Hiring Offenders on Community Supervision

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/03/hiring-offenders-community-supervision/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, is on hiring offenders throughout the United States. There’s a problem with employment with people on parole and probation supervision. Most criminologists believe that if employment levels rose it would reduce recidivism crime and would save the States tens of millions of dollars. To discuss this issue today we have three gentlemen. Charlie Whitaker, he is CEO of Career Path DC, we have Cory Laborde, he is the facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, and Tony Lewis, job developer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and to Mr. Laborde and to Charlie and to Tony, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tony Lewis:  Thanks for having us, Len.

Charlie Whitaker:  Good afternoon, sir.

Cory Laborde:  It’s my pleasure.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, where do we go to with this topic? I’ve talked to dozens of employers here in the District of Columbia, and in a previous life throughout the state of Maryland, who basically tell me, “I’ve got 20, 30 applicants for every job or more. Most of them or a lot of them do not have criminal histories, they don’t have criminal backgrounds. You’re asking me to hire somebody who is currently on parole and probation supervision. You want to have that discussion with me. I’m here to tell you I don’t want to hire that person, because I’ve got plenty of people to choose from who don’t come from histories of crime and who don’t come from histories of substance abuse.” How do we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and all parole and probation agencies, how are we supposed to contend with that perception?

Cory Laborde:  Right. Well, Len, let’s just jump straight into it. My name is Cory Laborde. Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Cory Laborde:  Well, for one, when I’m hiring somebody, when I’m interviewing somebody, I’m not interviewing somebody based off their past, I’m interviewing them and hiring them based off what they can give the company going forward in the future. Now, past is important, because you have to look at past behavior to see whether or not that may play a conflict with inside your organization. But, however, just because someone is being interviewed who does not have a past, a criminal background, let’s be precise, doesn’t mean that he’s the best person for that job. We may have somebody who may a past offense, may have done something in his past that he’s ashamed of, he put it behind, he or she put it behind them, but they may be the best person for the job that you’re interviewing that person for. They probably have experience in that line of work, they probably a career that they’ve already done before they made that offense. So I don’t want to have a blind eye saying, “I will not hire this person just because they made a mistake 15, 10 years ago.”

Len Sipes:  You’re trying to get the very best person for the job regardless of that person’s background.

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Because it does seem to me, Charlie, that what we have is a conundrum. We’re not asking anybody to hire sex offenders for daycare centers. We’re not asking anybody to hire somebody who’s been convicted of fraud to handle money in a bank. But what we are doing is talking about appropriate placements. We’re talking about people who are doing well. We’re talking about people who are months, if not years, from the last positive drug test. We’re talking about in many cases skilled human beings. But 50% unemployment, that’s what we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and when I talk to my counterparts throughout the country, that’s not unusual. How do we get beyond all this?

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, I think one thing is the program that you have set up here at CSOSA actually helps out a lot. I work with Tony Lewis real closely, and with the offenders that you guys send me to work with within the community, they worked out just fine based on they go through a life skills and job readiness program and we also afford the opportunity to allow our people to come and work for anywhere from three to six months in order to really just build on their skills and to just find out if they work really good with our organization. So by the time it comes time to hire these individuals, that’s why I’ve been so successful with us hiring as many people as we have hired, based on the fact that they’ve been trained, and a trained individual, regardless of their background, works out extremely well.

Also appropriate placements; I heard you speak on that. So, when someone is sent to me from CSOSA, and I think this is a best practice right here, me and Tony talk on where can they work, what type charges they have, and if he does have a sex offender for example, because even individuals who have heinous crimes need to work within our community, we’ll identify a situation where they can come and work with us and a situation where it won’t affect the rest of the public or that it was the lowest safety risk possible and the best placement for that individual.

Len Sipes:  All right, Tony, you and I have this conversation about 500 times.

Tony Lewis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And our dilemma is, I mean we’ve just spoke to two employers here, and we’ve spoken to Charlie and Cory, and so they’re on board, are all employers out there on board?

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely not.

Len Sipes:  Okay. And so they’re not because of why?

Tony Lewis:  I think they’re not because they don’t understand that we have talent within our ranks, so to speak, and we’re not just asking for a handout. We actually have people that can come in and increase your productivity. We have people that have skill sets that match what you’re looking for. And their criminal history or criminal background doesn’t necessarily get in the way of that. But another I think the biggest impediment or barrier to it is that just from a hiring policy standpoint a lot of the companies, especially here locally in the District of Columbia, have such a broad “no felony accepted” kind of stance that it really handicaps our ability to connect our talents and people with a lot of the positions.

Mr. Laborde’s organization and Charlie’s organization have been brave enough and courageous enough to embark upon this journey with us in terms of the program where we’re able to do a transitional employment style program, where you get an opportunity to kind of test drive our talent. And they’ve seen how the individuals that we’ve sent have been able to come in and help them do what they do better and they’ve been able to bring them on full-term and full-time. And I think that’s what we look to do with many more organizations. I just wish people would show a little more flexibility in their hiring policies and look at people on a case by case basis.

Len Sipes:  We have radio and television shows on our website, it’s www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, where it’s called “Employing People On Supervision”. And we ask people to listen to the radio shows, watch the television shows, and to contact us, to have a conversation with us regarding this whole issue. I mean if you’re not, tell us why. If you are, tell us why. But what we’re looking for is your opinion. We’re crowd sourcing this issue, we want as many people involved as possible. Tony, I’m going to go back to something that you’ve said and toss it over to Charlie and Cory. You said courageous. Now, wait a minute, that doesn’t fit. I mean we’re not saying be courageous, we’re saying that we’ve got talented, skilled people ready to go that’s going to affect your bottom line and affect the ability for you to get the job done, regardless as to whether or not they’ve a criminal history. Why is that courageous? I mean isn’t that good business sense?

Tony Lewis:  Well, it is. But when you’re talking about the stigma and the fear that comes along with people with criminal backgrounds it takes courage to be able to accept that fear and be able to take a chance. And I think any employer out there, any business out there that says, “You know what? We’re going to give somebody a second chance to live their lives in a positive way and to be able to contribute their skills and their talents to my organization.” I think they definitely are courageous. And I hope there’s a lot more courageous people out there. Or hope these two courageous guys can inspire some other business leaders and they can be an example of how things can work. And everybody that we’ve sent to either of them didn’t work out, but they didn’t allow that to necessarily sour their outlook in that one guy be a represent, that one bad apple to be a representative of the thousands of people that we have coming through our doors every day.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Tony Lewis:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  There’s information on tax credits and a bonding program, again, www.csosa.gov, right on our front page. Cory, you wanted to say something.

Cory Laborde:  Yes. Well, I wanted to shy in and just say, for one, when you’re hiring or firing somebody, you’re not hiring and firing them based off something they did 10, 15 years ago, you’re hiring and firing them based off what’s going on right now.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  You can have an individual, for one, I have maybe like 16 staff, and with all of them, men and women, different nationalities and all, all of them are trained to do something different. And when you are hiring them and you ask them to do something you may have somebody who’s never done anything as far as criminal law is concerned –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Never broke a criminal law on record.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Tony Lewis:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  And you may have another individual who probably did 10, 15 years ago, he’s ashamed of it, he’s ready to move on, he’s ready to put that behind, he’s ready to go forward.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  I learnt that dealing with CSOSA since the partnership came about, along with my organization, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, which pastored it by a man who gave me the same type of passion, Archbishop Alfred A. Owens –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Who look at people for what they can be and not what they were.

Len Sipes:  And have a national reputation –

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely. And he’s very –

Len Sipes:  In terms of working with people in the community.

Cory Laborde:  And my pastor’s been very successful with that based on – I’ll give you an example. You may have an individual who may come up and you may hire them because they don’t have any past whatsoever.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  All right. But that person is ready to get a past, because they just didn’t get caught with some of the things they probably already done got away with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  You may have another individual that you shun away because of his past, but he or she really do not want to do those things no more. They’re ready to move forward. They’ve already done put their hand inside the cookie jar before and got caught.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  So they dare wouldn’t do that again. So they’re ready to give you 5, 10 years, 15 years of longevity. Where you have another individual who probably still got his hand in the cookie jar, constantly put his hand in the cookie jar, he just never got caught doing. And then you wind up hiring that person based off of those circumstances and they wind up letting you down.

Len Sipes:  All right, Charlie, but, again, let’s go back to what I’ve heard from employers so many times, “I’ve got 30 people, 15 have histories, criminal histories, 15 don’t, that automatically, I’m automatically looking to hire from that group of 15 who don’t, because why not? I mean and all things being equal, I’d rather dip into the pool that doesn’t have a criminal history than those who do.” Is that a realistic expectation on the part of a business person? Should that person do that? That’s what I hear most often from the employment community.

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, I know as a small business owner I don’t think that’s relevant, because with my organization I found that CSOSA has been a great help as far as supporting us, as far as supervision, about the individuals that we work with. They have job developers, as well as job coaches. So whenever an issue is raised on the job, I can make a contact with Tony and call him and say, “Tony, well, the guy’s a couple of minutes late, been a couple of minutes late three times, four times. Can you talk to him?” Tony will talk to him and get him back on track.

However, my individuals who are not under supervision, when they’re late for work, that’s an issue for me to deal with. And it just doesn’t seem relevant at this point for me, because the support that I receive your office, CSOSA, I mean it really helps me as a small business person, because it’s money, it’s money on the table. When I got to stop doing what I’m doing to come in and talk to people about them being late for work or about the productivity and things of that nature it’s a bottom line for me. So to have CSOSA there to assist me with that it’s like having an extra supervisor on call that I could call –

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Charlie Whitaker:  And say –

Tony Lewis:  How about that.

Charlie Whitaker:  “I need some assistance today.” And believe it, they come right on over.

Len Sipes:  But that’s what we’re selling, gentlemen. I think Tony and I, we’ve been down this path dozens and dozens of times. We’re selling quality people, in many cases with real skills, with a real work history, who don’t have a substance abuse background, who have been years since their last criminal activity.

Tony Lewis:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  And I’ve had them before these microphones dozens and dozens of times. I’ve had them on television and I’ve had them on radio, and they’re sitting there in a three-piece suit and they’re skilled human beings, but they’re unemployed because 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, they got involved in a criminal activity, and they are completely changed people now. So what we’re pitching is don’t give us a handout, what we’re pitching is that we’re good for your bottom line.

Tony Lewis:  Absolutely. And it’s one of those things as well where you find that, again, all this stuff is really about stigma and a small percentage of individuals making mistakes that have adverse effect on many. And you have things that have happened throughout society, and then we make these so-called policies, they’re supposed to protect us from whatever happens, and then it has, again, these adverse effects. I mean even in terms of when you see things – I mean all the crazy things that I hear that happen like on the job where there’s people going postal or what have you, those typical aren’t people with criminal backgrounds. Or when you hear about – you have shows like Lock Up that’s on TV and you got these things that you see the cameras going in the prison and people have these things in the back of their mind, like, “Oh, wow!. Well, when that guy gets out of prison I wouldn’t him or her to come and work beside me.” And I really think that affects the psyche in the sense that people don’t even understand. And some people’s crimes, they don’t even have a rational relationship to the job. Like so if I had a drug offense when I was 18 and now I’m 27, why can’t I be a janitor at your business? Like where is the conflict, right? Like things – that’s just a basic example. But I think that’s what we have to do. Companies have to look at the people on a case by case basis.

Len Sipes:  Both Charlie and Cory mentioned it. And that is, is that when you hire somebody who is under our supervision, you get Tony Lewis, you get other people that work along the side of Tony Lewis who will intervene, help you out. You get the community supervision officer, otherwise, throughout –

Tony Lewis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Known as a parole and probation agent.

Tony Lewis:  A vocation development specialist.

Len Sipes:  Vocational development specialist. You have a team who will help you deal with whatever comes up in terms of that individual. Well, you get tax credits; you get a bonding program, because –

Tony Lewis:  That protects you.

Len Sipes:  That really does protect in terms of your own liability. So there are assets at our disposal, at your disposal, to hire people. And again, the emphasis is not somebody fresh out of prison. We’re not talking about the sex offender in the daycare center. We’re talking about people with real skills who are months, if not years away from their last substance abuse history, months, if not years away from their last crime, but we have a 50% unemployment problem. So that stigma, getting beyond that stigma is proving to be very difficult. Charlie or Cory, you want to weigh in on this, that stigma?

Cory Laborde:  I want to give – I’m going to – I may come off subject a little bit, but I’ll go back to it.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Cory Laborde:  I had a situation. We had in DC we’ve been not so blessed with this heavy snow this winter.

Charlie Whitaker:  Yeah. Right.

Cory Laborde:  Very unexpected winter. So I have employees, and dealing with this snow, and I had the center employees. I had the relationship I got with CSOSA and some individuals they sent me. But one stuck to mind. Her name was Monica Womack, a female. And we got the snow detail going on. And the center employees, they’ve been there for a few years; they know what time they’re supposed to be at work, they know the routine, etc. Here’s a young lady just came about with the program. She’s ready to work. She calls me at 11:00 at night on my personal phone, “Mr. Cory, what time can you use me? What time I can be to work? What time do I need be to work, etc. etc.?” I said, “Well, monitor your phone. I would love to have your help out of there. Dealing with the snow we can never have enough help.”

Len Sipes:  That’s right.

Cory Laborde:  Anyway, I sent out the e-mail and said what time everybody’s expected to be to work. I get there an hour early before the crew. Don’t you know this young lady was there waiting on me.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Cory Laborde:  Public transportation was not even running that morning. She walked from Maryland Avenue all the way to Rhode Island Avenue –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Just so she can be to work on time.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Now, I share that story to say I looked at this individual and said, “This is the individual I would hire when the program is up.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  Because you’re showing me that you really want to work. Never mind the fact of what she did 15, 20 years ago, even if it was three years ago. I don’t have to always use the word ten, that can be five years ago.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  But she’s ready to change. And you can have individuals that may be a decorated soldier, he may be a decorated soldier, he probably went to Iraq and fought for our country. And he probably came back home and got into a drunken bar fight defending his little sister or defending his wife or something and he hit somebody and he got a simple assault charge. Does that mean that this person is not capable of being an engineer? Does that mean he’s not capable of working at your facility because he made a mistake that one time? So you have to have a broader mind and look past some of these things.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program. Today’s program is on hiring offenders. We have Charlie Whitaker, CEO of Career Path DC; we have Cory Laborde, the facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, one of the most renowned religious organization in our area, and well known throughout the world and through the Unites States, rather; and Tony Lewis, job developer for CSOSA, talking about what it takes to get people that we currently have under supervision, what it takes to get them hired.

The issue is, is that for every person sitting in this room and every person listening to this radio show today, we’ve all had our problems in the past. I won’t speak for the three of you, but certainly I have done things way back in my youth that if I was caught maybe I would’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system. And I’ve always said that my first encounter in the criminal justice system was being arrested. So the point is, is that all of us could suffer a fate that hangs over our heads for the rest of our life. If what we’re saying is true, then it is a stigma. If 50% of our folks are unemployed, then what Tony is saying is true, that people cannot get beyond the fact that that person was caught up in the criminal justice system, people cannot get beyond that stereotype.

And that bothers me, because if we don’t give individuals an opportunity, then that means the greater chance for them to go back into the criminal justice system. That means a greater chance for more crime. And that has a real cost of literally tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars for states throughout the United States in terms of taking somebody back in the criminal justice system who may not be there if they were employed. The research is pretty clear that the more they’re employed the better they do. So isn’t it in everybody’s collective best interest to look beyond that criminal charge and to take a hard look at that person in terms of making that decision as to who to hire?

Charlie Whitaker:  Yes. That’s true. And just speaking on that stigma, just speaking on that stigma piece, many times people do look at people that are coming back to the community from being incarcerated as untrustworthy and things of that nature. But you got to look at this thing from this point of view; a lot of people that I work with, this is their last chance. When they come to me and they feel like this is their last chance at putting their life back on track. So these individuals they’re not going to do anything to go back to jail. And the process that they go through to determine whether they’re coming into our program is a lengthy process. So by the time they get to us it’s like these are the best individuals for the job. So they’re hardworking, they’re dependable, they’re loyal. These are the individuals that came in every time it snowed. These are the guys that came to the job.

Len Sipes:  Because they understand that they’re not in a position to jump from one job to the other –

Charlie Whitaker:  There you go, absolutely, there you go.

Len Sipes:  That this is one of the few chances that they’re going to get, thereby, they turn out to be pretty good employees. Go ahead, Cory.

Cory Laborde:  Right. Yeah. I’ve been so impressed with some of the individuals that came through the CSOSA program that I definitely want to make sure I point this out before we end this –

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

Cory Laborde:  Is that I actually hired a few of them. I just didn’t have them come through the program and said, “Okay, send me another 10 people, send me another 15 people.”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  I called Tony and said, “Look, how long more this guy got or this woman got –?”

Len Sipes:  Right.

Cory Laborde:  “Before her program is up?” There’s been a few conversations we’ve had like this.

Tony Lewis:  Yeah, several.

Cory Laborde:  And he may say, “Well, I’m looking at it now and so and so may graduate in two months.” or whatever. I said, “Well, I can’t wait that long. I want to hire him. I got a position open. I don’t know how long this window’s going to stay open. I want to hire him.” Because and then I don’t want to put a stigma on them and say they’re only good for cleaning or they’re only good for housekeeping. I have one guy now that we’re training to be an engineer inside our organization, because he’s shown that he has handyman skills. He’s proven himself above and beyond. So you can look at these individuals and put a stigma all you want, but you have to ask yourself, it could be your nephew, it could be your niece, it could be your son, that made a mistake when they was 15, 17, 18 years old and do you want them to still have that on them when they get older?

Len Sipes:  Right now you’re going to be talking to, you are talking to congressional aides, you’re talking to aides to mayors, you’re talking to aides to county executives, you’re talking to aides to governors, you’re talking to criminal justice leadership, but you’re talking to a lot of people who have input in terms of policy throughout the country. What would you say directly to them, to that, right now, to that congressional aide, to that aide to the governor of Arizona? What do you say to that person to move people beyond this stereotype of people in the criminal justice system?

Cory Laborde:  Well, that’s a question I would love to answer, for those that are listening that are in positions to make decisions. The first person come to my mind is a young man I hired through the program. His name was Kenneth Trice. Kenneth came about through the CSOSA program and he was just looking for a chance. And he was so appreciative of the chance that he didn’t want do anything to do wrong. And he impressed us so that we hired him, we had a part-time position came open, and we hired him for the part-time position. And shortly right after the part-time position, it wasn’t even a cool three months, a full-time position came open and he was a candidate for it.

Why I’m sharing this story about Kenneth. I remember Kenneth came inside my office one time, Len, and he was very disturbed, he was going through some stuff with his children’s mother and he was trying to move on with himself. And he got two little girls. This is why I’m talking to the people who make decisions. Those two little girls, they now have a father that can bring something and go Christmas shopping because he got a decent check, an honest check that he can bring it home. So now the people who are making decisions, who was changing laws, who’s changing legislations, look at it, you’re not just helping that one person, you’re helping the people that’s behind them that’s coming next, because it’s the domino effect.

Now that Kenneth can come and make honest living, he can come and do something for these two little girls, he’s now giving them the opportunity to maybe potentially be nice young ladies coming into society. Now, if it was the opposite way, it would’ve been Kenneth being bad, the two girls being bad. Now you got three individuals inside a community that’s a threat to society. Instead you’ve got three individuals inside the community that are actually being a good to the society based off the CSOSA program.

Len Sipes:  Charlie, do you want to take a shot at that? You’re now talking to the aide to the governor of Hawaii.

Charlie Whitaker:  Well, unemployment is a public safety issue and that’s how I attack it when I’m working with people. And I would like for them to see it that way. That an individual who’s working is less likely to commit a crime. Individuals who’re out here and without employment, who’re struggling day to day, living in poverty, those are the individuals who in most instances would take that chance that’s going to send them back to jail and hurt other people’s families. So when you look at employment it’s a lot cheaper to give a person a job paying 13, 14 dollars an hour so that they can take care if their family than the government paying 40, 50, 000 dollars a year to incarcerate this person. And now the government not only got to take care of this person, but now they got to take care of this person’s family.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Charlie Whitaker:  So when you look at it from at the bottom line it’ll come out a lot cheaper for everybody. And I don’t really want to talk about the human side of it, because that’s something totally different. But there’s a human side to this thing too. When you got an individual who’s trying to take care of their families, and there’s no way that they can do it legitimately, so now they turn to something that can get them incarcerated, and now they’re taken away from their family. And this also costs, not just the community, but it costs everybody, because now our taxes go up and things of that nature.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Charlie Whitaker:  So think this is something that policymakers really got to look at. If you really want to bring down the deficit, let’s do things where we can create jobs for individuals instead of building prisons.

Len Sipes:  Gentlemen, we only have four minutes left in the program. Tony, I’m going to go to you. I’m talking now about 20 years ago I sat with a group of people caught up in the criminal justice system in the state of Maryland and it was about 20 of them. And I met them in the evening and we were talking about work. And I think that probably 17 out of the 20 were unemployed. These individuals were certainly not a risk to public safety. All of them had skills, all of them had backgrounds, and yet the frustration that they expressed of not being able to find work was strong. And they essentially told me, “Look, Leonard, if we don’t find work, what’s to stop us from going back to doing what we used to do?”

Tony Lewis:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  I mean it was powerful, it was strong, and it was depressing all at the same time, because these people were not a threat to public safety. What do you say to folks under supervision? What do you say to folks to keep their spirits up and to keep them moving in the right direction?

Tony Lewis:  I’m a big believer in hope. And I point to examples, I point to the Kenny Tracies or the Monica Womacks of the world. I speak to the importance of being resilient and remaining steadfast to hold on until the opportunity comes. And we also bring up definitely what’s the alternative. And we bring up those children, right, and the risk of leaving them again, and that they need you in spite of, you know? And I think one of the things for this country we really got to think about this though. We’re the number jailer in the world. There’s two million people incarcerated, and 90% of that two million will return to the community. It’s imperative that we create systems that will allow those people to integrate back into the workforce so that – I mean there’s 1.7 million children with an incarcerated parent that’s under the age of 18. So these are really, these are issues that affect education; these are issues that affect public safety. So, and we talk to our clients and our job seekers in a way in which we keep them in tune with how they affect how society works. And so that’s how we keep them motivated to stay positive.

Len Sipes:  Charlie and Cory, we only have a little bit less than a minute. What do you tell employers? You’re looking somebody right in the eye through this program. What do you tell employers, how is hiring folks from CSOSA, from parole and probation throughout the country, how is it going to affect their bottom line?

Cory Laborde:  Right. Well, I look at it like this. Hire the best person for the job, period, the best person for the job, period. Not based off what they did 15, 10, 5 years ago, based off what you need for your organization, what’s the position that needs to be fulfilled, and find the best candidate .

Len Sipes:  Got it.

Cory Laborde:  Regardless of their past.

Len Sipes:  Do not let the criminal history stand in the way of giving that person –

Cory Laborde:  Absolutely not.

Len Sipes:  An objective, appraisal –

Cory Laborde:  Because you could be letting go a key person for their organization.

Len Sipes:  One of your best employees.

Cory Laborde:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Charlie, give me your 30 second response.

Charlie Whitaker:  I just believe that people deserve a second chance. So in my organization, primarily 95% of my people are returned citizens. And I also believe that at the end of the day, we’re all people, and there’s a people aspect to this thing, and we got to think anybody who’s not working and wants to take care of their family in my eyes is a threat to public safety. So when we cut off those opportunities to individuals we create those issues.

Len Sipes:  Our guests today have been Charlie Whitaker, CEO of Career Path, and Cory Laborde; he is the facilities, he’s from the facilities, facilities manager for the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, and Tony Lewis, job developer for CSOSA, our website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for listening. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Employing Ex-Offenders

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 http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/02/employing-ex-offenders/

[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 topic today is Employing Ex-Offenders. We have two people under our supervision here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and a Job Development Specialist to talk about this whole process of employing people caught up in the criminal justice system. We have Kenyan Blakely; he is with the Department of Human Resources, the DC Department of Human Resources as a Support Services Assistant. We have Kenneth Trice; he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities. They’re doing facilities and maintenance. And we have Tony Lewis, star of the Washington Post and lots of other media. He is a Job Development Specialist here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov. On the front page of our website we have radio shows, televisions shows, trying to entice employers into a discussion called crowd sourcing in the social media world, to try to gain some sense of perspective as to what it takes for us to employ or to prompt the employment of people under our supervision. On any given day we have 14,000 people under our supervision, any given year, 23,000, but half are unemployed. Tony Lewis, your job is a Job Development Specialist for CSOSA, welcome.

Tony Lewis: Welcome. I mean, thank you for having me Mr. Sipes.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate all of you guys being here to have this discussion, extraordinary important discussion. Tell me how easy is it to convince employers to hire people under our supervision.

Tony Lewis: It’s not that easy. It’s pretty difficult actually. You know, the analogy that I always use is it’s like as if I have a store, right, and all the merchandise in my store is perceived to be broken and I’m trying to convince the customer to buy it because I have faith in it, I know that it works, but to them they feel like it’s broken. So typically that’s what I do every day all day is trying to convince people that something they perceive to be broken is not necessarily broke and it actually can get the job done. And I think we have a lot of talent in terms of our client base. We have a lot of motivated people, talented people that are ready to go into the workforce.

Len Sipes: Now, I have been doing this, doing radio and television about the criminal justice system for about 20 years. I have spoken to hundreds of people under supervision, who used to be under supervision who are currently employed and their lives are going along just peachy.

Tony Lewis: Sure.

Len Sipes: We know that the research indicates that when they’re employed, the better they do under supervision, the less they recidivate, the less they come back into the criminal justice system. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. You and I have both talked to hundreds and hundreds of people who have successfully made that transformation from the prison system to being good citizens through employment. So what’s wrong with our message? What are we not doing that we should be doing to prompt the people, employers, to hire people under our supervision?

Tony Lewis: To me I think we are taking all the proper steps. I think what happens is that there’s a stigma associated with people that have been incarcerated, previously incarcerated. And so when one person or two people, you know, so to speak, that happens to get an opportunity and blow their opportunity or reoffend, I think it can never—it has a much more significant impact than a hundred people that do it the right people. And I think that’s the issue more so than us not taking the proper—cause we’re preparing our offenders that we supervise, we’re taking them through steps for them to prove their commitment, we’re presenting talented and people with the proper skill sets to do the job and I think hiring policies across the board is probably the biggest barrier. Because hiring policies take like such a broad stroke in terms of have you ever been convicted of a felony or, you know, it’s no case-by-case basis. People are not looked at as individuals. They’re grouped into these pools and they’re put into groups where these stereotypes are really prompted by one or two individuals that made bad decisions. And so I think we’ve got to chip away at the hiring policies and maybe look to redefine those.

Len Sipes: Www.csosa.gov is the website. On the website you’re going to find radio and television shows, again, designed to prompt that conversation with the employment community. We’re inviting people to come and talk to us and give us information in terms of what it is that we can do in terms of making it easier for people to hire people under our supervision. I want to go to our two gentlemen who are currently under supervision. And we have Kenyan Blakely as I said and Kenneth Trice. Gentleman, either one of you can go and run with this question. So, everybody, not everybody, there’s a lot of people out there who have the stereotype that people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, I’m just not going to deal with them. I’m not going to hire them. I don’t care about them. I’m not going to support programs for them. It’s a little harder when you’re sitting here face-to-face as I’ve talked to literally thousands of people who are doing well, who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, but now they’re doing well. People use the word criminal, well that applies to both of you. They say I’m not going to hire criminals. So I’m going to start off with Kenneth. Are you a criminal, is that how you see yourself?

Kenneth Trice: No Leonard, I’m not a criminal.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Kenneth Trice: I just made bad judgments.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: And now I’m okay.

Len Sipes: And you’re okay because of why, because of how, what happened? I mean, you’re with one of the greatest faith institutions in Washington, DC, the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. I mean, it’s known, not just throughout the District of Columbia, it’s known throughout the country. Is that how you were able to cross that bridge, by working with them?

Kenneth Trice: No. It came from my CSO.

Len Sipes: Your Community Supervision Officer?

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Otherwise known as Parole and Probation Agents for everybody listening throughout—beyond DC.

Kenneth Trice: Yes. It started with him. He put me on GPS leg, angel bracelet.

Len Sipes: Right, Global Positioning System monitoring.

Kenneth Trice: And then he referred me to the VOTE Unit and from there I went into Project Empowerment and from there I got placed at Greater Mount Calvary. From there I was just in the program and then once my time was up they picked me up, I started as a part-time worker. That phase lasted for maybe four or five months and then they hired me full-time, benefits and everything and now I’m just focused. It’s all about determination and perseverance. You’ve just got to be—you’ve got to know what you want, bottom line. If you feel that you—you’re going to do wrong regardless, its just nature, but you have to I guess overlook it, I guess.

Len Sipes: What did the job mean to you in terms of crossing that bridge?

Kenneth Trice: Well, it means a lot. I’m no longer, I mean, I’m still looked at as maybe an offender. I don’t want to call myself a criminal. I’m looked at as an offender but now that I have gainful employment I feel that another employer will hire me. They may overlook my background being as though I’ve been working now.

Len Sipes: But you believe that you’ve proved yourself, that you have crossed that bridge, you are now a taxpayer, you’re not a tax burden, you are what everybody in society wants you to be.

Kenneth Trice: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: Okay, and how does that feel?

Kenneth Trice: It feels wonderful.

Len Sipes: And what message would you give to other people who have the opportunity to employ somebody like you?

Kenneth Trice: Please employ them.

Len Sipes: And they would do that because of why? They would employ somebody caught up in the criminal justice system for what reason?

Kenneth Trice: To give them a chance to prove themselves.

Len Sipes: All right. And Kenyan, Kenyan Blakely, again, working for the Department of Human Resources for DC Government, a Support Services Assistant, the same questions are going to go to you, I mean, these are tough questions. I use the term criminal advisedly. I have heard from employers in the past I’m not going to hire ex-cons, I’m not going to hire criminals and it is like they—what they are meaning is is that everybody falls into one category. They have a mental image of exactly who they are. They have a mental image of the fact that they’re going to create problems for me, thereby; I’m not going to hire them. But then again I sit down with the two of you and I don’t see fangs, I don’t see blood dripping from your teeth, I see just two regular guys who are now doing well partially because of employment, correct or incorrect?

Kenyan Blakely: Correct.

Kenneth Trice: Correct.

Len Sipes: All right, well tell me that. Get closer to the microphone.

Kenyan Blakely: I’ve always—I’ve had jobs, you know, I’ve been on—probably since prior to being on CSOSA and I went on a bunch of job interviews, went on job interviews this go round and I’ve had people pull me to the side and say your resume is excellent, your work ethic, everything, but it’s just, you know, it’s just that background. You can’t pass that background check or it’s not in my hands, it’s in someone else’s hands and they want to go with—but they took a chance on hiring them. Why you can’t take a chance on hiring me? You have people who have committed no crime ever in life, but their work ethic sucks. So you have to take a chance on someone, why not take a chance with someone who has a lot to loose, but a lot go gain too also. So, you know, it’s give and take with it. Like I’ve had people straight up tell me to my face outside of the office, I want you, I want you for this position, but I can’t bring you in. And they would just tell me, you know, don’t stop looking, and I’ve never stopped looking. I’ve always had two jobs. I’ve always had a part-time job on the weekend and now I have full-time employment. Like I said, I’ve started in the program with Tony a whole, almost a year in the program and I got a phone call and it’s like come upstairs you’re going on an interview. I’m like interview for what? They were like people watch you.

Len Sipes: That’s great. What does the job mean to you in terms of your ability or inability to return to crime?

Kenyan Blakely: It was never really—it was choices that we made. Those choices were wrong. I admit those. I’m the first to admit anything that I’ve every done wrong, but now, you know, as a father, I’m a father of two, you know, you just want to be able to not leave them anymore. Not to lose everything that you’ve gained, lose it over and over and over, come home to have nothing, now I’m building to have everything that I lost to have back. You know, I have a daughter that’s six, I have a son that’s 12. I never want to leave them again. I never want them to look up and be like where’s my dad. I can’t talk to him when I want to. I can’t see him. So those are the things that linger in the back of your head at all times. So when I come to work on them days I don’t feel like getting up, those are my get up, let’s go and it’s no holding back, no, oh, it’s cold outside, I don’t feel like getting, no, I’m in there every day.

Len Sipes: Tony Lewis, we have credits, tax credits—

Tony Lewis: Yes.

Len Sipes: For people who do hire people under supervision, we do have a bonding program, there’s a Federal bonding program that mitigates the amount of risk that they have. All of this is available on our website, www.csosa.gov. All right, so from a societal point of view it is extraordinarily important that people who we supervise find work.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely. It increases public safety for one. Like you spoke about people working are less prone or less likely to break the law and these two gentlemen can attest to that. They’re a representation of many people—the ones that we are able to get employed. And the program that they spoke about is the Transitional Employment Program that we have here at CSOSA. That’s in partnership with the DC Department of Employment Services. Where we basically place individuals in jobs where we pay they salary. It’s a stipend, a subsidized wage, but it gives them an opportunity to audition and so you can see these people for themselves and not just a person on paper that broke the law in the past. And that may be ten years ago, it may be two years ago, it may be 20 years ago, it gives an opportunity for that person to highlight their skillset, learn new skills and it’s for people to see them as human beings and not just a quote, unquote, criminal. And so the beauty of that program is that that’s what it affords to no cost to the employer. Now I know that’s not something that exists all across the country, but when people have an opportunity to see these guys every day and to gauge their work ethic and see their personalities and to know that they’re fathers and things like that, it really helps the employer to see them in a different light.

Len Sipes: But that’s the thing that always killed me gentleman, and anybody can come into this conversation, is that you can have the image; you can watch the 6:00 news and hear the news about somebody doing something terrible to another human being. You can watch the 6:00 news, the 11:00 news, pick up the newspaper, read the same sort of stuff, there’s a certain point you say to yourself, man, the people involved in this stuff, I’m not going to have anything to do with. I’m going to move as far away as I possibly can from them and I’m just not going to have anything to do with them. But then, again, you sit and talk eyeball-to-eyeball as we’re doing now and you’re just regular guys. You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news. You’re just regular guys.

Kenneth Trice: Exactly.

Len Sipes: You’re not the stereotype that you think of at the 6:00 news, you’re just regular guys. How can we transmit that, hey, I’m a regular guy, I just need a chance. I understand I screwed up. I understand I made mistakes, but please do not hold that against me for the rest of my life. How do you transmit that information to people who hire?

Kenneth Trice: I think a lot of companies need to change their hiring process. Not just to—you’ve got two strikes against you, you have one, either your credit is bad or you’re a criminal. Why should those two things stop you from gaining employment? Like you need employment. If you don’t have employment for people they’ll turn to do other things to a life of crime.

Len Sipes: They’re going to say, but I’ve got plenty of people who don’t have those backgrounds. I’ve got plenty of people with good credit without a criminal background, why am I going to hire the dude—

Kenyan Blakely: I got a point for you.

Len Sipes: Go please.

Kenyan Blakely: If you have all those people that you work for, do a background check after the fact, a lot of them won’t tell you that they have a criminal past after they’ve been hired. So you will never know if you don’t go back and do a background check every year or so often on an employer. You have employees who’ve been at companies prior to them getting in trouble but the company will never know, but they’ll be like, oh, we don’t—once you have the job it’s okay. What you do before that—

Len Sipes: Because they get to know you.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: They get to see you as a worker so the criminal background disappears because all they see is a good worker. How do we get people to that point? But hold that thought cause I want to reintroduce everybody. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We’re talking about employing ex-offenders. We’ve got Tony Lewis, Job Development Specialist with my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov. We have Kenyan Blakely, he is with the Department of Human Resources for the District of Columbia, Support Services Assistant and we have Kenneth Trice, he is with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. He is with Facilities & Maintenance. How we convince, again, you know, get beyond the stereotype, get you in there, sit down, talk to you because all three of us, four of us in the room know that after six months that criminal history disappears. All we have to do is get beyond that point of hiring and that point of success. How do we get to that point?

Kenyan Blakely: Give people a chance.

Len Sipes: Okay, but there again, they’re going to say, once again, I’ve got some people here without a criminal history and I’ve got some people here with a great credit background. If I’ve got to give somebody a chance, I’m going to go with a guy without a criminal history and without a bad credit history. I’m going to increase the odds of a successful employment in their minds by employing the person without the background.

Kenneth Trice: I think what happens, Mr. Sipes, is that when you find, from a business standpoint, it’s about the bottom line, right.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kenneth Trice: So for me as a job developer, my thing is to say I’m not asking for a hand out, I’m here to help you by being able to connect with talent, right, something that’s going to increase your bottom line, going to increase your productivity. And the other part of that is that it’s no way, you know, when you hire whomever, no matter what their background is, you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. So businesses have to, I think, take a standpoint to say if this person’s crime does not have a rational relationship, so let’s be very clear, we’re not saying if you robbed a bank, you should be able to work at Wells Fargo, right.

Len Sipes: Or if you’re a sex offender you should be doing daycare, nobody’s saying that.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely, no, nobody’s saying that, but if I committed a crime five years ago that has no relationship to the job, why can’t I work there?

Len Sipes: We have, the bottom line I want to make is that we have good people right now under our supervision; we have 14,000 human beings under our supervision right now, 23,000 human beings under our supervision in any given year. We’ve got people right now ready to go who are not a risk to public safety, who have real skills, who don’t have drug positives, they’re ready to go right now. We can give them tax credits to get them involved in the bonding program, plus they have their Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, who can help the employer deal with problems if they come up.

Kenneth Trice: And a Vocational Development Specialist.

Len Sipes: And a Vocational Development Specialist and in many cases training that we and the District of Columbia and other cities throughout the country get involved in and plus we have GED programs, we have educational programs, we have job readiness programs. Why would you not come to us if we can deliver a talented person ready to work.

Kenneth Trice: Sure. And sometimes people that you’re hiring, even if the person’s out of college, sometimes people out of college haven’t necessarily even, in my mind, had the training. I mean, I think about the training that we provide here at CSOSA and I think about, wow, if I had that going into the job market, like if I learned things, I mean, just whether it’s interviewing, whether it’s, you know, just gaining a concept of workplace expectations. I learned that on the fly. We’re preparing people to enter the workforce and stay there through our programming. I mean, you know, and even we’re taking steps to even interface with people pre-release, myself and Mr. Blakely, our first communication started when he was in River’s Correctional Institution via teleconference. And then he met with Whittington and she did what she does and then he got referred from her to the program. Kenny Trice met with Dr. Sutton and she did what she does in terms of prepping him and gauging his readiness and gauging his commitment. Then he got referred to the program. So there’s rigger in terms of what we do because when we present people to the workforce, we’re trying to present someone that we’re going to be confident in, somebody’s that already proven to us that they’re legit and that they’re ready. So it’s not just like, hey, somebody gets off a bus from prison and we’re sending them to you as the employer and saying, hey, you should give them a job. No, we’re taking the proper steps to ensure that whoever we refer to you is somebody that’s going to come in and increase your productivity.

Len Sipes: Okay, and so, and anybody can jump in on this conversation, don’t hold back. Okay, so, generally speaking, within the District of Columbia, generally speaking, within major cities throughout the country, you have unemployment somewhere around six to eight percent. We have unemployment at 50%.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Okay, so all the wonderful things that we’ve just said, bonding programs, tax credits, training, GED, workforce development, you’ve got all that going for us, you’ve got a Job Developer whose going to work with you, you’ve got a Community Supervision Officer, ala, Parole and Probation Agent, but yet you can not escape the numbers, six to eight percent versus 50%. Why is that?

Kenyan Blakely: I think a lot of people just need to wake up from what they’re doing and really understand that you need gainful employment, like you can’t play with it, I don’t care what it is that you do, but, bottom line, you don’t want to be too old and not be able to get a job. Like me, I just want them to know that I have skills; every day that I go to work I’m showing you my skills.

Len Sipes: But, bottom line, how many people are there like you?

Kenyan Blakely: There are a lot. There are a lot.

Len Sipes: So tell me, how many?

Kenyan Blakely: I think there are over 20,000 in this city that want to work.

Len Sipes: All right. So we’ve got thousands of people right now—I can’t speak for everybody in the District, I’m talking about people under our supervision here at CSOSA. We all know the folks. We interact with them every single day.

Kenyan Blakely: Sure.

Len Sipes: And we know that some aren’t ready, we know that some are still struggling, we know that some are pulling drug positives, we know that some are hanging out on the corner causing problems.

Kenneth Trice: Right, but we’re not talking about them.

Len Sipes: We know that, but we’re not talking about them.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: We’re not asking for charity.

Kenyan Blakely: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay, so if we’re tossing them off to the side and we’re talking about people, real grown-ups who are ready to work and who are going to do a good job for you, how many are we talking about?

Tony Lewis: I think we, in the City, I mean, under supervision I think probably out of your 14,000, I think you probably, strongly, probably half. I’m going to give you 7,000.

Len Sipes: Seven thousand human beings that aren’t employed that are ready to go. They’re not employed for what reason?

Tony Lewis: Some people I think they just need a chance or just some people they have to show that they want to work, like the work ethic. Like everybody that comes through the program isn’t going to make it, everybody that comes through CSOSA, we already know isn’t going to make it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: You know, you have those who like, when they come through the door, hey, I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Tony Lewis: Life doesn’t work that way. Until you get that in your head that you’ve got to follow these rules, cause most people, we don’t want to get up and go to work, we want to sit home, you know, you have to work, that’s just it. I have never been the type person that didn’t want to work.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve never been able to figure out how to get around not working. I’ve been looking for that my entire life and I haven’t found it yet. But, you know, Kenyan, I talked to you, you’re interviewing perfectly, you have bright eye, you know, eye contact, delivering everything perfect, I would hire you in a second.

Kenyan Blakely: Appreciate that.

Len Sipes: I would hire you in a second. You know, Kenneth, same way with you. You’re looking at me direct, you’re interviewing well, I would hire you in a second. What is it that I am getting that everybody else is not getting? Everybody else is sitting out there and saying, okay, dude, look they’re caught in the criminal justice system. I already told you I’m not going to hire somebody caught up in the criminal justice system.

Tony Lewis: Most companies just can’t get past that.

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that, it’s background.

Kenneth Trice: The hiring policies, and especially Len, when we’re talking about today’s world, talking about 90% of job searches done via the internet and you have, you know, questions, have you ever been convicted of a felony. And a lot of times you check yes, that’s it for you, that’s an eliminator. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it doesn’t matter what you did, it’s like no. And especially, we’re talking about here in the District of Columbia where you have probably the most bustling job market in the country, right, where you’ve got the most moved to place America. People are coming here solely because of the strength of the job market but we have native Washingtonians, we have people under supervision who can’t get a job at all. You know what I mean? It shouldn’t even be an issue but at the end of the day people aren’t being judged on their skillset, they’re being judged just solely based on crime.

Len Sipes: All right. And there’s a certain point—what we’re saying is is that fundamentally, morally, ethically, that could be wrong, is wrong, but more importantly, we’re saying to a business person, because business hires, does 80% of the hiring, you’re not protecting your bottom line because there are good people that you could be hiring.

Kenneth Trice: Precisely.

Len Sipes: You’re not making the money you could be making, you’re not doing as well as you could be doing because we’ve got 7,000 people ready to rock and roll right now.

Kenneth Trice: So, and 7,000 people, something that Kenyan brought up, that may possibly work harder than your just normal Joe Blow, because they have everything to lose. They’re going to value their job because they know they just can’t go anywhere and get a job.

Len Sipes: You know, in the 20 years of interviewing people that’s one of the most powerful points is that I’ve got so much to lose I am not going to screw this up.

Kenneth Trice: Yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s a powerful incentive, I mean, look, I mean, Kenyan just basically said, I’m not going to leave my kids again.

Kenneth Trice: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And we’re not talking about just people under supervision, we’re talking about the fact that most people under supervision got kids.

Kenneth Trice: That’s right. Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re not just talking about them, we’re talking about kids. So now instead of the 7,000, let’s times it by two just to be on the average, so now we’re talking about 14,000 human beings.

Kenneth Trice: Yep.

Len Sipes: Let alone spouses, you know—

Kenneth Trice: Sure. Sure.

Len Sipes: And another 7,000, we’re up to 20,000 people. We’re up to 20,000 people affected and their lives are coming to a halt because you’re saying to yourself, Mr. Employer, this guy ten years ago committed a burglary, I’m not touching him.

Kenneth Trice: Sure.

Len Sipes: Is that it? Is it that stark? Is it that real?

Kenyan Blakely: It’s that real.

Len Sipes: And what we’ve got to do to get beyond that reality is what gentlemen? How do we convince them?

Kenyan Blakely: Give them a chance.

Len Sipes: Give them a chance.

Kenyan Blakely: Just give them a chance. But like me, for instance, my last interview that I went on, they looked at everything, they asked me questions about it, they went straight to it and I told them if you give me a chance I won’t let you down. Everybody that sat in front of me—there was four people on the panel. I left out, an hour later I got an e-mail, offer letter and everything, you know, just like we’re going to give you a shot. It was two other people and they gave me the shot and I was happy. And to this day they’re still looking at me like, Kenyan, you’re in here. I’m trying, like I don’t want to—like I’ve been at my job almost a year. I come from—my first agency was, as a matter of fact, what was that—the Agency for Public Affairs, and I was under the Mayor’s Office, I worked for Officer of Partnerships and Grant Services and now I work for DC Department of Human Resources. And like I met so many people through the agencies, through District Government and, you know, they don’t know your story until you talk to them and then when you give them some insight they’re like wow, like you came from that to this. Yes, I did. Like a lot of people can’t walk in those shoes.

Len Sipes: Tony, you’ve got 30 seconds before we have to wrap up. I’m going to give you a chance to close. What do we say to people, what do we say to employers, what do we say to their husbands and wives, what do we say to get them to give people like Kenyan, like Kenneth, a chance.

Tony Lewis: Bottom line is that we have talented, motivated people that can potentially bring new ideas, can increase your productivity and an overall sense, I think it’s just better for society and our community when we have people gainfully employed. It leads to a safer environment, it leads to a more productive environment and, you know, we need everybody who can help should and I think we’re moving in the right direction and at the same time the people that we supervise also have to be accountable to continue to do the right thing and not reoffend.
Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to pull together.

Tony Lewis: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Everybody’s got to row the same boat in the same direction.

Tony Lewis: Yes sir.

Len Sipes: All right. Gentleman, I really want to thank you very much for being with us today. It was an extraordinarily important topic. I do want to remind all of our listeners, again, at our website, www.csosa.gov. We have a series of radio and television shows where we talk about this issue of hiring people under supervision. We really do want people to call us, contact us, let us know how we can do a better job of preparing people to be employed with their company. You can always give me a call, 202-220-5616, 202-220-5616. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Jobs in Corrections-Discover Corrections Website–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 http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/11/jobs-in-corrections-discover-corrections-website-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes, and ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to be talking about jobs in Corrections. It’s an issue of great importance because the vast majority of people in this country who the criminal justice system supervises are supervised by Corrections personnel. They’re supervised by parole and probation agents or they’re supervised within prisons, they’re supervised within jails, but the overwhelming majority are again, in the community being supervised by parole and probation agents.  We thought we’d do a radio program about jobs in Corrections. We have a new website that is created by the American Probation and Parole Association called “Discover Corrections,” and “Discover Corrections,” there’s a league of agencies involved in this with the American Probation and Parole Association taking the lead. Our guest today is Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt. She is a Research Associate for the or with the American Probation and Parole Association., and Mary Ann, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Thank you, and good afternoon.

Len Sipes: Yep. I’m looking forward to this conversation because, you know, this is a very important topic. The quality of our criminal justice personnel means the quality of justice. It correlates exactly with the quality of justice that we end up providing, correct?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Oh, exactly, exactly, and this website offers career-based resources for students and graduates as well as our military veterans and other individuals who are seeking their first job in this career, and for those individuals who may be trying to look at Corrections as a second career.

Len Sipes: You know, and one area during this recession that has always been hiring, and that’s Corrections.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes, and not only individuals who are seeking positions as parole officers and probation officer but positions that you may not always think of as positions that are in the career field, like registered nurses.

Len Sipes: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there’s an endless number of individuals with individual specialties that corrections agencies throughout the United States whether they be federal, whether they be state, whether they be local, they need a wide array of people to staff these positions.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes, exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay. The website for “Discover Corrections” is www.discovercorrections.com – www.discovercorrections.com. Mary Ann, give me a sense as to all the different agencies that are involved in the “Discovery Corrections” website project.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Okay. Just to give you a little history, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in an effort to address workforce development issues in Corrections – community Corrections, jails, and detention centers, as well as prisons and institutions – provided funds to the Counsel of State Government, the American Probation and Parole Association, to develop and implement this exciting website. So this innovative project is a collaborative effort overseen by APPA, and our partners are the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association, and the Center for Innovative Public Policies.

Len Sipes: So you’ve got a lot of people involved in this and it’s funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, so you’ve got federal funding and you’ve got the biggest and best correctional agencies, and very well-respected correctional incremental justice agencies deeply involved in the project, and the American Probation and Parole Association is taking the lead.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes. Yes. You know, I can’t say enough regarding our partners and the tremendous amount of work that they put into this project as well, and they really should be commended for all of the material they provided and expertise.

Len Sipes: This will be the first time in the 40-or-so years that I’ve been in the criminal justice system that if you were interested in a career in Corrections, regardless as to where you are in the United States, I mean, you could be sitting in American Samoa and access the website and say, “Son of a gun, that’s something I would like to do in New Mexico” and go for that job.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes, yes, and I think when you look at the website, there are four components or key sections to the website. The first one is “Why Corrections”; the second one is “Explore the Field”; the third is “Career Resources”; and then finally you come to “Post your Job and Find your Job.” When you’re looking at the jobs that are available across the country, you’ll find that they’re in Bismarck, North Dakota, Pine City, Minnesota, East Baton Rouge, Idaho. So no matter where you’re looking, there are jobs that are being posted.

Len Sipes: And one of the things that I do want to say, Mary Ann, about the folks who are in Corrections – again, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for over 40 years, started off as a police officer, and I’ve done a lot of different things both on the correctional side and the law enforcement side, and I want to give a shout-out, I suppose, or recognition to people in Corrections. I don’t think there’s any more difficult and exciting job than being a main-stream correctional officer. I’ve been in and out of literally hundreds of prisons, or prisons hundreds of times, and I understand how difficult and how challenging and how exciting that job is; and people, I don’t think correctional officers get the respect that they deserve. I think as far as I’m concerned, as far as a lot of people are concerned in the criminal justice system, correctional officers deserve a huge amount of respect. Parole and probation agents, what we here in Washington D.C. call community supervision officers, again, that is an extraordinarily difficult job. They’re out in high-crime neighborhoods dealing sometimes with people presenting really unique challenges. These are exciting jobs. These are really interesting jobs. These are not boring jobs at all. They pay well in many instances and they have good government benefits behind them so people looking around and they’re uncertain about a career in Corrections, I’m not quite sure they need to be uncertain. I think a life in Corrections is a life of, you know, not just pure excitement from the law enforcement point of view but I think they’re very exciting, very challenging jobs. They’re never boring.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yeah, I agree. My first job – I was in the field for approximately 28 years based out of Minnesota – and my first job was at the Women’s Facility here in Shakopee. I believe that my first job as a Corrections officer gave me the foundation that I needed for a career in Corrections.

Len Sipes: Well, I have first-hand experience inside of prisons. I have first-hand experience riding along with parole and probation agents, and they have my endless, endless admiration in terms of their ability to protect public safety and their ability to try to help the individuals caught up in the criminal justice system. Okay, so we have a website, “Discover Corrections” – www.discovercorrections.com – and you’ve got the mainstream criminal justice agencies, correctional agencies involved in it. It’s both on the jail side, the prison side, and the community Corrections side. We’ve said it’s funded by the BJA, the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice. So how has it been? I mean, have you been successful? Has it placed a lot of people? Do you think that you’re getting the interaction that you’re looking for?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: We’re beginning to analyze some of those key outcomes that you’re pointing out. We believe that people are beginning to go to the “Discover Corrections.” It’s a fairly new website. We are marketing through Facebook and other avenues but we do have close to 200 agencies that have listed jobs on the website.

Len Sipes: That’s great.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: And that also then, you know, when you post jobs, then it brings job candidates, and you see more and more people then accessing the website. But based on our initial surveys, both the job-seekers as well as the employers have provided us with very positive feedback.

Len Sipes: And you said before that there were four primary sections to the website. I’m not quite sure that I gave you full time to explain what they are. Could you give them to me again, please?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Oh, certainly. “Why Corrections” is the first section when you’re looking at the website.

Len Sipes: What is that designed to do, “Why Corrections,” because people are confused about a career in Corrections possibly?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Well, possibly confused or maybe wondering, “Is this the direction should I take and really what does it involve?” It explains the three components. It talks about Corrections as a critical component of the criminal justice system, and that it requires dedication, integrity, and commitment to working with individuals who come into the criminal justice system; and that also that there are rewards and that it can be highly gratifying to work in this field and help people make real life changes.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve seen it firsthand. I have seen especially on the community correction side with parole and probation agencies, with the treatment side, within prisons, I’ve seen people turn the lives around of people caught up in the criminal justice system. It doesn’t happen every time but certainly it is just amazing to see people go from tax burdens to tax payers, and we owe, again, a debt of gratitude towards the people in community Corrections and mainstream Corrections who helped that person get there.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Um-hum, um-hum.

Len Sipes: Now you also have personal stories on the website that I find really interesting. You’ve got some personal stories about people from my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and you’ve got personal stories from people throughout the country talking addressing why they got involved in Corrections.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Exactly, and that’s I think a very important part of the website. It’s real people telling their stories, and that is in the “Explore the Field” section of the website.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that’s a good segue.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Okay, and there are stories from wardens within our prisons, and there are probation officers. There are other positions such as there’s a nurse, there’s a teacher, and a variety of individuals who are working in our field, both in community Corrections, jails and detention, prisons and institutions.

Len Sipes: You know getting back to teachers for a second, I remember when I was representing the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which was Law Enforcement and Corrections, and we had the unfortunate privilege I suppose, I can say that now, of taking over the Baltimore City Jail. The state took over the City Jail. And what was truly amazing to me is that the teachers who worked in the Baltimore City Jail who were providing educational services to juveniles and young adults, they had the second highest increase in test scores in the city of Baltimore. Maryland has, I think, the highest test score ranking in the country, and they had the second highest for the city of Baltimore in the Baltimore City Jail, and I was amazed.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Wow.

Len Sipes: I would sit down and talk to those teachers and say, “How did you accomplish this ?” – And working with the correctional officers and working with the teachers, they told me their game plan, and then years ago I interviewed them for the radio with I was with the State of Maryland. Here are teachers working in a correctional setting, producing the second highest increase in grade average scores for an entire city. I thought that that was phenomenal, so again, it’s a wide-open field. We need lots of good people to come into Corrections not just necessarily as correctional officers but as you said, teachers and nurses and administrators and bean counters and accountants and plumbers and lawyers and ten tons of people.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Exactly, exactly, and so then when you’re viewing the website, then you can also then go on to the third section which is “Career Resources,” and that really is designed to provide specific information. So you’re looking at a state and say you’re interested in going to Montana. Well, it will give you a snapshot of how Corrections is organized in that state.

Len Sipes: Oh, that’s great.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Okay, and also then it provides a glossary of common terms, and also there’s a whole list of national links that you can click as a resource.

Len Sipes: So if I want to go to Hawaii, I can go to Hawaii and just work as a correctional officer. I can work as a parole and probation agent.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: You could.

Len Sipes: I could.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: There’s some openings.

Len Sipes: There are some openings. I’ll think about that in the dead of winter. All right, so have we covered three of the four sections of the website?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes, and then the last one is “Post your Job and Find your Job.”

Len Sipes: Okay, and that’s pretty simple. Now anybody within the criminal justice system can post jobs?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Correct, both private and public.

Len Sipes: Private and public. Thanks. I was going to ask that. And so anybody, a 17-year-old searching for his or her future can go to that website and say, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to go to Wyoming and they’ve got openings for parole and probation agents in Wyoming.” I mean, it’s open to anybody.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Exactly.

Len Sipes: All right. I think it’s an exciting concept. I’m going to give the website and we’re going to move into the second part of the program. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking about jobs in Corrections with Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt. She is a Research Associate with the American Probation and Parole Association. She is the administrator of “Discover Correction,” a really unique website funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, in league with some of the biggest criminal justice agencies in the country, and she is with the American Probation and Parole Association. The website for the American Probation and Parole Association is www.appa-net.org – www.appa-net.org. The “Discover Corrections” website again is www.discovercorrections.com.

Mary Ann, what has been the response of people seeking jobs o the website? Do they find it useful? Do they find it easy to navigate?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: They find it easy to navigate. I think what they would like is to see more job openings but that’s throughout the country, and of course we would like to see more job postings but more jobs are coming available, and if you’re willing to consider relocating, there are positions throughout the country that are available.

Len Sipes: Well, I remember talking to a couple of nurses decades ago who spent five years in Alaska then spent two years in Hawaii, and I’m not quite sure I’m encouraging leaving criminal justice jobs but I would imagine this gives you the same opportunity to travel the country and work for a career in Corrections. The people coming to the website, can they find what they’re looking for? That’s the bottom line. Are they satisfied with their experience?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes. Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, and have they written you back saying, you know, “Gee, I’d like to see more jobs listed,” or “I’d like to see it easier,” or what’s been their feedback?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes, that’s in some of the feedback, and also, you know, I respond to individuals who use other social media outlets such as LinkedIn, and of course people will talk about, you know, it would be nice to be able to stay where they’re at however, you know.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: And then also a number of people throughout the country really recognize the need to be open to be mobile and to consider job opportunities in other areas of the country.

Len Sipes: Sure. It gives you a chance to see the nation and to get a sense as to what’s happening in other areas. If I was a young man, I would love to be a parole and probation agent in Alaska, so there you are. If anybody up in Alaska wants to hire an older individual, please contact me when I retire.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Well, and there are openings. So when you go to the site, there is a U.S. probation officer opening in Bismarck, North Dakota. Pine City, Minnesota, there is a probation officer opening. It’s a lovely part of the country if you like northern Minnesota where it’s very outdoorsy, close to Duluth.

Len Sipes: And I’m glad you brought that up. There’s a lot of federal positions in here. There are federal parole and probation issues that are administered by the individual district courts within the federal system, and there are federal prisons, I’m assuming, that are within the system. So again, if you want to be a correctional officer and have a federal job with all of that security and all the pay that comes with it, and you want to go to a certain area of the country, boom, it’s there for you.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Exactly. And not only are there entry-level positions but there are management and administrative positions as well, so like Salt Lake City is looking for a trial court executive. There’s the Sheriff’s Volunteer Coordinator, which can be an entry-level position. There is also the superintendent of Mental Health Services in Maine; also the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in St. Peter is looking for a facility director, and a business analysis out of Arizona, the Arizona Judicial Branch. So there’s a variety of positions.

Len Sipes: Well, you know, I’ve been on the website several times and I’m just discovering the full complexity of all the different jobs that are available especially, you know, some of these jobs are really interesting. I mean, you can make a career, an exciting career, a very interesting career in any of these. How does an agency get on your website? Is it simply a matter of calling up and saying, “Hey, I’ve got these 20 jobs I want to advertise?”

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: No, you don’t even have to call. You go to the website and where you see “post your jobs,” you simply click on that and you will be able to create a login, you know, there’s a password etc., register your agency, and then begin posting your jobs.

Len Sipes: And is there a cost to agencies in terms of posting information on the website?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Is there, I’m sorry, what?

Len Sipes: I’m sorry, is there a cost to post information on the website?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Is there a cost?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: No. T his is free. This service is free so it’s no cost to your agency.

Len Sipes: Mmm, neat, okay. And I guess one of the final questions is launching the “Discover Corrections” website; it is an important enhancement to the field of Corrections, why? Explain why that is. In the past, you sort of were limited, I suppose. If I’m living in Baltimore, Maryland, where I currently live, the only opportunities I’m going to be exposed to are going to be those advertised in the Baltimore Sun. Now suddenly it’s the entire world opens to me, and I would imagine that’s the heart and soul of it.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Yes. And one of the other things, when we really began to examine how we wanted to impact job searching in the Corrections field, was considering some of the feedback that we receive from students. For many students, they do not know now to access career or job information in the field of Corrections. I mean often, at least in the past, you would have to know exactly what agency you wanted to consider employment in, and then you would have to go that agency’s website, where this really allows individuals to go to one website.

Len Sipes: And have it all done right there and see all the varieties of jobs that are open to you.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Um-hum. And it also allows employers to search resumes of registered job seekers.

Len Sipes: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: Um-hum, so that’s I think a very positive feature of the website.

Len Sipes: That is a very positive, so I can throw in my own resume upon retirement and then the good folks in Alaska would reach out and say, “Hey, Leonard, come on up. We’d love to have you,” and then my wife would divorce me but that’s beside the point.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: That’s – yes. You know, they can look for the right person because I think oftentimes in this field it is about looking for the right person in that specific position.

Len Sipes: And like any other criminal justice endeavor, we really do have to go through quite a few people to find the right person. It takes a unique human being to be successful in Corrections. Either in mainstream prisons or in terms of community corrections, it takes a unique individual to be able to do these jobs.

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: I would agree. It can be challenging yet also very rewarding.

Len Sipes: Mary Ann, did we cover all the topics?

Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt: I believe so.

Len Sipes: All right, good. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been DC Public Safety. We did a radio show today on jobs in Corrections with Mary Ann Smitz-Mowatt, a Research Associate with the American Probation and Parole Association talking about what I think is an extraordinarily good idea website, a national website, or an international website there at www.discovercorrections.com – www.discovercorrections.com. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We do appreciate your calls. We appreciate your letters. We appreciate your comments. We appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Criminal History and Employment-University of Maryland-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. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/03/criminal-history-and-employment-university-of-maryland-dc-public-safety-radio/

[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 program is about employment and criminal history and we ask the basic question – at what point do people with arrests represent the same risks as the general population. This has profound impact,  profound policy implications for our society when you have an 18 year old and he’s arrested, but yet he goes 15 years and he’s not rearrested. He has no further contact with the Criminal Justice system. The question is should he be denied jobs? The other question is for people like we have, under parole and probation supervision, at what point do they become safe risks? They’re years away from their last crime in many cases. They’re years away from their last substance abuse positive test and at what point do they become safe risks for society and safe risks for people to employ them? I’m very proud today to have Kiminori Nakamura, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland College Park, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web address is www.ccjs.umd.edu, www.ccjs.umd.edu and Professor Nakamura’s personal website I’ll have those listed in the show notes. With that introduction, Professor, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Professor Nakamura:  Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  Alright, I just want to read very briefly from the New York Times. You got a lot of press for a piece of research you did with Alfred Blumstein from Carnegie Mellon, an extraordinarily important piece of research that has reverberated throughout Criminology and Criminal Justice and has made mainstream media…I’m reading from a very recent opinion from the New York Times. The title was Paying a Price Long After the Crime.

“In 2010, the Chicago public schools declined to higher Darryl Langdon for a job as a boiler room engineer because he had been convicted of possessing a half a gram of cocaine in 1985, a felony for which he received probation. It didn’t matter that Mr. Landon, a single parent of two sons, had been clean since 1988 and hadn’t run into further trouble with the law. Only after The Chicago Tribune wrote about his case did the school system reverse its decision and offer him a job.”

It goes on to say that a stunning number of young people are arrested for this country and those crimes can continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Again, Professor Nakamura, University of Maryland, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Professor Nakamura:  Thank you very much.

Len Sipes:  Okay, where are we with this whole research, Doctor? Can you explain what it is that you did, how you did it and what your research conclusions were?

Professor Nakamura:  Sure, let me start with a sort of background where this research came about. So we, me and Dr. Blumstein, recognized two observations, two trends that we see recently. One is that the criminal background checks have become very, very ubiquitous. According to one survey, about 80-90% of large employers now conduct background checks on potential employees and, largely, I think there are two reasons for the increase in criminal background checks use. One is that technology, the information technology, has made background checking very easy and you can do a lot of background checks even on line. The second in observation is that the criminal records themselves are very much widespread and prevalent. About 92 million criminal records are stored in the State’s Repository of Criminal Records and according to the FBI about 14 million arrests are made each year. So you can imagine the sheer number of people with criminal records.

Len Sipes: That’s 92 million total at the moment with every year adding another 14 million.

Professor Nakamura:  Possibly.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Professor Nakamura:  Of course, the same person can be arrested multiple times, but even considering that, it’s a huge number of people.

Len Sipes:  Well, with 80-90% of employees checking criminal histories and with those numbers of records there, it’s almost inevitable that a sizeable percentage of our population is going to turn up positive for a past criminal history.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s right and there’s another recent study saying that about one in third people in the United States acquire an arrest record by the age of 30.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Professor Nakamura:  Right. Again, that tells you that a very large number of people are having criminal records.

Len Sipes:  Well, we do say that, criminologically speaking, that involvement in crime reduces with age. So you can have a person involved in the Criminal Justice system at 16 or 17 or 18 or 19 or 20 and be completely crime free a certain amount of years later.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct and a lot of people have very old, single criminal record that had probably occurred when they were young, but still, those people still cannot get a job or get into public housing or getting other sort of social services because of that single, old criminal record.

Len Sipes:  My introduction to the Criminal Justice system when I was a teenager was being picked up by the police and they decided to take me home to my parents. I won’t embarrass everybody and myself in terms of what it is that I did, but they took me home to my parents. Now, if they had processed me through the regular Criminal Justice system, the question is would I be sitting here doing this radio show here today?

Professor Nakamura:  That could have been, yes, if they process you in official channels and you’ve got an arrest record and that arrest record could still potentially show up on criminal background checks.

Len Sipes:  It’s amazing. One-third of the American population having contact with the Criminal Justice system has immense implications. So give me a sense of the research you did with Alfred Blumstein. So you did how many people and it was in New York, correct?

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct. So we basically got arrest history records, rap sheets, from New York State Criminal History Repository and we basically captured everyone who was arrested for the first time in the state of New York as adults in 1980. So we had about 88,000 people – data.

Len Sipes:  That’s a huge data set.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct and we basically followed up their criminal history for over 25 years. So if their first arrest in 1980, we followed them up until 2007 or so. So we can see their criminal risk history for over 25 years.

Len Sipes:  What was the conclusion that you came to in terms of following these people? Now, that’s a huge data set. I mean I’m used to criminological data sets of 500, 700, 1,000, 2,000. Eighty-eight thousand is a huge number of people. So you followed them up after a certain number of years and you found what?

Professor Nakamura:  So, first of all, we found that those who are…the recidivism risk, rearrest risk, of those who are arrested and, actually, we looked at those where people were convicted in 1980. Their rearrest risk declines over time, which suggests that the longer these people stay clean, stay out of crime, the lower the recidivism risk becomes.

Len Sipes:  Right, so its age of onset becomes an important marker within criminology, but age of leaving the Criminal Justice system becomes an equally important marker.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s right. So age is an important factor here. So if you acquire a criminal record when you are young, the recidivism tends to be higher than the counterparts, but the equally important factor here is the length of time clean. So if you stay clean longer, then your risk of being arrested again becomes much lower.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so are we talking about first time offenders, second time offenders, third time offenders? Are we talking about repeat offenders who at one point had a clean history, single offenders who at one point had a clean history or it didn’t matter?

Professor Nakamura:  We basically looked at first time offenders, first time arrestees as well as those who were first time convictees. So we didn’t really look at those people with multiple prior records, but there’s another research paper by researcher Shawn Bushway and others. That paper looks at recidivism risk of those with multiple prior records.

Len Sipes:  Did it show the same thing as your research?

Professor Nakamura:  The pattern is the same, meaning that the recidivism risk declines over time, but those with many prior records, their recidivism risk declines in a much slower place.

Len Sipes:  Ah, okay, so there’s more of a commitment if you have multiple crimes versus singular crimes.

Professor Nakamura:  Right. It takes a longer time.

Len Sipes:  Your research basically said that there’s a certain formula involved here that after…and it depends upon the crime and I think it depends on the age of onset, but I heard different people summarize your research by saying that after seven years of not offending, then your risk is just as the same as that of the regular population. Not the regular criminal population. I’m talking about the American population across the board.

Professor Nakamura:  Right, so in comparison to the general population, the recidivism risk of those who had a single arrest and conviction in 1980 becomes about the same as the general population’s risk of arrest after seven years or so.

Len Sipes:  Okay and then that did vary from crime to crime, correct?

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct. The crime type of the first arrest and conviction matters to the number as well as the age at first arrest, when they were first arrested.

Len Sipes:  I’m reading from the report from the National Institute of Justice. For burglary, I think it was 3.8 years for robbery. It was 7.7 years…so it does depend upon the crime and it does depend, as you said, upon the age upon arrest.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  In essence, what we are saying here and from a policy implication is that for this particular group, because you were caught up in the Criminal Justice system at one point in your life does not mean that you should be viewed suspiciously by every employer who chooses to look at your criminal history. I mean before we started the show, I talked about a family member. I was at a family affair and a young family member, she was with her counterparts and they were looking at a smartphone. They were taking a look at a court database and this one young lady blurts out to everybody there, “Oh my heavens, you’ve been arrested.” I mean that was a matter of going on a smartphone and plugging in her name and plugging in her date of birth and she was able to find out about the fact that she was arrested. So this is, number one, it’s not unusual, it’s not difficult at all in many states to find out that you’ve been arrested. The second question is – so what? Okay, so because you were arrested at a certain point that means that – in the example that I gave from the New York Times – that means that you should be denied a job for the rest of your life?

Professor Nakamura:  So the problem was that employers, at least in the past, did not really distinguish how old these criminal records are. So if they see a criminal record on their background checks, no matter how old it is, they think that’s an indicator of risk so that they can basically decline or decide not to hire that individual, but what our research suggests is that employers should look at the age of that criminal record. If that criminal record is very old – longer than seven years, ten years – then that criminal record doesn’t have much relevance in predicting future crime.

Len Sipes:  That’s why there are people who will say that after a certain amount of years you should not be asked about your criminal history because it lacks relevance. If it’s been five years, seven years, ten years since the criminal activity and you’ve been clean since that point, there is no need for an employer to ask about that event.

Professor Nakamura:  Yes, but that threshold might be dependent on how the particular employer is risk sensitive. So if you’re talking about jobs at a construction site, they might not be all that concerned about the risk of crime or if the employment includes people working in teams, so there’s sort of like a natural supervision against each other, then they might not be all that concerned about people with criminal records, but if the job is about teachers or other positions that involves contact with the vulnerable populations, then the employer’s that have risk sensitivity is a little higher, so they might need to wait a little longer for someone with a criminal record to be hired by those risk sensitive employers.

Len Sipes:  We’re quickly halfway through the program. Kiminori Nakamura, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland College Park, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, www.ccjs.umd.edu and within the show notes, I’ll have the exact address for the good Professor’s website. Again, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice – www.ccjs.umd.edu, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice for the University of Maryland talking about something that has received a ton of publicity in mainstream media and an awful lot of discussion within criminological circles called Redemption in the Error of Widespread Criminal Background Checks put out by the National Institute of Justice of the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice.

Professor, if I could get back to what you said before that there has been an updated study that took a look at people with multiple offenses and the finding of that updated study is the fact that they also age out of crime, but they take a little bit longer to age out of crime.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s right. So that’s research by other researchers, other professors, but that paper suggests that if you have more than one, if you have more criminal records, you basically take a little longer to go down to the level of general population’s, let’s say, risk of arrest or sometimes the risk of people with no criminal record. So we can use different benchmarks, but regardless of the benchmark, if you have more records, prior records, it just takes a little longer.

Len Sipes:  Professor, do people come to you and say, “Give me a formula?” Say, ten years we shouldn’t be asking. Now, you just answered the question a little while ago. It depends upon the security needs of the individual. I would imagine if you deal with a lot of money, having someone convicted of fraud involving money, you’re going to look at that person suspiciously regardless as to when the crime occurred, but having said that, do people come to you and say, “Look, there’s a certain point when we’ve got to stop asking about criminal histories. It’s just not fair to the individual.” In some cases, you go 20-25 years carrying that burden with you for the rest of your life for an arrest for something minor that occurred decades ago. I mean is there a point when we should simply stop asking?

Professor Nakamura:  So our first suggestion is that we should remove – what we call – sort of ‘forever rules’. So we should avoid a blanket ban on hiring people with criminal records. That’s not really consistent with what our research indicates. So it does not make any sense for employers to have a sort of policy that says, “We don’t hire people with criminal records.” Going from there, we would usually say about 10-13 years, we should basically stop asking for criminal records regardless of age at first arrest or first conviction, regardless of risk sensitivity for most employers, although, there might be some exceptions.

Len Sipes:  So those are the two – a way to avoid a blanket ban and somewhere in the ballpark of 10-13 years – and that gives some guidance and at least it begins to ask the question in terms of the employment community, is there a time that the person should be – I don’t know – held harmless depending upon the security needs of the institution. Again, if you’re convicted of a sex offense, I’m not quite sure I’d want you to be hired for a daycare position even if it was 15-20 years in the past and there are people who will dispute that, but I understand the perspective of employers, but at least we say avoid a blanket ban across the board and look at 10-13 years as guidance.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s right and then another consideration for employers is that they might want to look at what kinds of crime are they mostly concerned about. Are they concerned about property crime, like fraud/embezzlement type or they’re mostly concerned about violent crime and depending on the concerns for particular crime types, they can basically differentiate what prior criminal records they should watch out for. For example, if the prior criminal record is something about the violence and you’re also concerned about violent crime at the workplace, then that criminal record should maybe indicate the higher level of risk for a longer period of time paired with prior record of some sort of property crime.

Len Sipes:  You seem to be saying take a look at the circumstances. Don’t just have a knee-jerk reaction that because you have an arrest, I’m not going to hire you. Take a look at the circumstances and apply the circumstances of that individual to the circumstances of you job.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, now, in terms of if I can make the big leap over to people currently under supervision. My agency has 16,000 offenders under our supervision on any given day, we know that there are hundreds of thousands of individuals on parole and probation supervision – I’m sorry – actually millions of people under parole and probation situation throughout the country. I know your research doesn’t go in that direction of people currently under supervision, but my experience and we have job developers who work with these individuals and they tell me that they have people three or four years away from their last criminal involvement and three or four years away from their last positive substance abuse check, drug test and that these are perfectly safe, perfectly skilled individuals. They have hard skills. They have been employed in the banking industry, for the love of heavens. I’ve talked to some people. They’ve been bricklayers. They’ve been electricians, but yet they can’t find jobs. At the same time, they are perfectly safe as far as a risk to public safety or a risk in terms of that employment environment. Do you have any comments on that, sir?

Professor Nakamura:  Yeah, so our research that we just talked about is mostly about this long-term outcome. So people who are just released from prison, they might be able to get a job that is probably not that risk sensitive and he can keep that job for maybe several years and when he wants to move up to a better paying job, that’s when this sort of idea of redemption becomes more relevant because he might be faced with a sort of blanket ban policy that many employers have. That’s when my research becomes a little more important. We always say 10-13 years or 15 years or whatever the number is, that number should not really interfere with the reentry support [INDISCERNIBLE] employment. People released from prison, they should get some sort of job as soon as possible because the research suggests having a job is related to redemption in recidivism.

Len Sipes:  Well, I guess that’s the point. The point is is that we, as an agency, all parole and probation agencies, our job is to reduce recidivism, reduce people going out and committing more crimes, reduce the number of victims. Part of that is through supervision, which is extraordinarily important, but part of that is through programs and finding jobs for these individuals and that job connection is really hampered. I’ve sat down with people under our supervision who are perfectly good risk, yet, employers will not touch them because of their criminal histories, but again, I guess the point I’m trying to make is there may be, based upon age because the average of the people we have under supervision is 31, that maybe there is a point or even people under supervision pose safe risks. I know your research didn’t go there, but is there the possibility that they pose safe risks?

Professor Nakamura:  That’s right, especially for, again, employers that are not that risk sensitive.

Len Sipes:  Where do we go to in terms of future research, Doctor, where do we go to in terms of taking this conversation two or three steps further in engaging the American public, engaging the criminological community with these issues that you and Professor Blumstein brought up in your research?

Professor Nakamura:  So we are kind of pursuing two streams of research. One is to look at this redemption idea for people that have been incarcerated. Like I said, in our previous research, we looked at those first time offenders, first time arrestees or those who have been convicted, but now, we’re kind of looking at the data of people who have been already incarcerated. So they probably have multiple prior records and see if their risks of recidivism declines to the level of general population or not. So that’s something that we are looking at right now.  The other strand of research that I’m pursuing is, like you said, looking at the population of people who are under parole supervision and right now, in most states and most jurisdictions, the length of parole is quite prefixed in the sense that when they are put on supervision, they know how long they have to be under that supervision. What I’m exploring is that if they stay clean under parole supervision, their recidivism also declines. So at some point, there can be discharge prior to sort of the maximum sentence date because their recidivism risk no longer poses a significant amount of risk or if the risk level is sufficiently low, then maybe the supervision level can be adjusted and then maybe these guys can be put on either administrative parole supervision or some low-intensity supervision.

Len Sipes:  Well, that would be a huge plus for those of us who run parole and probation agencies because then we can take those resources and redirect them towards the higher risk offender and even do a greater job in terms of protecting public safety.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct. Recidivism is at the highest when they’re released from prison. So it makes more sense for supervision agencies to focus on their resources, treatments or supervision resources on the earlier period of time after they’re released.

Len Sipes:  Well, I know, again, those of us in parole and probation agencies are really going to be looking forward to that research because that’s something we wrestle with right now. Do you have a projected date of delivery on that research or are we years away from the findings?

Professor Nakamura:  Well, I started working on that research topic with people from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections here, so we started to collect data and we’re about to analyze the data.

Len Sipes:  Ah, so you’re not that terribly far from the process of coming to some intermediate conclusions.

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Well, that would be a wonderful contribution to those of us…I mean for parole and probation administrators, that would be just an enormous piece of research because, again, everyone is struggling with that very question – because of the budget situation, who do you focus your resources on and who do you place on administrative probation or parole or a kiosk sort of program.

Professor Nakamura:  Yup, that’s exactly why we started this research on parole.

Len Sipes:  Well, I’m very proud to talk to you today, Dr. Nakamura. Your research, again, for the people listening to this program, it’s really very hard to describe the level of interest that people throughout the country…and it really has caught the attention of mainstream media because I’ve seen your research being referenced to dozens and dozens of times within mainstream media as well as in the criminological community. Dr. Nakamura, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland College Park, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, www.ccjs.umd.edu. I’ll put his personal web page in the show notes. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate all of your comments. We appreciate your letters. We appreciate your emails and we appreciate your phone calls in terms of the program and comments and suggestions. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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