Parole and Probation Supervision Week

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Leonard : From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We are here, ladies and gentlemen of recognized free trial probation and parole supervision week by interviewing three people from the District of Columbia’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Pretrial Services. As to the contributions of pretrial and parole and probation agents link in the nation’s capital and other contributions towards our public safety, to do that we have three guests at our microphones: Tom Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services, again Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency, Yolanda Buffet, a associate director, again Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and Katherine Terry Coufer, she’s the Associate Director of Operations of the Pretrial Services Agency. At the District of Columbia or in the District of Columbia enter Tom, and to Yolanda, and to Katherine. Welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Tom: Pleasure to be here Len.

Leonard : All right, we’re here to recognize the contributions of our employees, recognizing the Pretrial and Probation and Parole Supervision week sponsored by the American Probation and Parole Association. It’s celebrated during the month of July. There are over five million adults on community supervision. Most of these individuals are monitored by pretrial probation and parole officers. Community corrections professionals must be creative in finding solutions to making sure that the supervised and have the support to find jobs, housing, and treatment by collaborating with community leaders and volunteers.

They make a huge difference in the lives of the individuals they have currently under supervision; but the bottom line in all that, that’s reading from the American Probation and Parole Association’s new press release. The bottom line behind all of this is that, our people that we call not parole and probation agents but community supervision officers, the bottom line is that our people, when people involved in a community supervision throughout the District of Columbia and throughout the country make a meaningful contribution to public safety. Correct Tom Williams?

Tom: Exactly right Len, and certainly one of the things we wanted to highlight were regards to this important week, is the great work that our staff does on a day to day basis. A lot of people just don’t realize in the District of Columbia, we are a federal agency, and we’re responsible for supervising those partisans that the subpoena court for the District of Columbia would rant probation on those partisans who enter the correctional system, as most of you have guessed, will not be aware of that the district does not have a local prison system. Anyone that’s sentenced to a term of incarceration in the District of Columbia is sent to the bureau prisons, and that could be anywhere within the continental United States. There is an effort with regards to re-entry for those persons coming back, and when they do come back to the District of Columbia then our staff is the one that are responsible for supervising them; these cases, which is different from U.S. district court.

Leonard : Katherine what you do on the pretrial side is unique, because I’ve taken a look at your stats over the course of years. You got an extraordinary return rate of people who actually show up for their court dates without committing new crimes between the arrest and their court date. Pretrial has been phenomenally successful.

Katherine: Yes Len, we are very proud of the national reputation we have and the rate of return we have for defendants who are released to pretrial services. Similar to CSOSA, so many individuals do not know the services that we provide here in the District of Columbia, for both D.C. Superier Court as well as U.S. District Court, where we’re responsible for gathering information on newly arrested defendants and preparing recommendations for the court’s consideration to make decisions in terms of their release options. PSA is known nationally for making recommendations for the least restrictive conditions to promote public safety and the return to court. As a result of our work, virtually no defendant is currently in the District of Columbia, are unreleased on a surety bond.

Leonard : You know, I am very proud of our agency, Yolanda. Court services and offender supervision agency and our partnership with pretrial services here in the nation’s capital. We are recognized, I believe fairly, as one of the best if not in my opinion, the best parole and probation agency in the United States. Probably the best pretrial services agency in the United States, much of which is due to the person sitting to your left, Tom Williams, but that’s my opinion. Is it yours?

Yolanda: Absolutely, I am very proud to work for the court services and offender supervision agency, and the thing for the Pretrial Parole and Probation week is a world wide force for change. And since my time of being here with CSOSA I can definitely say we are an agency committed to change and to helping offenders become productive citizens. I’m very proud to a part of the organization.

Leonard : You know our people. Let’s get down to what our people do on a day to day basis. It is phenomenally difficult. All of us have been involved in the criminal justice system through years, throughout the decades. Working with people caught up in the criminal justice system is extraordinarily difficult. The great majority, history of substance abuse if you count self-assessments, fifty percent have histories of mental health problems. Women caught up in the criminal justice system often have history of sexual violence. We deal with individuals either in probation or come out of the prison system, and they are challenging human beings. It’s just not a matter of will. You have to be creative. You have to be really innovative in terms of breaking down barriers to try to help that individual become a productive member of society.

Tom: Len, you are exactly right. You described a population that many of the public or your listeners are probably not aware of. We have basically the whole gander from low level cases that come to us through the subpoena court of the District of Columbia, to what we consider to be high level cases with regards to their criminal offences. For those persons who are coming out of the institution, at least ten percent have housing issues. That is a real challenge for us with regards to what we can actually do with them, because they need a place to stay for stability sake.

The other thing that you’re probably not aware of is the number of reports that we do to the court, just to help the judge with regards to the sentencing structure in terms of what they’re going to imply, with regards to those persons that come before them. We produce over three thousand pre-sentence investigations a year and on the back-end of the system, as folks are coming back in for re-entry, our tips officers will also develop plans with regards to an investigation that will really help the supervision.

The staff with regarding to the developing our plans for supervision, so it really ranges the whole gander from low level cases to more severe cases for which our staff are engaged in. Yolanda will talk a little bit about what she sees in terms of our recruitment, because its very important in regards to the type of persons that we are trying to bring in to the organization to help us to manage this population.

Leonard : Yolanda, how easy is it to recruit for what we call community supervision-al officers, what the rest of the country refers to as parole and probation agents?

Yolanda: So this agency is very progressive when it comes to evidence based practices. Our recruitment efforts are very competitive. We typically could have anywhere from seven to eight hundred applicants and fill about twenty to twenty-five vacancies at a time.

Leonard : They’re all people with bachelors’ degrees at a minimum, right?

Yolanda: Yes sir. They’re all people with bachelors’ degrees at a minimum, and we’re also looking for strong skills in motivational interviewing, cogni-behavioral interventions, and also being able to match or identify needs or match services towards those needs. These are skills that are quite progressive. Many members throughout the country will not have these skills, so it makes employment with CSOSA very competitive.

Tom: I’d like to chime in. A lot of people think that all I have to do is sit down with somebody, read and write. They’ll go straight, and we’ll never have to hear from them again. As Yolanda just explained, this is a highly trained profession, and I just want to reinforce that the skills we are imparting or have trained to the staff are really looking at the thinking patterns that individuals have that may not be in their best interest. Also, a lot of the persons we have at the high end of the assessment process are really involved with folks who are not really in their best interest with regards to their peers.

So how do we now get a person who is thinking distortely about life and have that pattern change and, or, also have a tendency to associate with people that eventually get them in trouble. To work that thought, pretrial does on the front end, certain can help us on the back-end if the judge is so inclined to grant the improvisation. Kathy.

Katherine: Absolutely, Tom speaks to that because it’s also as critical at pretrial Len, to ensure that we recruit and retain highly skilled staff who support our strategic goal of maximizing pre-proud justice by keeping the maximum number of defendants in the community. We offer a variety of supervision services for a population, who coming in at the front of the system are often not stable particularly when looking at our mental health population. The skills those staff need to ensure that in a short period of time were able to quickly assess and look at the needs and the risks to ensure safety rates remain high for our agency, and make the best recommendations to the judge to consider for releasing those defendants. We provide one of the, what I think, best pretrial service drug court programs in the country that are focused on dealing with the high risk defendants who come through with high needs for substance abuse treatment.

Tom: With a national reputation, I might add.

Katherine: Absolutely, with a national reputation. We are leading in that area, and we also partner very closely with D.C. Superior Court for the mental health community courts to work with them and identifying the appropriate services on the front end for those defendants with the hope of those who transition to probation and those who go into institution to serve a period of time, have some information that can be utilized by the case managers to continue to provide services, and are connected if they remain here in the community to services here in the city that can be utilized for the supervision purposes or the transition over to CSOSA. Its critical that we get high-skilled staff and recruit and retain those at pretrial as well.

Leonard : One of the things that amazes me is that we supervise parole and probation pretrial in this country. We’ve got five million people under our supervision on any given day. Only two million are behind bars, so when you talk about the correctional population in the United States, the great majority of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system are under the supervision of parole and probation agencies. Yet, law enforcement gets ten times the attention. Corrections, main stream corrections prisons gets ten times of attention. Why is it that parole and probation agencies get so little attention and recognition throughout the United States, considering the fact that on any given day five out of every seven people caught up in the criminal justice system are under our auspices.

Tom: Well, as you started off the program talking about the purpose of this program which is pre-trial probation and parole offices. That’s exactly why the American Probation and Parole Association, APPA, had its twenty-first anniversary. One of the recognized work that’s done in both pretrial parole and probation services, the folks that are getting the most recognition as you indicated, were law enforcement, anyone that carries weapons, the correctional officers who actually do a great job. We’re not diminishing the work that’s done by our law enforcement partners; however, when we look at the work that’s being done by the staff and the community, where the bulk of the population is, where the bulk of the work is done, and I might add where the success that we’re having is really instrumental in folks not returning to prison. For example this agency has seventy percent rate of satisfactory completion. When you look at some of the high-end folks that we have under supervision, whether or not we be sex-offenders, folks with behavioral health, issues that people are bringing to us because of lack of housing. In a sense, given that the institutions that are in society that are really there to help folks to stay on the right track, those systems have failed, education system has failed in some respect of faith.

Leonard : Families have failed; communities have failed.

Tom: It’s left to us in community supervision just to try to put some under paintings under those persons that come to us. Just so that we can give a different direction and then give a different avenue for these individuals to be a little more successful.

Leonard : But the people that come to us, the people that work for us, they got to be top notch. They got to be on top of their game every day. You know, we’re lucky. I mean court services and offenders supervision agency we average fifty to one ratios. Other parole and probation agencies throughout the country, my heavens, they’re two hundred to one. I’ve seen two-fifty-three hundred to one parole and probation agent. We have an extraordinary opportunity, our people our personnel, have an extraordinary opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the lives of people under supervision. Yolanda?

Yolanda: Yes, Len I can attest to that. I was supervision officer outside of the district in another state and I can definitely tell you I’ve had over two hundred cases to just poor little me, having to make contact to thirty days. Usually agencies with the numbers that carry those numbers are mainly doing surveillance. What’s really required if you’re going to impact offender change will have to be accountability on the surveillance side as well as the interventions in programming in cogni-behavioral restructuring.

Leonard : Right.

Yolanda: Without those resources, it’s very difficult or the evidence has shown. The rate of residerism will be higher without those services.

Leonard : Right, but we’re lucky to the point where we even control some of our services, but the bottom line, I’m just going to make this final point. Our employees whether they be pretrial or whether they be community supervision officers, known parole and probation officers, again, we don’t have any problems recruiting people from my understanding. We get lots of people coming in. Law enforcement’s struggling to find people. Corrections is really struggling to find people. We don’t struggle to find people; people want to come to work for this agency because: A. we’re a federal agency, B. we pay fairly well, C. we train fairly well. People feel they can do something different within this agency that they can’t do elsewhere. That’s my guess.

Tom: [crosstalk 00:15:24] I want to say that we don’t necessarily have trouble finding people, its finding the right person. As Yolanda alluded to, the work of the parole and probation officer traditionally has really changed. There’s no more, we’re just passed those days where I can come in with a BA degree with something in behavioral sciences and pretty much work your magic. You really have to understand the literature with regards to cognitive restructuring, cognitive behavioral intervention, motivational interviewing. Those skills that a lot of folks who come to the door really don’t have, so we’re not bringing in individuals just because, quote on quote  they have the degree. You have to demonstrate your skill level either in an academic setting or prior employment setting before we actually bring you in.

Leonard : You’ve got to be good is the bottom line. I’m going to take a break and reintroduce all three of my guests, and then we will pick back up on that question: Tom Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services, court services, and offender supervision agencies; Yolanda Buffet, again, she is Deputy Associate Director again working with Tom; and we have Katherine Terry Coufer, she is the Associate Director of Operations of the Pretrial Services Agency of the District of Columbia.

We are doing this in celebration of the American Probation and Parole Association’s celebration of Pretrial Probation and Parole Supervision week, ordinarily doing the month of July. The theme the American Parole and Probation Association is, “A force for positive change,” and that’s how we see ourselves. Katherine do you want to pick up on that, that we are a force for positive change in the lives of the people that we deal with?

Katherine: Absolutely, and I’d like to echo Tom’s sentiments in terms of while we do face challenges sometimes recruiting because we want the best staff, and those who do have strong clinical skills as well as case management skills to come in and impact, change, and make a difference in individual lives. Its no longer the day: sit at the desk, checking at the door, leave, but to actually to meaningful work with the defendants at pretrial services. We invest a great deal into our staff and I think that’s why we have a history of retaining strong staff because we push and encourage staff to engage in training. We bring a lot of the training in to ensure that they maintain the skills so that we can implement the best practices and community supervision consistent to those of CSOSA. It is different in community corrections now. It’s a different game, as the city has changed and the demographics those coming in. Our strategic direction has changed to work with them and to look at that. Recently, as I am sure you are all aware that we are dealing now with a new issue. Relatively the spike and use of synthetic drugs are the new challenges. So both agencies when they’re gearing up to look at how we best develop strategies to intervene in those and continue to integrate the best practices in that. And we’re very proud of that activity.

Leonard : But could you imagine the policy implication of the five million people that are under community supervision throughout the United States? What it means, if they fail, because they go out and commit additional crimes, they go out and do somebody else an immense amount of harm. The financial considerations are also immense. I mean if they all go back to prison, we could shut down the prison systems in the United States tomorrow. If we revoked everybody back to the prison system. So the states they’re saying, “My heavens, parole and probation save us. Save us from this huge correctional population. Save us from creating more prisons. Protect us; protect our public safety, and by the way at the same time the person who has the history of substance abuse, mental health problems, not a good job history. With a female often times, they’re the ones who are principally responsible for kids. By the way take care of all those social problems that accompany the individuals that we have.” That’s almost impossible to do, but we do it in terms of community supervision in this country every day.

Katherine: And we do it well in the nation’s capital Len.

Leonard : I think we do it better than anywhere else, but that’s my own bias.

Katherine: Absolutely, we do but I think wise supporting that we must work to make sure that we identity the levels of risk in those factors with the work we do. While for us here at pretrial, performance of legal precitives, around the least restrictive recommendations to continue to keep poking the community, but to safe guard public safety which is one our primary responsibilities and showing individuals get back to court.

Leonard : Pretrial has a higher return rate than the vast majority of pretrial service agencies in the Untied States without committing new crimes. The great majority of the people under our supervision do complete it successfully at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We put together some data that indicates we’re moving in the right direction by moving in a evidence based direction by looking at the research, by being honest as to what the research has to say, and embracing that new direction. Yolanda?

Yolanda: You’re absolutely correct, and one of the factors that helps us be successful for our graduated sanctions as well. We want to have offenders to remain in the community supporting their families as much as possible. Now, with that said, we still want to hold them accountable for their behavior. So we do practice here, swift and certain sanctions. We do also recognize positive behavior as well, and we have award ceremonies and recognition ceremonies for those that have completed particular programs, educational programs, obtained employment, and so, we really do pour a lot into the defenders that we supervise. All of it, with the programming, the risk assessments that we do, as well as the recognition, help us to be successful with our population.

Leonard : We did a show a while ago on correctional officers stress with the national institute of corrections, and my question to the National Institute of Corrections is where is the course on parole and probation agent stress. The law enforcement is huge in the news. Law enforcement stress is also huge in the news, and I see that’s just it in the program on correctional officer stress. Again, we who handle the great bulk of the people caught up in the criminal justice system we seem to be ignored. This is a very stressful, tough job, where that individual community supervision officer that parole and probation agent really needs to be on his or her game every single day. They can’t let up. They can’t be bamboozled. They can’t be fooled. At the same time, they have to break through the barriers, that that offender poses to help that individual and to work with the family, work with the community. By heavens that’s an awful lot that we ask our people to do.

Yolanda: Absolutely, which brings us back to the whole recognition of pretrial parole and probation officers week anyway. The whole purpose of the week is to recognize the work that we do. We have a week’s worth of activities to increase moral to just engage our colleagues, and some competitive competition to have just a little bit of fun. It all helps. We also have additional training that we have; we just had a training a week ago on trauma informed care. Another topic in another area of training that we do is secondary trauma, for we know our staff, reading the PSI’s and hearing the stories, and working with the offenders, that it also has an impact on us as well. Which is why we take the opportunity to have as much recognition for the staff as possible.

Leonard : But how to we get the public to understand us Katherine? How do we get the public to understand what it is that we do. I don’t see ten tons of parole and probation agent shows on television, but I could spend the rest of the day talking about the titles of the shows focusing on police officers. How do we get the public to understand what it is that we do in the real contributions that we make?

Katherine: Well you know that is a challenge Len; particularly for agencies small as ours here as pretrial services as well as CSOSA. One of the strategies, well a few of them I should say is that, we are starting to work closer with our partners in the community and increase our presence in engaging with our community. Whether its attending community group meetings and those going out informs to share with them, information as well as at the schools, the universities, to try to increase our presence in the public, as well as working with the national organizations like the National Socio-pretrial services agencies, APPA you’ve heard Tom. To get out there, many of our staff at both agencies go to these conferences and provide workshops on the great work that we do that’s targeted on showing how we’re implementing best practices successfully. We continue to partner in the community and work with our partners in law enforcement as well as community based agencies to increase our presence to share with them the outstanding work that we do.

Yolanda also hit on something that is extremely important that I think our agencies do well in. That’s doing the work-life balance and all, because that’s important because the work is very stressful for them. Some of them that are in pretrial services, we shut down for a day or two when the courts are doing their training to provide full days of training to kind of focus on a target. Those things as well as partners at agency to do things like walk or run activities and stuff to ensure that the agents see staff on both sides have an opportunity to get out, interact together, and work through some of the things that stress so they can come back and put their energies into impacting the lives of the defendants, offenders, and their families.

Leonard : I’m still confused. If the public depends upon us for as much as they do, five million people in a given day. We are the front line of public safety in their lives. Whether or not they’re victimized, whether or not their children are victimized, whether or not their house is broken in to, whether or not the person goes back to prison and we have to spend the thirty or forty thousand dollars a year to maintain that person, the billions to build new prisons, I mean that all depends upon us. Yet, the average person, Tom Williams. The average person out there doesn’t fully understand what it is we do to protect them, and to save their tax paid dollars.

Tom: Well one of the ways we can educate the public is certainly from award winning shows like yours Len. [crosstalk 00:25:48] Certainly with the electronics that we have available to us right now, we have the internet. Certainly this program is on the internet. This program certainly is a podcast, certainly is out there for the public to understand. Also, your award winning T.V. show [crosstalk 00:26:06] is another one.

Leonard : Seriously now, [crosstalk 00:26:09] do we not have a perception problem in parole and probation? Not in the district of Columbia, but throughout the country? Again, the American Probation and Parole Association, they put out a campaign,”A force for positive change.” They do this every year, and we celebrate the work of parole and probation agents. It drives me crazy considering the work that I see our people do on a day to day basis, and what they do to protect the society that they don’t get more recognition for that.

Tom: Well, that’s true. One of the reasons is certainly we don’t have a real marketing campaign like profit industry or the non-profit industry does. That’s one of the areas for which we actually could do a better job. When you really look at government servers and that’s basically what we’re involved in. We’re involved in government servers, and providing the service to the citizens of a particular jurisdiction. That’s something that local jurisdictions don’t necessarily publicize, because who gets the headlines; whether its in education where most of the dollars go, or whether its in policing where a large percentage of the dollar goes. But when it comes to issues like whose on the street and what not the person that committed an offense, should be on the street.

I think the public attitude is shifting a little bit from, “lock them up and throw away the key.” Look at what California did several years ago when they did the, “three strikes and you’re out.” Now look what’s happened with California; they’re in a position right now would have to let out convicted felons. We don’t want to have to be down that road.  I think we’ve learned from the nineteen-eighties, the late nineties of determinate sentencing. That structure that was put in place that won’t allow an individual to have early release based on either programmatic issues in the prison or based on a good candidate for release. I think that is all changing right now. I think that as the, we see greatest statistics federal bureau Justice of Assistance. With regards to whose being successful and the slow rate of return.

Yolanda mentioned in terms of graduated responses, don’t [inaudible 00:28:12] back in the late eighties, early nineties, did her study on it, intensive supervision programs. Everybody thought that was going to be the panacea. The issue with Jones, what she found in her studying, was because I’m going to watch them or I’m going to send them back more. So all that’s being changed and we can certainly owe it to our friends the Canadians who actually really was in the forefront of evidence based practices. We’ve taken a lot of the principles from those studies, those meg-analysis they showed that you can have greater success with supervising and providing some level of programming and treatment versus just supervising alone. That’s the good news about community corrections

Leonard : Tom, you’re going have to have a final word, but I do want to emphasize with what’s going on throughout the country, more than ever parole and probation agencies are being asked to save the criminal justice system, to provide the innovation that’s necessary and I think that all three of you were able to agree with me.

Ladies and gentlemen the three people that have been at our microphones today: Thomas Williams, Associate Director, Yolanda Buffet, Deputy Associate Director, and Katherine Coufer, Associate Director of Pretrial Services here in in the District of Columbia. We’ve been focusing on our employees as well as American Parole and Probation Association’s pretrial parole and probation week in July, “A force for positive change.” Ladies and gentlemen this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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