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Coordinating Justice-CJCC-DC Public Safety Television

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. It’s the tenth anniversary of the District of Columbia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. There are Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils throughout the United States so this story affects everybody watching. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in the nation’s capitol is seen as one of the most effective in the country as to reducing crime and implementing new programs.  Our participants in the first half are Nancy Ware, my boss, the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and Mannone Butler, the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council here in the District of Columbia. – And to Mannone and Nancy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Nancy Ware and Mannone Butler: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right, now this is going to be an interesting conversation. Mannone, you’re the current director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Nancy, you were the first director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, so we’re going to give Mannone the first shot being she occupies the chair at the moment. Give me a little bit as to what the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is and what it does.

Mannone Butler: Certainly. Thanks again for this opportunity as this marks our tenth anniversary. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council serves as a forum for our local and federal criminal justice agencies to address emerging and long-standing criminal justice issues in the District, criminal and juvenile justice issues in the District of Columbia. We have a unique blend of criminal justice agencies so it was important for us to have a forum. Nancy is going to get into some of those issues, I believe, but I think that this is really an important opportunity for us as a forum to address those issues.

Len Sipes: The key issue is that everybody who affects justice in the District of Columbia is represented – and again, these councils exist all through the United States.

Mannone Butler: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: The whole idea is to bring key people together to sit down and talk about issues and see how we can cooperate for the greater good of the public, correct?

Mannone Butler: To coordinate and to collaboratively address these issues, absolutely. Yes.

Len Sipes: Right, and that’s not easy to do. I mean, in a lot of cities throughout the country and a lot of state throughout the country, people have said there’s not enough cooperation amongst criminal justice agencies. In the District of Columbia, we’re sort of well-known as having a very effective, very collaborative group of people from federal and D.C. agencies that sit down at the table on a constant basis and talk out, hash out, work their way through problems.

Mannone Butler: We absolutely have. I mean, we have our federal partners at the table, we have our local leaders at the table, our judicial partners at the table, and our legislative partners at the table, and they meet frequently. The leaders meet frequently but we also have a structure that allows for committee work to get done. So we have a really robust structure that allows for members to get together and then work to get done.

Len Sipes: Now Nancy, you were a pioneer in all of this. You were the first director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. How difficult was it to begin that process of on a regular basis bringing all the principals together at one table to hash out issues?

Nancy Ware: Well, it was a challenging process, Len, but it was very rewarding because the District of Columbia was unique in that we had an ad hoc group already working as a coordinated council. We just didn’t have the formal structure legislated at that time. So I was the first director for them to bring in to actually formalize the structure, and the City Council of course put the statute in place, and we had the Congress also mandate the participation of federal agencies, so that really helped to mold the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council – which we affectionately call the CJCC for D.C. – to become a real entity in the city.

Len Sipes: I attended some of those meeting years ago and it was your continence, I think, in terms of bringing together – I mean, not everybody gets along. I mean criminal justice agencies throughout the United States in various cities and states, there is a long history of not getting along. They’ve gotten along under your leadership. You seem to instill some sense of hey, we’re all working on the same problems. Whether it’s Law Enforcement or whether it’s Corrections, whether it’s Parole and Probation, whether it’s Juvenile Justice, whether it’s private agencies, unless we all get together and work as a cooperative entity, we’re not going to solve these problems. So how come it worked in the District?

Nancy Ware: I think that what really worked for us was the fact that part of our focus within CJCC is to make sure that we engage all the spectrums of the criminal justice system and the justice system, I should say, in reaching our goal and figuring out answers to some of the questions.  So we have representation from the Public Defenders Service which is on one of the end of the spectrum on defenders, and then on the other end of the spectrum we have the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Law Enforcement, so we had to be sure that we were addressing everybody’s interests in a way that was equitable, and Mannone’s done a fabulous job of moving that forward even today.  But we started off very small, it was a very small office, and we grew over the eight years that I was there to a much larger office. We moved into a much larger space and we had a good, strong staff, and so it really helped to forge the partnership much better because we had enough people to help work on some of those committees that Mannone will talk a little bit more about.

Len Sipes: All right. So Mannone, first of all, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council receives federal funds.

Mannone Butler: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Right, but the entity itself is a District of Columbia entity?

Mannone Butler: Is an independent District agency.

Len Sipes: Okay. So one of the things that you’re most proud of is bringing everybody together to work on common information systems so everybody’s speaking the same language, and we’ve seen this and heard this in terms of terrorism, in terms of 9/11 response. Those are key issues of utmost importance anywhere in the United States, and that’s really interesting how you all have developed those information systems, bringing everybody together in terms of operating off of a key set of systems, correct?

Mannone Butler: Right. Early on, information-sharing was identified as a key priority for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, CJCC, and over time JUSTISS, as we call it, our Justice Information Sharing System which was developed by CJCC and now is overseen by CJCC, has really grown and blossomed. Each agency has their own Information Sharing System or database, if you will, but over time our agencies have agreed that we do want to have a common way to share information. CJCC doesn’t own any of the data but we really do work as a way to facilitate information-sharing, so JUSTISS is that vehicle.  So we’ve worked to develop a portal, a system to really make sure that our law enforcement and our criminal justice agencies have a way to easily access information, and so we’re really proud over the years to have developed a real robust mechanism to share information, again for those authorized users. The agencies have voluntarily contributed this data, and they’re using it, and it has grown. Over the past few years, we’ve really seen really a lot of growth and advancement in the way we’re sharing information across our system.

Len Sipes: And continuing with that 9/11 or terrorism theme or emergency theme, part of the job of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is to make sure that the agencies are prepared for any emergencies that crop up, correct?

Mannone Butler: That’s correct. Well, you know, the District has a real focus on emergency preparedness, and we’re certainly going to be talking about that a bit later.

Len Sipes: Sure. I wonder why?

Mannone Butler: Well, the nation’s capitol, absolutely, it’s important for us to be prepared and focused. One of our strategic priorities is looking at continuity of operations planning, and we’re really just proud of our partnerships with the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and all of our partners, local and federal, who’ve really stepped up and understand the importance. On the criminal justice side, it’s clear that we need to be able to communicate effectively with one another in the event of an emergency, and so we have to be able to plan effectively and make sure that we have information at the ready.

Len Sipes: The question goes to either one of you – is it because it’s the nation’s capitol that everybody gets along so well, that it’s easier to have all these disputes and –?

Nancy Ware: No, you know, I think part of the beauty of the CJCC has been that it is, as Mannone mentioned earlier, an independent agency, and that means that it’s not beholden to the local jurisdiction, the federal jurisdiction, or the judicial jurisdiction; whereas in other parts of the nation, the CJCC is often centered in either the state or the governor’s office or the judiciary, and so that puts the balance, the hierarchy balance, for us it means that everybody feels equitably represented. I think that our leadership in the CJCC – and we do elect the co-chairs. One co-chair is of course the mayor or his designee, which in this case would be the deputy mayor, who we’ll hear from later.

Len Sipes: On the second segment, right.

Nancy Ware: Right. But the elected side really makes every effort to make sure that we have representation from the federal agencies and the judiciary so that there is that balance.

Mannone Butler: And I think it is important to say that the major is the chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and we do have, as Nancy mentioned, the co-chair, so we do have a designee from the local side, and we do have our federal and our judicial representatives. So there is the voice that’s heart across our system, the leaders from our system, so it’s important, to Nancy’s point, that we do have representation across the system.

Len Sipes: But D.C. is unique to the point where there’s a lot of federal agencies around. We’re a federal agency. The courts are federally funded. The United States Attorney’s Office is federally funded so that makes a federal presence.

Nancy Ware: And most of our law enforcement is really federal.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy Ware: So it’s really important, as Mannone said, to have that kind of balance. – And the other thing that’s really helpful in D.C. is that the leadership of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council very early on was out of the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge of the D.C. Superior Court which really helped to move, no matter what anybody says, it always helps to have the court right there are the forefront.

Len Sipes: Never disagree with the Chief Judge, right?

Nancy Ware: That’s right.

Len Sipes: I want to get to topics because people are saying, “Okay, fine, you all get along and do a good job. Give me a sense as to the impact.” So in the second segment when we talk to Deputy Mayor Quander, we’re going to be talking about the crime reductions, which are considerable in the District of Columbia and we’re very proud of that, homicide reductions.  Nancy, you’re chair of a variety of committees, one is on offender re-entry. Re-entry – people on supervision, when they come out of the prison system, has to be a coordinated process. If we don’t have everybody working together, pulling in the same direction, and including private entities, not just government entities but the associations, private entities, Good Will, all the rest, we’re not going to succeed. So tell me about that.

Nancy Ware: Well, I’m involved with two committees. I’m the chair of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force and then the Re-Entry Committee, which is chaired by Cedric Hendricks and Charles Thornton, who runs our Office of Returning Citizens in the District, and Cedric is on my staff. Re-entry for us of course is my agency’s major mission, CSOSA’s major mission. It does require a lot of collaboration particularly since the District’s prison system is run through the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is a federal agency, and as you mentioned earlier, many of the functions in D.C. have now converted to federal agencies so it means that our agencies have to work very closely together to make sure that we do pre-release planning and that we prepare for folks who come out of prison and come back into the District under CSOSA’s supervision, under my agency’s supervision.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy Ware: And that requires us to work out agreements. We’ve actually been successful in strategizing around new programs for folks who come out, keeping people from going back in because they’ve been revoked for lesser issues like substance abuse. We’ve put in place a secure residential treatment program in the Department of Corrections, which is our D.C. jail, to help them with getting on top of their substance abuse issues. So we have a lot of collaborative efforts that involve the U.S. Parole Commission, the Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Corrections, District government agencies, and the like.

Len Sipes: We only have about a minute left in this half but the bottom line is we’re successful. The bottom line is we’re successful in terms of reducing recidivism. Fewer people are going back to the prison systems because of what we’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

Nancy Ware: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And Mannone, I think that, again, you all and the larger Criminal Justice Coordinating Council can take credit for that as well.

Mannone Butler: And there are a lot of efforts that are under way, and to the point, really quickly, with Nancy’s leadership under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health side, there are a number of efforts we could tout. One is that we have a resource locator. It’s one example that’s tangible for our public to take note of, and it’s, and it’s an example of the work that we’ve done under Nancy’s leadership in partnership with Pre-Trial Services Agency, leveraging resources that exist, and it’s an online database. It’s a searchable database that now our partners can utilize but also John Q. Public could utilize as well to see the services that are available in the District and our metropolitan area, and so that’s just one example of the work that we’ve been doing as a collaborative body.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the frustrating things about this program is because there are so many things going on under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and we’re just barely scratching the surface in terms of all these different programs. Thirty seconds left, quickly.

Nancy Ware: Well Mannone, I think, probably should also mention the website that you can get more information on CJCC.

Mannone Butler: Absolutely, yes.

Len Sipes: All right, and we’ll putting that up throughout the course of the program. Absolutely. Final things, ten seconds?

Mannone Butler: The final thought that I have is that we would not be able to do this without the partnership of our leaders. You know, we talk about it’s just Kumbaya all the time – we work really hard. The folks are at the table, and they’re at the table constantly to make sure that our public is safe.

Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first half as we talked about Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils both in the District of Columbia and throughout the country. Look for us in the second half as we continue this very interesting discussion. We’ll be right back.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. With us on the second half is Paul Quander, Jr., Deputy Mayor of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice for the District of Columbia, and Mannone Butler, again, Executive Director for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, discussing cooperative efforts for crime and criminal justice. Paul and Mannone, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Mannone Butler: Thanks again.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We discussed philosophy on the first half of the show, and I really want to get into more examples of the real work that the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council does, and Mannone, you remember Fugitive Safe Surrender, when we brought in all these different agencies from all over the city, and all the federal agencies, and they all focused on getting people to voluntarily surrender, people with warrants, and doing a media campaign, and getting them to voluntarily come in and surrender, correct?

Mannone Butler: Absolutely, and actually the first day Surrender was done under the director then of CSOSA’s leadership, now Deputy Mayor Quander’s leadership, but the second was held in 2011 at the D.C. Superior Court, and partners included the D.C. Superior Court, included our U.S. Marshall Service, included the Office of Attorney General. So I could go on and on about our law enforcement partners, our criminal justice partners, all with the express intent of ensuring that folks come in and voluntarily surrender, and we had over 600, close to 700 individual voluntarily surrender over a three-day period, and actually three successive Saturdays in August no less, and I think one of the Saturdays we had, what was it, one catastrophic weather-related, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Hurricane Irene.

Mannone Butler: Hurricane Irene, correct, right? So that was just one example of the type of coordinated effort.

Len Sipes: But that’s over 1,000 people with warrants voluntarily surrendering over the course of the two campaigns.

Mannone Butler: 1,200 in fact, right.

Len Sipes: Yeah. Paul, now again, as Mannone said, you were instrumental in terms of setting this up, and when you walked in and you saw, you know, 10, 15 criminal justice agencies sitting there behind their desk, behind their computers, all in one spot, to process all of these people voluntarily surrendering who had warrants, I stood there on the first day and said, “Wow, this is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.”

Paul A. Quander, Jr: It’s a beautiful thing because oftentimes you don’t see the different layers that are involved in the criminal justice system. You may see one event, you may see a result or an outcome, but very rarely do you get to take a look through a lens that you can see every component of the criminal justice system coming together for one purpose and achieving a goal, and that’s sort of been the foundation upon what we have developed here.  We have a common purpose, we leave our egos at the door, and we work to make sure that the public served and that we promote public safety in the District of Columbia, and we’ve done a good job of identifying projects that are meaningful, that we can produce, that are sustainable, and that are driving results in the direction that we want them to go. So we are tackling big issues, and as a result, crime is down, our communities are safer. There’s a sense of calmness in the District of Columbia, and it’s something that we’re very proud of.

Len Sipes: All right. Years ago I worked for the National Crime Prevention Council and I ran their clearing house, before coming back to the District of Columbia for this job, and I remember walking through the streets of downtown D.C., I can remember walking through the streets of the communities, and I did not have a safe feeling. We’re talking about back in the ’80s. There’s been a huge transformation in terms of the crime problem in the District of Columbia. There have been huge decreases in crime across the board, huge decreases in violent crime, huge decreases in homicide. Why?

Paul A. Quander, Jr: I think there are a number of factors, and I don’t think you can put your finger on one. There’s been a reduction in the demand of drugs. So we went through the years of the crack epidemic. We’ve gone past that. We are dealing with different issues now. There have been some societal changes, but we’ve done a good job of communicating and sharing information in the criminal justice sector. That wasn’t always the case.  So now what we have is we have a unified system that the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has helped to actually develop and to spearhead where everyone can share information. So the police officer on the street can get information from the probation and paroling authority, and how does that work?  If there is an individual who is on pre-trial release, that’s a good thing because that person would be at the jail taking up a bed but maybe he doesn’t need to be, and the judge says there is a condition of release, “I want you to stay out of this area.”  If a police officer goes into that area and see that individual, oftentimes that police officer doesn’t know that there is a stay-away order; but now through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and their JUSTISS system, the police officer just puts a name in, it pops up, it’ll have the conditions, and if there’s a stay-away or some other condition, the police officer right then and there can go and arrest that individual, take him off of the street, and you have immediate compliance and enforcement of a court order, something we haven’t had in the past.

Len Sipes: And that’s something I think is the most important part of this because we’re talking at a fairly high level. We’re talking about agency heads and sub-agency heads all sitting at the same table hashing things out. Not everybody leaves their ego by the door. We all know that. We all know there’s a lot of hard-fought battles within any Criminal Justice Coordinating Council all throughout the United States but what impresses me, Mannone, is the fact that individual police officers have access to computers.  Individual police officers have access to people under supervision, have access to GPS, have access to stay-away orders. To me, that’s the power. It’s the individual police officers talking to the people with my agency, the Community Supervision officers known elsewhere as Parole and Probation agents talking to Pre-Trial. It’s that street-level coordination that impresses me more than anything else, and that is a direct result of the work of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Mannone Butler: It is a direct reflection of our coordinating efforts but I also always want to kind of turn it back on the work of our partners, right, because we serve as kind of the behind-the-scenes, kind of the conductor, if you will, but for the fact that each of the agencies and the staffs, their willingness to come to the table and roll up their sleeves and work really hard to make those connections. So to the Deputy Mayor’s example, that officer then has with the stay-away order, they then have a point of contact at Pre-Trial Services Agency so they can then find out what’s happening with that individual.  So there are direct connections that are made, and so we certainly – I’m happy to take the credit for the coordination and the behind-the-scenes but I really want to then just kind of spread the love, if you will, and say that each of these agencies are really working very hard, need the staffs are working really hard to make sure that officers are able to speak with the partners or the staffs from each of these agencies. So it’s a lot of work that’s happening across our system.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve talked to a lot of reporters. You know, what’s happening in the District of Columbia is not happening necessarily in Baltimore, it’s not happening in Chicago, it’s not happening in lots of cities throughout the United States. The District of Columbia is steadily getting safer. The criminal justice system is steadily cooperating. We take that for granted in the District of Columbia. We shouldn’t because all throughout this country, there are dozens of cities where that’s not happening.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Well, we don’t take it for granted and we work hard to make sure that we don’t take it for granted.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry. When I say “we”, the reporters and other people I’ve talked to, not the participants.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Right. We know how important it is but let me give you another example because I like to deal in the real world and the specifics. We have a program that is referred to as Gun-Stat, and essentially we’ve identified through the Metropolitan Police Department, we took a look at the statistics, those individuals who have a certain profile, who were either the victims of homicide or the perpetrators of homicide, and there were common factors that were there.  So we identified what those factors were and we looked at the population, and we identified 50 individuals who fit that profile. So what we’ve developed is a system whereby we bring in all the agencies, and there are a lot of levers that can be pulled to make sure that an individual who has a certain sort of background, who has a certain criminal history, gets additional services, gets additional resources.  But in addition to that, there are different eyes that are on that individual so that if an individual is on probation or parole, that’s a lever that can be pulled. If an individual is on Pre-Trial Services, that’s a lever that can be pulled. – Which means that if there is intelligence that says that that individual may be doing something untoward and he or she is on probation or supervision, why not put a GPS monitor on that individual and give that person a curfew? That sends a very powerful signal.  Or if there is a shooting in a certain area and we know that there is going to be retaliation, we look at that area and who’s on supervision, who is responsible for that individual, and if there’s some levers, then we will go out and we’ll bring people in and say, “Look, we know that that was your friend. We know that you want to retaliate. Don’t do it because we’re going to be there to stop you.” So we’re trying to be proactive but a lot of it is sharing information.  Before with Stovepipe, police had their information. Parole had their information, U.S. Attorneys had their information, Corrections and the Bureau of Prisons had their information; and now we have shared that information and there’s a forum for us to do that, and that forum is CJCC. We respect everyone’s right, we respect their independence, but we realize that the most important thing is to share information.

Len Sipes: What I love is when we sent out police officers and Community Supervision officers a la Parole and Probation agents together for key people under supervision that may be having problems, or it maybe the possibility that we get intelligence where they’re – we sent them out together, and that’s powerful.

Mannone Butler: Well, what we’re also just speaking to is just sharing of data. I mean data is important, and part of what we’re really wanting to move to is data-driven decisions, and that’s not necessarily always kind of the most interesting or the topic that folks are really —

Paul A. Quander, Jr: It’s crucial, though.

Mannone Butler: It’s crucial. CJCC also houses the District’s Statistical Analysis Center, and as an independent entity, it’s really important for us to do that and so we work really hard with our partners to not only identify those critical-issue areas but also to identify the types of research that’s important. So we have the discrete projects and the issues that we’ve been discussing here today but also there’s some research that’s important for the District so that’s important.

Len Sipes: All right, only a couple of minutes left, I do want to touch upon juvenile justice, a very important topic within the District of Columbia, a very important topic throughout the country. Paul?

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Well, it’s juvenile justice and let me go one step further, truancy.

Len Sipes: True.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Because one of the gateways to juvenile justice and to the adult corrections system is truancy, so CJCC has done a lot of work. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council here in the District has done a lot of work trying to bring together all of the parties so that we can address the issue of truancy. If keep kids, more kids in school, we’re going to have less kids that actually will graduate to the juvenile system and then to the adult system.  But in the juvenile system, what we’ve done is we’ve established a means of accountability, and again, we’re sharing information. Now there are some confidentiality matters that we are very respectful of but at the same token, they have followed some of the same procedures. They’re really using GPS. They’re sharing the information that they can. We’re coordinating to make sure that we’re using all the resources and the levers that we have, and we’re trying to provide additional services and targeting it, and we’re having the results that we want.  Several years ago, we had a number of young people that were the victims of homicide, and a number of people that were the perpetrators of homicide. Well, last year we had one, which is a tremendous improvement. One is too many but we are going in the right direction, and we’re doing some things extremely well, and we’re beginning to see the results of that collaborative information. No one has the individual answer. It is a collaborative process.  Let me give you another example. One of the issues that we really worked hard on is with our mental health population, so CJCC worked with the Metropolitan Police Department to provide specific training for police officers so that they would know how to address an individual who is a mental health consumer.

Len Sipes: Which is crucial.

Paul A. Quander, Jr: Which is crucial because you can de-escalate a matter, and that’s what we want to do. In the District, we want to reduce crime but we don’t want to increase the number of arrests. We want to reduce crime and we want to reduce the number of arrests. We want to prevent crime and we’re doing that.

Len Sipes: Okay. We have 30 seconds. We’re going to have to close. Again, I think one of the most effective Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils in the country, and it’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of a lot of people throughout the United States so congratulations to you both.  And ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on D.C. Public Safety as we discuss another important issue in the city’s criminal justice system and criminal justice topics happening throughout the country. Watch us next time. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


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Homicides in DC and the US-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes, back at our microphone. Ladies and gentlemen, John Roman, he is a Senior Fellow with The Urban Institute – We’re here to talk about homicides in the District of Columbia and throughout the country. There’s been, generally speaking, a heck of a decrease not only in the District of Columbia but throughout the United States. I want to read three quick paragraphs from an Associated Press article, and then have a discussion with John. “The crack epidemic that began in the 1980s ushered in a wave of bloodletting in the nation’s capital and a death toll that ticked upward daily. Dead bodies, sometimes several in a night, had homicide detectives hustling between crime scenes and earned Washington unwelcome monikers such as the nation’s ‘murder capital.’  “At the time, some feared the murder rate might ascend to more frightening heights but after approaching 500 slayings a year in the early 1990s, the annual rate has gradually declined to the point that the city is now on the verge of a once-unthinkable milestone. The number of 2012 killings in the District of Columbia stands at 78 and is on pace to finish lower than 100 for the first time since 1963, records show.” Then it goes on to talk about other cities, the fact that there have been generally-speaking declines. We have had some increases such as Chicago. It’s fascinating, John, that generally-speaking across the board throughout the United States, but especially in the nation’s capital, homicides have decreased, and decreased to levels that we did not expect. The question is why.

John Roman: That’s a great question. If you are 40 years old, you’ve never lived in a safer country, and I think a lot of people find that sort of hard to believe, so I think the first step is in convincing people that this decline in violence in the United States is real, and it is, but it’s not just the District of Columbia, it’s not just the United States, it’s the whole world – Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe have also seen these declines, so there’s some clues in all of that.

Len Sipes: But isn’t that the norm that ordinarily, you’re not going to get the same increase in the level of decreases but within the Western industrialized world, whether it’s New Zealand, or as some people would consider Japan part of the Western industrialized world, Australia, Europe, Canada – ordinarily crime rises or decreases not at the same volume but the trend lines are generally the same.

John Roman: That’s true; the trend lines are the same. What’s different here though is that if you look at the top explanations that most people apply to the violence decline, what you see is that in the United States, it’s about rising prison populations, mass incarceration, and it’s about the crack epidemic; and if you look at England and Canada and Australia, they didn’t experience either of those things. So for the trend lines to stay the same even when the experiences about how they’re trying to fight violence epidemic were so different sort of really has led to a lot of head-scratching in the criminology community.

Len Sipes: Okay, we’re going to launch way beyond homicides, then, because people have been talking about this for years. I remember leaving the Police Department decades ago, going through my first criminology classes, and having the professors saying, “Do you understand that what goes up in the United States goes up in Germany, goes up in Australia, goes up in New Zealand, goes up in Japan, and comes down basically – again, not at the same levels?  All these other countries have had – well, the United States generally speaking at one time had much higher rates of violent crime than other countries but the trend lines are basically the same. So, what is explaining that? So the explanation for rising and falling crime is more Western industrialized than it is just for the United States.

John Roman: I think that’s right. I think that pattern still holds true, and I want to come back to mass incarceration the crack epidemic and talk about what it means here.

Len Sipes: Sure.

John Roman: But when you look at international patterns, I think what you’ve seen is over the last 25 years, Graham Farrell, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University, wrote a really compelling paper that said, “What’s changed is security, private security and public security, that it’s so much easier to secure your possessions, to secure your business, to secure your car in ways that make it very difficult for them to be taken. It makes people less attractive as targets to be robbed, which is the taking of something by force or threat of force off your person, or have theft of a vehicle or a possession, and that’s driving a lot of the crime decline.” And what Graham would say is, “What’s really driving the crime decline is the decline in motor vehicles thefts.” So take New York City —

Len Sipes: That’s interesting.

John Roman: Yeah, this is great. It’s a great theory. I think it’s partially true. I don’t think it gets the whole thing.

Len Sipes: Okay.

John Roman: But in New York City in 1990, there were over 100,000 vehicles stolen. People had the sign in their windows saying, you know, “No radio,” or never leave it unlocked. By last year there were 11,000, so from over 100,000 to 11,000. It’s a 90% reduction in motor vehicle theft, and it’s two things. It’s a crackdown on insurance fraud where people would report their car stolen when it wasn’t, and it’s much better technology to detect stolen motor vehicles through license plates readers, through low jack electronic stuff, and so what that means is there’s a lot fewer cars to steal to use to get to a crime or to get away from a crime.

Len Sipes: That is so interesting. I mean, my head is exploding because I want to get to homicides, and we can move in a thousand different directions with this discussion. Homicides ordinarily are a proxy for crime across the board, correct? So ordinarily if homicides are up, crime is up. If homicides are down, crime is down. That’s generally-speaking the way it’s been, right?

John Roman: That’s right. So there’s four kinds of homicides. There is domestic violence; there is parents killing infants, infanticide; there is strangers killing strangers; and there is —

Len Sipes: The non-stranger —

John Roman: — non-stranger stuff, so gangs, crews, beefs within the crew as much as beef between crews; and I think it’s really that stranger homicide that is what people are really afraid of, and it’s sort of a declining percentage of all homicides, right, and so that’s really the key indicator there. So anytime there’s an assault, there’s a chance it could become a homicide. Any time there’s a robbery, I take my gun out and tell you I want your wallet, there’s a chance that could become a homicide. So it’s really those stranger-on-stranger events that are really, that’s the indicator, and they’re way down.

Len Sipes: But any time there is an encounter, there is a chance for a homicide. I mean, I sat in front of a group of 100 kids being adjudicated for homicide at the Baltimore city jail, and we had long extended discussions with them, and they were basically saying that these were all heat of passion crimes where there was a perceived insult, and they just could not take it one final time, and the person did this in front of his girlfriend, his mother, his friends, whatever, and he felt that he had to do what he had to do. I mean, sometimes we have these hugely complex understandings of homicide. Sometimes it can be as simple as a perceived insult.

John Roman: Right. So it’s interesting, if you look – there’s two ways I can go here – but different populations respond have different drivers of homicide, right. For white-on-white homicides, it’s almost always something other than an argument going bad. It’s domestic violence, it’s kid killing kids. In African-American homicides, about half the time it’s a disagreement that escalates into a homicide so it’s got different causes there, and this is where the security hypothesis, I think then it sort of doesn’t work really well. You can say, “Well, there are fewer people stealing cars and fewer people possessing stolen cars, and so there are fewer getaway cars, and that could mean fewer drive-bys, for instance.” And I think there’s some of that, but there is clearly other stuff going on.

Len Sipes: Well, the beefs that go down and end up in homicides, they seem to be getting fewer and fewer. I think that’s the most impressive thing. People are using more restraint in terms of settling those beefs, and I’m sort of wondering why that is.

John Roman: Okay, so there’s a lot of —

Len Sipes: I’m asking you a lot of question that you probably can’t answer but I’m going to ask them anyway.

John Roman: So what I’m going to say in response to that is an opinion that’s informed by data but I don’t think there’s really any way to do a data analysis that would really tease this apart. I mean, the world is so complex when you talk about human behavior and when you talk about rare events like homicides. They’re extremely rare events, right? – 82 in a city of 615,000, that’s a pretty rare event but still way too much. So a lot of people propose that the end of the crack epidemic had a big effect.

Len Sipes: The 1980s.

John Roman: Right, and I think there’s something too that you don’t have the open-air drug markets you used to have, which is a place where you’re bringing together people and money, and they’re under the influence, and all of those things together are really conducive to violence, and a lot of that has gone away. One of the primary reasons why it’s gone away is the cell phone. You don’t have to go an open-air drug market. You can call your dealer and meet him somewhere, and so you don’t have large numbers of people gathering in a volatile environment, so that I think is an explanation.  And the most controversial one is of course mass incarceration, so from 1980 until 2009 —

Len Sipes: Huge increases.

John Roman: Right, quadrupling, right, four times as many people in prison.

Len Sipes: Highest rate of incarceration in the world.

John Roman: In the world – 2 million. You’re talking about, if you’re an African-American between the age of 20 and 29, you’ve got something like a 1-in-8 chance of going to prison at some point in your life. I mean, that’s just crazy. So a lot of people have posited that having all of those people in prison has reduced crime, and I think there’s an argument to be made for that, and the argument sort of goes like this: if only 1 out of 100 people who you incarcerate are the really high-volume dangerous people who do 25, 50, 100 crimes a year, and you’ve incarcerated 20,000 of those people, you’re talking about like a million violent events that you’ve prevented by incarcerating them, so I think that is part of the explanation.  I can think of no less efficient mechanism to reduce violence than prison. It is enormously expensive. Most of the people who are incarcerated are not violent, won’t be violent, you haven’t really prevented any crime. You’ve just spent a fortune, right. There’s a study that came out today that said that they changed the rules about the disparity between prison sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, and they retroactively reduced the sentences of lots of prisoners by an average of 29 months, and they estimated that that change alone will save half-a-billion dollars, right? And so we’re not preventing much crime with all of this incarceration because we’re incarcerating way too many people who aren’t going to be violent but it probably does explain a little bit of the decline.

Len Sipes: Washington, D.C., when I was working here – this is before the last 10 years with CSOSA, and I spent 14 years in the state of Maryland, and then before that I was with the National Crime Prevention Council – I can remember back in the ’80s, getting out, working late, trying to catch the last subway available so I could get home to Baltimore, and literally walking in the middle of the street – walking down the yellow line because there were so many homeless and it was just, Washington, D.C., just had such a reputation for violence, it was affecting business, it was affecting construction, it was affecting tourism, it was affecting everything. Washington, D.C., is basically a changed city, a dramatically changed city.

John Roman: A dramatically changed city, and I think the lessons about how it changed are really instructive in thinking about why it’s changing in other cities and why it’s not changing in some other cities.

Len Sipes: All right, I do want to get to that, yes.

John Roman: So in 2000, I moved to Capitol Hill, right, so I lived six blocks from the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Supreme Court, and I would walk home from the Verizon Center, which is about a mile-and-a-half away, and it was entirely brown fields and boarded-up buildings, and it was a scary place.

Len Sipes: Yep, I remember it well.

John Roman: If you did the same walk today, it would take a lot longer because it’s so developed with new condos and new stores and new restaurants, and you cannot find a boarded-up house on Capitol Hill where there used to be one on every street. If you go down H Street, which was really the most thriving African-American commercial corridor, it was about 13 blocks long, and it was really devastated by the riots in the ’60s, and in 2000, you know, 12-block corridor had 600 vacant or abandoned properties.

Len Sipes: And that section of H Street hadn’t recovered yet.

John Roman: It had not recovered yet, and 40 are now vacant.

Len Sipes: So basically we’re saying that a ton of money was poured into the District of Columbia that realigned the place economically.

John Roman: And the question is why, why did it happen then, right? Why didn’t it happen in 1990 or 1980, and I think the answer is sort of three-fold. One is that you had some brave people, like Abe Pollin, who built the Verizon Center at 7th and F, which was abandoned warehouses and boarded-up buildings, and he poured his own dollars into the city, and that was a signal, right? That was a very strong signal that people were willing to invest in the city.

Len Sipes: A symbolic image.

John Roman: A symbolic image, and then there’s, you know, First Movers, and so people started moving into communities they hadn’t previously been in, and then you have this wave of immigration, right, and I think underestimate how good it is for city to have immigrants. Immigrant neighborhoods, if you look at the average rates of poverty and you think about how much crime you would expect to see given how poor they are, you see much lower rates of crime in immigrant neighborhoods than you see in native neighborhoods with the same demographics. They bring with them energy and a cohesion that doesn’t exist in native communities, people who grew up there.  So they come in, and then what happened here is there was a wave of immigration in the ’80s into the city, and people forget now but there were riots in the early part of the 1990s in Columbia Heights, which is the part of the town that was really the focus of a lot of this immigration, because the police weren’t prepared to interact with a community that had different norms. The riot actually began because the police arrested some young men who were drinking beer on their own stew stoop, which is illegal but not where they came from it wasn’t.  So the police department really learned from that, and they changed how they related to the immigrant population, and this city became a very friendly place for immigrants, and that has brought with it a lot of safety in areas that weren’t safe before. So that’s, you know, improving police, immigration, and as these two things happened sort of in concert, you get this First Movers strong signal, you get some migration of people from close-in neighborhoods to place like Capitol Hill and a little further out into parts of the city that have been traditionally non-white.  And then you get sort of this virtuous cycle where all these things sort of build and create momentum and that sort of spurred the economic development and the gentrification. And so let’s talk gentrification because it’s controversial, right?

Len Sipes: Yes. Yes, it is.

John Roman: A lot of people think gentrification is a really bad thing for a city because it changes its historical makeup because it forces poor people to move, it dislocates people, it changes the culture of a place – and that’s all true. But what it also brings with it is enormous safety, and it can bring some wealth to people who were poor, right? If you own a house on Capitol Hill that your grandma owned, she probably paid, you know, $20,000 for it, and you probably sold it for half a million.

Len Sipes: Right, and you know, half a million, it’s more like $800,000 or $900,000.

John Roman: Exactly, and so you have some wealth generation. And then the other thing that happened at the same time at the end of the 1990s was that there were a lot of public housing projects around the city, that there was a federal program called Hope Six, and it was a program to tear down dense, public housing and replace it with garden-style apartments, and that happened in a number of cities, parts of this city and other cities – which we’ll get to in a minute – and that I think dislocated a lot of people, a lot of them came back, but the places where they went, they didn’t take the violence with them. The violence was about that place that had poisoned it, and when they left, they were safer and the place itself became safer.

Len Sipes: That is so interesting. Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, is John Roman. He is a Senior Fellow at The Urban Institute – I sat and watched a live feed as John did a dissertation to a variety of media throughout the country on research that he and Urban had done on homicides, D.C. homicides and throughout the rest of the country, and this is a topic that you can barely scratch the surface of within a half-an-hour.  John, I want you to come back to continue this conversation, but in the say 13 minutes we have left, all right, it’s a very complex set of circumstances that gradually, through osmosis it almost sounds, not necessarily through planning but through osmosis, gradually builds to a point where you have a much safer city here in Washington, D.C. We’ve seen lots of cities throughout the United States that have also accomplished that moniker of a much, much safer city; but then we have a whole slew of cities that have not reached that point – Chicago, big increases in terms of homicide, Baltimore continues to have a homicide problem.  You may find decreases in certain cities throughout the country but residences there can’t taste it, touch it, feel it, and smell it. In the District of Columbia and in New York City, you can really get a sense as to the incredible changes in terms of how safe those cities have become. In other cities, not so much.

John Roman: Right, so let me put some numbers around this because that’s what I do. In 1990, if you rank order the top 25 biggest American cities from most crime to least crime, you would see Washington, D.C. at the top of that list, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

John Roman: And you would see New York City and Dallas in the top ten, for instance, and you would see Las Vegas at the bottom of the list. And if you go fast-forward to 2000 and you look at the rank orderings, every one of those 25 cities experienced a crime decline, and the rankings didn’t really change much, and that’s led people like Steve Levitt, the economist who wrote Freakonomics, which I suspect a lot of people have heard of, to posit that it was really national phenomenon, that whatever was happening was happening everywhere. It was better and worse. Some places it was down 20% homicide, some places it was down 80%. Then between 2000, if you rerank everybody in 2010, you see really big changes, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

John Roman: New York drops 8 spots on a ranking of just 25.

Len Sipes: Phenomenal decrease!

John Roman: Huge! Dallas drops 8 spots, and then you see other places like Memphis and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore that you mentioned moving up the rankings, and so what is it about places like San Diego and D.C. and Houston and Dallas that differentiates?

Len Sipes: And New York, yeah?

John Roman: And New York City – I’m going to put New York City aside for just a second because I want to come back to it.

Len Sipes: All right.

John Roman: What differentiates those cities? – And this is also true for New York. And I think what differentiates them I that prosperity is more diverse across places in those cities, right? D.C. is interesting. It used to be almost perfectly segregated by Rock Creek.

Len Sipes: By Rock Creek Park.

John Roman: That’s correct, where it was white on the west side and African American on the east side, and that is not true. D.C. is a far more diverse place. There are far more neighborhoods that have a mix of people by race and ethnicity, and if you look at a map of New York City, one of the big advantages New York City has is it’s always been a pretty diverse place, right, and there’s lots of Hispanics and African Americans in Queens and Brooklyn, and now an increasing number of whites in some neighborhoods, and so it’s a pretty diverse place. It’s still more segregated than I think anybody would like to see it but there aren’t like big areas of the city where you’re never going to see somebody of a different race.  There are big areas of Chicago that are almost perfectly segregated. There are big areas of Detroit, there are big areas in Philadelphia, right, and what people are beginning to speculate is this crime decline is about places, and it’s about economic segregation.

Len Sipes: That’s interesting. That is really interesting.

John Roman: And one of the things that I’ve argued is if you can have less wealthy people living next to more wealthy people, in effect it vaccinates people who would have been at risk of being poisoned in the violence epidemics when they roll through, like we had around crack cocaine. And so if you can find ways to keep people who live here while you have gentrifiers coming in, it creates sort of this vaccine and it makes lots of places safe that otherwise would be less safe.

Len Sipes: Economic and ethnic and racial integration is paying off in terms of stabilizing larger cities, that’s what you’re saying.

John Roman: I think that’s right, and I think there have a number of studies that have come out recently and they’ve shown really – and it’s hard to talk about this on the radio – but really interesting visualizations of color-coded block-by-block, how likely you are to have a neighbor who is of a different race or a different socio-economic status, and you can really see it, and it’s really vivid, you know, how much integration there is in these cities, and it’s not a coincidence that the cities that are more integrated across all of these things are the ones that are moving down in the rankings, and the cities like Chicago and Baltimore that are very segregated are not experiencing the same declines in violence.

Len Sipes: But a bit part of this, at the same time, would be the efforts on the part of the criminal justice system, but I understand that there is a huge criminological debate that would take us the next five years to talk about, whether policing is effective or whether it’s not effective, whether incarceration is effective or it’s not effective. We talked about that a little while ago – parole and probation, the impact of it, drug treatment; I mean the whole spectrum of what it is that we do in the criminal justice system, so I’ll ask you an impossible question. Talking about gentrification, talking about economic, racial, and ethnic integration, I understand that. Does the criminal justice system have a real role to play in terms of holding down crime rates or crime totals?

John Roman: I said bad things about our sentencing policy, right, which I think is really misguided, but I have good things to say about all the other actors in the system. I think all the other actors in the system have gotten substantially better over the last 20 years. So the story begins with this guy who works for the state of New York whose name is Martinson, who famously in 1974 reviewed everything that was available at the time about how effective rehabilitation programs and corrections were, and famously concluded that nothing works in rehabilitation.

Len Sipes: He’ll say he didn’t say that but I understand, but the bottom-line message was nothing works.

John Roman: Right, and I think that that “nothing works” message really dominated the national debate for 20 years.

Len Sipes: Yes, it did.

John Roman: And I think it was only in the ’90s, it was really – I think a lot of it starts with Janet Reno in Miami, where she’s the prosecutor in 1989, and her city is overwhelmed with criminals involved in the drug trade but she doesn’t have the resources to catch everybody and lock everybody up, so she creates this thing called Drug Court, and she treats people and says, “Look, what we’re going to do is get people into recovery because when you get people into recovery, some of them will not commit the criminal acts they would commit if they were drug-seeking or high,” and it really seemed to work. – And now these Drug Courts are, you know —

Len Sipes: All over the place —

John Roman: — everywhere.

Len Sipes: — and uniformly successful.

John Roman: And they’re successful, and they’re in every medium to large county and city in the United States, and they’ve spawned a whole generation of sort of spin-offs that are trying to address other problems between alcoholics who get DWIs, and returning veterans who have PTSD, and a whole range of people, and we’ve been much more successful in treating the underlying causes that make people turn to crime, and we’ve done it in the court system, and we’ve done it may be less effectively in the correctional system. We’re doing it much better for people under community supervision, and I think it’s really mattered.

Len Sipes: And we’ve excluded a lot of lower-risk people so we could focus our resources on the higher-risk people. What about the law enforcement side?

John Roman: So the law enforcement story is really interesting. So the New York story really was about disorder, and the idea that places that looked really disorderly are more dangerous. So famously there were the squeegee men, and when you came in over the bridge or the tunnel, they’d be there at the traffic light, and they’d break off your antenna if you didn’t pay then two bucks to —

Len Sipes: They’d graffiti everything else.

John Roman: Right, to spit on your windshield and, you know. And so a lot of places went for this real hardcore law-and-order model, and those guys went to jail, and if you jumped the turnstiles you went to jail, and now they do stop-and-frisk, right? So if you’re carrying something and you’re not doing anything suspicious other than mainly being black or brown, of which a lot of people thing is really bad policy, they’re going to frisk you.  Other places like Washington, D.C., have really gone the other way, and especially under Chief Lanier here. Now what she’s done is she’s moved into a really proactive community policing model where she really wants to see – she wants people in a neighborhood to trust her officers, to talk to them, to tell them about beefs before they happen, to be willing to say, “Yes, I saw somebody shoot this other –.”

Len Sipes: So they can get the information they need to stop crime.

John Roman: That’s exactly right, and then around the country there are these other models, they call them like “the interruptor models.” There’s a documentary out now called “The Interruptors” that I would tell people to go see. It’s quite good. And what these people are, they’re people who work with gangs and crews to get in the middle of beefs and to end the cycle of retaliation, because it’s the cycle of retaliation that really is where the violence occurs, and so they get in the middle of it and they try and stop it. – And especially in places like D.C., the police have been more and more open to having these people involved, and are willing to give them the information that they need to get into the middle of these things and stop it.

Len Sipes: More open to a collaborative approach by everybody involved in the criminal justice system. We’ve got a minute left. Homicides have gone down tremendously in Washington, D.C., violent crime has gone down tremendously. Homicides have gone down in the vast majority of cities in the United States, so has violence crime. What percentage of it is societal, what percentage of it is the criminal justice system?

John Roman: Wow.

Len Sipes: Within one minute.

John Roman: Okay, so I would say it’s at least two-thirds societal and maybe a third interventions, and I think that’s good because I think the part that’s the criminal justice system intervention is increasing and the part that’s societal I think is decreasing as a percentage of the explanation.

Len Sipes: But somehow some way we as a society, whether we had this conversation with ourselves or not, whether we realized we were having this conversation with ourselves or not, somehow society has come to grips with its own problem and solved its own problem outside of the criminal justice system.

John Roman: And I think the group that deserves the most credit for it is the one that gets the most blame, and that’s the African American community because they deserve the credit for it. That is a community that said, at the height of the crack epidemic, “This is destroying our communities,” and they are a population that is by race the least likely to be consumers of illegal substances, even though they’re disproportionately the ones going to prison for drug possession and sales, the least likely to use it, and the least likely to tolerate open-air drug markets, and more and more engaged with community policing to help make their cities safer.

Len Sipes: As somebody who’s been reading the African American press for a quarter of a century, it strikes me as interesting that they are sometimes the most conservative voices for the issue of crime control, the ones who are crying out the most for interventions, contrary to some critics. So the bottom line is that society can have a wonderful way of controlling itself outside of the criminal justice system, but the criminal justice system does supply that degree of stabilization to allows them to do that. Am I in the ballpark?

John Roman: You’re exactly on target. So the societal explanation is about places. Places poison people if we let them. The criminal justice system is about helping people achieve their potential.

Len Sipes: John Roman, Senior Fellow at The Urban Institute – We could go for five hours, John. I love you by the microphones. I learn more from you in a half-an-hour than in two criminological degrees.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We really 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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Family Court and Juvenile Justice in D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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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, the show today is on Family Court and Young Offenders. We have two guests with us today. Judge Zoe Bush, she is he Presiding Judge of the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and we have Terri Odom. She is the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division – to talk about the courts’ involvement in terms of young offenders – how they approach them, how they deal with them, what the outcome is, what the challenges are. – And to Judge Bush and to Terri Odom, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Judge Zoe Bush: Thank you.

Terri Odom: Thank you so much for having us.

Len Sipes: Well, this is interesting because in the District of Columbia, like so many jurisdictions throughout the country, you have dual jurisdictions over younger people who are caught up in the criminal justice system the Superior Court of the District of Columbia – now I’m not saying this just because I have a real judge and a real director sitting in front of me – the specialty courts have done such a great job, have gotten such great publicity. There’s a lot going on.  You are an activist court, really moving in a lot of different directions, really doing a wonderful job. People from around the country are noticing what it is that you all do here in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, so that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you in today. Give me a sense as to the process, Judge Bush, in terms of the offenders or the young individuals that you try to assist.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, I’m not sure I’ll accept being an activist. I think we’re progressive and very thoughtful in our approach to our young people, and I’m very proud of all the work that we do at the Superior Court and in general. We’re the Trial Court of the General Jurisdiction for the District of Columbia, and we’ve got about 90 associate and magistrate judges, and in the Family Court we’ve got 19 judges and we hear cases for juveniles, families with abuse and neglect issues, domestic relations, mental health, and paternity and support.  I’m very fortunate that I have four judges who have dedicated juvenile calendars meaning that’s all they hear. I have one judge who part time hears a calendar that involves young people who are diverted from the juvenile calendar so that they can get special mental health treatment. I have a judge who hears status offender cases. Those are young people charged with offenses that only children can be charged with, and that would be truancy, being ungovernable or running away from home, and then there is one judge who hears the initial hearing cases for juveniles when they are first brought to court.  So we have a lot of resources. Every kid or every young person has a lawyer assigned to them, whether their family can afford it or not, from the very first day they come into court. We have an excellent Court Social Services division. I’m very proud of the work that Ms. Alderman and her team does for us, and I never feel that a young person just gets churned through the system. I know they get individual attention. We look at what their needs are and not just the offense that they are charged with, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that we do.

Len Sipes: Would you suggest, Your Honor,  that it is unusual for most court systems in the country to have the resources that you within the Superior Court have at your disposal? My sense is that you do things over at the Superior Court in the District of Columbia far more comprehensively than most court systems in most cities in most states throughout the country.

Judge Zoe Bush: We are so fortunate in our leadership. Our Chief Judge is a former Presiding Judge over Family Court, and that’s Chief Judge Lee Satterfield. He understands what we’re doing and we’ve got very strong leadership and consistency. For judges to come into Family Court, they have to volunteer to come to Family Court and they have to be trained in early childhood development and other family-related issues and so, yes, you’re right. We make very good use of the resources that we have.

Len Sipes: But you have resources that other jurisdictions don’t have. I think that’s the point that I’m trying to get to. You know, a lot of jurisdictions in this country – even at the juvenile level which is supposed to be based upon treatment more than it is at the adult level in terms of punishment or re-entry – even at that level, a lot of courts, a lot of agencies throughout the country complain that they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the commitment, they don’t have the judges who are really specializing in a juvenile population. My guess is that you have resources that other jurisdictions do not.

Judge Zoe Bush: I think we’ve very smart with the resources that we do have. Ms. Odom can talk about the drop-in centers but probation officers have to work some place and we choose that they don’t all work downtown. They work in the communities where the young people live so that they are accessible to these young folks and their families.  In all jurisdictions, young people have to have lawyers but the lawyers that we have go through a panel review so that we know that they’re trained in juvenile law, they’re held to standards, and we have training for them on a monthly basis at the courthouse so that we know that they understand the issues and the services that are appropriate for young people.

Len Sipes: Terri, you’re the Director of Family Court Social Services Division so in essence you’re in charge of making sure the individuals are both treated and supervised all at the same time. Oh, and one of the things that we did not say at the beginning is that you deal with the pre-trial as well as a probation population, correct?

Yes, that’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. So give me a sense as to the resources that you have, your philosophy, the philosophy of the people under you, what you do to help and supervise the individuals involved in Family Court.

Terri Odom: Well, I think it starts with having a robust, talented pool of staff that you work with, and I think you build on that talent by doing training. I think that in the current fiscal economy, though dollars to go to training are not available, we do a lot of in-house training. We have a Child Guidance Clinic where we have five fulltime licensed clinical psychologists who provide the psychological, psycho-educational. They provide a host of forensic evaluations like the sexual clinical risk assessments.  So we get a lot of clinical training with our probation officers from our in-house physicians but a lot of it, I think, deals with having a talented pool of POs, of probation officers, and building the kind of logic model that you then support with your resources. I wouldn’t want the viewers to think that the District of Columbia’s court system and Family Court have been sort of saved or spared from the fiscal reality. It is affecting all jurisdictions, and I talk to my colleagues across the country, directors of probation.  But I think that what happens is as you continue to look at how you can build your resources, we’ve relied more on a model wherein our POs are kind of the boots on the ground so we’re not just managing cases and farming out our youth juvenile population elsewhere. We are literally doing a portion of that work.

Len Sipes: Direct service.

Terri Odom: Absolutely, we have a direct service component through our probation model as well. It’s a public/private partnership. So in that regard, I think we leverage our resources better because we don’t have to buy as much because we do a lot in-house.

Len Sipes: Well, there are approximately 1,500 individuals your charge.

Terri Odom: Yes.

Len Sipes: And they range from the ages of 12 to 19. Now the interesting thing is that again, in terms of juvenile offenders, young offenders within the District of Columbia, they are split between the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, which are the more serious offenders, and then they have the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. That means they’re under your jurisdiction, correct?

Terri Odom: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So in essence – look. I’ve spent a lot of times when I left the Police Department – now to the fun part of the program, now we’ve gotten through all that – and after leaving the Police Department, I put myself through college. So I was a Gang Counselor in the City of Baltimore, worked the streets, and I suddenly found that law enforcement is a piece of cake compared to dealing with people who are either caught up in the criminal justice system or about to be caught up in the criminal justice system. I found that adults are much easier to work with than younger individuals.  I learned far more than they taught me. They taught me far more than I taught them, rather. Dealing with the juvenile population certainly does have its challenges, and you guys, generally speaking, have a rate of success that is better than the national average. How do you do that? What is the philosophy that you guys bring to the table that is different from what other people are doing?

Terri Odom: I think that we have judges who really understand our young people, and who want to work with our young people, and who have a lot of confidence in our probation officers. I can tell you as a parent that the difference between young people who are successful and young people who struggle is that they have adults who care about them and who try and guide them along the way. Just from raising my own child, she has the same impulses, the same immaturity as some of the young people who would appear before me on my calendar but the difference would be that I was there to guide her along and to make sure she had what she needed.  You can’t substitute for parents but what we try to do is to support our young people. We don’t just treat them as the offenses that they committed but we try and partner with their parents to support their parents to get the services in place so that the young person can then be redirect, so that they can be successful at school and they can cooperate at home and not be a problem in the community.

Len Sipes: One of the things that I do want to repeat is that the philosophy of the Juvenile Justice System both in the District of Columbia and any juvenile justice system throughout the country is treatment. It’s not punishment, it’s treatment, and there are people who don’t like that but it’s nevertheless a reality of how we do criminal justice in this country. Unless the person is charged as an adult, which you don’t have those kind of individuals, your job is to try to restore that individual by working with the offender, the family, the parents, the school, the community, and to try to bring a comprehensive approach to what is it that you do, correct?

Terri Odom: Yes. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Tell me about it.

Terri Odom: Well, I would say our philosophy at Juvenile Probation is that first and foremost, we want to treat the children the way we would our own, recognizing that they’re not our own but they are entrusted in our care. We see ourselves as the eyes and ears of the judiciary, and the judges rely upon us and the stakeholders to ensure that what is ordered is carried out, to ensure that that which is needed for our young people is accorded to them, and to monitor the young people in such a way that they are less tempted to get into trouble.  So our philosophy is to – we don’t believe in a cookie-cutter approach. We don’t believe that the same thing that works for me will work for you and everybody else. A lot of times that has to be tailored, and gathering information, learning about the family is very important, learning about the youth. We gather information that looks at were there complications while the youth was carried in the womb. What were their early developmental years like? How did they fare in school? Were there any traumatic events? Trauma is extremely, extremely significant when you talk about vulnerable populations and populations that are being [INDISCERNIBLE 00:11:41].

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Terri Odom: So then we look at it from a strength-based approach. How do we best connect with our young people, and that’s why we’re doing the school visits, that’s why we have the drop-in centers. We try to create youth-friendly environments where we can re-norm and re-teach conduct.

Len Sipes: How difficult are the individuals that you service? I mean, Your Honor, my guess is that because of the reliance on specialty courts in the District of Columbia – and I like your word “progressive” – but it is. I mean, the Superior Court has branched out in a dozen different directions trying to bring that sense of end business as usual, really having judges being proactively involved in a wide variety of cases. My guess is that a judge in the District of Columbia is going to see the individual under supervision, the juvenile, the young person, more often than judges in most jurisdictions.

Judge Zoe Bush: I think we have a number of advantages. We’re all located on the John Marshall level which is one floor of the courthouse, and on that floor in the courthouse we have our partners in the Executive. We have a Mayor Services Liaison’s Office so that we can send the families there and they can meet with representatives from Housing, from the schools, from Child and Family Services, drug treatment issues, so that we’re not running these people all over town, recognizing they have limited resources and a lot of responsibilities, and very often they’re in crisis.  We’ve got Court Social Services right across the street, we’ve got the Office of the Attorney General very close by so that we’re able to work as a team because just as no one parent acts along, the court doesn’t have a magic wand. You can write anything on a piece of paper and call it an order but unless you’re able to deliver, and to coordinate services, and to meet the needs, and meet that child where they are, and to partner with their family, you’re not going to have a successful outcome.

Len Sipes: But what I’ve found in the District of Columbia is that there is a lot of – I don’t want to use the word “activism” and I’m not quite sure the word “progressive” fits here. Judges are more involved in the District of Columbia in a wide variety of cases than my experience in other part of the Criminal Justice System. Again, my guess is – I’ll go back to this question – my guess is that the younger individuals that are under the purview of the Family Court come into contact with judges more often than they ordinarily do, and I think that contact with the judge, if I’m correct, is one of the main reasons why you have a rate of success that’s higher than the national average. Am I right or wrong?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think you’re right. I think most of our judges, even after the young person has been found involved or enters a plea of involvement, they have continued review of probation to make sure that young person is compliant with their conditions, that they’re getting all the services that have been ordered for them, and that the parents aren’t concerned about their child’s safety and their child’s development. I know that our judges have volunteered to go into the schools to try to intervene early so that young people don’t have to be prosecuted for truancy and so that they can get the education that they need and that the needs of the family are met in partnership with our community collaborative partners who also go into the schools with us.

I know Court Social Service probation officers can always tell the judge – because I was a Head of Juvenile Calendar for four years before I started as the Deputy Presiding Judge – but we can always count on Court Social Service probation officers to tell us, “I’ve been to the school. I’ve talked to the attendance officer. I’ve talked to the teachers. I’ve gone to the home,” and they see these kids in the community, they send them back home, and they have a real responsibility that’s met, and they care about these kids. I haven’t met probations officers who are just there to get a paycheck.

Len Sipes: I’m going to re-introduce my guests, ladies and gentlemen. We’re talking about Family Courts and Young Offenders specifically, though one in the District of Columbia. For the Superior Court, we have Judge Zoe Bush. She is the Presiding Judge of the Family Court for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. We have Terri Odom, the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division. Terri, are you better equipped than most parole and probation agencies in the country? Do you have a smaller ratio of officers to people under supervision?

Terri Odom: Well, I don’t know that I would describe us as better equipped. I think what we have done – and again, this is a testament to our leadership with respect to our Chief Judge, our Executive Officer, and our Presiding Judge of the Family Court, and working with our stakeholders – is we decentralized our probation infrastructure in such a way that it allows us to be more accessible in the community and in closer proximity to the youth that we work with so we have a satellite office in every quadrant of the city. We have one on Martin Luther King and Beach Street Southeast, one on South Capitol across the street from the Nationals, one on Reed Street which is around the corner from Rhode Island Avenue, so that’s northeast, southeast, and southwest, and then we have one on Kalorama Road. So by decentralizing, we are, I think better located; and then we have retooled our whole probation model. We began that back in 2005.

Len Sipes: A community-based approach is what you’re talking about instead of so many jurisdictions throughout the country have a centralized approach.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. We had to decentralize, and what we also had to do is cross-train our staff. So we cross-train our probation officers in a way that once you start a case, you continue to work that case on until it closes, and if that person picks up another charge, you work that case again.

Len Sipes: Do they really get the services that they need? I mean, how many parole and probation offices in this country, whether they are adult or juvenile – you know, I’ve talked to dozens of people throughout the country who tell me that they don’t have those resources. If they have a person with a mental health problem, they tell that person to go to the local community health clinic, and that person waits a month-and-a-half or two months before they get involved in a group, and so in between that time it’s anybody’s guess as to what’s going to happen.  So a lot of supervision agencies, whether they be adult or juvenile, don’t have the resources to immediately get people involved in programs. Do you have sufficient resources?

Terri Odom: I think we have a great deal of resources and access, and I think that has to do with the fact that many of the agencies that we rely on to provide those services under the executive branch, we work collaboratively with. We are on a number of committees. We interact quite frequently, and there is a commitment toward resource-sharing but more importantly a commitment to prevent duplication of effort because, for example, of we had a situation where we couldn’t access public mental health services for our kids who have no private insurance, then we would be attempting to facilitate that, and that’s not necessarily our role.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why, when I asked Judge Bush is the average judge more involved than judges in other jurisdictions through the country, I ordinarily find that judges in the District of Columbia are far more involved than judges in other sections of the country. That’s one of the reasons why I asked that question because I think having a judge directly involved in the lives of those kids means a judge is directly involved in the treatment and supervision of those individuals under supervision which means people pay attention. They may not pay attention to me as a parole and probation agent but boy, they do pay attention to a judge when a judge wants something done.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, you know, the Family Court is a model court on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and that’s a collaborative approach to helping families. So we meet regularly with service providers, with mental health, with the schools, with drug treatment, and with other agencies in the city so that as Ms. Odom said, we can collaborate and make the best use of our resources.  On our mental health diversion calendar, the young people who would normally see a judge maybe once a month would see a judge once every two weeks, and the Mental Health Services aren’t just community-based. They’re home-based. The service provider goes into the home. They meet with not just the child but with the child’s siblings and with their parents also because as Ms. Odom mentioned, trauma is so important because a lot of our young people live in under-served communities.  They see a lot of violence and they’re subjected to situations that adults couldn’t even navigate, and so we have to understand that, and so when a child is not able to sit still in school and they’re acting out, it’s not because they don’t want to learn. They’re responding to stimuli that they brought into the classroom with them, and so it’s important to recognize that and to help that young person.

Len Sipes: Well, but that’s the challenge because when I did – I also had Jail or Job Corps where the judge said, “Go to jail or go to the Job Corps.” So I had a youthful population. Like I said, I did gang counseling on the streets of the city of Baltimore. Both populations taught me far more than I taught them because they are involved emotionally with things that they have no business being emotionally involved in – violence, drugs, acting out.  Pulling them back from the brink of getting more deeply involved in those sort of behaviors is very hard to do. It’s not easy. Most of them come from broken homes. Most of them have histories of substance abuse. Most of them, the father was not present. Most of them had anger issues, and what I sometimes say about the population that we have here at CSOSA, “a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.”  So breaking through those barriers is not easy with a younger population. On every instance, I’ll take a 35-year-old coming out of prison than a 15-year-old who may be going towards prison because it’s easier to deal with the 35-year-old.

Terri Odom: There are a number of practitioners who have said that they would prefer to work with an older population, and if you look at treatment models in the adult world, those programs are based on a typical prototype of someone who is late-20s, early-30s into their mid-40s because that’s a point where you’re kind of settled. There’s less resistance. There’s less fight.

Len Sipes: Right.

Terri Odom: On the other hand, I think that the progressive nature of a juvenile system, and ours sort of very much models the juvenile system that began overseas in Europe, what’s to say we don’t have to wait to that age because you also look at how much life is lost during that period, that you want to get in at an earlier age, and you want to give someone a chance to turn their life around and redirect them, sort of a launching pad.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Terri Odom: But not everyone can do it.

Len Sipes: The most criminogenic ages are 15 and 20, so the 35-year-old is beyond their peak of offending. The 35-year-old is far more amenable to treatment than the 15-year-old.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So the challenge that both of you have, I mean, we’ve sat here and described a very bureaucratic system but the challenge that the two of you have is immense.

Terri Odom: Well, I guess the reason I was agreeing with you up to a point is I think that’s true when you look at the traditional treatment construct and logic model that we have relied on in America which is we build it for adults, and then we think we can shrink it and make it appropriate for kids and adolescents, and that will not work. But when you take an adolescent-friendly approach that looks at developmental stages of adolescence theoretically, and then looking at environmentally, and looking at it where particular localities and jurisdictions are concerned, you can create interventions and you can create ways to respond and even ways to prevent that type of behavior that can be far more effective.

Len Sipes: No, no. I agree with you. I agree with you. If you have the resources and the direct involvement on the part of the judges, you have a dedicated, trained team; you have people who volunteer to do all these things, that’s a wonderful thing to have. I never saw that in either Job Corps or my time in the terms of a street counselor. I just saw a bunch of kids on the brink of having their lives ruined, and I reached out to their families, and I found out their families were sometimes the problem, not the solution.

Terri Odom: Well, you can’t treat a child in isolation. You really have to partner with their family, and I think what you find when you really look at the child as an individual, that young person is very open to having someone reach out to them and to see them and to hear them so that they know they matter. Every human being, I don’t care how old you are, you want to know that you actually matter, and when you’re consistent with these young people – because they’ve been disappointed a lot, there are a lot of deficits in their lives – and so when you tell them you’re going to help them and you actually live up to that, when you deliver the services, when you do care about them, and you do provide them with opportunities to express themselves and to be positive, it is paid back ten-fold, and it really is.

I’m so proud of our balanced and restorative justice systems because the young people who are there often get together to get in trouble, and when they can get together and do something that’s positive, their faces shine because we the judges will go over and have dinner and the young people will learn how to cook and they’ll cook dinner for us, and they’ll write essays about their role models and what they aspire to be, and their faces just shine. They love getting positive reinforcement.

Len Sipes: And I don’t want to take anything away from Terri’s folks because I am positive that it’s crucial for Terri’s people to be there but I still go back to what I find an amazing amount of direct contact within the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, the judges being out there in the criminal justice system, talking to the people under supervision, talking to the families, talking to the fathers, talking to the – that’s my sense is that you’re talking to – describing their kids cooking for you. That doesn’t surprise me at all within the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It would surprise me in terms of most judicial jurisdictions in the country.

Terri Odom: We are also very fortunate that we have legislative parental participation orders so that we make sure that the parents come to court. They know what’s going on with their young person’s case. They know the judge. They have their child’s dates. They know their child’s responsibility to check in with probation. They expect probation officers to come to their homes, and they know that we’re going to be asking them to follow up and to help support their child, so it’s a real partnership.

Len Sipes: We only have a couple of minutes left. What’s the secret sauce? I ask all of my guests that run successful programs, what is the secret sauce? So I didn’t warn you I was going to ask you this question. I want it right off the top of your head. What is the secret to your success?

Terri Odom: I think the secret to our success in juvenile probation starts with the support from the executive leadership of the court, and I think it involves a top-down bottom-up lateral approach of support. In other words, we resolve that we can collectively create a model or a concept or idea, but what really makes it work is when we step back and let the staff take it over and put their own what I call thumbprint or fingerprint on it. That’s the secret sauce.

Len Sipes: Your Honor, you’ve got about a minute. What’s your secret sauce answer?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think when you can see yourself in that child, and you embrace that child and recognize their potential and help them to redirect themselves.

Len Sipes: I saw so much potential, and I reach out to so many kids, and my heart went out to these kids. It didn’t necessarily work. Recognizing the potential and having a success are having two different things.

Judge Zoe Bush: But maybe you planted the seed and it didn’t cultivate in your time but that doesn’t mean that it won’t, and that’s what we have to commit ourselves to.

Len Sipes: It still ripped my heart out to see kids fail and to see kids not succeed.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, you’re not going to save everybody, and I’m not that much of a, you know, Polly Sunshine. Some young people are going to graduate into the adult system and you will see them over at CSOSA but so many of our young people come through. They stumble, they fall, but they’re able to get back up with some help, and that’s the truth.

Len Sipes: Well, it is the truth. I mean, so many people are willing to write off young offenders as being lost causes. I’ve seen it personally first-hand that so many people have pulled themselves up and have succeeded, and if they have the resources like you all have, the level of involvement on the judges and Ms. Odom’s team, that to me increases the chance for success considerably, which is why you have a better completion record than the national average, correct?

Terri Odom: We’re happy to accept the praise.

Len Sipes: But am I right?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think so.

Len Sipes: Okay. So the part of it is understanding the potential but also part of it is the involvement of the judges, and also part of it is the resources that Terri’s team, that Ms. Odom’s team brings to the table, correct?

Terri Odom: Um, and a commitment that we don’t want to give up on anyone. We can’t save everyone but we’re going to make an effort.

Len Sipes: Right, but I think that’s the secret sauce, the commitment of the judges and being personally involved in the case loads, and plus having trained people who are able to do the job and are committed to the job.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely

Len Sipes: All right, you all had the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we talked today about Family Courts and Young Offenders. We’ve had as our guests today Judge Zoe Bush. She is the Presiding Judge for the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. We’ve also had Terri Odom, the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division. The web address is Ladies and gentlemen, his is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all of your comments. We really do even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Fathering Court in Washington, D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

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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, today’s show is on Fathering Court, and let me tell you I think the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has done an extraordinarily good job in terms of their Fathering Court. They are showing real reductions in recidivism, and they’re also showing real leadership, not just in the District of Columbia but throughout the country. Our guest today, back at our microphones, is the Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr., the presiding judge of Fathering Court. Judge Lee, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Thank you so much for having me once again.

Len Sipes: You know, this is really exciting to me, this whole concept of specialty courts, Fathering Court being one of them. The Superior Court of the District of Columbia has a whole series of specialty courts. Specialty courts seem to be gaining prominence in criminal justice systems throughout the country. Do you have a sense as to why that’s happening? Why are Fathering Courts and specialty courts becoming so popular throughout the United States?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: One of the most important things that I believe judges have come to grips with is that it’s incredibly important for us to process cases, process them efficiently, fairly, get just results, but we’ve looked at models like the Drug Court from Miami and they’ve taught us an awful lot over the years, that sometimes the more personalized, more holistic the problem-solving approach to justice is equally as consistent with the efficient processing of cases, just processing of cases, and it gets us to a point where we really do intimately come to grips with the problems that bring people to the court. So we’re not just fashioning sentences, determining how to resolve cases. We’re really making an effort to deliver service to the people that come before us so that we make every effort possible to make sure that they do not come back, to cut down on recidivism, and that’s where the problem-solving approach really comes from at its core.

Len Sipes: But many of us within the criminal justice system, we do, in essence, many of the same things that you would find in a specialty court. We provide drug treatment. We provide mental health treatment. We provide cognitive behavioral therapy. I could go on and on and on. Our results ordinarily are not as good as those within specialty courts, and I’m guessing, from talking to different people around the country, there’s something very unique going on with specialty courts that has to do with the judge. He or she is doing something special that the rest of us are not doing. Am I right or wrong?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I think absolutely right, and I think one of the things you just have to recognize is that there is a certain authority and a certain tone that comes from the court when things are said, when orders are given, when directives are provided to people. It’s different when a judge says it, and when you have a judge who is really committed to looking at the bigger issues for people, then I think the message is received a little differently.  So it’s one thing for a probation officer to say, “Hey, this is what you need to do.” It’s another thing for someone over in the Department of Human Services to say, “We’re going to send you off to a particular program. We want you to get the benefit of it.” Those are all well-meaning, well-placed options. When the judge says it, and there’s this threat of response from the court, I think people receive it a little different.

Len Sipes: Yes, and that’s exactly what people have told me who have been before these microphones representing specialty courts from throughout the country. That judge providing a sense of both fatherly or motherly guidance to that individual plus hanging that heavy hand of fate over top of their heads, interacting with them respectively, but they do clearly understand that they’re not talking to a treatment provider; they’re not talking to a parole and probation agent; they’re talking to a judge. They’re talking to the person who can send them back to prison if they so choose. So some people have suggested that seems to be the magic ingredient as to why the specialty courts are going so well, so they seem to agree with you. Okay, tell me about Fathering Court.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, Fathering Court is this partnership that was created. It has five years of existence right now and we’ve had five graduating classes, and when I say it’s a partnership, it really is a partnership. I think of the court as being the cornerstone of the partnership but it’s for the reasons that you just articulated. It’s one thing for a group of people to say, “This is what we want to do. We want to accomplish certain things.” It’s another thing to have those group of people come together and really kind of have the support of the court behind it.

And so our chief judge years ago, Ed, in 2006, we had a town hall meeting, and we brought together all of these community-based providers. – It was government; it was private sector – and everyone sat down and said, “Look, we’ve been doing child support a certain way for a long period of time. Is there another model that we could work on to develop a more holistic approach to not just transferring money from one parent to another parent but looking at some of the deeper issues?” – And town hall meeting grew into a group of people from really every section of the city who developed this concept of a Fathering Court, and we spent most of 2006, all of 2007, really putting together what the model looks like.  And then at the end of 2007 when we got a grant from the Department of Justice, our first funding piece, we started to take people into the program, and it’s really designed to do a few things. We’re really trying to be innovative in the area of child support. We’re looking at everything that faces a family. We want to create responsible dads but we want moms onboard as well, and the goal is to simply do this. – And, because it’s a re-entry model, its designed to address men coming home from a period of incarceration who have child support cases or they have child support cases on the way, and so we use that as really the foundation for what we’re doing.  So we want to make sure the dads come home and they get employed – critically important. They have to work, and if they work, that means that they can pay child support, and if they can pay child support because they are working, it’s amazing how easy it is to then to transition over to what I would suggest to you is the toughest, most difficult but most important part of Fathering Court. It’s getting dads to co-parent with moms and to be responsible dads.

Len Sipes: You know, that’s an amazing array of things that you’re taking on because the individual comes out of the prison system; the individual often times has a great difficulty finding work, so when they work, they are starting off at the lowest part of the continuum and not paid all that much, and so they’re struggling to find themselves a place to stay in one of the nation’s most expensive cities, and so they’re going through this whole process, and then somebody comes along and says, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got to support your child.” And, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got to pay so much in terms of your child, and by the way, you have to be a responsible father and be part of that child’s life.” They’re all extraordinarily important goals for a safe and sane society but how do you convince a person to do that?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I will tell you right upfront – most people really don’t believe it’s accomplishable, that’s how daunting a task it is. And so I know every quarter from working with folks in law enforcement, particularly the folks in this office in CSOSA who have been one of our partners from the beginning. We know who’s coming home from the Federal Bureau of Prisons every quarter, and we look at that list, and we work with a child support agency here in the District of Columbia, the Office of the Attorney General of Child Support Services Division.  We look at that list and we see who has child support cases, and we look to see who might fit into our criteria for a Fathering Court, and it’s not particularly exclusive. We just look for folks who we think that we can work with. We get them, in most instances, immediately when they return to the District of Columbia, and in some cases we’ve actually done video chats with folks while they’re still incarcerated, getting them prepared for release.  They hit the ground in the District of Columbia; they pick up supervision right away. We will farm out for a job readiness program, and we really had two models. One model was to use the Department of Employment Services here in the District of Columbia, Project Empowerment. If you’re a D.C. citizen, you’re eligible for those services. That’s one of the partners, and because they’re one of the partners, we can orient people coming home directly to that program. They get them through job readiness; it’s about a three-week endeavor, and then they place them in a subsidized work environment. It works very, very well.  We also, because we had some money from Justice and the Department of Labor, we were able to get some private, professional job counselors from a group called Education Data Systems Inc., and they just developed relationships with employers and connected those employers with people coming home from prison. We did not try to hide who the folks were. We were right upfront. We got folks ready for their interviews, and they did amazingly well. No, you’re right. It is not high-level jobs. It’s entry-level jobs but it’s important for people coming home from a period of incarceration to get right back into the foundation of the community.

Len Sipes: Agreed.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: So when they start working, you have an incredible response, and we get immediate wage withholding, and so the child support starts coming out right away. Now, here’s one of the keys to Fathering Court. It’s because of the partnership with the Child Support Agency. We’re not asking for the men coming home to pay a lot. We’re asking them to pay 25% of what their order would normally be. So if they had a $400 order, they would pay, for the first 90 days, $100, and they’d get a foothold in the District of Columbia, and as they work through the year of the program, when they get to the end of our program, they should be paying their presumptive amounts. So, each quarter, it goes up 25%. Because they’re working, it comes out of wage withholding, the money’s coming in. We have solved the employment piece; we’ve solved the child support piece right away, and now we can get down to the core of what we’re trying to do. We get mom on board; we get the kids on board, and we start getting these dads ready to be responsible fathers. Now, that takes a lot of work.

Len Sipes: I was going to say; now how does one do that? I can understand the job provision. I can understand paying child support. Those two I understand. The third part of it, the cognitive part of it, how do you take an individual who has been absent for a couple of years and doesn’t necessarily feel a connection to that child, and develop an emotional connection to that child so that he is involved – I don’t want to over use the word “emotionally” – that he is involved meaningfully in that child’s life?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: You started off asking me about problem solving courts. You know, one of the keys to what we do is we really make an investment in these families, and we make an investment at their core, their children. You know, a lot of dads come in and an equal number of moms come in, and they really do not believe we’re going to do all that we say that we’re going to do. They’ve never really had that type of response in court cases before. They don’t have a great deal of faith that this is going to work out But once we get the employment piece in and the money starts rolling in, we actually give most custodial parents, and most times it’s moms, they’re encouraged by what they see.  The dads actually start to have some self-confidence. They feel good about being able to go to work, that someone is supporting them, including me in the courthouse; something that they’re not always accustomed to from a judge. And then we have case managers, and the case manager, really, they’re professional social works. They work with dad and they work with mom to bridge the gap and to bring them together. Every dad in the program goes through parenting classes called Quenching the Fathering Thirst. It’s a curriculum that’s developed by a national organization, and the idea behind the curriculum is to get dads to understand their obligation, and then it’s up to us to give them the tools to carry it forward.  And so every year we sponsor things like family trips to baseball games for the nationals. We’ve gone to Georgetown basketball games. We’ve had lunches where the families come in. It’s not court business; Len, it’s family business. They come in; they meet the players, all of our providers, all of our supporters. They sit down and they talk about what families do. Just this year, and I usually try not to give specific instances, but just this year we had a gentleman who was struggling with getting connected to his child. He had been in prison for five years. His child was now 8, 9 years old. In a sense, this dad was terrified of his child.  So we made arrangements, and mom was incredibly supportive. I mean, she was just the salt of the earth. She said, “I want them to have a relationship. That’s what’s most important to me. The money’s important too but I work for a living. I’ll be fine with limited child support. Get them together.” So we made arrangements for the dad to come up to a basketball game at the Verizon Center. They took in a college basketball game. They had a great Saturday afternoon. They all met right out in front of the arena, went and spent the day. We sponsored the tickets for them because, you know, when you’re doing something positive like this, people offer you things to help parents move themselves along.  The next Wednesday, that dad was supposed to go to school and have lunch with his kid. Now, we thought the basketball game was going to be the highlight so he went on Wednesday to visit his son for lunch at school. He came in to see me next Friday, and this is what mom and dad told me, “Thank you very much for the basketball game. It was great. You know what was better? – My son had his dad visit him at school, meet his teachers, and then meet his friends on the playground.”

Len Sipes: Because one of the things we’re really talking about here is not so much a Fathering Court, is not so much parenting, but the fact that kids that are involved with an incarcerated parent have a much higher rate of fill in the blank – of emotional problems, substance abuse problems, problems in school, and a much higher rate of being involved in the criminal justice system themselves. So we’re not just talking about justice for the mother. We’re not just talking about justice for the child. We’re just not talking about reinvigorating that family relationship with dad. We’re talking about solving some major social ills within our society.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: You know, what I do on the days that don’t involve Fathering Court is a juvenile delinquency calendar, and I see countless single parents coming in, trying to support their kids and doing the very best they can. You know what really makes a huge difference for kids, and I think this crosses all lines, is when kids know they have parents that love them, that love them unconditionally and will support them. Even if the parents aren’t living together, just knowing that you’ve got a rock in a dad and a rock in a mom, it makes the difference for them. That’s what we’re trying to promote.

Len Sipes: It makes a difference for them, and it makes a difference for the larger society. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re more than halfway through the program. Our show today is on Fathering Court with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr., he is the presiding judge of the Fathering Court. I do want to give out the website. It’s Just look for the media page. Again, look for the media page. You’ve had a lot of success with this, Judge Lee. You really have. Talk to me about how many people have been through the program and talk to me about the recidivism rate.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: You know, I think we’re somewhere – I can’t give you the exact number, and I’m ashamed of that, but we’re somewhere in the 50s for graduates, and so we’ve averaged roughly about 10 graduates a year out of the program. We started off very cautiously, very slowly. I know we hit 2 the first year, I think we had 8 the next year, and then, this past year we just graduated 12 men, and I think the year before that was 14, 15, somewhere around there, so we’ve had some success. It’s a yearlong program. It’s really not for everyone. There are some people that just can’t come to grips with their responsibilities of being a father, going to work every day, working hard sometimes for less than what you think you’re really worth but dedicating yourself to doing that because your kids are just so important to you. But do you know what the real success has been? — We’ve had three groups of participants who actually got married.

Len Sipes: Wow. Interesting.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: They came back to get married. They rode off into the child support sunset because they thought it was the right thing for them to do. We’ve had three other cases where moms have had their own difficulties trying to manage kids, and they’ve had their own issues, sometimes substance abuse, and we’ve had dads that have done so well that in three cases, kids have actually been placed with them, and that’s a real achievement.

Len Sipes: Yes, it is.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: To see people come home from a period of incarceration and essentially turn their life around 180 degrees, and this is what dads tell me, and this is the key to the recidivism piece. For the first time in many of our fathers’ lives, they feel connected to the larger society. They feel like they’re an important part of it. They work for a living. They’re responsible for their kids. They actually pay their child support. They don’t mind coming to court to see me because they’re—

Len Sipes: They’re doing well. You’re there to give them positive feedback.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: And it really means, and I try very hard to give them all the positive support that they deserve, and when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, I’m the most critical one in the group. But when they really get some success, it’s no magic that you see a reduction in recidivism because now they’ve got too much to lose. It’s too important to them.

Len Sipes: But I’ve been told that this is, in reality, a learning experience for everybody – for us, for the Superior Court, for the people involved in the program, in terms of its future expanding, in terms of getting bigger. We had to start off – I mean, Fathering Court is an interesting concept because there’s a lot of people who simply feel that you can’t cross that bridge. Yeah, you can enforce child support; you can enforce getting a job, but you can’t support being a good father. You can’t force a person to be a good father but it sounds as if, through a variety of steps, you’re encouraging them to be good fathers, and they’re turning out to be good fathers. So this is a learning step for the most important variable – being a good father.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: We all have to come to grips with a reality that is simply inescapable. There are a good number of our dads and our moms that are in the child support system that grew up in families where they didn’t have dads as a role model, and so when you’re asking men to become responsible fathers, you have to do more than ask. You’ve got to teach; you’ve got to show; you’ve got to support. – And it’s only by doing those things that you help them develop what they really want to be, and I really believe that.

I think most dads want to do it; they’re just not sure how to accomplish it, and they are afraid of failing their children. We give them the tools to do better, and once they start to see the response from their kids, then it is really inescapable that we get to the conclusion that we get to. They want to be good dads. They want to promote their kids. They want to do something that they didn’t necessarily have in their lives, and then when you see the results and when you see them at the baseball games, at the basketball games, or you actually see them in court with their kids, those are the moments that solidify everything that we’re doing in Fathering Court.

Len Sipes: For so many people under supervision, it’s interesting as to how that family connection is the principle motivator. You know, we within a system, we talk about cognitive behavioral therapy; we talk about finding work, and substance abuse and mental health treatment, and preparing the person for work, and at the same time, most of the successful people that I’ve ever talked to throughout my career, and I’ve interviewed hundreds of people both on radio and television who have done well, they count either a religious affiliation or the devotion to that family member as being the key ingredient that helped them kick cocaine, that helped them stay off the corner, that helped them go to work, that helped them become a better peons.  So I think you’re centering in on a key issue here as to why people do well. If it’s not for your child, then who is it going to be for? I mean, so many men I’ve seen caught up in the criminal justice system who have been lost, the only thing that ever saved them was a religious affiliation, a faith-based mentor, friends coming to their aid, or the fact that they were ashamed as to how their mother felt about them, that they were ashamed as to the fact that their child was being abandoned.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I think that it’s no different for the guys coming home than it is for the guys that get up and go to work every morning to support their families. All we’ve ever done is give them the means to do what they’ve always wanted to do, and here’s one of the good things about Fathering Court: if the gentlemen who are in the program are really not serious about it, you figure it out very quickly, very, very quickly. The rubber meets the road in Fathering Court.

Len Sipes: Sure. Right. Absolutely. But I mean, again, you’d have to bring people in and you have to figure out whether or not this is going to work. What’s the key ingredient? What are you looking for?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, you know, when we started talking about who we were going to take in to Fathering Court, there were a lot of limitations placed on the type of returning citizens that we looked at, and so early on, many people in planning and the model development stage said, “We can’t take any violent offenders” So we looked at who’s coming home to the District of Columbia from the federal bureau prisons – we wouldn’t have had any participants because a good number of folks come home with offenses that fit into the violent classification or dangerous crimes.

Len Sipes: Well, looking hard enough, virtually all of them are going to have some history of violence.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: So we really had to move away from that notion, and this is what we really did. We have a team approach this, and so we have a project manager; we have a case manager; we have a representative from the employment piece, and we also have a representative from the Office of the Attorney General, the folks responsible for child support cases. They make the assessments. So when we get these referrals, they sit down with the folks that are coming in and they make a determination about whether they’re really motivated, whether they’re really going to follow through the way we want them to. They meet with mom to make sure that she consents to being into the program, that we’re not missing any issues like domestic violence that may be out there.

Len Sipes: I was going to ask about that.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, that’s a big concern for us, and when we see cases where there’s domestic violence, it raises a red flag. It’s a concern. And remember, we don’t force anybody into the program, but there are limitations and terms of what we can do, and sometimes the domestic violence cases are a deal breaker. We also look very carefully at sex offenders because their supervision model is a little more rigid than what we can work with, not because we don’t want to work with it but we need folks to be available, and we need to be able to get out participants into the appropriate job training programs and employment. Sometimes the sex offender supervision just interrupts that, and we recognize that, but we don’t take anything else off the table.  For example if someone comes home and they’re really struggling with a drug problem, and they’re still struggling with it – we’ve got the ability to get them into drug treatment. We go right through APRO. We work with CSOSA folks, they go to the re-entry sanctions center, and so we have the ability to address those issues. The same is true for individuals that suffer with mental health issues. The key for us is to identify the issue, connect them with the resource to address the issue, and then watch them respond to the resource delivery, and then we’re ready for them.

Len Sipes: But I’m going to go back to the whole concept of specialty courts. I don’t think the key is any of that. I think the key is the judge. I have seen this in the Bronx, New York. I have seen this in dozens of communities throughout the country where the criminal justice system – we don’t talk to each other a lot of the times. I mean in D.C., we do have a good relationship with each other in D.C., and I’m not saying that just because I represent the nation’s capital, but I’ve also been in other cities in the criminal justice system, and what happens in the District of Columbia is special.  But what’s happening in these other jurisdictions is that judges are bringing people together. You can’t say no to a judge. Don’t care how many times you like to do it, you can’t say no to a judge, so prosecutors are bringing defense counsel; they’re bringing law enforcement; they’re brining parole and probation; they’re bringing providers of social services. They’re bringing businesspeople to the table. Why? Because they have the power to bring them all to the table, and they have the power to sit everybody down and say, “You know what, this is a problem. Let’s figure out a better way of handling this problem than we have in the past.” Judges seem to be at the center of all of this.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Well, I’m not going to disagree with you since I’m one of the judges. I’m on board with that. I think you’ve got to connect the will with the skill, and the court has the will to make that happen. You’ve got out and get the other pieces of the partnership puzzle, the other stakeholders that have the skill, bring them all together, and that’s how you develop things like Fathering Court. I travel around to other jurisdictions; talk about Fathering Court all the time, and I tell them that you’ve got to have the court involved not because the court is better than anyone else but it’s such a central piece too it for all the reasons you just articulated.

Len Sipes: But law enforcement says, “I have a problem. Let me sit down with the prosecutor and parole and probation and a defense attorney,” and we could say, “Well, okay, it’s your problem, not ours,” but we can’t do that to a judge. We can’t say, “Hey, Your Honor, that’s your problem, not ours. Have yourself a pleasant day.” Or to give what sounds like approval and what sounds like agreement but really isn’t. I mean, we can’t say that to a judge so that’s why I think what’s happening throughout the United States is special, and what’s happening in Washington, D.C. through the Superior Court is special. It is unique. It’s judges taking leadership in areas that maybe judges haven’t taken leadership nearly as effectively before. I’m not quite sure that’s a sentence.

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: There’s really no doubt about it, and you’ve seen it in all of the specialty courts, the problem-solving courts, that have caught on. Just thin, we’ve had drug courts now for 20 years or so, and the reason they have staying power is because it’s a different model of processing cases and the results are clear. And there are certain pieces, there’s certain features you just can’t ignore. You’ve got to have a very involved judge. You have to have a judge that’s willing to take off the regular traditional role and really do some things that are very different for judges, and you’ve got to have a judge committed to that.  I try very hard to be as personable as I can be with the folks that come in before me, and so I try to pay attention to the fact that I know the kids’ names; I know their birth dates are coming. I know what’s going on in your life, and without this team approach, having a case manager, I’m really not going to have all of that information, but because I have it, it really is a personal design in terms of what we do.

Len Sipes: Less than a minute left – where do you see Fathering Court going in the future?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Here’s the goal. It’s a model that I can say to you, not because I’m involved with it, that it works, but because the data supports the notion that it works. It’s an innovative way of looking at child support. My goal is not just to limit it to the re-entry population but to try to expand it to those folks who simply need it, and not everybody needs it. It’s true. There are people who come in; they have a child support issue; you give them a child support order; they’re actually quite happy with the result, but there are a good number of families both for folks who are re-entry but otherwise who need these additional services. We can take this partnership, this team approach, this problem-solving approach, if we can deliver it to them, the results that we get for the re-entry population, we can get for the greater population.

Len Sipes: And again, it’s not just for the re-entry population, you would be the first to say this; it is for the good of society itself if not for the good of the children directly involved?

Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr.: Absolutely, 100%.

Len Sipes: All right. It’s been a pleasure talking about this, and congratulations on a successful program. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ve been talking about Fathering Court with the Honorable Milton C. Lee, Jr., Presiding Judge of the Fathering Court here at the Court of the District of Columbia. The website for the Superior Court is Go to the media page and get information about Fathering Court.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Success of Community Courts in Washington, D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our show today is on special courts, and we are truly honored to have two principles who are really experienced in this concept of special courts, community courts. Russell Canan, he is the Presiding Judge of Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court. We also have Michael Francis, the Community Court Coordinator, again, the Criminal Division of D.C. Superior Court. The website for the D.C. Courts or D.C. Superior Court is They’re also on Twitter, on Facebook, and on YouTube. – And to Judge Canan and Michael Francis, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Judge Russell Canan: Hello.

Len Sipes: Your Honor, Judge Canan, let’s talk about community courts. Give me a definition as to what community courts are.

Judge Russell Canan: Community courts are an outgrowth of the drug court movement. Over 20 years ago when D.C. was overrun crack cocaine cases, we instituted a drug court to try to change the cycle of arrests, incarceration and release, and re-arrest, and the drug court movement was based on the principles of judicial monitoring, sometimes sanctions, and treatment and rehabilitation. The drug courts have proven to be a great success both in the District of Columbia and nationally. I think the research on drug courts clearly shows that it reduces the use of drugs and reduces recidivism for those who successfully complete the programs. With that in hand, the community court movement is a collaboration with our criminal justice partners – the Probation Department, Pre-Trial Services, the Defense Bar, the Prosecution, Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Corrections – in order to reach low-level, non-violent offenders and try to change the cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and re-arrest by providing a number of different elements. Number one, provide community service in the community where the crime took place, paying back that particular community by providing educational or employment opportunities, by having the judges become directly responsible for a particular community. So a judge would routinely on a monthly basis go to community meetings and talk about our program, answer questions, be more educated as to particular problems in a particular community. The defendants get an opportunity to have their cases dismissed if it’s a pre-trial case, that is a case that’s pending trial, if they’re eligible and the U.S. Attorney’s Office or a prosecutor set that forward. For defendants who are not eligible to get their case dismissed if they get complete their community service, some of them will be placed on probation, and we’ve done a lot of work now having probation reviews with the probationer, and it’s been proven that this one-on-one interaction between the judge and the defendant during the course of the case really has a significant factor in reducing recidivism and having individuals become compliant. Overall it’s an evidence-based program that is we’re relying upon proven programs that work to show reduction of recidivism and to reach out to the community.

Len Sipes: Right. Now I’m going to go to back the literature for a second and I want you to talk to me about this, is that a lot of the research that’s coming out of the Department of Justice, a lot of the research that’s coming out from universities is basically saying the judge-driven programs like community courts, other specialty courts, drug courts, seem to work. Some of them are suggesting that the magic ingredient is the judge himself or herself, that judges taking the lead in terms of these issues are solving a lot of problems for the criminal justice system. What’s your take on that?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, there are two aspects to that. One is that I believe the leadership of our courts for many years, with our drug court, our community court, and mental health court, has been really the focus of trying to get together our collaboration with our criminal justice partners, so I think the court being a part of that and being a leadership in that collaboration is critical. And second, I think you’re referring to the interaction between the judge and the defendant going outside the normal calling balls and strikes and just litigating a case. So a judge in a drug court or a mental health court or community court is more invested with the individual in trying to change behavior, trying to get the folks off this cycle of arrest and re-arrest, and trying to help lead and inspire that individual to change their lives. We call it coaching, cajoling, and congratulating, and it’s been proven to be successful.

Len Sipes: Right, but why is that? I mean, if the literature is basically saying, look, you know, you take a look of the research programs within criminal justice system, whether it be law enforcement, whether it be juvenile justice, whether it be corrections, and look at all these research programs that show that judges and specialty courts are having an impact, a greater impact in some cases – I’m referring to Project Hope in Hawaii – they have a greater impact than some of the mainstream efforts that we in the criminal justice system have been employing. So it just seems to me that the judiciary, instead of taking a back seat as it was when I came into the criminal justice system many decades ago, it seems to me that more judges are taking a leadership role in solving problems within their communities.

Judge Russell Canan: Well, there’s no question that the research shows, and any judge who’s sat on these courts would be able to say as well, that this interaction between the defendant and the judge in the courtroom and the judge’s ability to inspire, to cajole if necessary and sometimes that includes incarceration, and to congratulate, to try to inspired them to change their lives. They’re not used to having this type of one-on-one time with the judge who’s clearly interested in their development and their rehabilitation, and it works. I mean, there’s no question about that. The drug court movement and the community court movement, the evidence now is overwhelming. I mean, the jury is in on that. They work, they’re successful, and that’s why many courts such as ours are expanding.

Len Sipes: Michael Francis, the Community Court Coordinator – your take on all this, please, Michael?

Michael Francis: Well, I think the research has shown that when defendants see that the judge is caring and there’s fairness, it impacts their behavior, so that’s I think a key aspects. There’s a psychological dynamic to this in terms of them altering their behavior and being willing to change their behavior based on that interaction with the judge.

Len Sipes: Um-hum, but it is also at the same time, as different people have pointed out, it’s a judge. It’s not a parole and probation agent. It’s not a pre-trial law officer. It’s a judge, and that judge does have the power to send you to jail and send you to prison so people are suggesting, “well, I’m going to pay a lot more attention to that person – that’s a judge – than I’m going to pay to a parole and probation agent.” That’s what some are suggesting.

Michael Francis: I see what you’re saying but the judge does make the decision in terms of whether they’re locked up or not so, I mean, that’s a key aspect. That’s part of the reality that exists.

Len Sipes: Now, Michael, you’re in charge of basically the nuts-and-bolts of the community court, and so you’re the person, the go-to person on a day-to-day basis. I would imagine that’s an immense undertaking because what you’re doing is seemingly taking – and correct me if I’m wrong – lower-level cases and to try to find a reasonable alternative rather than placing this person in the mainstream criminal justice system, so through community service through drug treatment through a fine, that what you’re trying to do is to say, “Is there an alternative say of dealing with this individual than the normal criminal justice process?” – Correct?

Michael Francis: Partially, I mean my office, one of the key aspects in terms of my office is assigning defendants to community service, and so we have 32 community service throughout the city. But also we have, as Judge Canan talked about, we collaborate and partner with other agencies so in terms of defendants that need substance abuse, they can be referred to pre-trial services of CSOSA, so my office doesn’t necessarily always make the referrals for somebody to get the treatment but we are a linkage and we partner with other agencies and we make referrals, so that’s a key aspect of it.

Len Sipes: And I do want to plug my own organization, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency providing services to the District of Columbia. We are supporting both of you in this role. So the community, somewhere along the line, again, talking about that concept of community. When I came in, the judges were god and goddesses who sat up high. We never spoke to them. We never dealt with them. It was, “Yes, your honor,” you know. We never openly disagreed with them, outside the court or inside the court; they were that lofty and that high. Now you’re attending a lot of community meetings. Now you’re listening to a lot of the sentiment within the community. Now you’re reaching out and now you’re interacting. That indeed is a big change. So it’s just not specialty courts, it’s really, this focus on community courts is a lot of involvement with community leadership. Your honor? Oh, Michael?

Michael Francis: Well, I just want to say, and the community really appreciates it when judges go out into the community to meet with them, to listen, to hear what they have to say, so it’s very beneficial. For instance so far this year we’ve attended, judges have attended over 38 community meetings, and the community lets us know, they’re so happy when judges come to talk to them, to hear what their concerns and their issues are, so it’s a key aspect in terms of that partnership and collaboration, and that we’re all in this together. I think that’s key when the community sees that everyone is concerned about what’s happening in their communities.

Len Sipes: But do both of you buy into my premise that at one time, the judiciary was not that way?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, I think that’s not quite accurate.

Len Sipes: Okay, go ahead. Please.

Judge Russell Canan: I mean, judges have traditionally gone out to community meetings when asked and invited. I’ve been going for many years. We’ve now routinized this so a particular judge who’s sitting in the third district, third district cases, in our third district, will go out to the third district and to various different types of community meetings, and so that judge will be well known in that particular district because she’s a presence and they know her, and she’s there to answer questions. – And that’s a big part of it too, just letting people know what’s really go on in the criminal justice system. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and people don’t always truly understand the working of the court, and how when people do get arrested and they go through the system, they oftentimes don’t understand the full complexities of the law, and the judges are there if for no other reason to explain those things but also to show that they care about the community and are willing to work with them.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Michael Francis: And I just want to add, when the community sees that the defendants are being held accountable, for instance having to do community service back in their communities where the alleged offense occurred, they think that’s very important in terms of trying to help their communities.

Len Sipes: Three things that I want to get to: number one, give me a sense of the other specialty courts within the criminal division; number two, give me a sense as to the mechanics as to how community courts work; and then I want to get to – probably that will be the second half of the program – I want to get to the fact that you’ve been studied. You’ve had a piece of research, and recidivism has gone down. So let’s start off with the other specialty courts so the audience throughout the country can get a sense as to all the different things that you guys are involved in.

Judge Russell Canan: Well, as is said before, we’ve had a drug court for over 20 years now, and the success of the drug court then led us to create what we call the East of the River Community Court which was a community court that dealt with two of our police districts east of the Anacostia River, and we’ve had that program on for 10 years. That was the program that was evaluated in the last couple of years by an independent research organization, which showed a significant and substantial reduction in recidivism, up to 42% for the comparison group. We also now have a mental health community court, and one of the things that we’re trying to do is to work all these courts in union with each other, so for instance when an individual comes in, that person is going to be assessed. So if the person’s real problem is going to be mental illness or being involved in the mental health system, then we’re going to refer that person to the mental health court. If the person’s main problem is drugs, drug addiction, then we’re going to refer that person to the drug court. If the person is not otherwise addicted or mentally ill and requires those core services, then they may be eligible for our community court.

Len Sipes: Okay, the mechanics of this, within the community court, what levels of people are you going after? So a person convicted of a violent crime is not going to go to community court.

Michael Francis: That’s correct, and I do need to mention that we also have what’s called the D.C. Community Court that was actually our first community court that started in January of 2002, and that handles the lowest level of misdemeanors, what we call D.C. misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses. So that community also exists also exists. My staff are very involved as far as assigning community service as well as we have staff that actually does assessments of defendants that are locked up to see what their social service needs are and to try to actually link them with services whether it be mental health, educational services, vocational. So I just wanted to mention that’s a community court that we’ve had for a while.

Len Sipes: Sure. But the average person going into the community courts within the District of Columbia, again, they’re lower-level offenders, they’re misdemeanants, they’re –.

Michael Francis: U.S. misdemeanors, for our community court expansion project and the community courts that consist of the first district community court, the two [PH 0:14:43] DF, second district-fourth district community court, third district community court, fifth district community court, sixth district and seventh district community court, they handle U.S. misdemeanors. We’re talking about offenses such as prostitution.

Len Sipes: What is a U.S. misdemeanor?

Michael Francis: Prostitution, illegal dumping, simple assault, simple drug possession – there are many more but that’s some of the core U.S. misdemeanor offense, and Judge Canan, I don’t know if he wanted to elaborate on that.

Len Sipes: All right, but hold on. The judge sitting in Milwaukee right now is going, “What are they talking about, a U.S. misdemeanor? What is s a U.S. misdemeanor?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, that’s sort of a creature of the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: Thank you.

Judge Russell Canan: We have two prosecuting authorities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office handles most of what generally is considered state court crimes such as theft, possession of drugs, prostitution, etc. The city prosecutes in the city’s name some of what we think of generally as quality-of-life crimes – possession of an open container of alcohol, operating after suspension, driving offenses – and there’s a separate court for those in those cases as well.

Len Sipes: Okay. We’re halfway through the program and let’s stop here and just reintroduce the two of you and get to a bit more explanation and get over to the research which I find phenomenal. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re dealing today with the topic of community courts. At our microphone is Russell Canan. He is the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court. Also before our microphones is Michael Francis. He is the Community Court Coordinator, again, Criminal Division for the D.C. Superior Court. The address, web address – – Also on Twitter, also on Facebook, also on YouTube. So we’re going back to the conversation, Judge Canan, okay, so crimes committed on federal land that are —

Judge Russell Canan: Well, not federal lands, it’s D.C., in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: Okay, but when you say U.S., I mean, we’re talking about D.C. code violations as well, are we not?

Judge Russell Canan: They are all D.C. code violations.

Len Sipes: They are all D.C. code violations. Okay, that’s the point that I wanted to get to. Okay, so because you guys don’t handle the U.S. federal [INDISCERNIBLE 0:16:57].

Judge Russell Canan: Well, we’re getting a little, ah.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Judge Russell Canan: The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee, for instance, would handle federal crimes. The state court would handle state court crimes such as robbery or assault etc. In D.C., because D.C. is an unusual jurisdiction, our U.S. Attorney would handle federal crimes in the federal court and the state court crimes in the Superior Court.

Len Sipes: Okay, but they’re D.C. code violations, that’s the thing that I wanted to get across. Okay, the evaluation – most of the evaluations that I’ve seen, and I read just about everything that comes out, you’re going to find reductions in the range of 10% to 20% when you find reductions at all. Most of the reductions in terms of the interventions that happen throughout the United States are modest in terms of their return. Some are better, some are promising, and we’re learning an awful lot about it but we’ve been told not to over-promise in terms of the impact of what we do in terms of community corrections. You guys on the other hand, sort of like Project Hope in Hawaii that turned out wonderful results, turned out wonderful results in terms of your evaluation for the D.C. community courts, correct?

Judge Russell Canan: Yes.

Len Sipes: And what was it, in the range of what, 40%?

Judge Russell Canan: 40% of those who graduated from our community courts in the sixth and seventh district had a 42% less chance of recidivism when compared to similarly situated defendants in the fifth district.

Len Sipes: That’s a phenomenal result. It’s a phenomenal result. It’s an unusual result. Why did you get such a large reduction?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, we like to think that is the judicial leadership with our criminal justice partners, and the program that we set forth, and the investment of time that everyone has put into this, with the assistance of the community that has helped bring these results. Now our report didn’t measure the reasons for the reduction of recidivism but we now have authorized to do another report on our new project because armed with this success, we have now expanded our community courts city-wide so –.

Len Sipes: Right. That’s the other exciting thing here. So you’re going from experiment to a citywide endeavor.

Judge Russell Canan: Right. So instead of just the sixth and seventh district, the people who get arrested in the first district will be going to the first district community court, and the third district, etc. So this is a pretty vigorous and robust change in our practice in the courts but we’re very hopeful. Our results so far have been superb. We’re really excited by it. We have hundreds and hundreds of hours of community service. 80% of those who enter into our agreements to do community service, over 80% have completed them successfully. We go out, and Mike has done a great job in the community in bringing community service, nonprofit organizations, churches, etc., and we interact with then on a daily basis. We bring them into the court. We debrief them. They’ve been extremely pleased with our efforts. So so far, right now we’re having about for instance 200 new defendants enter into community court program. Last year we probably had about 50 to 60 so we’ve doubled that amount and we’ve quadrupled, qu8ite frankly, the amount of community service hours, and so we’re very excited that so far, so good.

Len Sipes: Now on the mechanics of this, if they successfully complete community court, what happens, either one of you?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, there’s two parts to it. For the lower-level offenders with a modest criminal history, they’re going to get their case dismissed.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Judge Russell Canan: That’s the end result for the defendants, and yes, the interaction between the judge is a great thing but the incentive to have their case dismissed is great, and my hat is off to our U.S. Attorney’s Office, our prosecutors for being very flexible and a full partner in all of this because none of this would happen without the full partnership with our prosecutors, the United States Attorney’s Office. The other class of defendants are those whose records are not as modest but still eligible for probation and they’re placed on probation, that is they’re not going to jail but they are being placed on probation by supervised by your agency but now the judges are meeting them, not waiting for a time where all of a sudden there’s some problem and they bring the defendant in four or five months later with a problem which might lead to revocation of probation. We’re going to see that defendant 30 days after they’re placed on probation so that they know the judges mean business, so they know they’re going to be watched over extremely carefully, and this is brand new. We’ve just started this part in July, but so far it looks like it’s promising. The Probation Department, your agency is enthusiastically – it’s more work for everyone – enthusiastically coming to court, bringing the defendants there, and our goal quite frankly in this part of the project is to substantially increase those numbers of defendants who successfully complete probation.

Michael Francis: And if I just may —

Len Sipes: Please, please.

Michael Francis: And when we refer to districts, we’re actually referring to in the city there are seven police districts so when we have a first district community court, it coincides with those defendants that are arrested within the first district. Also it’s important to realize that the community courts are physically, for instance, located at the D.C. Superior Court Headquarters Main Office Moultrie Building. Some community courts are actually in specific neighborhoods but some actually are centrally located like ours.

Judge Russell Canan: Well to be clear, we do not have individual courts, community courts, in the first district or the fifth district, for instance. Everyone comes to the main courthouse. In some community courts around the country – in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Manhattan Midtown – it’s literally, the courthouse is in the community.

Michael Francis: In the community.

Judge Russell Canan: But that was just physically not possible for us.

Len Sipes: Okay. Back on the mechanics of all of this, now look, there are waiting lists in this city and every city in the United States for drug treatment, for mental health treatment, for cognitive behavioral therapy. I mean, how do you get people involved in the programs that they need to be involved in?

Michael Francis: Well for instance, the Pre-Trial Service Agency as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office are involved, and they actually screen the defendants in terms of their appropriateness for perhaps drug court or mental health court, and in fact if that may be the case, their cases could actually be referred over to the mental health court or the drug court for services.

Len Sipes: Yeah, but are the services there? The average person sitting there throughout the country listening to this program is going to say, “Well, you all have resources that we don’t have. If I want to get somebody into drug treatment, they’re put in the queue and three months later, they’re called up, and it’s forever to get somebody involved in drug treatment.” There are budget cuts throughout the United States so how is that working in D.C.?

Michael Francis: It works because they’ve actually received the services. Pre-Trial Services provides a linkage to drug treatment programs as well as providing drug treatment services themselves, as well as your organization CSOSA. We also have actually linkages as part of the partnership with the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, which is part of the D.C. government Department of Health, the agency responsible for helping defendants with substance abuse issues. They actually have staff at the court where actually we can make referrals to as well as they actually will go to those that are locked up and do screenings for the need for substance abuse, so yes, we actually have those services and they can link to those services.

Len Sipes: People are sitting back throughout the country and going, “Wow, within the District of Columbia, there’s just a level of involvement and a level of services that we don’t have here in Milwaukee or Honolulu and throughout the country.” Now you all hosted the National Community Court Conference this year, right?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, no, we participated. The National Community Court Conference was hosted by the Center for Court Innovation, and I’d like to give them a shout-out as well. They’re based in New York. They’re the ones who started or helped to organize the two community courts in New York, Red Hook and Manhattan Midtown, but part of their work is to assist courts like ours to help develop these programs. So they were the hosts of that program and happened to be in Washington D.C. but they’ve been really good partners with us as well in assisting us and giving us advice and technical assistance as we’ve gone forward.

Michael Francis: And just going back too, I think it’s important regarding services and resources, we actually have what is called – and it’s very unique and may be the only one that exists in the country – we have what’s called the Urgent Care Clinic which is a collaboration with D.C. Superior Court, the Department of Mental Health, and Pathways to Housing, where actually there are staff from Pathways to Housing, including a psychiatrist that’s physically located at the court that can provide services to people with mental health issues so that’s really key. So when people may have mental issues that have cases before the court, they can be referred to the Urgent Care Clinic for screening and then to long-term linkage. They see a psychiatrist; assessments are done, so that’s a unique aspect that we have. We’re also working with developing a relationship with the Department of Employment Services here in D.C. to actually be able to refer defendants for a work force, not just defendants but the people that come through D.C. Superior Court for various issues, for work force development services. This is all part of the whole importance of collaboration and partnership, the whole community concept.

Len Sipes: First of all, I do want to thank you guys for taking the leadership in terms of D.C. Safe Surrender. You were able coax a whole mess of people, with warrants, to voluntary surrender at the court. We did it the first time around in terms of doing it in the church and we were told, “No, no, no. You have to do it in a church if you’re going to entice people to voluntarily surrender in warrants,” and you did it within the court setting, so congratulations. You guys are taking a leadership role in lots of different areas. I’m not quite sure anybody fully understands the complexity and the leadership roles that the Superior Court is taking within the District of Columbia but we all do understand, I think, that this is a fundamentally thing, in the final minute of the program. There’s a fundamentally different way of approaching problems within the criminal justice people. People have mental health issues. People have substance abuse issues. They’re not fully committed to the criminal justice system where in the past they would have ended up in the mainstream criminal justice system. You’re trying to assist them, you’re trying to help them escape that cycle, and you’re trying to get them out of the criminal justice system not in, correct?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, of course. Of course there are a number of individuals, who constitute a clear danger to the community and constitute a public safety hazard, and unfortunately those individuals oftentimes need to be incarcerated but they are fortunately in the minority. There are many other people who, if you give them the appropriate services in mental health, housing, employment, education, etc., that we can turn them around and make a real difference so they don’t come back to court and so that they can really stand in their community and be an asset to their community.

Len Sipes: Michael, 30 seconds?

Michael Francis: And it’s important because the community often asks, “Well, are you coddling these folks?” Defendants are held accountable. We try to link them and provide them some assistance and provide services for them if they want them. They have to do community service. But if they don’t take advantage of it, they are held accountable, so that’s key. So it’s important.

Len Sipes: Go ahead.

Judge Russell Canan: Well, I just want to add to what Michael said, the law enforcement is really behind our programs, the Metropolitan Police Department, the prosecution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the office of the Attorney General. They are full partners in all this.

Len Sipes: Gentlemen, I really want to thank you for being with us today. Ladies and gentlemen, our program has been on Community Courts. We’ve had two guests with us today, Russell Canan, the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court, and Michael Francis, the Community Court Coordinator, again Criminal Division D.C. Superior Court. The website is Follow them on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We appreciate any feedback that you have to provide us, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]