Women Offenders-CSOSA Reentry Reflections 2013-DC Public Safety Radio

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/01/women-offenders-csosa-reentry-reflections-2013-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is going to be about women offenders, always one of the more popular programs and one of the more interesting programs that we do. We have three guests with us today – Dr. Willa Butler, she is the Clinical Supervisor for Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women. She used to run groups and in fact invented groups for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Patricia Bradley, and she is going to be off of our supervision this September, thank God, and she is doing extraordinarily well. Marcia Austin is another person doing well, off in April, and we are here to talk about women, and women and crime, women and the criminal justice system. There is going to be an event coming up in Washington, D.C., on February 9th from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 in the afternoon discussing the Women’s Reentry Forum, 700 Southern Avenue in Southeast D.C. It’s part of the larger Reentry Reflections events held over the course of January and February. You can find more information about all of the events about Reentry Reflection, www. – my agency – csosa.gov; and to Will and to Patricia and Marcia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Women: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Len Sipes: That was a very long introduction. Willa Butler, boy, have you been around. You invented practically our women’s program here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, even to the point where it is now a priority for us to be sure that gender-specific programs are integral to what it is that we do on a day-to-day basis. You’ve invented groups, you’ve expanded groups, you’ve expanded services to women offenders. Why is the emphasis on women caught up in the criminal justice system so important, Willa?

Willa Butler: Well, I want to say thank you for having me back, Leonard. The most important thing to me, I have such a compassion for our female offenders because so long ago, when you look at the history, women have gone unnoticed or forgotten. As far as men are concerned, women were never intelligent enough to commit crimes therefore the system was not designed for them, and when you look at basic traditional counseling or even the system is designed for men by men.  And then over the years, in 1998, when the drug trafficking laws increased and women started going to prison for little petty crimes that listed them in the area of a king pin, then we had an over-flux. We had an over-flux of women to enter the penal system and it was like, well what are we going to with these women? Where are we going to put them? And it just gave us an understanding that as a parole officer during that time, how do we work with women? We knew it was something different but we didn’t know what the difference was, and I just studied it. I studied it and I investigated it, and I found out it’s that women are not needy, it’s just their needs were never met. And through law investigations and studying and having groups, gender-specific groups to address the vulnerabilities of women, we were able to develop the gender-specific programs for CSOSA, and from that came the Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women which is a reentry program for women coming home from prison because housing is a very big problem for women coming back home – housing, employment, it’s whole plethora of things that affects the female offender, but I could go on and on. I hope I answered the question.

Len Sipes: I think I just about cried when you retired from the Court Services and  Offender Supervision Agency and you went over with New Day because I had been dealing with you for the last ten years and it’s like what am I going to do without Willa Butler?

Willa Butler: Oh, thank you.

Len Sipes: So ladies and gentlemen, people listening to this program, I have had literally hundreds of women in the ten years that testify to the fact that Willa Butler has changed their lives, and Willa, I will always be grateful for your involvement in the criminal justice system. Before going on to the ladies who are our guests, I do want to very quickly run over some statistics. Men compared to women, women compared to men caught up in the criminal justice system – women have higher rates of AIDs, higher rates of mental health problems, much higher rates of physical and sexual abuse, much higher rates of physical or sexual violence. Approximately 7 out of every 10 women caught up in the criminal justice system have children, and women have higher rates of substance abuse. So there’s a bit of statistics or a series of statistics that does taught about, Willa, the difference between men and women offenders. Women offenders, they come out of the prison system or they come off probation, they have a wide array of problems that male offenders do not have, in fact they have more problems than male offenders, correct?

Willa Butler: Yes, it is correct. It just that they have more in a sense that although men go through the same things – of course they don’t have children – it’s just that women process it differently. When we start off at an early age, when you look at the criminogenic gender risk factors, when you take mental illness, we’ll look at that first because a lot of times mental illnesses stem from the trauma that the women have experienced as children and it was never addressed, or if it was addressed, it was addressed in a very negative way meaning that we’re not going to talk about it, we’re going to push it under the rug, what part did you play in it, it was your fault, and things off nature. And so what the women do as children, they carry that baggage with them. They carry at a young age the guilt and the shame that I have experienced that was placed on me. I did not cause this. I have no refuge, and the refuge that they find usually will come with the drugs or the substance abuse, somewhere, or in other relationships, somewhere where I can feel this void, where I could be loved, where I could be really taken care of. And a lot of times they get hooked on the drugs and then, like I said, the trauma goes unaddressed, and the trauma which can stem into mental illness, and then that’s not addressed.

Len Sipes: Sexual and physical violence is a common, common occurrence in the life of women offenders, and the vast majority of that takes place before the age of 18. Am I correct or incorrect?

Willa Butler: Yes, that is correct.

Len Sipes: All right. Before getting into the ladies, again, a reminder, our Women’s Reentry Forum, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is going to be on February 9th from 8:00 to 3:00 at 700 Southern Avenue in Southeast Washington, D.C. You can get additional information about all of the events that we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency on Reentry Reflections, a whole series of events dealing with the concept of reentry at www.csosa.gov. Patricia?

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: How are you doing?

Patricia Bradley: I’m doing great. How are you?

Len Sipes: I’m fine. Now, you’re off supervision, correct?

Patricia Bradley: That is correct.

Len Sipes: And you’re off supervision as of September 2012.

Patricia Bradley: That is correct.

Len Sipes: Congratulations.

Patricia Bradley: Thank you.

Len Sipes: What did it take to come off supervision successfully? All we ever hear are the negatives. All we ever hear from the media is the fact that the person did not do well. You’ve done well. What was the key ingredient in you coming through the criminal justice system, you coming from an incarcerative setting and doing well?

Patricia Bradley: It was easy for me. I can’t speak for a lot of the other women. For me it was real simple – support. A lot of women don’t get just moral, simple support. I had requirements. I had a one-year probation, that was my sentence, and it was simple. I was to report to CSOSA to do weekly [PH 0:08:41] urinals. I was going twice a week, and then I got a once-a week, and then it went to a month, and then it was phased out, and it’s just simple requirements. And sometimes, if you’re a substance abuse user, it can be difficult. First of all, you’ve got to get yourself together and stop using your substances first, you know. That’s step one. For me it was going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, meeting with my probation office regularly. I was scheduled to meet with him. And it just wasn’t hard. It was just something real simple, you know, and then me being a resident at out New Day too, Temple of Praise Transitional House. They helped also because that was one of my support mechanisms because without support, in some cases with some women like me, with not only just substance abuse issues, I also have mental health issues as well but you have to address all your issues.

Len Sipes: But look, to me the idea of a woman coming out of an incarcerative setting, coming out – she has kids. You have kids, correct?

Patricia Bradley: Yes, I do.

Len Sipes: Seven out of 10 have kids, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, not a lot of money, not a lot of support, that almost seems to be impossible to overcome all those odds, and the fact that you did it to me is courageous.

Patricia Bradley: Very – very courageous because there was a time, like I said, with the issues, because you can run into different issues. Just simple, something basic, is transportation to get to and from these places. I’m not embarrassed to say one of my sons was helping me with transportation. New Day, they helped, they had a transportation van that would take us to our appointments and different things that we had, and I think that’s where women, one of their biggest issues and biggest problems is just having their basic needs met, you know? Without that, you can’t be successful. You need help in a lot of these areas, and a lot of these programs that we do have, I think with the very few that we do have, in order to be successful, a lot of these women, including myself, they need help, you know, just simple resources, and for me, that’s how I became successful.

Len Sipes: How many kids?

Patricia Bradley: All together, six.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s a lot of kids.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: And they’re going to depend upon you either for financial or emotional support.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it’s just not you, it’s seven human beings – six kids and you.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: A lot of people out there listening to this program are going to say, “Hey, Patricia, I’m really sorry. You did the crime, you did the time, you committed a criminal act. I’m not putting a lot of money into you. If there’s money to be put, I’m going to give it to the school. I’m going to give it to the elderly. I’m going to give it to people from Hurricane Sandy. I not going to give it to you because you’ve been in the criminal justice system. You harmed yourself and harmed other human beings in the process. Why should I support programs for you?” So, that’s the question. Why should people support programs for people like you?

Patricia Bradley: I think we should be supported so that we can, you know, I know a lot of people don’t believe in ex-offenders being given a second chance. They think it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, but I’m here to tell them today that that is not true. Really, that’s kind of a tough question to answer but why not? I mean, one day, you never know, the persons who are saying that, they could be on the other side of the fence too because I never thought I would be an offender. When I had my incident, when I got arrested, I was like 44 years old. I’m now 46, and who would have thought I would commit a crime but I did, you know, so you never know. People really shouldn’t be so, you know, judgment because you never know.

Len Sipes: You never know.

Patricia Bradley: You never know.

Len Sipes: You never know. If you did not have the support either from New Day or from Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency – if you did not have that support, where would you be today?

Patricia Bradley: Being 100% honest you, I probably would have re-offended.

Len Sipes: You probably would have gone back to the criminal justice system?

Patricia Bradley: More than likely, I would say 100% yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Marcia!

Marcia Austin: Hey, Len.

Len Sipes: Hey, how are you doing?

Marcia Austin: I’m good.

Len Sipes: Good, and you were telling me before the program that you’re on supervision now. You’re going to be off supervision in April, and first of all congratulations for that.

Marcia Austin: Thank you, thank you.

Len Sipes: And what was your experience, Marcia? Again, this is a very emotional issue for so many of the women that I’ve talked to throughout the actually 20 years of sitting down and interviewing women caught up in the criminal justice system. They tell me often times very emotional stories, and you basically did the same thing before we hit the record button. Tell me a little bit about your background.

Marcia Austin: My background is coming up, you know, I was abused. I was told I was dumb and I’d never amount to nothing. I grew up with that, you know. I started using drugs to fit in, to have somebody to love me. I started going to jail. I started going to jail early in life because I thought being bad was the way I needed to be because that’s what I was told. I got locked up in 2008 for a stolen car and violation of probation. I got out in 2010. When I got out, I was homeless. I had nowhere to go. I was broke and lonely. I was sad. I was depressed. It wasn’t until that I met my probation officer, Miss Hunnigan, who introduced me to New Day 2. When I got to New Day 2, my emotions was going crazy because I felt caged in. I felt like I couldn’t get no help from them but I was wrong. I had a 30-day black-out period; a 30-day black-out period helped me to be able to map out my long-term and short-term goals. The 30 days allowed me to seek mental health and it helped me with anger management. We took parenting classes in New Day 2 and we prayed often. We had Bible study and we had church, and it helped me with my spiritual side of life. The love that I got from New Day 2, they encouraged me to go to school. They encouraged me to connect with my family, and that’s what I did. I went to school. I went to school for construction and I never thought that I would complete it because I was told I was dumb all my life. I did complete that class and I graduated, and the New Day team, Dr. Anderson and some of her workers, they came to my graduation. They gave me flower and candy, they gave me love and hugs, and I said, “If it feels this good being in love just by doing something good, if I can get this kind of attention, I’m going to keep going,” and that’s what I did. I’m in GED classes now and then I’m in SRO. SRO helps me save money, teaching me how to manage my money, and it’s the next step to getting my own apartment.

Len Sipes: I have two very quick questions for you and then we’re going to go for a break. So before you got involved in CSOSA and in New Day, you felt like what? Give me a quick answer.

Marcia Austin: I felt broken, lonely, on my own.

Len Sipes: And now you feel?

Marcia Austin: I have hope, you know. I feel smarter. I think that I can do anything. My probation officer – I have a probation officer, her name is Farmer, and she shows me much love. She encouraged me and let me know that I can do it, and that’s what I’m doing.

Len Sipes: Let’s go for the break. Ladies and gentlemen, you are listening to DC Public Safety. We are doing a program on women offenders. What we’re trying to do is support the Women’s Reentry Forum that we have every year in the District of Columbia. It is going to be on February 9th from 8 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon at 700 Southern Avenue Southeast in Washington, D.C. Again, it’s part of our larger Reentry Reflections, a wide variety of activities taking a look at reentry in the District of Columbia and throughout the nation. www.csosa.gov is the website to get additional information. Dr. Willa Butler, she is a Clinical Supervisor for Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women, and she used to run groups and invent groups and invent the women’s program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Patricia Bradley and Marcia Austin are our guests who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. Marcia, let me quickly get back to you. Many of the women that I’ve talked to over the decades felt as bad as bad could possibly be, as hopeless as hopeless could possibly be because of the abuse, of the sexual violence, of people calling them names, of people not lifting them up, and I see hundreds of women at this stage of their involvement real human beings. They go from not being human at all to being fully functioning human beings. Is that where you are? Is that where you’re headed?

Marcia Austin: Well, right now I’m right where God want me to be, you know. I’m peaceful, you know. I’m going through some changes but I can deal with it. I can deal with it because I talk about it. I have a psychiatrist. I can always call the staff at New Day 2 and get any kind of information and encouragement that I need. Like I said, I have a probation officer who just smiles when I come in, you know, that makes me want to continue me to good, who encourages me, who hugs me, something I have never had out of a probation officer before. I just want to give a shout-out to Ms. Farmer because she’s an awesome probation officer first, and Ms. Ishiman. But my biggest challenge this year was kind of like leaving New Day 2. I felt like when I leave there, that there was no more love and support but that’s a lie. I call them all the time and they still support me in everything I do, and I’m just going to keep on and letting the women know who’s in the criminal justice system that we need help and we can get it, you know. We just got to keep pushing on. We got to keep the hope.

Len Sipes: And if these programs were not there, where would you be?

Marcia Austin: I would be homeless right now. Without New Day 2, I would have been homeless. I was homeless before I got there. I was broken and depressed. I mean, I was going from house to house to house, you know, and I just thank God for Bishop Staples and Dr. Anderson and Dr. Butler for New Day 2 because I would be in the streets. By now I would be locked up, you know, because when I’m homeless, I steal, I have no food to eat, so when they accepted me into the program, I was the first female there, I mean, I just was shown incredible love.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to go back to you. Okay. So how many times have we done this sort of radio show? This is what, our tenth, eleventh, twelfth time we’ve done this sort of radio and television show, and every time you bring me women who were broken human beings and you’re now at the end of their supervision, at the end of their treatment programs. You bring me women who are repaired human beings. They’re taking care of their kids. They’re taxpayers. They’re not tax burdens. They’re not committing crimes. How in the name of heavens do we convince people that these are programs worthy of support?

Willa Butler: First of all, just listening to the stories here, it’s very rewarding for myself and to have the understanding, and I want people to have the understanding that a second chance is what it is. It is a second chance. We talk about keeping the community safe and reducing recidivism, and the only way you’re going to do that is to ensure that our women, they have jobs, that they’re able to sustain themselves, they can take care of themselves and their families. Just like both Patricia and Marcia were saying earlier, if they didn’t have a place to go, if they didn’t have income, they would go back to committing crimes again because that’s the way they know how to survive and that’s the only way that they have learned how to survive, and if we keep pushing them down and stereotyping them and saying that we’re not going to help you, all we’re doing is what, we’re throwing fuel into the fire, and we can’t do that. When a person is productive, you build self-esteem, they’re building their residual strengths, and like Marcia said and Patricia, “I can do all things,” you know, and that’s what we are promoting here, letting people know that we need their support. And while they’re at New Day 2, we have a lot of wrap-around services that they are getting involved in, they get their needs met, and then they come out and they’re working and they’re productive citizens again.

Len Sipes: The question becomes do we want a more dangerous society or do we want a safer society?

Willa Butler: Right.

Len Sipes: Do we want people paying taxes or do we want people taking our tax money?

Willa Butler: Right. Right. That’s right. We want what? – We want more people paying taxes. We want a drug-free and crime-free environment especially here in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: And we want kids to be taken care of.

Willa Butler: We want our kids to be taken care, and not only that, once we do that, we break that cycle of pain because it’s only going to continue to the next generation, you know, and that’s what we’re trying to stop. We stop here, as they say, the buck stop here, right now and here, and this is beautiful for me to hear these women and to know that not only have I played a part working with CSOSA but also at the Temple, at the Transitional Home, because we brought the same I guess techniques that I’ve used before over there, the Wicker Program, empowering women, and building them up, and letting them know, hey, I can do it. I can really do this thing this time. And like I always say – I know I talk a lot, forgive me – I always say that women are not needy. We always look at women as being needy. No, they are not needy. Their needs have never been met, and if you are constantly in a position where nobody is hearing you, nobody is giving me what I need to survive in this world; of course I’m going to appear to be needy. Of course I’m going to appear to be less vulnerable. Of course I’m going to seem like no, I can’t do it, but I can. I can.

Len Sipes: But the astounding thing to me is that it takes the criminal justice system to intervene in the lives of women? What about everything that happened beforehand? – And Patricia, I’m going to go – I keep giving you the touch questions, Patricia, so get closer to that microphone. I mean, you know, what is it? I mean, we’re the criminal justice system. I mean, it takes us to save you guys and get the programs together to allow you people to cross that bridge to being productive human beings?

Patricia Bradley: Unfortunately, it does, and that’s not really to me a good or bad thing because without it, somebody has to – we have to start somewhere and unfortunately it’s with the criminal justice system. The problem is in society, again, nobody wants to take responsibility for how everything is with the criminal justice system, the criminals themselves, but at some point we have to draw the line, you know.

Len Sipes: And at some point you have to either have the programs or it just continues and continues and continues, and then it affects the kids, your own kids, and then it continues with them. Somewhere along the line it’s got to stop.

Patricia Bradley: It has to stop. We could stop it now before it gets to the kids. The kids are our future, you know. If we don’t stop it now and if society try to get a grip on this, then the kids will be doing the same thing as the parents are doing.

Len Sipes: And this is something that we in the criminal justice system and in criminology have seen decade after decade after decade – women ignored, their problems ignored, and it just continues unabated.

Patricia Bradley: That’s right.

Len Sipes: So, okay, so I’m going to Marcia. We’re in the last couple minutes of the program, so speedy answers. I’m going to give you the same terribly rough question that I gave to Patricia, and that is so people are going to say, “Look, we’ve got all these fiscal difficulties. We’ve got all these budgets cuts. People are asking more of my tax money. Damn, I’ve got to give money to you all? Why? I’ve got schools it should go to. I’ve got my grandmother; she’s getting old, give the money to her. Why give it to ‘criminals’?” So answer that for me, Marcia?

Marcia Austin: Well for me, I am a criminal, I was a criminal, and I changed my life around through help. I mean —

Len Sipes: But you’re not a criminal now.

Marcia Austin: No, I’m not a criminal now but I’m a work in progress every day, first of all. I’m enjoying my life today but what I’m saying, without the support of the United States, we we’d be lost. Without the support of transition homes, without shelters and churches, we’d be lost. We need support, you know, because it goes deeper than just being a criminal. It comes from how we was being raised and what we was taught and the things that happened to us, and we just need support.

Len Sipes: Do you understand how much courage it took for you to do what you did in terms of your background and in terms of all the things that you suffered through. Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am full of courage” because it does take immense courage to overcome what you’ve overcome.

Marcia Austin: Only by the grace of God. Only by the grace of God, only by the programs and the help of the probation officers that encourage you. That makes a difference, it really does.

Len Sipes: The final couple minutes of the program, and either one of you can jump in – so we are going to be doing the Women’s Reentry Forum at 700 Southern Avenue Southeast on February 9th from 8:00 to 3:00, and we’re going to be bringing together hundreds of women caught up in the criminal justice system, and those hundreds of women, they need to hear what, for them to do the same thing, to have the same accomplishments that you two have had. What do they need?

Marcia Austin: They need hope. They need transition homes to be open. They need shelter. They need mental health help. They need clothes and the ways to get around to look for jobs. They need education whether they’ll be able to get it online, to put resumes online. Education is very important because a lot of us don’t have education, and we just need somebody to love us and to guide us and to take a chance with us, you know?

Patricia Bradley: I attended the Forum last year, I was there, and it was very nice. When the women come, what they need, they need information, and that’s what the forum has there. They had a lot of information because a lot of women don’t know, you know. You’re not going to get your answers until you get the information so when they come out; the information is there available for them. That’s what they really need is the information, and then they can pretty much take it from there once they’ve received the information.

Len Sipes: You’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. The program today has been on women offenders. We have been talking to Dr. Willa Butler, the Clinical Supervisor, Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women, Patricia Bradley, off of supervision, and Marcia Austin, soon to be off of supervision. And ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for the extraordinarily powerful stories that you tell, and it’s always the most enlightening and heart-warming of all the other interviews that I do, Willa, these programs on women offenders. We thank everybody for listening, we really do.

Willa Butler: Yes, thank you.

Len Sipes: We appreciate your comments. We appreciate your criticisms. We appreciate whatever information that you have to give to us in terms of new programs or suggestions for how we can do this better, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Research on Women Offenders-Justice Policy Center-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/01/research-on-women-offenders-justice-policy-center-the-urban-institute-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne.  She is the director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute.  www.urban.org, one of the premiere nonpartisan research organizations in the United States.  I think everybody at any level of government, federal government, state government, local government, has used research from the Urban Institute in terms of looking at whatever it is they want to look at.  They have an extraordinary reputation and one of the things that I want to do is to focus on a program that they did.  It’s a piece of research called Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry which represents the only published empirical research with a good sample size looking at the statistical differences between the experiences of women versus men as they come out of the prison system thus the title of the show today is Research in Women Offenders.  Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center Urban Institute.  Welcome to DC Public Safety.

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

Len Sipes:  All right, Nancy, I said that you’re nonpartisan, that you’re extraordinarily well-known.  None of that, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration in any of that but from your lips, the Urban Institute does what?

Nancy La Vigne:  The Urban Institute was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization originally designed to evaluate the Great Society programs of President Johnson but it has since expanded to include both domestic and international work.  We have 10 different research centers spanning education policy, health policy, tax policy, and of course I’m the head of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and within the Justice Policy Center we span a wide array of research from gang and youth violence prevention to courts and of course, prisoner reentry is one of the cornerstones of our research portfolio in the Justice Policy Center.

Len Sipes:  You’ve looked at law enforcement practices, correctional practices, heck, you’ve even looked at cameras, speed cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  Ah, public surveillance cameras.

Len Sipes:  Public surveillance cameras.  I mean, you’ve looked at just about everything there is to look at within the criminal justice system.  I always find it delightful when I have the opportunity to talk to you.  But this particular piece of research, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, you’re talking about a piece of research, and for the layperson out there, there’s all sorts of research, some good, some bad, some empirically correct, some not empirically correct.  What you have is a large piece of research, and you’re talking about several jurisdictions where you take a look at men and women coming out of the prison system to establish the differences between their experiences.  And one of the things that is, I think, extraordinarily important from your research is the fact that there is a huge difference in the experiences of women and men coming out of the prison system.  Empirically, women have a greater degree of substance abuse, a greater degree of mental health problems, they don’t have the economic training of the job training…

Nancy La Vigne:  You’re stealing my thunder here.

Len Sipes:  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  This is profound.  There is a profound difference and I’m not quite sure everybody realizes this.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  Well, let me start a little bit by explaining the impetuous behind the larger study called Returning Home because at the time we launched it, which was now several years ago, there weren’t a lot of studies that looked beyond what we call recidivism so there would be researchers who looked at people who were released from prison and determined what percentage of them ended up being returned to prison, and with the available data they had, which was mostly administrative records from the Department of Corrections, they were able to say, “well people who were sentenced for these types of crimes or for this length of time were more less likely to return to prison.”  That’s what I call recidivism studies, but no one had really done a reentry study, understanding that reentry is not a point in time.  It’s a process, right?  So no one had conducted the kind of study that looked at all the different aspects associated with reentry success and failure, and the only way to do that is to interview people behind bars and track them in the community after they’re released and interview them in the community as well.  So much of the data that helps us explain reentry success or failure has to come from the people who are experiencing reentry.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  So that’s why we decided to launch Returning Home.  It was a tremendous effort.  It involved four different states and, of course, in one of the states, we did look at women exiting prison.  Actually two because in Maryland we did a pilot where we did a small sample of women there.  We ended up looking in Texas because Texas had such a large volume of all kinds of prisoners leaving that we could get a sufficient sample size of women in a relatively short period of time.

Len Sipes:  The second largest correctional system in the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.  But what we learned in Maryland about women in our pilot study, it was similar to what we found in the Houston sample and rings true when I have conversations both with women who have experienced reentry as well as service providers who are supporting their successful reentry.  So I think there’s a lot to be said about the experiences of women that perhaps is understudied because when we think of reentry we look at the numbers and we see that the vast majority of people leaving prison are male.  And while this is true, it’s also true that the share of women behind bars has increased at a greater rate than that of men over time so even though they’re a small population, they’re an increasing population and their experiences are different, as we’ll discuss, in ways that I think have relevance for the development of reentry programs that may often be overlooked if you’re only looking at a male population.

Len Sipes:  Now, in no way shape or form am I going to try to create a sense of sympathy or justification for crimes committed.  If you do the crime, you do the time.  I think that’s the prevailing wisdom in so many jurisdictions throughout the country.  But women offenders are not only different from male offenders in terms of their experiences when they get out.  Tell me if I’m right or wrong.  Feel free to criticize me if I don’t get it correctly.  Most women offenders before they go into the prison system have multiple histories of abuse by somebody.  In my mind, so many of the women offenders that I’ve been in touch with throughout my now 30 years in corrections, were tragic figures.  I mean, they suffered immense abuse, sexual abuse, rape is not uncommon, not only by people who they know but, in many cases, family members.  To me there’s no wonder that the rates of substance abuse are higher, that the rate of mental health problems are higher because they come from such violent backgrounds and there is a huge difference between the violence that they encountered in their younger years versus males.  Am I right or wrong?

Nancy La Vigne:  I would say that you’re right.  I mean, certainly women who end up behind bars have extensive histories of substance addiction and mental illness that are very difficult to disentangle from their personal histories of sexual victimization.  And it’s hard to know which came first, but you can understand how they’d all be interrelated.

Len Sipes:  Most of the women I’ve talked to tell very tragic tales.  We’ve had many women offenders before these microphones and they have told for public airing their experiences, and you just feel as if you’ve just gone through a hugely emotional experience after interviewing them.  A lot of times after the program I said, “Do you really want this to go out on the air?  You have the choice.  I won’t even put this out.”  I said, “Do you really want to be that honest and that brutal about your background?” and a lot of them, to a person, they’d say, “Yes.  I want to this to go out.  I want to talk about this.”

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  I imagine in some regards it’s cathartic and also I think that a lot of women want to share their stories to shine a bright light on this issue and help people understand better that, yes, they may have committed crimes but there’s a bigger story to be told.

Len Sipes:  And that bigger story, generally speaking, is not told, correct?  I mean, one of the things that’s astounded me in my years within the criminal justice system is how little this story is told.  It’s as if we’re afraid to confront the massive amount of abuse, and in many cases, flat out child abuse in terms of the families that these individuals come from.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  I think that’s right.  I’m certainly no expert on child abuse specific to women who end up being in the criminal justice system but I expect that’s right.

Len Sipes:  But before we get into the points of your research I just wanted to sort of set a stage in terms of the fact that if people are wondering why there’s such a difference in between men and women coming out of prison, it’s my contention, you don’t have to respond to this, it’s my contention that it has much to do with the environments that they came from before they went into the prison system.  I was reading in your report where there were two responses from men and women in terms of getting out.  One was, ‘I want to control my own life.’  That was men.  And women, ‘I want to reunite with my children.’

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh, it’s actually a little bit more colorful than that.

Len Sipes:  Oh, go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne:  So we, in the interviews that we had with people prior to their release, we had a question at the end which survey designers would call an open-ended question so we didn’t give them the answers.  We invited them to come up with their own answers and it was, ‘What are you most looking forward to after your release?’  And literally, and I’m not exaggerating, the most common answer among men was, ‘Pizza.’  And second to that, ‘Calling my own shots.’  And the single greatest, by a long shot answer among women was, ‘Reuniting with my kids.  Seeing my baby again.’  And it really speaks to different priorities as well as potentially different support systems.

Len Sipes:  The majority of women getting out of the prison system have children.  I’ve seen stats up to 80 percent.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So when they come out, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of substance abuse, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of mental health problems, they’ve got to figure out some way to find work.  Then they have less of a work background than men and they have to reunite with their children and somehow support their children.  That stacks the odds against women offenders to a degree that it almost seems impossible that they can accomplish all that.

Nancy La Vigne:  It definitely makes it more difficult for women.  When we compared women to men in our Texas study, we found that they were twice as likely to end up back behind bars than their male counterparts and clearly these challenges that are great for anybody leaving prison but to know that they’re even more extreme for women.

Len Sipes:  They were twice as likely to return to Texas?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s truly amazing.  And do you think that the stats that you came up with in terms of your own research provides a bit of that explanation?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes, for certain.  Particularly when it comes to substance abuse.  Women were more likely to engage in substance abuse following their release and we knew already that they had more extensive histories of addiction.  It’s very hard to address addiction behind bars.  Especially if you have a treatment program that doesn’t continue in the community.  The research is very clear in that regard and so even if you have the best intentions and you do get access to treatment behind bars, if you don’t get in the community and you’re susceptible to all these temptations you’re more likely to use and those who are more likely to use are more likely to end up back behind bars.  The things of it is, though, what we found in Texas and it’s hard to know how much this rings true in other locations, but in Texas we found that women were less likely to have access to substance abuse treatment even though they had much greater histories in addiction levels.

Len Sipes:  It seems as if, again I don’t want to go overboard with this, I talked about what happened before prison.  Now we’re talking about what’s going on inside a prison and the research focuses on leaving prison.  They have greater histories of substance abuse, mental health issues, but they do not have the same opportunities that many male offenders have.

Nancy La Vigne:  To have treatment behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Again, it just seems that the deck is continuously stacked against women offenders.

Nancy La Vigne:  But it has real implications for a policy in practice just to know that you can make a difference by giving these women more access to services and treatment behind bars.  It’s huge.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely it’s huge.  The research does indicate that not many people get any of these services at all within the custodial setting throughout the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  Yeah, and we’ve actually found that there’s a high degree of mismatch between those who get it and those who really need it as well.  It’s a scarce resource that’s not even well allocated.

Len Sipes:  And it should be allocated towards who?

Nancy La Vigne:  Those in most need.  The women.

Len Sipes:  Right.  But the higher risk offender as well the women offender?

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely.  I mean, if we’re looking at you have a reentry program you want to look to medium and high risk because that’s where you can make the biggest difference.

Len Sipes:  In terms of going over your stats in Maryland, half the women we interviewed reported daily heroin use.  Daily heroin use in the six months leading up to the most recent incarceration compared with slightly more than a third of men and half of women also reported daily cocaine use during that period compared with 22 percent of men.  So we’re not just saying that there is a disparity between use.  We’re talking about huge disparity with use.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s a huge disparity.  Now, the heroin use statistics may be unique to Baltimore, which historically had a heroin – again, that doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding but still you see the differential between the men and women and it’s tremendous.

Len Sipes:  From a policy point of view, where do we go with all of this?  I mean, it’s pretty abundantly clear that we are ignoring women offenders.  I’ve read somewhere along the line that women do better in treatment programs than male offenders.  Considering the fact that they’re 80 percent, I think, this is the figure that I’ve read, so just say somewhere between 60 and 80 percent, have children.  This means a lot to society to provide these programs because we can take them out of circulation, out of the criminal justice system, if they do better in treatment programs than men and all those kids suddenly have a source of income, they have their mom, they’re being taken of.  There are huge ramifications from a societal point of view in terms of your research.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  I would agree with that.  I’d also clarify a point that sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around because we talk about children, we think that they’re minors.  They’re children, right?  But actually when we dove deeper into the issue of support systems for both men and women when they were leaving prison we looked at family support.  And we asked people, “Do you have someone in your life who is there for you, who supports you, who will provide housing for you, support you financially, etc.?”  And we were heartened to learn that women did almost as much as men.  They reported roughly the same degree of family support.  But the sources of support are very different.  For men, it was usually either a senior, maternal figure in their lives: a grandmother, an aunt, or a significant other, a partner, sometimes a sister.  For the women it was typically their adult children.  So when you talk about children, actually a lot of these women have adult children.  If you look at the average age of release, it’s something like 34, 35 years.  Maybe a little bit older for women than men.  And they have adult children of their own who they are relying on to support them.

Len Sipes:  Good point.  Good point.  Thanks for the clarification.  I do want to get onto the issue of family support and I do want to get on to the issue of the difference between men and women when they come out dealing with that level of family support.  But let me reintroduce you to, ladies and gentlemen, Nancy La Vigne.  She’s the director of the Policy Justice Center, the Justice Policy Center, I’m sorry, for the Urban Institute here at Washington DC, www.urban.org.  So as family support is crucial for all offenders coming out of the prison system, your research shows that the greater the degree of family support while their incarcerated the better they do when they get out, correct?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, actually the greater the support post-release the better they do.  However, that is predicted by more contact with family behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Right.  If there’s a continuous line of communication while they’re behind bars, that paves the way for more communication, more interaction, more support, more cooperation when they get out.  Most prisons are located literally hundreds of miles from the areas where these offenders came from.  In the District of Columbia they all go to federal prison.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.  Most of the women are housed in, I think it’s in Pennsylvania, and some of them as far as Texas.

Len Sipes:  And West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas, but they are spread out all over the place.  But even in the 14 years when I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, Hagerstown, Cumberland, the lower eastern shore, they were within the state but they might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  In terms of transportation.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Cumberland is not easy to get to.  From the Baltimore, Prince George’s County areas where most of Maryland’s crime occurs, I mean, it’s quite a hike to get to some of these prisons.  So they’re isolated and they’re far away, how do you maintain that level of contact when you’re isolated and far away?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.  It’s very difficult.  We did have a family component of our Returning Home study where we interviewed family members and discussed both the challenges of staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones as well as the challenges associated with welcoming them back into their homes and communities.  And by far, the single greatest reason for not having contact with their incarcerated family members was the distance of the prison from home.  Texas was unique at the time.  They didn’t allow phone contact for prisoners at all.

Len Sipes:  Really?  Really?

Nancy La Vigne:  Which is stunning.  So it was mostly letters.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing!

Nancy La Vigne:  I believe that has since changed, although in other states, other jurisdictions, you will hear complaints about the high cost of toll calls and it’s actually attacks on the inmates and their families which I’ve heard some correctional administrators justify as the only means that they can have to raise funds to provide programs and services, but it seems a little bit wrongheaded to create barriers to contact with prisoners and their family members just to generate resources to serve them.  It’s almost like you’re doing – they go against each other, those two efforts.

Len Sipes:  I think it’s the state of Washington, and I’ve read this just within the last couple of days, is they’re providing video contact between offenders and family members and that struck me as being the best of all possible worlds.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.  And they’re looking into that for the DC felons as well and it’s something that I would recommend as a great compromise given the distance.  It’s so disruptive to a family to set out to journey to a prison to see their incarcerated family member.  Not just the actual distance or cost of gas but the nature of a prison setting is such that you never know when you arrive whether they’re going to be in lockdown and there’s no visitation.  It could be either cancelled for the day or more likely what happens is they just say, “We’re on lockdown.  We don’t know when we won’t be on lockdown,” so you’re just waiting and wondering what to do.  Often people bring children because they think it’s important for the children to see their incarcerated parent and yet these environments aren’t kid friendly.

Len Sipes:  No, they’re not.  As somebody who’s been in and out of a lot of prisons it’s downright brutal.  It really is for the family members and for the kids.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  So video conferencing is a great way to achieve that family contact that’s so important in shoring up support on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Now in terms of employment, one of the things that we find is that, per your research, is that they don’t have the same employment opportunities or backgrounds as males and they come out and that lack of employment and the lack of skills really hurts them upon release.  I mean, it just keeps going on and on and on in terms of disparities between males and females.

Nancy La Vigne:  And that’s right.  It’s no surprise when you consider that if women have more extensive histories of substance addiction they’re going to have more spotty employment histories so they’re already going into it at a disadvantage.  Certainly after release they’re less likely to find employment.  Even those women who do find employment end up earning less than males at about $1.50 less per hour than their male counterparts.  And I know I feel like a broken record on the substance addiction issue, but to me I know a lot of people say the key to successful reentry is finding a job.  And I always say, ‘Is it really?’  Because what good does it do to find a job if you haven’t dealt with your addiction issues.  It’s just giving you resources to go and buy drugs and continue your habit and soon enough you’re not showing up at work, you’ve lost your job, you’re committing crimes to buy drugs and you’re back behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Or your mental health issues.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  Most of us these days, and I say us, you and I, Leonard, are really immersed in this issue of prisoner reentry talk about a holistic approach.  You can’t really just tackle prisoner reentry by looking at one thing.  Certainly, employment is critical.  Especially for women you need to look at it holistically.

Len Sipes:  Well, I mean look, just the differences on employment between males and females where 38 percent of men had jobs lined up.  17 percent of women had jobs lined up before leaving.  In the prison system 61 percent were employed upon leaving, men.  37 percent of women were employed upon leaving the prison system.  Obviously, the stats show, and I don’t want to beat this point to death but I don’t want to leave it alone either.  The disparities between men and women are huge.  I go back to the same thing I said before, they do better in programs than men.  They have a better track record.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think I know why.

Len Sipes:  Go.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think it’s because, one of the findings we had in comparing men to women is their expressions for need for help.  And, now granted, we’ve already given a lot of examples of why women should need more help, but they’re also more willing to say, “I need help.”  So that’s a different kind of an attitude entering a treatment program knowing that you need help and admitting it readily and I think that makes you more open to receiving it and benefitting from it.

Len Sipes:  I did one year of jail, or job corps, where the younger individuals were given the choice by the court, go to job corps or go to jail.  70 percent of the women that I encountered were wonderful compared to maybe 30 percent of the men.  Now, that may just be my own internal bias but the women that I encountered said to themselves, “I’m in a jam.  Job corps can give me a skill, give me the tools, it can relocate me if necessary.  I want to reunite with my kids.”  The women were by far my best students.

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, you just referenced reuniting with children and getting back to that topic, clearly women have a bigger stake in making good on the outside because of their ties to their children, whether they’re grown children or not.  Certainly, if they’re minor children they have even more of a vested interest.  And we even found that among the men in our research, those who had stronger ties to their minor kids did better on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Everybody does better on the outside…

Nancy La Vigne:  More likely to get a job, more likely to stay out of prison.

Len Sipes:  They have the motivation.  And it’s the kids and family that provides them with that motivation and it’s the contact that they have while in prison that builds that bridge to that motivation.

Nancy La Vigne:  Make no mistake, just having a child doesn’t give you that stake.  What we don’t know well, although we know some from our research, is what those relationships were like before the incarceration.  So in some cases, including in the case of women, they had very little if any contact with their kids because they were on the street.  Someone else is caring for their kids and had been for some time now.

Len Sipes:  But the idea of being in prison and having the opportunity to contemplate who they are, where they are, what’s important to them, where they want to go, most of the individuals I’ve met within the correctional system, that is the first thing that they express.  That they express a) regret for everything that’s happened, and b) they really have this burning desire to reunite with their kids.  I’m not quite sure, quite frankly, that that burning desire is there with the men.

Nancy La Vigne:  No.  I think it’s not.  There’s been some more qualitative research in the U.K. looking at fathers and trying to get them more bonding with their children prior to their release that suggest that it’s possible and that there are great benefits from doing so.  But we’re starting at a different place, I think, with men than with women.

Len Sipes:  I think we’re starting at an incredibly different place between men and women.  Final couple minutes, if you’re talking to the Mayor of Milwaukee, if you’re talking to an aide to a governor in California, what do you say?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, certainly don’t cut your reentry programs.  We understand that financial times are very difficult right now and that it’s easy to think about the things that people don’t see as the easiest to cut.  What to put on the chopping block.  Are you going to close a prison or are you going to cut a program?  I would argue keep the programs in place and look at those programs and think about whether they are truly catered to the people that you’re trying to serve.  In the case of women, I’ve heard some people argue that you can develop reentry programs that are same for men and women and I think that there might be some truth to that but it doesn’t acknowledge the different way women approach treatment, approach learning, and approach life.  So programs that are more tailored to women who are leaving prison I think could really benefit them greatly.

Len Sipes:  About 30 seconds left.  Are women the low hanging fruit of the criminal justice system?  Women offenders?  Are they the ones who if you provided the resources would get you a good bang for your dollar?  A good investment for your correctional dollar?

Nancy La Vigne:  I don’t know that I can say that.  I think that because of their extensive drug addiction histories they’re a tough population to deal with.  Certainly, the benefits can be great but it might take more effort at the outset before you can see those benefits.

Len Sipes:  But if you have an impact with women offenders or offenders across the board it can save states, literally, tens of billions of dollars.

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely, and of course in the case of women, if you’re supporting their successful reentry, you’re also supporting their families and kids.

Len Sipes:  Nancy La Vigne, a director of The Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute.  Thank you ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being with us on DC Public Safety.  Before we go, www.urban.org.  It’s the website for The Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us.  Thank you for your cards, letters, your phone calls, your emails, your suggestions, your criticisms.  We appreciate your participation in the show and have yourself a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Research on Women Offenders-Justice Policy Center-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne. She is the Director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute, www.urban.org , one of the premier research organizations in the United States, non-partisan. I think everybody at any level of government, federal government, state government, local government, has used research from the Urban Institute in terms of looking at whatever it is that they want to look at. They have an extraordinary reputation and one of the things that I want to do is to focus on a program that they did. It’s called…or a piece of research called Returning Home. Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry, which represents the only published empirical research with a good sample size, looking at the statistical differences between the experiences of women versus men as they come out of the prison system, thus the title of the show today is Research on Women Offenders. Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute, welcome to DC Public Safety.

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

Len Sipes:  Alright. Nancy, I said that you’re non-partisan, that you’re extraordinarily well-known. None of that, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration in any of that. The Urban…but from your lips, the Urban Institute does what?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, the Urban Institute was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, non-partisan research organization, originally designed to evaluate the great society programs of President Johnson, but it has since expanded to include both domestic and international work. We have ten different research centers spanning education policy, health policy, tax policy and, of course, I’m the head of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and within the Justice Policy Center we span a wide array of research from gang and youth violence prevention to courts and, of course prisoner re-entry is one of the cornerstones of our research portfolio in the Justice Policy Center.

Len Sipes:  I mean you’ve looked at law enforcement practices, correctional practices. Heck, you’ve even looked at cameras, speed cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh. Public surveillance cameras, yes.

Len Sipes:  Public surveillance cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  I mean you’ve looked at just about everything there is to look at within the criminal justice system. I always find it delightful when I have an opportunity to talk to you, but this particular piece of research, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry, you’re talking about a piece of research and for the lay person out there, I mean it’s all sorts of research, some good, some bad, some empirically correct, some not empirically correct. What you have is a large piece of research and you’re talking about several jurisdictions where you take a look at men and women coming out of the prison system to establish the differences between their experiences and one of the things that is, I think, extraordinarily important from your research is the fact that there is a huge difference in the experience in men coming out of the prison system. Empirically, women have a greater degree of substance abuse, a greater degree of mental health problems. They don’t have the economic training or the job training before…

Nancy La Vigne:  You’re stealing my thunder here.

Len Sipes:  Oh, I`m sorry. I`m sorry; this is profound. There is a profound difference and I`m not quite sure everybody realizes this.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah. Well, let me start a little by explaining the impetus behind the larger study called Returning Home because at the time we launched it, which was now several years ago, there weren`t a lot of studies that looked beyond what we call recidivism. So there would be researchers who looked at people who were released from prison and determined what percentage of them ended up being returned to prison and with the available data they had, which was mostly administrative records from the Department of Corrections, they were able to say, well, people who were sentenced for these types of crimes or for this length of time were more or less likely to return to prison. That`s what I call recidivism studies, but no one had really done a re-entry study, understanding that re-entry is not a point in time. It`s a process, right? So no one had conducted the kind of study that looked at all the different aspects associated with re-entry success and failure and the only way to do that is to interview people behind bars and track them in the community after their release and interview them in the community as well. So much of the data that helps us explain re-entry success or failure has to come from the people who are experiencing re-entry.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  So that’s why we decided to launch Returning Home. It was a tremendous effort. It involved four different states and, of course, in one of the states we did look at women exiting prison, actually, two because in Maryland we did a pilot where we did a small sample of women there. We ended up looking in Texas because Texas had such a large volume of all kinds of prisoners leaving that we could get a sufficient sample size of women in a relatively short period of time.

Len Sipes:  Second largest correctional system in the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes, but what we learned in Maryland about women in our pilot study, it was similar to what we found in the Houston sample and rings true when I have conversations both with women who have experienced re-entry as well as service providers who are supporting their successful re-entry. So I think there’s a lot to be said about the experiences of women that perhaps is understudied because when we think of re-entry we look at the numbers and we see that the vast majority of people leaving prison are male and while this is true, it’s also true that the share of women behind bars has increased at a greater rate than that of men.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: Over time. So even though they’re a small population, they’re an increasing populationand their experiences are different, as we’ll discuss in ways that I think have relevance for the development of re-entry programs that may often be overlooked if you’re only looking at a male population.

Len Sipes:  Now, in no way shape or form am I going to try to create a sense of sympathy or justification for crimes committed. If you do the crime, you do the time. I think that’s the prevailing wisdom in so many jurisdictions throughout the country, but women offenders are not only different from male offenders in terms of their experiences when they get out – tell me if I’m right or wrong; feel free to criticize me or if I don’t get it correctly – most women offenders, before they go into the prison system, have multiple histories of abuse by somebody. In my mind, so many of the women offenders that I’ve been in touch with throughout my now 30 years in corrections, were tragic figures. I mean they suffered immense abuse, sexual abuse. Rape is not uncommon not only by people who they know, but in many cases family members. To me, there is no wonder that the rates of substance abuse are higher, that the rate of mental health problems are higher because they come from such violent backgrounds and there is a huge difference between the violence that they encountered in their younger years versus males. Am I right or wrong?

Nancy La Vigne:  I would say that you’re right. I mean certainly women who end up behind bars have extensive histories of substance addiction and mental illness that are very difficult to disentangle from their personal histories of sexual victimization and it’s hard to know which came first, but you can understand how they’d all be interrelated.

Len Sipes:  Most of the women I’ve talked to tell very tragic tales. We’ve had many women offenders before these microphones and they have told, for public airing, their experiences and you just feel as if you’ve just gone through a hugely emotional experience after interviewing them. A lot of times after the program, I’ve said, “Do you really want this to go out on the air? Do you really…you have the choice. I won’t even put this out.” I said, “Do you really want to be that honest and that brutal about your background,” and a lot of them, to a person, they have said, “Yes. I want this to go out. I want to talk about this.”

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, I imagine in some regards it’s cathartic and also I think that a lot of women want to share their stories to shine a bright light on this issue and help people understand better that, yes, they may have committed crimes, but there’s a bigger story to be told.

Len Sipes:  And that bigger story, generally speaking, is not told, correct? I mean one of the things that’s astounded me in my years within the criminal justice system is how little the story is told. It’s as if we’re free to confront the massive amount of abuse and in many cases flat out child abuse in terms of the families that these individuals come from.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. I think that’s right. I’m certainly no expert on the child abuse and specific to women who end up being in the criminal justice system, but thanks for it. That’s right.

Len Sipes:  But before we get into the points of your research, I just wanted to sort of set a stage in terms of the fact that if people are wondering why there’s such a difference in between men and women coming out of prison, it’s my contention…you don’t have to respond to this. It’s my contention that it has much to do with the environments that they came from before they went into the prison system. I was reading in your report where there were two sorts of responses from men and women in terms of getting out. One was I want to control my own life. That was men. And women, I want to reunite with my children.

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh, it’s actually a little bit more colorful than that.

Len Sipes:  Oh, go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne:  So we, in the interviews that we had with people prior to their release, we had a question at the end, which is what survey designers would call an open-ended question, so we didn’t give them the answers. We invited them to come up with their own answers and it was what are you most looking forward to after your release? And, literally, and I’m not exaggerating, the most common answer among men was pizza.

Len Sipes:  Pizza.

Nancy La Vigne:  And second to that, calling my own shots and the single greatest, by a long shot, answer among women was reuniting with my kids. Seeing my baby again and it really speaks to different priorities as well as potentially different support systems.

Len Sipes:  The majority of women getting out of the prison system have children. I’ve seen stats up to 80%.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So, when they come out, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of substance abuse, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of mental health problems, they’ve got to figure out some way to find work. Then they have less of a work background than men and they have to reunite with their children and somehow support their children. That stacks the odds against women offenders to a degree that it almost seems impossible that they can accomplish all that.

Nancy La Vigne:  No, it definitely makes it more difficult for women that when we compared women to men in our Texas study, we found that they were twice as likely to end up back behind bars than their male counterparts and clearly these challenges that are great for anybody leaving prison, but to know that they’re even more extreme for women, it’s…

Len Sipes:  They were twice as likely to return to Texas?

Nancy La Vigne:  Mm-hmm.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  Mm-hmm.

Len Sipes:  That’s truly amazing and do you think that the stats that you came up with in terms of your own research provides a bit of that explanation?

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh. Yes, for certain, particularly with when it comes to substance abuse. Women were more likely to engage in substance abuse following their release and we know, already, that they had more extensive histories of addiction. It’s very hard to address addiction behind bars, especially if you have a treatment program that doesn’t continue in the community. The research is very clear in that regard and so even if you have the best intentions and you do get access to treatment behind bars, if you don’t get in the community and you’re susceptible to all these temptations, you’re more likely to use and those who are more likely to use are more likely to end up back behind bars. The thing of it is, though, what we found in Texas and it’s hard to know how much this rings true in other locations, but in Texas we found that women were less likely to have access to substance abuse treatment even though there were much, had much greater histories and addiction levels.

Len Sipes:  It seems as if…again, I don’t want to go overboard with this. I talked about what happened before prison. Now, we’re talking about what’s going on inside a prison and the research focuses on leaving prison. They have greater histories of substance abuse, mental health issues, but they do not have the same opportunities that many male offenders have. They’re…

Nancy La Vigne:  To have treatment behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Again, it just seems that the deck is continuously stacked against women offenders.

Nancy La Vigne:  But it has real implications for policy and practice.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  Just to know that you can make a difference by giving these women more access to services and treatment behind bars. I mean, that’s huge.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, it’s huge. The research does indicate that not many people get any of these services at all within the custodial setting throughout the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right. Yeah and we’ve actually found that there’s a high degree of mismatch between those who get it and those who really need it as well.

Len Sipes:  Right and then…

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s not…that’s the scarce resource that’s not even well allocated.

Len Sipes:  That should be allocated towards whom?

Nancy La Vigne:  Those in most need and who they…the women.

Len Sipes:  But the higher risk offender as well as the women offender?

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely. I mean if you’re looking at, you know, you have a re-entry program. You want to look to medium and high risk because that’s where you can make the biggest difference.

Len Sipes:  In terms of going over your stats in Maryland, half the women we interviewed reported daily heroin use. Daily heroin use in the six months leading up to the most recent incarceration compared with slightly more than a third of men and half of women also reported daily cocaine use during that period compared with 22% of men. So we’re not just saying that there is a disparity between use. We’re talking about huge disparity.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s huge disparity. Now, the heroin use statistics may be unique to Baltimore, which has historically had a heroin…

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Nancy La Vigne:  But then that doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding, but still. I mean you see the differential between the men and women and it’s tremendous.

Len Sipes:  From a policy point of view, where do we go with all of this? I mean it’s pretty abundantly clear that we are ignoring women offenders. I read somewhere along the line that women do better in treatment programs than male offenders considering the fact that they’re 80%, I think. This is the figure that I’ve read, so just say somewhere between 60 and 80% have children. This means a lot to society to provide these programs because we can take them out of circulation, out of the criminal justice system, if they do better in treatment programs than men and all those kids suddenly have a source of income. They have their mom. They’re being taken care of. There are huge ramifications from a societal point of view in terms of your research.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah, I would agree with that. I’d also clarify a point that…

Len Sipes:  Please.

Nancy La Vigne:  Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around because we talk about children. We think that they’re minors. They’re children, right? But, actually, when we delved deeper into the issue of support systems for both men and women when they were leaving prison, we looked at family support and we asked people do you have someone in your life who is there for you, who supports you, who will provide housing for you, support you financially, etc. and we were heartened to learn that women did, almost as much as men. They reported roughly the same degree of family support but the sources of support were very different. For men, it was usually either kind of senior maternal figure in their lives – a grandmother, an aunt or a significant other, partner, sometimes a sister. For the women, it was typically their adult children. So when you talk about children, actually, a lot of these women have adult children. If you look at the average age of release, it’s something like 34, 35 years. Maybe a little bit older for women than men and they have adult children of their own who they are relying on to support them.

Len Sipes:  Good point. Good point. Thanks for the clarification. I do want to get on to the issue of family support and I do want to get on to the issue of the difference between men and women when they come out dealing with that level of family support, but let me reintroduce you; ladies and gentlemen, Nancy La Vigne. She’s the Director of the Policy Justice Center…Justice Policy Center – I’m sorry – for the Urban Institute here in Washington, D.C. www.urban.org, www.urban.org, so family support is crucial for all offenders coming out of the prison system. Your research shows that the greater the degree of family support while they’re incarcerated, the better they do when they get out, correct?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, actually, the greater the support post-release, the better that you do. However, that is predicted by more contact with family behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Right. If there’s continuous line of communication while they’re behind bars that paves the way…

Nancy La Vigne:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  For more communication, more interaction, more…

Nancy La Vigne:  More support.

Len Sipes:  Support, more cooperation when they get out. Most prisons are located literally hundreds of miles from the areas where these offenders came from.  In the District of Columbia, they all go to federal prison.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right. Most of the women are housed in…oh, I think it’s Pennsylvania and some of them as far as Texas.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm and West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas, but they are spread out all over the place, but even when the 14 years when I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, Hagerstown, Cumberland, the Lower Eastern Shore, they were within the state, but they might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right, in terms of transportation.

Len Sipes:  Right. Cumberland’s not easy to get to.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  From the Baltimore, Prince Georges County areas where most of Maryland’s crime occurs, I mean it’s quite a hike to get to some of these prisons. So they’re isolated and they’re far away. How do you maintain that level of contact when you’re isolated and far away?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah. Well, it’s very difficult and we did have a family component of our Returning Home study where we interviewed family members and discussed both the challenges of staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones as well as the challenges associated with welcoming them back into their homes and communities and by far, the single greatest reason for not having contact with their incarcerated family members was the distance of the prison from home. Texas was unique at the time. They didn’t allow phone contact…

Len Sipes:  Really?

Nancy La Vigne:  With prisoners at all, which is stunning. So it was mostly letters. That’s it.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  I believe that’s since changed, although, in other states, other jurisdictions, you will hear complaints about the high cost of toll calls and it’s actually a tax on the inmates and their families, which I’ve heard some correctional administrators justify as the only means that they can have to raise funds to provide programs and services, but it seems a little bit wrong-headed to create barriers to contact with prisoners and their family members just to generate resources to serve them. It’s almost like they go against each other, those two efforts.

Len Sipes:  I think it’s the State of Washington and I read this just within the last couple of days is they’re now providing video contact between offenders and family members and that struck me as being the best of all possible worlds.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right and they’re looking into that for the DC code felons as well and it’s something that I would recommend as a great compromise given the distance. It’s really so disruptive to a family to set out to journey to a prison to see their incarcerated family member, not just the actual distance or cost of gas, but the nature of a prison setting is such that you never know when you arrive whether they’re going to be in lockdown and there’s no visitation. It could be either cancelled for the day or more likely what happens is they say we’re on lockdown. We don’t know when we won’t be on lockdown, so you’re just waiting and wondering what to do. Often, people bring children because they think it’s important for the children to see their incarcerated parent and yet, these environments aren’t kid-friendly.

Len Sipes:  No, they’re not. As somebody who’s been in and out of a lot of prisons, it’s downright brutal.  It really is for the family members and for the kids.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right, so video conferencing is a great way to achieve that family contact that’s so important in shoring up support on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Now, in terms of employment. One of the things that we find is that per your research is that they don’t have the same employment opportunities or backgrounds as males and they come out and that lack of employment and the lack of skills really hurt them upon release. I mean it just keeps going on and on and on in terms of the disparities between males and females.

Nancy La Vigne:  And that’s right and if you…it’s no surprise when you consider that if women have more extensive histories of substance addiction, they’re going to have more spotty employment history, so they’re already going into it at a disadvantage. Certainly, after release they’re less likely to find employment. Even those women who do find employment end up earning less than males at about $1.50 less per hour than their male counterparts and then – I know, I feel like a broken record on the substance addiction issue – but to me, I know a lot of people say the key to successful re-entry is finding a job and I always say, “Is it really?” Because what good does it do to find a job if you haven’t dealt with your addiction issues?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s just giving you resources to go and buy drugs and continue your habit and soon enough you’re not showing up at work. You’ve lost your job. You’re committing crimes to buy drugs and you’re back behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Or your mental health issues.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  I mean most of us these days…I say us.  You and I, Leonard, are really immersed in this issue of prisoner re-entry, talk about a holistic approach that you can’t really just tackle prisoner re-entry by looking at one thing and certainly employment is critical but especially for women, you need to look at it holistically.

Len Sipes:  Well, I mean, look. Just the differences on employment between males and females where 38% of men had jobs lined up, 17% of women had jobs lined up before leaving. In the prison system 61% were employed upon leaving – men.  37% of women were employed upon leaving the prison system. Obviously, the stats show and I don’t want to beat this point to death, but I don’t want to leave it alone either. I mean the disparities between men and women are huge. I go back to the same thing I said before. They do better in programs than men. They have better track records.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think I know why.

Len Sipes:  Go.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think it’s because…one of the findings we had in comparing men to women is their expressions for need for help and…now, granted. We’ve already given a lot of examples of why women should need more help, but they’re also more willing to say I need help. So that’s a different kind of an attitude entering a treatment program knowing that you need help and admitting it readily and I think that makes you more open to receiving it and benefiting from it.

Len Sipes:  I did one year of jail or job corps where the younger individuals were given the choice by the court – go to job corps or go to jail. Seventy percent of the women that I encountered were wonderful compared to maybe 30% of the men. Now, that may just be my own internal bias, but the women that I encountered said to themselves, “I’m in a jam. Job corps can give me a skill. It can give me the tools. It could relocate me if necessary. I want to reunite with my kids.” The women were by far my best students.

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, you just referenced reuniting with children. I’m getting back to that topic. I mean, clearly, that women have a bigger stake in making good on the outside because of their ties to their children, whether they’re grown children or not. Certainly, if they’re minor children, they have even more of a vested interest and we even found that among the men in our research, those who had stronger ties to their minor kids…

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  Did better on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Did better. Everybody does better on the outside.

Nancy La Vigne:  More likely to get a job, more likely to stay out of prison.

Len Sipes:  They have the motivation and it’s the kids and family that provides them with that motivation and it’s the contact that they have while in prison that builds that bridge to that motivation.

Nancy La Vigne:  But make no mistake, I mean just having a child doesn’t give you that stake. I mean what we don’t know well, although, we know some from our research, is what those relationships were like before the incarceration. So in some cases, including in the case of women, they had very little, if any, contact with their kids because they were on the street.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  Someone else was caring for their kids and had been for some time now.

Len Sipes:  But the idea of being in prison and having the opportunity to contemplate who they are, where they are…

Nancy La Vigne:  What’s important to them.

Len Sipes:  What’s important to them. Where they want to go. Most of the individuals that I have met within the correctional system that is the first thing that they express. That they express a) regret for everything that’s happened and b) they really have this burning desire to reunite with their kids. I’m not quite sure, quite frankly, that that burning desire is there with the men.

Nancy La Vigne:  No. I think it’s not. There’s been some more qualitative research in the UK looking at fathers and trying to get them more bonding with their children prior to their release that suggests that it’s possible and that there are great benefits from doing so, but we’re starting at a different place, I think, with men than with women.

Len Sipes:  I think we’re starting at an incredible different place between men and women. Final couple of minutes – if you’re talking to the Mayor of Milwaukee, if you’re talking to an aide to a Governor in California, what do you say?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, certainly, don’t cut your re-entry programs. We understand that financial times are very difficult right now and that it’s easy to think about the things that people don’t see as the easiest to cut, what to put on the chopping block. Are you going to close a prison? Are you going to cut a program? I would argue keep the programs in place and look at those programs and think about whether they are truly catered to the people that you’re trying to serve. In the case of women, I’ve heard some people argue that you can develop re-entry programs that are the same for men and women and I think that there might be some truth to that, but it doesn’t acknowledge the different way women approach treatment, approach learning and approach life. So programs that are more tailored to women who are leaving prison, I think, could really benefit them greatly.

Len Sipes:  About 30 seconds left. Are women the low-hanging fruit of the criminal justice system? Women offenders, are they the ones who, if you provided the resources, would get you a good bang for your dollar, a good investment for your correctional dollar?

Nancy La Vigne:   I don’t know that I can say that. I think that because of their extensive drug addiction histories, they’re a tough population to deal with. Certainly, the benefits can be great, but it might take more effort at the outset before you can see those benefits.

Len Sipes:  But if you have an impact with women offenders or offenders across the board, that can save states literally tens of millions of dollars.

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely and, of course, in the case of women, if you’re supporting their successful re-entry, you’re also supporting their families and kids.

Len Sipes:  Nancy La Vigne, the Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute.  Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on DC Public Safety. Before we go, www.urban.org, it’s the website for the Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your cards, letters, your phone calls, your emails, your suggestions, your criticisms. We appreciate your participation in the show and have yourself a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders – UDC Sound Advice

Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders – “UDC Sound Advice”

“Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders” features a discussion with a policy maker within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a Cluster Coordinator with CSOSA’s Mentoring Faith Based Program and an individual currently under CSOSA supervision.

Guests for this program:

  • Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director, Office of Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs – Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA)
  • Reverend Kelly Wilkins, Cluster A Coordinator for CSOSA’s Faith Based Mentoring Program
  • Tonya Mackey, an offender on CSOSA Supervision.

The show is hosted by Shelly Broderick, Dean of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) David A. Clarke School of Law.

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

Television Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2011/05/faith-based-partnerships-and-offenders-udc-sound-advice/

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

[Video Begins]

Shelly Broderick:  Hello, I’m Shelley Broderick, Dean of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law and your host for Sound Advice.  In the District of Columbia, approximately 70% of convicted offenders serve some portion of their sentence in the community.  As such, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (or CSOSA)’s effective supervision of convicted offenders provides a crucial service to the courts and paroling authority and is critical to public safety.  Establishing partnerships with other criminal justice agencies, faith institutions, and community organizations is very important in order to facilitate close supervision of the offenders in the community, and to leverage the diverse resources of local law enforcement, human service agencies, and other local community groups.  Approximately 2,500 men and women return home to the District of Columbia from prison every year.  Among the challenges they face are the need for housing, health care, education, and employment.  With me today to discuss how CSOSA meets these challenges are Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director, Reverend Kelly Wilkins, Cluster A Coordinator, and Tonya Mackey, successful returned citizen and day care assistant.  Welcome.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Shelly Broderick:  Let me start with you, Cedric.  We go back many years.  It’s so nice to have you on the show.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Shelly Broderick:  And I don’t get complacent, we’ll get you back, too!  Because you have a lot to talk about.  Tell us what CSOSA’s mission is and what its reach is, because it’s hugely important in the District of Columbia.

Cedric Hendricks:  CSOSA is a public safety agency responsible for supervising men and women on probation, parole, and supervised release.  So we have about 16,000 individuals under supervision on any given day, and about 60% of them are on probation, meaning that they went to court, were sentenced, and went home, and then about 40% are on parole or supervised release, meaning that they experienced a period of incarceration and have come back home.

Shelly Broderick:  Okay.  And what are, and you know, it’s such a crime what we do, because when we send people to prison, we don’t provide education, we don’t help people get the housing they need, and we don’t, you know, we just don’t take care of business, and so often, people come back and don’t make it.  And so that safety net that CSOSA is helping to provide is just critical to people being able to succeed.  So how many folks work at CSOSA?

Cedric Hendricks:  We have about 900 employees that work at the agency, and we’re a fairly unique federal agency because our mission is focused solely on the District of Columbia, and so the men and women that we supervise, for the most part, are residents here, and what we are trying to help them do is successfully complete their periods of supervision which can involve a few months to several years, and so what we see across the board, and this is what those who are on probation as well as those who have returned home is that, as you’ve indicated, housing, health care, education, and employment are the major challenges that they face, and so we’re very active in trying to partner with the District government, the faith community, and nonprofit resource and service providers to try and help those we supervise meet the needs that they have.

Shelly Broderick:  Okay.  Tonya, let me turn to you.  You’re a returned citizen.

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  You were locked up for how long?

Tonya Mackey:  For about five years.

Shelly Broderick:  And you came back to the District of Columbia?

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  All set, you were ready to go, everything was perfect?

Tonya Mackey:  Not –

Shelly Broderick:  No, okay.  It’s not surprising.  How did you, you went to CSOSA, because you were required to –

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly, for reentry.

Shelly Broderick:  And tell me what advice they gave you.

Tonya Mackey:  The advice they gave me was just some little simple things that, at first, didn’t sound so simple, but I knew I wanted my freedom and I wanted to be on the street, and so I did what was necessary.  It took, it wasn’t all good, but at the end, I’m on top because I’m successfully completed, and through CSOSA, what they told me was, is that I needed to, I needed to get some help from some other women, and a lot of times, women like me never really wanted to communicate with other women because we didn’t, I didn’t think that we had anything in common but being a woman, but thank god that CSOSA sent me to a faith based program where I met Reverend Kelley, who is now my spiritual guidance, and I have a mentor from a program which is from women based empowerment, it’s a program called Empowerment for Women.  Ms. Mignonne who teaches it, I got a whole lot out of it, and what they help me to do was deal with my mom, coming home in society, dealing with other women, dealing with getting an education, dealing with how to ask someone how you get housing, where to go and ask, believing in myself again and believing in God, and –

Shelly Broderick:  Talk about your mom.  Talk about your mom.

Tonya Mackey:  My mom, who has been there with me for my whole entire life, she, I have always done, I felt like I have always done wrong to her, and now I’m trying to make a difference in her life and my life, actually my life first, and then her life, because that’s the only way I can do it.  My mom is a cancer survivor, she’s been diagnosed, she just –

Shelly Broderick:  She just found out.

Tonya Mackey:  – just found out she was diagnosed with cancer, and I went on actually my first cancer walk with her last year, so –

Shelly Broderick:  Wow.

Tonya Mackey:  – to be, the grace of God, and I always say, to be, to God, because without him, I know that I wouldn’t be on this journey, and other people that help me along the way so far, CSOSA, and faith based led program.

Shelly Broderick:  So you came out of all this in West Virginia –

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  – and you came back, and one of the first things that happened is you found out your mom had cancer.

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  Now is that the kind of stress that can really –
Tonya Mackey:  – take me back out, or would have.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s right.

Tonya Mackey:  Would have.

Shelly Broderick:  I mean, that’s the kind of thing that makes people go back on drugs.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  As one of my friends, a drinker, says, what’s so great about reality?  You know, right?  So it’s one of those things that can just turn you upside down.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  Reverend Wilkins.  You met Tonya around that time.

Kelly Wilkins:  Yes, actually, I did, and Tonya, when I first met her, she came to the group.  It was Purpose Empowerment, women’s empowerment group.  She came to the group, and she really was not participating that much.  You know, she really didn’t want to be there.  She didn’t really see the reason why she needed to be around a bunch of women because she had never really had any bonding relationships with women before, and so I would say about, let’s say two months into the program, they started in December, somewhere about February, we had that, we had awful snow in the District of Columbia, and I remember people in the group calling me saying, is there a way we can still meet at the church?  And I’m thinking, like, no, there’s no way!

Tonya Mackey:  We can’t get there!

Kelly Wilkins:  So the facilitator who was just, she created the program, and she’s completely committed to it, figured out a way for them to talk on the phone, to really deal with whatever stresses they were dealing with, being locked in the house because of the snow, so I mean, awesome support for Tonya, and I saw her grow.  I mean, she just grew so phenomenally from December, and she graduated in May, the first week of May.  So yeah, it was a 17-week program at that time.

Shelly Broderick:  What does that feel like?  Was it hard at first?

Tonya Mackey:  At first, yes.  I was like, didn’t want to be there, I wasn’t going to participate, I was going to go pass and go through –

Shelly Broderick:  Check it off your list.

Tonya Mackey:  Right, right.

Shelly Broderick:  Check it off.

Tonya Mackey:  But after a while, you know, even after I finished the program, now I’m returning back.  So it was real, it was a real blessing to me because now I have, like Ms. Kelly says, I have women that I can call, we can talk, we can bond.  We can talk about anything that’s going on.

Shelly Broderick:  What kinds of things?

Tonya Mackey:  We talk about how we hurt our families, we talk about how we can make a difference in other people’s lives, how I can come back, and this right here is even a blessing to me, because I was like, oh wow, somebody’s calling me and asking me to be a power attraction to someone else, whereas I had low self esteem, low self worth, didn’t think that I could become better than what I am today, and I feel real good about where I am today, and where I’m at today is that I’m helping my mom, even with her cancer, the part of surviving, you still have to go back and get treatments, but I’ve been able to be accountable today.  You know, I’m not stealing her money today.  I’m not lying today.  You know, it feels real good.  You know, a lot of times, she still may have doubt, but that’s not up to me.  As long as I stay on this path, I know that everything’s going to be all right, because she’s along with me to take care of her children today, that she had just started her business, her own day care business, so now I am an assistant to her, and it feels real good, and like I said, I graduated from the empowerment, women’s empowerment program, and I still go back, and I still constantly go down to the courts every now and again, and just to hear cases, and to find out how I used to be and how I can go back, and I don’t want to go back.  I want to stay where I’m at today, and being here with you guys makes me feel so good, lets me know that I’m accomplishing something.

Shelly Broderick:  It lifted me up, I’ll tell you that!  I was a defense attorney for a long time, and I watched some of my clients go away for a good long period of time, and it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes you can feel like it can be a good thing, just put a stop in the action, get away, it’s not a good place you ever want to send anybody, but get to a place where you’re out of this environment and get it together and come back and make it work, and you know, for so many people, it doesn’t work because they come back and they don’t have the safety net and the support system and the help.  You come back, you can’t get into housing.  You can’t get public housing.  Okay, where are you supposed to, oh, back in the old neighborhood!

Kelly Wilkins:  Yeah, and let me just say, support is very critical to recovery and reentry.  Without support, we can’t do it by ourselves.  Even the faith, the faith based community can’t assist returning citizens by themselves.  That’s why we need Court Services to be a partner with us.

Shelly Broderick:  Tell me what the partnership looks like.  How do you enter in?

Cedric Hendricks:  We came to recognize at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency that we couldn’t do it by ourselves, and that we really needed to have solid partnerships with the natural resources, the natural systems in the community.  There are many neighborhoods in the District of Columbia where you can find a church on every block, and all of these faith institutions have ministries. They’re about the business of serving their congregations and their communities in a wide variety of ways, and so what we saw to do was tap into that network.  So back in 2002, we put out a call to the faith community through using a strategy called re-entry Sunday, and through having collaboration, communication with faith institutions, we were able to build a network that was willing to work with us, and from the congregations of those faith institutions, many men and women came forward to serve as mentors for those men and women who had come home from prison.  So that work continues to this day, and we continue to match men and women who are coming home with mentors so that they can have someone to talk to, as Tonya indicated, many of our mentors are returned citizens as well, and we’re allied with faith institutions across the city who are opening their doors to be helpful in so many wonderful ways.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s fantastic.  So my first job at a college was at Lorton Prison doing group therapy with inmates.  Now why did they hire a 21-year-old white girl?  I don’t know!  What were they thinking?  But anyway, you know, I learned way more than I taught, and I had an opportunity to meet a lot of guys who it was clear to me didn’t need to be there.  Guys who got in trouble when they were real young, just 20 to life, right?  20 to life is what everybody got.  And they just did maybe 15 years of that, no education, no job training, just, and they were poets: smart, interesting, thoughtful people being wasted, and I think it had a huge amount to do.  Actually in college, I worked at a halfway house on Euclid Street for inmates within six months of release.  I was at AU, I didn’t know anything.  But I was interested.  I don’t know why.  And then I ultimately went to law school and became a defense attorney.  So this is a world that I care very deeply about, and I’m so glad to hear, because it really, it’s so important to put these families back together, because what happens is the kids don’t know Dad or Mom, and there, it’s just, it’s destructive forever if we can’t make this kind of connection and help you make it work.

Tonya Mackey:  That’s what, actually, I was getting ready to say something on that part right there about you saying that a lot of times, the parents, you know, don’t really have the time to be there, and then they get subjected to some things you might have just one father, one mother trying to do the best that they can, and a lot of times, we make our own decisions too, you know, but when we get the help that we need.  I know it’ll be a lot more than me that would do better than they’re doing.  It’s just that we have to want to do the best that we can, and today, I’m just choosing, saying, I wasn’t great, I wasn’t good all my life, and that’s why I’m here saying that if we put forth the effort, we can be the best people that, we can be whatever we want to be.

Shelly Broderick:  It’s a wonderful think.  So Reverend Wilkins, talk about your church and how this came about for you and –

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay.  Well –

Shelly Broderick:  We love your church, and we want to give them full credit.

Kelly Wilkins:  I attend Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, which is on South Capitol Street SW.  My pastors are Drs. Christine and Dennis Wiley, and at our church, I serve as the associate minister of social justice and reentry, and we also have a nonprofit, which is called Covenant Full Potential Development Center, and that’s really how we are able to work with Court Services is through our nonprofit organization, and our church, we have a, we’re a very progressive church.  We have a very strong social justice stance in our community, so we, this is our area.  We believe that helping the least of these is our calling and our job.  We’re located in Ward 8, and Ward 8, which most of the returning citizens return home to Ward 8, a large portion of them, and it’s a lot of poverty in Ward 8, and –

Shelly Broderick:  And not very many jobs.

Kelly Wilkins:  Not many jobs –

Shelly Broderick:  Not housing that –

Kelly Wilkins:  That’s right.

Shelly Broderick:  – folks have access to.

Kelly Wilkins:  But they’re good people in Ward 8, and they just need the support, and they need the support of our faith community as well as our federal agencies, and I think advocacy is really at the top, and when we look at returning citizens, I think the environment, the whole attitude towards returning citizens has begun to change because of advocacy in the community.  There are plenty of advocacy groups, and our church tries to partner with as many as possible so people know that, you know, just because you were incarcerated doesn’t mean that you’re not a person, that you’re not human, that you don’t deserve a second chance, that you did pay your dues, so it’s time to allow people to have a second chance, and so our church takes that stand as the lead institution for 7 and 8.  When you say Cluster A coordinator, that means I actually recruit mentors and services for 7 and 8, but we do a lot of citywide events and services as well, and so part of our church’s stance on returning citizens is, not to be silent about it.  Let’s not be silent about incarceration anymore.  I think the, particularly, African American community has felt ashamed about incarceration, where you talk about the number of years that people went away, and we didn’t know the impact of that in our own families.  It has exacerbated our families in our communities.

Shelly Broderick:  It’s so true.

Kelly Wilkins:  And so we didn’t know what the impact of that was going to be, but what has happened is, particularly the black church, but our faith institutions, have always had a strong social justice stance, and so incarceration wasn’t a part of that.  So it is the tendency for churches and faith institutions to be silent about it.  So we want our partners to talk about incarceration: the pain, the struggle of the family, the needs, all of that.  We want to educate pastors and tell them, look, don’t be quiet about incarceration in your family.  You have people in your pews who are returning home or families who are struggling because of a family member missing, and so that’s the kind of things that we want to educate our community and our faith partners on as well.

Shelly Broderick:  It really, you know, when I was a little girl in Maine, there was a prison called Thomason Prison, and they had a store.  They had people doing crafts.  And so every time we went past there, we used to go into the store, they had prison inmates working in the store, you know, getting close to getting out, so I grew up thinking prisoners were all white, because in Maine, they’re all white, and they’re really good at crafts!  I still have this set of three paintings that we got.  I still have the stool in my kitchen made at the prison.  My sister gave us each Christmas stocking gifts last summer, all from the prison, because that was my conception as a kid.  You know, and because the prisoners I knew were getting close to coming out, it was just all very natural and, you know, we don’t do that.  We send our prisoners a million miles away.  They are completely hidden from society, and we don’t have that kind of easy give and take back and forth that I experienced.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, you know, one of the challenging things about the District of Columbia is that the District’s prison, Lorton, that you mentioned you worked at closed back in 2001, and all of our inmates were dispersed across the United States.  And that has made it, I think, extremely difficult to maintain contact with your loved ones.  So if you were locked up in Louisiana, Idaho, you’re not going to get visits from your family.  It’s even going to be challenging to get phone calls from your family, and if you’re away for five years, as you’ve mentioned, and you don’t have regular contact with your support system, it does create, I think, challenges to come back, and so it is essential that we have mentors from faith institutions to kind of step in while folks are coming back trying to reestablish connections with the community, because sometimes families are slow to embrace their loved ones when they come home.

Kelly Wilkins:  They’re mad.  Sometimes they’re mad because you left them.

Tonya Mackey:  – you took my stuff and, hey, I just don’t want to be bothered with you, I felt you have to prove a point to me, and I’ve been there, because that in and out of, coming out of jail and nobody believing in you because you said it over and over again, so when do you change?  When do we stop?  It has to.
Shelly Broderick:  Well, you make a good point –

Tonya Mackey:  But you have to make a community.

Shelly Broderick:  First of all, Alderson is, what, six hours away?  You were just right around the corner in West Virginia, but six hours, that’s crazy!  You can’t, like, there’s no plane there.  It is a trek!  It is so hard.

Kelly Wilkins:  And if you have children, how do they eat in the ride going down there, when they get down there, do you drive six hours, and then you visit an hour, and then you drive six hours back?

Shelly Broderick:  And can you afford to stay in a hotel?  Is there a hotel anywhere nearby?  A motel or anything?  No, it’s crazy.  And then, they don’t lock women up very often unless they’ve got a history, so you –

Tonya Mackey:  Yeah, I had a history.

Shelly Broderick:  You did, in and out –

Tonya Mackey:  In and out of jail.

Shelly Broderick:  – locally and all that.  So you had a mountain to climb.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  You had a mountain to climb.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  So talk to me about your mentor.

Tonya Mackey:  Well, what happens is, a lot of times, when I go to my other program, Empowered by Women, we stay in touch, me and Ms. Mignonne, and me and Ms., my mentor, we stay in touch, Ms. Kelly, and what happens is, just like she called me today, and she was like, well, I need to kind of like, help me out.  I’m in a spot.  Not a problem, and that’s what it’s about, me being accountable today.  Even though I was at work –

Shelly Broderick:  I see that.  I’m guessing you don’t wear that on Saturday.

Tonya Mackey:  But thank god that I’m able to do that today!  You know, thank god I was able, like I said, not just come home and get a job, because I still have some things that I have to do, but I’m just helping my mom, because like, she’s going through her cancer situation, which I know God already having, and I’m her only child to speak about it, so I took my mom, when I got locked up, she was locked up, and a lot of us don’t realize that until after we get a certain amount of clean time, people in our life who we can share the real gut level things about how you treated your moms when you was on the street, and then a lot of people don’t have their mom, so I’m real grateful today that I have my mom to talk to, and like I said, I talked to Ms. Willis and them, and Ms. Kelly, like, on a regular, because it’s like, I need people in my life to keep me on the right track when I need to stay outside of myself, when I get angry, and it feels like there’s nobody in my corner, you know, I’ve learned how to pray.  I mean, it’s like, I talk to God, at first I was like, I don’t know how, I don’t know where, but I’m like, God, can you just help me.  Next thing I know, there’ll be a phone call.  I’m here.  And that’s only through the grace of God, because, hey, I always wanted to become a positive role model.  I just didn’t know how.  So today, I’ve learned how to become a better person and a better human being.

Shelly Broderick:  We’ve got about four more minutes.  You’ve got two, and you’ve got two.

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay, great!

Shelly Broderick:  What else do we need to know?

Kelly Wilkins:  Through the faith-based initiative, we look for faith partners.  I’m always…

Shelly Broderick:  You’re recruiting right now.

Kelly Wilkins: I guess, I’m always recruiting mentors, and I’m always trying to recruit services that will help our returning citizens –

Shelly Broderick:  How do you become a mentor?  Somebody who actually wants to, hey, you know what, I’d like to work with somebody like Tonya!  I think I could do that!  I like her, and I could do that.

Kelly Wilkins:  Be a concerned citizen.  We are looking for concerned citizens.  We have a mentor training that, a mandatory mentor training that we ask that you go through.  There’s the application and interview process, and then once you complete that process, then what happens on a regular basis is CSOSA refers clients to me.  Their parole officers, or what they call Community Supervision Officers, refer clients to us, and we will match those clients with a concerned citizen in the community, and that person, just an hour or two a week, just to make sure they’re talking to their mentees and making sure, maybe they may have certain needs.  We create a mentor plan for them, each individual in the mentor plan.  So making sure their needs are getting met –

Shelly Broderick:  I lied.  We only have one more minute.

Kelly Wilkins:  You only have one more minute?  Okay.

Shelly Broderick:  I’m going to give it to you –

Kelly Wilkins:  No problem.

Shelly Broderick:  And then you’re going to have to come back.

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay, no problem.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s what it’s going to have to take.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just say, at CSOSA, what we’re after are people successfully completing their community supervision, and that’s why Tonya’s here with us as an example of what is possible.  And so we want to let the community know that, in order to realize the success, we need help.  We partnered with the faith community, we actively partnered with the District of Columbia government, so anybody listening who wants to join this effort, they should contact me at 220-5300, and we’ll pull them into the network of help and support.

Shelly Broderick:  Absolutely fantastic.  I am so glad, especially you, Tonya, but for both of you, just to have you on and let people know there are so many positive things going on, and there is a place to get help and to get support.

Tonya Mackey:  There’s hope.  There’s hope.

Shelly Broderick:  If you are interested in learning about CSOSA and reentry programs regarding men and women returning home from prison, please visit CSOSA’s website at www.csosa.gov and click on the offender reentry link or call Cedric Hendrick’s at 202-220-5300.  CSOSA and their faith partners, partnerships, are committed to assisting our returning citizens come home and stay home.  They invite the public to assist them with achieving that goal.  I’m Shelley Broderick.  Thanks for watching, and please join me next time for more Sound Advice.

[Video Ends]

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Women Offenders – DC Public Safety Television 2011

Women Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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

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

Television Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2011/05/women-offenders-%E2%80%93-dc-public-safety-television-2011/

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

[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is on women offenders, and one of the reasons we’re doing today’s program is the fact that there are more women coming into the criminal justice system, both in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.  Now the other issue is the fact that women offenders have higher rates of HIV, of substance abuse, of mental health problems.  But the thing that really astounds me is the difference between sexual violence when they are directed towards women offenders as children.  There’s a huge difference between the women coming into the criminal justice system, and male offenders.  To talk about what we’re doing here in Washington, D.C., and the what’s going on throughout the country, we have two principals with us today.  From my agency, we have Dr. Debra Kafami.  She is the Executive Assistant for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We also have Ashley McSwain, the Executive Director from Our Place, DC.  And to Debra and Ashley, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Thank you.

Ashley McSwain: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right.  Well ladies, we have this issue of offenders coming into the criminal justice system, and of greatly concern to us.  And they’re different from male offenders, and we need to say that straight from the beginning, that there’s a big difference between male and female offenders, people caught up in the criminal justice system.  Debra, our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re reorganizing everything that we do around women offenders.   Why are we doing this?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well, CSOSA is an evidence-based organization, and a lot of research coming out has shown that women are very, very different from male offenders.  And we started to look at what were we doing for female offenders. And they were kind of like just in with the men, and we weren’t doing a whole lot of specialized programming for women, yet they have very different needs and they have very different pathways into crime.  So we started to realize that the numbers are also increasing.  We had probably about 12% of our population ten years ago that were female offenders, and now we’re up to around 16%.  And nationally, the women entering the criminal justice system have outpaced the men.

Len Sipes: Right.

Dr. Debra Kafami: From 5% to about 3.3% since 1995.

Len Sipes: Right.  Now on the second half of the program, we’re going to have Dr. Willa Butler, she runs women groups for us, and we’re going to have an individual currently under supervision.  So she’ll talk more about the practical reality of what we do at CSOSA in terms of dealing with women offenders.  But one of the things that Willa’s group has been able to demonstrate is that they have a pretty good success rate, once you take women offenders, put them into a program, put them into a group setting where they can talk through these issues, where they can sort of help and heal each other.  So we’re reorganizing in CSOSA, in Washington, D.C., around these groups, correct?  And we’re going to add a day reporting component, and all women offenders are going to be reporting to one field agency.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re just reorganizing everything we do!

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes.  What we decided to do was to create three teams at one of our field sites, centrally located near Union Station and have the women report there.  We’re establishing a day reporting center, just for female offenders, so they can come in one place and get services.  And their programming will be completely separate from the male offenders, which we did not have before.  Women behave differently even when they’re in groups, and they’re less likely to open up when they’re in groups with male offenders.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve attended a couple of Willa’s groups, and I have to ask permission to come in, and the women have to get to know me and like me before they even allowed me inside the group.  But once there, it was a really extraordinary experience.

Dr. Debra Kafami: We’re also especially training our staff to work with female offender.

Len Sipes: In terms of the gender specific?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  Ashley McSwain, Executive Director of Our Place, DC.  First of all, Our Place — and I’ve said this constantly — is maybe the most comprehensive one-stop service for women coming out of the prison system anywhere in the United States.  It’s amazing!  Instead of sending the people coming out of the prison system over here for legal assistance, over there for clothing, over there for HIV, you’ve got all of these services under one roof.  I have no idea as to how you do it.  And I’ve heard so many women caught up in the criminal justice system speak so highly of Our Place, DC.  So tell me a little bit, what is Our Place, DC?

Ashley McSwain: Okay.  We work with women who are currently and formerly incarcerated.  So we actually go into the facilities and we offer employment workshops, legal clinics, HIV programming, and we offer case management prior to women ever being released.  So we have really good relationships with the prisons, the jails, the half-way house.  In addition, when a woman is released, she can come to Our Place and we have a drop-in center where she can just drop in, and we offer her tokens for the metro.  We offer birth certificates, identification.  We have a clothing boutique where she can get clothing.  We have HIV prevention and awareness programming, so she can get condoms, and we have a HIV 101 that every woman is subject to.  We have an employment department to help women get resumes.  We actually have a legal department, so we have two full-time attorneys on staff, which is one of our biggest programs.  We take collect calls from women.  We get five hundred calls a month.  We have a case management program so we work with women four months before they’re released, and then we work with them after they’re released.  So it’s very, very comprehensive.  We have a visitation program where we take family members to various facilities to visit their loved ones.  So, yeah, we do quite a bit at Our Place.

Len Sipes: That is amazing.  We did a radio show a little while ago, and I said, during the radio show, that if anybody out there is looking for a wonderful 501c3 tax exempt organization where they can donate money, they need to look at Our Place, DC.  And the website for Our Place DC is going to be shown constantly throughout the television program.

Len Sipes: All right, so CSOSA, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Debra, our agency, we’re a Federal Parole and Probation Agency.  Women are a part of who we supervise, Ashley.  Women come into Our Place, D.C. and get all of these comprehensive services.  I love the fact that you’re inside the prison system, making contact with women long before they come out.  So let’s get to the broader philosophical issues of women offenders, if we could for a second.  There’s a huge difference between men and women.  Certainly one of those issues is the fact that the great majority of women coming out have kids.

Ashley McSwain: Yes.

Len Sipes: And so, I don’t want to be overly stereotypical, and I’ll probably get phone calls, but the sense that I get from a lot of the male offenders is that they don’t see themselves as responsible.  The sense that I get from the women offenders is they want their kids back.

Ashley McSwain: Yes.

Len Sipes: How do you do that?  How do you come out of the prison system with all the baggage that you have to carry, in terms of finding work and re-establishing yourself, and taking care of a couple kids?  That, to me, almost seems to be impossible.  Ashley?

Ashley McSwain: Yes, it’s extremely difficult.  And one of the things that’s happening now, since we’re looking at gender-specific issues, is this idea that women have to not only build a foundation for themselves when they’re released, but they also have to build foundation for their children.  And acknowledging that as being their reality is helpful, as we help them prepare for their future.  It’s very difficult.  What we do at Our Place is try to build some of the basic foundations, you know, so housing, and dealing with whatever the underlying legal issues are, and helping them identifying jobs.  And then we tackle this issue of getting custody of children and identifying visitation, and those kinds of very serious issues.

Len Sipes: We talked about higher rates of substance abuse, Debra.
We talked about higher rates of HIV.  We talked about higher rates of mental health problems, and this astounding issue of the rate of sexual violence being directed towards them when they were younger, a lot of cases by family members and friends.  Most of the women offenders that I’ve come into contact with throughout my career have got a rock-hard crust.  If we’re going to have any hopes of — I mean, public safety is our first priority.  We’re not going to hesitate putting anybody back in prison if that’s going to protect public safety.  But if we’re going to really succeed in terms of getting these individuals through supervision successfully, we have to have programs.  For the programs to be successful, we’ve got to break through that hard crust.  How do we do that?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well it’s not an easy job, that’s for sure, and that’s where our specialized programming comes into play, with our specially-trained staff that we have.  I know Dr. Butler will talk about the Women in Control Again Program, but that’s just one example.  We also want to address the substance abuse issues.  Many of them don’t get enough treatment while they’re incarcerated, and they need that.  We also work with them on traumatization and victimization issues.  Housing — housing is another big issue for the women, trying to find stable housing.

Len Sipes: Especially in Washington, D.C.!

Dr. Debra Kafami: They face, really, an insurmountable — almost — number of problems. — And family reunification is another very big one.

Len Sipes: Right.  But I mean, getting, breaking through that hard crust, I mean, sometimes they can be as hard as nails.  When they come out of the prison system, they don’t trust you.  Why should they trust us?  We just put them in prison.  Why should they trust government?  Ashley, isn’t that one of the most difficult things when a woman comes out of the prison system and gets into Our Place, isn’t that one of the most difficult things that you have to deal with, and your staff?

Ashley McSwain: Well, one of the things that happens is that because we are working with the woman prior to her release, we’re actually establishing a relationship, a trusting relationship, with her before she’s released.  Our Place has a really good reputation of being a safe place, and so when the women come here, there’s this welcoming environment that says that it’s a safe place, a safe space to be.  And not only that, it’s a place where you can trust what it is that you’re sharing is confidential.  We don’t send people back to prison.  We don’t have those kinds of authorities, and so the dynamics are a little different.  So we can build a trusting relationship in a way that CSOSA and other organizations may not be able to.

Len Sipes: Yeah.  We would have a hard time because we’re a law enforcement agency, and at the same time we’re trying to break down those barriers and help them in terms of programs.  We all agree, the three of us agree, that substance abuse programs, mental health programs, HIV programs, and programs to deal specifically with this history of sexual violence, are all necessary if that individual is going to successfully complete supervision.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain: Yeah, that’s correct.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Definitely.

Len Sipes: I mean, we’re living in a day and age of cutbacks. We’re living in a day and age of limited government.  So we’ve got to be able to tell people that these programs save tax dollars.  You know, one of the programs that we have, the great majority of people successfully complete the program, which means they don’t go back to prison, which means they save tax-paid dollars, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of tax-paid dollars.  So there’s an economic incentive as well as a social incentive to be doing these things, correct?

Ashley McSwain: Yes.  I would also say that Our Place helps a woman begin to implement a plan.  So many of the women, while they’re incarcerated, they don’t know where to begin.  And so this idea of saving tax-payer dollars, you know, someone has to have a plan in which to begin to develop in order to stay out of prison.  And so that’s one of the really important services I think we offer is the ability to work with a woman so that she has some hope and some ideas about what her next steps are going to be.

Len Sipes: Okay.  And Debra, the national research does show that if you’re gender-specific in terms of your approach of dealing with women offenders, you’re going to have a much higher rate of success in terms of them successfully completing supervision.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes, and better outcomes.  And I did want to add that when the offender comes to CSOSA, the first thing we do is a risk-and-needs assessment, and we also come up with a prescriptive supervision or an intervention plan.  We work very closely with Our Place staff too, so our Community Supervision Officers are on the same team, with Our Place staff, to try and help guide the offender.

Ashley McSwain: I just want to say, one of the things we do is that we don’t actually create release plans.  We help implement the plans that were created by CSOSA and the Bureau of Prisons, which is really helpful for the women.

Dr. Debra Kafami: And sharing information.

Len Sipes: And sharing information.  It just strikes me that — and Debra, you and I come from the same system in the State of Maryland — the women offenders just came home and they were home.  That’s all there was to it.  I mean, there were no programs specifically for them.  There were no efforts.  We have CSOSA and we have Our Place DC.  I mean, there really is a focus now on making sure that that individual woman gets the programs and assistance that she needs, and if we do that, fewer crimes are going to be committed and fewer people are going to go back to prison, saving a ton of tax-paid dollars.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well, not to mention too, that the women, most of them have children, and that separation from their children is not good for the children or the mother, and if we can help the women be successful and not go back to prison, it’s going to only help their children.

Len Sipes: Right, by every woman offender we help, we’re helping two or three or more other individuals have a much greater chance of having a pro-social life.  Research is clear that the rates of the children going into the criminal justice system or having problems in school are much higher if a parent is incarcerated.  So this is not only dealing with her, it’s dealing with three or four other human beings.

Ashley McSwain: Right.  And that also speaks to this issue of gender-specific.  When a woman goes to prison, you’re not only dealing with that person — woman being a mother, she’s someone’s daughter, you know.  So all of these people are impacted when she’s incarcerated, and also they’re impacted when she’s released.

Len Sipes: Right.  So I think we’re going to out the program with that.  I really appreciate the fact that you two were here and set up this whole program.  On the second half, ladies and gentlemen, what we’re going to do is talk to Dr. Willa Butler.  She runs groups for women offenders, and we’re going to talk to an individual currently under supervision.  Please stay with us as we explore this larger issue of women offenders in the criminal justice system.  We’ll be right back.

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Len Sipes: Welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.  I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  We continue to have a conversation about women offenders.  In the first half we did talk about the fact that there are more women coming into the criminal justice system, and the question becomes what is our agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, doing about it, and what’s happening throughout the country.  With the bottom line behind all of that are gender-specific programs, and the research is pretty clear that if you have these gender-specific programs, programs and treatment specifically designed for women offenders, they have much better outcomes.  And we have two individuals to talk about much better outcomes, Dr. Willa Butler, she’s a group facilitator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, and Talynthia Jones is a person currently under supervision by my agency.  And to Dr. Butler, to Willa, and to Talynthia, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Dr. Willa Butler: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Willa, this whole process with the group — you’ve run the group.  I have seen some of the groups.  It is an amazing place to be when the women under your supervision open up.  Some of the stuff that they talk about is scary.  I always like to refer to it as a trip to Mars, because their experience probably is not your experience.  It certainly hasn’t been my experience in terms of all of the issues that they have had to deal with in life.  A lot of these individuals come to us battered and bruised, and we’re not making excuses for their criminality, and we’re not saying we’re not going to send them back to prison.  We will in a heartbeat if that’s going to protect public safety.  But your group has a good track record of getting them through supervision successfully, and considering the issues they bring to the table, I find that astounding.  So tell me a little bit about this group process.

Dr. Willa Butler: What it is, WICA — Women in Control Again. It’s a group that I developed some years ago for the agency, and it deals with the issues and concerns of the female offender. — Their pathways to crime, how they got started in the criminal justice system, and knowing how they got started lets us know how we can keep them from returning and breaking that cycle of pain.  And what we deal with in group, we deal with first of all we start with who they are.  And a lot of women don’t know exactly who they are, because they’ve been out in the drinking and drugging for so long, and at such an early age, it’s like, “I really don’t know who I am today.  And now that I’m clean, I’m trying to find myself”, in a sense.  And that’s what we deal with, things of that nature.  And we deal with the substance abuse, and the whole gamut, the parenting skills, housing, whatever issues that concerns them.  That’s mainly what we deal with.  There’s basically seventeen critical issues that we deal with in that group process.  But the main thing is showing empathy, showing that you care, and developing a trusting environment, where they can not only trust you, but trust each other.

Len Sipes: The criminologists call it cognitive restructuring, and there is plenty of research out there that indicates that that works.  Now “cognitive restructuring” to the average person listening to this program is helping individuals think differently about who they are and what they are.  My guess is that a lot of the women involved in your groups have never dealt with that subject before in their lives, have never had an opportunity to say, “Who am I?  What do I want to do?  Where do I need to go?”  Is that correct?

Dr. Willa Butler: That’s correct.  And when you talk about cognitive restructuring, it’s basically getting to the core, getting to the core factor as to why I do the things that I do.  And once we find that out, then we can start changing, because that begins to empower the person.  And we know what our limitations are, and we also know what our assets are as well, and it helps us to develop.

Len Sipes: I’m going to go over to Talynthia in a couple seconds.  But you and I have had other programs together about this topic, and my favorite story is when I was with the Maryland Correctional System and sitting down with a bunch of women offenders, and they actually told me that prison, in this pre-release center, was preferable to going home at times.  And I always found that astounding, why would an individual find prison to be preferable to life on the outside.  And they said to me that they’ve never felt safer.  They’re getting their GED.  They were getting at that point a food certificate, a culinary arts certificate.  And they were running groups.  And for the first time in their lives, they weren’t trying to figure out who they were and where they were going with their lives.  And also, it was safer in prison because they had been so beaten up on the outside.  So there’s a larger, really societal issue that is at play here that we’re not going to be able to solve.  But Talynthia, over to you.  Thank you very much for being on the program.

Talynthia Jones: You’re welcome.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate it.  Now you’re currently under supervision by my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and you’re currently involved in a lot of groups.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  Does that group process work for you?

Talynthia Jones: It’s working very well for me.  Dr. Butler is a good counselor.  She’s helping me to deal with me, to learn me, to get inside myself, to know what’s going on with me and why I keep using, why I keep doing the things that I’m doing to go back in the system.  And I’ve been doing this for too long.  And as we do the group sessions and the work papers that we do, you know, in the groups, it’s helping us to not just wonder how dominate we can be to stay strong, but how dominate that we can put ourselves into another place, to learn how getting your life together is much better than to just cover it up with some mess.  And I’ve just been feeling good about myself here lately.

Len Sipes: Wonderful.

Talynthia Jones: And I love, I love every minute.  I get up early in the morning, I’m always there early, because I can’t wait to talk about me.  Because I’m tired of just having all this bottled-up junk inside me that’s keeping me going back into the places and the phases that I’ve been doing.

Len Sipes: Is this the first time in your life that you’ve had an opportunity to really sit down and talk with other people about everything that’s happened in your past?

Talynthia Jones: Yes.  It’s actually been the very first time that I’ve actually even dealt with women, because I have women issues.  And Dr. Butler is teaching me how to communicate with women, how to communicate period.  And it is very good, it’s very good.

Len Sipes: Now in terms of sharing that information, I mean, was I right before in the program where I said that a lot of women who come out of the prison system were rock-hard.  They don’t trust anybody.  They don’t trust any one for any reason.  How did Dr. Butler break through that barrier to get to you?

Talynthia Jones: She broke the barrier with me because I don’t see Dr. Butler as a Court Service Agency.  I see her as a mother figure.

Len Sipes: Right.

Talynthia Jones: Because she don’t look at us as criminals.  She look on us at people, as children, you know, children of God, you know.  And she loves us unconditionally, and she’s willing to help us. When other people out in society, they look at us, “Well, she’s nothing but a drug addict.  She’s nothing but a criminal.  She keeps doing this and she keep doing that.”  But Dr. Butler doesn’t see us that way.

Len Sipes: And in terms of this group process, if you weren’t involved in this group process, where would be now?  If you came from the prison system and all we did was supervise you and put you under GPS and drug test you and hold you accountable for your actions — if that’s all we did, we didn’t supply this gender-specific approach, this group process, where would be now?

Talynthia Jones: I would be still using.  I would be back in the penal system. Because all drugging do is cover up your feelings, covering up your emotions.  It’s covering up what you dealing with instead of you dealing with it on your own, or dealing with it with someone that’s going to help you to get involved with yourself, to let all these emotions out so that you won’t cover it up with drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.  And how to cope with life without turning to drugs.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: And so, you said you had women’s issues or issues with dealing with other women, how difficult was that? — Because you’re in these groups, you share that experience. You share all these ugly things that have happened to you throughout your life, sharing that with a group of women.  Was that easy or difficult or what?

Talynthia Jones: It was difficult when I first got in, until I saw Dr. Butler, because I was able to talk to Dr. Butler before.  And she really lets you know that it’s okay.  It’s okay to talk about what’s going on with you.  And see, I’m a person that’s afraid to talk about what’s going on with me because I’m afraid of what somebody going to think of me.  And that’s what most women think, you know.  And doing the things that we do, if we talk about it, somebody won’t think something bad about us. It’s always come to me and my attention, as brought up, that what I did was my fault.  And I know everything that I do is not my fault.

Len Sipes: Right.  Well, before we get back to Dr. Butler for the close of the program, getting back to that whole issue of how other people think about you — most people, you’re coming out of the prison system, they’re going to say, “You’re a criminal.  I don’t want to fund programs for criminals.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry.  Let’s give it to the church.  Let’s give it to the PTAs.  I don’t want programs for criminals, and I don’t want to hire criminals.”  Okay, you’re a criminal, technically.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  That stereotype — that’s the difference between what people have in their mind of criminal, and there you are, a pretty young woman who’s successfully dealing with all the issues in her life.  How do you feel about that?

Talynthia Jones: Well, it makes me feel bad for the people out there, because they don’t realize that the women here are dealing with so much emotional things, and because they are dealing with it in the wrong way, and the people don’t want to help them, it shows that they only think of themselves.  They’re worrying about themselves.  They’re not caring about what we feeling and what we going through, why we’re doing this.

Len Sipes: And you’re not that stereotype, is the bottom line.

Talynthia Jones: I’m not that stereotype.  I want the help.  And some women are out here that don’t want the help, they just want to get off paper.  But me, I want the help.  I know I need the help, not for me, but for my family.  And I have to think about me first, because if I don’t care of me, I can’t take care of no one else.

Len Sipes: Understood.  Completely understood.

Talynthia Jones: And see, and that’s what the society needs to know, that if we get the help that we need, and not only from the government, well maybe from family members, the support that we need, the love, the care and affection that we didn’t get back in our childhood that causes us to grow up in adulthood to do the things that we do.

Len Sipes: Right.  Willa, the great majority of the people that are in your groups complete them successfully.

Dr. Willa Butler: Yes.

Len Sipes: The rate of successful completion is much higher than it is for men.  It’s much higher than it is for everybody combined.  I think what Talynthia just said, and it was very impressive and I thank you for sharing that story, is the heart and soul of it.  She’s getting the help she needs and she’s doing fine because she’s getting the help she needs.  Is that the bottom line behind this?

Dr. Willa Butler: Yes.  And that is the main bottom line behind, like you say, is to give them the help and support; but not only that, but to have an understanding of what’s happening.  Most of the women who have been through the criminal justice system have been raped or molested at a very early age, and that’s something that comes out in the group process.  And it gives them an understanding, like Talynthia said, and why we drug through that.  We’re not using it as an excuse, but when you’ve gone through a trauma like that, and then there’s no one out there to help you or assist you, and that’s one thing that the women don’t have as children, they didn’t have that support, that healthy network and system.  So they turn within by using drugs or whatever else was out there, and then they ended up in the criminal justice system, because they’re trying to support their habit or whatever, and live out of the normal society.

Len Sipes: And you’ve got the final word.  First of all, thank you very much, ladies, for being on the program.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching us as we explored this issue of women offenders.  Look for us next time as we look at another important topic in today’s criminal justice system.  Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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