Supervising Criminal Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I am your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Tosha Trotter. Tosha is a Supervisory Community Supervision Officer the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Tosha, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Tosha Trotter: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Now what got you involved in supervising offenders? I mean, that’s an interesting question, correct? Because supervising criminal offenders is not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Tosha Trotter: And that’s true. Initially when I was in college I wanted to be an elementary education teacher-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Tosha Trotter: -and middle school, and I noticed that in studying for that career that there were so many people that needed services that we’re not getting them in a normal school environment. So I was interested in the kids who weren’t getting the services and that’s what made me want to get in involved with the criminal justice system.

Leonard Sipes: And a lot of people that I’ve encountered with the criminal justice system mention that in terms of the deficiencies of the educational system-the difficulties. You can pretty much tell, and you correct me if I’m wrong, if a child is going to quote unquote “make it or not make it” all the way back to the elementary school level in terms of how well that individual does, correct?

Tosha Trotter: And that’s true, a lot of issues that come up in early childhood are the same issues that the adults are dealing with that they have not dealt with as children.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and there are so many correlations between not finishing high school, there are so many correlations in terms of growing up say in poverty, growing up in terms of not getting the educational assistance that you need from elementary school, middle school, high school-that it’s almost, I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but certainly you can predict which ones are going to do well and which ones aren’t.

Tosha Trotter: Yeah, and it has also to do a lot with low family support.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Tosha Trotter: A lot of the family situations as you go-when you talk to the adult and you talk to them about what happened when they were younger; a lot of it has to do with family.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Now what do you do on a day-to-day basis? You supervise individuals who supervise criminal offenders on probation, on parole in the District of Columbia-Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is a federal agency supervising individuals from prison and probation in the District of Columbia, correct?

Tosha Trotter: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: And what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Tosha Trotter: On a day-to-day basis we supervise-stay in contact with these offenders. They report in the office, we go out into the field, we visit the homes, we talk to the families, we have conferences, we have staffings to try to get to the crux of what the problems really are.

Leonard Sipes: What do you think the crux of the problems really are? I mean, after six years of doing this, what do you think the issues are, what do you think the problem is for most of the offenders that we supervise?

Tosha Trotter: I think it’s a lot to do with issues that they have not dealt with. A lot of the drug abuse that we have has to deal with issues that they haven’t dealt with.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Tosha Trotter: There’s low education, low employment-not really having a belief that you can make it. And I really think that it has a lot to do with the empowerment of people. I think that people don’t really feel like they’re a part the community, so they have no problem with taking from the community. So when you try to empower people and make them feel a part of a community, then they’re more likely to take pride in the community and want to see the community do well.

Leonard Sipes: Now I’ve been involved in the criminal justice system for 37 years, that certainly ages me, and I spend a lot of time with offenders both in the Maryland system and the D.C. system, and I’ve read the research. A lot of the individuals who we supervise do not have the best attitude towards life and often times it comes from raising yourself as a child, early involvement in drugs, early involvement in crime, single family households-they basically raise themselves and they come out of that with a sense of anger and they come out of that with a sense that, ‘I’m not connected, I’m not part of this world.’

Tosha Trotter: Right.

Leonard Sipes: So victimization in some cases is made pretty easy.

Tosha Trotter: Yes, and that’s true. I think of a situation I had-a young gentleman 22-years old, his mother died when he was 12 and he just had no family support whatsoever and all of his criminal activity reverts back to when he was 12, it began then. And he just continues to try to make it from one criminal activity to another criminal activity until we were actually able to sit down and say, ‘okay, what’s going on with you? How did we get here and we stop it now?’

Leonard Sipes: Some of the offenders that I’ve talked to throughout my career tell me that the parole and probation agent in many cases were the first person in their lives that expressed a real interest in them as human beings and expressed a real interest in them and an expectation of them in terms of getting a job, getting a GED, getting occupational training. They were the first adult individual in their lives that showed an interest in them.

Tosha Trotter: And that’s true, and we hear that often. Even after they’re off supervision, they’ve completed, they’ll come back and let us know what they’re doing, how well they’re doing. One of the things that we try not to do is just monitor supervision as far as what the judge said do or what the parole commission do and what they have or have not done-but we try to make them better people, and empowering them.

Leonard Sipes: Now we do have educational programs, we do educational assessments-

Tosha Trotter: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -we do have vocational programs, again, vocational assessments, we place people in jobs, we do drug treatment or we rely upon the District of Columbia government to do much of the drug treatment-

Tosha Trotter: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -we do mental health, we do sex offender, we do domestic violence, we have anger management-there’s an awful lot here to help individuals, but as I’ve said throughout my career, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink.’

Tosha Trotter: And that’s the part that we take-that’s what we take so serious because we have to convince people that they want better. It doesn’t matter how many services we have, how many resources we have, if people don’t want the resources they’re not going to take it. So our job is to make people feel a part-make people feel that they are important enough to have these services because there’s a lot out there.

Leonard Sipes: Now the supervision side is pretty stringent. Again, coming from the Maryland system and knowing the research from throughout the country, we have more contact with our offenders than practically any other parole and probation agency-we drug test the dickens out of them. So on the supervision side, we’re pretty stringent, and on the helping side, if you will, we have resources-that makes us fairly rare as a parole and probation agency. Our caseloads are 50 to 1 in general-specialized case loads average about 25 or 30 to 1. Those are some incredible caseload numbers, but even within those advantages, when I talk to community supervision officers, the people who you directly supervise, they tell me it’s one of the most difficult and challenging and interesting jobs that they have ever had-and in some cases some of the most frustrating jobs they have ever had.

Tosha Trotter: Yeah I can see that, that’s true. But I guess whenever you’re dealing with human behavior and human decisions; it can take a lot from you. Sometimes at the end of the day, even though you haven’t-you’re not working in construction, you’re trying to convince people to do better and, and that can be very tiring.

Leonard Sipes: Tosha Trotter, Supervisory Community Supervision Officer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, thank you.

Tosha Trotter: You’re welcome.

[Audio Ends]

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