The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/07/truth-reentry-former-offender/

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, he is President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com. The show today is the truth about reentry from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont has been around. He’s been in front of Congressional Committees, the Associated Press, he’s had plays at the Kennedy Center, he’s been on HBO, BET, author of four books, and he has been a public motivational speaker. And to hear Lamont speak is really, really, really a treat. And he talks about reentry, talks about life on the street passionately, talks about reentry passionately. He did serve 11 years and 4 months in prison and since coming out he has really turned heads. And what I wanted to do was to invite Lamont to talk about reentry policy from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Lamont Carey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Okay. You’ve been on our radio shows, you’ve been on our television shows, I’ve seen you perform; a lot of people listen to what you have to say. When you do your bit, when you do your public performance it’s The Streets Call Out My Name. It’s like –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s really amazing from a criminological point of view, because I’ve had guys tell me that kicking crime and kicking drugs is one thing, but kicking the street –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Kicking the corner is one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. Talk to me about that.

Lamont Carey: Well, I mean because I was raised, well, I like to say I was raised in the street, because I had been involved in criminal activity since like the late age of 11, so that was all that I knew. So when I went to prison as a juvenile and I come home, prison and the streets is all that I knew. And so with my efforts of trying to live a positive and legit lifestyle, those thoughts of my memories from that time in my life is always was present. Like if I try to get a job and I don’t get hired, I immediately think about how can I get some money, and the only other options that I know existed at the time was returning back to the streets. So that’s what I mean by the streets keep calling my name.

Len Sipes: And if you heard Lamont, it’s absolutely powerful if you go to his website, it’s there. It is just an extraordinary performance as to how the streets keep sucking you in, how the streets keep calling you back. So what do you mean by the streets? Are you talking about the people, are you talking about the friends, are you talking about the lifestyle?

Lamont Carey: The lifestyle. The criminal lifestyle is bigger than the friends. I mean because it is where we felt most powerful, it was where we had resources, and so to change my life and try to start this new life without no resources – and so any time I’m rejected from any resources I remember how easy it is to obtain money through the streets. I remember how I used to be praised like I was celebrity because of that lifestyle –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: The drug dealer lifestyle. And so when you come in, when you’re running into mistake after mistake, not being able to overcome obstacles, you, we resort back to what we know –

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lamont Carey: Where we’re comfortable. I mean some of my best years when I came home was from when I was doing really good as a drug dealer. And so naturally if I can’t find a job I’m remembering those times where I was able to go to the store and spend 1,000 dollars or take a trip whenever I wanted to take a trip. Now I can’t do none of these things and I can’t even get a job because of my felony convictions. So naturally, it’s like the streets keep saying, “We won’t judge you. We won’t stop you. We support you in whatever it is that you want to do.” And so criminal lifestyle is one of the, where it’s perceived as one of the easiest things to go back to, especially if you’ve already been there. And so –

Len Sipes: Guys have told me it’s the heroin of all heroin, it’s the drug of all drugs.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: The street, it’s the reinforcement, it’s what you’re familiar with, it’s what you’re comfortable with –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s where you get your platitudes, where you get your pats on the back. It’s where you are embraced.

Lamont Carey: Identity.

Len Sipes: How can you give that up?

Lamont Carey: Identity. Well, the thing, you can give it up, because I was able to give it up. I had to recognize that it was false. All of those praises didn’t continue when I went to prison.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: So it was a false existence. And so as long as an individual remains mindful of that, that will equip them, empower them to continue on trying to go down this righteous path. But, even with that being said, it takes some effort from society to be completely in support of me changing my life, or any individual changing their life, for them to successfully do that, because if you’re not allowing me to feed myself, then you are giving me no options but to go back to the ways I know how to feed myself.

Len Sipes: And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss on this program. I’ve had Assistant Attorney Generals, members of the White House; I’ve had some of the best known researchers in the United States at these microphones talking about exactly what we’re going to talk about today.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re the first – now, you’ve been on this show before, but I’m going back to my roots. I’m going to bring you and two other people on who are former offenders, who have done well for themselves. But I need to hear and everybody needs I think to hear and they’re impressed by, probably more impressed by you and people who have served time in the prison system, their perspectives on what’s going on with reentry –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What’s happening after a person gets out of prison. They’re more impressed by what you had to say than what they have to say –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Or what I have to say. So that’s the whole idea behind this show. Because I talked to, and somebody who’s going to come to these microphones in just a couple weeks, a parole and probation expert who says, “You know, Len, I’m really concerned that we’re just not getting the money, we’re not getting the support for reentry, it’s just not there. We’re talking about it, talking about it, talking about it. There are very positive things. People on both sides of the political aisle, they’re now supportive. We have a President who is supportive. We have the Second Chance Act. We’ve got a lot of things that are rolling in our direction.” But his concern is the money’s just not there. So I want to ask you, Lamont Carey, why isn’t the money there?

Lamont Carey: It’s a whole, I think it’s a whole lot of reasons why the money isn’t there. They’re expecting – if you look at the people that have the most interactions with ex-offenders it will be the grassroots organizations, because those are the people that’s in our community, those are the ones that’s trying to welcome us into their doors. But with them we run into waiting lists, long waiting lists, because they’re not allowed to grow their staff or they’re not allowed to like effectively carry out their task on trying to help us transition from prison to society, because they don’t have funding. And then I think another issue that I have with governments is the relationship that they have with private prisons. And that relationship to me it seems like it works against the reentrance, because if the prison systems and the community are supposed to be responsible for us transitioning, then how can you legally agree to keep anybody’s prison filled to any kind of capacity without, in my opinion, some form of corruption has to spring from that?

That means if I’m a mayor of a city and I agree with a private prison to keep 50% of their facilities full, then that means that I have to tell my captains at the precinct and whoever’s in charge, the chiefs and all that, that they have to increase their arrest records, then I have to tell the prosecutors that they have to expand the charges, then I have to tell the judges that they have to increase their conviction numbers in order to stay within this agreement. So for me knowing this, it’s like how can they really be working to help me transition successfully in my community when they’re working with, when they have agreements with people that are saying they’re going to keep people in prison? So that may be one of the reasons that the funding, some funding is not going to where it’s needed, because what I need and what – I’ve been in probably 11 prisons throughout my incarceration, and majority of the individuals in there, I probably know two individuals that said they was coming home to break the law. Most of us were in there working on reentry, even though they didn’t have really reentry programs. We had a plan on what we wanted to do when we come home. But it seems like when we get out that gate, when we go out for parole, my biggest road block was when I went up for parole that I couldn’t use my home address, because I can no longer live there. My mother was on Section 8, and it’s supposed to be that I am, because of my convictions, that I am not allowed to live –

Len Sipes: Live with your mother.

Lamont Carey: On those premises.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So let’s say I’m starting off my reentry as a homeless person, and then I’m hearing that they’re paroling some people straight to homeless shelters. Now, the problem that I have with that is that every time I went to a new prison my aggressive mentality resurfaced, because I’m thinking I may have to prove myself again.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So I’m on guard. For anything that happened, I’m going to deal with it as harshly as I possibly can. So when you transition a person from prison to a shelter, that’s the kind of environment that you are putting us into.

Len Sipes: All right, you’re going to talk to right now a governor.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: A mayor, a county commissioner.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re going to talk to them. They’re listening right now. And we get a lot of aides to – we get congressional aides, aides to mayors, aides to governors, where you’re talking to the governor himself or herself. What do you say to that person about supporting programs for individuals coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: Well, what I would say to them is this. This, in my opinion, this is one of your biggest public safety issues, because a reentrant that can’t find a job, that can’t find housing is more likely to return to criminal activity, which endangers the citizens of your state, your county, and your country. So as a governor, what I would like to see is our rights restored. Ban the box if you haven’t already banned the box. Give us a –

Len Sipes: In terms of employment.

Lamont Carey: In terms of employment. Give me the opportunity to make it past the application phase so that I can plead my own case on why I’m qualified for a job that will help me take care of myself, take care of my family, and add to the taxes that the state collects. And in terms of the programming – I mean all of us have different kinds of needs. I mean when I first came home, my first probably two years most of my stuff was congested in my bedroom, then I got an apartment with a living room, a dining room, and all that, but all of that was in my bedroom, because that’s what I was used to, living in that small space. And so the kind of programs that I think would be beneficial is job training. Some job training in fields that the city, the county, or the state is really looking to fulfill, not no job training that’s just going to last for three months or four months, because then I’m starting right back over. And then for programs that you have where it’s supposed to provide me job training, extend that, give them more funding, because right now in DC people are running into waiting lists, a six month waiting list. And so if I just come home and I need services, I don’t have six months to wait.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s just not DC; it’s all throughout the country.

Lamont Carey: Right. But I’m using DC as an example –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: Because that’s my direct experiences.

Len Sipes: Okay. And that governor is going to look at you and say, “Mr. Carey, I’ve got schools to build, I’ve got roads to build, I’ve got all these people constantly coming to me looking for money for this program and that program, I’ve got older people that need to be taken care of, I don’t have a lot of money.”

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Why should I take what limited amount of money that I have and throw it towards programs for people coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont Carey: The reason that you should do that is because you’re giving the individual a real chance of succeeding, a real chance of changing, because it’s twofold. The things that they are asking you money for, if I turn, if individuals start to commit crimes it’s a hassle to the school. It’s a danger to the school children in terms of recruitment for, to enter the criminal enterprise. It’s a danger to the teachers, the principals, and what have you. Then they become targets because they are known to have I mean have a paycheck. So every citizen in your state, your county that has a paycheck becomes a potential victim for robbery if I can’t find a job. If you need, if they’re asking you to, you’re trying to repair your roads then this may be one of my dream jobs of doing labor. Me personally I’m not one of those guys, but we have hundreds and thousands of individuals that are good with their hands that’s looking for their outlet to be able to build. How it affects seniors, because the seniors becomes a target of crime.

Len Sipes: So what you’re saying is the 700,000 people that come out of the state and federal prison system all throughout the United States every year, 700,000 come back to the communities, what you’re basically saying is that the crime issue affects everything, the crime issue affects –

Lamont Carey: Everything.

Len Sipes: Everybody. If you can help these folks and it reduces recidivism, they’re coming back into the criminal justice system by 20%, 30%, 40%, it’s going to have a huge payoff –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: On every aspect of society.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Schools, employment, churches, communities, factories, it affects everything.

Lamont Carey: Right. Now, and I’m not saying, I’m not telling the governors and these representatives that as a fear factor. What I’m saying is that we are untapped resources. Like me coming home – right now I can do marketing, right?

Len Sipes: Uh huh.

Lamont Carey: I do event planning, I publish, I do videos, I have all of these skills that if I went and applied for a job for a lot of them that I wouldn’t be hired for because of my past conviction. And so by you removing that barrier for me on the application it gets me in front of the employer and I can stress these skills that I have that can be an asset to those companies.

Len Sipes: We’re going to go for a break very shortly, but I do want to ask you when you come back from that break as to whether or not there is a general prejudice. Regardless of race, there’s a very general prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system. But, ladies and gentlemen, were talking to Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com, www.lamontcarey.com. Lamont has been a passionate speaker, a passionate advocate for people coming out of the prison system in terms of fair treatment. Is there fair treatment, Lamont, of people coming out of the prison system? Is the prejudice towards these individuals so strong as to the point where they’re not getting the programs that they need to successfully reintegrate? When I talk to people who’ve been in the prison system, when I take a look at research, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting mental health treatment, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting drug treatment, I see obstacles after obstacles when people are coming back into the community. So people are frustrated over the crime problem, and, quite frankly, people are frustrated with people coming out of the prison system for not doing the right thing.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: But those barriers seem to be there nevertheless.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Why are those barriers there? Is there an overarching prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: There certainly is.

Len Sipes: And why?

Lamont Carey: People claim that they are, that they forgive, they forgive mistakes, but when it connects to prisoners and ex-offenders that’s not the case. Fear comes in or some need to further punish us. If the judge sentenced me to 13 years in prison, that is my punishment. My punishment shouldn’t remain after I complete that 13 years. And so but society seems to don’t see it that way. There is a fear. Now, Leonard, I’m going to be honest with you.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: As an employer, right, when I have a project and I’m looking to hire somebody, even I want to know if, one, can you do the job, two, if you have a background. And that is because I want to make sure that, one, that you’re capable of doing the job and, one, that people are, the people that I bring you around are going to be safe, right?

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?” That’s what –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What you’re saying to them.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?”

Lamont Carey: Right. And so by having those policies set in line or just on the application, “Have you been convicted of a crime?” and you write yes you don’t even get to make it to the interview process. So I’m denied on something that is supposed to be I have done my time for. And so in prison, when I was in prison the programs generally sucked, for the most part.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Lamont Carey: One, I got my GED, and so I was, I began, I became excited about education, because I dropped out of school when I was on the street, and so now I’m being reintroduced to education, so when I get excited and then I’m about to enter the college program they remove the funding from the college program. And so how – I understand. They said it was people that was in society saying that they have to bust their tail to send their kids to school, so why should I get a free education?

Len Sipes: That’s what they ask.

Lamont Carey: And the reason why I should be able to get an education is because the individuals in prison that I knew that got a college degree they act different, they talk different, they think different, they had bigger plans. And so when you remove, when you deny me from continuing my education, that told me that I can no longer grow, that denied me the ability to learn more on how to be productive, how to think past go, how to actually implement my good plans when I come home. And so rehabilitation really supposed to start inside of prison. Teach me entrepreneurship, right, teach me how to – Leonard, this is how I was able to stay home. I was in a prison and ASPIRE taught me nonprofit. ASPIRE was giving a nonprofit class, right, in a federal prison. And so that taught me how to operate as a business, right? And the marketing classes that I took it taught me that I was running a business, I knew supply and demand, I just knew in an illegal way, so these things changed my way of thinking.

Len Sipes: I want to know how many people in the prison system, in terms of your own opinion –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Are you and how many are just lost. You seem to be different. I mean, look, the average person who comes out of the prison system is not speaking to congressional committees, they’re not talking to the Associated Press, they’re not, they don’t have plays at the Kennedy Center, they’re not involved with HBO or BET, yada, yada, yada. I mean that’s – are you really substantively different from the average person coming out of prison or are they all like you?

Lamont Carey: I think there are levels. I’m not unique. I know hundreds if not thousands of ex-offenders who are doing superb as productive members of society. But a lot of them don’t even admit that they even been to prison, because they’re afraid that there are going to be repercussions.

Len Sipes: That people are going to judge them based on [OVERLAY].

Lamont Carey: Right, judge them based on that, and they’re going to lose what they have already been able to establish. We’ve seen that in some of the companies that have been hiring ex-offenders for years and then they change their policy –

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: And those individuals lose their jobs. So I’m not unique in any way, but I’m just determined. My focus shifted to be on me. Before, the thing I realized, before I can take care of anybody else I have to take care of me.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: An so that means I have to, if I get a job once I’m able to take care of me then I can contribute to my family, I can contribute to my community. But the thing I think trip up so many individuals who come home from prison is that they put family, taking care of family before they’re taking of self, or they make promises that they can’t really keep once they come home. Leonard, I’d be the first one to tell you, the hardest thing for me was to somebody accept my phone call when I call home from prison. So you know what happened when they did accept my call?

Len Sipes: Yeah, go.

Lamont Carey: I agreed to anything they said. If they said, “Lamont, man, you’re going to get any kind of job, you’ll work at McDonald’s and all that?” Leonard, I said yeah, Leonard. But I knew that that wasn’t what I was going to do, but, Leonard, I needed that connection to the outside support, I needed to feel needed, I needed to feel like somebody loved me in order for me not to give up. And so when individuals come home from prison now their family members are looking at them like, “Look, I thought you said you was going to get a job at McDonald’s, I thought you said you was going to do this, I thought you was going to, said you was going to do that. Momma is sick. We need more – you need to be contributing. You need to be paying child support.” All of these needs of the community [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:20] in the family start hitting us in our face and we’re like, “What in the world. How in the world do I supposed to do this? I’m trying to find a job.” So a lot of them panic, Leonard, a lot of them start selling drugs again or getting their criminal lifestyle again just to get away from the pressures that they’re enduring wherever they’re laying their head at.

Len Sipes: So it’s got to be family. Family’s got to be supportive.

Lamont Carey: Yes

Len Sipes: Family’s got to be understanding in terms of what it is that you need to go through. You need to take care of yourself. Society needs to step up in terms of programs to help people transition out of the prison system. And if everybody did this –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: If everybody gave everybody coming out of the prison system a decent second chance –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: We could reduce a lot of crime in this country.

Lamont Carey: Right. Yeah. I think we can. And it’s not, and don’t, and, please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t take give the wrong way. I’m not looking for a handout. And if you check a lot of these organizations waiting lists, these individuals are not looking for a handout, because if they were looking for a handout they wouldn’t be on the waiting list trying to get in to something that’s going to help them better their lives. That’s not what – we’re looking for opportunity. So get giving us something us something confused with opportunity. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s what I needed, was an opportunity. But I was determined. Regardless of what it is that I am going through, what I’m facing, if I had to live, be homeless under a bridge, I was not going to commit another crime, because I knew as long as I’m free something’s going to happen, some good opportunity, some good fortune, somebody out of their good graces is going to give me an opportunity to prove myself, and that’s what happened. And look at me. I’m excelling. I’m excelling in so many different areas, from publishing to motivational speaking to writing plays, directing plays, to going into schools, speaking at, giving a commencement speech, or speaking to honor roll students. I’m literally affecting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people’s lives directly and indirectly, and if you look at the social media it’s millions. And so I have been a contribution to society than I have ever been as a criminal.

Len Sipes: And you know what? I’ve interviewed hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television, hundreds. Yet you can’t overcome the newspaper talking about the ex-felon committing the crime, you can’t get beyond what they’re watching on the evening news. You get a steady barrage of people caught up in the criminal justice system going out there and doing terrible things.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: That’s what it is I think that we’re trying to overcome when we’re talking about support for reentry programs. The overwhelming majority of the news is negative.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Not everybody hears Lamont Carey speaking passionately about reentry every day.

Lamont Carey: Right, right. And, again, it goes – I mean there are individuals that’s committing crimes, and it seems that the media pounces on that he was an ex-offender, he was a former offender, or whatever the titles may be, but where’s the good stories of the individuals in that state who have added more good to that community than have taken away? Because all of the returning citizens, ex-offenders that I know that are doing good things are affecting thousands of lives –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: And nobody’s writing about that. No news is flashing that in comparison to those that come out and commit other crimes. I know it’s happening, ladies and gentlemen. I know people are coming home and they’re committing other crimes. But just compare that to, figure out from the day that they came home what have they tried to do up until that point. A lot of people, again, I’m not unique, but a lot of people aren’t as determined or as committed to success as I am. Some people run into enough walls that they just completely give up and they revert back to what they know.

Len Sipes: Final minutes of the program. So I hear family, I hear society, I hear government, I hear a need for programs, I hear a need for understanding. If you put all that on the table, if you put all that on a table, everything that people are looking for from the reentry perspective, you put it all on the table, what happens?

Lamont Carey: You put it all on the table and pushes it through I bet you that you will see a drastic change in recidivism. But this, not just outside the gate, it has to begin behind those prison walls, it has to, because you just can’t wait until we come out and then try to create a plan for us when we’ve already created a plan for ourselves. But the biggest that I think is missing, Leonard, is that they don’t, nobody asks us really what it is that we want to do. They always give suggestions or they say, “This is what we’re offering.” Leonard, I was never going on a construction site and breaking no bricks, that was never my goal. I was coming home to be an entrepreneur, Leonard. And so by me coming home and pursuing that and accomplishing that, Leonard, I’m thriving, Leonard. And I think if you create the kind of programs that individuals want, not what we think they should have like we’re kids, but what we need, what we think we need for us to succeed, and I guarantee you, you will see the recidivism rate drop.

Len Sipes: And every governor in this country is, they’re dismayed by all the money going into corrections –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Because they’re saying, “I don’t have the money for roads, I don’t have the money for schools, I don’t have the money for the elderly.” So that would cut back on the correctional budget tremendously.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It would be a win-win across the board, less crime, less burden on taxpayers.

Lamont Carey: I agree.

Len Sipes: You have people living more productive lives.

Lamont Carey: Agreed.

Len Sipes: So in the final seconds of the program, why aren’t we there?

Lamont Carey: It’s we’re not there because we’re not willing to take a chance on previous offenders.

Len Sipes: And I think we’re going to have to close with that. Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises, www.lamontcarey.com, www.lamontcarey.com. I really appreciate you being on the program, Lamont. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

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Beyond Prison, Probation and Parole-Interview With Former Offender Randy Kearse

Beyond Prison, Probation and Parole-Interview With Former Offender Randy Kearse

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

See radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/08/beyond-prison-probation-parole-interview-former-offender-randy-kearse/

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentleman, we are doing a series of radio shows for people who’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system, and to get their perspective as to what it is that we do both within the District of Columbia and throughout the country. My guest today is Randy Kearse, host of Straight Talk with Randy Kearse. It’s a public access show in New York City. He’s a bestselling author and independent film maker. He was convicted for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in 1992. Randy spent 15 years in a federal prison, sentenced under the mandatory minimum and now infamous Crack Law. His first documentary film is A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism; The Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. Randy, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank for inviting me back, Leonard. I really appreciate what you’re doing. I really appreciate being on your show. I just hope that, you know, this conversation will help further the conversations that are going on in the reentry field today.

LEONARD SIPES: Well you know, I always get a bit of criticism that “Leonard, everything that you do is DC based. Why don’t you reach out to somebody beyond the District of Columbia when talking about the issue of reentry?” So you and I are Facebook friends, and I always think of you in terms of reaching out beyond New York City. People also say, “Leonard, everybody that you interview who’s caught up in the criminal justice system are documentary film makers. Is that the norm?” And I’m going, “No.” I said, “It’s just that they seem to do a better job of offering their opinions. They’ve thought about these issues, thought them through, and then offer clarity in terms of how they feel the criminal justice system should be improved.” So we were talking about issues right before we hit the start button in terms of recording the program, and this is interesting. One of the things you wanted to talk about was creating a reentry initiative think tank which consists of successful of former offenders. Tell me about that.

RANDY KEARSE: I think that today, we need to relook at how we approach reentry. If we look at the history of reentry over the last 20-30 years, nationally, the statistics of people returning back to prison is pretty much stayed the same in the high 60s, sometimes even up to 70s in the states. So I think it’s time to start really, honestly taking a different approach toward reentry and to tap into those people that have been to prison, came home, and are doing extremely well, and have done some extraordinary things to see what their formula was for not returning. And I think if you get enough of us people who have been there, done that, and are now doing that, I think that we’d have a better opportunity to have some real impactful reentry programs.

I mean if you look at the money that is being put into reentry, I mean we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. You know, upwards, I don’t even know how high it is, but the numbers never change. The numbers are not changing. For the money that we’re spending on reentry, and the numbers are not going down substantially, I mean, that would make anyone say, “Well, we need to rethink this thing. We need to, you know, find a different approach.” And I feel that if you took… if we created – you guys in DC, the politicians, and the criminal justice system was to be able to create a think tank that is basically filled with people from all over the country who have successfully transitioned back to society, and are doing well, and put these guys in a room and did some real serious stuff that think tanks do, I think we would have a better opportunity to really get to the meat of what the problem is and how to offer some real meaningful solutions.

LEONARD SIPES: When you’re talking about the numbers not going down, you’re talking about the recidivism numbers in terms of arrest convictions and return to prison?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, you’re absolutely right. The latest survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a very high rate of return to the criminal justice system for people who have spent time in prison and that’s caused people to pause.

RANDY KEARSE: Exactly.

LEONARD SIPES: I mean they’re saying to themselves, “What is it that we need to do better?” And quite frankly I think the reentry initiative think tank composed of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system has value.

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, it just makes sense to me that you bring in people who have been through that situation and made it through successfully, to be able to come up with some guide, some instructions, some type of blueprint on what the correctional facilities can be doing better, what reentry programs could be done better in order to help people transition back to society more completely. I think it just makes sense.

LEONARD SIPES: The title of today’s program is beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: a Reentry Story. So that’s part of your reentry story, is getting people once caught up in the criminal justice system, people who are doing well to sit down with what? A hundred other people from all around the country and sit down and teach the rest of us in the criminal justice system how we could be doing it better?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, I think that the criminal justice system and especially those who work in the reentry field should be, at this point, open to trying some different approaches. I mean listen, whatever is going on or whatever it’s been the norm for the last 20-30 years isn’t working, and you keep pouring money into a system that is not producing the results that we are looking for. I mean you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Imagine what we could be doing with that money if we had some real sense of what would be better, where that money could be better spent, and how that money that could be better allocated when it comes to prison reentry? Now who better to talk to that issue than those who didn’t have those hundreds of millions of dollars, but were able to transition successfully and are doing good? We’re talking about entrepreneurs. We’re talking about educators. We’re talking about business people. We’re talking about a whole gambit of people who have been through that experience and are doing successful to this day. I mean you have celebrities. You have people across the board. And if you do it on a national level, and then maybe set up some state-wide task force or reentry type of think tank, I think that we would get a lot better mileage out of what we’re trying to do here.

LEONARD SIPES: What would we get out of it that we’re not getting now? The bureaucrat sitting in Washington, the people at the state level throughout the country – what is it that we’re missing about this story?

RANDY KEARSE: What you’re missing is that all of the money that’s being spent and the results that you’re getting don’t match up.

LEONARD SIPES: But no, we know that. We can see from the national data that recidivism remains high, and we’re sitting back and going, “Well, um, okay.” But at the same time 80% of people with a history of substance abuse – we know that people caught up in the prison system, 80% have a history of substance abuse – yet a lot of surveys out there say that 10%, while in prison are getting drug treatment. There’s disconnect between 10% getting treatment and 80% having history of substance abuse. Other people are simply saying, “Hey, it’s simply a matter of money, and the public doesn’t seem to be willing to support those expenditures that raises that to 40, 50, 60% getting drug treatment.”

RANDY KEARSE: Well, that’s another thing. I mean, being able to educate the public about why that we should get behind this kind of initiative that would help more people than just the 10% who are getting help, it’s about educating the public. I think politicians or people that are looking at this don’t take into account what the public wants or what the public doesn’t want. So there has to be a better sense of getting the information out to the public, to society, to show them that the benefits of providing services, of providing treatment, of providing alternate to incarceration and providing reentry service and all of these thing that would help people transition from that lifestyle that puts them in the situation to go to prison or go back to prison. So the public needs to be more informed on just how much society would benefit from having these type of conversations, having these type of programs that would help people get off of that, get out of that revolving door, to be able to get their life back together. And until we inform the public more, until we get that information out there, then I think we’re going to be beholden to people who think that they know what’s best for society, and society doesn’t have a say in it.

LEONARD SIPES: Go ahead.

RANDY KEARSE: So where I stand is just I think that one of things that’s missing here in this equation is people need to understand why reentry doesn’t start when a person gets out. Reentry should start when a person’s in. So we should switch from a reentry mindset to a pre-entry mindset. And if we took all of the resources, if we took more of the resources that are on the outside and actually put them inside the prisons and you set up a system where a person’s need are addressed in the prison, you would be able, we would be able to have more impact because we’re dealing with more of the population that’s going to return. Now if a program can only handle 50 people a year, or 75 people a year, and you have 2000 people getting out in DC alone every year, I mean how many people can actually be successfully acclimated back to society when the resources aren’t there for them?

If you put that money and you put those resources inside the prison, and used some of these programs as an after care tool to basically check up on what a person need when he gets out, I think we would definitely have a better advantage of helping people not go back to prison. When I was in federal prison, there was a reentry program, but the type of reentry program that it was, it was a joke. I’m going to be totally honest with you. It was something that was, if you showed up, you showed up. If you didn’t, you didn’t. You signed your name, but then you went to the [PH] wait tile. That was the only accountability that was needed or required of you. So if you didn’t take your own initiative to prepare yourself for getting out of prison, you were pretty much struck. You were pretty much stuck.

LEONARD SIPES: Let me ask you this. If we had the drug treatment for the 80%, if we had the mental health treatment for the 50%, if we had job training, vocational training, GED programs, reading programs; if we had all of that, if we had a full package so the individual inmate when he goes to prison, spends his or her entre day either dealing with substance abuse, dealing with mental health, learning a trade, learning how to read, getting a GED, what would be that impact? What would happen in terms of the recidivism rate, in terms of people getting out?

RANDY KEARSE: Oh man! That would help decrease the recidivism rate exponentially. I mean, it would be one step that would be part of helping to lower the recidivism rate, but now you’re talking of bringing the job preparedness, you’re talking about preparing job skills and computer training, getting people ready to get into the workforce while they’re there. I mean you have people who are coming home – I just talked to a guy, he’s been away for 25 years. He doesn’t know anything about a computer; he doesn’t know anything, the basics, anything sending an email, doing Word or anything like that. So how can this guy go into the new technology workforce when he’s not prepared? So once you address those immediate needs: education, substance abuse, and learning skills, and GED – okay, that’s one level. Now we have to take people to the next level where we get them job ready.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, I need a quick air [INDISCERNIBLE 00:13:10] because we have so much to go over. With governors throughout the country, really very, very clear, stating that they can no longer afford the level of incarceration; I mean it’s taking away money for schools, it’s taking away money for highways, it’s taking away money for colleges. So every governor in the country, theoretically, has had a conversation with their Director of Corrections saying, “You’ve got to decrease your budget. You’ve got to do a better job.” Then, okay, so if everybody’s on board, if everybody seems to pretty much agree with what it is that we should be doing, what’s your explanation for why it’s not happening?

RANDY KEARSE: Because the money is not being put in and the resources are not being put in place that we would allow for the things that we just talked about.

LEONARD SIPES: And why? Why is the bottom line question?

RANDY KEARSE: I don’t know. I’m not in control of the money. If I was in control of the money, then I could tell you. At least from my experience and research of some of these organizations in New York, I mean some of these organizations are getting million dollar budgets, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars to service the reentry population and the numbers are still the same. So why don’t we grab some of that money that is being put into these programs that are not producing the results that we want, and shift that money into the prison and create that reentry department inside the prison, right there, in the prison where the guy goes to his case manager, he goes to see a reentry manager, reentry coordinator and we deal with it. They get the programs right there in the prison. You have the, an employment connection within the prison where a year before the guy comes out, you already have job opportunities that might be waiting for him based on his services or his productivity in the prison, and you can match to where he’s going to go when he gets out. To me, that’s the problem, that’s the problem.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re half way through the program. We’re talking today with Randy Kearse. And he spent 15 years in a federal prison, but Randy is now becoming an independent film maker, he is working on a variety of projects, and one of the things that I find it very interesting the movie that he’s about 80% though A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. He is funding the last part of that through Indigogo. It’s I-N-D-I-G-O-G-O.com/a-deeper-truth2. If you just go to Indigogo and search for A Deeper Truth: The Politics, Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. You can fund Randy’s newest project and with this announcement, Randy, I’m going to, this afternoon, go and make the donation to the project, so I’ve been…

RANDY KEARSE: I appreciate that, man. Thank you very much.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve been waiting for this radio show before making that announcement.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank you man.

LEONARD SIPES: Let’s go back. Again we’re beyond… Today’s program is called Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: a Reentry Story. A little bit about the crack cocaine issue. So the film that you’re doing The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic, I remember those days. I’ve been around long enough. I do understand that the crime rate in this country was just astronomical and that crime rate and the crime problems associated with it, were destroying cities, hurting education, hurting business, hurting development, hurting investment in communities, and so we’ve had a pretty much a continuous 20 year decline in crime since that time, and there are some criminologists who would say that a portion of that decline has been massive incarceration. There are other reasons for it. I’m not saying it’s 50%, 75%. There are some criminologists – in fact the cover of Time Magazine just a couple years ago talked about that being a significant reason. Talk to me about that.

RANDY KEARSE: Any time you have a situation where there’s a new drug or some type of prohibition of a substance that the public wants, and there opens up an illegal market for it, you’re going to find that there’s going to be a propensity for violence. I mean, it happened in Prohibition where the gangs fought over the alcohol profits. It happened during heroin, where the gangs just fought over the heroin profits, and it happened in Las Vegas when they fought over profits of the casinos. It happened during the crack cocaine epidemic.

What we’ve found now is that the crack itself, the drug, was not the driving force that caused the violence, that the drug users weren’t the violent ones. It was the people who fighting over the profits or for the drugs that caused the violence. There is no excuse for violence. There is no reason that violence should be tolerated in this society, but what I’m trying to point out in this documentary, that it’s deeper than what society has been taught to believe, what the problems of – that everything was based on crack cocaine. Before crack cocaine in the African American community, there was unemployment, there was poverty, there was poor education. There was other factors that were in play before this drug hit the market to where we have to look at the root causes of why this phenomenon happened, and what were the reason.

One of the reasons was the media. The media had a very strong role in shaping the framework for how society seen this drug, who used the drug, who was more susceptible to the violence of the drug, and stuff like that. But those studies and studies and studies, a lot of the things that politicians use to instill fear in society and was actually led to war on drugs, was not facts. It was a lot of fear. And even if you take away the drug aspect, even when you look at some of the things that are going on today in politics, in how policy is shaped, a lot of times based on misinformation and fear. And that’s what we’re talking about, how fear drove a lot of the policies during that period of time. And we hope to bring out some of those factors in the documentary, where hopefully that we, as the public and society, that we will be more visible and more wanted more facts before we decide to make policies that actually do more damage the situation itself. The war on drugs did more damage to the African American community than crack cocaine could ever do. And if you fast forward. . . Go ahead.

LEONARD SIPES: What you’re suggesting is inherently a misinformation campaign that it was not as portrayed by the media, not as portrayed by the larger community, there were deeper issues; and those deeper issues were ignored, and that it resulted in incarceration policies.

RANDY KEARSE: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: Specifically within the African American community.

RANDY KEARSE: Absolutely. I mean, now, if you fast forward almost 30years later, they lowered the penalties for crack cocaine astronomically, to the point where it’s almost equal to powder cocaine, now. Remember the infamous crack war was 100:1. One gram of crack cocaine was equal to 100 grams of powder cocaine. Now one gram of crack cocaine is equal to, I think, 18 grams of powder cocaine. So now that law was not based on scientific fact because… and in this documentary, we’ve talked to one of the nations, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists who have done studies upon studies upon studies of drugs and the pharmaceutical impact of drugs and cocaine and crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug. It’s just the manner of ingestion that is different, but they’re actually the same drug. So they’ve lowered the threshold for crack and powder, now, they’re about to make it retroactive in November, the Commission, they’re supposed to make it retroactive, but now…

LEONARD SIPES: Federal Sentencing Commission?

RANDY KEARSE: [OVERLAY] Yeah, the Federal Sentence Commission, in order to make it retroactive, now you have 30 years of people who were sentenced to these Draconian drug laws who… I just interviewed a guy Thursday, last Thursday. First time offender. Never been in trouble in his life. Never even had a traffic ticket. I’m not saying what he did was right, what I’m saying is first time offender. He got caught in a drug conspiracy and he got 20 years. He did 20 years. And now 30 years later, they’re saying, “You know what? It’s not that bad. We’re going to equal it out.” How do you give that person back their time?

LEONARD SIPES: But I get where there are common themes, and we do want to get on to the third part of the program which is specifically Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: A Reentry Story, your next project that you’re currently working on. But in essence, what we’re talking about in terms of first topic, in terms of the funding for reentry; the second topic in terms of the perception of an overreaction to the cocaine epidemic, we’re talking about a fearful society, not giving a good hard, look at what the reality is, and that lack of that good, hard look at reality is creating forces that are not necessarily productive for the larger society. If we’re saying that we can no longer afford the level of incarceration that we’ve had, and every state in the country is basically wrestling with this, if we’re talking about it, we can no longer afford those expenditures, then we have created a scenario that we can’t sustain. And what you’re suggesting is that we’re not taking a hard look at what’s going on by the larger society and the media.

RANDY KEARSE: I think that, you know, people get so used to doing the same thing, and it just becomes the norm. I think it’s time to think outside the box. That’s the bottom line. It’s time to really look at what isn’t working, and try to come up with some better solutions. I mean, come on. . .

LEONARD SIPES: And that gets us back to the initial opening statement in terms of what I find fascinating, the reentry initiative think tank consisting of former, successful offenders from throughout the country that would be that body that would say, “Hey, you know, let’s look at this a bit differently in terms of how you’re looking at it because you could end up doing more harm than good.” Okay, your third project, and we only have a couple minutes to address this, and I want to get to it. The title is Beyond. . . the show is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole: a Reentry Story, but it’s also your new project?

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, I’m working on a series. It’s going to be a series that I’m profiling successful people who have been to prison and made a successful transition back to society. The name of the project is Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole, and what we’re trying to do is get as many profiles for people and then to hopefully have a correctional institution bring these profiles into the prison and be able to show the offenders and the inmates some of the people’s stories of how they successfully transitioned and how they were able to beat the odds of going back. I think that for people who are incarcerated right now, they need to see what is possible. You know, whether they’re being provided the resources right there in the immediacy, I think they need to see other people who have done it. You know it’s easy, and you guys in the reentry and the criminal justice system have a lot of good intentions. You want to try to beat back this problem of recidivism and stuff like that, but it’s those guys, like ourselves, that have been there that will probably have a better bearing on what a person decides to do with their life if they see that they see someone else doing it. If they see the formula that someone else used. That they be able to connect to these stories, and think that’s another way to provide some incentive for people to not want to go back to prison.

LEONARD SIPES: Randy, beyond the lack of resources in terms of the funding for these programs, what is the bottom line analysis in terms of the individual caught up in criminal justice system? He or she comes out of prison. There are a lot of people who do make it, 50% go back to prison, but 50% don’t. So for the 50% who don’t go back to prison often times I’ve had hundreds of people over the years sitting in front of microphones or doing the TV show, and they simply say, “Hey look. The bottom line is I made my own personal decision not to go back.”

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: But, I mean, is it just that? Is it, “Hey, I have the will and the determination, and you don’t?”

RANDY KEARSE: Well, it’s going to be according the individual. In my case, it was just that the bottom line was I decided I wanted something better for myself. I decided I want to make a change. I decided that I was going to not go back to prison. And I was offered no programs or resources to tap into, so I had to create my own opportunities. Now for someone who might want to change and may not want to go back, they might not have that willpower or that determination, but if you provide them just a little push, just a little push in the right direction, that might be all that they need. Every individual is not as strong, every individual is not as solid to take that step on their own, but if you provide them a little nudge, a push, you’ll be surprised at what they’ll probably be able to accomplish. So, yes, it is up to the individual, no matter how many resources or their availability, but at the same time, if you provide the right resources, at the right time, for the right people, then you’ll definitely have a stronger impact on the recidivism and beating down the recidivism rate, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: We got 10 seconds left, but the right time and the right person at the right place is as awfully… is a very scientific and very precise formula. Are we in the criminal justice system really capable of figuring out right person, right place, right time?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, you are. I mean, like I said, we get together. You know, you guys with us that have been through it. We can sit down at the table, and we can come up with a formula that will work. That will work, and it would be cost effective to the public.

LEONARD SIPES: Randy, you’ve got the final word. Randy Kearse is host of Straight Talk with Randy Kearse up in New York City. I really appreciate you being by our microphone today.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

LEONARD SIPES: An independent film maker. He is… his latest film is A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. If you’re interested in funding this project, it’s through indigogo/a-deeper-truth2 or just go to Indigogo and search for “a deeper truth”. Ladies and Gentlemen, this DC public safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and I want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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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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Transforming Offender Employment-National Institute of Corrections-DC Public Safety

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/2013/07/transforming-offender-employment-national-institute-of-corrections-dc-public-safety/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to be talking about Transforming Offender Employment – what’s new, what’s interesting in terms of finding individuals under community supervision jobs, what correctional systems throughout the country are doing to prepare individuals from coming out of the prison system into the community and lowering the recidivism rate.  Back at our microphones today is P. Elizabeth Taylor, Pat is a Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections – www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov. Pat, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Thank you, Len. Good to be back.

Len Sipes: We’ve done a television show on this, and it’s very popular. We’ve had lots of different states who are using the television show. It’s a really big topic, making sure that individuals in the prison system, that prison inmates are trained occupationally before they come out of the prison system, and that we’re doing the right things when we get them on community supervision. That’s the heart and soul of this topic, correct?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, doing the right things for the right reasons.

Len Sipes: Okay. We know that this is a problem, a big problem in terms of recidivism. We know that generally speaking from national data – which is getting old now, and the Department of Justice is saying that they’re going to be updating it fairly soon – but we’re talking about two-thirds re-arrested, and we’re talking about 50% going back to prison. Those are the current national statistics, and I find looking at state statistics that it’s not all that unusual.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: A lot of the people that I talk to tell me that unemployment is a principle driver of people going back to the prison system. Is that true?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It’s unemployment and underemployment, and I’m going to say it’s not just the process of being unemployed or underemployed but it’s the inability of the population, the justice-involved adult, to address those issues that resulted in them being attached to the criminal justice system in the first place.

Len Sipes: Now the National Institute of Corrections has a large program on DVDs, a large program that is accessible, available to people, and training which is available to people all throughout the country on this topic.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and what I like to let people know, you know, the misnomer is that the training is for free. No. Your tax dollars have already paid for the training so it’s to your advantage to take advantage of it, and our call is specific to workforce development, offender workforce development, the employment series. – And when you think about it, it’s a university model, so what does that mean? Well, it means that we start pretty much at the beginning. What are some of the best practices associated that we know works well in working with the unemployed or underemployed offender or justice involved individual getting attached to the workforce?  And if can just say right here, in terms of employment or workforce development, we’ve changed, we’ve broadened the definition, if you will. Traditionally, employment is – okay, I’m paid; I’m receiving a paid salary. If you redefine it in that whole transformational process, we’re talking about gainful attachment to the workforce, which can be via paid employment, of course. It could be a structured training program. It could be an academic pursuit. It could be by way of volunteerism. So we’re focusing on helping this population have some type of attachment to the workforce.

Len Sipes: Well, we had a program a couple of days ago here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency where we invited unions in, and the gentleman told a very passionate story about how he was caught up in the criminal justice system years ago, and I think he said he spent the majority of his teenage days incarcerated. He went to a presentation, the same presentation, a similar presentation that he gave yesterday, that how he became a cement-layer, and how that started him off on a career – good pay, good fringe benefits, and how he rose in the ranks of the union and union politics, and how he has developed into a union official today, but he started off as a former offender.   Somebody gave him an offer that he felt that he could not refuse. It was dirty, long, hot work, but the unions, the various unions basically said to the individuals at the seminar, “We don’t care what your criminal background is. We don’t care.” That’s one of the very few professions I’m aware of where they say that “we don’t care.” If you are willing to come in and work hard, you can rise up through the ranks and become a skilled carpenter, a cement layer, a steel worker all the different – I mean, so that’s still possible today.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is, and there’s this process of business necessity, and so if there is a close connection between an individual’s conviction and the known duties and responsibilities of the said position they’re applying for, they may not qualify for it. But aside from that, it is a red carpet, if you will, for possibilities, but to get to that possibility, you have to be evaluated and/or assessed because you just don’t want to go for a position because you know it’s available. Are you suited for it? Are the duties and responsibilities something that you can life with? And do you have enough information about the process that you’re willing to take it step-by-step because what you mentioned in your story is that this individual started at the beginning.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now quite frankly, most people, they want to start at the top. They are that impulsive, “I want it yesterday” type of person, and so they have to learn the benefit of taking it, you know, we say one day at a time but taking it one step at a time.

Len Sipes: Sure. Well, the prison systems throughout the country, are they doing a better job of preparing individuals to go out and find work? – Because that has been a big problem in this country. You know years ago, I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety so there were three correctional systems, and one of the things that when re-entry finally came into vogue, and re-entry was part of the issue that was put on the table, and reduction of recidivism, our folks basically said, “Look, we’re funded to run constitutional institutions, and yes, we do have some vocational training, we do have educational training, we do have this, we do have that, but we don’t have very much of it, and it certainly doesn’t touch all the individuals caught up in the prison system.”  And yet suddenly, prison systems were now given the responsibility of training people and lowering the rate of recidivism. I still get the sense that states throughout the country are struggling with that capacity issue.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: It is improving. I will admit that if you look at the history of offender workforce development specific to corrections, that you had people working in rock quarries breaking bricks, you had them in sewing houses, you had them doing menial-type work where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for advancement. Well, we have this organization, this process connected to correctional industries, and it provides the real-life work experience for people that are incarcerated. So depending upon where the state is, you have various types of career options, training options, again, the ability to learn that position from the ground-up, and quite frankly as the nation is moving forward, there are a lot of correctional industries that are in alignment with some of the trades’ industry programs.

Len Sipes: Well in Maryland, I was amazed because we had a printing press operation, which was huge. It did all the printing for the state of Maryland, and it was a female-owned company who hired every person who got out of prison because her equipment was exactly our equipment. She didn’t have to do any training at all. These were individuals who had been using this equipment, cleaning the equipment, repairing the equipment, maintaining the equipment for ten years, so they’re in a perfect position to seamlessly move over and work for this individual.  Now it’s funny because she would tell me stories as if the people who were there, they were wonderful workers, but they were saying, “Ma’am, can I go to the bathroom,” and she would say, “Sam, you can go to the bathroom any time you want. You don’t have to ask my permission.” Part of the institutionalization process carries over into the work process. So there are many great opportunities within the prison system. I just don’t get the sense – and other people have said this, not just me – but there’s just not enough of them.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re sometimes the best-kept secret, and I think that there are organizations – you have the National Correctional Industries Organization, they are industry programming in each of the 50 states, so I would encourage people to Google NCIA and find out what’s going on in their state. Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s a perfect process. It is not. We are still, as an industry program, we’re still on our learning curve, but it’s much better than it was, and you have the situation where an individual can say, “You know, I have skills and abilities now, and professional expertise,” and like you say, that conviction no longer becomes a big – it’s no longer an issue. That employer sees what the employee can do, not what they did.

Len Sipes: True, but states are beginning to recognize their role in lowering recidivism.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: States are beginning to recognize that it’s an economic issue, it is a taxpayer issue, it’s a matter of lessening the burden on taxpayers to provide individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, incarcerated, in prisons – it’s in everybody’s best interest to provide them with vocational training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And state to state, they need to determine how they define recidivism. Once they come up with that definition, then the goal is to support that person’s self-sufficiency. Now I will say that a job or a connection to the workforce will not necessarily keep you out of the system, but when done correctly, these job training programs, these industry programs identify those issues. – And, you know, the bigger word is the criminogenic risk. Well, it’s a lot to say, well, what does that really mean? Well, it means that those thought processes, those —

Len Sipes: Well, the bottom line behind what NIC is trying to do is to do it right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: That’s the thing that I get from all of your materials and from doing the television show with you. You’re talking about assessing the individual, using research, using data, being sure that the best person is put in the best possible job, so it’s a matter of training those people. When we talk about training in this case, we’re not talking about necessarily training inmates in prison. We’re talking about training staff to assess that individual, to find out who’s the best fit for the best job, and to use cognitive skill behavioral training, which is basically teaching them fundamental issues of right and wrong, how to respond on the job, how to act on the job, what’s expected from you on the job – that all of this needs to be systematic. It needs to be scientific. It needs to be evidence-based.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and when you look at it, and that’s the transformational piece. So with the transformative workforce development system, you’re looking at the relationship between that practitioner and the offender, or the court or justice-involved individual. So on the practitioner’s side, what type of communication skills, how am I relating to this individual? Do I see the possibility that they can change?  Will I willingly develop a relationship with them, and then guide them through a process where they can let’s say challenge – not attack – but challenge their core belief, because the reality is if you are incarcerated and you are unemployed, and you say, “You know, I don’t like this,” but you say, “but you know, it’s all right for me to be in jail,” well, there is some type of dissonance right there, and so with proper training as a practitioner, you get the skills to be able to guide that person through to address those issues, those self-perceptions, the impulsivity, the inability to respond to a work-with-authority figures. You address the issues of, you know, “My friends aren’t working but that’s all right for me. I’ll hang out with them.”  So if you can challenge and work with that person, then they can go from a point of unemployed – and I keep saying underemployment – to a point of self-sufficiency.

Len Sipes: Because it strikes me that you can train a person to be a carpenter, you can train them to be a plumber, you can train them to be a bricklayer, you can train them to be a printer, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with the issue of an unreasonable boss saying unreasonable things, making possibly unreasonable expectations. All of us go through that. Everybody listening to this program, we all go through all of that sort of stuff but we don’t blow up.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly. Exactly.

Len Sipes: And we don’t strike back verbally, and we don’t stomp off the job. – And so many of our individuals caught up in the criminal system, they need to be taught that, and so that’s what you’re talking about, right?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: We’re talking about problem-solving skills. We’re talking about decision-making skills. So like you say, the reality is, as an employee, I will have someone that will tell me, “You need to do A and B,” okay? Well, let’s just say that my work ethic or lack thereof tells me, “I get to do what I want to do.” That type of thinking helps me become unemployed. It supports my detachment from the workforce. So if you can work with me as the practitioner to help me understand the relationship between my values, my beliefs, and how they relate to my behavior.

Len Sipes: And that all part of this larger from the National Institute of Corrections of training staff to work with the offenders in terms of their cognitive development. It’s just not a matter of teaching bricklaying. It is a matter of helping that person cope with the realities of the day-to-day work world.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Touching that emotional IQ.

Len Sipes: And that is just as important as giving them hard skills and give them training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: You know, I’ll tell you that it’s more important. I mean, we can find, the employer, he can find people that can do the job, okay, but do they have the type of attitude, temperament that will help them stay connected.

Len Sipes: I’m sorry, we’re more than halfway through the program. P. Elizabeth Taylor is our guest today, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, with the National Institute of Corrections – www.nicic.gov. I can’t do that without screwing that up. www.nicic.gov – part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.  Pat, so the bottom line in all of this is that we, you know, we keep thinking about that the focus is on the individual caught up in the criminal justice system, the offender. That’s where all the focus is. The focus needs to be on us as criminal justice practitioners to properly asses that person, get that person into the right job, something he or she is going to stock with throughout the years, and give him or her the skills to survive on that job and thrive on that job. That’s the package that you’re talking about.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the package, and the other part of it is that we need to, when you think about our current situation in these United States – cut-backs, programs are just being abolished, we have less funds now – so how can we do more with less?

Len Sipes: The best possible job with the resources that we have.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, and so with that understanding, we have the training that we provide, and part of the training is to help the practitioner to know, to get the best out of your current resources, identify those people that are highest at risk, however do you define recidivism, to recidivate. Now once you have that determination, well then let’s go ahead and do a reassessment and re-evaluation, and that’s what our training provides.  So we’ve gone from best and promising practices, at the next level we have theory-based career-assistance. So how do you help that individual, now that I’ve identified that they’re at risk for recidivism, and I’ve identified their needs and their barriers, so how can I assist them in that process for their attachment to the workforce? Well, it’s not just about placing them, though, and so with the transformational workforce development, we know that the focus is not on the face-em-and-place-em, it’s on the retention. – And so combining that hand-in-glove, motivational interviewing techniques with cognitive behavioral principles supports long-term attachment to the workforce, and if it’s not the job per se that keeps a person out of the criminal justice system, it’s the process of getting that job, because in that process you’re addressing those barriers and those issues, those isms if you will, that make it easy for the offender to be caught up into the system.

Len Sipes: Motivational technique, I mean, there we’re talking about making sure that the person is finding out what it is that makes that person tick, and motivating that person to stick with it, to stay the course, finding out as much as you can about that individual and using motivational tools to keep that person engaged and keep that person enthused with the cognitive behavioral therapy skills, which is basically what is an appropriate response, how do you handle stress. So it’s a combination of all of those skills.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, it’s hand-in-glove, yes.

Len Sipes: So it starts in the prison system and it’s handed off to parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia. They have to have those skills to move that person from prison to community supervision to a job, and to do it successfully.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: So what you’re saying is that you need that collaboration, and what we’re referring to now is that continuum of care. So from the prison system or jail system to the community, everyone that would touch the life of that offender or justice-involved individual needs to be aware of what works. Based on research, we know that motivational interviewing techniques, where you’re developing a positive relationship of guidance, supports the offender. We know by the research that any cognitive-based programming, where you’re able to help the offender make that connection between their values and beliefs and their behaviors, actions or reactions, is proven effective. We need to make sure, though, that everyone, all of our stakeholders within that continuum of care, have similar training to support case management and that case planning.

Len Sipes: And that’s what the National Institute of Corrections is trying to do.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Now take this training today, because I saw – and I spent a lot of time when we did the television show, looking for video footage that best illustrates what it is that you do there at NIC – is this a course where they go on campus and take the course, or is this a course where they can view the video tapes separately?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Well at the first level, the offender employment specialist training – or building bridges – that is a multi-disk set where you can self-train, if you will. I encourage people, though, to make sure that they identify good partners to bring to the table to walk through that process.  Now the next level is the offender workforce development specialist training, which is about 180 hours. It is a train-through-partnership, so once an application is made for the training, then we will go to your jurisdiction and we will facilitate the training there, whatever state or situation where it’s located.  Now at the next level, the offender employment retention specialist training, that’s facilitated or people are trained at our training academy in Aurora, Colorado. So that’s a 40-hour blended training. You come to our site. There is pre-training work. There is training definitely while we’re there, but then that was not enough because now we’re talking about new skills. We’re developing new skills, new ways of working with people. So once the 40-trianing session, and we go back to our respective states, and we’re all really good about these new tools in our toolbox, through the OWDS training, if I can call it that, we provide coaching. We want our training to be dynamic, and training is the on-going process, and I think when people develop – I’ll mention one, is a skill of reflection. If I’m not really using it, if I’m not giving back what you’re saying and that’s not a regular part of my daily work, I’ll lose the skill.  So we have quarterly coaching sessions that we’re providing, and I think at this point there may be 99 people since the pilot that have completed the offender employment retention specialist training that is sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections.

Len Sipes: Now will these individuals go out and train everybody else in their agency because we have hundreds of people here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, I mean those who are directly supervising people on supervision. They’re not all going to be able to take that level of training.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right, right, and through the partnership, through the OWDS, it is a train-a-trainer type process, so through the partnership, the expectation is that once that core training group is identified, then they will assume responsibility for training others. I will say with the retention training and as you are kind of alluding to, there are a lot of people out there that may not be part of the OWDS knowledge block process, so what then? Well, we’re developing a standalone with best practices in retention training that a person can access similar to the OES. It’ll be a multi-disk set that you can facilitate at your particular site.  Now NIC, the National Institute of Corrections, will provide a technical support to make sure that the training goes as it should but it’s an ongoing process for us to make sure that we’re meeting the training needs of those individuals that are part of Corrections proper, but then also they’re stakeholders.

Len Sipes: It’s a very comprehensive program.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: I mean, what you’re talking about is a very comprehensive program that eventually, where we train trainers, and you also provide support material where they can carry that information back to their own agencies because it strikes me as this, is that if you have an individual parole and probation agent anywhere in the country and he’s trying to get that individual interested in a job, he’s trying to find out who that individual is, what they’re interested in, where they would like to go, what they would like to do, develop motivational interviewing, get that person involved in some sort of job training activity or a job.  I mean, again, these apprenticeship programs through the unions are just extraordinary, especially considering they don’t care about the person’s criminal history. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to do that but you’ve got to do it right to get the right person into the right job if that person’s going to have any chance of holding on to that job any length of time.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And it’s not so much that any employer may not – it’s not that they don’t care about the conviction, they want to be aware of it.

Len Sipes: Oh, of course.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And again, and then business necessity would let you know how much weight that particular conviction carries.

Len Sipes: Right.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Now through the cognitive behavioral process, we can train or teach court and justice-involved individual how to talk about their conviction in such a way where they are assuming ownership for the reality of the conviction but they’re making that segue right to those skills and abilities that make them marketable.

Len Sipes: That’s such a great idea. I mean, of all the fears that individuals have coming out of the prison system, the biggest fear is how to deal with that question. What’s your crime? What’s your time? Where did you do time? Who are you? Are you a menace? Are you going to be a good worker or are you going to cause any problems? I mean, and how to deal with those question, and how to deal with them comfortably and how to deal with them successfully become a key ingredient as to whether or not they’re going to be successful.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Through cognitive behavioral-based programming, the individual is able to understand and acknowledge the fact that the charge represents behavior is what they did, it’s not necessarily who they are, and through that restructuring they’re developing a new sense of who I am. – And part of that who I am is a taxpaying citizen that’s actively involved in my community —

Len Sipes: Takes care of my kids.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: — assumes responsibility, exactly.

Len Sipes: Responsible taxpayer.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Exactly, yes.

Len Sipes: And that’s what people want to hear, taxpayer not a tax burden.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That’s the bottom line, yes. Exactly right.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so if we did this, if we had this sort of a program, let’s just say that 50% of offenders caught up in prison systems had some sense of meaningful job development training, cognitive behavioral training if they went through all of this, and if they came out and they were met by parole and probation agents who understood these skills, knew these skills, knew how to apply these skills – would it make a substantial impact? Would there be a substantial impact on recidivism, on future criminal behavior, and consequently would that save taxpayers an awful lot of money?

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: That is the argument that we’re making. We’re starting now to do the research. Through the employment retention training, we develop an ERI, and Employment Retention Inventory, and the research that’s going to start next fiscal year is looking at that whole workforce development process. If you provide career assistance, if you provide cognitive behavioral-based programming, what will the impact be?  And so it requires that all of our partners – and our partner is anyone that’s gone through our training, any training provided by the National Institute of Corrections – at that point, that partnership is developed. So we’re looking for our partners to help us capture the data, that let’s just say for instance that if our program that’s being offered is not necessarily hitting all the right buttons, then we can modify that because the goal is really to make that impact.

Len Sipes: But we only have about a minute left. One of the things I did want to point out is the fact that there already is good data, some of the most encouraging data that I’ve seen in terms of offender re-entry of individuals being trained in correctional systems, a multi-state study including the state of Maryland where I was at, and their rate of recidivism was considerably lower than the comparison group. So there I data already out there that says “Job training programs in prison systems do work.”

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Right – when structured properly.

Len Sipes: When structured properly.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: Yes.

Len Sipes: And if you have the support system on the outside.

Pat Elizabeth Taylor: And the collaborative relationships from the – the only way I can say it is from the handcuff key to the door key. We’re looking at those relationships with the stakeholders involved.

Len Sipes: Pat, you’ve got the final word. P. Elizabeth Taylor, Correctional Program Specialist, Community Services Division, National Institute of Corrections. Let me see if I can do this right this time. www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. 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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National Conference on Offender Reentry-National Institute of Corrections-DC Public Safety

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/2013/05/national-conference-on-offender-reentry-national-institute-of-corrections-dc-public-safety/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a show today. The National Institute of Corrections Conference on Offender Re-entry, www.nicic.gov/go/vc2013. We’ll be giving out that web address all throughout the program and throughout the show notes.  We have two guests with us today. We have Bernie Izler, she is a Correctional Programs Specialist for the National Institute of Corrections at the Academy in Aurora, Colorado; and we have Captain Attila Denes. Yes, indeed, I did say Attila Denes. He is with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office there in Colorado. – And to Bernie and Attila, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Bernie Izler: Thank you.

Captain Attila Denes: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. This is exciting. This is a national conference on re-entry, but it’s a virtual conference, and that opens it up to anybody whether it is a community person, whether it is a businessperson, whether it’s an aide to the mayor, an aide to the governor, a student, a college professor; it doesn’t matter. You’re inviting everybody into this national conference, correct?

Bernie Izler: Yes, we are.

Len Sipes: All right. Bernie, it’s June 12th from 9 AM Mountain to 2:00 in the afternoon?

Bernie Izler: Correct.

Len Sipes: Alright, June 12th, 9 AM Mountain; that’s 11:00 Eastern Time. I don’t know what it’s like, what it is for the rest of the country. 9:00 AM Mountain Time there in Aurora, Colorado, and we go to the afternoon. So this is exciting stuff. What called you to create a national conference on offender re-entry? What caused the National Institute of Corrections to create a conference, a national conference, but in this case, do it via personal computers?

Bernie Izler: Okay, well first of all, re-entry in Corrections is everybody’s business is re-entry, and we also were trying to pick a topic in which we could get stakeholders and others in the community, whoever had an interest in this, that they could be involved, and one of the ways to do that is to go virtual with a conference, and that way, people don’t have to travel. There’s no cost involved except people’s time, as accessible as possible, so that was our two-pronged purpose with a virtual conference.

Len Sipes: And the really interesting thing about this is that a lot of the virtual conferences that I go to, it’s listen-only but in this case they’ll be able to watch and listen and ask questions, correct?

Bernie Izler: Correct. It’s kind of like there’ll be a thread of discussion with each of the presentations so that it’s kind of like when you’re at a regular conference and the speaker gets done, and there’s that line standing waiting to talk to the presenter. That thread of discussion is that line; it’s where you can ask that question, and the presenters will be able to talk to you, answer your questions. You can ask them a question, and that’ll go on even post-conference, as well as there’ll be threaded discussions where people can talk to each other, talk to their peers. They’ll just be open-type discussions where they can go in and introduce themselves and basically ask, you know, “Hey, I’m doing this kind of work in re-entry. What are you doing? What works for you?” They can throw that question out there, and they can network with each other.

Len Sipes: Oh, that is so neat. That is so neat because one of the most important parts of any conference is the networking. I think in some cases what takes place in the hallways and in the meeting rooms is just as important as what happens during the conference, so people can really have that same experience.

Bernie Izler: Yes, you’re absolutely right, reaching out to other people in the same kind of situation. They may not know each other. I’m sure there’s people, when it comes to one of our presentations on education, I know in looking at the list of people who are coming, there’s other people who are involved in education with this population, and they can reach out to each other and find out what they’re doing and support each other.

Len Sipes: That is really interesting. Give me some of the topics that you’re going to be covering at the conference, please.

Bernie Izler: Okay, well first of all, educational pathways to success, mental health, creating a cross-systems collaboration with that, cognitive behavioral programs with offenders, the victim’s role in offender re-entry.  There’s one particular program that’s called Starting Over Core, and that’s an offender-led group. Justice-involved women and the special things they deal with. Employment is huge where I think we have three presentations having to do with employment. Sentencing, where it starts, and also juvenile re-entry initiatives, and then our keynote speaker, Ed LaTessa will speak on what’s effective on reducing recidivism.

Len Sipes: What works, what’s evidence-based.

Bernie Izler: Yes. Correct.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the things, ladies and gentlemen, I think and I see is really taking a lead on is helping the rest of us within the correctional system understand what is evidence-based, what does work, and my hat goes off to the National Institute of Corrections. Boy, in my public’s relations career, they’ve helped me out on a couple different occasions in terms of training and in terms of access, and you’re going to find that the National Institute of Corrections is probably one of the easiest federal agencies to deal with, certainly one of the easiest federal agencies I’ve ever had to deal with. Okay, Attila, where did you get that name and tell me that’s a family name?

Captain Attila Denes: Well, it’s a very common name in Hungary where my parents originated from, and when they came out here, they decided to give me a name to remember my heritage by, and boy darn, did they ever.

Len Sipes: Boy. That’s sort of like “A Boy named Sue,” that Johnny Cash song, I think it was, from decades ago. Now I’m really dating myself.

Captain Attila Denes: Oh yeah. Well, it stands out in a crowd. If there are 300 people in a crowd and someone says, “Hey, Atilla!” – I know exactly who they’re talking to.

Len Sipes: Captain Attila Denes, he’s with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. There again, Colorado is well represented in terms of this program. Where is Douglas County?

Captain Attila Denes: Douglas County is on the southern rim of the Denver Metro area. We’re a community of about 300,000 people, and on the topic that we’re going to be discussing, it’s actually a partnership with the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network which is one of the community mental health centers in the Denver Metro area with a service population of around 600,000 folks. So we’re kind of a mid-sized community on the south end of Denver, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about.

Len Sipes: Now, what you’ve done is be able to go out and put together a collaboration of organizations to address mental health and other issues in terms of people coming out of the jail system there, correct?

Captain Attila Denes: That’s correct. Well, collaboration is kind of a vogue topic right now, and it’s certainly something that everybody’s talking about in the academic, scholarly world, you know, very hot topic of how do we combine all of our resources and thoughts and everything because since we’re all basically working with the same population, just in different silos, how do we break down some of those silos and overcome the resistance to working together that sometimes develops in our organizations so that we can actually accomplish greater things, that synergy that everybody talks about. It’s a pretty exciting topic, and definitely you sometimes get the pushback of well, collaboration is great and synergy is great but if you’ve got no money, how is that really going to help us? – And the reality is that there are really practical ways that it can.

Len Sipes: Well, yeah, it can. There’s no doubt that it can but we come, Captain, you and I have been in the criminal justice system for a long time. We’re hard-bitten; we’re cynical, and we are under the mindset that unless government ponies up and actually funds the stuff, it’s really not going to happen. In many cases I’ve heard from practitioners is that they reach out to people and try to form a collaborative relationship with people in the community, and they’re looking at them saying, “Hey, I’m overburdened as it is, and I’m underfunded as it is, and we’re relying heavily upon volunteers, and you want to bring 300 or 400 additional people into my program? We can’t handle that.” So, how do you get around that?

Captain Attila Denes: Yeah, well, it’s a challenge, and looking at it from the front end, it looks like this monumental thing that’s almost impossible to overcome but the reality is that the process of overcoming that is pretty simple. It’s not really rocket science. There have been a lot of scholarly articles published on it. You know, the—

Len Sipes: Oh, there’s an endless amount of literature about collaboration. Oh, there is.

Captain Attila Denes: Oh, exactly.

Len Sipes: And as my friends in the practitioner community are saying, “Okay, yeah, the research –.” It’s really easy for researchers in D.C. to say collaboration. They’re not the ones who have got to go out and live with this on a day-to-day basis. Try doing it, not talking about it but try doing it, but you’ve done it.

Captain Attila Denes: Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, there are different challenges depending on what community you’re dealing with. I worked with NIC on a crisis intervention team’s leadership program that was spearheaded out here in Aurora in 2010, ’11, ’12, and one of the things that we heard from these leadership teams that came out from state prison systems across the U.S. was, you know, “Collaboration is great and putting together these stakeholder groups is great but we’re kind of a closed system. We don’t really have strong ties with the outside community. We’re pretty much self-sufficient, so what do we do in place of that?” And so sometimes it requires a little bit of work to identify who exactly represents the various components of the stakeholder systems that we want to get involved in. I know that sounds high-level but it’s pretty practical when you break it right down.

Len Sipes: But you, being that you’ve done it and you’ve done it successfully, that’s why the National Institute of Corrections wants you to present at the National Conference on Offender Re-entry, and it’s a different name. That’s the name that I gave it. www.nicic.gov/go/vc2013. The VC stands for Virtual Conference. That’s one of the reasons why the National Institute of Corrections wants you to present because you have cynical idiots like me who can’t get together with the program versus somebody who has done what you’ve done. You’ve done it successfully. So you have lessons for me and for everybody else in terms of the fact that a) it can be done, b) how to do it successfully.

Captain Attila Denes: Exactly. And, you know, not to bust our arms patting ourselves on the back out here but the reality is that we were, whether it was by fluke or by design, we were able to come up with a system that worked pretty well, and the great thing about it, looking back on it now ten years down the road is that we have accomplished things that we never would have imagined possible at the front end, and that’s the really exciting piece of this.  You know, the way that this all started, back in 2002 was really a patrol-based law enforcement initiative called Crisis Intervention Team’s Training which was developed back in Memphis all the way back in 1987, and it was kind of spreading like wildfire across the western United States, and Colorado picked up that program in 2002 as a result of a legislative initiative. It was a task force that was in panel back in ’99 that recommended that we establish a CIT program, a statewide-coordinated program to roll it out across the state, and that really started up in 2002, and one of the key components of that planning piece for CIT training was putting together a steering committee, a local steering committee comprised of administrative and executive-level stakeholders from all these different groups that dealt previously in isolation with the same population, the population of people that are constantly going through that revolving door of criminal justice involvement, constantly coming into contact with the police and with the jails, and then going back out onto the street, under the supervision of probation or parole or whatever, and how do we impact those people and impact that population effectively, understanding that we all have limited budgets; we have limited staff; you know, how do we try to maximize that impact?  So we brought together these stakeholders who initially were pretty reluctant to talk very openly with each other because we recognized that, “Yeah, sure, we’re dealing with the same population but we have our own rules and policies and laws that govern how much information we can share and how our money can be used and all this,” but what was kind of magical about that process was, as we started going to each other’s steering committee meetings and working taskforce meetings and working group meetings and all these different meetings, and it was the same group of usual suspects, so to speak, showing up around the table, we started to get to know each other. There was this face-name recognition that developed, and we started to understand each other’s roles within the system, and our specific limitations, and what resources do we bring to the table, and things like that/  And that’s when we started to realize, if we start to share some information, share some resources, I can open up a little bit and say, “Okay, you know what? I can bring this to the table, and if we’re rolling out this training program, I can offer up this, this, and this. And then my colleague across the table in a different system, mental health center or the advocacy role, NAMI, whatever, you know, they can pony up something else, and we all start bringing our respective pieces to the table, and we found that we were able to build a really effective program that was originally just designed around that one small concept, how do we build a local CIT training program?

Len Sipes: But the bottom line, Attila, because I’m going to go for the break quickly, and then we’re going to pick back up, but the bottom line in all of this is that, without the community, in terms of offender re-entry, we’re dead. Without collaboration, we’re not going to get it done because we simply do not, in many cases but particularly jail systems, we do not have the budget for mental health. We do not have the budget for employment. We do not have the budget for substance abuse. Without community collaboration, any sense of successful offender re-entry is dead in the water.

Captain Attila Denes: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Len Sipes: And I would imagine, Bernie, that’s the whole idea behind bringing in people like Attila, bringing in people like Captain Denes is to make sure that success stories from the field and what works from an academic point of view, from a research point of view, is all encapsulated within one conference.

Bernie Izler: Correct. The idea of a collaboration is not just that we have limited resources but also to be effective. We really need each other because most of our population, our offenders, when they go out in the community, they don’t have just one issue to deal with. They have multiple issues, multiple barriers to successful re-entry, and so the collaboration also is a way to be much more successful than working individually.

Len Sipes: I want to reintroduce our guests today and the topic. Ladies and gentlemen, the National Institute of Corrections is holding a National Conference on Offender Re-Entry. Everybody should go to this website, and it’ll be in the show notes: www.nicic.gov/go/vc2013. www.nicic.gov/go/vc2013. V is for Virtual Conference VC. This will all take place on June 12th, coming up real soon, 9 AM Mountain Time and the rest of you can figure it out in terms of what applies to you, from about 9:00 in the morning to 2:00 in the afternoon.  It is for everybody. It’s not just for those of us within the criminal justice system. Whether it be a preacher, whether it be a community leader, whether it be the aide to the mayor of Milwaukee, whether it is the aide to the governor of the state of California, everybody is welcome in terms of this national virtual conference. You can watch – it’s just not listen mode. You can watch what’s going on; you can listen in, and you can ask questions, and you can make contacts with everybody else at the conference. Did I summarize it correctly, Bernie?

Bernie Izler: Yes, you did, thank you.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now, I would imagine for the National Institute of Corrections, this was a pretty significant undertaking. I mean, you all had to say to yourselves at a certain point that we in the field no longer have the money to go to conferences, and this is probably a more powerful and more effective way to do a national conference on Offender Re-Entry. I’m assuming you’re saying, “Hey, this is a no-brainer considering everybody’s fiscal constraints. Let’s do this virtually through computers where anybody can sit in in their home, anybody can sit in in their office and participate in this national conference.

Bernie Izler: Yes, correct. As you talked about earlier about NIC being focused on service, one of the things that really caught my attention with the virtual conference is that we can reach down to the smallest jail, to any corrections professional; we can reach out to anybody, and when you have walk-in conferences, you only have people there who can afford to be there. So this was another way to really reach out and serve our community as well as corrections.  So .yeah, it was quite an undertaking because it was new and so it was a huge learning curve for us in putting this together and how it works and how it’s going to work for the field itself, just technology alone. How do we make sure that as many people as possible can access it because we know in corrections that we have firewalls and so on that, so, how’s that going to work, and how can we be successful getting to that group as well as the community?

Len Sipes: Well for what it’s worth, I’m going to more and more virtual conferences, more and more instead of attending. Even in Washington, D.C., where I’m located, even in terms of traveling three or four stops by subway and walking three or four blocks, which is pretty easy and pretty accessible, I’m finding more and more of these issues are taking place via my computer, and we’ve got the same firewalls that everybody else has and that doesn’t seem to be a problem, so more and more, we’re going to see more virtual conferences, more virtual meetings, more of these issues discussed via computer.

Bernie Izler: Yes, and the other thing that’s really great is we have, on June 5th, whoever’s registered will be able to come in to look at the site and access the on-demand presentations, and then on the 12th will be the live and the on-demand, and then all of it will be recorded. So that will be available after the conference too, so not only a matter of travel and so on, but time, so if there’s one presentation that you didn’t get to see live, once the recorded versions are up, if you’ve got an hour or so at your workplace, you can say, “Hey, I want to go in and look at that,” and you can still see it.

Len Sipes: But isn’t that, I mean, all of this, in terms of a virtual national conference, in terms of podcasting and what I’m doing, in terms of you recording it and placing it so other people can download, I mean, I ride in from the train from Baltimore to D.C. every single day, and yes, I’m crazy, for those of you who know how long that takes, but I get to read all the stuff from NIC. I’m the best-read person in my organization because I have two hours a day on the train so I read all of your material. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to download that through iTunes or download it through the National Institute of Corrections website and be able to participate, virtually, while I’m sitting, riding on my train ride from Baltimore to D.C. or back and forth? That, I think, is where all this is going. Don’t you agree?

Bernie Izler: Yes. I don’t know that we have that capacity with this conference but looking down the road, we’ve started to think in terms of what’s next and, certainly that’s what’s next. It will be a link for people on our website that they can go to it. I’m not exactly sure that we’re there yet with podcasts or that kind of thing but certainly on particular mobile devices, they’ll be able to access it.

Len Sipes: Oh, I’ll be more than happy to come out and train you on podcasting, not necessarily on Skype with all the problems we had before the beginning of the show. Hey, Captain Denes, again, convince everybody out there in the practitioner community, again, those of us hard-bitten and cynical about everything that comes along, convince the rest of us that this is something that everybody needs to participate in.

Captain Attila Denes: Oh, well, I think that just what we gain from each other is something that, it’s hard to picture the end result when you’re on the front end of it, you know. Like I was describing earlier, our collaboration here with the Mental Health Center and with NAMI and with all the other stakeholder groups, centered around just putting together a patrol-based training initiative, a crisis intervention team’s training, and we soon realized that, you know what, where this is really happening is in the local jails where people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders are over-represented three or four times versus what you would find out in the general population, and so the folks that are working with that population inside really needed those skills almost more than the patrol officers dealing with them on the outside.  And so as we started getting into that, then we started realizing, you know what? Maybe there’s some case management that needs to happen here. Not only are we trying to defer people from criminal involvement on the front end but sometimes these folks do end up in jails and prisons, and, you know, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know there but as we’re getting ready to release them back out into the community, how can we connect them with services in advance of their release so that they’re not going through that revolving door over and over again.  So that whole piece of community re-entry was something we started talking about here in Arapahoe and Douglas Counties back in like 2003, 2004, and so we instituted a real small program at first, just one or two case managers at the re-entry level, working in the local jails, and we found that it was so effective that these same stakeholders started showing up at these conference tables over and over and over again. We thought, okay, what’s next? Where else can we go with this? And so one of the next things that happened was what we initially called Mental Health Court, which was a specialty problem-solving court for people with felony charges, nonviolent felony charges, who could be safely deferred from criminal justice involvement through evidence-based direct case management services and intensive treatment, and so, we now call that program the Wellness Court but it’s enormously successful here in Colorado.  That led to a Metro area, in the Denver Metro area, we had about a year-and-a-half long cross-systems services and gaps analysis that was facilitated for us by the National GAINS Center, and again, huge numbers of people showing up at these meetings, stakeholder groups from all across all different systems, and we realized, again, we’re all dealing with the same population but we’re dealing with them in isolation. How can we break down those walls, break down those silos, overcome institutional inertia, start sharing resources and information so that we’re not dealing with the same people over and over again but instead we’re getting them into effective treatment programs, diverting them from criminal justice involvement, making it so that they’re not filling our jails and prisons. That’s what it was all about.

Len Sipes: But everybody out there has exactly the same problems you do there in Douglas County. It doesn’t matter whether in Minnesota, Hawaii, Alaska, the state of Maryland, everybody has the same issues, so the bottom line is that they can learn from you and they can contact you and you can contact others. It’s a matter of sharing what works at the local level. Is that not the heart and soul of this conference?

Captain Attila Denes: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay, and that’s one of the reasons why you’re there. So again, Bernie, the whole idea is to share what works at the local level by real people dealing with real problems, dealing with the same circumstances everybody else is dealing with. If Attila Denes can get it right, and the sheriff’s department there in Douglas County can get it right, that means everybody else can do it correctly and solve the same problems, and then again, that’s the whole idea behind this conference.

Bernie Izler: Yes. Well, and it’s also a mixture of we tried to get two successful programs in different areas as well as some experts in the field, like Professor Latessa, who’s going to talk about evidence-based practices. So it’s a mixture of both because sometimes the experts are like, “Okay, it’s a place to start, somewhere.” And then how does that look in the community? And you’re right; it can look very, you know, you may have the same problems but as Captain Denes said, it can look very different in each community as to what you have available and so on. So yeah, so it’s a mixture of all of those things.

Len Sipes: But the fact that they can reach out to Attila and actually talk to him and email him – Atilla, I’m not quite sure you want me to say this – but the fact that they can is encouraging because all these systems are sharing the same problems and the same concerns, so why not everybody get together through this national conference and help each other out?

Bernie Izler: Yeah, and that’s what the threaded discussions are about. Like I said, for each presentation, there’ll be a threaded discussion, and so our presenters will be monitoring those, and when you go in a register you sign up and you can say in each thread if you want it sent to your email, and then whatever goes on in that thread will come to your email.

Len Sipes: Oh, that’s so cool.

Bernie Izler: And then, also to our presenters, so they can see what the discussion is so the discussion will continue.

Len Sipes: You know, Bernie, I just wanted to ask you this question before we leave the program. This had to be scary for you. I mean, this is the first time NIC is doing something on this scale in terms of re-entry, correct?

Bernie Izler: Correct. Yes, I’ve had several times where I’ve been up at 2:30 AM in the morning, wide awake going, “Oh my gosh, what if we create it and nobody comes?” So yeah, and I’ve had a wonderful team here at NIC. There’s a lot of different people at NIC that have participated and made it possible. Our goal was 1,000, and once we passed that number, I’m not having those 2:30 A.M. wake-up calls. So we’re very excited that we’ve passed our goal and that it can go on, and having it up recorded online for four months, I’m very hopeful that we could even double that number.

Len Sipes: Oh, you’re going to easily double that number. In fact, I can tell you right now that you’re going to get 3, 4, 5 times the amount of people downloading it than listening to it live. All of my friends who do stuff live say that it’s 5, 10 times the amount of people that come in after the live presentation so you’re going to get your 1,000. I would bet my Buick that you’re going to get at least 5,000 people exposed to your conference but most of them are going to come in afterwards. Final minute, Bernie, Attila, final issues you want to discuss?

Captain Attila Denes: One thing I just wanted to throw out there from the cost standpoint is the criminal justice system is probably the least cost-effective method of obtaining mental health and substance abuse treatment. There are tons of community services that provide those same services at a much reduced cost and so from a taxpayer’s perspective, collaboration is the way to go.

Len Sipes: Alright, Bernie, final words? Thirty seconds.

Bernie Izler: Just that we welcome everybody to the conference. We’re very excited about it. We think it’s a very timely topic. Please, come and register for the updates. Our agenda came out today so people can look at that and just go to www.nicic.gov/go/vc2013.

Len Sipes: And you’re going to have a link to this on the front page of the National Institute of Corrections website, correct?

Bernie Izler: I am hoping so soon. We’ve kind of put this publicity out in pieces, so kind of—

Len Sipes: Okay. That would be a good idea because a lot of people may not remember the address but they will know National Institute of Corrections.

Bernie Izler: Yes, and when they go to the website, if they can’t find it, if they just type in [PH 0:29:31] tough key to door key, they’ll find it.

Len Sipes: Got it. Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, the National Institute of Corrections Conference on Offender Re-entry: www.nicic.gov/go/vc2013, June 12th from 9 A.M. Mountain to 2:00 in the afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your calls, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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