Prison Reentry From A Former Offender’s Perspective

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main page at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/10/prison-reentry-from-a-former-offenders-perspective/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, LamontCarey.com. Lamont is one of the most interesting spokespeople for offender reentry, people coming out of prison. We’re titling today’s program Views on Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective. Lamont Carey, welcome back to DC Pubic Safety.

Lamont: Thank you for having me.

Leonard: All right. The best programs we do are with Lamont. Now when you go to an event and Lamont is speaking at events, because Lamont is an author, he’s a trainer, Lamont is everything. He’s a filmmaker. There’s nothing that Lamont does not do, but the most interesting thing that Lamont does is he gets up and he gives these monologues on our understanding of crime in the criminal justice system. Lamont, I want you to start off the program with a one to two minute monologue so that people have an idea as to what it is that you do.

Lamont: All right. See when I walked out that gate, I looked straight, leaving prison behind me, leaving the streets behind me. But my mother always told me that my past would always find me. See I had been looking for a job for almost a year and wasn’t nobody hiring. I’m glad that they done banned the box, but it’s that empty block on my resume that seems to be whispering, “He done been to the penitentiary.” They told me to forget my past and change people, places and things if I really want to change. Now I’m in this new job interview not knowing what to say or what to do, so I say what I’ve been taught, that I’m a hard worker, that I’m a fast learner, that I’m a dependable. She leaned over and said, “Sir what does that mean because that ain’t what we’re looking for? We’re looking for somebody with expertise in sales.”

I smiled on the outside because on the inside I was screaming, “That’s the reason that I went to jail.” Once I was able to tell her what I knew about sales without actually telling her what I knew about sales, I got the job. See they say when things go wrong we revert back to what we know, but there’s some skills from my criminal past that are indeed transferable. iTunes. All that stuff you can get that, the whole copy.

Leonard: I do love that. I heard that live a couple weeks ago and i was just absolutely fascinated with it. You understand, after listening to that monologue how convincing Lamont is. A very eloquent spokesperson, and a very forthright and forceful spokesperson for the issue of reentry because we’ve done radio programs before where we’ve argued, we’ve yelled at each other. People just need to understand what it is about people caught up in the criminal justice system and what it is that we should be doing. Crime is rising in some cities throughout the United States. People are starting to get angry at the criminal justice system again, and what we’re saying is that if you supply the programs both in prison and outside of prison, and if you supply community support, we can dramatically reduce the amount of people who are going back to prison, dramatically reduce the amount of criminality that people get involved in and we have been saying that, I have been saying that for a quarter of a century.

Lamont: Preach.

Leonard: I’m not quite sure people get it. I’m not quite sure people listen to what I have to say. Maybe Lamont Carey, they listen to what you have to say. What is the message?

Lamont: You said it. When I hear criminal justice system, let me just be straight up, I hear the system. From my personal perspective, my community reflects all the images that I see of the criminal justice system.

Leonard: What does that mean?

Lamont: That means on the news when there’s a crime committed and the picture is flashed, ninety-nine percent of the times it’s an individual that looks like me, that comes from the community that I come from. Actually on my way here, I saw a video of a young black girl, African American girl in the classroom. I don’t know what the whole story is, but this police officer forced, she was sitting in the chair holding onto the chair as tight as she could, slammed the chair back, snatched her out of the chair and tossed her. This is a grown man. This is a young girl in school, and I can’t think where’s the justification in her being treated so harshly.

She didn’t have a weapon in her hand that she was brandishing at anybody. She was holding onto the desk. Those images are what I saw growing up on a consistent and constant basis, every time I saw the police they were taking somebody that I know, somebody that I love. For me, that created that gap, that divide between me and the police because I saw the police as a threat to my well being, and that is how I saw the criminal justice system and also I saw the criminal justice system, because again, I say the system, is when I was in school and I stayed back in Kindergarten. I don’t know how you stay back in Kindergarten when all you do is color and sleep, but I stayed back in Kindergarten and I stayed back in the first grade.

When I got passed on to these other grades, I knew that I wasn’t ready. Now I’m seeing statistics and hearing people say that they’re basing third grade test scores on how many prison beds that they will need in the future. The criminal justice system for me begins in my community, and if those statistics are what they’re using as fact, that mean that there is an opportunity for there to be an intervention in third grade if that is what’s leading to defining where they will end up with the rest of their life. Why aren’t we being proactive and putting money into programs? Not only money into programs, why aren’t we getting rid of teachers and curriculum that aren’t preparing out children to go to the next grade where they will be producing test scores that say they are going to prison?

Leonard: Okay, you’re bouncing all over the place. Number one, there’s a basic mistrust either in the poor African American community or other communities, white communities, Hispanic communities towards the criminal justice system. You’re probably going to suggest that it’s more pronounced within the African American community.

Lamont: No, I’m just speaking of from my perspective.

Leonard: From your perspective, that’s what I’m looking for. Number one, what I’m hearing is there’s mistrust of those of us within the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: In your mind there’s probably a pretty good reason for that mistrust.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: From the very beginning in terms of the schools, the schools are improperly prepared to lift people up even those people who want to be lifted up?

Lamont: Right. To you it might seem that I’m bouncing all over the place but to me it says it’s connected. It’s based off those test scores and it defines who goes to prison and nobody is trying to stop that, so all of that is connected. It’s saying these young people will end up in the criminal justice system. If nobody is not interrupting that, then they’re embracing it.

Leonard: What you’re saying it’s preordained and it’s embraced by the large society?

Lamont: Yeah. How else could I read into that?

Leonard: Why would it be embraced by the larger society?

Lamont: If this is the truth and they’re not putting money there, they’re not switching out the curriculum or the teachers, then this has been accepted as the norm?

Leonard: Why?

Lamont: Why?

Leonard: Yeah.

Lamont: Why was it accepted as the norm? Well it may be I know I’ve been hearing, I haven’t actually seen them so it may not even be true that there are contracts with prison systems that’s guaranteed that a certain amount of bed space will be filled, so maybe this is a part of that process of making sure that the states meet those quotas so they won’t end up in court because they have guaranteed that these bed spaces will be filled.

Leonard: Your sense is that it’s all preordained for whatever reason, whether it be race, whether it be class, whether it be for whatever the reason is, it is preordained for young men and young women coming up in our society throughout the United States that they’re not going to do well in school and they’re going to end up in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right. My thinking is if it’s not embraced as this is the norm, then it must be embraced that there is something truly wrong with African Americans, right? That we’re going to commit crimes, that we’re going violate the law in some form or fashion that’s going to put us behind bars. That’s saying that we are born criminals and that’s impossible for it to be true. I know we come from situations, in my community I grew up that my father wasn’t allowed to live in my household for my mother to receive the Section 8 housing.

Leonard: Is it because he was caught up in the system?

Lamont: No. What I’m speaking of, again, when I hear criminal justice I hear the system. Internally that’s what it says to me. I’m just stating from my view as a young person growing up to now as an adult trying to understand all of my experiences as a young folk. If my father was hiding under the bed and jumping in the closet so he wouldn’t be found that he was in my mother’s home so she wouldn’t lose where she was living. One, it seemed like my father, for whatever reason, that he wasn’t able to have a job that he was able to pay the rent for the housing for us, whatever that reason was that he couldn’t do that, but now my mother has housing and apparently she was under an agreement that says, “If we provide housing for you and your kids, the man can’t be living here.”

Leonard: For what reason? Was he caught up in the criminal justice system?

Lamont: No, it was just public housing.

Leonard: It was just public housing?

Lamont: It was just public housing.

Leonard: It excluded your father because they didn’t want men?

Lamont: They didn’t want men.

Leonard: Oh wow.

Lamont: He could not live in a house with us. I know in D.C., because it wasn’t HUD. HUD said it wasn’t their policy, it was the policy of the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority in D.C. is re-looking at that and trying to bring families back together.

Leonard: The bottom line, what I’m hearing you say Lamont is that there is institutional bias towards people, towards themselves caught up in the criminal justice system, caught up in failing schools. They grow up a certain way viewing the criminal justice system a certain way, viewing society a certain way.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: what does that mean? You grow up in tough schools, you grow up in tough communities, you grow up mistrusting the criminal justice system and all that means what?

Lamont: All that means, for me I felt isolated. I felt like that there wasn’t options for me, that I felt limited. Because I heard things like the school system isn’t preparing you for a future, the textbooks are old or the white man is not going to let you be nothing. This is what I heard verbally. Now I see on TV every year, every couple of months about how bad the inner city or the public school system is. Now it’s not something that I’m hearing verbally from people who have given up on life, but now it’s being broadcast and so it’s the same messages that’s being fed to our kids.

As a kid, growing up, I’m like, “All right, why should I go that route if they’re saying that route is a dead end.” I chose the streets.

Leonard: You’re not going to succeed anyway, so why not choose the streets?

Lamont: Right. How the streets seemed like an option, because those who chose the streets lived better than I did. I wanted to get out of this despair. People in my neighborhood, you can look in their eyes and see that they have given up, that they are completely hopeless. I didn’t want to be a drug addict. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic living on the corner. The drug dealers because the difference in my community. They had the cars, they had the money, they moved out of the community and it was accessible to me. I learned how to sell drugs playing in the yard.

Leonard: You understand that what you are describing, I’ll name the following five groups and there’s going to be somebody who will object because I have [inaudible 14:13]. You’re talking about Italian street corner gangs, you’re talking about Jewish street corner gangs, you’re talking about Greek street corner gangs.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: You’re talking about just about any other group out there. Everything that you’re describing describes exactly all the other folks who got involved in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Guess where I learned that out.

Leonard: Where?

Lamont: I learned that in prison.

Leonard: Tell me about that.

Lamont: I learned that each group has the same or similar issues as the African American communities deal with. Italians kill, rob, sell drugs to Italians. Asians do the same and vice versa. I’m only speaking from a perspective that I grew up in. I can’t talk about an Italian kid, how they grew up.

Leonard: I want to get back to that and I want to get around the criminal justice policy, but I still think that our program should be two hours long, not thirty minutes. It’s impossible. The discussion about all of this, Lamont Carey’s at our microphone. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, views on prison reentry from a former offender’s perspective. LamontCarey.com, L-A-M-O-N-T-C-A-R-E-Y dot com. It’s impossible to describe Lamont in terms of his public appearance, in terms of writing books, in terms of video, in terms of other projects that Lamont is involved in. It’s just a fascinating, fascinating person. LamontCarey.com, go to his website.

We have fifteen minutes left. In terms of criminal justice property, in terms of something that everybody else listening to this program right now needs to understand about the reentry process is what? Everything that you experienced as a child, put that off to the side for a second.

Lamont: And go to as an adult?

Leonard: What does the larger society need to understand, what does the larger society need to do to reduce crime, to reduce the amount of people going back to the prison system? Then reduce of our tax burden?

Lamont: Okay, so starting from inside of the criminal institution, starting inside of prisons. One of the things that was life changing for me is that I had access to education. With me saying that, the Pell grants are so important because …

Leonard: Federal funding for college programs.

Lamont: Federal funding for college, right. Having access to education broadened my worldview. As I said in the poem that I was reciting earlier, that people told us to change people, places and things if we really want to change. If I didn’t have access to education while in prison I would have came out worse than I went in. I wouldn’t have only grown as a criminal. Education combated that. Education when I was in business management, it taught me that I was a businessman, but I just had illegal product. All I had to do was change my product and the services that I offered. Without access to education, I wouldn’t have learned it. That is how I’m in front of you now with books out, with films and plays. Education helps change the way a man or a woman sees themselves, sees the world and it shows them what exists out there.

Leonard: Before prison, you said you viewed yourself in a certain way and you saw your future as hopeless. How did that change in terms of college programs in prison?

Lamont: I didn’t see myself as hopeless, I saw myself as finding a way out and that’s why I chose turn to selling drugs, even though it was the wrong choice. How did that help me in prison? It made sense of my life. It made me see that black people wasn’t the only people that existed in the world. There are black people that are successful, and if you figure out what you want out of life and you be determined enough to achieve it, having access to college in prison helped me create a roadmap to success. It taught me that I can take my life, package my life, which I have done because I don’t have a product or service. My business is created of me, of my experiences that I was able to turn into books and CDs to motivational speaking. That’s what college did for me. If not having access to college, I wouldn’t have know that I could do that.

The other thing that we need, having a job, having housing is phenomenal, but more than that we need goals. We need to be able to set life goals for ourselves. We need to be able to think, be able to make decisions that’s going to benefit our life. We need life skills that’s going to help us to confront and overcome those obstacles we’re going to face.

Leonard: You’re talking about fundamentally rearranging how people see themselves through education.

Lamont: Yes, and education somehow, whether that’s a trade or whether that’s just through education, because we work. What society doesn’t understand is that in prison you have two choices. You either work or you go to school. It’s not like we have never worked before. We get up every morning, probably depending on what your job is, and work just about seven days a week. We are accustomed to working. We are accustomed to being on time. I think we just need the opportunities and that the community as a whole, employers understand that there is some value. One, we have skills. We’re used to working, and that we have skills that we’re not even utilizing. One of the skills that have that I learned from the streets is that I learned I know marketing. I know customer service. I know branding. Those were skills that I learned from a criminal lifestyle. I figured out through college programs how to see that in a different light, see that in a positive light, and repackage that and turn it into a positive product or service.

Leonard: We cut the prison programs, we cut most of the prison college programs. President Obama is trying to re-institute them on a limited basis, on a trial basis, but we cut most of the programs that you find near and dear. Most prison systems throughout this country lack career programs, lack vocational training for all offenders. They have them but only a small percentage of the prison population can take advantage of them. Vocational training is not there as necessary. Educational training, substance abuse, mental health, all these programmatic activities, they exist in every prison in the United States but they only serve small numbers. Why is that? If you’re saying that that is the key, then why do so few prison inmates actually get to be involved in these sorts of efforts.

Lamont: In some institutions it depends on how much time you’re serving.

Leonard: Correct.

Lamont: Right?

Leonard: Right, if you’re a lifer you’re not going to get it. If you’re there for nine months, you’re not going to get it. But for the eighty percent left?

Lamont: My thinking is that everybody should have access to some form of program. It shouldn’t be voluntary, it should be mandatory. If you don’t have a high school diploma, like when I went to prison because I was a juvenile, because of federal laws or what have you, I had to go to school and get a GED. That was the eye opener for me. That’s what led to college. Because at first I didn’t think I was smart enough to be able to take tests to pass grades, but once I got the GED I was like, “Okay.”

Leonard: I want two quick answers from you. Why is there a lack of programs, and B, if we had the programs, what would be the impact? Would we reduce recidivism by fifty percent, sixty percent, twenty percent? Why don’t we have these programs?

Lamont: I think the institutions focuses on warehousing for the most part. It’s on warehousing and maybe the impression is that we don’t want to learn. I’ve went to a prison in North Carolina, they have no program. They don’t even have a law library. In my opinion, I believe that it will have a great impact on the recidivism rate if you have those kind of programs. Most of us don’t even know that we have mental issues. Today I know that I’m affected by my incarceration because if my wife open a door in the bedroom, I still pop up or my eyes pop open because it was a safety measure in there. Those are some things that could have been addressed beforehand. Me, you know me, man I’m writing a book on.

Leonard: Yes you are.

Lamont: How to identify institutional behavior and possible ways you can help them overcome it. I think having education and access to programming, it’s cool if they give us the programming and education, but society has to be willing to accept that we have this training and if they’re going to offer us programming in the institution, let us be certified in it.

Leonard: That’s the other part of it, the larger society has got to care about people coming out of the prison system. They’ve got to be personally invested for their own protection. I mean just in terms of …

Lamont: Of safety.

Leonard: … crime, just in terms of their own tax paid dollars. It is in our collective best interest to give a break, to have some degree of understanding the people coming out of the prison system.

Lamont: Let me tell you, when I felt like I was a part of the American dream, when I cast my first ballot. I think it’s important that individuals that return home from prison should be given their voting rights back because I had never paid attention to politics until I was in prison because it was on TV.

Leonard: how much of all of this is the individual person’s responsibility? Because people listening to this program are going to go, “Okay Lamont, fine. Programs fine, I’ll give you that. Acceptance, fine, I’ll give you that. How much of it is the responsibility of Lamont Carey and everybody else coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont: It as a huge responsibility of Lamont Carey, but you also got to look at in a lot of institutions it’s controlled by gang activity. Either you’re in a gang or you pray. I just always stood on my own, was willing to deal with whatever and learn how to navigate those systems. An individual who doesn’t have the same outlook on life and confidence in themselves going to end up in those gangs, but if you give them opportunities like education and job training, that’ll help combat some of that stuff that’s dealing with the gang and all of that, because if we don’t put programs and I’m trained as a gang member. Quickly, I ended up in the federal prison when they closed D.C. Prison Lawton down. Now I’m in there with cartel leaders that could easily say in conversations say, “Lamont, when you get home I’m going to make sure you’re all right. I’m going to supply you with a hundred kilos or a thousand kilos.”

Leonard: I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry about it.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: Nobody else cares about you, we do.

Lamont: Right. Before I came to the federal prison, I didn’t have access to cartel leaders, but because I had access to education while I had access to cartel leaders, I chose to use the education that I got versus the opportunities that the cartel leaders were presenting me. That’s what’s important when you’re talking about reentry. Either we’re getting a good education or we’re getting an education that’s going to help teach us how to prey on the community. The majority of the individuals that I was incarcerated with, they want to come home and they want to be upstanding citizens. They don’t want to do wrong, but they come home and we hear all of these no’s. No to job, no to voting. We don’t have access to so much stuff.

Leonard, out of all the amazing things that I’ve done since I’ve been home, I still can’t go on a field trip with my son. That’s not allowing me to be a hundred percent father. I can’t go on a field trip, and I go in schools and I talk to kids about being at risk, ending up in a prison incarcerated, but I still can’t go and volunteer.

Leonard: Regardless of your success and your success has been profound, you are still an ex-con.

Lamont: Yes. I’m still an ex-con. I still can’t even get in the White House. I’ve been on programs and I can’t get in.

Leonard: There’s a bit of a contradiction there.

Lamont: Out of all the success that I’ve had, imagine somebody with no success. Can’t even participate in a field trip with their kid.

Leonard: I think the larger issue, I mean there are the Lamont Carey’s of the world that do extraordinary things. I’ve had dozens of them before these microphones, the other people like Lamont Carey, and there’s ninety-seven percent who are still struggling with the basics. You’re laying out the issues for all of them. It applies to everybody.

Lamont: My goal is to use myself and any other individual that came home and successfully transitioned to change the face of reentry. Because I think when people hear ex-con, they still see the image of who I used to be. They don’t see this individual that’s sitting across from you or this individual that was the lead in a production at the Kennedy Center last month. They don’t see that individual that can go into a company and teach companies employees on professional development.

Leonard: They just see your past.

Lamont: Right. As long as you see my past, you’re going to miss how extraordinary I am today, because that’s what I am Leonard.

Leonard: But it applies to other people as well.

Lamont: Right, because there are thousands of us.

Leonard: That’s your point. Is it the majority, is it twenty-five percent, is it fifty percent, is it seventy percent? What is it?

Lamont: I think depending on what community that you’re in, it’s a minimum of fifteen percent of the individuals come home and successfully transition. Then again, there are those of us who have jobs, that the employer told us, “Don’t let nobody know that you ever been to prison.” If you out there listening, I need for you to get on board to abandon the box, removing “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” from the job applications. Support getting the Pell grants back into the institutions.

Leonard: Always a very fascinating conversation Lamont Carey. Thank you very much for being here. LamontCarey.com. Ladies and gentlemen, DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Share

Fundamental Change Within the Criminal Justice System

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main page at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/07/fundamental-change-justice-system-adam-gelb-pew/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentleman, back at our microphone is Adam Gelb. Adam is the director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust, www.pewtrusts, with an S, T-R-U-S-T-S, .org/publicsafety. Adam and Pew, certainly one of the best organizations, if not the best, in terms of fundamental change within the criminal justice system, and that’s today’s show title, . Adam Gelb, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Adam: It’s great to be with you again, Len.

Leonard: Adam, this is such an interesting topic because it is bubbling all throughout the United States, fundamental change within the criminal justice system. Pew has done a yeoman’s job in terms of working with a wide variety of state, and counties, and cities to try to analyze their criminal justice system and to come up with ways to protect public safety but do things differently, correct?

Adam: That’s right. Len, there are really two pieces of knowledge that have driven a lot of this over time. There’s a political dynamic that’s been afoot in the country for a long time that said we should just be tough on crime and lock as many people up for as long as possible, but the extent to which there are two pieces of information are driven. One is that the notion that if you kept prisons growing, then you would keep crime shrinking. If we just kept building more and more prisons and locking up more and more people for longer, then crime would fall.
The second has been that on an individual level if we kept offenders behind bars longer, they would be less likely to reoffend when they got out. Those are the two relationships that have underlay a lot of the policy in this area. It turns out both of them are not true, and that research that we have done on a national level and many other organizations have as well, but also at the state level, has really shown that those are in fact myths, that you can reduce crime and incarceration at the same time and that keeping most offenders in for long periods of time actually doesn’t do anything to reduce recidivism. It increased costs and it certainly increased punishment, and many offenders may be deserving of that, but longer lengths of stay do not equate to lower levels of recidivism.

Leonard: Go ahead, Adam.

Adam: We start to see these numbers in the states, and it’s been over five years now, Len, that states have been reducing crime and incarceration rates, that this ironclad relationship that a lot of people thought existed between rising imprisonment and falling crime is no longer the case. With respect to studies in individual states, when you compare similar offenders who have different lengths of stay, and make other changes, we see no evidence there either. These two fundamental pieces that are starting to crumble is what’s fueling a lot of the fundamental change in the justice system that you talk about.

Leonard: You’re talking about improving public safety. You’re talking about making people see for focusing on people who are truly dangerous doing “something else” with all the others. We’re not just talking about lessening the rate of incarceration. We’re just not talking about fewer people going to prison. Your fundamental message is not that. Your fundamental message is, we can protect public safety and at the same time use our resources to their best possible advantage.

Adam: That’s exactly right.

Leonard: Okay, but why? What started all this? What started this discussion about, “We don’t have to send everybody to prison, we don’t have to send everybody to prison for the length of time that we’ve done in the past”? Where did this conversation start and why did it start?

Adam: We really trace it back, Len, to Texas. You and I have talked about this a number of times, that in 2007 the Texas legislature, and Rick Perry was governor, just said no to the Corrections Department’s request to build another 14,000 to 17,000 prison beds over the coming five years. Now this is the state, Texas, that in 1987 had 50,000 people in prison and 20 years later had 150,000 people in prison, and were being asked in that legislative session to keep on that same path and to keep building. There’s an assumption out there I think, Len, that a lot of what’s happening in the criminal justice arena today and over the past few years has been driven by a need to save money and by budget concerns. There’s no question about that. You’d be naïve to think that that doesn’t play into it at all, but if you think back to 2006 when the plans in Texas were beginning to hatch and then into 2007, the economy was humming at that point.
In fact, Lehman Brothers didn’t collapse till the fall 0f 2008, and the economic downturn started at that point. You had a situation in Texas where leadership just said, “No, we’re not going to keep continuing on this path. Let’s find some more cost effective things to do,” even though they weren’t under the budget gun at the time. As you can imagine, Texas is the very symbol of law and order in this country. Nobody believes that if Texas is going to do something on criminal justice, it’s going to be soft on crime or soft on criminals. The fact that Texas did what it did in 2007 has resonated very loudly in capitals around the country and more than any other single thing I think has helped motivate this wave of reform that we’re seeing.

Leonard: In my discussions with my counterparts throughout the country, I think it’s justifiable to say that every governor in the United States has had a conversation with every Public Safety Secretary, Director of Corrections in the United States. The fundamental question is how can we bring down our expenditures, because in many states, Corrections is the second largest expenditure in their states? I’ve seen in some states it’s close to being the first or the largest expenditure, that every governor has had a conversation with every Public Safety Secretary basically saying, “How can we protect public safety and control the amount of money going into Corrections?” Is that right or wrong?

Adam: I can’t speak for all 50 states, but certainly there have been over 30 states now that have enacted some type of comprehensive reforms. Those conversations in those states have happened, and it’s this Texas example where not only did they not build those prisons, but they put hundreds of millions of dollars into various alternatives, the proverbial “something else” you mentioned a few minutes ago, various treatment and diversion options on both the front and the back end of the system, and the results they’ve gotten, which include a dramatic reduction in parole revocations, include now cumulative about three billion dollars in savings that they count from not having to build over what is now the past seven years, and most importantly, the crime rate in Texas falling right in tandem with the national average. Those kind of results speak loudly to governors and Corrections directors across the country.

Leonard: The conversation is just not Pew. I did want to point that out. I mean I love Pew, but I think Pew is truly the leader in this, but it’s the Department of Justice, it’s lots of other agencies at the national level who are joining together, the National Council of State Governments, American Probation and Parole Association, and many others are all coming together and pretty much basically saying that there’s no way that the Criminal Justice System can continue as it’s been, we can’t afford it, or they’re fundamentally opposed to it philosophically, but for whatever reason, this conversation has been going on since the recession. Pew certainly has been at the forefront of it. Explain to me and explain to the audience what that means. You go in and work with the states to analyze their systems. Take it from there.

Adam: Sure. I appreciate your kind words in pointing out the partnership that Pew does have with the Justice Department, Attorney General Lynch, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, and in particular, the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Denise O’Donnell. It really is an extraordinary public/private partnership. It’s not just that in name but that we really couldn’t be doing this kind of work and supporting the states in this way without the relative strengths that we have in our organizations and this partnership. What we do is have conversations with leadership in these states and assess the extent to which they are ready, willing, and able to tackle a comprehensive analysis of their system and then act on the findings. There have been, as we said a few minutes ago, more than two dozen, it’s really coming up on three dozen, states now that have raised their hands and said, “We want to do this process,” which we call justice reinvestment. Once they do that, the participating states then go through at least three phases of work. The first is an analysis of their system to identify what’s been driving the prison growth and where the Corrections systems in those states are and are not in alignment with evidence based practices. Once those things are ascertained, then you move to the second phase, which is policy development, saying, “Okay, we know where the problems are, the solutions, and what does the research tell us about what would be effective, and what does the evidence from other states that have done reforms tell us about what works and what doesn’t?”
Then we help facilitate consensus on a bipartisan interbranch working group that includes prosecutors and defense counsel as well as legislators and Corrections officials on a comprehensive package of reform. The last phase of course is to make sure that this is not a great report with wonderful recommendations based on evidence, and data, and research that then sits on a shelf. We do provide support to these working groups and to state leadership to help make sure that the recommendations cross the finish line in the legislature and are implemented.

Leonard: You mentioned it before. I want to hammer it home. Within the majority of the states that you’ve worked with, rates of incarceration have come down concurrently with crime decreasing. Am I right or wrong?

Adam: That’s correct. More than 30 states now in the past five years are seeing reductions in both crime and incarceration rates.

Leonard: That’s phenomenal, don’t you think, because, again, we have spent decades, if not longer, philosophically believing that the more people you lock up, the safer people are going to be?
Adam: That’s absolutely right. That’s one of those two myths we talked about up front. More than half of the states now are dispelling it. It’s a hugely important piece of the puzzle here. I can’t overstate it.

Leonard: I just want to refocus again that people who are truly violent, dangerous, we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about “everybody else.” People who pose a clear and present danger to the public safety, we’re not talking about doing anything else with them besides incarceration, but that leaves literally just lots of other people caught up in the Criminal Justice System that we can do alternatives, we can employ alternatives, and do something else with them. Do I have that right?

Adam: You do have that right, though the conversation is changing. If you look at what Texas did and the first few states that engaged in this process in 2007, 8, and 9, you would see fewer reforms and reforms that were mostly focused on slowing the revolving door, and particularly responding differently to violations of probation and parole, and making sure that the violations and violators are held accountable for those violations through various means, whether it’s curfew or community service or short jail stays, but not through revocation back to a $29,000 a year taxpayer funded prison cell, that there were more effective, less expensive ways to deal with violators.
If you look the last three years, and the comprehensive reform packages that have been passed in Mississippi, and in Utah, and in South Dakota, and Georgia, and North Carolina, these are much more comprehensive packages that look at the front end of the system and particularly at property offenders and drug offenders, and in many cases change those laws directly up front to say certain offenders who we have been sending to prison shouldn’t be going to prison at all in the first place. One of the most common reforms has been to change the felony theft threshold, which determines whether something is a misdemeanor or a felony and eligible for state prison.
A number of states have raised those thresholds and also changed the thresholds of drug quantities and the amount of drugs that trigger a felony level and penalties and prison exposure. As this has happened, I think it’s opened up the conversation. Len, you’re probably aware that there’s a group out there now called Cut50, and actually several groups, which now have as their outright objective to cut the prison population in half over the next several years. I don’t think you would have seen that back in 2007. I don’t think anybody would have bothered trying to make that suggestion. It may be a big stretch at this point, but enough people think that the problem is big enough and that the solutions are now exposed that we know what to do, that it’s a goal that’s worth talking about.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program. Our guest today is Adam Gelb, the Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust, www.pewtrusts, with an S, .org/publicsafety, www.pewtrusts.org/publicsafety. Again, as I said at the beginning of the program, I’ll say it now, Pew has certainly been a leader and some will suggest the leader in terms of fundamental change within the Criminal Justice System, which is the title of today’s program. Full disclosure, Adam and I both work with each other in the state of Maryland, and I’ll tell this story very quickly, Adam. I was sitting with Public Safety Secretary, Bishop Robinson, years ago, and I came to him in his office, and I sat down, and he goes, “Sipes, do you know how many people are violators of parole and probation from our intake population here in the state of Maryland?”
I said, “Mr. Secretary, I have no idea. I think it was 70%.” Then he looked at me rather sternly and said, “Do you mean to tell me all 70% of our intakes, all of these people, each and every one of them really needed to come off the street, really were a clear and present danger to public safety?” I said, “Well, Mr. Secretary, that’s probably a very good question.” We’ve gone from that very good question to actually operationalizing that concept, who do we take back into the prison system, and why, and under what circumstances, correct?

Adam: That’s absolutely right. This has been the biggest area of reform. As I mentioned, states have been at it for quite long. I wish we had national data on this. If we did, I suspect it would show that across the country the percent of prison admissions that are offenders from probation and parole being returned for technical violations has dropped, and I’d hope that it has dropped fairly substantially. This is the area of perhaps the strongest consensus around the country.

Leonard: The interesting part is that, you’re talking about justice reinvestment, and you’re talking about the idea of taking whatever savings states have and reinvest them back into either drug treatment or parole and probation so they can do a better job. All of this comes with agreement on people on both sides of the political spectrum, so now this is not just an issue that is driven by, if you will, the left. The people who are staunch conservatives are also behind this. They want to see a more efficient Criminal Justice System do a better job, and they feel that if they do a better job, and if they use research and best practices, it’s going to cost that state less. What they’re looking for is efficiency and a greater impact. You have all sides of the political spectrum supporting justice reinvestment or a fundamental change within the Criminal Justice System, correct?

Adam: That’s exactly right. I think this is where the influence of Texas is once again felt, and that is that the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which participated in the efforts back in 2005, 2007, that we’ve spoken of, has taken what happened in Texas on the road, if you will, and as a state based conservative think tank made connections with other leading conservatives who were starting to say supportive things about justice reform, being concerned about mandatory minimums, and the separation of powers, and some constitutional concerns there, as well as the overall size of Correction system, which as you know our report from Pew in early 2008 called 1 in 100 where we counted and documented that for the first time the nation’s total incarcerated population had reached 1 out of every 100 adults in this country being behind bars, that conservatives felt like that was not something that was consistent with principles of limited government and to the separate concept obviously from fiscal discipline.
You have now this organization called Right on Crime that that pulls together people like New Gingrich, and Grover Norquist, and Richard Viguerie, and Ken Cuccinelli, and others who for a variety of reasons and conservative principles that also include family preservation and of course at its core public safety are saying there are more effective, less expensive ways for the government to secure the public safety.

Leonard: One of the things I want you to do at this time, Adam, is to paint a picture as to where we could be, where we should be within the next five or ten years, but I do want to throw some caveats up here. I mean you’ve got over 30 states involved in this. It’s a national discussion. It seems to be picking up steam. We’re moving in the right direction. Let me throw a couple of roadblocks in the conversation. The numbers, sheer numbers, and the rates of incarceration, they’ve decreased but they haven’t decreased that much. There still seems I know in some states, there’s been a significant decrease, New York comes to mind, but the aggregate, the national numbers, if they’re coming down, they’re coming down very slowly, so people still seem to be vested in this concept of incarceration.
There still seems to be a sense of, “Okay, we need to change it, but let’s move very slowly. Let’s move very cautiously.” Am I right or wrong, and is that a roadblock? Is it going to take a long period of time to do this? Once we get beyond that, what happens five years, ten years down the road?

Adam: I think you’re right. This is tough to characterize because a few years ago, I think everybody thought that the prison population was going to defy the law of physics, everything that goes up must come down. Yet for 38 years in a row, the prison population went up. I don’t know of anybody you would have asked in 2005, 6, 7, “Are we going to see an actual decrease in the prison population or the incarceration rate,” I don’t think you would have many takers on that. The fact that we did go steadily up for nearly four decades, since the early 70s, and then actually level off and start to bend down is a see change in and of itself.
The 1 in 100 from 2007 actually became 1 in 110 at the end of 2013, and I think when the Justice Department releases the full census from the end of 2014, I think we’ll actually see it down another couple of notches, so a full 10% reduction in the nation’s total incarceration rate. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The question you’re asking about how long can we go is obviously a crystal ball kind of question I couldn’t answer, but I think the research supports that it could go a good bit lower without endangering public safety.

Leonard: Veterans courts, I just did a program on veterans courts with the National Institute of Corrections, and I don’t want to have a discussion about veterans courts, but that’s one example of diverting people out of the Criminal Justice System, drug courts, family courts, parole courts. The idea of not everybody needs to go back. There are other mechanisms to use instead of putting people in prison or putting people back in prison, reducing the sentences for individuals. We now have a case through the Federal Sentencing Commission that 8,000 individuals came out of the federal prison system, approximately 10% of their sentence early.
I think it averaged out to about two years. They’re leaving federal prisons, and I forget the total number, but I think it approaches 40,000. You have these efforts throughout the country to shorten sentences, to provide alternatives, not to send people automatically back to prison, and yet to hold individuals accountable with a Project Hope of Hawaii that’s now being replicated in two states through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, providing arrest and every time the person does something wrong, and for very short jail stays, one day, two days, three days, depending upon the circumstances. That seems to cut down on recidivism considerably and technical violations. Again, there’s all sorts of different ways of approaching this that I think is building towards a critical mass. I want you to define what that critical mass could be.

Adam: I wish I could, but you’re putting your finger on something that’s very important here, and it goes to that second myth I mentioned up front, which is the lack of relationship between length of stay and recidivism. Hawaii Hope, which was started by a former federal prosecutor, became a judge in state court in Hawaii, is maybe the ultimate example of that. People who were doing long stints are now recidivating less with just looking at a couple of days in jail. That kind of evidence is really starting to be produced and to make its way into policy makers’ hands.
Politically speaking then, that doesn’t automatically produce change, and there still are plenty of people who think that the best way to reduce crime is to lock up people and to keep them there as long as possible. I think a couple of things that are happening across the country right now do suggest that additional reform or deeper reform are going to become more difficult. One is the increase in the heroin problem. Second is the reported increase in murders in some cities across the country.

Leonard: Violent crime beyond murder, so we’re dealing with that issue as well.

Adam: Yes, no doubt. Now I think many of the commentators on this and mostly the people who have been asked to weigh in on why is this happening, why might we be seeing an increase in violent crime and murders in some cities across the country, most of them have pointed to factors that have nothing to do with the Corrections and sentencing systems or reforms. They’ve talked, in fact, about the increase in opioid addiction and heroin markets that have sprung up around that. They’ve talked about many other factors. Those who have talked about repeat offenders being responsible for this, and of course repeat offenders are contributor to crime, that’s why we have high revocation rates, but at the same time, it’s really important to note that the number of prison releases last year, 2014, were down 15% from their peak in 2008. It’s not as if the numbers support at all the notion that some kind of big increase in offender releases has any connection whatsoever to do with a rise in the actual crime rate.

Leonard: What we have to do, we within the Criminal Justice System, we have to struggle through all of these issues, whether they be policy, whether they be philosophical, whether they be crime related issues, but this is not something that’s going to go away. Fundamental change within the Criminal Justice System seems to be here, and I’m guessing that it will grow because, again, I’ll go back to veterans courts. I know I’m cherry picking, but you have a lot of people from the military, ex-military, and they end up in the Criminal Justice System. Some end up in prison, and yet within the military community, within the veterans community, they flood that person in terms of mentorship.
It’s just not the Criminal Justice System. I’ve never seen so many mentors come out of the woodwork to help an individual brother or sister in arms when they’ve made a mistake or committed a crime and they’re caught up in the Criminal Justice System. These sort of things seem to be inevitable. I’m not quite sure they’re going to stop. It’s just a matter of providing best practices and guiding them in a way that all people can agree upon.

Adam: I think that’s spot on, Len. Forty years ago, more than forty years ago now, when we started down this prison building path as a nation, we quite frankly didn’t know very much about what works to stop the revolving door. We didn’t have an evidence base of effective practices that would change offender behavior. Now we do. We know that if we use risk/needs assessments, we can figure out what levels to supervise people at and what programs to put them in and match them to appropriate treatments that will tackle their criminal risk factors. We know that if we use swift and certain sanctions, like in the Hawaii Hope program, that we can change their behavior through that kind of strategy as well.
We know that offering rewards for positive progress, not just sanctions when you mess up, can be a powerful motivator change, and many other building blocks of an effective Corrections system. The research base is there. No magic bullets, but when you do the things that the research says work, you can have a significant impact on recidivism, and policy makers are becoming more and more aware of that. That’s why I think you’re right that over time, there may be some political cycles and things that occur that feel like in the short term will be a drag on reform momentum, that this evidence base will continue to build, and as long as there are organizations and effective mechanisms for making sure the policy makers have access to that information, I think we’re going to see this issue continue to move in a smarter and more cost effective ways.

Leonard: We’ve been talking to Adam Gelb, always a fascinating conversation, Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust, www.pewtrusts.org/publicsafety. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

Share

Veteran Treatment Courts

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main page at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/11/the-growth-of-veterans-treatment-courts/

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, veterans treatment court is the topic for today. We have three extraordinary guests before our microphones. Aaron Arnold is the Director of Treatment Court programs at the Center for Court Innovation. Aaron oversees the Center’s national training and technical assistance for drug courts. Greg Crawford is a Correctional Program Specialist at the Community Services Division at the National Institute of Corrections. Greg’s experience prior to the National Institute of Corrections includes over fourteen years as a probation department person and a community based mental health agency expert. We have Ruby Qazilbash. Did I get that right or did I screw that up? Qazilbash.

Ruby Qazilbash: Qazilbash. Good enough.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby is the Associate Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy at the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the US Department of Justice. She leads a team of policy staff in program and policy development aimed at improving safe local and tribal justice systems. To all three of you, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Greg Crawford: Thanks, Len.

Leonard Sipes: Veterans treatment court, it is exploding. It is growing like wildfire throughout the United States, so Greg, give me an overview of what veteran’s treatment court is.

Greg Crawford: Basically what a veterans treatment court is, is a hybrid integration of drug court and mental health court that serves military veterans, and sometimes active duty personnel. The first veterans court was implemented in 2008 up in Buffalo, New York by Judge Robert Russell, and since then, there’s been over three hundred implemented across this country.

Leonard Sipes: That’s an amazing amount of growth. Aaron, to my knowledge, I can’t think of another criminal justice program that has grown as much or as fast as veterans treatment courts.

Aaron Arnold: I’d have to agree with you. I mean drug courts have been around longer, and there are more of them, but they didn’t grow quite as fast as we’re seeing veterans treatment courts grow today.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, the role of the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the US Department of Justice, you are the Associate Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy. Obviously, you’re here to support BJA’s involvement in veterans treatment courts, correct?

Ruby Qazilbash: That’s correct. BJ provides training, funding. In fact, we’ve set up almost two hundred veteran treatment court teams around the country, training soup to nuts, making sure that those team members understand what their roles and responsibilities are, that they come out of that training with a policy and procedures manual, and they’re ready to go and open those doors to veterans. We, also, provide federal funding to the drug court programs, solicitation, and veteran treatment courts are eligible to come in for federal funding, federal grants to support the implementation of these courts around the country.

Leonard Sipes: I can’t think of any other program where everybody’s on board. Everybody’s enthusiastic, everybody wants this to occur. The question is why? Why is it growing so fast? Why is everybody on board with this?

Aaron Arnold: I would say because they work, Len. First of all, veterans are not typically criminals prior to their military service, and some veterans have experienced things and done things that most of us can’t imagine, and they come home, and sometimes they struggle. Sometimes they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and they, unfortunately, find themselves involved in the criminal justice system, and really what veterans treatment courts do is they’re an opportunity to intervene in the lives of veterans before things escalate for them in the system. What they’re doing, is they’re restoring veterans’ lives. They’re reducing recidivism. They’re enhancing public safety, and saving taxpayer dollars, so it’s checking all the boxes.

Leonard Sipes: Is there an issue with veterans and a crime?

Aaron Arnold: Well, typically, like I said, veterans are not criminals prior to their service, and they’re coming home and they’re really struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury, and it’s taking them down a path, and I think that’s why it’s so critical for our system to intervene before they go down a deeper path.

Leonard Sipes: People so far are seemingly bullish about veterans treatment courts, and the question either goes out to Aaron or to Ruby. Most people seem to feel that they do better than the typical drug courts or the typical treatment courts, that veterans, given the chance, have an opportunity to rearrange their lives and straighten their lives out, but they need assistance. First of all, am I right with the perception that veterans treatment courts seem to have greater potential than other specialty treatment courts?

Ruby Qazilbash: There are obviously a proliferation of drug courts around the country. As Aaron said, that movement has been building and growing for the past twenty-five years, but, since then, we’ve, also, seen other specialty or problem solving courts address the special needs of individuals in our communities, including mental health courts, and then, of course, veterans treatment courts. I think that the issue is to find the diversion opportunity. You want to reduce incarceration and get people the help and the services that they need, so they can lead productive lives, crime free, to find the right intervention for them, and the project that we’re talking about today we hope is going to lead us down that road.
Do they see equal or better outcomes as drug courts that we know of? I think more research, for sure, needs to be done, but outcomes are looking good so far.

Leonard Sipes: Everybody seems to be very encouraged about that. Everybody seems to be very encouraged in terms of the outcomes thus far. We’ve had 2.5 million men and women serve in our country since 9/11, and 1.5 million serving overseas. Veterans come home. They struggle with combat related issues. As Greg said a little while ago, PTSD, major depression, homelessness, suicide, and some are ending up with us, within the criminal justice system. This is not just a matter of good criminal justice policy. This has a moral issue attached to it as well, does it not, Greg?

Greg Crawford: I think so. Absolutely. Here’s the deal, like you said, we had 2.5 million serve our country since 9/11, and really it’s a volunteer service. These people are serving our country as volunteers, so the rest of us don’t have to go overseas and fight our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or wherever they are, so absolutely, I think we have an obligation to try to help them.

Leonard Sipes: Where are we going with all of this? The Bureau of Justice Assistance in the US Department of Justice is providing funding for the expansion of drug court. We are talking about evaluating drug court. We are talking about creating specialized instruments for drug court. The National Institute of Corrections is coming out at a certain point with a white paper that describes what best practices in drug court.

Greg Crawford: Yeah. What we want to talk about here today is … The white paper actually served as a platform for all of NIC’s veterans specific initiatives. We’ve, also, done a three hour live satellite broadcast on veterans treatments court, and, also, with that, I contacted Ruby over at BJA about a potential collaboration to develop a risk needs assessment tool that factors in trauma for justice involved veterans. As a former probation officer, back in the day I would get cases, and these veterans coming in from joint base Lewis McChord over in Pierce Country, Washington. They would be ordered to do domestic violence treatment, and nothing on the court order would touch their underlying issues of PTSD and TBI that I think are a major cause of them bleeding into the system, and that’s why we partnered on this project, because we thought there needs to be some science behind what we’re doing in these veterans treatment courts. I don’t want to steal Aaron’s thunder, but I’ll let him talk a little bit about the project.

Leonard Sipes: Go ahead, Aaron.

Aaron Arnold: Thanks, Greg. Greg hit it on the head. We’re trying to put some science behind what veterans treatment courts are doing, and I should just give a little context to say that in the drug court field, for a number of years now, courts have been eager to adopt evidence based risk need assessments, and all that means is to use a standardized set of questions that courts or probation departments will ask to offenders who are coming into the court system to try to identify what are their actual needs that we can help to address to reduce their risk of re-offending, and those tools exist. There are many of them that are being used in the drug court context. They have been proven over and over again in the research to help courts do a better job of getting people the appropriate kinds of supervision and treatment they need, and reduce their long term risk of re-offending.
What has not existed, up till now, is a specialized risk need tool designed specifically for the justice involved veterans population. That’s what this project is intended to create. Here at the Center for Court Innovation … We’re a nonprofit justice reform organization in New York City, and what we’re doing is, with our in house research department, is to create the first evidence based risk need assessment tools for use in veterans treatment courts.

Leonard Sipes: It’s important that whatever risk instrument that we come up with, that it really works with that particular population, whether it be juveniles, whether it be women, whether it be men, whether it be adults, whether it be pre-trial, whether it be supervision, adult supervision, whether it be … It doesn’t matter. The whole idea is to create a risk instrument that is going to be germane to that particular population. What is unique, Aaron, about the veterans and in a risk instrument?

Aaron Arnold: That’s exactly right. We’ve actually spent the last twelve months working, like I said, with our in house researchers, with our partner agencies around the country, like the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and Justice for Vets, other organizations who work in this field, as well as a hand picked committee of experts in the field, who are helping us to identify what are the specific unique factors that veterans bring to the justice system, and how can we reflect those in a new evidence based risk need tool. Some of those we’ve already talked about: the exposure to combat trauma and the resulting post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other mental health issues that emerge from that, the substance abuse and other behavioral health factors that can emerge after folks return home. Making sure that all of those very specific needs are reflected in the instrument itself, so that courts have the tools they need to make sure that folks are getting the appropriate levels of supervision and treatment.
The tools are essentially done at this point. We’re excited. After a year, we’ve drafted up the tools, and they’re ready to be tested in the field.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, this is exciting. You represent the Bureau of Justice Assistance from the US Department of Justice, and within the Obama Administration, what they have done through federal agencies and through funding to state, local, tribal agencies, is to expand the concept of alternatives to traditional ways of conducting criminal justice. This is exciting, because it’s moving in a dozen different directions. We are basically reinventing the way that we operate the criminal justice system on a wide variety of platforms. The veterans treatment court is just one of them.

Ruby Qazilbash: Without a doubt. I think we know so much more about what contributes to criminal behavior, and what this project lends itself towards is furthering to narrow that, and to get the right people into the right program at the right time, and I think Aaron hit on it when he said that the intention for this risk and needs assessment is to figure out for the individual that you’re presented with in that courtroom and that day.

With using an assessment tool that’s accurate for that population and for that person’s peers. What is their risk level, so that we can assign supervision accordingly. We don’t want to over supervise. We don’t want to under supervise. We want to get it right. For needs assessment, what kinds of potentially substance abuse treatment might that individual need, what kind of mental health counseling. What should that look like? What should the dosage be, so that we can give people what they need. The point here is to increase their functional outcomes, the way that they behave and act in society in a way that’s beneficial to them and to the rest of us, and to reduce recidivism, thereby enhancing public safety for the community that those folks live in.
Leonard Sipes: The larger question is that it becomes a larger issue. Veterans treatment courts go hand in hand with regular treatment courts, go hand in hand with all sorts of opportunities and endeavors that the federal government, and state governments and local governments are trying to employ nowadays to operate the criminal justice system differently, to intervene in the lives of individuals earlier, to defer them or to keep them out of the mainstream criminal justice system, if at all humanly possible, to provide treatment services in prison, and on post release.
This is part of a larger effort, correct?

Ruby Qazilbash: Without a doubt. It is the move towards risk based decision making, while striking a balance between reducing unnecessary incarceration and maintaining or increasing public safety. That’s the goal.

Leonard Sipes: Because every governor in every state has had a conversation with their state public safety secretaries or their directors of corrections, and basically said look, the correctional budget is now the second largest component of our state budget. We cannot continue to bring in the numbers of people that we have. It’s impossible to sustain this level of funding, so we need alternatives. You can look at that from a cost effectiveness point of view. You have now both sides of the political aisle. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on. They are now supportive, because they want a bigger bang for tax paid dollars. They want more results.
This is all part of a unique and growing and interesting aspect to criminal justice administration. I’ve been in this system for forty-five years, and I have never seen what I’m seeing now in terms of that emphasis on programs, that emphasis on treatment, that emphasis on is there another way of handling this person besides simply throwing them in prison, so the veterans treatment court seems to be a natural outcome of that. It’s the growth that astounds me for veterans treatment courts.

Aaron Arnold: Yeah. You talked about the numbers. Since the early 80s, we’ve seen nearly a four hundred percent increase in the US prison population, and I think the writing was on the wall. I think everybody’s on board that alternatives are critical to turning this thing around for our country. We have basically one in thirty-five adults under some from of correctional supervision, whether it be prison, probation, parole, so something needed to be done. When this first court was implemented in 2008, we immediately started seeing results, and not only is it effective, it’s a humane way to go about treating our veterans.

Leonard Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program, ladies and gentlemen. We’re doing a show today on veterans treatment courts with the National Institute of Corrections, and with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and with the Center for Court Innovation. Aaron Arnold is Director of Treatment Programs for the Center for Court Innovation, Greg Crawford, is a Correctional Programs Specialist at the Community Services Division of the National Institute of Corrections; and Ruby Qazilbash … I hope I’m not screwing that name up. Ruby is the Associate Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy at the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the US Department of Justice.
Where do we see drug treatment courts going. Aaron, I’m going to start off with you. For the next ten years, if we’ve had this explosive growth, and since 2008, we have three hundred veterans treatment courts throughout the country. Where does that take us ten years from now?

Aaron Arnold: I think part of the trend is what we’re discussing here today, is to make science based decisions. There’s tons and tons of research from the last twenty-five years on drug treatment courts, and we can be very confident, at this point, that drug treatment courts, when implemented correctly, reduce the risk of re-offending, keep people in treatment longer, promote recovery, and all of the things that we’re trying to accomplish in the justice system.
There is less research, as Ruby mentioned earlier, that’s focused specifically on veterans treatment courts, so one area that we need to continue to push in the next decade is to bolster the amount of research that’s specifically geared toward veterans treatment courts, verify, as we’ve done in the drug court world, that we’re getting the results that we want to see, and create tools, like we’re creating in this veterans treatment court enhancement initiative, to help these courts make decisions that are rooted in science and help to get the best long term outcomes for the justice involved veteran population.

Leonard Sipes: I would imagine somewhere along the line what we want is for every court system in the United States to have a veterans treatment court component to it, correct? I mean if we’re expanding the reach of the criminal justice system into dozens of different specialty courts … Here in Washington, DC there are probably seven specialty courts dealing with domestic violence, dealing with child custody cases. This is something that we see, I would imagine, expanding to every court system in the United States. I would imagine if there’s any particular group of individuals that people feel some sense of allegiance towards, it would be our veterans.

Aaron Arnold: I think you’re right, and as you mentioned earlier, there seems to be very broad based support for these courts, even more so than some of the other specialized court models, and I think we’ve already established that part of the reason for that is a desire to help veterans who have volunteered, as Greg was saying earlier, and risked their own lives to protect all of us, so there’s definitely plenty of reason that we want to see these courts spread, and, again, part of the reason for creating these specialized risk need tools and other tools to support these courts, is so that we can facilitate their spread in all kinds of state, and county, and local jurisdictions that want to create them.

Greg Crawford: Len, real quick. I just wanted to say that, building off what Aaron just talked about, NIC’s vision for this, and I’m hoping BJA and CCI, I’m pretty confident to say that this is our vision, to have this risk needs assessment tool and protocol be the standard for the field. We’re trying to, as we talked about, develop the science, and we want to make this available to the field, and think Ruby can talk about the funding opportunities that would support this tool.
Leonard Sipes: Ruby.

Ruby Qazilbash: Happy to. Every year, the Bureau of Justice Assistance releases a drug court program solicitation, and courts can come in for funding to implement brand new programs, to enhance existing programs, and that means ramping up your capacity and the types of services that are being provided, to ramp up the number, the percent of the arrestee population for whom this is a good option, has the option to go through a drug court or a veteran treatment court program.
I, also, just wanted to mention that for the past couple of years, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has seen a new appropriation, a line item to the tune of five million dollars that is aimed just for support for veteran treatment courts, so we’re, also, seeing an increase in appropriations to be able to support these courts.

Leonard Sipes: Where are we going with this in terms of growth? Right now, we’re talking about five million dollars from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You agree with me, that we would like to see this in every jurisdiction in the United States, and an opportunity for every veteran to partake in these sort of programs?

Ruby Qazilbash: I think that is a noble goal. I think we’ve got thirty-three hundred counties around the country. We’ve got pretty close to that in the number of drugs courts, and I think you need to look at your population. If you have a sizable amount of veterans, then it makes sense to develop a track where you can attach these resources, and we should talk about some of the things that make veteran treatment courts different than drug courts.

Leonard Sipes: Please.

Ruby Qazilbash: Greg started out by saying these are hybrid drug and mental health courts. I think that is one potential difference. There are a lot of resources and partnership that come from the Department of Veteran Affairs, and access to benefits, and supports, and services through the VA that are attached to these courts in most jurisdictions. The idea, the mentor is new, and I think is not a part of most drug courts around the country, and I think a theme or a trend, and Aaron or Greg could talk more about this, but the people that choose and self-select to work in veterans treatment courts oftentimes are veterans themselves: judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others that support the services within that court, so there’s a camaraderie, and there’s a feeling as if we want to support our fellow veterans to heal, to recover, and to stay crime free.

Leonard Sipes: I have a friend of mine, who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima during the Second World War. He’s a veteran, and he’s not being taken care of in terms of his medical needs, and I was assisting him in terms of trying to get him the attention that he was looking for, and I didn’t have to search far. All the veterans’ groups that I contacted and said, “Look, we’ve got a World War II ex-Marine who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima and survived, and he needs help,” and, boy, that help came rather quickly, so within the veterans community, there is support across the board for fellow veterans, is there not?

Aaron Arnold: Absolutely. What we’re seeing when we go out into the field is, as Ruby mentioned, mentors. There’s not a shortage of mentors out there. Veterans volunteer to help other veterans, and they live by the motto to leave no veteran behind. You go into the courtroom, and a veteran is immediately assigned a mentor, and the mentor will take him in the hallway and they’ll start talking to them. They’re not part of the veterans treatment court team. They’re there to help them through the labyrinth of the criminal justice system.
A veterans treatment team will consist of a judge, a prosecutor, defense, probation, court coordinator, and critical to the success of these programs is the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the community treatment providers. Basically it’s the court system, the VA, and the community treatment providers working together for a common goal, but the mentors are really as, Judge Russell called them, in our live broadcast, the secret sauce. They’re the ones that really make this thing work. They fill in the gaps, get them a mattress, a bus ticket, help them overcome the obstacles, have a cup of coffee and just talk them through it, and that is very unique to these diversionary programs. That doesn’t happen, as Ruby mentioned, in other courts.

Leonard Sipes: No. We have our own mentors here at the court services of the federal supervision agency, but there is not enough of them. That’s the thing that I find really interesting about veterans treatment courts is that there always seems to be that league of veterans, who are willing to help this individual in trouble.

Aaron Arnold: Yeah. I’ve been out to several sites. I’ve been to a couple of national conferences, and without a doubt, everybody I’ve come across is not just collecting a paycheck.

Leonard Sipes: But theses are volunteers. This is what I’m talking about.

Aaron Arnold: I’m talking about both the people working in the courts, and, also, the volunteers. Volunteers are committed to helping other veterans.

Leonard Sipes: This is a mission. This is just not a criminal justice program. This is a mission. These are people who are wildly enthusiastic about veterans treatment courts. This is something that’s growing rapidly. Fastest growing program I’ve seen, and different people that I’ve talked to about this concept, you can have an individual veteran before the bench, and find himself or herself with not just a mentor, but two, three, four, five mentors. That’s exciting, and that’s why I’m predicting that veterans treatment courts is going to continue to grow like wildfire, and continue to show good results, because of that treatment team, because of the volunteers who are willing to help that individual. Aaron.

Aaron Arnold: I agree with you. One of the things that we see at the Center for Court Innovation in the last twenty years, is a little bit of fatigue sometimes with the fact that, as you mentioned earlier, the creation of all these specialized court parts. There are people who wonder why do we need so many specialized court parts, and are we going to have a specialized court part for everything under the sun, but with these veterans courts, whatever you’re feeling on that question, is with these veterans treatment courts, we see that having veterans together with other veterans, supported by mentors, supported by, as Ruby said, staff and judges who themselves oftentimes are mentors and have requested to be part of this team, it creates a special environment that gets better results, and, at the end of the day, I think it’s hard to argue against a system that gets better results and treats people in a more thoughtful, humane manner, and gets them the support that they need.

Leonard Sipes: Judges seem to have a magical place within the criminal justice system. We, within the adult correctional system, can intervene in the lives of individuals all day long, but nothing seems to get the attention of the individual before the bench as a judge does, so a very involved judge seems to be the secret sauce in some ways, as to why specialty courts work. Anybody want to take a shot at that?

Ruby Qazilbash: That bears out in the research. I think some of the strongest research effects are seen in judicial interaction with a participant in that court program. It is the way that they interact, the eye contact that they make, the amount of time that they spend with that individual, remembering personal details about the individual’s life, celebrating successes or milestones that they’ve been able to reach has borne out to be very impactful, and definitely have better outcomes for those folks.

Leonard Sipes: I would guess as well is that the reason why this is growing like wildfire, is that judges themselves seem to have that magic ability to bring the entire criminal justice system together for change in ways that others within the executive branch cannot. Judges have a way of producing these specialty courts or veterans treatment courts. Maybe it’s because of the judges themselves that this is growing as quickly as it is.

Greg Crawford: That’s exactly right. In fact, you said exactly what I was thinking, is that … You were asking earlier about where do we see the growth going. In many cases, it is the motivated judge at the local level, who is a veteran, or has family members who are veterans and has a special place in their heart for this kind of work. They’re oftentimes the ones who are driving the creation of these programs and making them successful, rather than having a statewide administrative decision making process. These are oftentimes locally driven initiatives, because people care about serving their veterans.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, we’ve got about a minute left.

Ruby Qazilbash: I was just going to add, I think this is an area that we can learn from drug courts. Drug courts began with a leader judge in that community or judicial district, that got a team together and used the power, the authority of the bench to be able to do that. When drug courts became institutionalized in communities, and that started to be a rotational judgeship, or you had people that didn’t self-select into those positions, sometimes you lose some of that secret sauce, and so I think we need to learn from the drug court movement, and make sure that we’re setting up veterans treatment courts in a way that they’re sustainable.

Leonard Sipes: Ruby, you’ve got the final word. I find this to be a fascinating concept, an encouraging concept and I really want to thank Aaron Arnold, the Director of Treatment Programs at the Center of Court Innovation, Greg Crawford at the National Institute of Corrections, and Ruby Qazilbash, the Deputy Director for Justice Systems Policy at the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

 

Share

Tablets in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2016/03/tablets-and-corrections/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic is tablets in corrections, a pretty interesting topic, I think so. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relationships for Edovo, www.Edovo.com, is by our microphones. Randy Kearse, a re-entry consultant at www.ReentryStrategies.com … Randy has a book and a video. The video is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. To Chenault and to Randy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Randy: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Leonard: All right. Guys, give me a sense at to … I’ll start off with you, Chenault, and give me a sense at to what Edovo does, and how you got to meet Randy and incorporate Randy’s materials into what you’re doing.

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. Edovo is an educational technology company that operates in correctional facilities, and we use tablet technology to bring daily access programming to incarcerated users across the country. We focus on educational programming, meaning academic, vocational, and behavioral therapy programming. We connected with Randy. Actually, Randy reached out to us about bringing his theories and the work he does onto our tablets. I’ll let him speak more in depth as to what he does, but his resources and his time, both in incarceration and [inaudible 00:01:36] work he’s done since, has been enormously interesting to us. Particularly, from a social psychology perspective, it’s always more valuable when you have people who have been in their shoes, people who have been incarcerated, and people who have been successful afterwards, talking to you as an incarcerated individual. That’s how we connect with Randy, and I’ll let him tell you exactly what he does. We’re really excited about it.

Leonard: Randy, go ahead.

Randy: As you know, I’m a prison re-entry consultant, based on my personal experience of being incarcerated. I have a company Prison Re-entry Strategies, and we create media content to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals successfully transition back to society. What we do through books, and film, and interactive media, we create programs that will hopefully help people make that transition back to their communities, their families, and society as a whole. I connected with Edovo because I liked what they were doing, the innovative, bringing tablets into prisons.

Most importantly, I did the research on them, and I liked their model for focusing on the education and vocational, and all of the things that they do to prepare people. I’m sure we’re going to get into the pros and cons of tablets being in the prisons, but I created a film series called Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. It’s a series that focuses on people who have formerly been incarcerated and have transitioned back to society successfully, so it was a good fit. What they did was take what I’ve done, the film series, and created a whole curriculum around that film series, which … It’s an awesome opportunity to help people make that successful transition back to society.

Leonard: Many in corrections see tablets as the holy grail, allowing unfettered contact with family and other pro-social elements, plus use of tablets for educational and vocational purposes. I say that from the standpoint and with a recognition that I’ve been around the re-entry movement now for decades. We’ve all talked about the need for vocational training, for substance abuse training, for mental health issues, for making sure that the offender inside of a prison has constant contact with pro-social elements, his family members, his mom, his dad, other people in the community that could help him. Yet, all of that, that whole package, everything that I just described turns out to be enormously expensive, and most correctional systems don’t have the money to do it.

The sense was that if you could have a person in the country, say, from one location, say, the Department of Justice, say, it’s Randy, and Randy could be doing courses either recorded or live, and deliver that information via tablets, we could open up vocational, educational programs, substance abuse programming, to inmates, millions of inmates, if necessary, throughout the United States. That’s the hope, that’s the dream, that’s the promise. I’m going to start with you, Chenault. How far are we away from that, in terms of technology?

Chenault: Even in the few years that we’ve been operating, we’ve seen a huge shift in the mindset of the administrators in corrections. A few years ago when said we’d like to bring wired technology and tablets into facilities, some people looked at us like we were crazy, and now we’re finding a really receptive audience that’s aware of the benefits that the technology and tablets can bring for education, for programming, for a number of reasons. Like you mentioned, some statistics have only 20% of those who are incarcerated getting regular access to programming, and that’s really detrimental.

Edovo was started because we were in the Cooke County Jail and saw that people were watching Jerry Springer, and people were watching the Price is Right, and didn’t really have access to that programming. Like you mentioned, there’s many in corrections who want that to be different, but it’s a real challenge to have programming with an in-person teacher for a lot of reasons, being cost, the fact many incarcerated [users 00:06:04] are not at the same level of education and don’t have the same interests. What we see, and what I think many in corrections are seeing is the tablets are helpful because they’re scalable.

If you have someone like Randy’s program curriculum, upload it, and, as you said, millions could access it. You’re also able to meet users at their level. If they’re at the GED level, if they’re at an early literacy rate, if they’re post-secondary, content can be on there that they can access at any level. It’s also really valuable from a data perspective, and from a continuity of care perspective. What our model does and what tablets can do is give administrators in a facility the ability to see how users are learning, what’s popular. We can use that data [inaudible 00:06:58] offer more courses like that.

Our hope, and what we’re working on now, is making sure that parole and probation officers also have access to that data, and the ability to say, “Look, we see that you completed three courses on substance abuse, here are resources for you now that you’re back and out in the community,” or, “We see that you’re halfway through your GED course, you can continue that course from your time incarcerated now that you’re on the outside.” We see that potential, you see that potential, and we are finding a lot of receptive people in the corrections arena, as well.

Leonard: Now, Chenault, are these programs online or are they loaded into the tablets?

Chenault: What we do, and this is different based on the tablet providers, we have wired technology. The way we explain that is, if you think of the internet as a highway system, what we’ve done is created an internet access point that really acts as a tunnel with no on-ramps and no off-ramps. There’s no access to the broader internet, like Google or Facebook. You are only able to connect to Edovo itself. We think it’s really valuable and important that these devices are connected to the internet.

That is how you’re able to have data, that is how you’re able to track your progress, that is how you’ll be able to use your work and your certificate on the outside, and continue to [fill 00:08:23] your educational and vocational programming. It also allows us to upload new content, so the work that we’re doing with Randy, we’re able to upload videos of success stories and add to our curriculum in a way that’s meaningful and important for those who are inside. We have a connectivity, but it’s not just the broader, if that makes sense.

Leonard: It does. It is online, but only through channels that you provide, nothing else?

Chenault: Exactly, through a secure server. Obviously, in corrections, security is an issue, so we use a server through an [ABTN 00:09:01] tunnel, the same type of security that the finance sector uses, that healthcare data uses. We’ve obviously really thought about this, and this is an essential piece of making this work.

Leonard: Chenault, I do want to come back to you in terms of questions of security, because that’s what’s on the mind of every correctional administrator throughout the country. Randy Kearce, let me go over to you for a second. You and I both know, for you, from your personal experience, and me, from my experience within the criminal justice system and the research that I read. I think Chenault is being generous when she’s saying that 20% of inmates are gaining some sort of educational services. The last time I took a look at data, it was closer to 10%. Whether it’s 10% or 20%, the overwhelming majority of people sitting in a correctional facility are not getting any services at all, period. We’re saying that isn’t it better, that if they have access to Randy Kearce and the material that Randy produces, or the material that other people produce, isn’t it better for inmates to be exposed to vocational, educational, substance abuse, decision-making materials on a tablet. We would prefer a instructor, we would prefer a classroom. We’re never going to get that, so if we don’t do it via tablet, it’s not going to get done, am I right or wrong?

Randy: No, you’re absolutely right. We got to go with the times, and times is dictating that technology has to be brought into these facilities because it just makes sense financially for institutions to implement these type of technology, because you get more bang for the buck. More people will be able to use it, more people will be exposed to the materials, and it just makes sense because if you’re trying to prepare someone to come out into society and function on a level of being able to take care of themselves, you have to prepare them and give them the tools and the resources to help prepare them. The thing we have to look at is, number one, what type of programming will these tablets have? You’re going to have several or more companies come online and say, “Wow, this is a great idea. How can I make money from it?” This is the problem.

I think this is the thing that we have to ask ourselves, is what type of material will we allow inmates to be exposed to. We don’t want an inmate to sit there and be watching videos all day of music videos, or entertainment videos. There should be an allowance for some of it, but the majority of it should be focusing on them being able to properly prepare for getting out, and changing their mindset, and changing their behaviors, and things like that.

Going back to the questions of family and keeping in contact with family, you’re going to have companies that come aboard, and now that there was the decrease in how much phone companies can charge incarcerated individuals to call home, now you’re going to have companies trying to basically monopolize off of these tablets on, “How can we generate money by allowing people to use emails,” or just focusing on how they can stay in contact with their family. Those are the things that we have to watch out for. Those are the things that we have to be prepared for, so it doesn’t become a money-making machine versus an entity that can help people integrate back into society.

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s profit.

Randy: Excuse me?

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s a profit motive. Why do it unless there’s a profit motive? I’m just curious. I don’t want to go in there deeply, because I would love to see state government, federal government, come out and pay for these sort of things, but at the moment, they’re not going to do it unless there is a profit.

Randy: One of the things that attracted me to Edovo is that they have a more social model. They don’t focus on profit. I can’t tell you the specifics or how they operate, but it’s not profit-driven. Go ahead.

Leonard: Let me get back to the larger question. Randy, do giving information via tablets in the correctional setting … The correctional setting is loud, it’s ruckus, it’s noisy, it’s not very conducive to a learning environment. You’re sitting in your cell, and your watching programs dealing with substance abuse, or an educational program, or a vocational program, or job hunting. How effective could or would tablets be?

Randy: Very effective because that allows you to go in your cell and tune everything else out around you, that’s going on around you that’s not positive, that’s not productive. You can go in your cell, and you’ll basically have your own teacher. You have your own facilitator teaching you or showing you different programs and taking you, walking you, through these programs. They would be very effective. I guess one of the best-selling items in the commissary would be a radio. Everybody has a radio in the prison because that allows you to escape.

These tablets would definitely be a tool to keep people focused on the journey ahead, and not what’s going on negatively around them. When you factor in the privilege part, as well … Tablets are a privilege, they’re not mandatory. People are going to be on their best behavior to have access to these tablets. You’re going to cut down in a lot of areas when it comes to discipline, when it just unfocused behaviors going on around you, because everybody’s going to want to keep their standings to be able to use those tablets. Trust me on that one there.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program. Let me re-introduce both of you for a second before we get on to the rest of the program. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo, E-D-O-V-O, www.Edovo.com, and Randy Kearce, my Facebook friend and a very nice man, re-entry consultant, www.ReentryStrategies.com. He’s produced a video and a slew of materials including a book, but he didn’t want me to promote the book. He wanted me to promote the video, Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. I appreciate both of you being on the program with us today. All right, for the second half of the program, Randy, I’m just going to be a bit more of a devil’s advocate before going back to Chenault on the security question. You’re not going to be able to teach a person to lay bricks, you’re not going to be able to teach a person to be an electrician via a tablet, you’re not going to be able to teach a person how to read via a tablet. These are things that almost require classroom instruction, do they not, or am I wrong?

Randy: I have to disagree with you.

Leonard: Go ahead.

Randy: I have to disagree with you vehemently because a lot of things that I’ve learned in the last two or three years, I’ve learned on YouTube. Video is very great way to teach people because a lot of people can learn by looking and being able to follow the instructions of … Like Chenault said, literacy is a big problem in prison, and everybody’s not reading and comprehending on the same level, so what people can see, they’re more apt to want to be able to follow those instructions. Everything and anything that you want to learn is on YouTube, so this is just giving people a better or more opportunity to learn in a different kind of way. We’re living in a video society, we’re living in a technology that … We have to incorporate instructive learning via instructors that will be able to give them great courses where they can be able to learn in that way. Video’s the best and great way to help these guys prepare for getting out.

Leonard: Chenault, the security question that I alluded to before … Every correctional administrator in the country is saying, “Leonard, I get it. I think tablets would be nice. I think having online access would even be nice, but how do you do that and protect public safety at the same time? Anything that we bring in via the internet is going to be abused, and in fact, a lot of prisons don’t have any internet connection at all, simply for security reasons.” Do you want to comment on that?

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve seen a couple people … It’s not a couple people, many facilities that, fortunately, are addressing that security issue head-on. What we’ve done in a lot of facilities is we do need to come in and bring in that connectivity to a facility. As I mentioned earlier, the way we operate, and I think that the way that … There really is the potential to have connectivity and access to wonderful resources … Is that you can only access Edovo. You have a tunnel vision of internet that can only access Edovo. There’s also the ability to access communications in certain tablets, depending on the facility, and depending on their provider.

What we’ve seen really is that this hasn’t been the issue that people were afraid it would be in the facilities that we’re operating in. What we’ve seen is that all of the content that we’re putting onto these tablets is that it’s both by us and by the administration in these facilities. They have final say on everything. We’re not giving access to Google and Facebook. What we think instead is that having access to technology is really valuable. As Randy said, and we actually spoke a couple weeks ago, he learned about the internet by reading about it from the newspaper. When he was released from the facility, he’d never used the internet, he’d never seen a tablet, he’d never used a cell phone, like an iPhone.

It’s crucial to have that technological literacy. Technology’s only going to become more important in our communities, and [you see that 00:18:59] … I’m sure every one of us every day uses technology in a massive way. This really hasn’t been the security issue that I think a lot of people expect, because we’ve done a lot of diligent work to make sure that we’re using the security mechanisms that the finance sector does, that the healthcare sector does. We’re using our own servers, as well. I understand the concern, but I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about bringing tablets into the facility go visit one of our facilities, and talk to the administrators there. This is something that we’ve figured out.

Randy: Let me add to that little piece.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: In any prison environment, you’re going to have the guy that is going to try to hack the system. That’s just going to be, but what these tablet providers have to do is just stay diligent and be prepared for those who will try to connect to the internet, find some type of backdoor, whatever the case may be, and if it happens, how to learn from that, to make it even stronger and better. Listen, some of the best organizations or people get hacked. You got financial, banks get hacked. Everybody gets hacked, so what we have to do is learn from those experiences to make it better so that the masses will be able to enjoy and be able to benefit from them. That’s the reality right there.

Leonard: All right, I’m going to take both of you past your comfort levels, and it’s not what Edovo is currently doing, it’s not what Randy Kearce is currently doing, but this whole concept of using tablets as a way of communicating with mom and dad at home … Everybody that I’ve talked to at my organization today, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, when I was telling them about the phone call and the interview this afternoon, they simply said, “Okay, we are all for pro-social contact, but how do you keep the nefarious person off the line?” Whether it’s an email back and forth, which requires pure internet access, or whether it’s a phone call, or whether it’s a video chat, this is a way, theoretically, of constantly having pro-social contacts, even doing job interviews in the community over a tablet, but how do you do that in such a way is to make sure that public safety is not jeopardized and that the right person is on the phone, not the wrong person. I know this is taking us way beyond the boundaries of what we talked about, but Chenault, do you have any sense as to that?

Chenault: Sure. What I would say is that video visitation, and phone calls, and emails, are already occurring in facilities, not all facilities, but in many. The same security protocols and the same monitoring that occurs currently could easily be adapted to communication on tablets. As we’ve seen in the research, some of the most valuable things you can do while incarcerated to ensure successful re-entry are to have access to meaningful, high-quality programming, and to have access to communication with the outside world. We are 100% in agreement with [inaudible 00:22:18] that that’s valuable. I think using security protocols that are in existence, and adapting those to the tablet is not a huge leap. Some of these facilities are already utilizing these forms of communication, and tablets would allow greater access to that.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: When I was incarcerated, we only had phone calls, but, number one, you had to get an approved phone call list, you had to get approved people. They had to be approved for you to be able to call that certain number. You didn’t just have an opportunity to pick up the phone and call numbers randomly, that’s number one. Number two, you had someone who monitored most of the calls, all of the calls, going in and out of the prison, at any given time. When someone in the administrative felt that the conversation was suspect, or wasn’t going according to the policy of the prison, and there was some type of [thread 00:23:15], or whatever the case may be, they shut it down, they shut you down. Your phone call privileges could be taken, they could be even monitored even more, scrutinized. Those type of security process can be applied to the tablets easy, and I think it would probably be easier because you got a guy sitting there watching, and he can gauge whether or not this conversation is going the way it’s supposed to, and there’s any type of problem, so I don’t see that being a problem. I don’t really see that as being a problem.

Leonard: Both of you alluded to Randy’s lack of technology-savvy when he was in prison, and Randy learned about all of this a little bit in prison, but mostly when he came out. The average inmate is not technologically-savvy. The average inmate has never picked up a tablet in their lives. The average inmate may know about Facebook, may know about the computer, but the tablet technology would be foreign to them. How comfortable are they going to be with this tablet, Randy, and how amenable are they going to be to pick up quickly on this new technology?

Randy: The first thing inmates have a lot of is time, and they’re always looking for something to occupy their time. The tablet will give them an opportunity to fill the void of time, that’s number one. That’s why it’s important to have the necessary resources and tools on the tablets, so when they’re trying to just pass time, that they’re not just passing time like they would do in a day room just watching TV, frivolously doing nothing. You have a huge opportunity to provide them with the necessary tools, and programs, and resources, that as they’re trying to kill time, that they’re learning at the same time. That’s most important right there.

Leonard: Chenault, how many correctional facilities is Edovo involved in now?

Randy: Yeah, we’re operating all across the country, and we have over … We’re launching a couple in the next month. We have around a thousand tablets in the market right now, and we’re working on increasing that number. Just to piggyback off of what Randy said, when we come into a facility, we train people, we train the correction officers, we train the administrators, we also interact with the incarcerated users to make sure that they’re comfortable. This really is something that we put a lot of time and thought into, and it’s a user-friendly interface. As Randy said, this is a two-in-one benefit. You’re both getting access to educational programming, and you’re learning how to interact positively with technology at the same time.

Leonard: Do either one of you envision the day that I spoke about at the beginning of the program, where you have a person at a central location providing GED instruction to literally tens of thousands of inmates at the same time? It’s exactly what colleges are doing now, in terms of long-distance learning and virtual learning. It’s really no different from what many colleges are doing now. Many colleges are doing it live. When I taught for the University of Maryland, and when I taught an online course, it wasn’t live, but a lot of colleges are going to the live format, which I really welcome. Any vision of doing a live format for prison inmates throughout the country?

Chenault: I think that’s a great idea. We’re already utilizing open-educational resources, like you spoke about. I definitely envision the day when we [see 00:27:01] tablets in a number of facilities that are reaching many of those who are incarcerated. Something to add there is that … You asked Randy about headphones, and if this is a good learning environment. What we see is, we come in to a facility, and officers and administrators are skeptical of the value of a tablet at times, but within three to five minutes, the facility is quiet, and there’s real engagement going on. You see decreased instances of violence, and officers and administrators really bought into this, because it’s win/win. I’m really optimistic, and I’m hopeful also that in programs that already have teachers and educational programming, that we can be a supplement to that learning, as homework, or as documentaries, or as extra [inaudible 00:27:55] or real-time videos. That’s something that we see, as well, so absolutely.

Leonard: I’ve been in and out of prisons hundreds of times, Randy, and they’re noisy, they’re raucous. It’s really a chaotic experience. The vision that I have is walking into a prison and seeing eight hundred inmates walking around with tablets and earphones, and it’s quiet, and they get a wide array of educational programming that will keep them content and satisfied throughout the course of the day. Is that your vision?

Randy: That’s my vision, and we’re heading in that direction. It might take a while to get everybody [staying 00:28:33] on-board and seeing that vision, but that’s where we’re headed. Re-entry, it’s a big issue that we have to conquer, and that’s pretty much bringing technology into the [fore 00:28:46] will help that. I just want to say that I envision a day that one day my programs and what I’m doing, and maybe even me, will be like you said, beamed into prisons all across the country, and I’m giving that course, I’m giving those instructions to audience. I think we’re a little far from that, but we’re heading that direction. It just makes sense. It just makes sense, because when it comes to financially, having the ability to do that, it’s going to be more cost-effective to use technology to give people a better opportunity than the old traditional ways. You can pay someone $30, $40 thousand dollars a year to [crosstalk 00:29:27] …

Leonard: Got to wrap-up quickly, Randy. Go ahead.

Randy: Yeah, I see us going in that direction. Technology is here to stay, and it’s making its way into the prisons. It’s just going to be more beneficial as we go forward.

Leonard: Our guests today, Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo … That is www.Edovo.com. Randy Kearce is also by our microphones. Once again, re-entry consultant, www.ReentryStrategies.com … Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

Share

Successful Reentry Through Employment-Transcript

DC Public Safety Television

See the main site at  http://media.csosa.gov.

See the television show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2016/03/successful-reentry-through-employment/

Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. Today’s show focuses on successful reentry through employment. Criminologists recognize that employment is crucial to successful reentry.

CSOSA understands that we have to do everything in our power to prompt employers to hire those we supervise. If you have questions or suggestions about CSOSA as a source for hiring, please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. We will post this number throughout the program.

To discuss this important issue, joining us today is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Deborah Carroll.

Director Carroll, welcome to Public Safety.

Thank you for having me.

First, I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Department of Employment Services and the implications it has for those that we supervise, folks who are coming back from prison or who are under community supervision.

So my vision actually is to really build a system. Right now, the programs within the District of Columbia work within our silos and we do that fairly well, but in order for us to really an effective work force system we have to work closer together. That means reducing some of the duplication that happens across some of the agencies, making certain that businesses are aware of the services and the talent that we have in the District and communicating that better to the public. Then third, of course, making sure that folks have access to our services and systems. So what the means for CSOSA and the clients that you serve as well other returning citizens in the District is that being more accessible is going to be key to any success and ensuring that we have quality programs and services that can serve that.

One of the programs that we really found to be extremely helpful for our folks under supervision is Project Empowerment, but I know you have several other programs that you’re about to put in place that you’d like to share with our audience. I’d certainly like to hear more about them and the implications for the opportunities for those that we serve.

I’ll start with Project Empowerment. Project Empowerment is a program that’s been in place since 2002. The District has served more than 10,000 returning citizens and other hard-to-hire residents in the District. Typically these are individuals that have historically cycled on and off jobs and had difficulty retaining their jobs or because of their characteristics have had difficulty accessing employment.

What’s really important about this program is there’s a three week intensive that happens prior to putting anyone on a worksite. That three week intensive really focuses in on what those barriers are to the person being successful in employment. It helps them to deal with workplace related stress and how to handle that better. It focuses in on career pathways and understanding what their career goals are and really helps them to establish a roadmap to success.

It’s then followed by up to six months of work-related subsidized employment. We have a number of businesses that support returning citizens and others in the workplace. During that time period, that resident has an opportunity to demonstrate their skills while earning a wage at the same time.

What we have found historically is that programs like subsidized employment or programs that provide some kind of stipend tend to have better results in terms of longevity and completion rates in the program. I think what’s really critically important is that for residents that have trouble retaining jobs having a period of steady work experience that they can put on their resume is critically important and at the same time learning a skill in the work place.

So we’ve taken the successes of Project Empowerment and then tried to replicate certain other programs maybe from other populations or maybe even the same population but different variations of the same theme. My history is, of course, working with families and in analyzing the successes and the challenges around individuals that have children in particular is the problem with having steady work histories. When a business is trying to make a decision about a candidate, if they see someone with sporadic employment then a person that has good employment, obviously they’re going to pick the person that has a steady employment.

So during the time that I was working in that space, we really realized that  work experience is really critical. Also earning and learning at the same time is also critical because we found through our data analysis that residents sometimes will stop a program, whether it be educational program or other type of training program, because they need to support their families or they need to support their household.

We don’t want residents to have to be put in a decision of making a choice between getting their GED or a credential that can propel them to the middle class to having to find employment. So Project Empowerment and programs like that are the direction that we’re heading in.

One of the new programs that we’re working on is the Career Connections program. That program, in particular, is critically important because it’s part of our Safer Stronger D.C. initiative with the mayor. We’re doing that in particular. We’re targeting justice-involved youth aged 20 to 24 and specifically in the priority police service areas in the District. That’s going to be our priority group that we’re going to be focused on.

Through this investment, about $4.5 million was invested by the city, we are going to be working very closely with CSOSA as well as other organizations that serve justice-involved youth to really both identify youth and provide them with a suite of professional development services including programs similar to what Project Empowerment offers along with a period of work experience. Within that program, we will be providing incentives for those residents to also pursue their education. So we’re combining, again, some of the good things we know coming out of the Project Empowerment program and then marrying it up with a younger population that oftentimes needs education to help support them through their career path.

That population is, as you know, one of the areas that we really want to focus much more attention on in the District of Columbia because we have a number of programs. Some are youth employment, but they really need steady income so I think that those are real innovations that will help our city substantially, in particularly with this population.

I’m really excited about it because there are also other initiatives that we’re going to fold in to both Project Empowerment and the Career Connections program. That’s, of course, the Tech-Hire Initiative.

The Tech-Hire Initiative is an initiative through partnership, again, with CSOSA and other organizations we’ll be working with youth and teaching them the skills that will help them to build a pathway in the IT industry. Many youth now are very tech savvy. They oftentimes have cell phones. They use the internet. Those are skills that they already have. We want to be able to introduce the concepts of A+ certification and network administration along with maybe cyber security and ethical hacking. All of those programs have certifications where a person can complete them, demonstrate their work experience, and have the potential to earn a living wage and definitely move into a pathway of the middle class.

That’s great because I know that the whole field of IT and technology is an open field. If we can get some of our folks involved in that and learning at a young age and building on the skills that they already have and the knowledge that they already have, that would be substantial.

Yeah, I think that the work force development industry is changing. It’s changing in a good way, in the sense that it’s now understanding better what businesses need. It’s also projecting what we need for the future and of course, IT is one area that the United States as a whole needs better expertise in and there’s no reason why our friends coming out of CSOSA’s program or any of our other programs shouldn’t be a part of that.

The other thing is that people usually learn better when they’re doing. There’s been this myth, I think, that long-term unemployed residents don’t have the skills to be successful in the work place. I can tell you now just from my short experience with DOES and some of the youth that I’ve seen coming through the programs and the people that I’ve encountered that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s our job to make sure that we profile them to the public and to businesses in a way that shows that they can actually be successful and build better relationships with business and have different support mechanisms in place that allow for businesses to thrive while they’re working with residents and helping them to be successful in the work place.

Again, these earn-and-learn opportunities I think is one way to do that. The other is expanding our on the job training resources, being able to provide support to businesses that hire residents, making sure that they’re aware of the work opportunity tax credits and other incentive programs that the IRS have provided to businesses that hire the harder to employ citizens in this country.

Are you finding that a lot of the businesses are taking advantage of those incentives?

There is a growing interest, I think, in the subsidized employment space. Borrowing what we’ve learned from summer youth employment this year and the success we’ve had in getting residents that are in that 22 to 24 year old range placed in jobs. We’re finding really a growing interest in that. In particular because that’s an age group where you have a certain level of maturity that allows them to be open to learning. What we’re finding is that they’re not squandering those opportunities. They’re coming to work on time. They’re doing the things that are necessary for them to be successful in the work place.

I think it’s exciting that you’re dispelling some of those myths about our young people and their interest in employment and their willingness to do what they need to do to maintain those jobs. A lot of times they do need a lot of help and coaching and those kinds of things. Are there any plans within DOES in terms of working with young people to make sure that they stay in those jobs?

So we’re making sure that we provide the supportive services in the program. I think what’s going to be unique about Career Connections and what we’re also changing in our Project Empowerment program is that follow-up after they’ve been employed. Our goal is to have them retain those jobs at least for a year because if they do that then typically they’re on their way to being able to really be successful in that job. So we’ve heard definitely from businesses that sometimes those first few months are the most difficult.

Then also looking at any gaps that are available in the system that we can add support. A good example is transportation. There are some areas of the city where transportation is more difficult depending on where you have to go to go to work or what time you have to be at work. A good example is construction and they start at five in the morning. If you have children, there’s no child care available or not as many child care slots available in places that open at five a.m. so what do you do in order to make sure that your children are taken care of. That’s just one example.

Those are important aspects of maintaining a job. Certainly our partnership with the Department of Employment Services offers another resource through CSOSA to support some of the work that you’re doing. We’re very excited to have you here in the city. Are there any other initiatives for older individuals in the District that you want to discuss?

One area that we are focusing on is looking at ways that we can expand the subsidized employment to older residents and really building the similar model that we have in both the Project Empowerment program as well as the youth program for our seniors and those 35 and up range. Those are things that we’re looking to leverage right now.

We have the LEAP Academy which again is focused on younger people but in our work that we see in the District we have a lot of talented residents that want to either get back into the work force or are looking to increase their employment. They may be underemployed. So we’re really being mindful of that as one of our areas of focus.

The other is our professionals that are looking for employment and having a different suite of services available for them. Most times they don’t stay unemployed for very long. We do have some though that have been maybe caring for family members that have been sick and have been out of the work force for a while and need to get back into the work force. Others that are looking for different career paths as they transition out of unemployment. We’re trying to develop a whole suite of services connected to them.

We’re excited about all of those opportunities. Surprisingly, we have every single one of those types of individuals so we’ll be taking advantage of everything that you have to offer. We look forward to working with you and letting us know how we can support the work that you’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

On that note, I’m going to wrap up our first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Deborah Carroll, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Stay with us for the next segment as we continue our discussion on employment and successful reentry with two new guests.

Thank you so much Director.

Hi and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. We’re continuing our conversation on successful reentry through employment in the second segment with two employers who have hired people under the supervision the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

My guests for this segment are Marianne Ali, director of training D.C. Central Kitchen, and Omar McIntosh, CEO of Perennial Construction.

Marianne and Omar, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I’d like to start this segment off just asking you to tell us a little bit about what you do and then we’ll talk a little bit about the work that you do with our clients. So why don’t I start off with you Marianne?

Sure, Nancy. Thank you. My name’s Marianne Ali, and I’m the Director of Culinary Job Training for D.C. Central Kitchen. We run four culinary job training programs at the Kitchen, three at another location working with a local partner. We work with a lot of returning citizens, and we have a longstanding relationship with CSOSA that I’m really excited to talk about.

I can’t wait because you all have done an outstanding job in working with some of our clients.

Mr. McIntosh?

Thank you. Perennial Construction is a Washington D.C.-based commercial general contractor. We also have self-performed capabilities in structure repair and restoration and commercial demolition. We have had a great relationship with CSOSA and hired up to about 50 individuals over the last year and a half in our self-performed crews.

Excellent. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about how long you’ve been hiring men and women under supervision and what your experiences have been. I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and some of the success stories. I’ll start of this time with you Leo.

Certainly. I think that we started in early ’14, we had a labor need on a project. I went to my community resources and I met Mr. Tony Lewis with Project Empowerment. Through Tony we had a table of about 12 eager individuals, and I think that we hired every one of them for a specific project. Of that crew, I think four are still with us to this day. One has risen to the ranks for foreman. He’s a crew leader right now on a project in Washington D.C. So we’ve had great success. Our crew is led by three individuals who we all found through CSOSA and Project Empowerment. We also have a great network now to go back to CSOSA and vet and train new employees.

Excellent. And Marianne?

D.C. Central Kitchens has been in existence for 25 years. Since its inception, we have always worked with returning citizens. I think that our relationship with CSOSA has been at least 15 years of my tenure that we’ve worked closely with you all.

The organization itself has about 140 employees and 42% of those employees are graduates of our culinary job training program. About 50% of those folks are directly from CSOSA so we are excited about that.

Great. We are excited too obviously.

Some of the challenges that you’ve faced, if any, that you can share with our audience?

You know Nancy, when you think about culinary job training or culinary you think about food but our approach is we can teach folks how to cook but we really understand the challenges that our folks come in to us with. So we address each and every, well the majority of those challenges. We start off every morning with a self-empowerment group that has absolutely nothing to do with cooking at all but everything to do with changing your thinking and your behavior. That group is really, really helpful. At our graduations, folks are always talking about cooking was fine but this is what really helped me.

We also offer a transition group that’s specifically for folks that have just come home in the last year and a half and have those challenges, having to balance their time, reunifying with their family, child support, to really sort of help them navigate through those challenges successfully. Because those are the kind of things that people get tripped up on and we want to make sure that we help them manage that in a way that they don’t go back, that they don’t recidivate.

We also have a women’s group, gender specific that talks about challenges with being under supervision, sometimes it’s getting your children back and those kind of things. So we look for every area that there may be a need for that support and we just infuse it into what we do on a normal everyday.

That’s so important too because you know how hard it is a lot of times for the folks that come under supervision, particularly if they’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, to reintegrate successfully and to navigate, quite frankly, the community again.

Leo, can you talk a little bit about challenges that you might have seen? The folks that you’ve worked with?

Sure. I think in construction a lot of our success is based on our ability to react. When a client calls or has a need, we have to respond in a timely manner, we have to perform in a timely manner. So when it comes to our CSOSA hires it’s been about getting to work. That’s the first challenge. So employees who haven’t been working gainfully for years or weeks at a time, the cost. There’s a Metro card that has to be purchased and it has to take about two weeks before they get their first paycheck.

We have gone above and beyond our requirements by providing Metro cards. I keep smartcards. I keep them reloaded at all times in my office. We hand them out to new employees and they give them back to me on their first payday. I shake their hand and we exchange the paycheck for the card. It sounds simple but it’s necessary. We’ve had instances where individuals couldn’t get to work and you can imagine if you’ve been away from society for ten years, the concept of the metro, the taxi cab, or the bus is a little far out of reach. We’ve stepped in where there weren’t answers to provide those solutions. Yes it causes us to have a little higher margin on our work but hopefully our clients respect our work and will pay for those services.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredible that both of you all have taken the time to consider those issues and to try to address them like you have. Are there any incentives to hiring men and women who’ve been under supervision or who are coming back to society from incarceration?

Absolutely. We’re aware of many federal and local programs, even the tax abatement programs are available to us, but more importantly there’s a labor need in the city. There’s lots and lots of work in construction, infrastructure, industrial side, and we’re focusing very sharply on those areas. Where there’s a need, we’re trying to fill it. We’re trying to get our folks to work as soon as possible. There are programs. There are benefits. But more importantly there’s a need and a need to develop these individuals, all individuals with a positive attitude that want to work hard.

Excellent. Marianne?

Sure. Our approach is to work with our employers on the tax incentives. We have a huge employer base that we try to get involved into working with our students, our graduates.

One of the things that really is a consideration I suppose when you’re working with folks under our supervision are their criminal history and how difficult it is for them actually to get opportunities. What advice could you give to someone who’s reentering Washington D.C. or who is under supervision but has a criminal history in terms of seeking employment?

We advise our graduates to be honest but we also advise them to talk about what they are doing now, what they have done since they’ve come home, that they’re honest, that they’re eager to work, they have a great attitude. Nancy, we’ve had chefs come into the kitchen on a regular basis and the number one question and answer that we ask those chefs, “What do you look for?” And they’re looking for somebody, they’re not looking for somebody with a bunch of skills, they’re looking for somebody who is eager and has a great attitude.

That’s the critical piece right there.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve hired pretty much every individual on our crew directly. I’ve spoken to them at length about what our expectations are, expectations of our clients, and expectations of their peers. I’ll tell you that we’ve had tremendous success because they respect their peers and they work together. Now that we’ve had two years working together as a field performance crew, there is a natural pecking order, and it’s seeming to work out for us at this point. So the attitude is a tremendous part of the hiring requirement. Not so much in your past but where you’re headed and how hard you’re willing to work getting there.

So critical. One of the things that we’d like to encourage more employers to do is consider this population. As an employer looking for someone, how would you encourage other employers like yourselves to consider this population? What kinds of things would you ask them to make consideration of for this hiring process as an employer?

I would say expectations need to change. I say that because a lot of employers expect you to walk in learning how to use the full suite of Microsoft tools and you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got money in the pocket to get to work and get home. Those are not real expectations. I think that there’s a very, very large capable workforce that is serving time or under supervision right now. I would tell you that if your expectation is you’re going to help people be gainfully employed, build careers not just jobs, and have a long term sustainable career whether it’s with me or someone else that is what the expectation needs to be. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

That’s fabulous.

The way we do it at the Kitchen, Nancy, it’s a 14-week program. Our students are with for seven weeks and then they go on four weeks into an internship, then they come back to us for the last three weeks. We engage our potential employers to come to the Kitchen and be a part of the actual process, the training process. We hand pick our internship sites. We want to know that those chefs have been to the Kitchen, who understand our population, who want to give back, and want to work to help develop our students into great employees.

Both of you are extremely successful. I’ve been to your graduation Marianne and it’s so exciting to see the chefs come in, all the people that support the D.C. Central Kitchen. To just expose our folks who are under supervision to that is just incredible for their self esteem.

For you Leo, you’ve just got a number of projects in this city that you’re already involved in that you can tell our audience a little bit about if you’d like.

Out of respect for my clients, we don’t disclose most of our project sites but we do have several commercial sites under demolition and construction. Some in the Dupont Circle area and the downtown central business district as well. Our crews have traveled as far as Rock Hills, South Carolina working for public utility clients and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland on infrastructure projects. So we are very busy. We look to stay very busy and hopefully look to find a home for people in the communities we work in.

Excellent. Marianne, for you you’re working with many of the chefs, very important chefs, all around the city and the country quite frankly. You want to talk a little bit about some of those networks?

Of course there’s Jose Andres who’s a very good friend of the Kitchen, who also supports us on multiple levels. The students are exposed, for example, we just had our annual fundraiser and there were chefs there who are battling chefs competing and the students get to meet those chefs and work with, for example, Tyson’s came in. They came down to the kitchen, and the chef worked with the students. So they’re exposed on a regular basis. It’s really to get them comfortable in talking and understanding that those folks give their time because they want for you to end up working alongside them.

It has to be very encouraging and really an opportunity for you to feel that you’re giving back to the city when you’re hiring these men and women and also to watch their self esteem grow. Do you want to comment a little bit on some of the things that you’ve seen with the folks that you’ve worked with?

At the end of the program, we have a brunch that graduation morning. It’s a more intimate setting with the graduates and the staff. I’ve heard some incredible things. I’ve heard people say that they never have finished anything but a prison and now, “I’m graduating and I have a job. I’ll be able to give back to my community and come back to D.C. Central Kitchen and give back to D.C. Central Kitchen.” Women who have been able to get their children back doing the training program. It’s just incredible stories when you see folks the first day that come in and they’re sort of slouched over like this, and at the end of the program, their head is high, their eyes are open, and their shoulders are back. I can’t tell you the feeling that we get.

I’ve watched them. Omar, you’re going to end us.

I’ll tell you these stories are a labor of love but watching the progress and the levels of progress from earning your first paycheck to training a work crew to learning how to use tools and skills has been excellent.

I appreciate both of you joining us and sharing your experience and most importantly, being willing to open your heart and your businesses to this population who are very much in need of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Marianne Ali and Omar McIntosh. Again, if you have questions or suggestions about using CSOSA as a source for hiring please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. Thank you for watching today’s show. Please watch us next time. We explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Have a great day.

Share