Berks County Reentry Success-DC Public Safety-NCJA-230,000 Requests a Month

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have our friends from the Berks County Correctional System outside of Philadelphia. They’ve done, I think, an extraordinary job. They’ve been able to reduce recidivism in terms of a program they have at the county jail. I’m going to read a quick synopsis: Of the program graduates who have been released, 69 percent have remained out of jail and 64 percent are employed. And I think that for a jail system is really, really, really a unique contribution to the criminal justice system. They’ve been nominated by the National Criminal Justice Association for an award and this is one of the reasons why we’re doing this program and a continuation of programs done with the National Criminal Justice Association.

Before we begin the program, before we talk to our guest, our usual commercial. We’re up to 230,000 requests a month for public safety television, radio, blog, and transcripts. We are really extremely appreciative of all the comments that you’ve made in terms of either the blog itself or the radio and television show where you can comment directly or to me directly via email and the fact that so many of you are following us by Twitter. You can contact me directly: Leonard Sipes at Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P-E-S@csosa.gov. You can comment directly on the Web site, which is media.csosa.gov or you can get in touch with me or follow me by Twitter or contact me via Twitter at twitter.com/len L-E-N sipes S-I-P-E-S, no gap in that.

We’re back to Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for Berks County courts, Scott Rehr, the executive director for Berks Connections, and Warden George Wagner of the Berks County jail system. Scott and Tim and George, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

All Guests Together: Thank you.

Len Sipes: We were commenting off air about the difficulties of running a program like this within the jail setting. People just don’t seem to understand how difficult a large urban jail is. It’s not like it’s a prison, a state prison. It’s not like you have 1,000 offenders and pretty much you have 1,000 offenders on Wednesday and then have another 1,000 on Thursday. With the jail system, you can really have hundreds of individuals come to you in one night as a result of arrest and leave in terms of the bail process and then you have that number who stay, who are basically individuals who are convicted of a crime, but didn’t receive a sentence long enough for them to serve their time in the state prison system, so they serve their time in the county jail. Anybody who’s been in a jail system, especially a large urban jail system, the influx of people moving in and moving out of that jail system is just enormous. It is probably the most difficult correctional facility I can possibly imagine to manage and so to Warden George Wagner, would you agree or disagree?

George Wagner: Well, I would agree, Leonard, and I think that you’ve hit the real issue, the real problem that we face in a jail system. As you mentioned, in a prison system, which is different than a jail system, you have a few people who are committed to an institution, a prison institution, a few people who are committed and who stay a long time, so they can be large institutions but you don’t have a lot of turnover. In a jail system, much like we have here in Berks, a large jail system, our average daily population varies, but it could be anywhere between 1,000 and 1200 inmates but we see 8,000 or more, sometimes as many as 9,000 people, come and go in our institution. 8,000 or 9,000 people get committed and 8,000 or 9,000 people get released in every calendar year and that’s quite a difficult task to manage.

Len Sipes: That is an enormous task to manage. I mean, again, state prison systems; your population is somewhat static. I mean, the great majority of those, if you’re running a mainline state prison, not a pre-release center, but the mainline system, you start off that year with 1,000 offenders and, at the end of the year, you basically still have 1,000 offenders and the flux in terms of people moving in and moving out could be a matter of 200 or 300. My goodness, Warden, you could get literally 200 or 300 on a night.

George Wagner: That’s true and that’s one of the reasons we look at programs like we’ve been looking at with the folks from Berks Connections and we look at the programming and the opportunities that we have to deal with the folks that are coming through our institution and try to make some changes in their lives and to help them and follow them into the community. We can make an impact here at the local jail level. We’re going to make an incredible impact on the criminal justice system as a whole.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s a perfect segue to go over to Scott Rehr. Scott, you’re the executive director for Berks Connections. What is Berks Connections? And how did you hook up with the jail system?

Scott Rehr: Berks Connections is a non-profit agency headquartered here in Reading and we’ve been around since 1975 offering programming to individuals and families involved in the local criminal justice system. But in the last several years as Warden Wagner’s population continued to grow, I think our agency along with many other agencies, the Warden and his staff and the court system led by the criminal justice advisory board, really came together with their backs against the wall with some severe overcrowding at the county jail, a recidivism rate above 50 percent, we realized we couldn’t afford to do business as usual any more and our agency really led the effort in terms of on the community side of things getting other agencies and other individuals involved in putting the subject or successful reentry at the forefront of our community.

Len Sipes: And once again the reentry within the jail system is really difficult. I mean, we have, those of us in the reentry community throughout the United States dealing with the prison systems, that is a tough job. Doing it within the jail system is just an extraordinary undertaking. Was there a point where you said to yourself, this is just too big? Scott, do you think that you took a look at this population and said, there’s no way that we can deliver meaningful services to a population that’s constantly moving?

Scott Rehr: Absolutely so. And I think what makes the biggest difference and probably the most important component of the program is that assessment. To be able to develop that assessment tool to say this person needs these services, this person doesn’t, this person will be here long enough to be able to complete these services, and this person won’t. That’s really important. And so you take that population of anywhere from 1,000 to 1200 people, you remove from that the folks that are there on pre-trial status, haven’t been sentenced yet, you’ve got the sentenced population, you use tools such as the LSI, the level of service inventory, and an assessment tool developed by all the local agencies here to identify those specific post-release needs and then you can kind of oil that whole problem down to, well, this person needs housing, this person needs employment, this person needs education, and really work on individualized reentry plans for those individuals who will benefit and will have the time to benefit from the programming.

Len Sipes: Now, one of the things I do want to emphasize in terms of the larger program is that it’s not just a matter of a non-profit agency. Scott, that Berks Connections is a non-profit agency?

Scott Rehr: Yeah. We are a non-profit agency, but again the leadership from this, where we came from, the non-profit community via Berks Connections, but it came from the Warden and from the county. If Warden Wagner didn’t say this is important to him and, as you both have said, he’s got enough issues to worry about without having to even think about successful reentry. But he decided this was important to him and so he and his staff became integral parts and leaders of this effort and then it came to the courts and the criminal justice advisory board with Tim saying this is something we want to do. The policy board, the advisory board, set up a task force several years ago with reentry as its primary focus and started working along with us with these plans. We brought 35 government and non-profit agencies in this process and so today you have over 35 agencies who are participating in helping to provide the opportunity for successful reentry for folks coming out of the jail system.

Len Sipes: And I think that is truly the impressive thing because so many of the times, so much of the time, we within the criminal justice system are sort of accused of being lone wolfs, that it’s pretty much our responsibility, whether it’s law enforcement, whether it’s corrections, whether it’s the judiciary, we like, traditionally at least, we like to go it alone. I remember in the President’s report on crime and criminal justice back in the 60’s and he said that was probably one of the biggest detriments to crime control was the fact that we are insular in nature and we do not embrace each other in terms of a common approach. And now we have Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for Berks County Courts. Tim, so you have the courts involved in this, you have the executive branch of government, which is the Berks County jail system, and you have Scott’s organization and you all have come together for the common good.

Tim Daly: Yes. We really do. I think what we have is a very unique type, group of people, of dedicated justice system professionals who go beyond, as you said, go beyond looking at their own individual needs and, kind of, look at this as a system that whatever one person does, it would affect just about anybody else within the justice system. What makes our organization, I think, very unique is the fact that we’re comprehensively represented. We have the judicial, the legislative, law enforcement, and the after care community sitting at the table. There’s approximately 34 members of this organization and they are the chief decision makers of each agency. So, they’ve made the commitment with their precious time that they would come together at the table every two months and would sit down and talk about extremely important topics and try and problem-solve amongst each other. So that the nice thing as the executive director, when we leave that room, we know what’s going to be done because the chief decision makers said that they would do this.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh.

Tim Daly: So, that becomes a tremendous asset.

Len Sipes: That becomes so important. Rather than mid-level people sitting there and saying, well, talk to our agency heads and see what our agency heads have to say. The agency heads are sitting at the table.

George Wagner: If I could comment, this is George Wagner again. One of the things that I think that we have to stress if we have this criminal justice advisory board and, as Tim Daly said, the leaders of all the agencies, the district attorney, the public defender, representatives from the chiefs of police association, the county commissioners, all the folks, all the key players, the judges, court administrators, everybody in the system that’s a key player in criminal justice sat down, we’ve been working on a bunch of projects over the years, but we got together at a retreat nearly two years ago now and, during that retreat, where we spent a day together, we sat down and brainstormed and asked ourselves what real issue do we, what do we need to solve? What’s going to make this whole system work better? And I shouldn’t even say, to my amazement, I was flattered to find that group of folks said, we need to find a way to address the population problem at the jail and to address it in a way that’s different than just saying, let’s get people out of jail. Let’s make sure they don’t come back. And that was the impetus for this program. And the result was what I think is a novel approach to community reentry, which is programming that doesn’t just start in the jail and end, but that follows inmates into the community with after care that’s provided by jail staff, community staff, probation and parole staff, everybody who’s involved, the courts if it’s drug courts. But it’s an integrated effort and just seeing how successful it is is unbelievable.

Len Sipes: I do want to remind everybody that the program we’re talking is not just an academic exercise, but again the program graduates who have been released, 69 percent have remained out of jail. Now, people don’t quite understand that the recidivism in this country is extraordinarily high. Now, the landmark study, and it’s an old study, but it’s still the landmark study, is that two-thirds are re-arrested and 50 percent return to prison. That’s people graduating from state prison systems and those are individuals who have, generally speaking, a longer criminal history and a more serious criminal history than the people who ended up in the jail system, but nevertheless, the program graduates that have been released 69 percent have remained out of jail. So, I just don’t know how to put that into context for people who are listening, but that’s extraordinarily good. And 64 percent are employed and that is also extraordinarily good because the employment rates throughout the country, generally speaking, on any given day hover around 50 percent. So, it’s just not an academic exercise of people coming together and saying, let’s help, let’s reduce the jail population. What you’ve done is extraordinarily successful; the reason why you were recognized by the National Criminal Justice Association.

Tim Daly: Well, one of the key things we did; again a plug is, we took a look and went into the jail and did the assessments of individual inmates to find out what the specific post-release needs are. So, we knew going into this that 74 percent of the people walk out of the jail without a job. So, we as a country are concerned about an unemployment rate that’s above 10 percent. For folks coming out of the Berks County jail, it’s 74 percent. So, to be able to turn that number around, I think, is a pretty impressive statistic, but I think also what really makes it work for us is we talked about when people go to the state prison, they go far away and they stay for a long time. With the jail, again, 90 percent of those people are coming back into the local community and a 50 percent recidivism rate is not good, but it also means that people coming back into communities within Berks County, if we can bring the community resources into the jail before that individual inmate is released and start working on those individual issues and then have that same agency and those same individuals assist them after the release, that continuity of care, I think, really is what makes the difference here. And, with the Jobs Program, where you’ve got 69 percent of the people working, that’s because Career Link, which is Pennsylvania’s version of the one stop employment shop, you’ve got local government, state government, and national government funding all under one roof, our Career Link with our agency goes into the jail for a six weeks job readiness course where they get signed up on the Career Link system. They get their resume done, they do mock interview, and they get all these things done with a community-based agency before they’re released. Once they’re out into the community, we work with a parole officer and make sure they get back to the Career Link, to get into our office, and we continue that follow-up for up to three years post-release.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program and I want to reintroduce our guests. We have Scott Rehr, the executive director of Berks Connections; Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for Berks County courts; Warden George Wagner of the Berks County jail system. If you want to get additional information about this program, the address is www.berksconnections.org. Also, the program is being brought to you through the auspices of the National Criminal Justice Association, who recognizes exemplary criminal justice programs throughout the country and we do radio shows with them. You can go to the website of the National Criminal Justice Association, www.ncja.org. They’re absolutely wonderful people doing an absolutely wonderful job. Okay. Back to the program. Now, okay, so we have this coordination and we have a continuum of services that we provide to offenders in the Berks County jail system and we follow-up these offenders in the community. We do an assessment in terms of the particular needs of that offender. But, again, to people who don’t quite understand the criminal justice system and who don’t quite understand corrections, the level of needs for offenders is astounding. You have national research that basically says that 55 percent claim mental health problems. Now, that’s not a diagnosable mental issue, like schizophrenia, which is about 16 percent nationally, but 55 percent claim mental health problems. 70 to 80 percent say that they have histories of substance abuse. In many cases or if not most cases, those histories of substance abuse are considerable. Most come from single family household, single parent households. Most come from low income areas. The list of problems that offenders caught up in the criminal justice system bring to the table go on and on and on and there are people out there, gentlemen, who basically say, wow, this is just too big of an issue. I don’t know how to deal with all the issues; the mental health, the substance abuse, the self-esteem, the anger management, the reuniting the offender with his kids. There’s a certain point where that becomes overwhelming, which is one of the reasons why people in correctional systems throughout the country have been hesitant to take on this issue of reentry, which makes your achievement even that much more remarkable. How do you deal with all the problems?

Scott Rehr: This is Scott. I think it really, again, comes down to that collaboration. You have to have the drug and alcohol community on board. You have to have the mental health community on board. You know, and we all know intrinsically, that jobs are critically important. Education, you’re not going to get a job, you’re not going to get a sustainable job if you don’t have a GED or your high school education. We know 54 percent of the people coming out of the jail don’t. You know that housing is a critical issue; 19 percent of the jail have told us that they don’t know where they’re going to go when they get released. So, you have

Len Sipes: 19 percent.

Scott Rehr: You have to get those services provided on board and then surround all of that with a case manager. But the other thing we’ve done working with the faith-based community is develop a mentoring program so that there is not a team of faith mentors that are also helping this individual. So, at the end of the day when that individual who’s involved in this program walks out of the doors of the jail, they’ve got the follow-up from the jail, they’ve got the case manager from our agency, they’ve got a parole officer, they will hopefully have a faith-based mentor. They’ve got a team, a support team, in place there to help them. I think really you have to do that, but you’re also right. You can’t do it for everyone. So, you’ve got to do that upfront analysis to figure out who’s going to benefit most from what you can provide.

George Wagner: A few moments ago I spoke about how we made this conscious effort to try to address these problems and to make a change and you’re right, Leonard. It’s a daunting thought, especially from someone who runs a jail system to think about well, how the heck am I going to do that? I don’t have the resources here. I’m certain that I can’t secure the resources. If I go to the county fathers and say I need more staff for these kind of things, whether it be popular or unpopular, the simple fact of the matter is it costs a lot of money to try to put together an all-encompassing program like that and, then in our discussions with the folks from the criminal justice advisory board and through Scott’s leadership with a non-profit organization, we’ve started meeting with the agencies and the groups of people, the religious community, all the agencies in Berks County who deal with these inmates after they’re released in one way or another. And that community resource network, which Scott founded through meetings, what I thought was really refreshing was we started meeting with these folks and we found that they were quite interested in helping us address the problem and that was at the point where I said, you know what? We can easily do this because we don’t have to at the jail come up with a solution. I’m looking around the room at the community resource network and I have 50 solutions in front of me.

Len Sipes: Uh-huh. Which is impressive, but again just in terms of context for folks who are not familiar with the criminal justice system, nevertheless unusual, to have a wide variety of organizations coming together for the common good. Because fiscally there’s a lot of states out there that are involved meaningfully in reentry nowadays, but their principle point is fiscal, not serving individuals and their social needs. They’re simply saying, we can no longer continue to spend the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, on correctional systems. What’s the best way of helping people stay out of the prison system? And so to the folks there in Berks County need to understand, I think, that in terms of your results that you’ve been able to save the citizens of Berks County an awful lot of money. So, I know that everybody is doing this from a higher point of view, from the standpoint of helping individuals come to grips with their lives, but what that does is it saves citizens a lot of money and, consequently, it saves citizens from victimization. So, you’re not expressing that in terms of the materials that I’ve read in the conversation today, but that’s a reality, is it not?

Scott Rehr: Yeah. And it’s also the realization that a lot of these agencies had coming to these meetings was that they’re seeing these individuals anyway. I mean, the folks that are coming out of the criminal justice system and coming out of the jail system that have all of these needs that we’ve delineated, they’re showing up on the doorstep of a non-profit agency two-thirds of the way back to jail already and they’re spending a lot of time and effort to try to get that person to where they need to be. So, we can start working with that person much earlier on in the process and do it collaboratively. At the end of the day, that agency is going to spend less time and less money helping that individual if we can do it right from the get-go.

Len Sipes: Right. And, as always, it’s interesting because the letters I get or the emails and some of the comments that I end up getting is the sense of, Leonard, we desperately need money for schools. We desperately need money for an aging population. We desperately need money for infrastructure. Why are you asking us to put money into criminal offenders who have done damage to other human beings and, in many cases, damage to themselves and damage elsewhere? But it seems rather straight-forward, regardless of what side of the political side that you happen to be on, that if an individual comes out of the Berks County system and has a mental health issue and, if it’s untreated either in the jail or within the community, the probability of that person going out and bothering somebody or committing another crime seems to be pretty high. But nobody disagrees with that. Nobody says, well, okay, fine. I may have disagreements about employment programs or drug treatment, but, no, of course, if the person’s mental illness issues are not addressed, then in all probability he’s going to re-victimize society. Well, that seems to me to be straight-forward, does it not? I mean, that’s one of the things that always confuses me about this larger question of reentry that the more collaboration you have, the more money you throw at the issue and, if you do it smart like you guys are doing it in terms of a needs assessment upfront, you reduce the strain on the larger society from a public services point of view, from a taxpayer’s point of view, and from a crime reduction point of view. So, I just think it’s a win-win situation for everybody, but I note that the great majority of the correctional systems in the country are not doing reentry and there’s got to be a reason for that and I think that’s the reason because of (a) people find it overwhelming, (b) people just want to put their money elsewhere.

Scott Rehr: Right. Well, don’t think we didn’t consider that for one moment and it’s not one of the impetuses behind what we’re doing. We certainly know within the long run this is going to save money, not just for the jail system, but for the criminal justice system as a whole. If we can successfully re-integrate somebody, they don’t get rearrested without spending law enforcement dollars. We’re not spending court dollars to have them processed through the judicial system and, most importantly, we’re not spending jail dollars. In our Commonwealth, the jail is completely funded by local tax dollars. There’s no state or federal funding. And, if our rate of growth continues as it has for the last 15 years, over the next 25 years, we’re going to spend $500,000,000 here at our local jail and that’s all county tax dollars; that’s real money. We can’t keep spending money that way simply to hold people temporarily in our custody and then wish them well as they walk out the door.

Len Sipes: Well, if you provide those services upfront, maybe you won’t have to spend the $500,000,000. Think about that. $500,000,000 at the county level. We’re not talking the federal level, we’re not talking the state level, we’re talking the county level, $500,000,000. If you can save the taxpayers half of that $500,000,000, that’s an enormous savings.

Tim Daly: It sure is.

Scott Rehr: And one of the things we’re really most proud of for this program is the community side, our agency side, of this equation is funded primarily from the local United Way. So, it’s community dollars flowing into the United Way, the United Way of Berks County, that is funding a substantial portion of this program.

Len Sipes: Well, I’m not quite sure how much publicity you have gotten in the Philadelphia area. I get a newspaper clipping service delivered to my in box on my computer every day from around the country. I don’t remember seeing a lot or reading a lot about the Berks County system, but you’all, heavens, need to be congratulated. People throughout the country or beyond simply have this assumption that the criminal justice system works in lock step with each other, sits down, collaborates at the highest levels and produces results that are in the taxpayer’s best interest and I think it’s unique that, I don’t know how many letters of congratulations or congratulatory articles that you’all have received, but I simply think that people need to understand that this is both unique and effective and that’s why the National Criminal Justice system brought your program to our attention.

Scott Rehr: Well, thank you.

Tim Daly: Yes. Thank you very much.

Len Sipes: Where do we go to? We have a couple minutes left in the program. So, is this a program that you can expand? Is this a program that you can, even for that short term offender, come again, and when I say short term, in some cases, we’re only talking about a couple hours inside the system? So, I’m not quite sure what it is that you can do with an offender that is just being booked and released, but is this

Scott Rehr: Well, I think the Warden can tell you that the best and biggest part of this program hasn’t even begun yet.

George Wagner: Yes. What we’re planning to do, as a matter of fact, is with this experience that was developed through our relationship with Berks Connections, early next year we set a tentative date and we hope that we can make it and that tentative date is January 11 or shortly thereafter, if not on that date. We’ll be opening a 300-bed community reentry center here just across from the jail on the county welfare tract where we’ll be able to divert inmates into a community reentry setting and then actually introduce those folks that have been working with us from all these agencies into that facility. So, they’ll be working with the inmates directly rather than just simply meeting them, which they’re doing now, or having the connection established. They will be working with them in the community reentry center. A good example: You talked about drug and alcohol program earlier. We provide drug and alcohol programming now and then prior to someone’s release, we say, now don’t forget. You need to continue your drug and alcohol programming. Our counseling staff doesn’t do that, but you’ll need to see Mr. Smith and here’s his address in the community.

Len Sipes: That’s wonderful.

George Wagner: Well, that won’t happen anymore because what’s going to happen is Mr. Smith’s going to have an office in our CRC, our community reentry center, and that inmate will go down the hall and meet the person he is going to be interacting with in the community, probably weeks before his release, so that there will be an absolute smooth transition into the programming in drug and alcohol and many other areas; mental health, all those areas.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s a final word for this program, but stay with us. Maybe six months from the line, a year down the line, we can do another radio show talking about that expansion, the 300-bed expansion, and with the focus on reentry and basically tell us how it went. So, I look forward to doing that program. And I just want to remind everybody that our guests today have been Scott Rehr, executive director of Berks Connections; Tim Daly, the criminal justice coordinator for the Berks County court system, and Warden George Wagner, the Berks County jail system. The show is brought to you by the National Criminal Justice Association. They see it as their job to go around the country to pick the better programs or the best programs in the country and to bring them to our attention through D.C. Public Safety, so we can tell you about them. The contact numbers or contact point for the National Criminal Justice Association is http://www.ncja.org/. The website address for Berks Connections is http://www.berksconnections.org/. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for a radio/TV show, the blog and transcripts. We are extraordinary grateful for all your attention and we want everyone to have themselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: Berks County, reentry, Berks Connections, jails, courts

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Relapse Prevention and Drug Treatment-DC Public Safety

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/10/relapse-prevention-and-drug-treatment-dc-public-safety/

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

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C. This is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today, we have, I think, an extraordinary interesting program. We’re going to be talking about relapse prevention for women. Actually, relapse prevention for people who are struggling with substance abuse across the board. To talk about all of this, we have Chris Kiel. She is in charge of our faith-based effort here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Tasha Chambers, she is with the City-Wide Outreach Coordinator, one of three working again for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. She is a facilitator and she runs groups, and we have Jennifer Gaskins. She was one time appeared on WTOP Radio, which is one of the more famous radio stations in the country. She, at one time, was under supervision, and she comes back and mentors to women involved in the relapse prevention program. But, before going on with the show, I want to remind everybody that we do appreciate very much the fact that you contact us. You follow us on Twitter. You contact us by phone. You contact us by email. You can reach me via email, Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T but P E-S @C-S-O-S-A, or you can reach me at Twitter, twitter.com/lensipes, and for those of you who contact about us about a lack of programs in September, quite frankly, in terms of vacation and in terms of attending conferences, social media conferences and in terms of sickness, I have not been able to produce a lot of programs. So, if you’re wondering where we’ve been, I’ve been out, and it has been that simple. So, once again, we appreciate the fact that you are interested in the programs here at DC Public Safety Radio, Television, Blog and Transcripts. So, we start off with Chris Kiel. Chris, again, is in charge of the faith-based initiative for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency program. Chris, give me a sense when you’re talking about relapse prevention for women, or first of all, give me a sense of what we need by the faith-based initiative.

Chris Kiel: Sure, Len, thank you for inviting us. And, this is National Re-entry Relapse Prevention month.

Len Sipes Ah!

Chris Kiel: So, it’s a good thing that we’re having this show now.

Len Sipes Okay.

Chris Kiel: Since this is relapse prevention month.

Len Sipes It’s timely.

Chris Kiel: Well, the faith-based initiative is a program, as you know, that was put in place under a former president, President George Bush, and is now being supported by our current president, and the faith-based initiative focuses on helping persons out in the community through a combination of the federal government along with faith-based institutions. So, here at CSOSA, we have partnered with our faith institutions, and that means any faith institution can be a part of this program, and we work with those faith institutions in providing services for our offenders, which at that point they become called mentees. We remove the label of offender, and we call them mentees.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Chris Kiel: And, the mentors who come from the local churches and synagogues and temples work with them in helping them to be able to resolve some of the barriers to reentry. And, so, we also work with service providers here in the city, which are non-profit organizations who provide services as well. So, it’s a wonderful program. We have over 400 persons matched at this current point, meaning . . .

Len Sipes Wait a minute, 400 persons meaning 400 people who were caught up in the criminal justice system?

Chris Kiel: That’s right, matched with a mentor.

Len Sipes Okay, that’s amazing.

Chris Kiel: Yes, we’re very proud of the program.

Len Sipes That is amazing. Four hundred matched . . .

Chris Kiel: Yes.

Len Sipes With a mentor?

Chris Kiel: Yes, with a mentor.

Len Sipes That’s incredible.

Chris Kiel: Yep.

Len Sipes Over what period of time?

Chris Kiel: Over the past year. Our fiscal year . . .

Len Sipes Over the last year?

Chris Kiel: October 2008 . . .

Len Sipes Four hundred? That’s incredible.

Chris Kiel: Since September 30. Yes, we’re very proud of the numbers.

Len Sipes People have been working hard.

Chris Kiel: Yes, yes.

Len Sipes That’s probably more than all of the years combined previous to that.

Chris Kiel: Yes. I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of my agency.

Len Sipes Congratulations, Chris. That’s great, that’s great. You know, because one of the things; this is not the first program that will have a faith-based theme to it, but one of the things that I found, in the past, is that not only is the faith community very dedicated to this concept, it seems to me that people when they come out of the prison system really need other people to surround them, guide them, help them in terms of income taxes, help them in terms of finding clothes for a job interview, help them in terms of how to conduct a job interview, help them in terms of the fact that I want to go back to heroin. I’m sorry I’m getting sick and tired of not being employed. I’m struggling with employed I want to go back to drugs. I mean, to have not only that individual but to have it in the structure of the church or the synagogue or the mosque that becomes what another very famous person involved in the faith-based effort said, sometime ago, “It’s a gang for good.” You know, how offenders get caught up in gangs, well this is the gang for good. This is a gang of individuals who are pro-social.

Chris Kiel: That’s correct.

Len Sipes Who are trying to do the right thing.

Chris Kiel: That’s correct. As you know, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous as well as criminal justice systems, we support and encourage offenders to find new people, places and things. Well, if you go in the yellow pages, you’re not going to see a category that says new people, places and things. And, so . . .

Len Sipes For people out of prison.

Chris Kiel: That’s right or for anyone, for that matter. And, so, what we do with the faith-based initiative is we go out and we pursue those relationships on behalf of reentrance and help to build those relationships. Helping them find new people who are, in fact, role models, new places where they can go for pro-social activities and new things that help them to be able to use their creative skills.

Len Sipes Tasha Chambers you’re one of three city-wide outreach coordinators. You are a facilitator and you run groups. Give me a sense as to what your take is on faith-based.

Tasha Chambers: My take on faith-based, I think it’s a one-of-a-kind program, to be honest with you. We work specifically with the faith institutions, and what you’ll find is a lot of times offenders that are inside of the jails or the prisons are looking to a higher power . . .

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: To get them along the way. But, once they come back into society, they lose that. You know, they get caught up . . .

Len Sipes Why is that? Why do you embrace God in prison and come back out and suddenly God disappears?

Tasha Chambers: It’s kind of, you know, he’s there when I need him. You know, a lot of times preachers even preach about that in church.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: You know, you’ll come to God when things are going bad.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: But you also want to praise God and thank him when things are going good.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: And, so, that’s what we try and, you know, reintegrate with the client . . .

Len Sipes Yeah.

Tasha Chambers: Is that, you know, this is something good to have on the outside too, because it is going to keep you from going back to prison.

Len Sipes You know, so many people caught up in the criminal justice system have told me that the key ingredient; the key ingredient was their faith. Now, again, when we’re talking about faith, we’re a federal government organization, we’re not talking about the Christian faith, we’re not talking about Catholicism, we’re not talking about Buddhism, we’re not talking about Shintoism, we’re not talking about the Muslim religion, the Jewish religion because we don’t care. What we want people to do is to participate.

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh.

Len Sipes So, we’re not trying to push a particular religion . . .

Tasha Chambers: No.

Len Sipes On anybody, and that’s one of the things that I want to make very clear from the beginning because sometimes I’ll get emails basically saying you’re advocating Christianity, but for those individuals who have made that break with drugs, made that break with the lifestyle, as we call it, hanging out on the street, doing; up to no good, not being employed, it was the faith community or their individual dedication to God . . .

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh.

Len Sipes That pulled them out of that morass.

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh. And, that’s what we do with the; it’s called the Order My Steps Women’s Group is the group that I facilitate, and it is a faith-based group. We open with prayer. We end with prayer. It’s a universal prayer because understand that, you know.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: We can’t, you know, pray to anyone particular religion, but yes, we have to; we believe in integrating that piece of faith of God; of belief in a higher power to get you through those tough times.

Len Sipes Uh-huh, which is absolutely necessary, as far as I am concerned, in terms of the hundreds of people that I talk to. Jennifer Gaskins star of radio previously on WTOP Radio here in Washington, D.C. One of the big radio stations in the nation’s capitol and throughout the country, for that matter. You used to be caught up in the lifestyle. You were at one time on supervision. You’re now a mentor. You go back and talk to these young women, older women, in the relapse prevention group. What do you say to them?

Jennifer Gaskins: Well I let them know that faith plays a big part; has played a big part for me. Not just through the rough times but I understand that through the good times too how my higher power is what sustains me.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Jennifer Gaskins: I let them know that it’s possible to get out of that situation, to get out of that lifestyle. It’s not an easy thing, as we’ve said earlier. It’s a day to day thing.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Jennifer Gaskins: But if you stand fast, and you hold on to your faith and you be kind to yourself and take it one day at a time realizing that any situation can come about that can make you relapse or make you have a desire to relapse. But, you hold on to that faith. You hold on to that conscious decision that this is what I want.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Jennifer Gaskins: This is my life. This is how I choose now to live my life because I know that I can live my life this way without being caught up in that so called lifestyle.

Len Sipes I want to go back now to a general conversation of relapse prevention. Now in terms of the CSOSA model, Chris, what we try to do ordinarily is to assess the individual, put the person into drug treatment that deals with that particular person’s issues for being involved in drug abuse, being involved in criminal behavior and then we put them in a relapse prevention group, and so that’s what we’re talking about today. But, you go back to this whole issue from the very beginning of talking to hundreds and hundreds of individuals who are drug addicts, who have been drug addicts who have been alcoholics, and they tell me that every single day of their lives it is a struggle. That once you’ve spent two years with a needle in your arm; two decades; with a needle in your arm, that high, that lifestyle, everything that’s attached to it. Not just the high but the whole; everything that’s attached to it to hanging out, the friends. Everything attached to it becomes so tempting that they’ve got to struggle with it on a day to day basis, and that’s why we do relapse prevention. Correct?

Chris Kiel: That’s correct, and you have to keep in mind that persons who are struggling with an addiction lose a lot of contacts and relationships and support systems. And not only for women, in particular, do they lose all of those variables in their lives, but there are also other barriers for them. They may have lost their children in the process, and so, they have to reunify with their children or reintegrate with their children. And, also, there may be an issue with clothing and food and somewhere to stay and transportation money. There a lot of other variables. And, so, in this women’s relapse prevention group called Order My Steps, one of the things that we do is develop a covenant relationship so that we can support each other. Ms. Chambers is very helpful in terms of being able to provide service providers here in the city who can help to meet some of those needs. In our economy today, it is very hard even for the working person to be able to deal with some of the struggles that we have. But, if you have a history of addiction and not the coping skills to be able to deal with trauma in one’s life, then there is more of a temptation to deal with toxic relationships, to deal with things that you shouldn’t have dealt with in the past.

Len Sipes Most of the women have kids.

Chris Kiel: That’s correct.

Len Sipes Okay. You know, Tasha, it is; I just can’t imagine this. For a male coming out of the prison system, it’s hard enough.

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh.

Len Sipes For a woman to come out, grab her kids from her mother . . .

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh.

Len Sipes Or from her grandmother, reintegrate with the children and figuring out how am I going to support these two children and myself and stay away from the bad influences and find work while that nagging of heroin or cocaine addiction; that nagging, nagging, nagging is with me every day. That’s almost impossible to overcome all of those barriers to getting back on the straight and narrow.

Tasha Chambers: Right, and that’s why we are; what we do in our groups is we match out women with mentors, and these are women from the churches that we partner with, and these are women that come with those same situations. You know, we are all trying to keep our family together. We’re all trying to keep food on the table, and, you know, make sure that the kids have clothes and shoes and book bags and all of these things. And, so, those situations, we try to explain to the women are going to come one way or another. The thing is we have to learn how to cope with them, and so, the women; the clients that come to the program they just deal with the addiction piece as well. So, it is a give and take between the mentor and the client because the mentor can show them this is how I’m coping with the things going on in my household, and let me show you the way, and at the same time, let’s also show you how to stay away from those drugs because in the end, like I said, the situations are going to come.

Len Sipes We have a; we did a conference on women offenders at one point, and Chris, I don’t know if you were there at this one, but one woman got up in the crowd and basically said, “You know, I had an altercation. I had a fight with a woman I live with. This happened last night, and she threatened me and my child and I had to pull a knife, and I had to get out of there as quickly as I possibly could. So, now I’m homeless, and oh, by the way, I’m still dealing with my drug addiction. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have a job. Now what are you going to do for me?” So if people sometimes wonder in terms of parole and probation agencies and in terms of trying to assist women offenders in particular coming out of the prison system, that’s the reality of what it is that we have to deal with.

Chris Kiel: That’s right. It’s almost like peeling back an onion. You have to peel back one layer at a time, and in that particular situation, the first layer would be housing. It’s to get that person stabilized and off the street so that they’re not tempted to go out and meet with their friends who will then encourage them back into a drug situation. The second step would be to get them into a treatment program and give them some support and some wrap around services around them and their children, and then to suggest some alternative ways of dealing with conflict that maybe the person could have called the police. They could have walked outside. They could have called a neighbor, other alternatives in pulling out that weapon to resolve the conflict.

Len Sipes Want to reintroduce everybody. Chris Kiel is in charge of our faith-based initiative here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C. where a federal agency providing parole and probation services. Tasha Chambers is one of three city-wide outreach coordinators and facilitator, and she runs groups as part of the faith-based initiative, and Jennifer Gaskins. Jennifer has appeared in other radio shows, and she; well, used to be under supervision of my agency, and she is now mentoring the young women. Jennifer, I’m going to go straight to the heart and soul of a very, very, very difficult question. I’ve sat throughout my 40 years in the criminal justice system; I’ve talked with a lot of women offenders. The stories they tell are tragic including sexual abuse at a fairly young age. I was astounded when I saw national research that said that this was not an unusual occurrence. In fact, that 67%, if I remember correctly, of women claim a history of sexual abuse and neglect. Not just; I’m not saying 67% were sexually abused, but between that and neglect, they’re coming from some really tough backgrounds. Now, is that correct or incorrect?

Jennifer Gaskins: Well, along the journey I’ve run into women that have come from that particular type of background. But, astonishing not all females have encountered that type of situation. Some of us, for example, have grown up in a stable home.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Jennifer Gaskins: Where there was love and tenderness and guidance and direction, but once we got a certain age, of course, we chose to go to the left as opposed to the right. So, you encounter females that have, in fact, gone through that. But, like I said, astonishingly, not all females that are caught up in the system, that are caught up in drug usage come from that type of background.

Len Sipes Okay, but is that an issue? Because, what I’m saying is this; is that when you’re dealing with addiction, when you’re dealing with addiction of women caught up in the criminal justice system when we’re trying to get to the heart and soul of their addiction oftentimes that seems to be other women have reported to me that that is the heart and soul of their addiction.

Jennifer Gaskins: Yes, and it is, and there’s a loneliness and there’s an emptiness and there’s a need. There’s a desire to be loved, to be cared for, so, you go to the streets. You go to the drugs for the comfort.

Len Sipes You go to the wrong man.

Jennifer Gaskins: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Looking for love in all the wrong places, but you’re looking and you’re seeking and you need this. You know, just to feel normal, just to feel comfortable within yourself because of that particular background and those things that have happened to you, and there you are; you’re there, and you’re stuck and you don’t know how to get out and it winds up being a case of incarceration.

Len Sipes Chris and I came from the Maryland system and this was not based upon a particular study, Jennifer, but we just estimated there was a certain point where the women that we incarcerated not having community supervision but were under incarceration, and somebody said we could probably safely release a third of them, probably many more than that who were involved with a male. The male said, “Run these drugs to New York or I’m going to hurt you and your kid.” And, she’s strung out on drugs to begin with, and she feels she absolutely has no choice because of the laws the way that they’re written and because she’s transporting such a large amount of drugs, she received a good stretch in the Maryland prison system. She was not a danger to society. She was; I mean in the terms of a rapist or a robber or a person going out and committing aggravated assault or murder. She was caught up in a system, and I’m not quite sure a lot of people considered her a danger. We said that if she was let out and received substance abuse and received help, substance abuse therapy and received help with her children and received help with housing and put on a GPS, we could probably safely take a third of the women that we incarcerated and put them out with no negative effect on public safety.

Jennifer Gaskins: I believe that. There are several women well, as you say, a large number of women that aren’t a danger per se a murderer, a robber or whatever to society but have gotten caught up in a relationship. If not the transportation of the drugs, they’ve gotten involved with someone where they’ve acquired an addiction.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Jennifer Gaskins: And having no job, you rely on that person to supply that drug for you.

Len Sipes Or they’re holding his gun or . . .

Jennifer Gaskins: Yes.

Len Sipes Or they’re driving him different places . . .

Jennifer Gaskins: Right.

Len Sipes And you know, being behind the wheel driving him to an armed robbery and somebody dies in that armed robbery that’s felony murder.

Jennifer Gaskins: Yes.

Len Sipes Then that woman is now up for a murder charge.

Jennifer Gaskins: But they get caught up because that particular person or that situation is a means to an end.

Len Sipes So, in knowing all of this, this is the thing that astounds me. I don’t understand, quite frankly, how anybody who comes out of prison without money. Who has two kids. Who has a history of substance abuse. Who has some emotional issues in terms of everything that she’s been through. How does she have a chance in Hades of getting out of that situation and then I think of the faith-based initiative.

Jennifer Gaskins: Yes.

Len Sipes We in government, you know, we’re very limited in terms of what it is we can do, but somebody has got to reach that woman’s soul.

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh.

Len Sipes And, we in government aren’t designed nor equipped or supposed to be reaching for anybody’s soul. We’re; but that’s the heart and soul of this issue isn’t it Chris?

Chris Kiel: Yes. What the faith institutions can do is hug and cry when we can’t hug and cry. As law enforcement personnel, we’re expected to have a certain demeanor, and so, we can’t always be in the position of hugging and crying and being there to assist. But, the faith community can give that. They can help to build self-esteem. They can be there to empower, and they can be there to listen and hear some of the things that, perhaps, we would consider another crime, but yet, the faith community can listen to it and know that that’s part of that person’s history. It’s part of the abuse that they’ve been involved in. And, so, what happens is that the woman begins to trust. They begin to understand. They begin to research solutions to their problems. They become empowered to make a change in their lives.

Len Sipes That concept of empowerment, I mean, it seems, Tasha, almost impossible. As I said to Jennifer, it seems almost impossible for any human being to bounce back from all of those negatives. How does any human being bounce back, yet, I’ve seen the faith community surround that individual when they’re at their lowest and help that person maintain a sense of dignity and help that person see a future. I’m not quite sure how that woman even sees a future, and yet, there are three or four people in the faith community who said, “I will show you how to create that future for yourself.”

Tasha Chambers: Nothing is impossible with God, and that’s what we tell the ladies. There is nothing impossible with God, and so, just like as we latched to these men that, you know, sometimes drive us into these situations and get us locked up and get us into all of this trouble. We have to latch on to God the same way. We have to look to him like he’s our boyfriend or he’s our husband, and we can move that way. So, we start there first with God.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: If you have a belief in a higher power and faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Len Sipes Uh-huh.

Tasha Chambers: And, so, from then on, we do the works, as well. We get them into; we, you know, invite them to attend the churches or the mosques or the synagogues. We . . .

Len Sipes But that’s not necessary, right?

Tasha Chambers: It’s not necessary, no.

Len Sipes I just wanted to be sure.

Tasha Chambers: Oh, okay. Not necessary. Invite, invite . . .

Len Sipes No, no. I’m serious about this because people will write and say you’re promoting religion. No, we’re the federal government, and we’re not promoting religion. I’m serious.

Tasha Chambers: Right.

Len Sipes I’m seriously asking you that question we don’t promote?

Tasha Chambers: No we don’t.

Len Sipes So, when we invite the church that is an optional invite?

Tasha Chambers: That is completely optional for the client, and if they’re not comfortable attending a church or they’re not ready for that yet, we have a whole list of service providers.

Len Sipes Right.

Tasha Chambers: Whether they’re at a community-based agency or they’re at the church. So, we can plug them into a lot of different programs a lot of different services. They have a mentor that they working with one on one. A lot of times CSOs they have 50 to 60 case loads. So a lot of . . .

Len Sipes And those CSOs are the parole and; what most people call the parole and probation agents that what we call them here in the city of Washington, Community Supervision Officers. Go ahead, I’m sorry.

Tasha Chambers: Correct, correct. And, so, they; some clients need that more one on one, you know, to get them through those times. So, they have mentors, they have myself as an Outreach Coordinator, they have Ms. Kiel, they have Jennifer, they have all of these individuals to help them along the way, and at the same time, hopefully, they have faith in God to get them through.

Len Sipes Uh-huh. And if they want to join the Catholic Church, if they want to go to a service at that Mosque, that’s up to them.

Tasha Chambers: It’s completely up to them.

Len Sipes But at the same time, I want to shift back and say it is also equally true that again, I have seen three and four people from the faith community work with that individual, talk to that individual with the course of a half and hour an hour, and it is intense.

Tasha Chambers: Uh-huh.

Len Sipes It is extraordinarily intense. It is, if we could record it, people would have a sense to a human being who is alone. Who is responsible for, generally speaking, a couple of other human beings, i.e. children. Basically saying I can’t do this. I cannot shake my addiction. I can’t get a job. I can’t live on my own. I can’t do this, and six months later, she is doing it.

Tasha Chambers: We just had a group, a matter of fact, on Tuesday night, and we talked about changing our way of thinking. Things that we see are not always how they are, but because we’re so used to thinking things and seeing things a certain way, it’s hard for us to get into another gear. And, so, we did talk about that. The I can’t, I can’t, I can’t; why can’t you do this? What’s stopping you? What are those barriers that you’re seeing that we’re not seeing because, honestly, we see that you can get through this, and the matter is if you want to get through this. You have a want and a need to get through this, then you can, but it really is the freewill of the client. We can be there as a shoulder to lean on, as a resource, etc., but it’s really up to the client if they want to change.

Len Sipes It really is, I mean, one of the things, Jennifer, that I’ve heard from people caught up in the criminal justice system so many times is that it is a very personal decision, and until you make that very personal decision, we in the criminal justice system cannot drag you into conformity. That your willingness to go to drug treatment, your willingness to find work, your willingness to support your kids, your willingness not to commit crime, your willingness not to do drugs is; we can’t force that upon anybody. First, it must be that personal decision.

Jennifer Gaskins: It must be a conscious decision that you make within yourself that this is what I want, and I’m doing it for self. I’m not doing it for my mother. I’m not doing it for my children. I’m not doing it for my father. I’m not doing it for my pastor. I am doing this for myself because it is, in fact, your life that you’re talking about, and once you get to that point where I want this, this is what I really want.

Len Sipes We only have about another minute and a half left in the program, how does a person get to that point. How many times have people told me they were sick and tired of being sick and tired? They were sick of going to jail, sick and tired of substance abuse, sick and tired of being strung out, sick and tired of the family not trusting them, but does it have to be that dire, does it have to be after, you know, you’ve been caught up in this system for years and years. I mean, can that happen when you’re 20? Can that happen when you’re 17? Can that happen when you’re 25?

Jennifer Gaskins: There is no age limit. I think everybody has to reach what is their bottom, and everybody’s bottom is different. Be it the loss of your children, a job, your home; everybody’s bottom is different. But, I think once you get there and we pray that it doesn’t have to be something so devastating to get you caught up in the system before you . . .

Len Sipes But it often is.

Jennifer Gaskins: And it often is, and the reality is that’s when we come into play. That’s when the mentors, the faith based. That’s when we let them know we believe in you, but we want you to also believe in yourself.

Len Sipes Right.

Jennifer Gaskins: And once a person sees that, hey, I’m worth believing in then they start grasping that concept I am worth believing in. I am worth being cared about, and it just takes hold.

Len Sipes You know, it is sort of like the angels of mercy what are in Catholicism, I think, the sisters of mercy. So, you guys end up being the angels of mercy. We have got to close out the program, and first of all, I want to invite the three of you back whenever you want or to bring the people who you are dealing with and let them come back and tell their stories because this is just an amazing transformation. I am so enthused about what I see in regarding the faith-based community. That’s because after 40 years in the criminal justice system, I’ve gotten rather cynical, and I see; I see optimism with the faith-based community rather than the cynicism I see from my fellow members of the criminal justice system who have been around for a while. At our mike friends today is Chris KIEL, in charge of the faith-based program for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Four hundred people this year Chris, that’s a wonderful, wonderful accomplishment. Four hundred people who have been mentored to in terms of the faith-based community. Go ahead.

Chris Kiel: My goal June of 2010 is to have 200 faith institutions signed on to this program. So, if you’re listening in the D.C. metropolitan area, please give us a call at; or email me, and we would love to have you become a part of our program.

Len Sipes What’s the number, Chris?

Chris Kiel: You can reach me at 202-345-4494.

Len Sipes And what I’ll do, I’ll put up the telephone number on the show notes, and also, put in Chris’ email address. That’s 202-345-4495, 202-345-4495. Tasha Chambers what a . . .

Chris Kiel: 94.

Len Sipes Oh, I’m sorry, 449 . . .

Chris Kiel: Four.

Len Sipes Eek; now I have to say that over again, 4494. 202-345-4494, 202-345-4494, and we’ll put that telephone number up in the show notes. Tasha Chambers, one of three city-wide coordinators and the person who runs and facilitates groups, thank you very much for being with us. Jennifer Gaskins, star of WTOP Radio, and thank you very much for coming back and volunteering . . .

Jennifer Gaskins: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes To have at these young women who are struggling with their lives. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Again, we really appreciate the fact that you’re contacting us. Let us know how you feel about the show, suggestions, or criticisms, for that matter. You can reach me at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

-Audio ends –

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders, domestic violence, anger management, corrections, high-risk offenders, GPS, women, offenders

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President’s Stimulus Package-What It Means to the Criminal Justice System-NCJA

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/02/presidents-stimulus-package-what-it-means-to-the-criminal-justice-system-ncja/

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

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our studio in Downtown Washington, DC this is DC Public Safety. I am your host, Len Sipes. A lot of reporters have been calling lately about the stimulus package and what it means to the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system will be receiving approximately $4 billion dollars to the system to improve the system, to improve law enforcement, to improve the entire criminal justice system, to improve the research package. So what I thought I’d do today is to bring on some people who really deal with the criminal justice system authorities, one from the National Criminal Justice Association and we have Cabell Cropper, the Executive Director of the National Criminal Justice Association. We also have back at our microphones, we have Pat Dishman, the Director of the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs. And we also have Kristen Mahoney, the Executive Director for the Maryland’s Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. To come to grips with the $4 billion dollar, approximately $4 billion dollars that we’re getting, the criminal justice system is getting, and what does it mean in terms of crime control? What does it mean in terms of improved public safety? So Executive Director Cropper, I can not pronounce your first name correctly. I’m just going to go ahead and use that. What does it mean? Sum up the whole thing for us, Cabell.

Cabell Cropper: Well, I think the funding that is coming through the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the criminal justice system is intended to support the overall purpose of that bill. And that’s to retain jobs or expand jobs that will allow all components of the criminal justice system to retain programs that could have been lost because of the lack of funding at the state and local level as well as create and expand already existing programs. And that’s really what Kristen and Pat are here to talk about.

Len Sipes: Because they control that money at the state level, and an awful lot of that money is coming to the state level in terms of the discretionary spending, correct?

Cabell Cropper: Right. A large portion, not all of the $4 billion goes to the states, but a large portion of it does.

Len Sipes: Cabell, can you summarize what we’re getting? We’re getting money to hire new police officers. We’re getting money to improve the criminal justice system at the state level. We are getting money for research. Now, again, ladies and gentlemen, it goes way beyond our discussion today. I urge everybody who is interested because there’s a nice list on the website of the National Criminal Justice Association at www.ncja.org and I will be repeating that throughout the program, www.ncja.org because there’s money going for victims’ issues, there is money going for women victimization, victimization issues. There is money there for tribal issues. But we’re going to be talking broadly about all the money that’s coming down the pike today, correct?

Cabell Cropper: Correct. I think the two major programs within the $4 billion dollars are the cops hiring program which is being funded at $1 billion dollars. And the burn JAG program administrator at the state level that’s being funded at the $2 billion portion which is administered by the Criminal State Justice Agencies and a portion of it goes directly to localities. Kristen heads up offices that administer the portion that goes to state agencies to work within the criminal justice system within their states.

Len Sipes: Now, any one of you can come in and basically answer this question, so we’ve had a deficit in terms of spending out of Washington that’s going to the criminal justice agencies at the state level, correct? There’s been a problem. It’s been reduced and reduced dramatically in the last couple of years, correct?

Cabell Cropper: Yes, it was the burn JAG program was set by 67 percent in fiscal year 2008. So the state agencies are really struggling to maintain the programs that they already had underway as well as to implement new programs.

Len Sipes: Okay. And the heart and soul, what I have found in the 40 years that I have been in the criminal justice system, is that money drives everything. Now, feel free to disagree with me, anyone of you, Pat or Kristen, money drives the criminal justice system. It’s not so much, I mean we all went to school, we all studied sociology, or law or criminology and we’re all taught and we all read the research and we all have a pretty good understanding as to what works, what doesn’t work. But if you don’t have the money it doesn’t matter what works. And I get newspaper clippings every day, here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and what I hear is this steady, steady drumbeat of states laying off people, closing prisons, eliminating parole and probation agents, the states are in a dire fiscal situation all throughout this country. So it seems to me two things; A) money drives everything, regardless as to what works, and B) the states are already suffering tremendously.

Kristen Mahoney: Go ahead, Pat.

Pat Dishman: Well, you’re exactly right, Len. You know, we have been struggling at the national level with the BURN program as Cabell talked about and literally that has been going on for seven or eight years, up and down that funding. So it’s very hard to maintain programs or start new programs if you’re in a retrenchment mode or you don’t exactly know where you’re going to be. In the last year, year and a half, the deficits facing the states have really become a problem. And much of that is driven, of course, by the economy and states are different in the way they raise revenue, but I know in our state, Tennessee, because we rely on sales tax revenue for much of the revenue we used to fund our programs and services, because of the sharp decline there, we are looking at a horrible deficit situation.

Len Sipes: And Maryland’s basically the same, Kristen.

Kristen Mahoney: Yeah. For Maryland, I mean BURN and JAG, BURN JAG is driven innovation and collaboration and in places like Baltimore City where that’s a big old city that has a police department annual technology budget of only $80,000 dollars. You know, they rely on this type of discretionary funding to help them keep up with technology. You know, over the last eight years technology has moved forward, CSI, you know, expected and gotten juries to expect better and better technology, but the discretionary fund for local law enforcement has just not kept up.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s funny that you mentioned that because I can’t stand to watch those shows because the reality and what people see on TV are so far apart. It’s silly.

Kristen Mahoney: Right. I mean, generally the locals are good at hiring and retaining but during a depression or a recession like right now, we’re not even so good at hiring and retaining public safety folks. And you can forget overtime. You know, the officers, we’re not having additional presence on the street and we’re actually not filling the vacancies that we have. So all of this kind of comes together for us at the best possible time.

Len Sipes: So, again, to summarize, we have money and I think it’s Cabell, what? Two billion dollars going to the cops program which is to hire new police officers?

Cabell Cropper: One billion to the cops program.

Len Sipes: One billion.

Cabell Cropper: And $2 billion to the BURN JAG.

Len Sipes: Two billion. Okay. And , that’s basically going to put literally thousands upon thousands of police officers on the streets in the various cities throughout the country. From what I understand in the past, under the old cops program, there was a match, a 25 percent match. In this case there is no match, correct?

Cabell Cropper: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. So that is a huge plus. What we’re talking about are literally tens of thousands of police officers going into the cities throughout the country, going into the Metropolitan area, I should say throughout the country. So I think people are going to appreciate that. The other $2 billion dollars, we say the BURN program, in essence that’s money that’s going to go to the states. The states will, in essence, decide what their priorities are. And if those priorities are prosecutorial, if those priorities are corrections, if they’re parole and probation, the states are probably in the best position to decide for themselves what it is that they want to do. And the third would be basically research but the research money is coming out, when I say research, help me and feel free to disagree with me, anybody, that the bulk of the innovation that comes from the criminal justice system comes from the state level in terms of localities trying new and unique and innovative things with partial funding
or full funding from the Federal government. Am I right or wrong?

Pat Dishman: Well, I certainly think that’s a piece of it. And also to echo what you are talking about as far as these different pots of money, the states are really in a position to look at everything whether that’s coming directly from the Federal government through the COPS program or the BURN funds that will come through the states and then be past down to state agencies and locals. One of the things that I think will be the most difficult for us is to balance all of this in. We want to make sure that we don’t, we spread the money out as far as it would go because in this tight budget situation that we’ve been in for the last year and a half, every part of this system is hurting.

Len Sipes: And people need to understand that. I’m not quite sure that everybody fully understands the fact that the criminal justice system in this country is hurting. And hurting badly from not just a couple of years. I mean, people see this as a recession within the last year and a half. Most of the states that I’ve encountered through newspapers reports, through either state line or other sources, this has been going on not just for one or two years in terms of this recessionary period, but four or five or six years and longer that states have been struggling to meet their own budgets. So when that happens that means the criminal justice system does not expand, it actually shrinks. And that means innovation doesn’t take place, correct?

Kristen Mahoney: Right. The BURN JAG money and the Federal support can test specific drug, gun task forces. And those task forces, when those officers come to those task forces, they generally can’t bring their equipment from home. That equipment, you know, needs to stay with their home police department and they’ve got it, something’s got to motivate that collaboration and the location and the equipment that’s needed to go out and serve, you know, 10,000 violent offender warrants. For example, you know, that just doesn’t happen by people coming together and saying we ought to do it. I mean, there’s got to be, there is some real equipment needed.

Pat Dishman: Exactly. And I think back about the program that we did on drug courts, Len. That’s a very good example. We used the BURN JAG money and also some other drug court money that was made available by the Department of Justice, to pile that type of improvement inside Tennessee as we did in lots of states. And it was so successful here that it convinced our legislature to appropriate $3.5 million recurring dollars for drug courts across the state. And we now have 45. So in my mind that worked exactly the way that the BURN JAG can when you’re trying to look at new innovative programs and see whether or not you want to expand them.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s my point in all of this is that I think the bottom line for anybody looking into the stimulus package and anybody looking into the approximately $4 billion dollars that the states are going to get through the federal government is that it is an opportunity to once again develop drug courts. And there’s a uniform research that says that drug courts all over the country are reducing crime. They’re reducing recidivism, they’re making our society safer. So either through innovative police strategies, innovative court strategies, either parole and probation joining with law enforcement or reentry programs to be sure that there is sufficient resources to provide for reentry programs and we can tell through a variety of research that those lower recidivism approximately 20 percent. Now 20 percent doesn’t sound huge, but that, in terms of the fiscal realities for a state, can forestall the building of a prison or two. And more, that means more money going into the elderly, more money going into education and more money going into colleges. If you’re going to look at it from a fiscal reality point of view that this money is the seed money that creates all of that. And I think that that, and feel free to agree or disagree, I think that’s the heart and soul. That this money, the $4 billion stimulus dollars, allows these states to once again become innovators in terms of what’s good for that particular state.

Pat Dishman: I think you’re exactly right and I would another piece to that. Our governor’s office is very interested in looking at all the different pots of stimulus money and the different areas that are going to be covered. For example; education. And how collaborations can happen between those pots. There’s a lot of money there for improvements in education. And, you know, we do innovative things with education. Kris and I think of our school resource officer program. I think everybody is convinced that that’s sound and solid and where we can have it, it helps.

Len Sipes: Right. And you can’t , go ahead, please.

Kristen Mahoney: Another great program that we’ve been able to deal with the BURN JAG money is to fund crime analysts, to assign them to police departments because that’s not something that you learn in the police academy. And rather than take a police officer the street and stick him in front of a computer to map crimes, you know, there are GIS mapping majors coming out of major universities that are in positions to assist law enforcement agencies. And this funding can get us started with a lot of those programs with agencies that want to go in that direction.

Len Sipes: We’re half way through our program and we’re doing this through the osmosis of the National Criminal Justice Association, our fifth program in a series. You can find a full list of all of the stimulus money, the $4 billion dollars broken down piece by piece at www.ncja.org. www.ncja.org, the website of the National Criminal Justice System. The National Criminal Justice Association. Now, Cabell Cropper, the Executive Director of the National Criminal Justice Association is here with us today. Kristen Mahoney, the Executive Director of the Maryland’s Governor’s office of Crime Control and Prevention and Pat Dishman, the Director of the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs. Cabell, I’m going to ask this question to you, because it’s a bit dicey and a bit political, there are people out there who would simply say it’s not the role of the federal government to fund local criminal justice agencies that the overwhelming majority of what we call the criminal justice system in this country is a state function, is a local function. And they’re saying to themselves; A) why is the Federal government giving, you know, supplementing what is in essence a local and state function? Why is my tax paid dollar going to say Baltimore to do crime analysis or to provide a crime analyst or provide innovative policing. And B) what does all this have to do with the stimulus package?

Cabell Cropper: Well, I think that the way that we would answer that is what we’ve said for years about the BURN JAG program, what both Kristen and Pat have said is that it supports innovation. It allows the states to experiment with programs to see what works and then to continue them. The BURN JAG program is structured so that the funding is available for three years for a particular program and by the third year either the federal funding is no longer available for the state, it either picks it up or makes a decision not to because it hasn’t shown its effectiveness. So I think the role of the federal government, in terms of state and local criminal justice, is that of providing you might call a venture capital to try new things, to try new solutions, see what works, to do the research, to provide training. In addition a lot of states are facing criminal justice issues that cross jurisdictions. And so that also invokes the federal role. So I think that, yes, generally crime is, as the saying goes, all crime is local. That there is a definite constructive role for the Federal government and Federal assistance with state and local criminal justice.

Len Sipes: Okay. And ,

Kristen Mahoney: To a degree. I couldn’t agree more with that, Len. There’s no point in all of the states reinventing the wheel. If something works someplace then we certainly need to use what’s already been found out about that and not have to sit down and put time and effort into finding out ourselves.

Cabell Cropper: A prime example of this, Len, is that the drug courts. Drug courts were funded by BURN JAG back in Miami years ago. And proved to be very effective. And now they’re a national, it’s a national program supported by federal assistance, but states and localities have invested a lot of money in the drug court programs and are now branching out into other problem solving type courts. So I think that’s a really good example about federal assistance, a lot of local jurisdiction will experiment with something that became a national model.

Kristen Mahoney: I think one of the emerging trends in policing right now is this concept of intelligence based policing and probably the people that own the most intelligence or data that local law enforcement need to do their job are the states. So, for example, in Maryland, you know, we have the mug shots of everyone that’s gone through prison. We know who are gang members in prisons. We know whose on parole or probation, whether they’re in compliance. We know whether they have children that are in the juvenile justice system. And all of this stuff is data that is not generally accessible at the lower level and using BURN JAG money we’re able to create ways to knock down silos in information and make sure that we get that information to the local level so that they can start targeting offenders who are causing problems in neighborhoods.

Len Sipes: And Cabell, I’m sorry, Cabell, the concept of this being part of the stimulus package. Somebody would come along and say, and I’ve heard this, somebody would come along and say, well, all this is wonderful, you know, I have no disagreement with it. Why is it a part of the stimulus package? We’re trying to revive the economy, not improve criminal justice agencies.

Cabell Cropper: But the response to that is these programs are people based. And so if we can expand or create new programs or retain programs for retaining people on the payroll.

Len Sipes: So what we’re saying is that the quality of the criminal justice system has a direct relationship to the economy?

Cabell Cropper: Correct. Because the criminal justice system is very people dependent.

Len Sipes: Right. And say for cities, it seems very clear to me that as a citizen of the Baltimore Metropolitan area and as a person who grew up and was born and raised in Baltimore City, Kristen, that the health of Baltimore City, the economic vitality of Baltimore City is tied into citizen perceptions as to how safe the city is and tied into investor’s perceptions as to how the safe the city is. To me that’s a pretty straight forward analysis, correct?

Kristen Mahoney: Correct. And when Governor O’Malley was mayor of the city that was how he ran the city and as the Governor of the State of Maryland, he has us committing as many resources as possible to grow the health and safety of the City of Baltimore.

Pat Dishman: Exactly. It’s actually infrastructure capacity building. And when you talk about, you know, whether that is in the form of bridges or roads, Cabell, I agree with you completely, the criminal justice system is very personnel driven and personnel based.

Kristen Mahoney: Yeah. The police have to be able to be responsive to emerging trends, and sometimes those trends happen in hour ten or eleven of their shift. And cities have to be able to keep them on the scene at a homicide or on a scene during an event to protect us. And when we’re in the middle of a depression or a recession, those overtime funds at the local level are not there. So, you know, that’s going to impact, you know, they’re going to have to pay the overtime somehow, so where are they going to take that from within the city budget if we can allocate some of these JAG BURN funds to directed overtime violent initiatives, the violent prevention initiatives, then we’re going to help offset some of the costs within the local government and we’re not going to have to worry about closing recreation centers and offsetting other important city services.

Len Sipes: The bottom line I think, but I’m preaching the choir here, I’m not quite sure that I’m going to appease the critics, is that unless you have say cities, unless you have sufficient money to pay overtime, unless you have sufficient numbers of police officers, unless you have money to try new things to deal with new sets of circumstances, this system is not going to be able to say to anybody in any particular area come invest with us. Come invest your money here. We’re looking forward to the jobs. We’re looking forward to everything that you can bring to our community or to a company that is in a particular city. Look, please expand. I would imagine once again that that person is going to say to himself or herself, you know, this city is just too out of control. I don’t want to do this, I’m going to go to Georgia, I’m going to go to the suburbs, I’m going to go overseas because I just don’t believe that my employees like working here because their afraid to do that, to deal with that. You need sufficient person power. You need sufficient police officers. You need the intelligence. You need the drug courts. You need the parole and probation police cooperative endeavors. You need the reentry programs which cuts recidivism considerably. I’m preaching to the choir here, correct?

Pat Dishman: Well, I think Len, also and Cabell, you can speak to this more than I, there is an accountability piece to this for critics who are looking at, you know, is this a good investment for us and for our tax dollars? And I think we’ve obviously learned some lessons as a system over the last, the country has over the last six months, and we feel and know that the Department of Justice will be making it very clear to us what types of outcome measurement they want and what types of accountability they want for this money that’s going to be passed down in the stimulus bill.

Len Sipes: Cabell, has there been talk about accountability in terms of the follow up to that. Is there urban talk about accountability to make sure the people understand that their tax paid dollars are being spent wisely?

Cabell Cropper: Very definitely. There’s provisions in the bill as Pat said that offsets management and budget that’s established to metrics to measure what’s happening with this money and how it’s contributing to the economic recovery of the country. Now the government’s also setting up a website, www.recovery.gov that will show how the money is being spent and what the results of that funding is.

Kristen Mahoney: And beyond that I think this morning we heard from a number of states where governors in our state, Maryland Governor O’Malley has established the office of recovery stat where we are managing the entire stimulus recovery package, you know, to make sure that we are being held accountable and the funds that are coming to Maryland. We’re getting as much funding as we can to support the state. And the funds that we’re getting re going to justifiable uses that are going to support the initiative of the President.

Pat Dishman: Kristen, that’s great. And, you know, Len, we’ve talked about this before. We don’t ever, as public servants, do a good enough job to let the public know the good things. They only hear about the bad things. And this is going to help, quite frankly, I think this is a really good part of saying what this money is going to be able to do and how it’s going to be able to help the country.

Len Sipes: Well, I think that’s part of this whole series with the National Criminal Justice Association, they are doing their best to basically say this to the public, that there are successful programs. We have measures in place to check out their success. And there are programs that have been extraordinarily successful. We did a program with NCJA a couple of weeks ago dealing with a community in Brooklyn where the courts actually took the lead on the program and they went from one of the highest crime precincts in New York City to one of the lowest crime precincts. That, to me, is a statement that we can make to the citizens of this country, in essence saying that, you know, give us the funding. Let us try different things, let us take a look at what works throughout the country. And we can do, we can provide a certain level of safety. Now, that, on my part, sounds like boosterism. I guess it’s a bit disingenuous because I am part of the criminal justice system, but I personally believe that there
are innovative programs out there that need to be brought in to Baltimore, need to be brought into Portland, need to be brought into Detroit. And this is the money that possibly can do that.

Kristen Mahoney: Yeah. And beyond that, like I’ve mentioned before, Baltimore is poor and there are other poor cities out there. And, you know, the cost of a police radio, $5,000 dollars. The most important piece of equipment a police officer uses every day. And as cities and counties work together to create interoperable systems and build these enormous $700 megahertz systems where everybody could talk to each other seamlessly, those old 450 megahertz radios and 800 megahertz radios don’t’ work anymore. So you’ve got this little baby town that suddenly has found itself, that it’s got to buy 15 new radios. How do you come up with that kind of money? Right? This is a basic reality of running a police department, $5,000 dollars a radio.

Len Sipes: I couldn’t agree with you more. And it’s, again, it’s like reentry programs. They cost money. If you’re going to treat a person, if you’re going to take a person from, whose coming out of the prison system, he or she has a mental health problem. And God forbid a mental health diagnosis for the 16 percent of offenders throughout the country who were coming back, you know, that needs to be treated or the odds are that that person is going to go out and harm another person or will certainly create a problem for citizens and for the criminal justice system. We know through research that you could dramatically reduce recidivism if that individual is treated, but that costs money.

Pat Dishman: Exactly.

Kristen Mahoney: And people, you know, and we’ve got this great technology that can help us figure out stolen cars through license plate recognition. But, you know, do you think that, you know, not to pick on Akron or Toledo or Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, I mean, do you think any of these places have the funds in their budget to do license plate recognition? But their cars, people are getting their cars stolen there. And we have the technology that exists to help find those cars and pay the overtime to use the technology.

Len Sipes: Right. And just think about that for a second. We have, as you just mentioned, it’s a wonderful example, the technology to just set up in any particular section of the city, to run the license plates through a computer and pull the people over with stolen cars. And we can recover a gazillion stolen cars in a very short amount of time. That’s a big bang for technology, but the question is can the individual jurisdictions and individual states afford it? And everything that I’ve been reading over the past, over the course of the past five years, is not acquiring that technology, but it’s simply holding on to what you have.

Pat Dishman: Right. Installing it and maintaining it. So any kind of technology purchase is going to have an economic impact in a locality because somebody’s got to get up on a light post and hang that camera. And somebody’s going to have to maintain it. And those are generally not police officers. It goes back to your point, Len, of what it looks on CSI, it’s not what it’s really like.

Len Sipes: Oh, I can’t stand CSI. I can’t stand those shows.

Pat Dishman: They’re fake.

Len Sipes: I know and it drives me absolutely crazy because people say, is real life anything at all like that? And my response is, my heavens no. Not even close. No, we have wonderful technology in terms of criminalities. Again, the question becomes how many people do you have, how well are they trained, how well can you maintain that crime lab? Do you have 24 hours coverage? Do you have the vans? Do you have – you know, it goes on and on and on. These sort of things cause money, enormous sums of money as somebody just said. And without the money you can’t do it. It’s just as simple as that. So if anybody wants to get a full blow by blow description of the entire, approximately $4 billion dollar stimulus package again, our friends at the National Criminal Justice Association, www.ncja.org has the complete list and Cabell Cropper, the Executive Director of the National Criminal Justice system has been by our microphones today. Back at our microphones. And it’s really a pleasure to have her back,

Pat Dishman, the Director of the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs. And Kristen Mahoney, the Executive Director of the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention who helps keep me safe as a citizen of Baltimore County. I thank you all. Any final words that we need to say to finally summarize this whole concept besides sending people to the website at the National Criminal Justice Association?

Cabell Cropper: That’s what were there for, to provide whatever information we can direct people to where the resources are.

Len Sipes: And you guys, quite frankly, have been the leader at the national level in terms of being sure that there is money for the state and local criminal justice systems, Cabell. And so you all can feel very good about quite a victory in terms of convincing the new administration and the members of Congress who support this. So congratulations to you guys.

Cabell Cropper: Well, thank you. I’ll take some of the credit but not all of it. Members like Kristen and Pat are really the ones that get the job done with their delegations here in Washington.

Len Sipes: And they’re the ones ,

Pat Dishman: And that’s an issue there, Cabell. (Laughs).

Kristen Mahoney: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And they’re the ones who also at the same time lobby their own members of the Senate and the House in terms of what it is they could do if they had money. So we’re appreciative to all the directors of the criminal justice programs, office of crime controls throughout the entire country. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Feel free to give suggestions and input as you’re doing on a constant basis. We respond to all of your suggestions, to all of your input in terms of how to make the program better. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Meta terms: Stimulus, COPS, police, law enforcement, criminal justice, leadership, professional development, crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison

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Faith and Community-Based Reentry and Jobs Program:US Department of Labor

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2008/04/us-department-of-labor-faith-based-reentry-and-mentoring/

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

– Audio begins –
Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Back at our microphones for a second time is Scott Shortenhaus. Scott is the Executive Director of the Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives, with the US Department of Labor.

One of the things that the US Department of Labor, in conjunction with the US Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies have done over the course of the last six years, is to fund approximately 30 programs, all throughout the country, and these are community-based programs, and faith-based programs. They are not through the mayor’s office. They are not through the governmental entity. They are not through the Department of Corrections. They are not through the police department. They are community organizations, and they are faith-based organizations, and what they have done after those six years is to come up with a lot of results, and that is one of the reasons why we have Scott at the microphone this morning.

Scott, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Scott Shortenhaus: Thank you, Len, it’s great to be with you.

Len Sipes: Alright. We did another program, and we have to summarize that program just a tad, the first program we really just focused a lot on this issue of faith-based organizations and what it is that they do, and their roles, and what is appropriate and what is not. And just to summarize, we basically said that what is more important to a community in terms of its reputation, in terms of its standing in the community than a faith-based entity, and whether it is a Catholic church, a southern Baptist congregation or whether its an Islamic initiative, whether it’s coming out of the synagogue, these are organizations that have the trust of the community. So, if they get up and say that this is something that we should do, generally speaking there are thousands of people who would follow, is that correct?

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s correct, and having the safeguards in place to make sure there is no abuse on federal dollars, but the more important part is they exist in the community, they have this very compassionate vision, and they are able to produce some very good results, and it’s just good public policy.

Len Sipes: And one of the things that we are going to talk about is some of those lessons learned today in this program, in terms of the faith-based organizations, the community-based organizations and what it is that we’ve learned from that experience, but did , and, again, another point that we need to summarize that we are insistent. The Department of Justice and the Department of Labor and the federal government is insistent and our experience, both yours and mine, has been that most of the religious organizations, if not all of the religious organizations, will adhere to that. They cannot insist that the person come to church. So, if they are mentoring an offender who comes out of the prison system, and it’s a southern Baptist church, they cannot insist that person partake in their tenants or their beliefs to service that individual. So, the person can go to that Catholic church and be from the Islamic faith and receive all the services on the face of the earth, and there is no pressure to embrace the tenants of that particular religion, correct?

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s correct, Len, they cannot discriminate based on religion, on their entrance into the program, and then we also put the safeguards in to make sure that any inherently religious activity is offered at a separate time and location, and there is no condition that they participate in that in order to receive the services.

Len Sipes: And we both acknowledge that it’s not going to satisfy the critiques that believe in a staunch separation of church and state, that we are still going to have our critics on that particular point, and we move on from there.

Okay, so one of the things, in terms of today’s discussion, the second discussion is going to be on the lessons learned in terms of, again, the faith-based organizations, the community organizations and how they interact with the larger political structure, how they interact with the larger governmental structure, because we in the Criminal Justice System, we have a problem. We think we are in charge, and we’re not in charge of anything. It is the communities and themselves that make those decisions. It is community leadership. It is in many cases faith-based leadership that makes those decisions and sometimes we are not jumping up and down for joy that now that this church, this Islamic center, this synagogue suddenly has this power to make decisions about what is happening in this particular community, correct.

Scott Shortenhaus: Correct, and I would like to just address that a little bit from the angle of the president’s reentry initiative, if you think that would be okay.

Len Sipes: Sure, of course.

Scott Shortenhaus: What we’ve done, is that the president announced his Prison Reentry Initiative in his 2004 State of the Union, and from that the Department of Labor has funded 30 faith-based and community organizations all across the country that are providing job placement, job training, mentoring and providing other services to returning adult ex-offenders, ages 18 and up, and what we’ve done also is that the Department of Justice has provided grants for services for these men and woman, pre-release. The pre-release activities include case management, vocational training, transitional plans, risk and a needs assessment and things like that. The results that we are seeing are very encouraging. Nearly 12,900 people, over 12,900 men and women have been served by these organizations and over 7900 have been placed into the jobs and the recidivism rates at one-year post release are less than half the national average.

Len Sipes: That is incredible. That is a wonderful result. That is not the norm.

Scott Shortenhaus: And we are very proud of that, that these organizations are proving that they are helping to provide some very good results, and so what we’ve seen is that we are kind of creating mini marriages at the local level, in 30 different communities in the country, between the Criminal Justice agencies, the State Departments of Correction and faith-based and community organizations, many of whom have not worked together before, and you know, I think in developing these relationships we are realizing a couple of things. In creating our relationships and functional partnerships, you have to realize what’s in involved in both institutions. I think that institutions have to realize the great strengths that faith-based and community organizations ,

Len Sipes: Institutions, meaning government and bureaucracy.

Scott Shortenhaus: Yeah, government, the state correctional facilities, local prisons and things like the police department, but also faith-based community organizations have to realize the great worth that the correctional departments, the police department’s, Parole and Probation, bring to the reentry process, itself, and that they are all working towards the same goal. You know, what we are looking at here, and what we are seeing is that there has been a real kind of class of cultures here. A lot of these organizations want to work behind the wall and to create these relationships. Statistics have shown that if you create these relationships with these men and women before they are released, it can be far more effective, but you’ve got clashing cultures. They don’t speak the same language. You’ve got to follow the rules. When they say, be here at noon for an appointment, and you show up at 12:30, that creates a lot of havoc and you are seeing that in working together there is a clash in cultures, and you have to work through these in order to have a working relationship.

Some of the things that we have seen which are very effective is creating a seamless transition plan. So, if you have reentry specialists from the Department of Corrections, working with parole and probation, working with these faith-based community organizations and not having three plans, but having one plan, where everybody knows what is going on with this offender, and everybody is on the same page, and what role each is providing, it is incredibly effective and it seems like a basic thing, but it is often times we are working in silos here and not working against each other, but we don’t even know what the others are up to. So meeting with these institutions, creating these seamless transition plans, can be affective.

We’ve also worked with some of the courts, and some of the parole and probation services to where they have created such a great relationship that it is a condition of their supervision that they participate in certain of these organizations that they share information. I think it’s also important, and results are very important for us, Len, in that everybody is accountable for their program. The faith-based organizations can track results and can show that the parole and the probation and the facilities, they can show us, this is what we are doing and here are the results.

Len Sipes: Obviously, from the results of the program, and the results are what make it or break it in terms of our ability to tell citizens that this is a potent combination. On the first program, you mentioned that if they are in mentoring, and when I say mentoring, it could be three people on one offender. It could be a one-on-one relationship. There are wide varieties and forms of mentoring, but if they are mentored, they stay and they get the job, and stay in the job. If they are mentored, they recidivate at a much lesser rate than the everybody else, so you are bringing data to the table that certainly indicates that this is a potent sort of thing, and we within the criminal justice system have got to get over ourselves. We’ve got to work in cooperation with these community-based organizations, with these faith-based organizations, and develop that seamless plan that you are talking about. But even in government, that seamless plan does not exist. You know, even if you have the same agency, and I was in Maryland for 14 years and the Division of Corrections really did not really talk much to Parole and Probation. They are in the same department, in the Maryland Department of Safety, but there is not a lot of conversation that is going on between the two. So, that sense of a seamless plan involving community-based and faith-based organizations, that’s a tough row to hoe.

Scott Shortenhaus: Right, and we are not saying that it’s easy. We know that there are a lot of barriers to that happening, but we have seen it happen. We have seen it happen in many of the 30 communities, and it is possible, and when it is done, I think that’s in the best interest of the men and woman that are returning so that they don’t have, you know, three different plans that they are trying to juggle on top of returning to their family and finding a job and finding housing. It’s much better for the offender when these institutes can work together.

Len Sipes: What happens? What are your points that we were talking about drawing out different points and lessons learned in terms of the community-based organizations and in terms of the faith-based organizations. What do you think are the key points?

Scott Shortenhaus: Some of the key points, I think, and are you speaking in terms of what services they provide?

Len Sipes: How are the lessons learned? I mean, you know, if I’m representing the governmental bureaucracy, dealing with ex-offenders and somebody says, well, we are going to give $600,000 to the Roman Catholic Church, and my first response is to moan and groan, and you know, these faith-based and community organizations don’t know how to manage a dollar, they don’t know how to do these contracts, and are they going to cause me an endless amount of grief. It’s the uncertainty of that relationship, and obviously you have been successful. The US Department of Labor has been successful in terms of creating those relationships, helping those relationships start, for the lack of a better word, or to be successful, so what are the key lessons learned from doing that?

Scott Shortenhaus: Sure, I think some of the key lessons learned that we have seen with these organizations and their ability to produce good results is mentoring, which we covered in the previous program, and job placement and training. But it’s also leadership buy-in. I think that when you look at correctional facilities working with faith-based community organizations, the leadership buy-in has to be there on both ends and the folks have to know that this is a priority or our warden, from our secretary, from our director, and on the faith-based community organization side, it’s a priority from our executive director that they work together.

And second, and I think this is very, very important, and that is that seamless case management is a necessity.

Len Sipes: Explain case management.

Scott Shortenhaus: Sure. Sure. A case manager might be when they return to the community, and in the faith-based community side of things, it’s a person that kind of helps to navigate this person and navigates their transportation, navigates their , you know, it’s the person that kind of shepherds them through the program in order to find a job or to stay out of prison, and sometimes, in parole and probation, it can be a case manager and in many ways they have got conditions that they are supposed meet, and sometimes behind the wall, we have reentry specialists, and so these are a different sort of case managers.

Len Sipes: In figuring out who this person is, analyzing this person from a criminal history point of view, and from a needs point of view, so that we can say that the guy is on his third burglary, he is 35 years old, he has a substance abuse history, and he doesn’t have much in the way of a job background, and these are the different things that we are going to have to focus on, and we have to hold him accountable for his behavior while out of the community, but at the same time, he really needs job development. He really needs substance abuse therapy and counseling when he gets into the community, and by the way having a mentor would be a wonderful thing for this person. So that’s basically case management.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So, any other lessons? We have to do case management. Everybody has got to understand the strengths that everybody brings to the table, anything else?

Scott Shortenhaus: On thing is, we have to figure out the accessibility. Once you identify who the players are in the community, these entities, these faith-based and community organizations, and there are many that exist in every community. We are funding 30 through the present Prison Reentry Initiative, but here in Washington DC alone, there are dozens and dozens of organizations that provide services to men and women returning from prison.

Len Sipes: Right, and we have our own at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have our own faith-based coalition, and we are working with faith organizations throughout the city, and it’s a powerful component.

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s fantastic. And once you identify these entities, then you have to figure out how we provide them access to these men and women before they are released. How are the facilities identifying the men and woman that are returning. Are they alerting them when they are two months out, four months out, six months out? When is the community notified that this man or this woman is returning, and then second of all, how do we match up the faith-based community organizations with these men and women.

You know, I was talking to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections a couple of days ago, and they said, “Mondays from 3-4 is when the community can show up and they can , you know, we give them a list of the men and women that are returning, and they can make these connections at this time,” so there are different ways to do that, but we have to figure out a way to provide access and I think that comes from relationships.

Len Sipes: Now, we are halfway through the program and we haven’t even hit the job component of it yet, and we have to start focusing on that on the last half of the component, but let me give me your name, telephone number and website address.

Scott Shortenhaus, Deputy Director for the Center of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, US Department of Labor. Scott’s telephone number is (202)693-6459. They have a website at the Department of Labor which is www.dol.gov/cfbci.

Scott Shortenhaus: CFBCI. Center for Faith Based Community Initiative.

Len Sipes: Okay, jobs. I did Jail or Job Corp kids a billion years ago, and I found this. Job Corp was a wonderful initiative that basically offered individuals their education, getting their GED, getting their plumbing certificate and buying them their tools and really doing a comprehensive assessment as to who what person was and providing that person with the wherewithal to go out and get work. Now, here is my assessment of my experience, in my one whole year at Job Corp, which was the hardest job I ever had in my life, and that’s including security and law enforcement. It is that one-third understood their circumstances and embraced that job, embraced that job training and that job opportunity. One-third were on the fence, and one-third you couldn’t reach regardless of the circumstances.

So, just because you have an opportunity does not mean that people embrace it, and that becomes the difficulty of this whole issue of placing people in jobs, does it not?

Scott Shortenhaus: Yeah, and that’s true. It can be a challenge, but there is no doubt that when men and women return, one of their biggest needs is finding a job.

Len Sipes: You sit down with that offender, and it’s like, “Mr. Sipes, yeah, I need to get my GED, but not now.”

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And, “I need drug treatment, but not now. I need to get a job. I have to get a job with a future,” and that’s what 90% of them will tell you upon release from prison.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and often times, Len, one of the best social services can be a job. It can be the structure that a job provides, with others, etc, etc.

Len Sipes: And we all understand that. What was your experience in terms of your 30 sites throughout the country? You said that most of them found jobs, and most of them kept the jobs.

Scott Shortenhaus: Most of them found the jobs, and most of them kept the jobs, and I think in order to find out why they were successful, we have to take a step back and see where we came from in this area.

When we were developing the Ready for Work Program, we sat down and did a focus group with employers. We did two focus groups with employers, and we said, we are developing programs that are going to help retrain men and women, and what will help you hire these men and women as they return to the community? Is it the Federal Bonding Program? Is it the Work Opportunity Tax Credit? What is it?

Len Sipes: And we have not even touched the bonding programs and the tax initiatives. Maybe we can come back and do a third program on those two issues.

Scott Shortenhaus: We could. They said that it was none of that. They said, “This is the heart of how and why we would hire these men and women. We need somebody that can vouch for them, that can say “˜we have come alongside of them,’ a faith-based community organization, maybe it’s a mentor, or other people that can say when it’s 9:05 and that person has not shown up, they can call an organization and say, “˜Scott’s not here. Where do we go?'” Business are in the business of meeting their bottom line.

Len Sipes: Of course. They are not social service entities. They are there to make a profit.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and many of them said, they would be willing to take a chance on hiring a person, and giving that person a second chance, someone that has a criminal background.

Len Sipes: But come to me and tell me that this guy is truly ready to work.

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s exactly right. They said, “We can teach them the hard skills. We can teach them how to build a house, and we can teach them how to ,”

Len Sipes: Right, lay concrete.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and in any and all of those jobs. It’s give me an organization that can work with these men and women coming out that can provide them life skills, soft skills and ways to interact with coworkers, how to dress for the job, how to communicate with a boss.

Len Sipes: You just cannot tell the boss to go pound sand. That’s not going to aid in your job retention.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and that is often times that some of those life skills trainings are some of the things that the faith-based community organizations can excel at.

Len Sipes: Absolutely, and such a key issue. You can take a person who has spent 40 years working, who volunteers to help this individual and when this individual comes back and says, “You know, the boss is on my derriere. I’m getting sick and tired of it,” he or she can tell them how to deal with that particular individual. Wouldn’t we all love to have that support system out there. I need it from time to time, and I would imagine most of you people need it from time to time. But, I mean, that’s the heart and soul of this.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and let me just tell you a little bit about how these organizations have set up their employment programs. Oftentimes, you will have two different positions within these organizations. One, is a training specialist who is responsible for operating the classes, for developing the curriculum, helping these men and women be prepared for jobs, and that training specialist works hand-in-hand with a job developer, and their job is to work in the community, and oftentimes in high-growth and high-demand jobs, who knows full well the laws and regulations about hiring people with criminal backgrounds, and construction is a great field, and sometimes healthcare is not. So, to know that, and to navigate that, and then to work these employers to sell them on hiring men and women that are coming back.

I mean, it’s important to know that these organizations are providing a valuable resource for employers. The cost of turnover is extremely high, and we have on our website a Cost of Turnover worksheet, where a faith-based organization can work through what the cost of turnover with an organization or business.

Let me just give you an example. A couple of years ago, Steve Wing of CVS told me this story.

Len Sipes: CVS, the drugstore?

Scott Shortenhaus: CVS, the drugstore. They ran an ad here in the Washington Post for flat tax and things like that. They spent about $50,000 in advertising and got zero job applicants. They met with the pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church here, Reverend Edmonds, and he said, “Well, why don’t you just do a job fair at my church,” and Steve thought about it and decided to do it, and over 250 people showed up for the job fair. More than 100 were hired, and at least half or more of them stayed on the job for a good portion of the time. These organizations can be wonderful resources for employers, especially when you look at the cost of job turnover. So, for them to know their niche and to know the industries that they can go to and say, “We’ll provide you with a good workforce,” where they’ve got a mentor, and they are receiving life skills, and they are eager to work, because these men and woman want to work and stay out of prison.

Len Sipes: The funny thing about it is that there is no doubt about that. I believe that they all are sincere. I mean, you know, the criminal lifestyle is just a terrible, terrible lifestyle. I don’t care what the movies say. I don’t care what the videos say. I don’t care what the music says. The criminal lifestyle, being in the game, being part of the lifestyle as everybody puts it, is just death, and self-destruction, and everybody attached to the Criminal Justice System knows this, so if the individual can come out of prison and have that support group and have meaningful jobs, and hopefully something that will give that individual a future, that is leaps and bounds better than the life they knew previously, but breaking from that life that they knew previously, sometimes that is the biggest barrier that we have to deal with.

Scott Shortenhaus: Absolutely, and I think this touches on something that we talked about last program, and I’m not going to get into it now, but the combination of employment, job skills, job training and job placement, with mentoring, where you are providing these men and women with the support that they need to navigate the job, to navigate the transit system, to navigate family reunification, can be a very potent combination that we really believe in at the Department of Labor.

Len Sipes: How do you train individuals, because part of this involved training, did it not?

Scott Shortenhaus: Some of it in the department does involve training, and I think what you will see is that with very different organizations and 30 different markets across the country, you are going to see different training in different areas, so really these organizations are forming training programs, according to the employers they have marketed with and have networked with. So, our Des Moines site might have a very different training program than with our Brooklyn site and than our San Diego sites, so it really varies across the board.

Len Sipes: But in many cases, you don’t have to, and boy I am going to get letters on this one, you don’t have to have a bricklaying background to be a bricklayer’s apprentice. You don’t have to have a plumbing background to be a plumber’s apprentice. And, there are unions out there, throughout the country, that provide these sort of apprenticeship programs, and also pay them while they are going through the apprenticeship program. You don’t have to know how to lay concrete which is one of the most physically demanding jobs on the face of the earth. Somebody will teach you how to do that, so we are talking about job training, and in many cases as one employer said to me, “Tell them to show up, shut up and do what we tell them to do, and we can lead them to a great career,” but they’ve got to be willing. The biggest thing is show up and learn and pay attention and we’ll take care of the rest.

Scott Shortenhaus: That’s exactly right, and many of these faith-based community organizations are great at taking somebody who is returning, and making them job ready and preparing them through mock interviews, preparing them through “dress for success” programs, preparing them with life skills training, and to be ready on that job. And, when they show up, they can learn how to lay bricks, lay concrete, build houses, as you mentioned, and do whatever it is, manufacturing, etc. Whatever it is, in the industries they are being trained for, the employers are willing to provide the hard skills training.

Len Sipes: Yeah, and so they don’t have to go to the community college for two years. They don’t have to go to an organization for six months. In many cases, what these employers are saying and I’m probably repeating myself unnecessarily, but what they are saying is, “Just give me a person with a strong sense of work. Just give me a person that has the right attitude and is willing to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and is willing to be out there in the dead of winter and the heat of summer,” and that person can make, within the first year, $40,000 a year, and it’s all uphill from there, and we can work that person from the day he or she comes along until the next 20 years. So, there are ways out that don’t involve an enormous amount of money.

Scott Shortenhaus: And what we’ve seen also is that oftentimes many of these organizations have wonderful reputations within the communities that they are existing in, but the best selling point can sometimes be just one or two good participants where the employer says, “I’ll take a chance on a couple and see how it goes,” and then these participants are good workers, that they show up to work every day on time, they do a great job, they work well with their colleagues, and all of a sudden word of mouth spreads and this employer will not only employ more but he will talk to other people within their sector and they will start to take folks from these programs and success can build on itself.

Len Sipes: Scott, there is so much that we need to talk about. We did two programs and there is just so much more to cover. You are a very interesting interview, and I really appreciate you being with us today. Scott Shortenhaus, and he is the Deputy Director of the Center of Faith Based and Community Initiatives with the US Department of Labor, telephone number of (202)693-6459, and the website for the US Department of Labor, in terms of this initiative, is www.dol.gov/cfbci. Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Have yourselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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Parole and Probation Officers

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

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

This television program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2010/05/parole-and-probation-officers/

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

– Video begins –

Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. You know, in the United States of America on any given day there are seven million people under correctional supervision. But, probably what you don’t know is the fact that four of those seven million are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies. Well, what is parole and probation? What happens on a day to day basis when a person is assigned to a parole and probation agency? What do parole and probation agents do? To examine that question, we’re going to look at it from the eyes and perspective of what happens here at the District of Columbia. To talk about it, we’ve got two principals with us today. We have Jemell Courtney and Alexander Portillo, and to Courtney and Alexander welcome to DC Public Safety. Okay, Alexander the first question goes to you. What is parole and probation? How do you explain parole and probation to the average person?

Alexander Portillo: Okay. Probation has been granted by the court””by the D.C. Superior Court, and the parole is granted by the Parole Commission for those people who have been incarcerated for quite some time.

Leonard Sipes: And a lot of people get that mixed up. Probation is when the judge says, okay, we’re not going to send you to prison, but what we are going to do is put you under supervision for a certain amount of time.

Alexander Portillo: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Parole is when you come out of prison.

Alexander Portillo: Right.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. The interesting thing in the District of Columbia is that now individuals serve 85% of their sentences. So, people who violate the law within the District of Columbia, they go to federal prison, and federal prison means serving 85% of that sentence. But the last 15% of that sentence they have to report to us.

Alexander Portillo: Right.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and Jemell, tell me about this. You supervise individuals. Both of your are community supervision officers and other places throughout the country they’re call parole and probation agents but here in the District of Columbia we call them community supervision officers. So, you encounter this individual say how often if you’re in general supervision?

Jemell Courtney: Anywhere between once a week to once a month.

Leonard Sipes: Right. So, it could be up to four times a week, and in some case loads it could be higher than that.

Jemell Courtney: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: And drug testing””we drug test the dickens out of offenders in the District of Columbia.

Jemell Courtney: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. You are with the TIPS unit.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s really unique because all of these individuals coming out of the prison system, you’re supposed to get that file months in advance. I know you don’t get it months in advance, but you’re supposed to get it months in advance, and from that you put together a prescriptive plan whether the offender needs medication, needs to go into drug treatment, needs to have mental health treatment. One time I did an article where folks from your unit had to deal with a massively obese person and find housing for that person coming out of the prison system. What you do is really interesting and very difficult.

Jemell Courtney: Yes it is, and housing, I’m glad you brought that up. Because housing is very difficult for some of the offenders that don’t have anywhere to go once they’re released from the halfway house or prison. So, it’s kind of difficult trying to find them housing.

Leonard Sipes: Now, people need to understand who are watching this program that the District of Columbia we have some of the most expensive housing in the country. So, if you’ve burnt your bridges with your family members, and they’re mad at you, and they don’t want you back in your home, the only alternative for that offender is to go to a halfway house.

Jemell Courtney: Correct or transitional housing and we use the shelter as a last resort.

Leonard Sipes: Right, but finding housing for that individual is part of your job.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Finding drug treatment is part of your job. Finding mental health treatment, dealing with a woman offender– female offender coming out and dealing with the fact that she has kids with her mom. Those are all things you have to deal with.

Jemell Courtney: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s complex and that’s difficult. Correct?

Jemell Courtney: Yes, it is very complex.

Leonard Sipes: Alexander the day to day supervision of offenders. Now I know you’re in the domestic violence unit, but let’s talk about supervision in general. When you’re dealing with individuals whether they be on parole or whether they be on probation, your job is to both supervise them and to get them into programs.

Alexander Portillo : Right.

Leonard Sipes: Tell me about that.

Alexander Portillo: Okay. Well, I work for the Domestic Violence and Prevention Program, so, I don’t supervise the offenders that are on domestic violence.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Alexander Portillo: What happens is, is that domestic violence officer refers them to our program.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Alexander Portillo: And then we teach them to deal with situations in a healthy way with alternatives to violence because a lot of these offenders are – this is what they know and this is what they grew up in””violence. So, we try to change that thinking. We try to change the way they do things. Which is a pretty hard job, but we’ve gotten positive results.

Leonard Sipes: Now when I talk to people and either one of you can come in and answer this question. When I talk to people about that we call it cognitive behavioral therapy or thinking for a change, we called it in another state that I was with, and people are astounded when I say that in terms of domestic violence you can’t hit your wife.

Jemell Courtney: Right.

Leonard Sipes: You can’t raise your fist to your wife. You can’t raise your fist to your kids. You can’t do that. That’s not what we find acceptable within society. So, a lot of individuals they find that difficult to deal with.

Alexander Portillo: Right. Well, when you have the same pattern for your whole life, then it is kind of difficult to break away from that pattern. So, what we teach them is that recognize the cycle of violence. To break away from that cycle of violence and maybe they can have a healthy relationship with their spouse, family member or whoever may be on the street.

Leonard Sipes: But, so much of what it is that we do, and again, either one of you can answer this or talk about it, this goes from you can’t raise your fist to your wife, certainly you can’t hit your wife or significant other, but in terms of jobs, how to prepare for a job, how to deal with individuals while you’re on the job. Again, we supervise the dickens out of people on a day to day basis. We have fairly low case loads here in the District of Columbia. But, trying to get people in the programs, and trying to help them overcome some of the deficiencies in their lives. People don’t understand how the issue is, is that, you know, you have to go to work everyday. You have to show up on time everyday. You have to be pleasant every day. I mean, that’s one of the things that we deal with in terms of either your unit in terms of bringing them in fresh from the prison system or the domestic violence. It’s part of a process of getting people to understand that there is a different way of doing things.

Jemell Courtney: And you get a lot of resistance. A lot of offenders don’t want to go into programs and treatments. So…

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Jemell Courtney: That’s an area that’s very difficult with a lot of the offenders.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and their sense is that I’m fresh out of prison in terms of your unit, Jemell. They’re fresh out of prison I don’t want to be bothered by all of this.

Jemell Courtney: Correct, and, then they don’t want to go into treatment right after they are released from the halfway house because they feel like they just left a confined environment. So, we have to try to do our best to convince them that it would benefit them in the long run.

Leonard Sipes: And how do you do that? I mean in some cases it almost comes down to the point of I’m sorry, you’re going.

Jemell Courtney: Individual counseling usually works…

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jemell Courtney: With most of the offenders. Once you sit down and talk to them and get to the core of the problem, and then the results are usually easy to come by.

Leonard Sipes: Now people need to understand that they come in, the offenders come into the office all of the time. But, at the same time, you’re out in the community. Half of our””the requirement here at the Court Services Supervision Agency is that half of those contacts need to be made in the community. And, many cases, surprise visits to their places of employment or to their home. Right?

Alexander Portillo: Right. What people need to realize that this is not a desk job. We are out in the community. We either do home visits, we have to check on the programs. We go do work verification visits. So, we’re not in the office. We’re out in the community so that they can see us. That we’re out there checking on them to make sure they do what they’re supposed to be doing.

Leonard Sipes: Part of this – I mean we’re formally a federal law enforcement agency. But it’s interesting because part of us we wear a badge, we wear a bullet-proof vest, but we don’t have guns. We go into high crime neighborhoods and some of the buildings we go into are pretty dicey. But yet, in many cases, you go in there by yourself. You’ve got a jacket that says CSOSA. You’ve got a bullet-proof vest and you wear a badge, but you’re not a law enforcement officer nor do you carry a gun. But, yet, you still go into these tough high-crime neighborhoods. To me that would be scary, I’m sorry. From my six years of law enforcement to go into a tough neighborhood to deal with an individual who has committed an act of violence. To go in there unarmed, people need to understand that’s what we do day in and day out.

Alexander Portillo: Right. We have to understand that we do work with difficult people, but you have to understand that if you show them respect, they’re going to show respect back to you.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So, that’s the key isn’t it? The building that sense of respect with the individual regardless of their background.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Building that rapport””building that rapport with a family, building that rapport with the friends, building that rapport with an employer.

Jemell Courtney: Correct. And, some police officers do accompany the CSOs on home visits.

Leonard Sipes: Right, called accountability tours.

Jemell Courtney: Right, for the high-risk offenders.

Leonard Sipes: Right. So, that happens 11,000 times a year. That’s amazing to me. But the 11,000 times with the police officer it’s, I think, something like 45,000 times a year without the police officer where you go out in the community. So, as Alexander said you’re out there all of the time.

Jemell Courtney: Yes, correct, we are a lot.

Leonard Sipes: Do you feel afraid when you do this?

Jemell Courtney: No, I don’t.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Alexander Portillo: I go from southeast to northeast to northwest and I’ve never felt afraid, and like I said earlier, it’s about the respect. You know, if you show them that””treat them like people then they’re going to react like people.

Leonard Sipes: The average person sitting here watching this program is essentially going to say to themselves, do you protect my public safety. Do you protect my safety not my public safety. Do you protect me? Do you protect my family? Do yo protect my kids? Do we?

Alexander Portillo: Sure we do. In the domestic violence, we have to contact the victim. So, we have to assure that the victim is safe.

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Alexander Portillo: We make contacts every thirty days. So, yes, we do. I feel that we do.

Leonard Sipes: And the larger public is basically counting on us that””I remember one woman we were serving warrants and something we ordinarily nearly don’t do, but we did it with the Metropolitan Police Department. We have a wonderful relationship with the the Metropolitan Police Department, and the woman asked me what are you doing, and I said well we’re serving warrants, and she goes good take the ones who are messing with the community. Take them, but help the ones who want to be helped. And, you know, that is to me the essence of community supervision under parole and probation agencies where take the enforcement action of the people who threaten public safety, but those who need the help, help them, get them involved in programs. Is that the essence of it?

Jemell Courtney: Yeah, that is basically the essence of it.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, but I mean isn’t there something more that you think the public needs to understand about your role?

Jemell Courtney: As far as the parole and supervisory release cases…

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Jemell Courtney: A lot of times, we recommend special conditions stay away orders from the victims through the parole commission or through D.C. Superior Court…

Leonard Sipes: So, we’re constantly working with the parole commission. We’re constantly working with the court. We’re constantly working with a variety of law-enforcement agencies. Correct?

Jemell Courtney: Yes, correct.

Leonard Sipes: So, you’re out there day to day working with the individual offender, but you’re working with your partners all at the same time.

Jemell Courtney: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: You know, and so, you’re diplomats. Part of you have to be diplomatic enough to deal with the offender, diplomatic enough to deal with the offender’s family and diplomatic enough to deal with the larger criminal justice system.

Jemell Courtney: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And, what do you say to your friends and family in terms of what it is that you do on a day to day basis in terms of your jobs?

Alexander Portillo: Well, I tell them that it’s very difficult because you try to convince people to do right, and it’s hard because maybe 90% of them don’t want to do it.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Alexander Portillo: And the 10% is what makes it count. That makes a difference and what makes me keep going.
Leonard Sipes: Right. And, Jemell, how would you say that. What do you say to your friends and family when you’re talking to them?

Jemell Courtney: So, as Alex said, I tell them that it is a very difficult job next to parenting. It’s hard and people don’t understand. We go through many challenges day by day as far as housing, trying to convince people to go into treatment and it’s hard.

Leonard Sipes: I did it for””I had three jobs where I had direct supervision with offenders, and it was the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. Dealing with them and dealing with the family. It was very rewarding, and at the same time, you had to bring your A-game to the job everyday.

Jemell Courtney: You have too.

Leonard Sipes: If we don’t, it could have an impact on public safety. That’s the point, right?

Jemell Courtney: Uh-huh.

Alexander Portillo: Right, there’s no room for error.

Leonard Sipes: There’s no room for error.

Alexander Portillo: Because, you know, someone could get hurt in the community or one of our offenders could go out and, you know, cause havoc, cause trouble in the community.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, Alexander, you’ve got the final word on the first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, please stay with us for the second segment as we continue to explore the role of a parole and probation agent in the United States and here within the District of Columbia. We’ll be right back.

Leonard Sipes: Welcome back to DC Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. We talked about on the first segment that there were seven million people in the United States on any given day under correctional supervision, but four million are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies, and we said we’re going to talk about what parole and probation does within the United States through the perspective of what happens here in the District of Columbia through my agency the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. By the way, we call our people Community Supervision Officers not parole and probation agents. That’s unique to us here in the District of Columbia. There are 350 community supervision officers on any given day. We supervise about 16,000 offenders. When we say supervise, it’s a combination of supervision where we try to hold them accountable in terms of their day to day life. Where we can go to their homes and expectantly work with the metropolitan police department, the local police agency, we together go to their homes and do what we call accountability tours. Maybe another 45,000 times a year we actually go to their house, and in some cases, surprise visits if not surprise visits, prearranged visits, sometimes, like I said they’re surprise visits. But, we drug test the dickens out of individuals. We do a lot in terms of supervision. The key to the research is that what we try to do is to get them involved in programs. The question becomes if a person comes out of the prison system, if he has a mental illness problem, what’s going to happen if that person does not receive treatment for mental illness. So, here again we’re going to talk about community supervision with Anthony Smith and Emily McGilton both community supervision officers from my agency Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and to Anthony and Emily, welcome to DC Public Safety. Anthony, the first question goes to you. On the supervision side, we use global positioning systems, GPS or satellite tracking, where we have these devices. They’re on the anklet of the individual, and we can track them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in terms of where they go. Correct?

Anthony Smith: Yes, GPS has been a very good tool used within CSOSA. It’s used typically to monitor our high-risk offenders. Typically, which would be the sex offenders, the domestic violent offenders who have stay-away orders from particular blocks unit within a district and it is also used as a tool for unemployed offenders. It is policy that they’re place on GPS thirty days after being on supervision due to the fact that they’ll have a lot of idle time and may be more vulnerable to get re-involved in criminal activities.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and we’ll also put them in day reporting, which basically says that if you’re not going to find work then you’ve got to report to some place everyday until you find work. We’ll help you find work. We’ll train you in terms of how to find work, but you’ve got to report to day reporting every day. Correct?

Anthony Smith: Exactly, and it has been useful in pinpointing various crimes throughout the district where the offenders were actually at the spot near the assisted MPD and various other law enforcement agencies to solving crimes within the district.

Leonard Sipes: Now the interesting thing there is that they can take a look at the computers in their cars and track offenders through our system the individual police department. And, it’s not just the Metropolitan Police Department, it could be the Secret Service, it could be the Housing Police, it could be a wide array of individuals.

Anthony Smith: Exactly, and we’re also charged with monitoring the offenders whereabouts. We are to check the GPS devices daily to make sure that they’re charging them, and we also do VeriTracks. We get VeriTracks emails of the offender’s non-compliance if they’re not charging or if they’ve been in an area that they’re not supposed to, we’re notified by email that the offender is not in compliance.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Emily, explaining what parole and probation is, is always difficult. I have the hardest time, you know, because you take all of this supervision stuff, GPS, as Anthony was just talking about, the concept of constantly drug testing them, surprise visits, working with the Metropolitan Police Department just to hold them accountable and then the treatment part of it, which is a very complex hard job for the individual community supervision officers who have to manage that process everyday. Correct?

Emily McGilton: It is. The main thing to realize is that we’re governed by the U.S. Parole Commission and the D.C. Superior Court is releasing authorities. When they’re given special conditions to the offenders, we’re responsible for setting the offenders up for those programs. However, if we find something that we think may be suitable for the person, we have the authority to go ahead and have them assessed for mental health concerns.

Leonard Sipes: In your case because you work for the Sex Offender Unit, which is one of the hardest units I can possibly imagine that plus the Mental Health Unit. That’s something else, we have all of these specialized units we were talking in the first segment about the Domestic Violence Unit. We have all of these specialized units. So, you can have a sex offender come out from the Parole Commission through the prison system, and you can analyze that individual, work with local law enforcement officers in terms of supervising that individual, but if you need him or her to do more, to go into treatment, to the ability to check their computers, you have to go back to the Parole Commission and ask for their permission to do that?
Emily McGilton: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s something a lot of people don’t understand. We don’t work autonomously. We, basically, do what the judges ask us to do or tell us to do. We basically do what the Parole Commission wants us to do. So, people don’t understand that. We’re not independent. We have to work within the confines of the courts and the Parole Commission. Do we agree?

Anthony Smith: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Tell me a little bit about that. That’s frustrating. Okay, so, I’ve got this offender who I feel really needs to be””I need to search his computer, but I can’t do it unless the Parole Commission tells me that I can. Do you go back to the Parole Commission and ask for permission to do it?

Anthony Smith: There are steps that you have to take before going back to the U.S. Parole Commission. We have to utilize the graduated sanctions matrix and make sure we have exhausted everything on the matrix before notifying the releasing authorities. And at that time, depending on whether they’re on supervised release or probation, we’ll then notify the releasing authorities. Typically, with probation, it will be an AVR which will be submitted to the court, and with the U.S. Parole Commission, you’ll ask for a sanctions hearing.

Leonard Sipes: I’m glad you brought that up. Now, if a person is not doing well, then we just don’t run back to the courts and run back to the Parole Commission and say you’re not doing well. We have to go through a whole series of steps of what we call intermediate sanctions. So, intermediate sanctions are what? Come into the office more often, reading him the riot act, putting him on some sort of detail to do community service. So, we try to convince the person to come back into law abiding behavior. Is that it?

Anthony Smith: Yes. I mean the sanctions vary. It can go anywhere from a verbal reprimand. Trickle up to a written reprimand, to daily reporting, daily reporting center. You can have an SCSO conference. The offender can be given a therapeutic task…

Leonard Sipes: We can put them back in a halfway measure…

Anthony Smith: Put them in a halfway back program.

Leonard Sipes: Basically saying, this is your final step. If you don’t comply, you’re going to go back to prison. This is the final step. Correct?

Anthony Smith: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Go ahead.

Emily McGilton: It’s just that we have a lot of room to explore different options together with our supervisor and the offender. We can typically come up with a plan that will address their sanctioning them and also getting them back into compliance with their court order such as community supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Emily McGilton: We could increase drug testing. We can make referrals to the central intervention team…

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Emily McGilton: To get treatment if we feel it’s needed if they test positive. Also, working together with the other departments at CSOSA. So, we have a lot of options as far as sanctioning.

Leonard Sipes: Now, that’s a huge bureaucracy come to think of it from the standpoint of the community supervision officer. He or she’s got to deal with the court, got to deal with the parole commissioner, got to deal with the bureaucracy of their own agency. How do you survive? Do you feel that you have the flexibility to bring ingenuity to it, to bring creativity to the job in terms of how you supervise or how you assist an offender?

Emily McGilton: I believe we do. I think the main part is looking out for public safety. If we have an offender who has violent tendencies or any offenders who have special conditions like sex-offender treatment or domestic-violence treatment. We make sure that they’re in compliance with their treatment and to not have another victim.

Leonard Sipes: One thing I’m going to say that obviously you’ve been afraid that everybody’s been afraid to say so far is there is a lot of paperwork involved. You’re sitting at that computer putting in””spending a lot of time documenting what it is that you’ve done or what the Parole Commission has done or what the courts have done. That’s a big burden.

Anthony Smith: It can be, but it has to be done. The accountability is still there. So, you just go along with the flow.

Emily McGilton: Also, having that documentation has helped us. I know it has helped me out at hearings. It’s helped me out just””you can’t remember everything about every case. So, having that documentation has been really helpful.

Leonard Sipes: When I was with Maryland for 14 years, it was all paper. Here it’s all computerized. So, here I’m amazed because you can go in and get a complete dossier on that individual going back five and six years. Where in Maryland, you had to just spend hours and hours and hours going through paperwork. And, it was a very inefficient system, but it’s still time consuming. The average community supervision officer constantly tells me well, Mr. Sipes, I’m spending way too much time plugging information into the computer, but it’s necessary. Correct?

Emily McGilton: It is.

Leonard Sipes: That from my standpoint it is necessary. What else haven’t we talked about in terms of getting people to understand your role as a community supervision officer? You’re in the community, you’re by yourself, you’re dealing with sex offenders, you’re dealing with violent offenders, you’re dealing with people who need programs. A woman who got kicked out with her two kids because she couldn’t get along with her roommate and suddenly, that offender and her two children are in the community and you’ve got to help them find housing. There are so many layers to what you do. Your job is so complex. Your job is so demanding.

Anthony Smith: Yeah, we collaborate with various programs within the community. CSOSA also has the community justice programs and they assist the offenders with both vocational and educational programs…

Leonard Sipes: Uh-huh.

Anthony Smith: Housing and various other things that may be useful to the offender.

Leonard Sipes: We deal with the faith community, which is one of the things that I do want to bring up. We have a lot of churches and mosques and synagogues throughout the District of Columbia, and they volunteer their time to help that individual offender, and they don’t have to join their religion. If it’s a Baptist church or a Catholic church or a mosque, they don’t have to join that religion, but these individuals will help that offender in terms of food, clothing, shelter, finding a place to live, drug treatment or basically how to act right. And, I’m really interested in that faith-based component. Do you guys use that, that much within your jobs?

Anthony Smith: I do. I actually have an offender who is linked with a mentor through the faith-based initiative and what the mentor and the offender have been doing is that he meets with him on a monthly basis, and they go over jobs, resume building. He invites him to church and so on and so forth. When he’s available, if not, at the least, they’ll make telephone contact…

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Anthony Smith: On a monthly basis, and it has been helpful.

Leonard Sipes: You know the interesting thing is that so many of our offenders are not necessarily caught up in formal gangs but groups or whatever it is that you call them. Other people who are involved in the lifestyle. What we call criminal activity. And, this way, if they come out and they’re involved with a religious body it’s a gang, but it’s a gang for good instead of a gang for bad.

Emily McGilton: That’s a big part of our job is reconnecting the offenders with a community that they’ve lost touch with, whether it’s religious, whether it’s drug treatment just helping them if they need to find housing, if they need to find clothing. We have offenders that come to us that feel comfortable that despite our position and that we have to report to the judge if they do something wrong, we’re also there to set up programs for them and reconnect them with the community.

Leonard Sipes: Right because we know””I mean people don’t seem to understand that the research is clear that just supervising the dickens out of them doesn’t reduce the recidivism, doesn’t necessarily make the public any safer. But, if a person has a mental health problem, getting that person into mental health treatment or getting that person into a domestic violence treatment does help.

Emily McGilton: Correct. And a lot of our offenders have overlapping issues. So, it’s up to us to determine what’s the most pressing issue. So, at any given time, we’re typically working on two to three different issues for each offender.

Leonard Sipes: Right, it’s mental health, it’s drug treatment, it’s resentment over Dad not being in the house and having that anger management issue. So, right there, mental health, drug treatment, and anger management. That’s the typical offender that you deal with.

Emily McGilton: True.

Leonard Sipes: That’s challenging. That’s massively challenging. Correct?

Anthony Smith: It is, but we have a lot of assistance from””we have a strong partnership with the MPD in which we conduct accountability tours. We’re out in the community a lot at various events, community service events where we monitor the offenders who have special conditions in completing community service for the courts.

Leonard Sipes: All right, Anthony, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen thank you for being with us today on DC Public Safety. Look for us next time as we explore another very interesting topic in our criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Video Ends –

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