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Women Offenders

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer, talking about women offenders. My agency, our agency, the court services and offender supervision agency reorganized around women offenders a couple years ago. We want to talk about that and talk about upcoming events, Marcia Davis, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Marcia: Thank you, Leonard.

Leonard: Marcia, you’re a veteran of these radio shows. You pretty much know what to do. We’re going to be talking about women under supervision, talking about their social characteristics. First of all, in terms of some stats, we have close to 2,000 women under our supervision services, correct?

Marcia: Yes, Leonard. We currently have 1,963 women on supervision which is about 15.5 percent of our population.

Leonard: We did reorganize around women offenders a couple years ago. We have a lot of really interesting programs that focus on the needs of women, correct?

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: Before getting into that, I do want to remind everybody that the purpose of this program today is to support an event on Saturday, February 14th from 8:30 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. where we will have a daylong exhibition of services and issues and support services for our women under supervision. It’s one of the most extraordinarily interesting things that I’ve ever seen in my 45 years within the criminal justice system. We do want to talk about that in a while.

First, let’s get back over to what we do in terms of the reorganization. I mean, we have a re-entry and sanction center which is, I don’t know of any other parole and probation agency in the country that operate as a center. It’s huge. We have an entire floor for women. We have developed gender-specific teams for women because we recognize that women need to be supervised/assisted in ways different from men. We have, now, a day reporting center which I think is really unique where it’s just a women’s day reporting center. We have WICA, Women in Control Again, that program. We have expanded that. We have done a lot of things in between all of that. Marcia, where do you want to begin in terms of talking about the reorganization of our agency around women offenders?

Marcia: What our agency did was, they went back and they looked at the research. What the research shows is that when women are on supervision, if you want your women to be successful, it’s important that you create programs that are gender-specific to deal with the issues relative to your females.

Leonard: Is it a given that that women offenders are different from men?

Marcia: The issues that women face are different from men. When we look at the profile for the female offender, a lot of our women, victims of childhood sexual abuse, they have low education, they’re homeless, they have low employment. Due to that victimization from their childhood, a lot of them as adults are still involved in toxic relationships, their children have been removed, they carry a lot of guilt and shame. These are issues that most of our men don’t face.

Leonard: We know that women do better under these circumstances when it’s a gender-specific program than when it’s not a gender-specific program. I think it’s safe to say … I’m not quite sure if it’s safe to say. I’ve been told that most parole and probation agencies throughout the country have not gone to a gender-specific program. We, at the court services and offender supervision agency, have. That makes all the difference in the world, correct?

Marcia: Right. The reason we have done that is because CSOSA is evidence-based. We are an agency that uses evidence-base …

Leonard: Practices.

Marcia: Right. Practices.

Leonard: The best research. The best research that unless you break it down to services specifically designed for women, the women aren’t going to be that successful. If you do that, they’re going to be more successful.

Marcia: Right. We are seeing the success with the women that we are supervising now. We are seeing the successful outcomes.

Leonard: It’s really amazing to be that we haven’t done this decades ago. I mean, every state in the country is talking about how many people are in their prison system, how difficult it is, how much it cost. If we can stabilize individuals in the community and give them the services; the mental health substance abuse, the group services, you reunite them with their kids, find housing. If we can do all that, we can reduce the load on the prison system throughout the country, plus, make safer communities.

Marcia: That’s one thing. When we look at the prison system, we can see that the population of our female offenders is growing. When you look at the prison system, the research shows that in the year 2000, the female general population had the fastest growing rate in the correctional institution. The annual rate for females, it was an increase of 3.4 percent.

Leonard: I think it was 2010 data that you’re referring to. That’s fairly a recent data. It’s the fastest growing correctional population, what they were talking about that percentage of the jail population. More and more women are coming into the criminal justice system and that can be addressed by giving them the services they need while on community supervision.

Marcia: Right. To avoid going to the prison system.

Leonard: Tell me if I’m right or wrong, we’re taking a look at national data now. Women have higher rate of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health problems, and profoundly higher rates of being sexually victimized, particularly, when they were children. The women that we have to deal with, they come out of the prison system where they’re on probation and they have to deal with all of these issues. The fact that they don’t have, in most cases, a good work history. In most cases, they don’t have a GED or a high school diploma. They’ve been battered, they’ve been beaten, they’ve been bruised by life and by those around them. Considering that most of them have children and we have a general stat that says it’s 63 percent of the people that we have under supervision, our parents, but I think that figure would be much higher for just the women population, how did they possibly succeed if they have all that to deal with when they come out of the prison system, when they come out of jail or we get them on probation. When they’ve got all that against them, how can they possibly succeed?

Marcia: Tackling those issues one at a time. In the gender-specific unit, we have programs to address all of those factors. We have programs. We have the Women in Control Again program. That’s a program that deals with women who are early in recovery. In that program, they look at things such as the self, where you’re looking at your family history, you’re starting to look at the trauma that the women have suffered. We also talk about relationships in that program. They can look at the relationships that women have with their families, the relationships that they’ve had with their partners. We look at sexuality and we talk about spirituality. Also involved with the WICA program, we’ve added a new group which is a trauma group to address some of that past and present victimization that our women deal with.

We have a daily reporting center where we have a group called, thinking for a change which deals with anti-social behavior and it deals with anti-social thinking. We have a vocational and educational program where we can refer them for an assessment and for job placement assistance. Also, where they can go back to school and they can work on getting their GED or their high school diploma. We have substance abuse treatment. We can refer them to our re-entry sanction center, where we talked about earlier, where we have a floor that is dedicated to our females. At the re-entry sanction center, our population, they can get a thorough treatment assessment and they come out with a treatment plan for a continuum of care.

Leonard: That’s a lot of services that most parole and probation agencies do not have. Now, let me ask you this. Years ago, I ran a group for males. Men caught up in criminal justice system and the Maryland prison system. I’ve sat it on groups for men in our agency and I’ve sat in with the groups for women within our agency. The women’s groups are profound. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. This is why I always like to talk to women under supervision that come from these groups on this radio show which we’ve done about, maybe, up to 10 times. They are profoundly honest at a certain point. Once they set me into the group and once I listened to their interactions with each other, they are profoundly, brutally honest. To sit there amongst these 15, 20 women listening to them talk to each other about their lives and about what’s going on is just the experience of a lifetime. Tell me about the group interaction.

Marcia: That was another reason why we needed to have the gender-specific groups. Because in the past, we have the co-ed groups where the women were mixed with the men. If you was to sit in that group, you would notice that the women would sit quietly. It would be a totally different group. In the gender-specific group, the first thing we let the women know that this is a safe environment where you can share. One of the main rules is that, what is said in the group stays in the group. We make it a point that anything that’s said in the group has to remain in this room and it cannot leave the room, so that they can feel safe enough to share those past stories.

Leonard: Those past stories are brutal. To sit there and one woman, basically, is struggling with getting to her appointments on time. You hear the other women basically saying, “I don’t want to hear that. This is your shot. This is your one shot to get clean, to get right, to get your children back. You can’t come in here and tell us about how difficult it was for you to make your appointments.” I thought that that was amazing.

Marcia: Although it’s a lot being said in the group, it’s also a lot of strength in the group. The women can see the resiliency from the other women. They can see, “Well, wait a minute. If she has this tragic story to share and she’s making it, hey, I can make it too. She said she was someone who share that, hey, I may have been molested, I may have been sexually abused, I may have been physically abused when I was 8 or 10, but I’m putting all that stuff in the past and I’m going to continue on. I’m not going to let that hold me back anymore. I want to get my kids back. I want to get a job. I want to get my education. I want to get a home. I want to complete supervision successfully.” That strength, it helps the other women and then they build off for that and they help each other.

Leonard: Critics of supervision, not necessarily within our agency but supervision across the board throughout the country basically say, “Look, Leonard, you’re asking way too much of individuals coming out on a criminal justice system.” I mean, here, we’re asking them to deal with substance abuse, we’re asking them to deal with mental health, we’re asking them to deal with their profound histories of abuse, we’re asking them to reunite with their children, we’re asking them to find housing, we’re asking them to find employment. We’re asking it awful lot and the new people who come into the group are saying, “There’s no way I can do this,” and then they’re sitting with their counterparts who have experienced all of that themselves and they’re doing it. They sit there and watch a new person watch everybody else. You can see the spark going off in their head saying, “Well, she is no different from I am and she is doing it. Why can’t I do it?”

Marcia: They know each other from the communities. D.C. is a small area. Some know each other from the community. They have seen the struggle that some of the other participants have been through. To see them go through that transformation and to see the new person, that gives them hope to know that they can do it too.

Leonard: Most of the women that I’ve encountered in the system, tell me if I’m right or wrong, are not necessarily coming from backgrounds of violence. A lot of it is drugs, a lot of it is theft, a lot of it is prostitution, a lot of it is creating some sort of disturbance in the community. Am I right or wrong about that?

Marcia: You’re right about that. A lot of that comes from the victimization. The past victimization that was never dealt with.

Leonard: When I flip that switch in saying, a lot of it is dealing with the men who were in their lives. When I was with the Maryland correctional system, how many women did I talk to who, basically, were in there for fairly long stretch is, under the premise that this guy says, “If you don’t take these drugs down Interstate 95, I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to hurt your children.” If I’m being stereotypical or if I’m wrong, tell me. A lot of this is due to the dysfunctional men that they keep in their lives because of their background. Am I right?

Marcia: Right. That’s the continuation of the victimization. They’re continuing in these toxic relationships.

Leonard: If they got those services that were necessary, and I always ask you and whoever else I’m dealing with and in the women under supervision themselves, what percentage of women would not go back to the correctional system if these services were offered not just in Washington, D.C. but throughout the country. What’s your percentage; the most of them would succeed, 40 percent, 30 percent?

Marcia: I would say, maybe, 40 percent. That would be 40 percent.

Leonard: Yeah. That 40 percent would not go back. We have a national recidivism rate in this country of about 50 percent. You’re talking about 40 percent not going back. That’s a huge difference. In essence, we can do a much better job if we put those services on the table. That’s the bottom line, correct?

Marcia: Yes. That’s the bottom line.

Leonard: I do want to talk more about under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency but we’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guest today, Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer with our agency, my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is our website. On there, you will find the information about an event coming up February 14, 2015 at the Temple of Praise where we do a women’s re-entry symposium with the theme, Family Supporting Supervision Success. It is an extraordinary event. The public is welcome. If you have an interest in this issue, we encourage your involvement. Also, we want to talk about our city-wide re-entry assembly where we celebrate the success of our faith-base mentors and that’s Thursday, February 19, 2015 at a brand new location, The Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Again, you can find out information about all of this on our website,

Marcia, we have gender-specific teams, we have the day reporting center. How important was that day reporting center?

Marcia: The day reporting center is very important because this provides the outlet for our women during the day. We have programming through the day reporting center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It takes out a large chunk of the day for our female offenders. It gives them somewhere that they can go. They can be safe, they can discuss their issues, they can get the services that they need. Throughout the reporting center, we provide vocational services where they can go for their GED assessment, they can go for job placement assistance. We have Thinking for a Change program. That’s the program that deals with anti-social behavior and anti-social thinking. We have a relationship group in the program …

Leonard: That’s important.

Marcia: … to help women who are involved in those toxic relationships. Our DRC coordinator, Ms. [Copeland 16:48], also will make referrals to our victim services program which is another important initiative that we’ve added. The victim services program helps victims of the domestic violence, get the assistance they need if they need to get civil protection orders or if they need to get housed and they will assist them through that process. Through the daily reporting center, we also provide tokens to our offenders. Those who are not financially able to get back and forth to the supervision office. One other important thing we do for our females is that we recognize them. Once a female completes any of our groups, we always hold a graduation so that we can recognize them for the positive steps that they’re making.

Leonard: Day reporting centers are there, traditionally, for those individuals who are unemployed and those individuals who are struggling. We provide them with structure and education throughout the course of the day. The interesting thing about what you’re saying is is that the day reporting center for women provides a sense of fellowship.

Marcia: Right. Daily programming. Yes.

Leonard: We run groups. Majority of the women that we have under supervision end up in groups, correct?

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: They end up within a group structure. This is a continuation of that group structure. When I go to the day reporting center for men, I don’t see a lot of group interaction. Once again, in terms of the day reporting center for women under our agency, there is a lot of group interaction.

Marcia: Right. There not only group interaction, they also refer to a vocational development specialist. They may go to the vocational development specialist to complete the educational or the job placement assessment. It was not just groups. They may go there individually or they may be referred to our center intervention team for substance abuse assessment.

Leonard: When I ran group a lifetime ago, people coming into the system, they were what I said they had, a chip on their shoulder, the size of the State of Montana. They were very difficult to break through. A lot of women are very mistrusting of us in the criminal justice system. How do you break through that history? How do you break through that hard shell of it so many women under supervision bring to the table? How do you break through all of that to the point where you reach their sense of humanity to the point where they would open up and share what’s happening to them now and what happened to them in the past?

Marcia: One of the things the agency did was training. They’ve trained all of the staff on cognitive, behavioral interventions, and motivational interviewing. Part of it just listening to the offender to see what their goals are and what their needs are from their point of view. Sometimes, when you just listen to see what their concerns are, that’s a lot to break down the barriers.

Leonard: You’ve got to admit, I mean, they’re not the easiest folks in the world to deal with or they’re new into the group setting.

Marcia: For women, one of the main issues is that their voice there is not heard. Once you listen and start hearing, some of the things that they say, just for them knowing that, “Hey, this person is listening. Okay. Maybe some of the goals that I’m including is being included into my case plan.” Those are things that are concerning to them.

Leonard: I’ve seen women, the new ones, it’s like, “My God, you’re asking me to do what? You’re asking me to deal with mental health, my substance abuse, my background, all of that and then you want me to go out and find work and then work with me in terms of the reunification with my kids. That’s overwhelming.”

Marcia: Now, one of the first things we do when an individual comes to a supervision, we want to do risk and needs assessment which is a comprehensive assessment so that we can determine what their risk to the community is and what their needs are. From that, we develop a case plan. From the case plan, we say, “What things you need to accomplish while you’re on supervision?” We set the plan and set target dates. Everything is not due at the same time. We will set a schedule and set a target date working with the female and realizing, “She’s not going to be able to do everything at one time especially if it’s someone with mental health needs.”

Leonard: It’s still overwhelming. I mean, that list by itself even if you stretch it out is overwhelming.

Marcia: We’re right here to work with them and that’s the most important thing. Not only that, when they’re assigned to a call service agency, we work in partnership with the call service agency. It was all of us working together for the success of the female even sometimes with their families.

Leonard: Marcia, how long have been doing this?

Marcia: For 16 years.

Leonard: 16 years. Is it 16 years with the court services or 16 years dealing with women?

Marcia: 16 years with court services, dealing with both men and women. I’ve been dealing with women for the last 6 years.

Leonard: 6 years. Do you ever go home and yell at people or kick the dog? I mean, your job is difficult.

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: You’re taking people who can be saved, who can lead a life where they’re tax payers and not tax burdens, where they’re parents and their kids aren’t elsewhere. That’s a huge task to break through that barrier and to find the services and to make that connection with women who have had pretty difficult backgrounds.

Marcia: It can be challenging at times. I come in everyday willing to give 115 percent. I have a good staff on my team. We have a good unit. I mean, I go home everyday. It’s challenging but I go home everyday and I go to bed. The next day, I’m up and I’m ready to do it all over again. I love my job and I love working with the women.

Leonard: It is hard for people who are listening to this program now to understand that within the criminal justice system, there just don’t seem to be an awful lot of successes and you can get burned out from doing this sort of a job. Most, if not all, of our staff that I’ve talked to are pretty enthusiastic about what it is that they do. When I walk in among these people under supervision and for them to smile at me, it’s just a real interesting experience. All right. Women in Control Again, that was a program that was put together by your predecessor, Dr. Willa Butler. It’s been expanded. One of the focuses here is on high risk individuals. Tell me about that.

Marcia: Women in Control Again is a program that was developed for females with co-occurring needs. Women in Control Again, it deals with high risk offenders who have substance abuse and mental health and is developed to help them make better decisions in the future. Under Women in Control Again, we have 3 groups. The first group deals with women in early recovery. The second group goes through the 12 steps, it goes to each one of the 12 steps, and the third group is our new piece which deals with trauma. From that group, we have a psychologist that comes in a clinical person. She comes in and she works with our females. At times, we can also get our females, if needed, individual counseling.

Leonard: One of the things I do want to point out that we reorganized around women, we reorganized around younger offenders and we reorganized around high risk offenders. Within that category of young and high risk in female, you can have cross over. That’s all part of the women’s program as well.

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: The whole idea is to prioritize the people who are at greatest risk for reoffending and to make sure that they get the services that are necessary for them not to reoffend again. We take a look at our data and our data has improved in terms of recidivism, in terms of successful completion. Obviously, you all are doing the right things.

Marcia: Thank you.

Leonard: Tell me more about that. I mean, how does it feel to make that sort of a difference?

Marcia: It feels good. I mean, I know just as having a gender-specific unit, it really means a lot to our females. If you could just see their faces when we have the graduation ceremonies, even at our re-entry event, the upcoming event. At that event, we do a dress for success makeover to help prepare those females who are re-entering society, to help prepare them to return to the working world. Just doing that dress for success makeover to see the transformation for these women. We get clothes donated from organizations within the community. To see them go through this transformation, to get the business attire, to get the makeup, to get the shoes, and to do the fashion show, I mean, it’s really exciting.

Leonard: The bottom line behind all of this in terms of having a gender-specific program and having people specifically train to deliver that gender-specific program is that we can meaningfully intervene in the lives of the people under our supervision. We can end that whole sense of the never ending rate of recidivism, people in the system, out of the system, in the system, out of the system. We can really help people overcome all of that and we can really help people overcome some very serious problems.

Marcia: Right. At least to address some of the issues, some of the things that I’ve held back in the past such as the trauma, such as the unemployment, such as the low education and the substance abuse.

Leonard: As I have experienced, when you go in the groups or when you listen to women talk to each other about these issues, it is profoundly real or profoundly stark. When you interview women at these microphones, they are about as honest as honest can possibly be. I think the biggest difference between women and men is that women were more than willing to be honest.

Marcia: Yes. They are.

Leonard: More than willing to talk about the reality of what’s happened to them in their lives.

Marcia: Right. That’s only when they feel safe and comfortable.

Leonard: I want to remind everybody that we do have 2 events that are coming up. The women’s re-entry symposium 2015 with the theme, Family Supporting Supervision Services on Saturday February 14, 2015 from 8:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s going to be at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. Behind that, we have a city-wide re-entry assembly. That is where we celebrate the success of the mentors and mentees regarding our faith-base program. That’s going to be on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at the Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. You can find information about all of this on our website, Our guest today has been Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer dealing specifically with women offenders. Again, the website, We’ll list all of the changes and all of the upcoming events and we encourage your participation. We appreciate you listening and we want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.


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Parole in America

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at

See the radio program at

Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen today’s show is Parole in America and today’s guest is Beth Schwartzapfel. She is a staff writer for the Marshall product Beth welcome to DC Public Safety.

Beth: Thanks for having me.

Leonard: The Marshall project give me a quick overview.

Beth: We’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers the criminal justice system. We’re very much like a traditional newspaper magazine where all of us come from a world of newspapers and magazines but we don’t rely on advertisers we just rely on foundations and readers to support us.

Leonard: To my listeners I go to the Marshall Project every single day. They give us a nation of news throughout the United States and throughout the world, it’s extraordinary interesting again You wrote an article Life Without Parole and I’ve read it several times give me a quick summation.

Beth: Basically we took a look at the system of parole boards across the 50 states in our country and what we found was we’re in this area where there seems to be this political consensus from both sides of the aisle perhaps there is a temporary pause in that consensus as the Republican Presidential candidates battle it out. In any case, until the primary season heated up there seems to have been a political consensus from both sides of the aisle and from all walks of life in this country. That our criminal justice system has gotten out of control. There’s too many people in prison, that when they go they go for too long. That there’s this net that ensnares too many people for way too long for low-level crimes. There’s even been some talk that even for more serious crimes people are there for too long, there’s not enough rehabilitation and they’re not getting out with enough tools to succeed in the outside world.

As we’ve sort of began to examine each step in the process we are having this national conversation about policing, we seem to be having a national conversation about sentencing. There is this giant part of the Criminal Justice System that nobody had really taken a look or accounted for and that’s parole boards. Because in so many cases in this country how long a person serves in prison is actually not decided by a judge or a jury but actually by a parole board.

Leonard: For the initiated, give me a definition of parole and why it’s different from maxing out which we know is mandatory release and probation. What is parole?

Beth: In many states when someone is given a sentence for a crime or in some states it varies what type of crime whether they’re given this type of sentence but it’s called an indeterminate sentence. That means they might be sentenced to five to ten years, or 25 years to life. What that means is they could be released at any time in that window. In a five to ten years sentence they could be released at 5 years, 6 years, 7 years, 8 year, 9 years, 10 years. The decision about when in that window they get released is made by a parole board.

Leonard: Now let me see if I can summarize this, my impression is this, is that during the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s parole was used a lot and the whole concept was isn’t it better to have this person prepared. Ordinarily the person in the prison system goes through GED courses, vocational courses, substance abuse courses if they are available. They behave themselves while in prison and the parole board rewarded them with an early out in lopping in some cases a significant number of years off of their sentence and releasing them under parole supervision. That at one time was the mainstream method of getting out of prison in the United States and that has shrunk considerably, do I have that right?

Beth: That’s precisely correct. The one thing I will say is at that time it wasn’t even really considered early release because when a judge would sentence somebody that judge would sort of in the back of their mind know that it was in all likelihood that the person would be released at some early point in their sentence if they could prove that they were rehabilitated because that’s just kind of how the system works. Early release is often used interchangeably with parole but I would say that since parole is built into the sentence anyway it is not necessarily early.

Leonard: Good point. But you agree with me that it’s declined and declined dramatically throughout the years and now we are re-examining the use of parole now.

Beth: Considerably. In the 1970s somewhere in the neighborhood of three quarters of all American prisoners were released by parole boards. The number now is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 quarter.

Leonard: What happened?

Beth: A number of things happened, the short answer is the 1990s happened, the tough on crime era. During the tough on crime era there seemed to be this political move towards parole being seen as soft on crime. Parole being seen as we just talked about as early release. Governors who were looking for a way of posturing that they were not soft on crime, would move to abolish parole, not just governors of course legislators too. During this time period parole was abolished in more than a dozen states. In other states that maintain their parole board’s, parole became increasingly hard to get. Part of the reason for that is parole board members are by and large political appointees. In 44 States they are appointed entirely by governors and then almost all of the remaining States they are appointed at least in part by governors.

In many of those states they’re also confirmed by legislators. The parole board members were and are explicitly sensitive to political wins let’s say. During this era when the public was calling for more cops, more prisons, more jails, locking more people up, the parole board was very sensitive to that. So here if somebody came before that would have been a shoo-in for parole, somebody who had really cleaned up their act and did a really good job in prison the parole board would say no way I’m letting out a murderer because this is going to be in the paper tomorrow and the Governor might boot me off the parole board.

Leonard: In the state of Maryland about 20 years ago where I was Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Safety and Correctional Services. Some of my agencies were a piece of cake like the law enforcement agencies, the correctional agencies were a bit tougher but I also represented the parole board in the state of Maryland. I spoke to the various chairs of the parole board, the parole commission throughout my years there. We were all startled buy all the headlines throughout the country about the parole board getting in trouble because this person went out and committed another violent crime. The fear and the acknowledgement of the political liability of releasing folks with history of violence became real. My guess is that if we experienced that in the state of Maryland that experience transcended the state and one throughout the country.

Beth: Certainly and continues to this day. I heard from an inmate in Ohio who went to a little in-service training that the parole board put on for inmates who are eligible for parole to sort of help them to understand what to expect. A large part of the training was this news clip they all had to watch about this guy who got parole and went out and killed somebody. The parole board members as part of this presentation talked about what a very complicated position they are in politically speaking. How they are public servants accountable to the public and the public doesn’t want to see people like them released. Certainly this is a reality every where you go.

That said when you talk to experts who study the issue they all say look you’re dealing with human behavior it’s impossible to expect a parole board to never make a mistake. It’s even incorrect a lot of the time to call them mistakes. Sometimes the parole board does overlook some major red flags or doesn’t have processes in place to get paper or some kind of paperwork that would have indicated the presence of a red flag. More often than not the person really does seem in the board’s best estimation to be rehabilitated.

Nobody has a crystal ball and every parole board member that I spoke with told me this. It’s just impossible to think that they’re never going to release somebody who goes on to commit a crime. It’s just human nature. When a criminologist at Temple University sort of did this post-mortem of the parole board there after one of these incidence, he looked at it and he said the board was just doing their job, they didn’t do anything wrong and it’s unreasonable to say that we should no longer parole people because occasionally somebody goes out and commits another crime. That’s just going to be if you’re going to have parole then that’s just inevitably unfortunately, going to happen from time to time.

Leonard: We’ve been in agreement throughout the program let me try something else. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the criminal justice system. My counterpart’s spokespeople throughout the country over the course of last 10, 20 years. This is something that I think is somewhat accurate that every Governor has spoken to every Secretary of Public Safety, every Director of Corrections in every state throughout the country saying we are spending way too much money on corrections. I need money for roads, I need money for universities, I need money for education. I need money for all sorts of things and all I see from the corrections budget is that it goes up and up and up. Somehow some way you’ve got to figure out a way of operating and decreasing your budget what can you do. Part of that decreasing of that budget, the decreasing of the prison population would be a reliance upon the parole board to release more people, am I right?

Beth: Certainly. I think there has been instances in recent years of positive ways to implement that kind of strategy and not as positive ways to implement that strategy. For instance, the parole board chair in Nebraska testified to the legislature there that she felt pressure to release inmates that she didn’t feel comfortable releasing. Because the Department of Corrections was leaning so hard on the board to release as many people as possible. These of course were back room hints dropped and meetings where there was subtle or not-so-subtle pressure applied. An alternative way that I’ve seen an approach like that that is in Texas where there was very public hearings where the board through help with some kind of committee adopted a set of target release rates where it was clearly laid out for them that inmates with a certain risk score who had done certain crimes the board should expect to parole X percentages of those people.

When the system is working correctly Texas actually releases a report at the end of each year to show how well they’re meeting these expected benchmarks. Are they actually paroling say, I’m making this number up, but 75% of drug offenders. Are they actually paroling say 25% of violent offenders. Again, I’m making those numbers up but the point is there was this transparent process where the expectations were laid out for the board of how many people in the different categories they were expected to parole each year. Now there are a lots of complaints about how untransparent the Texas system is so I don’t mean to say that they’re doing an awesome job as far as transparency is concerned. What I am saying is that there have been states that have tried to use the parole board positively as a way easing the burden on the number of people that are incarcerated and the millions of dollars that the state is spending on that.

Leonard: Beth I think we’ve nicely set up where the state-of-the-art is now in terms of the parole in terms of the United States. Then I want to get on to a series of questions about the problems in terms of implementing parole. If we have States that are saying to their Secretaries of Public Safety, to their Directors of Corrections you need to decrease the budget, we can no longer pump endless amounts of money into corrections. If we agree to that and we agree that parole is one method amongst many that people are advocating that we use to decrease the pressure on prison systems and to release other people who are deemed not to be a significant risk to public safety then why isn’t it happening, why isn’t it occurring?

Beth: My reporting seems to indicate that it’s largely because of politics. Because the system is set up the way it is, because so many board members are appointed by Governors and confirmed by legislators they are ultimately beholden in some way to public sentiment. Look the average person on the street does not want to see a murderer released from prison. That’s just a sort of knee jerk totally natural reaction of the public. It does not square with the data right of all categories of inmates, murders are actually the very least likely to re-offend probably followed by sex offenders who are also extremely, extremely unlikely to offend. Yet those two categories of offenders are the most despised by the public.

If you have a body that’s responsive to public misinformation, then they’re going to act on that and they’re going to say look it looks to me like you committed this crime in the heat of the moment when you were 20 you’re now 45 you have grandchildren. You have a home to go home to, you have a GED, you have a journeyman’s certificate in plumbing or whatever it is. Get out of here you’re costing us a lot of money and you’re going to cost us even more money as you age. That is sort of the rational evidence-based move for a parole board to take. When you fear that your job is on the line if you make a decision that would be unpopular on the pages the next day then that’s not how you’re going to make decisions.

I did see a number of states that were trying to get away from this model, there are a handful of states where parole board members are civil servants for instance. Where they’re sort of insulated from the political process. There are a couple of states, Hawaii comes to mind where there is a nomination process where it is separate and I think the governor does the ultimate appointing but the names that are floated up to the governor are chosen by this very interesting panel that’s comprised of people from a real mix of backgrounds. Somebody from the state Social Worker Association, somebody from the state’s DA Association. The people who end up in the pool for the governor to choose from have been extremely well bedded and have really deep backgrounds in the subject matter.

Another really interesting system I found was in I believe it was in South Dakota where the coming into prison all inmates have to make a plan for themselves. They sit down with a social worker, there is a system set up where by they layout a map, a road map for their time in prison. They set certain goals and the person works with them to make sure they are realistic goals, such as I will get my GED, or I will complete this anger management class or I will attend AAA every week or whatever that is. If you are found at the end of your incarceration to have been “substantially” compliant with this plan that you made and again the rules of what substantially compliant are clearly laid out. Then you never go to the parole board you just get paroled. If you are not substantially compliant then you go before the parole board and if there are good reasons you weren’t compliant then you can make your case to the board. If you were substantially compliant then there is no deliberation, there is no politics you just get out.

Leonard: Our guest today is Beth Schwartzapfel she is a staff writer with The Marshall Project Beth you wrote this article Life Without Parole it’s an extraordinarily interesting article and I’ll put it in the show notes for DC Public Safety so others can get to it. You and I have been having a running e-mail conversation about the effect of the parole. I took a look at the data and it’s aged data I will admit from the Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics. It indicates that those people who successfully complete their time under supervision that people paroled do better than those people who are mandatorily released. Do you have thoughts on that?

Beth: I have not found any consensus in the community of academics who study this on whether people who are released on parole do better than those who max out. I’ve seen studies that say they do, I’ve seen studies that say they don’t. I’ve seen very passionate academics use data to make the case in both directions. I will say that it makes intuitive sense that people who are released on parole do better but not for the reason you would think. I think advocates for parole board say that people who are released on parole do better than those who max out because the parole board is very good at only releasing people who are bound to do well on the outside. To me it seems clear that the parole board’s are so very conservative that they’re really only going to release people who they know are not going to come back to bite them.

Therefore, of course the people who they release are going to do better. Because they’re just not taking chances. If they have somebody who is sort of a jump call, a jump ball somebody who looks like they might do well but they might not, the way the system is set up right now they’re probably more likely to keep them in then to let them out.

The numbers are going to be higher on parole, excuse me the recidivism numbers may turn out to then be lower among people who are released on parole then people who max out. I definitely heard skeptical people say is this really the measure we want to be using. What do we mean when we say recidivism does somebody say committed a sex crime did they commit another sex crime or do they commit, did they rob the corner store. That’s not to say one is better than the other of course but it is to ask what do we want from our parole boards and what do we want from our criminal justice system?

Leonard: Inst that a question across-the-board I do want to touch upon that for the rest of the program. It is a matter of perception if we have this sense that we’ve got to decrease pressure on prison systems. Some suggest that we over incarcerate it is true that we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. People are saying what can we do and there is a variety of discussions on a variety of issues talking about ways to reduce the reliance upon incarceration. Many at the front-end many at the back end. People are saying parole you should be doing a better job of releasing more people going back to the models during the 60s, 70s and 80s when most people got out on parole. People don’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the parole process and my guess is that because we’re so secretive about what is parole, how decisions are made, how it operates, what it does. I think people lack confidence in the paroling process and I wanted to get your opinion.

Beth: I think that’s 100% true. As the board chair in New Hampshire told me people can’t trust what they can’t see. The interesting thing is the clip that I was mentioning earlier, the news clip that the Ohio Parole Board shows to people to sort of demonstrate why they’re in such an uncomfortable position. What struck me when I watch that news clip is that the television reporter who did that segment was incredibly frustrated by not being able to get an answer from the board about why they released this guy. They weren’t even calling the board out for releasing him. They were calling the board out for not being able to explain why they released him. I really think and this is what emerged in the course of that Temple University study that I told you about earlier, that when the board can explain why they made the decision that they made when they have really clear guidelines they follow consistently and that they’re transparent about.

I think the people have a lot more empathy towards them and understanding for the reason that they make the decisions that they make. In our democratic society if people understand why the boards are doing what they’re doing and they don’t like it they can pressure their legislators or they can pressure their governor to sort of change the way the system works. If we don’t know what they’re doing, if they’re just hiding behind these sort of veils of secrecy then yeah people are going to be extremely frustrated.

Leonard: Here I go back to my Maryland experience in all states of our national … and we have Federal Privacy Acts but every state has a Privacy Act and in every state medical and psychological information are required prohibitions. I could lose my job and go to prison if I gave out information on an offender that dealt with medical and psychological information. Some states such as Maryland had a sociological provision which what is sociological. If you have all of these privacy laws and all of these restrictions on what you can give regarding a particular offender, how can the parole board’s be open and honest.

You can have a person with a raging substance abuse history, or raging cocaine history and maybe through the process he has gone through the prison system he’s no longer testing positive, he’s been through all of the courses so he seems to have his drug substance abuse problem under control. That may be a really decent reason as to why the parole board chose to parole him considering that there’s very strong evidence correlating the degree of substance abuse and criminal activity. There’s a good reason for moving this person along giving, this person an opportunity but you can’t talk about that.

Beth: I would say that’s never prevented our criminal justice system from transparency before. That kind of material is routinely introduced into evidence in criminal trials and all of the records for criminal trials are public records. I don’t see why the parole board needs to operate under different rules than any other players in our criminal justice system.

Leonard: Because a Judicial System operates under a different set of rules than the executive system. The executive branch of government which we all belong to make these required prohibitions.

Beth: Well what some people would say, what I heard from some people who are calling for the abolition of parole boards for instance the model penal code which is this very influential document written by legal scholars and is revised every number of years. The most recent revisions of the model penal code calls for ending the system of parole and instead implementing a second look system. The Colson Task Force also recommended a system like this a second look system that transfers the function of the parole board back to the Judiciary where after people have served a long portion of a long sentence, they can go before a judge who can evaluate whether circumstances have changed enough to warrant a changing of their sentence. It’s for precisely that reason that our judicial system has all these rules in place to protect and safeguard people’s constitutional rights. Since parole board’s don’t operate under those same safeguards they’re feeling, the feeling of these critics is those kind of decisions really belong in the courtroom.

Leonard: We are going to be doing to radio shows in the near future on the Colson Task Force called reforming Federal Corrections. We’re going to be touching upon all of that in the near future with people, with members of the task force. In the final analysis what we need is a way of mechanism for taking individuals who are of reasonable risks and moving them through the criminal justice system, assuming that they’ve done well on prison. Assuming they’ve taken the proper courses. Assuming that there has been victim input, assuming that they have bettered themselves as much as you possibly can considering the lack of services within a lot of prison systems. They become reasonable risks and society should expect those reasonable risks to take place as we did again, throughout the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80s. Am I right?

Beth: I know as a reporter I’m not here to make policy prescriptions but yes that’s what many people who are calling for the reform of parole board’s are calling for precisely that.

Leonard: The whole idea is as you said a set of specific criteria that if they meet that criteria the presumption would be the presumption to release. If a person went infraction free in the prison system and considering how crowded our prison systems are, that’s very important in terms of running safe and sane institutions. If a person had no infractions, went to his GED courses or completed them, got his plumbing certificate, completed substance abuse. Then the presumption at a certain point from a statutory point of view this is something and acted from a general assembly would be that unless there was a compelling reason that person probably would be released.

Beth: Correct, that is the system in South Dakota and what I will also say is that if you talk to wardens and correctional administrators they all say that a predictable parole policy is a really great behavior management tool. Because if people know and trust that if they follow the rules that they will be awarded parole accordingly. Then they’re much more likely to follow the rules and do what they’re supposed to do. Whereas in states where parole feels arbitrary, like some guys who follow the rules get it and other guys don’t for reasons nobody can’t quite discern. Then it no longer seems like a good incentive to do the right thing. It’s kind of a crap shoot if you do the right thing whether you’re going to get parole or not.

Leonard: Where do you see parole in the next 10 years along the lines of the model that we’ve been discussing?

Beth: That is a really good question. I’ve seen the one place that there seems to be some movement on changing their parole system is Virginia. Governor Terry McAuliffe called a some kind of commission to study whether the state should reinstate it’s parole board. Virginia was one of the states that abolished parole during the 90s. That commission is currently hearing testimony and studying and I honestly don’t know what they’re going to decide to do. Because there is a really big debate going on, if you can call a handful criminologist studying this tiny corner a big debate. But among those that study it there really is a debate of whether it makes sense to rely more heavily on parole as a way to control prison populations.

Assuming you can reform the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability and sort of systematized the way parole board’s do business. Then on the other side of the debate there’s people that just say there’s not enough constitutional protections, there’s just no way to not have the whole process be tangled up in politics. It’s better to just jettison it altogether and build a second mechanism into the judiciary. I really don’t know what direction it’s going to go in.

Leonard: Transparency becomes the key because the average citizen sees a transparent process and understands where they’re going with it, they’re going to be more prone to accept it.

Beth: I certainly think so and one thing I will say is there is this researcher in Canada his name is Ralph Ceron and he’s piloting this structured decision making model that really allows for a new and interesting level of transparency.

Leonard: Our Guest today has been Beth Schwartzapfel she’s a staff writer for The Marshall Project, Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety we appreciate your comments we even appreciate your criticism and we want everyone to have themselves a very pleasant day.


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Change in Juvenile Justice

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, this show titled today is “Change in Juvenile Justice,” and we have a national expert by our microphones. We have Jake Horowitz. Jake is the policy director for the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust. Before joining Pew, Jake worked for the National Institute of Justice, which is the principal research arm of the US Department of Justice. He was at the House of Representatives and the Eckerd Youth Alternatives organization. Jake, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Jake: Pleasure to be here with you.

Leonard: All right, juvenile justice. One of the things that I figured out, Jake, is that a lot of us who were in the adult system really don’t have a clear understanding of the juvenile justice system. Before getting on to that explanation, give me a sense as to what Pew is doing and what you’re doing to advance the calls of change in juvenile justice.

Jake: The Pew Charitable Trust is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that brings the best research to bear on today’s most challenging problems that’s applied in our Public Safety Performance Project where we assist states that want to take a fresh look at their sentencing and corrections system and choose data-driven, fiscally sound sentencing and corrections policies in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems that can protect safety, hold offenders accountable, and contain corrections costs.

Leonard: Pew has been at the forefront of change in the adult and juvenile criminal justice system. I mean that needs to be said upfront.

Jake: Well, we’ve had a good run of it right now. We’re about 10 years in to our Public Safety Performance Project. We started as a pretty modest initiative, looking to bring together policy makers from across the country who are working on these issues, bring new research to bear, and also provide direct technical assistance to state leaders who, as I’ve mentioned, want to take a fresh look at these issues. We also hit it at a key time. States were spending about $50 billion a year on adult prisons. They were getting returns that they didn’t like. Recidivism rates were stubbornly high. But crime was really low. Crime had been falling since the early to mid-’90s. It was a key moment, almost an inflection point in Americans’ consideration of sentencing and corrections issues, and that has certainly be motivated as much on the juvenile side as on the adult side of the ledger.

Leonard: I keep setting up questions and then deferring to other questions. Before getting on to the change in juvenile justice, which has been remarkable, there’s been, in my sense, a lot more change in juvenile justice than the adult system. In essence, give me a layman’s explanation as to what the juvenile justice system is because people are confused, even those of us in the adult system. We don’t quite understand that the juvenile justice system is there for the best interest of the child, not like in the adult system, accountability and punishment.

Jake: There’s a bunch of ways to break this down. You’re absolutely right that American criminal justice is a fractured system. You’ve got 50 state systems. You’ve got thousands of county systems with their own jails. You have district attorneys and judges and defense attorneys working at the local and county and state level. You’ve got a federal system. You have DC’s bifurcated and complex system that we were discussing earlier before the show.

You’re absolutely right. One other way to break down the system is between adults and juveniles. Every state sets its own age of jurisdiction that demarcates at what age people are processed either as a juvenile in the juvenile justice system or an adult in the adult system and under what conditions they can be transferred, so there’s actually fluidity between the systems. The reasons, as you pointed out, is that overall the motivation for a separate juvenile justice system in this country comes from the understanding that kids are less culpable. They’re cognitively less developed. They’re emotionally less developed. They’re much more a product of their environment than adults.

Because of all of that, these are all seen as partially mitigating circumstances in a sense, not legal sense, but in a moral and ethical and how the system chooses to respond to delinquent or criminal behavior. I wouldn’t say it’s so much that it’s not about accountability, but you’re absolutely right that many states actually have in statute statements that the decisions shall be in the best interest of the youth. The idea is that the first response to juvenile crime should not be one of punishment but asking the question: what can we do at this point to reduce recidivism, to maximize public safety and to hold juveniles accountable? Very few states or state policy makers would ever say this is not about accountability.

Leonard: Well, I probably mischose my words, but the point is is that if you have a system that is predicated to be in the best interest of the child, there’s going to be a different reaction than if you have the person at 15 and that person’s tied up in 3 or 4 burglaries. These reaction to that individual is going to be different in the juvenile justice system versus 3 or 4 burglaries done by a 25-year-old in the adult system.

Jake: I think that’s accurate. Another we see happening right now is some of that thinking, and let me just characterize that thinking, that the question we’re trying to answer is not how do we show we’re tough on crime or that we are holding people accountability? The question is what is the best use of our resources right now to maximize public safety. That thinking has always been on the juvenile side of the ledger, and now it’s actually starting to seep into the adult criminal justice system.

Leonard: That’s interesting because the fundamental change … that segues nicely into the next question. The juvenile justice system in essence … Here’s my laymanesque view of the juvenile justice system. 10, 15 years ago, it probably wasn’t hugely different from the adult system. You had institutions, not prisons, but you had institutions that were there, again, for the best interest of the child, but you still locked up a tremendous amount of people who were caught up in the juvenile justice system. They may have gotten treatment that you don’t get in the adult system, mental health or substance abuse, but in essence it was institutional-based and the bulk of individuals went into those institutions, filtered into juvenile justice’s form of parole and probation. That has dramatically changed, correct? What states are doing in terms of putting people into, I don’t want to call them prisons, institutions, the reliance upon facilities and placing juveniles into those facilities has lessened tremendously over the course of the last 15 years, correct?

Jake: You’re absolutely right. Let’s go back even a little further. In the approach to the mid-’90s let’s say, crime was on the upswing in this country.

Leonard: Yes.

Jake: There was massive growth in the number of facilities, the number of people in facilities and the overall incarceration, and on the juvenile side we refer to it as a commitment rate, and so those went upward quickly in that period of time. What’s happening since about the millennium is fascinating. Here’s where the 2 systems really diverge. On the both the adult and juvenile side of the ledgers, crime rates, violent crime rates have plummeted. If you look at the period 2001 to 2012, juvenile violent crime during that period fell 42%.

Leonard: Wow.

Jake: It’s massive.

Leonard: Yes.

Jake: In any other area of major policy in this country …

Leonard: Correct.

Jake: … that would be heralded as a almost unprecedented shift in public safety.

Leonard: That’s right. That’s right.

Jake: Here’s where things differ a little bit. At the same period of time, actually it’s a little different time frame because of the different data sources, but from 2001 to 2013, the juvenile commitment rate fell 53%.

Leonard: The juvenile commitment, juveniles going to institutions, we’re not calling them prisons, juveniles going to institutions decreased 53%.

Jake: That’s right.

Leonard: Where on the adult side it’s increased.

Jake: It’s essentially, yeah. The adult side’s a little more complex. It grew till about 2007, 2008, and then it started falling, but it fell much less than on the juvenile side despite the fact that crime fell almost in lock step.

Leonard: But the declines in the adult system have been minuscule.

Jake: They have been very modest, yeah.

Leonard: They’ve been very modest.

Jake: Yeah, we’re talking 1 or 2%.

Leonard: When you’re talking about a 53% reduction in juveniles being put into institutions versus the adult system where the declines have been very modest, there’s a huge difference.

Jake: Right. Let me just qualify this. I just said 1 or 2%. What it actually is that 1 or 2% per year reduction for the past 4 or 5 years in adult incarceration. That adds up to about a 10% reduction in the adult incarceration rate since 2007. It’s nothing to sneeze at, but it is not on the level of 53% we saw on the juvenile side. Here’s the way I think state policy makers in particular are framing this, because juvenile justice, even more so than the adult criminal justice system, is a state focus because there’s almost no federal presence on juvenile justice in this country in terms of the court adjudication and disposition of federal cases.

Here’s, I think, the takeaway as state policy makers look at that. What they’re saying is juvenile crime is clearly a cost. It has victims. It is bad for communities. It is harmful to families. We know that. They’re also saying juvenile commitment, the placement of kids, taking them from their families and putting them in residential facilities, whether or not those groups homes or industrial homes or boot camps or wilderness residential programs, is also a huge cost. This involves taxpayer cost. You’re separating kids from their families. What’s happened here is really fascinating. The thing that is really drawing state policy makers to it is saying we’ve achieved both a massive reduction in the cost associated with juvenile crime and a massive reduction in the costs associated with the commitment of juveniles to out-of-home residential facilities.

Leonard: And why?

Jake: Why did it happen?

Leonard: Why has that happened? Why have we been able to achieve that kind of reduction on the juvenile justice side where on the adult side it’s been a lot less than that? I mean in essence what we are saying is that we’re going to do, quote, unquote, something else with a 16-year-old. We’re going to do something else besides putting that person in some sort of institution. Where in the adult side, we basically haven’t made that decision as of yet or the reductions have been far more modest. Why did in happen in the juvenile justice system, and why hasn’t it happened in the adult system?

Jake: There’s 2 parts to this equation I think. Let me just preface all this by saying that you see different stories from state to state. It’s not necessarily 1 national story, but I’m going to characterize what we see when we look at the data across the nation. There’s 2 things that could be driving this reduction in the … let’s call it the out-of-home or incarceration population. The first is overall crime rates. If there are fewer kids, juveniles, committing crimes, it’s going to be fewer referrals to court, fewer referrals into the juvenile justice system from schools. You have fewer cases, fewer adjudications, fewer dispositions, etc. There’s a funnel that you can see almost narrowing at its widest point. On the juvenile side, that has to be part of the equation. Part of the reason that juvenile commitment has declined is because there are fewer juvenile crimes per capita.

Leonard: But we just talked about there are fewer adult crimes.

Jake: That’s right. That’s only a partial … so essentially …

Leonard: It’s happening concurrently.

Jake: That’s right. I’m trying to explain why the juvenile committed population has gone down. Part of it is the crime reduction. The other part are the policy decisions. When you look into some of these states, what you’ll see is a decrease in admissions to juvenile facilities but an increase in length of stay.

Leonard: Ah.

Jake: So policy plays a role and sometimes that policy role can actually swamp the reduction in crime. What we see in the juvenile side is definitely reduced commitments from reduced crime, some policy choices [clearly 00:11:44]. A bunch of states have been doing reforms for more than a decade and so that also has to have an effect. But we also see some policy choices that run counter to that that actually maybe mean the population didn’t decline as fast as it otherwise would have but for policy decisions made by leaders of states. Now the question is, I think a great question, why hasn’t the adult system done this? I think a couple reasons. One is that the juvenile system by its nature is time limited. You can only be a juvenile for so long and every state sets that in statute. As crime comes down, the juvenile system, in its essence, clears very quickly because you can only be in a juvenile facility for a limited number of years.

Leonard: Good point.

Jake: Whereas on the adult side, we have some sentences. Now there’s a lot of variation from state to state and across crime type, but it’s not uncommon to come across cases of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25-year sentences in the states. There nothing like that on the juvenile side. Once the crime rate starts going down, you don’t have the stacking effect of all those long sentences which we do see on the adult side of the ledger.

Leonard: Again, there’s a 53% reduction in the use of some sort of out-of-home placement as you put it. Other people would say institutionalization; other people would say prison. There’s a dramatic reduction that hasn’t happened in the adult system. Pew is looking at this from the adult system and the juvenile justice system. Between you and Adam Gelb, who has been before these microphones before, Pew has been working on this, systematically working with states, working with local jurisdictions to analyze the criminal justice systems, and to come up with alternatives and to help them implement those alternatives. I know you and Adam Gelb and the staff at Pew have sat down and say, “Gee, how come we’re able to accomplish such big changes on the juvenile justice side and modest changes on the adult side?”

Jake: Part of it I allude to. I think part of it is a length of stay discussion, but really the big umbrella over this is policy decisions.

Leonard: That’s what I thought.

Jake: It’s not a question for how did the juvenile justice system do it? On some level it’s a natural outcome of reducing crime on the juvenile side. The question is why hasn’t the adult system done it? We can certainly dive into what are the policy decisions that are driving this, but we know that there are 2 determinants of an adult prison population. It’s how many people come in the front door and how long do they stay, and both of those are determined by policy.

That policy can be statute: what’s written in the laws. It can be policy on the sense of administrative policy of a department of corrections of awarding earned time or of a parole board in deciding who to release and when. It can be a policy about probation and parole and who gets revoked for how long under what conditions. Then there’s practice of course, which is you may have great policies on the books but are people actually implementing them the way they were meant to be implemented? I think in all those cases we can point to areas on the adult criminal justice system where the intent to use incarceration in the most economical way, focus on the most chronic violent offenders, and find more cost effective approaches for the lower level offenders that better reduce recidivism have not been pursued.

Leonard: Is it fair to say that throughout the country and we’re talking about 50 states and 7 territories … is there a sense through osmosis, through some sort of unwritten contract that everybody seems or most people seemed to be saying let’s take risks on the juvenile justice side that we may not want to take on the adult side? Let’s be a bit more amiable to fundamental, systemic change on the juvenile justice side.

Jake: Going back to the reasons for why we have a separate juvenile justice system to begin with in this country, I think there’s certainly something to that. People view juveniles differently than they view adults. I think I wouldn’t go so far as to say people are more prone to second chances or leniency on the juvenile side. I think what’s motivating at the state level right now is a question of how do we get the best return on our investment in terms of public safety, in terms of recidivism?

Leonard: That’s been Pew’s motto from the very beginning: how to get the best returns on investment?

Jake: I think it’s our motto because it reflects the discussion going on at the state level.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. Jake Horowitz is the policy director for the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust. Pew has just had an amazing history in terms of involvement in the criminal justice system. As far as I’m concerned one of the leading entities. Yes, there are a lot of them out there, but I think Pew has taken the lead over all of us who are looking at change within the criminal justice system. I didn’t write this down before the program, Jake, www.pew. …


Leonard: Again, an amazing amount of data there, original research coming out of Pew taking about what’s happening both on the juvenile justice side and on the adult side. There has been less of emphasis on separation/incarceration/institutionalization on the juvenile justice side. What do you think we’ve gotten as a result of that? Are we safer? What is the state of the art in terms of juvenile justice? We’ve implemented lots of programs concurrently to try to focus on juvenile justice. Programs that the juvenile justice system has had for decades that we don’t have in the adult system interestingly enough. I find the amount of money spent on juveniles to be 5 times that in some cases than what we spend on the adult system. So we’ve done all this and focused on programs and use of alternative and that meant what? What has come from all that?

Jake: Let’s see. There’s a bunch of ways we could cut this question up. I think one way of looking at is state policy makers are looking to make investments. They make investments through policy choices and through appropriations because that determines where the youth go and what services and supervision and sanctions they receive. One of the first things that I think this reflects about states is that they’ve actually really absorbed some of the research on this front. Part of the question is people might ask, “Wait, you’re saying the commitment rate went down and crime went down. How are those 2 things reconcilable?” What the research says here is actually really quite powerful, which is that by and large lengthy out-of-home placements and residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than noncustodial sanctions. This catches people by surprise. They think, “Wait, of course a kid is going to be deterred by an out-of-home sanction. Of course it’s going to reduce their risk of recidivism.” This is why it pays to invest in research.

There’s a study called “Pathways to Desistance.” That study is the largest longitudinal study of serious adolescent offending ever. It follows more than 1,000 kids for more than 7 years in Maricopa County, which is Phoenix, and Philadelphia County, which is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. What they found after controlling for a host of variables, in fact more than 5 dozen variables, is that putting a kid in a residential facility does not reduce the likelihood they recidivate. It further found that the length of stay doesn’t matter. Holding a kid 6 months versus 9 months versus 12 months has no affect on future recidivism. What that shows you is that we can make modifications in our use of out-of-home residential placement without affecting recidivism and public safety. It also really points to the issue of opportunity costs. We haven’t touched on this yet. Another difference between the adult system and the juvenile system is that the adult system cost about $25,000 to $30,000 per person per year for incarceration. The juvenile system, it’s more like $80,000. In several states it’s $150,000 to $200,000 per youth per year.

Leonard: Big difference because the focus there is on programmatic activity.

Jake: Programmatic and staffing levels are low so it’s a higher ratio of … Sorry, I don’t mean staffing level are low. The ratio of youth to staff is lower, and there are a bunch of other costs. The facilities tend to be smaller, a bunch of more specific reasons. The point is there’s huge opportunity costs with residential placement, so the more money we’re spending on these facilities, that’s less money we’re spending for the things you were alluding to earlier which are the things that actually reduce recidivism.

You can turn to resources like the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative or the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and take a look at their rating of programs based on does it reduce recidivism and what’s the benefit to cost to ratio on these programs? You can point to programs from functional family therapy to multi-systemic therapy, a lot of cognitive behavioral type interventions and say, “These work, they’re cost beneficial, they reduce recidivism, and we shouldn’t be putting our money in some of the programs that don’t work.”

Leonard: Summarize that for me. I understand that Scared Straight programs do not work. I understand that boot camp programs do not work. But again, you’re saying for the noncriminal justice people out there, cognitive behavioral therapy. Can you summarize it in a laymanesque way as to what does work on the juvenile justice side?

Jake: I mean eventually it begins with focus your resources where they’ll matter so pay attention to risk and needs. What this means is we need to understand whether or not a juvenile before us presents a high risk of recidivism or a low risk, and we need to focus our resources on the high risk.

Leonard: Assess the risk, and once you figure out the person is high risk or medium risk, what do you do with that person that’s effective?

Jake: What basically cognitive behavioral therapy tends to focus on is asking the youth in what conditions are they triggered to do the kind of delinquent or criminal behaviors that have gotten them in trouble in the first place.

Leonard: Decision-making?

Jake: Decision-making, perception of risk, overall social and emotional development, understanding the different peer groups that they get in trouble with and don’t get in trouble with.

Leonard: Is that the heart and [hull 00:21:21] of it? Or is there a drug treatment component? Is there a mental health component?

Jake: Drug treatment, mental health, employment, education are a big part of all this, family strength and things like that. But the highest risk factors are usually antisocial thinking, antisocial behaviors. It’s not necessarily whether or not the kid’s in school. Oftentimes when that kid’s in school is triggered by whether or not they have antisocial or negative peer groups, and that’s what leads to that, so you want to address some of the underlying reasons that they’re getting in trouble.

Leonard: We’ve able to show that if you don’t have to necessarily rely upon incarceration, removal, whatever we’re going to call it and if you focus on programs, you can lower the rate of recidivism.

Jake: That’s right. Another …

Leonard: By how much?

Jake: You take a look at these programs and you tend to see recidivism reductions on the order of 10 to 30%.

Leonard: So it’s not much different from the adult system where it’s basically 10 to 20%.

Jake: Not massively different. The one big difference is that a lot of youth desist on their own. If you’ve ever looking at these age crime curves that show how many arrests does a typical person pick up every year of their life? That peaks at around 18 or 19 years old. A lot of people, if you don’t do anything with them, even if they’re getting in some trouble as a 16 or 17-year-old, will desist on their own. You don’t have need an intervention.

Leonard: I’m told …

Jake: That’s different from the 30 or 40 year olds.

Leonard: I wasn’t going to go here, but I’m told years ago that the average person who comes into contact with the criminal justice system does not remain in the criminal justice system, that we never hear from then again. In other words 14 year olds, 15 year olds can do something incredibly stupid or illegal and harmful, but the odds are they may not come into contact or will not come into contact with the criminal justice system ever again. Is that true?

Jake: Yeah, it’s absolutely the case. I think we see the folks who are released from prison and it’s their first time going to prison have a much lower recidivism rate than the people who’ve been there before. Ditto on the juvenile justice system. There’s always a first interaction for someone who’s in the system. Oftentimes those folks have much lower risk of recidivating.

Leonard: The fundamental issue here is sort of similar to the adult system, be careful as to how much you intervene because you may end up doing more harm than good.

Jake: I’m so glad you raised that. The same study that I mentioned earlier, “Pathways to Desistance,” found that for the lowest risk youth who are removed from their homes and put in these facilities, the intervention, the placement in an institution actually increased their risk of recidivism. Same from a study of the RECLAIM Initiative in Ohio that found that for low and moderate risk youth who are placed out of home actually increased the risk of recidivism versus a noncustodial sanction. One of the most humbling findings from a lot of this research is that we should be really careful about intervening in the lives of youth lest we do harm.

Leonard: There’s no national stats on recidivism as there is in the adult system. There are no national statistics on the juvenile justice side as to how often they recidivate, how often they come back to criminal justice system.

Jake: That’s right. The data sets on the juvenile side tend to be more fractured, and so we don’t have a national figure. Working at the state level, we’ve seen figures anywhere from 50 to 75% of youth are either readjudicated or reincarcerated within 3 years at least.

Leonard: That’s a very high number.

Jake: Really a high number. It’s stubbornly high. Folks are asking, “Wait, we’re spending $100,000 to $200,000 per kid per year and we’re getting a 50 to 75% recidivism rate. There’s got to be a better alternative.”

Leonard: But you go into the opposite side of that argument and people are saying, “Well, if you’re spending that much money …” Again, it’s not like I know a lot about the juvenile justice system, but I know that the juvenile justice spends far more on their system than we do on the adult side. I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. If we’re getting that sort of return, then isn’t there an inevitable frustration and a questioning as to the programmatic initiatives? If we’re spending that amount of money and our recidivism rate is that high, somewhat comparable to the stats on the adult side, people are going to sit there and go, “Well, why spend that much money?”

Jake: Right. The way to find dollars if you want to spend them in a different way is through reducing the use of out-of-home placement. Again you could spend $80,000 per bed per year, or you could move that into a continuum of supervision services and sanctions at the community level which research shows will reduce recidivism. One of the tricks here and one of the questions is if we know the research says to do this, why aren’t we more naturally moving in that direction? There’s plenty of evidence that we have moved in that direction. Those were the national trends we began with. There’s inefficiencies baked into the system in the way that jurisdictions are aligned and funded, and you see this on the adult side, but juveniles are adjudicated and disposed of at the county level generally through county level judges and prosecution and defense but the state pays the tab for …

Leonard: The decision [crosstalk 00:26:14].

Jake: … the equivalent of juvenile incarceration. There’s a perversity in this. It’s not just that from the local or county perspective that out-of-home placement is subsidized by the state. It’s more that if I want to keep a kid locally, if I want to provide true supervision, real services in my community particularly if I’m a rural area or a non-urban area of the state, the money doesn’t follow the kid. “I don’t think this kid belongs in one of those facilities, but I’d like to keep them locally,” but there’s nothing locally. If I keep him locally, no money’s going to follow. That’s a bad incentive. In fact when you talk to the stakeholders in the system, whether or not they’d be judges or prosecuting attorneys, 1 thing you hear consistently is, “I’m not sure this kid needed to be removed from home and put in a facility, but there was not a viable alternative where I live.” What they’re saying is it’s either slap on the wrist, nothing deferred adjudication or deferred prosecution, or I send them to a state facility. There’s nothing in between.

Leonard: I want to begin to close out the program because we’re running out of time. Pew, the Public Safety Performance Project, Adam Gelb at the adult level, you at the juvenile justice level, in essence you’re going in, working with states, working with counties, analyzing data, it’s a data driven process, talking to stakeholders, figuring out what that jurisdiction wants to do and help them implement those things. Certainly Pew has been a dramatic part of the sense of doing something else with people on the adult side and juvenile justice side in terms of something else besides incarceration. That’s the bottom line.

Jake: Yeah. States want this. This is the most important part. I mean there’s a view that this is a advocate-driven initiative or that reform in general is something … There’s certainly a case … I mean that has happened. There are folks who want this, who are pushing for elected officials to move in this direction. I think what’s just as remarkable and even more remarkable is that state leaders and federal leaders we now see up on Capitol Hill and in the administration want to move these reforms forward.

What see happening at the state level, to play out an example here, is that a governor, a chief justice, a Speaker or Senate president of the state legislature will say, “I’m looking for an issue that I believe in. Here’s an issue many of my constituents are bringing to me. I may have come out of the system myself” in the sense that many of these elected officials previously worked in the criminal justice system as prosecutors or as judges, volunteered their own time, mentored a youth. The governor of Georgia is a former judge and a family of folks have come out of the criminal justice system working professionally …

Leonard: But they’re all asking themselves, “Why are we spending all this money and not getting the results? We need to get better results.” That’s where they bring in Pew and allied organizations.

Jake: They’re asking that question and they’re forming a bipartisan inter-branch work group to tackle these issues. They ask for our assistance to help run the numbers and analyze the system. They bring in leaders from other states and researchers to tell them about what works and what innovative programs are available. Then they forge consensus. This is the impressive part. All these folks are on the table representing different stakeholder groups saying, “We can agree on a package of reforms that we prefer over the status quo, and we’re going to advocate for it in legislation, court rule and agency policy.” The last thing I’d say here, too, is the public support. We’ve done public opinion polling on this, and across the board, [Rs, Ds 00:29:28], independents, crime victims, law enforcement families say it’s not how long a kid spends out of home or even if there’s sent out of home, it’s whether or not we’re able to reduce recidivism.

Leonard: It’s been a fascinating conversation. 30 minutes goes by way too fast. Jake Horowitz is the policy director for the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trust. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.


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Observations on Crime and Justice-Former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson-DC Public Safety

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m really pleased to have back at our microphones, former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. Let me read some background about Laurie because she is one of the most impressive people that I have ever spoken to within the criminal justice system, which is why we’re calling this program today an Observation on Crime and Justice with one of the most experienced criminal justice leaders in the country’s history, and that’s certainly no exaggeration. Laurie was sworn in as Assistant Attorney General on November 9th, 2009. She previously served as Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Justice Programs from 1993 to February 2000. During that time, she oversaw the largest increase in federal spending on criminal justice research in the nation’s history. Under her leadership, the annual appropriations for the Office of Justice Programs grew substantially – from $800 million in 1993 to over $4 billion in 2000. At the same time, she also spearheaded initiatives in areas ranging from comprehensive community-based crime control to violence against women, law enforcement technology, drug abuse, and corrections. But there is a chapter two to Ms. Robinson’s career. She served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs from January 2009 until nominated by President Obama in September 2009. She oversaw the implementation of the $2.7 billion in programs for which Congress assigned responsibility to the Office of Justice Programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; launched a new agency-wide Integration Initiative looking at evidence-based procedures and science-based approach. She has also had a series of “listening sessions” with state and local constituents to learn what the Office of Justice Programs can better do to serve the field. She is currently, currently; she transitioned out of the Department of Justice in February of 2012. As of August 2012, she is now with the George Mason University. She is a professor, the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society. She is, again, George Mason University, the website or simply Google George Mason and Criminology. Laurie Robinson, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Laurie Robinson: Well thank you, Len, and I am delighted to be with you again.

Len Sipes: I am delighted to be with you because I am serious; there are very few people in my 42 years in the criminal justice system that I know who are more experienced than you, who have served at the top level of the criminal justice system. I understand the Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer but in terms of the Office of Justice Programs and the related agencies, that was basically the research and funding arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is correct, and thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Well, no, I’m very, very, very pleased that you’re by our microphones once again, and again, this is enormous. You are the longest-lasting Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, again, in charge of funding and in charge of technical assistance and in charge of research. You’ve got a longer history than anybody else, correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is correct.

Len Sipes: All right. That’s amazing. That’s truly amazing, and that’s why the program is initially called Observations on Crime and Justice from the most experienced criminal justice leader in the country. So Laurie, let’s get down to it. First of all, congratulations on all of your service to the country at the Department of Justice, and you went to George Mason University beginning in August, at the beginning of the school year – a very prestigious, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society. Why did you leave the Department of Justice, what were your accomplishments, and what do you look forward to doing as a professor?

Laurie Robinson: Oh, well, I’m very excited about being at George Mason but just to step back, when I came to OJP in January of 2009 when Eric Holder asked me to join him in the Obama Administration, you know Len, I initially thought that it would only be for short period of time to help out in the new administration, and as it turned out, the stay was a little bit longer, about three years. And when I told Eric Holder early this calendar year that I was going to leave, the reason that I felt that I could was that I really believed that we had made substantial progress toward goals that I had set when I first came in in 2009, and there were three primary goals that I had laid out, and I will go over them very quickly. The first was restoring a respect for science. That was an area where the Attorney General and I felt it was very important to lay down some markers, and so in several areas, for example appointing leading criminologists to head the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and there as you know, John Laub and Jim Lynch had done a tremendous job at NIJ and BJS.

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Laurie Robinson: The Attorney General appointed a Science Advisory Board for OJP. That’s something I felt was an important step and something that will outlast, I hope, this administration.

Len Sipes: Um-hum.

Laurie Robinson: We also launched, as you know, an Evidence Integration Initiative to really stress the importance of evidence-based programs. And something that I’ve felt very strongly about was setting up a What Works Clearing House or a that I know you’ve talked about a great deal.

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Laurie Robinson: A second goal was restoring strong and credible partnerships with the criminal and juvenile justice field, with law enforcement, with corrections, with victims with the juvenile justice and all the rest. I felt like we made tremendous in that area, though of course there’s always more to be done. And the third goal that I’ve felt very strongly about was ensuring that OJP’s grant process was a fair one, a transparent one, and that we were using federal money in a very wise and very careful way, that we were good stewards of federal funds.

Len Sipes: And that’s what was going through in my mind. The pledge was from the very beginning to be good stewards of federal money, to be sure that federal money was fairly placed, and it was a science-based initiative, an evidence-based initiative rather than a consideration of anything else.

Laurie Robinson: Yes, as an example, you mentioned in the introduction the Recovery Act which was early in the administration, of course. We were able to ensure, as an example, that 100% of OJP’s $2.7 billion under the Recovery Act was obligated in a very timely manner, and that’s really due to the work of the career staff at OJP. I would have to credit them for that. We had no new staff to get that money out, we just had to be very, very diligent and effective and efficient in the way we turned that money around very quickly to get it out. So those are the kinds of things that were top initiatives, and I have to really credit people who I miss very much, people like Mary Lou Leary who’s now the Acting Assistant Attorney General at OJP, Jim Burch who’s the Deputy Assistant Attorney General there, Thomas Abt who was my Chief of Staff. So I felt with people like that who are now running OJP, that I was leaving it in very good hands.

Len Sipes: And I just spoke to Jim and Mary Lou the other day when I was up at the Office of Justice Programs. I’m not quite sure anybody – and it sounds gratuitous and it sounds very self-serving – but I’m not quite sure that people understand how hard the people at the Office of Justice Programs work in terms of getting these grants out, doing the technical assistance. Okay, so we’ve praised OJP – very, very justifiably – and you’re at George Mason and you’re a Professor. You were a Professor in between your stints with the Department of Justice so you’re basically going back to what my guess is going to be is your first love.

Laurie Robinson: Well, actually I think most people who work in the government, I do love academia, but most people who work in the government always say that their best job is in public service, and you know, it’s hard to beat working for the Department of Justice but I do love George Mason. I have wonderful colleagues there, and one of the things that is extremely appealing about the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason and what appealed to me so much about going there, along with some of the very top people there – people like Steve Mastrofski, David Weisburd, Faye Taxman, Cynthia Lum – is their focus on just what I was working on at the Department of Justice, and that is the bridging between policy and practice on the one hand and research on the other. They have a great emphasis on the implementation of research into practice.

Len Sipes: Quite the evidence-based lab there at George Mason. I interviewed Faye Taxman who I’ve also known for years, and extraordinarily impressed with reading their materials and the dedication to using evidence to use guide us within the criminal justice system.

Laurie Robinson: Yes, yeah. Faye’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence is so good, and similar the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policies that David Weisburd and Cynthia Lum run, both of centers are an example of the kind of very practically- and scholarly-focused work that’s going on the Criminology Department out there that just are terribly exciting to me, and they involve their graduate students in this work as well as the professors of course, and do a lot of outreach to practitioners as well. So this is terribly important work and to me it’s exciting work as well.

Len Sipes: One of the things that fits perfectly into, that emphasis on the practitioner, is that you and I have had a series of discussions in the past about the emphasis on practitioners. The overwhelming majority of the individuals who use the research, who use the statistics, who use the technical assistance that’s coming out of the Office of Justice Programs and the related agencies – Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office for Victims of Crime, others that just don’t come to mind at the moment – are, you know, criminal justice, well, people like me. I mean, we’re just schmucks in the Criminal Justice system. We’re just day-to-day people who take this training, and technical assistance, and research and try to put it to good use, and one of the things that emphasized to me was “Leonard, we really, really, really do need to have a greater emphasis on making things easier, better, quicker for practitioners. If we don’t get the research in their hands and if they don’t use it, then we’re really not succeeding at what we do,” correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is terribly important, and one of the things that I’m very impressed with in the work for example that Cynthia Lum and Chris Koper at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, what they’re doing in the area of law enforcement, policing, is focusing in, as an example, really at the nuts-and-bolts level. How do we, for example, in their words, change the habits of policing? This is getting down to really the on-the-ground level to how do we get evidence-based practices into field training? How do we get it into the police academies? How do we get it into roll-call training? This is very exciting to me because it’s a way of really translating from the research papers down the work of the patrol officer. It’s not simply talking to police chiefs and the IACP, International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting. It’s really getting it down to what’s happening on the streets of Arlington, Virginia, or Dallas, Texas, or wherever.

Len Sipes: Well, that gets me back to the discussions in the past – to do that, whatever it is that the Office of Justice Programs and related agencies creates needs to be in plain English, needs to be very quick, needs to be very simple, and I would imagine George Mason is taking the same approach. You know, I praise the Urban Institute all the time in terms of the clarity of their research and the simplicity of their research. It takes probably five minutes to read and you get a pretty good sense of what the policy implications are, so part of this is packaging, is it now?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, very definitely, and whether it’s in short training films or in the kind of concise, distilled information that at OJP we were doing in, it’s got to be distilled and clear, very clear information whether it is for practitioners or for very busy policy-makers in state legislatures or on Capitol Hill.

Len Sipes: And that’s a perfect transition, and before we get too deep, we’re halfway through the program, very quickly, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking to Laurie Robinson, the former Assistant Attorney General for the United States currently at George Mason University at the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society – or simply search in your search engine of preference – before I said Google, I guess I shouldn’t do that – your search engine of preference, George Mason and Criminology. Laurie, one of the things that I really am very impressed with is and the other data bases that you’ve put together to take research and break it down to its simplest possible forms, even to the point of a color-coded system – green for it works, yellow for promising, and red, no it didn’t work – and you provide the summations thereby anybody can go to and related clearing houses and get a very quick summation of what research works and what research doesn’t, and it’s taken us decades to do it and you did it. Talk to me about it.

Laurie Robinson: Well, this is something that I had had in mind way back to the time when I was in academia up at the University of Pennsylvania after I’d left the Justice Department the first time, and sometimes when you leave a job, you kind of kick yourself, “Why didn’t I do such-and-such when I was in that position?” – And rarely do we have the time to kind of go back and have a second chance to do something. Here I did have that second chance so really from the first day or two I was back in the Justice Department, I pulled the staff together and I said, “We’re going to set up this what-works clearing house,” and you know, I’d been thinking about it throughout the time I was at Penn and so I had a pretty clear vision of what the goal would be but I did not have the details about exactly what it would look like. And I have to credit Phelan Wyrick and Brett Donahue and others on the OJP career staff for putting that together, and they worked with a number of well-known criminologists as the experts on how to define which studies would qualify as being the kind of determiners of what would go into which category, so they turned to real experts in the field as to how to make those determinations. But I’m very happy with the result, and it’s something that will be a continually evolving library of resources. It’s not a finite, closed kind of catalogue, and it’s something on which OJP wants to have continuing feedback, so if there are ways to improve it, I know that Mary Lou and others at OJP would welcome that kind of feedback from the field.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s something everybody should go to. Again, it is simplicity. It is taking extraordinarily, extraordinarily complex research and breaking it down to its simplest forms. If you want to go ahead and read the full-blown research, if you’re interested in methodology, if you’re interested in terms of how the research was put together, that is made available to you, but the summation in terms of what works and what doesn’t, and what the properties are, are neatly summarized in

Laurie Robinson: Yes. Oh, absolutely.

Len Sipes: Yeah, okay. That was my point, and it gets over to all of the issues that we’re going to be talking about because, you know, you and I in the past have talked about, again, reaching out to the practitioner, making it easy, providing the technical assistance, looking at training, looking at the effectiveness of training – all the things that the Department of Justice has done. So I mean the funding part of it, the summation of the research, looking at new ways to make complex research simpler, how do we do training, is it effective, how does the criminal justice system do training, is it effective – what’s the lessons from all of that? What are the lessons learned because in terms of law enforcement, you know, one time you and I talked about, hey, there’s a focus on people and places. It’s not necessarily mass arrests, it’s not necessarily arrest for the sake of arrest, it’s a focus on people and places, and that’s what the research has to say, and that’s one of the lessons through technical assistance and training that OJP transmits to the field, correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is correct, and I have often felt, and I’ve probably shared this with you in the past, Len, that the technical assistance money is the best-spent federal money over the some forty years of the LEAA and OJP Program. But one of the things is, you and I as we’ve spoken prior to this radio show have spoken about kind of the breadth of my experience and such, and one of the things that I have been contemplating is that if I were to think about the kind of programs over time, you know, one of the things, if I could wave a wand on something that I wish I had done more of when I was at OJP – and by the way, I told Eric Holder I’m never coming back for a round three. I think I’ve done [PH 0:20:32] enough in my two stints at the Justice Department.

Len Sipes: Never say never, Laurie.

Laurie Robinson: But if I could wave a wand, I think that, you know, I would have liked to have funded more evaluative research, more evaluation of the effectiveness more broadly of training and technical assistance. I think that it would be beneficial to have more rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness. I think we have a very good anecdotal sense and some research on this but not enough, not enough research particularly probably on technical assistance.

Len Sipes: Right.

Laurie Robinson: We have a very good sense about it and we have some kind of narrow research results on that but I think that could be an effective thing.

Len Sipes: The other thing is that, you know, there was at one time an awful lot of conferences where you brought leaders in the criminal justice system together. I went to a gathering of directors of public information for correctional agencies in Aurora, Colorado, under the auspices of the National Institute of Corrections, where I spent three days teaching public relations and social media, and you know, interacting with these 50 individuals and more from the territories, the richness of that interaction, the richness of the group, the discussions, the friendships that you make, and the information exchanges that continues afterwards to me is enormously important. I learned so much from them and hopefully they learned a little bit from me. But the budget for or the circumstances within the Department of Justice in terms of the conferences seems to have taken a step back.

Laurie Robinson: Yes, I agree with you on that. As we reflect back in fact, again, on the kind of four decades of the LEAA and OJP program, I think we could agree that subtle leadership on training through these kinds of conferences, these national or regional conferences, has been just an important part of the mission of the Federal Criminal Justice Assistance Program over that entire 40-year span, and having been around for a good part of that period, I think that federal leadership in bringing people together as you’re referencing, Len, has just been vital in the growing professionalism of the criminal justice field and the growth of the criminal justice field in areas like turning much more to science. When we compare the state of the policing profession, for example, to where it was 20 or 30 years ago, it is night and day, and part of that is of course because of the growth of kind of this national profession, and federal leadership has been a key role in that. So it does trouble me, it troubles me a great deal, when the federal support for national conferences is diminished, and one example too is to see the National Institute of Justice, NIJ, decide not to hold their national science conference, their NIJ conference this coming summer. This is an institute and for once, for the first time in many, many years, NIJ, because of these cutbacks, is not going to be holding it. I think that’s a very unfortunate, unfortunate decision.

Len Sipes: The bottom line in terms of listeners is that there has been an enormous change in the criminal justice system. I started out a long time ago when I left the police department and got my variety of college degrees, ending up at the Department of Justice’s Clearing Counsel as a Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention, so I’ve been an observer/participant of the federal criminal justice system for 30, 40 years – there’s been enormous C-change in terms of the effectiveness of criminal justice agencies around the agency, how community corrections operates, how parole and probation operates, how law enforcement operates, how the courts operate, how juvenile justice systems operate, and that efficiency which I think has significantly contributed to an historic 20 years almost continual decline in crime is due to the quality of the criminal justice system, and I think you can say it’s due to the quality of agencies like the Office of Justice Programs and the related programs. I think you guys have led the technical assistance, research, and funding to try new techniques within the criminal justice system. I think you guys can take a bow from the standpoint that you’ve led dramatic changes in how we police and how we correct people, how we incarcerate. You all have led that charge which is I think correlated to some degree with that almost continuous 20-year reduction in crime.

Laurie Robinson: Well, I think that the leadership from career staff, and I hope throughout the time from the political leadership as well, has been a big contributor. – And by the way, I am, as I said earlier, I’m quite a budget hawk and wanting to see very careful stewardship of federal dollars, so federal money around conferences has to be very scrupulously managed but it is important to bring people together for training. It’s an important part of the federal leadership function, in my view.

Len Sipes: Well, I’m not going to disagree with you at all. It is also interesting that the Bureau of Justice Statistics put out a report recently about an 18% uptick increase in violent crime – I just wanted to ask you about that before we close the program – 11% increase in property crime. Does that create any concern because I know in the past, just because it goes up one particular year does not mean it’s a trend?

Laurie Robinson: Yeah, I’ve certainly noted that. Because it was not across the board and because – as Rick Rosenfeld, the noted the criminologist, commented – that you’re dealing with relatively small numbers which can translate into larger percentages, I’m not sure for one year that we should be greatly alarmed but we should follow it closely and see what next year brings.

Len Sipes: Sure. It was principally assaults and not robberies and not rapes.

Laurie Robinson: Correct, absolutely correct, that it’s not in all categories but we should be, as they say, watching it like a hawk and see what comes in the coming year.

Len Sipes: Final words, Laurie. We have one more minute to go. I mean, I think we’ve talked about just about everything we wanted to do. Every state out there, every jurisdiction out there is complaining bitterly about the lack of money coming into the criminal justice system. Your focus on what works, what is evidence-based, is what allows them to get the biggest possible bang out of their scarce criminal justice dollars, so that the last question.

Laurie Robinson: Yes. What I want to do, though, is turn to this: when I see the kinds of students that are not coming, in my case at George Mason, to want to study in this area, and the students I’m working with are ones who want to go into the practice and policy side, it gives me great optimism, Len. These are students who are of course very interested in the evidence-based approaches but it gives me optimism – optimism about the future and our ability to deal even in tough-budge times with what’s coming down the road.

Len Sipes: Okay, Laurie, and you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ve been talking to former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, currently a Professor of the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the world-famous George Mason University. You can look at the website there – – or you can use your favorite search engine and search George Mason and Criminology. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Supervision of High-Risk Offenders-DC Public Safety Television

Supervision of High-Risk Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s show is supervising the high-risk offender, and you know, there is a consensus amongst the criminological community at agencies like the U.S. Department of Justice, that agencies like mine, that parole and probation agencies should be spending the bulk of the resources, the bulk of their time on the high-risk offender. To talk about this concept, we’re really pleased to have two national experts with us on the first half; and then we’re going to go to the second half and talk with the people from my agency addressing the implementation of that research. So on the first half; we have Jesse Jannetta, research associate from the Urban Institute, and Bill Burrell, independent community corrections consultant. And again, we’re going to discuss the consensus in terms of the high-risk offender. Bill and Jesse, thanks again for being on the show. Bill Burrell, give me a sense as to what we’re talking about with this national consensus. First of all, is there a consensus; second, what is the high-risk offender?

Bill Burrell:  Well, there’s clearly a consensus. It’s based on a robust body of research from United States, from Canada, from other countries around the issue of “Who’s on supervision and how do we handle them?” And what the research tells us is that there is a group of people that are high-risk of re-offending when they’re in the community. Not every offender is the same. They have different backgrounds, different experiences, committed different offenses, their commitment to their criminal career varies; and the people we were concerned about, are the people that pose the greatest risk, the high-risk offender.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.

Bill Burrell: The probabilities are very high that they’re going to continue to offend in the community, and these are the folks that we want to keep a close eye on, and provide close supervision to see if we can reduce the risk of them re-offending again.

Len Sipes:  Jesse, you’re from one of the premier research organizations in the country, the Urban Institute.  You’ve been taking a look at the high-risk offender for quite some time. The bottom line in this is the protection of public safety, is it not?

Jesse Jannetta:  It is, and one of the reasons, again, that there has been a greater focus on the high-risk offender – and this is a good instance where research and what it’s telling us is really tracking with common sense in many ways – in a situation where you have many problems, what you want to focus on is the biggest problem where you make the biggest impact, and that’s going to be the high-risk offender, since they’re the most likely to have more offenses and create more victims in the community. And what, in fact, we’ve seen when you look at a lot of the programming interventions for parolees and probationers in the community is that, in fact, that programming is more effective for high-risk offenders; you get greater reduction in their risk to the community. And, in fact, in many cases, if you look at low risk offenders and programming, you may, if you put them into intensive programming, actually make their outcomes worse. And so this has really driven supervision agencies all over the country to think about, “Alright, how can we make sure that we’re putting most of our resources, whether its supervision or treatment or both of them in concert on our high-risk offenders? How can we know who those are, and then how can we move away a little bit from intervening too much with the lower risk offenders to avoid actually making their outcomes worse and having a negative impact on what’s going on in the community in terms of public safety?”

Len Sipes:  Bill, back to you. This is a consensus, correct? I mean, within the criminological community, within organizations, within the Department of Justice, within the American Probation and Parole Association, there does seem to be a consensus that we move in this direction. I want to be very clear about that.

Bill Burrell:  Absolutely; and this goes back a good 20 years to research that came out primarily in the early 1990s, looking at the question of risk.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm.

Bill Burrell: And over those years, through conferences and workshops and experience with agencies, that’s begun to seep into the fabric of probation, parole agencies around the country; and few people contest it any more. It really is something that has become an accepted fact that there are high-risk offenders, and if we’re serious about public safety, these are the folks we need to go after.

Len Sipes:  Right, and Jesse, the research is supportive. I just read a piece from Abt Associates where they were basically doing what it is that we’re doing now, or propose to do; and they showed substantial reductions in recidivism. And when I say recidivism, we’re talking about real crime. We’re talking about people becoming injured. We’re talking about increasing public safety. So two of the three sites where they implemented this strategy, the best practices within 50 to one case loads, they were able to reduce recidivism and new crimes considerably. The one case where it did not happen, they didn’t implement it fully –

Jesse Jannetta: Right.

Len Sipes:  – so there’s good strong data in Abt, and as Bill said in lots of other research, that basically said this is the way to go. So it’s not just a consensus, it’s based upon hard research.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right and this is a research base that has, as Bill suggested, been developing over 20 years. And I think one of the things that has led to the consistency in those kind of research results is that we’ve gotten a lot better at working with the high-risk offender. The first piece we’ve gotten a lot better at is identifying who those people are out of all the parolees and probationers –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – than an agency supervises. So the assessment tools to build risk groups and say, “Alright, these are the people, if you look at this group, they’re the group that’s much more likely to re-offend.” The tools to do that have gotten a lot more sophisticated and performed better. And on the programming front, you know, over the years, we’ve gotten a lot better at both knowing what kind of curriculum, what kind of approaches work for good programming, but also a lot of information about what the staff needs to be like, when you put people in the programming, and so we’re in a much stronger position than we were –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Jesse Jannetta:  – 20 years ago, to say, “These are the people we need to focus on. We really can identify them in our population, and these are the tools that are going to make them less likely to re-offend.”  Twenty years ago, we had ideas about those things, but we didn’t have a strong ground to stand on in terms of having seen the results. But today, we are in that position where you can look at a lot of different jurisdictions and say, “We’ve proven this.”

Len Sipes: The risk and needs assessment that you just brought up, Jesse and Bill, I mean, we’ve come light years in terms of our ability to figure it out – but it’s not foolproof, I want to make it very clear right now – we can be 80 percent, and 80 percent is incredibly good in terms of predicting who’s going to fail and who’s not; but it’s not infallible – but we’ve come light years in terms of the level of sophistication, with validated instruments to figure out who’s antisocial, and who’s going to make it and who’s not.

Bill Burrell:  Am important thing to remember about these assessments, and you mentioned, is that they’re not perfect. These are probability statements about groups of people who look alike.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  They’re not individual predictions to individual offenders.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  Our technology doesn’t allow us to do that.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  So we plug into the assessment this body of information about people who’ve been under supervision before, and how they behaved and how they did under supervision, and we use that to develop a model that helps us identify those kinds of people in the existing population.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Burrell:  The insurance companies have used this kind of technology for years.

Len Sipes:  Yes, they have.

Bill Burrell:  Actuarial models.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  So we’re very good at being able to put people into the right groups, but then we have to plug in the expertise of the probation parole officers to go beyond what the actuarial instrument will tell you; to begin the plug in unique things to that individual offender. So what the research tells us is, the instruments do a very good job – a little better job than any of us can do individually – but when you plug in the experience of a probation parole officer on top of that assessment, you get the greatest level of accuracy in terms of who’s likely to re-offend.

Len Sipes:  Right. It’s based on a machine read. Somebody’s got to make – somebody’s got to take a look at this and figure out for themselves if it’s correct or incorrect, whether or not it should be overwritten to a lower level, a higher level of supervision. Jesse, the research also says that treatment programs are an integral part of this, so it’s just not a matter of supervision, the research from the past basically says if you only do supervision, the only thing you’re going to do is revoke very high numbers of people and put them back within the correctional system. People who have mental health issues need mental health treatment. People who have substance abuse issues need substance abuse treatment. People who don’t have an occupational background need to be provided with information as to getting jobs, and how to present themselves. Correct or incorrect?

Jesse Jannetta:  Yeah, all of those things are correct. And the one thing that I would add to that, where there’s been an emerging consensus as well as the importance of it, is what’s called cognitive behavioral treatment, and this is based on the understanding that a lot of criminal behavior is driven by the way the people make decisions, the values and beliefs and justifications that they have inside themselves that may –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – support or justify after the fact, criminal behavior. And then the other layer is a lot of their associates. So if you have somebody who is hanging out with, and a lot of their friends are criminally involved, the odds are pretty high that they will be as well. And so a lot of that programming is looking at building skills to make better decision making, to do better problem solving –

Len Sipes:  And that’s what we mean by –

Jesse Jannetta:  – to be less aggressive.

Len Sipes:   – cognitive – better decision-making.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right. It’s about, you know, the way people think and make decisions –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Jesse Jannetta:  – determines a lot of their behavior. And so if you want them to make a different kind of decision than they’ve made in the past, you need to work on that really directly, and have them build skills. And that this often has effects not only in a criminal behavior, but it makes them more successful in employment.

Len Sipes:  And that is part of the research base.

Jesse Jannetta:  Oh, absolutely.

Len Sipes:  The research does back that up.  Bill, –

Bill Burrell:  I want to –

Len Sipes:  Go ahead, please.

Bill Burrell:  I want to elaborate a little bit on that –

Len Sipes:  Please.

Bill Burrell:  – because we started out talking about the high-risk offender, and that’s determining who we’re going to work with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  And once we’ve determined that, then we need to look at the individual factors as – and Jesse began to suggest – what we call on the field, criminogenic risk factors.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  Things that drive people to commit crime. That’s the second major thing that has come out of this 20 plus year body of research, is now we know what we want to work with offenders on. How do we want to change them? What are the things in their lives –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  – that drive them to commit crime.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  So that’s that – it’s kind of a – we know who to work with, what to work on, and the next part is how to go about that, and that’s the cognitive behavioral intervention.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Great.

Bill Burrell:  Because much of what we do, the way we think, determines how we act.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  So if you change thinking patterns from criminal to pro-social, you get pro-social behavior and less criminal activity.

Len Sipes:  Okay, a very important point now. If we’re going to take all these resources and we’re going to place the bulk of our supervision, the bulk of our treatment sources on the high-risk offender, what that means is that with lower risk offenders, we’re going to do quote/unquote “something else”.

Bill Burrell:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Now what comes to mind is New York City putting the great majority of the people that they have under probation supervision on kiosks. They’re automatic machines. They look like the bank machine that you go to –

Jesse Jannetta/Bill Burrell:  Yeah, right.

Len Sipes:  – to withdraw, a ATM machine. Thank you. And that jurisdictions around the country are now using them to lower case loads. They’re using kiosk, but the kiosk example, the thing that surprised me is that up in New York City, they showed less recidivism using kiosks when compared to a control group. So there are ways of safely supervising and interacting with low risk offenders beyond person to person contact, correct?

Bill Burrell:  Correct; and I think the kiosk is a real interesting experiment, you know, in this country there is a love affair with technology. So any time you throw technology at a problem, we think it will fix it, but I think Jesse mentioned that intervening with low risk offenders more than you need to, can actually cause problems. So I think what you might be seeing in New York City is that we have reduced the amount of intrusion into those low risk offenders’ lives, and they respond in a positive way to that.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bill Burrell:  People resist being told what to do, being forced into programs or services that they don’t really think they need, and we found a way to accomplish the monitoring objectives of supervision without overtly or excessively intruding in their lives.

Len Sipes:  But we’re not, Jesse, risking public safety when we do this; every parole and probation agency in this country, whether they cop to it or not, does have a lower level of supervision –

Jesse Jannetta:  Right.

Len Sipes: – for lower risk offenders. I mean, so that’s current, that’s happening now anyway.

Jesse Jannetta:  Right. I think the greatest challenge for parole and probation agencies in delivering on the promise of working with the high-risk offender, and what we know from research, is the research challenges. You have parole and probation officers all around the country that have huge caseloads –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – 80, 90, 100 people –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully work on risk reduction things with all of those people. And working with high-risk offenders, I mean, as we’ve said, we’ve got this research about what’s effective, but this is not a situation where a little bit goes a long way. The kind of programming and interventions they need are intensive. You need to spend time with them not just in the programming, but the parole and probation officers enhancing their motivation, –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – keeping them moving on the right path, intervening when they might be backsliding a little bit, engaging their families, –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:   – their employers, the positive influences in their life –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – keeping them on track with their plan. You need time in the day to do that, and so there is some need to move around resources. One of the most interesting findings in that kiosk study in New York is that it’s not only the low risk offenders did better –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  – but the high-risk offenders also did better.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Jesse Jannetta:  New York City probation was very clear, “We’re going with kiosk for the low risk offenders so we can spend more time with the high-risk offenders, and they did better too.”

Len Sipes:  We have a minute left. The key in all of this seems to be the proper balance. The key in all of this seems to be a balance of resources and figuring out where to place your resources, obviously the high-risk offender. But that seems to be the tune-up, if you will, for parole and probation agencies to make them far more effective, and at the same time protect public safety. We are talking about fewer crimes committed. Am I right or wrong?

Jesse Jannetta:  That’s correct.

Bill Burrell:  And we have to be smart about this. We have to realize that all offenders are alike. They have different characteristics, different levels of risk, and we need to apply our resources in a way that responds to that information.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Burrell:  And then once we’ve done that, then we need to use the techniques that have been proven with high-risk offenders to get the results that we want.

Len Sipes:  And Bill, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we appreciate you watching the program today. Stay with us in the second half as we take a look in my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, in taking this research consensus that Jesse and Bill talked about, and implementing it within my agency. We’ll be right back.

[Program Break]

Len Sipes:  Hi, welcome back to DC Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  I represent the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We’re a federal parole and probation agency responsible for offenders in Washington DC, and what you’ve heard on the first half, that research consensus from two national experts as to the research on the high-risk offender, well now we’re going to be implementing it; and we have been implementing it throughout the course of the year. To talk about it, we have Valerie Collins, a branch chief of the Domestic Violence Unit for the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency; and Gregory Harrison, again branch chief for general supervision, Court Services and Offenders Supervision. And to Valerie and Greg, welcome to the program!

Valerie Collins:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Greg, the first question’s going to you. We’ve heard the researchers of people representing two stellar organizations in terms of that research consensus within the criminological community, within the government, that we really should be focusing on the high-risk offender. And the integral part of supervising that high-risk offender is first of all, discovering who that person is with a risk assessment instrument, correct?

Gregory Harrison:  You’re absolutely correct, and I think what CSOSA has done is actually fallen right in line with the research in terms of showing that we’ve identified the high-risk offenders versus those who are low risk. We’ve challenged our resources in their appropriate domains, and it’s showing that our offenders are pretty much providing, or being provided with the services that they need.

Len Sipes:  Right, and so when we’re talking about the high-risk offender, as far as CSOSA is concerned – and I think this matches the national research – we’re talking about sex, we’re talking about violence, we’re talking about weapons, and we’re talking about the ages principally 18 to 25. Now, it doesn’t have to really focus on all the variables that I just mentioned – there could be others – but principally it’s that part of our population, correct?

Gregory Harrison: You’re absolutely correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Valerie; and we’re also talking about individuals that even though the current charge say is theft or possession with intent to distribute, we’re not taking just a look at the current charge; we’re taking a look at the totality of that person’s criminal history, the totality of that person’s social history, correct?

Valerie Collins: Yes, what we do is we look at the person’s entire history. We look very strongly at what their criminal background has been. We also look at other risk factors that they may have had. As you indicated, a person may be on supervision for something like theft –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins: – but if they’ve had, you know, armed robbery with a weapon, you know, in their past –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  – that is of course going to bump their supervision level up. And they would certainly get closer supervision.

Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this. We’re talking about somewhere in the ballpark of about a third of our caseload when we’re talking about high-risk offenders, correct?

Gregory Harrison:  Yeah, about a third in the high-risk area, one third in the medium, and a third in the low risk categories as well.

Len Sipes:  All right, now we said in the first half that the focus needs to be on the high-risk offender, that’s where the resources need to be, the treatment resources, the supervision resources. And, you know, it’s pretty clear that the research throughout the country is that this reduces recidivism, this protects public safety, focusing on that high-risk offender. But what that does mean is that for the lower risk offender, we’ve got to do quote/unquote “something else”, lower levels of supervision. And now we’re implementing the kiosk program where we are putting lower level offenders on kiosks, and so they’re going to be reporting to a machine; and if there are issues in terms of that reporting, they have to then contact a community supervision officer elsewhere, known as parole and probation agents. There still could be drug testing involved, so it’s just not the machine, but it’s going to be principally kiosk reporting for lower level offenders, correct?

Valerie Collins:  Yes, and actually there would be an officer who is assigned to those offenders who are on kiosk supervision.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Valerie Collins:  They monitor that kiosk supervision, they are able to look at reports to see if the person’s actually reporting in, –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – ensuring that they’re still employed.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  They are also randomly drug tested.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  And so if, you know, the person is positive, then they would come back into the office and we would do intervention with that individual.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  So we do have a lot of things put in place so that we can actually make sure that we are keeping in contact with those individuals, that they are following the program that has been set up for them –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – and again, if they are not in compliance, then swiftly we are able to direct ourselves to those individuals, to have contact with them.

Len Sipes:  But then again, that is to free up resources to focus on the high-risk offender, and that’s the person who possibly poses a clear and present risk to public safety. That’s where we should be going.

Valerie Collins:  And what that has done has allowed us to work much closely with those individuals who are high-risk –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – so that the supervision officers have actually lower case loads for those offenders who we have –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  – identified to be the high-risk offenders.

Len Sipes:  Right. So we’re talking about what, Greg?  We’re talking about global positioning system tracking. We’re talking about working with local law enforcement, and we’re talking about in terms of a sex offender; a polygraph test. We’re talking about two new day reporting centers.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  We’re talking about a whole wide array of strategies to stay in touch with that individual; and I’m going to dare say based upon the research far more than most states stay in touch with their offenders.

Gregory Harrison:  Certainly. But one of the things that we’ve done at CSOSA is we’ve made sure that our staff were more than prepared to address and handle high-risk offenders.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Gregory Harrison:  We’ve done that by showing that all of our staff were trained in cognitive behavior intervention –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Gregory Harrison: – as well as motivational interviewing.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  And when we – having done that, we’ve ensured that the staff would be ready to understand the assessments, –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – be able to actually articulate their understanding of the assessment to the offender population. Because oftentimes the offender’s always saying, “You’re putting me in this program, you’re putting me in that program or referring me here and there, but you’re not telling me exactly why.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  So we’ve trained our staff tremendously in those efforts to ensure that the offenders have a clear understanding of what their expectations are, and why we’re using the resources that we’re using to channel them into using best practice resources –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – channel them into the areas of compliance.

Len Sipes:  Greg, I’m glad you brought that up. And Valerie, the next question’s going to go to you. In terms of treatment resources, I mean cognitive behavioral therapy where we sit down and teach individuals how to think differently throughout their lives, and people sometimes smirk at that, but the research base is pretty clear that this reduces re-offending, it lowers criminality, it protects public safety. Those sort of treatment resources, whether it be mental health, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be our own facilities where we place people for an assessment, or place people for intensive drug treatment, the bulk of those treatment resources are going to go to that individual.

Valerie Collins:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Valerie Collins:  We actually have – we call our Reentry and Sanction Center, and that is designed to do a 28-day assessment on those offenders who are high-risk individuals.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  And what we do with them is that we bring them in–it’s an in-patient setting for 28 days–really look at what their needs are, their treatment needs are, and from there, we develop a plan for them, a treatment plan. And they may go out to another treatment facility; we may look at getting them some type of transitional housing so that they can get some stability in the community. And then, particularly in the Domestic Violence Unit, we have a treatment component where we are doing exactly what we’re talking about. We’re actually looking at, you know, how people think, and actually making some changes in their cognitive behavior –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  – so they will no longer be involved with those types of offenses in terms of domestic violence; giving them some alternatives and some skills so that they can be successful in the community.

Len Sipes:  And as we said during the first half of the program, that that treatment emphasis, it’s got to be a combination of supervision and treatment. It’s just not one or the other. If the person comes out of the prison system and he has mental health issues, those mental health issues need to be addressed. I’m not quite sure anybody could disagree with that; if you address those mental health issues, you’re gonna lower the rate of him being back in the criminal justice system. If he has this wild substance abuse history, that needs to be addressed. If he has no work history, that needs to be addressed. That’s what we plan on doing for high-risk offenders.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes, you’re absolutely right. And speaking about in terms of mental health, CSOSA has done a phenomenal job in segmenting our population in terms of needs.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Gregory Harrison:  We have a unit that deals in services to the mental health population. We have a unit that deals and services the all woman population –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – the DVIP population. So we’re really segmented pretty well, and it helps us to channel again our resources in the proper area.

Len Sipes:  Right. I mean, best practices. I mean, one of the things that I find unique about CSOSA is use of best practice, and we’ve been basically implementing best practices since the beginning.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  I mean, CSOSA has been dedicated to a research-based approach, and we think that that obviously works. Alright, let me get into this. For that lower level offender who is going to get less supervision, they are also going to get less treatment. They’re also going to get fewer interventions; again, designed to free up resources for that person who poses a clear and present risk to public safety. What that does mean is that they’re not going to get drug treatment, say, from CSOSA, our drug treatment, but they will work with people in the community to try to get them drug treatment. But our priority needs to be treatment and supervision services on the high-risk offender, am I right?

Valerie Collins: You’re correct, but I think the other unique thing about CSOSA is that we’ve developed such strong partnerships in the community with law enforcement, you know, with treatment providers, so that we do have a host of resources that we can refer these low risk offenders –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Valerie Collins:  – on to, so that they can actually get their services in the community. And when you talk about best practices, when they’re off supervision, they’re already entrenched and embedded in what’s already available to them in their community.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  And we found that that has really helped.

Len Sipes: Well, the partnership part of this is crucial because in terms of public safety, I mean, working with law enforcement, whether it’s the Metropolitan Police Department or the Secret Service or the FBI, we work with them on a regular basis in terms of, you know, who’s doing well, who’s not doing well. I mean, individual officers work with our community supervision officers. So that partnership is there on the supervision side and the treatment side in terms of resources for individuals. My Heavens there is a faith-based program. I mean, thousands of people help getting them, you know, the resources of the faith community in terms of substance abuse or in terms of housing. So it’s the community partnership that is an extraordinarily strong part of what it is we’re trying to do.

Valerie Collins:  Yes, you’re right. And as we talked about earlier just with the whole transitional housing piece, you know, that’s something where we have a partnership with our faith-based providers. And not only do they provide transitional housing, they also provide mentors.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Valerie Collins:  So again, you really have that community support, and that’s what we find that particularly in reentry, that these offenders need.

Len Sipes:  Now Greg, you’ve been around a long time, because when people hear this concept of working with the offender, cognitive behavioral therapy, they’re not aware of the research; it’s sometimes a hard issue for them to grasp. But what we have to do is to get through to that individual offender, and not only in terms of supervision, not only in terms of treatment, but also in terms of incentives. We’ve got to break through that barrier, that wall that he or she brings to us, and we’ve got to work with that person as a human being.

Gregory Harrison:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And where some people have a hard time hearing that, it’s true. I mean, we can reduce recidivism, better protect public safety, by breaking through and dealing with that individual as a human being; and that includes incentives and that includes working with that individual as a person.

Gregory Harrison:  Yeah, and it’s very interesting that you talk about incentives, because oftentimes we deal with when you’re in the world of criminal justice, we always talk about punitive damages and things of that nature –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Gregory Harrison:  – but incentives is something that CSOSA takes pride in, in terms of we do early terminations of some offenders.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  We make referrals oftentimes for them to come off supervision early. We actually, for those offenders who are on GPS where we’ve implemented curfews on them, we have reduced the curfew timeframe for them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  As long as they are in compliance. But what we have to do a better job at is showing that our offenders are absolutely in the know –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – about all of the interventions that we’re placing on them, and why we’re placing these interventions on them.

Len Sipes:  That individual can work their way off that high-risk status. I mean, we can, you know, day reporting and lots of contact and lots of programs and constant GPS; that’s not forever. As long as he or she goes along with the program, we ease them off that level of supervision. We may even ease them off a level of treatment. So that person can get off this designation, correct?

Gregory Harrison:  Yeah, certainly. And what we’ve done a lot of times – Valerie has done it, myself and my other branch chief co-workers – we’ve had what we call “call-ins”. We’ve actually taken focus areas of desire and brought all of those offenders in – whether it’s burglary or GPS offenders and things of that nature – we’ve talked to them about what public safety actually means.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  And what it means for them to be compliant and maintain a level of compliance, so that we can reduce their supervision that was from high-risk to a lower risk offender.

Len Sipes:  Right. And the bottom line in terms of the community watching this, regardless of where they are in the country, or Washington DC, all of this does protect public safety.

Gregory Harrison:  Certainly.

Len Sipes:  There’s now a national strategy that we’ve been implementing for a long time, but we’re going full throttle in that implementation, and we do believe that this is something which is in the public’s best interest.

Gregory Harrison:  But one thing I want to say is this.

Len Sipes: And quickly though.

Gregory Harrison:  In terms of low risk offenders, there are no guarantees. If an offender’s on kiosk, there are no guarantees –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Gregory Harrison:  – that they won’t re-offend.

Len Sipes:  Thank you.

Gregory Harrison:  But what we’re doing is putting in process in place.

Len Sipes:  Thank you, thank you. Alright, you’ve got the final word, Greg. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching the program as we examine the issue from a national and local perspective as to the high-risk offender. Look for us next time as we explore another very important topic within today’s criminal justice system; and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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