Reentry in D.C.-Upcoming Events-Interview With Nancy Ware-200th Radio Show

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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes and for our 200th radio show, we started our programs, ladies and gentlemen, in 1996. The topic of today’s program is Reentry in the District of Columbia and reentry reflections, an array of activities here in the District of Columbia celebrating and discussing the successes and challenges of those returning from prison. Our guest today is Nancy Ware and Nancy serves as the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. She leads 800 Federal employees in providing community supervision for over 14,000 adults on probation, parole and supervised release in the District of Columbia, that’s 23,000 individuals every year. Nancy has over three decades of experience in the management and administration of juvenile and adult criminal justice programs. She was the first Executive Director for the DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council where, for eight years, she forged a cooperative relationship between DC government and Federal agencies to improve public safety. Miss Ware also served as the Director of Technical Assistance and Training for the Department of Justice’s Wait and See Program and as Director of the National Program for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier in her career she also served as the Executive Director of the Rain Coalition, the Citizen Education Fund and the District of Columbia Mayor’s Youth Initiative. Nancy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy Ware: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: All right. We have some events coming up and I briefly want to go over those events before talking about reentry in the District of Columbia. On Saturday, February 28th, an event that I absolutely adore, the Women’s Reentry Forum where we talk about women coming back out of the prison system and also women who are currently under our supervision, Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00. We’ll mention these a little bit later. And on Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. a really interesting experience, a Citywide Reentry Assembly where we’ll recognize the accomplishments of our faith based initiative and our mentors and mentees of the year. That happens at St Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, again, on February 20th from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Nancy, you know, this concept of reentry, you know, this is being discussed all throughout the United States. It’s being debated all throughout the United States. So first of all, let me go into some basics, what is reentry and why is it important.

Nancy Ware: Well in the District of Columbia we look at reentry as a process through which an individual transitions from prison and returns back to their community. But what’s important about reentry for CSOSA is that we expand that definition to include individuals who are under supervision and we see reentry for them, not only those returning from prison, but also those who are under supervision returning to become constructive, positive members of their community and free of all crime and free of all the burdens that crime and the history of crime bring with it. So for us reentry and the definition of reentry and that process is a very broad definition.

Len Sipes: We need to do reentry in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States because it’s within everybody’s best interest to do reentry, correct?

Nancy Ware: Right.

Len Sipes: I mean, if we do nothing we continue the crime problem that we’ve always had in the past.

Nancy Ware: That’s true. And, as you know, our mission here in our agency is to reduce recidivism, to improve the successful reintegration of men and women who are under supervision and to transition them back to stability so that they can, again, as I said before, become productive members of their communities. But we also want to be sure that we address a part of the city’s population who are often the most disenfranchised and marginalized. And so it is an important initiative to look at reentry broadly and to embrace folks who are trying to get their lives back on track again so that they don’t feel that they have to return to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: Now this isn’t just an issue for the District of Columbia, this is an issue for the entire country. It’s an issue that goes beyond, in fact, the United States. These discussions are happening in France, are happening in Canada, they’re happening in Great Britain, they’re happening in Asian countries. So this whole concept of making sure that people have the services both in prison and after they leave prison to cut back on the rate of recidivism, that conversation is happening. Now it may be happening in some jurisdictions because states are saying, hey, you know, we just cannot, no longer afford the amount of incarceration that we’ve had in the past. It’s been done for that reason and it’s also being done because people simply see it as a more effective way of administrating justice.

Nancy Ware: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think that we’re in a time now that probably offers us some opportunities that we need to take advantage of as it pertains to reintegrating folks back into their communities constructively. Because, as you mentioned, throughout the United States, and I’m sure this is true in other parts of the world, but particularly here in the United States, we want to decrease the numbers that we’re placing in prisons unnecessarily. And by unnecessarily I mean those people who haven’t committed violent crimes, who are low level offenders, don’t need to be populating our prisons to increase over crowdedness because we really are not finding that prison is the most rehabilitative places for people to get their lives back on track. We feel that they have more opportunities for rehabilitation once they’re back into the communities and they can get those supports, treatment, housing and jobs that they need.

Len Sipes: And what you’re talking about is justice reimbursement, not reimbursement, what am I talking about.

Nancy Ware: Reinvestment.

Len Sipes: Reinvestment, thank you very much. And we’re going to be having the folks from PEW and the Urban Institute by these microphones to talk about that very topic in the upcoming near future. But the whole idea is that there’s safer, saner ways to administer justice and to keep our resources focused on higher risk individuals that do pose a risk to public safety and to do quote, unquote, something else with lower risk individuals, right?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct. And we definitely have to use our partners as part of our continuum of supports because we couldn’t do it alone, just as the police department can’t do it alone as far as protecting our citizens and providing public safety. We all have to be partners in this effort. Thus we talk about reentry reflections month because it is an opportunity for us to educate the public on why this is such an important effort and an important area to focus on. And we use that month to provide us an opportunity to reflect, to dialogue, to educate and to celebrate because we have a lot of things that we can celebrate, a lot of people that we can celebrate who make it possible for men and women to successfully reintegrate into the community.

Len Sipes: And we’re doing a better job here at CSOSA in terms of the 14,000 people, on any given day, 23,000, on any given year. We’re doing a better job of improving our success rate. So there are more people doing our period of time more successfully than before, correct.

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and, you know, CSOSA has done a yeoman’s job in supporting public safety in the District of Columbia because of our efforts in supervision where we hold offenders accountable but also provide them with opportunities through our risk and needs assessment, through our treatment and support services and, as I said before, through our partnerships with other agencies that provide those services as well, treatment, jobs, housing, education and the like.

Len Sipes: What’s your personal feeling on all this? I have seen you in action when you were in charge of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. And I’ve seen you in action in dozens of community events discussing this whole concept of doing it better, doing a better job and we’re talking about a better job. We’re talking about a better job in terms of reducing crime; we’re talking about a better job in terms of having a system that is fair, more just but more effective. That’s been, every time I’ve listened to you talk about reentry, those have been the themes that you’ve talked about. So talk to me about those cause you’ve been in the community a lot, talking to a lot of people about this.

Nancy Ware: Right. Well I think that, first and foremost, it’s important for us to educate the public on the promise of reentrance. We always talk about the failures, but we need to talk more about their needs and the promise of reentrance. And by that I mean that we need to shed a light on the fact that there are many men and women among us who are working in stores, who are lawyers, who are working with the legislative branch, who are on radio shows and who are empowered to promote the issue that or the notion that folks who return from incarceration or supervision can also be productive citizens and have a commitment many times to becoming productive citizens if allowed those opportunities.

Len Sipes: Seven hundred thousand people leave prison throughout this country every year according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I think it’s seven times that number leave jail. Every year there’s about 2,300 people that come back to the District of Columbia from Federal prison. So what we’re talking about is something of enormous value and having an enormous impact on our day-to-day safety, our day-to-day lives. People coming from the prison system, people coming back from jails cannot be ignored. If they are ignored it is at our own peril.

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and we have to also appreciate that there are unique issues facing folks who return. There are unique issues facing women who oftentimes have had histories of violence, abuse, sexual and physical abuse and there are special issues related to young people who are of a different culture who often need programs that are really focused on what they can relate to and adhere to. And we also have to focus on our specialized population, those who’ve been involved in domestic violence, those who are mental health clients, so that we provide them with every opportunity for successful reintegration.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why you’ve chosen CSOSA to focus on high-risk offenders, to focus on youthful individuals, to focus on women caught up in the criminal justice system. Those have been your three hallmark priorities after being at CSOSA, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct and that brings us back to some of the events that have been taking place during this prestigious time of reentry reflections. One of the events that I recently participated in was on Sunday, January the 19th. It was our Justice Sunday. It kicks off our reentry reflections month throughout February and it was held this year at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast. And it was an awesome event under the leadership and guidance of Archbishop Owens and his wife, Reverend Owens. We had an event that must have had more than 2,000 people participate in his church.

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy Ware: It was just amazing.

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy Ware: And it was particularly inspiring because Bishop Owens, during the service, recognized his cousin who had just returned from prison several days before the service. And the struggles that they had gone through to get him released to Bishop Owens’ family and the struggles ahead for him, but the efforts that they were taking in committing themselves to personally to help him get on his feet again. And you could see even from his affect during the service that he’s already well on his way to getting on his feet again. But during the service we also the opportunity to observe a call out that Bishop Owens made to his congregation and we must have had over 200 members from the congregation come up on the pulpit to connect with Bishop Owens and to admit that they’d had involvement in the criminal justice system. So you see here in DC we have a huge population of folks who have come in to the criminal system one way or another and are looking to find ways to provide an avenue for themselves and their loved ones to get reconnected with their community constructively.

Len Sipes: But you’re talking to people throughout the United States, you’re talking to people in several countries overseas and I’m not quite sure there’s anybody amongst us who does not have a friend, family member, somebody close to us who has not been caught up in the criminal justice system. So I don’t think it’s just the District of Columbia, I think this is a national issue. I can’t think of anybody who is not personally involved in this topic simply because they have experienced it personally.

Nancy Ware: And that’s why since 2002 CSOSA has really committed our resources to promoting the reentry events during reentry reflection. Because we feel that one of the major things that we need to do is to increase public awareness and to engage the public in stepping forward, mentoring men and women who are returning or who are under supervision and need positive role models. So part of what we want to do throughout this month is to encourage folks to step forward and work with us to help men and women to retrieve their hope and to retrieve their belief that they can, again, become stable and reintegrate successfully.

Len Sipes: I do want to talk about those two issues in terms of women in the criminal justice system and our faith based mentoring program, but we’re halfway through the program and I do want to reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, for our 200th radio show, we started this whole process back in 1996. Today’s guest is Nancy Ware. She is the Director of my agency, the Court Services and Offender’s Supervision Agency. We’re here to talk about reentry in the District of Columbia. But in particular we’re interested in talking about two, we’re promoting two events that are coming up in the near future. The Women’s Reentry Forum on Saturday, February 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 in the afternoon, Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast, extraordinarily interesting event. And the City Wide Reentry Assembly, which to me is one of the most colorful, interesting, sound, loving, you know, just really heartfelt events that I’ve ever witnessed in my years within the criminal justice system. That’s at the St Luke Church Center at 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast. That’s Thursday, February 20th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Nancy, let’s talk about women caught up in the criminal justice system, which is one of the reasons why we’re having the Women’s Reentry Forum. I had an individual, and I’ve had individuals beyond her at our microphone, had an individual in the previous show talking about the difficulty women experience when they come out of the prison system. I mean, you know, mental health is very high, sexual abuse is very high; substance abuse is high, higher than the male populations. Seventy to 80% have children. They come out and they need housing, they need to be reunified with their children. They have to deal with all these issues. They have to find work. As I said to my last guest, we were talking about the Women’s Reentry Forum, it sometimes seems almost impossible for them to overcome all the difficulties that they face.

Nancy Ware: But we’ve had some inspirational stories of women who’ve overcome a lot of those obstacles. And what we’ve observed is that a large percentage of women who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system, it results from domestic violence often and women finding—having to find ways to take care of themselves, often taking care of their children and often being easily pulled into criminal activities in order to survive. And that’s not an excuse but it is something that we need to take into account as we look at the history of many women who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system and their trials and tribulations and their odyssey towards reintegration. And so in recognition of the special needs of women we have a number of initiatives that we put in place to try to address their needs better under supervision. We have general gender specific supervision units that work exclusively with women on some of their issues and concerns and history. We have teams that have been created on special floors in our Reentry and Sanction Center, which is a residential facility for our returning citizens. And then we have a center that provides intensive assessment in a gender specific context. So we’ve done a number of things within our agency to better address the needs of women. And women with children is a whole unique area that we’re beginning to explore now through some of the work that we’re doing with the Bureau of Prisons to try to better connect women who are still in prison but scheduled to come out with their children through video conferencing. So we’re very excited about that new initiative and we’d like to keep our listeners posted on how we progress with that.

Len Sipes: Now it’s just not new initiatives, you reorganized the agency around women and around youthful offenders, correct?

Nancy Ware: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And that’s extraordinary. We’re not just talking about introducing some new programs; we’re talking about changing things in a fairly substantial way, reorganizing, and making sure that we have the resources directed to the best possible people who really need them.

Nancy Ware: Yeah, I think folks need special training to work with these diverse populations. So that’s what we’ve done here at CSOSA to be sure that we have staff trained that understand the needs of their populations that they work with and that can do the best that we can do to help them as they move through their journey. One of the things that I love about this agency is that we have committed staff who work very hard to try to get folks back on track. But we also have the unique approach, which I think is very progressive, that we don’t see ourselves just as a law enforcement agency. Although public safety is our primary mission, we also see ourselves as an agency that addresses the needs of the individuals under supervision so that we can try to provide them as much as possible the resources that they are in need of to get them back on their feet again.

Len Sipes: I just looked at research from the Washington State Policy Institute. Now it’s a state agency but it does probably one of the best jobs in terms of reviewing the research and providing research summations. And new research came out the other day where they said just supervising individuals gets us no return from a dollar point of view. Supervising individuals, prioritizing their needs, prioritizing them in terms of risk and providing them with the services does have a huge impact—does have a huge payoff. So, in essence, what we are doing is employing the state of the art. There is nothing that we’re doing that has not been advocated. Now CSOSA’s been doing this for a long time, I do want to make that point, but everything that we’re doing is advocated by national experts, national criminologists and the Department of Justice in terms of doing risk and needs assessments, figuring out the best possible modes of supervision and treatment for individuals under supervision. And providing those who need services, providing them with those services or gaining partnerships with other agencies especially our faith based volunteers, lots of others, in terms of making sure that they have the services that they need. This is all basically state of the art, right?

Nancy Ware: It is and we base a lot of our practice on best practice around the country and around the world. Things that we can glean from the research that’s been provided in the field, we try to bring it into the agency so that we use the most up-to-date practice to address the needs of those under our supervision. And I think this also takes us to why it’s so important to have these partnerships. And one of the partnerships that I feel, as I mentioned earlier, is a very strong one is with our faith community. As you heard earlier we kicked off Reentry Reflections with our Justice Sunday at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church because they’re one of the primary partners that helps us with our mentoring program. And they have been exceptionally supportive to those men and women that we serve. But in addition to that we have other faith community partners throughout the District of Columbia who provide long-standing support for those returning from prison and those under supervision as well as other government agencies and community groups throughout the city who are able to provide some of the services that we are not funded for. Clearly we can’t do it all. So our partnerships have to engage other agencies, other community based organizations and our faith partners so that we can maximize, throughout the city, the resources available. And to that end, at the end of Reentry Reflections we always have a wonderful tribute to our partners and that’s done, as you mentioned earlier, on February 20th, Thursday, the City Wide Reentry Assembly, which is truly a celebration. It’s a celebration of those partnerships. It’s a celebration of the success of the men and women who’ve worked with mentors and tried to get on their feet again and have been successful. There’s song, there’s music, there’s speakers, we have food. We encourage the community to come out and join us to celebrate and to shed a light on this issue and the success of so many who’ve really made it.

Len Sipes: It is absolutely one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting, events of my career. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for over 40 years and I can remember my first reentry celebration at St Luke’s. And I just sat there and stood there and I just said to myself, wow. If people could only see this, experience it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it, I mean, it’s just loud, it’s raucous, it’s interesting. We ordinarily have a choir there. It’s a very, very, very uplifting event.

Nancy Ware: Yes.

Len Sipes: And when we in the criminal justice system have an opportunity to do something uplifting, it is rare, but at the same time exciting and so people should come to this event.

Nancy Ware: And it is going to be held at another partner of ours, the St Luke Center, which is on 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, which you mentioned earlier. And it’s in the evening so folks can leave work, come on over, get a bite to eat. We serve a full dinner. And we just would love to have as many members of the community who are interested to come and join us. It’s from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Len Sipes: Now the partnerships, before getting away from them. I mean, there are too many partner to mention. I mean, we have on our website, we keep track of the different people providing services and there are dozens and dozens and dozens of organizations here in the District of Columbia. And I would also remind everybody who’s listening beyond the District of Columbia; it’s in your city as well. It’s in your state as well. But it seems, in my mind, interesting that the District of Columbia seems to be really supportive of the concept of reentry. There are, again, I think the last time I took a look there were like 200 organizations in total. I mean, anywhere from the Salvation Army to dozens and dozens and dozens of churches and mosques and synagogues to lots of non-profits. I mean, I would guess that we may be better off in the District of Columbia on the topic of reentry than a lot of other cities through the country. There seems to be—we seem to be galvanized around that particular point of doing whatever it is that we can to assist individuals coming out of the prison system, caught up in the criminal justice system.

Nancy Ware: Well that’s very, very true Len and one of the things that I think is the beauty of CSOSA is that we’re creative. We definitely come with creative solutions. We’re constantly challenging ourselves as an agency to continue to grow and to continue to figure out ways to better address the needs of our population. For example, many of you know, in our listening audience that the District of Columbia no longer runs its own prison system, so we work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And that became a true challenge for us when that change occurred because it meant that men and women who committed crimes and were sentenced to the Bureau of Prisons would go anywhere across the United States although we have worked closely with the Bureau of Prisons to try to keep them as close to DC as possible. But to that end, the creativity that we’ve shown in working with the Bureau of Prisons to better address the prerelease planning that has to occur for men and women has been phenomenal. One of the things that we’ve been able to do, as you know Len, is to put in place video conferencing throughout the prison system, the Bureau of Prisons. And we’ve expanded from one to two prisons that we were able to video conference men and women who were, particularly men, who were close to the time for them to be released back into the District. Now we are working with 16, 17 prisons throughout the United States.

Len Sipes: We have our own network.

Nancy Ware: A whole network of prisons to be sure that we connect resources here in the District with men and women who are in those prisons and they can ask questions of the various community based organizations and agencies that are here to help them.

Len Sipes: A couple minutes left. I want to talk about two things. Number one, the dedication of our employees, which is a bit of a softball question, but without our employees and without them being dedicated to this; it’s not going to work. And number two, what are your personal hopes for reentry? Where do you see reentry being two years, five years down the road?

Nancy Ware: Well I definitely want to do a shout out to our staff. Our staff is fabulous. They work very hard with limited resources, unfortunately, that we have available to us specifically to our agency, so, thus, they have to reach out to other agencies as we said before and to our community of resources in the District and they’ve done a yeoman’s job in supervising folks. So much so that I think we’ve contributed substantially to the reduction in violent crime in the District of Columbia. In terms of where I’d like to see reentry over the next four to five years, I think it’s just important for us to continue to shed a light on it, to make sure that the public is aware that there are men and women who are ready, who can be your very best employers, employees if you gave them a chance. And so I would love to see our ability to employ men and women that we’ve prepared and that we’ve gotten ready to go back into the world of work again, for our city to embrace them and to support them and to engage them.

Len Sipes: And for every city throughout the country to do the same.

Nancy Ware: Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s extraordinary important. Ladies and gentleman, our guest today is Nancy Ware. She is the Director of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. I want to briefly go over one more time the event that’s coming up,, is our website, and all these and more events will be listed on the website. The Women’s Reentry Forum, Saturday, February 8th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00. You will not be disappointed in terms of coming and listening and participating in this Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast. And my absolute favorite, the City Wide Reentry Assembly, what we refer to internally as the City Wide, Thursday, February 20th, 2014 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the evening, St. Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast, again, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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