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Supervising and Treating Mentally Ill Offenders-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentleman, our show today is on the supervision and treatment of mental health offenders. We, within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we say that 37% of our offenders have had contact with mental health providers or claim a mental health issue. Reports from the Department of Justice several years ago, they suggest a self-report figure of over 50%. To discuss this emerging issue within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and throughout the country, we have three guests today. We have Ubux Hussen, she is the Mental Health Program Administrator; a Community Supervision Officer – Supervisory Community Supervision Officer Marcia Davis; and Supervisory Community Supervision Officer Robert Evans. And to Ubux and Marcia and to Robert, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Female: Thank you, Leonard, for inviting us.

Female: Thank you.

Robert Evans: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. You know this is an extraordinarily important topic for us. It really is and it’s an extraordinarily important topic for every court, every parole commission, every parole and probation agency throughout the United States. It really is an emerging issue because it seems to – it seems to me that the numbers increase – continuously increase. Every time I read a piece of national research or local research, they tell me that they’re sort of astounded by the high numbers of people who have had contact with mental health providers and who claim to have a mental background. Like I said, there was a Department of Justice report that suggested that over 50% of the individuals who they interviewed caught up in the criminal justice system; they claimed to have a mental health problem or had contact with a mental health system in the past. So, Ubux, the first question is going to you. How many people out of the 15,000 individuals that we have on supervision on any given day, both parolees and probationers, how many are involved in our mental health unit?

Ubux Hussen: In our mental health unit, approximately 2068…

Len Sipes: That’s a lot of people.

Ubux Hussen: It is a lot of people spread across six or seven mental health men and women’s teams. The observation you made about the number of people – you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s, we did this deinstitutionalization from state mental health hospitals and a lot of those people have cycled through both state, federal, and local jails and prisons which really have become very innovative in mental health service delivery because of the need of the people under their care. So there are a lot more people who probably qualify than the 2068…

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: …who are currently assigned to our branch. So I’ll stop there.

Len Sipes: Well, that is an important piece of context for people to understand that one time we had within this country a fairly extensive community-based and hospital-based mental health system. They went through a process of deinstitutionalization, I think, back in the 1970s and at one time, there were thousands of people caught up in community care and in terms of intuitional care, but they’ve taken down most of those institutions from various states and they did not support the community component. So, in essence, we’ve heard individuals suggest that the criminal justice system is now the de facto provider of mental health services to a lot of people caught up who are in the system who are mentally ill and that’s shocking. You know, to me, it’s shocking. Marcia, who gets to be on our mental health unit? Describe that kind of person.

Marcia Davis: Okay. So the individuals who come to supervision come to us by way of the United States Parole Commission after they have been placed on supervisory list of parole or through the DC Court System after being placed on probation.

Len Sipes: Uh huh.

Marcia Davis: And in most cases, they’ve been either court ordered or ordered by the USPC to either undergo a mental health assessment, participate in mental health treatment, or be supervised by the mental health unit.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now, so they come either from the courts or they come from the US Parole System.

Marcia Davis: Right.

Len Sipes: Can a community supervision officer– what most people throughout the country call parole and probation agents, can a community supervision officer here within Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency can they mandate that a person receive an evaluation? Robert?

Robert Evans: Well, not necessarily mandate but one thing that is important to know is that we kind of train our staff to be very observant. We train them to have a listening ear and also be observant of when someone is experiencing some sort of breakdown or issue. And so what they’ll make – what they’ll do is make a recommendation and they will make a referral. So they will refer to our mental health program administrator to review a situation, most likely try to get this person a mental health assessment so that we can kind of gauge what this person is going through. So anybody who has a mental health assessment and assessment basically says that they have a current issue they’re dealing with, a mental health diagnosis, then we’ll take another look at that to see if they qualify for our unit.

Len Sipes: Well, from the beginning of the show, I do want to establish two things: a) Because an individual has a mental health issue does not mean that they’re going to be part of the criminal justice system and I want to make that abundantly clear.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Len Sipes: There are endless millions of people floating throughout the United States, throughout the world, who have mental health condition who never come into contact with the criminal justice system. However, if you are schizophrenic, if you have one of dozens of mental health diagnosis, if you are depressed in some ways that does correlate, however, with substance use that does correlate, however, with a contact with the criminal justice system. Did I phrase it correctly, Ubux?

Ubux Hussen: Absolutely. There also other environmental or psychosocial factors – poverty, low educational level, a fragile limited or non-existent family or social support network.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: In terms of poverty, access to health insurance whether you’re able to get the medication that allows you to have stability in your life so that you’re not engaging in criminal activity. So there’s both the diagnosis and then there is what’s called the ecology of the person’s life.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ubux Hussen: So who else is in your life and what else is in your life that serves as a prosocial stabilizing factor?

Len Sipes: But we have to establish as well in terms of a baseline for this discussion people on parole and probation supervision both within Washington DC and throughout the country. It applies equally across the board. They come often with substance abuse backgrounds.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Len Sipes: They come often with multiple contacts with the criminal justice system.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Len Sipes: They come often with tough upbringings, oftentimes single parent family, often time I’ve heard dozens and dozens and dozens of people caught up in the criminal justice system describe the fact that they raised themselves, that they were basically on their own, that they basically got up, fed themselves, and took themselves to school. Individuals caught up in the criminal justice system have dozens of disadvantages. Most of the female offenders that we have do things, number one, the large number have children so it’s not just taking care of themselves as they come out of the prison system. Somehow someway they want to reunite with their children. My heavens, when you start stacking deck – when you start considering all the different things that an individual caught up in the criminal justice system has to deal with and you throw mental health issues on top of all those things, it becomes scary. It becomes what some people have claimed almost to be a school to prison pipeline because they’re saying how do you overcome all those obstacles?

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: Anybody feel to comment from a mental health point of view?

Robert Evans: Yeah. I’m glad you’ve mentioned that because you know we – we throw the word mental health around and it’s kind of – there’s a stigma that comes along that word just mental health.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: And we need to be clear that everybody has mental health. If you have a brain, you know. So everybody has health that they’re dealing with and you know, issues face us all. If you have death in the family, if you are struggling in life, so all these things that people have come along with, they deal with them differently.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: You know and how do they – how do they deal with it. And so, one thing that we have to mention is that – especially here in DC, there are services that people can get…

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: …as a result of having “mental health issue” and so that can also add to why people are getting into this system – the mental health system because, for example, you have people that are in – who are locked up and once they realize that they can get special treatment for being in mental health now that they want to fake issues. So there’s another, you know, a sort of layer of the whole mental thing that we should visit because it’s more than just you know people have in “mental health issue.” It’s a huge sort of box that they can be opened up. You know, people can get SSI checks, people kind of once they get a diagnosis they kind of rely on at some time.

Len Sipes: Okay. So it’s a fairly complex issue.

Robert Evans: It’s very complex.

Len Sipes: All right. Let’s start from the beginning then now that we’ve laid this groundwork. So a person either comes from the courts or comes from the parole commission with a mandate that we evaluate them for mental health services. What happens when we receive that piece of paper?

Marcia Davis: And then let me also add because we kind of touched on it a little bit but I want to add sometimes, like you said, people go to general supervision and while they’re in general supervision, the CSO may notice that there’s some things that may not be totally right with this person.

Len Sipes: Right.

Marcia Davis: So they will refer them for an assessment and once they get assessed, they could be deemed appropriate for the mental health unit and be transferred over.

Len Sipes: Okay. Okay. What happens when that happens? Either through the CSO in general supervision or the parole commission or the courts? So somebody says I think this person has an issue, what happens?

Ubux Hussen: Usually, either through a supervisor or the actual CSO, I will receive an e-mail…

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ubux Hussen: …with an attached mental health assessment.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: That has to be current and not older than 12 months.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ubux Hussen: We want the most current information about the person. That assessment is reviewed for whether the person has what mental health clinicians call a severe and persistent mental illness.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ubux Hussen: And so that’s your schizophrenias, that’s your bipolar disorder, etcetera.

Len Sipes: Right. Right.

Ubux Hussen: We also, however, supervised other people who have developmental delays, who are mild to moderately what used to be called mentally retarded. We now have a – I’m noticing a trend as everybody is getting older, we have an older population of supervisees who have age-related cognitive deficits and so it is in just do they have a serious mental illness, it’s what else is going on that might impede their successful supervision.

Len Sipes: Okay, fair enough. But we get an evaluation from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Ubux Hussen: Yup.

Len Sipes: We get an evaluation from a mental health clinic. Do we do our own evaluations?

Ubux Hussen: Yes, sometimes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So who does those evaluations?

Ubux Hussen: We have consultants that we contract with.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: One of the things in the DC area that’s really hard to get is a psychological evaluation.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: And so the agency pays for those. If the information is conflicting, if it’s inadequate, if somebody for example has experienced trauma to the head while they’ve been in the community and we just need more information, we will pay for those services for them to get this assessment.

Len Sipes: Okay. So CSOSA does their own evaluations when necessary.

Ubux Hussen: Yes, that’s right.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Marcia Davis: And we also use the Department of Mental Health.

Ubux Hussen: Yes.

Len Sipes: Right.

Marcia Davis: The DC Department of Mental Health Agency does assessments, too.

Len Sipes: Okay. So the person comes in, we diagnose them, we figure out on what level of deficiency they have and then they’re placed in the mental health unit with well over 2000 people under supervision. Right?

Ubux Hussen: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. So what happens at that point? So you get this person, not only does he have to make restitution, not only does he have to get a job, not only does he have to get his GED, not only does he have to get his plumbing certificate, not only does he have to obey all law…

Ubux Hussen: Right.

Len Sipes: …he now has to go through some sort of intervention in terms of his mental health problem and I’m assuming that that ranges in terms of the degree of severity of the mental health problem, right?

Robert Evans: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay, talk to me about that.

Robert Evans: So, basically, the guy comes from my unit and he’s assigned to community supervision officer to supervise him. Now, this supervision officer has been trained to make sure that this person is connected with the mental health services. They’re going to make sure that they connect either for Core Service Agency. This person is going to be connected with a case manager or a therapist if necessary depending on the person’s need. Once they go to that Core Service Agency, the agency would do an intake and they’ll see what this person needs and so, now, this officer needs to follow up with the case manager or whoever they’re connected with…

Len Sipes: Okay.

Robert Evans: …to be sure that they’re following through with that.

Len Sipes: And that connection could be authorities from the District of Columbia. That connection could be with the Veterans Administration.

Robert Evans: Correct.

Len Sipes: That connection could be with lots of different agencies. So okay.

Marcia Davis: Correct. Private organization…

Len Sipes: Private organizations. It could be a private counselor. Now, but do all of them get the counseling they need? I mean, you know, all we hear are budget cuts, budget cuts, budget cuts and my guess is that not everybody is going to be getting counseling – not everybody is getting counseling, not everybody is going to get “therapy.” My guess is that people on the high end of the spectrum with serious mental health issues such as bipolarism or schizophrenic – or being a schizophrenic, they will get it and the people at the lower end don’t. Am I right or wrong?

Robert Evans: Well, you’re right. You’re right. In DC especially, you know, people are overwhelmed with clients. You know, the case mangers that we deal with have extremely high case loads so they’re trying to do the best they can to make sure that they meet these individual’s needs. Bu in most cases, the people that need the intensive service, what they’ll do is get connected with what was called the ACT team, which is Assertive Community Treatment.

Marcia Davis: Assertive Community Treatment.

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Robert Evans: So this ACT team is going to be assigned to this client who has a very severe issue.

Marcia Davis: A severe need.

Len Sipes: A severe need, right.

Robert Evans: And so what that would do is get this person more specialized treatment but even in those cases, it’s very difficult. The difficulty that we face is we have to make sure that this person is following through with the recommendation but we can’t hold their hand, we can’t take them to treatment, we can’t pick him up from their home and take them to the case manager so –

Len Sipes: But in many cases – and that I want to get to this right after the break – in many cases, we are the principal pro-social entity in that person’s life which I find astounding…

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Len Sipes: …in terms of doing previous radio programs about this topic.

Ubux Hussen: Yes.

Len Sipes: Ladies and gentleman, we’re talking to Ubux Hussen. She is the Mental Health Program Administrator. We’re talking to Marcia Davis and Robert Evans. They’re both Supervisory Community Supervision Officers with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, here in Washington DC. We are a federal independent agency offering parole and probation services to the great city of Washington DC. Our website is, Talking about the issue of mental health and how parole and probation agencies treat mental health problems and again getting back to the issue that I’ve brought up right before the break that for so many individuals under supervision, we are, in many cases, the sole stabilizing pro-social force in their life, coming into contact with them and asking them: a) Are you taking your medication?; b) Are you going to the counseling clinic but we have liaisons, we know whether or not they’re complying with this counseling clinics; and c) To sit with that individual and we’re not therapist…

Ubux Hussen: Right.

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: We’re not therapists but we do talk with that individual and try to help that individual through the various crises of their lives, and d) often times when they find themselves in crisis, we’re the first people that they turn to. So I talk to be all that.

Marcia Davis: Okay. So what we’re seeing now with the co-service agencies is that collaborations work tremendously. In the female unit, we have a group of women with unique needs. When we look at the pathways to crime for our women, these are women who have a history of childhood victimization. They’ve been –

Len Sipes: Childhood sexual assault.

Marcia Davis: Right. They’ve also been sexually assaulted as adults. They have a history of trauma. They have serious chronic mental illnesses. They are homeless.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Marcia Davis: They have low education, low appointment.

Len Sipes: Right.

Marcia Davis: They’ve been separated from their children. Their self-esteem is low.

Len Sipes: Right.

Marcia Davis: But with this population, the collaborations between the different agencies, with CSOSA, with the Core Service Agency, with the treatment staff, with the faith-based mentoring staff. If we come together and we work as one, we can see how those collaborations work. Just yesterday, we had a case, a high-risk offender who has a serious mental illness. She is 7-1/5 months pregnant. She is using substances and we had a team, a multidisciplinary staff, and where we had her Core Service Agency case manager, we had our mental health administrator, Ms. Ubux, we had the CSO, we had the individual from our central intervention team who provides substance abuse treatment, and we had our mental health treatment specialist and together, we came up with a plan to help this individual. So we see as – if we work together it’s so much better than each entity trying to do it alone in this –

Len Sipes: Right.

Marcia Davis: It takes away from the offender’s ability to play one agency against the next because working together we come up with one plan. We’re all on one co-work and it just works out better for everyone involved.

Len Sipes: I do want to point out to our audience that we do have a variety of special emphases. Am I correct? Saying that am I grammatically correct in terms of three groups. Number one, we’ve reorganized around women offenders, we’ve reorganized around high-risks offenders and now, we’re in the process of reorganizing around young adult offenders.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Marcia Davis: Right.

Len Sipes: And, we’re finding mental health problems in all three groups.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Len Sipes: And with – especially with the high-risk offenders and especially the young adult offenders we’re finding real problems in that group with both recidivism and mental health problems. We have to prioritize…

Ubux Hussen: Right.

Len Sipes: …what it this we do to the highest risk offender. Correct?

Ubux Hussen: Right.

Robert Evans: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to also go back to your point because I think it’s really important to really highlight that even in my serious case, her community supervision officer was the one that orchestrated all of that.

Marcia Davis: Yes, because –

Robert Evans: Because, you know, when the offender comes home, they’re reporting to the CSO and the CSO is between them and the releasing authority and that’s the freedom right there. So, now, it’s up to that CSO will be the one that can try to connect…

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: …with all these other people .

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: And so, like you said, that community supervision officer is a lifeline…

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: …in most cases.

Len Sipes: Well, I have talked to a wide variety of people in going on 10 years now with the core services and the federal supervision agency, they’ve been – women offenders, Marcia, you and I have talked and the people under supervision have talked and I’ve talked to more than just a couple who are on the mental health program and they basically say, you know, Mr. Sipes, if it wasn’t for that CSO, again, community supervision officer, I don’t know where I’d be.

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: He’s the one – she’s the one who constantly says, are you taking your medication, show me your medications, show me that you have your prescription in hand, show me that you’re not abusing this drug, are you going to counseling, or are you hooking up with your faith-based mentor, where are you on your life. And that provides a lifeline. Again, I’m making the same point twice but I do want to reemphasize it. The employees of this organization become sometimes the lifeline…

Ubux Hussen: Yes.

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: …in the life of that individual and becomes the major difference as to whether or not that person succeeds or does not succeed.

Robert Evans: Right. And that’s gonna be really heightened when you’re talking about the young population because this is a population who’s in a predicament and most likely because their family may not be there…

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: …or they have turned their back on them.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: So, now, you have somebody who is playing that role in addition to authority but now we have the sort of kind of train you up, you know, and teach you to be an adult. You know, so that…

Len Sipes: It’s cognitive behavioral therapy, restructuring how they think about things in life.

Robert Evans: It’s all [indiscernible]

Len Sipes: Do we do group therapy with some individuals in the mental health unit?

Ubux Hussen: We do. There are – we have two types of groups. We have mental health intervention groups, for example, where Marcia is located. There is a trauma group that targets women and then we do what are called sanctions groups which is for technical violations of your supervision agreement.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: We’re now restructuring ourselves because at the base of everything – what you were saying earlier about people raising themselves and so forth – is underlying trauma that hasn’t been addressed.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ubux Hussen: And so we’re reconfiguring the group so that we’re offering more treatment-oriented groups and fewer sanctions groups.

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: You know, it’s interesting, the average person listening to this program especially if they are familiar with their parole and probation agency and people are more than welcome to write me,, leonard.sipes. Call me, send with a nasty letter, do what they will but what we’re talking about is unrecognizable to them because: a) we have a ratio where we come in of community supervision officers, a lot of parole and probation agents and people under supervision of somewhere in about ballpark of 50:1. For mental health teams, it’s less than that but we come into contact with individuals at higher levels of supervision at least four to eight times a month, two of those have to be community contacts and, at the same time, they have all the mental health contacts. Most parole and probation agents in this country, you know, at the highest levels, come into contact with that individual two times a month and when it comes to mental health services, they say go to your mental health clinic and report in. That’s it. That’s most jurisdictions’ response to people with mental health problems. What we do here at CSOSA as cumbersome as it is at times and as frustrating is at times is generally leaps and bounce better than most parole and probation agencies. Now, am I right or wrong?

Robert Evans: You’re absolutely correct and it’s unacceptable if we see anything less.

Marcia Davis: Right.

Robert Evans: You know, because, you know, the bottom line is the consumer. We’re thinking about the offender, you know. We say that but really we’re looking at them like the customer and our job is to assist then through the process. We’re trying to help them get the supervision so that they don’t come back.

Len Sipes: Well, we’re trying to protect public safety.

Robert Evans: Exactly.

Len Sipes: If we get them through supervision that means they’re not out there committing crimes.

Robert Evans: Exactly.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Len Sipes: It means they’re not a burden to society.

Ubux Hussen: Correct.

Marcia Davis: Right.

Len Sipes: That means they’re no longer tax burdens and they’re tax payers.

Robert Evans: Exactly.

Len Sipes: So a lot of people have a lot of investment in making sure that that person succeeds under supervision including us.

Ubux Hussen: Right.

Robert Evans: Absolutely.

Ubux Hussen: Right. Not the least of which the one million children whose parents…

Len Sipes: Yes.

Ubux Hussen: …at various times are involved with criminal justice systems. So it’s really in societies enlightened self-interest at some point, budgets are finite, and people have to come home and –

Robert Evans: Right.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry. Finite and declining.

Ubux Hussen: Finite and declining and so people have to come home and we have to be able to, in terms of those of us charged with public safety, be creative in identifying the reasons for how you got involved in the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you say creative and so many of us in the criminal justice system, people sitting all throughout the country, listening to this program going creative shamative [PH]. It takes money. It takes resources to do this and – and that’s – that’s where the rubber meets the road.

Ubux Hussen: Yes.

Robert Evans: I would say that’s false. I would say that, you know, when we talk about being creative, we’re talking about being evidence-based and what the evidence says is that you don’t need money to show empathy.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: And so – and that is what our unit is all about. You know, we train people to be able to build a rapport. A big huge part that you were talking about is this person sitting in front of me has to build trust.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: So we’re all about trying to make a connection with this person so that this person will respond to what we’re trying to put in place for them to be successful.

Len Sipes: But this is a difficult population to supervise because I’ve did what you’ve done with your lifetime and they come out of the prison system in many cases and I do note that 65% of our people on our supervision are probationers, not coming out of the prison, but those who would come out of the prison have – what I say a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.

Robert Evans: Big time.

Len Sipes: And you add mental health to that. You’re breaking through that barrier and so to the point you can get them to point – that person to the point where you can help them is a monumentally difficult task. How you break through that barrier?

Robert Evans: You don’t personalize it. The biggest thing that I’ve learned is to not to personalize it, you know. Just to give you a real life example, a young guy, you know, they – like you said, the chip on your shoulder, I’m seeing that more and more with the young population.

Len Sipes: Yep.

Robert Evans: He comes in. He’s cussing out his officer. This officer called me. Mr. Evans needs you. He came to the cubicle. He’s cussing me out.

Len Sipes: Right.

Robert Evans: So he said he was done. I let him walk out. Ten minutes later, he came back.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh.

Robert Evans: And he had a different attitude. Now, a typical person may have taken it personal, may have said, you know, what? You walked out, we’re done. But we have to not personalize that process and we have to realize that he is here, we’ve got a body to work with, and let’s rock and roll.

Len Sipes: That is I think the only way it can be done in terms of breaking through. If we do not break through their lives as individuals, we might as well just give it up. We might as well just send them back to prison.

Robert Evans: Right.

Marcia Davis: Now, when it comes –

Len Sipes: Go ahead, either one. We have one minute left.

Marcia Davis: When it comes to female unit, the females appreciate the programs that we have developed on the female unit that are geared and unique to addressing their needs. So they’re participating in these programs and they’re saying that, okay, finally, our needs are being addressed because, for so many years, their needs were never addressed and they haven’t been able to address the issues that they need to address in order to stop the cycle. So just then seeing that we’ve taken the time to develop these programs that were develop for – specifically for females, they appreciate that and they see the direction and appreciate the direction at the agency is doing.

Len Sipes: And I am – never in my 42 years in the criminal justice system have I been as impressed with anything as impressed as I am with the women’s unit and the fact that they come out with so many strikes against them but yet, at the same time, they succeed in greater numbers than I would ever expect and considering the efficiencies that they have to deal with. All of you, who deal with the female population, should be congratulated and all of you who deal with the mental health population should be congratulated. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. I am your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guests today have been Ubux Hussen, she is the Mental Health Program Administrator; Marcia Davis and Robert Evans, they’re both Supervisory Community Supervision Officers. Ladies and gentleman, again, DC Public Safety. We appreciate your letters. We appreciate your e-mails. We appreciate your phone calls and all of the suggestions in terms of new shows, even criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Violence Reduction Program-“DC Public Safety”

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today, we are here to talk about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. CSOSA is a federally funded parole and probation agency with responsibility for parole and probation issues in the great city of Washington, D.C. To talk to us about this program we have three extraordinarily interesting people. We have Zoë, and that’s not her real name. She is an individual under supervision of Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency to talk about her participation in the violence reduction program. We have Tanesha Clardy, and she is a community supervision officer, and we have Michelle Hare-Diggs, she is a treatment specialist, and to Zoë, and to Tanesha, and to Michelle, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tanesha Clardy: Thank you.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Thank you.

Zoe: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We’re going to start off with you, Michelle, and you’re going to explain what the violence reduction program is all about.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: The violence reduction program was put into place by CSOSA to, it’s to successfully help the offenders on probation to successfully complete parole and probation. There’s three phases to the group. Phase one kind of gets everybody comfortable with being in the group, comfortable with the group process, so we do a lot of, I guess I would say icebreaker exercises, which is treatment readiness exercises. That runs three weeks, and they come twice a week for three weeks, and then we move on to phase two, which is the meat of the program, and we do a whole slough of, we learn a whole slough of activities, and it’s not just violence. Most of the techniques can be used in everyday life: communication styles, different communication styles, relaxation techniques, so everything that we do in the group can also, it just doesn’t relate to just violence. And that phase runs 12 weeks, and they come twice a week. And then we move on to phase three, which is, the purpose of phase three is to help, we want the offenders to, in turn, want to be able to help someone else to successfully complete parole and probation, so we integrate them into community activities, and that phase runs six weeks, and they come once a week.

Len Sipes: So in essence, what we’re doing is helping people, the theory in criminology called cognitive behavioral therapy, where it’s sort of thinking through life’s event differently than what they’ve done in the past, and I would imagine that’s sort of what we’re talking about now, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it is how to stay away from situations of violence, potential situations for violence, how to extract yourself, how to deal with all of that in such a way not to land you back in the criminal justice system.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Exactly, and there’s situations where you can’t do that, how to make a better choice, what would be a better choice.

Len Sipes: A better choice. Okay. We were talking beforehand, my wife constantly tells me about better choices. I get angry at my daughters, and she’ll tell me to go cool off. I mean, this is sort of a lifelong learning situation for a lot of us, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. So it’s just situations where we try to, if you’re in a situation where you can’t just walk out, what would be the better thing to do, how to take a time out in your head. Some of the techniques sound corny, but they really work. Things that you would never think of, how to count to ten, and we hear it, but do we really do it? How to shout loudly, stop it, to yourself, so you’re able to not give yourself that continuous negative self-talk.

Len Sipes: And Tanesha, we’re going to go to you for the next question. You work with these women, the women offenders on a regular basis. Do you deal just with the women, or with the men, or both?

Tanesha Clardy: I deal with both.

Len Sipes: With both. Do you have any preferences over which group? Are women easier to deal with than men? Or do they, or they bring their own unique issues?

Tanesha Clardy: All of them bring unique characteristics to the program.

Len Sipes: Because the average person is going to –

Tanesha Clardy: What I’ve discovered is that women, they have different issues, totally different issues that come from, as far as growing up and being a female, you have molestation, you have rape, you have substance abuse, and you just have emotional, physical abuse. So those are different issues that women more deal with than men.

Len Sipes: And that’s pretty much clarified by the criminological literature, by all the studies basically, talking about the fact that women offenders, women caught up in the criminal justice system have much higher rates of substance abuse than men, have higher rates of mental health issues, and the rate of prior sexual abuse is astounding. It is one of the highest correlates or the things that are connected to crime, it is astounding as to how many women caught up in the criminal justice system come from that sort of a history, and the women offenders that I’ve talked to in the past, they’re, they’ve had a lot of explosive anger going on with them and throughout their lives, and a lot of it’s self destructive, which I would imagine a lot of the emotional issues and substance abuse issues come from that history.

Tanesha Clardy: True. It’s all about their defense mechanisms. It’s things that women internalize more, so when it gets to the point where you can’t take it anymore, it’s easier to just lash out, and so it’s probably easier for them to just, you know, commit an act of violence when they feel as though they have to defend themselves. They have to protect themselves, because here you are, you’re coming up against me. And so that’s what I’ve just, you know, just noticed on my women offenders.

Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this question now. We’re talking about basically a four month program where we take individuals with a history of violence, and we sort of restructure who they are and what they are in terms of their day to day ability to cope with the stresses of life. Correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

MD: But I think the group is, because it is four months long, it gives you time to really think about behaviors and how it may have impacted your decisions in the past, so that’s the real purpose of the group. We want you to see how your past behaviors now, how have they impacted your decisions, and for whatever reason, have put you on parole and probation, and how can you rethink those past behaviors, and how can we use them differently in the future to help us make better decisions.

Len Sipes: Right. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence, so this protects the public. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence because it protects the taxpayer, because the person theoretically does better, and the research indicates that individuals do better with these programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, or violence reduction programs. So this is a win-win situation for everybody. What we’re doing is helping people understand that the stuff that they’ve done in the past, they cannot continue to do in the future, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. And in turn, we also, not just for themselves, but because some, like with the women offenders, some of them are mothers or sisters, the skills that you learn, even again, they sound corny, but as you’re at home, I’m sure, they joke about it later on. Like, we did this skill. But if you really practice it, and this is something that you try to practice with your siblings at home or your children, or your significant other, it’s not something that they themselves are just learning, they’re also teaching others.

Len Sipes: And that’s important. I mean, what you teach individuals, they teach their sons, they teach their daughters, they teach their peers, a lot of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system who are now doing well, people sort of wonder, well, why are you doing so well? And one of the reasons why they’re doing so well is they’ve learned a new way of thinking about who they are and their lives. Most people don’t want to return to the criminal justice system. I get a sense that a lot of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system don’t quite understand how they got there to begin with. All they were doing were hanging out with friends, drinking a beer, doing whatever, and somebody said the wrong thing, and they lashed out. It’s not like they sat down and said, gee, I want to assault somebody violently with a beer bottle tonight. Stuff happens.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And stuff happens quickly.

Len Sipes: Stuff happens quickly. It happens rapidly. And sometimes you’re not even quite sure why you did what you did, correct?

Tanesha Clardy: Very true, very true. But I’m, I guess, that’s the benefit of the program, because instead of just reacting the way you normally would act, you sit back and you think about, okay, what is my next move? Like, you have to make a choice, and hopefully the choice is a positive one.

Len Sipes: All right. Now we’re going to go over to Zoë. Zoë is, what we said before the program, was the truly authentic person sitting in this room. The rest of us are paid by the federal government to do what we do on a day to day basis. Zoë, you’re here, because I’m quite sure you volunteered to be on the radio show, and just absolutely adored the idea of sharing your feelings with the public.

Zoe: Absolutely!

Len Sipes: Okay, cool!

Zoe: The public needs to be informed.

Len Sipes: Cool. Why does the public need to be informed?

Zoe: Well, because everyone that commits a crime or commits an act of violence isn’t a bad person. It’s just a way, you have to rethink the way that you’re going about things, think about how you’re going to approach this situation, and think about who you’re in the situation with. You can’t react the same to everyone, so that’s what I take most out of the group, that even though we’re not talking about something that directly applies to me, I can take the message out of that and apply it to my life, and it’s helpful.

Len Sipes: Well, what we’ve said before throughout the entire program is the sense that too many people are being caught up in too many acts of violence. They need, what we call in the field, cognitive behavioral therapy, what the other person, the average person listening to this program would be, come to you-know-what meeting, or come to reality meeting, or whatever, you know, our parents read us the riot act in the past, we got punished, we were instructed by uncles, aunts, others, people in the community that what we were doing was inappropriate. We had no business doing it. Are we suggesting that people didn’t grow up with those guidelines?

Zoe: Well, some people didn’t. Everyone didn’t have that uncle or aunt or cousins or family members around to give that positive reinforcement, or even still, just the things that you were doing wrong, no one told you they were wrong. No one really reprimanded you for it. So that catches up with you in the end, and pretty much here, we’re just reversing, kind of, the bad learned behavior.

Len Sipes: Well, there are two questions. Is it too easy to get involved in acts of violence?

Zoe: Yeah –

Len Sipes: And, you know, again, most of the people that I’ve talked to have been caught up in the criminal justice system, didn’t say, you know, I set out that evening to beat my brother over the head with a beer bottle because he insulted my wife. I mean, that’s not how it went down.

Zoe: No, it went down, in the flash of an eye, before you knew it, someone was hemmed up because of whatever internal anger that, well, that I had, this is my personal experience. Yeah, so before I knew it, I was already at a 9, and just that one little small incident just took me to 27 somewhere, and I ended up in the system.

Len Sipes: It was an explosion.

Zoe: It was an explosion.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been through the criminal justice system, and you have been through the violence reduction program –

Zoe: Currently in the program.

Len Sipes: You’re currently in the program, and what does that mean to you now?

Zoe: Well, for one, when we first started the program, I was kind of sketchy about, I just really didn’t understand why I was in the group, but now, I look forward to coming to the group. These are just people, these are my friends, now, actually, and we talk about different experiences that we have throughout the week, and it’s helpful. It’s really helpful. Whether I’m actually joking around, or we come in there and play around, but at the end of the day, all right, we actually got something out of this, and it’s valuable to put forth in your everyday life.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing to me, because that is something the average person doesn’t hear. The average person listening to this program is saying, wait a minute, people who are violent belong in prison. They don’t understand that the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the correctional system or in the street, they’re under parole and probation supervision. Parole meaning, they’ve come out of the prison system, probation means the judge decided to sentence them to a period of community supervision, and not necessarily prison, but prison’s always hanging over their heads. So the overwhelming majority of people caught up in acts of violence aren’t in prison, they’re in the community.

Zoe: Yeah. Your next door neighbor.

Len Sipes: Their next door neighbor, the person you interact with at the gas station, the person who serves you at your local restaurant, the person who hands you your dry cleaning, it’s one out of every 45 people in the community are under active community supervision. Now most criminologists have said, well, if it’s one out of every 45 under active, current community supervision with correctional systems, it’s at minimum one out of every 20. So you’re encountering people every day by the scores who were either once caught up in the criminal justice system or currently caught up in the criminal justice system. So these programs, this particular program, what does it mean to you, and what does it mean to public safety?

Zoe: Well, as far as public safety and, the program really just has people to, I don’t really –

Len Sipes: It’s a hard question. I’m sorry, it is a ridiculously hard question to answer. But I mean, the bottom line is, if more people were involved in programs like this, would there be less violence?

Zoe: Yes, there definitely would be less violence.

Len Sipes: Okay, and why is that?

Zoe: Because it changes your way of thinking about it. Change the way of thinking about the situations that you’re in, and things that may seem like a threat to take you from 10 to 27, they’re not, they don’t bother you as much anymore.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: I also think the peer interaction they’re getting from the group, the peer feedback that they’re getting, things that they would, there are situations where we’ll come out, somebody in the group will come up with a scenario that may have happened over the weekend where they didn’t think that there was any other way to handle it, and the peer interaction or peer feedback that they’re getting inside the group like, okay, maybe you could have tried this, you could have tried that, and then it seems more realistic. Like, okay, maybe I could have done that, where some people, sometimes you think, the only thing I could have done was hit this person or lashed out or cussed the person out, or have, however you may have acted before, the interaction that the peers give, the interaction in the group from the peers is just, it’s amazing. The feedback, well, next time, maybe you could try this, walk out, come back in, things that you would never think that you yourself could do, you know, they test themselves, and I really like that.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, and I’m going to reintroduce everybody here at the microphones today. Zoë, not her real name, but an individual kind enough to participate. She is currently in the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Community Supervision Officer Tanesha Clardy, and what most people call parole and probation agents, we call community supervision officer, and a treatment specialist, Michelle Hare-Diggs, all three are before our microphones talking about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Now ladies, I’m going to go back to my experience when I ran groups in the Maryland prison system, and one of the things that I discovered is how folks react in a treatment setting, and how they act in the community can be two different things.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, I think what makes this group unique, because I’m a treatment specialist and I’m not a CSO, they kind of see it as separate, so I think the group tends to be a lot more real. It’s not as, I think what most people would consider as fake, and Zoë, you can correct me if I’m wrong.

Zoe: No, I agree with you. I like, okay, at first, I wasn’t sure about it, but I like the fact that it’s, the time period, the length of it, because if we were meeting once a week for a month, I wouldn’t know these people, and I wouldn’t tell them anything. It wouldn’t be a conversation, it’d just be Ms. Hare-Diggs talking to us. She’d just be talking at us pretty much, vs. us interacting.

Len Sipes: A lot of people go through these programs because they’re stuck with going through these programs. How authentic is this? Any one of you can answer. How real is this? How deeply do we get into the lives of the individuals, and is there real change? That’s what the public wants to know?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, it is a real change, because one, you don’t have to be there. You can just be at home, and next thing you know, you’ll get someone at your door taking you back to jail. You don’t have to be there. But you come, and then you choose to participate. So you can come and not say anything, and you can come and share your experiences, so just by that, and just us learning to trust each other, we can talk about these things and throw ideas off the wall and give each other constructive criticism or just say pretty much whatever we’re thinking without it becoming an issue. So the fact that we have that freedom, that ability to just let it all hang out and put it out there. We get a lot of things accomplished. We talk about a lot of different issues, and we hear each other out. We’re more receptive to our peers, because they’re not someone talking down at us, they’re someone that’s going through the same thing I am.

Len Sipes: How scary of a place is that? I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been through drug treatment describing it as one of the scariest events of their lives, because they had to confront all the garbage that has gone on in their lives that calls them to be caught up in the criminal justice system. Sometimes treatment is not pretty. Sometimes it’s dragging a person through everything that happened beforehand and coming to an understanding that it doesn’t matter what happened to you beforehand, what happens is now and how to control yourself now.

Zoe: It definitely gets ugly at times where, you know, the group forces an individual to look at their own behaviors and stop putting the blame on everybody else, from the PO to their mother to, sometimes, it’s really difficult to look at your own behavior sometimes, so it gets ugly when the group forces that person to address and take some ownership in their behaviors.

Len Sipes: When I did group, it was like going to Mars in many instances because, no, you went to a different planet. You got involved in an extraordinarily intensive examination of people’s lives. In my life, the lives of the participants in the program, it was scary at times, because, not because of what they said, not because of threats or anything along those lines, but you dig deep into the individual’s life, and suddenly, they are dealing with issues of their past for the first time. They’ve never really dealt with them before. Am I right or wrong?

Tanesha Clardy: You’re definitely right, because I’ve definitely seen a change in, especially the females who weren’t very interested in being in the program at all. Like for Zoë, she definitely came a long way. She didn’t want to do the program, she didn’t understand why she had to do the program, she understood the charge, but to her, I’m not an angry person, I’m not a violent person, the situation happened, it is what it is, I just want to do this and get on with my life. But she comes to group, she actively participates, she’s very open, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and I’ve just definitely seen a positive change in her.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the most meaningful part of all of this. When you go through interacting with a whole bunch of people, and they come to understand what’s happened to them in the past, and they come to understand that they can control it, there are a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system who have been, I don’t know, I mean, ships on the ocean without sails. I mean, the wind’s just pushing them all over the place, and suddenly, they learn how to put up sails and move in the direction that they want to move in. Boy, that’s a great analogy, isn’t it? I just thought of that! And then there are people who are listening to this who are going, you know, Mr. Sipes, you’re so full of hooey, don’t you understand that they’re just jiving you, they’re just doing what they have to do to get through the program, and –

Zoe: Well, they show. When you show back up, and you’re locked up, it’ll show whether you got something out of the program or not, and it’s all about what you put into it. You can’t expect to, okay, well my life has changed, when you don’t even talk in group. You don’t even participate. It’s not going to happen. And they’ll see you again. So if you’re trying to put your best foot forward, just go ahead and actively participate, pay attention, try to get something out of it, and you won’t, hopefully you won’t have to be in the system again.

Len Sipes: My guess is that an awful lot of people involved in the criminal justice system could use this type of, who could use this kind of program, that this kind of program would be valuable to them. It’s just not people who are ostensibly “violent offenders.” There’s a lot of people with nonviolent charges who have a history of violence. And you, we can judge that through our own instruments. We’ve pretty much come to a good understanding here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency through our instruments as to who that person really is, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Correct. I think anyone can benefit from the program. You could probably benefit from the program yourself because it’s all about conflict resolution, different communication styles, and coping skills, because it’s nothing but a table that separates me from Zoë. I could have been in that same restaurant, and someone pushed me, and I turned around and slapped them, and here I am, I’m on supervision.

Zoe: That’s what happened. No, that’s what happened.

Len Sipes: Yeah, but that could happen to any of us. But I mean –

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It’s all about how you react and the choice that you make.

Len Sipes: And according to the research, most individuals who are caught up in the criminal justice system at the time of the arrest were under the influence of something. And most were young. So if you have a younger individual full of pee and vinegar who doesn’t feel that good about themselves, who –

Tanesha Clardy: Pee and vinegar?

Len Sipes: As Tanesha tries to recover from that statement, and, no, no, no, I mean, this is the reality of what we’re dealing with, is it not? I mean, tell me if I’m wrong. It’s, they’re young, they’re very emotional, they’re caught up in the moment, somebody has insulted them, or there’s a perceived insult, may be real, may not be real, and that person just explodes, and that person, they don’t have to be young?

Tanesha Clardy: No, they don’t have to be young. I mean, we don’t have many old people in our group, but there’s a few. Yeah. And they, they get just as much out of the group as I would, or as the next person. So you don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be a male or a female to get caught up in the moment, and next thing you know…

Len Sipes: But you do have to be willing to understand how you became involved in the criminal justice system, how you came to be arrested that evening, and that arrest is oftentimes just the tip of an iceberg. I mean, people caught up in the criminal justice system, they’re here for a burglary, but you know, they’ve been down the road before. They’ve been involved in the criminal justice system. We just don’t know about it. Most crimes aren’t reported, most reported crimes do not end up in arrest. I’m talking about national statistics, and most reported, even when they’re prosecuted, most felonies in this country don’t get prison time. So I mean, to be involved in the criminal justice system, you’ve really had to do something, or you did a series of things before they send you to prison. So, I mean, the point is, is that people are actively engaged in lots of different things that could get them involved with our agency or put them behind prison bars. I mean, it’s just not one instance in many cases, and in many cases, there’s a history of violence, there’s a history of crime, there’s a history of acting out.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right, the group also focuses on trying to get the individuals to understand what they did and how it has led, again –

Tanesha Clardy: Ownership.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Ownership, taking ownership to their behaviors, because a lot of things are learned behaviors, and they don’t see anything wrong with it, so we have to really focus on what you did and how it’s affected your life.

Len Sipes: And it’s not just, I guess the point that I’m trying to make, Zoë, is that it’s, in many cases, it’s not just one altercation. We’re talking about a history of inappropriate behaviors.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: So we try to focus on learned behaviors and unlearning behaviors, and it can be done.

Len Sipes: That’s the interesting thing where the audience does need to hear that. I mean, you can be 27-years-old, according to Zoë, you can be 47 years old, and you can have this whole life of not making the best of decisions, and you can come out of these sort of encounters making much better decisions. It does work, is the question the average person listening to this program is saying, ladies, does it work?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It does. I mean, it’s hard for an individual, if you’re 47, 27, whatever, if you’ve been reacting the same way your whole life to whatever situation, if you’re used to lashing out, holding off hitting somebody, smacking somebody, spitting, whatever, and then you’re in a group with other people who have the same issues, some of the similar, some of the same, similar incidents have happened, and you can hear how somebody else is able to react to a situation, it makes you think at some point, okay, maybe I can try that, you might, you might not want to try it the first time, maybe not even the second time, but the third time, be like, okay, I can try that, and then if it works, it works, if not, we use so many different skills, you can try a different one, a different type of coping skill –

Len Sipes: Like retreating.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Retreating, right. Or counting to 10, removing yourself, some people are like, I’m never going to walk out. I would never do this, and you just try something different. So every skill doesn’t work for everybody, but we, thinking errors, you think about, what have I been doing all these years, I’m sorry, what have I been doing all these years, and you have to think, how has it gotten me to this place? And I think that’s the biggest thing that we learn in group, so many, we do the same things over and over and over again, and if it doesn’t work, what can we do differently?

Len Sipes: I talked to a guy who went through this program who was telling me about being involved in a confrontation on the street, and for the first time in his life, he retreated. He removed himself from that situation. It was a tool that he learned in group, and he was able to use that tool and extract himself, and he simply said, my going back to prison is not worth an altercation with this idiot. And that was a huge revelation for this individual. It prevented a violent crime from going down. It prevented him from being further caught up in the criminal justice system. It saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of incarcerative dollars. That was effective. I mean, just simply saying to himself, I’m going to extract myself from this situation. I’m getting out. I’m not going back to prison.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And I guess another thing, when you have that peer interaction in the group, the peers tell you, it’s okay to walk away. It’s not such a bad thing. Whereas before, you might have said, I’m not walking away. If this is a way of living, you’re not used to walking away, you’re used to handling things in a violent manner, or in a physical manner, and you’re hearing everyone say it’s okay to walk away, you keep telling yourself that, and if my freedom is on the line, sometimes you need that, the cost, the interaction from your peers telling you, what’s the better thing to do in this situation?

Len Sipes: We just have a couple minutes left. Ladies, I mean, to me, this has been an extraordinary half hour. To me, it really has been. The two of you who are paid to be doing this, and Zoë who got sucked into it, but I mean, the explanation, the explanation is, I think, powerful, that people can change through the right kind of programs, and if we had more of these programs, more people could change. Is that overly simplistic? If you had programs in place for more people, we could, we could have a greater impact on public safety.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yeah, sure.

Zoe: Definitely. Definitely.

Tanesha Clardy: This is something that could be put into the community. It doesn’t have to be called a violence reduction program. It could just be at a community center, just have people come in from the community, sit down, just learn these different skills, like, be the bigger person. You don’t always have to, of course, defend yourself, but you don’t have to do anything drastic to where you’re going to actually hurt the other person, but just turn away, walk away, I have something to live for, I have a life, I love my freedom, so okay, I’m going to let you get away with this one, and I’m going to just keep moving, because I don’t want to go to my PO and be like, yeah, I got arrested.

Len Sipes: I’m going to let you get away with this one because you are of no consequence to me. I am of consequence to me, and I’m going to protect my kids. I’m going to protect myself, and I’m going to protect my family by getting out of it –

Tanesha Clardy: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Because, my man –

Tanesha Clardy: It’s not worth it.

Len Sipes: – you’re nothing to me.

Tanesha Clardy: I have way too much to live for.

Len Sipes: I have way too much to live for. So he’s not getting away, his opponent is not getting away with anything. He’s getting away with a much better life.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

Zoe: Right.

Len Sipes: And that’s the whole idea behind this program, right?

Tanesha Clardy: Yes.

Zoe: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Any final words? Before we close?

Zoe: Well…

Len Sipes: Okay, Zoë. You’ve got the final word. What is it? Is it meaningful?

Zoe: Well, the program is meaningful. I do appreciate now, I can say this now, once again. I do appreciate being chosen to be a part of it, just, just so I can see, okay, this behavior is not right. Something has to change. And now that I have some of the tools in place and some of the methods in place, I’m able to do that and not just take it to the extreme every single time.

Len Sipes: Well, for me, it’s been a wonderful half hour, ladies. I’ve really enjoyed this, and I think it’s been very meaningful, and I think a lot of people and the public are going to learn from it. Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, Zoë, who, it’s not a real name, but she’s a person under supervision with our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in the violence reduction program. We have community supervision officer Tanesha Clardy, and we have treatment specialist Michelle Hare-Diggs. Ladies, again, thank you for being on the program. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, radio programs from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have, I think, a really interesting program today. Day reporting: These are individuals who come to my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They go to Day Reporting when they haven’t done all that well and there are problems in their supervision or they’re not getting jobs and what we do is we say, well, you’re going to have to go to the Day Reporting Center on a day-to-day basis and you’re going to be talking with Mr. Walter Hagins. He is the program manager of the Day Reporting Center and we’ll also have two folks who are currently under our supervision. Again, we are a federal agency providing parole and probation services in Washington, D.C. and I’m not going to use their real names. I’m going to refer to them as Pookie as the first person and Cool as the second person. Ladies and gentlemen, before we get into the gist of our show, want to remind everybody that we are again very, very pleased with the amount of people who are listening to the show. We are up to close to 200,000 individuals, 200,000 requests I should say, for D.C. Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts at media M-E-D-I-A.csosa Really interested in your comments in the show, suggestions, criticisms; feel free to give them. You can either comment in the comment box at D.C. Public safety; again, or you can get to me directly by email, which is Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T, or you can follow me by Twitter. It’s or (without any separation). So, back to our program. Walter Hagins, the program manager of the Day Reporting Center. How ya doing, Walter?

Walter Hagins: Good morning, Len. How are you today?

Len Sipes: I’m all right. You know, Walter, I’ve been to the Day Reporting Center maybe three, four times in the past and I remember we were doing fugitive safe surrender, which was a program designed to get people who are wanted on criminal warrants to voluntarily surrender. So, I did a couple focus groups with the folks at Day Reporting and, boy, were they an interesting bunch of folk. You really got the sense that a lot of these individuals were on the edge that they’re in the community today but they may go back to prison the following day. And I just did not get the sense that these were the most disciplined bunch of folks on the face of the earth. Walter?

Walter Hagins: Well, Len, part of that is partially true and the reason I say that because at the Day Reporting Center it is sort of a one-stop shop to try to get folks back into compliance as well as to try to get individuals to become more employable and that can range from anything from dealing with issues of substance abuse, dealing with issues of homelessness, dealing with issues of literacy, dealing with issues of mental health, dealing with a lot of host of things; personal problems. And so that can trigger one’s supervision that causes them to make decisions that places them at risk. So, the Day Reporting Center, so you do get those folks and it’s our job to kind of mow them back and get them refocused in order to be productive, not only in their lives but in the community.

Len Sipes: But they’re close to going back to prison.

Walter Hagins: Well, yeah, a lot of them because if you don’t follow conditions of supervision, you will go back to prison if you don’t follow those conditions.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. If you keep pulling positive drug tests, if you don’t show up for drug testing, if the neighbors keep complaining that you’re out on the corner at 1:00 in the morning smoking reefer and raising hell, you’re close to going back to prison.

Walter Hagins: And that’s correct and, fortunately, for us, CSOSA understands that there is a way to kind of intercede, to give another opportunity, another resource, and still hold accountability to try to avoid that going back to prison.

Len Sipes: The bottom line in all of this, and this is the larger question for parole and probation agencies throughout the country, Walter, is the whole concept of maintaining individuals in the community as long as they are not a threat to public safety. So, if the person is arrested for a violent crime, he goes. Nobody’s questioning that. If he’s arrested for a burglary, he goes. But the point is that there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the middle, in between, and the larger sense for all of us in parole and probation in Canada, in England, and, believe it or not, in China because we’ve provided technical assistance to China on this very issue, is how you maintain folks in the community safely, not threatening public safety, and help them basically stop the drug positives, get the job, clean up the attitude. Am I right or am I wrong? Am I in the ballpark?

Walter Hagins: You are right on point and I think CSOSA is unique because I believe that we are on the right path because what you’re talking about is in a time of financial constraints. Roughly we have anywhere from 40 to 50 that’s always in the Day Reporting Center. Now, to house a federal prisoner, it’s $22,000. So, if you take our 50 guys, that’s roughly over $1,100,000 and my math might be a little bit off but it’s roughly over $1 million. So, what CSOSA has done with this Day Reporting Center is offer a one-stop shop, a place where folks on probation can come and (1) can get structure, can get programming, and can get discipline as well as get the resources from our community partnerships, from what we have in-house to kind of try to combat that so you don’t have to deal with folks returning to prisons and giving them an opportunity. So, that’s been the dilemma and CSOSA’s answer is to let’s not bring folks in who may be drifting and bring them, if it’s substance abuse, bring them substance abuse education. If it’s dealing with structure, have a place where these individuals can come in and they report in for five to six hours, but make that time constructive, make that time where they can receive positive information as well as have a positive support system.

Len Sipes: Okay. Got it. And, just for the record, I want to tell the listeners that there are a variety of programs here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency where it is, oh, I don’t know what we call all of the different programs that we have, but they are designed to provide a variety of activities, a variety of, I don’t know what the word is, opportunity, a variety of modalities based upon the offender’s unique individual needs all the way to a 30 day placement in a treatment center to deal with either mental health or substance abuse or other problems. So, this is just one of a variety of programs where we try to do the best to protect public safety and, at the same time, try to get that individual to understand that he’s got to work every day, he’s got to stop pulling drug positives, he’s got to cooperate, and he’s got to lose the attitude.

Walter Hagins: You’re right on point.

Len Sipes: All right. Cool. Pookie, we’re going to go over to you now. Really appreciate your being here. Now, you are part of the Day Reporting structure now?

Pookie: That’s correct. How ya doing, Lenny? You doing good?

Len Sipes: I’m doing good. The interesting thing, Pookie, is that, boy, you don’t fit the stereotype. Last time I was at Day Reporting, everybody was young and dressed young and looked young. You’re an older gentleman.

Pookie: Well, consider old

Len Sipes: Well, in a suit and tie, you look good. You look like you’re president of a bank.

Pookie: Well, half my battle has been because of my appearance.

Len Sipes: You know what? Who said that? Somebody said, oh, I forget who said it, some famous celebrity, Woody Allen, I think it was, who said that 80 percent of life and life’s battle’s just showing up. And then somebody came along and said, well, it’s 80 percent just showing up and dressed in a suit or dressed appropriately and that’s 80 percent of life, 80 percent of the success in life is just showing up and looking good. And that’s, you figured that out.

Pookie: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: All right. How’d you get into the Day Reporting program?

Pookie: Well, I got into Day Reporting program because I violated conditions of parole. I came home, I tried unsuccessfully to get a job and it’s been, like, four months. Me and my parole officer decided to try something new, which was he referred me to the Day Reporting Center. I’m not there because of sanction because my urine is positive. I’m not there because I failed to report to his office and I’m not there because I failed to be at my home when he had a home visit. So, I’m basically there to try something new, to try another avenue, to try to get myself back in the mainstream of a job.

Len Sipes: What’s your background, by the way? Somebody listening can, hopefully, get you a job today.

Pookie: Well, my background is being raised in a juvenile institution from the time I was 8 up until, let’s say, 47, I’ve always been a leader, even in prison. I’ve always been able to motivate. So, I say, okay, I’m going to try to use these skills when I get into the community. I got a job cleaning the streets. Made me feel good. The pay wasn’t that great, but I felt good about making an honest dollar. I advanced from team leader to supervisor to senior supervisor to acting project manager. Right? And I normally motivate and I talk to my co-workers.

Len Sipes: What happened? Something happened.

Pookie: However, I did come up with a dirty urine.

Len Sipes: Ah! Okay.

Pookie: Over a 5-year period in the community; first I’ve ever had in my life.

Len Sipes: First dirty urine under supervision?

Pookie: Not my first dirty urine.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Pookie: But what I’m saying is that my first dirty urine, kind of, it had a conflict between me and my parole officer because my dirty urine was alcohol and, see under conditions of parole, you can’t drink alcohol but in moderation, not in excess.

Len Sipes: So, but you’re out of work now, right?

Pookie: I’m out of work now.

Len Sipes: And why’s that?

Pookie: I’m out of work now because I just came home last year in November.

Len Sipes: From prison.

Pookie: From prison.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Pookie: Right? I had to go through the Reentry Center program.

Len Sipes: Right, which is another of our alternative programs.

Pookie: Correct.

Len Sipes: Or not in the case, not an alternative program, but a mode of transitioning being back into the community through intensive drug treatment, mental health; that sort of stuff.

Pookie: In-patient. I also went through drug treatment, which is Second Genesis.

Len Sipes: Cool. Okay. So, you went through the whole she-bang.

Pookie: The whole she-bang.

Len Sipes: Our drug treatment, by the way, ladies and gentlemen, is not what most people think of drug treatment. It’s not twice a week for an hour in a group setting. It is pretty intensive.

Pookie: And it’s all day.

Len Sipes: A thorough analysis of the individual and then placing this person into a residential group setting and a plan for follow-up, relapse prevention for when the person gets out. Correct?

Pookie: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. Did it work?

Pookie: It worked. I successfully completed each and every component of the Reentry Program.

Len Sipes: All right. So, you’re not doing drugs?

Pookie: I’m not doing drugs. Matter of fact, I haven’t been home since November 28 of last year and all my urines are negative.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, you’re one of our success stories. So, instead of throwing you back in prison, you’re back in the community and you’re trying to make it.

Pookie: I’m trying to make it. I’m not asking for welfare. I’m not asking for a hand-out. I’m just asking for an extended hand, you know?

Len Sipes: Uh-huh.

Pookie: I’m asking for, give me an opportunity, because my last job, I was given an opportunity.

Len Sipes: But why’d you lose the last job?

Pookie: Because I was violated, not because of anything on the job.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you went back to prison.

Pookie: I went back to prison.

Len Sipes: What’s your skill set? What do you do? What are you good at?

Pookie: Well, I’m good at scrubbing floors. I’m good at carpentry. I’m good at motivating. I’m good at supervising. I’m good at fixing small equipment; lawn mowers, weed whackers. I’ve been able to use

Len Sipes: So, you’re a “hands on” sort of guy?

Pookie: Because I learned each and every phase of my job; that’s why I got to the point of acting supervisor.

Len Sipes: Okay. Cool. And you were working for the city at the time?

Pookie: Well, I was working for a private company but it does work for the city.

Len Sipes: A private company that works for the city. Okay. Anybody out there that’s got a job for Pookie, let me tell you, he looks like a bank president sitting here. I mean, he just looks like a bank president. We’re going to go over to another gentleman who came in today. He’s currently under supervision and we’re just going to call him Cool. I’ve heard the name 40 years in the criminal justice system; Cool Breeze, Cool Man, Cool Kid. I’ve heard about every variation of Cool on the face of the earth. How ya doing, Cool?

Cool: I’m doing good. How ya doing?

Len Sipes: All right. Now, you look like a rock star. You look like you’re just fresh off of MTV doing something or other. You’ve got this fresh face, young man look going about you. And tell me a little bit about your involvement in the Day Reporting system, Cool.

Cool: Well, the Day Reporting Center has done very good for me. Instead of my CSO sending me back to jail, she send me to the Day Reporting Center, which is good.

Len Sipes: Right. And the CSO’s the Community Supervision Officer, what most people would call a parole and probation agent throughout the rest of the country. So, what did you do that got you instead of going back to prison you went here?

Cool: Well, I participated. I mean, I could have said, no.

Len Sipes: Now, what did you do? What was your violation?

Cool: Oh, I didn’t catch any violations. I had no violations. It was because I didn’t obtain employment.

Len Sipes: All right. So, you’re not out there finding work.

Cool: Yes.

Len Sipes: Do you have work now?

Cool: No, not at all, sir.

Len Sipes: All right. But you’re getting work?

Cool: Yes.

Len Sipes: Cool. All right. What’s your impression about the Day Reporting Center? Is it a huge pain in the rear? Is it helpful? Is it, what’s your gut perception of this?

Cool: Well, the Day Reporting Center to me, it offers a lot of good programs. I mean, everyone has their own opinion, but for me, I think, the Day Reporting Center is a good program. I can relate to, I’m down at the Day Reporting Center five days a week, so out of those five days a week, I can relate to at least about 4 1/2 classes out of there. I say 4 1/2 because at one point in time it’s from 1:00 to 3:00. So, it’s a certain speaking at 1:00 till 2:00 and then from 2:00 till 3:00.

Len Sipes: I’m going to reintroduce all three of you because, believe it or not, we’re halfway through the half hour program. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Walter Hagins is the program manager of the Day Reporting Center for our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Walter brought in a couple gentlemen with him today who are part of the process of the Day Reporting Center and we’re not using their real names. We’re calling just one, Pookie, the bank manager, and Cool, the gentleman from MTV, and that’s how I’ve got them all figured out in my mind. Let’s have a larger discussion for the last 15 minutes and I’m going to go back to you, Cool, because I didn’t give you a lot of time. What society is saying and the emails I get and the communications that I get from people who hear these shows and I’m also teaching a class at the University of Maryland right now and I’m giving sort of, like, half down the middle where half the folks are saying, you know, these individuals try to do what you can to keep them in the community. If they don’t have to go back to prison, I really don’t want to pay all the money to send them back to prison, but I want to be protected. That’s the bottom line. So, if you can figure out, Mr. Sipes, you and your agency, if you can figure out who’s going to do well in community supervision and who needs to go back to prison, well, then cool, but I’m not really quite sure I trust your judgment. Pookie and Cool, Cool, we’ll go with you. How do you respond to people on the outside who basically said, look, my man, you’ve been in prison. We expect you to work and pay your taxes and don’t have any dirty urines. We don’t want you doing drugs. We want you to be a model citizen and that’s what we want out of you. How do you respond to that?

Cool: I mean, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a model citizen. It’s harder for certain people. They do say most of the time a person that’s been convicted, go to jail for five years and come back home and stay on the streets for six months and then go right back to jail for another 5 to 10 years.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. Prison on the installment plan.

Cool: Yes. When I’ve totally went over that opinion, like, I’ve been out on the streets longer than I’ve been in prison.

Len Sipes: Okay. And how long you been out on the streets?

Cool: About two years now and I was locked up for about 20 months.

Len Sipes: All right. Why aren’t you employed?

Cool: Well, because, I mean, I’m not going to say because people aren’t hiring. Maybe it’s because I’m not doing my best, to be honest with you. I’m trying, but I’m not doing my best. There’s a lot of other things on the outside world as far as financially, other things.

Len Sipes: See, the thing that blows me away and this is something that deals with some stereotypes and I apologize for those stereotypes, nevertheless, they are there. When the public out there hears the word, “criminal,” somebody’s caught up in the criminal justice system, they have a prearranged vision in their minds as to who that individual is. I’m looking at both of you and both of you look and sound like anybody else that you’re going to find on the street. I mean, there’s not an ounce of stereotype in either one of your presentations. So, the public is now sitting back and going, okay, well, I’m not quite sure what Len Sipes is looking at and I’m not there so I can’t make my own judgments, but, daggone it, I want people who come out of prison to toe the line and not go back and to be responsible. So, that’s their emphasis. Now, is it that we don’t provide enough programs, society provides too many temptations, you don’t have enough self-discipline. I mean, speaking for yourself and people who you’ve been in contact with out on the street, what’s up with the folks who go back? Because there’s no hope for them? What’s the issue?

Walter Hagins: Let me jump in for a second because you talked about, and I liked what you said, but keep in mind, these two gentlemen have had a place to practice. Okay? You have the DRC. You have this haven where, we have this saying, the lion’s den, where you can have a place where you can bring up those issues into this forum and we discuss it and

Len Sipes: As a group.

Walter Hagins: As a group or individually. We do some things individually. Part of that is when society is talking about the whole rehabilitation and we want you to get a job and things like that. I think enough attention is not paid to the steps to get a job. Do I have the sort of skills as far as my dress, communication? Can I deal with conflict? When my boss says something or my supervisor says something I don’t like, do I go off the handle like I’ve seen growing up if I didn’t have structure and role modeling? Or do I go and deal with that person and use some of the skills; conflict resolution, pull my supervisor to the side and do the things that we’re talking about in group. See, I think a lot of that stereotype is because not everybody has had the benefit, maybe not everybody has had a positive role model, maybe there’s not been that type of intervention like the DRC. So, to stick someone into a job and say, be successful. What does that mean? If I’ve never been successful and never had that type of training, then what are we talking about?

Len Sipes: And that’s something the public struggles with because our reality is that recovery, let’s just say drug treatment, an addict wants that drug, an alcoholic wants that drink every single day of their lives. How they cope with that every single day becomes a learning process. And they’ve got to be taught how to do that, but relapse, which means positive urines, is a daily reality for us because it’s part of the addictions process and it’s part of the recovery process, where the average person says, man, he’s out of prison. He’s got three positives for cocaine. Please send him back to prison. And that’s what we have to struggle with every single day. And the other part of it is what we call, cognitive therapy, where it’s thinking through stuff and thinking in a different way. And you’re right. How many people have been fired because they simply mouthed off to the boss?

Walter Hagins: That’s right.

Len Sipes: I mean, how many times do I want to tell bosses, not my current boss certainly, but in the past, how many times did I want to tell him or her to go do something? And I came close more than a couple occasions, but that’s in me; that’s in everybody. That’s in these gentlemen, that’s in you, that’s in me, that’s in everybody listening to the program, but how you respond to that provocation is what makes the difference and, within your program, what I hear is you teach them how to respond.

Walter Hagins: And we role model. I mean, and these gentlemen will attest, we actually do scenarios where we may do mock interviews or we may role-play that we’re on a job and someone might make an inappropriate response when advanced and you’re under the microscope or understudy and how do you respond? And then we’ll stop it and we’ll get critiqued. So, now that becomes a part of your muscle memory or your experience. So, if I’m ever placed in that situation before, at least I have a frame of reference.

Len Sipes: It’s automatic in terms of how you respond. Instead of responding with a mouth, you respond appropriately.

Walter Hagins: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Because, Lord knows, we all have difficult bosses.

Walter Hagins: Including myself.

Len Sipes: Everybody on the face of the earth has a difficult boss. Why is that? Pookie or Cool, either one of you, I mean, what we’re saying is that a lot of folks under supervision. You don’t have to talk specifically for yourself but talk specifically or generally in terms of the people that you’ve been in contact with. What we’re saying is we’ve got to retrain a lot of human beings that may not have been brought up correctly, I don’t know if that’s an appropriate term to say, but people get my drift, and people have got to learn basic skills in terms of how to work with other human beings throughout life. I mean, how many people in the domestic violence unit, which is another one of our programs, I mean, you can’t hit your wife. You can’t even raise your fist to your wife and that is something that they didn’t know. Now, people sitting there are going, well, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that folks don’t know this. There are a lot of folks that we supervise who don’t know this stuff. Cool, you’re trying to say something and say it into the microphone.

Cool: Okay. Well, as you all were just saying, I mean, there’s some people who were brought up with different views. If someone grows up as a child seeing their mother being hit on all day or seeing someone selling drugs around them their whole life being brought up, they think that’s the right thing to do to make money or the right way to treat a female. I mean, in this program, in the DRC, they get to know you. You have open discussions, scenarios that other people can relate to. I mean, I think with your CSO, my CSO, she gave me a chance. She introduced me to the DRC and it’s helped me a whole lot. It’s motivated me to go on job interviews and go seek out employment because I’ve never really had a job so coming here gave me the skills to know what I needed to do to obtain the job. And, if you don’t know a person, if you don’t know why they’re acting the way they’re acting or why they speak the way they speak or their behavior, I mean, you can’t really help them unless you get to know them. You’ve got people out here who are on drugs their whole life, who are abused their whole life and certain people don’t know that so, of course, you’re going to have people going back to jail and violating probation because after awhile they’re going to say, I don’t care anymore. But with the DRC, man, you get see that the stereotype isn’t always right. Like, as you said about me, most people look at me on the street and say, hey, there’s this young looking guy. He’s probably out here selling drugs. He’s probably, I’m not doing any of that.

Len Sipes: But your presentation is somebody that has a college degree. I mean, the way you present yourself is pretty daggone impressive. So, I’m sitting here going, okay, if you’ve got the look. If you’ve got the whole thing down in terms of how to interact with people, why can’t you get a job.

Cool: Good point. That is a good point. That is a good point. Well, to be honest with you, I mean, maybe, like, the stereotype. They look at me, they see me, and they’re, like, unh-huh, and they look at my past, my criminal record and they’re, like, I’m not going to hire this guy before they sit down and have a conversation with me. I think if someone was to actually sit down and interview and have actual conversation with me, I think I’d have 100 percent shot at getting the job.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. Pookie, one of the things that always astounded me is two things. I understand that there is discrimination. In some cases, when I’m talking about discrimination, I’m talking about law, saying that you can’t hire a person with a particular background. So, if you’re going to go into a day care center, you can’t hire somebody who’s a sex offender. I mean, that’s pretty obvious. But the overwhelming majority of people under supervision are employed at a certain point in their lives. I mean, guys with criminal records get jobs all the time. So, how do you frame this to the American public and 20 percent of our audience is beyond the shores of the United States, so what do you say to the folks in China and France? And what do you say to folks about this whole sense of succeeding?

Pookie: Well, I can only look at myself. It seems like most employers now are asking for resumes. It’s not like a personal, you go in the office and you have an interview, and you sit down with somebody and you explain and you tell them your story about why you need the job. It’s about resume. Resumes are just basically built on what is your criteria for this job. What else do you have to offer? Because you are looked at as commodity.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pookie: So, if you don’t have that experience or that knowledge of, let’s say, working or that work ethic or that motivation, you’re not going to get the job. I mean, you can write anything on a piece of paper, but they can always just put that piece of paper on the side. I have walked these pavements for the last four months each and every day. I had to bring my parole officer verification that I went to this business, to the point where I had blisters on my feet

Len Sipes: And basically nobody hired you is what you’re saying.

Pookie: Nobody has hired me, but that hasn’t really folded up or thought about using drugs or thought about committing a crime; all I need is a job.

Len Sipes: I hear you.

Pookie: That’s all I need is a job. Now, because I’m in the DRC program, that program is another avenue into maybe, let’s say, training me in various apprenticeship programs. As a matter of fact, I’ve been referred to CDL, the greater Washington, is a component of CSOSA community.

Len Sipes: Are you talking about commercial drivers licenses?

Pookie: Oh, yeah.

Len Sipes: Because there are a lot of guys who have served heavy-duty time in prison who are now out there driving trucks and there are some of them out there hiring other truck drivers. They’re doing extraordinarily well. The half hour has gone by way too fast, but what I’d like to do is invite you all back, the three of you, come on back in three months and give me a progress report and I’d love to have you back on the radio because we really haven’t gotten enough time to discuss all the different things I wanted to discuss. Our participants today: Walter Hagins, program manager of the Day Reporting Center for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Pookie, not his real name obviously, but the gentlemen looks like a bank manager. He’s looking for work, has lots of skills, hard skills. And Cool is somebody who you would upfront impress everybody because he’s got that look going on. And, gentlemen, I wish the best of luck. Anybody out there looking for what seems to be wonderful individuals to hire, we’ve got them right here. Contact me, Ladies and gentlemen, I really appreciate everything that you’ve done for the show, 196,000 requests last month. Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

Walter Hagins: Thank you, Len.

– Audio ends –

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An Interview With Women Offenders-DC Public Safety

Welcome to DC Public Safety-radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our studio in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. public safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have another interesting program on women offenders, and back at our microphones, we have Dr. Willa Butler. Willa Butler is a supervisory community supervision officer, and most places throughout the country, they call their people parole and probation agents, within Washington D.C., we call them community supervision officers, and Willa basically runs a unit for women offenders, and we have three people who are currently within her group, and I’m just going to be using first names to describe all three. We have Jacquelyn, Jacquelyn’s on probation for failure to appear, we have Diane who’s on probation for drug dealing, and we have Kim who’s on probation for assault, and to everybody out there listening, we really want to thank you all for your participation, for the comments that you give back to us. We’re up to 135,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. public safety, on the radio and the television side, and for the articles and the blog, and even the transcripts, which is certainly amazing to me. If you need to get in touch with me, you can do so via email, and that’s Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D, dot-sipes, S-I-P-E-S,, or you can follow me via twitter, which is twitter/lensipes, S-I-P-E-S, and with that long introduction, Dr. Butler, Willa, you’re going to start off the whole thing. How you doing?

Willa Butler: I’m doing fine, Leonard. I would like to thank you for inviting us here today.

Len Sipes: I always enjoy your presence, Willa!

Willa Butler: Oh, well thank you so much!

Len Sipes: You and the young women that you bring to these discussions, I think, are some of the most interesting people that I get to talk to, and we get all these requests from the listeners for more and more programs for women offenders, or regarding women offenders.

Willa Butler: Okay, well this program is WICA, Women in Control Again, it’s a holistic approach to counseling, which I developed in 1998 when SAINT/HIDTA became a unit.

Len Sipes: Right, and St. Hida, nobody’s going to understand what that is.

Willa Butler: St. Hida is a substance abuse unit that we have here at CSOSA which was developed in 1998, and they asked me to come over and develop a gender specific program for our female offenders, and when you study female offenders, it’s just not substance abuse that we’re looking at, but it’s a holistic approach as to what happened, we go back to when they were children, or do a retrospective journey back, and we find that many things have caused them to enter the criminal justice system, and one of them is needing support and programs such as WICA, a place where they can be directed, where they can get some type of help or support during their traumatization or victimization or whatever they’re experiencing at that moment or in their past life.

Len Sipes: Okay, and people are going to say, “Willa, Dr. Butler, they’ve committed crimes. What do you mean, their victimization?”

Willa Butler: Well, when I say victimization, it’s basically what you’re experiencing growing up. We all basically, society is dysfunctional, but some areas a little more dysfunctional than others. When I say our environment, what we’ve been subjected to, and a lot of times, we as women, not only female offenders, but we have been subjected to victimization as children, and a lot of times, it has gone unanswered. And response to that victimization, I don’t want to use the term, it’s acting out, but we may do things a little differently than the so-called “normal” would do. We have survival tactics maybe a little different.

Len Sipes: Well, the research, this is all Department of Justice research, and we’ve talked about this before the program, is that the research from the Department of Justice basically states that women offenders have higher levels of substance abuse, higher levels of mental health issues, and in terms of research on abuse and neglect, offenders basically stating that they were abused or neglected in childhood, sexual abuse against female offenders who were victims of sexual abuse is astounding. It is above 60% where I think for male offenders, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of 10-15%. So we’re talking about, in essence, different types of offenders when we were talking about male and female offenders, correct?

Willa Butler: Yes, exactly. Like you said, the statistics are higher for women, although men have experienced the type of victimization, but they handle it differently than women do, and one of the main concerns is that women don’t have support when they go through it as children, or as adults, and they have the propensity or tendency to, I’m not going to say, I don’t want to use the term, as acting out, but like I say, survival skills, they become more dependent as opposed to interdependent. A lot of them, due to – maybe – due to the victimization, I don’t want to say, but they don’t finish school, and therefore, they don’t have the economical means to take care of themselves, and sometimes they go to, maybe selling drugs, or boosting, or something of that nature.

Len Sipes: And I think, you know, we’ve discussed this in the past, Willa, the idea is this, and you tell me, and the ladies who are going to be interviewed can tell me this or not. I’m not, number one, I’ve got to say, I’m not making excuses for bad behavior, because I’ll get letters, and I’ll get emails, and comments on the program saying, basically, “Leonard, you’re making excuses for bad behavior.” It’s not so much making excuses for bad behavior, it is basically what is, and I’m recording this at 10 after 11, and all I’m saying is that it’s 10 after 11, and people listening to this program have heard this example from me before, and that it, it’s simply that the facts that I’m talking about right now, I mean, and the majority of criminologists in the country talk about, and there seems to be a consensus among people within the criminal justice system that the following is true: women offenders have substantially more problems than male offenders in terms of the coping because they’ve had a pretty tough life. A lot of them have been the victims of sexual violence. A lot of them have raised themselves in the same way that a lot of male offenders have raised themselves. Their codependency, or their dependency upon males has gotten them into real trouble. I’ve talked to dozens of women offenders who are serving long stretches of prison time because the male basically said, “I want you to take this big carload full of drugs to New York City, and if I don’t, I’m going to mess you up.” It just seems to be, in many ways, a different world, most women offenders have kids. When they come out of the prison system, if they come into the prison system, they’ve got to come out and deal with kids, so it’s just not them that they have to be concerned about, they have to be concerned about kids, so in everything that I’ve said, when I’m expressing a consensus of criminological opinion, do you believe that this consensus is correct or incorrect?

Willa Butler: I believe that it’s correct, but moreso than being correct is preventive measures. If we had more preventive measures in place, then it wouldn’t go this far –

Len Sipes: Like what?

Willa Butler: As opposed to a place where a person can go, a place where a person can go when they have been victimized, and number one –

Len Sipes: At what age? We’re talking about –

Willa Butler: At an early age.

Len Sipes: Okay, so you’re talking about kids getting the mental health –

Willa Butler: Children, as well as adults, because a lot of times, even women, they’re not believed that something has happened to them, or either they’re made to feel guilty. One thing, when you’re talking about being raped or molested, is that what part did I play in it, and that’s what society has the tendency to look at, well what part did you play in it? We didn’t play any part in it, because no one has a right to violate your person.

Len Sipes: Well, how can you hold an 8-year-old responsible for being the victim of a sexual assault by a family member, which is extremely common amongst women offenders?

Willa Butler: One thing, not being believed. I think that’s the most traumatizing thing, because you’re being re-victimized all over again, because, you know, our parents, our support, our safe haven, and when you go to them and tell them that something like this has happened, they don’t believe you. So then you’re out there left alone, I mean, who else can I, where can I find refuge, if I can’t find it from my mother or from my father, and depending on who the abuser is, sometimes it may be the mother or the father.

Len Sipes: And it’s not unusual for it to be the mother and the father, and I’ve read that within research. So that becomes part of the problem. That becomes the whole issue of, if you’re wondering, as criminologists would say, if you’re wondering why women offenders are the way they are, take a look at their own upbringings. I’ve heard other people say that it’s massive child abuse. It’s child abuse on a massive scale. Now that applies to both female and male offenders. But it’s a situation that we don’t talk about, Willa. That’s the weird thing about all of this, it’s a situation that we really don’t like to talk about, and why we don’t like to talk about it, but we simply do not like to address the fact that, in terms of, let’s just talk about women offenders right now, that in many cases, they have been extraordinarily abused in terms of their own childhood. Now I’m not going to put words in the mouths of the three ladies here, and we’re going to go over to them right now, starting with Kim – Willa, is there anything else you wanted to follow up on? Because I’m going to let you end the program.

Willa Butler: No, I’m fine. Thank you.

Len Sipes: Okay. Kim, one of the things that I find interesting. Now you’re on probation for failure to appear. Now all three of you have basically talked about having a criminal history, having a history of substance abuse, having a history of being in and out of crime. Is that correct for you?

Kim: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, how long – get closer to the microphone, please. How long have you been in and out of the criminal justice system, Kim? How long have you been in the game?

Kim: Let me start with, I left home at 13, and I’m 41 now, I’ve been using since the age of 13, and I left home, left school, I didn’t go to school, 8th grade, so I haven’t finished my education, I didn’t get my GED, because of my drug abuse.

Len Sipes: Okay. What’s your drug of choice?

Kim: Crack. Cocaine.

Len Sipes: So you’ve been at it for decades.

Kim: Forever.

Len Sipes: Forever. Have you been –

Kim: Off and on.

Len Sipes: Have you been in prison?

Kim: Yes. In and out.

Len Sipes: In jail? Okay. So you’ve been, you’re exactly what we read about.

Kim: Exactly.

Len Sipes: In terms of being in and out of the criminal justice system. What’s your take on your experience, what’s your take on being with my organization? What’s your take on life in general?

Kim: Right now, I’m more angry with myself, because it’s not like I didn’t have support, and my family was a lot of support, because they still are supporting me, you know, my family has always been there for me, you know, I love them so much, because they’ve never ever turned their backs on me, no matter what I’ve been through, so I just want to say, throughout my incarceration, instead of being, putting women in jail –

Len Sipes: [cell phone ringing] Yes, if all of us could turn our cell phones off. I’m sorry, I should have told you that before the program. I’m sorry, go ahead Kim.

Kim: Instead of incarcerating women, they need to find out what’s really going on in our minds, you know what I’m saying, jail is not for nobody –

Len Sipes: [cell phone ringing] Please.

Kim: And I didn’t never get anything out of going back and forth to jail. That’s probably why I continue to go, and –

Len Sipes: But you know there are people who are going to simply say, “What’s your problem?” You know they’re going to say that!

Kim: Mine is missing. I’ve just been diagnosed for bipolar. So mine is that, by leaving home as a child, it’s not much that I knew. I don’t know anything. So I didn’t do anything. I didn’t go to school, so I wasn’t around, my parents said I was out in the street doing what I wanted to do. So I didn’t know no better. So instead of, once I went to school, tried to get my GED, but they didn’t keep me in there long enough. Another thing I can really say is that I feel like they need more programs.

Len Sipes: Talk to me about the programs.

Kim: We need to be more educated, we need to be more therapy. More therapy, because they never know what’s going on. A person just don’t wake up and say, “We wanna get high,” because that’s not what I planned, I didn’t plan to be like this at 41.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kim: This was not my plan at all.

Len Sipes: What was your plan?

Kim: To one day open up a day care center. I love children. But you know, my life has never been stable enough to take care of no kids, not even my own. I have one son.

Len Sipes: If there was an opportunity somewhere throughout your life, that somebody would have provided you, who intervened meaningfully in your life, got you the mental health assistance that you needed to be sure that you got off of drugs, if you were on drugs at that point, so let’s just say at 11 years old, right before it got real bad, because you were doing drugs since you were 13, been on your own basically since you were 13, right? So at 11, they meaningfully intervened in your life, you had the social work, you had the mental health treatment, you had different people there who advocate for you, who help you make sure that you stayed in school, what do you think would have happened?

Kim: Well, my mom did all that. She did that, so I had, I was an only child, too, until 13. That was my problem. I was spoiled, and when my mother had my brother, I didn’t want that. So I left home. That’s when I left home, because I was already seeing doctors and psychiatrists and everything.

Len Sipes: Okay, so there was intervention, but different people did –

Kim: But when I left home, it didn’t continue.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you left home at 13, you didn’t have a right to leave home at 13, why didn’t somebody basically reach out, grab you, and pull you back.

Kim: Who?

Len Sipes: Parents.

Kim: My parents couldn’t find me. I was nowhere to be found. Somebody sends the police to pick me up for running away from home.

Len Sipes: Okay. Were you arrested at any point between 13 and 18? Didn’t anybody ask you what you were doing out –

Kim: Well, I danced in the club, so I left home.

Len Sipes: At 14!?

Kim: Yes.

Len Sipes: Wow!

Kim: Yeah. What a life.

Len Sipes: Wow!

Kim: I took care of myself.

Len Sipes: I’m – you’re – everything that you’re telling me, and this is one of the reasons why these programs are so profound. I mean, that is a profound statement. You were dancing in clubs at 14.

Kim: And they let me do that.

Len Sipes: How are you doing now? How are you doing now? No, I think whoever let you do that should be – well, I’m not supposed to expressed my personal opinions. All right, back up. How are you doing now?

Kim: Today?

Len Sipes: Today. You’ve been with Willa’s group, you’ve had an opportunity to talk through all of this. Has it made a difference? Do you think you’re going to continue going back to crime? Do you think you’re going to continue going back to drugs? What’s your future?

Kim: Well, hopefully, I’m going to stay clean. I know I’m going to stay clean, because I’m tired. I’m sick and tired.

Len Sipes: I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Kim: Exactly. I can’t go back to jail. I’m never going back to jail.

Len Sipes: Now you do know that everybody who says that –

Kim: – goes back.

Len Sipes: Not everybody, but there’s a substantial proportion of people – I’ve sat there and said, “I ain’t never going back, I ain’t doing no more drugs, I’m not going back to jail, I’m not going back to prison, I’m going to come out and do landscaping, I’ve got a job lined up,” 3 months later, there’s a needle in his arm, hell, in some cases, 2 days later, there’s a needle in his arm.

Kim: I’m taking it one day at a time. One day at time. And for me, right now, I have to stay focused on my son. I have son.

Len Sipes: How old’s your son?

Kim: 23.

Len Sipes: What’s your relationship with your son?

Kim: I don’t know. We’re working on it. It’s always been good. We’ve always been close. An unconditional love, but you know, I want to be a closer part of his life. So I feel like I have to make changes in my life today. I’m not getting no younger, you know what I’m saying? Society ain’t brought me. I brought myself here, mostly, you know what I’m saying, because it’s things that I could have done for myself that I didn’t do that I’m trying to do today.

Len Sipes: Okay, what do you hope to do a year from now, in terms of a job?

Kim: A job?

Len Sipes: Are you working now?

Kim: No.

Len Sipes: Okay. What do you hope to do a year from now?

Kim: I do housekeeping. I clean every now and then, because like I said, I have my education is not all that well, so I can go back to school, I know, but I’m working on that too.

Len Sipes: You’re going to be in my prayers. It is clearly within society’s best interest to reach out and help you. It’s either that, or the drugs continue. It’s either that, or the pregnancies continue. It’s either that, or the crime continues. So I’m hoping and praying for you – now I am going to express my personal opinion, I’m hoping and praying for you – how long is it before you’re released from your supervision, us in here in CSOSA?

Kim: 2 years.

Len Sipes: 2 years, okay. No positive urines?

Kim: Oh, they’re all negative.

Len Sipes: There you go. Thank god for that. Thank god for that. Kim, you’re a –

Kim: Well, something else I can say is I go through my spells, I’ll stay clean 6 months out of a year, and the other half of the year under, and this goes on throughout my whole life.

Len Sipes: But that’s got to stop.

Kim: I know!

Len Sipes: But everybody says that, just because I say it doesn’t mean it is, but I think you tell a very inspiring story, and I’m going to pray for you and hope that things come out okay. You’re a beautiful young woman. I just think that you’ve got a heck of a future in front of you, especially with Willa’s help. We’re going to go over to Diane now. We can’t say “contestant number 2,” Diane, and don’t look at me like you’re not going to talk. Come on now! You’re sitting there, you’re sitting there. Another beautiful young lady. Diane is on probation for drug dealing, and Diane, have you, everything that I’ve said thus far about the childhood history, about basically raising yourself, lots of drugs, men who aren’t the best for you, is any of that true, is that a myth, what’s your take on all that, Diane?

Diane: Yes, most of that is true. But I’ve been having a drug problem for many years now, and I was put into a women’s program because of my relapse. I have just relapsed.

Len Sipes: You’ve just relapsed. What’s your drug of choice?

Diane: Heroin.

Len Sipes: Heroin.

Diane: And I do crack, too. I also do crack.

Len Sipes: It’s interesting how the folks in Baltimore and D.C. say “hare-on,” and to everybody else, it’s “hare-o-in,” but that’s, I said that a little while ago, I was being interviewed, and I said “hare-on,” and the person said, “what?” and I said, “I’m sorry. It’s hare-o-in.” You know, boy, this is amazing, because when you talk to Kim, its crack, and we talk to Diane, its heroin, two drugs that just completely mess you up for the rest of your life. When did you start doing drugs?

Diane: When I was like, 20, I believe 20.

Len Sipes: Really?

Diane: Yes.

Len Sipes: That’s a little unusual, because most of the ladies I’ve talked to, the guys for that matter, started drugs earlier than that. What caused you at the age of 20 to do, was it heroin, or was it something else?

Diane: It was powder coke then.

Len Sipes: It was powdered cocaine. So at 20, at the ripe old age of 20, you discovered –

Diane: Yeah, we thought it was fun, I guess, we were doing it young, I guess, we think it was fun in the beginning, and it turned out to be the worst.

Len Sipes: Oh, it’s always fun in the beginning. There’s no high like the first high. Okay, so what are you doing now? You’re on probation, how are you working out?

Diane: Well, I’m on probation for 5 years, and like I said, I have relapsed, and I asked to go into a long term program, because I really believe that I need help.

Len Sipes: All right, so you pulled some positive urines.

Diane: Yes, the last three.

Len Sipes: The last three? Well you’re fresh off the street there! Okay, Diane, I’m sorry to hear that. So we’re going to put you in what, a residential?

Diane: Residential.

Len Sipes: Okay. You’ve been, how long, go ahead, look at that microphone now, how long have you been involved in the criminal justice system? How long have you been in, what we call the lifestyle, the game, you know what I’m talking about, I don’t know if the audience knows what I’m talking about, but the criminal activity that goes along with the whole drugs and crime stuff.

Diane: Well, I’ve always been around drugs.

Len Sipes: Always been around drugs –

Diane: My mother and father did drugs.

Len Sipes: Your mother and father did drugs.

Diane: Both of them.

Len Sipes: Okay. And so how’d you hold off until the age of 20? That’s amazing. So, what’s your crime background?

Diane: I was locked up for domestic violence one time. This time I was in for distribution.

Len Sipes: Okay. So it’s domestic violence and drug distribution. How many times have you been arrested, do you think?

Diane: Probably four.

Len Sipes: Four. That’s not a lot compared to some of the ladies that I’ve talked to on the streets. Other ladies that I’ve talked to on this program that have been arrested 20, 30 times, you know, so you’ve been locked up four times.

Diane: I only stayed, did time, like twice.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you know, when I talk to people beyond this room, beyond offenders directly caught up in the criminal justice system, I keep hearing, “Leonard, would you stop it with programs for offenders? We’ve got kids to take care of, we’ve got the elderly to take care of, we’ve got unemployed people to take care of, we can’t wet nurse every person who puts a gun in somebody’s head or sells drugs, I mean, you know, they did the crime. What do you want me to do for them? We’ve got kids to take care of. We’ve got the elderly to take care of. We’ve got all sorts of people to take care of, and you’re out there saying there should be additional programs caught up in the criminal justice system.” How do you respond to all that, Diane?

Diane: I believe everyone deserves help, and a lot of criminals do have more problems than others, so I think it would be nice to have a lot of different programs that we can get into.

Len Sipes: Okay. Would the programs make a difference? I mean, that’s what everybody wants. People say, “You know, Leonard, I don’t mind putting more money into programs for offenders, but tell me it’s going to make a difference. Tell me it’s going to have an impact on the lives of these young men and women, and in some cases, older men and women.”

Diane: Well, I’ve been in a couple of programs, and I came out and did well for a while, but eventually, I relapsed. But I think it’s in self, too. If you really want it, you –

Len Sipes: But that’s the question. Do you really want to? I mean, you’re fresh off of positive urines.

Diane: Yes, I want to.

Len Sipes: Why? Why, why, why? Why do you want to get off of drugs now?

Diane: [overlapping voices] because I’ve been clean for a while, and I’ve seen ho fast I lost everything that I had just gained.

Len Sipes: Okay. But you’ve been involved in programs before for substance abuse, correct?

Diane: Yes, but usually I stay out a long time, and when I come back in, I’m almost dead, but this time, I caught myself before then.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Diane: And I asked to go into a long term program.

Len Sipes: That’s great, that’s great. Other people force you into other programs?

Diane: Most of the time, I went in for someone else. And then I was looking so bad, I didn’t want to be on the street.

Len Sipes: Yep. You know, people are going to say, Diane, again, another beautiful young woman, you would think that there’s a life for Diane beyond drugs. You know it’s going to kill you. You know it, you know it, you know it, and people, that’s a lot of what people don’t understand. If it’s going to kill you, and if it’s going to make your life miserable, why, why, why, is the pain that happened previously in your life that bad that you’ve got to mask it?

Diane: I believe it has something to do with the pain.

Len Sipes: Where does the pain come from?

Diane: I mean, when I was growing up, I’ve seen a lot of violence and drug abuse, and I just didn’t talk about it, I guess.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry? Kim? No, no, no, no. No, go ahead. No, get close to the microphone. Get close to the microphone. Go ahead.

Kim: A lot of times, when people lose members in their family, and they relapse, that’ll make them relapse, too. My thing, I never really been to no drug programs. I have more family support. My family will come and get me no matter where I am and say, “It’s time for you to come home.” And I go, because I know they love me, and they’re going to be there for me. But I always go back out.

Len Sipes: But a lot of family members, well, there’s two things. First of all, a lot of family are so sick and tired of the person in and out of the system that not only do they not let them back inside the house when they come out of prison, they change every lock on every door, because they’ve stolen from them far too many times, they’ve made their lives miserable far too many times. You know what I mean?

Kim: I know exactly what you mean. I haven’t really, I haven’t burned my bridges, I’m just, haven’t done that yet. My family just loves me so unconditional, it’s so hard for me to say, I remember one time, I stole my brother’s classic Cadillac, kept it for two months. You would think that he wouldn’t want to be bothered with me no more. It was like a month later, we got back friends. But I don’t know why my mother loves me so much, and that’s one of the reasons why I want to get clean. My mother, because a lot of times, we don’t have our parents, we don’t realize, our parents and our family members go through our addiction also. And my mother tells me all the time, she says she can’t die, because she won’t wonder if I’m going to be able to take care of myself. And that’s a terrible feeling, because all she worry about is me. I’m the only one she worries about. I have two younger brothers, and they take care of me, and that hurts too, because I have to go to them when I need help, and they should be able to come to me, and that hurts a lot, and I’m going to work on that, but I wanted to say something about the programs. You know, the programs, if you really want help, the programs might help you. But for me, some people go to the programs because they have to go. We need more therapy. The program’s not therapeutic, they’re just, you’re talking about drugs. Most people go in there and talk about drugs. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t go to meetings myself. I would prefer to go to church, which I’m really not going to church like I should. But I don’t like to be around a lot of people who use, because that’s my triggers. Because they talk about the old things that you used to do. That’s one of the things I don’t think people should talk about. But I think we should have more therapy.

Len Sipes: I talked to one person who said giving up drugs was easy. Giving up the lifestyle, giving up the friends, giving up the corner was the hardest thing.

Kim: Because I sometimes think about why I’m not with my friends, because then I think about I don’t want to be like that anymore. But see, we need more therapy, more therapy classes. One on one therapy, because we don’t just want to use drugs. We’re going through things that people don’t know, and we suppress it with drugs.

Len Sipes: And that’s exactly why we’re doing this program so people understand –

Kim: We need more therapy, more doctors, more counseling.

Len Sipes: – what it is that you’ve been through, and the fact of what that struggle is. Okay, now ladies and gentlemen, we ordinarily stop programs at 30 minutes, we’re going to be way beyond 30 minutes on this program, and I think it’s justifiable, because I think the stories that the ladies are telling are hugely compelling. We’re going to go over to Jacquelyn, and Jacquelyn, said it with a smile, so you need to get real close to that microphone, Jacquelyn, as much as possible. That’s fine. And ladies and gentlemen, Diane has to go. Diane, thank you very much for your participation in the program. I really appreciate it. That was really gutsy on your part. Okay, so we’re going to go to Kim. Kim’s on probation for assault, as we play musical chairs in the studio – I’m sorry? – Oh Jackie! Jacquelyn! I’m sorry, my apologies. I’m watching everybody leave, and I was saying Kim leave, and it’s Jacquelyn. Jacquelyn, you’re on probation for failure to appear in court. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Jacquelyn: Well, basically, I’ve been –

Len Sipes: Get closer to the microphone, please.

Jacquelyn: Basically, I’ve been in and out of the system for two years, but I’ve been doing good since I’ve been on probation for over a year, and I’ve been clean for 11 months now.

Len Sipes: Okay. What was your drug of choice?

Jacquelyn: Cocaine.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been testing negative?

Jacquelyn: Yes, I’m negative.

Len Sipes: Good, thank god. Now how long have you been involved in the system? You said you’ve been involved for a couple years. Does that mean two years currently, or does that mean beyond –

Jacquelyn: Two years, two years.

Len Sipes: So you’ve only been involved in the criminal justice system for two years?

Jacquelyn: Yes, just two years.

Len Sipes: Really? How did that happen?

Jacquelyn: Because I made the wrong choices to do wrong –

Len Sipes: But you know, again, you’re another beautiful woman – young woman, but you’re not 18 –

Jacquelyn: No, I’m 44.

Len Sipes: Nor are you 25. So how does somebody in their 40s suddenly decide to get caught up in the criminal justice system?

Jacquelyn: I guess you learn from your mistake, but I chose the wrong thing to do so, I’m learning from my mistakes, and so, I mean –

Len Sipes: But you’re learning from your mistakes, but you got caught up in the criminal justice system at 40, that doesn’t make any sense. I’m so used to talking to people who get caught up in drugs at 13. I’m so used to people getting caught up in crime at 16. You got caught up in this stuff in your 40s?

Jacquelyn: No, I started out almost 39 –

Len Sipes: Okay, get closer to the microphone –

Jacquelyn: 39, 40, yeah. I started at 39. That was only a year, 2006.

Len Sipes: All right. What caused you to get involved?

Jacquelyn: Hanging with the wrong people. Hanging out in the crowd, trying to be cool.

Len Sipes: Yeah. In your 40s? Wow!

Jacquelyn: Yeah, trying to be cool, and you know, I said, I’m getting too old for this. So I learned, but I kept getting locked up for the same thing and the same thing, I said “It’s time for me to stop doing this,” and –

Len Sipes: How many times were you locked up?

Jacquelyn: Maybe three times.

Len Sipes: Three times. And what were the crimes?

Jacquelyn: For prostitution.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you were out there involved in prostitution to raise money for drugs?

Jacquelyn: For drugs, yeah.

Len Sipes: Okay. Have kids?

Jacquelyn: Yeah, I have a son. I had three sons, but I have two deceased sons –

Len Sipes: Okay, I’m sorry to hear that.

Jacquelyn: and one living son.

Len Sipes: All right. And have you been doing drugs before the age of 40 –

Jacquelyn: Off and on.

Len Sipes: Off and on. So you’ve been doing drugs for how long?

Jacquelyn: Well, basically, I can say I started, when I had my children, I was on pretty good, and then after I lost my sons, then I got into a depressed mood, and I used that to soothe my mood swings and stuff.

Len Sipes: Okay. Get a little closer to the microphone. I don’t want to, I’m afraid to ask this question, but I’m going to ask this question. What happened to your sons?

Jacquelyn: One got killed in a car accident, and my baby son got killed in a fire.

Len Sipes: In a fire. My god, that’s tragic. That’s tragic beyond comprehension. So that accelerated your drug use?

Jacquelyn: And it didn’t solve anything, it just made me get out there more and do, do, do, and I didn’t realize until the last, this year’s been really good for me, man, it had really taught me to be wise and do good, and I’m clean. I’ve been clean for 11 months, and I get off probation in August, the 2nd of August of this year, so I’ve been doing good, going to my classes, I missed some of my classes, because the buses be runnin’ late sometimes, but I do good, I love coming to my meetings and stuff, it has me generating, to cope with my problems, with the daily life, I’m going back out on the street, being around my friends, they do drugs, get high, “why don’t you come over,” no, I stay clean, try to get off probation and do my part, I want to stay out of jail.

Len Sipes: What’s the world like when the people around you are always doing drugs? Is that what you’re saying, that your personal friends are all involved in drugs?

Jacquelyn: Yes, it’s my personal friends, it’s all about drugs.

Len Sipes: I mean, that’s –

Jacquelyn: And I said, I’ve been doing good, I’ve been clean, I don’t go around, I say to myself, stay away from people who do it, and that’s how you can stay clean, stay out of that environment.

Len Sipes: Yeah, everybody’s saying that, but again, as I said a little while ago, talk to the guy who said, giving up drugs is one thing, giving up my friends, giving up the corner –

Jacquelyn: Yeah, giving up, you’ve got to give it up if you want to stay straight!

Len Sipes: Right! But I mean, there’s so much into this whole story of substance abuse and criminal activity, where you know, if you see people driving a nail through the side of their head, and you can see the obvious pain and the distress it causes them, you would think that you wouldn’t do that sort of thing, but then again, so many people get caught up in this, and you’re saying, at the age of 40, and a couple years beyond 40, your peers, your friends are still doing drugs.

Jacquelyn: Yes, they sure are. They haven’t changed. Doing it, they’re out all night. I mean, I seen one of my friends today when I was standing outside, and he’s taking a urine, but he’s on probation too. Is they gonna change? No! But they can’t wait to get off this. They say, “I can’t wait to get off!”

Len Sipes: But the result of it is hell. The result of all this is just straight to H-E-L-L. I mean, for your kids, for your family, for your possessions, for where you live, it’s just, that’s the thing that always will bewilder the rest of us who aren’t involved in drugs, is that if you do something, the drugs, the pool has got to be beyond comprehension, because you know what it’s going to do to you.

Jacquelyn: It brings you down, it takes all your money, I mean, you can’t, next day, you don’t have nothin’ in your pocket –

Len Sipes: It takes everything!

Jacquelyn: It takes everything, and you’re going to wake up and smell the coffee, and say, “Let me, this got to change!” I mean, you want to feel good about yourself, you don’t want to be down for the rest of your life because you want to do drugs or alcohol, whatever the substance that you use, you know, to make you feel the way you want to feel. But my heart, I’m waking up, and it’s time for me to grow up, and I’m 44, and I have a son in the Army, he’s just finished Army, he’s going to go into the Marines, and he’s 25, he just turned 25 May 19th, I mean, March the 19th, excuse me, March the 19th, but he’s married, and he has two kids, so he’s doing good by me, but he knows, he don’t know that I’m in the court system. I haven’t told him. I kept that from him.

Len Sipes: The whole concept of programs, because I’m going to go to Willa to finish everything up in a couple seconds. More programs?

Jacquelyn: More programs, more counseling, and it helps. It helps me a lot, it helped me a lot, and now, I get off probation, and I’m doing successfully, doing good without any relapse.

Len Sipes: Well that, to me, is astounding, and I’m so happy to hear that. I really am, because I know, just in terms of knowing you as a human being, in terms of sitting across this table looking at you, there’s an emotional connection, but just for society, just for your son, just for your grandkids, just for everybody’s sake, it is in our best interests to make sure that you’re clean.

Jacquelyn: Yes, be clean, and that’s what they want you to be clean, always be clean, and you don’t want to get set back, you don’t want to go back to jail, and those, I say no.

Len Sipes: I hear you. The other point is that, I forget who said it, Jackie, but I think it was Diane or Kim, but – it’d have to be Diane or Kim, because there’s only two other people – about liking the process of when you all get together. I discussed one time in the women’s prison, talking to a whole group of women, about 30, who said that they never felt more at peace and more comfortable because they have these counseling groups with the different women there.

Jacquelyn: It makes a difference.

Len Sipes: And that this is the first time in their lives that they’ve been able to express what happened to them, who they are, their struggles, without feeling judged by everybody else, and they loved that concept.

Jacquelyn: They’ll come to the meetings and participate in them, and it helps, it helps you feel good when you talk about your problems and stuff, when you hold back, that’s when you can’t grow, if you hold back.

Len Sipes: I hear you. I hear you.

Jacquelyn: So I tried participating, get it off your chest, and when you go home, you feel good, go get me something to eat, lay me down, take a nap, and forget about the outside, you know, and just be me. I know I’ve got to do, because I’m not going back to jail. I’m staying clean.

Len Sipes: I pray that you do. Okay, the microphone’s going to go over to Kim, and then we’re going to finish up with Willa. Go ahead, Kim.

Kim: Okay. I really appreciate Willa. She has been tremendously helpful to us. Her meetings is inspiring, very inspiring, because when we women get together, it’s like sisterhood for me, you know, it’s nothing, I love it, you know what I’m saying? Because we get to let our hair down, talk about our problems, and give one another insight where we can do the help, or some of us go through things, and we need to talk to women. Women understand women more than anybody. So Willa has, I love her program. I just wish we could have it more than once a week. Because once a week is just, it’s just like going through the whole week, anxious to get there, you know what I’m saying, just really want it to be more than once a week.

Len Sipes: One of the reasons why I love to have Willa do these problems and bring over some of the people that are currently in the group, because the stories that Willa tells, and the stories that the ladies involved in the group tell are just profound beyond comprehension. I always get letters – not letters anymore, emails – in some cases, I even get phone calls. Different people saying, every time I do a group, every time I do a radio program with Willa and her participants, they find it to be one of the most inspiring things they’ve ever heard in their lives. All right, Willa, you’ve got the last couple seconds, and again, I do want to apologize to everyone, I do try to keep these programs to 30 minutes, but whenever Willa comes by, we just throw caution to the wind and let the microphones roll, because it’s such an interesting program. Willa, do you want to sum up what we’ve just heard, if that’s humanly possible?

Willa Butler: Yes, I’m going to try. I’m just touched, the program, it’s for the women. It’s to address their concerns and their vulnerabilities, and I’m glad that it’s working. It’s therapeutic, too, and we’re dealing with the core beliefs. In other words, our belief system is the reason why we are “in the system,” and what we’re working on now is changing it. I guess I have to, cliche, “thinking for a change,” but we’re trying to have understanding as to why we do the things that we do, and how we can change the way that we do things, and I just thank the ladies for coming down and participating, and I thank you again, Leonard, for having us here.

Len Sipes: Oh, I love it! If it was up to me, I’d have you on every month, but I think the listeners would get tired of it. The listeners do tell us, “Leonard, it’s a very interesting program, but mix up the variety,” so you’ve got carte blanche to come over what, every three months or so –

Willa Butler: Oh, thank you!

Len Sipes: – and do the program every six months or so, three months or so, but you know, do people, here’s what people need to hear who are listening to this program right now, that their tax paid dollars is going to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people who we’re trying to help, but also it’s going to make them safer, and it’s actually going to reduce their tax burden by taking this person out of the criminal justice system and out of the substance abuse system. Is that what people want to hear?

Willa Butler: Yes, yes –

Len Sipes: And is it true?

Willa Butler: Yes and no, and what, I’m being realistic about it –

Len Sipes: And I appreciate that.

Willa Butler: You have to want to change, and you have to really want this thing, but the thing about it is, we can instill in you to at least start out being compliant, then you’ll start adhering to the rules and regulations on what you have to do, and understanding that change comes from within, and what I try to teach the women is to spend time with yourself during the day, at least 10 minutes a day, because you’ve been out here, you’ve been raised in the street, and we don’t know who we are, and once we begin to know who we are and to love on ourselves, then we’ll want to change, because we know this is not where God wants us to be, because there is a better place for us, a better tomorrow –

Len Sipes: No sense being dead at 45.

Willa Butler: Exactly!

Len Sipes: Because that’s where the people caught up in the lifestyle are headed. They’re going to be dead at 45.

Willa Butler: Exactly. And we are promoting change, and I believe it’s working. I don’t know what else to say. I get choked up, too.

Len Sipes: I get choked up every time I do one of these programs! I mean, how can you listen to Jacquelyn and Diane and Kim without being emotionally moved! Okay, to Kim and Jacquelyn, because Diane had to go, or even to Diane, because when she listens to this program, because my heart goes about to everybody involved, it is so important to me personally and to everybody listening to this program that you succeed, and I hope and pray, and you’ll be in my prayers, that you will succeed and improve your lives and the lives of the rest of us. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety, I am your host, Leonard Sipes. Again, we are over by 15 minutes in terms of the program time. I apologize for that. Feel free to give us comments at D.C. Public Safety, you can go there, listen to the radio shows, television shows, the newspaper – I’m sorry, the articles, and the transcripts, you can get in touch with me via email, Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D, dot-sipes, S-I-P-E-S,, stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C., or you can follow me via twitter at twitter/lensipes, please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Meta terms: Women offenders, female offenders, child abuse, drugs, violence, violence reduction, violence prevention, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation, corrections


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Violence Reduction Program

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: Hi everybody and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC we have three guests with us today. We have Bryan Young. Bryan is the Program Manager of the Violence Reduction Program and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. Individuals on community supervision on parole, on probation, what are we doing and what are other agencies doing regarding violence reduction? We have many individuals with a background of violence on our caseload, it’s all parole and probation agencies do. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re examining the violence reduction program today. Along with Bryan we have Michelle Hare-Diggs and Michelle Hare-Diggs is a Treatment Specialist for the Court Services under the Supervision Agency. And Lisa Siler(?). she is the Community Supervision Officer for again, the Court Services and Supervision Agency and always the commercial before we get going, ladies and gentlemen, we’re up to 130,000 requests on a monthly basis. We really appreciate all of your letters, all of your emails and even a couple of phone calls in terms of how well we’re doing, suggesting new shows and asking us to consider new topics and sometimes some gentle criticism. So we really appreciate all of your comments and you can get in touch with me directly at my email Leonard, l-e-o-n-a-r-d dot Sipes, s-i-p-e-s at CSOSA dot gov or follow me on twitter which is twitter dot com and slash Len Sipes, S-I-P-E-S. And so to Bryan and to Michelle and to Lisa, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Bryan Young: Thanks.
Len Sipes: Bryan Young, you’re the Program Manager for the Violence Reduction Program. First of all, explain to me, what is the Violence Reduction Program?
Bryan Young: The Violence Reduction Program is a three face program that we’ve put in place for young men 18 through 35 who have a history of violent weapon or drug charges. And basically what we’re trying to do with those guys is bring them into a program and work with them to develop skills to reduce the likelihood that they’ll continue to engage in aggressive acts or even in violent acts when they’re in a community. So how we do that is basically we look at people who are eligible. We do an assessment and pretreatment process. We follow that with a twelve week, twenty four session cognitive behavioral therapy.
Len Sipes: And cognitive behavioral therapy means what, Bryan?
Bryan Young: Well, you’re working a way a person thinks and you’re working on behavior that’s related to their thinking patterns. But the fundamental thing that we’re trying to achieve through the program is trying to do two things. We’re trying to put programming in place based on research about what works in community corrections.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm?
Bryan Young: And then there is strong research that suggests that cognitive behavioral programs tend to be more effective in working with offenders to change behaviors that are related ongoing criminality. And then in the anger management realm, or the violence reduction realm where we’re focused here, again the cognitive behavior programs are the programs that tend to perform best and what we’re trying to do through those sessions are role play, psycho educational lessons, other techniques to help guys learn and understand what anger is, help them recognize how it creates problems in their life, help them change their thinking patterns around certain instances, provocations, situations so that they could develop new skills so that as they experience anxiety or depression or a sense of humiliation or guilt or anything that triggers anger, which may in turn trigger violence, we want the to have the skills to change their behavior so that when they are confronted with those issues, the next time around, they respond differently than ,
Len Sipes: Virtually every program that we have, whether it be domestic violence, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be the mental health treatment, we teach individuals how to deal with life’s circumstances without reacting or overreacting to those circumstances. And that’s the heart and soul of the cognitive behavioral therapy approach, correct?
Bryan Young: That’s correct.
Len Sipes: And so is cognitive behavioral therapy teaching people a new way of thinking through situations? A new way of reacting to situations? And that is truly evidence based. There is a ton of research that basically says that’s the way to go, correct?
Bryan Young: That is correct.
Len Sipes: Okay. And who comes into these programs? You know, people hear violent criminals and/or violent offenders on community supervision and people say, well, what are they doing under community supervision? If they’re violent, why aren’t they in prison?
Bryan Young: Well, they’re not in prison. Some of them have been in prison and they’re returning to prison with parole supervision following what we called supervised release in the District of Columbia. Some of the guys may have committed, their current charge may not be serious enough to warrant a prison charge this time, but they may have violence in their background.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bryan Young: We want to get both of those kinds of people into the group.
Len Sipes: Right. But the point is that we don’t choose ,
Bryan Young: No, we didn’t choose ,
Len Sipes: , those community supervision right?
Bryan Young: That’s up to the ,
Len Sipes: I mean, they come out of the prison system or the courts put them on probation and they have , the history of the violence then, isn’t it in society’s best interest to try to deal with a problem that they’ve probably had for quite some time in terms of overreacting to provocations?
Bryan Young: Absolutely. And if we don’t we’re not doing the best that we can based on what we know is out there, based on research and literature on these problems to promote public safety.
Len Sipes: Right. And, okay, we’re going to go ,
Bryan Young: , that would be irresponsible of us not to ,
Len Sipes: Yeah, I mean, if we ignored it and then I’m going to suggest that in most cases, most probation agencies, all they would do throughout the country, most parole and probation agencies would simply refer them to the local health clinic to whatever program that would be available there. There’s not a lot of violence reduction initiatives going on to my knowledge anywhere throughout the country.
Bryan Young: True.
Len Sipes: Yeah. And so that’s what makes us unique in this capacity. Okay, so, but, we’re not talking, we’re not going to suggest that we have all of the resources to deal with everybody who has a history of violence. We have a pretty concrete, very specific research based program, but, you know, we’re only probably, like we say in terms of mental health, like we say in terms of substance abuse, like we say in terms of other programs, we have programs to deal with the domestic violence. We have programs to deal with a wide variety of issues, but rarely do they hit everybody in a comprehensive way, correct?
Bryan Young: That’s correct.
Len Sipes: So we’re talking about, you know, we’re talking about hitting some, but certainly not all. And probably not close to being all.
Bryan Young: Right. And so the trick is in what we try to do as an agency recognizing that you can’t touch everybody, we try to look at the level of risk that each individual presents to public safety. The people that present the most risk are the people we target first and get into these programs.
Len Sipes: Right. And that’s exactly what the research says, research says that you don’t have to go after everybody, you’ve got to focus on the people who pose the most significant risk.
Bryan Young: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Okay. We’re going to go over to Michelle Hare-Diggs and Michelle is a Treatment Specialist. She is, again, with my agency, the Court Services Offender Supervision Agency. Michelle, one of the things that always interests me in terms of dealing with offenders, and I have a history, I’ve done counseling in the Maryland system. I’ve done Job Corp where the kids had criminal histories. I’ve done gang counseling on the streets of Baltimore City. So I have some sense of what’s it’s like in the real world to deal with offenders. And people who have behavioral problems. And I’ve always used this phrase, that many of them have attitudes, chips on their shoulders the size of Montana. Am I right or am I wrong?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, they initially come in with attitudes just because they don’t want to be in a group setting. It makes a lot of them nervous to be in a group setting.
Len Sipes: It would make me nervous to be in a group setting.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Me too.
Len Sipes: Yeah. So, I mean, but that’s something they got to get over.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right.
Len Sipes: Okay.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: And they do.
Len Sipes: And so tell me a little bit about the treatment process.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, the first phase really helps them with that fear of the group setting. The first phase is treatment readiness. It gets them comfortable with me. It gets them comfortable with each other. It just makes them familiar with each other. So by the time we get to phase II, which is the meat of it, the calm group itself, controlling anger management and learning , controlling anger and learning to manage it , at that phase, they’re comfortable with each other and myself and are able to share and get the most out of the program.
Len Sipes: Bryan and I talked about this whole concept of thinking for a change some people call this in other states, the idea of teaching an individual how to deal with provocations, how to deal with circumstances, day to day circumstances. And we’re not talking necessarily somebody coming after them with a knife, we’re talking about day to day interactions with other human beings where they don’t overreact to those set of circumstances. It is extraordinarily difficult to take a person who has responded in a particular way throughout their course of their lives and suddenly teach that person not to respond that way, correct?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is. You’re right. It’s very difficult. But it is showing them a totally different way. That’s what the whole group is. It shows them different ways of thinking. It shows, it helps them identify how, right now we’re working on cognitive distortions, it’s helping them realize that they way that they have been thinking has got them into the situations that they are in.
Len Sipes: One of the things that I’ve done in my past life is I’ve sat with the Commissioner of one of the correctional divisions in the State of Maryland. We were about to do a couple, a series of statewide crime summits. And that particular Commissioner and I sat with probably 100 individuals who were juveniles who were being juvicated(?) for homicide at the Baltimore city jail. And we said we’re not going to use your names and it took us about a half an hour (chuckle) to warm up and to gain their trust. But in essence this is what the kids said to me about violence. My words, not theirs. Mr. Sipes, you have to understand violence is good. Violence keeps me safe. It keeps my property safe. It keeps my baby safe. It keeps my mother safe. It keeps my mother’s home safe. Violence is a very natural reaction to the environment that I grew up in and you don’t understand it’s something I have to do. To one kid who basically murdered somebody else for a provocation, he stepped, accidentally or not, stepped on his foot while sitting on a stoop on Baltimore steps. And in front of his girlfriend. And he basically said, I said, you’re going to be, if you’re convicted, you’re going to be in prison probably for the rest of your life. Wouldn’t you rethink that situation if you had to do it over again? He said to me, again, my words, not his, Mr. Sipes, you just don’t understand, I had to do what I had to do. I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Now, when you come at it with that sort of mindset, that’s an extraordinarily difficult place for you to be.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is.
Len Sipes: First of all, am I right?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You are right. And it is a natural, anger’s a natural emotion for so many different people, so many different individuals. So we just try to get them to weigh the costs. And that’s the whole purpose of this program, to weigh the costs and the costs and the benefits of what their anger can cause them.
Len Sipes: And they can do that. I mean, that’s one of the points that the public needs to hear, that it is possible to reorient a person’s thinking in terms of how they handle day to day provocations.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You’re correct.
Len Sipes: You know? And, but that’s the meat of the situation, I think, how do you get them to understand that? How do you get them to come to that conclusion?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: We do. With role play exercises, they have homework assignments. We do a lot of cost benefit analysis where we take different examples and we have them weigh what would be the cost of this, what would be the benefit of this? And which situation would you choose? We had a gentleman just last week, he was re-arrested. He was stopped by the police for a crime that he did not commit. And he was able to maintain himself in order for the person who was robbed, for her to come, he had to wait for her to come to the scene and identify that he was not the person. But if this were any other situation he admitted that he would have lost his cool and it would have made the situation worse. But he was able to maintain himself. He didn’t get upset. And he was just able to keep his cool.
Len Sipes: And another one of the things that Bryan and I were talking about before the program is that there are dozens and dozens and dozens of examples that members of the group have brought to us that basically substantiate what you’ve just told us. That they, you know, they’re in with their baby’s mother and she’s yelling at him because he’s not doing what he needs to do and he doesn’t get upset, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t scream and he doesn’t raise his fists. Now, unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, that was a big change for that person.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is. And they also learn relaxation techniques, which really helps in a lot of their home settings. They learn how to mentally take themselves away from things that might cause them to be angry. And we teach this, not just in the home setting, we teach them to do this at work, we teach them to do that in the probation office, whatever the case is, just to help them maintain themselves.
Len Sipes: Do they really understand the concept? When I was with Job Corp, Job Corp was an amazing arrangement where they would take care of your medical care, your food, they would train you, get your GED, relocate you to another city. Help you with an apartment, but you your tools if you took the , and so it was a pretty good comprehensive program for kids who were unfortunately in a jam. And many of them willingly crossed the bridge from law violation to law abiding behavior, from tax burden to tax payers. They made that conscious choice. A lot of them didn’t because they didn’t know how. You know, you could give a person a GED, you can give them a plumbing certificate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she knows how to cross that bridge. When their done with this treatment process, do they really know how to cross that bridge from violent to non violent behavior?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, we just encourage them. It takes practice. It doesn’t happen over time. We also have phase III of the program which they’re matched up with community coaches that help them along the way, that help them. So they’re not just left, you know, to defend for themselves. They have like a mentor, that’s what they are, they’re life coaches, who have been through the same situations and who are able to coach them and give them and give them helpful advice. And they meet with these coaches once a week.
Len Sipes: That’s great. Okay, we’re going to go over to Lisa and one of the reasons why we invited Lisa into the program is that she’s a Community Supervision Officer, most people would know them as Parole and Probation Agents throughout the country. And Lisa, I screwed up your last name, didn’t I, when I made the introductions. It’s Lisa Sylor(?).
Len Sipes: Syler.
Len Sipes: Syler. Syler. Okay. I apologize for that. And Lisa, now you’ve been and probably why don’t you rearrange that microphone just a little bit. Thank you. You’ve been in this program for how long?
Len Sipes: I started in, I believe the cases were assigned to me in January. So this is my first phase of the program. The first time I’ve been involved with the violence reduction program.
Len Sipes: The Community Supervision Officers are basically the heart and soul of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Now we have a dual role. We have an enforcement role and we will not hesitate to put somebody back in prison.
Len Sipes: If need be, yes. Yes.
Len Sipes: If need be. If need be. But at the same time we have a treatment role. The research is abundantly clear that if we provide services to individuals they do a lot better than if we don’t provide services. So we try to provide mental health assistance, domestic violence assistance. We try to provide drug treatment or refer the person to drug treatment resources. We try. We have our own group called Vote who helps them in terms of their educational and vocational needs. We try to get them in the programs. We advocate for them. We work for them. And the violence reduction program seems to be just along the lines of any other program that we do. It’s a service. It’s a treatment program. But at the same time you play that dual role. And you walk a very tough tight rope between enforcing public safety and helping the individual.
Len Sipes: Yes. A lot of what my role is initially my role was really just to encourage the guys to attend groups and to try to give it a chance. Because, you know, in the beginning you’re kind of thrown in together, you’re given a new CSO and they don’t really explain, I have to break it down for them and make it, I have to kind of become a salesman, I’m like a used car salesman that really has to get them to buy into the program. And get them to report as they’re supposed to for their groups. But once they get in they really, they don’t need me to be the one who’s like, keep going, keep going. They really want to come because they’re getting so much out of the group. After they go through the first phase, they really do form a bond together. And they rely on each other for input and information and you know, when one goes, you know, isn’t there, they’re wondering where was he today? You know, there was one guy that had to go back to court for another issue and they were all wondering what happened at court? They asked me, did you know? Did you know what happened? So they really become close. They become their own support system.
Len Sipes: And that’s, isn’t that the key? Because I’m not quite sure they’re going to listen to us.
Len Sipes: It is. Part of it is also ,
Len Sipes: Not to, I’m sorry, Lisa, not to say that we’re not there to provide treatment, we are.
Len Sipes: Yes.
Len Sipes: But I mean, their peer group is the most important influencer ,
Len Sipes: Definitely.
Len Sipes: (Chuckles) Provides the most influence. The peer group, plus the family, plus friends. They’re the groups that really motivate them to either change or continue in a criminal lifestyle.
Len Sipes: Exactly. And they get a lot of support within the group. If somebody’s not understanding, you know, what it is that they’re talking about, they’re not really grasping the information, a lot of the guys will step in and kind of give them their own example and they start to share and try to break it down in a way that everyone is going to understand it, you know, if there’s one particular guy that doesn’t understand it. And with that I get a lot of information from Michelle, from the treatment side from groups, I get a lot of information as to how I can implement. I find out what she’s working on in the group and I can use that in my supervision strategy to kind of reinforce what they’re talking about when they come to me with their, for their supervision needs.
Len Sipes: I’m going to reintroduce the program and reintroduce the participants because we’re going to go back to Bryan Young. Bryan Young is the Program Manager of the Violence Reduction Program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Michelle Hare-Diggs, who is a Treatment Specialist and Lisa Syler. She is a Community Supervision Officer. Okay, Bryan, you’ve heard from Michelle, you’ve heard from Lisa, anything to add or subtract?
Bryan Young: Nothing to add or subtract other than to say these two working together really demonstrate and exemplify what we’re trying to do here. The whole process of working with somebody is to identify their risk and we want to target the highest risk people first, but we also have to identify their needs. And that issue of criminal peers, you know, it’s one of the big six criminal , it’s one of the big six needed for criminal recidivism that we look at. And the program is designed to help everybody make good decisions around what their peer group is. Their attitudes towards authority and towards normal things like getting up and going to a job and those sorts of things. So the collaboration here and both people becoming a change agent is really exemplified by what Michelle and Lisa talked about.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm? It is difficult in the minds of so many people. And again we’re not afraid to hesitate for public safety reasons to put the individual back in prison. But if we can take an individual who has always responded violently, now, Lisa you’re suggesting that I’m saying something wrong. Go ahead.
Len Sipes: No, I’m suggesting completely the opposite. I completely agree. I think we have a responsibility to the community to identify those individuals who just really aren’t putting forth the effort to change and aren’t putting forth, you know, they’re really not taking advantage of the services and they’re just continuing on the path and when the need comes we will address that and go to the, you know, have them put back in jail as you said. However, I also think that we have a responsibility to help people get out of their own way. And this group really helps people understand that what they’re thinking, they’re thinking translates into behavior. A lot of times these guys really don’t understand that the thoughts that go into their head make them behave in a certain way. They think that it’s just a natural reaction.
Len Sipes: And I totally agree with that. Totally agree with that. And I totally agree with that in terms of substance abuse. I totally agree with it in terms of mental health. I totally agree with it in terms of education. I totally agree with it in terms of getting jobs. There’s nothing there I disagree with. The research is abundantly clear, the more you help them the better they’re going to do, the less they’re going to recidivate, the fewer prisons we’re going to have to build, the less taxpayers are going to have to pay out for their behalf. The flip side of that is something else we have to deal with is that I get a newspaper summary every day, or a variety of newspapers summaries every day. And in essence what the newspaper summaries say on a daily basis is a violent person does something violent again. Now, if the public gets a steady stream on the radio and the television and the newspapers a violent person does something again, they’re going to sit here and listen to this program and say, oh, a bunch of bureaucrats from downtown, DC, don’t you understand that – you know, we’ve got to target these individuals, and in some cases we do because they show propensities toward violence that there are risks to public safety again. We’ll target them and we won’t hesitate to work with the courts and the parole commission to return them to the prison. But what you’re saying is that we got to do a better job of providing services, which is exactly what the research has to say.
Len Sipes: I really think that with the information that we can get from the program, the way that it’s applied to the offenders, they’re not just going in and having groups, they’re also having psychological testing. We’re also finding out what their functioning is. All of this comes together so that we get a better picture of the individual and of the need base. I mean, if we’re going to try to talk to a person who doesn’t have the vocabulary and doesn’t have the ability to process vocabulary, that’s another issue. So if we can identify that, we can use that and figure out this person maybe not words is not the way they communicate as effectively, they’re more of a hands on learner, then we can start to make them do steps. You know, I always say baby steps, we’re going to do one thing at a time and by that we’re able to change behavior. You have to really find and identify what it is at each person, what the issue is, within the group that’s the way that the group is set up, we’re able to not only in a group setting, but also individually identify this person has this issue, you know, this seems to be an issue with this person. And with that we’re able to work together through the treatment specialists and the supervision side we’re able to work together to help this person move, kind of get out of their own way and understand that their thoughts are what get in their own way. And if they can stop their thoughts or change their thinking then their behavior changes. And we get examples of it all the time in how the behavior is changing.
Len Sipes: And I think that’s the most powerful thing because, you know, again, I’ve been in this business for a while and it’s always very gratifying when you take an individual who doesn’t know how to deal with the world as it is.
Len Sipes: That’s the hugest part. You know, a lot of things we take for granted that, you know, we know how to ride the subway or we’re even able to read a map to figure out how to get from point A to point B. And you have a 19 year old kid that sits in front of you and says, I don’t know how to ride the subway. I don’t have the funds to get down here every day because I can’t afford to pay for a cab. Wait a minute, you live so many blocks away but you can’t figure out how to ride the subway? For him it was such an obstacle because he just was terrified to figure this out. So then it brought to my attention, okay, we have to go back to kind of a few more steps back than I thought we were. A lot of times people are afraid to tell you what their abilities and their deficiencies are. And once you ,
Len Sipes: So am I by the way.
Len Sipes: (Chuckle) Yeah. Exactly right.
Len Sipes: So are most people.
Len Sipes: It is.
Len Sipes: My wife chastised me severely last night because of a fight that we had a couple of days ago when I just got around to telling her the reason for it. And she said it took you three days to tell me then, huh?
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Len Sipes: You know? And I’ve got Michelle over here laughing. Everybody’s going through the same experience. And so the person is naturally reluctant to say, hey, I can’t deal with the subway.
Len Sipes: So part of, and the part of the group and the part of being able to interact with the offenders and the guys is to really try to pull this information out. What are the needs? You know, we have the assessment and we have the screener, and it really gives us a good indication but from there we need to probe further to find out if this is an issue, how big of an issue is it? You know, if education is an issue, are we dealing with just the fact that he dropped out? Or are we dealing with an even bigger issue of comprehension and having other learning disabilities?
Len Sipes: When I ran a group in the Maryland prison system I had two individuals squaring off at each other. And I was like, have we not discussed this, guys? Have we not discussed that there is a better way? I was like, you’re really going to assault the other person in prison in a treatment program? How many years do you think this is going to add on to your sentence? Do you really want to go that far? And I said, and they both backed off and I said, this is it. This is the heart and soul of this, gentlemen. I said, it’s just not squaring off with each other while you’re in a prison setting, it’s also walking down the street and somebody has a perceived insult or your friend and neighbor, you know ,
Len Sipes: Exactly. Or girlfriend, or your ,
Len Sipes: The day to day living without getting overly emotional about stuff that you shouldn’t be getting overly emotional about.
Len Sipes: I think a lot of it is too, and Michelle can touch on this more, is identifying the emotion. Because a lot of times they think it’s anger but it’s really not.
Len Sipes: Okay, and that’s a lovely point that I want to get to Michelle. In some of the other programs that we have talked about this kind of an offender, you know, you sit down with this guy and, you know, he’s got this hard attitude. And he looks hard. And he acts hard and all that is, in many instances, and again, I’m going to get emails saying I’m making excuses for criminal behavior, I’m not. All that is, is insecurity. All that is, the harder that person appears, the weaker that person really is. That’s a shell that that person has learned to put on for his entire life, am I right or wrong?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You’re right. A lot of times they just don’t even know how to identify the source of their anger. So in the group we touch a lot on focusing on what are your emotions really? It might not even be anger, it could be jealously. It could be depression. So we try to focus on identifying what is your real emotion? And is that what is causing the , the mask that you’re putting on. Are you angry? What are you putting that mask on for? What is it to hide? Is it that you’re really jealous of your brother? Or is it that you’re really sad that your father was never around?
Len Sipes: Or the fact that you’ve raised yourself from the age of eight?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Exactly.
Len Sipes: Which to me, in most cases, the offenders we’re dealing with.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: And actually there’s two gentlemen in my current group who they really have realized that they’re just angry at their father. One of the fathers had passed away. He’s still angry. And he’s able to identify that now. So he’s working on writing a letter to his deceased father.
Len Sipes: And a lot of males, but especially female offenders, are victims of sexually violence at a young age.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes.
Len Sipes: By people who they know. So if that happens to you, how do you go through life without that chip on your shoulder the size of Montana. And that’s not an unusual occurrence for males, but especially it’s phenomenally large for females.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes, you’re right.
Len Sipes: So I mean, that’s just, isn’t that, isn’t that the heart and soul of everything we’re talking about here? And one of the reasons why the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, our agency, is trying to address this, is that these individuals are never going to shake it. They may grow out of it because recidivism decreases dramatically at age forty and above, but between zero and 40 how many times is he going to go to prison and how many people is he going to hurt until he learns not to do it and to think about it in a different way? To think about how he or she interacts with people on a day to day basis?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, we’d like to think that the coping skills that they’re gaining from the group will help them get through this.
Len Sipes: But that’s it. How do you interact with, how do you deal with life as it is without clenching a fist? How do you deal with life as it is without jumping in somebody’s face?
Michelle Hare-Diggs: You use your relaxation techniques, you use your peers. You have to. You have to. If you want to stay in society that’s what you have to do. You don’t want to go back to prison. You have to find different ways to manage and to cope to get through this.
Len Sipes: All right, we only have about 30 seconds left in an extraordinarily fascinating program. Bryan, did you want to wrap up or do you want to let Michelle do it or Lisa or what do you want to say? Lisa, oh, Michelle, let me go back to you again, in essence, I’m just going to remind the public one more time, it is possible for these individuals to change. The larger public doesn’t believe that. But our experience is that it is possible for people who have lived, histories, who have had histories of violence to interact with the world truly as it is without resorting to violence.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: It is possible. I mean, it may not happen overnight, but it takes practice and it can happen.
Len Sipes: And that is the bottom line in terms of what it is that we’re trying to do.
Michelle Hare-Diggs: That’s the bottom line.
Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. I’ve been your host, Leonard Sipes. At our microphones today was Bryan Young Program Manager for the Violence Reduction Program, Michelle Hare-Diggs, Treatment Specialist, again for the Violence Reduction Program. And Lisa Syler who is, I finally got her name pronounced correctly and she is a Community Supervision Officer. I want to thank everybody for all of your letters, all of your emails, your phone calls for suggestions, criticism and comments about the show. Keep them coming in. And please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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Meta terms: violence, violence reduction, violence prevention, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation, corrections,