Hiring Offenders on Community Supervision

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/03/hiring-offenders-community-supervision/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, is on hiring offenders throughout the United States. There’s a problem with employment with people on parole and probation supervision. Most criminologists believe that if employment levels rose it would reduce recidivism crime and would save the States tens of millions of dollars. To discuss this issue today we have three gentlemen. Charlie Whitaker, he is CEO of Career Path DC, we have Cory Laborde, he is the facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, and Tony Lewis, job developer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and to Mr. Laborde and to Charlie and to Tony, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tony Lewis:  Thanks for having us, Len.

Charlie Whitaker:  Good afternoon, sir.

Cory Laborde:  It’s my pleasure.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, where do we go to with this topic? I’ve talked to dozens of employers here in the District of Columbia, and in a previous life throughout the state of Maryland, who basically tell me, “I’ve got 20, 30 applicants for every job or more. Most of them or a lot of them do not have criminal histories, they don’t have criminal backgrounds. You’re asking me to hire somebody who is currently on parole and probation supervision. You want to have that discussion with me. I’m here to tell you I don’t want to hire that person, because I’ve got plenty of people to choose from who don’t come from histories of crime and who don’t come from histories of substance abuse.” How do we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and all parole and probation agencies, how are we supposed to contend with that perception?

Cory Laborde:  Right. Well, Len, let’s just jump straight into it. My name is Cory Laborde. Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Cory Laborde:  Well, for one, when I’m hiring somebody, when I’m interviewing somebody, I’m not interviewing somebody based off their past, I’m interviewing them and hiring them based off what they can give the company going forward in the future. Now, past is important, because you have to look at past behavior to see whether or not that may play a conflict with inside your organization. But, however, just because someone is being interviewed who does not have a past, a criminal background, let’s be precise, doesn’t mean that he’s the best person for that job. We may have somebody who may a past offense, may have done something in his past that he’s ashamed of, he put it behind, he or she put it behind them, but they may be the best person for the job that you’re interviewing that person for. They probably have experience in that line of work, they probably a career that they’ve already done before they made that offense. So I don’t want to have a blind eye saying, “I will not hire this person just because they made a mistake 15, 10 years ago.”

Len Sipes:  You’re trying to get the very best person for the job regardless of that person’s background.

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Because it does seem to me, Charlie, that what we have is a conundrum. We’re not asking anybody to hire sex offenders for daycare centers. We’re not asking anybody to hire somebody who’s been convicted of fraud to handle money in a bank. But what we are doing is talking about appropriate placements. We’re talking about people who are doing well. We’re talking about people who are months, if not years, from the last positive drug test. We’re talking about in many cases skilled human beings. But 50% unemployment, that’s what we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and when I talk to my counterparts throughout the country, that’s not unusual. How do we get beyond all this?

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, I think one thing is the program that you have set up here at CSOSA actually helps out a lot. I work with Tony Lewis real closely, and with the offenders that you guys send me to work with within the community, they worked out just fine based on they go through a life skills and job readiness program and we also afford the opportunity to allow our people to come and work for anywhere from three to six months in order to really just build on their skills and to just find out if they work really good with our organization. So by the time it comes time to hire these individuals, that’s why I’ve been so successful with us hiring as many people as we have hired, based on the fact that they’ve been trained, and a trained individual, regardless of their background, works out extremely well.

Also appropriate placements; I heard you speak on that. So, when someone is sent to me from CSOSA, and I think this is a best practice right here, me and Tony talk on where can they work, what type charges they have, and if he does have a sex offender for example, because even individuals who have heinous crimes need to work within our community, we’ll identify a situation where they can come and work with us and a situation where it won’t affect the rest of the public or that it was the lowest safety risk possible and the best placement for that individual.

Len Sipes:  All right, Tony, you and I have this conversation about 500 times.

Tony Lewis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And our dilemma is, I mean we’ve just spoke to two employers here, and we’ve spoken to Charlie and Cory, and so they’re on board, are all employers out there on board?

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely not.

Len Sipes:  Okay. And so they’re not because of why?

Tony Lewis:  I think they’re not because they don’t understand that we have talent within our ranks, so to speak, and we’re not just asking for a handout. We actually have people that can come in and increase your productivity. We have people that have skill sets that match what you’re looking for. And their criminal history or criminal background doesn’t necessarily get in the way of that. But another I think the biggest impediment or barrier to it is that just from a hiring policy standpoint a lot of the companies, especially here locally in the District of Columbia, have such a broad “no felony accepted” kind of stance that it really handicaps our ability to connect our talents and people with a lot of the positions.

Mr. Laborde’s organization and Charlie’s organization have been brave enough and courageous enough to embark upon this journey with us in terms of the program where we’re able to do a transitional employment style program, where you get an opportunity to kind of test drive our talent. And they’ve seen how the individuals that we’ve sent have been able to come in and help them do what they do better and they’ve been able to bring them on full-term and full-time. And I think that’s what we look to do with many more organizations. I just wish people would show a little more flexibility in their hiring policies and look at people on a case by case basis.

Len Sipes:  We have radio and television shows on our website, it’s www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, where it’s called “Employing People On Supervision”. And we ask people to listen to the radio shows, watch the television shows, and to contact us, to have a conversation with us regarding this whole issue. I mean if you’re not, tell us why. If you are, tell us why. But what we’re looking for is your opinion. We’re crowd sourcing this issue, we want as many people involved as possible. Tony, I’m going to go back to something that you’ve said and toss it over to Charlie and Cory. You said courageous. Now, wait a minute, that doesn’t fit. I mean we’re not saying be courageous, we’re saying that we’ve got talented, skilled people ready to go that’s going to affect your bottom line and affect the ability for you to get the job done, regardless as to whether or not they’ve a criminal history. Why is that courageous? I mean isn’t that good business sense?

Tony Lewis:  Well, it is. But when you’re talking about the stigma and the fear that comes along with people with criminal backgrounds it takes courage to be able to accept that fear and be able to take a chance. And I think any employer out there, any business out there that says, “You know what? We’re going to give somebody a second chance to live their lives in a positive way and to be able to contribute their skills and their talents to my organization.” I think they definitely are courageous. And I hope there’s a lot more courageous people out there. Or hope these two courageous guys can inspire some other business leaders and they can be an example of how things can work. And everybody that we’ve sent to either of them didn’t work out, but they didn’t allow that to necessarily sour their outlook in that one guy be a represent, that one bad apple to be a representative of the thousands of people that we have coming through our doors every day.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Tony Lewis:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  There’s information on tax credits and a bonding program, again, www.csosa.gov, right on our front page. Cory, you wanted to say something.

Cory Laborde:  Yes. Well, I wanted to shy in and just say, for one, when you’re hiring or firing somebody, you’re not hiring and firing them based off something they did 10, 15 years ago, you’re hiring and firing them based off what’s going on right now.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  You can have an individual, for one, I have maybe like 16 staff, and with all of them, men and women, different nationalities and all, all of them are trained to do something different. And when you are hiring them and you ask them to do something you may have somebody who’s never done anything as far as criminal law is concerned –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Never broke a criminal law on record.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Tony Lewis:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  And you may have another individual who probably did 10, 15 years ago, he’s ashamed of it, he’s ready to move on, he’s ready to put that behind, he’s ready to go forward.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  I learnt that dealing with CSOSA since the partnership came about, along with my organization, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, which pastored it by a man who gave me the same type of passion, Archbishop Alfred A. Owens –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Who look at people for what they can be and not what they were.

Len Sipes:  And have a national reputation –

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely. And he’s very –

Len Sipes:  In terms of working with people in the community.

Cory Laborde:  And my pastor’s been very successful with that based on – I’ll give you an example. You may have an individual who may come up and you may hire them because they don’t have any past whatsoever.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  All right. But that person is ready to get a past, because they just didn’t get caught with some of the things they probably already done got away with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  You may have another individual that you shun away because of his past, but he or she really do not want to do those things no more. They’re ready to move forward. They’ve already done put their hand inside the cookie jar before and got caught.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  So they dare wouldn’t do that again. So they’re ready to give you 5, 10 years, 15 years of longevity. Where you have another individual who probably still got his hand in the cookie jar, constantly put his hand in the cookie jar, he just never got caught doing. And then you wind up hiring that person based off of those circumstances and they wind up letting you down.

Len Sipes:  All right, Charlie, but, again, let’s go back to what I’ve heard from employers so many times, “I’ve got 30 people, 15 have histories, criminal histories, 15 don’t, that automatically, I’m automatically looking to hire from that group of 15 who don’t, because why not? I mean and all things being equal, I’d rather dip into the pool that doesn’t have a criminal history than those who do.” Is that a realistic expectation on the part of a business person? Should that person do that? That’s what I hear most often from the employment community.

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, I know as a small business owner I don’t think that’s relevant, because with my organization I found that CSOSA has been a great help as far as supporting us, as far as supervision, about the individuals that we work with. They have job developers, as well as job coaches. So whenever an issue is raised on the job, I can make a contact with Tony and call him and say, “Tony, well, the guy’s a couple of minutes late, been a couple of minutes late three times, four times. Can you talk to him?” Tony will talk to him and get him back on track.

However, my individuals who are not under supervision, when they’re late for work, that’s an issue for me to deal with. And it just doesn’t seem relevant at this point for me, because the support that I receive your office, CSOSA, I mean it really helps me as a small business person, because it’s money, it’s money on the table. When I got to stop doing what I’m doing to come in and talk to people about them being late for work or about the productivity and things of that nature it’s a bottom line for me. So to have CSOSA there to assist me with that it’s like having an extra supervisor on call that I could call –

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Charlie Whitaker:  And say –

Tony Lewis:  How about that.

Charlie Whitaker:  “I need some assistance today.” And believe it, they come right on over.

Len Sipes:  But that’s what we’re selling, gentlemen. I think Tony and I, we’ve been down this path dozens and dozens of times. We’re selling quality people, in many cases with real skills, with a real work history, who don’t have a substance abuse background, who have been years since their last criminal activity.

Tony Lewis:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  And I’ve had them before these microphones dozens and dozens of times. I’ve had them on television and I’ve had them on radio, and they’re sitting there in a three-piece suit and they’re skilled human beings, but they’re unemployed because 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, they got involved in a criminal activity, and they are completely changed people now. So what we’re pitching is don’t give us a handout, what we’re pitching is that we’re good for your bottom line.

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely. And it’s one of those things as well where you find that, again, all this stuff is really about stigma and a small percentage of individuals making mistakes that have adverse effect on many. And you have things that have happened throughout society, and then we make these so-called policies, they’re supposed to protect us from whatever happens, and then it has, again, these adverse effects. I mean even in terms of when you see things – I mean all the crazy things that I hear that happen like on the job where there’s people going postal or what have you, those typical aren’t people with criminal backgrounds. Or when you hear about – you have shows like Lock Up that’s on TV and you got these things that you see the cameras going in the prison and people have these things in the back of their mind, like, “Oh, wow!. Well, when that guy gets out of prison I wouldn’t him or her to come and work beside me.” And I really think that affects the psyche in the sense that people don’t even understand. And some people’s crimes, they don’t even have a rational relationship to the job. Like so if I had a drug offense when I was 18 and now I’m 27, why can’t I be a janitor at your business? Like where is the conflict, right? Like things – that’s just a basic example. But I think that’s what we have to do. Companies have to look at the people on a case by case basis.

Len Sipes:  Both Charlie and Cory mentioned it. And that is, is that when you hire somebody who is under our supervision, you get Tony Lewis, you get other people that work along the side of Tony Lewis who will intervene, help you out. You get the community supervision officer, otherwise, throughout –

Tony Lewis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Known as a parole and probation agent.

Tony Lewis:  A vocation development specialist.

Len Sipes:  Vocational development specialist. You have a team who will help you deal with whatever comes up in terms of that individual. Well, you get tax credits; you get a bonding program, because –

Tony Lewis:  That protects you.

Len Sipes:  That really does protect in terms of your own liability. So there are assets at our disposal, at your disposal, to hire people. And again, the emphasis is not somebody fresh out of prison. We’re not talking about the sex offender in the daycare center. We’re talking about people with real skills who are months, if not years away from their last substance abuse history, months, if not years away from their last crime, but we have a 50% unemployment problem. So that stigma, getting beyond that stigma is proving to be very difficult. Charlie or Cory, you want to weigh in on this, that stigma?

Cory Laborde:  I want to give – I’m going to – I may come off subject a little bit, but I’ll go back to it.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Cory Laborde:  I had a situation. We had in DC we’ve been not so blessed with this heavy snow this winter.

Charlie Whitaker:  Yeah. Right.

Cory Laborde:  Very unexpected winter. So I have employees, and dealing with this snow, and I had the center employees. I had the relationship I got with CSOSA and some individuals they sent me. But one stuck to mind. Her name was Monica Womack, a female. And we got the snow detail going on. And the center employees, they’ve been there for a few years; they know what time they’re supposed to be at work, they know the routine, etc. Here’s a young lady just came about with the program. She’s ready to work. She calls me at 11:00 at night on my personal phone, “Mr. Cory, what time can you use me? What time I can be to work? What time do I need be to work, etc. etc.?” I said, “Well, monitor your phone. I would love to have your help out of there. Dealing with the snow we can never have enough help.”

Len Sipes:  That’s right.

Cory Laborde:  Anyway, I sent out the e-mail and said what time everybody’s expected to be to work. I get there an hour early before the crew. Don’t you know this young lady was there waiting on me.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Cory Laborde:  Public transportation was not even running that morning. She walked from Maryland Avenue all the way to Rhode Island Avenue –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Just so she can be to work on time.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Now, I share that story to say I looked at this individual and said, “This is the individual I would hire when the program is up.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Because you’re showing me that you really want to work. Never mind the fact of what she did 15, 20 years ago, even if it was three years ago. I don’t have to always use the word ten, that can be five years ago.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  But she’s ready to change. And you can have individuals that may be a decorated soldier, he may be a decorated soldier, he probably went to Iraq and fought for our country. And he probably came back home and got into a drunken bar fight defending his little sister or defending his wife or something and he hit somebody and he got a simple assault charge. Does that mean that this person is not capable of being an engineer? Does that mean he’s not capable of working at your facility because he made a mistake that one time? So you have to have a broader mind and look past some of these things.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program. Today’s program is on hiring offenders. We have Charlie Whitaker, CEO of Career Path DC; we have Cory Laborde, the facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, one of the most renowned religious organization in our area, and well known throughout the world and through the Unites States, rather; and Tony Lewis, job developer for CSOSA, talking about what it takes to get people that we currently have under supervision, what it takes to get them hired.

The issue is, is that for every person sitting in this room and every person listening to this radio show today, we’ve all had our problems in the past. I won’t speak for the three of you, but certainly I have done things way back in my youth that if I was caught maybe I would’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system. And I’ve always said that my first encounter in the criminal justice system was being arrested. So the point is, is that all of us could suffer a fate that hangs over our heads for the rest of our life. If what we’re saying is true, then it is a stigma. If 50% of our folks are unemployed, then what Tony is saying is true, that people cannot get beyond the fact that that person was caught up in the criminal justice system, people cannot get beyond that stereotype.

And that bothers me, because if we don’t give individuals an opportunity, then that means the greater chance for them to go back into the criminal justice system. That means a greater chance for more crime. And that has a real cost of literally tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars for states throughout the United States in terms of taking somebody back in the criminal justice system who may not be there if they were employed. The research is pretty clear that the more they’re employed the better they do. So isn’t it in everybody’s collective best interest to look beyond that criminal charge and to take a hard look at that person in terms of making that decision as to who to hire?

Charlie Whitaker:  Yes. That’s true. And just speaking on that stigma, just speaking on that stigma piece, many times people do look at people that are coming back to the community from being incarcerated as untrustworthy and things of that nature. But you got to look at this thing from this point of view; a lot of people that I work with, this is their last chance. When they come to me and they feel like this is their last chance at putting their life back on track. So these individuals they’re not going to do anything to go back to jail. And the process that they go through to determine whether they’re coming into our program is a lengthy process. So by the time they get to us it’s like these are the best individuals for the job. So they’re hardworking, they’re dependable, they’re loyal. These are the individuals that came in every time it snowed. These are the guys that came to the job.

Len Sipes:  Because they understand that they’re not in a position to jump from one job to the other –

Charlie Whitaker:  There you go, absolutely, there you go.

Len Sipes:  That this is one of the few chances that they’re going to get, thereby, they turn out to be pretty good employees. Go ahead, Cory.

Cory Laborde:  Right. Yeah. I’ve been so impressed with some of the individuals that came through the CSOSA program that I definitely want to make sure I point this out before we end this –

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

Cory Laborde:  Is that I actually hired a few of them. I just didn’t have them come through the program and said, “Okay, send me another 10 people, send me another 15 people.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  I called Tony and said, “Look, how long more this guy got or this woman got –?”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  “Before her program is up?” There’s been a few conversations we’ve had like this.

Tony Lewis:  Yeah, several.

Cory Laborde:  And he may say, “Well, I’m looking at it now and so and so may graduate in two months.” or whatever. I said, “Well, I can’t wait that long. I want to hire him. I got a position open. I don’t know how long this window’s going to stay open. I want to hire him.” Because and then I don’t want to put a stigma on them and say they’re only good for cleaning or they’re only good for housekeeping. I have one guy now that we’re training to be an engineer inside our organization, because he’s shown that he has handyman skills. He’s proven himself above and beyond. So you can look at these individuals and put a stigma all you want, but you have to ask yourself, it could be your nephew, it could be your niece, it could be your son, that made a mistake when they was 15, 17, 18 years old and do you want them to still have that on them when they get older?

Len Sipes:  Right now you’re going to be talking to, you are talking to congressional aides, you’re talking to aides to mayors, you’re talking to aides to county executives, you’re talking to aides to governors, you’re talking to criminal justice leadership, but you’re talking to a lot of people who have input in terms of policy throughout the country. What would you say directly to them, to that, right now, to that congressional aide, to that aide to the governor of Arizona? What do you say to that person to move people beyond this stereotype of people in the criminal justice system?

Cory Laborde:  Well, that’s a question I would love to answer, for those that are listening that are in positions to make decisions. The first person come to my mind is a young man I hired through the program. His name was Kenneth Trice. Kenneth came about through the CSOSA program and he was just looking for a chance. And he was so appreciative of the chance that he didn’t want do anything to do wrong. And he impressed us so that we hired him, we had a part-time position came open, and we hired him for the part-time position. And shortly right after the part-time position, it wasn’t even a cool three months, a full-time position came open and he was a candidate for it.

Why I’m sharing this story about Kenneth. I remember Kenneth came inside my office one time, Len, and he was very disturbed, he was going through some stuff with his children’s mother and he was trying to move on with himself. And he got two little girls. This is why I’m talking to the people who make decisions. Those two little girls, they now have a father that can bring something and go Christmas shopping because he got a decent check, an honest check that he can bring it home. So now the people who are making decisions, who was changing laws, who’s changing legislations, look at it, you’re not just helping that one person, you’re helping the people that’s behind them that’s coming next, because it’s the domino effect.

Now that Kenneth can come and make honest living, he can come and do something for these two little girls, he’s now giving them the opportunity to maybe potentially be nice young ladies coming into society. Now, if it was the opposite way, it would’ve been Kenneth being bad, the two girls being bad. Now you got three individuals inside a community that’s a threat to society. Instead you’ve got three individuals inside the community that are actually being a good to the society based off the CSOSA program.

Len Sipes:  Charlie, do you want to take a shot at that? You’re now talking to the aide to the governor of Hawaii.

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, unemployment is a public safety issue and that’s how I attack it when I’m working with people. And I would like for them to see it that way. That an individual who’s working is less likely to commit a crime. Individuals who’re out here and without employment, who’re struggling day to day, living in poverty, those are the individuals who in most instances would take that chance that’s going to send them back to jail and hurt other people’s families. So when you look at employment it’s a lot cheaper to give a person a job paying 13, 14 dollars an hour so that they can take care if their family than the government paying 40, 50, 000 dollars a year to incarcerate this person. And now the government not only got to take care of this person, but now they got to take care of this person’s family.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Charlie Whitaker:  So when you look at it from at the bottom line it’ll come out a lot cheaper for everybody. And I don’t really want to talk about the human side of it, because that’s something totally different. But there’s a human side to this thing too. When you got an individual who’s trying to take care of their families, and there’s no way that they can do it legitimately, so now they turn to something that can get them incarcerated, and now they’re taken away from their family. And this also costs, not just the community, but it costs everybody, because now our taxes go up and things of that nature.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Charlie Whitaker:  So think this is something that policymakers really got to look at. If you really want to bring down the deficit, let’s do things where we can create jobs for individuals instead of building prisons.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, we only have four minutes left in the program. Tony, I’m going to go to you. I’m talking now about 20 years ago I sat with a group of people caught up in the criminal justice system in the state of Maryland and it was about 20 of them. And I met them in the evening and we were talking about work. And I think that probably 17 out of the 20 were unemployed. These individuals were certainly not a risk to public safety. All of them had skills, all of them had backgrounds, and yet the frustration that they expressed of not being able to find work was strong. And they essentially told me, “Look, Leonard, if we don’t find work, what’s to stop us from going back to doing what we used to do?”

Tony Lewis:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  I mean it was powerful, it was strong, and it was depressing all at the same time, because these people were not a threat to public safety. What do you say to folks under supervision? What do you say to folks to keep their spirits up and to keep them moving in the right direction?

Tony Lewis:  I’m a big believer in hope. And I point to examples, I point to the Kenny Tracies or the Monica Womacks of the world. I speak to the importance of being resilient and remaining steadfast to hold on until the opportunity comes. And we also bring up definitely what’s the alternative. And we bring up those children, right, and the risk of leaving them again, and that they need you in spite of, you know? And I think one of the things for this country we really got to think about this though. We’re the number jailer in the world. There’s two million people incarcerated, and 90% of that two million will return to the community. It’s imperative that we create systems that will allow those people to integrate back into the workforce so that – I mean there’s 1.7 million children with an incarcerated parent that’s under the age of 18. So these are really, these are issues that affect education; these are issues that affect public safety. So, and we talk to our clients and our job seekers in a way in which we keep them in tune with how they affect how society works. And so that’s how we keep them motivated to stay positive.

Len Sipes:  Charlie and Cory, we only have a little bit less than a minute. What do you tell employers? You’re looking somebody right in the eye through this program. What do you tell employers, how is hiring folks from CSOSA, from parole and probation throughout the country, how is it going to affect their bottom line?

Cory Laborde:  Right. Well, I look at it like this. Hire the best person for the job, period, the best person for the job, period. Not based off what they did 15, 10, 5 years ago, based off what you need for your organization, what’s the position that needs to be fulfilled, and find the best candidate .

Len Sipes:  Got it.

Cory Laborde:  Regardless of their past.

Len Sipes:  Do not let the criminal history stand in the way of giving that person –

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely not.

Len Sipes:  An objective, appraisal –

Cory Laborde:  Because you could be letting go a key person for their organization.

Len Sipes:  One of your best employees.

Cory Laborde:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Charlie, give me your 30 second response.

Charlie Whitaker:  I just believe that people deserve a second chance. So in my organization, primarily 95% of my people are returned citizens. And I also believe that at the end of the day, we’re all people, and there’s a people aspect to this thing, and we got to think anybody who’s not working and wants to take care of their family in my eyes is a threat to public safety. So when we cut off those opportunities to individuals we create those issues.

Len Sipes:  Our guests today have been Charlie Whitaker, CEO of Career Path, and Cory Laborde; he is the facilities, he’s from the facilities, facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, and Tony Lewis, job developer for CSOSA, our website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for listening. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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How Effective Is Correctional Education?

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/2014/02/how-effective-is-effective-correctional-education/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, an extraordinarily good program, How Effective Is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go to From Here? A new research report from the Rand Corporation and the US Department of Justice by our microphones today is Lois Davis, she’s a senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation and John Litton, he is Director of Correctional Education for the US Department of Education. I want to very briefly read a synopsis of this report. The study’s key findings is that correctional education is effective in terms of reducing recidivism for incarcerated adults and there is some evidence that it’s also effective, especially for vocational education in terms of improving a person’s likelihood of post-release employment. Every dollar spent on correctional education, $5 is saved. John and Lois, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lois Davis: Thank you.

John Litton: Thank you Leonard.

Len Sipes: Alright Lois, the first question goes to you. A very prestigious report, you have briefed folks at the capital and you’ve just come from the White House, and we’re honored, White House to DC Public Safety. I’m not quite sure if that’s too big of a step down from the White House. But you briefed Congress; you briefed the White House, what were your primary thoughts about the briefing, and give me a sense as to the report itself.

Lois Davis: Well, I was very pleased with the turnout. It was impressive that there was quite a range of representation across, not just within Congressional staff, but also outside of Congress. And so, it clearly says that they idea of correctional education resonates with a lot of different people. One of the main messages that we wanted people to understand for this report is, once we really look at the effectiveness of correctional education that it’s important to understand that indeed it is effective in reducing recidivism, improving post-release employment and outcomes, but also it’s cost effective. So the debate moving forward should no longer be about whether or not it’s effective, it’s really about what can we do to move the field forward, and where can we fill in our gaps in our knowledge.

Len Sipes: John Litton, you’ve been involved in correctional education for an awfully long time, you and I worked together in the state of Maryland with the US Department of Education. This report is very important to the US Department of Education, correct.

John Litton: Yes, we’re very pleased to have the benefit of this report. It was mandated by Congress and the Bureau of Justice Assistance did a competitive process to award the opportunity to do the report, do the whole study to the Rand Corporation. The Rand folks did an excellent job and the findings are very interesting and we think quite compelling.

Len Sipes: Now the research indicates there was a 13% overall reduction in recidivism, which is extraordinarily important, but I do want to point out that I’ve seen reports, Maryland was one, three-state survey was done about 20 years ago now, where you had a 20% reduction in recidivism. So you’re going to get variances in terms of the individual pieces of research that you looked at Lois, so some are going to be higher, some are going to be lower, yours averaged out to be 13%.

Lois Davis: Yes, in fact one of the things we did was a systematic look at the studies that have been published all the way back from 2008 to the present. And 1980 to the present. And so what we’re doing is using a meta-analysis, which is a statistical technique to synthesize results across studies. And so to give a single estimate. So if we look at correctional education for the United States, I think our study shows that on average, within the United States, that you can expect a 13-percentage point reduction in the risk of recidivating. Another way that translates, which is a dramatic number, that also means that’s a 43% reduction of the odds of recidivating. So that alone I think is compelling evidence about its effectiveness.

Len Sipes: Now one of the interesting things that I find is that it doesn’t take a lot, and I’m getting this now, the Washington State Public Policy Institute did a little research a little while ago talking about what percentage of reduction it takes to be cost effective in, in any jurisdiction. They looked at, not research in just the state of Washington, but research throughout the country. And one of the things that I found from that research and one of the things that I’m getting from your research is that it doesn’t take a whole heck of a lot in terms of that percentage reduction for it to be cost effective, so it’s almost foolproof, it is not in terms of returning more dollars than it takes?

Lois Davis: That’s a really good point. When we look at it from a cost effectiveness analysis, what you see is that breakeven, so in other words, for the cost of a correction education programs to be break even in terms of the cost of incarceration, you only need a reduction of about 1-2 percentage points. But indeed we’re showing that it’s a 13-percentage point reduction.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lois Davis: So it’s a significant payback, so to speak, in terms of your return on investment.

Len Sipes: So John what we’re talking about is, you know, people say 13%, well Leonard, son of a gun, that doesn’t seem that high to me, the cost effectiveness part of it I understand, but what we’re talking about is if you extrapolate and apply this to all 50 states, if you can somehow, someway apply it to jails, you’re talking about literally hundreds of thousands, eventually millions of crimes not committed, correct?

John Litton: Yes, crime reduction as well as the cost benefit and one thing I just wanted to add to Lois’ comment is that incarceration is very expensive. So anything that we can do that reduces future incarceration, even a small percentage, can really payoff financially. So there’s been a tendency in recent years to disinvest treatment programs, putting more and more money into the bricks and mortar aspect of corrections, and I think that it’s time that we took stock of that and realized that very small investments and effective treatment programs can really be a good return on the taxpayer’s dollar.

Len Sipes: Well, speaking of the taxpayer’s dollar, the other point that I wanted to make is that we are talking about the potential for saving, again, states, not just crimes, but savings the states hundreds of millions, eventually billions of dollars if you can take that 13% recidivism rate and again, it’s going to be higher in some studies, lower in other studies, but if you can take that 13%, extrapolate it, you’re talking about saving states a tremendous amount of money.

John Litton: Very significant savings.

Len Sipes: Ok, now the question goes to either one of you. Because John mentioned it a couple seconds ago. There seems to be a disinvestment in correctional education and that doesn’t surprise me. We just went through a tremendous recession, states are really upset as to all the money that they have to throw in to their correctional systems, they find it to be burdensome, the challenge that they’ve placed upon all of us in the criminal justice system is to find a better way of doing it, so the fiscal burden on the states will not be that much. So they have cut back though. And that does create a significant conundrum for the rest of us, right?

Lois Davis: That’s exactly true, and in fact, one of the things when we started the study is that in our discussions with state correctional educational directors and others, it was clear that the recession had a huge impact. So what we did is we fielded a national survey that really allows us to get a picture, what is correctional education look like today, but also to get a sense of what the impact of the recession was. So for example, what we see is that states had a dramatic in reduction correctional education budgets, particularly in large and medium-sized states. By large and medium, I mean states that have the largest prison populations. And so the results of that were actually a contraction in the capacity of the academic programs within the system.

Len Sipes: Fewer people got programs that were necessary.

Lois Davis: That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes: Now one of the things that puzzles me again, the question goes out to either one, but John you would be the most logical person to take this. From my 25 years in terms of dealing with correctional operations, correctional programs keep prisons safe, do they not?

John Litton: I believe that’s true, yes.

Len Sipes: That’s not one of the points of the research, but when I dealt with, throughout my time, my 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, it was always emphasized to me by wardens, by assistant wardens, by security chiefs, that the more programs that you had inside of that prison, the calmer that prison was, the less violence occurred and made it a safer place of everybody. The correctional officers, the correctional staff and the inmates. Is that a correct observation?

John Litton: Well, I’m not a corrections expert, I’m more of the education person but I certainly personally believe that that’s true and I think it’s important that people be engaged in productive activity. If incarcerated individual and persons incarcerated for an extended period of time limited physical opportunities, limited mental opportunities, limited opportunities for social development, the opportunities for that returning citizen to come out and be productive and be productively engaged, common sense would say that it’s diminished. So it’s important that there be a range of constructive opportunities during the period of incarceration. I think it’s important also in terms of the message that we’re giving to the incarcerated population, that we really do have expectations for a positive outcome and that we believe that investing in you as a person that’s being prepared to return to free society, that we expect you to take advantage of those opportunities and to be engaged in a positive way when you’re released from incarceration.

Len Sipes: Lois, please.

Lois Davis: I’d also like to add to that it’s been interesting to see that as we talk to correctional officials across the country that they see correctional education as a really good news story. To them, it’s a program that they point to as being a real success, both in terms of increasing safety and security within the system, but also in terms of ultimately being able to point for example, to GED completion rates as a good news story for them. So they too recognize the importance of an education.

Len Sipes: Now I’ve been talking to folks at the Department of Education and I’ve said that I was going to do this radio program and one of things that we were talking about was this, and you touched upon it in your report, is that distance learning, remote learning seems to be just as effective as classroom learning. And I understand that has an awful lot of implications, but some people envision a centralized location in the state of educators, pumping information in to every prison in that state, thereby dramatically expanding the capacity of correctional education or vocational education. Right now, we’re in the process here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, of learning green screen television production. There is a company out there called Linda.com, that has the most wonderful pieces of video, instructing you on every little detail, every little piece of doing green screen television. It’s transcribed, so you can print that transcription so you have something to read. Long distance education seems to be taking prominence now and if it’s just as effective, or close to being just as effective as classroom education, isn’t there the possibility that every state can do that, provide vocational and educational opportunities throughout their state system through long distance learning. Anybody want to take a shot at that?

Lois Davis: I actually wanted to; in the report where we look at it is the effect of computer-assisted instruction. And we do see that we don’t detect a difference for example, between an outcome of say reading the math scores for those that receive computer assisted instruction, versus those that receive traditional instruction. Now, when we think about distance learning, there’s a lot of potential there, but it doesn’t necessarily replace the need for the face to face interaction, the one on one interaction with instructors, so there’s a real need for us to really look at some innovative examples out there and try to assess really where the capacity is for improving the capabilities of distance learning.

Len Sipes: John, is it everybody in the ballpark when they’re saying to themselves, maybe we can get everybody involved if we do long-distance learning because we’re never going to be able to afford the classroom capacity? Is that right or wrong or should we be looking at it that way?

John Litton: I think there’s, we definitely need to be looking at that question and I don’t think it’s an easy answer. But one of the things that happened in corrections is that there have been many security concerns about access to the internet and most distance learning is internet enabled, and I think there’s some feeling that perhaps we can move past the security issues, we have some solutions for the security issues. And that might rather quickly open many new possibilities for using distance learning. So as Lois has said, we really need to take a, have an open mind in terms of doing some pilot programs and doing some research and studying the effectiveness. There definitely is importance for social learning. We don’t think that just replacing interaction in a classroom, interaction with a teacher, interaction with other learners with a computer is probably the end all and the be all, but we certainly think that technology is being under-utilized in correctional environments and it’s a great potential to use our resources more effectively by using distance-learning resources and certainly as you were pointing out Leonard, when people need some of these technology skills to be effective in our communities today, because the world has changed, so it’s a really, really important area. One that was given quite a bit of emphasis in the report and we’re quite excited about following up on that.

Len Sipes: The interesting thing is that every correctional administrator that I’ve ever talked to and every parole and probation administrator that I’ve ever talked to has said I would wish and pray that there was a certain point where everybody in, who’s incarcerated had that opportunity to go and get their GED, get their 8th grade certificate, learn how to read, learn how to write, go to brick laying class, and come out fully equipped, fully skilled. If every correctional administrator in this country, I can’t speak for them all, the ones that I’ve talked to at least, seems to be very supportive of correctional education, if every parole and probation administrator, and again I haven’t talked to them all, but every one that I have talked to has said this, if everybody is so supportive of this, then why isn’t it more expansive and more extensive than what it actually is?

Lois Davis: Well, I just wanted to comment a little bit about that. When you talk to the educators, they would say that that kind of the security concerns about access to the internet kind of a drive a lot of the decisions about whether or not they can, the extent to which they can use computer technology in the classroom. Now, there’s good simulated internet programs that allow you to address giving access to some of the online courses for inmates to get the experience of using the internet-based system, without it actually being the real internet. So that’s an important step that we need to make, we need to advertise more broadly, that is available. Because the security concerns are definitely one that are constantly in the background of the decision making about this area.

Len Sipes: We’re more than half way through the program. The program today is How Effective Is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go to From Here, done by the Rand Corporation and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to the US Department of Justice. Our guests today are Lois Davis; she’s a senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation. John Litton is Director of Correctional Education for the US Department of Education. So the real concern seems to me to be this, we are all supportive of this, those of us in the correctional field. Is there really a disagreement that somehow, someway be it remote, or be it in person, that this needs to be offered to virtually every person that occupies that prison bed?

Lois Davis: That’s, you know, the survey that we did was, we asked the question, in your state, is correctional education mandatory or is voluntary? And what we learned, particularly for individuals for example who had less than an 8th grade education or lower levels of educational attainment, indeed in most states, it is mandatory. But for the bulk of inmates, it is something they can self-select into. And so we don’t really see it as something that should be part of a core piece of the rehabilitative process that we require everyone to participate in. But it is definitely something that many people can benefit from.

Len Sipes: My problem is that in so many instances when I take a look at substance abuse, when I take a look at mental health, I’m finding the numbers to be very small, in terms of the people who actually go through substance abuse or even mental health treatment within the incarcerated setting. In some cases, those figures turn out to be 10 or 15%. Again, I understand that there are some states that push that to 20 or 30%, but in most state system and most research that I’ve seen, the numbers are fairly small. Do we have a sense as to what percentage of inmates within the incarcerated setting within prisons are actually getting vocational and educational programs? Do we have that sense?

Lois Davis: You know, we do know that it’s the story where you have basically; most correctional systems offer correctional education, particularly GED, adult basic education. To a lesser degree, for example, post secondary education or vocational training, but then the flip side of that is so how many inmates within that system actually get access to those programs. And that’s where there is a disparity. The recession really did reduce the capacity of the number of inmates to go through these programs, and so the fact that we’re seeing less offerings available, I think is something to be concerned about. But the numbers vary from state to state in terms of the percentage of inmates who are participating in these programs.

Len Sipes: When you talk to people at Congress, when you talk to people within the White House, did they seem to understand the importance of doing this and the importance of what it would mean, both at the state and federal level in terms of fewer expenditures, fewer crimes committed? Do they really understand the implications of the research?

Lois Davis: Yes, it’s actually been very gratifying to see the response. It really is an opportune time, because with the focus at the federal level now on re-entry and understanding what programs we really need in place individuals, this is really the great timing in terms of attention being paid to; let’s think about what programs are effective. And so our report has been very well received and I know that we’ve heard anecdotally for example it’s informed strategic planning both within the Department of Justice as well as the Department of Education and in other areas. I think people really are getting it.

Len Sipes: People in supervision have sat by these microphones in the 11 years in my being here, and 14 years with the state of Maryland I’ve interviewed hundreds of people who were currently caught up in the criminal justice system. To a person, they have said it’s the programs that have helped them cross that bridge, as I like to put it, to a crime lifestyle to a crime free lifestyle. Going from tax burden to tax payer. The programs always seem to be the bedrock. Now they had to have the motivation and they had to really believe in themselves and really believe in a future beyond drugs and beyond crime, but the programs helped them cross that bridge, the programs helped them become the people they are today. I mean, they’re in the community, they’re supporting themselves, they’re supporting their children, they’re being good community members because they went to a brick laying class in the Maryland prison system, John. I hear that all the time. So talk to me about that, the importance to the individuals caught up in the criminal justice system with these programs.

John Litton: Well, I think you’ve said it Len. We’ve heard from so many individuals that really do attest to the fact that an opportunity really meant something to them, really did make a difference in their life. One thing that we’ve been focusing on a little bit more recently and I’m proudest of the work we’ve done on this is that we’ve realized that many people come out of prison and really face tremendous obstacles in terms of moving directly into employment, and so we’ve been focusing somewhat on opportunities to continue education post-release and use their association with educational agencies and institutions entities to make the bridge to employment. That our traditional model had been that we would take care of the educational needs during the period of incarceration, the person would be job-ready when they come out and I think we have a little bit more of a nuanced view of that now. And I think it’s important that we encourage our returning citizens to continue to be involved in educational programs and educational institutions. I really think it can make a difference for individuals.

Len Sipes: What I was surprised of in terms of reading the report was the number of states participating in collegiate programs. Now I understand that this brings a certain level of controversy. And I remember college programs, and we used to advertise them in the state of Maryland put out a press release and then people would call me and yell at me. As to why we’re giving this guy a college education and why he can’t afford to give his own kids a college education, so I understand its implications and I understand the controversy. Yet college programs were in what, Lois, how many states? Is it 32 states had college programs?

Lois Davis: Yes, something like that. Yes.

Len Sipes: And I find that amazing. I didn’t realize it was that extensive, and there is research out there that says that collegiate programs are some of the most powerful programs in terms of getting people to create for themselves a crime-free lifestyle.

Lois Davis: Yes, and two things that I want to say about that. One is it’s important to recognize that when we think about college programs, those are usually paid by the inmates’ families. Or by family finances or in some cases foundations. It’s not necessarily that we’re using federal dollars for those college courses and to a little bit of extent, we use state dollars, but I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s really the inmate and their family that are trying to support those efforts. The other point I wanted to make is that one of things that is really encouraging is that it’s not simply college courses, but it’s really there’s a movement now that’s happening in various states, various initiatives to provide college courses that are going to lay the foundation working towards a degree. And I think that’s important, so it’s not simply a course here, a course there, but it’s really thinking about a program that will allow this individual to works towards an AA degree or a BA degree and that is something that is very encouraging.

Len Sipes: Let’s was philosophical in terms of the remaining moments of the program. You’ve got great reception at the White House; you got great reception in Congress, every correctional administrator that I’ve ever encountered, every parole and probation administrator supports these programs very, very strongly. We do have an emphasis on re-entry, within this administration and within previous administrations. There seems to be an across the board support for these sort of programs from both sides of the aisle, so it’s no longer republican or democratic, we’re getting very strong support from both parties in terms of getting the biggest possible bang for the tax paid dollar in terms of the results of correctional programs. So we have all this ground swell of support in terms of making sure that individuals have the skills that they need to be successful upon release from prison. So from this report, where do we go to from here? What is the hope, what is the dream, what is the possibility?

Lois Davis: Well, from our perspective, one of the things that both policy makers as well as educators, correction officials also, that they need is more information about what tradeoffs can they make and still maintain effective programs? So one of the limitations of the data right now is that we can’t answer some of the more complex questions that are needed to inform those kind of decision-making. And so for example, what models of instructions are associated with the most effective programs? Does dosage matter for example? Those are the kinds of things that we need to really push the evidence base to get at those answers because if you’re an educator and you’re being asked to cut your budget by say 10%, then you’re making choices about both dosage, about program delivery as well as who gets into those programs. So those are the kinds of information that we need to focus on next in order to really help inform those debates.

Len Sipes: But we also really need to get across the point that if you’re going to break the cycle of recidivism, we have 700,000 human beings coming out of prison systems every year. We have, I’ve seen figures saying it’s 4, to 6, to 8 times that in terms of jails. So we have an awful lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system on any given day, 7 million and that doesn’t count again the people who are in and out of the jail system on a fairly regular basis. This is a huge impact, we’re talking about, you know, collectively, millions of people over a certain amount of time. If we want those millions of people to live crime-free lifestyles and stop being tax burdens and start being tax payers, we have to put more money into these programs, correct?

John Litton: We have to put more money in but we have to put more money in a smarter way. And I think that’s one thing that we’re inspired by the report is that is really does a good job at articulating some of our knowledge gaps, that we don’t have the information to guide policy to the extent, policy and practice to the extent that we need to, and that some key questions, as Lois was just recounting, really do need to address, to be addressed and we hope that at the federal level we can provide more effective leadership in terms of giving the type of information that would allow program practitioners at the local or state or federal programs the opportunity to really gear up programs as effectively and as cost effectively as possible to get the best results and extend those resources across the population where it will have the most impact.

Len Sipes: And that would help us establish say what the kind of correctional education is the most powerful, whether or not it’s vocational or educational, whether it’s a combination of the two, if it’s vocational, ok so, maybe plumbing doesn’t work but maybe heating and air conditioning does. I would imagine those are the sorts of things we’re talking about?

Lois Davis: Yes, but also it’s how do we deliver programs. What model of instruction is going to be most effective? But it’s also when you were talking about for example does welding matter? I think that’s another part of the story is understanding where is the demand for jobs? We’re going to be the opportunities for individuals coming out of correctional settings and insuring that we’re providing them those kind of training programs and the kind of nationally industry recognized certificates that will allow them to be ready to find employment upon return.

Len Sipes: Because traditionally the jobs have been in the construction market and the hard labor market, where you’re teaching electricity, plumbing, brick laying, those sorts of things, maybe we should be out there teaching software. Maybe we should be teaching maintenance. Maybe we should be teaching IT. Maybe we should be teaching other things besides the traditional brick laying courses.

Lois Davis: That’s exactly right. It’s really understanding what the demand for jobs will be in particular regions of the country, but also recognizing that our 21st century workforce is going to be very different now.

Len Sipes: This has been a fascinating conversation with the two of you. I really do appreciate you being with us today. How Effective is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go To From Here is the wonderful title from the Rand Corporation and from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice. Our guests today have been Lois Davis, she is the senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation and we also had John Litton, the Director of Correctional Education for the US Department of Education. Really appreciate everybody’s participation in the show today and we really appreciate your participation, we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Employing Ex-Offenders

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/2014/02/employing-ex-offenders/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the show topic today is Employing Ex-Offenders. We have two people under our supervision here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and a Job Development Specialist to talk about this whole process of employing people caught up in the criminal justice system. We have Kenyan Blakely; he is with the Department of Human Resources, the DC Department of Human Resources as a Support Services Assistant. We have Kenneth Trice; he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities. They’re doing facilities and maintenance. And we have Tony Lewis, star of the Washington Post and lots of other media. He is a Job Development Specialist here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov. On the front page of our website we have radio shows, televisions shows, trying to entice employers into a discussion called crowd sourcing in the social media world, to try to gain some sense of perspective as to what it takes for us to employ or to prompt the employment of people under our supervision. On any given day we have 14,000 people under our supervision, any given year, 23,000, but half are unemployed. Tony Lewis, your job is a Job Development Specialist for CSOSA, welcome.

Tony Lewis: Welcome. I mean, thank you for having me Mr. Sipes.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate all of you guys being here to have this discussion, extraordinary important discussion. Tell me how easy is it to convince employers to hire people under our supervision.

Tony Lewis: It’s not that easy. It’s pretty difficult actually. You know, the analogy that I always use is it’s like as if I have a store, right, and all the merchandise in my store is perceived to be broken and I’m trying to convince the customer to buy it because I have faith in it, I know that it works, but to them they feel like it’s broken. So typically that’s what I do every day all day is trying to convince people that something they perceive to be broken is not necessarily broke and it actually can get the job done. And I think we have a lot of talent in terms of our client base. We have a lot of motivated people, talented people that are ready to go into the workforce.

Len Sipes: Now, I have been doing this, doing radio and television about the criminal justice system for about 20 years. I have spoken to hundreds of people under supervision, who used to be under supervision who are currently employed and their lives are going along just peachy.

Tony Lewis: Sure.

Len Sipes: We know that the research indicates that when they’re employed, the better they do under supervision, the less they recidivate, the less they come back into the criminal justice system. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. You and I have both talked to hundreds and hundreds of people who have successfully made that transformation from the prison system to being good citizens through employment. So what’s wrong with our message? What are we not doing that we should be doing to prompt the people, employers, to hire people under our supervision?

Tony Lewis: To me I think we are taking all the proper steps. I think what happens is that there’s a stigma associated with people that have been incarcerated, previously incarcerated. And so when one person or two people, you know, so to speak, that happens to get an opportunity and blow their opportunity or reoffend, I think it can never—it has a much more significant impact than a hundred people that do it the right people. And I think that’s the issue more so than us not taking the proper—cause we’re preparing our offenders that we supervise, we’re taking them through steps for them to prove their commitment, we’re presenting talented and people with the proper skill sets to do the job and I think hiring policies across the board is probably the biggest barrier. Because hiring policies take like such a broad stroke in terms of have you ever been convicted of a felony or, you know, it’s no case-by-case basis. People are not looked at as individuals. They’re grouped into these pools and they’re put into groups where these stereotypes are really prompted by one or two individuals that made bad decisions. And so I think we’ve got to chip away at the hiring policies and maybe look to redefine those.

Len Sipes: Www.csosa.gov is the website. On the website you’re going to find radio and television shows, again, designed to prompt that conversation with the employment community. We’re inviting people to come and talk to us and give us information in terms of what it is that we can do in terms of making it easier for people to hire people under our supervision. I want to go to our two gentlemen who are currently under supervision. And we have Kenyan Blakely as I said and Kenneth Trice. Gentleman, either one of you can go and run with this question. So, everybody, not everybody, there’s a lot of people out there who have the stereotype that people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, I’m just not going to deal with them. I’m not going to hire them. I don’t care about them. I’m not going to support programs for them. It’s a little harder when you’re sitting here face-to-face as I’ve talked to literally thousands of people who are doing well, who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, but now they’re doing well. People use the word criminal, well that applies to both of you. They say I’m not going to hire criminals. So I’m going to start off with Kenneth. Are you a criminal, is that how you see yourself?

Kenneth Trice: No Leonard, I’m not a criminal.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Kenneth Trice: I just made bad judgments.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: And now I’m okay.

Len Sipes: And you’re okay because of why, because of how, what happened? I mean, you’re with one of the greatest faith institutions in Washington, DC, the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. I mean, it’s known, not just throughout the District of Columbia, it’s known throughout the country. Is that how you were able to cross that bridge, by working with them?

Kenneth Trice: No. It came from my CSO.

Len Sipes: Your Community Supervision Officer?

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Otherwise known as Parole and Probation Agents for everybody listening throughout—beyond DC.

Kenneth Trice: Yes. It started with him. He put me on GPS leg, angel bracelet.

Len Sipes: Right, Global Positioning System monitoring.

Kenneth Trice: And then he referred me to the VOTE Unit and from there I went into Project Empowerment and from there I got placed at Greater Mount Calvary. From there I was just in the program and then once my time was up they picked me up, I started as a part-time worker. That phase lasted for maybe four or five months and then they hired me full-time, benefits and everything and now I’m just focused. It’s all about determination and perseverance. You’ve just got to be—you’ve got to know what you want, bottom line. If you feel that you—you’re going to do wrong regardless, its just nature, but you have to I guess overlook it, I guess.

Len Sipes: What did the job mean to you in terms of crossing that bridge?

Kenneth Trice: Well, it means a lot. I’m no longer, I mean, I’m still looked at as maybe an offender. I don’t want to call myself a criminal. I’m looked at as an offender but now that I have gainful employment I feel that another employer will hire me. They may overlook my background being as though I’ve been working now.

Len Sipes: But you believe that you’ve proved yourself, that you have crossed that bridge, you are now a taxpayer, you’re not a tax burden, you are what everybody in society wants you to be.

Kenneth Trice: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: Okay, and how does that feel?

Kenneth Trice: It feels wonderful.

Len Sipes: And what message would you give to other people who have the opportunity to employ somebody like you?

Kenneth Trice: Please employ them.

Len Sipes: And they would do that because of why? They would employ somebody caught up in the criminal justice system for what reason?

Kenneth Trice: To give them a chance to prove themselves.

Len Sipes: All right. And Kenyan, Kenyan Blakely, again, working for the Department of Human Resources for DC Government, a Support Services Assistant, the same questions are going to go to you, I mean, these are tough questions. I use the term criminal advisedly. I have heard from employers in the past I’m not going to hire ex-cons, I’m not going to hire criminals and it is like they—what they are meaning is is that everybody falls into one category. They have a mental image of exactly who they are. They have a mental image of the fact that they’re going to create problems for me, thereby; I’m not going to hire them. But then again I sit down with the two of you and I don’t see fangs, I don’t see blood dripping from your teeth, I see just two regular guys who are now doing well partially because of employment, correct or incorrect?

Kenyan Blakely: Correct.

Kenneth Trice: Correct.

Len Sipes: All right, well tell me that. Get closer to the microphone.

Kenyan Blakely: I’ve always—I’ve had jobs, you know, I’ve been on—probably since prior to being on CSOSA and I went on a bunch of job interviews, went on job interviews this go round and I’ve had people pull me to the side and say your resume is excellent, your work ethic, everything, but it’s just, you know, it’s just that background. You can’t pass that background check or it’s not in my hands, it’s in someone else’s hands and they want to go with—but they took a chance on hiring them. Why you can’t take a chance on hiring me? You have people who have committed no crime ever in life, but their work ethic sucks. So you have to take a chance on someone, why not take a chance with someone who has a lot to loose, but a lot go gain too also. So, you know, it’s give and take with it. Like I’ve had people straight up tell me to my face outside of the office, I want you, I want you for this position, but I can’t bring you in. And they would just tell me, you know, don’t stop looking, and I’ve never stopped looking. I’ve always had two jobs. I’ve always had a part-time job on the weekend and now I have full-time employment. Like I said, I’ve started in the program with Tony a whole, almost a year in the program and I got a phone call and it’s like come upstairs you’re going on an interview. I’m like interview for what? They were like people watch you.

Len Sipes: That’s great. What does the job mean to you in terms of your ability or inability to return to crime?

Kenyan Blakely: It was never really—it was choices that we made. Those choices were wrong. I admit those. I’m the first to admit anything that I’ve every done wrong, but now, you know, as a father, I’m a father of two, you know, you just want to be able to not leave them anymore. Not to lose everything that you’ve gained, lose it over and over and over, come home to have nothing, now I’m building to have everything that I lost to have back. You know, I have a daughter that’s six, I have a son that’s 12. I never want to leave them again. I never want them to look up and be like where’s my dad. I can’t talk to him when I want to. I can’t see him. So those are the things that linger in the back of your head at all times. So when I come to work on them days I don’t feel like getting up, those are my get up, let’s go and it’s no holding back, no, oh, it’s cold outside, I don’t feel like getting, no, I’m in there every day.

Len Sipes: Tony Lewis, we have credits, tax credits—

Tony Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: For people who do hire people under supervision, we do have a bonding program, there’s a Federal bonding program that mitigates the amount of risk that they have. All of this is available on our website, www.csosa.gov. All right, so from a societal point of view it is extraordinarily important that people who we supervise find work.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely. It increases public safety for one. Like you spoke about people working are less prone or less likely to break the law and these two gentlemen can attest to that. They’re a representation of many people—the ones that we are able to get employed. And the program that they spoke about is the Transitional Employment Program that we have here at CSOSA. That’s in partnership with the DC Department of Employment Services. Where we basically place individuals in jobs where we pay they salary. It’s a stipend, a subsidized wage, but it gives them an opportunity to audition and so you can see these people for themselves and not just a person on paper that broke the law in the past. And that may be ten years ago, it may be two years ago, it may be 20 years ago, it gives an opportunity for that person to highlight their skillset, learn new skills and it’s for people to see them as human beings and not just a quote, unquote, criminal. And so the beauty of that program is that that’s what it affords to no cost to the employer. Now I know that’s not something that exists all across the country, but when people have an opportunity to see these guys every day and to gauge their work ethic and see their personalities and to know that they’re fathers and things like that, it really helps the employer to see them in a different light.

Len Sipes: But that’s the thing that always killed me gentleman, and anybody can come into this conversation, is that you can have the image; you can watch the 6:00 news and hear the news about somebody doing something terrible to another human being. You can watch the 6:00 news, the 11:00 news, pick up the newspaper, read the same sort of stuff, there’s a certain point you say to yourself, man, the people involved in this stuff, I’m not going to have anything to do with. I’m going to move as far away as I possibly can from them and I’m just not going to have anything to do with them. But then, again, you sit and talk eyeball-to-eyeball as we’re doing now and you’re just regular guys. You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news. You’re just regular guys.

Kenneth Trice: Exactly.

Len Sipes: You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news, you’re just regular guys. How can we transmit that, hey, I’m a regular guy, I just need a chance. I understand I screwed up. I understand I made mistakes, but please do not hold that against me for the rest of my life. How do you transmit that information to people who hire?

Kenneth Trice: I think a lot of companies need to change their hiring process. Not just to—you’ve got two strikes against you, you have one, either your credit is bad or you’re a criminal. Why should those two things stop you from gaining employment? Like you need employment. If you don’t have employment for people they’ll turn to do other things to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: They’re going to say, but I’ve got plenty of people who don’t have those backgrounds. I’ve got plenty of people with good credit without a criminal background, why am I going to hire the dude—

Kenyan Blakely: I got a point for you.

Len Sipes: Go please.

Kenyan Blakely: If you have all those people that you work for, do a background check after the fact, a lot of them won’t tell you that they have a criminal past after they’ve been hired. So you will never know if you don’t go back and do a background check every year or so often on an employer. You have employees who’ve been at companies prior to them getting in trouble but the company will never know, but they’ll be like, oh, we don’t—once you have the job it’s okay. What you do before that—

Len Sipes: Because they get to know you.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: They get to see you as a worker so the criminal background disappears because all they see is a good worker. How do we get people to that point? But hold that thought cause I want to reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We’re talking about employing ex-offenders. We’ve got Tony Lewis, Job Development Specialist with my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov. We have Kenyan Blakely, he is with the Department of Human Resources for the District of Columbia, Support Services Assistant and we have Kenneth Trice, he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities & Maintenance. How we convince, again, you know, get beyond the stereotype, get you in there, sit down, talk to you because all three of us, four of us in the room know that after six months that criminal history disappears. All we have to do is get beyond that point of hiring and that point of success. How do we get to that point?

Kenyan Blakely: Give people a chance.

Len Sipes: Okay, but there again, they’re going to say, once again, I’ve got some people here without a criminal history and I’ve got some people here with a great credit background. If I’ve got to give somebody a chance, I’m going to go with a guy without a criminal history and without a bad credit history. I’m going to increase the odds of a successful employment in their minds by employing the person without the background.

Kenneth Trice: I think what happens, Mr. Sipes, is that when you find, from a business standpoint, it’s about the bottom line, right.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: So for me as a job developer, my thing is to say I’m not asking for a hand out, I’m here to help you by being able to connect with talent, right, something that’s going to increase your bottom line, going to increase your productivity. And the other part of that is that it’s no way, you know, when you hire whomever, no matter what their background is, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. So businesses have to, I think, take a standpoint to say if this person’s crime does not have a rational relationship, so let’s be very clear, we’re not saying if you robbed a bank, you should be able to work at Wells Fargo, right.

Len Sipes: Or if you’re a sex offender you should be doing daycare, nobody’s saying that.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely, no, nobody’s saying that, but if I committed a crime five years ago that has no relationship to the job, why can’t I work there?

Len Sipes: We have, the bottom line I want to make is that we have good people right now under our supervision; we have 14,000 human beings under our supervision right now, 23,000 human beings under our supervision in any given year. We’ve got people right now ready to go who are not a risk to public safety, who have real skills, who don’t have drug positives, they’re ready to go right now. We can give them tax credits to get them involved in the bonding program, plus they have their Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, who can help the employer deal with problems if they come up.

Kenneth Trice: And a Vocational Development Specialist.

Len Sipes: And a Vocational Development Specialist and in many cases training that we and the District of Columbia and other cities throughout the country get involved in and plus we have GED programs, we have educational programs, we have job readiness programs. Why would you not come to us if we can deliver a talented person ready to work.

Kenneth Trice: Sure. And sometimes people that you’re hiring, even if the person’s out of college, sometimes people out of college haven’t necessarily even, in my mind, had the training. I mean, I think about the training that we provide here at CSOSA and I think about, wow, if I had that going into the job market, like if I learned things, I mean, just whether it’s interviewing, whether it’s, you know, just gaining a concept of workplace expectations. I learned that on the fly. We’re preparing people to enter the workforce and stay there through our programming. I mean, you know, and even we’re taking steps to even interface with people pre-release, myself and Mr. Blakely, our first communication started when he was in River’s Correctional Institution via teleconference. And then he met with Whittington and she did what she does and then he got referred from her to the program. Kenny Trice met with Dr. Sutton and she did what she does in terms of prepping him and gauging his readiness and gauging his commitment. Then he got referred to the program. So there’s rigger in terms of what we do because when we present people to the workforce, we’re trying to present someone that we’re going to be confident in, somebody’s that already proven to us that they’re legit and that they’re ready. So it’s not just like, hey, somebody gets off a bus from prison and we’re sending them to you as the employer and saying, hey, you should give them a job. No, we’re taking the proper steps to ensure that whoever we refer to you is somebody that’s going to come in and increase your productivity.

Len Sipes: Okay, and so, and anybody can jump in on this conversation, don’t hold back. Okay, so, generally speaking, within the District of Columbia, generally speaking, within major cities throughout the country, you have unemployment somewhere around six to eight percent. We have unemployment at 50%.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Okay, so all the wonderful things that we’ve just said, bonding programs, tax credits, training, GED, workforce development, you’ve got all that going for us, you’ve got a Job Developer whose going to work with you, you’ve got a Community Supervision Officer, ala, Parole and Probation Agent, but yet you can not escape the numbers, six to eight percent versus 50%. Why is that?

Kenyan Blakely: I think a lot of people just need to wake up from what they’re doing and really understand that you need gainful employment, like you can’t play with it, I don’t care what it is that you do, but, bottom line, you don’t want to be too old and not be able to get a job. Like me, I just want them to know that I have skills; every day that I go to work I’m showing you my skills.

Len Sipes: But, bottom line, how many people are there like you?

Kenyan Blakely: There are a lot. There are a lot.

Len Sipes: So tell me, how many?

Kenyan Blakely: I think there are over 20,000 in this city that want to work.

Len Sipes: All right. So we’ve got thousands of people right now—I can’t speak for everybody in the District, I’m talking about people under our supervision here at CSOSA. We all know the folks. We interact with them every single day.

Kenyan Blakely: Sure.

Len Sipes: And we know that some aren’t ready, we know that some are still struggling, we know that some are pulling drug positives, we know that some are hanging out on the corner causing problems.

Kenneth Trice: Right, but we’re not talking about them.

Len Sipes: We know that, but we’re not talking about them.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: We’re not asking for charity.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay, so if we’re tossing them off to the side and we’re talking about people, real grown-ups who are ready to work and who are going to do a good job for you, how many are we talking about?

Tony Lewis: I think we, in the City, I mean, under supervision I think probably out of your 14,000, I think you probably, strongly, probably half. I’m going to give you 7,000.

Len Sipes: Seven thousand human beings that aren’t employed that are ready to go. They’re not employed for what reason?

Tony Lewis: Some people I think they just need a chance or just some people they have to show that they want to work, like the work ethic. Like everybody that comes through the program isn’t going to make it, everybody that comes through CSOSA, we already know isn’t going to make it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: You know, you have those who like, when they come through the door, hey, I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: Life doesn’t work that way. Until you get that in your head that you’ve got to follow these rules, cause most people, we don’t want to get up and go to work, we want to sit home, you know, you have to work, that’s just it. I have never been the type person that didn’t want to work.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve never been able to figure out how to get around not working. I’ve been looking for that my entire life and I haven’t found it yet. But, you know, Kenyan, I talked to you, you’re interviewing perfectly, you have bright eye, you know, eye contact, delivering everything perfect, I would hire you in a second.

Kenyan Blakely: Appreciate that.

Len Sipes: I would hire you in a second. You know, Kenneth, same way with you. You’re looking at me direct, you’re interviewing well, I would hire you in a second. What is it that I am getting that everybody else is not getting? Everybody else is sitting out there and saying, okay, dude, look they’re caught in the criminal justice system. I already told you I’m not going to hire somebody caught up in the criminal justice system.

Tony Lewis: Most companies just can’t get past that.

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that, it’s background.

Kenneth Trice: The hiring policies, and especially Len, when we’re talking about today’s world, talking about 90% of job searches done via the internet and you have, you know, questions, have you ever been convicted of a felony. And a lot of times you check yes, that’s it for you, that’s an eliminator. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it doesn’t matter what you did, it’s like no. And especially, we’re talking about here in the District of Columbia where you have probably the most bustling job market in the country, right, where you’ve got the most moved to place America. People are coming here solely because of the strength of the job market but we have native Washingtonians, we have people under supervision who can’t get a job at all. You know what I mean? It shouldn’t even be an issue but at the end of the day people aren’t being judged on their skillset, they’re being judged just solely based on crime.

Len Sipes: All right. And there’s a certain point—what we’re saying is is that fundamentally, morally, ethically, that could be wrong, is wrong, but more importantly, we’re saying to a business person, because business hires, does 80% of the hiring, you’re not protecting your bottom line because there are good people that you could be hiring.

Kenneth Trice: Precisely.

Len Sipes: You’re not making the money you could be making, you’re not doing as well as you could be doing because we’ve got 7,000 people ready to rock and roll right now.

Kenneth Trice: So, and 7,000 people, something that Kenyan brought up, that may possibly work harder than your just normal Joe Blow, because they have everything to lose. They’re going to value their job because they know they just can’t go anywhere and get a job.

Len Sipes: You know, in the 20 years of interviewing people that’s one of the most powerful points is that I’ve got so much to lose I am not going to screw this up.

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s a powerful incentive, I mean, look, I mean, Kenyan just basically said, I’m not going to leave my kids again.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And we’re not talking about just people under supervision, we’re talking about the fact that most people under supervision got kids.

Kenneth Trice: That’s right. Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re not just talking about them, we’re talking about kids. So now instead of the 7,000, let’s times it by two just to be on the average, so now we’re talking about 14,000 human beings.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: Let alone spouses, you know—

Kenneth Trice: Sure. Sure.

Len Sipes: And another 7,000, we’re up to 20,000 people. We’re up to 20,000 people affected and their lives are coming to a halt because you’re saying to yourself, Mr. Employer, this guy ten years ago committed a burglary, I’m not touching him.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Is that it? Is it that stark? Is it that real?

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that real.

Len Sipes: And what we’ve got to do to get beyond that reality is what gentlemen? How do we convince them?

Kenyan Blakely: Give them a chance.

Len Sipes: Give them a chance.

Kenyan Blakely: Just give them a chance. But like me, for instance, my last interview that I went on, they looked at everything, they asked me questions about it, they went straight to it and I told them if you give me a chance I won’t let you down. Everybody that sat in front of me—there was four people on the panel. I left out, an hour later I got an e-mail, offer letter and everything, you know, just like we’re going to give you a shot. It was two other people and they gave me the shot and I was happy. And to this day they’re still looking at me like, Kenyan, you’re in here. I’m trying, like I don’t want to—like I’ve been at my job almost a year. I come from—my first agency was, as a matter of fact, what was that—the Agency for Public Affairs, and I was under the Mayor’s Office, I worked for Officer of Partnerships and Grant Services and now I work for DC Department of Human Resources. And like I met so many people through the agencies, through District Government and, you know, they don’t know your story until you talk to them and then when you give them some insight they’re like wow, like you came from that to this. Yes, I did. Like a lot of people can’t walk in those shoes.

Len Sipes: Tony, you’ve got 30 seconds before we have to wrap up. I’m going to give you a chance to close. What do we say to people, what do we say to employers, what do we say to their husbands and wives, what do we say to get them to give people like Kenyan, like Kenneth, a chance.

Tony Lewis: Bottom line is that we have talented, motivated people that can potentially bring new ideas, can increase your productivity and an overall sense, I think it’s just better for society and our community when we have people gainfully employed. It leads to a safer environment, it leads to a more productive environment and, you know, we need everybody who can help should and I think we’re moving in the right direction and at the same time the people that we supervise also have to be accountable to continue to do the right thing and not reoffend.
Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to pull together.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to row the same boat in the same direction.

Tony Lewis: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: All right. Gentleman, I really want to thank you very much for being with us today. It was an extraordinarily important topic. I do want to remind all of our listeners, again, at our website, www.csosa.gov. We have a series of radio and television shows where we talk about this issue of hiring people under supervision. We really do want people to call us, contact us, let us know how we can do a better job of preparing people to be employed with their company. You can always give me a call, 202-220-5616, 202-220-5616. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Employment-Reentry and Criminal Offenders-Council of State Governments

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/employment-reentry-criminal-offenders-council-state-governments/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s show, ladies and gentlemen, employment and criminal offenders and reentry. We have two guests from the Justice Center and the Council of State Governments. We have Henry Rosen. He’s a policy analyst, Reentry Program, National Initiatives, Council of State Governments Justice Center; and we have Phoebe Potter, she’s a senior policy analyst, again, Reentry Program, National Initiatives, Council of State Governments Justice Center and to Henry and to Phoebe, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Henry Rosen:  Thank you very much. Thank you for having us.

Phoebe Potter:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Right. Now this is an extraordinarily interesting topic, because you’ve written quite a few publications explaining this whole concept of dealing with people caught up in the criminal justice system, and employment – “Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies”. I’m gonna have a link to this document within the show notes, but for those who don’t have an opportunity to write it down, the website is www.csgjusticecenter.org; www.csgjusticecenter.org. Needless to say, one word, Council for State Government Justice Center.org. You know, this whole concept of offenders and employment is one of the most difficult topics we have within the Criminal Justice System. It is something that has been discussed for decades. It is something that has bedeviled us for decades. It all has some sort of impact on reentry. So let’s start off with, before we start off with a topic, give me a sense of the Justice Center – what it does – the Council of State Governments and what they do.

Henry Rosen:  So the Council of State Governments is a national, non-profit, membership organization providing services and support to states and elected officials that are part of the Council. As the Justice Center, we are the criminal justice arm, under the larger umbrella of the Council of State Governments and what we do is we work with state agencies, governors, counties, mayors, sheriffs, a host of people working in the criminal justice field – courts included, to help develop data driven or research supported policies that improve public safety, as well as improve the lives of folks involved in the criminal justice system, and sort of bring the evidence base on effective public safety and recidivism reduction strategies into the policy and practice sphere, all while minimizing cost to taxpayers and folks.

Len Sipes:  The Council of State Governments, I mean, it’s a wide array of issues that they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Henry Rosen:  Certainly.

Len Sipes:  Correct?

Henry Rosen:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  So the criminal justice policy is just one of them. The Justice Center is just there to deal specifically with criminal justice policy.

Henry Rosen:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, I can’t think, also, Phoebe, I’ll throw this question over to you – I can’t think of a major issue where the Council of State Governments and the Justice Center, I can’t think of major issue in terms of offender reentry, of people coming out of the prison systems, what to do about crime and criminal justice issues; I can’t think of a major issue where the Council of State Governments and the Justice Center have not been involved. Correct?

Phoebe Potter:  That’s right. I mean, we support a wide range of programs through the Justice Center that cover a whole host of different issue areas. Employment is just one of many programs that we’ve undertaken. We address health problems, behavioral health specifically, some mental health and substance abuse issues. We have a courts program. A lot of the justice reinvestment work going on across the country – so states reforming corrections policy comes through the Justice Center. We’ve had the opportunity to partner with a number of federal agencies, foundations, to kind of pursue a wide range of work through the Justice Center.

Len Sipes:  And American Probation and Parole Association is through the Council of State Governments correct?

Henry Rosen:  Correct, good friends of ours, yeah.

Len Sipes:  Right, so you all are integrated. So that’s just one example. I mean, that is the leading national organization for those of us in Parole and Probation so it’s integrated. There’s just layer on top of layer in terms of what the Council of State Governments does and what the Justice Policy Center does.

Henry Rosen:  Correct. We’re definitely sort of corrections and courts and law enforcement and policy and APPA. They’re our go-to anything, supervision related.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Now, let’s get into this issue of employment and people coming out of the prison system and employment of people who have never been in the prison system or who are on probation. First of all, the vast majority of people on community supervision, and we’re talking about 400,000 on any given day, correct? Out of the 7,000 people under, I’m sorry, it’s 7 million people under correctional supervision, 4 million are on parole and probation and there are far more than that under pre-trial supervision. We’re not even talking about those individuals today. So the concept of employing people who are on community supervision, those 4 million people, that’s an enormous undertaking, is it not?

Henry Rosen:  Yeah. Certainly. You know, I think one of the things that we see is you know, folks involved in the criminal justice system, whether they’re returning from incarceration, or under community supervision, the supervision officers and even the people themselves are prioritizing employment as sort of the key to staying crime free.

Len Sipes:  Right, but you know, we’ve been discussing this for years. I mean, there has been a lot of major initiatives, the department of labor, lots of other organizations have tried this concept in the past, and the results have been confusing. So talk to me about that. I mean, everybody, every politician in this country will say the best way of stopping people from going back to the criminal justice system is a job, but the research doesn’t necessarily say that. Correct, or incorrect?

Henry Rosen:  That’s correct.

Phoebe Potter:  Right, so I think that one of our goals with this project was to take a more nuanced look at that relationship between recidivism or the likelihood of people reoffending when they’re back out from prison or jail, and employment. And what role does employment play in keeping people crime free? And I think one of the main myths that we want to distill through this is that just job acquisition alone, just placing somebody in a job is going to be some sort of silver bullet for reducing recidivism. And so how can we better understand what it is about employment that matters and what other things we need to deal with to promote successful reentry. And that’s one of the big goals of this project.

Len Sipes:  So, I’m assuming somewhere along the line your partners, who are your partners on this project?

Henry Rosen:  The project is funded by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance and Annie E. Casey Foundation and we also partner closely and get guidance from the Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, and then Mindy Tarlow, the Chief Executive Officer from Center for Employment Opportunities was a huge partner and help in this, along with Sheila McGuire and there’s another advisory committee that we work with – folks who work in the Corrections and Reentry field as well as the Work Force Development and Policy field and some researchers, both from non-profit organizations, actually working for corrections agencies as well as social science research organizations.

Len Sipes:  Here’s my assumption. Everybody was sitting at a table several years ago and said, and took a look at the existing research regarding people coming out of the prison system, people on probation and recidivism and everybody sat there and said, “You know what, the research is confusing. These results are confusing. In some cases they work, in some cases they don’t work. In some cases where they work the rate of recidivism, the reduction just wasn’t that much. There has to be something nuanced to all of this. There has to be not just the placement of a job, but has to be more qualitative than quantitative and here, in the briefing sheet which you prepared for me, which I absolutely adore, you say there’s a much more nuanced relationship between employment and recidivism but things like job stability, satisfaction with employment, willingness to take low end jobs and to work up, and having realistic job expectations are related to recidivism. In short, it’s people’s attitudes about work that matter and if we don’t address anti-social attitudes, placing somebody in a job is not going to get us very good results. That seems to be the heart and soul behind the entire research in terms of its findings and in terms of its structure and in terms of its recommendations. Correct?

Henry Rosen:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, tell me about that.

Henry Rosen:  Well, I think, you know, in that assessment of what works to promote job readiness or connect someone to employment and reduce recidivism, the idea that those factors are important is not necessarily unique. What it actually comes from are guiding principles in the Corrections and Reentry field to help policy makers and folks working in Reentry make decisions about who to serve and what kinds of services they’re enrolled in to promote better outcomes. We call those the “risk, need, responsivity” principles. And those essentially say that there are some key variables, some criminogenic need, risk and need factors that are most associated with the likelihood to reoffend. And typically, you know, people might think that having a job or you know, a mental health need, or substance abuse need, or a housing need are the things that will help someone transition back into the community, but those principles actually suggest that it’s more along the lines of attitudes about crime, attitudes about work, you know, having pro-social relationships in the community, family ties, those sort of attitudes and behaviors are what are most closely linked to the likelihood of reoffending. And so instead, if we can work to address those attitudes and those behaviors and sort of those other stabilizing factors, then someone is more likely to be successful upon return as opposed to simply, you know, offering a job or a place to stay.

Len Sipes:  Phoebe, is sort of the whole idea here is that you know, it is a matter of that individual’s pro-social attitudes, how he or she sees a job, how he or she sees the employer, how he or she sees themselves, how he or she sees their own prospects?

Phoebe Potter:  Right, exactly, those attitudes and obviously those attitudes affect more than just work, right? And I think that’s why they’re so strongly prevalent in the research around what helps reduce recidivism. It’s just how somebody interacts in a pro-social environment and work is such a key component of that, that obviously in the employment field it really comes out that way.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so when you consider the fact that such a high number of offenders here, under Court Services and Offender Supervision, 14,000,  in any given year – in any given day, 24,000 any given year; we have a high number and so does the rest of the country, who have mental health issues. We have a high number and so does the rest of the country in terms of substance abuse issues. We have a high number with lousy job histories, bad school histories – so we’re talking about individuals who have a lot to deal with, whether they’re in prison or not, whether under community supervision or not. And so it’s just not a matter of the right attitude, it’s just not a matter of being pro-social about the job, it’s breaking through all of those barriers, all of that baggage that comes with that individual offender. Correct?

Henry Rosen:  Yeah. I don’t think we’d ever say that, you know, in that regard, we’d never say employment, in and of itself, is a silver bullet. I think what we’re sort of getting at is, you do need to address some of those other issues and barriers that makes someone likely to be unsuccessful in other settings besides just the job setting. If you can help someone become successful, you know, connect with their family, develop a strong peer support network, and rethink sort of their attitudes about crime and behavior, then they’re gonna succeed in the job environment just as they will in the family environment or in the community.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Now everybody here is looking forward to this interview in terms of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, because they want to know, we’re out there every day. I mean, on the front page of our website, our radio shows, television shows, www.csosa.gov. We have radio shows, television shows, we’ve done articles, the Washington Post has covered us with front-page coverage. I mean, we’re trying to have this conversation with employers to get them to tell us what it is that we need to do, what it is the people under supervision need to do to make themselves become more employable. We’ve had a series of conversations with lots of employers over the course of years, we have our own vocational training staff, educational staff; we work, we do anger management, we do behavioral – I’m sorry, what am I looking for? – Cognitive behavioral therapy, Thinking for a Change. We’re doing all of that, and yet at the same time, our folks are saying, “But we still have to break through the barrier of the stereotypes of people who have criminal histories; having employers who are willing to give these individuals a second chance. That – they see that as the biggest problem. The lack of employers willing to provide a second chance. So they want to know, okay, they’ve read the report, they love what you’ve written, they’re very supportive of what you’ve done, but how, their question to you guys is, how do you break through that resistance barrier on the part of employers, their reluctance to hire people under supervision?

Phoebe Potter:  Right. So, you know, the white paper was written from a service and a programmatic perspective. Helping, kind of, practitioners and providers think about how to develop programming that addresses these factors that we’ve just been talking about, that we need to address. But obviously the piece you’re just talking about is critical, you know, counterpart to that. And we touch on it in the white paper a little bit, you know, about the issues of collateral consequences, they need to break down barriers to employment, engage employers. And what we’ve done, as part of this larger project, beyond writing the white paper, is actually developed some other resources and partner with other folks around that, you know, kind of other half of the problem. Almost the, you know, kind of the supply issue of which jobs are out there. And so that is something that we’re very, you know, attuned to. And I think the work that CSOSA has done around employer engagement is kind of a model that a lot of other jurisdictions should be looking at in terms of trying to break down the stigma, talk to employers about opportunities and engage them effectively. We’ve worked in New York State and they have a Work for Success initiative that’s doing similar work to engage employers, help them understand the legal rights of people coming out in terms of access to jobs, talking about incentives that are out there for employers such as the work opportunities, hacks, credit, federal bonding –

Len Sipes:  Right, bonding programs, yes.

Phoebe Potter:  So yeah, so all of those pieces we touch on in the white paper, but you know, I think our larger strategy in addressing this problem at the Justice Center goes beyond what we’ve done in the white paper, is tackling this issue of employer engagement.

Len Sipes:  Okay, because they want the next white paper to be on breaking down the barriers. Because, you know, I’ve talked to people under supervision who have been years away from their last criminal activity, years away from their last positive test for substance abuse; they’re completely compliant. They have skills, and they have an education and yet they can’t find work.

Phoebe Potter:  Right.

Len Sipes:  So there’s, you know, there are low hanging fruit in any population and we go after those first, because they’re the easiest to place, and yet you still talk to that person six months later without a job is frustrating ‘cause – so we formally ask you guys [Laughter], that the next white paper be on that particular topic. Before we get into the second half – the show is going by like wildfire, we want to reintroduce our guests. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Henry Rosen, Policy Analyst, Reentry Program, National Initiatives, Council of State Governments, Justice Center and Phoebe Potter, again, Senior Policy Analyst for the same organization, Council of State Governments, www.csgjusticecenter.org, www.csgjusticecenter.org. We’re talking about a, what I consider to be a ground breaking piece of research. Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies from the Justice Center. The Council of State Governments will have links to all the documents within the show notes. So where do we go to from here? Let’s talk about this.

Reentry matters because, my God, there are 700,000 people being released from state and federal prisons every year, and an awful lot of those, 40 to 50% return to the prison system. The states can’t afford this rate of return. It has real implications for public safety, criminal victimization. We do believe that done right in terms of your recommendations, we could reduce that rate of recidivism considerably, correct?

Henry Rosen:  Correct. That’s the hope, certainly.

Len Sipes:  So reentry does matter?

Henry Rosen:  Yeah, it certainly does. You know, I think that, you know, personally I’m from Montana. The state is barely a million people. When I hear stats about more than 600,000 people returning from incarceration, my God, that’s more than half my state. I can’t imagine that and I think, you know, folks are returning at such a high rate, they’re cycling in and out of jails at such a high rate, if there’s a way to sort of disrupt that cycle and provide the services and supports to make someone successful, I mean, the benefits of employment in that sense are sort of endless. You’re providing someone with a means to support their family and contribute to a tax base, and likewise keeping them out of a very costly system that ends up being you know, on average, the fourth largest line item in any state’s budget.

Len Sipes:  Fewer people being victimized, literally, the possibility of saving billions of dollars at the state level and the federal level in terms of people not coming back to the criminal justice system. So the secret sauce in all of this is what? What we talked about before, a nuanced approach to the employment issue.

Phoebe Potter:  So you know, I think we talked about kind of having a nuanced appreciation for what employment can do to help reduce recidivism and some of the takeaways from that conversation are that, one, is be part of a more kind of comprehensive strategy to adjust to the pretty complex needs of this population and we touched on the fact that there’s mental health problems and substance abuse and housing and there’s a lot of dynamic needs that all interact with each other, really. So employment is one part of the puzzle. And the other part that we talked about, right, is that employment is not just about job acquisition, it’s about understanding how employment is really kind of a tool to help people connect with pro-social, you know, associates and the community. And so it’s about people’s attitudes towards jobs, if people want to see them be successful.

Len Sipes:  But how do you get them to the point where they have the right attitudes?

Henry Rosen:  So, I think one of the things that we proposed and outlined in our paper and as an agency at the Justice Center, we are strong advocates of is enrolling people in services that like cognitive behavioral therapy, like Thinking for Change, programs that are aimed at restructuring those attitudes about you know, their peer relations, about crime, and towards the community. And so for those who are most likely to reoffend, if you’re providing them or if you’re placing them into services that offer that opportunity, that offer opportunities for social learning, to practice the skills, you know; how to interact with co0workers, how to interact with peers, how to interact with your family, that’s going to improve the likelihood that they’ll be successful, whether it’s an employment program or some other kind of service, they’ll sort of be armed with the skills to succeed in that scenario. So what we’re really trying to get the field to think about is how you identify people with the greatest need in that area, and then sequence and build services that address those needs, or address those issues.

So the highest risk folks, who are sort of, you know, the most anti-social, the hardest to work with typically, they will benefit most from intensive behavior change type services, coupled with job readiness services. Things that promote soft skills. “Why should I be to work on time? How do I interact with my coworkers?” You know? “What’s the value of doing an exceptional job versus the bare minimum?” Things that, you know, promote sort of positive workplace attitudes and behaviors. Focus on those things for the high risk folks, who are less job ready. For the individuals who are not high risk, who have strong relations with their family, have had, you know, held a job prior to their incarceration, maybe have completed some level of college education or technical vocational school, they don’t necessarily need those same kind of intensive services. They’ll likely do very well on their own, but they will need support from you know, the workforce development field or their supervision officer in terms of breaking down those barriers you mentioned earlier about “why should I hire someone with a criminal record?” They don’t need those services, they need someone to help them sort of navigate those challenges of communicating their record and finding the right job for them, as opposed to the more intensive behavior, change based services.

Len Sipes:  So Phoebe, it’s a matter of picking the right person through a needs analysis, a risk and needs analysis, to figure out who this person is, what that person needs, to give that person an appropriate level of intervention. But that appropriate level of intervention could be fairly complex. I mean, it could be a GED, which is complex unto itself. For a person who doesn’t know how to read, they’re not going to do well on the job. So it can go there. To job training, which is complex and very difficult and expensive, but all that needs to be wrapped up in a cognitive, behavioral therapy like Thinking for a Change. Basically, rearranging that person’s attitudes towards, maybe, authority figures? Right?

Phoebe Potter:  Yeah, that’s right. And these aren’t simple strategies, you know? When you’re talking about your highest risk, highest needs populations, but to Hank’s point, you know, our goal with the white paper and what we were seeing in the field and trying to address is that a lot of jurisdictions are using a one-size-fits-all model. Which means your resources are probably too intensive for a lot of people and not intensive enough for a lot of people, so you’re not getting, really, any benefits across the board. So how can we restructure the way we triage our resources in a way that, you know, we’re kind of pouring more resources into those more intensive services, but only for the population that needs it, and defining that more clearly and then reducing the number of services that go to the lower risk, lower need population. Which, you know, not only do they not necessarily need, we’ve actually seen through the research can be made worse off if they’re provided too intensive service, they’re put in programming that aren’t appropriate.  And so it’s not, you know, necessarily about needing a lot more resources, it’s about changing the way we triage our resources that we do have to get a bigger impact and that’s a big goal of the white paper.

Len Sipes:  And I think that’s what I’m hearing from American Parole, Probation and Parole Association, what I’m hearing from the Council of State Governments, what I’m hearing is, “Focus your resources on your high risk individuals and scale down for everybody else.” But that’s assuming that the criminal justice system is supple enough, sophisticated enough, to employ those sort of strategies. I mean, we are the criminal justice system. We’re not exactly known for our nuanced approach to anything. It is a great, big, moving, giant blob that has its own speed and has its own attitudes and being that precise is not necessarily our forte, but that’s what you’re saying to us. We need to be far more nuanced and use tax paid dollars in the best possible way.

Phoebe Potter:  That’s right, but I think we’ve seen a lot of advancements in the corrections field in the last, you know, five, ten years, around the use of risk assessment especially to be smarter about how we triage our resources and who we place in programs and you know, I think a big part of that has been the support the Second Chance Act has put out in the field, kind of promoting these principles for a long time now and giving a lot of jurisdictions the resources to start to invest in these investment tools and case management strategies that we’re talking about. You know, and Second Chance Act reauthorization out now, we’re really excited about the opportunity to kind of build on that progress that we’ve seen. But it’s not simple and one of the things that the white paper does that is kind of taking it a step beyond just risk assessment, we’re also kind of asking the field to be more kind of sophisticated in the use of job readiness assessment too. So not just knowing the risk level of an individual, but also better appreciating, “What are their job readiness needs as well, from a work force perspective?” And so that is a little bit new, I think, in terms of what we’re asking the field to look at and do.

Len Sipes:  I’m reading from your briefing notes. So the key takeaway from all of this is that we can’t treat all individuals in the same way. Now the criminal justice system is famous for that. I mean, every person with a substance abuse problem goes in a group, and it’s one group and there’s one formula and there’s one way. It doesn’t matter what drug of choice, how long they’ve been using, their age, their complexity, whether they’re a high risk or low risk, everybody goes to a group because that’s all we have the capacity to do. Part of this is a matter of us, in the criminal justice system, understanding the nuances. Part of it is money. Part of it is the fact that we have to have dollars to back up what it is that we do, correct? And dollars are hard to come by nowadays.

Henry Rosen:  Yeah, I think that’s a major concern of folks working in this field and you know, especially and including the workforce development field. I think a lot of work force development practitioners are very eager to learn about effective strategies they can use when working with ex-offenders and you know, the services that NIC offers to that end are phenomenal, they do great work. I know that work force investment; membership agencies out there are looking for new ways to tackle those issues. And one thing that we’re hoping to say is, you know, given the pot of money that you have, if you use a risk assessment to identify the risk and need level of individuals, the highest risk folks, the lowest risk folks, and then needs related to their recidivism, and then you layer that in with the job readiness and employability assessments that the Workforce Development Practitioners are using, you can begin to understand of that $1,000 you have to spend, you should be spending $500 on these two people, you know, $100 on these two people, and then you know, the rest of the money, whatever else you’re doing. And obviously I’m not very great at math on the fly. But the point being that essentially –

Len Sipes:  Close enough.

Henry Rosen:  You know, the people who need that $500 a day program are, those have got to be your high risk, high need folks that have the employment need as well as the job readiness need, whereas the lower risk folks, they’re not going to benefit as much from that intensive service and so it’s not necessarily important that you put a lot of money into that service for them.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead, please.

Phoebe Potter:  I do think it’s worth noting that, you know, we’re not asking for every agency that’s working with this population out there to go out and buy a risk assessment tool tomorrow. A lot of this is going to be accomplished through better collaboration with key partners and most major corrections agencies at this point are using some level of risk assessment, you know, the sophistication of the risk assessment tool might vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but ultimately, you know, if you’re a community provider, you know, listening to this right now and kind of panicking about the need to invest in a bunch of assessment tools, chances are your corrections agency, you know, in your jurisdiction has some of that information that you can tap into if you develop those partnerships. And that’s another big thing that has been pushed with Second Chance Act, is increasing the collaboration. So from a resource perspective, you know, I think partnerships are a key way to getting this done.

Henry Rosen:  That’s exactly right. You know, it think probation and parole officers will have an offenders case plan and it may have the risk assessment information on that case plan, but if you’re a workforce development practitioner or some other reentry service provider, you’ll have no idea what those numbers mean. So it’s really sort of up to those two agencies to come together and understand what that information means, and how to use it to drive decision-making.

Len Sipes:  We only have a minute left. I want to get this message across to the aide of the mayor of Milwaukee and the aid to the governor in Oklahoma and they’re listening to this program because they’re searching for information about employment and the criminal offender population. If done well, this can work. That’s what I get from your paper. We can be far more effective if we used a nuanced approach and we couple all these different programs with programs that help that person think better, be better, perform better while on the job. So it’s the attitude that becomes the crucial component of all this.

Phoebe Potter:  That’s right.

Henry Rosen:  Definitely.

Phoebe Potter:  This is founded, you know, this framework we’ve presented is founded on years of research and we’ve seen programs that have started to take this integrated approach have significant impacts on recidivism.

Len Sipes:  Tell me about that.

Phoebe Potter:  Sure, you know, at the beginning of the show, Hank mentioned that Mindy Tarlow for the center of employment opportunities was a key partner on this project. CEO operates the Transitional Jobs Program that has done a great job of integrating, you know, the kind of those risk, need, responsivity principles we talked about. Focusing on high risk people, and addressing criminogenic needs in a wrap around approach that goes beyond just job acquisition. So really building skills and you know, we’re evaluating and found that they did have significant impacts on recidivism among that high risk population. So kind of demonstrating the importance of focusing on high risk and also the need to have that wrap around approach. So we are seeing results that this can work.

Henry Rosen:  Right? And the way they did that is they had, they placed people into work crews, where they were trained on the skills they needed. They had sort of a work crew manager, almost like a peer leader, who sort of navigated them through the work process and they provided an opportunity to sort of practice those good, workplace behaviors on the job and debrief on that afterwards, and that was really effective.

Len Sipes:  Well, we’re leaving everybody with a note of hope in terms of this and this is something that I think all of us in the criminal justice system are really looking at with great joy, because we think this provides us with a roadmap that maybe we didn’t have that clear of a roadmap before. “Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies”, ladies and gentlemen, is the name of the research. I’ll have the notes within the show notes as to the exact address for that document, or you can go to www.csgjusticecenter.org , the Justice Center, the Council of State Governments. Our guests today have been Henry Rosen, Policy Analyst, Reentry Program, National Initiatives, Council of State Governments, and Phoebe Potter, again, Senior Policy Analyst for the same organization. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Transforming Offender Employment-National Institute of Corrections-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.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/07/transforming-offender-employment-national-institute-of-corrections-dc-public-safety/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to be talking about Transforming Offender Employment – what’s new, what’s interesting in terms of finding individuals under community supervision jobs, what correctional systems throughout the country are doing to prepare individuals from coming out of the prison system into the community and lowering the recidivism rate.  Back at our microphones today is P. Elizabeth Taylor, Pat is a Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections – www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov. Pat, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Thank you, Len. Good to be back.

Len Sipes: We’ve done a television show on this, and it’s very popular. We’ve had lots of different states who are using the television show. It’s a really big topic, making sure that individuals in the prison system, that prison inmates are trained occupationally before they come out of the prison system, and that we’re doing the right things when we get them on community supervision. That’s the heart and soul of this topic, correct?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, doing the right things for the right reasons.

Len Sipes: Okay. We know that this is a problem, a big problem in terms of recidivism. We know that generally speaking from national data – which is getting old now, and the Department of Justice is saying that they’re going to be updating it fairly soon – but we’re talking about two-thirds re-arrested, and we’re talking about 50% going back to prison. Those are the current national statistics, and I find looking at state statistics that it’s not all that unusual.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: A lot of the people that I talk to tell me that unemployment is a principle driver of people going back to the prison system. Is that true?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It’s unemployment and underemployment, and I’m going to say it’s not just the process of being unemployed or underemployed but it’s the inability of the population, the justice-involved adult, to address those issues that resulted in them being attached to the criminal justice system in the first place.

Len Sipes: Now the National Institute of Corrections has a large program on DVDs, a large program that is accessible, available to people, and training which is available to people all throughout the country on this topic.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and what I like to let people know, you know, the misnomer is that the training is for free. No. Your tax dollars have already paid for the training so it’s to your advantage to take advantage of it, and our call is specific to workforce development, offender workforce development, the employment series. – And when you think about it, it’s a university model, so what does that mean? Well, it means that we start pretty much at the beginning. What are some of the best practices associated that we know works well in working with the unemployed or underemployed offender or justice involved individual getting attached to the workforce?  And if can just say right here, in terms of employment or workforce development, we’ve changed, we’ve broadened the definition, if you will. Traditionally, employment is – okay, I’m paid; I’m receiving a paid salary. If you redefine it in that whole transformational process, we’re talking about gainful attachment to the workforce, which can be via paid employment, of course. It could be a structured training program. It could be an academic pursuit. It could be by way of volunteerism. So we’re focusing on helping this population have some type of attachment to the workforce.

Len Sipes: Well, we had a program a couple of days ago here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency where we invited unions in, and the gentleman told a very passionate story about how he was caught up in the criminal justice system years ago, and I think he said he spent the majority of his teenage days incarcerated. He went to a presentation, the same presentation, a similar presentation that he gave yesterday, that how he became a cement-layer, and how that started him off on a career – good pay, good fringe benefits, and how he rose in the ranks of the union and union politics, and how he has developed into a union official today, but he started off as a former offender.   Somebody gave him an offer that he felt that he could not refuse. It was dirty, long, hot work, but the unions, the various unions basically said to the individuals at the seminar, “We don’t care what your criminal background is. We don’t care.” That’s one of the very few professions I’m aware of where they say that “we don’t care.” If you are willing to come in and work hard, you can rise up through the ranks and become a skilled carpenter, a cement layer, a steel worker all the different – I mean, so that’s still possible today.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is, and there’s this process of business necessity, and so if there is a close connection between an individual’s conviction and the known duties and responsibilities of the said position they’re applying for, they may not qualify for it. But aside from that, it is a red carpet, if you will, for possibilities, but to get to that possibility, you have to be evaluated and/or assessed because you just don’t want to go for a position because you know it’s available. Are you suited for it? Are the duties and responsibilities something that you can life with? And do you have enough information about the process that you’re willing to take it step-by-step because what you mentioned in your story is that this individual started at the beginning.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now quite frankly, most people, they want to start at the top. They are that impulsive, “I want it yesterday” type of person, and so they have to learn the benefit of taking it, you know, we say one day at a time but taking it one step at a time.

Len Sipes: Sure. Well, the prison systems throughout the country, are they doing a better job of preparing individuals to go out and find work? – Because that has been a big problem in this country. You know years ago, I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety so there were three correctional systems, and one of the things that when re-entry finally came into vogue, and re-entry was part of the issue that was put on the table, and reduction of recidivism, our folks basically said, “Look, we’re funded to run constitutional institutions, and yes, we do have some vocational training, we do have educational training, we do have this, we do have that, but we don’t have very much of it, and it certainly doesn’t touch all the individuals caught up in the prison system.”  And yet suddenly, prison systems were now given the responsibility of training people and lowering the rate of recidivism. I still get the sense that states throughout the country are struggling with that capacity issue.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is improving. I will admit that if you look at the history of offender workforce development specific to corrections, that you had people working in rock quarries breaking bricks, you had them in sewing houses, you had them doing menial-type work where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for advancement. Well, we have this organization, this process connected to correctional industries, and it provides the real-life work experience for people that are incarcerated. So depending upon where the state is, you have various types of career options, training options, again, the ability to learn that position from the ground-up, and quite frankly as the nation is moving forward, there are a lot of correctional industries that are in alignment with some of the trades’ industry programs.

Len Sipes: Well in Maryland, I was amazed because we had a printing press operation, which was huge. It did all the printing for the state of Maryland, and it was a female-owned company who hired every person who got out of prison because her equipment was exactly our equipment. She didn’t have to do any training at all. These were individuals who had been using this equipment, cleaning the equipment, repairing the equipment, maintaining the equipment for ten years, so they’re in a perfect position to seamlessly move over and work for this individual.  Now it’s funny because she would tell me stories as if the people who were there, they were wonderful workers, but they were saying, “Ma’am, can I go to the bathroom,” and she would say, “Sam, you can go to the bathroom any time you want. You don’t have to ask my permission.” Part of the institutionalization process carries over into the work process. So there are many great opportunities within the prison system. I just don’t get the sense – and other people have said this, not just me – but there’s just not enough of them.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re sometimes the best-kept secret, and I think that there are organizations – you have the National Correctional Industries Organization, they are industry programming in each of the 50 states, so I would encourage people to Google NCIA and find out what’s going on in their state. Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s a perfect process. It is not. We are still, as an industry program, we’re still on our learning curve, but it’s much better than it was, and you have the situation where an individual can say, “You know, I have skills and abilities now, and professional expertise,” and like you say, that conviction no longer becomes a big – it’s no longer an issue. That employer sees what the employee can do, not what they did.

Len Sipes: True, but states are beginning to recognize their role in lowering recidivism.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: States are beginning to recognize that it’s an economic issue, it is a taxpayer issue, it’s a matter of lessening the burden on taxpayers to provide individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, incarcerated, in prisons – it’s in everybody’s best interest to provide them with vocational training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And state to state, they need to determine how they define recidivism. Once they come up with that definition, then the goal is to support that person’s self-sufficiency. Now I will say that a job or a connection to the workforce will not necessarily keep you out of the system, but when done correctly, these job training programs, these industry programs identify those issues. – And, you know, the bigger word is the criminogenic risk. Well, it’s a lot to say, well, what does that really mean? Well, it means that those thought processes, those —

Len Sipes: Well, the bottom line behind what NIC is trying to do is to do it right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: That’s the thing that I get from all of your materials and from doing the television show with you. You’re talking about assessing the individual, using research, using data, being sure that the best person is put in the best possible job, so it’s a matter of training those people. When we talk about training in this case, we’re not talking about necessarily training inmates in prison. We’re talking about training staff to assess that individual, to find out who’s the best fit for the best job, and to use cognitive skill behavioral training, which is basically teaching them fundamental issues of right and wrong, how to respond on the job, how to act on the job, what’s expected from you on the job – that all of this needs to be systematic. It needs to be scientific. It needs to be evidence-based.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and when you look at it, and that’s the transformational piece. So with the transformative workforce development system, you’re looking at the relationship between that practitioner and the offender, or the court or justice-involved individual. So on the practitioner’s side, what type of communication skills, how am I relating to this individual? Do I see the possibility that they can change?  Will I willingly develop a relationship with them, and then guide them through a process where they can let’s say challenge – not attack – but challenge their core belief, because the reality is if you are incarcerated and you are unemployed, and you say, “You know, I don’t like this,” but you say, “but you know, it’s all right for me to be in jail,” well, there is some type of dissonance right there, and so with proper training as a practitioner, you get the skills to be able to guide that person through to address those issues, those self-perceptions, the impulsivity, the inability to respond to a work-with-authority figures. You address the issues of, you know, “My friends aren’t working but that’s all right for me. I’ll hang out with them.”  So if you can challenge and work with that person, then they can go from a point of unemployed – and I keep saying underemployment – to a point of self-sufficiency.

Len Sipes: Because it strikes me that you can train a person to be a carpenter, you can train them to be a plumber, you can train them to be a bricklayer, you can train them to be a printer, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with the issue of an unreasonable boss saying unreasonable things, making possibly unreasonable expectations. All of us go through that. Everybody listening to this program, we all go through all of that sort of stuff but we don’t blow up.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly. Exactly.

Len Sipes: And we don’t strike back verbally, and we don’t stomp off the job. – And so many of our individuals caught up in the criminal system, they need to be taught that, and so that’s what you’re talking about, right?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re talking about problem-solving skills. We’re talking about decision-making skills. So like you say, the reality is, as an employee, I will have someone that will tell me, “You need to do A and B,” okay? Well, let’s just say that my work ethic or lack thereof tells me, “I get to do what I want to do.” That type of thinking helps me become unemployed. It supports my detachment from the workforce. So if you can work with me as the practitioner to help me understand the relationship between my values, my beliefs, and how they relate to my behavior.

Len Sipes: And that all part of this larger from the National Institute of Corrections of training staff to work with the offenders in terms of their cognitive development. It’s just not a matter of teaching bricklaying. It is a matter of helping that person cope with the realities of the day-to-day work world.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Touching that emotional IQ.

Len Sipes: And that is just as important as giving them hard skills and give them training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: You know, I’ll tell you that it’s more important. I mean, we can find, the employer, he can find people that can do the job, okay, but do they have the type of attitude, temperament that will help them stay connected.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry, we’re more than halfway through the program. P. Elizabeth Taylor is our guest today, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, with the National Institute of Corrections – www.nicic.gov. I can’t do that without screwing that up. www.nicic.gov – part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.  Pat, so the bottom line in all of this is that we, you know, we keep thinking about that the focus is on the individual caught up in the criminal justice system, the offender. That’s where all the focus is. The focus needs to be on us as criminal justice practitioners to properly asses that person, get that person into the right job, something he or she is going to stock with throughout the years, and give him or her the skills to survive on that job and thrive on that job. That’s the package that you’re talking about.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the package, and the other part of it is that we need to, when you think about our current situation in these United States – cut-backs, programs are just being abolished, we have less funds now – so how can we do more with less?

Len Sipes: The best possible job with the resources that we have.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and so with that understanding, we have the training that we provide, and part of the training is to help the practitioner to know, to get the best out of your current resources, identify those people that are highest at risk, however do you define recidivism, to recidivate. Now once you have that determination, well then let’s go ahead and do a reassessment and re-evaluation, and that’s what our training provides.  So we’ve gone from best and promising practices, at the next level we have theory-based career-assistance. So how do you help that individual, now that I’ve identified that they’re at risk for recidivism, and I’ve identified their needs and their barriers, so how can I assist them in that process for their attachment to the workforce? Well, it’s not just about placing them, though, and so with the transformational workforce development, we know that the focus is not on the face-em-and-place-em, it’s on the retention. – And so combining that hand-in-glove, motivational interviewing techniques with cognitive behavioral principles supports long-term attachment to the workforce, and if it’s not the job per se that keeps a person out of the criminal justice system, it’s the process of getting that job, because in that process you’re addressing those barriers and those issues, those isms if you will, that make it easy for the offender to be caught up into the system.

Len Sipes: Motivational technique, I mean, there we’re talking about making sure that the person is finding out what it is that makes that person tick, and motivating that person to stick with it, to stay the course, finding out as much as you can about that individual and using motivational tools to keep that person engaged and keep that person enthused with the cognitive behavioral therapy skills, which is basically what is an appropriate response, how do you handle stress. So it’s a combination of all of those skills.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, it’s hand-in-glove, yes.

Len Sipes: So it starts in the prison system and it’s handed off to parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia. They have to have those skills to move that person from prison to community supervision to a job, and to do it successfully.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: So what you’re saying is that you need that collaboration, and what we’re referring to now is that continuum of care. So from the prison system or jail system to the community, everyone that would touch the life of that offender or justice-involved individual needs to be aware of what works. Based on research, we know that motivational interviewing techniques, where you’re developing a positive relationship of guidance, supports the offender. We know by the research that any cognitive-based programming, where you’re able to help the offender make that connection between their values and beliefs and their behaviors, actions or reactions, is proven effective. We need to make sure, though, that everyone, all of our stakeholders within that continuum of care, have similar training to support case management and that case planning.

Len Sipes: And that’s what the National Institute of Corrections is trying to do.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Now take this training today, because I saw – and I spent a lot of time when we did the television show, looking for video footage that best illustrates what it is that you do there at NIC – is this a course where they go on campus and take the course, or is this a course where they can view the video tapes separately?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Well at the first level, the offender employment specialist training – or building bridges – that is a multi-disk set where you can self-train, if you will. I encourage people, though, to make sure that they identify good partners to bring to the table to walk through that process.  Now the next level is the offender workforce development specialist training, which is about 180 hours. It is a train-through-partnership, so once an application is made for the training, then we will go to your jurisdiction and we will facilitate the training there, whatever state or situation where it’s located.  Now at the next level, the offender employment retention specialist training, that’s facilitated or people are trained at our training academy in Aurora, Colorado. So that’s a 40-hour blended training. You come to our site. There is pre-training work. There is training definitely while we’re there, but then that was not enough because now we’re talking about new skills. We’re developing new skills, new ways of working with people. So once the 40-trianing session, and we go back to our respective states, and we’re all really good about these new tools in our toolbox, through the OWDS training, if I can call it that, we provide coaching. We want our training to be dynamic, and training is the on-going process, and I think when people develop – I’ll mention one, is a skill of reflection. If I’m not really using it, if I’m not giving back what you’re saying and that’s not a regular part of my daily work, I’ll lose the skill.  So we have quarterly coaching sessions that we’re providing, and I think at this point there may be 99 people since the pilot that have completed the offender employment retention specialist training that is sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections.

Len Sipes: Now will these individuals go out and train everybody else in their agency because we have hundreds of people here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, I mean those who are directly supervising people on supervision. They’re not all going to be able to take that level of training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and through the partnership, through the OWDS, it is a train-a-trainer type process, so through the partnership, the expectation is that once that core training group is identified, then they will assume responsibility for training others. I will say with the retention training and as you are kind of alluding to, there are a lot of people out there that may not be part of the OWDS knowledge block process, so what then? Well, we’re developing a standalone with best practices in retention training that a person can access similar to the OES. It’ll be a multi-disk set that you can facilitate at your particular site.  Now NIC, the National Institute of Corrections, will provide a technical support to make sure that the training goes as it should but it’s an ongoing process for us to make sure that we’re meeting the training needs of those individuals that are part of Corrections proper, but then also they’re stakeholders.

Len Sipes: It’s a very comprehensive program.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: I mean, what you’re talking about is a very comprehensive program that eventually, where we train trainers, and you also provide support material where they can carry that information back to their own agencies because it strikes me as this, is that if you have an individual parole and probation agent anywhere in the country and he’s trying to get that individual interested in a job, he’s trying to find out who that individual is, what they’re interested in, where they would like to go, what they would like to do, develop motivational interviewing, get that person involved in some sort of job training activity or a job.  I mean, again, these apprenticeship programs through the unions are just extraordinary, especially considering they don’t care about the person’s criminal history. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that but you’ve got to do it right to get the right person into the right job if that person’s going to have any chance of holding on to that job any length of time.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And it’s not so much that any employer may not – it’s not that they don’t care about the conviction, they want to be aware of it.

Len Sipes: Oh, of course.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And again, and then business necessity would let you know how much weight that particular conviction carries.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now through the cognitive behavioral process, we can train or teach court and justice-involved individual how to talk about their conviction in such a way where they are assuming ownership for the reality of the conviction but they’re making that segue right to those skills and abilities that make them marketable.

Len Sipes: That’s such a great idea. I mean, of all the fears that individuals have coming out of the prison system, the biggest fear is how to deal with that question. What’s your crime? What’s your time? Where did you do time? Who are you? Are you a menace? Are you going to be a good worker or are you going to cause any problems? I mean, and how to deal with those question, and how to deal with them comfortably and how to deal with them successfully become a key ingredient as to whether or not they’re going to be successful.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Through cognitive behavioral-based programming, the individual is able to understand and acknowledge the fact that the charge represents behavior is what they did, it’s not necessarily who they are, and through that restructuring they’re developing a new sense of who I am. – And part of that who I am is a taxpaying citizen that’s actively involved in my community —

Len Sipes: Takes care of my kids.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: — assumes responsibility, exactly.

Len Sipes: Responsible taxpayer.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s what people want to hear, taxpayer not a tax burden.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the bottom line, yes. Exactly right.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so if we did this, if we had this sort of a program, let’s just say that 50% of offenders caught up in prison systems had some sense of meaningful job development training, cognitive behavioral training if they went through all of this, and if they came out and they were met by parole and probation agents who understood these skills, knew these skills, knew how to apply these skills – would it make a substantial impact? Would there be a substantial impact on recidivism, on future criminal behavior, and consequently would that save taxpayers an awful lot of money?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That is the argument that we’re making. We’re starting now to do the research. Through the employment retention training, we develop an ERI, and Employment Retention Inventory, and the research that’s going to start next fiscal year is looking at that whole workforce development process. If you provide career assistance, if you provide cognitive behavioral-based programming, what will the impact be?  And so it requires that all of our partners – and our partner is anyone that’s gone through our training, any training provided by the National Institute of Corrections – at that point, that partnership is developed. So we’re looking for our partners to help us capture the data, that let’s just say for instance that if our program that’s being offered is not necessarily hitting all the right buttons, then we can modify that because the goal is really to make that impact.

Len Sipes: But we only have about a minute left. One of the things I did want to point out is the fact that there already is good data, some of the most encouraging data that I’ve seen in terms of offender re-entry of individuals being trained in correctional systems, a multi-state study including the state of Maryland where I was at, and their rate of recidivism was considerably lower than the comparison group. So there I data already out there that says “Job training programs in prison systems do work.”

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right – when structured properly.

Len Sipes: When structured properly.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: And if you have the support system on the outside.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And the collaborative relationships from the – the only way I can say it is from the handcuff key to the door key. We’re looking at those relationships with the stakeholders involved.

Len Sipes: Pat, you’ve got the final word. P. Elizabeth Taylor, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections. Let me see if I can do this right this time. www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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