Reentry in Philadelphia-Visit to CSOSA

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety, and I’m your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Caroline Harper, Chief of Staff of the Mayor’s Office in Philadelphia, in Reentry, and we have Dr. Keith Lee Park and he is with the Lenfest Foundation. He is on loan to the Lenfest Foundation through the City of Philadelphia, and Caroline and Keith, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Keith Lee Park: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Before going on with the program, Ladies and Gentleman, I do want to remind everybody that we are now up to 88,500 hits and listeners on a monthly basis. We appreciate your input. One of the things that I want to get across to everybody is that we respond to all emails, we respond to all suggestions and incorporate those suggestions into the show, and you can leave us messages on our website, and access the program and leave messages via a direct email to me or to the “comments” section, and after that introduction, and that little bit of a commercial, we are back to Caroline and Keith.

Caroline, why are you here in the District of Columbia?

Caroline Harper: We came down to DC to observe the CSOSA, which is your Court Services and Offender Services Agency, and also to meet with some of the entities in Washington DC that are doing reentry work. We are trying to learn some of the best practices, the documented evidence that we’ve seen in the past and their participation, and therefore, we want to just observe that and incorporate what might work in Philadelphia.

Len Sipes: Okay, what’s happening in Philadelphia at the moments in terms of reentry?

Caroline Harper: The Mayor has made reentry a major part of his administration, and as a part of the Mayor’s office we are looking at how we can increase public safety, and we do specifically some actual managed integrative network of services.

Len Sipes: Do you have citizens’ support? Do you think there is support-support across the board, or is this just coming from the Mayor’s office?

Caroline Harper: No, I believe that the citizens are supporting it because they understand that we have over 14,000 individuals returning to Philadelphia and we want to make them a factual viable part of the community, and in order to do that, we have community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and most importantly the people of the community supporting the Mayor’s efforts.

Len Sipes: Because, as you know, it is interesting as you go throughout the country, and getting citizens’ support is probably one of the hardest things. We, within the Criminal Justice System believe in this. We believe that reentry is possible and do-able, and either through a moral investment or through a criminological investment, in terms of cutting backs on rates of crime and making the city safer, or from an economic investment so taxpayers don’t have to pay that much to operate the correctional system, there are all sorts of issues on the table where we, in the system, and criminologists throughout the country, support the reentry concept, but one of the things that I have found is that in a lot of cities, the average citizens are not supporting it. Their view of people coming back from prison is probably far down the list. They’re going to say, “Let’s support schools. Let’s support the elderly. Let’s support lots of programs,” but their support for offenders seems to be way down on the list, and is that any different in Philadelphia?

Caroline Harper: I think that the people in the community understand that if we continue to spend money on sending people to prison, and not spend the money on helping them reintegrate back into the community, that it is money wasted. We understand that by helping them reintegrate, we also have to help them with their education and the literacy piece, and we have to help them with the workforce development piece, and we have to help them really reintegrate back into society as productive taxpaying citizens, and that therefore, our economy will be increased and the budget will be increased in terms of the revenue that comes in because they will be contributing to the taxpaying base.

Len Sipes: Dr. Keith Lee Park, I want to go over to you for a second. Basically, the same questions. You are with the Lenfest Foundation. You are on loan to the City of Philadelphia. What do you think is happening in the City of Philadelphia in terms of broad base support for prison reentry? Again, one of my favorite questions is, how do we gain the support of citizens, because I don’t find a lot of citizen support for reentry. I find it way down on the list. I find it a hard sell when we are going out there in the day and age of limited dollars, and people don’t want their taxes raised, and I go out and say, “You know what, it’s in our collective best interest to provide mental health treatment while in prison, while in the community,” and now who is going to argue with that? Who is going to argue with providing mental health treatment? I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you are on. Nobody is going to argue with providing mental health treatment, but then again, where is the money coming from? So, isn’t that the heart and soul of what we are talking about? We sort of know what to do in terms of what the research tells us, but we lack the political will for the money?

Dr. Keith Lee Park: I think that part of it, and just to answer your question, I think it’s a great time in Philadelphia in regards to the support in the areas of reentry. The Mayor has come in and made Public Safety a major piece of his platform, and people such as Jerry Lenfest, who is Chairman and Founder of the Lenfest Foundation, a wealthy businessman in this city, has jumped on board and decided to support the Mayor’s vision. Mayor Nutter is someone who has great support within the business community, so they have a special willingness to support anything that he wants to do, and he has made this one of his top three priorities, or top three ads of the business community, as far as opening up their doors.

Len Sipes: So the business community recognizes that this is a priority.

Dr. Keith Lee Park: They recognize that this is a priority. Of course, there is still work to do, but they recognize because everywhere he is at, he is making this a major focus of his administration and what he has done by restructuring the government and now creating a Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, he has now placed under this deputy mayor, Police, Probation and Parole, the Public Defenders Office, the District Attorney’s office, the Mayor’s Office of Reentry, and this has allowed for much better communication across the board for all of these agencies, and so we have begun to really put together our plan, and they’ve said to us, “We want you to go out and learn about best practices all around the company. We want you to visit the New Yorks, the DCs,” and the national models and the opportunity to come and sit here and learn has been great.

From a citizens’ standpoint, I think the citizen support is there. The recent statistic came out that Philadelphia has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the country. Every 100,602 people in the city are incarcerated, which means it is a broad problem, which means that typically your neighbor, or you, or your family member has been affected.

Len Sipes: There’s a connection. Somewhere down the line, there is a connection to people being inside of the Criminal Justice System, and what does that mean in terms of the larger society? The question I always ask is, two things, two questions. Who do you want to occupy that prison bed? Do you want the rapist, do you want the robber or do you want the violent person who hurts other people, or do you want a nonviolent non-offender? That’s the choice for society to make. I’m not going to tell society what choice to make in terms of who occupies that prison bed, but personally I’d rather see the person who is truly a danger to society occupy that prison bed. And, number two, how do you want them to react when they get out? I have never quite understood, and that’s why I always go back to mental health treatment, because no one can argue with it, that the person coming out of the prison system, coming back into our communities, if that person has a mental health issue that is not treated, the probability of him hurting or bothering other people, or costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more goes up beyond calculation if left untreated. So I understand there is a certain controversy with drug treatment. I understand there is a certain controversy with everything that we do and everything that we touch, in terms of trying to make a case for offenders. But, nobody is going to argue with drug treatment.

Caroline, we are going to go back to you, and one of the things that Keith said about the support of a business community. At these microphones, just a couple of weeks ago, we had the people from the National Home Builders Association, and they made the same point, interestingly enough. Here is the National Association of Home Builders, and they are coming in and basically saying, “We train ex-offenders.” And I’m saying, “Why do you train ex-offenders? You are all supposed to be out there putting up homes, what does putting up homes have to do with ex-offenders?” and they said, “We need the workers. Our workforce is getting older, and we need new people to come in, and so we want to train people caught up in the Criminal Justice System to come in and build homes for us.”

That was a piece of support from the private sector that, quite frankly, I did not expect. I did not think that anybody cared about these issues beyond the professionals in the fields and the advocates. So, Keith his saying they have the business community support up there. Do you want to talk about that?

Caroline Harper: Yes, recently, last month we actually had our first annual summit and it was employer-focused, and we had over 143 companies actually attend, support interests, and looking at a program that would allow the labor market to build capacity for some of the very same things that you are saying. The employment field right now is open, and there are not enough people to fill it, so what we are doing in Philadelphia is to understand what the economy is asking for, our workforce development and job readiness training for the incarcerated persons is geared towards the labor market, so we are not training them to be, for instance, accountants when what we need are carpenters.

Len Sipes: Isn’t that amazing, because they can earn a heck of a living. We place a lot of people here in the commercial driver’s license program, and you know what, I mean, okay, the dropout of high school in the 9th grade, and the couple stretches in prison, and they go out and they get their CDL and they are making $60,000 a year. I mean, we are not talking about entry level, we are talking about a real good solid living wage with benefits.

Caroline Harper: And that’s because what they need. So if we prepare them and we train them according to the demands of the marketplace, then we put them in a better position. The last thing that we want to do is train them for something that is obsolete, and then they get finished with the training and we can’t place them in a job.

Len Sipes: Right, but do you think, and let me ask you a broader philosophical question that applies to Seattle, Philadelphia, Canada, England, Australia, it doesn’t matter. Do you think that we in society, do you think in Philadelphia, in particular, will ever come to grips with the holistic approach that is necessary. I mean, we are talking about more than just a couple of dollars. Fifty-percent of offenders (quoting the national research) are all claiming mental health problems. Now, before, it was 16% was the diagnosable figure. We were saying between 12-15% diagnosable mental health issues, but in terms of their own self-assessments, 50% are claiming mental health problems. Substance abuse, easily 70-80% of people having substance abuse histories. Educational inefficiencies. The overwhelming majority are drop-outs. Job training. The overwhelming majority do not have steady job backgrounds or a marketable skill, a portable skill that they can take.

Now, those are four things right there that are enormously expensive. To come out and provide mental health treatment, to come out and provide drug treatment, to come out and provide job skill training and placement, and to come out and provide education and literacy services, that’s a package that should happen when they are incarcerated, and should continue in the community when they are released. Virtually every criminologist in this country would buy into what I’ve just said, but that’s enormously expensive.

Caroline Harper: Well, I will let Dr. Lee Park talk about the mental health issues, but I would say that we will pay for it in one way or another. I think the most important thing is that we realize that the cost of incarcerating someone at over $30,000 for the average stay in Philadelphia or in Pennsylvania, and the cost of providing them with mental health, or providing them with literacy training, or providing them with job skills, I think if we provide those in the long run, we do reduce the expenses to the economy. I think that the other part of it is that you will see more and more correctional facilities providing prerelease training and allowing that to take place, in the prisons, behind the walls, as opposed to just waiting until they come out. But, I will let Dr. Lee Park speak on the mental health issues.

Len Sipes: Okay, Keith, do you want to take a whack at that, and then I have a follow-up question for you, not necessarily in mental health, but there is the broader philosophical stuff that we all struggle with. The mental health part?

Dr. Keith Lee Park: The important thing is, when we talk about the resources and the cost of it, the fact is that there is money spent on mental health that may not be directly geared towards ex-offenders, but if you did the reverse and said, “This mental health money that we are spending, how many people are being serviced by the Department of Behavioral Health, say in Philadelphia?” How many of those individuals, adult people, are ex-offenders? And then you can look at the rationale in saying that, and I don’t know the numbers, but I’m sure it’s a significant portion. We’re saying 50% of these individuals inside of the prison diagnose themselves as having mental health issues, and then on the outpatient side, they may not be coming directly to the Mayor’s office for a reentry for mental health services, but they may be receiving those services independently. So, we need to, and the point I’m getting to, is that we need to coordinate the resource distribution, in saying that, “Listen, money is being spent for mental health issues, and if 25% of the mental health patients also have a criminal background, then we need to find out ways to streamline those services, the resources, and the funding streams to help support the Mayor’s office of reentry and other ex-offender-related industries.”

Len Sipes: The difficulty in that is that so many people in the Social Services industry do not like our offenders.

Dr. Keith Lee Park: But they are still treating them. I mean, you may not like them.

Len Sipes: But the degree of treatment becomes a critical issue. I mean, there is a certain point where we say, and we firmly believe, all three of us sitting in this room firmly believe that education and helping the person get their GED, helping the person getting their plumbing certificate, helping the person dealing with their mental health problems, and helping the person in terms of substance abuse.

When I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, with prisoners, with law enforcement, and with corrections, the Public Safety Secretary asked me to personally intervene with the employment people and the unemployment people, and with the rationale of, they are servicing our folks anyway, or offenders, so what’s the deal? I mean, what’s the big deal? If they are going to service our offenders anyway, why can’t they devote specialized people to do that? And there response was, “Well, sure. We’ll put up the specialized people to help you to give you the individualized services that you say that you need,” and which most offenders do need. I don’t think many offenders take well to standing in line for three hours at a time waiting for services, and I think people need to be aware of the unique needs of offenders.

But, they said, “We’ll do that for you,” at the cost of %7 million a year. I didn’t have $7 million. So, the concept of redistributing services is tough because, quite frankly, they don’t love our offenders.

I had a person in the District of Columbia tell me, “Leonard, if I had a choice between a woman who was strung out on cocaine with three kids, and one of your guys coming out of the prison system, I want to help the woman with three kids, because your guy is going to give me a rough time. Your guy is going to recidivate, and he’s going to take him two or three events, and this woman is ready for change, and she’s got three kids, so I am going to help her.” So, part of it is the complexity that offenders bring to us, or bring to any of us in the Criminal Justice System, anywhere in the country.

Dr. Keith Lee Parks: I don’t think that it’s just the complexity of an ex-offender, and what they bring. I think, it’s the overall of what you talked about, the holistic issues, and not the ex-offender is complex. It’s the fact that, you know, they don’t have jobs. They don’t have tangible skills. They were probably poorly educated growing up. Now, they’ve entered the prison system and they come out, and they are now trying to get into the workforce. When they come out, they are very well-intended, and they are saying, “I want to go to work. I want to do right. I’ve changed my life. I want to do right.” And then they go through the system and there is a stigma attached to them being an ex-offender and you just articulated from the standpoint of the service provider, from the mental health provider, the stigma of saying, “I would rather deal with a woman with three kids, than an ex-offender.” It’s going to be displayed that way in their interactions, so the ex-offender probably feels that and then rebuts, and then at the same time, while they work with them on their mental health issues, they are looking for employment, and they have this stigma of being turned away then. So, there are a bunch of issues around this.

Len Sipes: That’s what they tell me, and we had in Maryland the boot camp program where they were provided with their GED, and provided with drug treatment and provided with their plumbing certificate or job/occupational training, and I was talking to a couple, and this is like three months after getting out of boot camp, and they basically said, “You know, if I’ve got to go through one more rejection. You know, there is no problem with me becoming a plumber’s assistant. I’ve got the skills. I’ve got the training. Yeah, I screwed up, but you know, if I don’t start getting some respect from somebody, I’m going to go back,” and I’ve heard that over and over again. It’s just not the services, and the availability of services, it’s the understanding of the people who provide those services and understanding from employers that they may want to give this person a second or third look. If it’s not a security issue, why not? A lot of these people do want to make that break. The question is, and as it has been posed to me by a lot of offenders, and we put a lot of offenders up on this program that we supervised, and some off of supervision, and the question becomes, “How much disrespect can you take?” That’s basically what they are telling me before they simply given in and go back and cost us, as taxpayers, an additional $100- or $200 thousand dollars, plus the fact that they victimized another human being. Isn’t that the question, Keith?

Dr. Keith Lee Park: Well, I think that the way we need to look at the assessment or the risks of an ex-offender, to me, it is similar to a credit score. Someone, who when I was in college, and did some things, got some credit cards and messed up my credit score. It was pretty low, and so over time with me paying my bills on time, and being more responsible financially, and seven years passing, and these things dropping off my credit report, because I somewhat stayed out of trouble financially, I have a good credit report. Banks don’t look at me the same as they did seven years. For ex-offenders, you do something 17 years ago, and that still carries the same weight 17 years later as it did when you came out of prison, and it shouldn’t be that way. You’ve been clean for 17 years, and you are in your church, and you are in your Mosque or whatever, and you worship, and you are a good person in the community, and they are still looking at you the same way. We really need to re-evaluate the way we risk stratify someone as a risk to public safety.

Len Sipes: But every time that person turns on the evening news, every time that person reads the newspaper, every time that person puts on the radio and listens to the news, it’s a story about somebody doing somebody terrible, and when you say ex-offender, that’s what comes across in their mind, what they read in the newspaper, what they see on the television. This is one of the hardest gigs I’ve ever had. I’ve done McGruff the Crime Dog years ago. I’ve done burglary campaigns. I’ve done robbery campaigns. I’ve done carjacking campaigns. In terms of former offenders, people have a stereotype. You are an ex-con, and you are right, Keith, that label stays with you forever. At the same time, I had a guy at these microphones just a short time ago, a former offender, doing very well, and he talked about his anger towards service people who provide services to him. He could tell instantly who cared about him, and who didn’t care about him, and he simply said that too many people in this industry, if you will, where the serve former offenders, don’t care about you and they let you know they don’t care about you.

Caroline, do you want to take a shot at that, because I think that’s a pretty difficult question, because it gets beyond, first we have to provide the service, and secondly we have to provide services that are geared towards former offenders for this to work.

Caroline Harper: Okay, I would like to answer two of your questions. The first one, when we talk about the label that is associated with being an ex-offender, I think it is also how you position it. Let’s talk about employment. If I was, I think Clark Construction is one of the big construction companies here in DC, that hire a lot of former offenders. They are looking for 100 laborers and not necessarily 100 people that are formerly incarcerated, so if I can present to them 100 men and women that can lift 75 pounds and know how to take orders, that will be on time, that come with wraparound services, knowing that they are going to be randomly drug tested, and so less likely to be indulging in drugs. They are concerned about can I get 100 people that can do this job. So, after the job development and our reentry program, I am not selling an ex-offender. I’m giving you and I’m offering you some labor, and so we look to build capacity and not do it based on labels. Once we get away from labeling people, then I think we have a better shot at being more successful in helping them succeed and not allowing them to fall back on the label crutch. But it’s a mindset change. You have to change the mindset.

As far as it relates to supportive services, one of the things that I’m excited about in Philadelphia that we are doing out of the Mayor’s reentry office, is that we are going to be credentialing service providers, and so we are going to look at the organizations that provide mental health and substance abuse treatment and transitional housing, and we are going to attach them with a certain standard, so that if we recognize that they are treating our individuals wrong because they are ex-offenders as opposed to being a service provider that is addressing the issues that they have, regardless of their circumstances or regardless of the fact that they were formerly incarcerated, then we are not going to credential them. We are going to go in and we are going to do our due diligence on how do they perform. What are the services that they are providing? Are they, and there is an expression that a lot of people use, and I don’t know how to say this on the radio, but there are lot of poverty pimps out there, organizations that call themselves service providers, but they are not providing quality service. So when Philadelphia, under the Mayor’s new structure in terms of the Mayor’s Office of Reentry, we are actually going to go out and do this due diligence and investigate those service providers that are wanting to do business and provide mental health and substance abuse, and say that you are part of the organization that provides the service, and we are going to look for their performance, and how they perform, so we are excited about that. That’s one of the major things that we are going to be doing in Philadelphia and we are really excited about what that outcome will look like.

Len Sipes: Okay, we are going to wrap up a little bit, and one of the things that I want to get to in all of this is that we have talked about the fact, that within Philadelphia you’ve got the support of a Mayor’s office, and what will be the benefit? Dr. Keith, we do all these things. We discuss all these things about the Mayor and the fact that the Mayor supports this initiative, and the fact that the business community supports this initiative, and there is the sense that the citizens of the city support the initiative. We talked about the complexity of the initiative, and we talked about service providers and the fact that it’s just not entirely simple. We have attitude towards ex-offenders and some of them are quite justified and some of them quite frankly are not. I’m not going to preach to people in terms of what it is that they should be believe, and I do believe that people should consider this because it’s in their best interest, because if we put this whole package together, if we really provide comprehensive services, what happens?

Dr. Keith Lee Park: It’s the overall fact. It starts of with a stronger family unit, because now we have employed men, which leads to stronger neighborhoods, which leads to a stronger city, and a safer community for the people of Philadelphia.

Len Sipes: Does it mean less crime? Are fewer people going to be victims.

Dr. Keith Lee Park: Safer streets. And the Mayor often says, and always says, people who are working and are tangibly employed are not apt to commit crimes.

Len Sipes: So it is fewer crimes, and in the final analysis, it is fewer tax dollars spent on people who get caught up in the Criminal Justice System, correct?

Dr. Keith Lee Park: Instead of spending almost a quarter of the $4 billion dollar budget in Philadelphia on public safety issues, we can take and transfer some of that money into education. If there is less crime and less need to spend those resources, we can transfer them to education and mental health and those other things that we talked about earlier.

Len Sipes: Do you carry that from governors all throughout the United States that are now spending more money on corrections than colleges, and they would like to have additional money to spend on the colleges rather than corrections because that’s why they are doing reentry.

This was a very interesting discussion. I really hope that you all have a pleasant stay in Washington DC, and I hope that you come back to this and discuss what’s happening in Philadelphia at some time in the future.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Our guests today are Caroline Harper. Chief of Staff in the Mayor’s Office on Reentry, Philadelphia, and Dr. Keith Lee Park, and he’s with the Lenfest Foundation, on loan to the city of Philadelphia. Again, Ladies and Gentleman, it’s 88,500 hits a month on DC Public Safety. If you have any suggestions for us, we would love to hear them. Please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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