An Interview with CSOSA Director Paul Quander

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Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Paul Quander. Paul is the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And Paul, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Paul Quander: Thank you, thank you very much, Len.

Leonard Sipes: Paul, you run the parole and probation agency for the District of Columbia, but we are a federal agency. You were appointed by the president, we are an executive branch agency. It’s so easy to say you run parole and probation but we’re so much more than that in terms of high technology, some of the best information systems going, some of the lowest caseloads in the country, drug treatment, mental health treatment-there’s an array of things, for a lack of a better word, that you have within your agency that most parole and probation agencies don’t have.

Paul Quander: Well Len, let me first start by saying I am the director of the agency-I am one of many individuals who are dedicated to performing public safety here in the community for men and women who are involved in the criminal justice system. And you are correct, we are a relatively new executive level agency, a part of the federal government, and we’re an independent federal agency which means that we have the ability to be creative, to try new approaches, to implement research-based practices and we’ve done that. So we have some of the better and more of the state-of-the-art programming and opportunities that we can offer to the men and women we encounter. As a result of that, we’re able to provide services for the men and women of the District of Columbia because we’re making the city safer and the streets safer as well.

Leonard Sipes: All right, so we’re responsible probation, we’re responsible for people coming out of prison.

Paul Quander: That is correct. Whether they are coming out of prison, if they’re on parole, or if they’re under supervised release, if they’re under probation, we have responsibility for them. So anyone who has been convicted of a crime in the superior court of the District of Columbia and either incarcerated or placed straight on probation or the first sentence or a civil protection order, we have responsibility for their supervision and for their reintegration back into our society, and to help them with some of those skill sets that may be deficient. Because as we help individuals with their own individual skill sets whether it’s in education, employment, substance abuse, mental health issues-the more we help them, the more we help our community as a whole and the safer our community becomes.

Leonard Sipes: Right. But especially we are two-fold operation, we have very strict supervision. We have strict accountability for the offender population from the standpoint of very low caseloads compared to national averages and from the amount of drug testing we do and from our partnerships we have with the Metropolitan Police Department-the fact that our people ride together with folks within the Metropolitan Police Department and go visit offenders’ homes. It’s accountability plus services. And we have probably more services than the vast majority of parole and probation agencies in this country.

Paul Quander: We’re very fortunate in that we do have a number of services, and we’re very fortunate in that accountability is a mainstay of what it is that we do. And in order to get the accountability to where we wanted it, we had to reduce the caseload. When we initially started this agency, the individual caseload for the parole and probation officers, we call them here in the District of Columbia community supervision officers with the emphasis on community supervision-is that it was in excess of 100 to one. In our General Supervision Units it’s down to 50 to one. And in some of our specialized units, it ranges from 25 to 35 to one. That allows us to spend more time with individual offenders, it allows us to get to know them better, it allows us to monitor and find out what the needs are, and it allows us to be more vigilant so that we can identify problems early on and in many instances we can correct them or take action to prevent a person from going or falling completely down that slippery slope.

Leonard Sipes: Well let’s talk about some of those special services because they are extraordinary. Now we do have many articles that are on our website: that address the individual operations, and stop me whenever you want to address a particular one, we have a mental health caseload, we have a high risk offender caseload in terms of substance abuse. Go ahead.

Paul Quander: That’s right. A lot of people don’t understand or don’t realize is that a number of the individuals involved in the criminal justice system have mental health issues. Some of them are not diagnosed, but you get this outward and acting out type of behavior. So what we’ve done is we have divided and strategically positioned ourselves by assigning individuals to specific caseloads. So we have a mental health team where we have CSOs, community supervision officers, who have an interest and who have received special training in the area of mental health supervision-it’s connected to the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health, and so we can provide services. And there’s some special techniques and there’s a special patience that you have to have when you’re dealing with individuals who have some of the mental health issues. But a large percentage of the individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system have mental issues. A lot of them have been misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. We’re getting it to them and so as a result we are able to put into place a structure, we get them treatment, and we are able to hopefully manage and move them along with their mental health issues as well as dealing with the criminal justice. And what we have found out is if we can deal with the mental health issues and if a person needs medication-making sure they get the medication, making sure that they’re placed into the support network that is already available in the District of Columbia, that person stands a much greater chance of successfully completing his or her supervision, and that’s what everyone in the community wants.

Leonard Sipes: Recent Department of Justice research suggests that over 50% have a history of mental health problems, not a diagnosable mental health condition, but having a history of mental health problems, and the figure is much higher for female offenders.

Paul Quander: Absolutely. And when you have higher caseloads, you don’t have time sometimes to go into that. But because we’re in a position where our caseloads are manageable, they’re not ideal, but they are manageable, we can go into it. And we have a state-of-the-art tool-we have a screening tool, we call it our auto-screener which allows us to assess an individual’s needs, assess their likelihood of future criminal activities, and also will give us a prescriptive plan for what that individual needs, what services that individual needs so that we not only know what the risks are, we know what that individual’s needs are.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s a good segway in terms of technology because along with the auto-screener we have SMART which is the department’s overall tracking system which again is state-of-the-art, it’s shared with all members of the criminal justice community, it allows us to seamlessly move information-all information from one community supervision officer to another or to work with MPD in terms of their requests for information-you have a state-of-the-art information system.

Paul Quander: It is and it allows us to I think become very efficient. And let me give you an example, I mentioned some of the teams that we have and there’s a mental health team, there’s a heightened substance abuse team, there’s a sex offense team, there are general supervision teams, there’s a traffic and alcohol prevention team, and from time to time you may have team members who will assist an individual in speaking to or helping on an individual caseload. There have been occasions where our officers had been our on the street doing accountability tours, going and visiting the offenders in their homes, seeing if-

Leonard Sipes: With the police department?

Paul Quander: With the police department. And for example, I may have someone on my caseload and I’m going to see that person, but I happen to see someone on your caseload. With our technology and with our SMART system and with the mobile capability that we have, our officers are out there with their mobile laptop computers, they can actually pull up the individual’s caseload, they can go into it and find out when that individual offender was in the office, when his next appointment was.

Leonard Sipes: Can they pull the pre-sentence investigation report?

Paul Quander: They can pull all that information right up right there on the street. So it allows us to be in the community, it allows us to have access to all the relevant information at anyone’s fingertips-it just allows us to be efficient and in doing that we can provide the services that help not only the offenders, but helps the District of Columbia and Public Safety.

Leonard Sipes: Well that’s one of the things that you mentioned before, Paul, in terms of the term community supervision officer. To be a community supervision officer, the concept of naming parole and probation officers or agents that– to give them that moniker– establishes the sense that they need to be out in the community, out with the offender, where he’s employed, in his home, with Metropolitan Police Department, with treatment providers, to get him out of the office and into the community.

Paul Quander: Absolutely. When this agency was created, one of the mainstays was that we needed to practice what we preached. If we were going to be about community, we needed to divest ourselves from a centralized location. Prior to the offices coming into existence as CSOSA, probation and parole basically were located downtown in the center of the city.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Paul Quander: But what we decided to do is if we’re going to be effective and if we want to have the impact of the community and if we want the community to assist us, and to know what we’re doing, we needed to be out there. So we have six field sites located throughout the District of Columbia in northwest, in northeast, in southeast, across the district so that we can be present where not only our offenders, but where the larger community is.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Paul Quander: We changed the name so that it’s not just a parole or probation supervision, it’s about community supervision. We want to do thing in concert with the community because we don’t live in a vacuum and we don’t want to supervise in a vacuum. We want to supervise our offenders in concert with what the community wants. What are the community standards? What is the community asking from us? And we want to be responsive to our community.

Leonard Sipes: And we have five full-time individuals. Now this is beyond the fact that you and other senior staff are constantly out there talking to the community organizations and talking to the neighborhood groups, but we have five full-time people who’s jobs are to go to every meeting in the District of Columbia that has crime as a theme-where public safety is a theme.

Paul Quander: Absolutely. We have community relation specialists who are out there in the community who even more so than the community supervision officers, and these are individuals who are representing this agency to not only talk about what it is that we do, but to find out from the community what we could be doing more of.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Paul Quander: And so we want to be a full partner with the community. So we want to know all the nuances-we want to know what’s working, what’s not working. We want to know how we can partner better with the Metropolitan Police Department, how we can partner better with religious organizations, how can we partner better with community organizations-because in this country politics and resources start at the lowest level.

Leonard Sipes: Sure.

Paul Quander: We want to know what’s going on in the communities, in the ANCs, in the wards, and the only way for us to do that is to be an active member-to go out and to talk and to be visible so the people know who we are so that we can be responsive.

Leonard Sipes: And that segway is very nicely in terms of our faith-based effort, we have about 40 churches, mosques, synagogues, throughout the city participating. We have hundreds of volunteers who work with individuals as they’re coming out of the prison system-that’s a pretty impressive record. In fact, we seem to have hit a spike recently in terms of interest-in terms of church groups coming on bringing on new members, so the faith-based outreach-again, which is part of our overall community outreach, seems to be continuing and seems to be prospering.

Paul Quander: Absolutely. The churches and the religious organizations have just been fantastic. We wanted to reach out to the community and we decided that we should go with what’s already out there-and what’s already been established are the churches. There are churches that have been doing this work for years and years. There are churches that have prison ministries, clothing ministries, education ministries, job enhancement and job placement ministries-so what we did was we tapped into that resource that was already there. This community has a long history of tremendous involvement by the churches so we put a call out to the faith community and said, ‘come partner with us. We have men and women who are returning home from prison who need help, who need assistance, who need mentoring, who need a helping hand,’ and those churches and the members of the church not only talk the talk, but they’ve been walking the walk. They’ve actually come in given a person a hand in a systematic manner and that program has blossomed and it’s something that is really significant because it’s easy to talk about it, but these churches have really put their arms, their shoulders, their good heart, and their good work, and it’s paying tremendous dividends.

Leonard Sipes: I find that from time to time a mother will call, and in many cases they’re part of the Islamic religion and there is this one mosque, all you have to do is refer that mother-refer that particular person who’s under our supervision, and they immediately take care of them. So that really seems to be a quite a coalition-quite an impressive coalition.

Paul Quander: It is and-you know, we’re up, we’re operational, and it’s beginning to take on a life of it’s own. Because as I said, what we’ve done it just tapped into organizations-these faith-based organizations have always done this work, we just asked them to look at this population and to help us. And when we’ve done that they’ve agreed, they’ve opened their doors to the mosques, to the churches, and it has been fantastic. It also allows for us in the supervision business to have another set of eyes and ears and a heart that will help these men and women who need sometimes a different ear, who need a different shoulder, who need a different hand to push them or guide them along other than someone who may be considered just law enforcement. So when you have someone from the outside from that religious community whispering in the left ear, basically what has been whispered in the right to move forward-to leave that bad lifestyle away to reconnect with your family, that your children need you, that your parents were getting older and your grandparents-they need you out here. It gives people a reason to say, ‘no, I can’t go with you because I need to stay here.’ It gives people a reason to be pro-social in this environment.

Leonard Sipes: Now one of the things we need to talk about is the treatment program-the VOTEE units throughout the city-four locations throughout the city where individuals can go and get an assessment in terms of their education in terms of other jobs or the potential for jobs-we will find them jobs, we will work with D.C. government in terms of finding them opportunities.

Paul Quander: Well actually it’s even more than that. We have staff with our agency who are vocational development specialists. We have a learning lab in a number of our field sites where we actually provide educational services and general equivalency diploma – GED preparation and classes so that individuals who are on supervision don’t necessarily have to go to a District of Columbia facility, they can come in-house. And we thought that was important because we need to help the men and women who are under supervision reach a certain educational level so that they can avail themselves of some of the jobs that are out here. We can have all the jobs just waiting, but if we don’t have offenders who are prepared to accept those jobs and to excel in those jobs, then we’re missing a significant portion. So we are funded for that, we have vocational opportunities and training in education employment program that are up and operational. We have an educational program where we have learning laboratories in four of our facilities, and we work with men and women day in and day out. Again, if you’re going to compete in this society you have to have the basic education. And we need to get many of our men and women up to a certain level so that they can get those jobs and then compete for promotions later on down the line.

Leonard Sipes: And there’s Department of Justice researches says just that-it’s just not a matter of supervision, it has to be the combination of supervision and treatment services. I go back to the mental health caseload; does anybody really expect a person with a mental health issue to do well without treatment? So it’s just not about supervision, it’s just not about accountability, it’s gotta be the combination supervision and accountability and services.

Paul Quander: Right. One of the things that people often think is that you can just supervise, you can watch individuals like a hawk and that’s all you need to do. Unfortunately, our society has been very good at locking people up. But the issue is when you lock people up, they’re coming home.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Paul Quander: And when they come home, are they prepared to do anything differently that will keep them in the community?

Leonard Sipes: But that philosophy is also proved to be difficult. Again, Department of Justice research states that it increases recidivism. It doesn’t decrease recidivism, it increases recidivism.

Paul Quander: It increases recidivism, it is extremely costly and counterproductive to a society-I would much rather supervise an individual, provide that individual with the treatment that he or she needs, monitor, support, encourage, but at the same time I have to watch and make sure that there is no risk to public safety-that way, I am treating the entire person. And as a society, I think we are better served when we do that.

Leonard Sipes: We do satellite monitoring, GPS tracking, we do lie detector tests for sex offenders, we’ll follow them at night if necessary. So we have a very strong watching component. We have a very strong-probably one of the stronger accountability components in the country. But coupled with some of the best services in the country at the same time, and I think that’s what makes CSOSA unique.

Paul Quander: And I think that’s where we’re getting the best bang for the dollar. When you start the analysis, and if you start and stop the analysis just with accountability, then it’s not a complete project. You have to continue that analysis on. You need accountability, you need treatment, you need monitoring, you need to revisit, and then you will have a structure that I think gets you the best for the resources, and you get an individual who is more likely to participate in pro-social activities as opposed to tearing down our society.

Leonard Sipes: Paul, couple minutes left-anything from a philosophical sense? I think you just summed it up right there in terms of that combination of accountability and also at the same time, the provision of treatment. You just opened the Reentry and Sanction Center, which is amazing. I don’t know of a parole and probation entity in this country that has its own hospital wing devoted to drug assessment and drug treatment. They come out under extraordinarily tough supervision and at the same time continued treatment in the community or in continued in-house treatment-that’s an amazing component.

Paul Quander: Well let me talk about that just for a moment. What the research has shown in particular here in the District of Columbia of is that there are core group of about 30% offenders who are long-term criminals who have on average nine prior arrests, six prior convictions, a documented chronic history of substance abuse, and what happens is they’re arrested, they’re convicted, they go in, they come out, they are arrested, they’re convicted, they go in, they come out.

Leonard Sipes: Constantly.

Paul Quander: Constantly. And what we decided to do was to try to break that cycle. We know they have criminality issues. We know they have substance abuse issues. Why not take a look at what makes them tick-do a detailed assessment, figure out what’s going on in that individual. Why does he or she need to have this type of conduct in their lives? Once we get that assessment done, then we know what’s going on. Then we can identify an appropriate substance abuse treatment program because substance abuse drives many of the criminal acts that follow. So if we can assess then place an individual in a specifically designed treatment program for that individual, we will see a tremendous result. We’ve had this pilot up for a number of years.

Leonard Sipes: 35% reduction in arrests.

Paul Quander: The University of Maryland did a study of it, it is a quality program, it works, and we want it to replicate it and to build it out. So now once we’re fully operational and we started in February of this year, but as we continue to bring the program on, we will reach approximately 1200 individuals every year into the program. So it’s something that we’re very proud of.

Leonard Sipes: And it’s something I think that the entire country is going to take a look at. National Public Radio took a look at, CBS Evening News took a look at it-in fact, CSOSA is just not about what’s happening in the District of Columbia, CSOSA seems to be getting a lot of publicity throughout the country. Again, national news media, constantly being written up in national criminal justice publications-it seems to me that CSOSA is far more than just the District of Columbia that you’re setting sort of an example for what’s supposed to happen throughout the country.

Paul Quander: Well we have some advantages. We have some resources that Congress has given us, and many states who are dealing with some of the same issues that we are dealing with have not been as fortunate. They don’t have the resources that we have been provided. So what we try to do is we try to put into place programs that work. Once they’re established here then we share them with other agencies throughout the country. You spoke earlier about our information system the SMART system. That’s something that is in place that can be replicated throughout the country. We spoke earlier about our assessment tool, the auto-screener that is an assessment and a needs tool-that is available to members of our community throughout the country. So as we progress and as we are doing things and we’re getting the research that supports the success of these programs and initiatives, others throughout the country can use them as well and just piggyback on it and they can refine it and customize it to their particular jurisdictions, but the groundwork has been laid, they can cut and paste and get the programs up in their own jurisdiction, which is a wonderful thing for us.

Leonard Sipes: And you’ve been listening to Paul Quander, the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Our website is – Ladies and gentlemen, you’re listening to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. Have yourself a very pleasant day.

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