Assisting Women Offenders-Harriet’s House-NCJA-DC Public Safety

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This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/10/assisting-women-offenders-harriets-house-ncja-dc-public-safety/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

-Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have, starting brand new again, we did it last year and I’m really happy to have them back, the National Criminal Justice Association. They bring some of the best shows. They’re exemplary programs. These are individuals and programs who have received awards from the National Criminal Justice Association at their conference for doing wonderful things within the criminal justice system. We have a program today called, Harriet’s House. That is a pre-release program for women. Actually, it’s a reentry program for women. Their recidivism rate is 15 percent and so this is a dynamite concept of a successful program. Before getting into the particulars and introducing the participants for today’s radio show, I want to remind everybody that we are extraordinarily grateful for all of your emails and for your contacts and your suggestions. Feel free to get in touch with me directly, Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not to but P-E-S@csosa.gov; that’s my direct email address. Or you can comment on the shows at D.C. Public Safety or you can follow me via Twitter and that is Twitter.com/lensipes S-I-P-E-S. And I’m going to introduce everybody. There are four participants in today’s show. They are Jeanne Tedrow and she is one of the founders of Harriet’s House and Passage Home. Lisa Crosslin is the program director from Harriet’s House. Cheryl Bryant is the grants management specialist. She is with the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. And we have Michelle Bridges. She’s a graduate of the program and, interestingly enough, she is a board member, which I think is a wickedly smart move. We’re going to start off with Jeanne Tedrow. Jeanne, can you give me a sense of Harriet’s House and what it does, please?

Jeanne Tedrow: Thanks, Len. Harriet’s House is a program of Passage Home and as such it is a specialized transitional housing program developed to help women make a successful reentry into the community, regain custody of their children, if they have children, gain and maintain full-time employment, and obtain permanent affordable housing. It’s primary goal is to reduce recidivism, re-incarceration, among women and among women with children who are leaving our state correctional facilities.

Len Sipes: So, the bottom line is people coming out of prison. They are coming to Harriet’s House and are getting the help they need; that’s the bottom line behind all this, correct?

Jeanne Tedrow: That’s the bottom line. They are coming out and they are not going back at the rates as other women who are not coming through the program.

Len Sipes: I do want to remind everybody that the recidivism rate in this country has been extraordinarily high. There’s a benchmark report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, that is quite old now, but it’s still sort of the benchmark where we talk about two-thirds being rearrested and 50 percent being re-incarcerated; that’s men and women offenders across the board. That’s pretty much what we compare everything to and the fact is that you have a 15 percent return rate to the criminal justice system?

Jeanne Tedrow: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: That’s phenomenal. How can you do such a great job? What’s the secret, Jeanne?

Jeanne Tedrow: I think the primary success is related to the wrap around case management services, the comprehensive approach that we use. We address the very critical issues of every person coming out of prison; housing, employment, and services. And, in the case of parents, we address the issue of re-unification, helping women in particular regain custody of their children and, in that process, we help the caregivers who have taken care of the children while the woman’s in prison; we help them release care back to the mother who basically has failed in her parenting because she has gone to prison. And when she gets back out, she had to regain the trust of her care giving circle in order, not just get legal custody back of her children, but also to make sure that that support network is going to support her back in that role as a mother and we’re very successful in that re-unification process, which for women makes all the difference in terms of coming out of prison.

Len Sipes: Lisa Crosslin, we’re going to go to you. One of the things that amazes me is the fact that according to national research, I don’t know what it’s like down there in North Carolina and I never did, by the way, state where Harriet’s House is in North Carolina. What city please?

Lisa Crosslin: Raleigh, North Carolina.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, you’re in Raleigh, North Carolina. So, Lisa, the whole concept of women offenders, national research states that about 80 percent are parents. We’re talking about a couple kids in the process, so we’re not just talking about the idea of one human being; we’re talking about multiple human beings. We’re talking about a larger family here. So, what happens to that individual woman as she comes out of the prison systems? It’s magnified by the fact that ordinarily she’s got people dependent upon her.

Lisa Crosslin: What makes our program unique as each woman comes out, on our staff, we also have a children’s case manager because you’re certainly right. As each woman comes out, not only does the woman have to be case managed and counseled, her children as well because, as you can imagine, there are some serious bonding issues and serious re-unification issues that the children will have with their parents. So, we believe in holistic counseling for the mother and the child, sending them both to counseling together and as well as separately and our children’s case manager will work specifically with the children, one on one, to help them make that transition back with their mothers an easier one. So, helping the mothers

Len Sipes: So,

Lisa Crosslin: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Len Sipes: No, no. You go ahead, please.

Lisa Crosslin: In addition, one of the biggest things you run into mothers who are trying to reunite with their children and learning is a matter of giving to the children of themselves as opposed to thinking that they have to come out and buy and satisfy the gratification of their children by material things as opposed to the children just needing the love and reestablishing the connection with the mother. There’s a deep mental health component of our program that takes up a good 80 percent of their time while they’re in the program.

Len Sipes: Okay. But, I’m sorry. Lisa, the connection wasn’t real good. Give me that stat again, that statistic.

Lisa Crosslin: I said that a good 80 percent of their time while they’re in the program comprised of mental health and family counseling to help with that connection.

Len Sipes: Okay. One of the problems, again, there are correlations of crime and, in this case, there are cross-correlations with most women offenders. Most women offenders, this is national research; now, again, I have no idea what it’s like in Raleigh. I have no idea what it’s like in North Carolina, but national research is that most women are claiming mental health issues. Most offenders across the board are claiming mental health issues and, astoundingly, the rate of abuse and neglect in terms of male offenders; it’s about 15 to 20 percent. The rate of abuse and neglect and also sexual violence directed at them, especially as kids for women offenders, is about 60 percent. So, there’s a huge difference between male and female offenders, just in terms of mental health issues, in terms of prior sex issues, in terms of substance abuse issues, and then this individual comes out of the prison system and there are kids waiting for her. That is a huge, huge challenge. Anybody want to direct that?

Jeanne Tedrow: I think that’s right, Leonard. This is Jeanne Tedrow chiming in here.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Jeanne Tedrow: I think that we have to look first and recognize that women who are in the correctional system, the vast majority of them, were victims before they were perpetrators and they continue to be treated as perpetrators rather than understanding what the issues are as victims. And so this whole policy area around placing women in prison and women going to prison is accelerating at a faster rate than men going to prison. And the vast majority of them are dealing with mental health, substance abuse, health issues that they cannot get while they’re outside of the prison system.

Len Sipes: Now, every time I do a program like this and we talk about the correlates of crime and every time I do a program like this and we release a transcript because some people read a transcript of the radio show, some people listen to the radio show directly, I get emails basically saying, Leonard, you’re making excuses for criminals. And my response always seems to be that I’m not making excuses for criminals; it is 25 minutes before noon on the day we’re recording this and I’m not expressing an opinion when I say it’s 25 of noon, I’m just simply giving a factual response. Nobody’s going to argue that people who commit crimes should go to prison, serious crimes should go to prison, but at the same time, nobody should argue that, especially women offenders bring a wide array of issues in terms of what got them there to begin with. And if they’ve been raped two or three times, if they have schizophrenia, if they have two kids, and if they have a serious drug problem, that individual unless they’re treated and unless these issues are dealt with, she’s just going to come back out and re-offend over and over and over again. Correct?

Michelle Bridgets: Len, this is Michelle and I want to say you’re exactly correct on that point. I was in prison three times. The third time that I finally went into prison I was actually able to take some courses about drugs. Learn new ways to not become dependent on drugs; other than that, it was just going into the system, doing my time, coming back out, and repeating the same thing all over again.

Jeanne Tedrow: Len, I was jus saying that once Michelle received services and appropriate level of services she was able to make a change in her lifestyle.

Leonard: Michelle, they put you on the board for Harriet’s House. That, to me, is a smart move because, regardless of where we as to professionals within the criminal justice system and regardless of how degreed we are and how much we think we understand crime and criminality, there’s nobody who knows it better than those who have lived it.

Michelle Bridgets: Correct.

Len Sipes: Tell me about that.

Michelle Bridgets: I think that I can do the board a lot of good because of the fact that I have been through the program. The last time that I came out of prison it was either to return to the way that I was living and find a way to make a change. I put in an application to Harriet’s House and I was accepted and through that program, with a mentor, with the mentoring, with dealing with my health issues, dealing with my drug issues, they had a wrap around service for me that every issue I had there was somebody there to help me get through another step to go through these phases. And, with a program like that, with wrap around services that’s something covering your kids, something covering issue of abuse, something covering the issue of me not being able to get a job. It wasn’t like they were giving me a hand-out; they were giving me a hand-up. They never let me give up.

Len Sipes: Cheryl Bryant, grants management specialist with the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. You know, Cheryl, the research is abundantly clear. The overwhelming majority of people in the criminal justice system, either in the prison system or when they’re released, do not, I repeat do not, I repeat do not for a third time, get the services that they need, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s substance abuse. We’re only talking about somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of all individuals receiving services. What was it about the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission and what was it about Harriet’s House that caused you guys to become involved?

Cheryl Bryant: I think we were excited about the opportunity to fund Harriet’s House for a number of reasons. (1) They provided a very structured program that focused on providing a comprehensive range of services for female offenders, including the housing, substance abuse services, parenting services, employment services, so that’s one thing. Second, they had a very structured framework. The program operates in phases. Third, they were getting support from a variety of forces. They receive financial assistance from the North Carolina Department of Correction. They receive federal funds from our agency. They also received a lot of community support from faith-based organizations. So, the fact they had tremendous support from a variety of entities, the fact they had a very structured program, and they provided a wide range of comprehensive services. We thought all those factors would aid their ability to successfully help these make a successful transition.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, they’re not out there by themselves. They’ve got plenty of partners and they’ve got the faith community involved as well.

Cheryl Bryant: Yes, that’s true.

Len Sipes: That is, I think, probably one of the major underpinnings of any successful program, Cheryl. The fact that you do have, you’re well integrated within the community and the larger community supports your goals and missions instead of you being out there on your own you’re supported by a wide variety of partners. Would you agree with me that that’s an underpinning of what makes for a successful program?

Cheryl Bryant: I agree wholeheartedly. And Harriet’s House has done a fantastic job of creating some long-term sustainable collaborative partnerships and that’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful.

Len Sipes: And so I understand why the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission would support such a program. I just want to editorialize for us here in Washington, D.C. You operate principally with money that comes from the U.S. Department of Justice funded through the various entities throughout the state. That’s one of the reasons why the National Criminal Justice Association is there, www.ncja.org. NCJA represents state criminal justice agencies and governor’s offices and so the bulk of the money, I’m assuming, Cheryl, does continue to come from the federal government to fund exemplary programs in your state. Correct?

Cheryl Bryant: Yeah, that’s true. The federal government provides us with the money and our organization, the Governor’s Crime Commission, acts as a pass through for organizations like Harriet’s House.

Len Sipes: Okay. Cool. We’re halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce everybody. We have Jeanne Tedrow. She is one of the founders of Harriet’s House and Passage Home. We have Lisa Crosslin. She’s the program director of Harriet’s House. We have Cheryl Bryant, who we were just speaking to, the grants management specialist from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. And we have Michelle Bridges, who was a graduate of the program and a board member of Harriet’s House. Harriet’s House has a 15 percent recidivism rate in a world of much larger recidivism rates. I find that to be extraordinary. The web site is www.passagehome.org/home. aspx. But, Jeanne, I don’t think they need a home.aspx. It’s www.passagehome.org. Correct?

Jeanne Tedrow: That’s correct. And you can find all of our programs on that web site.

Len Sipes: Lovely, lovely, lovely. And we’ll keep that simple. And the web site for the National Criminal Justice Association is www.ncja.org and are the ones who bring these exemplary programs to the public through our radio show at D.C. Public Safety. All right. So, we’ve pretty much set up this whole concept of dealing with women offenders, ladies, in the first 15 minutes of the program. So, you four are going to get to solve the larger issue regarding women offenders. We’ve already stated the level of difficulties that women offenders bring and the fact that they are dramatically different, not just a bit different, but dramatically different from male offenders, I think, if you feel free to disagree with me. What needs to be done in terms of a larger issue, Jeanne?

Jeanne Tedrow: I think we have to look broadly at why women are going to prison and,

Len Sipes: Why are they?

Jeanne Tedrow: Well, if the rate of violent crimes among women who are going to prison is going down and the rate of drug related crimes among women going to prison is going up and we’re facing these high rates of recidivism, it really begs the question: What are we doing when women are either in prison or as they’re leaving prison to receive the types of services and why are we putting people in prison who have mental health, health related, substance abuse problems who are not committing violent crimes? So, as you and I talked earlier, if we really want to do something about the correctional system, let’s look at the low-hanging fruit and the opportunities to be successful for women who could come out of the correctional system, not cause problems for the community; they are really causing problems for themselves. And, if they were to receive appropriate levels of services, they wouldn’t cause a problem to themselves or to the community and we’d free up a lot of very expensive prison beds.

Len Sipes: Yeah. One of the things that we talked about before the program was the fact that there are states, the majority of states and I think the vast majority of states, that are struggling fiscally and they’re cutting back on their correctional programs and this would be the low-hanging fruit. When I was with the state of Maryland for 14 years as a director of public affairs for Maryland Department of Public Safety, we sort of figured that maybe up to one-third of women offenders within the state of Maryland could be safely released if they had services; substance abuse, mental health, dealing with their kids, dealing with family related issues, putting them on GPS, that these individuals would save the state of Maryland literally tens of millions of dollars easily by taking that bottom third and putting them out on community supervision with services. But the larger sense on the part of the public is that nobody forced them into carrying those drugs. We see non-violent crimes. There’s a lot of women who are incarcerated in prison for violent crimes. There’s a lot of women who are incarcerated for armed robberies, for homicides, for aggravated assaults, but give me a sense of the kind of woman, Jeanne, that we’re talking about, kind of woman offender.

Jeanne Tedrow: Well, I think that the women that we are looking at are typically, I would say, 70 percent of the women who come in and out of our program or 76 percent rather have a history of substance abuse. 89 percent of them have actually completed high school and the average number of children in each family is about two, but I think the key factor is that really the vast majority of the mothers and the women who are in our program have received, have experienced significant physical and emotional sexual abuse.

Len Sipes: They were raped as children.

Jeanne Tedrow: And have been abused first. Excuse me?

Len Sipes: They have been raped as children in many cases and sexually assaulted as children.

Jeanne Tedrow: To put it very frankly, yes.

Len Sipes: Yeah. I think we have to put it very frankly because that’s exactly what it is we’re dealing with and that’s almost an inevitable gateway to drugs and mental health issues.

Jeanne Tedrow: Absolutely. And I think we need to recognize that women in this conversation are self-medicating because they don’t have the access that they need to health services, mental health services, and good health services. So, the cost is being redirected to the correctional system when it could have been potentially more effectively and efficiently spent in these other appropriate service sectors.

Len Sipes: Now, whenever I say this, it prompts emails. I believe it to be true. Anyone of you can come in and say it’s not true. The majority of women offenders who I’ve had direct contact with throughout my career the reason why they got involved is, most of these cases they’re carrying significant amount of drugs and they’re caught by law enforcement. Ordinarily, there is a male involved who basically said, if you don’t do this, you will be harmed or your children will be harmed. Am I right or wrong?

Michelle Bridgets: Well, in some cases, you’re right and in some cases, you’re wrong. A lot of these women, when you’re carrying drugs, it’s for a substantial pay-off. Sometimes it is threatening, but sometimes it’s that if I do this, I can actually get to a point where I’m trying to get to because I can get this sum of money.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, it’s profitable and that’s why they do it.

Michelle Bridgets: Yeah, profitable and in some cases, as you said, there being that I’m threatened.

Len Sipes: See, I always struggle with this whole concept of women offenders because on one side I’m trying to portray what I hear from people in the criminal justice system all the time is that we can, as Jeanne put it, we can take this low-hanging fruit and put them out in the community, save states literally tens of millions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars, and not risk public safety. And, on the flip side, a lot of these individuals did things that, pretty serious crimes, that did it simply for a profit motive and I’m making them out to be fallen angels and they’re really not. So, how do you put that into perspective, Jeanne?

Jeanne Tedrow: I don’t think that we should say that they haven’t done anything wrong. I think we have to accept and recognize that crimes have been committed, that they haven’t taken responsibility in a positive way toward themselves or their families. We recognize that. They’ve gone to prison, they’ve paid their time. They have not actually received the services in many cases before going to prison and perhaps during their time of incarceration, but when they get back out and they’ve paid their dues, it would be more cost-effective to make sure they don’t go back to prison and I think that there are very comprehensive, practical ways in which to deliver those services that address the housing, employment, mental health, and services needs for both the mother and the children. And I think reentry for women is a major prevention program.

Len Sipes: Well, just in terms of holding down the burden to the taxpayer, just in terms, I mean, the vast majority of states, I forget what the figure is, but out of the 50 states, I would say it’s 35 to 40 out of the 50 states are suffering significant fiscal issues and they are closing prisons. They are cutting reentry programs. They are cutting parole and probation offices and, in some cases in the state of California, what they’re saying is that non-violent offenders will not return to prison for technical violations. I mean, the criminal justice system is changing dramatically in this country. I’m not quite sure people fully understand how dramatically it’s changing because of fiscal realities and here’s a way to do it in terms of Harriet’s House and, using your model, 15 percent recidivism based upon the national rate of two-thirds being rearrested and 50 percent going back to prison. If you can pull off numbers like that, then you are literally saving the taxpayers of the state of North Carolina, again, tens of millions of dollars that they do not have to spend because of your success.

Michelle Bridgets: I would say that, I mean, with them doing the cuts like they are, if it weren’t for programs such as Harriet’s House with the great reentry program that they have, the recidivism rate would be probably ten times as worse. This is a structured program and, when I say structured, I mean in every sense of the word. I mean, without that program, I never knew anything about budget. I had to come back and learn how to raise my kids. I didn’t know anything about putting out resumes. I knew none of this stuff. I mean, everything in my life that I needed to have assistance with for me to become a person to go back into the community and be able to function, Harriet’s House had that for me. Now, I’m actually manager at a store. Never thought I would be. Without the assistance and without all the programs that Harriet’s House has in place, I would probably be back in prison or either dead.

Len Sipes: Well, Michelle, in stark terms, you’re a taxpayer, not a tax burden.

Michelle Bridgets: That’s right.

Len Sipes: You pay taxes. We no longer pay for you.

Michelle Bridgets: Exactly.

Jeanne Tedrow: And Michelle is a board member, but she also is a person who helps other women who are coming through the system. So, she helped found with Passage Home and the Harriet’s House program an ex-offender program called, WOO, Women Overcoming Obstacles. And so they have been helped, many of the women have come through the Harriet’s House program have been helped and now they’re not only not a tax burden, they are also now reaching back and helping other women who are coming through the system and providing themselves as mentors and support people to people who are now coming behind them in the Harriet’s House program.

Len Sipes: And there’s a lot of mistrust, I’ve been told, and in my direct experience, a lot of mistrust regarding women offenders coming out of prison and they go into one of these programs and they’ve gone through a pretty tough life; in fact, they’ve gone through a hellish life, many of these individuals, and they really don’t trust you when they get out. It’s, like, why are you all doing this for me? Nobody’s ever done anything like this for me. And so there’s a good deal of mistrust that you have to deal with.

Michelle Bridgets: That was true. That was what I was under when I came out, but then the way that it was presented to me is we want to help you get on your feet. We don’t want to see you go back to the way that you were living. The staff at Passage Home, it’s not just a job for them. They put their whole heart into it. So, when you’re thinking when you come out, what do these people want from me? What are they benefiting from me? They’re really not benefiting at all. We’re reaping the benefits because I’m not returning to prison. I’m able to go back into public and I’m actually able to be a regular citizen. Without that help, who knows where I would have been.

Len Sipes: I hear you. I hear you loud and clear, Michelle. Jeanne Tedrow, you are going to have to sum up everything for everybody because I’m going to need some time to close the program and to give the web sites so everybody can appropriately get in touch with you and I’m quite sure somewhere throughout this great country of ours and throughout the world, being 21 percent of our operation is foreign, there’s some extraordinarily rich individual who would love to give to Harriet’s House and provide some additional funding. But, Jeanne Tedrow, go ahead and sum up the bottom line behind all of this before I close the program.

Jeanne Tedrow: I appreciate you saying that, Len. I think that as taxpayers and people who are feeling the pain of our fiscal crisis, we need to be able to look at programs that have a high rate of return on their investment and Passage Home in it’s homeless programs, in its reentry programs, and it’s family self-sufficiency programs will state that with a track record of success, that we’re 85 percent successful in working with the individuals and families that come through our programs. I think an 85 percent success rate is a very excellent return on our investment, both public dollars and private dollars. And, if there are private investors out there, venture capitalists and social entrepreneurs who really want to help a program that breathes success, is second to none is Passage Home.

Len Sipes: Good. www.passagehome.org, one word, would be the way of learning more about Passage Home and about Harriet’s House. I want to thank everybody; Jeanne Tedrow, founder of Harriet’s House and Passage Home, Lisa Crosslin, the program director; Cheryl Bryant and the governor’s office there at North Carolina, and Michelle Bridges, who is a graduate of the program, a great inspiration. I really appreciated you being on the program. Again, reminding everybody this is a program of the National Criminal Justice Association, www.ncja.org. They’ve provided a lot of great programs for us in the past and I hope that they will continue to provide great programs for us in the future. National Criminal Justice Association represents state governor’s office and state justice agencies and their employees. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes, and we really appreciate once again the fact that you are listening and that you are participating. Get in touch with me directly at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or follow me via Twitter at twitter.com/lensipes. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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