Archives for June 7, 2016

Correcting Bad Information on Social Media-Craig Silvermen

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at

Listen to the radio show at

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic: social media during emergencies. Does government have the ability to correct bad information?

I am honored today to have Craig Silverman. He is the founding editor of Buzzfeed Canada. He is at Twitter, @Craigsilverman. To say that this is an extraordinarily important topic is an understatement. Craig wrote a document; Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content. It was funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Knight Foundation. Throughout this radio show of great importance, and immense complexity, I want us to focus on 3 things: A. How do we address misinformation? B. What can we do about misinformation, and C. If we had a dirty bomb that went off in your area, we practiced this all the time when I was with the Maryland emergency management, what are the implications for public safety and the surrounding area? Craig, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Craig: Thank you so much for having me.

Leonard: I am honored to have you. With the world economic forum in 2014 according to your report, top trends, viral misinformation. The world economic forum is saying viral misinformation is one of the top trends in the world, correct?

Craig: Yes, that’s right. It made their list of the people that they had asked to fill out a survey. People from around the world put that in the top 10.

Leonard: That’s amazing. Misinformation regardless as to it’s an emergency or not, is standard practice in today’s media world. Is that correct?

Craig: Absolutely. When you have a world of decentralized media, where people can easily publish instantly from a smart phone, can easily start to make something gather attention and vitality through social networks, we end up getting a lot of stuff that circulates that simply isn’t true. There have always been rumors. People have always traded information that had a questionable level of voracity, or was in that early emerging stage where you don’t know if it’s true or not. What happens today is these natural human tendencies that we have to pass along information, to share information, it can really go like wildfire because we live in a network society. There’s a huge amount of misinformation that gets out there. It can very easily be seen as true by a lot of people, and once it starts fooling influential folks, such as people in the press, or people in influential positions and government or other places, then it really starts to be seen as true. It’s a big priority, I think, in newsrooms to do a better job of understanding the dynamics of rumor and misinformation, and I think for the folks that you talk to, and in the roles that you’re in, it’s also critically important.

Leonard: It’s compounded during an emergency if we have a hard time correcting bad information on Facebook and Twitter, and the other social media platforms. If it gets into newsrooms, newsrooms end up repeating it. On a day to day basis, that’s a tough nut to crack. When there’s an emergency, if I’m driving in my car, when I was with Maryland Emergency Management, equipped lights and sirens. They say there’s a problem, I have to drive to the problem where we’re setting up a media briefing center, and while driving, and it’s going to take me an hour and a half to get there under the best of circumstances, the rumor goes off that there’s a dirty bomb. I don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of putting out that rumor. I mean, I’m driving to the scene. During an emergency, this stuff flows fast and furious.

Craig: Absolutely, it does. Obviously my area of expertise is not in emergency management, but the first thing that comes to mind to me as you’re describing that scenario is there are certainly some physical responsibilities, in person communication, going to scenes, evaluating what’s going on. There’s that piece of it, and I would hope that people involved in this world also think about setting up social media command centers to a certain point, to monitor the information that’s coming out of that specific area where a disaster might have happened, or there are reports of a disaster. Also looking at the larger networks and monitoring key words and other things to see what people are talking about. There’s a two-fold purpose in it. This has some overlap with newsrooms. On the one hand, there were people who are just simply closer to the problem, closer to what’s going on than you are, if you’re in your car driving over, what have you. They may have access to a smart phone, they may be on Twitter, they may be on Instagram. There’s a hug amount of information that could be coming out in real time, from the critical area, or from people who have a certain level of expertise and knowledge. They may be going to social networks to put that out there.

The other side of it, aside from gathering information, you want to use these channels to push out quality information. I think that through both of those things, the monitoring of information, you should be looking at rumors and claims that are out there, and trying to triangulate the information, and compare it to the information that you have coming in from your other sources. On the other side in terms of communicating information, you want to think about, we know this rumor is circulating. We know that it’s true, we know that it’s false, or maybe we don’t know whether it’s true, what can we put out to give some context and to help in the process of people understanding and making sense of the situation. I think in the scenario you described, you’re in the car driving as fast as you can to get there, I would hope that there are colleagues who are really monitoring social media. Not only to gather additional information to provide to you as you give you’re briefings, or what have you, but also to really see if there are things that are starting to take flight that may not be true, or that you really need to look more into to see whether they’re true or not.

Leonard: Even when it’s not during an emergency, I would contend that most of us in emergency management throughout the United States, most of us within the criminal justice system throughout the United States, we do not have these special I-teams to do that analysis. The question becomes whether or not we are all sophisticated enough and do we have our own personal social media accounts, and do we have enough of them? It may be Twitter, it may be Facebook, but it could be an endless number of others that are putting out this misinformation. It would take somebody savvy, it would take somebody who already has social media accounts, and it would take an almost instantaneous network to begin to compare notes, before we could put out these fires.

Craig: Yeah. This is one of the things that it goes to a point that’s really, really important. I worked on a project with the European Journalism Center, something called the verification handbook, where it was a document oriented towards newsrooms, but also humanitarian workers, helping them verify information in real time in emergency scenarios. One of the things that became very clear is as we talked to journalists with the Australian broadcasting Corporation, she talked about their experience with wildfires in Australia. I’m sure that this probably isn’t news to you, but one of the things that became very clear from talking to her is what you do before the emergency happens dictates how well you’re going to handle it and cover it in the moment.

In these scenarios, rather than trying to figure out who on the team has got social media accounts or what have you, obviously it has to become part of the planning process. What are the channels we’re going to use? What are the ones that are most important to use in terms of getting news out in real time? I would say that Twitter is a very important one, because that’s where people tend to look for real time information.

Leonard: Yeah.

Craig: Facebook is obviously where the most amount of people are. Facebook is doing a lot of work to be seen as more real time, and more hospitable to real time, so a Facebook page is also really important. I think setting this stuff up ahead of time of, where are we going to communicate this information, who is going to own these channels, and what are we going to use these channels for? Those are really, really important things to think about much sooner than before you get the reports that a dirty bomb has gone off. Figuring out who on the team has expertise in this area, figuring out what accounts exist or need to be set up, and then how you’re going to use those. Those are just as important as all the other pieces of preparation that are going to be done, because not only is it important for, again, getting the information out, but if people know this is a trusted source, and a place where good information is coming from, then they may actually bring intelligence and information to you, and it becomes a place where people can start to contribute. It again gets that kind of two-way thing going, which is really, really important and useful.

Leonard: I think you would agree that there’s no piece of technology out there that that’s going to solve this. I’ve been also looking at magazines and different companies are offering emergency social media analysis hardware/software. I don’t think this is a matter of hardware/software. I think this is a matter of, as you said before, preparation, having trained people in place, and the ability to instantaneously sit at a computer and analyze social media and instantaneously contact each other. This is something that’s not going to involve one or two or three people, this is something that’s going to involve in some cases, up to 20 or 30 people who can instantaneously drop what they’re doing, go to the computer, start searching hash tags, start sharing information with each other. That involves a pretty high degree of sophistication and preparation and technology that they have to have with them practically at all times.

Craig: Yeah. You need an internet connection, and things like say Tweet Deck or Hoot Suite, or things like that in terms of the tools, but there is a lot of it that goes down to training and expertise. Just a lot of it that is the human factor. You need to have access and basic knowledge of the tools, but you also need to have people who are well trained. I think actually a small group of people can achieve a lot. The larger you get, once you get beyond say five people, it becomes very hard to coordinate those folks. You might have people duplicating effort in the scenario of monitoring social media and analyzing it. Ideally, you have some specialists in this area who can get on that wan watch for it. I think there’s the technology piece, but what you bring up is kind of the human piece of it, and that’s really, really important when we’re talking about rumors and misinformation.

There are some really basic human needs that are filled by rumors. That’s why we have so many of them, particularly in emergency and disaster scenarios. When humans lack a certain amount of information, when it’s a very confusing scenario, and there’s lots of conflicting information, what we try to do, is we try to make sense of the world. It makes us very uncomfortable to not have information, especially in a critical scenario. It’s very tough for our brains to process conflicting information. What we naturally try to do is to make sense of this scenario, and that often causes us as we talk with other people to come up with, “well, maybe it’s because of this, or maybe it’s because of that.” We all put our pieces of information together, and that’s where we start to create and propagate rumors. It’s important for everyone to understand that there is this human need that rumors can often fill, especially in emergency scenarios, where there’s a real, imminent threat there. Understand that rumors aren’t necessarily people who are trying to put out false information, it’s people who mean well who are engaging in this process of sense-making, trying to figure it out.

Especially when it’s hurricanes or things like that, and there’s high anxiety. It actually is a coping mechanism in a lot of ways for us to fill in the gaps, the things that we don’t have, the information we don’t have, to put that out there. You’ll see this happening on Twitter and on social media, is people asking questions, interacting with each other, latching on to little scraps of information that come out that seem to make sense to them that they then propagate. I think that everyone should have a basic understanding of why rumor is such a basic human element, particularly in these scenarios. Whenever you have things like bombings, or hurricanes, natural disasters, they’re going to be there. It’s the human engine, emotions and brains and those kinds of things that are driving these rumors. Tools and technologies are important, but understanding human behavior is always really, really big in this kind of scenario.

Leonard: There’s also sources of purposeful misinformation. One of the things when I was learning how to do green screen television, is that I realized that I could buy readily available footage from elsewhere, I can do a green screen television shoot, and it will look exactly like any other news program. It will look and feel and smell and taste like a real news program, and I can purposely put out misinformation, and sites purposefully putting out misinformation. I refer to the photos of sharks swimming in the streets of Sandy Hook after Hurricane Sandy. We have that level of a complexity to deal with as well.

Craig: Yes, absolutely. One of the things in the research that I focused on were what I called fake news websites. These are websites where somebody’s taken a basic WordPress template or web template and it looks like a real news website. The articles are written with a newsy voice and tone to them, but everything on the website is fake. What I saw in my research was that they could have articles that could get hundreds of thousands of shares, driving a significant amount of traffic. What their strategy basically is, they’re trying to monetize on gullibility. They come up with fake articles about celebrities, or about what I saw when Ebola was a real threat in the United States, they did a lot of fake articles. One of them reported that an entire Texas town had been quarrantined because a family had contracted Ebola. Completely fake, of course. It got a huge amount of shares. Of course, that sends people to their website, they have ads on their pages, and they earn money that way.

There are certainly people who are conscientiously trying to spread misinformation, whether it’s fake news websites doing it to earn money, or perhaps there are people who have a malicious intent and other ways. That’s certainly something that’s going to emerge and come out there. Sometimes though, people are spreading fake information, but it’s not necessarily with malicious intent. This is a really hard thing particularly for journalists to understand, because why would somebody put out something that was fake? The answer that a lot of these hoaxers give, is that again, it’s a stress relief for them to just put a joking image. Unintentionally they put it out thinking everyone will know it’s a joke and have a laugh, but people start to take it and treat it as real.

Again, there’s this release valve that people need in these very anxiety inducing scenarios where they’ll often put something out like that. It is something to be aware of. It’s important to be aware that rumors are absolutely going to emerge in these scenarios. A hundred percent guaranteed, in an emergency response scenario, natural disaster scenario, what have you, rumors will abound. No question about it. There will also be people who intentionally or otherwise put out misinformation.

One is the monitoring aspect of this. The second piece where journalists also really need to raise their skill level, is the verification piece of it. You see a tweet, and somebody’s made a claim, how do you figure out if that’s true or not? This is a skill area where the more people who can know how to use some tools and some basic approaches to figure out whether it’s true or false, the better off we’re all going to be as a society.

Leonard: There’s a fascinating part of your report where basically you’re saying that there’s an economic model for anything that delivers clicks to a website and that the incentives are all wrong, which is one of the reasons why we’re having this problem to begin with.

We’re more than halfway through an extraordinarily entertaining and informative program. Ladies and gentlemen, Craig Silverman is by our microphones. Founding editor of Buzzffed Canada. You can reach him a Twitter @craigsilverman. The report itself, Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content, again funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Knight Foundation. Extraordinarily fascinating read. Find it on the internet if you are interested in rumor control, if you’re interested in emergency management, you must go to the website and get Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content, and read it.

Craig, we have a 30% reduction in reporters over the last 10 years. Where we’ve relied upon media in the past to assess rumors and correct information internally, their ranks have been depleted tremendously. The reporters who I work with are doing more than ever before with less than ever before. The media that we counted on in the past to verify and to figure out what is correct information and what is incorrect information with our help from people who are directly at the scene. Because of their fewer numbers, it’s very hard for them to complete this task. It’s very hard for them to be the gatekeeper.

Craig: It is. The reason I do things like the verification handbook and the Lies, Damn Lies report, is because I see that there’s a lack of these skills in the newsroom. Of the journalists that are left, they absolutely are overloaded with different things, and they haven’t been given training in verification of social media content and things like that. I think you do have to in these scenarios, look at newsrooms as an important channel and partner in these things. I also do think that you have to look at the reality that you just articulated, and say we are going to be a source as well. We’re not just going to feed things through the media. We have to be able to be a credible, reliable, consistent source ourselves. I think that’s a really important thing to realize and to think about what that’s going to take in terms of resources and training on your own.

All that being said, a piece of advice we give to newsrooms in terms of preparing for disaster coverage is you need to think about all of the critically important government agencies, first responders, experts in your area and you need to create a line of communication with them ahead of time. I think it goes both ways in that, absolutely you should be thinking about who are the newsrooms, AP being one that’s all over the country, so how do we get a direct line into AP to make sure we’re communicating with them well. Thinking about locally, who are the critical local sources as well, and setting up those lines of communication to say when we have something important, we’re going to get it to you in this form. For the journalists, to tell them and say when you have an important question, when you know something, here is how you get that to us. I think when we’re talking about these kinds of scenarios of emergency situations, some of the mutual suspicion or distrust that tends to be there, it recedes a little bit because everybody’s in it together just trying to get the best possible information out to the public as possible. To tell the people who need to evacuate that they need to evacuate, and to make sure that it’s not a false order. And so on.

I think that you’ll find in these scenarios, newsrooms do want to be a very good partner. Figuring out the method of communication, helping them understand what kind of information they can rely on from your particular office, and which other places they might need to go for other information is very important. Then of course thinking about how you are going to get your information, not just out through the media, but through like we talked about; a Twitter account, a Facebook page, other means to make sure that it’s getting out there as much as possible.

Leonard: Bottom line is that we have to have a core of digital specialists who are extremely sophisticated about social media. Extremely sophisticated in terms of following the media, who already have these accounts set up, who are ready to go at a moment’s notice. What you’re saying is, is that we can do it with a small number. Let’s just say 1-10, we have to be digital specialists. We have to really know social media. We have to know its implications, we have to know who’s out there, and we have to be on the various platforms. I agree with you with Facebook and Twitter, but Instagram is rising in popularity more than anybody ever anticipated, and others. Periscope. There’s all sorts of things out there that are just exploding and we have to be knowledgeable of them all. We in the media, and we within government, and we within emergency management must become digital media experts.

Craig: Absolutely. You have to think like a newsroom in some ways, particularly when there’s an active scenario going on. You have to think about how you’re communicating the information. One of the other pieces that’s really important and this is talked about in the report, is deciding at what point you’re ready to communicate a piece of information.

Newsrooms, what I was talking about in the sense of there’s so much information that’s circulating online and circulating on social networks, and it may have news value and it may be of interest, and it may get them clicks, but what newsrooms have to figure out is, what’s your bar for when you’ll actually cover something? Do you need to have it 100% nailed down? Or will you just take anything that’s circulating and put some [hedging 00:21:58] language in, and saying, “Well, this is popular on Reddit, we don’t know if it’s true, but have a look at this photo.” I think it’s important for government agencies and communicators as well to think about that. Okay, so if we’re going to be a source of information in this scenario, what level of voracity, what level of conformation do we need to put something out? Are we only going to put out stuff that is 100% nailed down, or are we actually going to engage and say, “There’s a rumor circulating that this is happening in this area of the city, as of right now we have no information to confirm that.”

Thinking about how you’re going to engage on that level is I think a really important thing. Overall, yeah. I think that there’s no way to do this kind of work today without having people on your team who are social media savvy, who are good at monitoring, who are good at assessing, who are good at verifying, and who are good at communicating. These are absolutely core skills. There are definitely tools and things that can help you, but a lot of it comes down to human decision making and figuring out what you’re processes are and what you’re standards are, just like newsrooms have to do.

Leonard: Even in your report, when you mentioned Larry King, he criticized CNN his own network in terms of Flight 370, the Indonesian airliner that went down. He criticized their coverage of that as absurd. We say in the report that there is an economic model, that anything that drives clicks to a website, the incentives, fiscal incentives, financial incentives are all wrong. This is a challenge. This is a challenge for media, it’s a challenge for us to put it together, and guess what you’re saying is, is that not only must we train amongst ourselves, we’ve got to get together with media and figure all this out ahead of time, and have a protocols in place so bad information doesn’t get out information that’s going to harm literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people.

Craig: Absolutely. Yeah. That preparation piece. We keep coming back to it because it’s so essential. For the folks that this particular conversation is targeted at, I don’t know that their incentives are as misaligned as they are in a lot of newsrooms in the sense that a lot of digital newsrooms value the number of views and clicks you get, and if you take the extra time to nail something down and find out that it’s not real, then you get no clicks for that, because you haven’t gotten the story. Other people may get it first. In newsrooms, what they have to re-calibrate is what do we value? Do we value getting the most clicks on a story, or do we value being the ones who’ve said, “No, no, no. This story is fake,” and putting that out there and showing that we’re trusted and building that up over time.

I work at BuzzFeed now. I Joined BuzzFeed after I did the fellowship that led to the report we’re talking about. For me. BuzzFeed obviously is a huge organization, drives a huge amount of traffic, covers a huge amount of stuff that’s viral. What I saw before I joined, is a shift that had been happening culturally internally at BuzzFeed over the last couple of years, whereby rather than just finding anything and being first to it and getting it up first, the culture had shifted towards asking questions, reaching out, doing verification, and not having fake stuff on the site. A more journalistic culture has taken hold, and BuzzFeed as they’ve been hiring people and news.

I don’t know exactly what the incentives are in the world of the folks who are here, but I assume that there’s probably not as much pressure around clicks, and far more to be lost in terms of reputation if a government agency or a specialized company doing emergency response is putting out fake information. That is a game changer for them, whereas a single journalist, if they make 1 mistake they can move on. For a government agency putting out false information in an emergency, that’s almost game over, because of the amount of credibility it has.

Leonard: In the final minutes of the program, and there’s so much I wanted to get to but I’m not going to be able to get to it today. The more we care about a rumor, the more we have a stake, the more we participate in that rumor, the more we care about a topic, the more like we are to spread rumors, and the more likely we are to believe it’s true. We cherry pick information that we hear, that we come into contact with, and if it fits our preconceived notion of the world, there’s a good possibility that we will spread that rumor. We will believe it and spread it. Part of this is the psychology of the people who are reading and assessing this for themselves, and what you’re warning is that you’ve got to be very careful in debunking the rumor. You cant go after the person, you have to to go after the facts. There is a strong set of psychological principles that apply.

Craig: Yes. There’s a lot going on here in terms of why somebody would choose to propagate a rumor. If it aligns with existing knowledge and existing beliefs that they have, they are more likely to believe it and to propagate it. If it fits with suspicions they have, if it fits with their worldview, again they’re more likely to put it out there. They’re more likely to believe it. Another thing that people should note also about rumors, there is often a connection between repetition and believability. The more that someone is exposed to rumor, the more that any skepticism they might have about it starts to erode.

There have been studies about the number of times somebody was exposed to a rumor they start to believe it even more.

Leonard: That’s amazing.

Craig: It is. It just shows how important it is that so many of us news organizations, government communicators and other communicators, how we understand that we have to get out there early. When we see things, we have to talk about it and engage and warn people off of this stuff.

Then that gets us into the realm of debunking that you brought up. Which is, how do you do this effectively without in effect, repeating the rumor so much that people still ignore your debunking. One, as you mentioned, is people who pushed out a false rumor, you don’t want to attack them, you don’t want to personalize it. You want to debunk the idea and not the person is what people often say. That’s very important. Don’t go around shaming people. Make it easy for them to let go of this thing that they put out there and that they believed. It’s also really important to try to minimize the amount of times you’re repeating the false information. You want to express the truth in a more positive way.

A small example of this, rather than saying Barack Obama is not a Muslim, you would want to say Barack Obama is a Christian. That’s the more positive reinforcement of the correct information. It’s also important of course to get out there early. It’s important to do it in a positive way, to not attack people. It’s important to think about how you can connect with other trusted sources to get this information out there. What I mean by that is, if somebody is propagating a rumor because it aligns with say a political belief, a personal belief, some kind of orientation. If you can get other organizations that person might be perceived to be as aligned with their beliefs, and have that organization help you with pushing out the debunking, then you’ve got a much better chance of getting it out there. If they have suspicion about the government, then you should talk to other local organizations that aren’t seen as government organizations to get them to push it out there as well, whether that’s a red cross, or a local chamber of commerce. Think about all these different channels, how people who might be skeptical of government, might actually listen to one of these other channels.

Leonard: All right. Craig, you’ve got the final word. There’s so much here to discuss. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re interested in emergency management, if you’re interested in relations with the media, if you’re interested in rumor control, please go to Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content, easily found on the internet. It is one of the most fascinating reads that I’ve had within my 40 years within the criminal justice system. We’ve talked to Craig Silverman today. Twitter @craigsilverman, founding editor at BuzzFeed Canada. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Victim Assistance-Will Marling

Dc Public Safety Radio

See the main site at

See the radio show at

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back on our microphones, ladies and gentlemen Will Marling, the executive director of the National Organization for victim assistance. We’re going to be talking about three items. The dramatic increase in federal funds for victims of crimes. The second, the new report from the department of justice stating that the disabled have more than double the rate of violent crime in the third issue are cameras for police and what does it mean for victims.  Will Marlin welcome back to DC Public Safety?

Will Marling: Leonard thank you it’s always a privilege to be with you.

Leonard Sipes: Alright, we have a new report out that basically says the federal crime victim funds are expected to nearly quadruple in the next fiscal year. States have begun to plan as to how to spend what amounts to an unexpected windfall that was good news for advocates who have been fighting for years to get the full amount of available funds under the victims of crime compensation act. Explain all this to me Will. Where are … where is the federal government suddenly finding quadruple the money they give the victims of crimes?

Will Marling: Well, that’s a great question. A question that many people aren’t aware that shouldn’t even be asked. In 1984, President Reagan established the task force for victims of crime. Out of that very significant task force came the office for victims of crime and the victims of crime at fund. The Congress said we’re going to set up a fund that takes last year’s four features fines and seizures at the federal level. Then we’re going to use that for victim … crime victim compensation and Crime Victim Services like funding victim advocate roles and vocations.

Since 1984, that has been in play. The fund has grown and, of course, advocates those who work in this particular area were certainly very aware of the victims of crime that fund because many times it was … it’s funding these vocations out in the justice process and state and local jurisdictions and as well the federal … at a federal level. Trying to see that balanced was importance. Congress set a cap on that as the fund grew and got to be very significant well into the billions of dollars. Congress said okay we’re going to set a cap that was most recently established at about $750 – $754 million dollars.

We’ve been discussing this issue and seeing that cap raise with the congressional action many times things can get a little behind. As long as it’s working nobody is messing with it but we’ve been arguing for many years did that cap needs to be raised to meet the needs not only of victims of crime but also to understand that hey the money is there. Things are cool as it appears at this point where congressional leadership really took hold of this to say okay yes it’s time to truly raise this cap and as well to hear from victim assistance organization and agencies who would say yes it’s time and what would our dreams be. Well while the money is there and they really went to you know great lengths to expand it to nearly quadruple.

What is represented in what looks to be the fiscal year 2016 appropriation for this would move it to about 2.6 billion. It also represents some other editions of funding designation. We call them earmarks. We’re watching this carefully because we want to make sure that as it was originally intended the victims of crime fund is directly trying to meet the needs of victims of crime to compensation … victim compensation and victim services specifically.

Leonard Sipes: Well, crime has returned to a national or as a national discussion point Will. It’s sort of like a rising tide lifts all boats because … my question is this is principally a fund to deal with financial compensation for victims of crime if there injured due to a violent crime or for instance if a loved one is murdered and they don’t have the money to pay for funeral costs. This is how … this is the reason for the act for the funds specifically, and it’s administered by all the 50 states. The whole idea is to reimburse victims of crime for their experiences correct?

Will Marlin: That’s exactly right. There are a lot of significant expenses just financially. We’re taking out the emotional dimension but that the financial impact of ending up in the hospital of having medical treatment of having to conduct a funeral pay for a funeral having to get counseling and loss of wages for instance. A number of the states have those kind of categories for reimbursement of compensation to support victims of crimes. It is the last pay of funds because sometimes people are insured. They have say medical care that would cover that kind of thing.

Of course, many people aren’t expecting to be a victim, and they’re not expecting to suffer a profound physical loss or financial loss. That’s yes you’re exactly right. That’s what it’s designed to do. Each state has the VOCA administrator that takes their formulas appropriation and sometimes applies it to the state itself and the money they raise for Victim Compensation. Which can also come from four features fines and seizures and penalties and this kind of thing. It really was a brilliant concept in my view. I think others would agree with me for Congress to say hey! wait a minute this is a great way to deal with this very profound need that represents the losses the victims suffer after having been harmed by crime.

Leonard Sipes: It’s not that i disagree with anything that I’m about to read. Some of the examples that were … that was given by the one article that I’m reading in terms of where the money is going. Crime victim organizations such as domestic violence shelters child abuse centers as well as court-appointed sexual advocates and organization that assist homeless youth … that sort of takes it away from the arena of reimbursing somebody for the injuries that they sustained in a violent crime.

Will Marlin: Well, It’s a … it’s a good observation and an interesting one because we consider these earmarks and the risk that you run for earmarks even with very appropriate and understandable concerns of trying to fund the needs of victims in other sectors. For instance, you know there’s the 2016 fiscal year appropriation for … the Senator appropriation bill for VOCA would give 50 million to victims … towards victims of trafficking. The challenge that we face when you start having earmarks is it really restrict and complicates how the fund then is applied.

What we need ultimately is a fund but understandably holds the users accountable to address Victim Compensation victim services. When you start having a create percentages that go towards this and that it can become very complicated to the point that maybe you have certain needs in a certain jurisdiction, and they’re far less needy and another one. This is always our concern where you don’t simply have a good fund … a strong, healthy robust fund that is as you say … towards these specific needs of victims. Not special needs of victim or special populations of victims because they all should represent that.

Another concern just quite frankly in terms of some of the potential preparations is toward prevention issues. Those are extremely important, but we don’t want to fund prevention training and initiatives, for instance, a community-based violence prevention initiative is part of what could be considered the next … the 16 appropriations. Important work yes but we don’t want to put that on the backs of people who are actually trying to recover from the losses they’ve suffered at the hands of the perpetrator.

Leonard Sipes: It’s either an and act on the part of Congress expressing concern regarding victims of crime or recognition of the criminal justice system needs more money. I don’t know what that is I mean they’ve quadrupled the amount of funding in fiscal year 2016 under the victims of crime act. Is it a concern for victims or is it just a funding mechanism for the larger criminal justice system?

Will Marlin: Well, certainly from the standpoint of those who provide victim assistance victim services and also manage victim compensation funding we all considered it a very positive step in and a very good directions to first of all raise the cap that was established because the fund is quite robust and the needs are there clear. I think the simple concerned to express it is for Congress to let the people that know how to do this work do the work to make the funds available to victims of crime and to those who should manage the funding. and then to serve victim of crime in that regard.

There’s concern about non-VOCA authorize funding as we consider it that that looks to be a roughly 441 million in this fiscal 16 … fiscal year 16 appropriation. The concern there becomes … others looking at that’s fund and saying well I can get some money for my particular program as good and viable, and that might be. That program might not represent the needs specifically of victims recovering from the criminal incident. That’s what we want to make sure happens. This fund the VOCA … the victims of crime act fund is for victim compensation and specifically for victim services and we’d like to see it protected that way.

Leonard Sipes: Not just a larger general fund where everybody can dip into under any justification that the program or the effort serves victims of crimes. Specifically making sure that victims are compensated, and victims receive the services that they need, and the only way to do that is through the victims of crime act?

Will Marlin: That’s right. If the victims of crime act fund were to disappear the federal level we know that hopefully the states would continue their level of funding. Obviously, it would be a significant reduction if you’re talking about what currently is the appropriation of 2.361 billion for the current cap …

Leonard Sipes: That’s a lot of money going from 745 million to 2.36 billion. It’s almost an inevitable opportunity to say how else can we use these funds. From the standpoint of the national organization for victim assistance what you guys are saying is wait a minute. Be sure that the great majority of people … the victims of crime are taken care of before you start talking about siphoning it for other purposes.

Will Marlin: yeah exactly. I mean its always this kind of fine line you walk because you … we do not want to sound in any way I like all of these other initiatives that at least we see the listed as a potential appropriations or earmarks under such a bill for the VOCA fund. They’re not meaningful they’re not good. The concern though is it becomes Murky and we … we’re just strongly joining with others to suggest or request that the expanded use of those fund be limited for purpose that are authorized under the original VOCA statute. That’s what we’re arguing for because when it was established, that’s exactly what was delineated. This is for victims of crime to help compensate the program losses to help them in the recovery process to get them access to services that are specific and important for those who have suffered harm at the hands of you criminal activity.

Leonard Sipes: All right, we’re going to shift gears a bit Will and talk about the fact that in 2013 … this was a report released by the Department of Justice on May 21st, 2015, but the data goes back to 2013. In 2013 the rate of crime … the rate of violent crime against persons with disabilities was more than double the rate for people without disabilities. I found a bit disturbing … talking about 1.3 million nonfatal victimization’s which accounted for 21% of all valid victimization in 2013. This isn’t the first time to my knowledge … my years within the criminal justice system that the disabled have been looked at from the standpoint of violent crime. I was shocked to come to find out if they had double the rate of the non-disabled community. Do you have any comments?

Will Marlin: Well, yeah it’s an important understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities and the impact of crime on them. One thing I want to point out here and this is a bit of a personal commentary. What I appreciate about you as we have these interactions is that you want to talk about the things. I didn’t pitch the idea of talking about crimes against persons with disabilities or the VOCA fund.

Leonard Sipes: True.

Will Marlin: You’re pointing out something that encourages me, and that is the work that is done to talk about that the public level. You took note of, and that’s what we need to do too. It’s why I love the radio show because of how many people you reach. This particular statistic we all inherently new who do this work … that people with disabilities are significantly more vulnerable. We have a toll-free victim assistance line here with the National Organization for victim assistance. We have an added approach this, but we recognize when people are calling, and their declaring I am a person with a disability of this is what I’m experiencing.

That there is a greater vulnerability that they have because of their situation and the preponderance of people who know them and work with them are the one that many times are the people they’re taking advantage of them. I’m … It’s troubling on one hand to hear the higher rate events, and that’s for folks with disability but it’s also an important piece of awareness that we pay attention to these need, and we take advantage of what we know to help them out.

Leonard Sipes: I want to talk about serious violent crime directed towards individuals with disabilities, but we got a break and get right back to that. Ladies and gentlemen were talking to Will Marlin, the executive director for the National Organization for victims assistance Nova’s been around for about 40-50 years. I mean it’s one of the most respected organizations within the criminal justice system. One of … certainly the most respected organizations in terms of fighting for victims of crime. We always appreciate Will coming in to talk about topics that are pertinent to victims of crime.

Let me go back to that stat Will Marlin. Serious violent crimes rape or sexual assault robbery and aggravated assault accounted for a greater percentage of all violent crimes against people with disabilities 39% and then compared to people without disabilities 29%. Not only is there a rate of violent crime double those people without disabilities. Serious violent crime seems to be a significant issue. What do we say about a society that allows crime against the disabled to occur without a larger public policy discussions?

Will Marlin: It’s … It truly is an important public policy discussion as well as a specifically practical need. What we recognize is that people with disabilities, first of all, are more vulnerable because of their situation. Their ability to be empowered to make choices to in a sense … protect themselves and so on. They can be under the care of somebody who would take advantage of that. Also the awareness that many times they are not either understood or heard when trying to respond and report that they have been a victim. If a person is in a context where the ability to communicate is limited or there … the needs that they have emotionally or whatever they might be are judged by a person listening to them.

That can profoundly impact the caregiver or the first responders’ willingness or perception of responding to that need. That makes them doubly vulnerable. We as a society we can grow in this. We can grow in our awareness we can grow in our sensitivity, and we can also grow in our commitment to say okay wait a minute. If somebody is attempting to communicate with us there, particular need something that has happened with them. We should start by saying okay this has happened to the best of our knowledge. How are we then going to respond to it.

Leonard Sipes: The response I think is startling because half do not even report the crimes to law enforcement. Nearly half of violent crimes against persons with disabilities what’s reported to police in 2013. The reasons people with disabilities did not report crime to police … because they felt they could deal with it another way. They believe that was 44% they believe that was not important enough 21% they believe that police wouldn’t help 19% and other reasons 38%. They’re not reporting the crimes to law enforcement in the majority of cases, and that’s startling. Not only do they have to face this victimization they don’t even appeal to the larger criminal justice system to assist them.

Will Marlin: Quite honestly that’s not far off the mark from people without disabilities or trying to report. Of course, then you could move into the category of children who are not themselves going to be able to report even at all. It demonstrates limitations that people have to declaring that somebody else has harmed them and in the position of an … from the perspective of a person with a disability. If it’s a primary caregiver how are they going to get even around that person or they believe because it’s somebody they know, or they have trusted that they can manage that situation on their own.

Many times, of course, it’s not the case. It affirms really a need to make sure that we make the vehicles for reporting as available and effective as possible so that if they want to take advantage of them they know that they’re as robust and trustworthy as they can be so that they will. Otherwise, we do empower people to make their own choices about how they want to handle their victimization, and sometimes they believe that the best way to approach this is not to report it to law enforcement for some reason.

Leonard Sipes: Thank God there are victims organizations and community organizations and organizations like the National Organization for victim assistance that does provide a lifeline to these individuals. If they’re confused and if they didn’t report it and they’ve been victimized at least they can call you up and find out what the alternatives are. Again Give the 800 number for the organization Will.

Will Marlin: Yeah it’s 800-879-6682 or 800-t-r-y-N-o-v-a.

Leonard Sipes: Without organizations like yours and organizations at the state level at local level where they going to pick up the phone and have these conversations they would be completely lost.

Will Marlin: I appreciate your KUDOS. I have to say also, there are many good people and good works good agencies on the field in direct contact with people with disabilities or available at very local levels serving that. We celebrate that important work that is being done there and were trying to connect people many times when they call us. We’re trying to connect them to local resources. We consider even our victim assistance line a resource referral line. We don’t want people calling because there … it’s an emergency I mean that they either 911 or a local emergency service provider call.

We do definitely try to connect them to the expertise they need, and there’s just also limits. We just got done talking about the victims of crime act fund and it would be great again for that funding to do be open to helping victims in that situation. To be able to fund the needs that they have and for states who have to allocate that funding to feel like they can expand even the services they want to provide because there’s more funding for that. We are excited about the VOCA fund expanding no question. The states and the appropriation the VOCA administrators are certainly talking with excitement about the possibilities which is great. We just, of course, want to see it continue and especially want to see its continue for the people most vulnerable in our society. The very young many times and folks with disabilities.

Leonard Sipes: I think I’m going to go back to my original point, and that is after spending 10 years as a spokesperson for the crime prevention field. I was shocked because I knew and speculated and believed that people with disabilities had a higher rate of violent crime but not twice the rate. I’m very glad that the Bureau of Justice Statistics came out with this report and made a problem … I think that may have been not on the radar of individuals to make it a prominent thought when you’re discussing criminal justice policy in the country.

let’s move on to issue a number three: cameras for law enforcement. There has been a huge debate as you well know Will Marlin. All throughout the United States in terms of police use of force appropriate use of force … inappropriate use of force. One of the solutions to all of this has been to put body cameras on police officers. Many people feel that this is a wonderful idea. Data seems to indicate a dramatic reduction in complaints against law enforcement when the process is taped or videotaped digitally. What does this mean however in terms of victims of crime because non-law enforcement organizations are going to follow freedom of Information Act request and they’re going to want all of that digital tape, and there are victims of crimes who are going to appear in these cameras? What are the implications in terms of body cameras for law enforcement in victims of crime?

Will Marlin: It’s a superb question. Setting aside philosophical considerations policy legislative decision surrounding this kind of an issue and what’s driving it. Practically speaking a body worn camera is going to be able to access very private context. Potentially private conversation that would revolve around victims and their needs. In contrast, to say cruiser cameras that have been in play for a long time and seemingly have found a meaningful place in our society for … to help justify the force used or to hold somebody accountable for excessive use of force.

The body worn cameras are on an officer who’s now walking into what potentially is a private household and should be considered private. The concerns … many concerns revolve around the impact of that on victims … the context of them being recorded for instance in a profound moments trauma of grief of struggle and how that information might be disseminated might … it might be used. it might be used to critique and judge them. We’re already strangling our society in many ways when it comes to the judicial process. You take a victim who suffered loss you put him on the stand they get cross-examined to the point of … sometimes just painful accusation of them self-trying to impact the testimony of that witness who is a victim.

Then you take the context of that immediate aftermath moment when they’re going through a traumatic reaction, and that’s being recorded and then how that might be portrayed in a court of law where it’s calm it’s sterile it’s very much moved from the threat and from the trauma that victim has experienced. These are the kinds of things were very concerned about. Even to the point of a policy that could say well the officer is going to go in the house and they’re going to ask somebody well may I record you. Well, I can tell you from having been in the situation that person might not even hear what you say because of the traumatic impact the shock the disbelief the denial that they are going through. There are truly profound real concerns that we have about how a body worn cameras might do what we call secondary injury secondary harm secondary traumatization to victims of crime …

Leonard Sipes: When the local television station files a freedom of information act request to get the footage they could have someone … they could uncover some very sensitive moments in the lives of victims of crimes. What’s to stop them from putting that up on the evening news. I’m not suggesting that would necessarily happen but it could happen. I’m going to go over 3 quick scenarios my husband beat me that’s the number one number two my neighbor broke into my house number three John Doe robbed me. All three place the victim in a certain amount of jeopardy and all three could possibly get that victim … create a scenario where that victim becomes re-victimized by saying any one of those phrases. If this is publicized … if it gets out if it’s allowed to go out under a freedom of information act request it could have profound implications for victims and their willingness to give of law enforcement the information they need to do their jobs.

Will Marlin: You’re absolutely right. I mean those are our primary concerns their others. There just … they’re not answering as such, but there’s tangential to what we’re discussing here. For instance, what if you have a person with a disability, and it’s a mental health need, and you are responding to the situation, and they see a camera on you. They suddenly … it creates and provokes reactions with them that are secondary or separate from even traumatic reactions from what they’ve experienced, or maybe they’re being accused of something, and they see that camera.

It’s a separate issue on one hand, but these are the kinds of things that we need to think through very carefully regarding the knock on effect of what seems to be a very simple thing for the average person. We put a camera on a person we put a camera on a police officer we see what they do we hold them accountable. We’ve got that picture in front of us. Well, that picture still doesn’t tell everything there is to tell. There’s the time before that camera started and there’s a time after that camera stopped. These are the kinds of things that will continue to impact victims because of what might be recorded. What their privacy that might be in violated or invaded …

Leonard Sipes: Will we only have about a minute left. Has any victim contacted the hotline at the National Organization for victim assistance bringing this issue up or have … has Nova had an opportunity to formulate some faults and some policy direction for the rest of us?

Will Marlin: To my knowledge we haven’t had anybody contact us in that regard. I sat on a local panel in my local county here. I was asked to sit on a panel about a discussion on body worn cameras and …which I appreciated. law enforcement was asking me as well as others who were part of the victim assistance movement to discuss this issue. We tried to make it very clear as to our concerns, and we felt heard. Of course, the policy has to be drafted and implemented, but it’s a fairly profound issue, and as well it’s a fairly expensive one …

Leonard Sipes: Will we’ve got to wrap a wrap up all three of these issues. The dramatic increase in federal funds for victims of crime and the fact that the individuals with disabilities have twice the rate of violent crime and body cameras and what it means to victims of crimes. These are all unfolding events that we’re going to have to pay close attention too over the course of the next year as we wratch up our discussions on crime and criminal justice.

Ladies and gentlemen our guest today has been Will Marlin, the executive director for the national organization for victims assistance www.trynova.Org. Always a pleasure to have Will Marlin by our microphones. ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticism. We want everybody to have themselves of very pleasant day.

How did Yaseena do?

If you rate this transcript 3 or below, Yaseena A will not work on your future orders


Parole and Probation Supervision Week

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at

See the radio show at

Leonard : From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We are here, ladies and gentlemen of recognized free trial probation and parole supervision week by interviewing three people from the District of Columbia’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Pretrial Services. As to the contributions of pretrial and parole and probation agents link in the nation’s capital and other contributions towards our public safety, to do that we have three guests at our microphones: Tom Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services, again Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency, Yolanda Buffet, a associate director, again Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and Katherine Terry Coufer, she’s the Associate Director of Operations of the Pretrial Services Agency. At the District of Columbia or in the District of Columbia enter Tom, and to Yolanda, and to Katherine. Welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Tom: Pleasure to be here Len.

Leonard : All right, we’re here to recognize the contributions of our employees, recognizing the Pretrial and Probation and Parole Supervision week sponsored by the American Probation and Parole Association. It’s celebrated during the month of July. There are over five million adults on community supervision. Most of these individuals are monitored by pretrial probation and parole officers. Community corrections professionals must be creative in finding solutions to making sure that the supervised and have the support to find jobs, housing, and treatment by collaborating with community leaders and volunteers.

They make a huge difference in the lives of the individuals they have currently under supervision; but the bottom line in all that, that’s reading from the American Probation and Parole Association’s new press release. The bottom line behind all of this is that, our people that we call not parole and probation agents but community supervision officers, the bottom line is that our people, when people involved in a community supervision throughout the District of Columbia and throughout the country make a meaningful contribution to public safety. Correct Tom Williams?

Tom: Exactly right Len, and certainly one of the things we wanted to highlight were regards to this important week, is the great work that our staff does on a day to day basis. A lot of people just don’t realize in the District of Columbia, we are a federal agency, and we’re responsible for supervising those partisans that the subpoena court for the District of Columbia would rant probation on those partisans who enter the correctional system, as most of you have guessed, will not be aware of that the district does not have a local prison system. Anyone that’s sentenced to a term of incarceration in the District of Columbia is sent to the bureau prisons, and that could be anywhere within the continental United States. There is an effort with regards to re-entry for those persons coming back, and when they do come back to the District of Columbia then our staff is the one that are responsible for supervising them; these cases, which is different from U.S. district court.

Leonard : Katherine what you do on the pretrial side is unique, because I’ve taken a look at your stats over the course of years. You got an extraordinary return rate of people who actually show up for their court dates without committing new crimes between the arrest and their court date. Pretrial has been phenomenally successful.

Katherine: Yes Len, we are very proud of the national reputation we have and the rate of return we have for defendants who are released to pretrial services. Similar to CSOSA, so many individuals do not know the services that we provide here in the District of Columbia, for both D.C. Superier Court as well as U.S. District Court, where we’re responsible for gathering information on newly arrested defendants and preparing recommendations for the court’s consideration to make decisions in terms of their release options. PSA is known nationally for making recommendations for the least restrictive conditions to promote public safety and the return to court. As a result of our work, virtually no defendant is currently in the District of Columbia, are unreleased on a surety bond.

Leonard : You know, I am very proud of our agency, Yolanda. Court services and offender supervision agency and our partnership with pretrial services here in the nation’s capital. We are recognized, I believe fairly, as one of the best if not in my opinion, the best parole and probation agency in the United States. Probably the best pretrial services agency in the United States, much of which is due to the person sitting to your left, Tom Williams, but that’s my opinion. Is it yours?

Yolanda: Absolutely, I am very proud to work for the court services and offender supervision agency, and the thing for the Pretrial Parole and Probation week is a world wide force for change. And since my time of being here with CSOSA I can definitely say we are an agency committed to change and to helping offenders become productive citizens. I’m very proud to a part of the organization.

Leonard : You know our people. Let’s get down to what our people do on a day to day basis. It is phenomenally difficult. All of us have been involved in the criminal justice system through years, throughout the decades. Working with people caught up in the criminal justice system is extraordinarily difficult. The great majority, history of substance abuse if you count self-assessments, fifty percent have histories of mental health problems. Women caught up in the criminal justice system often have history of sexual violence. We deal with individuals either in probation or come out of the prison system, and they are challenging human beings. It’s just not a matter of will. You have to be creative. You have to be really innovative in terms of breaking down barriers to try to help that individual become a productive member of society.

Tom: Len, you are exactly right. You described a population that many of the public or your listeners are probably not aware of. We have basically the whole gander from low level cases that come to us through the subpoena court of the District of Columbia, to what we consider to be high level cases with regards to their criminal offences. For those persons who are coming out of the institution, at least ten percent have housing issues. That is a real challenge for us with regards to what we can actually do with them, because they need a place to stay for stability sake.

The other thing that you’re probably not aware of is the number of reports that we do to the court, just to help the judge with regards to the sentencing structure in terms of what they’re going to imply, with regards to those persons that come before them. We produce over three thousand pre-sentence investigations a year and on the back-end of the system, as folks are coming back in for re-entry, our tips officers will also develop plans with regards to an investigation that will really help the supervision.

The staff with regarding to the developing our plans for supervision, so it really ranges the whole gander from low level cases to more severe cases for which our staff are engaged in. Yolanda will talk a little bit about what she sees in terms of our recruitment, because its very important in regards to the type of persons that we are trying to bring in to the organization to help us to manage this population.

Leonard : Yolanda, how easy is it to recruit for what we call community supervision-al officers, what the rest of the country refers to as parole and probation agents?

Yolanda: So this agency is very progressive when it comes to evidence based practices. Our recruitment efforts are very competitive. We typically could have anywhere from seven to eight hundred applicants and fill about twenty to twenty-five vacancies at a time.

Leonard : They’re all people with bachelors’ degrees at a minimum, right?

Yolanda: Yes sir. They’re all people with bachelors’ degrees at a minimum, and we’re also looking for strong skills in motivational interviewing, cogni-behavioral interventions, and also being able to match or identify needs or match services towards those needs. These are skills that are quite progressive. Many members throughout the country will not have these skills, so it makes employment with CSOSA very competitive.

Tom: I’d like to chime in. A lot of people think that all I have to do is sit down with somebody, read and write. They’ll go straight, and we’ll never have to hear from them again. As Yolanda just explained, this is a highly trained profession, and I just want to reinforce that the skills we are imparting or have trained to the staff are really looking at the thinking patterns that individuals have that may not be in their best interest. Also, a lot of the persons we have at the high end of the assessment process are really involved with folks who are not really in their best interest with regards to their peers.

So how do we now get a person who is thinking distortely about life and have that pattern change and, or, also have a tendency to associate with people that eventually get them in trouble. To work that thought, pretrial does on the front end, certain can help us on the back-end if the judge is so inclined to grant the improvisation. Kathy.

Katherine: Absolutely, Tom speaks to that because it’s also as critical at pretrial Len, to ensure that we recruit and retain highly skilled staff who support our strategic goal of maximizing pre-proud justice by keeping the maximum number of defendants in the community. We offer a variety of supervision services for a population, who coming in at the front of the system are often not stable particularly when looking at our mental health population. The skills those staff need to ensure that in a short period of time were able to quickly assess and look at the needs and the risks to ensure safety rates remain high for our agency, and make the best recommendations to the judge to consider for releasing those defendants. We provide one of the, what I think, best pretrial service drug court programs in the country that are focused on dealing with the high risk defendants who come through with high needs for substance abuse treatment.

Tom: With a national reputation, I might add.

Katherine: Absolutely, with a national reputation. We are leading in that area, and we also partner very closely with D.C. Superior Court for the mental health community courts to work with them and identifying the appropriate services on the front end for those defendants with the hope of those who transition to probation and those who go into institution to serve a period of time, have some information that can be utilized by the case managers to continue to provide services, and are connected if they remain here in the community to services here in the city that can be utilized for the supervision purposes or the transition over to CSOSA. Its critical that we get high-skilled staff and recruit and retain those at pretrial as well.

Leonard : One of the things that amazes me is that we supervise parole and probation pretrial in this country. We’ve got five million people under our supervision on any given day. Only two million are behind bars, so when you talk about the correctional population in the United States, the great majority of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies. Yet, law enforcement gets ten times the attention. Corrections, main stream corrections prisons gets ten times of attention. Why is it that parole and probation agencies get so little attention and recognition throughout the United States, considering the fact that on any given day five out of every seven people caught up in the criminal justice system are under our auspices.

Tom: Well, as you started off the program talking about the purpose of this program which is pre-trial probation and parole offices. That’s exactly why the American Probation and Parole Association, APPA, had its twenty-first anniversary. One of the recognized work that’s done in both pretrial parole and probation services, the folks that are getting the most recognition as you indicated, were law enforcement, anyone that carries weapons, the correctional officers who actually do a great job. We’re not diminishing the work that’s done by our law enforcement partners; however, when we look at the work that’s being done by the staff and the community, where the bulk of the population is, where the bulk of the work is done, and I might add where the success that we’re having is really instrumental in folks not returning to prison. For example this agency has seventy percent rate of satisfactory completion. When you look at some of the high-end folks that we have under supervision, whether or not we be sex-offenders, folks with behavioral health, issues that people are bringing to us because of lack of housing. In a sense, given that the institutions that are in society that are really there to help folks to stay on the right track, those systems have failed, education system has failed in some respect of faith.

Leonard : Families have failed; communities have failed.

Tom: It’s left to us in community supervision just to try to put some under paintings under those persons that come to us. Just so that we can give a different direction and then give a different avenue for these individuals to be a little more successful.

Leonard : But the people that come to us, the people that work for us, they got to be top notch. They got to be on top of their game every day. You know, we’re lucky. I mean court services and offenders supervision agency we average fifty to one ratios. Other parole and probation agencies throughout the country, my heavens, they’re two hundred to one. I’ve seen two-fifty-three hundred to one parole and probation agent. We have an extraordinary opportunity, our people our personnel, have an extraordinary opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the lives of people under supervision. Yolanda?

Yolanda: Yes, Len I can attest to that. I was supervision officer outside of the district in another state and I can definitely tell you I’ve had over two hundred cases to just poor little me, having to make contact to thirty days. Usually agencies with the numbers that carry those numbers are mainly doing surveillance. What’s really required if you’re going to impact offender change will have to be accountability on the surveillance side as well as the interventions in programming in cogni-behavioral restructuring.

Leonard : Right.

Yolanda: Without those resources, it’s very difficult or the evidence has shown. The rate of residerism will be higher without those services.

Leonard : Right, but we’re lucky to the point where we even control some of our services, but the bottom line, I’m just going to make this final point. Our employees whether they be pretrial or whether they be community supervision officers, known parole and probation officers, again, we don’t have any problems recruiting people from my understanding. We get lots of people coming in. Law enforcement’s struggling to find people. Corrections is really struggling to find people. We don’t struggle to find people; people want to come to work for this agency because: A. we’re a federal agency, B. we pay fairly well, C. we train fairly well. People feel they can do something different within this agency that they can’t do elsewhere. That’s my guess.

Tom: [crosstalk 00:15:24] I want to say that we don’t necessarily have trouble finding people, its finding the right person. As Yolanda alluded to, the work of the parole and probation officer traditionally has really changed. There’s no more, we’re just passed those days where I can come in with a BA degree with something in behavioral sciences and pretty much work your magic. You really have to understand the literature with regards to cognitive restructuring, cognitive behavioral intervention, motivational interviewing. Those skills that a lot of folks who come to the door really don’t have, so we’re not bringing in individuals just because, quote on quote  they have the degree. You have to demonstrate your skill level either in an academic setting or prior employment setting before we actually bring you in.

Leonard : You’ve got to be good is the bottom line. I’m going to take a break and reintroduce all three of my guests, and then we will pick back up on that question: Tom Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services, court services, and offender supervision agencies; Yolanda Buffet, again, she is Deputy Associate Director again working with Tom; and we have Katherine Terry Coufer, she is the Associate Director of Operations of the Pretrial Services Agency of the District of Columbia.

We are doing this in celebration of the American Probation and Parole Association’s celebration of Pretrial Probation and Parole Supervision week, ordinarily doing the month of July. The theme the American Parole and Probation Association is, “A force for positive change,” and that’s how we see ourselves. Katherine do you want to pick up on that, that we are a force for positive change in the lives of the people that we deal with?

Katherine: Absolutely, and I’d like to echo Tom’s sentiments in terms of while we do face challenges sometimes recruiting because we want the best staff, and those who do have strong clinical skills as well as case management skills to come in and impact, change, and make a difference in individual lives. Its no longer the day: sit at the desk, checking at the door, leave, but to actually to meaningful work with the defendants at pretrial services. We invest a great deal into our staff and I think that’s why we have a history of retaining strong staff because we push and encourage staff to engage in training. We bring a lot of the training in to ensure that they maintain the skills so that we can implement the best practices and community supervision consistent to those of CSOSA. It is different in community corrections now. It’s a different game, as the city has changed and the demographics those coming in. Our strategic direction has changed to work with them and to look at that. Recently, as I am sure you are all aware that we are dealing now with a new issue. Relatively the spike and use of synthetic drugs are the new challenges. So both agencies when they’re gearing up to look at how we best develop strategies to intervene in those and continue to integrate the best practices in that. And we’re very proud of that activity.

Leonard : But could you imagine the policy implication of the five million people that are under community supervision throughout the United States? What it means, if they fail, because they go out and commit additional crimes, they go out and do somebody else an immense amount of harm. The financial considerations are also immense. I mean if they all go back to prison, we could shut down the prison systems in the United States tomorrow. If we revoked everybody back to the prison system. So the states they’re saying, “My heavens, parole and probation save us. Save us from this huge correctional population. Save us from creating more prisons. Protect us; protect our public safety, and by the way at the same time the person who has the history of substance abuse, mental health problems, not a good job history. With a female often times, they’re the ones who are principally responsible for kids. By the way take care of all those social problems that accompany the individuals that we have.” That’s almost impossible to do, but we do it in terms of community supervision in this country every day.

Katherine: And we do it well in the nation’s capital Len.

Leonard : I think we do it better than anywhere else, but that’s my own bias.

Katherine: Absolutely, we do but I think wise supporting that we must work to make sure that we identity the levels of risk in those factors with the work we do. While for us here at pretrial, performance of legal precitives, around the least restrictive recommendations to continue to keep poking the community, but to safe guard public safety which is one our primary responsibilities and showing individuals get back to court.

Leonard : Pretrial has a higher return rate than the vast majority of pretrial service agencies in the Untied States without committing new crimes. The great majority of the people under our supervision do complete it successfully at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We put together some data that indicates we’re moving in the right direction by moving in a evidence based direction by looking at the research, by being honest as to what the research has to say, and embracing that new direction. Yolanda?

Yolanda: You’re absolutely correct, and one of the factors that helps us be successful for our graduated sanctions as well. We want to have offenders to remain in the community supporting their families as much as possible. Now, with that said, we still want to hold them accountable for their behavior. So we do practice here, swift and certain sanctions. We do also recognize positive behavior as well, and we have award ceremonies and recognition ceremonies for those that have completed particular programs, educational programs, obtained employment, and so, we really do pour a lot into the defenders that we supervise. All of it, with the programming, the risk assessments that we do, as well as the recognition, help us to be successful with our population.

Leonard : We did a show a while ago on correctional officers stress with the national institute of corrections, and my question to the National Institute of Corrections is where is the course on parole and probation agent stress. The law enforcement is huge in the news. Law enforcement stress is also huge in the news, and I see that’s just it in the program on correctional officer stress. Again, we who handle the great bulk of the people caught up in the criminal justice system we seem to be ignored. This is a very stressful, tough job, where that individual community supervision officer that parole and probation agent really needs to be on his or her game every single day. They can’t let up. They can’t be bamboozled. They can’t be fooled. At the same time, they have to break through the barriers, that that offender poses to help that individual and to work with the family, work with the community. By heavens that’s an awful lot that we ask our people to do.

Yolanda: Absolutely, which brings us back to the whole recognition of pretrial parole and probation officers week anyway. The whole purpose of the week is to recognize the work that we do. We have a week’s worth of activities to increase moral to just engage our colleagues, and some competitive competition to have just a little bit of fun. It all helps. We also have additional training that we have; we just had a training a week ago on trauma informed care. Another topic in another area of training that we do is secondary trauma, for we know our staff, reading the PSI’s and hearing the stories, and working with the offenders, that it also has an impact on us as well. Which is why we take the opportunity to have as much recognition for the staff as possible.

Leonard : But how to we get the public to understand us Katherine? How do we get the public to understand what it is that we do. I don’t see ten tons of parole and probation agent shows on television, but I could spend the rest of the day talking about the titles of the shows focusing on police officers. How do we get the public to understand what it is that we do in the real contributions that we make?

Katherine: Well you know that is a challenge Len; particularly for agencies small as ours here as pretrial services as well as CSOSA. One of the strategies, well a few of them I should say is that, we are starting to work closer with our partners in the community and increase our presence in engaging with our community. Whether its attending community group meetings and those going out informs to share with them, information as well as at the schools, the universities, to try to increase our presence in the public, as well as working with the national organizations like the National Socio-pretrial services agencies, APPA you’ve heard Tom. To get out there, many of our staff at both agencies go to these conferences and provide workshops on the great work that we do that’s targeted on showing how we’re implementing best practices successfully. We continue to partner in the community and work with our partners in law enforcement as well as community based agencies to increase our presence to share with them the outstanding work that we do.

Yolanda also hit on something that is extremely important that I think our agencies do well in. That’s doing the work-life balance and all, because that’s important because the work is very stressful for them. Some of them that are in pretrial services, we shut down for a day or two when the courts are doing their training to provide full days of training to kind of focus on a target. Those things as well as partners at agency to do things like walk or run activities and stuff to ensure that the agents see staff on both sides have an opportunity to get out, interact together, and work through some of the things that stress so they can come back and put their energies into impacting the lives of the defendants, offenders, and their families.

Leonard : I’m still confused. If the public depends upon us for as much as they do, five million people in a given day. We are the front line of public safety in their lives. Whether or not they’re victimized, whether or not their children are victimized, whether or not their house is broken in to, whether or not the person goes back to prison and we have to spend the thirty or forty thousand dollars a year to maintain that person, the billions to build new prisons, I mean that all depends upon us. Yet, the average person, Tom Williams. The average person out there doesn’t fully understand what it is we do to protect them, and to save their tax paid dollars.

Tom: Well one of the ways we can educate the public is certainly from award winning shows like yours Len. [crosstalk 00:25:48] Certainly with the electronics that we have available to us right now, we have the internet. Certainly this program is on the internet. This program certainly is a podcast, certainly is out there for the public to understand. Also, your award winning T.V. show [crosstalk 00:26:06] is another one.

Leonard : Seriously now, [crosstalk 00:26:09] do we not have a perception problem in parole and probation? Not in the district of Columbia, but throughout the country? Again, the American Probation and Parole Association, they put out a campaign,”A force for positive change.” They do this every year, and we celebrate the work of parole and probation agents. It drives me crazy considering the work that I see our people do on a day to day basis, and what they do to protect the society that they don’t get more recognition for that.

Tom: Well, that’s true. One of the reasons is certainly we don’t have a real marketing campaign like profit industry or the non-profit industry does. That’s one of the areas for which we actually could do a better job. When you really look at government servers and that’s basically what we’re involved in. We’re involved in government servers, and providing the service to the citizens of a particular jurisdiction. That’s something that local jurisdictions don’t necessarily publicize, because who gets the headlines; whether its in education where most of the dollars go, or whether its in policing where a large percentage of the dollar goes. But when it comes to issues like whose on the street and what not the person that committed an offense, should be on the street.

I think the public attitude is shifting a little bit from, “lock them up and throw away the key.” Look at what California did several years ago when they did the, “three strikes and you’re out.” Now look what’s happened with California; they’re in a position right now would have to let out convicted felons. We don’t want to have to be down that road.  I think we’ve learned from the nineteen-eighties, the late nineties of determinate sentencing. That structure that was put in place that won’t allow an individual to have early release based on either programmatic issues in the prison or based on a good candidate for release. I think that is all changing right now. I think that as the, we see greatest statistics federal bureau Justice of Assistance. With regards to whose being successful and the slow rate of return.

Yolanda mentioned in terms of graduated responses, don’t [inaudible 00:28:12] back in the late eighties, early nineties, did her study on it, intensive supervision programs. Everybody thought that was going to be the panacea. The issue with Jones, what she found in her studying, was because I’m going to watch them or I’m going to send them back more. So all that’s being changed and we can certainly owe it to our friends the Canadians who actually really was in the forefront of evidence based practices. We’ve taken a lot of the principles from those studies, those meg-analysis they showed that you can have greater success with supervising and providing some level of programming and treatment versus just supervising alone. That’s the good news about community corrections

Leonard : Tom, you’re going have to have a final word, but I do want to emphasize with what’s going on throughout the country, more than ever parole and probation agencies are being asked to save the criminal justice system, to provide the innovation that’s necessary and I think that all three of you were able to agree with me.

Ladies and gentlemen the three people that have been at our microphones today: Thomas Williams, Associate Director, Yolanda Buffet, Deputy Associate Director, and Katherine Coufer, Associate Director of Pretrial Services here in in the District of Columbia. We’ve been focusing on our employees as well as American Parole and Probation Association’s pretrial parole and probation week in July, “A force for positive change.” Ladies and gentlemen this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

How did Nuly do?

If you rate this transcript 3 or below, Nuly K will not work on your future orders