Synthetic Drugs – DC Public Safety Television

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Television show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2014/04/synthetic-drugs-dc-public-safety-television/

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Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Synthetic drugs, spice, K2, are all references to fake marijuana, littered with substances that are harmful and deadly. They are filling emergency wards and causing long-term physical and emotional damage, yet they are easy to find and often mistaken for harmless, kid-friendly products. To discuss the issue of synthetic drugs in the district of Columbia and throughout the United States, we have two guests on the first segment; Adrienne Poteat, the Deputy Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency. And Ryan Springer, the Deputy Director of the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, here in the nation’s capital. Welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Ryan Springer: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: I can’t think of a more difficult yet important topic, Ryan, in terms of getting the word out that this is something that is extraordinarily dangerous. Spice, K2, synthetic drugs; the word on the street is, my fear is, is that they may not be all that harmful and from all the research I’ve done and all the people I’ve talked to, they are deadly. They are harmful, and they are putting people in psych wards, they’re putting people in emergency rooms all the time. How do we get the word out?

Ryan Springer: I know, and thank you for having me again. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that APRA has now merged with the Department of Mental Health.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ryan Springer: To form the Department of Behavioural Health.

Len Sipes: Fine.

Ryan Springer: Which is timely, given this issue that we’re talking about.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ryan Springer: Because, as you mentioned, folks are using these substances and for some they use it once and they’re ending up, you know, with a psychosis … psychotic break. And ending up in a psychotic hospital, psychiatric hospital.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ryan Springer: And so it’s a very serious issue that we’re dealing with, based on a one-time use.

Len Sipes: What are synthetic drugs? I mean there’s hundreds of ingredients.

Ryan Springer: Yes, there are. And so synthetic marijuana is made in a lab. So it’s a chemical compound that folks put together. And so it’s sprayed on dry plant material, for synthetic marijuana specifically, so they make it in a lab, it’s a liquid, they spray it on this plant material and it looks something like marijuana. But they’re adding different scents to it, so that when you burn it or smoke it, it has different scents, aromas, that it gives off.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: But it’s been declared illegal, five or six major ingredients, by the Drug Enforcement Administration, back in 2011.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: The D.C. Council has declared it illegal.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Yet it still seems to be widely available

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … on the streets. They may not be hanging up any more … and we have to show pictures throughout the program

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … as to how kid-friendly … these things look like the older version of pop rocks.

Ryan Springer: Yeah, yeah.

Len Sipes: I mean, Scooby Doo and all the rest of the descriptions, they look like something a nine-year-old would be drawn towards.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And yet they’re extraordinarily dangerous.

Ryan Springer: It’s one of the big issues that we have with this whole synthetic marijuana. Because it is targeted to kids. And so I want to acknowledge the community for bringing it to the attention of the state. Because this came from our prevention centres, which we have one representing two wards in the district. And so they had a community conversation, and through the folks in the community talking about this issue, talking about the impact they’re seeing on their kids, and MPD also verifying that, they brought it to our attention, there are these things being sold all over the place, to kids. And the impact on the kids is just you’re seeing these kids being very zoned out, not really engaging anyone, and for some, ending up in the emergency room. And so they brought it to our attention, we got this campaign started through some funding from the Federal Government. We’ve moved on from there. The biggest challenge is the fact that the key ingredients, there are over 130-something of the cannabinoids, which is the key ingredient.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ryan Springer: But as you mentioned, the DA’s only allowed about six of those key ingredients. And so the challenge here is even if MPD goes into a store and they pull the product from the shelves, when they go test it, the folks who are making this, they change the compounds on a monthly basis. So if you have a test that tests for one of those six, by the next month they’ve changed the compound and so the test no longer words. And that’s been the challenge.

Len Sipes: We have to debate what the message is to the larger public, but Adrienne..

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we supervise 24,000 people on parole or probation or released from prison on any given year. And so 80% of the people that we supervise come from substance abuse histories. We’re now increasing our testing level for synthetic drugs, are we not? Because before, it was very difficult but we are increasing that capacity, that testing capacity, correct?

Adrienne Poteat: That’s correct. We are increasing the testing capacity.

Len Sipes: And we’re trying to get the word out to the population that we supervise that this is truly dangerous.

Adrienne Poteat: Yes. Not only to the population, but to the staff as well as the community. We want to educate everyone in terms of the effects of this drug.

Len Sipes: Okay. And at the same time, we’re really working with the offender population, with our staff, with everybody, in terms of saying the testing is going to increase. If we see signs of it in terms of our community supervision officers, when they go in the homes, if they see evidence of this, we put them in substance abuse therapy. We try to do certain things. We do accountability tours. We try to up the degree of surveillance, including drug testing for our population, correct?

Adrienne Poteat: You’re absolutely correct, Len.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, for both of you, what message do we give? I remember back in the Sixties it was reefer madness. I remember … and nobody believed the authorities back then that marijuana was harmful to you, and everybody continued to do marijuana. Are we running into that problem now in terms of K2 and Spice and synthetic marijuana? Is this conversation going to be believable to people in the communities, whether they be Washington D.C. or Milwaukee or Hawaii? Is this conversation going to resonate with them?

Adrienne Poteat: Well, we hope it’s going to be believable. You know, if you have a population of 100 and you reach a portion of that then you’ve reached someone. Surprisingly enough, we have taken this message out to the community and we’ve educated them and they had no idea the effects of the drug, how accessible they were. Some of the traumatic effects that it’s had, and some … in that audience, we’ve had ex-offenders that are there as well, and did not have the education about the drugs. So for us to get that message out, at least it has had an impact somewhere because also some of the community has started looking for some of the stores that have attempted to sell that. And the police have asked, you know, either ban the stores or stand up in the community, say, “We don’t want this in our community.”

Len Sipes: Right.

Adrienne Poteat: So it has had some impact somewhere, but we still have a long way to go.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: We were talking before coming onto the set to all of the participants in the program we’re talking about the difficulty in terms of getting the word out.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: In terms of being real. I mean, and some of the folks were saying, you know, if people want to get high, people want to use drugs, this is down at the corner store. It may not be displayed any more like it used to be, but it’s under the counter, it’s being sold on the street. I mean, what message do we give? And I do want to put up your website, by the way.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: What I think is an extraordinarily good website in terms of prevention, prevention methods, and educating both kids and adults.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And we’ll do that throughout the course of the show.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: But what message do we give that’s convincing?

Ryan Springer: You know, and it’s a good question, because, as you mentioned, we don’t want to get down the path of saying, you know, “Don’t use this because it’s bad.” That kind of a message isn’t really … it doesn’t invite change. And so we’ve been trying several tactics in engaging the community. One I mentioned, the work with the prevention centers, which has shown, you know, great impact. We have communities who are actually engaging their businesses in the community around not selling these things. So that’s one aspect of it. Through the social media, the website and online advertising, we’ve had over … online alone, we’ve had over 25 million hits on the advertising there. And so as Ms Poteat said, you know, we’re really touching a lot of folks, and we expect that out of the millions that we touch, many won’t even start using. But for those who do, our hope is that we can educate the community members as much as possible so that they can then, you know, uh, we can work on community prevention so that they can tell their family members, their brothers, their aunts, their uncles, about the dangers of this drug, that they see themselves. We have a youth core program where we’re training … we’ve trained over 300 youth this year. Where they’re educated on this information so they can actually speak with some authority to their partners and their peers around the ills of using this drug. And honestly, going into a community, they can have a much bigger impact, having used it, or a peer of folks who’ve used it, telling their story better than I can.

Len Sipes: Well, we’re done … yeah, please, Adrienne.

Adrienne Poteat: Now, Len, if I can add something.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Adrienne Poteat: You know, we’re being a little creative at the agency. We’re even going to put together our own video.

Len Sipes: Right.

Adrienne Poteat: And we’ve asked for participants, whether they’re ex-offenders, to come and participate in that video, so that we can show it in the waiting rooms, when people come into the office, or if we take it out in the community. And hopefully we will have that in production by January or February.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adrienne Poteat: So, to actually see people that have used, to be able to talk on this video, also I think will be significant for us.

Len Sipes: But the thing … I keep going back to the same thing, that years ago, decades ago, warning people that marijuana was dangerous, we’re now … we’re here saying that synthetic drugs are dangerous. They’re ending up in psychiatric wards. They’re ending up paralysed. Not all of them, because you talk to some people who have used synthetic drugs, they say, “Hey, it’s fine, it’s not a problem, it’s cheap, it’s down the street, I know where I can get it. What’s the issue?” So, to that person, he’s looking at us right now and saying, you know, “You’re not being real with us, you’re not being honest with us.” But the flipside, the emergency room visits and the psychiatric wards and the crippling behaviour, and the crippling consequences of synthetic drug use is real.

Ryan Springer: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: It really is happening, so, on one side, you know, people are saying, “I’ve used it, it’s not a problem, it’s no big deal.” On the other side, you’ve got the three of us who are saying …

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … “Please think twice about this.”

Ryan Springer: And honestly, I think this was a bigger conversation, other than just synthetic, you know, marijuana or synthetic narcotics. And it’s a, to me, it’s a conversation at the community level around how do we empower communities to think in a more public health kind of mindset and overall health and wellness for the community?

Len Sipes: Mm.

Ryan Springer: And it’s changing that culture so that we, you know, we’re engaging these folks around not using in the first place. Not just synthetic marijuana, but not engaging in risky behaviours. And so the work that we’re doing with our prevention centres is around that and so it’s not just synthetic marijuana, but it’s engaging these communities around, you know, how can we be a healthier community? And to do that, you know, obviously using synthetic narcotics isn’t a good option. But we’ve got to try to build that capacity at the community level.

Len Sipes: Well, within any community in the country, not necessarily Washington D.C., but in any community in the United States you’re going to have an addict-based community. You are going to have a community of people who want to get high. They’ve been getting high since they were young kids. Again, the 24,000 people under Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, supervision on any given year, 80%, 70-80% have histories of substance abuse. So you’ll have that …

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: … built-in ‘I want drugs’ personality. That’s who they are and that’s what they are. Once again, it’s down the street, it’s Scooby Doo and why aren’t the authorities doing more about it? Why aren’t they getting it out of our neighbourhoods? Adrienne, with our population, that’s a tough message to give. It’s dangerous but you can get it right down the street.

Adrienne Poteat: You’re right, and you can. You can just buy it anywhere. Hopefully there’s some of the treatment programs that we send some of the offenders to, they will understand and get a better idea about the impact and effects …

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adrienne Poteat: … doing that. We have some people that have been very successful, regardless if they’ve used drugs in the past or they’ve tried this. Once they got into the programs and they really, really understood the effects and what it has done to their bodies or the minds, or some of the behaviour that they have displayed, some of them have actually stopped and said, “I don’t want to have to be the person that ends up in the graveyard.” Or, “I don’t want to have to be the person that continues to go back to prison over and over again for my constant drug abuse.” So if you reach that one person, I feel that we have done something. We’re never going to reach the entire population. But then you bring those people back to some of the groups that you have, and let them tell the message. Because they’re the ones that have experienced it. They may not listen to us because they will say, “Well, what do you know? You’ve never used the drug.” But those people that have, they are an important factor in the treatment continuum that their message can be important and vital to this population.

Len Sipes: Nobody in this city, nobody in this country has more experience than the two of you right here in terms of dealing with drugs and dealing with people caught up in the criminal justice system. Nobody has more credibility than the two of you right now, in terms of talking at least to the bureaucracy. You’re saying that people should really be staying away from synthetic drugs. You’re saying that it’s dangerous. Am I right or wrong?

Adrienne Poteat: Yes.

Ryan Springer: Absolutely.

Adrienne Poteat: Yes.

Len Sipes: I tell you, thousands, tens of thousands of people are really being screwed up by this.

Ryan Springer: The main message, don’t even think about trying it. Just because … and again, I don’t want to go back to the previous messages of marijuana back in the day, but because you’re seeing people use it once and they’re in the emergency room and ending up in a psychiatric unit for the rest of their lives, there’s that message. But too, if you have a question based on whether it’s your peer or whatnot, come get the information and look it up. K2zombieDC.com is the website.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ryan Springer: And you can get the information from that.

Len Sipes: You get the final word.

Ryan Springer: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first half of D.C. Public Safety, as we take a look at this very important issue of synthetic drugs. In the second half, we’re going to have two people under our supervision, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. People who know and have a sense as to what’s going on in the street and street attitudes regarding synthetic drugs, K2. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.

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Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. We said on the first segment that synthetic drugs, Spice, K2, are all references to fake marijuana. And they’re filling emergency wants and causing long-term psychological and emotional damage. Yet they’re often very easy to find and mistaken for harmless kid-friendly products. To continue the discussion on synthetic drugs in the District of Columbia and throughout the country we have two guests who are currently under the supervision of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. They are Jonathan Fox and Derek Nixon. And gentlemen, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Jonathan Fox: Hello.

Derek Nixon: Hi

Len Sipes: I appreciate you guys being here. Now, what is the … you’ve heard on the first segment the three bureaucrats, me and Ms Poteat and Ryan Springer, talking about synthetic drugs. You guys are on the street, you’re out and about, you’re seeing what’s happening, you’re experiencing what’s happening. What did we say on that first half that makes sense to kids on the street? Anything?

Jonathan Fox: Everything you said was actually correct. You know. But you just, you know, left out the part that the problem with the drug started before the user.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: It goes back in the history of the child, you know. And peer pressure.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: That plays a big part of, you know, using the drug.

Len Sipes: Well, but, you know, people, we were talking about in, in the green room before coming out here today, there are people want to get high, they’re going to get high and synthetic drugs are right down the street and they know who’s selling them. They’re reasonably priced and they’re hard to pick up by my agency in terms of the drug test. And so we start doing more drug testing, which we plan on doing. I mean, so, to a lot of people who want to get high, their point is ‘why not?’

Jonathan Fox: Mm …

Len Sipes: Either one?

Jonathan Fox: Main thing …

Len Sipes: Go ahead.

Derek Nixon: No, go ahead, go ahead, go ahead.

Jonathan Fox: No, I was saying like the, you know, the main thing the gentlemen with the CSOSA agency is that, you know, they’re doing testing. And they’re testing for, you know, mostly hard drugs. And they’re using this as a substitute now, knowing that, you know, it damages them worse than the actual hard drug, marijuana.

Len Sipes: But if that’s the word on the street, is the word on the street that synthetic drugs actually do damage? Or is that just the price of getting high? I’m …

Derek Nixon: It’s on … the word is on the street that, you know, it has certain side effects but, like he just mentioned, it’s just basically a substance … cause we all … we all on urines for hard drugs and there’s … this doesn’t show up. So that’s like why not do it? You know?

Len Sipes: Well, that’s what I hear.

Len Sipes: That’s what I hear from you guys and talking in the green room, and other people before coming on and doing the program today. But I, you know, we talked about the first segment of what happened back in the 1960s and 1970s with marijuana. Bureaucrats like me got up and said, “It’s dangerous.” Nobody believed us and nobody cared. So my fear is, is that we’re going to … some twelve-year-old little girl is sitting there today, watching the three of us right now, whether it’s in Washington D.C. or somewhere throughout the country, or somewhere throughout the world. Because this program’s going to be on the Internet for years to come. And she’s going to say, “Well, I know where I can get some of this,” and why not do it? What do we say to her?

Jonathan Fox: You’ve got to look at the effects that it’s taking. It’s killing the brain cells. It’s making you slower reactions, you know. And it’s just not … it’s not like marijuana. It’s worse than marijuana, actually. You know, because of the chemicals and the stuff that they’re making it with.

Len Sipes: On the street right now, we were talking before about the fact that currently in the District of Columbia, people are seeing the posters at the bus stops, they’re seeing the posters on the buses themselves. They’re seeing it out in the community, talking about K2, Zombie, and talking about it being dangerous. Does that have an impact?

Derek Nixon: It does, it does. But it does have an impact. Well, if someone wants to get high on K2, they’re going to do it. You know?

Len Sipes: Right.

Derek Nixon: So basically it’s like … you want to get the word out there, the word is out there on the bus stops, metro and all that. But if someone will do K2, they’re going to do it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Derek Nixon: It’s just plain and simple.

Len Sipes: And that’s just about with any drug.

Derek Nixon: With any drug, right.

Len Sipes: And see, that’s the thing, it’s scaring me because these packages look kid-friendly, and I’ve got that twelve-year-old girl, I saw the segment the other day where a young teenage girl, twelve or thirteen years old, she is now paralysed for the rest of her life. She’s in a wheelchair for the rest of her life because of synthetic drugs. I mean, this stuff is real. This issue is real. It’s a real problem for real people, but I’m not quite sure we’re convincing people that it’s a real problem.

Jonathan Fox: I’m just starting to see the campaign has gone more harder than what they were, you know, and I believe they should have to, you know, really show an example, you know, just by, you know, giving the posters, saying to these youth out there in the streets that, you know, don’t do K2, it turns you to Zombie, I don’t … me personally, I don’t think that’s going to reach. I mean, that’s good to get the message out there, but I think we should have more damaging evidence towards that, you know.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Jonathan Fox: And show them, just like you said, you know, you’ve seen this twelve-year-old girl paralysed from the effects of synthetic drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: I mean, I think these youth should see the effects of this, see her, you know, say … and let her, you know, let her, you know, tell her story, if she can speak.

Len Sipes: But, you know, throughout the last couple of decades, drug use has gone down and gone down considerably. So somebody is making a decision. I mean, the criminal justice system, we can’t force people to not to do drugs. I mean, somewhere along the line, this is people making up their own minds not to do drugs for that … to have that level of drop over the course of the last two decades. So it has gone down, so there’s obviously a point where people are saying, “This not in my best interests to do heroin or do cocaine or do whatever,” but when it comes to K2, you don’t know what it is you’re doing. At least with cocaine, at least with heroin, at least with the other … marijuana, you have some sense as to what you’re getting into. With K2, with Spice, with synthetic drugs, you have no idea what you’re putting in your body.

Jonathan Fox: That goes back to just what I said. You have to show, you know what I’m saying, the chemicals and ingredients that’s in this synthetic drug. Just like, you know, back …

Len Sipes: But we don’t know. I mean, there are hundreds of them.

Jonathan Fox: I mean, you know, just like back in the day when they showed the pork, you know, they put the pork on the wall …

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: … they had it sit in the sun, then, you know, maggots came out the pork and a lot of people backed up from pork.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Jonathan Fox: You know, same thing with synthetic. You have to show damage and effect, you know. And this is the cause, and this is effect.

Len Sipes: So, my point is, is that all of us know people or have talked to people directly that have done synthetic drugs. Some people walk away from it unaffected. And then they are going to tell their friends that, “Hey, it’s no big deal.” And other people are going to emergency wards. Is the word on the street that it’s dangerous or is the word on the street that this is something worth trying?

Jonathan Fox: Both, cause, you know …

Jonathan Fox: Addicts, you know, addicts are going run to it, you know. Addicts are going to run towards it at their own risk.

Jonathan Fox: Yeah, exactly, you know. Addicts going to run towards anything that they feel as though is going to take them to the next level of high. You know. And for people in the lower realms you know, there, they probably back up saying like, “No, I’m not trying to go there.” But it’s …

Len Sipes: Right, so if you wanted … if you’re looking for that high, K2 is not going to get in your way. The warnings are not going to get in your way. But it’s the people on the edge, the parents of people on the edge, people who maybe swung one way or the other, we can talk to them. Or is it possible?

Jonathan Fox: It’s possible. Anything worth a try. You know, my saying, there’s nothing beats a failure than a try, so .

Len Sipes: Alright. What do we tell parents?

Jonathan Fox: You have to educate them on it first of all. It’s just like, you know, the ingredients of a drug is like case law. You can read it in two, you know, languages. You know, so you have to make it concise and scoop down to their level and explain it to them. Because once you read in the ad,
you know, there’s ads up there on marijuana, there’s ads on crack cocaine, there’s ads on … all type of drugs. But they still continue to do it.

Len Sipes: Doesn’t anybody get ticked off over the fact that, you know, you take a look at these packages and they’re so kid-friendly. They look like something an eight-year-old wants to go and chew on, just because they’re Scooby Doo and they’re just so friendly and colourful. I mean, they look like they’re trying to market to seven and eight-year-olds. I know that there are kids, eleven, twelve or thirteen who are confused about this. I mean, you’ve got to say that at least a seven-year-old, an eighteen-year-old, a twelve-year-old, you’ve got to say that, man, this is stuff that can really, really harm them.
Jonathan Fox: If you think about it …

Len Sipes: Am I right or wrong?

Jonathan Fox: You definitely right, and I agree with you. The thing about it, a drug dealer is heartless. You know why? Because he doesn’t know the effects that he’s having on his community. You know, with starting casualties, wars, you know. People are getting sick, people who are stealing from their family. So a drug dealer, they’re not going to think of the effects when he’s packaging his product to sell to the community, because all he’s thinking about is the dollars. So these big companies that’s issuing these packages, they’re going to make them colourful and enticing for kids or whoever to come to them, cause colours attract people, you know.

Len Sipes: But that’s a thing that gets me, now. I understand the dealers with heroin, I understand the dealers with cocaine. I understand the dealers with crack. These are being sold by store owners.

Jonathan Fox: I don’t want to cut you off but, you know, but …

Len Sipes: Go- cut me off

Jonathan Fox: … I don’t want to cut you off, but it … you cannot separate a K2 seller from a crack seller, cause both of them are drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jonathan Fox: They’re still a drug dealer.

Len Sipes: Alright, they’re still a drug dealer.

Jonathan Fox: You know.

Len Sipes: No doubt about it.

Jonathan Fox: You know, and if you sell it … see, you know, if you sell it in a store or …

Len Sipes: But some of them …

Jonathan Fox: … you sell it on the streets.

Len Sipes: But some of them are businesspeople, right? I mean, they’re running gas stations, they’re running …

Derek Nixon: That’s the gas.

Len Sipes: … convenience stores. They’re running all these different things, and so I mean they’re business people.

Jonathan Fox: And the thing …

Len Sipes: And so are drug dealers, I fully understand that.

Len Sipes: But is there a way of reaching … can a community just basically say, “Stop it.”

Derek Nixon: Like you said earlier though, the community have to get together and say, “We don’t want this in our community.” You know. Go to a store, petition it, you know, boycott a store. Just, you know, do a protest in front of the store. Cause I’ve seen that on the news before that this is a … one community, they don’t sell no K2 no more. Lady’s son … so I guess he went to the emergency room or whatever. And a lot of parents got together and said, “We don’t want this in our community.” And they forced it out. So if you can do that in certain communities, then that might be a start to get it out. But it may move somewhere else. It’s going to go somewhere else. You see what I’m saying?

Len Sipes: So is there a way of galvanising the community around K2? Is it really possible, or is everybody … don’t care? I mean, is it really possible to galvanise a large proportion of the community, to simply say that this is dangerous and, “I want it out of my community.”

Jonathan Fox: You’re going to have to start with a community. First you’re going to have to have some advocates to actually care about the youth. And, you know, know that the youth are our future. You know, so you’re going to have to have somebody with the knowledge and common sense to go into the community and explain to our citizens that, you know, this drug is definitely harmful, is hurting our kids, you know, is not good at all. You know, there’s going to have to definitely be a campaign on it.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Jonathan Fox: You know.

Len Sipes: We’ve only got a couple of minute left. I, as I told you before the program, whenever I do a radio or television show, I have somebody that I envision talking to throughout the course of the show. And I envision … my vision is talking to the twelve-year-old, thirteen-year-old girl who I saw the other day in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, paralysed by using K2. So I’m talking to her before she made the decision to use it. She thought it was harmless. What do we say to her?

Jonathan Fox: Don’t even try, you know. Don’t fall into peer pressure, you know. Don’t do it cause you think it’s cool, because it does have the zombie effect.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Derek Nixon: It does have the zombie effect. It kills your brain cells, you know what I’m saying … the more you know, the smarter you are, and you’ll never be smart doing K2.

Len Sipes: An opinion?

Derek Nixon: Yeah, just like you say, just don’t fall under peer pressure to try it. Well, you know, want to K2 or you want to see how it is, I just want to know what it is. But you really shouldn’t do it, that’s all. You know, that’s to the kids out there, don’t. It’s not worth it. Totally don’t use it, you know. You know, just don’t use it.

Len Sipes: And even if you have direct experience or your friends have direct experience of using it and it doesn’t have those incredibly harmful effects that we’re talking about, next time around, because they’re constantly changing the ingredients, so next time around they could have …

Jonathan Fox: Right.

Len Sipes: … those incredible effects.

Jonathan Fox: Right.

Len Sipes: What are we saying to the parents? Same thing?

Derek Nixon: Same thing

Derek Nixon: And monitor the kids more. You know, I mean, be more involved in their kids’ life, cause like kids are acting out of their age these days, you know. They’re doing stuff that shouldn’t be done. So parents should monitor their kids more and also check, you know, check on, you know, what are they putting in their system.

Len Sipes: Right.

Derek Nixon: Maybe educate their kids on the side effects and consequences of smoking K2.

Len Sipes: Well, you, what we have to do is also at the same time and from the bureaucrats, we have to get them involved, we have to get the parents involved, we have to get the community involved. I just fear that the word is not being crystal clear. I just feel that they’re going to sit back and go, “Man, I’ve done it, my friends have done it. It ain’t about what you’re saying. You’re exaggerating what the harmful effects are.”

Derek Nixon: No, you can’t exaggerate when you’ve got proof in front of you. People go by what they see, you know what I’m saying, not by what they hear. You know, if I say you, you know, something like, “Your watch is gold,” you know what I’m saying? Or, “My watch is gold,” you know what I’m saying, you’d want to see it. You wouldn’t want to hear what I’ve got to say. And that’s what society is going to turn to, hearsay, instead of more action being taken, is hearsay. Or you know if you do that you’ll get locked up? But they do. They still do it. You know, a youth will still do it, you know? Until he actually get locked up, say, “I ain’t doing it no more.” You know. So, you know, you’ve got to be educated on it.

Len Sipes: Well, they’ve got to educate the kids, they’ve got to educate everybody, that’s the bottom line, right?

Len Sipes: Well, thank you for being here, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for watching today. Please take a look at the website that’s constantly being posted through the show. Please educate yourselves, please educate your family, please educate your children. Look for us next time as we look at another very important topic, in today’s criminal justice system. Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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[Video Ends]

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Community Corrections Technology-National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center

Community Corrections Technology-National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/05/community-corrections-technology-national-law-enforcement-corrections-technology-center/

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Joe Russo, Director of Corrections, Technology, Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, which is part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org, talking about community corrections technology. Joe, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

JOE RUSSO: Thank you Len, always great to be with you.

LEONARD SIPES: Well it’s always a pleasure to be with you Joe because you’re one of the most popular programs that we have. Everybody is really interested in corrections technology, what it could be, what it really means to the rest of us. You’re on the cutting edge of it. So we have a variety of topics to talk about today. We’re talking about offender tracking and realistic expectations. We’re talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation agent mobility, virtual offices, the use of tablets, keeping our folks in the field and technology and driving restrictions. Those are the three topics. So why don’t you kick it off talking about GPS offender tracking, satellite tracking and realistic expectations.

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely. Yeah, I wanted to talk about this topic because, you know, over the last year or two there’s been a series of high profile cases across the country where offender’s tracked with GPS bracelets are committing horrific crimes. And this is very tragic and it’s set off in motion a number of investigations in California. There’s a state senator who has launched or asked the inspector general to investigate offender tracking. In New York state, a U.S. representative from New York has asked the government accountability office to investigate offender tracking, monitoring and after a heinous crime in that state. And this is all, you know, obviously appropriate scrutiny after such horrific crimes that have occurred. However, it really illustrates the importance of realistic expectations of the technology in managing those expectations with stakeholders in the public in general. When I think most of your audience understands the limitations of the technology, they’re well documented, there are inherent limitations to any technology, there are environments in which, you know, satellite tracking, GPS tracking just doesn’t work well. That’s a known. We know that these devices can be defeated, they can be cut, they can be jammed. Offenders can put aluminum foil on them and block signals or they can simply not power up their devices. So it’s, you know, fairly easy for a non-cooperative offender to get around this system. Again, these are well-known, well-documented limitations.

LEONARD SIPES: But for the rest of us in the field, we’re fairly puzzled by the negative publicity because we understand the inherent limitations on GPS satellite tracking technology. We understand that it’s not full proof and we understand that just because the person has satellite tracking technology on doesn’t mean he can’t simply snip it off, doesn’t mean that he’ll stop committing crimes. And we’re sort of puzzled when we see the various negative stories coming out in the newspapers and TV stations because we’re saying to ourselves why doesn’t everybody else understand the limitations on this equipment. So I spoke to some reporters throughout the course of years and they said, well, you all in the community corrections fields are sort of overselling the promise of GPS. And I’m not quite sure that’s true. I mean, inherent within any technology, as you just said are limitations.

JOE RUSSO: That’s exactly right. I don’t know that community corrections agencies are necessarily overselling or vendors are overselling but there is a, you know, interesting kind of dynamic. Whenever an agency is looking for budgetary funds to implement a program, obviously they’re going to highlight the, you know, the positive parts of that technology and how that technology can benefit overall supervision. But as you alluded to, you know, the affects of any technology or any program are measured in the aggregate, you know, does the input, does the program or the treatment create a benefit to an aggregate population. Obviously, you know, they’re going to have individuals who are determined to continue their criminal ways. And regardless of whether it’s GPS monitoring or, you know, anger management training or any kind of high intensity supervision, it’s less of a reflection on the program as it is of the individual. So it’s, I think, you know, folks need to step back, understanding we’re dealing with a criminal element, understanding we’re dealing with, in community corrections, we’re not dealing with  John Augustine’s’ day, you know, or probationers or debtors or public drunkards.

LEONARD SIPES: Mmm-hmm.

JOE RUSSO: A lot of these folks are serious offenders.

LEONARD SIPES: Yep.

JOE RUSSO: And so agencies across the country are doing their best to implement technology, to implement programs to achieve positive outcomes but there will be failures.

LEONARD SIPES: The two things that come to mind is, number one, the research from a variety of sources does indicate that GPS/satellite tracking does reduce offending, does reduce technical violations, does reduce the amount of – or the numbers or the percentage of people being returned to the correctional system. But there is a fairly strong corrective incentive in terms of GPS satellite tracking done well, correct, per research?

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely. There is that and even, you know, if you take the most negative view on it. You know, in those cases where offenders are determined to continue their criminal acts, GPS has been, you know, instrumental in making these offenders accountable. GPS location data is able to match the crime, you know, incident locations and the folks who ultimately are accountable for their actions. And in many cases, you know, they probably would have committed those crimes with or without tracking.

LEONARD SIPES: Mmm-hmm.

JOE RUSSO: At least with tracking there’s an ability to hold these folks accountable.

LEONARD SIPES: And we’ve been able to track down some fairly serious offenders through GPS tracking and so that is a huge plus. Number two, we train law enforcement, not just the metropolitan police department here in Washington, D.C., but we train the FBI, we train the secret service, we train a lot of law enforcement agencies in terms of the use of our GPS tracking device so they can see the offenders who they’re interested in, in real time. So there’s a lot of promise in terms of GPS satellite tracking but it is a huge drain on manpower. And I’m not quite sure people understand how difficult it is to keep – to watch all the tracking marks of an offender on a day-to-day basis and the fact that most of us in parole and probation are not 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. We’re basically Monday through Friday, 9-5. Now there are variations on that theme and there are some offenders who we do track in real time but those are problems. Take the first one. The fact that this is very – it involves a lot of  manpower, person power to keep track of all of the data that comes in.

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely and if there’s nothing else your listeners hear today is that the resource issues are paramount. Agencies need to be clear about why they’re tracking offenders, what purpose and what they hope to achieve and they need to dedicate the appropriate resources to accomplishing those goals. You know, far too many agencies compare the cost, the equipment cost of GPS to a day in jail and make cost-effective based decisions based on that. But the labor costs far exceed the equipment costs. And, you know, and that’s probably the biggest pitfall that agencies face. They don’t dedicate enough resources to maintaining programs, addressing violations, dealing with alerts and that’s where program integrity falls. And that’s where if a case goes really bad and an offender goes off and does something heinous that’s where the agency really has a difficult day explaining to the press why certain actions were not taken.

LEONARD SIPES: Now we have here at the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, we use our vendor to track 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but just because they’re tracked 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean that we have personnel at the ready to respond. So that’s the case as it is in virtually every parole and probation agency in the country, correct?

JOE RUSSO: Oh absolutely, absolutely, even for agencies, police agencies that operate GPS programs. And you would think they theoretically are the best situated to respond to alerts and cuts. Even they can’t be everywhere at every time. So obviously probation and parole agencies, you know, have much less resources, are much less able to react in a timely manner. So, again, these are understood limitations in technology, these expectations need to be managed. I think better education needs to occur between agencies and the public and judges and the media, frankly, so that we understand what we’re dealing with.

LEONARD SIPES: Now the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence there at the University of Denver, again, part of the National Law Enforcement Corrections Technology Center, you all came out with guidelines, rather technical guidelines, rather complete guidelines in terms of the application of GPS, correct?

JOE RUSSO: We’re developing a standard right now for the performance of offender tracking devices. But more recently we published a guideline for agencies to think about GPS devices and GPS information as potential evidence. We thought that too many agencies don’t see these devices in that light. So the goal was to educate them to start thinking more about how they use these devices. And how potential evidence might end up in a court room if, for example, an offender who’s tracked is accused of committing a crime.

LEONARD SIPES: Mmm-hmm. Now, the other thing that we’re talking about is not necessarily using devices that we currently provide, which are anklets strapped around the person’s ankle. We’re talking about going to a cell phone based system.

JOE RUSSO: Well we see that in the industry, there are vendors now who are offering basically SmartPhones with GPS chips to offenders and they can be tethered or not tethered, you know, wirelessly, and basically tracking is occurring through the phone. So there’s no device strapped to an ankle in certain applications. And this seems like it might be a trend for the future and may lead to, you know, one day where the offender brings his own device to be supervised and can bring in their own SmartPhone and the officer can install tracking software and accomplish tracking that way. Now this is a little far out thinking but it certainly seems to be a direction.

LEONARD SIPES: Well everybody has always said that we’re looking for the day where the tracking device is not the size of a cell phone strapped to the offender’s ankle but the size of, I don’t know, a pen. And that device will automatically take blood pressure readings, will automatically take readings as to whether or not the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And so is that still pie in the sky or are we moving towards something along those lines?

JOE RUSSO: You know what, in different areas there are certainly components of what you described that are being developed but as you envision it or as I’m interpreting how you envision it, it may be a chip, an RF chip that’s embedded in the offender and has the ability to –

LEONARD SIPES: Well no, not in the offender himself, but the device that they’re wearing.

JOE RUSSO: Oh absolutely. I mean, that’s even easier to do. So yeah, as these technologies mature and are developed, you know, then we’ll definitely see that in the future. I mean, obviously right now we have devices that can track transdermal alcohol expiration from the body, that’s one device. We have devices that can track movement. There are certainly physiological devices, you know, that Fitbit movement is opening up a whole lot of doors in terms of using machines and computers to monitor physiological activity. So certainly, you know, blood pressure, respiration rates and we can match that information to where a location is. Or if a sex offender is near a school and his heart rate is pumping, you know, that obviously tells a supervision officer something. So yes, right now it’s all theoretical but there are pieces in place and they’re growing. And one day maybe we can put it all together.

LEONARD SIPES: Well the technical podcast I listened to this week in tech, Leo Laporte, on a weekly basis, religious basis and they talk about this stuff. Not necessarily in terms of tracking people on criminal supervision but they talk about the Fitbits, they talk about other wearable devices, they talk about taking blood pressure, they talk about monitoring pulses, they’re talking about whether or not a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in terms of safe driving. So that conversation is taking place not within the criminal justice system, that conversation is taking place in the tech industry in general.

JOE RUSSO: Oh absolutely. People are fascinated with understanding their own physiology, their sleep patterns, increasing performance. And you’re right, this is well established and growing. But you’re right, there are applications for offender management there that can be tapped into.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. Before we go to the break and start talking about correctional officer mobility, parole and probation, agent mobility, virtual offices, office tablets and technology regarding driving restrictions, one of the things that we wanted to talk about was analytic capabilities.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, absolutely. You know, in previous calls we’ve talked about the need for analytics to better analyze, understand and act upon all the data that GPS generates. And we talked about a couple of different initiatives that were going on across the country and I wanted listeners to know that since our last conversation one of the GPS providers has actually acquired a company that specializes in sophisticated analysis and interpretation of data. This company has a long track record working with intelligence agencies and defense agencies to make sense of big data. And recently they’ve been working with community corrections agencies to explore how their techniques might work with offender tracking data. This is very encouraging at least, you know, one company has taken a big step to provide their customers with this important capability and I think the trend will be that other, you know, other vendors will follow suit and provide similar support.

LEONARD SIPES: What sort of things are we talking about tracking?

JOE RUSSO: Well, for example, link analysis, where offenders, who they are near, other tracked offenders, are there patterns that develop in terms of the locations that they tend to frequent, are they associating with other offenders? You know, can we establish other patterns of behavior based on other folks who are being tracked? So can we establish a drop point or a chop shop based on the time that offenders are spending in a particular location where there are patterns of movement.

LEONARD SIPES: Interesting.

JOE RUSSO: So the idea is to take all of that, you know, aggregate data that GPS provides and move from the inclusion zone, exclusion zone kind of scenario to really digging deep and establishing patterns of behavior and really supporting the officer. Letting the officer know what types of information might need to be acted on.

LEONARD SIPES: So everything that we’re hearing in terms of big data as it applies to Google, big data as it applies to IBM, big data as it applies to Wal-Mart, that same application is coming to corrections.

JOE RUSSO: Very much so. Very much so.

LEONARD SIPES: Interesting.

JOE RUSSO: And GPS is one of the – kind of the easiest forays into this because we do acquire so much data in that area.

LEONARD SIPES: All right Joe, we’re halfway through the program. Let me introduce you before we’re getting on to the other topics. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Joe Russo, he is the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org. Okay Joe, let’s go into the other topics that we are talking about. And I find this to be fascinating, so many companies now are moving away their own vehicles, moving, I’m sorry, moving away from offices and putting people out in vehicles all the time and it sounds like that’s what we’re talking about with parole and probation agent correctional officer mobility. Talking about virtual offices, talking about tablets, talking about giving that individual all the tech they need to stay in the field.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, exactly, and this is something that’s been discussed, you know, for some time now. There’s been a movement against getting away from the ivory tower of probation and parole work, getting away from central office and headquarters, making the offender report downtown typically to the officer.

LEONARD SIPES: Mmm-hmm.

JOE RUSSO: But in recent years, and in part prompted by economic issues, but a lot of agencies are looking at ways to get the officers in the field where the offenders are, where they live and work and where they exist. Georgia, perhaps, is the leader in this in terms of, you know, actually shutting down offices and requiring parole officers to maintain virtual offices out of their cars. And the agencies provide the officers with everything they need, SmartPhones and tablets and laptops so there’s really to come to a physical office. And in this way the early reports are that they’re seeing success because they’re able to make more contact with the offenders, more sustained contact in their environment and the outcome so far have been very positive.

LEONARD SIPES: Well I remember years ago when I worked for the United States Senate, one of the folks there gave me a laptop computer and then a couple weeks later said, you know, is the use of the enhanced technology of a laptop computer changing the way that you work? And I’m going, well, no, I mean, just because you gave me a laptop doesn’t mean that I’m any more proficient. I mean, I report to the office every day and there is a desktop. How exactly is the laptop going to assist me beyond office hours? I mean, I understand beyond office hours, having a direct link to the computers but, you know, so sometimes I get the sense that we provide technology, laptops, tablets, cell phones, mobile fingerprint readers, again, sort of like with GPS, unrealistic expectations. So I would imagine this parole and probation agent, this correctional officer is well versed in terms of what mobile technology can do for them.

JOE RUSSO: Well that would be a necessary, you know, prerequisite obviously, you know, officers need to be somewhat tech savvy, be open and willing to learn perhaps new tools for them, you know, not everyone grew up with this technology certainly. So I’m sure there’s a learning curve for some officers. But certainly there needs to be openness. But it sounds like, you know, the agency made a decision from the top down that this is what they want and this is what they want to see. They don’t want to spend their resources paying rental space throughout this, they want to spend their resources where they can make the most direct and positive impact on outcomes and that’s the direction that they took. And, you know, just looking at it objectively, not having to come and go from an office increases efficiencies over and above the, you know, the cost savings for office space. Folks need to be in the field, officers need to be in the field where the action is. And that’s just common sense and I think that, you know, more and more agencies are coming to that realization and acting on it.

LEONARD SIPES: Is mobile fingerprint readers involved in this, drug testing equipment, I mean, how far are they taking it?

JOE RUSSO: Well I think that that might be part and parcel. I’m not aware, but the primary objective is you take the office and you put it in the car.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And that makes a tremendous amount of sense to me because why be in the office when you can be out in the field especially if you’re doing surprise visits. And I understand that a lot of the visits need to be scheduled because, you know, the mother or the father, the family member, the sponsor, volunteers can be there and work with the parole and probation agent and work with the offender, so I understand that. But the idea of a spontaneous visit to that person’s place of work or where that person lives or where that person socializes, especially in the evenings, makes an awful lot of sense to me.

JOE RUSSO: Well particularly with, you know, as GPS grows in terms of tracking offenders or if, you know, one day offenders are bringing their own device and we’re tracking offenders by their phones and, you know, phones are pretty ubiquitous at this point and it’s only going to grow more so. You know, perhaps we have the capability in the future to go where the offender is and not go necessarily to the house or the workplace.

LEONARD SIPES: That would be interesting. So, in other words, GPS tracking, you know exactly where that person is and suddenly, voilà, you pop up and say hi.

JOE RUSSO: Well and that’s part of the larger, you know, internet of things, movement that’s going on in society is that, you know, we have all these sensors that are out there. We have all these machines that can be connected to the internet. They all can be networked and provide useful information. So, you know, if a GPS tracking device is linked to an officer’s GPS tracking or a GPS system in their car, which tells them what route to take to get to the offender’s location, if these systems link up and communicate and tell the officer, you know, don’t bother making that home visit because the offender is not home.

LEONARD SIPES: Interesting, very, very interesting. I mean, so we’re talking about really moving community corrections well into the 21st century and really bringing a sense of the internet of things, of big data, of mobility, of tracking, of, you know, as some people have hoped for, the mobile ability to say, hey, this person is now using drugs, this person is now using alcohol. I mean, it does bring us into contact with the people on supervision to a much more powerful degree than we have in the past, which, you know, when I was in the state of Maryland any sense of intensive contact or intensive supervision was two face-to-face contacts a month. Now we’re talking about almost continuous contacts if we choose to do it and if we have the software through big data to analyze what’s going on.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, absolutely and within that capability obviously comes challenges, right. We have somewhat privacy issues although those are mitigated because of the status of our offenders but you have the information overload issues and we’re already seeing that with just GPS technology and the need to manage that data. So obviously, you know, the more sensors we try to tap into, the more connection of machines we try to leverage, the natural result is we have exponentially more data to sift through and figure out what’s important and what’s actionable and what’s not.

LEONARD SIPES: And that’s why I’m hoping whoever’s developing all of this develops the algorithms to allow us to make sense of the data because there’s no way an individual parole and probation agent, I would imagine the average caseload in this country is somewhere in the ballpark of 150 individuals per parole and probation agent, if you had half of those under these enhanced sensors, so you’re talking about, what, 75 individuals where data is coming in on a day-to-day basis. That would easily overwhelm that human being, that parole and probation agent, that correctional officer. That person could never keep up with all that data. So somehow, some way, somebody’s got to figure out a way of making sense of that data.

JOE RUSSO: Well exactly, there’s no question about it. And then the worst possible scenario is you’re overloaded with so much of this data and we don’t know which of this data is important and which is not, that the officer doesn’t have time to do the direct contact interventions that we know are so important.

LEONARD SIPES: Exactly. So we have to plow through the invention of new data and we have to plow through the invention of new algorithms to make sense of all that data.

JOE RUSSO: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. Technology and driving restrictions, we have say in the final five minutes of the program. Once again, everybody has hoped for that piece of technology to the point where the car simply would not start for those on drinking and driving programs, that the car simply would not start. Now there are cars out there with locking devices that they do blow into the tube and if they blow over a certain level that car will not start. So that exists now, right?

JOE RUSSO: That exists now and that works, you know, quite well. One of the biggest ways or the most common ways for an offender to work around that type of a scenario is to simply install Interlock on a car and meet the judge’s requirement and then drive another car.

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah, drive another car.

JOE RUSSO: So that – it’s pretty simple to get around. One of the Interlock providers has recently bought a patent on technology that’s been around for a while but is only now being seriously evaluated for viability. And this technology basically looks to identify driving behaviors. And so what we’re looking at are ankle bracelets that can detect the movements that are consistent with driving a car. So essentially there’s a unique physiological signature that’s associated with driving. So if you think about the foot movements that you do without thinking, your acceleration, your braking, sensors can determine your speed. And all of these things put together, you know, you mentioned algorithms just before, these algorithms are designed to identify those signals that are consistent with a driving episode and then alert officers that this is occurring.

LEONARD SIPES: Sort of like a black box for automobiles or a black box for human beings?

JOE RUSSO: Well it would be for human beings because, again, with the Interlock system we don’t want to monitor the car. We want to monitor the offender. So these as envisioned, these would be ankle device, ankle bracelets that detect the movements of the foot.

LEONARD SIPES: Oh, that’s interesting. So all of that is not necessarily biologically based, it is foot based.

JOE RUSSO: Yeah, it’s more mechanically based.

LEONARD SIPES: Oh.

JOE RUSSO: It’s based on the physiology of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So if you think about it, there are very few actions or movements that you would make that are consistent with driving that are not related to driving. So you’re not necessarily pressing down, for example, on an accelerator.

LEONARD SIPES: That is interesting. That is really interesting. So the bottom line is that, you know, right now we have breathalyzers, right now we have blood tests in terms of substance abuse, but you’re actually talking about something that actually measures the movement of the foot. I would love to be in court to establish that – to establish the legal basis of that. I would imagine that’s going to be a fight from the very beginning. But if you could introduce that it would be revolutionary.

JOE RUSSO: Well exactly. I mean, any new technology obviously faces those legal hurdles. And certainly that would just be one piece of evidence against an offender and our standards of evidence are much lower than a new criminal case. But if you have indication that this offender is driving when he shouldn’t be driving or he’s driving a car that’s not – that doesn’t have Interlock installed in it, then that provides an investigative lead for officers to go and find other information. So it wouldn’t necessarily be the nail in the coffin but it would be one piece of evidence.

LEONARD SIPES: Being it’s not physiologically based, that could also apply to drugs as well.

JOE RUSSO: You know, the same thinking and theory. Another example that comes to mind is folks have developed handwriting analysis as a method of determining impairment. And so what they’ve looked at is, you know, the way that you sign your name physiologically is altered if you’re impaired. Now it may look exactly like your signature sober but the movements, the signals from your brain to your hand create very distinct and minute differences in the signature. So if we capture a computerized signature of an impaired person, there’s research that suggests that you can tell if someone is impaired simply by the way they’re writing their name versus how the name looks.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ll tell you Joe, it’s always a fascinating conversation when you and I talk about corrections technology. That’s one of the reasons why this program is one of the more popular programs that we do. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking today to Joe Russo, the Director of the Corrections Technology Center of Excellence at the University of Denver, part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, www.justnet, j-u-s-t-n-e-t.org, www.justnet.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is talking DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Family Reunification

Family Reunification

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/12/family-reunification/

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen our program today is on family reunification and it’s an important topic. Criminologists from around the country are discussing this. And to find out what family reunification really means, at our microphones today, Wanda Tolliver, she is the Interim Deputy Director of Program Operations for the Child and Family Services Agency in Washington DC. cfsa.dc.gov, www.cfsa.gov. Wanda Tolliver welcome to DC Public Safety.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

LEONARD SIPES: You know I did this program on the television side of DC Public Safety, at www.media.csosa.gov , the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal probation serving Washington DC. I did the television show and the television show focused on what family reunification is because the more I talked to my own people within the criminal justice system, the more they seemed to be confused about what family reunification means. So what does family reunification mean?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Okay. So when you talk about family reunification, you’re talking about when children have been removed from their family of origin, which is their birth family. They have been removed and brought into the foster care system. At that point decisions are made, what will it take in order for them to be reunified with their family?

LEONARD SIPES: Okay.

WANDA TOLLIVER: So that’s what we’re referencing when we say family reunification.

LEONARD SIPES: But in this case, in terms of the criminal justice system, it also seems to mean, people in prison staying in contact with loved ones in the community, family in the community, and it also seems to mean some emphasis on what happens to the children that they leave behind. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And so what that entails is, if parents are incarcerated, how do their children remain connected to them? In spite of the fact that they’re not in their physical custody but how do they maintain that emotional connection?

LEONARD SIPES: Right.

WANDA TOLLIVER: So that is also a part of the family reunification. And historically, Leonard, it has been known that once children entered the child welfare system and if parents were incarcerated, they were forgotten.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. And that’s a big concern. I mean we have two million human beings, on any given day, locked up. We have 1.5 million in prison and another 500,000 in jails. Now there’s a huge turnover over the course of the year. So we have two million human beings that are behind bars. The research from the Urban Institute seems to indicate that the more contact they, they ones who stay, have with family, with prosocial people from the community, the better they do upon return to the community. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: That’s correct. And it’s a win; win for both the children and for the parents as well. Being able to stay connected to their children has— it’s just a win, win. It makes them, it motivates the parents to do what they need to do in order to be successful and it gives the children the opportunity to realize that, even though my parents are not physically here, I still have that connection. And that has been proven over time that they have better development. And they have better outcomes.

LEONARD SIPES: I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and we have 30 prisons throughout the state of Maryland. One of the prisons up in Hagerstown held a family reunification day where the individual inmate would spend virtually the entire day in a court yard that was set up. You know barbeque stands and try to make it as family friendly as possible, picnic tables, umbrellas, try to keep the correctional officers out of the picture, and to interact with folks that day. One of the amazing things that we found is that we could have troublesome inmates within that facility but they would do whatever they had to do. I mean the amount of violations just went down dramatically by the people participating. They would not do anything that would jeopardize spending time with their loved ones and especially their children. So I found that to be fascinating.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: So it’s not only something for the criminal justice system to consider from a criminological point of view, from a sociological point of view, it’s something the wardens of institutions need to consider from the standpoint of peace and security within their own institutions.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And that is sometimes some of the constraints about even visitation. Because In some facilities they allow it, in other facilities they don’t. And it depends in the crime that was committed as well. So you have to navigate all of those types of things when you’re working with incarcerated parents and it can sometimes make it difficult. But I believe all throughout the country, people in child welfare, working in child welfare, are recognizing the importance of, you know, lets don’t hold biases against parents because they’re incarcerated. It is key and we need to figure out ways in which we can allow the interaction to take place. Some prisons offer Skype, you know where they can, the kids can have opportunities to visit their parents through Skype. So we’re just trying to find innovative ways in which we can keep that connection going.

LEONARD SIPES: Two things come to mind. Number one, especially in the District of Columbia, our offenders enter into the federal prison system. We don’t have local prisons anymore. So at one time the District of Columbia had Lorton, it was close by, it was in Virginia, now you have DC inmates going thousands of miles away from home. The agreement was, years ago when they federalized everything, was to try to have them within 500 miles but in the reality they are going all over the country. So contacting them is difficult, but having said that, the example that I just gave a couple of minutes ago, when I worked for the state of Maryland, you had inmates from Baltimore and they were incarcerated in Hagerstown, it’s an hour and half, two hours away. For many people, many family members, it was as if they were on the other side of the moon. We have them in rural areas spread all throughout the state of Maryland which requires hundreds of miles of travel. Even in a small state like the state of Maryland. So part of it is the physical distance, that part of it is the difficulty, correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And with that being said, I think I believe that now most jurisdictions are finding creative ways in which to not have that be a barrier for the connection and for the family. Because when you think of reunification, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that child is going to be reunified, it’s broader than that. It’s more so about maintaining that connection. That is what is so key. And if you do have a parent that’s in a Texas facility, what do you do as the social worker on the case to ensure— you may not get to have monthly visits, but maybe quarterly there’s an opportunity to take the child, or the children, to visit the parent that’s incarcerated out of state.

LEONARD SIPES: I know some jurisdictions are now going to tablets. And they’re having face time conversations with their family members via a tablet that is given out by the administration. So there are innovative ways of keeping family members in touch.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: And again, not to beat this point to death, there are real pieces of evidence, research that shows that in terms of that eight year old boy, eight year old girl, and in terms of the inmate behind bars, it has very meaningful positive effects on all of them to stay in touch with each other.

WANDA TOLLIVER: That is so true. And research bears that out as well as just people working in this environment. They recognize that children want to know where they come from, who they come from, that this person— They want to be able to know what that person looks like, what that person sounds like. It makes a great difference, even if the recognize that there’s no opportunity for that person to be in their lives on a daily basis. Just knowing where they come from, being a part of a father or a mother that they may not have had a lot of contact with, but it eases them. It releases a certain amount of their angst and trauma also. And we have found that more and more in this profession, in the child welfare profession, that children that don’t have a connection with their birth families, they have a more difficult time as far as development, as far as maintaining their mental health stability, they deal with a lot more trauma.

LEONARD SIPES: Well I do want to get onto the kids who are left behind in the process because according to the data that I’ve seen, the great majority of people who are involved in prison systems are parents.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: And they leave behind, in most cases, minor kids. So there is obviously that disconnect. And those minor kids, research does seem to indicate, they have higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health problems. So if we’re ever going to break the cycle, part of that process of breaking the cycle is to ensure that families are kept together or as reunified as possible.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right, absolutely. And I was also going to add that it’s just been proven over and over again. And a lot of that, Leonard, has to do with our own personal values, our personal judgments, and our biases about people who are incarcerated. But you have to look beyond all that because in the eyes of that child, or that youth because it could be an older youth, like 14, 15, 16.

LEONARD SIPES: It could be 19, 20, 24.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. We have to push aside all of that because at the end of the day, it’s what in the best interest of the child, or the youth.

LEONARD SIPES: Now that we’ve set that foundation, I want to go to the other part of the continuum and this is why people are somewhat confused when they hear family reunification. It’s that sometimes the families themselves are the problem. In terms of fathers who did not take care of the kids, fathers who possibly beat mothers, mothers who may have ignored the kids and they end up in the prison system. I’ve interviewed before, these microphones, heavens, probably 30, 40 women caught up in the criminal justice system. Virtually all tell stories of family dysfunction, of violence, and in many cases sexual violence directed toward them as children. So we have that part of it as well. That part of the complexity as well. But the interesting part is, is that even though they went through that experience and now they’re part of the criminal justice system and even though they have animosity and or blame towards their mother or their fathers, they still want contact.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. We— Sometimes you may have horrendous things that are done to children by their parents but they still want that connection. They do.

LEONARD SIPES: They still need that connection.

WANDA TOLLIVER: They need it.

LEONARD SIPES: There’s something psychologically deep within us that needs that connection to, if nothing else, to say why not, if nothing else than to have that conversation.

WANDA TOLLIVER: And also because they love their parents. It’s instinctive. And one of the things is a lot of times when parents are incarcerated; children just want to know that their parents are okay. You know what I mean? Even though they are told, you know they may have done this, they have done that, but in the eyes of that child or that youth, they just want to be able to make sure that the parent is okay.

LEONARD SIPES: At least to be able to see them if nothing else, through a tablet if nothing else. Now we do closed circuit television here. We’re experimenting with that in terms of family reunification here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. It’s a small pilot program but what we’re trying to do is figure out the best way to make sure that families do remain reunified with people who are spread out throughout the United States. But that’s complex. It’s complex because of the family history, it’s complex because of the family animosities, it’s complex because of the distance and it’s complex because of the technology. The technology may be the saving grace.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: If we start using tablets, start using smart phones that are approved and provided to that inmate and they have face to face contact with wives and kids or husbands, that could make things better.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. I agree.

LEONARD SIPES: And that’s the bottom line of all this. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. Absolutely. The bottom line.

LEONARD SIPES: Let’s shift gears and go over to the kids. Now the kids become the innocent part of much of bad behavior.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re the ones who are left home. They’re the ones who are ignored. There are the ones— A lot of families are one parent households. I think President Obama, in terms of his latest research in terms of the condition of youth, starts talking about the immense number of people, kids, who are living just with one parent. If that one parent goes to prison what do they do? They’re sent off to grandma, they’re sent off to auntie. I mean this is a real problem. We’re talking about two million people in prison, we’re talking about up to ten million kids left behind.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: And the impact of incarceration and what that means in their lives. They’re just not losing their father in many cases they’re losing everything.

WANDA TOLLIVER: But one of the good things that we have noted in child welfare, and I think this is across most jurisdictions, is the fact that now, what jurisdictions are doing now is ensuring that most of our kids end up with relatives. So that’s great because I could say, even as far back as ten years ago, that wasn’t happening. They ended up in stranger foster care. But now the trend is definitely, and it’s a good thing, that children are being placed in foster care settings but it’s with family members. And so this allows more children to have access to their bio parents.

LEONARD SIPES: We need to talk more about this because I’m extremely concerned with what’s happening to the kids who are left behind. But ladies and gentlemen we’re talking to Wanda Tolliver today, the interim director— The Interim Deputy Director of Program Operations for Child and Family Services Agency in Washing DC. www.cfsa.gov, www.cfsa.cov. This radio show follows the television show that we did on family reunification. And one of the things that everybody involved in that television show was talking about was what happens to the kids. The devastating impact of what happens even if they’re going to their aunts, even if they are going to their uncles, even if their going over to grandma and granddad’s house. They, in many cases have been abandoned. Now a certain percentage of them do go to the other parent but there’s got to be a point where they sit back, they’re eight years old, it has huge economic ramifications for them, it has huge personal and emotional ramifications for them. Regardless as to what dad did, dad remains dad. So we’re talking about, and I’ve never seen a firm figure on it but let’s just say out of — If there are two million people locked up behind bars it’s certainly double, triple, quadruple that number, so let’s just say eight million kids. That’s a huge burden on our society for those 8 million kids to be sitting there going, ‘I didn’t ask for this. Now what’s going to happen to me?’

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely. And the thing that is more troubling than that is the fact that once parents are incarcerated, society feels that they should go away. That’s what’s troubling.

LEONARD SIPES: But they did go away. We sent them away.

WANDA TOLLIVER: We sent them away but there’s an opportunity to keep that engagement for the children’s sake. Right? Give them opportunities to engage.

LEONARD SIPES: Absolutely. I think that a big part of why we have the problem that we do is because we’ve ignored the kids over decades we have built a gazillion prison cells. We have put hundreds of billions of dollars in terms of building prisons all throughout the United States. The rate of increase of incarceration in the United States has been astronomical but we’ve done nothing about the kids that are left behind. And I think that’s a social problem that may explain why we continuously have problems. You can’t take mom and dad away without there being ramifications. But there’s little for the kids who are left behind. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Very little. But it’s getting better but at— It’s not at the rapid pace that it needs to be. Because, you know, over time I can see where it’s better than it was two years ago , with them offering like Skype and— But not all prison systems offer these types of things.

LEONARD SIPES: But not all communities offer these kinds of things either. I mean one of the things that shocked me when I was talking to two individuals who had parents who were incarcerated, ones now working for us at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. One started her own scholarship fund for children of incarcerated parents. These are all very encouraging things but all of us pretty much agreed that there is little left in the community that brings these kids together with other kids who have incarcerated parents, to talk about what’s going on in their lives.

WANDA TOLLIVER: You’re right.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re the ones that feel alone. They’re the ones that feel shut out. They’re the ones who feel abandoned. They’re the ones who feel stigmatized. They’re the ones where kids make fun of them. And now, I mean at eight nine years old that’s a burden nobody should have to carry.

WANDA TOLIVER: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: So the question now becomes, is it the prison system’s responsibility to deal with the kids or is it the community’s responsibility to deal with the kids?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Or is it a combination of both?

LEONARD SIPES: Yes.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. I would agree with that. You need to do more.

LEONARD SIPES: We, throughout the country need to do more to focus on kids with incarcerated parents.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. Definitely.

LEONARD SIPES: Because they have their own unique needs. They need to talk this stuff through.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: When I talked to the two people who came from parents of incarcerated children, who again are doing very well now, they said that they felt so alone and ignored by everybody because they were going through something unique and they desperately needed to talk about it. They desperately needed to talk about it with trained counselors or their peers but there was nothing.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. I agree.

LEONARD SIPES: And people throughout the country need to start focusing on this. Correct?

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. But the criminal justice system and the social services system is overburdened. Because, I mean you’re the Child and Family Services Agency in Washington DC, you’ve got to be so overburdened with cases and needs that— And all of us in the criminal justice system, social services system, we’re all overburdened. Now Leonard Sipes and Wanda Tolliver are asking everybody to take on yet additional work.

WANDA TOLLIVER: But we need to find a way because if we can help with this situation then the recidivism, or the generational— of kids following in the same pathway, we could ease some of that. But we have to recognize that it’s a problem, it’s an issue that we have to come up with some solutions around.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean there’s a human part of it. It’s simply, again I could keep— Every time I do a radio show, every time I do a television show, I have an image of the person that I’m talking to. And I have an image of the person of who I’m talking about. And I see it as an eight year old kid, sitting there saying ‘what did I do?’

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: ‘Why do I have to deal with this? This is unfair. I don’t like this. I’m angry.’

WANDA TOLLIVER: And especially Leonard when the father, the parent, whether it’s the father or whether it’s the mom, when they disappear into the criminal justice system, incarceration and the children don’t have any contact. That’s when they really feel like, what did I do, what happened, I need— They need some type of reassurance that it’s not their fault and that their parent is okay.

LEONARD SIPES: Mom is still Mom and Dad is still Dad.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: It doesn’t matter what they’ve done, Mom is still Mom and Dad is still Dad. And we in the criminal justice system need to come to grips with it.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Exactly. Absolutely. Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: But again we’re saying, we’re so overcrowded. Our prison systems, our parole and probation agents throughout the country are handling caseloads of at least 150 to one. In Washington DC I always remind people it’s 50 to one. We’re a federal agency and we have the funds, thank God, to offer those lower caseloads. But most people within the criminal justice system, just— It’s like again, Leonard convince us because we don’t have the capacity, we’re barely dealing with what it is we have to deal with now.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: You’re going to have to go a long way in convincing us that family reunification is a real issue. And the people that I talk to before doing radio, and television shows, because I try to get the opinions of different people, that’s their point of view.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re saying ‘don’t let us take on anything more, please.’

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. And I would even say that a lot, maybe some, social workers feel that way too. ‘Really? You want us to take them, you know, 200 miles to see a parent?’ But at the end of the day as we, you know, child welfare systems are becoming more trauma informed. Right? Which is a great thing, and realizing that, if we don’t do this, we are putting more traumas on this child.

LEONARD SIPES: It’s the pay me now or pay me later sort of scenario.

WANDA TOLLIVER: You pay at the front end or pay at the back end, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: And the young lady who created ScholarCHIPS, that’s C H I P S, she said it was her Girl Scout troop that saved her. And come to find out within the Girl Scout troop there were other kids whose parents were incarcerated. So now it, I just don’t want to throw the burden on us, those of us in social services or those of us within the criminal justice system. I think the issue needs to go out to churches, to mosques, to Synagogues, to Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, to—

WANDA TOLLIVER: School systems.

LEONARD SIPES: School systems, to little leagues, to even— Across the board there may be opportunities to engage these kids in conversations that they desperately need to have. I’m told that biggest problem in this is that we— they have no place to go to talk through their problems because they need another child whose incarcerated to commiserate with.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Exactly. Yes, yes. It would help them.

LEONARD SIPES: Maybe all we need to do is just set up those opportunities.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes. I agree.

LEONARD SIPES: But they also need at the same time, professional counseling in some cases.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: They need to work through the anger.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: They need to work through the harm. They need to work through the abandonment.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes and we are recognizing that as a child welfare system as well, whether the children are in foster care or whether they’re in the home but with some child welfare oversight that it’s critical that they receive some type of therapeutic intervention in which to process the information.

LEONARD SIPES: Because sometimes kids don’t provide the best of advice, sometimes you do need a trained counselor to help them work through the anger and the frustration of now living with their grandparents or now living in poverty or now living— Help needs to be there. I mean, there’s no website for them to go to.

WANDA TOLLIVER: No.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean in this day and age of social media, there’s no social media site, there’s no Facebook page. It’s just a barren wasteland. Some people have said we are completely ignoring millions upon millions of abandoned kids.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: They don’t even have a place to go to on the web.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. So what can we do?

LEONARD SIPES: I don’t know. That’s the question.

WANDA TOLLIVER: We have to find a way to do something different.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s why when I talk to my counterparts in the criminal justice system, it is, ‘oh please Leonard, don’t let us take on yet another issue.’ And it’s like, you know, if we don’t take this issue on, we’re lost.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean one of the things that the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency is doing this year is, we really are asking families for help. We really understand that family for reentry is a critical component and that’s one of the themes that we’re running with this year. But I don’t see that in, I don’t see that articulated by a lot of parole and probation agencies, that we’re recognizing family reunification is an issue for supervision success.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: And why doesn’t— Why don’t other people? It’s the question.

WANDA TOLLIVER: It’s the question. We need an answer.

LEONARD SIPES: But I mean it is, in the final analysis we have some research from the urban institute and we have some research from other organizations and we have people like you and me talking about it and we did a television show on it and it’s now being discussed and we’ve recognized it as a priority. But I just don’t get the sense that in parole and probation it is that much of an issue. I don’t get the sense that in social sciences and social services it’s that’s much of an issue.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right. And we have to be honest and recognize that sometimes they’re burdened with, as you said, a high case load or they have a— They have a different agenda. And I think that it’s important that the agenda include the wellbeing of children,

LEONARD SIPES: But I do think that President Obama has made it a point to talk about that. And now between the administration and some agencies, it is being discussed for the first time. I just find it, not whimsical; I don’t want to use that word. I just find it distressing. Somewhere in between when I talk to my peers and they’re going, ‘family what? Oh you mean connecting the kid with the inmate. Yeah that’s something we should do.’ And that’s it. And it doesn’t go beyond that. So the bottom line is, some way, somehow, we need convince everybody to get involved in this.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: We need to convince the churches.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: The little leagues. Everybody.

WANDA TOLLIVER: The school systems.

LEONARD SIPES: Maybe we should do a national campaign.

WANDA TOLLIVER: I agree.

LEONARD SIPES: You know? Don’t leave anybody behind.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: Because it’s going to have ramifications for you in the future. Another phrase came to mind, but you can’t say that on government pod casts. Wanda it’s been wonderful talking to you today.

WANDA TOLLIVER: Thank you.

LEONARD SIPES: Ladies and gentlemen Wanda Tolliver. She is the Interim Deputy Director of Program Operations for Child and Family Services Agency in Washington DC. cfsa.dc.gov, cfsa.dc.gov. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC public safety. We appreciate your comments; we even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Veteran’s Treatment Courts-National Institute of Corrections

Veteran’s Treatment Courts-National Institute of Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio Transcripts

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/11/veterans-treatment-courts-national-institute-of-corrections/

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen our show today is on veteran’s treatment courts. By our microphones, back at our microphones, Greg Crawford, he is a corrections program specialist for the National Institute of corrections. We have Melissa Fitzgerald, Senior Director of Justice for Vets and she played Carol in the West Wing. And we have another person with a strong media background, Bernie Edelman, he is Deputy Director for Policy and Government Affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America. To Greg and Bernie and Melissa, welcome to DC Public Safety.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Thank you.

GREG CRAWFORD: Thanks Len.

LEONARD SIPES: Greg you’ve got a Veterans Treatment Court white paper coming out in December, so why don’t you start off giving the program giving us a snippet of the Treatment Court white paper that’s coming out, also a program workshop with the American Probation and Parole Association. But first of all, give me a quick definition of Veterans Treatment Courts. What are they? Melisa did you want to go?

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Certainly, I would be happy to. Veterans Treatment Courts are an alternative to incarceration for veterans who are suffering with a mental health and or substance abuse disorders stemming from their service. And they are unlike any other court room you’ve ever seen.

LEONARD SIPES: And why is that?

MELISSA FITZGERALD: They are not only places of strict accountability, which of course they are, but they are also places of hope and they are places of healing. They ensure that when veterans struggle with the transition home, they get the structure, treatment, and mentoring they need to get their lives back on track.

LEONARD SIPES: All right.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: These are lifesaving court rooms, they’re staffed by criminal justice professionals who have been specially trained to assess and treat the veterans that appear before them. And this interdisciplinary team consists of, judge, probation officer, defense, prosecution, a mental health care provider, a representative from the VA and then one of my favorite components is the volunteer veteran mentors who serve as mentors for their brothers and sisters who are struggling in the program.

LEONARD SIPES: Sounds fantastic. Greg what are the percentage of people caught up in the criminal justice system? You mentioned how many?

GREG CRAWFORD: Well Len, we have, you know as I’ve mentioned on prior shows, the United States incarcerates more folks than any other country in the world. And about 12% of our US prison population is veterans.

LEONARD SIPES: Well that’s amazing and that’s distressing.

GREG CRAWFORD: And so you mentioned, Veterans Treatment Court white paper. Bernie Edelman is our author on the project and we initially met with Melissa Fitzgerald and the good folks from Justice for Vets and sort of mapped out a game plan and got some information on some of the promising courts across the country. And we made six site visits across the country and met with each of the Veterans Treatment Court teams. We obviously started with Buffalo which was the site of the first Veterans Treatment Court team and we interviewed all the key players, as Melisa mentioned the judges, and the prosecutors, and defense, and VA and mentors and it really is a place of healing. We witnessed firsthand graduations and this is a tremendous opportunity. As I mentioned there’s about 12% of the US prison population but Veterans Treatment Courts are an opportunity to intervene at the front end of the system before things escalate for these veterans.

LEONARD SIPES: Well if there’s— if we’re going— there was a massive discussion, and Bernie I’m going to get to you in a second. There’s a massive discussion going on right now about the correctional population, whether or not it’s appropriate, whether or not the United States over incarcerates. And there is no doubt that we are first in the world in terms of the rate of incarceration. So the larger issue of veterans, if there’s any particular group that we’re going to take a hard look at and try to see if there are alternatives, it should be veterans it strikes me. I mean considering their backgrounds.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Absolutely, I agree with you. I think it honors their service. But I also think it makes our community stronger because we need our veterans.

LEONARD SIPES: Of course.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: And the vast majority of our veterans return home strengthened by their military service, they come home to our communities as leaders. And I believe that all of our veterans are of our greatest and most valuable civic assets, including our veterans who are struggling on the home front. And I think it is our duty as Americans to make sure that they receive the supports that they need and the services that they’ve earned and the benefits and the treatments that they’ve earned, to truly come home.

LEONARD SIPES: All right. Bernie, now you are the Veterans Treatment Court white paper. That’s one of the things that Greg brought up a little while ago. You’re Director of Policy and Government Affairs for Vietnam Veterans of America. What is the white paper? What did it deal with?

BERNARD EDELMAN: It dealt with, what is a Veteran Treatment Court. Why are these courts needed? It deals with how, what makes them work. How many court rooms have you ever been in, in which the defense attorney and the prosecutor are on the same side basically? Finding justice and trying to save a life of somebody who has served the country.

LEONARD SIPES: The white paper says what? In terms of conclusions did it take a look at the validity of treatment courts, the effectiveness of Veterans Treatment Courts?

BERNARD EDELMAN: The white paper is not about statistics and it’s not to try to evaluate anything. What it is, is trying to tell jurisdictions that are building Veterans Treatment Courts, and I use the word build with quotes around it, or are thinking about it, all they need to know is in this one paper.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, great.

BERNARD EDELMAN: That’s that’s— And one of the things, there are a lot of jurisdictions that do not want treatment courts. Why? Because they want good numbers for prosecutions, convictions, et cetera. A lot of outlying judges, this isn’t their concept of justice, happens to be our concept of justice. And we’re giving an option to people. And it’s not only the freshly minted veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and Bosnia before that. We have a lot of Vietnam veterans whose— I only wish we had veterans treatment courts when I got out of the Army 40 years ago.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line is that we can save a lot of individuals who are coming out of the military who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. We can save taxpayers literally hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars over the long run by intervening in their lives by saying if what you did was not murder, what you did was not rape, we’re going to intervene and see if we can help you out.

BERNARD EDELMAN: No. No, no, no, no, no, no.

LEONARD SIPES: No? Tell me.

BERNARD EDELMAN: It’s not about murder. Most courts do not deal with, if you’ve murdered somebody, nuh-uh.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Not most courts, all courts. There are no murders. If there is any serious bodily injury, those are not included. That’s a different category that is not in Veteran Treatment Courts.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, but that’s what I thought I said. What we’re talking about are crimes beyond that. We’re not talking about those sort of crimes.

BERNARD EDELMAN: No we’re talking about crimes that, there may be some violence, in some cases, some courts have misdemeanor offences. The thing is, once you get your name into the criminal justice system, it’s there. And if you want to talk about getting jobs, you have a record, you’re an ex con, forget about it. Forget it your life is not going to be what you’d like it to be.

LEONARD SIPES: So it’s extremely important considering the service that they provided to our country to, when the crimes are appropriate, to intervene and to try to extract them from the criminal justice system through drug treatment courts.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: And I also think it very important to note that the veterans, who are appearing in the Veterans Treatment Courts, must have a clinical diagnosis of a mental health and or substance abuse disorder. And I do think that it is important that we recognize that they must benefit from treatment. And they are. That’s the other thing that we’re talking about. And there are mountains of evidence; you know Veterans Treatment Courts are hybrid courts or drug courts and mental health courts. So they are already in the general population, these specialized treatment courts and there are mountains of evidence. Drug courts is one of the most widely studied—

LEONARD SIPES: Yes they are.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Exactly.

LEONARD SIPES: Agreed.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: So they’ve been around for 25 years and are incredibly successful, the most successful criminal justice model in the history of our country and Veterans Treatment Courts follow the drug court model.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s correct and it’s a wonderful idea. Now for people listening to this show, the white paper is going to come out sometime in mid-December correct? And where do they go? Do they go to the website for the National Institute of Corrections Greg?

GREG CRAWFORD: Yeah.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. www.nicic.gov www.nicic.gov. Somewhere around say December 15th you’re going to be able to find the white paper on the Veterans Drug Treatment Court on the website of the National Institute of Corrections. Greg, you wanted to say something?

GREG CRAWFORD: Yeah. You know one of the things I wanted to bring up about the white paper that I think is unique, is that it’s a peer to peer, judge to judge, passing along information to other prosecutors to prosecutors, defense to defense, about the struggles of implementation, about what’s working, what were the successes and what were the challenge. And so we’re going to tell these stories as well.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay.

BERNARD EDELMAN: And it’s about stories. This is not going to be like most government publications which—

LEONARD SIPES: Thank God.

BERNARD EDELMAN: — gather dust on shelves.

LEONARD SIPES: Greg found that funny.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Yeah.

LEONARD SIPES: Go ahead.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Or wind up in the circular file. These are stories and there’s something that I like. I like it when people are able to speak. We edit them a bit but Judge Robert Russell, of several people in their own words. We’ve recorded them, we let them tell their story. Patrick Welch, marine veteran, left part of his foot in Vietnam. How he became an advocate, he tells that story beautifully, there’s nothing I can do to improve upon that by quoting him, and interjecting myself. It’s about stories, we want it to be eminently readable, so that people will get into it and they’ll want to go through it.

LEONARD SIPES: Alright we don’t normally  book shows while we’re doing shows, but Greg I want to get three of these success stories by Skype, and I want to interview them after the white paper comes out. So sometime in February if we could interview three of these individuals, so that they could tell their own stories directly that would be wonderful.

BERNARD EDELMAN: And you will see five, if I recall, five stories of individuals, many in relation to Patrick up in Baltimore, excuse me in Buffalo, whose life was coming apart, because of various substances that he has abused for too many years. Lot of people in the criminal justice system, didn’t think he’d make it. Turns out he did, he is now a mentor himself. Let me say something about mentors, mentors are other veterans who have been through, similar circumstances. Lot of them are Vietnam veterans or Gulf 1 veterans. They can talk to somebody from the current wars and because they’ve been through it together, they’ve had similar experiences, they, the young person who has had problems with the law, has somebody whom he can talk to. Who will help him out in ways that go well beyond what you normally get in the courtroom.

LEONARD SIPES: Well the mentoring experience has worked for us at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we do a lot of faith based mentoring. Melissa go ahead.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Oh no I was just going to say that one of the things that is particularly meaningful, just expanding upon what Bernie was saying, about these courtrooms. Is the comradery that exists, having all the veterans on the same docket. So let’s say in Buffalo, Tuesday morning from nine to noon is Veteran’s Treatment Court. All the veterans that are appearing as part of the veterans treatment court, come at that same time. Plus all the mentors, so the comradery in that courtroom, and time and time again I’ve heard from the veterans participating in the programs, that this is a key piece of what makes them so successful. Because they say I’m not just in this for me, I’m in this for my brothers and sisters, and I want them to succeed, and myself, and so many have said to me in this courtroom. I got my unit back.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s amazing, an amazing story. What percentage I’ll throw it out to any of you, what percentage of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system who are veterans, could be saved from, as you said a little while ago Bernie, having a life of crime. In terms of a criminal background following them, how many and what percentage could we see and extract from the criminal justice system, turning them into tax payers instead of tax burdens?

BERNARD EDELMAN: It’s hard to give a number, and it’s not that they’ll lead a life of crime necessarily, but somebody who had ideas and ideals for what she wanted to do, when she joined the military, then got out and found out that there wasn’t a place for her in society. She feels alienated from society, and she gives up, that’s what Melissa said before, it’s a place of hope and that’s the key thing.

LEONARD SIPES: But we have to give people a sense as to what the potential is here, a bit part of the criminal justice system is a certain doubt as to our efficacy, as to our effectiveness. Drug courts, Melissa mentioned a little while ago, are very successful. So drug courts are routinely turning in, 20% reductions in recidivism. I was wondering if that percentage could be increased in terms of veteran’s courts?

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Well we have every reason to believe that we will at least match that number, because I think of the added benefits of veteran’s courts including the mentors, and then also some of the, much of the treatment is provided by the VA in terms of cost savings. So —

LEONARD SIPES: I did want to get into that, the VA is I would assume totally supportive of this concept?

BERNARD EDELMAN: The VA is a partner in this effort, without the VA I don’t think the courts would work. They have computers, laptops that they bring into the courtroom. So someone says I missed my last appointment to see my psychologist, they’ll call, they’ll get him an appointment in 30 minutes.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: If the judge says I want this young man or this young woman to get addiction treatment at the VA. The VA rep in real time is sitting there on the computer connecting them to that.

LEONARD SIPES: So it’s not the horror stories we’ve been hearing in the media about—

MELISSA FITZGERALD: No.

LEONARD SIPES: So it’s really working in terms of veteran’s treatment court.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Yes absolutely.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: It’s a real success story for the VA I think.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Not only that, I witnessed in the courtroom in Buffalo, somebody didn’t have their benefits yet and the VA pushed them through. So they walked out the door with an appointment and their benefits.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re halfway through the program, let me reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentlemen this is a fascinating show, on the Veteran’s Treatment Courts. We have Greg Crawford back at our microphones, correctional program specialist for the National Institute of Corrections. We have Melissa Fitzgerald, Senior Director of Justice for Vets, who used to play Carol in the West Wing, and I’m very impressed by that Bernie Edelman. He’s Deputy Director for Policy and Government Affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America. He also has his own media background. www.nicic.gov is where this white paper that we’re talking about is going to be posted, Melissa go ahead.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Well first of all, also Justice for Vets can be found at justiceforvets.org and we have a tremendous amount of information on there. You know 2008 the very first Veteran’s Treatment Court was launched in Buffalo, New York, as was mentioned by Judge Robert Russell. We now have over 197 Veteran’s Treatment Courts nationwide, with hundreds more in the works.

LEONARD SIPES: Wait a minute, wait a minute, how many?

MELISSA FITZGERALD: 197.

LEONARD SIPES: 197, close to 200 Veteran’s Treatment’s Courts. Now that’s a headline unto itself.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: I agree.

LEONARD SIPES: We just made news today.

GREG CRAWFORD: With hundreds and various stages of implementation.

LEONARD SIPES: With hundreds at various stages of implementation.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: These are catching on like wildfire, and why? Because they work, as of today, there are right now, 10,000 veterans who are being served in a Veteran’s Treatment Court, who would otherwise be incarcerated.

LEONARD SIPES: 10,000.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: 10,000.

LEONARD SIPES: 210,000.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Returning home to their families, being parents to their children, having jobs, going back to school, and being the leaders in our communities, that we need them to be. There was a young man in the Montgomery County Veteran’s Treatment Court in Pennsylvania, one of the first that I visited. He was the first participant in this Veteran’s Treatment Court, and he went through, it took him three years to get through the Veteran’s Treatment Court, because he had to pay back restitution. He went back to school, he got clean and sober, he has a full time job, he is a very involved and proud father to his son, and he is living a productive life, and he’s grateful for the second chance. When I went into that courtroom, to really observe, he walked up to me and said, do you have a business card, because I want to help you. I want to make sure other Veterans got the same —

LEONARD SIPES: That’s great.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: — chance that I had.

LEONARD SIPES: Greg you know this is sort of, I don’t know the word to use, but there are disagreements, people agree to disagree in terms of what it is, that we in the criminal justice system should be doing, at all levels. But this seems to be a wedge to bring people together. I mean this is something that nobody is going to disagree with regardless of where they are in the political spectrum. Everybody is going to say hey if the crime is appropriate and the person has the background that you’re talking about, for the love of heavens let’s give this person a second chance.

GREG CRAWFORD: Yes if you have any doubts whatsoever I encourage you to go visit a graduation at a Veteran’s Treatment Court. I went to a graduation in Erie County in Colorado Springs, I saw a young man graduate, and his wife and two young children were in the courtroom. About 18 months earlier he was headed to prison, but he got an opportunity in a Veteran’s Treatment Court, and not only is he a productive member of society, he’s going to school, he’s got a job, he’s caring for his family. His wife didn’t give up on him, and his children hugged him at the end of the graduation, if that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, I don’t know what will.

LEONARD SIPES: But so many people caught up in the criminal justice system, that’s part of the problem because they’ve burnt their bridges and they’ve burnt their bridges so often, with so many people. They feel apart from their family, they feel apart from their community, and Bernie I sort of got the sense that that’s where you were going with your remarks before?

BERNARD EDELMAN: Some veterans you have to remember don’t have family. Their family was the unit that they served with, watch your six, I’ll watch yours you watch mine. They come back, they want to get out, they’ve served for four years, six years, ten years, whatever it is, they’re lost. Maybe the mother is a drug addict, the father has not been around, there’s no family there. You go into a Veteran’s Treatment Court because somebody believed that this guy would, has the possibility of turning his life around. That’s what happens, you go through phases in a treatment court, it’s not a giveaway, it’s harder for a lot of people to have to do this, than it is to say just go to prison for three years.

LEONARD SIPES: Very few people understand that, very few people understanding facing their own demons is one of the hardest sentences they could possibly have.

BERNARD EDELMAN: And that’s what it’s about to a very great extent and the turnaround with some of these people is extraordinary.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: It takes a certain kind of courage to face your demons.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: It does.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: It absolutely takes courage to serve your country and to be willing to risk your life for your country, and I think it takes a different kind of courage to say, I’m going to enter a Veteran’s Treatment Court. I’m going to face my demons. And let’s face it, going to jail or prison they’re not going to get the treatment that they need. They’re not going to get the counseling that they need to really return back a healthy citizen. So this is restoring lives.

LEONARD SIPES: I’m going to guess and suggest that people who have been through the military are more prone to face their demons because of the discipline, and because of the unit structure that they’ve come from, that maybe a different experience from regular people that we get within the criminal justice system, who do not have that background.

BERNARD EDELMAN: There are a lot of folks in the military who come back with post-traumatic stress disorder, with TBI.

LEONARD SIPES: TBI is?

GREG CRAWFORD: Traumatic brain injury.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay thank you.

BERNARD EDELMAN: And because of that, there’s something that is missing, they come back to a totally different country, that they don’t relate to. Right now fewer than 1%, I believe it may even be half of 1% of Americans serve in the military. That’s an extraordinary number, when I was in Vietnam it was various estimates 4% to 9%. World War II it was everybody just about. The mass of Americans do not have to serve, it’s all volunteer. Those who step forward and volunteer, for whatever reason, whether it’s economic or they simply want to serve their nation, the nation has to serve them. It’s our obligation to serve them. If they make a mistake because of drugs, or alcohol, which is self-medication for a lot of these folks. Self-medication, they crash into a telephone pole, they have three DUIs or DWI arrests. Somebody sees them and says this guy can be helped.

LEONARD SIPES: Greg go ahead.

GREG CRAWFORD: Len I just, since 9/11 we’ve had approximately 2.6 million people serve in our country. About one and a half million of those have deployed, not once or twice to Afghanistan, Iraq or both, but four and five and six times. They’re coming back and they’re struggling, they’re struggling and that’s why it’s so critical for the community to get around these folks, and get an understanding.

LEONARD SIPES: Well that’s the perspective issue that I tried to start off the program with, and before we hit the record button. So now you all, the three of you can start yelling at me. I don’t want to give the impression, I mean I know tons of former Vets that are doing fine.

BERNARD EDELMAN: There’s no such thing as a former Vet by the way.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Nicely done Bernie.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Communities embrace this, as far as I know we’ve never had an instance where the community has rejected this. These aren’t, these are people that served our nation, they are members of a community, okay, they come back, some of them, not all of them, need help, because they’re not reintegrating the way we’d like them to, and the way they would like to reintegrate, doesn’t happen. So they get into trouble and there’s a champion in the area who is usually a judge, sometimes a district attorney, sets up a Veteran’s Treatment Court. You get a lot of community input, you have the VA, you get prosecutor and defense attorney who are usually adversaries. Now they’re both advocates for this individual, and that’s what makes it work.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: And they get trained by Justice for Vets and I’m not just putting in a shameless plug.

LEONARD SIPES: No, no, please Melissa.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: We do the training and technical assistance for these courts, and it’s critical that they get trained by Justice for Vets. We’re the only national organization that does this, and make sure that they’re following the drug court, the ten point model. I think that is an important piece of it.

LEONARD SIPES: Nobody’s giving them a free ride, this is for accountability.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: This is accountability.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: My father was a prosecutor, my entire childhood my father was an assistant district attorney. He is now my entire adulthood he’s been a judge, and he is a proponent of treatment courts, and what he said to me when I asked him about this, years ago, was Melissa, anyone who knows anything about these courts, is for them. They’re for them because they work.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Exactly.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: And I don’t always agree with my dad on everything, but I agree with him on this.

LEONARD SIPES: I have daughters, I know that.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: They work by doing a lot of things, they work by first of all, honoring the service of our veterans. They also work by reducing crime, they work by saving the tax payer a tremendous amount of money, and they return our healthy veterans back to our communities where we need them. These are men and women of honor, duty, leadership, respect, and lifelong service. We need them in our communities showing us and teaching us about true honor, and as you said, most veterans who return home, return home strengthened by their service. We cannot ignore the ones who are struggling.

BERNARD EDELMAN: And let me throw one other thing, recidivism, there are different definitions of recidivism.

LEONARD SIPES: True.

BERNARD EDELMAN: But up in Buffalo, of the first 137, or 147 graduates, we call them graduates, only two got involved with the criminal justice system again.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s extraordinary.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: Unheard of numbers in criminal justice.

LEONARD SIPES: Those are unheard of numbers.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: And anecdotally there has been no national study, there’s been no national study yet, and we are clamoring for one. Largely because the very first one launched in 2008, and the majority have opened up in the past two years. However, anecdotally we’re seeing these are incredibly successful programs.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s the point that I was trying to get to from the beginning of the program, is that my assumption was that they would do better than the average person coming into the criminal justice system.

GREG CRAWFORD: Let me make a point about Veteran Treatment Courts, I think the thing that is so impressive, is that like Bernie talked, and Melissa talked about is everyone, the judge, the prosecutor, the defense, the VA, treatment, they’re all working together in a collaborative process, with one goal in mind, and that’s to help the veteran. That’s the difference.

LEONARD SIPES: Why didn’t we do this from the very beginning, why did it take so long? This seems to be so right and just to do.

GREG CRAWFORD: Because everyone threw everybody in jail and in prison.

LEONARD SIPES: Why did we do that Greg, we’re part of the criminal justice system?

BERNARD EDELMAN: This began —

LEONARD SIPES: Go ahead Bernie.

BERNARD EDELMAN: — with a couple of folks up in Buffalo, and Judge Russell, who I call the Godfather, but it’s nothing to do with Italian heritage or anything like that. Two guys who worked up there, Patrick Welch, Jack O’Conner, they were the lightning rod so to speak. They got the judge involved in what some other people were talking about, how do we help our incarcerated Vets and Vets who will be incarcerated? They came up with the idea of a Veteran’s Treatment Court. When Judge Russell said that at a first meeting, he was expecting people to boo him, instead one guys says, ‘Did I hear you correctly judge, you want to do a special court only for veterans?’ He says, ‘Yes,’ the guy says, ‘How can I volunteer, how can I help?’ That makes it work.

LEONARD SIPES: But the whole idea is everybody cooperates, everybody comes together for the good of the veteran, for the good of society. Melissa you got 30 seconds.

MELISSA FITZGERALD: 2008, Judge Russell saw an influx of veterans appearing before him, one in particular he didn’t think was responding as well as he should be in a mental health court. He asked one of his court staff, who was a veteran, to go talk to him in the hallway and find out what was going on. The next week that veteran returned into the courtroom at parade rest, clean shaven, looked the judge in the eye and said, ‘Yes sir, judge, no sir judge.’ That man graduated from the program and that was the impetus and the inspiration for Veteran’s Treatment Courts.

LEONARD SIPES: All three of you fascinating, I’d love to have you back for a future program, love to get those individuals who are caught up in the program, to provide their own personal testimony. Ladies and gentlemen we did a show today on Veteran’s Treatment Courts, by our microphones Greg Crawford from the National Institute of Corrections. Melissa Fitzgerald Senior Director of Justice for Vets, and Bernie Edelman, Deputy Director for Policy and Government Affairs for Vietnam Veterans.

BERNARD EDELMAN: Almost got it right.

LEONARD SIPES: What is it Bernie, Edelman. In any event, www.nicic.gov, my friends from New York are going to laugh, .gov, www.nicic.gov for the white paper, on the program ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Comcast Interview with Nancy Ware

This Television Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2014/11/comcast-interview-nancy-ware/

Yolanda Vazquez:  Hello, I’m Yolanda Vasquez, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I am joined now in the studio by Nancy M. Ware, she is the Director of the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. Nancy it’s a pleasure to have you here in our studio.

Nancy Ware:  Thank you, Yolanda.

Yolanda Vazquez:  So, I was asking you earlier to give us a little brief history of CSOSA as you call it, and I was saying you established in 1997 by the US Congress but you said actually, that was part of an Act. You were established a little bit later. Tell us a little bit about how you were formed initially.

Nancy Ware:  Sure, well originally in 1997 actually, we had the Revitalization Act at Washington DC, which federalized a lot of the law enforcement agencies. And CSOSA was one of those agencies. So they moved probation and parole from the courts and from our parole board, which was in DC, over to this federal executive branch agency. And that’s how CSOSA was formed and we were formally put in place as an executive branch agency in 2000.

Yolanda Vazquez:  And the reasoning behind that was to kind of lift some of the burden from the state level agencies?

Nancy Ware:  That’s right. That’s correct. And also to consolidate a lot of the functions under one branch, one area of government. We also have other parts of the federal government that have take over responsibility like the prison system which is under the Federal Bureau of Prisons and our US Parole Commission which is part of the Federal US Parole Commission now. So we have a number of functions that have been federalized.

Yolanda Vazquez:  It’s good to get a good overview like that. So tell us a little bit more about CSOSA, and what are some of the things that you do and the population that you serve?

Nancy Ware:  Well, we’re responsible for supervising men and women who are on probation/parole. We supervise release in the District of Columbia. So although we’re a federal agency, we’re focused specifically on DC code offenders. And although we also have responsibility for interstate, which means that we also work with other states who have people who are on probation/parole or who are also in the District of Columbia, so we have relationships with other states. But primarily we’re focused on those individuals who live in the District of Columbia. And we have about fourteen thousand individuals under our supervision on any given day, and about twenty-four thousand throughout the course of a year.

Yolanda Vazquez:  How do you go about prioritizing your list of services to the various populations?

Nancy Ware:  Well, we really use a lot of research and evidence based practices in our practice throughout CSOSA, so what we do each year is to take the pulse of emerging trends and emerging issues across the population and also across the District in law enforcement. And as a result of that we’ve put in place specialized units throughout our agency to focus on emerging trends like mental health issues, which we’re finding to be more and more a concern among our population. Mental health and substance abuse have become an issue as well. Well, substance abuse has always been an issue, but we also have co-occurring disorders that we’re working with. And so we’ve put in place specific units and well-trained staff and contractors to work with that population. We also have units for women, domestic violence, we have specialized units working with youth and that’s a new one.

Yolanda Vazquez:  Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Nancy Ware:  Yeah, that’s one that’s particularly of interest to me because we were having a lot of challenges with our young men in particular under twenty-five. And it was very difficult to get them to comply with their conditions of supervision. So we formed two campuses we call them, the Northwest and then Southeast and Southwest to serve that population better.

Yolanda Vazquez:  And it’s been a wonderful experience, the past two or three years for you, working with this?

Nancy Ware:  It has. It’s a great agency.

Yolanda Vazquez:  It sounds like it is. Well Nancy, we really appreciate you coming in. We had the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Thank you so much for your time and explaining so much to us about what you do.

Nancy Ware:  Thank you.

Yolanda Vazquez:  Thank you so very much! And that’ll do it for this edition of Comcast Newsmakers. I’m Yolanda Vazquez. Thanks for watching everybody. We will you see you again real soon.

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