Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships-US Dept. of Justice-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. We have a very interesting guest today, ladies and gentlemen—Eugene Schneeberg. He is the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships of the United States Department of Justice, to talk about the national faith-based initiative throughout the country, and there’s an awful lot of things going on. Before we start our program, the usual announcements–now that we’re doing announcements, I want to announce the fact that there is the National Reentry Resource Center, which is a project of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice programs. The U.S. Department of Justice, all things you ever wanted to know about the reentry concept – The American Probation and Parole Association want us to celebrate the issue of parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia. The actual week is in July, but we’re doing it early with all the radio and television programs that we’re doing, to really get people to focus on the sacrifices and what these individuals do to protect our safety every day. So again, that’s Also, interestingly enough, in Louisiana, the Department of Corrections is also doing their own radio series on reentry, and they’re the only other ones in the country. Go to Louisiana Corrections. Their web site is way too long for me to give out, but Louisiana Division of Correction, if you go to that web site and look for the radio shows, you will see what they have to offer. And back to our guest, Eugene Schneeberg. He’s the Director for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Department of Justice. Eugene, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, thanks for having me Leonard. It’s great to be here.

Len Sipes:  Eugene, let’s set it up first in terms of Faith-Based initiatives.  Why Faith-Based initiatives?  I mean, we’re the government, we’re the criminal justice system, we’re the people who are supposed to be out there protecting the lives and wellbeing of partners, of citizens, of communities. Why are we even talking about Faith-Based initiatives?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well,  it’s a great question. Faith-Based organizations have been doing service delivery in our country for tens if not hundreds of years, and there’s a wide recognition that faith-based and community-based organizations have a great impact on the work that’s being done, particularly in local communities. Those are the folks with boots on the ground. They know the families, they know the individuals, and our president in this administration recognizes the value of partnerships, and it also recognizes that the federal government plays a large role in providing services, but can benefit of course from the partnerships of faith-based and community-based –

Len Sipes:  The ministers of [PH] Imanth, and the people within the Jewish faith, the – what am I thinking of? The –

Eugene Schneeberg:  Rabbi?

Len Sipes:  The rabbis. Geez, okay, here we go. Here come the comments from my friends in New York, from the rabbis, who I’ve talked to a lot of them. And they say, “You know, Leonard, we bring a legitimacy; we bring a legitimacy to this issue that you and government do not have. We bring an honesty, we bring a sense of perspective, we know the individuals who we’re trying to deal with. Government nibbles around the edges, we really deal with the heart and soul of what’s wrong with our communities.” Correct, or incorrect?

Eugene Schneeberg:   Well, you couldn’t be more correct, I think. The word that came to my mind is “credibility” and “moral authority”. There’s over 350,000 houses of worship in our country, and those combined are responsible for recruiting more than half of the volunteers in America.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  And so, in communities, when people are in trouble, most times when people need support, they oftentimes go to their houses of worship.

Len Sipes:  Right. And they have an understanding of these issues, that quite frankly, government – I mean, I’m paid to do a job. I’m paid to come to the criminal justice system every day, and I do what I do, and hundreds of thousands of police officers,  and parole and probations agents, and correctional officers, they come to their jobs every day. The individuals within a faith-based community, they do it out of love. They do it because their religious tenets tell them to do it. They do it because they think they can make a difference. They think that they can intervene in the life of somebody coming out of the prison system more meaningfully than we can; and quite frankly, they may be right.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, I think – I would tend to agree with you as well, that oftentimes folks feel this is a calling. But I do want to make an important clarification, which is that our office doesn’t focus exclusively on faith-based groups, but also secular, nonprofit organizations. And of course they make huge contributions in every city and every town throughout this country.

Len Sipes:  Alright, let me get into the whole concept of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It’s under the U.S. Department of Justice, but it’s also at the same time under the Whitehouse. So, you have 13 federal faith-based centers. The Whitehouse Office of  Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the 13 centers throughout the country, and they’re designed to do what?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure. So each center is designed to coordinate, strengthen partnerships between their federal agency and faith-based and nonprofit organizations. And so, that plays out differently in different organizations. For instance, there’s a center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that’s working on summer feeding programs, and connecting the programs that agriculture has with programs in the community. The Veterans Administration is working on connecting faith-based and community-based groups with work around preventing homelessness among veterans.  We have – there’s an office at the Housing and Urban Development that works on foreclosure prevention and first-time home buyer programs, and small business administration. The list goes on and on. The Department of Education is working on school turnaround. And again, in each and every case, they are strengthening partnerships with their agencies priorities partner with faith-based and nonprofit organizations, both locally and nationally.

Len Sipes:  So there are 13 federal centers out there designed to further this concept, to promote this concept, to be sure that faith-based and nonprofit organizations are welcomed into these issues. And the issues, I think, as we described them before the program, are offenders coming out of the prison system, responsible fathering initiatives and youth violence–those three issues.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah, so those are the focus areas of my agency at the Department of Justice Center at DOJ; and each center, as I stated–and the federal agencies have their own priorities, and oftentimes they overlap. For instance, there’s a number of agencies that sit on the Interagency Reentry Council. So, there’s representatives from housing, because people that are coming home from incarceration need stable housing.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  There’s representatives from education that are part of the working group, because offenders, or formally incarcerated folks—excuse me—need to continue their education. So at our office, the priority areas which you’ve already mentioned are promoting effective and responsible prisoner reentry –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  – working on issues of youth violence prevention, and lastly, which I think, in my personal opinion, which is most important and cuts across all of these areas, is promoting responsible fatherhood.

Len Sipes:  You know, it’s interesting, because what government does is one thing, but I get the sense through these 13 faith-based centers, Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership Centers throughout the country, operate under the auspices of the United States Department of Justice; it takes the existing resources, it takes the existing fabric, what’s important to a community, and expands upon it and utilizes those resources to do a better job on those three subject areas that we’ve talked about. I mean, again, it’s the criminal justice system. We’re limited in terms of what it is we can do. Why not reach out to the nonprofits and get them involved? Why not reach out to the faith-based community and get them involved? It seems to me that this takes government and extends it 10-fold, 20-fold, 30-fold. So it’s just not how – the fact that they can do a better job in many cases than the criminal justice system, it just expands the reach into these three priority areas—10-fold, 20-fold, 30-fold—because of what it is that you’re doing.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah, and I think it’s not necessarily that these groups are doing a better job, but perhaps it’s that they’re doing it in conjunction with law enforcement, with the courts, with probation and parole; and that’s a large part of what – well, my job is to connect these groups with partners that oftentimes might even seem unlikely partners–clergy working with police; clergy working with sheriff’s departments. And you know, the federal government does a lot, and particularly around research and access to information and best practices, and that’s what we want to be able to share with the field. What’s working, what’s effective, what does the data say? So we spend a lot of time focusing on providing technical assistance, and also connecting folks. So if someone, like for instance, CSOSA’s faith-based initiative, which is very successful,  a very effective program; it’s working in D.C. and there’s a group that wants to launch a similar initiative in California.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Eugene Schneeberg:  My office is uniquely positioned to help generate that kind of peer-to-peer learning, and this radio broadcast, and often kind of does the same thing.

Len Sipes:  Eugene, we discussed at the beginning of the show, a little bit about yourself and the fact that both of us worked in the field, both of us have a history of working with youth, working with younger people out in the field. So tell me a little bit about yourself. You came from Boston?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure. Yup, born and raised—was raised in Roxbury, Massachusetts. And Roxbury, for those who might not know, is really, I would say, the roughest, toughest part of Boston.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  I was raised in the late eighties, crack epidemic, gangs kind of running rampant.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  And only by the grace of God didn’t join a gang. Was recruited to join a gang, recruited to sell drugs, and thanks to God and adults who were caring, was able to kind of be resilient and overcome some of those obstacles, and go on, and go to Boston University. Studied urban affairs. I actually  thought I was gonna be a city planner, go back and do something about all the vacant buildings and abandoned lots in my community. But my first job out of college was working for a juvenile detention facility, and it was there that I really fell in love with working with these young people, and where my mind was really changed about the perceptions I had, that these – the preconceived notions I had that these were these horrible kids with bad attitudes and –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  And when I met them and heard their stories, I really realized that they were indeed, in many cases, victims; and had tremendous potential that just wasn’t being tapped into. And so I fell in love with the work then, and went on to working for the state Juvenile Justice Agency, to working for a faith-based nonprofit called Straight Ahead Ministries –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  – that really focused on providing hope to these young people inside the facilities, and went on to run their reentry program, in helping these young people to make the successful transition from incarceration back into the community.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.  Those are tough assignments though. I mean, you fell in love with the concept as I fell in love with the concept. I always said those kids taught me far more than I taught them. I came to the same realization when I was on the streets doing gang counseling in Baltimore, that a lot of these kids were salvageable, that they weren’t the monsters – I mean, if you do the crime, you deserve the time. I mean, I’m not suggesting, and I’m quite sure we’re not suggesting if you do something nefarious or wrong or illegal, that you’re not held responsible for it. But a lot of these kids, even though they were either involved in criminal activity or on the edges of criminal activity, virtually all of them were salvageable. Virtually all of them, given the right guidance, given a fathering figure, given a firm hand and a come to you-know-what meeting from time to time, these were kids that could be plucked out, pulled out. But it was nevertheless an extraordinarily difficult assignment. I can’t imagine tougher work than the time that I spent working with young kids caught up in the criminal justice system.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, it’s funny that you mention the need for having fathering figures. As I mentioned before, before we started, Leonard, that I grew up without my dad. I’m 33 years old today, and never met him a day in my life. And so I think I was able to connect with those young people and connect with their experiences, and I’ve seen firsthand the impact that fatherlessness has on a community. It was actually the norm for my friends and I to grow up without our dads, and that really had a disastrous effect on our neighborhood, our community. And I think that’s why I’m so proud and so excited to be working for this administration, working for this president who also understands the importance of responsible fatherhood. As you probably know, and your listeners probably know, the president only met his father once in his life.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Eugene Schneeberg:  And so his – being able to work on the President’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative is a great opportunity to reach out to some of the outstanding fatherhood groups throughout the country that are doing great work. You know, with Father’s Day looming in just over a month, we’re excited about the president doing his annual fatherhood speech –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  – and all the programming that’s associated with that.

Len Sipes:  You know, it’s interesting, because this administration, and as well as the prior administration of President Bush, the concept of faith-based, the concept of utilizing those resources, the power of those resources, then also reaching out to individuals and reminding them of the rights and responsibilities as father, and how important fathering is, it seems to be an issue that goes across the political spectrum, that it’s not necessarily Republican or Democrat. These are all things that everybody can support. But having said that, it’s interesting that President Obama really has pushed this issue of prisoner reentry, really has cited the fact that we’ve got to do a better job in terms of the kids that are coming up through the criminal justice system and reaching out to them; is a very very very important factor in terms of getting them out of a life of crime.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, absolutely. I mean, the president is working in Chicago. I saw this firsthand when he was in the Senate, and I think we’re at a point–and you mentioned this too–reentry has overwhelming bi-partisan support. It’s being smart on crime. It’s saving taxpayer dollars. You know, mass incarceration is just incredibly expensive, as you all know; and by being smart on crime, we can not only reduce our prison population and make wise investments in prevention and intervention and reentry.

Len Sipes:  And most states are backing off of their incarcerative policies now.  I’m not quite sure it’s philosophical, but they simply can’t afford to do it any longer. For the first time, the rate of incarceration in the United States is going down. And so, in states–and my Heaven’s newspaper articles that I read every single day–of states that can no longer afford a certain level of incarceration. Well, if we’re going to continue to have an impact on crime, there needs to be an outreach too, in terms of prisoner reentry, in terms of kids on the street, in terms of fatherhood. If we’re going to continue to reduce crime in America, we have to do those things.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Absolutely, and that’s an area where there’s, I think, an increasing interest on the part of faith-based and community-based groups to get involved in reentry.  They recognize we’re at crisis points. We recognize these folks are coming home, they’re coming home to our communities, and they need support. I also want to just call your attention–you mentioned the National Reentry Resource Center web site –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  – in your opening. I want to call your attention to, which is really a clearing house for all things that are fatherhood. And I also want to call your attention to an initiative that we’re working on called the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. This is, at this point, a six-city initiative where city leadership, community-based, faith-based groups are working together to develop comprehensive violence prevention plans. Those cities are Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, San Jose and Salinas, California. And to find out more information about the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, you can check out, that’s, and there’s a tab on there that says, “Youth Violence Prevention”.

Len Sipes:  I want to re-introduce our guest, ladies and gentlemen, Eugene Schneeberg. He is the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the U.S. Department of Justice, as guided by the Whitehouse, which has been very, very, very influential in this effort. So we talked about, we talked about – all of this is designed to do what—is to energize communities and use whatever resources available to attack these problems? I think that’s the generic. We’ve pretty much substantiated that’s what it is that we’re trying to do. But put something on the [PH 00:17:20] boat. And so, okay, so the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, what is involved in that?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure. Well, as you know, youth violence is a critical issue in cities and towns throughout our nation. And oftentimes, if you survey folks living in these cities, and you asked them, “What’s the most important issue?”, oftentimes youth violence bubbles up to the top. Obviously public safety and people feeling safe, and particularly the safety of our young people is of critical importance. The President, the Attorney General, Secretary of Education got together just over a year ago, and charged the federal agencies with coming up with some comprehensive approaches to addressing the issue of youth violence throughout the country. And so we started with the six cities that I mentioned earlier—Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis San Jose and Salinas. We did a series of listening sessions throughout the summer, to hear from folks in the communities what their concerns were, what was working, what wasn’t working, and I think one of the very important pieces is we have buy-in from the mayors, the chiefs of police, superintendents of schools, people from public health, and the community. And each of those cities work to develop these comprehensive youth violence prevention plans that have a lot of community input, and that information is available on So the plans are finished, and we’ve just transitioned, just in the latter part of April, to the implementation phase where these cities are now beginning to put these plans into action. So has a lot of good information for cities that weren’t able to participate in the national forum, to go there, to learn information because it’s definitely not these six cities that are the only ones that are struggling with the –

Len Sipes:  Oh, absolutely, absolutely! Now what’s the key ingredient? Are there key ingredients coming out of the experience of these various cities in terms of stopping youth violence or reducing it?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Absolutely. I think there’s some basic principles that the data shows, that the evidence shows, that you have to have a balanced approach. When you go into these with solely a law enforcement approach, you don’t get the results you want.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Obviously law enforcement police are critical components of youth violence prevention, but it has to be balanced. You have to have a strong prevention element. You need to reach young people before they get into trouble, before they get involved with the criminal justice system. Providing things like after school programs and tutoring programs and mentoring programs, all of which faith-based and community-based programs are uniquely suited to provide.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  You have to have a intervention component for those young people that have begun the process of having those brushes with the law or with the child welfare system, or what have you. Or those kids who may be eligible for a diversion program. You need to have a strong intervention program. As I said, enforcement is critical, you need the cops.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Eugene Schneeberg:  The cops play a critical role in getting the bad guys off the street, but you have to also – those guys are gonna come home, and so you need to have an effective and thoughtful reentry component. So the data shows you need to have a balanced approach, you need to have a multi-disciplinary approach. You need to have public health at the table, you need to have the schools at the table, you need to have law enforcement, faith-based, community-based, the business community. It really has to be a community-wide approach to this work.

Len Sipes:  I was reading a [PH] literature review some time ago and looking at the power of all of these different programs, and some are more powerful than others. And one of the most powerful programs was intervening in the lives of kids with social workers. The kids were acting out in school, they were starting to get involved in the criminal justice system, but we’re talking about young kids. We’re talking about preschool in some cases. We’re talking about very young individuals, and where social workers were going in to the homes and dealing principally with moms, because dad, in many cases, was not there. And talking about reading to your child 15 minutes a day, talking about effective parenting techniques, talking about what it takes to raise a child, and raise a child responsibly—basically saying, “Look, you know, you’ve got to be up before your kid, and that kid’s got to eat before going out of the house.” And that may sound simple, and that may sound—I don’t know–a bit oppressive on the part of government taking over the lives of moms and their kids. But what they’ve shown, what the data have shown, is that this may be the most powerful anti-crime program that we have at our disposal. Not saying anything is bad with prisons, not saying anything is wrong with law enforcement, but in terms of sheer prevention, intervening in the lives of individuals early on, and helping them in terms of how to raise that child, and what to do about that child, seems to be quite effective in terms of that child not going into the criminal justice system. So there’s good, hard data that says intervention programs do have an impact.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Absolutely. And I think the third principle that the national forum really espouses is that these strategies need to be data driven. They need to be looking at not only crime data but school data, social service data as well. We need to be thinking about outcomes and tracking outcomes and being thoughtful, and not just being kind of random in our approach.

Len Sipes:  Now the fatherhood initiative, can you summarize that? I mean, to a lot of people it’s confusing. What is a fatherhood initiative?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Sure. Well, there’s been fatherhood programs in our country for 30, 40 years –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Eugene Schneeberg:  – that have been effective. The president has been using the bully pulpit of his role as a public servant since his time in Illinois, every year, using Father’s Day as an opportunity to really lift up the importance of responsible fatherhood. And now, as the Commander in Chief, he’s used this opportunity to really promote this on a federal level. So his first year in office, the coordinator, by the way, Whitehouse Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the leadership of Joshua DuBois, executive director, they held a series of town hall meetings all throughout the country with federal agency principals.  The Attorney General had a round table in Atlanta. The Secretary of Education did a round table in New Hampshire around education. The Veterans Affairs administrator did one with military dads and the like, and partnered with – there’s some outstanding fatherhood programs all throughout the country that are bringing – they’re doing excellent training for dads, they’re convening dads. I can’t really go into the specifics, but there’s just quite a few excellent programs out there in the community that are doing great work in charging dads, equipping dads to effectively parent their children. You know, being a dad is not an easy task.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  It’s probably the hardest job you’ll ever have.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  The president often talks about how being a dad is more challenging than being the president.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  But it’s also more rewarding. And so quite frankly, if we had more responsible dads at home, we would  need less federal programming.

Len Sipes:  How did we get to this? I mean, the kids when I was on the streets in the city of Baltimore doing gang counseling whether jail or job corps, or the groups that I ran in the prison system, routinely did not have fathers. You talked about your experience, you talked about the president’s experience. How in the name of heavens did we come up with a situation where the fathers are suddenly absent? Because I agree with you, if the fathers were there, steadfast, steady in the lives of their children, probably 50 percent of what it is that we’re talking about today in terms of today’s social ills, would disappear. So what happened? Why are we at this point where we have to instruct and sometimes use the bully pulpit to get people involved in the lives of their own children?

Eugene Schneeberg:  That’s a whole other broadcast –

Len Sipes:  Yes, it is.

Eugene Schneeberg:   – Leonard, and I’d be happy to kind of have that conversation. But I think, you know, there’s a whole lot of contributing factors to the crisis we face in fatherlessness in this country. The numbers are continuing the trend up, and the number of children born out of wedlock is steadily rising. But I think that, you know, it takes one person to change the destiny of a family.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Eugene Schneeberg:  You know, I grew up without my dad, but now I’ve been married for almost eight years, father of three, and training my children on how to be, you know, responsible parents.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Eugene Schneeberg:  My oldest is five years old. So I think, you know, I live by that mantra that one person can change a destiny.

Len Sipes:  Well, my oldest is 26, and let me tell you, it is the most challenging thing. I mean, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 40 years in a variety of capacities, and there’s nothing that’s been as challenging as being a good father. But the bottom line is, is that once we get fathers reconnected with their children, ordinarily good things happen.

Eugene Schneeberg:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s, you know, to use a faith term, I believe that God has designed the family to meet the needs of children; and our biological families are supposed to do that. We’re supposed to nurture and protect and provide and train and teach. And when you remove a dad from that equation, you know, you’ve done damage to that family. So we’re looking to continue to promote responsible fatherhood, we’re continuing to lift up the efforts of the president and the attorney general, and there’s a ton of good information on So I just really encourage your listeners to go check that out.

Len Sipes:  We only have about a minute left before we begin to close. What did we not hit, what needs to be hit, anything else? Or did we cover everything?

Eugene Schneeberg:  Well, I encourage folks to check out the Whitehouse Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.  If you go to, you can navigate fairly easy to the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. There’s a ton of work that’s being done all throughout the federal government, all throughout this country, to engage faith-based and community-based groups in the work that’s going on, particularly in this time of tough economic situations and budget cuts. We’re in a unique time where faith-based and community-based groups are being increasingly more called upon to provide services to the most needy in this country; and we’re looking forward to partnering. My office can be reached at That’s Looking forward to hearing from any of you listeners that might be interested in learning more.

Len Sipes:  And we’re gonna do all of these, all the notes that we mentioned within the show, we’re gonna put them into the show notes so people can – when they listen to the show, if they come through our web site, they will have steady access to them. Eugene Schneeberg, he is the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the United States Department of Justice. Ladies and gentlemen, just to go over some of the things that Eugene said today,,

Eugene Schneeberg:  Findyouthinfo.

Len Sipes:, for the Department of Justice, and We’ll put all of those within the show notes. We do want to remind everybody once again, before we close, about the National Reentry Resource Center,, the American Probation and Parole Association, their efforts to celebrate the roles of parole and probation agents throughout the country, And the Louisiana Department of Corrections, they have a whole series of interesting radio programs in terms of what it is that they do. If you go to the Louisiana Department of Corrections web site, you can find your way to the radio shows. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Watch for us next time, or listen for us next time, as we explore another very important topic in our criminal justice system. Have yourselves a very very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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