Family Court and Juvenile Justice in D.C.-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. Ladies and gentlemen, the show today is on Family Court and Young Offenders. We have two guests with us today. Judge Zoe Bush, she is he Presiding Judge of the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and we have Terri Odom. She is the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division – to talk about the courts’ involvement in terms of young offenders – how they approach them, how they deal with them, what the outcome is, what the challenges are. – And to Judge Bush and to Terri Odom, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Judge Zoe Bush: Thank you.

Terri Odom: Thank you so much for having us.

Len Sipes: Well, this is interesting because in the District of Columbia, like so many jurisdictions throughout the country, you have dual jurisdictions over younger people who are caught up in the criminal justice system the Superior Court of the District of Columbia – now I’m not saying this just because I have a real judge and a real director sitting in front of me – the specialty courts have done such a great job, have gotten such great publicity. There’s a lot going on.  You are an activist court, really moving in a lot of different directions, really doing a wonderful job. People from around the country are noticing what it is that you all do here in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, so that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you in today. Give me a sense as to the process, Judge Bush, in terms of the offenders or the young individuals that you try to assist.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, I’m not sure I’ll accept being an activist. I think we’re progressive and very thoughtful in our approach to our young people, and I’m very proud of all the work that we do at the Superior Court and in general. We’re the Trial Court of the General Jurisdiction for the District of Columbia, and we’ve got about 90 associate and magistrate judges, and in the Family Court we’ve got 19 judges and we hear cases for juveniles, families with abuse and neglect issues, domestic relations, mental health, and paternity and support.  I’m very fortunate that I have four judges who have dedicated juvenile calendars meaning that’s all they hear. I have one judge who part time hears a calendar that involves young people who are diverted from the juvenile calendar so that they can get special mental health treatment. I have a judge who hears status offender cases. Those are young people charged with offenses that only children can be charged with, and that would be truancy, being ungovernable or running away from home, and then there is one judge who hears the initial hearing cases for juveniles when they are first brought to court.  So we have a lot of resources. Every kid or every young person has a lawyer assigned to them, whether their family can afford it or not, from the very first day they come into court. We have an excellent Court Social Services division. I’m very proud of the work that Ms. Alderman and her team does for us, and I never feel that a young person just gets churned through the system. I know they get individual attention. We look at what their needs are and not just the offense that they are charged with, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that we do.

Len Sipes: Would you suggest, Your Honor,  that it is unusual for most court systems in the country to have the resources that you within the Superior Court have at your disposal? My sense is that you do things over at the Superior Court in the District of Columbia far more comprehensively than most court systems in most cities in most states throughout the country.

Judge Zoe Bush: We are so fortunate in our leadership. Our Chief Judge is a former Presiding Judge over Family Court, and that’s Chief Judge Lee Satterfield. He understands what we’re doing and we’ve got very strong leadership and consistency. For judges to come into Family Court, they have to volunteer to come to Family Court and they have to be trained in early childhood development and other family-related issues and so, yes, you’re right. We make very good use of the resources that we have.

Len Sipes: But you have resources that other jurisdictions don’t have. I think that’s the point that I’m trying to get to. You know, a lot of jurisdictions in this country – even at the juvenile level which is supposed to be based upon treatment more than it is at the adult level in terms of punishment or re-entry – even at that level, a lot of courts, a lot of agencies throughout the country complain that they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the commitment, they don’t have the judges who are really specializing in a juvenile population. My guess is that you have resources that other jurisdictions do not.

Judge Zoe Bush: I think we’ve very smart with the resources that we do have. Ms. Odom can talk about the drop-in centers but probation officers have to work some place and we choose that they don’t all work downtown. They work in the communities where the young people live so that they are accessible to these young folks and their families.  In all jurisdictions, young people have to have lawyers but the lawyers that we have go through a panel review so that we know that they’re trained in juvenile law, they’re held to standards, and we have training for them on a monthly basis at the courthouse so that we know that they understand the issues and the services that are appropriate for young people.

Len Sipes: Terri, you’re the Director of Family Court Social Services Division so in essence you’re in charge of making sure the individuals are both treated and supervised all at the same time. Oh, and one of the things that we did not say at the beginning is that you deal with the pre-trial as well as a probation population, correct?

Yes, that’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. So give me a sense as to the resources that you have, your philosophy, the philosophy of the people under you, what you do to help and supervise the individuals involved in Family Court.

Terri Odom: Well, I think it starts with having a robust, talented pool of staff that you work with, and I think you build on that talent by doing training. I think that in the current fiscal economy, though dollars to go to training are not available, we do a lot of in-house training. We have a Child Guidance Clinic where we have five fulltime licensed clinical psychologists who provide the psychological, psycho-educational. They provide a host of forensic evaluations like the sexual clinical risk assessments.  So we get a lot of clinical training with our probation officers from our in-house physicians but a lot of it, I think, deals with having a talented pool of POs, of probation officers, and building the kind of logic model that you then support with your resources. I wouldn’t want the viewers to think that the District of Columbia’s court system and Family Court have been sort of saved or spared from the fiscal reality. It is affecting all jurisdictions, and I talk to my colleagues across the country, directors of probation.  But I think that what happens is as you continue to look at how you can build your resources, we’ve relied more on a model wherein our POs are kind of the boots on the ground so we’re not just managing cases and farming out our youth juvenile population elsewhere. We are literally doing a portion of that work.

Len Sipes: Direct service.

Terri Odom: Absolutely, we have a direct service component through our probation model as well. It’s a public/private partnership. So in that regard, I think we leverage our resources better because we don’t have to buy as much because we do a lot in-house.

Len Sipes: Well, there are approximately 1,500 individuals your charge.

Terri Odom: Yes.

Len Sipes: And they range from the ages of 12 to 19. Now the interesting thing is that again, in terms of juvenile offenders, young offenders within the District of Columbia, they are split between the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, which are the more serious offenders, and then they have the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. That means they’re under your jurisdiction, correct?

Terri Odom: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So in essence – look. I’ve spent a lot of times when I left the Police Department – now to the fun part of the program, now we’ve gotten through all that – and after leaving the Police Department, I put myself through college. So I was a Gang Counselor in the City of Baltimore, worked the streets, and I suddenly found that law enforcement is a piece of cake compared to dealing with people who are either caught up in the criminal justice system or about to be caught up in the criminal justice system. I found that adults are much easier to work with than younger individuals.  I learned far more than they taught me. They taught me far more than I taught them, rather. Dealing with the juvenile population certainly does have its challenges, and you guys, generally speaking, have a rate of success that is better than the national average. How do you do that? What is the philosophy that you guys bring to the table that is different from what other people are doing?

Terri Odom: I think that we have judges who really understand our young people, and who want to work with our young people, and who have a lot of confidence in our probation officers. I can tell you as a parent that the difference between young people who are successful and young people who struggle is that they have adults who care about them and who try and guide them along the way. Just from raising my own child, she has the same impulses, the same immaturity as some of the young people who would appear before me on my calendar but the difference would be that I was there to guide her along and to make sure she had what she needed.  You can’t substitute for parents but what we try to do is to support our young people. We don’t just treat them as the offenses that they committed but we try and partner with their parents to support their parents to get the services in place so that the young person can then be redirect, so that they can be successful at school and they can cooperate at home and not be a problem in the community.

Len Sipes: One of the things that I do want to repeat is that the philosophy of the Juvenile Justice System both in the District of Columbia and any juvenile justice system throughout the country is treatment. It’s not punishment, it’s treatment, and there are people who don’t like that but it’s nevertheless a reality of how we do criminal justice in this country. Unless the person is charged as an adult, which you don’t have those kind of individuals, your job is to try to restore that individual by working with the offender, the family, the parents, the school, the community, and to try to bring a comprehensive approach to what is it that you do, correct?

Terri Odom: Yes. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Tell me about it.

Terri Odom: Well, I would say our philosophy at Juvenile Probation is that first and foremost, we want to treat the children the way we would our own, recognizing that they’re not our own but they are entrusted in our care. We see ourselves as the eyes and ears of the judiciary, and the judges rely upon us and the stakeholders to ensure that what is ordered is carried out, to ensure that that which is needed for our young people is accorded to them, and to monitor the young people in such a way that they are less tempted to get into trouble.  So our philosophy is to – we don’t believe in a cookie-cutter approach. We don’t believe that the same thing that works for me will work for you and everybody else. A lot of times that has to be tailored, and gathering information, learning about the family is very important, learning about the youth. We gather information that looks at were there complications while the youth was carried in the womb. What were their early developmental years like? How did they fare in school? Were there any traumatic events? Trauma is extremely, extremely significant when you talk about vulnerable populations and populations that are being [INDISCERNIBLE 00:11:41].

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Terri Odom: So then we look at it from a strength-based approach. How do we best connect with our young people, and that’s why we’re doing the school visits, that’s why we have the drop-in centers. We try to create youth-friendly environments where we can re-norm and re-teach conduct.

Len Sipes: How difficult are the individuals that you service? I mean, Your Honor, my guess is that because of the reliance on specialty courts in the District of Columbia – and I like your word “progressive” – but it is. I mean, the Superior Court has branched out in a dozen different directions trying to bring that sense of end business as usual, really having judges being proactively involved in a wide variety of cases. My guess is that a judge in the District of Columbia is going to see the individual under supervision, the juvenile, the young person, more often than judges in most jurisdictions.

Judge Zoe Bush: I think we have a number of advantages. We’re all located on the John Marshall level which is one floor of the courthouse, and on that floor in the courthouse we have our partners in the Executive. We have a Mayor Services Liaison’s Office so that we can send the families there and they can meet with representatives from Housing, from the schools, from Child and Family Services, drug treatment issues, so that we’re not running these people all over town, recognizing they have limited resources and a lot of responsibilities, and very often they’re in crisis.  We’ve got Court Social Services right across the street, we’ve got the Office of the Attorney General very close by so that we’re able to work as a team because just as no one parent acts along, the court doesn’t have a magic wand. You can write anything on a piece of paper and call it an order but unless you’re able to deliver, and to coordinate services, and to meet the needs, and meet that child where they are, and to partner with their family, you’re not going to have a successful outcome.

Len Sipes: But what I’ve found in the District of Columbia is that there is a lot of – I don’t want to use the word “activism” and I’m not quite sure the word “progressive” fits here. Judges are more involved in the District of Columbia in a wide variety of cases than my experience in other part of the Criminal Justice System. Again, my guess is – I’ll go back to this question – my guess is that the younger individuals that are under the purview of the Family Court come into contact with judges more often than they ordinarily do, and I think that contact with the judge, if I’m correct, is one of the main reasons why you have a rate of success that’s higher than the national average. Am I right or wrong?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think you’re right. I think most of our judges, even after the young person has been found involved or enters a plea of involvement, they have continued review of probation to make sure that young person is compliant with their conditions, that they’re getting all the services that have been ordered for them, and that the parents aren’t concerned about their child’s safety and their child’s development. I know that our judges have volunteered to go into the schools to try to intervene early so that young people don’t have to be prosecuted for truancy and so that they can get the education that they need and that the needs of the family are met in partnership with our community collaborative partners who also go into the schools with us.

I know Court Social Service probation officers can always tell the judge – because I was a Head of Juvenile Calendar for four years before I started as the Deputy Presiding Judge – but we can always count on Court Social Service probation officers to tell us, “I’ve been to the school. I’ve talked to the attendance officer. I’ve talked to the teachers. I’ve gone to the home,” and they see these kids in the community, they send them back home, and they have a real responsibility that’s met, and they care about these kids. I haven’t met probations officers who are just there to get a paycheck.

Len Sipes: I’m going to re-introduce my guests, ladies and gentlemen. We’re talking about Family Courts and Young Offenders specifically, though one in the District of Columbia. For the Superior Court, we have Judge Zoe Bush. She is the Presiding Judge of the Family Court for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. We have Terri Odom, the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division. Terri, are you better equipped than most parole and probation agencies in the country? Do you have a smaller ratio of officers to people under supervision?

Terri Odom: Well, I don’t know that I would describe us as better equipped. I think what we have done – and again, this is a testament to our leadership with respect to our Chief Judge, our Executive Officer, and our Presiding Judge of the Family Court, and working with our stakeholders – is we decentralized our probation infrastructure in such a way that it allows us to be more accessible in the community and in closer proximity to the youth that we work with so we have a satellite office in every quadrant of the city. We have one on Martin Luther King and Beach Street Southeast, one on South Capitol across the street from the Nationals, one on Reed Street which is around the corner from Rhode Island Avenue, so that’s northeast, southeast, and southwest, and then we have one on Kalorama Road. So by decentralizing, we are, I think better located; and then we have retooled our whole probation model. We began that back in 2005.

Len Sipes: A community-based approach is what you’re talking about instead of so many jurisdictions throughout the country have a centralized approach.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. We had to decentralize, and what we also had to do is cross-train our staff. So we cross-train our probation officers in a way that once you start a case, you continue to work that case on until it closes, and if that person picks up another charge, you work that case again.

Len Sipes: Do they really get the services that they need? I mean, how many parole and probation offices in this country, whether they are adult or juvenile – you know, I’ve talked to dozens of people throughout the country who tell me that they don’t have those resources. If they have a person with a mental health problem, they tell that person to go to the local community health clinic, and that person waits a month-and-a-half or two months before they get involved in a group, and so in between that time it’s anybody’s guess as to what’s going to happen.  So a lot of supervision agencies, whether they be adult or juvenile, don’t have the resources to immediately get people involved in programs. Do you have sufficient resources?

Terri Odom: I think we have a great deal of resources and access, and I think that has to do with the fact that many of the agencies that we rely on to provide those services under the executive branch, we work collaboratively with. We are on a number of committees. We interact quite frequently, and there is a commitment toward resource-sharing but more importantly a commitment to prevent duplication of effort because, for example, of we had a situation where we couldn’t access public mental health services for our kids who have no private insurance, then we would be attempting to facilitate that, and that’s not necessarily our role.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why, when I asked Judge Bush is the average judge more involved than judges in other jurisdictions through the country, I ordinarily find that judges in the District of Columbia are far more involved than judges in other sections of the country. That’s one of the reasons why I asked that question because I think having a judge directly involved in the lives of those kids means a judge is directly involved in the treatment and supervision of those individuals under supervision which means people pay attention. They may not pay attention to me as a parole and probation agent but boy, they do pay attention to a judge when a judge wants something done.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, you know, the Family Court is a model court on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and that’s a collaborative approach to helping families. So we meet regularly with service providers, with mental health, with the schools, with drug treatment, and with other agencies in the city so that as Ms. Odom said, we can collaborate and make the best use of our resources.  On our mental health diversion calendar, the young people who would normally see a judge maybe once a month would see a judge once every two weeks, and the Mental Health Services aren’t just community-based. They’re home-based. The service provider goes into the home. They meet with not just the child but with the child’s siblings and with their parents also because as Ms. Odom mentioned, trauma is so important because a lot of our young people live in under-served communities.  They see a lot of violence and they’re subjected to situations that adults couldn’t even navigate, and so we have to understand that, and so when a child is not able to sit still in school and they’re acting out, it’s not because they don’t want to learn. They’re responding to stimuli that they brought into the classroom with them, and so it’s important to recognize that and to help that young person.

Len Sipes: Well, but that’s the challenge because when I did – I also had Jail or Job Corps where the judge said, “Go to jail or go to the Job Corps.” So I had a youthful population. Like I said, I did gang counseling on the streets of the city of Baltimore. Both populations taught me far more than I taught them because they are involved emotionally with things that they have no business being emotionally involved in – violence, drugs, acting out.  Pulling them back from the brink of getting more deeply involved in those sort of behaviors is very hard to do. It’s not easy. Most of them come from broken homes. Most of them have histories of substance abuse. Most of them, the father was not present. Most of them had anger issues, and what I sometimes say about the population that we have here at CSOSA, “a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.”  So breaking through those barriers is not easy with a younger population. On every instance, I’ll take a 35-year-old coming out of prison than a 15-year-old who may be going towards prison because it’s easier to deal with the 35-year-old.

Terri Odom: There are a number of practitioners who have said that they would prefer to work with an older population, and if you look at treatment models in the adult world, those programs are based on a typical prototype of someone who is late-20s, early-30s into their mid-40s because that’s a point where you’re kind of settled. There’s less resistance. There’s less fight.

Len Sipes: Right.

Terri Odom: On the other hand, I think that the progressive nature of a juvenile system, and ours sort of very much models the juvenile system that began overseas in Europe, what’s to say we don’t have to wait to that age because you also look at how much life is lost during that period, that you want to get in at an earlier age, and you want to give someone a chance to turn their life around and redirect them, sort of a launching pad.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Terri Odom: But not everyone can do it.

Len Sipes: The most criminogenic ages are 15 and 20, so the 35-year-old is beyond their peak of offending. The 35-year-old is far more amenable to treatment than the 15-year-old.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So the challenge that both of you have, I mean, we’ve sat here and described a very bureaucratic system but the challenge that the two of you have is immense.

Terri Odom: Well, I guess the reason I was agreeing with you up to a point is I think that’s true when you look at the traditional treatment construct and logic model that we have relied on in America which is we build it for adults, and then we think we can shrink it and make it appropriate for kids and adolescents, and that will not work. But when you take an adolescent-friendly approach that looks at developmental stages of adolescence theoretically, and then looking at environmentally, and looking at it where particular localities and jurisdictions are concerned, you can create interventions and you can create ways to respond and even ways to prevent that type of behavior that can be far more effective.

Len Sipes: No, no. I agree with you. I agree with you. If you have the resources and the direct involvement on the part of the judges, you have a dedicated, trained team; you have people who volunteer to do all these things, that’s a wonderful thing to have. I never saw that in either Job Corps or my time in the terms of a street counselor. I just saw a bunch of kids on the brink of having their lives ruined, and I reached out to their families, and I found out their families were sometimes the problem, not the solution.

Terri Odom: Well, you can’t treat a child in isolation. You really have to partner with their family, and I think what you find when you really look at the child as an individual, that young person is very open to having someone reach out to them and to see them and to hear them so that they know they matter. Every human being, I don’t care how old you are, you want to know that you actually matter, and when you’re consistent with these young people – because they’ve been disappointed a lot, there are a lot of deficits in their lives – and so when you tell them you’re going to help them and you actually live up to that, when you deliver the services, when you do care about them, and you do provide them with opportunities to express themselves and to be positive, it is paid back ten-fold, and it really is.

I’m so proud of our balanced and restorative justice systems because the young people who are there often get together to get in trouble, and when they can get together and do something that’s positive, their faces shine because we the judges will go over and have dinner and the young people will learn how to cook and they’ll cook dinner for us, and they’ll write essays about their role models and what they aspire to be, and their faces just shine. They love getting positive reinforcement.

Len Sipes: And I don’t want to take anything away from Terri’s folks because I am positive that it’s crucial for Terri’s people to be there but I still go back to what I find an amazing amount of direct contact within the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, the judges being out there in the criminal justice system, talking to the people under supervision, talking to the families, talking to the fathers, talking to the – that’s my sense is that you’re talking to – describing their kids cooking for you. That doesn’t surprise me at all within the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It would surprise me in terms of most judicial jurisdictions in the country.

Terri Odom: We are also very fortunate that we have legislative parental participation orders so that we make sure that the parents come to court. They know what’s going on with their young person’s case. They know the judge. They have their child’s dates. They know their child’s responsibility to check in with probation. They expect probation officers to come to their homes, and they know that we’re going to be asking them to follow up and to help support their child, so it’s a real partnership.

Len Sipes: We only have a couple of minutes left. What’s the secret sauce? I ask all of my guests that run successful programs, what is the secret sauce? So I didn’t warn you I was going to ask you this question. I want it right off the top of your head. What is the secret to your success?

Terri Odom: I think the secret to our success in juvenile probation starts with the support from the executive leadership of the court, and I think it involves a top-down bottom-up lateral approach of support. In other words, we resolve that we can collectively create a model or a concept or idea, but what really makes it work is when we step back and let the staff take it over and put their own what I call thumbprint or fingerprint on it. That’s the secret sauce.

Len Sipes: Your Honor, you’ve got about a minute. What’s your secret sauce answer?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think when you can see yourself in that child, and you embrace that child and recognize their potential and help them to redirect themselves.

Len Sipes: I saw so much potential, and I reach out to so many kids, and my heart went out to these kids. It didn’t necessarily work. Recognizing the potential and having a success are having two different things.

Judge Zoe Bush: But maybe you planted the seed and it didn’t cultivate in your time but that doesn’t mean that it won’t, and that’s what we have to commit ourselves to.

Len Sipes: It still ripped my heart out to see kids fail and to see kids not succeed.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, you’re not going to save everybody, and I’m not that much of a, you know, Polly Sunshine. Some young people are going to graduate into the adult system and you will see them over at CSOSA but so many of our young people come through. They stumble, they fall, but they’re able to get back up with some help, and that’s the truth.

Len Sipes: Well, it is the truth. I mean, so many people are willing to write off young offenders as being lost causes. I’ve seen it personally first-hand that so many people have pulled themselves up and have succeeded, and if they have the resources like you all have, the level of involvement on the judges and Ms. Odom’s team, that to me increases the chance for success considerably, which is why you have a better completion record than the national average, correct?

Terri Odom: We’re happy to accept the praise.

Len Sipes: But am I right?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think so.

Len Sipes: Okay. So the part of it is understanding the potential but also part of it is the involvement of the judges, and also part of it is the resources that Terri’s team, that Ms. Odom’s team brings to the table, correct?

Terri Odom: Um, and a commitment that we don’t want to give up on anyone. We can’t save everyone but we’re going to make an effort.

Len Sipes: Right, but I think that’s the secret sauce, the commitment of the judges and being personally involved in the case loads, and plus having trained people who are able to do the job and are committed to the job.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely

Len Sipes: All right, you all had the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we talked today about Family Courts and Young Offenders. We’ve had as our guests today Judge Zoe Bush. She is the Presiding Judge for the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. We’ve also had Terri Odom, the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division. The web address is Ladies and gentlemen, his is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all of your comments. We really do even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


CSOSA’s Youthful Offender Program-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.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen, our program today is on youthful offenders and it’s extraordinarily interesting. A topic that not only resonates within Washington DC, but it resonates throughout the entire country. We have three guests with us today. We have Lisa Rawlings. She is the Special Assistant to the Director here at my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Supervisory Community Supervision Officer Rosa Lara. She is again, one of the people who have been instrumental in terms of putting together this program. We also have Supervisory Treatment Specialist Sheri Lewis. And to Lisa and to Rosa and to Sheri, welcome to DC public safety.

Lisa Rawlings: Thank you.

Rosa Lara: Thank you.

Sheri Lewis: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right, you know, one of the things that the audience needs to understand from the very beginning is that our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’ve prioritized within the last couple years in terms of two different groups. One, woman offenders, two, high risk offenders, but now we’re gonna be talking about youthful offenders. Now we’re gonna be specializing or taking the idea of high risk offenders and pushing it over towards youthful offenders. So I find this to be an extraordinarily important topic because people throughout the entire country are wrestling with this. So Lisa, the first question goes to you. Why create a special supervision team for young adults?

Lisa Rawlings: Well, we found that the young adults actually represent just a subset of the high risk offenders and so they are at higher risk for reoffending and that they’re less compliant with some of the requirements for supervision and because of some of their unique needs, we also felt that we would need to design supervision that would better respond to these unique characteristics.

Len Sipes: Okay, and so they go to – Rosa, who’s eligible for the Young Adult Supervision Program?

Rosa Lara: Currently we’re working with a pilot program. So our pilot program consists of general supervision offenders – so those are offenders that were sentenced for a general case. They’re not in any of our specialized units. Ages 18 to 25. And there’s a particular reason for that. With young adults, a lot of experts will say, and will argue that the frontal lobe, the lobe in the brain that develops and is able to make decisions about what’s good and what’s bad is not fully developed until the age of 25.

Len Sipes: Right.

Rosa Lara: And of course, depending on who you ask, that may fluctuate, but for the most part, for males it’s around 25. And so with that in mind, we knew that there was a special need within this population. And so right now our pilot program, there are two teams. One is located in our Northwest field unit and the other one is in our Southeast field – one of our Southeast field units. So those are 25 and under, they are male for right now, they’re general supervision and they’re all supervision levels. So you will see intensive, all the way to really medium for the most part. There are some scattered minimums, but for the most part, when talking about the young adults, we’re talking about the higher intensive and maximum level.

Len Sipes: Right, we’re talking about the higher risk offenders who are young?

Rosa Lara: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay, fine. All right Sheri, how will the Young Adult Supervision Program differ from the way that we ordinarily supervise people?

Sheri Lewis: Well, one of the things that we’ve decided to implement with the young adult teams is that we’re going to have close collaboration between supervision and the treatment side, as well as the VOTEE teams to help these offenders, meet their needs, but basically from a strength based perspective. So we’re not gonna focus on the deficits hat they’re missing, but we’re going to work on looking at their strengths and seeing what they need and then addressing those needs based on what they’re presenting with and what they have. And so we’re meeting them where they are as opposed to just telling them, “Go here, do this.” So they’re going to work very closely with each young adult to help them focus on what their goals and what their strengths are.

Len Sipes: Okay, and in terms of VOTEE, that means the vocational unit and educational unit here at CSOSA right?

Sheri Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now that we’ve gotten through these very stiff and formal questions and in terms of an introduction, the bottom line is this: is that in terms of younger offenders, they’re not doing nearly as well within CSOSA and throughout the country from the literature that I’ve read in terms of older individuals under supervision and I think that’s a concern. Again, this program has just as much relevancy; the San Francisco has just as much relevancy to Nevada, as it does to Washington D.C. So the issue is is that younger individuals do not do well on supervision, correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Correct. And we’ll actually find that because they represent a disproportionately higher percentage of those cases that screen into the highest levels of risk, that they require more resources from the agency and we’re really not seeing the results for all this investment and time and services. And so we’re finding that there are a smaller percentage of these cases are closing successfully as compared to the older population and that they’re also less compliant and responsive to any of the supervision requirements as well as some of our treatment and intervention services. So we realized that we’re investing a lot and we’re not really getting the return on that investment. So we had to rethink our approach and this pilot is really a way to test out whether this hypothesized approach is really gonna be effective.

Len Sipes: Okay, so the bottom line is that we have said as so many others have said throughout the country, we really have to put more resources, more time and more effort in terms of that young offender. The first thing we do however, the public needs to understand that we have a critical needs and risk analysis to try to figure out where these individuals are in their lives – what their risk is to public safety and what their needs are to help them successfully complete supervision, right?

Rosa Lara: Yes, one important thing that I think that we should set kind of in the beginning is the term ‘young offender’. One of the preliminary, I think it was one of our very first work group presentations, the sub–group came up with totally abolishing the label and it goes back to my previous point about the frontal lobe not being fully developed. And so these young people, they’re really at that stage in their life, we all have been there, trying to discover who they are. And so one of the things that we recommended early on was instead of ‘young’, ‘youthful’ or ‘young offender’, why don’t we just call them young adults. And so that was one of the recommendations but it goes deeper into building that rapport. And so when you, when you’re able to connect on that human level and really call him or her a young adult, it really does establish a openness and an ability to connect and one of the biggest researchers in terms of evidence based practices is that building that rapport is critical for success and so if we’re able to kind of remove the label and meet them and try to connect on that human level, then our probability of being able to address all of the needs are a lot higher.

Len Sipes: That’s what we call motivational interviewing.

Rosa Lara: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And it also goes back to a criminological theory that is decades old called ‘labeling theory.” That people live up to the labels that other people place on them, so that’s all, so it’s very criminological, it’s evidence based in terms of the approach that you’re taking. Sheri, talk to me about that breaking through the barrier. A lot of the young individuals – I mean, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for a long time, I’ve done ‘jail or Job Corp kids’, where the judge said, “Go to jail or go to Job Corp. They were my responsibility, I ran group at a prison system at one time and I used to be a gang counselor when I was putting myself through college. I’ve worked with a lot of young offenders. Most of the individuals that I’ve had contact with really threw up a barrier, really threw up a wall for a lot of different reasons. How do you break through that barrier?

Sheri Lewis: Well, as Rosa mentioned, the rapport is critical. If we can’t even sit down and be civil to our clients, we’re not going to reach them. And we’re never gonna get any information for our screeners, for our assessments, unless we build that rapport. We’re going to take our judgments out of it and meet them where they are. We have to be flexible; we have to understand that for them, a sanction is nothing. They wear GPS like a badge on their leg, they can do sanction group standing on their head, they can go back to jail, but we have to be flexible, we have to be able to listen to what they’re saying and really build that rapport so that they know what we’re doing and they’re able to make their decisions based on knowing for a fact what’s going to happen.

Len Sipes: But the bottom line, either, any of you can take this question. The bottom line, however, in this program is public safety. The bottom line is making sure that that individual – not making sure – to the best of our ability, reducing the amount of recidivism, making our society safer, so that’s what we’re talking about. I mean, it’s not just people would say, “Oh, well that motivational interviewing, that’s a touchy feely approach.” It’s not, it’s really practical, it’s really the only way that you can break through to individuals and it’s the only way that you can help them cross that bridge.”

Rosa Lara: Right, but within the recommendation, there is a containment model. And so in the containment model, really, there are gonna be young adults that are after building that rapport and after really delving into their life and really trying to understand and un–layer all the layers in this onion, because bottom line is, when people use drugs, there’s an underlying reason. So if you’re able to build the rapport and you’re able to understand that person in front of you, understand the reasons why they use, then the probability of you helping and guiding that person in the right direction grows, obviously.

But you know, one of the things that we do have in the recommendation is the containment model because no matter how much rapport you wanna build with certain people, they’re just not ready and for those young adults, we will be able to utilize some of our resources like the reentry sanction center, which is a 28 day assessment program where we’re able to take them out of the community for 28 days, do a thorough assessment which includes mental health, psychological assessment, to determine if maybe there’s some underlying mental health needs that are contributing to this person’s risk in the community. And so we do have a containment model in the recommendation. It’s not just a touchy feely – there’s also that public safety piece. And one of the very interesting and very different approaches is the role of the supervisor on these pilot programs. So currently we do a case review. When we receive a new intake, as a supervisor, I review the case and based on the person’s history, I give instructions, very specific instructions to that CSO, to the officer.

Len Sipes: Right.

Rosa Lara: In this role, in the pilot program, that supervisor will also be doing an initial case review that will be called a ‘stabilization plan’. So you know, we can talk about public safety, but if someone’s hungry, I mean, the basic needs have to be met, and so it gives in the very beginning of this assignment, it gives that CSO kind of the ability to flag these very urgent needs to ensure public safety.

Len Sipes: Okay, and CSO – most people around the country call, what we call a CSO is a Community Supervision Officer – Parole and Probation Agent. So I just wanted to bring that clarity. If an individual, Lisa, comes out of – let’s just say they come out of the prison system. If they come out with a mental health need, if that mental health need’s not addressed, then the probability of that person going back to the criminal justice system rises significantly. I mean, there are issues here that need to be dealt with, resources need to be applied – correct?

Lisa Rawlings: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay, and we also recognize that there’s no parole and probation agency in the country that has all the resources it needs. So we have to prioritize. Correct? Okay? And that’s one, that’s why I open up the program with the fact that we have recently reorganized around women offenders, around high risk individuals and now young adults. And that seems to be the natural continuum of placing the resources where they have the greatest need. Sheri, do you wanna play with that?

Sheri Lewis: Yes, and that’s part of what I was saying about the close collaboration, why a treatment specialist is assigned to the teams, so that assessments can be done. Most of our treatment specialists have some substance abuse, if not mental health background, so that they can do brief assessments, they can do a clinical interview with the client to say, “Okay, maybe this client might need to go to the RSC to get a mental health evaluation. Maybe this client is toxic so they need to detox immediately before we start working with the client.” Because if we don’t address those needs in the beginning, we’re going to wind up with seeing them either revoked or back in the system or a public safety risk.

Len Sipes: And we address these needs, not necessarily just through CSOSA, available goods and services through CSOSA, we also aid in agent partnerships with other agencies. We also use our faith based program. We use a variety of modalities to try to get that, give that individual the tools that he or she needs to become tax payers rather than tax burdens, to cross that bridge, right?

Sheri Lewis: Absolutely. And Len, if I could just go back to the touchy feely comment a few minutes ago?

Len Sipes: Please.

Lisa Rawlings: Because I want to dispel the myth that really starting where the individual is and seeing them as a person first with needs and drives and desires is a touchy feely approach, because that’s really gonna drive their behavior, whether it be offending or otherwise. And so all of the staff who will be working with this group have been selected for their really, their sensitivity to this population, for their experience in working with this group and their interest and desire to really work with young people. But also, they’ve been trained on a model called the “good lives model” which really kind of embraces this approach to understand that we all have aspirations, we all have needs, and that our behavior may be ways of getting those needs met and it helps us to better understand what those needs are and to find other ways that might be more appropriate or more effective at actually meeting those needs. And so in essence, this approach rather than kind of just being touchy feely allows us to really meet the person where they are, understand their needs and to help them be more effective at achieving their own goals.

Len Sipes: Well, I totally buy into it because when I did the jail or Job Corp kids that’s exactly what I had to do. You had to approach that person as an individual, regardless of how they acted out, what they did, the problems that they were getting into. I had to connect with that person as an individual. It was eyeball to eyeball. It was somehow, some way finding a connection with that individual, that that person would open up to me so I could begin to help that person. So I – that’s one of the things that people need to understand, is that we need to establish that relationship with that individual. I simply know from my own experience is that it’s a lot harder –

Lisa Rawlings: It is.

Len Sipes: Than what a lot of people make it out to be. Sheri, you’re smiling – you have?

Lisa Rawlings: And I would just say that that’s why we were really careful about who we wanted to be involved in this because it is really tough work and that, we’re really excited about the teams that we’ve amassed so far, that people have expressed a lot of interest and really shown a lot of dedication to this work.

Len Sipes: Okay, we’re halfway through the program. I wanna reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re doing a show on youthful offenders. Lisa Rawlins is the Special Assistant to the Director. We have Supervisory Community Supervision Officer, Rosa Lara, and we have Supervisory Treatment Specialist, Sheri Lewis. The website for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is As always, we welcome your comments. Okay, so we’ve established the fact that there has to be a need. We’ve established the fact that there has to be prioritized resources. We’ve established the need, the fact that prioritized resources have to go to offenders who pose the highest risk and we’ve established the issue that we, as human beings, need to reach some pretty tough individuals for that change process to take place. Sheri, where do we go to from there? So we collaborate with lots of other organizations in terms of providing either substance abuse or mental health or we provide them ourselves, educational, vocational services. Rosa, you talk about a containment model. We have all sorts of ways of intervening in their lives either through Global Positioning System tracking or day reporting or a 28 day assessment in terms of residential assessment – there’s all sorts of things that we have at our disposal, but, unless we can break through those barriers that these individuals present, we’re just not going to be successful. So, what is the principle model of breaking through?

Sheri Lewis: I would say, and I always, when I’m coaching my staff, I always approach it this way. You are where you are for a reason, in life, okay? And if you had a carrot, so once we’re able to build that rapport with the young adult and find out more importantly, not only identify the problems, but also identify his or her drive. So once you realize and once you’re able and that person trusts you enough to share with you what their carrot is, use that to your advantage in guiding the behavior. So for example, I’ll give you an example of a young adult, most recently on my team. His biggest, and this was something that I was able to get out of him on day one by just having a very casual conversation about – “So why are you here?”And you know. . . and so one of the things that was very important to him was his mother’s love and acceptance and this case brought shame to his mother and that was what, he said that if there was one thing that he could do, and you know, if there was one thing that he could do, it would be to make his mother proud. So as a supervisor, getting that information day one, I was able to have a one on one conversation with that CSO who would be then supervising that young adult to say, “Whenever he falls off track or whenever he’s kind of you don’t know what’s really going on, say, ‘How do you think your Mom will feel about this behavior?’”

Len Sipes: And you know, in terms of all the criminological theories and all the things that we’ve just discussed for the last 15 minutes, I think that example that you gave really does drive home the important parts of the program. All the programs that we just mentioned, whether it be high risk offenders or women offenders, we have community supervision officers, again, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, who volunteer for these programs, who volunteer to be trained in terms of that particular modality. People who are sensitive to women’s issues, because women offenders need to be dealt with differently from male offenders. I think we all agree on that.

Lisa Rawlings: Yes.

Len Sipes: But I think anybody listening to this program would agree on that. So why would it be any different for young offenders? We have to be trained, we have to be sensitized, we have to have a modality that works for that particular population, correct?

Rosa Lara: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that’s the whole idea. We have, how many teams are we talking about?

Rosa Lara: Right now our pilot program consists of two teams, upper Northwest and Southeast quadrants of D.C.

Len Sipes: Okay. And how many, what’s the ratio of community supervision officers according to the research that you’ve given me, it’s about 35 to 1.

Rosa Lara: Correct.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that is astounding because the average parole and probation caseload in this country is minimum 100 to 150 to 1. I’ve seen jurisdictions throughout the country where that ratio is much higher. We on average, here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency have a 50 to 1 caseload. You’re talking about a 35 to 1 caseload. That’s phenomenal. So that’ll give the community supervision officer the time and space to deal meaningfully with the individuals on that caseload, right?

Rosa Lara: Correct. And that 35 to one is a ceiling that it shouldn’t exceed that, but they may fluctuate as we again, launch the pilot, as it is being implemented. But the thought really is to be able to have more quality interaction, to not just be able to count the number of face to face visits, but to really, to be able to allow the officer an opportunity to really develop the rapport and to be able to collaborate with their team members who are from other disciplines. The treatment specialists and the vocational specialists, to really understand who this person is, what are their needs, and how can they be supportive of them in this process?

Len Sipes: Because that community supervision officer is not on their own. You’ve mentioned it a little while ago. It’s a team approach, so there’s a treatment specialist involved in this, there’re supervisors involved in this, there is people from the faith community who are involved in this. If there’s somebody on the outside that’s providing mental health counseling, they’re involved in this. So it’s a team approach to each and every individual under supervision, right?

Rosa Lara: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s astounding.

Rosa Lara: One of the other things that we’ve been doing is we also know that some of these young men are also involved in other systems. So some of them may be dually involved in the Juvenile system as well as with CSOSA or some of them may also be in the Child Welfare system and also involved in CSOSA, since in D.C. they can stay in Child Welfare up until 21. And so we wanted to make sure that we’re communicating with these other social workers or other officers so that they’re not being overly committed – that they don’t have to report, you know, they don’t have an agenda that’s overly packed and that it’s impossible for them to meet the requirements of any one of the, any one of these agencies. So really that collaboration within the team and across agencies in the city is really gonna be important to the success of this initiative.

Len Sipes: And that’s what’s worked so well with the women offenders. I mean, the idea of going to one place and getting services across the board in terms of one place, in terms of the group setting. We do a lot of groups for our women offenders and that seems to be powerful. I mean, I’ve had dozens in the 10 years of being with CSOSA, women under supervision before these microphones and they tell me about the power of coming in and having everybody, the team there, dealing with them at one time. So I would imagine that’s the same power that we’re trying to bring to young adults.

Rosa Lara: Yeah, and one of the earlier themes of the work group and I think it’s made it all the way up to the pilot and it’s something that we’ve discussed with all of the wonderful officers and supervisors who have taken on this task is that it really comes down to “it takes a village”. It takes a village and our village consists of in-house partners, you know, the supervision side, the treatment side, you know, DYRS, which is our youth rehabilitation program, the Child Welfare system, so it really does take a village, because when it comes to these young adults, it’s really like I said earlier, many layers. And so you know, there may be a time where they were very open with their DYRS, their juvenile probation officer, and they have information that we may not have and vice versa. So having kind of those open lines of communication is in the best benefit of the young adult.

Len Sipes: You know, I apologize for the contrast, going back and forth between women offenders, but I love our Women Offenders program – I mean, it’s just phenomenal. And I’ve loved interviewing people who have both graduated from our program and currently under supervision before these microphones and to hear their enthusiasm, that, “Thank God somebody finally listened to me.” But, when you sit there with them, it’s like they come out with mental health problems, substance abuse problems, they have children. 80% of the people, women that we have under supervision have children. They’re indigent. They come out and they may have burned their bridges with their family. There’s a certain point where you sit back and go, well how many cards in this deck are stacked against this woman in terms of being successful? That’s why I love talking to the women who have been successful before these microphones. Isn’t that sort of the same way with the young adults? They come to us with a wide variety of problems. Most are coming from single family, single parent households. Most are coming from histories of substance abuse. I’m not quite sure of the percentage who have mental health problems, but I would assume that it’s fairly high. So we’re talking about individuals with real challenges.

Rosa Lara: Yeah, one of the things that we did was a focus group, because we, you know, exactly along the lines of what you’re talking about, Len, we wanted to know, not only because as practitioners, you know, we kind of bring a collective experience based on the practitioner’s experience. However, we wanted to hear from the young adults. And one of the things that we did in preparation during the work group was having a focus group. So we held three focus groups in two different quadrants of the city and really asked those questions to the young adults, to ensure that this pilot program really addressed their needs and some of the over arching needs were the importance of their interaction with the CSO, which goes hand in hand with what the evidence tells us is very important to establishing that rapport very early on. Another overarching concern or you know, item that came out during the focus group was their needs. Their needs from housing stability to substance abuse, to something as simple and some people may think it’s simple, but for them it’s a real deal, transportation challenges. And so one of the things that the program has is the opportunity to provide tokens for people that are compliant. And so just you know, we did that in a very human way, by bringing them in and asking them, “What is it gonna take for you to succeed?” And so we had a lot of input and those were recommendations that were actually implemented into the pilot recommendation.

Len Sipes: We have four minutes left. What am I missing here?

Lisa Rawlings: Well, one other thing I would just add into that is that though they do come with many challenges, there’s a great opportunity here. Because many of these young people are somewhat early in their criminal career and if we can really divert that and abort that at this point, it really can save, it can just cut that trajectory off and so we see that their crimes are less violent than their older – they do have lower mental health needs, but we really have a great opportunity here to really intervene before their criminality escalates and that’s something that we’re really excited about being able to do with this initiative.

Len Sipes: The research is very clear – 15 to 25 are the most criminogenic age group, so if we can intervene here, if we can successfully reach these individuals at these younger stages, we can save literally hundreds if not thousands of crimes over time being committed. That’s the bottom line behind what we’re talking about, correct?

Sheri Lewis: Right an most of our, most of – well, all of our participants who are actually on these teams, the treatment specialists, the CSOs, the vocational staff, they’re all trained in CBI –

Len Sipes: CBI?

Sheri Lewis: Cognitive Behavioral Interventions.

Len Sipes: Thank you.

Sheri Lewis: So they’re dealing with the thinking that is behind some of the behaviors that cause our young adults to reoffend or to engage in behaviors that are not engaging them in pro-social or positive behavior.

Len Sipes: And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the person who doesn’t recognize the term means what? Thinking for a change, helping that person make better decisions through life.

Sheri Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay? And a lot of people don’t understand that, when I say that in terms of the need for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s one of the most successful modalities we have in terms of community corrections per the research but a lot of people just don’t understand how the training and upbringing that many of us received from our parents may not have taken place in the life of that young individual and that person needs to be cognitively restructured from the very beginning, right?

Sheri Lewis: Right, and it makes for a more meaningful interaction with the young adult, so that in the beginning you might spend more time, but in the back end you’re gonna spend less time because if they’re actually getting the information, you won’t need to meet with them as frequently or as often or for the same length of time.

Len Sipes: And it shortens the time frame of breaking through the barrier, it shortens – I mean, I’ve said that some people come to us with chips on their shoulders the size of Montana and getting, breaking through that barrier becomes an art to itself. The sooner you can do that, the better the intervention and the more effective the intervention’s going to be right?

Lisa Rawlings: Absolutely. And we want to get away from just supervising the case and the charges but also supervising the individual so that they are not only successful in their outcomes but they’re also will have better tools to be able to make better decisions down the road.

Len Sipes: Lisa, you have the final word, ladies and gentlemen. This is DC public safety. We’ve done a show today on youthful offenders. Our guests today have been Lisa Rawlings. She’s the Special Assistant to the Director, Supervisory Community Supervision officer Rosa Lara, and Supervisory Treatment Specialist Sheri Lewis. I thank all three of you. Ladies and gentlemen, again, this is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all the comments that you provide. We even appreciate the criticisms and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]