Education Programs for Offenders

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Leondard Sipes: Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Our program today deals with educational programs for offenders and their families. It’s an effort to reach out not only to offenders but their family as well and provide a holistic approach to the issue of education whether that is purely an education program and starting to teach a person how to read, an 8th grade certificate, a GED or vocational programs. At our microphones today is Christine Keels. Christine is the executive assistant for the vocational opportunities, education and employment program we call it VOTEE. Letressa Early is here and Letressa is a learning lab specialist and Bonnie Andrews is a victim services program manager. Christine and Letressa and Bonnie, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Christine Keels: Thank you.

Leondard Sipes: Okay the first questions are going to go to Christine Keels and by the way ladies and gentlemen, Christine has been involved in the criminal justice system. She and I came from the Maryland system before coming over to work for the federal government. Christine has been involved in these sort of endeavors for a long time. She is one smart son of a gun who really knows the subject well and an honor to finally have Christine Keels at our microphones. Christine, give me an over view of todays program. Educational programs for offenders and their families. What’s that all about?

Christine Keels: Well, today we are proud to be able to have the opportunity to come and share this information about a very important program in VOTEE called the adult family literacy program and the goal of that program is to bring together ex-offenders and their families in a holistic education process. So, we focus on adult based education and GED for the adult ex-offender and then we focus on tutorial services for the children of the ex-offender while also incorporating parenting skills and pro-social cultural excursion types of activities.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, so give that all in a layman friendly point of view. So, we’re helping people coming out of the prison system. People who are on probation learn how to read, learn how to write, getting their GED, and we’re involving their families in these endeavors as well.

Christine Keels: It’s family reintegration and it’s community preservation.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, so why families? I mean, there is a lot of controversy in the United States about programs for ex-offenders. We believe in a programmatic approach. I mean we supervise offenders very very strongly. There is a lot of accountability here at CSOSA. We have some of the lowest case loads in the country, some of the highest levels of contact in the country, we have a ton of community contact with individual offenders, we drug test the dickens out of them, but at the same time we state that we believe that it’s just not an issue of holding them accountable and just not an issue of watching them; you’ve got to have programs for the mental health offenders for example. Does anybody really doubt that a person coming out of prison who has a mental health problem and the research now indicates that over 50% of offenders are claiming mental health problems. Does anybody really believe that a person with schizophrenia is not going to go out and re-victimize somebody without treatment? So this whole concept of programs, this whole concept of doing other things besides watching them, besides holding them accountable, is important not only to us but it’s important to public safety, correct?

Christine Keels: That’s correct. As stated, in the criminal justice system, there has been a movement towards looking at ways to reintegrate; reenter is the popular term now, ex-offenders into their communities and their families. As you know CSOSA is not always going to be around in that person’s life. Eventually they will finish supervision and so we need to be able to bridge that gap so that when they leave our custody and care, they have reintegrated back into their community and they have restored their relationships with their family. We hope to be able to find a comfort zone in the family and community which will help them to be able to find the right path.

Leondard Sipes: And that comfort zone involves your particular program. You have learning labs through out the city of Washington D.C. and what you do is to involve that individual from an educational point of view and from a vocational point of view. The thing that really impresses me about your operations is that you assess the dickens out of them. You sit down and do a complete workup so you know who that person is and where that person is educationally and vocationally so you can design a program to meet his or her specific needs correct?

Christine Keels: That’s correct. That’s correct and in doing that assessment we’re focusing on education and employment but of course we learn about other variables which might include housing and may include healthcare issues or it may include victimization which is one of the important reasons why we connected our victim services program to our vocational opportunity training education and employment system.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, well that’s the perfect segway to go over to Bonnie Andrews and Latresse, I’m going to get to you in a second but Bonnie, and you’re the victim services program manager for us. We are the court services and offender supervision agency. We are the federal agency. We are the parole and probation authority if you will for the District of Columbia. Now, you are a victim services program manager. You’re also I must say before we go on that you are the employee of the year?

Bonnie Andrews: Yes.

Leondard Sipes: And so you’re not only the victim services program manager, you are employee of the year. Now you do 2 things. You help individuals outside of our system who have been victimized by the offenders who we supervise but you’re also providing victim services to the offenders that we supervise, correct?

Bonnie Andrews: That’s correct.

Leondard Sipes: That’s an interesting position on victim services.

Bonnie Andrews: Well, some of the offenders that we supervise at CSOSA, they have been victimized prior to coming on probation or prior to being incarcerated.

Leondard Sipes: Explain to me victimization because the research will say that the great majority of them have been victims of crime themselves but are we talking about them being victims of crime or are we talking about childhood abuse and neglect when the grew up?

Bonnie Andrews: Well, that’s a crime in itself.

Leondard Sipes: Right, but there’s a difference between being robbed and not being properly parented when they were 8 years old.

Bonnie Andrews: Well if a person is identified to our program as being a victim in crime regardless of whether they are the defender or the victim of the offender, they are processed the same in the same manner. We do complete needs assessment and try to determine what type of needs will help them with the healing process and being a victim of crime. The crime may be being a childhood victim of abuse, neglect, to being an adult victim of domestic violence or armed robbery, car jacking, the survivor of a homicide, or seeing on of their loved ones killed in front of them so the crime, those types of crimes may vary from person to person and it really doesn’t matter what type of crime that person has experienced, we will service that person regardless of whether their an offender or.

Leondard Sipes: I had a conversation with another employee of the court services and offender supervision agency describing high risk drug offenders and what she said to me was that these individuals are battled, scarred veterans. They’ve seen so many of their friends victimized, they’ve seen so many of their friends injured, knifed, shot at, shot, and murdered that in many cases the people caught up in what we call the game or caught up in criminality or caught up in the lifestyle come away from that experience almost like a victim of a war.

Bonnie Andrews: PTSD, that’s what you’re referring to.

Leondard Sipes: Yes, and lets explain what PTSD is or I’m not quite sure I said that correctly. Post traumatic stress syndrome.

Bonnie Andrews: Exactly.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, and so this whole issue of being involved in the lifestyle takes a toll regardless of where they came from.

Bonnie Andrews: From our perspective, any time a person has had a life altering or has been involved in a life altering situation whether they witnessed a crime or they had been directly involved in a crime or the victim of a crime, it’s going to change their life drastically. The different between myself and someone else that experiences the same crime will be our skills, our coping skills and our ability to get through that crime or maybe our support systems that we wrap ourselves or that’s wrapped around us.

Leondard Sipes: A part of this discussion on programs, not only educational and vocational programs, but programs in general is trying to I guess get across to the public and in many ways a very skeptical public because a lot of people out there say whoa wait a minute, you know, we can’t afford programs for our schools. Money should be going towards our kids and the people who listen to my podcast here hear this refrain a lot. Money should be going to the elderly. Money shouldn’t be going to “criminals”. I’m trying to make a case here.

Bonnie Andrews: But we can’t afford not to.

Leondard Sipes: Well why is that?

Bonnie Andrews: Either we put the money into these offenders now or we’ll do it later.

Leondard Sipes: Meaning what?

Bonnie Andrews: Either way we are going to have to find a way to rehabilitate offenders in order to keep our community safe.

Leondard Sipes: Right, okay.

Bonnie Andrews: So we can do it up front.

Leondard Sipes: If they don’t get the programs they need, they’re going to go out and do these crimes again.

Bonnie Andrews: More than likely.

Leondard Sipes: But again, in terms of this victimization issue and how it pertains to educational and vocational programs, the research I’ve read, and probably the great majority of offenders that I’ve talked to, especially the female offenders, tell me that they’ve basically raised themselves and they come from a background of childhood abuse and neglect. Woman offenders have higher rates of substance abuse. Women offenders have an astounding higher rates of sexual violence directed towards them as children. Not necessarily by family members but it’s not unusual for it to be by family members. The individuals who we deal with are complex and multifaceted and they need this multifaceted help that we’re talking about today and I’m not making excuses for them for the public who are listening to this program. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to prison for 20 years because you’ve committed a series of armed robberies, but I’m simply stating what I believe is true. That they come from extraordinary and troubled backgrounds.

Bonnie Andrews: A lot of the offenders that we see in our parenting group have come from either single family homes or homes that were inundated with drug use or alcoholism. They’ve been victims of childhood, some type of childhood crimes.

Leondard Sipes: Right.

Christine Keels: Whether it’s sex abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and they have virtually as you’ve said, have raised themselves.

Leondard Sipes: And what I always refer to as self raised issues, this is my own personal opinion, you all can feel free to agree or disagree, but in many offenders there’s that sense of anger. There’s that deep seated sense of anger and I think most of that deep seated sense of anger comes from raising themselves.

Bonnie Andrews: Well let me share just real quick one story that I have, one offender that was in a recent group of mine. This person was only, I think, maybe in his early 20s and his father had been incarcerated for most of his childhood and everytime his father would go in and out of prison, his mother would become very sick, as he described her being sick, but when he went onto describe her illness, she was actually depressed and she wouldn’t get out of bed for weeks and months at a time so other family members, the extended family had to come in a provide these children, I think it was 4 or 5 children, with resources like food, money, things of that nature. Well after a while the extended family got tired of doing this. You know the first time the father went in, the second time it was okay, but by the third time, so this very young boy, he may have been 12 at the time when he started selling drugs because he felt it was his responsibility to take care of his family. So at 12 years old you have this child out on the streets selling drugs trying to make money to buy food, keep the lights on, keep the water on. Now this is not just one story. I hear this story over and over and over again in our group.

Leondard Sipes: Oh, so have I. Let’s get this back to the issue of programs, and we’re going to go to Letressa Early. Letressa, have been pronouncing your name correct? I’m not quite sure if I have or not. Letressa? We go back to this whole issue of programs Letressa from the stand point that people say, I don’t want to give a dime to criminals. Give it to the elderly, give it to the school kids, give it to whoever but without these programs, without your programs in particular, the educational and vocational programs along with the drug treatment that we do, along with anger management that we do, and along with lots of other programs that we offer. As well as the extraordinarily intense supervision and drug testing, these individuals are not going to do well. Correct? They’re not going to do well under supervision without your programs?

Latressa Early: Exactly.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, now give me a sense of your program. What you do is that you bring individuals in for educational and vocational assessment and assistance and at the same time, on a Saturday we provide educational services to the entire family, correct?

Latressa Early: Yes we do.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, now why do we do that?

Latressa Early: We want to create a holistic approach as far as the family is concerned. We want to be able to allow the family to participate in some of the activities that the children are doing. We want to bring them together by, we’re working with them as far a educational levels. We want to increase the math and the reading levels for the students as well as increasing those levels for the parents as well.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, so the parents and the 2 kids and the mom because 85% of our offenders are male. I’m not be stereotypical, I’m simply saying that 85 % are male, so does the mom come as well?

Latressa Early: Yes, anyone is invited to come.

Leondard Sipes: So the father, the mother, and the 2 kids come in on a Saturday and do what?

Latressa Early: Well it truly depends. They can spend up to 2 hours. They can spend up to a half a day. We try to do this work with them in the beginning on academics. So, we work with them and with reading and math and trying to increase their educational levels while our community based partners work with the children doing the exact same thing to tutoring the children as far as increasing their reading and math levels.

Leondard Sipes: Are we seeing this obviously as not an individual offender, but we’re seeing this as a family?

Latressa Early: Yes we are.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, and that is so incredibly important, the research, in terms of the kids getting involved in criminal activity when a parent is incarcerated is considerable. I’ve seen ungodly percentage increases of the kids being involved in criminal activity when the parent goes to prison and there’s a lot of acting out on the part of both girls and boys because of the anger that they express that the parent is not in the house. So, this brings the entire family together, not just from the standpoint, I’m guessing, from an educational point of view, it’s as if you are saying that this is a family problem and we have to solve this problem as a family.

Latressa Early: Exactly. We not only concentrate on the academics part, we concentrate on parenting, we do mentoring, and then we bring the parents and the children together at the end.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, mentoring meaning who? Who mentors them?

Latressa Early: Our community based organization.

Leondard Sipes: Is that part of our faith based operation?

Latressa Early: Yes it is.

Leondard Sipes: Now who is working with the kids?

Latressa Early: Concerned Black Men.

Leondard Sipes: Concerned Black Men is working with the kids and what do they do?

Latressa Early: Well they provide programs. What they do, I know, is that they recently had a daddy day out program where the fathers and the children went to the blacks and wax museum and kind of gave the mother a break. You know, if the mother is the primary care taker, and they sponsor those free of charge. They also provide counseling for the family as a whole and they do other activities even in the city, going to Anacostia Park, you know, just a day for the family.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, so this is pretty neat I would say because it’s just not us, it just not the federal government if you will doing this but we have faith based mentors doing this on a volunteer basis, we have Concerned Black Men of D.C. who are doing this on a volunteer basis, and is anybody else involved in it?

Latressa Early: Covenant Baptist Church.

Leondard Sipes: Covenant Baptist Church is where it’s being held.

Latressa Early: And they do the Saturday mentoring.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, so they do the Saturday mentoring. So, its faith based from the fact that it’s at Covenant, the fact that we have our faith based mentors, Concerned Black Men of D.C., they’re doing it, and anybody else? Christine Keels?

Christine Keels: Of course we have a focus with the school system in South East Washington. We’ve met with the principles over a year ago and received buy in from the principles that they would work with the offenders and with the children and that’s a real big plus for us to know that the D.C. School System is committed to supporting the project.

Leondard Sipes: And if we’re talking about educational endeavors, I would imagine that D.C. schools would have to be involved.

Christine Keels: Of course.

Leondard Sipes: Do we use their curriculum by the way?

Christine Keels: No, at this time we’re not using their curriculum but we’re using a curriculum that Covenant Baptist Church has purchased.

Leondard Sipes: Wow, I didn’t know that. So Covenant Baptist Church purchased a curriculum and they’re using the curriculum.

Christine Keels: Yes.

Leondard Sipes: That’s quite a commitment.

Christine Keels: And the children are integrated in with the general population. Anyone can walk into Covenant Baptist Church and be a part of the Saturday school program.

Leondard Sipes: Okay, so it’s a Saturday school program for our offenders or is it just our offenders participating.

Christine Keels: It’s our offenders participating.

Leondard Sipes: So this is an existing program on the part of Covenant?

Christine Keels: Exactly, as I said early, we want our offenders when they walk away from CSOSA to have some programs in the community that they’re already familiar with and begin to network and begin to use the resources that are available in our community.

Leondard Sipes: Tell me about some of the actions on the part of offenders because you know it’s a double edged sword when we talk about offenders. Yeah, they’ve committed lots of crimes, they have in many cases considerable criminal histories, they have considerable psychological issues for all the different reasons that we talked about, so part of me says, yes, we have to be honest about that and talk about that because that’s the heart and soul of the problem we’re dealing with and part of me has to say, and again nobody’s disagreeing that individuals who do crimes do time. Nobody’s disagreeing with punishment. Nobody’s disagreeing with putting them in the prison system if necessary, but in the same time, many offenders when they come out do come to that point in their lives where they say, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Especially the heroine addicts as you and I knew about in Baltimore

Christine Keels: That’s correct.

Leondard Sipes: That’s the term that they use all the time. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired and they want to change and their anxious to change. I’m guessing that the offenders that you’re dealing with in many cases are anxious to change. If they’re willing to bring their kids, if they’re willing to being their spouse, my guess is, and if they’re willing to approach this problem as a family, my guess is that these particular offenders are ready for change.

Christine Keels: That’s correct. Let me first talk about an environmental change. Coming to Covenant Baptist Church gives them an opportunity to see a community based program that’s committed to working with them. Covenant Baptist Church is a unique church in the district because they’re entire sanctuary is of a stained glass décor is all around African America History so those persons who are a part of our program get a chance to get in touch with their African American culture while being in the church. Everyone of the church staff is very supportive. The parenting class that Ms. Andrews offers is actually held in one of the youth rooms so what it does is begin to help the offender expand their mind to see that here’s a church that offers a youth program so my teenage child has a place to go rather than hanging out on the street so an environmental change. Then the second thing is to see governmental workers in a different format. Seeing government workers coming out at night, teaching a parenting class, sharing some of their personal experiences.

Leondard Sipes: Are we talking about your staff?

Christine Keels: I’m talking about my staff, Bobbie Andrews, employee of the year.

Leondard Sipes: They don’t have to come out at night do they?

Christine Keels: That’s right. In fact this is not even…

Leondard Sipes: People need to understand this that that’s done on a volunteer basis.

Christine Keels: That’s one of the reasons why she’s employee of the year is that she made this commitment to see this program get started and has really committed to using her social work background to ensure that we have the best therapeutic care.

Leondard Sipes: There we go.

Christine Keels: And also I think when we move beyond environment, we look at support groups, we see governmental officials in a different light, there’s also the important thing of seeing Concerned Black Men. A community program that’s committed to helping build families. I don’t want us to brush over this cultural excursion piece because it’s important to understand that for families who have grown up perhaps in a very tight community where they’re weren’t opportunities to be able to leave their particular community. To have a program that’s willing to invest money that they have received as a nonprofit, to be able to expand horizons, is very important. To know that one can live beyond Southeast D.C. or Northwest D.C., that there’s a greater world out there. So what it does is helps the family, particularly the parents, begin to vision what they want their children to do in the future.

Leondard Sipes: Now, people listening to this beyond the District of Columbia are going to wonder what the heck you’re talking about. It’s a different world out there. This is the nations capital. This is the world’s capital. Are you suggesting that there are 2 D.C.s?

Christine Keels: No, what I’m suggesting is perhaps a child in the district may not realize that there are corn fields out in Iowa and that this gives them a chance to be able to see through all of our museums here in the city, what the rest of the world looks like.

Leondard Sipes: What a beautiful answer.

Christine Keels: Yes and also I just want to say to that, I just really feel that this cultural excursion piece along with holistic education which includes parenting skills, adult basic education, looking at some of what our issues are. You know you talk about why would an average citizen or person in this world want to invest money into an offender? You’ve already invested money in public education, maybe they didn’t take advantage of it, maybe there were learning disabilities, maybe there were issues that prevented them from being able to take advantage of it.

Leondard Sipes: And by the way, we haven’t touched that. That issue we talked before the program and the connection between substance abuse, the connection between not being properly parented and learning disabilities which makes your job, providing that 8th grade certificate, that reading certificate, that GED even more difficult.

Christine Keels: Right, but it would make it difficult for any citizen in that particular situation.

Leondard Sipes: Right, exactly.

Christine Keels: But for the ex-offender I want to say, you know, in our society we’re willing to reinvest in everything but another human being. We’ll reinvest in our cars, we’ll reinvest in our homes, we’ll reinvest in our property, and we see it as a burden to be able to reinvest in a human being but what a great investment. So we pay for public education, they didn’t get everything they needed at that level, so now we’re paying with federal dollars to ensure that they get what’s needed on an adult level but look at the adult literacy concept. What it does is helps us to do that double investment and then have that investment pay off in the life of that child. We don’t want that child to go down the same path. We want that child to see their parent seeing to get a good education, to get skills, to get a career, to move to a better neighborhood, to buy that car that they’ve always envisioned. We want that child to see that parent be progressive so that that child will learn how to critically think and live in a progressive world.

Leondard Sipes: And the bottom line that I like is once again, it is a family endeavor.

Christine Keels: Yes.

Leondard Sipes: We always talk about the offenders, but those offenders, 9 times out of 10, 8 times out of 10, are connected to kids.

Christine Keels: That’s right.

Leondard Sipes: They are legally, ethically, morally responsible for, so by helping him or helping her, you in many cases help 2 or 3 kids along the way as well.

Christine Keels: That’s right.

Leondard Sipes: So a rising tide lifts all boats if he does well, if she does well, then they can take care of their kids and then it solves a broader problem, solves a broader issue.

Christine Keels: Well my vision is out of this parenting class and as adult learning center, that we might see the next future president and so we may be grooming the next president for the United States of America without realizing that. We may be grooming the next ambassador. We may be grooming the next head of the UN so we want to be able to give that child everything that we can give them and if it means giving the parent the kid of tools that they need to be the most effective parent, to be the most effective provider.

Leondard Sipes: Because we teach them that.

Christine Keels: That’s right.

Leondard Sipes: We never got onto that I think throughout the entire program and we’re running out of time. We do parenting skills. We teach them how to be a better parent.

Christine Keels: Excellent parenting skills and I’d like to turn to Bonnie Andrews so she can talk a little bit about her therapeutic approach. Lens looking at his watch.

Leondard Sipes: Well Bonnie’s going to have to address it in about a minute or so because we’re running out of time. Bonnie parenting skills.

Bonnie Andrews: For the most part we use realistic therapy, reality therapy. We gage that person where they are, we encourage the offender to bring their children with them so that we can see who they interact with their children and address their parenting skills. Not necessarily about how to be a better parent but to teach better parenting skills.

Leondard Sipes: To teach what they may not have gotten at home.

Bonnie Andrews: Exactly. To break that cycle. It wasn’t at home because it wasn’t there to be gotten. For whatever reason, they had a missing parent.

Leondard Sipes: That’s my point. Anything else?

Bonnie Andrews: Yes, it is a lot.

Leondard Sipes: Well save that for another because I do want to have you Bonnie back for a specific program on the victim services part here at CSOSA but I think, Christine, do you think that does it, Letressa, do you think that does it?

Leondard Sipes: Okay ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to wrap up. This is D.C. Public Safety. Our guests to day have been Christine Keels the Executive Assistant for the Educational Opportunities, Vocational Opportunities, Educational Employment Program, Letressa Early who is a Learning Lab Specialist and Bonnie Andrews Victim Services Program Manager. I’m Len Sipes, I am the Senior Public Affairs Specialist. Look at our website if you would please, for all of the radio and televisions shows that we do and for additional information about the court services and offender supervision agency. Please have yourselves a pleasant day.

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