on and we ignore it when we’re at home. It’s unlocking that thing, looking at it more than just a pump and realizing that we can use it to help make better decisions and work on that so that we improve our lives by realizing it. It’s crazy watching people argue with me and then they come back a couple months later and they go, “I get it. I get it. It’s starting to work.” They’re happier people.

Leonard: But what started the work specifically, Roy? What are they doing? Are they doing transcendental meditation? Are they doing stress analysis? Are they doing deep breathing exercises? Are they balancing their work and home life? What’s going on?

Roy: The ones that get it right away had more of an open mind about it, and they realize that, yeah, my heart is where all of my really good decisions come from. The ones that don’t get it initially argue, say, “You can’t use your heart. You’re going to get manipulated. You’re going to get used by inmates and everybody else.” Then they realize and they leave and they say that deep breathing and trying to align your thinking to get to where you’re at doesn’t work, but then they try it. Eventually it does. There’s always some event in their life where they have an aha moment.

With me, what I’m showing them is look, it starts out simple. All I need you to do is go beyond tactical breathing. Okay? I need you to go to deep breathing exercises using this little piece of equipment and you’re going to have to think at the same time that you want to be in a calm state. That you want to have good feelings and I need your breathing to go at the same time which requires you to focus on your heart rate. Once we get them to put all three of those in line, they realize that that’s what it takes to get there and that they can personally impact how they feel.

Leonard: All right, thank you. You’re talking about …

Roy: … More than just blood pressure.

Leonard: But you’re talking about people understanding, recognizing correctional officer stress, wellness, again applies to parole and probation, applies to law enforcement as well, but the tactic that you’re using is a matter of deep breathing exercises?

Roy: It’s that, it’s biofeedback so you can actually see it.

Leonard: Okay.

Roy: Then it’s the realization of what you’re doing and it’s being explained to you by somebody who’s been there and done that. It’s not by a clinician. It’s by another corrections professional and it doesn’t have to be a corrections officer. I’ve got people who are stressed out working in offices that work in the corrections field that have never been inside of a prison, and they’re stressed out because of the environments that permeate the department. They thank us for these techniques. It’s deep breathing, it’s part of a mediation level, it’s part of biofeedback, but all of those components are just to get a hold of them and get them to realize that this is real and they can use it to impact their lives right now both at work and at home.

Leonard: To either one of you, how many correctional agencies would you guess out there now that are really taking this to heart? Really looking at the stress levels of their officers and really trying to do something about it?

Maureen: You know, I don’t … I can’t put a number on it, Leonard, partly because there’s over … There’s well over a thousand prisons across the country and that 3300 jails, but I can tell you that when I’ve talked to some directors of corrections, they are very, very interested in this emerging topic. It’s been looked at I think for years as burn out. Burn out is when you’re just exhausted by doing the job, but we know that it’s much more than burn out. As Roy said, it’s often times PTSD.

Leonard: When I have walked into prisons, walked through prisons, interacted with correctional officers, sometimes spending shifts with them when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, I was amazed as to how good they have to be. I was amazed. All the stereotypes of “prison guards” went out the window the first time I actually interacted with correctional officers in prisons. They have to be very good. They have to bring their A game every single day. It’s not like a law enforcement officer that you can run and escape it. You can get in your car and drive away from anything if you have a need to. In the correctional setting, you have no place to go. You have to deal with whatever is in front of you at that particular time. To do that intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, you’ve got to be on your … You’ve got to bring your A game every single day and nobody can do that.

The time I’ve spent with correctional officers, I said to myself, “It’s impossible for correctional officers to bring their A game every single day.” I walked away from my experience in corrections saying, “These are unsung heroes, number one, in many instances and number two, these are individuals that are prone to have lives that may not work very well because of the level of stress that they have to deal with.” Roy, am I in the ballpark or am I not?

Roy: Yeah, you’re absolutely in the ballpark. Once I realized this stuff about the Heart Set, and it’s not just it, it clicked on for me. Then I went back and people are saying, “Where’d you go? What’d you do?” I tell them and I’ve got staff that normally won’t ever talk to me and they’re going tell me more. Then all of a sudden, I turn into a counselor, because they’re going, “Look, my family life sucks. I’m looking for something. I’m thinking about quitting. I’m really in depression, do you think this will help me?” It’s like wow, there is a serious need out there for us to focus and give corrections officers and corrections employees as many tools and options to try to improve their lives so that they can be fulfilled like everybody else.

Leonard: Maureen, go ahead.

Maureen: If you can just add to that, Roy, I think one of the things that we don’t think about is that when you walk into the facility, you walk in with your life. You walk in with if you’re going through a divorce, if you’ve got trouble with in an illness with a child, if you’ve got financial problems, you walk in carrying that and it’s really hard to separate that sometimes. Add to that is that the environment particularly in institutions is … Often times when we have offices, we have something familiar to us, we have a picture or something like that, you can’t that bring that kind of thing into the institution. It’s a tough role and there’s a lot of sort of additional things that go along with it.

Leonard: I think it’s almost an impossible role even for parole and probation agents. Again, I keep saying that if you deal with an individual who’s constantly caught up in the criminal justice system, constantly caught up in drugs, not doing the right thing, interacting with that person’s family, trying cognitive behavior therapy to bring that person along and considering the fact that in most states, you have any where from 100 to 150 people on your case load, you’ve got the process a certain amount on any given day, wow. I think it’s a system set up for an enormous amount of stress and resulting dysfunction unless we chose to address to it.

Roy: Yes, for me, absolutely. The things that we don’t know right now and that I think one of the wellness conference goals is not to be reactive, but to be proactive and to address the issues all the way around from educating staff and families from the front and before you get into the career and that continually as you go along throughout your career and starting from the top and working our way down instead of saying, “Hey, go to EAP,” as the solution. Yeah, it has to be all of it, because you can’t be 100% all the time.

Leonard: Correctional officers, parole and probation agents, law enforcement officers, all of us have to believe that there are techniques that … We have to buy into the work life balance. We have to buy into the techniques and by and large, if we’re given that instruction, we’re willing to buy into the different things that we can do to reduce our levels of stress and trauma, right?

Maureen: I think that if you see it makes a difference with your peers who have been exposed to some of this work, I think that’s good advertising for it.

Leonard: Okay, one of the things I want to do before closing the program is also remind everybody that there is a virtual conference on this very important topic, correctional staff wellness. I can’t tell you how important of a topic it is. The National Institute of Corrections is doing a virtual seminar on June 10th from 10 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Go to NICvirtualconference.com, NIC, National Institute of Corrections, NICvirtualconference.com or 800-995-6429, 800-995-6429.

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, very pleasant day.

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