Justice Reinvestment-The Urban Institute

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/02/justice-reinvestment-urban-institute/.

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, Justice Reinvestment in America, or how I like to call it, Reinventing the American Justice System. Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne. She is the principle investigator for the Urban Institute. There was a piece of research that she was the principle investigator on, Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report, from the Urban Institute, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice; the website www.urban.org.

I’m going to briefly read from the executive summary. “States across the country are increasingly seeking cost-effective and evidence-based strategies to enhance public safety and manage their corrections and parole and probation populations. This model, Justice Reinvestment yielded promising results supporting cost-effective evidence-based policies projected to generate meaningful savings for states while maintaining a focus on public safety. Congress appropriated funds to launch the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2010 in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts. 17 states are participating.” Nancy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy La Vigne: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Len Sipes: You’re back at the microphones. You’ve been here before. I absolutely adore having you. I consider you one of the chief spokespeople for Justice Reinvestment in the United States, a pretty complicated topic. Let’s start off with what is Justice Reinvestment?

Nancy La Vigne: Well, you’re right. It really is complicated. And it’s not the kind of concept that can be answered in what I call an elevator pitch. It takes more than three sentences, so bear with me here.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: The Justice Reinvestment model is actually a seven step model. And it kind of mirrors the problem solving model. So, trying to understand the underlying causes of a problem and then using data and evidence to drive how you might change that problem and then being sure to assess is after the fact. So if you take that rather simplistic model and apply it to state criminal justice systems you have a lot of things that need to be in place. And critical to that, and this is the first step of the model, is establishing a bipartisan working group. You have to have everyone on board.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: And in the context of the state, we’re talking about the House Majority Leader, the Senate Leader, different names in different states.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Democrats, republicans, you want all branches of government on board, and this is usually led by the governor. So you need a governor who sees the vision and the opportunity for criminal justice reform and really wants to spearhead the effort. So that’s the first step.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Then you need to analyze the drivers of your criminal justice populations and costs. And of course the most costly component of a criminal justice population are those who are behind bars. So who’s going to prison, for how long, how’d they get there, when are they released, what happens when they’re released, who ends up getting returned and why? These are kind of detailed questions that require very –

Len Sipes: Sure are.

Nancy La Vigne: Good data and really strong data analysis. That’s where the technical assistance provider comes in. So you do your data analysis and that leads you to a variety of policy options that are related to the drivers of your system. You have those policy options. You continue to work with the working group. All the stake holders need to be on board. And you make policy changes that are codified in the legislation that’s enacted. Do we declare victory and move on at that juncture? You passed a bill right?

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So you’re supposed to say, “No, Nancy. I don’t think you do.”

Len Sipes: I’m –

Nancy La Vigne: “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

Len Sipes: I’m just trying to follow your lead, because this is complicated. I have these discussions all the time with my peers and other reporters, Justice Reinvestment, what it means. It’s hard to encapsualize.

Nancy La Vigne: So I’m only on step four –

Len Sipes: Okay. Go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne: Right? I’ve got a few more. So the legislation is passed and enacted, but that’s still on paper, right? Then you have to go about the hard work of implementing it.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: And that’s a big component of Justice Reinvestment, is working with the practitioners on the ground to ensure that what was passed is actually implemented with fidelity, as we call it in the research community. So here’s the catch. Do you remember the name Justice Reinvestment?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: Have you heard me say reinvestment yet?

Len Sipes: No.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. It takes so long to the reinvestment word.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: But that’s step six, because what you do is you implement the changes that are supposed to thwart the growth in your prison population, if not reduce it, and with that reduction comes massive savings.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Nancy La Vigne: Across all of the 17 states that we studied, they are projected to save 4.6 billion dollars.

Len Sipes: That’s an amazing amount of money.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. It really is. And some share of that gets reinvested.

Len Sipes: Into?

Nancy La Vigne: Into programs, services, evidence-based practices that help support a lot of these alternatives to incarceration.

Len Sipes: Is it too easy to say that if I save the state of Missouri a billion dollars, then half of that comes back to programs in the community that furthers the reduction and recidivism?

Nancy La Vigne: That’s safe but for the percentage. Each state has chosen to reinvest a different percentage and that varies dramatically –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Across the 17 states we studied.

Len Sipes: The heart and soul of this is that we need to manage the criminal justice population better, more efficiently, to protect public safety and to lower the cost at the state level. That’s the bottom line behind all of this, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: That is. And I think the emphasis on cost-effectiveness is really important, and both of those words, cost and effectiveness. So this wasn’t driven by cost alone, right, although, a lot of states that did engage in Justice Reinvestment were strapped for resources and were looking at the opportunity cost of continuing to spend more and more money on incarceration. It’s the effectiveness piece, in that a lot of these states were looking and saying, “We’re just, we keep incarcerating more and more people at great expense, but we’re not getting much return on that investment, recidivism rates weren’t budging a bit.”

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: “So what are we getting out of this? There’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a way that we can invest resources, perhaps even less than we’re investing now, on evidence-based practices that will lower recidivism.” And of course that’s going to be addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior.

Len Sipes: Sure. But my peers in the different states have all said and in the 14 years when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, I mean every year the governor had a discussion with their public safety secretary about cutting back on cost. I think every governor in this country is saying to themselves, “We’re in a recession. We’re taking in fewer tax dollars. We’re in trouble. 8% to 12% of our expenditures are going into corrections.” I know it’s different for different states. Is there a way that you can bring that down, yet at the same time, maintain public safety? I would imagine a lot of this is coming out of those discussions with governors and public safety secretaries and directors of corrections.

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. And it’s no coincidence that Justice Reinvestment has taken off at a time where crime rates are historically low levels.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: So it becomes a very safe space to experiment in alternatives to incarceration.

Len Sipes: Right. Almost continuous 20 year, almost, because in the last couple years it’s fluctuated in terms of crime going up according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and some FBI data. Although, the latest FBI data says crime is going back down. But basically over the last 20 years the trend line has been less crime. So it is a safe space to have this discussion.

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: Okay. So go ahead. So why, if it’s so complex, why did the 17 states decide to get involved in this?

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Well, we were just talking about the issues of not getting the return on investment of continuing incarceration and increasing incarceration rates in many, actually, most states. They look to the states that predated the work that we did. I guess I should clarify. The report that we just released focuses on 17 states under what we call the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which was launched in 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, with appropriations from Congress. BJA had invested in Justice Reinvestment at an earlier time, as did the Pew Charitable Trusts. BJA and Pew actually partnered on the 2010 initiative. It’s a public-private partnership. It’s rather unique.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Pew is able to dedicate resources to a lot of what we call “the ground softening” that needs to take place in states. They’ll do public opinion polls to demonstrate that the public really has more of a tolerance for alternatives to incarceration than some might think. They’ll engage in educating members of Congress in ways that government funds couldn’t go towards. And they also do their own technical assistance. So it’s been a terrific partnership, but I do want to note that these are just the 17 states since the 2010 initiative, and then much, much came before that, and that the models evolved quite a bit over time. But a lot of these 17 states looked back to those earlier examples, Texas stands out as –

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: A big one that everyone holds up. Texas engaging in this level of reform is noteworthy in and of itself.

Len Sipes: A conservative state. And one of the things that I did want to point out is that this is now a bipartisan relationship. This is now a bipartisan discussion where you have people on the conservative side taking a look at the state government and basically saying, “Okay, we are giving you 800 million dollars a year or a billion dollars a year to run your correctional system, what return am I getting for that expenditure?” That’s a very fair question.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. It’s quite powerful, and then looking at other examples and saying, “Why aren’t we doing this?”

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So that was a big, big driver for states getting onboard with it. And you need that, because it’s a complicated process. It’s both complex and complicated.

Len Sipes: Well, but again, I think every person that I’ve talked to representing states throughout the country has said that their governor has had that conversation. Every state is tweaking their criminal justice system. Every state out there, whether their part of this study or not, are trying to figure out different ways of holding down on expenditures, and at the same time, getting a bigger, stronger, more powerful return on tax pay dollars. Every state is doing this to one degree or another.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: At least the people that I’ve talked to.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: All right, so this has many ramifications for parole and probation. I represent a parole and probation agency. Most of the people I talk to are involved in community corrections. This really does. Because I remember sitting down and doing an analysis in the state of Maryland. 70% of the people coming into the prison system in one particular year, 70% were revocations from parole or probation, 70%. And the public safety secretary would look at me, and he goes, “Leonard, we can’t maintain 70% returns. I mean are all the people coming back really, do they all really need to return to the prison system?” And again, I think that conversation is going on in every state.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned revocations, because across the 17 states that was one of the biggest drivers of all of their prison populations, probation and parole revocations on average feeding about 50% of the growth in the prison population.

Len Sipes: And I’ve seen it much higher –

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: From other research reports.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. And this is just on average across the states. So, yes, that was one key policy response was thinking differently about what to do with revocations. The solutions included graduated sanctions, so a lot of other responses to violations of conditions of probation or parole, short of incarceration; kind of ramping up supervision; adding electronic monitoring; so on and so forth.

Len Sipes: Project HOPE in Hawaii.

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. Yeah. Several states included Project HOPE in part of their policy initiatives –

Len Sipes: That’s great.

Nancy La Vigne: Because it held such promise, those short-term stays over the weekend in jail that don’t disrupt one’s employment and –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Enable them. But they feel it. It’s got teeth.

Len Sipes: It’s got teeth.

Nancy La Vigne: And it’s swift and certain.

Len Sipes: And they’re off the street quickly and it did dramatically, dramatically reduce recidivism. It dramatically reduced technical violations, it certainly did get the attention of the people in supervision.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. Another thing they looked at in terms of reducing revocations is, well, certainly the technical violations are huge and need not result in a return to prison per se, even some low-level offenses, does that really merit a return to incarceration? Or what is the length of stay of any kind of term for revocation, can that be narrowed?

Len Sipes: The question I hear oftentimes is by re-incarcerating so many lower level offenders; we don’t have the room for the truly serious violent people who pose a risk to public safety, who pose a danger to public safety. That’s the discussion that I’ve heard.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. That’s absolutely right and it remains true today, although, I think that increasingly you’re seeing that people behind bars in state prisons have done some pretty serious crimes, because states have over time tried to divert folks from incarceration. The revocation piece is the one piece where I think there’s still room for reform.

Len Sipes: But the idea here is to, again, lower rates of recidivism – follow the research, I’m sorry. It really is a focus now in the last ten years of taking a look at evidence-based practices. A body of research has come out that has provided us with best practices and it’s asking those of us in the criminal justice system to employ those best practices. And through that we can figure out who needs services, who needs supervision, the people who don’t need intensive supervision or services, we do not do that much with them, but the services and the supervision really goes to those who pose a clear and present danger to public safety

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. And you actually just hit on the number one policy response across the 17 states. 16 of the 17 states implemented, expanded, and/or validated risk and needs assessments to make decisions –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: On who needs to go in, who need to be supervised, who needs treatment, etc. etc.

Len Sipes: What we’re saying is we have a pretty good sense now after, I say the last ten years. We’re actually talking the last 30, 40, 50 years of research. We have a pretty good sense now as to how community corrections, how parole and probation agencies can operate, should operate. And if we operate in that way, we lower the risks of recidivism and we save tax paid dollars all at the same time. There is enough evidence at this stage of the game that indicates that that’s the way to go.

Nancy La Vigne: I think there is, but speaking as a researcher, there’s always opportunity to analyze those policies more carefully.

Len Sipes: I’ve never talked to a researcher in my life who didn’t say, “Well, we’ve found this out, but we need to do this and this and this.” Well, we’re more than halfway through the program. I do want to reintroduce Nancy La Vigne. She is the principle investigator for this particular piece of research at the Urban Institute. It is Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report. It was done by the Urban Institute, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You can get the copy of the report from the website at the Urban Institute, www.urban.org. Okay. So we’re talking about parole and probation. And we’re talking about also sentencing practices and policies. We’re talking about at the very beginning what judges do and what decisions they make in terms of who goes to prison, who goes to the jail, and who goes to community supervision, and if they go to prison, for how long.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And tell me about that, talk to me.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Well, we were just talking about risk and needs assessments, and those apply to every step in the criminal justice process when you think about it, and starting with pretrial, does one need to detained or not. And a couple of the states that we assessed they have unified systems, so pretrial populations are important to states, not just to localities. So using actual risk assessment to better understand who can safely remain in the community pending the sentencing process is important. Using risk and assessment tools to guide sentencing decisions, the in/out decision need to be in prison –

Len Sipes: Isn’t that unique? So judges are going to be using risk and needs assessment tools to figure who should go and who shouldn’t.

Nancy La Vigne: Well, we surely hope so.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Nancy La Vigne: I mean that’s I like to say that the devil’s in the details of implementation when it comes to Justice Reinvestment.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: And I mentioned it earlier. It’s a critical piece. We can’t assume, especially in the case of judges and prosecutors, that they’re going to do, they’re going to change their behaviors in any way, shape, or form, really, when it comes to changes in sentencing policy or anything that expands discretion. You hope that things will change. I mean looking at the federal level and there’s a lot of talk about reducing or even removing entirely mandatory minimums. That doesn’t guarantee that judges are going to behave differently.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Nancy La Vigne: You need training.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So a lot of the implementation piece of Justice Reinvestment, what we call phase two of the process, involves training of judges, training of probation officers on how to use risk tools, a lot of training that involves almost cultural shifts in how people think about their jobs and interacting with clients.

Len Sipes: Well, I love listening to tech podcasts. And one of the things that was brought up in a tech podcast the other day was the fact that you take a look at certain companies, Kodak, they saw the digital revolution coming, they were one of the first inventors of the digital camera, but yet, at the same time, they went under, they went belly up, the company went out of existence, because everybody switched over from film to digital, even though they saw it coming and even though they were one of the first inventors of the digital camera. Sometimes organizational DNA gets in the way of meaningful change, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: It does. It does. But we talked about some of the bottom line outcomes of Justice Reinvestment coming from our assessment report and earlier in the show I was saying that across the 17 states they’re looking at projected savings of 4.6 billion dollars.

Len Sipes: And that’s an amazing amount of money.

Nancy La Vigne: It is. And also I did want to mention that those states also are planning to reinvest 398 million dollars, okay, which is a fair chunk of change.

Len Sipes: But what the research says that we have to have the programs. So this is one way of getting the programs.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes: If we going to lower rates of recidivism, if we’re going to reduce crime, the programs have to be there. That’s one way of getting the dollars for the programs.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right. But those are I guess what I’d call the hard metrics, the quantifiable outcomes. But we’re talking about cultural change. And I wanted to mention that there’s some softer outcomes that we measured as well, through interviews with stakeholders and so forth. And we’ve observed a huge cultural change in these states that are engaged in Justice Reinvestment, first of all, just embracing data to make decisions. If you think about going in a state house and imagining someone saying, “Should we pass this new crime?” right, and a legislator saying, “Well, what does the data say?”

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: It actually is happening now. It’s stunning.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne: Because they’ve become to learn the value of the data in understanding what’s driving cost, right. And that’s through the support of technical assistance providers. I did want to acknowledge those providers, Council of State Governments Justice Center, is one, and the Vera Institute of Justice, and then I already referenced that the public-private partnership involves Pew, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and they also do their own technical assistance. So these folks come in and really work with the data and help demonstrate how the data can drive decision making. And we’ve also seen a real embracement in evidence in terms of what does the research say what really is effective.

Len Sipes: Right. So the states are going through meaningful change. I mean when we started this process there was pushback. When we started this process there was immense amount of discussion at the state level in terms of what proper, what are we doing, why are we doing it, how are we doing it. Different people were saying, “No, wait a minute. This just, we feel very uncomfortable about making these changes.” What we’re having in these 17 states and other states throughout the country is a very intense policy discussion in terms of what the criminal justice system is doing and how it should be doing it. And now they’re going to data to answer those questions, which is wonderful.

Nancy La Vigne: It is.

Len Sipes: And that really didn’t happen, that data driven assessment didn’t happen until Urban and Pew and the Council of State Governments and Vera and the Department of Justice came along and asked states to take a look at their systems.

Nancy La Vigne: I don’t know that that’s fair to say, because I know that in individual states they have engaged in this kind of data analysis for at least a few decades. I think the challenge is that it takes a lot of work to get the data. The data aren’t necessarily in a good shape out of the box to do these types of analyses in a lot of states, especially in the budget cuts that we’ve witnessed have shrunk their research staff not expanded them, and some have no real research support whatsoever. So having that TA is really critical.

Len Sipes: I’m guessing I’m referring to the intensity of the discussion. I mean this discussion is now taking place at the county level, at the state level –

Nancy La Vigne: It is.

Len Sipes: Within corrections, within the governor’s office, within law enforcement, within parole and probation. I’ve never seen in my career the intensity of the discussion about what works, what doesn’t work, and what the data has to say. That I think is new, even though states have always used data to some degree.

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: So it’s the intensity of the discussion.

Nancy La Vigne: I think that’s right.

Len Sipes: Okay. And then so I think that, again, Urban, Pew, Council of State Governments, Vera, the Department of Justice, has pretty much led that discussion throughout the country. And we’re coming up with a premise that basically says, “You can do it quicker, you can do it better, you can do it smarter, we can save you money, you can reinvest part of those savings back into state government, and you can protect public safety all at the same time.” That’s a huge undertaking.

Nancy La Vigne: You just summarized that so much better than I did earlier in this show.

Len Sipes: Well, no, no, but –

Nancy La Vigne: Can I just take you around with me when I’m talking about Justice Reinvestment?

Len Sipes: No. I mean but this is. This is a discussion, this is a level of intensity.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. It is.

Len Sipes: Correct?

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: I mean we’ve always had, I mean in the 14 years I was with the state of Maryland, we always sat down with our budget and with our researchers and we have always had these discussions, but lately the level of intensity and the degree of discussion has just multiplied tenfold. People are saying, “What does the evidence have to say?”

Nancy La Vigne: It’s true. It warms a researcher’s heart. I mean let me tell you.

Len Sipes: It’s the return of the prominence of the criminologist.

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: The criminological community, which in some cases people have somewhat joked their being ignored over a certain period of time, well, that’s not true anymore.

Nancy La Vigne: I think that’s changing.

Len Sipes: I think it is changing. Okay. So we get in the problem solving courts. This is just one example of a program that consistently reduces recidivism. If you take a look at problem solving courts, drug courts, mental health courts, other kinds of courts, they consistently come in on the plus side of the research; they consistently reduce recidivism to the point now where problem solving courts, drug courts, are in every state in the United States.

Nancy La Vigne: They are. And, yeah, I think you’re aware Urban studied the drug courts –

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: It’s a pretty massive undertaking. And one thing that I think about with drug courts is, you know, they’re pretty expensive. We found that they were cost-beneficial. But it’s almost like you don’t have enough to go around when you look at the extent of the population who could benefit from them. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the training of judges when it comes to implementation of Justice Reinvestment Initiatives and in problem solving courts. And one thing we found in our study of drug courts was that judge demeanor is really critical and independently critical. So the degree to which the judge remembers the client’s name and aspects of the case, treats the client with respect, kind of engages in problem solving with them, rather than just kind of issuing orders or directives or reprimands –

Len Sipes: They may ignore the rest of us in the criminal justice system, but they do not ignore a judge.

Nancy La Vigne: Right, right, but feeling that your judge really cares about your case. So that’s another way, that’s an evidence-based practice that could be used to spread further reform and impact on crime.

Len Sipes: But I am right in terms of the research where it says that it’s just not a matter of supervision. Supervision doesn’t reduce recidivism. You have to couple that with programs.

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: And those programs could be across the board, they could be drug treatment, mental health treatment, they could be vocational, they could be thinking for a change, they could be a lot of different programs, but we have to have the programs to do all this, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. You do. And importantly, that is also very expensive. So you want to make sure that the programs are going to the people who need the most –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: And that programs are scarce resources like everything else. So –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: That brings back the importance of using risk and needs assessments.

Len Sipes: Right. Because the judge may say, “Well, gee! I don’t know you don’t have a history of substance abuse.” then again, everybody does, 80% of our population. I’ve seen other national studies where 70% have histories of substance abuse. Not everybody needs substance abuse treatment. So you do the analysis to figure out who needs that treatment and you apply it to them, not everybody.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And that’s where you get your biggest return for your dollar and that’s where we get into needs and risk assessments at the judiciary level.

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: Okay. So tell me more about this. The problem solving courts, we’re talking about mandatory supervision requirements, sentencing changes, community based treatments, accountability measures. We’re not talking about letting people off the hook, we’re talking about accountability. In some cases I’ve seen drug treatment as being not a free a ride. Sometimes I see drug treatment as being one of the hardest things that that person under supervision will ever face in their entire lives.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s true. And when it comes to supervision there’s some people who don’t need to be supervised and there’s some research that suggests that supervising low-level offenders can actually be more harmful than helpful. And what we’ve seen across the Justice Reinvestment states is that in some cases they’re choosing not to supervise certain people and in other cases they’re choosing to supervise people who wouldn’t normally be supervised, and those I’m talking about the max-outs, right, who when people max-out it means they’re usually in for some pretty serious crimes.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: They probably pose the greatest risk to public safety –

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Nancy La Vigne: When they get out, and yet they get zero upon release.

Len Sipes: Another interesting thing is that I remember the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics from years ago where they did year after year after year analysis of who recidivated the most. The ones on parole always had a 15% to 20% less rate of recidivism than those mandatorily released. So now parole is being rethought, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. I mean I think there’s much still to be learned about parole and what works. And a lot of it is hard to study, because in a lot of places it’s hard to disentangle revocations for technical violations versus new crimes in that there may some share of technicals that actually are new crimes, but are just not being reported that way, because no one bothers to do the charging. So it’s complicated, but I do agree that you need to be focusing your supervision resources on the most high-risk people.

Len Sipes: But all I’m suggesting is that 20 years ago parole was a dirty word. Now parole is starting to be rethought.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes: And the whole idea is taking a look at that long-range data and saying, “Well, wait a minute. If they’re doing so much better than those mandatorily released in terms of coming back to the criminal justice system, why aren’t we doing it?” Isn’t that an evidence-based practice?

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: So the whole idea is to protect public safety, the whole idea is to reduce recidivism. And what we’re talking about are fewer people being victimized by crime.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right. That’s the goal.

Len Sipes: Fewer people being victimized by crime and savings across the board.

Nancy La Vigne: Uh huh.

Len Sipes: All right, Nancy La Vigne. She has been the principle researcher of a wonderful piece of research, Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report, again, done by the Urban Institute, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the US Department of Justice. You can get the research at www.org, I’m sorry, www.urban.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Reentry in D.C.-Upcoming Events-Interview With Nancy Ware-200th Radio Show

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/01/reentry-d-c-upcoming-events-interview-nancy-ware-200th-radio-show/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes and for our 200th radio show, we started our programs, ladies and gentlemen, in 1996. The topic of today’s program is Reentry in the District of Columbia and reentry reflections, an array of activities here in the District of Columbia celebrating and discussing the successes and challenges of those returning from prison. Our guest today is Nancy Ware and Nancy serves as the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. She leads 800 Federal employees in providing community supervision for over 14,000 adults on probation, parole and supervised release in the District of Columbia, that’s 23,000 individuals every year. Nancy has over three decades of experience in the management and administration of juvenile and adult criminal justice programs. She was the first Executive Director for the DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council where, for eight years, she forged a cooperative relationship between DC government and Federal agencies to improve public safety. Miss Ware also served as the Director of Technical Assistance and Training for the Department of Justice’s Wait and See Program and as Director of the National Program for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier in her career she also served as the Executive Director of the Rain Coalition, the Citizen Education Fund and the District of Columbia Mayor’s Youth Initiative. Nancy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy Ware: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: All right. We have some events coming up and I briefly want to go over those events before talking about reentry in the District of Columbia. On Saturday, February 28th, an event that I absolutely adore, the Women’s Reentry Forum where we talk about women coming back out of the prison system and also women who are currently under our supervision, Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00. We’ll mention these a little bit later. And on Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. a really interesting experience, a Citywide Reentry Assembly where we’ll recognize the accomplishments of our faith based initiative and our mentors and mentees of the year. That happens at St Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, again, on February 20th from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Nancy, you know, this concept of reentry, you know, this is being discussed all throughout the United States. It’s being debated all throughout the United States. So first of all, let me go into some basics, what is reentry and why is it important.

Nancy Ware: Well in the District of Columbia we look at reentry as a process through which an individual transitions from prison and returns back to their community. But what’s important about reentry for CSOSA is that we expand that definition to include individuals who are under supervision and we see reentry for them, not only those returning from prison, but also those who are under supervision returning to become constructive, positive members of their community and free of all crime and free of all the burdens that crime and the history of crime bring with it. So for us reentry and the definition of reentry and that process is a very broad definition.

Len Sipes: We need to do reentry in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States because it’s within everybody’s best interest to do reentry, correct?

Nancy Ware: Right.

Len Sipes: I mean, if we do nothing we continue the crime problem that we’ve always had in the past.

Nancy Ware: That’s true. And, as you know, our mission here in our agency is to reduce recidivism, to improve the successful reintegration of men and women who are under supervision and to transition them back to stability so that they can, again, as I said before, become productive members of their communities. But we also want to be sure that we address a part of the city’s population who are often the most disenfranchised and marginalized. And so it is an important initiative to look at reentry broadly and to embrace folks who are trying to get their lives back on track again so that they don’t feel that they have to return to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: Now this isn’t just an issue for the District of Columbia, this is an issue for the entire country. It’s an issue that goes beyond, in fact, the United States. These discussions are happening in France, are happening in Canada, they’re happening in Great Britain, they’re happening in Asian countries. So this whole concept of making sure that people have the services both in prison and after they leave prison to cut back on the rate of recidivism, that conversation is happening. Now it may be happening in some jurisdictions because states are saying, hey, you know, we just cannot, no longer afford the amount of incarceration that we’ve had in the past. It’s been done for that reason and it’s also being done because people simply see it as a more effective way of administrating justice.

Nancy Ware: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think that we’re in a time now that probably offers us some opportunities that we need to take advantage of as it pertains to reintegrating folks back into their communities constructively. Because, as you mentioned, throughout the United States, and I’m sure this is true in other parts of the world, but particularly here in the United States, we want to decrease the numbers that we’re placing in prisons unnecessarily. And by unnecessarily I mean those people who haven’t committed violent crimes, who are low level offenders, don’t need to be populating our prisons to increase over crowdedness because we really are not finding that prison is the most rehabilitative places for people to get their lives back on track. We feel that they have more opportunities for rehabilitation once they’re back into the communities and they can get those supports, treatment, housing and jobs that they need.

Len Sipes: And what you’re talking about is justice reimbursement, not reimbursement, what am I talking about.

Nancy Ware: Reinvestment.

Len Sipes: Reinvestment, thank you very much. And we’re going to be having the folks from PEW and the Urban Institute by these microphones to talk about that very topic in the upcoming near future. But the whole idea is that there’s safer, saner ways to administer justice and to keep our resources focused on higher risk individuals that do pose a risk to public safety and to do quote, unquote, something else with lower risk individuals, right?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct. And we definitely have to use our partners as part of our continuum of supports because we couldn’t do it alone, just as the police department can’t do it alone as far as protecting our citizens and providing public safety. We all have to be partners in this effort. Thus we talk about reentry reflections month because it is an opportunity for us to educate the public on why this is such an important effort and an important area to focus on. And we use that month to provide us an opportunity to reflect, to dialogue, to educate and to celebrate because we have a lot of things that we can celebrate, a lot of people that we can celebrate who make it possible for men and women to successfully reintegrate into the community.

Len Sipes: And we’re doing a better job here at CSOSA in terms of the 14,000 people, on any given day, 23,000, on any given year. We’re doing a better job of improving our success rate. So there are more people doing our period of time more successfully than before, correct.

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and, you know, CSOSA has done a yeoman’s job in supporting public safety in the District of Columbia because of our efforts in supervision where we hold offenders accountable but also provide them with opportunities through our risk and needs assessment, through our treatment and support services and, as I said before, through our partnerships with other agencies that provide those services as well, treatment, jobs, housing, education and the like.

Len Sipes: What’s your personal feeling on all this? I have seen you in action when you were in charge of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. And I’ve seen you in action in dozens of community events discussing this whole concept of doing it better, doing a better job and we’re talking about a better job. We’re talking about a better job in terms of reducing crime; we’re talking about a better job in terms of having a system that is fair, more just but more effective. That’s been, every time I’ve listened to you talk about reentry, those have been the themes that you’ve talked about. So talk to me about those cause you’ve been in the community a lot, talking to a lot of people about this.

Nancy Ware: Right. Well I think that, first and foremost, it’s important for us to educate the public on the promise of reentrance. We always talk about the failures, but we need to talk more about their needs and the promise of reentrance. And by that I mean that we need to shed a light on the fact that there are many men and women among us who are working in stores, who are lawyers, who are working with the legislative branch, who are on radio shows and who are empowered to promote the issue that or the notion that folks who return from incarceration or supervision can also be productive citizens and have a commitment many times to becoming productive citizens if allowed those opportunities.

Len Sipes: Seven hundred thousand people leave prison throughout this country every year according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I think it’s seven times that number leave jail. Every year there’s about 2,300 people that come back to the District of Columbia from Federal prison. So what we’re talking about is something of enormous value and having an enormous impact on our day-to-day safety, our day-to-day lives. People coming from the prison system, people coming back from jails cannot be ignored. If they are ignored it is at our own peril.

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and we have to also appreciate that there are unique issues facing folks who return. There are unique issues facing women who oftentimes have had histories of violence, abuse, sexual and physical abuse and there are special issues related to young people who are of a different culture who often need programs that are really focused on what they can relate to and adhere to. And we also have to focus on our specialized population, those who’ve been involved in domestic violence, those who are mental health clients, so that we provide them with every opportunity for successful reintegration.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why you’ve chosen CSOSA to focus on high-risk offenders, to focus on youthful individuals, to focus on women caught up in the criminal justice system. Those have been your three hallmark priorities after being at CSOSA, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and that brings us back to some of the events that have been taking place during this prestigious time of reentry reflections. One of the events that I recently participated in was on Sunday, January the 19th. It was our Justice Sunday. It kicks off our reentry reflections month throughout February and it was held this year at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast. And it was an awesome event under the leadership and guidance of Archbishop Owens and his wife, Reverend Owens. We had an event that must have had more than 2,000 people participate in his church.

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy Ware: It was just amazing.

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy Ware: And it was particularly inspiring because Bishop Owens, during the service, recognized his cousin who had just returned from prison several days before the service. And the struggles that they had gone through to get him released to Bishop Owens’ family and the struggles ahead for him, but the efforts that they were taking in committing themselves to personally to help him get on his feet again. And you could see even from his affect during the service that he’s already well on his way to getting on his feet again. But during the service we also the opportunity to observe a call out that Bishop Owens made to his congregation and we must have had over 200 members from the congregation come up on the pulpit to connect with Bishop Owens and to admit that they’d had involvement in the criminal justice system. So you see here in DC we have a huge population of folks who have come in to the criminal system one way or another and are looking to find ways to provide an avenue for themselves and their loved ones to get reconnected with their community constructively.

Len Sipes: But you’re talking to people throughout the United States, you’re talking to people in several countries overseas and I’m not quite sure there’s anybody amongst us who does not have a friend, family member, somebody close to us who has not been caught up in the criminal justice system. So I don’t think it’s just the District of Columbia, I think this is a national issue. I can’t think of anybody who is not personally involved in this topic simply because they have experienced it personally.

Nancy Ware: And that’s why since 2002 CSOSA has really committed our resources to promoting the reentry events during reentry reflection. Because we feel that one of the major things that we need to do is to increase public awareness and to engage the public in stepping forward, mentoring men and women who are returning or who are under supervision and need positive role models. So part of what we want to do throughout this month is to encourage folks to step forward and work with us to help men and women to retrieve their hope and to retrieve their belief that they can, again, become stable and reintegrate successfully.

Len Sipes: I do want to talk about those two issues in terms of women in the criminal justice system and our faith based mentoring program, but we’re halfway through the program and I do want to reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, for our 200th radio show, we started this whole process back in 1996. Today’s guest is Nancy Ware. She is the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender’s Supervision Agency. We’re here to talk about reentry in the District of Columbia. But in particular we’re interested in talking about two, we’re promoting two events that are coming up in the near future. The Women’s Reentry Forum on Saturday, February 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 in the afternoon, Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast, extraordinarily interesting event. And the City Wide Reentry Assembly, which to me is one of the most colorful, interesting, sound, loving, you know, just really heartfelt events that I’ve ever witnessed in my years within the criminal justice system. That’s at the St Luke Church Center at 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast. That’s Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Nancy, let’s talk about women caught up in the criminal justice system, which is one of the reasons why we’re having the Women’s Reentry Forum. I had an individual, and I’ve had individuals beyond her at our microphone, had an individual in the previous show talking about the difficulty women experience when they come out of the prison system. I mean, you know, mental health is very high, sexual abuse is very high; substance abuse is high, higher than the male populations. Seventy to 80% have children. They come out and they need housing, they need to be reunified with their children. They have to deal with all these issues. They have to find work. As I said to my last guest, we were talking about the Women’s Reentry Forum, it sometimes seems almost impossible for them to overcome all the difficulties that they face.

Nancy Ware: But we’ve had some inspirational stories of women who’ve overcome a lot of those obstacles. And what we’ve observed is that a large percentage of women who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system, it results from domestic violence often and women finding—having to find ways to take care of themselves, often taking care of their children and often being easily pulled into criminal activities in order to survive. And that’s not an excuse but it is something that we need to take into account as we look at the history of many women who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system and their trials and tribulations and their odyssey towards reintegration. And so in recognition of the special needs of women we have a number of initiatives that we put in place to try to address their needs better under supervision. We have general gender specific supervision units that work exclusively with women on some of their issues and concerns and history. We have teams that have been created on special floors in our Reentry and Sanction Center, which is a residential facility for our returning citizens. And then we have a center that provides intensive assessment in a gender specific context. So we’ve done a number of things within our agency to better address the needs of women. And women with children is a whole unique area that we’re beginning to explore now through some of the work that we’re doing with the Bureau of Prisons to try to better connect women who are still in prison but scheduled to come out with their children through video conferencing. So we’re very excited about that new initiative and we’d like to keep our listeners posted on how we progress with that.

Len Sipes: Now it’s just not new initiatives, you reorganized the agency around women and around youthful offenders, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And that’s extraordinary. We’re not just talking about introducing some new programs; we’re talking about changing things in a fairly substantial way, reorganizing, and making sure that we have the resources directed to the best possible people who really need them.

Nancy Ware: Yeah, I think folks need special training to work with these diverse populations. So that’s what we’ve done here at CSOSA to be sure that we have staff trained that understand the needs of their populations that they work with and that can do the best that we can do to help them as they move through their journey. One of the things that I love about this agency is that we have committed staff who work very hard to try to get folks back on track. But we also have the unique approach, which I think is very progressive, that we don’t see ourselves just as a law enforcement agency. Although public safety is our primary mission, we also see ourselves as an agency that addresses the needs of the individuals under supervision so that we can try to provide them as much as possible the resources that they are in need of to get them back on their feet again.

Len Sipes: I just looked at research from the Washington State Policy Institute. Now it’s a state agency but it does probably one of the best jobs in terms of reviewing the research and providing research summations. And new research came out the other day where they said just supervising individuals gets us no return from a dollar point of view. Supervising individuals, prioritizing their needs, prioritizing them in terms of risk and providing them with the services does have a huge impact—does have a huge payoff. So, in essence, what we are doing is employing the state of the art. There is nothing that we’re doing that has not been advocated. Now CSOSA’s been doing this for a long time, I do want to make that point, but everything that we’re doing is advocated by national experts, national criminologists and the Department of Justice in terms of doing risk and needs assessments, figuring out the best possible modes of supervision and treatment for individuals under supervision. And providing those who need services, providing them with those services or gaining partnerships with other agencies especially our faith based volunteers, lots of others, in terms of making sure that they have the services that they need. This is all basically state of the art, right?

Nancy Ware: It is and we base a lot of our practice on best practice around the country and around the world. Things that we can glean from the research that’s been provided in the field, we try to bring it into the agency so that we use the most up-to-date practice to address the needs of those under our supervision. And I think this also takes us to why it’s so important to have these partnerships. And one of the partnerships that I feel, as I mentioned earlier, is a very strong one is with our faith community. As you heard earlier we kicked off Reentry Reflections with our Justice Sunday at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church because they’re one of the primary partners that helps us with our mentoring program. And they have been exceptionally supportive to those men and women that we serve. But in addition to that we have other faith community partners throughout the District of Columbia who provide long-standing support for those returning from prison and those under supervision as well as other government agencies and community groups throughout the city who are able to provide some of the services that we are not funded for. Clearly we can’t do it all. So our partnerships have to engage other agencies, other community based organizations and our faith partners so that we can maximize, throughout the city, the resources available. And to that end, at the end of Reentry Reflections we always have a wonderful tribute to our partners and that’s done, as you mentioned earlier, on February 20th, Thursday, the City Wide Reentry Assembly, which is truly a celebration. It’s a celebration of those partnerships. It’s a celebration of the success of the men and women who’ve worked with mentors and tried to get on their feet again and have been successful. There’s song, there’s music, there’s speakers, we have food. We encourage the community to come out and join us to celebrate and to shed a light on this issue and the success of so many who’ve really made it.

Len Sipes: It is absolutely one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting, events of my career. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for over 40 years and I can remember my first reentry celebration at St Luke’s. And I just sat there and stood there and I just said to myself, wow. If people could only see this, experience it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it, I mean, it’s just loud, it’s raucous, it’s interesting. We ordinarily have a choir there. It’s a very, very, very uplifting event.

Nancy Ware: Yes.

Len Sipes: And when we in the criminal justice system have an opportunity to do something uplifting, it is rare, but at the same time exciting and so people should come to this event.

Nancy Ware: And it is going to be held at another partner of ours, the St Luke Center, which is on 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, which you mentioned earlier. And it’s in the evening so folks can leave work, come on over, get a bite to eat. We serve a full dinner. And we just would love to have as many members of the community who are interested to come and join us. It’s from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Len Sipes: Now the partnerships, before getting away from them. I mean, there are too many partner to mention. I mean, we have on our website, we keep track of the different people providing services and there are dozens and dozens and dozens of organizations here in the District of Columbia. And I would also remind everybody who’s listening beyond the District of Columbia; it’s in your city as well. It’s in your state as well. But it seems, in my mind, interesting that the District of Columbia seems to be really supportive of the concept of reentry. There are, again, I think the last time I took a look there were like 200 organizations in total. I mean, anywhere from the Salvation Army to dozens and dozens and dozens of churches and mosques and synagogues to lots of non-profits. I mean, I would guess that we may be better off in the District of Columbia on the topic of reentry than a lot of other cities through the country. There seems to be—we seem to be galvanized around that particular point of doing whatever it is that we can to assist individuals coming out of the prison system, caught up in the criminal justice system.

Nancy Ware: Well that’s very, very true Len and one of the things that I think is the beauty of CSOSA is that we’re creative. We definitely come with creative solutions. We’re constantly challenging ourselves as an agency to continue to grow and to continue to figure out ways to better address the needs of our population. For example, many of you know, in our listening audience that the District of Columbia no longer runs its own prison system, so we work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And that became a true challenge for us when that change occurred because it meant that men and women who committed crimes and were sentenced to the Bureau of Prisons would go anywhere across the United States although we have worked closely with the Bureau of Prisons to try to keep them as close to DC as possible. But to that end, the creativity that we’ve shown in working with the Bureau of Prisons to better address the prerelease planning that has to occur for men and women has been phenomenal. One of the things that we’ve been able to do, as you know Len, is to put in place video conferencing throughout the prison system, the Bureau of Prisons. And we’ve expanded from one to two prisons that we were able to video conference men and women who were, particularly men, who were close to the time for them to be released back into the District. Now we are working with 16, 17 prisons throughout the United States.

Len Sipes: We have our own network.

Nancy Ware: A whole network of prisons to be sure that we connect resources here in the District with men and women who are in those prisons and they can ask questions of the various community based organizations and agencies that are here to help them.

Len Sipes: A couple minutes left. I want to talk about two things. Number one, the dedication of our employees, which is a bit of a softball question, but without our employees and without them being dedicated to this; it’s not going to work. And number two, what are your personal hopes for reentry? Where do you see reentry being two years, five years down the road?

Nancy Ware: Well I definitely want to do a shout out to our staff. Our staff is fabulous. They work very hard with limited resources, unfortunately, that we have available to us specifically to our agency, so, thus, they have to reach out to other agencies as we said before and to our community of resources in the District and they’ve done a yeoman’s job in supervising folks. So much so that I think we’ve contributed substantially to the reduction in violent crime in the District of Columbia. In terms of where I’d like to see reentry over the next four to five years, I think it’s just important for us to continue to shed a light on it, to make sure that the public is aware that there are men and women who are ready, who can be your very best employers, employees if you gave them a chance. And so I would love to see our ability to employ men and women that we’ve prepared and that we’ve gotten ready to go back into the world of work again, for our city to embrace them and to support them and to engage them.

Len Sipes: And for every city throughout the country to do the same.

Nancy Ware: Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s extraordinary important. Ladies and gentleman, our guest today is Nancy Ware. She is the Director of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. I want to briefly go over one more time the event that’s coming up, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov is our website, and all these and more events will be listed on the website. The Women’s Reentry Forum, Saturday, February 8th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00. You will not be disappointed in terms of coming and listening and participating in this Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast. And my absolute favorite, the City Wide Reentry Assembly, what we refer to internally as the City Wide, Thursday, February 20th, 2014 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the evening, St. Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, again, www.csosa.gov. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


An Interview with Adrienne Poteat, Retiring Deputy Director, CSOSA

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/12/interview-adrienne-poteat-retiring-deputy-director-csosa/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The topic of today’s show, an interview with Adrienne Poteat, considered by many to be the dean of the criminal justice system in the nation’s capital. I’m going to briefly read a little bit about Adrienne’s background and we’re going to be asking her lots of questions. Ms. Poteat has 40 plus years of solid, law enforcement experience. In 1975, Ms. Poteat became the first female correctional officer hired in the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. Her career with the DC Department of Corrections quickly expanded from case manager, unit manager, to deputy warden of the maximum-security facility. During her tenure there, this facility became the first to achieve national accreditation from the American Correctional Association. She was promoted to warden of the correctional treatment facility. Ms. Poteat also served as Deputy Director for the Department of Corrections and in this position she had management oversight for a 11 correctional institutions and five key correctional program areas. After a distinguished career with the Department of Corrections, she began working for the US Parole Commission. In 2002 she was selected for her current position as Deputy Director for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and this includes three and a half years as acting director.

Some of the awards that she has received – just some – she received numerous awards for her work, including most recently a 2012 Presidential Rank Award, the 2011 Chief of Police Merit Award, the 2010 Innovative Use of GPS Technology Award and in 2008, the Enterprise Intelligence Award. Adrienne Poteat, Deputy Director for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, who has now announced her retirement, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Hello Len, how are you?

Len Sipes:  I’m fine. And this is an honor. So many people, when I said that I was going to interview you, as sort of a farewell interview in terms of your announced retirement, I’ve heard so many incredible stories about grit and leadership, you’re knowledge of the criminal justice system. I’m not quite sure I know of anybody out there that I’ve talked to from the law enforcement side to the mayor’s office, to this agency, who just does not have an immense amount of respect for you. That’s amazing.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, thank you.

Len Sipes:  Is that across the board? That amount of respect, from everybody?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, it is. I really appreciate it. I really do. It’s an honor and a privilege for people to think so highly of you and respect the fact that you know, some of the work that you’ve done in this criminal justice agency.

Len Sipes:  You started off at the very bottom of the criminal justice system. You came in – at one time, I did not mention this, you worked for a law enforcement agency in Virginia as an intake officer, correct?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  And then you went on to eventually become a correctional officer.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, before that I was a teacher in Montgomery County, in the public schools, teaching math. Then I started the career with the DC Department of Corrections.

Len Sipes:  Now you started off, again, at the lowest possible levels, as a correctional officer as I started off as a cadet in the Maryland State Police. We both started off at the lowest possible rungs within the system.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, I did.

Len Sipes:  And through that time, you eventually went from one position higher to the next position to the next position – I mean, your career steadily rose. Why is that? What was so special about Adrienne Poteat that she steadily rose in rank through the criminal justice system?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, I want to believe that it was the fact that I was committed to the work, I enjoyed the work. I valued the people that I worked for, I brought something to the table. I think I had some innovative ideas and creativity. I wanted to make a difference in women in the correctional field and therefore, I think, because of that, I was given opportunities to act in some capacities and was later selected to fill the positions.

Len Sipes:  But, you know, I know and you know, that I spoke to lots of women who have been police officers, years ago. Correctional officers years ago – it was not easy to be a woman in a male dominated field, whether on the law enforcement side or the correctional side. And I’m sure that you won through some problems being the first woman correctional officer. You won through some issues and you won through some challenges.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  It was very difficult. In fact, when I was first hired, being the first female, they didn’t know what to do with me. They didn’t know where to place me, what type of assignments. And so that was a challenge for management. Once they decided that, okay, we’ll put her in the command center, that was the first post they assigned me to, then they wouldn’t let me walk the compound. So which meant I couldn’t even go from the command center, right across to the culinary unit without an escort. That caused a lot of dissension among my fellow coworkers, because they felt like I was a correctional officer like they were, I was making the same type of pay, and I shouldn’t have been treated differently.

Len Sipes:  It’s one of the most difficult jobs on the face of the earth. I’ve spent a lot of times inside of prisons; I’ve spent a lot of time right beside correctional officers, watching what they do when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety. It is an extraordinarily difficult job. But as the first woman, you know, you weren’t allowed to do the things that men were supposed to do, you were looked upon a certain way, you were probably looked upon with a certain level of skepticism. How did you break through all of that?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  I believe that you know, I showed the fact that number one, I was not afraid. I was not afraid of being inside the prison system. I was not afraid of working any assignment. In fact, I challenged many of my managers, “Just put me there and I’ll show you what I’m capable of doing.” I was not afraid to talk with the inmates. Because it was the District of Columbia system, we were required to comingle and talk with the clientele, even their families. So it was like management by walking around. They were not locked down, so they were very free to move about the compound, just like we’re free to move around here in the city. Only one facility where they were locked down, and that was the maximum security. So you couldn’t show fear and walk those walks and go into those dormitories and count the dormitories or counsel the offenders. You just couldn’t do that. You also had to have a level of respect. Respect for them – and you got respect from them. It’s amazing that there was a culture in the institutions where the inmates, if they trusted you, they would look out for you. If you treated them with respect, they did the same for you. If you were honest with them and forthright in the decisions that you made, they respected that. And so I think that’s what I brought, throughout my career. The same type of system, the same type of ideas, the same type of –

Len Sipes:  Well, no, the respect for the inmate population and they had  a certain respect for you. One of the things that amazes me is that I followed you the last 11 years around this city. Everybody in this city knows you. I can’t go anyplace without people coming up and going, “I know you. Where do I know you from?” And whether it be judges or whether it be from people in the law enforcement side or people in the correctional side, or inmates, former inmates, everybody looks at you with a big smile. The inmates – former inmates, they all know you. They all look at you, they want to shake your hand, they want to tell you how well they’ve done. You know, it’s amazing that they have this level of respect for a person who used to run that correctional system. That shows something, does it not?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, it does. And you have to go back and think about when we were working those compounds, or walking those walks, that oftentimes the inmates, they got into trouble, there was contraband, there were stabbings, or assaults, there were encounters that probably they didn’t need to engage in, sexual encounters in the facilities, and people realized that regardless, if they saw me or not, you had to respect the fact that I was a law enforcement official, that I was a correctional personnel and that if you did that in front of me, then you knew I was going to take action.

Len Sipes:  Of course.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  You also realized that regardless of what type of crime that you committed, regardless of where you were housed, I was going to give you the same respect as though that you were in the community, because I realized, even though that you were inside, one of use could have been inside as well, and I would want my family members, if any of them were locked up, to be treated the same way I treated these men and women that were in jail. And so even now, when I see them in the community, they will come to my office and I remember a lot of them because I had their fathers, their mothers, their sisters and their brothers, and I gave them all the same respect and time of day, regardless.

Len Sipes:  Well, I’ve also been with other correctional administrators and I’ve been with secretaries of public safety in the state of Maryland, yet nobody that I have been with has received such a – I mean, the smiles on individual’s faces was amazing to me. I’ve never seen, Adrienne Poteat, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. So obviously you affected their lives in a very profound way. You were their chief jailer, yet they’re always so happy to see you, so that shows a level of respect that I have not seen in my entire career. I mean, all the rest were male correctional administrators in the past, and we’ve run into people that were on supervision, we’ve run into people who were locked up before, but I haven’t seen anybody with a big smile on their face come over and say, “Ms. Poteat! How are you?” I mean, that’s, I’ve always thought that that was an amazing thing, that affect that you had on people. The people that you locked up, the people that you supervised.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, I tell you, if I locked them up, they knew why they got locked up, and even I see them now, some of them will tell me, “Do you remember me?” And I may not remember who they are and they’ll even tell me the good stories or the bad stories and some of the bad stories are, “You know, you sent me behind the wall.” And my question to them, “Did you deserve it?” And the answer was, “Yes. You also told me I would never come out on the compound because of what I did. And I never came out.” I said, “So did I keep my word?” And they go, “Yes, you did.” So that’s being honest with them. You know the consequences of what you do. Or you get those that will tell you, “You don’t know how you helped me.” And a lot of times, I don’t remember. I really don’t. But it could be something very small and probably insignificant to us, but it meant a lot to them. The fact that you took the time out to talk to them, to listen, to help them, to guide them, to treat them with respect, to treat their families with respect, and to mentor them, if possible. If they needed a job, I could direct them somewhere where they could get a job. If they needed counseling somewhere, I’d pick up the phone myself and find a program for them; then and even now. Because I feel like I’m not going to ask anybody to do anything different than what I would do. So regardless of my position, they are still human beings and they still need to be treated as such and I’ll help them all.

Len Sipes:  The correctional system, whether it’s the District of Colombia, whether it’s Maryland, whether it’s any other correctional system in the country, is one of the hardest systems you can possibly imagine. People have no idea as to how difficult it is to run correctional systems. It is enormously difficult. People have no idea – when you’re walking that tier, it’s you and hundreds of inmates. It’s not, you know, a dozen correctional officers, it’s not 24, it’s you and you alone walking that tier and you’ve got hundreds of correctional, hundreds of inmates around you. It takes a certain amount of moxy to do a job as a correctional officer; it takes a certain amount of moxy, if I can, to be the first female correctional officer.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, you know, walking the tiers, you’re right, you walked by yourself. You had an officer that was at the end of the tier that would basically be your backup.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  But I would go from cell to cell. I would ask them how they’re doing. I would speak to them, and if they had an issue or a problem, I’d write it down and I’d let them know I’d get back to them. Wouldn’t promise to get back to them that day, but I would. And that meant I would come back to that same cell block and give them the response. Maybe not that they wanted, but at least they knew I listened to them, I heard them, and I responded to their issues. And I did that on a regular basis. And so therefore it wasn’t hard for me to walk the tiers. Now, were there occasions where you walk it and you get name-calling? Oh yes. I mean, I was no different than anyone else. But I tell you, sometimes when some of those offenders would call me out in my name or say things that were disrespectful, the other inmates on the tiers would straighten them out.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Because they would let them know, “Not her. Because this woman is here to help us.” And so that’s what I got in some of those cell blocks.

Len Sipes:  So you eventually started going through the levels of management within the correctional agencies, within the District of Columbia, steadily going up in terms of rank. Now, why was that? How as that? The average person who enters the criminal justice system does not have the, you know, go to the next system, go to the next level, go to the next level. There are people like me that become public affairs person and you stay in public affairs for 30 years. You steadily rose throughout the ranks. There is something in you, there’s some secret sauce, there’s some level of intelligence, there’s some level of determination. What made you constantly rise through the ranks to eventually become warden – I mean, that’s an amazing accomplishment – and then Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Corrections? And you oversaw 11 institutions. That’s an amazing transformation to go from walking the tiers to being in charge of 11 correctional institutions.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, Len, I’ve got to admit, it was not easy. I did not just automatically get promoted. There were a lot of stumbling blocks that I faced along the way. Many times, when I apply for jobs, I was not selected, even though I may have done well at the panel and the panel members had told me that I was the best candidate, but what it did, it never made me give up. Regardless of what the obstacles were, I was determined that it was not going to deter me from doing a good job and from keep trying and for my perseverance, I felt, eventually, when it’s my time, then I’ll know it. Then I’ll get that job. So if I got turned down three, four or five times, I never stopped, and that’s what happened. Eventually there was some jobs that I served in the capacity of. A good example is deputy warden. Well, for almost four or five years, I acted in that position, but I was never promoted in that position. And so that was a position I skipped over and it was not until later on that finally, I got the opportunity to become warden.

Len Sipes:  Topic of today’s show, an interview with Adrienne Poteat, who is again, as I said at the beginning of the program, considered by many to be the dean of the criminal justice system for the nation’s capital. Adrienne, I want to go on a little bit beyond the correctional system, but before going a little bit beyond the correctional system, again, you were one of the first females. There are all sorts of females that I have had as personal friends throughout my career who have been in corrections, who have been in law enforcement. And they’ve told me that the level of sexism was horrendous. You were also a black female. So were there issues of race that you had to confront as you went through all of this?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, yes there were.

Len Sipes:  Tell me a little bit about that.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  There was sexism because of me being a female.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  There was racism. When I started in the Department of Corrections, it was predominately white. Most of the staff were ex-military or they were family members of other members that had been there, in the system. And so there were, for the majority, there was a level of respect from my supervisors. There were occasions where I faced discrimination and I had a supervisor and I give him the utmost praise today. And I’m going to tell you who that person is.

Len Sipes:  Please.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  His name was Thomas Gatos. Thomas Gatos told me, when I came to his shift, “I don’t want any women on my shift and I’m going to make you quit your job. You’ll be gone before I am.” And I smiled to Thomas Gatos and said, “I’ll be here when you’re gone.” And so I was determined to show him that I can do this job. And I don’t care where you place me, then I’m going to do a good job. He would send me places like go to inspect the water tower, where I had to go in the tunnel and the tunnel was below ground, as you know, with the rats and the roaches. “If that’s where you want me to go, then that’s where I’ll go.” When we had escapes, he sent me out on the chase in the tic field. But I went, and if I had tics on me I pulled them off and I kept on going. Today, when Thomas Gatos retired, Gatos said to his constituents, “If anybody face any harassment and discrimination, it was Adrienne Poteat, and I have the utmost respect for her.” And I told him, “And I have the utmost respect for you, because you made me strive harder to prove to you that I could do this, and believe it or not, when he applied for a job, he had me as a reference.

Len Sipes:  That’s an amazing transformation.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  It was.

Len Sipes:  All right, so what I’m hearing in terms of the smiles that I get when I’m walking down the street with you, going to a community function with you, and the people that were locked up under your systems was your dedication to treating them as an individual. The level of respect that I hear from other members of the criminal justice system, I’m assuming that respect was for your obvious courage in terms of doing what it is you did. Your ultimate lesson in terms of not just being a female, not just being an African American female, but being in the criminal justice system, starting off at the lowest levels, rising to the highest levels. Your ultimate lesson to others who contemplate a career in criminal justice, who are already in criminal justice, what would you tell them?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, there are several lessons I would give them. Number one, working in a dominant male environment, you’ve got to understand, going in, that you’re going to face some challenges. Number one, you’re not wanted. Number two, you’re not appreciated, and number three, and they often felt that women ought to be secretaries. You know, there were certain positions that were designated for women and it surely wasn’t in the correctional arena and it surely wasn’t wardens or deputy wardens. I think today you find more females in higher positions than you did then, but the women had to be determined, number one, that they were coming in to do a job, and not sleep their way to the top. I mean, I think that was important. The other thing that they had to come with confidence and ethics among themselves and they had to come with the determination that “I can do this.” But you have to be committed to doing that type of work.  You’ve got to be a strong individual that regardless of what comes at you, that you’ll find a way to overcome whatever it is and to move forward. You can’t let people stagnate your growth and regardless of how many times that you apply for something and you don’t get it, you don’t give up because surely enough, someone will come along and they’ll see – “This individual is what we’ve been looking for. This person has overcome a lot of obstacles and challenges, this is the type of person that I want to lead.” And so the other lesson that I would say is just, drive hard. I want you to be a – you know, just like driving a car. Almost like speeding. Don’t go too fast, because sometimes when you go too fast you can fall off the track, but if you pace yourself and learn everything that there is to learn, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish. I took it upon myself not to wait for others to teach me. I would go and ask them, “Let me see what you’re doing. Or let  me do that.” Which meant I wanted to do the job that you’re doing and I want to learn it on my own. I’d read the policies and procedures. I’d take on tasks no one else wanted to take on. I’d follow behind people. I would seek out good mentors and I would take something from everybody else that I want to pattern behind.

Len Sipes:  Where did that drive come from?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  I’m just a determined individual. Both my parents are like that, so I think I got it honestly.

Len Sipes:  Well, but that’s the point, it came from your parents?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  I mean, there’s a certain drive, there’s a certain level – I mean, corrections is hard. Being a law enforcement officer is hard work, let alone the circumstances that you came up in. I mean, you know, didn’t you say to yourself halfway through or a quarter of the way through, your first week, “Oh, what the heck, go back to teaching. This is ridiculously difficult, I could be teaching in school.”

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, I did. And it’s funny that you ask me that. My first week on the job there was a stabbing. And in fact, it was a hatchet killing. They chopped the man’s face off and put him back in one of the dormitories and my supervisor told me, “You need to go to the infirmary and investigate and ride with the ambulance to the morgue and I said, ‘I’m not doing that.’” You know, that was my first case of insubordination, but I knew I could not ride with a dead body. And so you know, I’m saying, “What am I doing here? Is this what I signed up for?” But I got myself together, I did not go to the morgue, but after that you know, there were several assaults that took place, but I was able to overcome and deal with the situations at hand. But just imagine a woman, first time, and you see that. No.

Len Sipes:  Right, okay, so it came from your parents?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That drive, that determination, that willingness to take on assignments nobody else wants to take on, that willingness not to back down, that came from Mom and Dad?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And they’re the ones who instilled you with these values from the very beginning?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  They sure did.

Len Sipes:  And those are the values that you’ve carried with you throughout the entire criminal justice system?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, and my mother is a peoples person, very much so. She was almost like a socialite to me. She just enjoyed being around people and helping people and she was a teacher, a kindergarten teacher. And my father was in the Law Enforcement Arena and it’s almost like Secret Service, so I guess I got a little bit of both of them in me.

Len Sipes:  But the drive – I mean, the drive is extraordinary. I mean, to go through what you went through and never to give up and never to back down, again, that had to come from your mother and father. The compassion you had for the inmates and their families, that had to come from your mother and father. So it sounds like you had a heck of an upbringing.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, I did, but you also needed the support from the family, because believe me, my parents were very cautious. They were very concerned about me working in the prison system.

Len Sipes:  I would have been!

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Because they hear all kinds of rumors and they always said, “Well, I hope nothing happens to my little girl.” So you can imagine being the only child at the time, and you know, you’re working in a all-male dominated facility and seeing stories on TV or you know, what’s going to happen, but I had the family support and I’d always tell them, “I’m okay.”

Len Sipes:  You came over to the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, our agency, in 2002 as Deputy Director. You were the first deputy director?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, I was.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so you’ve been deputy director the entire time and you were acting director for three and a half years here, at the agency.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  And so we’re – for people who may not – we are a federal parole and probation agency providing services to the District of Columbia. So it’s an entirely different world to some degree, to go from mainstream bars, institutions, maximum security, to parole and probation. What was that transformation like?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Well, this was an easy transformation for me, because if you go back over my work history, I have worked every facet of the criminal justice, from pretrial to the end. So because I have done that, it was very easy to understand and know what goes on at every step of the way, so that once it got to the parole or the probation area, then a lot of these individuals, I’ve had in the juvenile system, in the adult system.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  I conducted their hearings, parole hearing. So it’s not much that they can’t tell me that I don’t remember. And they’ll tell me I have a fantastic memory. I can tell them about, you know, “I remember your father, I knew where you lived, I knew your girlfriend that visited you. I remember who your wife was and I know your children.” So a lot of that has helped me in this particular position.

Len Sipes:  We’ve only got a couple of minutes left in the program. This is going by like wildfire. So after all of that, your lessons, personal lessons that you’ve given in terms of the larger lessons, in terms of the criminal justice system. So after 40 plus years in the criminal justice system, starting off at the lowest levels to the highest levels, what do you have to tell the rest of us in terms of the criminal justice system?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Criminal justice system is wonderful.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  To me it is. It’s something that I enjoy; it’s something I have a passion for. It’s something that I really hate to leave because I’ve just committed and have that drive for it. And I can imagine, once I step out this door, I’m still going to get calls from offenders saying, “Can you help me do something.”

Len Sipes:  Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  And I’m going to have to tell them that I’m retired. And I can hear them now, “I know, but you know somebody that can help me.”

Len Sipes:  But the average person, after spending that much time in the criminal justice system were sort of exhausted by it. I mean, you’re not. You’re very enthused about it. So what does the criminal justice system mean to you?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  This has been my world. I’ve known nothing else but that. You think, for 40 some years, I grew up in the criminal justices system.

Len Sipes:  Yes, you have.

Adrienne R. Poteat:  And so if I were to go out here and do something else, they’d say, “What else could you do?” All I know is law enforcement.

Len Sipes:  Right?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Will I stop working? No. I will probably venture out and do something else, probably still connected to this type of work.

Len Sipes:  But is it a fact that there’s a certain level within the criminal justice system that needs drive and compassion and justice and equity that you’re taking a system that most people see as a fairly harsh system and turn it into something else beyond the stereotype of the criminal justice system?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, it is, because sooner or later, a lot of these men and women are coming home. And there are so many barriers that they face. Number one, having a number. Number two, some of them being a black – whether black Hispanic, or any other nationality, the fact that they’ve got a charge on their record and so with the obstacles in the community like housing and employment, it’s very difficult for them to get jobs. It’s very difficult for them to secure adequate housing because it costs too much to live in this particular area. They’re competing with folks like you and me for employment. So I feel like we have a responsibility, because these are our sons and daughters, our fathers, our mothers that are coming back home, that deserve a second chance. And that’s why I like the fact that they’re doing so much towards their reentry, because they need to start that in the criminal justice system, while they’re incarcerated, so they’re prepared better once they come out under our supervision.

Len Sipes:  Just a couple seconds left. So the final word that you have is justice and equity and compassion within the criminal justice system and it’s possible to do both?

Adrienne R. Poteat:  Yes, it is possible to do both and don’t give up on them. Help everyone because even though you can’t help everybody, there’s somebody that you can make a difference for and I believe that as true correctional professionals, that’s the business that we’re in about helping.

Len Sipes:  Adrienne Poteat, it has been an absolute honor to work for you throughout the years. Ladies and gentlemen, the interview today, Adrienne Poteat, Deputy Director, right before her retirement form the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticism and we want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Youthful Offenders – DC Public Safety

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Television program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2014/02/youthful-offen…-public-safety/

[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s show is on youthful offenders, and there’s a lot of research in parole and probation, and parole and probation caseloads, but two factors seem to be the most important – one, focus on the high risk offender with supervision and treatment and two, focus on youthful offenders, because the gain to public safety could be significant. Our guests today on the first half are Jim Cosby – he is the Chief Community Services Division for the National Institute of Corrections and Dr. Lisa Rawlings, a special assistant to the director of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And to Lisa and Jim, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lisa Rawlings: Thank you.

Jim Cosby: Thank you.

Len Sipes: I can’t think of a more important topic than youthful offenders. It seems to be where all of us are going, criminologically speaking. It seems to be where corrections and community corrections especially is going. So Lisa, we have a new initiative here, within our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, focusing on youthful offenders, correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Correct. As you mentioned, we focused on high risk and really making sure that we deploy our resources to the offenders who have the highest risk and we found that the young adults, the 25 and under population really are over-represented in this high risk population, so it’s important to focus on them for that reason, because they require more supervision resources and they’re really not getting the outcomes based on all this investment. And then two, I really appreciate you mentioning the importance of the, the importance of the impact on the public good and that we really can arrest this criminality at a younger age. We really can have a long-term benefits down the road.

Len Sipes: Well, Jim, considering that this population is most criminogenic between the ages of 15 and 25, if you can meaningfully impact the youthful offender, if you can get him off of that offending track, that drugs and crime track and get him into more productive activates, there’s the process, there’s the possibility of literally saving society from thousands upon thousands of crimes, correct?

Jim Cosby: Oh, absolutely. I think, you know, the best thing that we can do is divert those that we can safely divert from the system. You know, the research now demonstrates that, you know, first and foremost you have to assess the offender so that you know what you’re dealing with and you have to then set up your interventions, like Dr. Rawlings talked about. You have to be able to target those interventions on those high risk offenders and then you need to be able to case manage those folks and have the appropriate interventions delivered in a timely way with the correct amount of dosage.

Len Sipes: Lisa, what we’re doing in the pilot program, we’re going to eventually move all of this over to a full-fledged program for all younger offenders, but at the moment, we have a pilot program in two districts and we are trying to assist them, both in terms of supervision, providing accountability, and treatment at the same time. Correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And what’s been unique about this approach is we’re not just piloting an approach to supervising young adults, but we’re also looking at how we are working together as a team. And so the teams are very integrated. We have our treatment specialists and our vocation and educational staff working alongside the community supervision officers to really provide a very holistic approach, to understand this young person as an entire person. And so that we’re not just focusing on them as a case, but as an individual. And we named our pilot program “Young Adult Initiative” rather than “Youthful Offender” because we thought it was important to make sure that we did not label these young people at a very early age. That we look at them as a person, a whole person, and we focus on their potential and try to support that.

Len Sipes: Is that the key issue? Because so many individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, they were used to being round peg, round hole. They’re used to a system where they, people have low expectations, people honestly don’t care about them, and they really don’t get treatment, they really don’t get services. People are so willing to write off individuals at a very early age and I think that’s the age where we can capture them, that’s the age where we can divert them. I think the strength of our program is taking a look at these individuals as individuals rather than just a class of people.

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And all of the staff have been hand-picked to work on this initiative, have been especially trained on a model that takes this approach. It’s called the “Good Lives Model”. It really focuses on a holistic approach.

Len Sipes: Well, let me go over to Jim in terms of the research, because NIC, first of all, the National Institute of Corrections is the premier agency in terms of telling the rest of us throughout the country what it is that we should do. Assessing an individual becomes extraordinarily important, making sure that you have the right person. Because, you know, we don’t want to put too many resources into lower level offenders, correct? We want to focus on higher risk offenders, and then I want to get over to either one of you as to why younger people are falling into that high risk category, but that’s the first thing, right? With no – not an overwhelming amount of resources on low risk offenders.

Jim Cosby: That’s right. I mean, agencies today are strapped financially. There’s just not enough resources to go around, so we’ve used the science to really begin to determine who we should focus our resources on. And again, it is the high risk, medium to high risk offenders, that’s where you get the biggest bang for your buck. Focusing on those individuals is going to get you a lower return of recidivism, which means fewer crimes in the community. Fewer crimes in the community means improvement in public safety.

Len Sipes: The question is, I suppose, whether or not you’re focusing on a person that you believe, through various risk assessment tools, is out there committing four or five crimes a year, versus those people who are committing 40, 50, 60 crimes a year. You want to go after those high risk offenders, target them, and bring down those rates of recidivism.

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And when you talked about the high risk – you know, 85% of our population of 25 and under are screened into these highest risk categories.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing.

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Think about that for a second. 85%! So that goes to my second question, why? Criminologically speaking, I think I know the answer, but I want to get your answer. Why do so many people fall into that high risk category? Does it simply come with the territory because of age?

Lisa Rawlings: Well, there are a number of things. We talked with our staff, who’ve been working with this population. We also held focus groups with some of the young adults to really learn more about their experiences on supervision and some of the drivers for this. And we also kind of did some analysis of the characteristics of this population to really understand a little bit more about what was happening. And we were finding that according to our staff, they have many specialized needs. That there’s a lot of trauma that’s been unaddressed; that they have poor experience with structure and don’t have enough role models, and that they’re often involved in many multiple systems, social services systems, and there needs to be a better sense of collaboration. But that they also, at 20, at 25 and under, haven’t really developed the maturity level to really handle all of these competing demands and also some of the trauma and emotional challenges that they have experienced.

Len Sipes: Jim, before the program we were talking about the National Institute of Corrections and other agencies developing tools and those tools were improving all the time in terms of assessing high risk, younger individuals, in terms of programs to provide assistance, and/or supervision. And that these tools are getting better, these programs are getting better and hopefully we’re going to have a better impact in terms of public safety, in terms of cost effectiveness. Some of these programs, done well – there was a recent piece of research on doing construction sort of training, occupational training within prison systems throughout the country – and they said that you can basically have a program that pays for itself with a two to three percent reduction in recidivism. So part of this is dealing with the taxpayers unwillingness to fund more programs, part of this is dealing with the taxpayers willingness to have programs to protect the public safety, and part of this is a lot of people’s concern, that we’ve got to start doing a better job of helping individuals under supervision. So clarify that for me.

Jim Cosby: Well, what you’re really talking about is the heart of the Justice Reinvestment Act. And what the Justice Reinvestment Act says is that we’re going to give you the science, we’re going to give you the implementation, we’re going to give you the tools at the state, local level, to teach you how to better manage offenders. And those reductions in recidivism, which equals public safety improvements in our view, is that simply you get a savings that should be then reinvested back into the programs, that are actually helping reduce the recidivism and the crime to begin with. So that’s the entire package behind justice reinvestment and it’s proving very successful. The assessment process, the case management process, the interventions that are made, the amount of time that the officer spends with the particular individual is key. You know, we’re no longer really – and the science today is no longer really driving us towards an adversary relationship between the officer and the individual, under supervision. What it is, it should be an engagement with that individual. It should be a piece where that officer is working to make that individual successful. Because when the offender succeeds, we improve public safety.

Len Sipes: And one of the things, one of the points that I did want to make, Lisa, through a question to you, is that virtually everything that Jim is saying we incorporate in terms of our day to day activities, correct? In terms of having that constructive relationship with the person under supervision, doing that assessment, having a pretty thorough sense as to who that person is, what their potential is, where they’re going. We do all of that. That’s the point that I want to make here, right?

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And that was a big part of the design of this initiative in that we wanted to do all that, but do it in an expedited fashion, because we knew that we were losing these young adults a little quicker than we were the older population and so we really focused on shortening the time frames for the assessment, streamlining and expediting the interventions and then again, working as a holistic team, so we’re not just focused on their supervision requirement. But what are some of their needs and challenges and how can we support and facilitate them in their success.

Len Sipes: One of the challenges, I think, is their age. I used to work with kids on the street in the city of Baltimore, as a gang counselor. I’ve run groups in prison systems. A challenging population. A lot of them came from backgrounds, as you mentioned a little while ago, Lisa, that aren’t the best. Disadvantaged backgrounds – a lot of them had a single parent, sometimes that single parent wasn’t available. Sometimes they come out with chips on their shoulders, very large chips on their shoulders. This is not the easiest population to deal with, but the potential for productivity and public safety is enormous.

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And we really wanted to make sure that we were able to have staff who really understood that and were interested and really motivated to work with this population, because building rapport is going to be the biggest part of the success of this initiative.

Len Sipes: And that’s, we’ve trained our staff to do just that in terms of how to build rapport, how to break through the barriers, how to do cognitive, behavioral therapy, which is basically thinking for a change. And all of that, Jim, is once again backed up by the research.

Jim Cosby: It is. And the engagement that we’re talking about here really goes to the heart of the matter, about changing behavior. You know, Dr. Rawlings’ officers cannot change someone else’s behavior. I can’t make you change, you can’t make me change. What I can do is provide you with the opportunity and the treatment to help you want to change for yourself. And when that happens, you get a lot of bang for the buck and you get a lot of improvement in public safety.

Len Sipes: But too many times in the past we’ve given up. Too many times in the past we’ve said recidivism rates for younger offenders, for high risk…

Jim Cosby: Well, this is not a throw-away population, though. I mean, and that’s part of the problem that we face.

Len Sipes: That’s such a good point.

Jim Cosby: This is not a throw-away population.

Len Sipes: That’s such a good point.

Jim Cosby: These are youthful offenders, you know, these are people that are going to be our citizens and continue to be our citizens in this country. WE can’t throw this population away.

Len Sipes: So we have to bring the very best, the state of the art, we have to bring our “A” games to this particular population because of that particular reason. These individuals are our future. Either we can, they can spend the rest of their lives behind bars, or they can spend their lives being taxpayers and productive citizens, correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. At CSOSA we’re really invested in making sure that we recognize that this is not a throw-away population and we really invest the best of what we know will work. And we did that in our pilot phase so that we could really refine it and tweak it before we roll it out to the entire population, but we have a very motivated, well experienced, well trained staff that are involved in this. They’ve been trained – again, like I said – especially on this holistic model.

Len Sipes: They volunteer for this, correct?

Lisa Rawlings: They volunteered to do this because many of them have had experience working with youth.

Len Sipes: There you go.

Lisa Rawlings: And then they’re working alongside other professionals who are treatment specialists, they have social workers and they have behavioral health backgrounds and educational backgrounds to really bring all the resources together in a very coordinated fashion, to serve these young people.

Len Sipes: We’ve got 30 seconds. Jim, do you have anything else to add?

Jim Cosby: I would just say one last thing is that I think the program that they have at CSOSA is really exciting. We have 70% of the offender population in the community and we get 30% of the resources. We’ve got to apply more resources to this population so that we don’t have a throw-away generation.

Len Sipes: Jim, I love that point of view, and you’ve got the final word for the first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, watch it for the second segment, as we have two individuals who are community supervision officers known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, who supervise this particular, young adult population. They’re going to be here, talking about their experiences, please stay with us.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes: Hi, welcome back to DC Public Safety, I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes, continuing our discussion on youthful offenders. We have two new guests with us who spend their day to day lives dealing with helping with supervising people in supervision – youthful offenders. Stephanie Thompson is a community supervision officer with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And Christopher Barno is a treatment specialist, again, with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and to Chris and to Stephanie, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Stephanie Thompson: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Stephanie, you spent 17 years in two agencies, doing community supervision work and you volunteered for this particular population, so tell me why you volunteered to work one of the toughest gigs in parole and probation?

Stephanie Thompson: Well, I have to say, prior to coming to CSOSA, when I was working with at risk youth, I was able to work with them closely and I saw a need that they weren’t getting prior to coming into the group home. And then as I left there and I applied for CSOSA and became a CSO, I was seeing some of those same kids that I cared for come through the building and it just made me realize that there was still some work needed to be done. And I actually enjoy working with the population that so many people may feel like it’s the hardest – but I actually enjoy getting through to them and helping them to succeed outside of what some people may think. There are actually a lot of success stories in reference to the young adults.

Len Sipes: I find dealing with them fascinating and Chris, the second question goes to you – as a treatment specialist, tell me, you are involved in what we call cognitive behavioral therapy, Thinking for a Change. You arrange, you do the assessments, you do referrals in terms of substance abuse, mental health. Tell me about your role?

Christopher Barno: Well, I mean in the first segment, you know, we heard about all the science that goes behind what makes this work. Well we bring the art to the science with the treatment, with the different interventions that we are able to provide to the young adults. And so with that, that’s the treatment specialist’s role.

Len Sipes: It’s interesting because we talk, at the headquarters level at our agency, and I interact with people throughout the country, and it’s all talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, because we’re not doing what you’re doing. I remember doing what you’re doing. It’s hard. It’s interesting, it’s challenging. I think, when I was a gang counselor in the streets of the city of Baltimore, I was never happier, out with the kids, on Friday night, on Saturday night, on Sunday night. But it was very volatile. At the same time, it broke my heart because I saw so many individuals who had clear potential for being a law abiding citizen, basically decided to toss that off to the side, and I always said that’s because of their upbringing, their lack of respect for themselves, their lack of respect for the world around them, and the fact that nobody ever gave them a chance. If you provide them with a real chance – not just treatment, because it has to be supervision, but if you combine the two, can we make a difference?

Stephanie Thompson: Yes, I believe we do. We can make a difference. I feel that if you, first of all if you’re really sincere and passionate about what you’re doing, all the other barriers won’t be a problem, you’re going to continue to try to press on and find a way to break through with the young adults. I think the fact that we have a treatment specialist on site, we have a psychologist on site, as well as our co-workers who help one another, just not with your particular caseload, but we help each other with everyone’s case load. And so it’s like a sense of family- the community. You know how they say “it takes a community to raise a child” – well, we’re like that kind of community, where it takes all of us to help this young adult and in doing so we have found, you know, quite a few turnarounds. There’s probably about seven young adults that I know of personally who are extending their education to college. They’re actually enrolled in college. Some of them didn’t think they were going to be able to get into college because of their background, their criminal background. But just to know that, you know, to tell them to try, no matter what the barriers are and actually seeing that it was, they were able to get in it is just, brightens up their day and it shows that they can still be a law abiding citizen and go to school and make a career in something that they choose.

Len Sipes: But, what I, the term that I’ve used, Chris, this question’s going to go to you – the term that I’ve used in the past is a “chip on your shoulder the size of Montana”. A lot of the individuals, younger, especially the younger individuals, they have – they’re very cynical. I’ve always said there’s nothing more cynical than reporters, street cops and young offenders. No particular group. They don’t like the world, they don’t trust the world, they don’t trust you. They don’t trust me. They don’t trust anybody. They don’t trust the clergy, they don’t trust the president, they don’t trust the Pope, they don’t trust anybody except their peers and their own family members. Am I in the ballpark, right or wrong?

Christopher Barno: 100% correct. But I think one of the things that we really try to instill in these young adults is a sense of hope. But we don’t just talk about it, we actually are providing opportunities for these young men and it’s contagious. You know, they talk amongst themselves, they talk with their peers, you know, in the lobbies of the different field sites, and you know, when one person gets an opportunity, his friend, his peer says, “I want that same opportunity.” And so it spreads. And it spreads like wildfire. And that’s what we’re beginning to really see with the young adults. As opportunities are being afforded to these young men, and they’re having success, their sense of hope, their sense of pride, their esteem is just going through the roof. And it’s making all the difference in these young men’s lives.

Len Sipes: And you know, it’s just so ridiculously important to me, when we’re talking about this particular population. Jim on the first half said, “They’re not a throw-away population.” For too many years, society has treated this population as a throw-away population. Reporters I talk to are very cynical about our chances. People that I talk to are very cynical. And not necessarily our program here, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, but all high risk, young offender programs. Because they’ve seen programs in the past that haven’t worked all that well. Jim and Lisa really hammered home the fact that we’re running a state-of-the-art program with state-of-the-art tools. Do you think we have the tools? Do you think we have the wherewithal to be successful? Can we give hope to the naysayers?

Stephanie Thompson: Yes, I believe we can give hope to the naysayers. If you really, if you were able to spend one day to kind of like see what we do, you will see that the holistic approach that we have is very helpful. For instance, when Chris was talking about the, having some type of – it’s contagious, when they find out one person’s doing one thing, they want to do it. I totally agree, because we have a Copper Cabling program that a lot of our offenders from the ages of 19 to 21, that they’re able to participate in. And they love it.

Len Sipes: What program? I’m sorry – the what?

Stephanie Thompson: The Copper Cabling program.

Len Sipes: Really? A vocational program?

Stephanie Thompson: Yes. And I actually went there, I actually was able to observe some of the young adults and they loved it. They loved the fact that we were even there to observe them in the program. And when they hear about it, then I have the other young adults, “Well, you know, this person said I’m here, can you get me in here?” I’m like, “Yes.” But we try to prepare them. “When you get in, you want to stay in. You need to focus.” And a lot of times a lot of those young adults don’t have any time management. They’re not disciplined. And we try to help them to learn about time management and being disciplined. So we hold them accountable for their actions but yet give them that guidance.

Len Sipes: Well, Christopher, I think that’s – bouncing off of what Stephanie just said, is that, again, in many cases they’re not dot your i, cross your t, very precise sort of people. They have to learn time management, they have to learn, in some cases, basic social skills. And in some cases, they’ve got to learn that when a boss jumps their derriere that they can’t react negatively or they’re going to get fired – stuff that we were all taught as children, they haven’t been taught. Am I right or wrong?

Christopher Barno: 100% correct. And that’s why the team approach is so important in what we do, because not only do we have the supervision officers, we have the treatment specialists, we have the educational specialists, we have the employment specialists all working with these young men and because the way that they’re supervised on such a more intensive level, they’re at the office more, they have more contact with all the different team members. So we’re able to really get a chance to know these guys in a more personal level and really understand what it is that they need to be successful out in the community.

Len Sipes: What is the most important thing for their success, as far as you’re concerned, when taking a look at an individual? What is the key to their success?

Stephanie Thompson: Well, we would definitely want to reduce recidivism, within the District of Columbia, but getting their GED and their high school diploma, that’s one of the major components.

Len Sipes: Okay, because that’s a bridge to help them cross to the other side.

Stephanie Thompson: Exactly. And a lot of them don’t realize that if they just get that high school diploma, GED, it will open doors for a lot of other things. And then you have those barriers where they may have some type of educational disability that they’re afraid to mention, but once you get that rapport with them and they open up, you’re able to better assist them and because we have everyone right there on site, they don’t have to go into a room of people where they’re unfamiliar with and feel like they can’t open up. They feel a little more safe and that the confidentiality is going to stay within the room.

Len Sipes: Years ago, somebody mentioned to me, and I experienced it when I was working with younger offenders, and you tell me if I’m right or wrong, so many of them were covering up for fear. So many of them were covering up bad experiences in the past and in fact, some of the toughest people that I was ever around were some of the most fearful. Is that still correct?

Christopher Barno: Still correct.

Stephanie Thompson: They’re afraid to be successful amongst their peers and we’re trying to teach them how to you know, think beyond that. And that’s part of the reason why we had the challenge to change groups, where it’s trying to help them change the way they think. And there’s different phases to that and once they complete that, if it’s some criminal thinking that they need to work on, they’ll go into that program, or if they’re actually involved in educational vocational. So we keep track of where they are and try to slowly but surely, depending on the time that they have, try to get them when they are out in the community. They can be successful. And pray and hope that they won’t return back into probation.

Len Sipes: Sure. But Chris, the treatment component, we have the resources available for this particular population?

Christopher Barno: Yes, I believe we do. And it’s more than just the substance abuse resources, it’s the educational resources, it’s the employment resources that are available and the opportunities for these young men. And that’s what’s making the difference for these young men that are beginning to succeed and excel where they haven’t had opportunities or made any real progress in the past.

Len Sipes: And once we get beyond the pilot program phase, it will be young women involved in the program.

Stephanie Thompson: I hope so. I’m sure.

Len Sipes: Which we do have young female high risk offenders?

Stephanie Thompson: Yes. We do, and we’re not ignoring them, but like you said, this is a pilot phase.

Len Sipes: It’s a pilot program, we’re just starting and we’re getting our feet wet and then we’re going to be moving on to everybody else.

Stephanie Thompson: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the key issue with so many of the women offenders that I’ve talked to before, coming from tough backgrounds and they’re very vocal about those tough backgrounds. I mean, when I interview them for the radio show, I compare it to standing in front of a shotgun. Where the guys are reserved and don’t talk about it, the women offenders, boom, they’ve just put it on the line in terms of their own backgrounds and it’s horrific. Working through those horrific backgrounds must take a toll on you personally, I think? Does it?

Stephanie Thompson: It does, but at the same time, I try not to focus on their, the charges that they have. I try to focus on the individual in front of me and I try to leave that behind, just focus on what we’re going to do now. What’s your goals now? And try to get them to think beyond getting off supervision. The majority of them are like, “I just want to get off supervision.” So try to get them to think beyond getting off supervision. What are you going to do once you get off supervision?

Len Sipes: What’s your game plan for life?

Stephanie Thompson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Len Sipes: And Chris, that’s how we have to approach this. It’s not while you’re under our supervision. What are the coping skills, what are the tools that you’re going to employ a year and a half after you get off of supervision?

Christopher Barno: And I’m always having that conversation with the young men and I tell them, you know, “One day your supervision’s going to end and you’re not going to come back to CSOSA.” You know, they smile at me. And I say, “But it’s going to be realistic, it’s going to happen. And we need to have some things in place for you so that when that day comes, you’re going to be ready.” You know, whether it’s furthering your education, gainful employment, meaningful employment, – a career. So you know, it’s really about, again, what I mentioned earlier. Instilling a sense of hope in these young men so that they can see that there’s more to life than just being on supervision.

Len Sipes: It’s a matter of reshaping young lives rather than simply incarcerating young lives.

Christopher Barno: Yes, that’s 100% correct.

Len Sipes: It is. You’re reshaping individuals . And that’s tough to do. That’s hard to do, but I would imagine if anybody can do it, we can because of our resources and smaller case loads.

Stephanie Thompson: Correct.

Len Sipes: I mean, most parole and probation agencies are not equipped to deal with what it is that we’re doing. I mean, most parole and probation agencies would throw them out into the community and say, “Go to here for your anger management and go to there in terms of substance abuse.” We pretty much provide that in-house to a large degree.

Stephanie Thompson: Yes, and that’s a significant part of the young adult program, is that when you’re in like general supervision, you have to refer them outside for these resources, but to actually be right here. And then you have issues with transportation as well. So to actually have it right in-house will help a lot and I believe that helps with the young adults to feel like they do have a chance to really succeed.

Len Sipes: And Chris, doesn’t it say to them that if we’re doing it in-house and packaging it all together and everybody else is talking to each other, then they really do have an opportunity to succeed?

Christopher Barno: 100% again, correct. I mean, it’s really – the other thing that it helps them see is that, you know, they see all of us on a regular basis. They’re not going to different field sites, they’re not going to different places in the community to get the services that they need. It’s all right there.

Len Sipes: And Chris, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching this program on dealing with youthful offenders. Watch for us next time as we look at another very important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


Systematic Change and Criminal Justice-Pew Public Safety Performance Project

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/11/systematic-change-criminal-justice-pew-public-safety-performance-project/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, our title for today’s show: Public Opinion, Sentencing, and Parole and Probation. We’re very happy to have Adam Gelb. Adam is the Director of the Public Safety Performance Project, which helps advance policies and practices in adult and juvenile sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control correctional costs. As project lead, Adam oversees Pew’s assistance to states and also research. He’s been involved in crime control and prevention for the past 25 years as a journalist, congressional aide, a senior state government official. He graduated from the University of Virginia, and holds a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Adam, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Adam Gelb: Great to be with you, Len.

Len Sipes: Full disclosure. Adam and I worked together in the state of Maryland when he was a senior aide to the lieutenant governor, who eventually ran for governor. And I was leading public information for a state agency, law enforcement and correctional agency. So Adam and I have worked together. I’ve seen Adam lead this charge in person. Nobody is a more passionate person and a more knowledgeable person on the issue of crime and justice. I want to read very quickly from one of the findings from Pew, in terms of the research that they do. “American voters believe that too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on prison. Voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.” Number three. “Support for sentencing and correction reforms, including reduced prison terms, is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender, and racial and ethnic groups.” Adam, the whole idea of Pew and the Public Safety Performance Project, give me a definition in one sentence.

Adam Gelb: You said it very well yourself, right?

Len Sipes: Yeah, I did, but I –

Adam Gelb: We have –

Len Sipes: We need to hear from you, in one sentence.

Adam Gelb: We help states advance policies and practices that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

Len Sipes: When you and I talked in the past and I say, “Adam, this whole issue of offender reentry.” You said, “Leonard, we’re not an offender reentry program. We’re about systematic policy change within the criminal justice system; within the United States. That does the things that you just articulated.” Correct?

Adam Gelb: That’s right, yeah. Our project does look at the bigger system than just the very tail end of the system and making sure that when offenders get out of prison they’re set up for success.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: We look at the whole system from front end to back end, and, right, the bulk of what we do is join into partnerships with states. When the governor, senior legislative leadership, the chief justice, and judicial leaders, say, “We’ve got a problem here, we’d like to take a look at it, see what we can do about bending the curve on our corrections growth and making sure that prisons are holding the right people.” And then we come in, and working with a bipartisan, inner branch taskforce, take a look at the state’s data. What specifically is driving the population, what’s caused it to rise? We also do a look at the corrections and reentry policies. To what extent is that agency or agencies implementing what we know to be evidence based practices? Based on that, and at only at that point, once we’ve taken a look at the data and the trends, do we then start to fashion policy solutions. And based on what the research says about what works, based on what other state experiences have been about what works or not, then we help the state put together a set of policy recommendations. And then thirdly, and this is really important about what we do, is that we don’t just help the state and that taskforce put together a nice pretty report with fancy graphs and great recommendations that’s going to sit on the shelf. All right, there’s an integral involvement of all the stakeholder groups and agencies from the get-go, and certainly the governor and the legislative leadership. And so our reports tend to make it across the finish line in the legislature and not sit on a shelf.

Len Sipes: What you’re looking for is systematic change at the state level. You’re looking for systematic policy changes that reduce cost to state yet at the same time improve public safety.

Adam Gelb: That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes: All right. And through that – and I’m going to say this, and it’s not my opinion. I’m not expressing my opinion at all. I’ve talked to a wide variety of people at the national level, at the state level. Some people believe – again, I represent the federal government. I work with a lot of federal agencies. I do not mean to embarrass them. I love them half to death. But a lot of people express the opinion that Pew is not a leader in this issue of systematic change within the criminal justice system, Pew is the leader. Pew writes material in such a way that the average person can understand it, the average member of the general assembly, that person’s aide; citizens can understand what it is that you’re talking about. You have a wonderful flow in your writing. You have a comprehensive strategy in terms of your media events, of the video that you create. There’s something very, very strategic in terms of the way that you communicate. You communicate in a way that government seems to be incapable of doing. Am I right or wrong?

Adam Gelb: Well, we have a few advantages there, both in terms of resources and in terms of the politics, right? Pew is an independent organization that’s self-funded to do this work and so we do have a little bit more freedom to be creative in the way that we communicate.

Len Sipes: And government cannot. That’s the interesting thing. People have simply said Pew can, that’s the answer they’ve given, that Pew has the ability to communicate, government has an innate inability to communicate.

Adam Gelb: Well, take the polling that you started off the segment with here.

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Adam Gelb: We are able to go out and partner with some of the top pollsters in this country. One of the top Republican pollsters and one of the Democratic pollsters team together on the poll that you mentioned and were able to document, with research and public opinion, where people are on this, right. And I think the point that you’re making and one of the reasons why we’re seeing so much change around the country at this point is that elected officials are, I think, finally catching up with where voters and citizens are on these issues. People are sick and tired of the revolving door.

Len Sipes: How many states are you talking about, that Pew is involved in?

Adam Gelb: About half the states. Over the past seven years –

Len Sipes: So you’re talking about 25 year – 25 states over the course of the last seven years, systematic examination as to how they do business, systematic examination as to how they can change?

Adam Gelb: That’s right.

Len Sipes: 25 states in the United States and you’ve been able to do that on a systematic basis.

Adam Gelb: We’ve been working hard. We’ve had a tremendous amount of help from our partners at the Council of State Government’s Justice Center, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Crime and Justice Institute, and many others.

Len Sipes: Office of Justice Programs, yes.

Adam Gelb: BGA and the Office of Justice Programs, an integral partner in this effort. And it’s been an amazing public-private partnership, particularly in that our strength and focus of our dollars can be on the front end of these reforms, trying to make sure that there is a solid policy package put together and making it across the finish line to legislature. And then BGA has been able to really come in after that and provide some support to these states to make sure that the changes, and there are lots of them in many of these comprehensive packages, are actually implemented. Because I think we all realize that a lot of this structural policy change that you’re talking about sometimes isn’t worth the paper that it’s printed on unless there’s real follow-through by the courts and by probation and parole agencies.

Len Sipes: Okay. I do, just out of respect for Pew, is to get across the point that Pew is multilayered, Pew has been around for, what, 150,000 years, and multilayered, they do a lot of different things. It’s really surprising how Pew is a daily part of my life as a bureaucrat within a federal agency in terms of daily news summary, in terms of the material that you give me, in terms of public opinion of polls, Pew is multilayered.

Adam Gelb: It certainly is. There are projects in many different areas of public policy, health policy, environment policy, and it’s been fabulous that the Institution has committed as much energy and resource as it has over the past seven years to an area that is not really commonly thought of in a lot of philanthropic circles.

Len Sipes: Okay. Let’s get down to the 25 states. Office of Justice Program, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Pew, Council of States, I mean the lot of organizations involved in terms of systematic change within states. I talk to reporters and reporters say, “Okay, so this is all going on, this sense of systematic change at the state level. How many criminologists have we talked to over the course of our careers who said, “I really believe that we should systematically do it differently,” that we do over-incarcerate, that there should be more alternatives to incarceration? I contend that reporters and street cops are two of the most jaded groups of people on the face of the earth. They’re cynical. They look at me and their question is, “So what? Show me the results as to where the alternatives, whatever they happen to be, that are truly having an impact in terms of reduced crime, and improved justice, and at the same time reductions in costs for the criminal justice system. Show me. Show me. Show me.” When I respond, I run off a list of research that has had an impact, and their response is, “Okay, that doesn’t quite do it for me.” Because most research projects when they are successful, not all are successful, run in the ballpark of about 15% reduction in recidivism. They’re interested in a safer America. Can you deliver on a safer America?

Adam Gelb: I think we’re seeing governors and state legislators and judicial leaders across this country in those 25 states that have gone through the justice reinvestment process, I think we’re seeing them deliver.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: Right? And they are. And I hope it’s well known with your audience that Texas was one of the first states to go through this kind of process, and that in Texas, in the last seven years, the prison population has stabilized. They expected to have to spend at this point now more than two billion dollars to accommodate the increased growth that they were projecting. They haven’t had to spend that money. The recidivism rate, pro-revocation rate, in that state is down by well over a third. And public safety, the most important piece of this puzzle, has improved across the state. The crime rate in Texas is back down to where it was in the 1960s.

Len Sipes: And reporters are going to say, “Well, Leonard, but most states have seen reductions in crime across the board.” We’re just coming off an almost continuous 20 year reduction in crime across the board, as measured by the FBI, as measured by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, for the last couple years, it’s starting to go up, both on the property and violent crime. So the fact that there have been reductions in the past in any state can be explained, as a journalist would say, by the reductions in all states. So how do we through  systematic change, prove that we’re improving public safety, that we’re making people’s lives safer?

Adam Gelb: I think the numbers clearly show it, right. There’re national trends and then there are state by state trends. And what you really have to do if you want to examine this closely is take a look at Texas, take a look at South Carolina, take a look at Georgia, take a look at Ohio, and some of the other states that have made these changes. And what’s clear is that they’ve been able to save a tremendous amount of taxpayer money by not having to build and open and staff new prisons. And they’ve been able to do so while continuing along with that general national trend towards lower crime over the past several years. And in the last couple years the numbers also sort of mirror the national average. So what’s starting to happen, Len, is that there’s the myth that incarceration and crime rates move together in some lock step. That myth is being shattered. It’s being shattered in state after state across the country, where states that have reduced their incarceration rates have also reduced their crime rates. In fact the 29 states that have reduced their incarceration rates over the past few years, the crime rate has gone down in all of them but three.

Len Sipes: So and that’s your point. The point is, is that there has been systematic change in these states if you’re going to predict the fact that there’s been less incarceration, that your crime rate has gone up, that hasn’t happened.

Adam Gelb: No it hasn’t and –

Len Sipes: So it’s gone down concurrently with a reduction within prison population?

Adam Gelb: It has. And I think the conversation at the national level when you talk at sort of a big conceptual level, that it immediately does go toward, “Well, what’s the relationship between crime and incarceration?” At the local level, the state level, what policy makers are starting to realize, when they’ve seen, “Okay, we’re not building these prisons, okay, we’re scaling this back and crime is going down.” or it’s maybe starting to tick up a little bit, nationally what’s going on here? They start to look at other factors that influence the crime rate, particularly the police. And this is where, right, that you need to make sure, in part of these conversations, what’s happened with the ranks of police forces across this country gets some time in that conversation. Because police forces have had to lay off, in some cases, tremendous portions of their –

Len Sipes: Oh, in New Jersey there are towns that have laid off 50% of their people.

Adam Gelb: So –

Len Sipes: It’s been amazing what’s going on throughout the country.

Adam Gelb: Right. So at the local level people are starting to see, this is not all just about how many people you put in prison and how long you keep them there, definitely one factor. Nobody in this conversation, in a serious conversation about these issues is going to argue that the increased imprisonment didn’t have any impact on the reduction in crime.

Len Sipes: And that’s a good point.

Adam Gelb: What we’re seeing now, though, is that most people, including policymakers, realizing that we have passed a tipping point on this. We’ve long since now passed a point of diminishing returns, where not only will more prisons not necessarily reduce crime, they’re just not even close to the most cost at more prisons, not close the most cost-effective way to reduce crime.

Len Sipes: I want to get very quickly to the other thing that I’ve heard from reporters, this issue is principally a way for states to cut costs, not necessarily public safety, but a way to cut costs. But before I get to that I’m going to reintroduce you. Adam Gelb is at our microphones today. He is the Director of the Public Safety Performance Project of Pew. And certainly Pew, as I said before, I’m not quite sure that I can be more praise or suggest more praise for Pew than I possibly can. It is either the leader of change in the criminal justice system in this country or certainly a partner with a lot of other organizations in terms of systematic change within the criminal justice system within this country. www.pewpublicsafety.org, www.pewpublicsafety.org. The criticism that, “Leonard, okay, so all these states are doing all these things because they’re tired of spending so much money on incarceration and that’s all you’re doing. Yes, you’re cutting costs and that’s well documented, but they’re doing it solely for that, they’re not doing it for systematic change within the criminal justice system.”

Adam Gelb: Budget trouble is definitely bringing states to the table; it’s just not the meal.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: Right? Policymakers across the country are not holding their noses and saying, “I know this going to really cause an increase in crime and I hate to do it, but we do have to, at the state level, make ends meet, we have to balance our budget, so we’re just going to have to make some of these tough policy calls.” That is not what we see happening in state after state. What we do see happening are three things. First is they are seeing the success of states like Texas and South Carolina and other states that we just talked about, states that have significantly bent the curve on their prison growth, and even reduced population, and are seeing reduced recidivism because of the reinvestment into stronger probation and parole programs, and they’re seeing those state crime rates go down. So they’re starting to see this iron linkage broken between locking up more people and having safer streets. The second thing that’s happening is they’re becoming increasingly aware of where the public is on this and I think our polling has helped there; but more and more just in daily conversation you find that people realize at this point after 25, 30 years of ever increasing prison populations that we’re not going to build our way to public safety and that there are much more effective and less expensive approaches for lower level offenders. They also are aware and think that they don’t have some specific amount of time that they want to see offenders behind bars for. The want to see a high percentage of the sentence served, but they don’t really care if that’s a five year sentence or a three year sentence. They just want to know when the judge says three years; you’re going to serve pretty much all that three years. That is starting to seep into some of these conversations. Other parts of the public opinion constellation here include victims speaking out and also saying, “Now, this is not all about locking up as many people for as long as possible.” This is, “I realize these people are going to get out and I want them to pay restitution, I want them to be held accountable, but I also don’t want them to claim new victims.” And so we need to strengthen reentry. We have business leaders, Len, stepping forward in many of these states and saying this is now an issue just the overall economic vitality of the state. The corrections budgets have been the second fastest growing part of state budgets behind only Medicaid.

Len Sipes: That’s what I want to explore.

Adam Gelb: And this is not the right way to go. Let me just add that you certainly have a lot of conservative voices that you’ve mentioned that are speaking up here now and realizing that having 1 in 100 adults behind bars is not consistent with conservative notions of limited government and fiscal discipline.

Len Sipes: Let me get into that. For the first time in my over 40 years within the criminal justice system, I’m seeing people on both sides of the political asile come together under one banner, under one topic, and that is, again, systematic change. Doing it differently, getting a better result for our criminal justice dollar. I’ve not seen that before. I’ve not seen some of the public opinion data that you’re sharing swinging in the direction of, “Hey, let’s not have 75%, 80% recidivism in terms of re-arrests, let’s not have 50% recidivism in terms of re-incarceration. The state simply can’t afford that. My God! We don’t have money for schools; we don’t have money for colleges. Can we reduce this rate of recidivism? Can we rearrange how we do things?” I’ve never seen such a coalescence of opinion from despaired groups before on this issue of crime and justice.

Adam Gelb: There’s a tremendous shift that’s happening and it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why it’s happening. Why is Jeb Bush, why is Newt Gingrich, why are Grover Norquist, Bill Bennett, David Keene, why are these folks who are and have been leaders of the conservative movement coming forward now and saying the system has gotten too big, it’s gotten too expensive, it needs to be rethought dramatically?

Len Sipes: It needs to be more effective at what it does.

Adam Gelb: And it really derives – right, the point in time is sort of what’s hard to fix. The reasons behind it are not difficult to discern at all, right. One is straightforward limited government. 1 in 100 behind bars, almost 1 in 31 under some form of correctional supervision, prison, jail, probation, parole, it’d be even a little higher if we counted pretrial. That is big and it’s costly. And so that’s one perspective, the limited government perspective and the fiscal discipline perspective. There’re also big strains of this movement that look at the victim piece of this and recognize that serving time in a state prison does not do anything to help make that victim whole, particularly lower level property offenders, that it’s more consistent with conservative notions of justice.

Len Sipes: The focus is violent offenders versus nonviolent offenders. And so much of this focus is looking at the nonviolent offenders and can we do, “Something else with the nonviolent offenders.”? The violent offenders – we’re basically making room for the more dangerous folks, are we not, in terms of this whole concept of effectiveness?

Adam Gelb: That is a constant theme in the States. What policymakers tell us they want to see out of the policy packages, and they certainly see this when they look at the data, in terms of increasing numbers of technical violators taking up prison space, is that’s not who they want behind bars. They want behind bars the serious, the chronic, the violent, and the high-risk offenders.

Len Sipes: Okay. We only have eight minutes left in the program. I want to ask a personal question and I want to move on to more policy issues. Number one, you’ve ridden this horse from the very beginning, and I would imagine, as you’re sitting on top of your horse, when started with Pew, when you’re looking out at all you can see is 10,000 cattle milling about. And you’re saying to yourself, “It’s impossible to get all these critters moving in one direction.” And you have. So what is your personal sense of accomplishment after all these years, or non-accomplishment?

Adam Gelb: There are a lot of cynics who think that this is all about the budgets. As you just said, that we’re really not adding a lot of value here, this would be happening anyway or it’s happening only because the budgets. That there’s really not some fundamental shift in the national conversation here and even if there is it’ll be temporary and it won’t last much longer beyond when budgets recover. That’s not what we see happening. We do see a fundamental shift in the conversation and the perspective on this issue happening. We had for a long time a situation where policymakers thought it was the right approach to this issue and it was their job to say, “How do I demonstrate that I’m tough on crime?”

Len Sipes: Right.

Adam Gelb: Now what they’re saying is, “How do I get taxpayers a better public safety return on their correction spending?” And I think that’s an important shift and it’s one that’ll last.

Len Sipes: Give me five specifics. Because I think it was a very modest answer. I think I would’ve been scared half to death sitting on top of that horse looking out at the sea of cattle that I’m trying to get moving in one direction. I think you’re being modest. Number two. And I think Pew is being modest. I think Pew should crow more about what it’s done. I think it’s been a sea change. Number two. Give me, and reporters ask me this all the time, give me the five fundamental changes that one needs to advocate for to provide a systematic change that reduces cost and improves public safety all at the same time. The first from a parole and probation perspective that I always give is to do an independent analysis of that individual to judge their risk to public safety and to judge what their need are so you’re dealing with that person individually and not just as a class so you can design a program that will specifically deal with what it is that he or she needs. Risk and needs assessment. That’s one of my answers, do you have others?

Adam Gelb: There’re many. To build off of what you were just saying. We do know now what works to stop the cycle recidivism. No magic bullets. No way to guarantee that somebody’s not going to commit another crime. But we do know how to do risk assessment much better. We do have much better surveillance technology. We know –

Len Sipes: GPS, is that what we’re talking about?

Adam Gelb: We’re talking about GPS; we’re talking about rapid result drug tests.

Len Sipes: All right.

Adam Gelb: So we know more about how to change behavior, we have better technologies to help us do that. We need to get –

Len Sipes: To better accountability tools?

Adam Gelb: Across the board.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: It’s very different. The challenge is less so in terms of knowing what to do but in terms of actually getting it done.

Len Sipes: Right.

Adam Gelb: And what we’re seeing in these states is the recognition that there are a good number of lower level offenders in the prison system, particularly those who are technical violators and not having committed a new crime or not been convicted of a new crime. And if you can change laws and practices about who goes in, and you can capture some of those savings and reinvest them into some of the probation and parole programs that follow the evidence based technologies then you can have a tremendous impact on both cost and on public safety.

Len Sipes: All right, so the state saves 20 million dollars, you want 10 of that reinvested in the programs, parole and probation or rehab programs or treatment programs that could have a direct impact on the rest of the people staying out of the criminal justice system.

Adam Gelb: That’s the formula.

Len Sipes: Okay. What else?

Adam Gelb: One of the things that we’re seeing a lot of interest in the states in is in swift and certain sanctions. The states are realizing that you have to hold people accountable –

Len Sipes: Sanctions mean the guy under supervision screws up and you’ve got to do something about it.

Adam Gelb: There’s an immediate and a swift response, but it’s not severe. You don’t wait until somebody violates 10, 12 times and then do something about it. There’s a lot of interest in incentives, all right? For a long time the prison system has incentivized good behavior behind the walls by saying you could earn credits off your sentence. What we’re seeing now is a lot of states interested in transferring that concept to the community and saying, “If you’re out on probation or parole and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re going to treatment, you’re testing clean, and so on, you’re paying your victim restitution, then you can earn time off your supervision period.” And that does two things. It incentivizes good behavior by offenders in compliant behavior, and then it calls off the lower risk offenders off of case loads, right, so that supervision officers can actually spend their time on people who are not complying. And that’s what research tells us is going to produce the biggest impact on public safety.

Len Sipes: People have suggested to me that we’ve got to reduce the amount of time spent on parole and probation. If you have a person for five years on parole and probation that person’s going to go back. You cannot, the pope could not live a clean life during an endless period on parole and probation. I apologize if I’ve been disrespectful to anybody. Few could live five years on parole and probation without messing up, without the possibility of returning back to the system. So what some people suggest is that you tell the person, “You give me one good year of no violations, you work, no drug positives, you do all the things you’re supposed to do. If you’re a nonviolent offender, I’ll go back, and then after a year of compliance, I’ll go back and recommend that we no longer supervise you.” But across the board, people are recommending lower times for supervision on parole and probation.

Adam Gelb: That’s right. I think practice is starting to catch up with the research on this question.

Len Sipes: Anything else quickly? We’ve got about 30 seconds left.

Adam Gelb: Yeah, I think you were asking about interventions and programs.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Adam Gelb: I’d like to really put the emphasis on the process.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Adam Gelb: I think one of the reasons why states have been as successful as they have been working with us and CSG and others on this is that they have not put the cart before the horse. They’ve taken a look at their data; they’ve taken a look at their systems, and from that, determined what policies and programs are missing and what’s the best fit. And that has just been an absolutely critical part of this process. It’s changed the whole thing around from, “What’s a good program? Or what should we do ideologically?” to “What does the data say?”

Len Sipes: So if we’re going to have systematic change we need systematic analysis. And that’s where Pew, and BJA, and OJP, and the Center for State Governments, that’s where they all come in.

Adam Gelb: That’s right.

Len Sipes: All right. Adam, it’s been a fascinating conversation. It went by way too fast as it always does. Adam Gelb is the director of the Public Safety Performance Project for Pew. www.pewpublicsafety.org, www.pewpublicsafety.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticism. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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