National Recovery Month and Parole and Probation-DC Public Safety Radio

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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety; I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is on National Recovery Month and we have three individuals who really know their stuff in terms of National Recovery Month. We have Kevin Moore, a Supervisory Treatment Specialist for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Renee Singleton who’s also a Treatment Specialist here at CSOSA, and we have Ronald Smith, he is a graduate of the Secure Residential Treatment Program. He’s been out of that program and for about one year and he’s doing wonderfully. We’re here to discuss National Recovery Month and I do want to remind everybody that there are 700,000 people who leave the prison systems all throughout the United States and the federal system every year. Eighty to 90% of them have substance abuse histories. The question is, if they got the treatment, if they got, whether it’s mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment while in prison, and if they got the mental health and substance abuse treatment out in the community, how much crime could we reduce, how much money can we save tax payers and how many victimizations could we prevent? So the all those questions for Kevin Moore, again, Supervisory Treatment Specialist, Renee Singleton and Ronald Smith. To all three, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Ronald Smith: Thank you.

Renee Singleton: Thank you.

Kevin Moore: Good afternoon. Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right, Kevin, you’re going to start off first. National recovery month is put on by SAMHSA, correct?

Kevin Moore: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And explain to me what SAMHSA is?

Kevin Moore: SAMHSA is a Federal Agency responsible for various treatment initiatives, establishing national protocols and standards for treatment providers and to ensure that there are services in the community to assist with eradicating the use of illicit substances.

Len Sipes: They’re the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. I could never get that right. I’ve been, I’ve been receiving SAMHSA materials for the last 25 years and I always screw up the acronym. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration under the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, US Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. So every month they, every year they do Recovery Month. It’s now into its 23rd year, and it highlights individuals who have reclaimed their lives and are now living happy and healthy lives in terms of long term recovery. But this issue of substance abuse, this issue of mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, it’s not the easiest sell, considering the fact that there are budget reductions all over the country. I mean, convincing individuals that treatment is in their best interest, in society’s best interest, in the best interest of the person caught up in the criminal justice system; sometimes that can be a tough sell.

Kevin Moore: Yeah, absolutely. And just as you said in your opening, you know, we have 700,000 individuals returning to the communities each year and you know, one of the things that we feel here at CSOSA is that if we give folks an opportunity at treatment services, then we are providing opportunities to these folks to reclaim their lives, but more importantly, to reduce the possibility of continued criminal lifestyles.

Len Sipes: Right, but this is a national effort, that’s one of the things that I want to make clear, the first issue I want to make in the program. We celebrate recovery, not just here at CSOSA, but all throughout the United States, all throughout the Territories, the whole idea is to get people to understand that recovery is possible and recovery is in society’s best interest.

Kevin Moore: Absolutely. And with this year’s campaign, you know, we just want to reemphasize that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover, providing they are giving opportunity to the services that are out there.

Len Sipes: Now you’re a Supervisory Treatment Specialist, which means that you head up a team of people providing treatment services. This is probably the most difficult job on the face of the earth. I’ve done this, by the way, I ran group in a prison system, I did Jail or Job Core where the judge said, “Go to jail or go to Job Corps.” And I was also a gang counselor in the streets of the city of Baltimore. I know how tough this is to get people off of substances. And so you head up a team of people who face this issue every single day.

Kevin Moore: Absolutely, absolutely. We, I have a team, a staff who are dedicated to working with individuals who, some are motivated, some aren’t motivated, but they, meaning the Treatment Specialists, do what they can, using their clinical skills to guide our clients to entering into treatment and to give them that opportunity to reclaim their lives, deal with their addiction, deal with their mental health issues.

Len Sipes: And you know, interestingly enough, ladies and gentlemen, we have Renee Singleton who is a Treatment Specialist from my agency, the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency. Renee, we supervise 16,000 offenders on any given day, 24,000 offenders in any given year. Eighty to 90% have histories of substance abuse, so this is a tough task.

Renee Singleton: It is an extremely tough task. That’s why I think it’s one of the great things is that CSOSA offers so many different treatment options for our offenders. Not only do they have the opportunity to participate in treatment services, in outpatient treatment centers, they can also go to our Reentry and Sanction Center and be assessed and be introduced to some evidence based treatment practices and be placed within a residential treatment placement. And we also have our secure residential treatment program which is inside the institution as well as our new After Care and Relapse Prevention Groups.

Len Sipes: One of the things that I want to crow about, because it’s my agency and I guess I’m paid to promote my agency, but whether I’m paid or not, I say this to everybody, we’re an evidence based agency. We’re a best practices agency, so we look at the guidance given to us by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. We look for them to tell us what the state of the art is and we apply that state of the art here at CSOSA. What we do is we really figure out who that person is through a batteries or a series of tests and we match that person to the right treatment – correct?

Renee Singleton: Correct. We used the Addiction Severity Index to conduct assessments. We also use a risk assessment on the supervision side which looks at violence, weapons and sex, there’s substance use history, revocation history, so it takes into consideration all of those factors and within some of the treatment programs there are different assessments that are also used to gauge a person’s response to treatment.

Len Sipes: Because I think that that’s unusual. In my experience, and my 42 years within the Criminal Justice System I’ve seen the vast majority of treatment programs out there and other Criminal Justice Agencies and they’re cookie cutter. They just pile a bunch of people under supervision into a program. We create specialized programs for that individual offender, that person under supervision. I think that’s what makes us unique. Correct?

Renee Singleton: Absolutely. You want to have treatment services that are going to address the client’s needs and to apply a cookie cutter approach is not going to, actually address that individual client. So if you take a program that’s going to meet the client where he’s at, it’s evidence based, and help him to look at his thinking errors, cognitive distortions, substance use history and factors along with that, then that will help the client be successful, not only in treatment recovery, but also on supervision.

Len Sipes: The other unique thing is that we have money for about 25% of our population. Most parole and probation agencies in this country, they don’t have a dime. They don’t have a dime towards treatment. They just basically refer to the local treatment services provider. Now what we do is focus on what, the high risk offenders? That 25% for the people who pose an obvious risk to public safety or have histories of substance abuse, severe histories?

Renee Singleton: Yes, the auto screener takes the risk assessment. So you want to take that risk assessment because we want to look at the overall public safety.

Len Sipes: Right.

Renee Singleton: So in terms of substance use, you want to look at the risk, potential risk for public safety, as well as provide substance abuse treatment for an offender who’s in need.

Len Sipes: Okay. And we have an array of programs, anywhere from detox to residential to, to 28 day stay in terms of an assessment center that we built and then they go into designed, treatment designed specifically for them, correct?

Renee Singleton: That is right. I believe its 45 days for the women and 28 days for the men.

Len Sipes: Okay. And we have an array of other programs here at CSOSA in terms of anger management, educational assistance, vocational assistance, so we try to target the high risk offender, the offender who poses an obvious risk to public safety and we try to target our services, a wide array of services to that person.

Renee Singleton: That’s correct. There are, there is anger management program, which is also offered through CIT, and there’s DVIP, there are Reentry and Sanction Center, which is the 28 day assessment center, or 45 days for men. VOTEE, which offers educational services and vocational placement services. You have the faith based initiative, which also provides services.

Len Sipes: Oh, thanks for bringing that up.

Renee Singleton: And offers training sessions for our offenders.

Len Sipes: Because that’s a key issue. I mean, we have 100 faith institutions in Washington DC and I think the total number the last time I looked was 500 people under supervision have gone through the faith based program. I mean, that’s wonderful, the idea. Kevin, did you want to take this?

Kevin Moore: Yeah.

Len Sipes: That’s wonderful, the idea that you come out of treatment and you’re matched with a mentor.

Kevin Moore: Yeah, absolutely and I just wanted to add that you know, because we only have probations for 25% it’s very important that we use our faith based partners to help us deal with the issues that our clients face, whether it’s addiction or mental health and that mentoring component is very significant in helping the client sustain his productive path as he or she tackles their recovery.

Len Sipes: And we also, the ones that fall outside of the high risk, we refer over to [PH 00:10:41] APPRA, which is the Washington DC’s organization to provide substance abuse treatment and we also rely upon the faith based community. Sometimes they provide treatment and there is Salvation Army, there is the Veteran’s Administration, there’s all sorts of places that we can refer other people to that don’t fall under the category of high risk offender. Wait a minute, just let me get an answer to that question and we’re going to get right over to you in a second, Ronald. So, is that correct?

Kevin Moore: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Ronald.

Ronald Smith: Hello.

Len Sipes: I’ve been looking forward to talking to you.

Ronald Smith: How you doin’?

Len Sipes: You know, get closer to that microphone, get right on top of that mike. You know, you and I were talking before the program; you’ve had quite a drug problem from a fairly early age, correct?

Ronald Smith: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Ronald Smith: You know, I was, I was 14 years old and I was boxin’ and then I got on marijuana, started with marijuana and then I graduated from PCP to heroin.

Len Sipes: Right. Were you involved in criminal activity all throughout that time?

Ronald Smith: Yes, to support my habit.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: What y’all were saying about the programs that Washington DC have – CSOSA, when I was in the Federal System, them guys are like, they goin’ home to Philadelphia and New York and Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, they don’t have the programs that the residents of Washington DC have.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: And it’s a blessing.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Ronald Smith: You know, and I’m . . .

Len Sipes: I do want to explain in terms of the Federal Prison concept that since we had a change in Washington DC in August of 2000, all people, DC offenders, not just necessarily Federal Offenders, but all DC code offenders now go to Federal Prison, so for somebody listening in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I want to be sure that they understand your reference to Federal Prison.

Ronald Smith: Yeah, because they closed Norton down –

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: And now they sent us to Federal Institutions.

Len Sipes: Well you know, Ronald, look. You’re a success, and thank God you’re a success. It makes the rest of us in the Criminal Justice System celebrate the fact that you’re a success. But today you’re representing all the different people caught up in the Criminal Justice System who have been able to get by drugs. Now you spent how long in the, the, you’re a graduate of the Secure Residential Treatment Program. That was a jail based program, correct?

Ronald Smith: Yes, that’s a six month program.

Len Sipes: Okay, so you graduated from that and why did you go into drug treatment?

Ronald Smith: Why?

Len Sipes: Why.

Ronald Smith: Because I got tired of being homeless. Homelessness – and my treatment specialist, she helped me point out my weaknesses as far as being homeless.

Len Sipes: Right?

Ronald Smith: So with that I learned, it’s, I already had knew what she was teaching me, but I just wasn’t using it and when I was out there, on drugs and drinking alcohol.

Len Sipes: Before the program you said you weren’t ready before and you have to be ready. Anybody entering these sort of programs needs to be ready to make a change, correct?

Ronald Smith: Yes.

Len Sipes: Tell me about that.

Ronald Smith: That’s automatic, because if you don’t want it, then you going to have reservations. You going to be, like you be in jail, they going to [INDISCERNIBLE 00:14:36]. So if you have reservations, then it’s not going to work.

Len Sipes: If we had sufficient money, if we had now, like in CSOSA we have, we can treat 25%, we refer people to other organizations in terms of drug treatment and mental health treatment and other services and its employment services as well, we have partners. Without partners we can’t exist. But if we had not 25% but 35%, 45%, if every person who had a drug history or mental health history, who are caught up in the Criminal Justice System, if they had services for that in prison and when they got out in the community, would it substantially reduce crime?

Ronald Smith: Yes it would. Because you building your foundation while you’re incarcerated. So when you come home, you still got that motivation.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: And when you have that motivation, you can’t be stopped. So every day that I wake up, I thank God for waking me up, and then I go on with my day. Every Monday I call my treatment specialist to check in. You know, I’m not in the program no more –

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: But I still check in and she part of my support system.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: And I build a, I mean, my support system is awesome right now and I stay in contact with these people every day, every week.

Len Sipes: That’s cool, that’s cool. Relapse prevention is part, a big part of the SAMHSA program, part of the CSOSA program, but ladies and gentlemen; I wanted to reintroduce everybody one more time. We’re halfway through the program. Kevin Moore, Supervisory Treatment Specialist, for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re a Federal Parole and Probation agency providing services here in the nation’s capital. Renee Singleton, she’s a Treatment Specialist, and Ronald Smith is a proud graduate of one of our programs, still under supervision. He’s been out for one year and he’s working and doing fine. Okay, let me go back to you, Ronald.

Ronald Smith: And 22 months clean.

Len Sipes: And 22 months clean. That is so important.

Ronald Smith: It is very important.

Len Sipes: How difficult was it to kick drugs? I mean, you know, people tell me it is one of the most difficult things in the world to kick both drugs and to kick the corner.

Ronald Smith: Yeah, like, it’s, it was a mental, it was mental.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: It’s mental. But I know that I’m addicted to the lifestyle –

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: So. . .

Len Sipes: You’re not just addicted to drugs, you’re addicted to the lifestyle.

Ronald Smith: Lifestyle too.

Len Sipes: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ronald Smith: So I stay away from the lifestyle.

Len Sipes: That’s it.

Ronald Smith: You know what I’m saying? I spend time with family and I have a son and I have a little bouncing little grandson that’s a month.

Len Sipes: Congratulations.

Ronald Smith: So you know, I’m busy.

Len Sipes: And it’s, and now you’re a meaningful part of the lives of your children and your grandchildren instead of being this person who floats in and out of their lives because they’re using drugs.

Ronald Smith: Yes. When my son told me, when I came home, he said, he said, “Dad, when you going to stop goin’ to jail?”

Len Sipes: Yep.

Ronald Smith: I had to, you know, think about that.

Len Sipes: If treatment wasn’t available to you where would you be today?

Ronald Smith: If I didn’t take my treatment seriously?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Ronald Smith: I’d be back in jail or dead.

Len Sipes: In jail or dead or still committing crime?

Ronald Smith: Yes.

Len Sipes: Still using drugs?

Ronald Smith: Yes.

Len Sipes: And you know, Kevin, I’m going to go with you for a second in terms of this larger issue. Again, it is the SAMHSA which is the, under Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They’re setting up National Recovery Month; we’re participating in it as we always do. We feel very strongly about this issue because you know, talking to Ronald, if these programs weren’t available, people would still be committing crime, people would still be victimizing people and it would still be costing taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Kevin Moore: Absolutely. You, Mr. Sipes said, it costs more to incarcerate an individual than to treat the person for their addiction and you know, I’m thankful that this initiative has been in existence for 23 years, but I’m more thankful that CSOSA has embraced recovery month and that we are providing various activities to acknowledge individuals who are in recovery. And you know, SAMHSA, about two years ago, redefined what recovery means and simply put, they states that recovery is a process through which individuals improve their health and well being, that they live a self directed life, and that they attempt to maximize, or they strive to maximize their full potential. And just listen to what Ronald is saying –

Len Sipes: Right.

Kevin Moore: It sounds like he has taken advantage of that and I’m glad that CSOSA was a part of providing that opportunity for him.

Len Sipes: And you know, all of us in this room, we’ve talked to literally, throughout our careers, thousands of people who have crossed the line, who have crossed the bridge. They’re now tax payers, they’re not tax burdens, they’re now supporting their kids, they’re now you know, doing the right thing, they’re full members of their community but they were none of this until they got mental health treatment, until they got substance abuse treatment. Renee, you want to take a shot at that?

Renee Singleton: Yes, I think Mr. Smith is a prime example of how treatment works in regards to just maintaining his recovery and being in compliance with supervision. It’s definitely been a change in how he responded to supervision prior to treatment and now, and he can best attest to that, in regards to being on intensive, maximum, and now minimum supervision.

Len Sipes: Right, he’s come down, he’s worked his way down the chain in terms of how intensely we supervise him.

Renee Singleton: That’s correct, and that’s not also, not just in regards to supervision, but in regards to drug testing as well. So you may start off at a higher level of drug testing, because of your substance use history, and then work down to spot testing and not being required to drug test as frequently. Also, Mr. Smith has been quite modest. He’s taken advantage of a lot of services that CSOSA offers and all of those services have helped him be successful on supervision and in the community. He’s now a taxpayer, he maintains his own house or he’s maintaining housing, stable housing, he’s not in violation in supervision, so he is a prime example of how treatment works.

Len Sipes: Right, he’s everything we want him to be, he’s everything society wants him to be.

Renee Singleton: Now that he’s successful [OVERLAY]

Len Sipes: And then congratulations go out to all of you. Okay, so why is it so dag gone difficult to find money for substance abuse treatment programs? You know, the last survey that I saw, that in prison now, not under community supervision, but in prison, that 80 to 90% of people in prison have histories of substance abuse. 10% are getting treatment. Now, I’ve seen others surveys that said 13%, I’ve seen other surveys that said 16%, it’s a small number that get treatment. Okay, why do we have this dichotomy? If we have individuals who have histories of mental health issues, substance abuse issues, then why aren’t we treating them in the prison system? What’s going on? Why is it a matter of convincing society that this is something that we need to do? We need to give up the money? Any one of you can answer that question.

Kevin Moore: Well, I’ll take a shot at it Mr. Sipes, and you know, within the Criminal Justice Systems, you know, we go through various shifts. You know, every decade or so the philosophy changes. One, we go from rehabilitative concept to the punitive, punishment concept. I think now we are moving back towards the rehabilitation, we’re looking at evidence based practices.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kevin Moore: And so we are educating folks more, but you know, substance abuse and mental health, you know, still poses a stigma to folks and the community has a difficult time of embracing that. I think that you know, though we celebrate National Recovery Month every September for the past 23 years, we need to have a better or more established campaign throughout the year to promote the successes of folks who have recovered from substances and mental health disorders.

Len Sipes: Is it because people just hear bad news about people under supervision and just don’t hear the good news? I mean, what Ronald has done is phenomenal. I mean, I’m looking at an article right now that was written up by somebody in terms of his transitional housing, a Reverend Deborah Thomas Campbell and who just absolutely, absolutely is glowing in terms of Ronald’s recovery, but as he says, if he didn’t have the treatment programs there, the other programs there, he may be dead, he may be in prison, he may be back doing drugs, he may be back doing crime and additional victims are going to have to suffer through those consequences. They don’t have to suffer through it now because he’s sitting by our microphones clean and sober for how many years?

Ronald Smith: A year and 8 months.

Len Sipes: That’s a long time Ronald. Congratulations.

Ronald Smith: Thank you.

Len Sipes: So what are you, so what do you say to the larger society? What message do you give to people who are saying, “Look Leonard, you know, we can’t fund our schools, we can’t fund programs for our elderly, we’ve got 10 tons of people out of work, you know, and you’re now telling me to give more money to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.” What do you say to that person? Closer to the mike. . .

Ronald Smith: I would tell’em, okay, I’m part of the community.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Ronald Smith: And I helped mess it up, so you can help straighten it up and then be a mentor to the kids because the generation coming up now, they need some mentoring.

Len Sipes: Yeah, they do.

Ronald Smith: And that’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to do, because I used to box. And drugs, alcohol destroyed my career. That’s ‘cause I wanted to go into the Marines.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: And box in Olympics. But that dream was shattered and I just want to, I want to give back.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: Because same thing with the NANAA, you learn it and then you give it back. So that’s, that’s my philosophy.

Len Sipes: But what people are listening, more from you than from the three of us sitting in this studio right now, they’re saying, “Okay, this is possible. If I give more money, if I support more treatment: either mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, vocational treatment, if I support this, I’m creating a safer society.” Is that right or wrong?

Ronald Smith: That’s right. Because the kids can go out and play. People can go to the store without being robbed.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: I mean, you know, back in the day, DC used to be a nice town but now you can’t, you got to lock your door. Back in the day you used to have your door unlocked. But now you gotta lock it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Ronald Smith: So, times have changed you know.

Len Sipes: And we’ve got to change with those times.

Ronald Smith: Right.

Len Sipes: And provide the substance abuse and treatment services necessary. Kevin, go ahead.

Kevin Moore: Yeah, I was going to say, Mr. Sipes, you know, it’s a windfall if we invest more in treatment. You know, some of the society benefits would include you know, increased productivity of these individuals. As we know, Ronald now is working, he’s a taxpayer.

Len Sipes: Right.

Kevin Moore: You know.

Len Sipes: Right, he’s paying our salaries. Thank you Ronald.

Kevin Moore: Yeah, yeah.

Len Sipes: Thank you Ronald.


Kevin Moore: You know, with treatment you know, we minimize premature deaths. As Ronald said, if he were to continue on this path to destruction, he would either be incarcerated or dead and also the criminal activity. You know, we reduce the crimes committed in our communities and also we reduce the substance abuse related illness. You know, as we prepare for the Recovery Month, you know, we uncovered some staggering stats and one of the things that stood out to me is that 40% of all the emergency room visits are substance abuse related here in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: Right, so we’re talking about reducing the cost of medical care. That would be an obvious benefit.

Kevin Moore: Absolutely. Absolutely. In addition to that, what was even more staggering is that 50% of all the vehicular incidents here in the District of Colombia are related to substance use.

Len Sipes: Abuse, yes.

Kevin Moore: Yeah, so again, you know, by investing in treatment and helping folks recover, we minimize these instances of increased healthcare, premature death, yeah. . .

Len Sipes: Renee, I mean, you’re going to have the final word in this program. What does the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, their guidance, their research, their promotion of the state of the art, what does that mean to us as treatment providers?

Renee Singleton: Definitely provides us with evidence based treatment approaches so we can best assist our clients with being successful in recovery. It also offers us a lot of research and information to train ourselves so we can become more efficient Treatment Specialists and counselors for our clients.

Len Sipes: And the bottom line is, they give us the guidance we need and we implement that guidance.

Renee Singleton: Correct, we do implement the guidance, we use them as a great resource. They provide trainings, information, and so we use them to assist us with our work.

Len Sipes: Renee, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, I really do appreciate you listening to our program on National Recovery Month and how it applies to my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Our guests today have been Kevin Moore, Supervisory Treatment Specialist with CSOSA, Renee Singleton, a Treatment Specialist again, with CSOSA, and Ronald Smith, who I now like an awful lot, who is a very successful person who is now working, a taxpayer, proud grandfather and father and Ronald again, congratulations on your recovery.

Ronald Smith: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety; we appreciate your criticism and comments. We really do thank you for listening. Our website is Please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Technology in Corrections-Corrections Technology Center of Excellence-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s show – do parole and probation caseloads have an impact on offender recidivism in crime. To discuss this topic, we have two principles. We have Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She is an associate at Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and public policy analysis with research interest in Criminal Justice Program Evaluation, Michael Kane. The second guest is a Senior Associate with Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. He’s been working in the Criminal Justice field for the past eight years. They wrote a really interesting piece of research on the fact that caseload size done right seems to reduce recidivism and when I say ‘recidivism,’ I remind most people that that indeed involves reduced crime. So let me, for the next 15 seconds, read the beginning of it and we’ll have an interview with Sarah and Michael.

“A Criminal Justice researcher has studied caseload size to determine whether smaller caseloads improve probation outcomes. With exceptions, the findings have been disappointing. Reduced probation officer caseloads have not reduced criminal recidivism for high-risk probationers and have increased revocation rates.

One explanation is that officers with reduced caseloads do not change their supervision practices when caseloads are reduced. This raised the question – would reduce caseloads improve supervision outcomes for medium to high-risk offenders in a probation agency that trains its officers to apply a balance of control and rehabilitative measures”

To Sarah and Michael, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Thank you.

Michael Kane:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Okay, that was a ridiculously long introduction, but in setting the stage, it’s really difficult, but Sarah, also give me a sense. You work for Abt Associates Abt. In my 42 years in the Criminal Justice system, Abt Associates always seems to have been there and producing some of the better known research throughout this country and throughout the criminological community. So tell me a little bit about Abt Associates.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Sure. We’re based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and we are probably one of the oldest public policy analysis companies and we have, as you mentioned, been doing a number of projects for the Department of Justice and various other government agencies. Mostly in the [INDISCERNIBLE] program evaluation. We also do global international technical assistance and evaluation for various governments and government agencies domestically.

Len Sipes:  This research is funded by the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice. Michaels Kane, give me a sense as to the Crime and Justice Institute at the Community Resources for Justice.

Michael Kane:  Sure, Community Resources for Justice is a nonprofit operating in Boston. Our larger organization also operates halfway houses, both federal and state, and homes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Crime and Justice Institute is a division of CRJ and we work to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice systems nationwide. We provide nonpartisan consulting, policy analysis, evaluation services and technical assistance to improve public safety in a lot of jurisdictions working directly with corrections and community corrections agencies.

Len Sipes:  The website for Abt Associates – The website for the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice is Alright, so both to Sarah and Michael, let’s begin talking about this. In the research that you did – again, funded by the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice – it took a look at parole and probation or, in this case, rather probation caseload size and we said in the introduction that caseload size really does not seem to matter in terms of the research in the past. In fact, reducing caseload size, making it the number that the parole and probation officer or the probation officer in this case has to supervise and to assist, lowering that number in the past seemed to increase the rate of recidivism, but basically what you guys said was, “Well, if you guys lowered the ratio, if you made the caseload smaller, if you trained this parole and probation agent or probation agent in evidence-based practices, if you gave him the top skills, the top knowledge that we had today,” I wonder what would happen.  Am I summarizing the research correctly?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  I think that’s right. I think one of the reasons that the National Institute of Justice felt that this was important to revisit is that some of the best evaluations in Criminal Justice were done on supervision intensive probation. These were large, random assignment studies that produced some pretty irrefutable outcomes, but as you said, decreasing the caseload size for probationers who are supervised intensively did not seem to improve outcomes and, in fact, worsened outcomes in a lot of ways. The takeaway from that research was both that these were probationers, not in the traditional sense. These were people who were diverted from jails and prisons and put onto probation and supervised in the community very intensively, but also, there were a couple of exceptions to those core findings in a couple of agencies. They did combine the sorts of things that we associate today with evidence-based practices with these reduced caseloads and in those couple of places, they had improved outcomes. So there’s really a foundation for revisiting this now that evidence-based practices have become so widespread in probation agencies across the country.

Len Sipes: So it’s just not a matter of trail them and jail them. It’s just not a matter of enforcement. It has to be combined with services if that person has any chances at all of not going back to prison and in saying that, there were two jurisdictions that you studied out of the three where not only were there reductions. There were significant reductions in terms of the overall rate of recidivism. I think in the Oklahoma City area there was about a 30% reduction in recidivism. In Polk County, Iowa, in one case, was up to 40% in some categories. So that’s significant and that’s what immediately caught my eye and said that I wanted to interview Sarah and Michael today because , ordinarily, when you get successful outcomes for reentry programs, if you will, they generally range in the 10-15% range. These are significant – 30% for Oklahoma, 39% for some categories in Polk County. Those are significant reductions.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct and I want to just clarify one thing in that we’re talking about reduction in risk of recidivism, which is a fine point to make, but I think important because it’s a probabilistic kind of thing rather than an absolute these people stopped reoffending. So there’s a little bit of a difference and that’s due to the nature of the study design.

Michael Kane:  It’s not a 30% absolute reduction in recidivism, but compared to the control commission…

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  What it would have been otherwise.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael Kane:  It is a 30% reduction. Yeah, that’s important to point out.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but I mean do you…

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  You’re right. These are significant. You’re right.

Len Sipes:  That’s my question. My premise is considering the low percentage rates in so many other programs that I’ve encountered, this seems to be doing significantly better than previous reentry-related research programs. Am I right?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes, but I do want to qualify that a little bit because reentry programs are generally dealing with offenders who are coming out of jail and prison and because of that, are at higher risk for recidivism. We’re talking here about probationers who, at least for this particular offense or case, they have not been incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Right, but you are talking about medium to high-risk probationers.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct, but probationers in general, overall, are a little bit lower risk than say parolees.

Len Sipes:  True, but it’s not unusual for them to have prior incarcerations in their backgrounds.

Michael Kane:  Right, the population don’t overlap.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct and higher risk probationers often do have a more extensive criminal history. So, yes, we are talking about who are people who are at high risk for recidivism, but not quite as high-risk as a parolee.

Len Sipes:  Michael Kane, we talk about evidence-based practices within the confines of this study. What are we talking about?

Michael Kane:  Sure, within the confines of this study, we’re talking about three major things. The things that we look for in the sites that we chose were sites that had implemented a third-generations risk and needs assessment and used that risk assessments to target based on risk.

Len Sipes:  Figure out who the offender is.

Michael Kane:  Right, figure out who the offender is and concentrate probation services on offenders that are medium and high-risk. The second thing we looked for were sites that do some kind of case planning based on need. The third-generations need assessments, they typically generate a list of criminogenic needs and these sites base case plan on what needs are determined by that. The third thing that we’re looking for is sites that train in and practice motivational enhancement techniques. In some cases, that might be like motivational interviewing. So those were the three things that we looked for in terms of [INDISCERNIBLE].

Len Sipes:  So it’s basically– they implemented a risk needs assessment. They figured out who this person truly was. They engaged a case management process based upon that risk and needs assessment, which is basically saying, “You’re low-risk. You really don’t need these services nearly as badly as somebody with a high score in terms of antisocial personality or violent tendencies. So we’re going to figure out who gets what based upon their scores in terms of the risk and needs instrument and training the officers there on how to motivate the people on their caseloads to do better.”

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  That’s the heart and soul of it.

Michael Kane:  Yeah and so I think it’s important to know that we’re not saying that that’s all evidence-based practices are or trying to condense them, but we had to make some decisions about what kind of things we were looking for in sites and those are the three things that really stood out to us. They’re also things that are easier as researchers to measure. We can see what the risk and need assessment that they’re doing is and we can see whether or not they target individuals based on their risk level and whether or not they target based on need. They can program evidence that they did the training around motivational enhancement techniques. So those are kind of things that we can confirm. There are plenty of other components of evidence-based practices that are more difficult to confirm.

Len Sipes:  Right, but the bottom line of this is that they went through all of this – the case management, the risk and needs assessment, the motivational interviewing – to get them involved in programs. You guys didn’t measure the programs. You measured those things that I mentioned, but all of this is predicated on getting them involved in the programs that were necessary even though you didn’t measure that part of it.

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Because that part of it had some methodological difficulties.

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Alright, what are we talking about in terms of caseload, Sarah? I mean if this whole discussion and research is predicated on reduced caseloads, what do we mean by reduced caseloads?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Well, I think we mean a couple of things. One is a relative measure. As you know, caseloads fluctuate throughout the country and so agencies have very high caseloads depending on their resource levels and some have more medium size caseloads. I would say almost nobody thinks that their caseloads are too low, but for Oklahoma City, when we introduced the reduce caseload and randomly assigned officers to either the reduced caseload or the regular caseload, during our study, their caseload was about 106 probationers per officer on the regular caseload and 54 on the reduced caseload.

Len Sipes:  Okay, basically on probation agent to 54 offenders.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right, for the reduced caseload.

Len Sipes:  Okay and Polk County?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  In Polk County, it was a little more complicated to determine, but we’re looking at a little bit higher-risk offenders in Polk County and so we were looking at their intensive supervision programming and their caseload was roughly, over the study period, 30 probationers per officer.

Len Sipes:  Okay, about 30:1.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yeah and about 50 in the comparison officers.

Len Sipes:  We should establish again for anybody listening who doesn’t have the context to understand the discussion in terms of caseload numbers, I have personally witnessed in the state of Maryland, which I was Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Safety for 14 years, caseloads of 130:1. These are 130 real cases. If you counted the inactive cases, it was much higher than that. I’ve known jurisdictions throughout this country that have had 200 offenders on their caseloads. These are regular caseloads. They aren’t administrative caseloads or interstate compact caseloads, but regular caseloads exceeding 200 per parole and probation agent. So first of all, do we agree with my assessment as to the comparison numbers?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes.

Michael Kane:  Yeah, I mean I’ve heard 180. Yeah, I’ve heard all kinds of, what I consider to be, fairly high numbers. So, yes, I think that that’s a good range. It really just differs across jurisdictions.

Len Sipes:  It’s amazing as to how any parole and probation agent could ever possibly be effective with those numbers, but we’re halfway through the program. I’m going to reintroduce the two of you and then we’re going to get into – what I consider – the fun part of the program. It took me 15 minutes to set up an understanding of the program and now we’re going to get into the policy implications. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re talking to Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She is an associate at Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and Public Policy Analysis with research interest in Criminal Justice program evaluation, Michael Kane is a Senior Associate with Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, Okay, Michael or Sarah, either one of you come in. So to the aid to the mayor, to the aid to the governor, to the aid to the congressional person, to the aid to the parole and probation assistant director, to the different people listening to this program right now, what are the principle policy takeaways from this research that if we lower caseloads and have them do the right thing, we can reduce the number of people coming back to the Criminal Justice system significantly and do I have that correct?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes and I want to repeat something that some of the many people of advisors for this project emphasized to me a number of times, which is you can’t just do one. You can’t just introduce these techniques associated with evidence-based practices and keep caseloads the same size because officers don’t have time, as you mentioned. They don’t have time to learn all of these new techniques and still supervise their active caseloads, but you also can’t just reduce caseloads without giving the officers the tools to really make changes and how they supervise probationers. So I think that one major takeaway is that it’s really important to do both and our study kind of highlights the importance of that. We can’t tell from our study which particular components of evidence-based practices that are the most cost-effective or the most beneficial, but what we can say is that this the context in which you should reduce caseloads in order to be most effective for recidivism and probationer outcomes in general.

Len Sipes:  Michael, do you have anything to add to that?

Michael Kane:  No, I mean I think Sarah has it right. We know that both of these things have to go along together. I think that that is really a key finding here. I think another thing that is maybe less associated with recidivism reduction is that from our discussions with officers that were on a reduced caseload size, they really did reflect that they felt they were better able to use the techniques that they learned, that those evidence-based practices that they have learned, they were able to spend more quality time with the offender and help them to explore their issues that they were really able to do a better job in terms of making referrals. Those things that it seems like probation and parole are turning towards, it just seems like in the cases we were able to speak with the officers that had the reduced caseload that they felt like that extra time really enabled them to employ the techniques that they learned.

Len Sipes:  Well, it does take time because I’ve seen both in Maryland and the nine years of being with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which is a federal parole and probation agency here in Washington DC. When I was out with one of the – what we call – community supervision officers, what most jurisdictions call parole and probation agents, encountering a woman who basically she was thrown out of her place where she lived. It was violent. It was nasty. Knives were pulled and words were exchanged and she had to escape with her child. I mean the complexity that so many offenders bring to the parole and probation arena requires time. It just required time. If you’ve got somebody who is on their fifth positive for marijuana, yet they’re doing everything else okay, but yet they’re hanging out on the street corner. They’re being a little too loud, the fifth positive for marijuana, it takes time to intervene in that individual’s life and get them into the right treatment modality. These are time-consuming activities.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  They’re time-consuming and also things officers feel responsible for. In many cases, they are responsible in terms of job performance and in some cases they’re responsible in terms of liability for the people that they’re supervising and I think one of the important implications or sort of a finding is that in Oklahoma City, the officers who were on the reduced caseloads stayed in their jobs for the length of this study. The officers who had the double caseload, the regular caseload of 106 offenders, they left. They took other assignments. They left the agency. They got burned out pretty fast and they called us and told us that. They said, “Look, I’m really sorry to be leaving the study, but I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t feel like I can do my job anymore because there are too many people that I’m supervising.”

Len Sipes:  That applies to most parole and probation agents in the country. That’s my sense of it.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  I’m talking about anywhere between 80% and 90%.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right and this study does not cover what the overall retention rate of probation officers in local jurisdictions are, but I think you’ll find that their staff turnover is pretty high. At least, I know anecdotally it is and if you think about the costs associated with hiring new people, training new people to do what’s a pretty responsible job in a community, think of all the money you’ll save if your officers were happy and they stayed and they felt like they were being effective at their job. So I think it’s larger than just finding improved recidivism. I think it’s also a question of is the community safe because I have experienced officers who have a professional commitment that they feel that they can live up to.

Len Sipes:  If you’re talking 30% ballpark and another figure and I know it’s no really as simple as I’m making it out to be, but I’m just going to try to make it simple – 30% in Oklahoma in one category, 39% in Polk County. I mean you’re not talking about a lot of people not returning to the Criminal Justice system. You’re talking about a lot of people not going to jail. You’re talking about a lot of people not going back to prison. You’re talking about 700,000 individuals released from state and federal prisons every year. Now, if we could do 30-39% reduction of people not returning to the Criminal Justice system out of those 700,000, you’re talking about saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  That’s right and I think we all know that the level of incarceration in this country is unsustainable physically and that people are going to be released. The question is how well are they going to be supervised in the community post-release, but also how well are they going to be supervised in a community before they get to jail and prison. I think it’s a really important point to make that when people fail on probation and people recidivate while they’re on probation, they often are going into incarcerations whereas they were remaining in the community and everything. The potential, anyway, to be productive, to be employed, to really both contribute to the community and to improve their own lives and those opportunities are greatly diminished once people fail on probation and end up incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Right. Is there a secret sauce, either one of you, in this in terms of your own guts and I know that the metrological community, the research community hates this question, but it’s what practitioners are interested in. it’s all those people I talked about – the aids to the mayors and governors. They’re sitting there and saying, “Okay, I’m listening to this.” What do you think, Sarah and Michael, is the secret sauce the key ingredient that really prompted reductions in recidivism beyond the fact of reduced caseloads? Is it getting them involved, figuring to who the person really is and getting the right person involved in the right treatment modality? I’ll start off with that.

Michael Kane:  I mean…can I take a stab at this?

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Sure, of course.

Michael Kane:  I think that it’s really the application of the risk and need principles, for me, that those individuals that are the highest risk based on an objective assessment –  in this case, the third-generation risk and need assessment – that those individuals receive more probation services than low-risk individuals and that we objectively assess what their needs are. One size fits all does not work and I think we know that in probation and parole. We can’t say that everyone should receive substance abuse treatment because while a lot of individuals may have substance abuse issues, that’s not the case for everyone. In some cases, we can be giving them services they don’t need, don’t reduce the recidivism rate and so I think the current climate economically in this country where in governmental budgets we’re making tough decisions, what we need to do is make smarter decisions about who we’re giving what. I think that that’s really at the core of implementing evidence-based practices in probation and parole agencies. We have to use the information that we have – in this case, risk and need assessment – and make decisions about resource allocation based on that so that we’re getting the most for our dollars. I think that’s relates directly to this caseload study because we know that if we supervise individuals on a lower caseload and use these techniques, we’re going to get better outcomes. So it is a tradeoff, certainly. There’s certainly a tradeoff in what we’re able to do with those lower-risk cases, but I think that’s really the takeaway for me.

Len Sipes:  I do want to be fair to the research and the listener community. There was another jurisdiction involved, another state involved, but they did not fully implement the evidence-based practices, so they didn’t have the reductions that you had in Oklahoma and Polk County, correct?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Well, yeah and I think something important to note about that jurisdiction is that they, in fact, were one of the earliest adopters of evidence-based practices and they did a really good job when they implemented it in the 90s, but they had a series of fiscal crises and were not able to maintain the continuous feedback loop that’s necessary to keep programming like this going and operating well. In fact, during the period of time that we had data for the study, it didn’t appear that a lot of these elements of evidence-based practices were fully implemented, but afterwards, towards the end of the study, they kind of doubled-down on their efforts to do some training and to improve their programming. Who know? Today, those study results could be really different.

Len Sipes:  Could be dramatically different, right.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right, it highlights the need to not just put something in place and say, “Okay, we’ve got this. We should be good.” It really needs to be a continued effort over a long period of time.

Len Sipes:  Got it. Okay, we have one minute left and the question to either one of you is evidence-based practices reduced caseloads do have a way of reducing crime, reducing people coming back into the Criminal Justice system. It’s unfortunate that a lot of states simply are so cash-strapped for money that they have a hard time doing what is, obviously, in everybody’s best interest.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yeah, when you have incarceration, that’s a fixed cost. You need to maintain your prisons and your jails and probation is not such a fixed cost, so I think in my opinion – this isn’t a fact proven by the study – I think probation is a little bit easier to reduce money for than it is for, say, incarceration, but in a perfect world, I think policymakers could see that investing in probation really pays off when you compare those costs to the costs of incarceration.

Len Sipes:  Sarah, you have the final word. Our guests today have been Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She, again, is an associate with Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and public policy analyst with research interest and Criminal Justice program evaluation – Michael Kane is a Senior Associate with the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. Again, that website there is Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. One again, we really appreciate all the interaction. We appreciate your emails, telephone calls. We appreciate the fact that you agree and disagree with some of the observations of our programs. We really like it when you come up with suggestions for new programs and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Criminal History and Employment-University of Maryland-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

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[Audio Begins]

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

Professor Nakamura:  Thank you for having me.

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

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

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

Professor Nakamura:  Thank you very much.

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

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

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

Professor Nakamura:  Possibly.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

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

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

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

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes:  That’s a huge data set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Nakamura:  Right. It takes a longer time.

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Nakamura:  That’s correct.

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

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

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

[Audio Ends]


Research on Employing Offenders-Council for Court Excellence-DC Public Safety

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, the issue today is employing offenders.  We have a piece of research today from the Council for Court Excellence and what they did was to go out and ask individuals, ask individual employers what it takes to hire people under community supervision.  I spent a good part of the morning taking a look at previous research on the issue of employing offenders and to my knowledge, this hasn’t been done before or it’s been very rarely done where an individual organization goes out and asks not just people who hire, but also former offenders themselves what their issues were in terms of employment, what it takes to hire people under supervision.  So with that lofty introduction, we have two people at our microphones today:  June Kress, the Executive Director of the Council for Court Excellence, and Peter Willner, the Senior Policy Analyst, again for the Council for Court Excellence.  And to June and Peter, welcome to DC Public Safety.

June Kress:  Thank you.

Len Sipes: June first of all, the first question goes to you.  What is the Council for Court Excellence?

June Kress: The Council for Court Excellence is a non-partisan, non-profit civic organization.  We’ve been around since 1982 and our mission, simply put, is to improve the administration of justice in the District of Columbia.  We watch the courts and related institutions and agencies of justice and we make policy recommendations to improve things.  But our work, even though we’re focused on the District, our work has serious implications for jurisdictions all over the country that are interested in improving how justice is administered.

Len Sipes:  And the Council for Court Excellence, you know, I’ve been to several of your meetings, they’re very well attended, well debated.  You look at a variety of issues in terms of the larger criminal justice system and in terms of larger criminal justice issues, so you work goes way beyond the District of Columbia because in essence, Milwaukee is facing exactly what we’re facing right now in Washington D.C.  Anchorage, Alaska, Honolulu, Hawaii – it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, 20% of our audience is worldwide.  I would imagine the same thing is happening in Paris, France.  What you’re doing has implications for the entire country, correct?

June Kress:  That’s absolutely right and when we do our work, we certainly take a look at best practices elsewhere to inform what we’re doing here.  So it’s really an exchange between Washington and everywhere else in the country.

Len Sipes:  All right we have a unique opportunity in terms of recent research that you all conducted and to my knowledge, it’s one of the first, if not the first, where we’ve actually sat down with individual employers and asked them what are your perceptions of hiring people on community supervision.  And there was a wide variety of research; findings that came out of this, 50% were unemployed, regardless of the economics.  So in good times and bad times, 50% of the individuals under community supervision are unemployed.  Now that has huge ramifications for the entire criminal justice system. The research is abundantly clear. The better odds of them being employed, the more they’re employed, the less recidivism there is, the less crime there is, the less costs there are to taxpayers and this has huge implications.  If only 50% are going to be employed regardless of the circumstances, that simply means more crime.  Reducing crime means what can we do to bring that number down, correct?  Peter, you want to…?

Peter Willner:  Yeah, yeah, I think the answer to that is a clear yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but I mean how do we do that now?  If 50% are unemployed, regardless of the economics, regardless of the circumstances, what can we do?  I mean, you know, one of the findings that you had is that 77% of the individuals, when they were caught up in the correctional system, whether it’s prison or jail, they didn’t receive any assistance at all in terms of getting ready for employment so obviously, what we do within the correctional setting has an impact in terms of how they are when they get out.

June Kress:  That’s right. And in fact, that’s one of the recommendations, that the Bureau of Prisons and in terms of locally, the District of Columbia jail, begin to try and do something about this, what we believe is a disconnect between the kind of training and education that exists in institutions today, vis-à-vis the kinds of employment opportunities that exist in our particular jurisdiction and in jurisdictions around the country.  The world has changed a lot.  No longer, you know, is there a market for barbers and we believe that Bureau of Prisons needs to take a look at the kind of training that people are getting and make that much more relevant.  I mean, everybody knows that re-entry begins at the beginning, we’ll go into the institution and it shouldn’t begin when people are coming home.

Len Sipes:  Well, we say that, we say that re-entry begins the day they enter the correctional system, but the research on drug treatment is terrible.  Only 10% of people end up getting drug treatment.  Only a small portion are ending up with mental health treatment and by your research and prior research, only a small portion are receiving occupational assistance.  So in essence what we’re say is, is that when we send them into any prison system, state or federal, the great majority are not getting the services that they need in order to hold down crime rates when they get out.

Peter Willner:  That’s right and I think the thing that’s important for your listeners to understand is that the District of Columbia’s prison system is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The District doesn’t have its own local prison system and so that is part of the national implications I think of our study. We heard from lots of people who were former offenders who were saying they wanted to try to do some job searches before they got out, they wanted to try to put their resume together, but they didn’t have access to the internet, they didn’t have access to anyone who might help them do that search or put their resume together.  And I think part of the context of our study was, we had BOP on our committee and we understand that they are resource-strapped.  And I think the broader conversation that has to happen you know, in this country and across the country is that you know, our prison populations are increasing. I don’t know that BOP is getting the necessary funding to be able to handle that adjusting population.  Part of what they need to get funding for in my view, is to be able to think more systematically about how they can make that goal of re-entry starts on the day they enter more of a reality, not only as it relates to employment but to mental health and drug use and all that.  And I think that’s a legitimate – that was a legitimate concern we heard from BOP.

Len Sipes:  But everybody who I’ve talked to has said that jobs – the people coming out of the prison system have said jobs are the crucial issue.  Regardless of their substance abuse history, regardless of their mental health history, it’s jobs that seem to be the key component when they come out of the prison system.  So my question becomes, if this is such a key issue and if the research is so abundantly clear that the more they’re employed, the less they recidivate, the less crime they commit, the less – you know, we’re talking about saving hundreds of millions of tax-paid dollars if they don’t go back to the prison system – then why not?  What does that say about us as a society that we’re not providing that employment assistance?

Peter Willner:  Well, the District, I think, has made a good first step just late last year when they passed legislation that for the District of Columbia government, that would for a lot of lower level jobs at least, they would not look at a criminal record at all in terms of the hiring process.

Len Sipes:  Um-hm.

Peter Willner:  And so I think the DC government, following the State of Minnesota who adopted that same approach, is trying to take sort of the moral lead in that area.  And I think there are a number of other states that we see – I would include again, Minnesota in this – who have adopted legislation that would encourage private sector employers to hire people and that’s one of our report recommendations, which is private employers are concerned, they’re concerned about their bottom line, but they’re also concerned if they hire someone with a record that for some reason they might be – it might subject them to a liability or lawsuit.

Len Sipes:  Right.  They’re concerned about being sued.

Peter Willner:  That’s right, and so there’s a legislative fix for that where if they – where if an employer goes through a several-step hiring process to make sure they’re looking at the person’s record, making sure that it is not, when they hire that person, there’s no greater risk to public safety or on the street.  If they go through that process, that can severely limit their ability to be sued for negligent hiring and Minnesota’s adopted that, New York State has that in place and that was one of our recommendations that you know, we understand the DC Council might be taking that up very soon this year.

Len Sipes:  Now I do want to get to that but I don’t want to leave this issue of jobs within the correctional setting.  I mean, if say bricklaying – bricklaying is a viable alternative, being an electrician, being a plumber, being an apprentice electrician or a plumber or a bricklayer.  These are all hard skills that are going to transfer into just about any economy.  If we had a system that produced people with those skills as they came out of the prison system, what impact would it have on crime?  What impact would it have on public safety, what impact would it have on taxpaying dollars?

Peter Willner:  It would have a good impact on that I think.  You know, I think what we were finding, though, when we were going through our research, the challenges, you might have that skill set but the next step is getting a license to do that.  And I think that that’s where you know, state-to-state, there might be some variance, so you might come out with that skill set.  But if you’re not – if you don’t have the ability to get a license, then you’ve built the skill set that means nothing at the end of the day.  But your premise is correct though, that if you do train folks in these areas, it will be a benefit, but we have to make sure we’re also careful about giving them the ability to get a license.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so we have to do – the first part of the solution is dealing with the training within the correction settings and the fact that the great majority according to your survey said, 77% said they received assistance in jail or prison in terms of occupational training.  The second thing we have to do is to deal with things at the home front, is assuming even if they came out of prison, assuming they came out with a hard skill, there has to be laws and legislations in place that allows them to get the certification that they need to go on and practice that occupation, so that’s step number two.  Is that what I hear?

June Kress:  That’s right.  And also – I mean, the crux of the problem is the criminal record.  Something like 80% of people that we interviewed said that they were asked all the time about their criminal records.  So this has become such a barrier, both in good times and in bad, and so what do you do about – I mean, Pete was just talking about the legislation to remove you know, to remove that problem from the folks that – from the government sector, but it still exists in the private sector, so our research and our recommendations are about trying to incentivize employers, which is why you know, where we came up with removing employer liability.

Len Sipes:  But you did talk to employers –

June Kress:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  – this is one of the exciting things about this study.  I mean, you reached out to the employment community in a very systematic fashion and you spoke to a lot of individuals within the employment community – that’s exciting, because that’s one of the first times it’s happened.  We’ve tried to do that here at CSOSA, we’ve tried to crowd source this issue, not terribly successfully, only about 20 calls –

June Kress:  Right.

Len Sipes: – as a result of it, but you spoke to a lot more than that and so what are you hearing from the employment community, the private sector, in terms of what it’s going to take the higher people under community supervision?

Peter Willner:  Well, I think the, I think the benefit is that people who are under some sort of supervision, employers I think are attracted more to those folks than people who are not under any sort of supervision.  We did find, it’s not reported so much in our report, but we did find that employers were very interested in people who had some level of case management.  But what employers were more interested in was not being sued as a result of hiring someone who had committed a prior criminal offense.  They were also very interested in knowing that the person was in good standing with the conditions of their release and so those were the things that currently don’t exist in DC, they don’t exist in a lot of places in the country and I think that is something that will help to incent private sector employers to hire.

Len Sipes:  But will they hire people with criminal records?  I mean, what I’m hearing, what you’re saying is that the answer is yes, as long as their level of liability is limited.

Peter Willner:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  That becomes the key issue.  I mean, so it’s not outright discrimination against people with a criminal history.  I mean, one of the problems that I have in this whole issue is that I’ve interviewed a lot of different people, both on radio and television and they are years away from their last crime. They are years away from their last issue of substance abuse.  These are very good risks and some of them have real skills, some of them have real solid work histories, but they’re unemployed. They’re years away from their last crime, years away from their last positive drug test, so that to me is a bit of a tragedy.  We’re not talking about somebody fresh out of prison, we’re not talking somebody who’s still in the game, somebody still taking drugs, somebody still involved in violent crime.  We’re talking about people past that, yet they can’t find work.  So there’s got to be something else at work here besides liability, correct?

June Kress:  Well, we’re also recommending that a certificate of rehabilitation program or certificate of good standing program be conceptualized and implemented and monitored in the District of Columbia and the recommendation calls for the bringing together of all of the relevant criminal justice agencies, including the Office on Ex-Offender Affairs, to talk about how this would best be undertaken.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program already; it’s gone by very fast.  June Kress, Executive Director of Council for Court Excellence; Peter Willner, Senior Policy Analyst, again, for the Council for Court Excellence, to get a copy of this fascinating report in terms of interviewing both offenders as well as employers as to what it takes to increase the level of employment for people under community supervision.  June, I’m going to go right back to you.  In terms of this certificate of rehabilitation, that’s tough for any bureaucracy to do.  Now all of us have been around the criminal justice system for a number of years and we’ve all taken a look at lower level offenders and found to our dismay, at a certain point, where they do end up in serious crimes.  So when we issue a certificate of rehabilitation, whatever agency is going to issue that certificate, their reputation is on the line.  If we say there is a certification of rehabilitation for John Smith and John Smith three years down the road commits some crime, then the agency issuing that certificate of rehabilitation is going to be held accountable.

June Kress:  Well absolutely.  I think those kinds of details will need to be worked out and we’re not indicating that if someone walks in with a certificate of good standing, that they’re automatically going to get a job.  The point, though, you know, this is very much a part of the 5% solution concept, which is, we believe that this could be and has been in other jurisdictions, a conversation starter.  It puts formerly incarcerated folks at the top of the pile in terms of trying to, you know, the resume pile, in terms of trying to get their foot in the door in order to get an interview.

Len Sipes:  But it gets to be right back to the proposition that I made, excuse me, before asking the question, there are – I have sat down and talked to hundreds of people throughout my career who are bricklayers, who are electricians, who you know, their last conviction was three years ago.  They haven’t had a positive drug test in the last 2 ½ years.  They are clean, they’re not working.  So it gets back to how do you convince employers that this person, regardless of the fact that he’s had an armed robbery, he’s beyond that.  He’s ready to go.  He wants to work.  So a certificate of rehabilitation is one of the things we need to consider.

June Kress:  Absolutely.  And you know, Len, we don’t think that stigma, the stigma that ex-offenders, formerly incarcerated persons face, is going to be wiped out through the publication of this report.  It’s going to take a very long time to change people’s minds. I mean, it’s kind of like you know, seat belt use.  It didn’t happen overnight.

Len Sipes:  Correct.

June Kress:  It’s a whole see change that the country is beginning to go through and I think it’s important to point out that this report took into account the perspective of employers and ex-offenders and also law enforcement – very much reflecting the kind of balanced work that the council has done for 30 years.  We made a very, very conscious effort to make sure that those three perspectives are balanced out, because this is, you know, at the end of the day, this is all about public safety.  We want to make sure that you know, it’s not just simply assisting people in getting jobs, to help them and their families and to help entire communities, but to help jurisdictions that are faced with a serious public safety interest.  Because if people can’t find jobs, chances are that they will engage in crime.

Len Sipes:  Or they’re going to come back to the criminal justice system, they’re going to victimize somebody else –

June Kress:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  – they’re going to continue to cost us literally hundreds of billions of dollars.  I mean, 710,000 people every year leave the prison system throughout the country, either the state prison systems or the federal prison systems.  That’s an enormous amount of people – 710,000.  Now if we do, the national recidivism rates at the moment are 50% after three years of returning to the prison system, so we’re talking about 350,000 individuals at the cost of, my heavens, at least $20,000-30,000 a year, the cost of building prisons, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.  So there’s a lot at stake.  If we can find work for them, if we can find employment for them, that number of people returning back to the prison system goes down dramatically.  That’s the bottom line, correct?

June Kress:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, now I’m looking at the New York Times, a recent editorial, in their opinion page by two very prominent criminologists, with the idea of, there’s a certain amount of time, there’s certain point where that person loses their stigma as to being dangerous.  There’s a certain point where that person loses that stigma as being a threat to public safety, compared to people who are not involved in crime, they’re in essence saying that after seven or 10 years or so, that that person’s rate of recidivism is no worse or any better than the general population’s rate of recidivism.  So there is a numerical number statistically speaking, as to when these people even out in terms of the risk of public safety.  So it’s that stigma of carrying that criminal record for decades.  Something that happened at 18 and now you’re 38 and the person doesn’t get the job you know, 20 years later – that doesn’t hold water criminologically-speaking, correct?

Peter Willner:  That’s correct.  And you know, I would add to that though that you know, if there are a lot of challenges, like we’ve come across the example in certain industry sectors, so banking or the insurance industry, which are federally regulated.  We’ve learned that in those sectors, they are not free actors to hire whomever they want.  When they hire somebody, it has to be run through a federal agency, so we’ve heard anecdotally that an insurance company tried to hire somebody, the federal regulating agency that oversaw them, found that person had a criminal record from 25 years ago and denied them the ability to hire that person because of that conviction.  So there’s a whole series of federal regulations that are industry-specific that add to the complexity of this challenge and that you know, I think trying to factor in some of the criminological research to come up with a better approach to this is something that’s certainly worthwhile but tackling those various federally-regulated sectors is going to be a challenge.

Len Sipes:  But the low-hanging fruit here is that certainly we can all agree – I mean, everybody, not just the three of us in this room, but everybody can agree that there is a certain amount of time where the person’s criminal history should no longer be held against them, so issuing a “certificate of rehabilitation” for somebody who’s 10 years past their crime, according to the piece that I was looking at in the New York Times, that certainly everybody would agree that you can’t hold him responsible for the actions of his youth forever.  I mean, if I was held responsible for the stupidity of my youth, I wouldn’t be sitting here, I wouldn’t be a member of the criminal justice system.  There is a certain point where forgiveness is in society’s best interest and we should move on.

June Kress:  Well especially if someone has served their time.

Peter Willner:  Right.  But even if they’ve served their time, they could be fresh from prison.  I mean, they could say to themselves, okay, well let’s see how well he adjusts in society before I give him an opportunity to hire.  I’m simply saying there is a point where we could easily agree and we could disagree as to the years.  I think they were, in the research, we’re talking about seven years.  There is a certain point where it just doesn’t make any sense to continue to hold that person responsible for what happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago.

June Kress:  Well the collateral consequences are too great.

Len Sipes:  Right, right.

Peter Willner:  Yeah, and I would just add that you know, I’m not sure that it’s in anyone’s interest to have an agency certify that someone is rehabilitated.  I think there are a lot of good, you know, I think really saying anyone is rehabilitated is a –

June Kress:  Risky business.

Peter Willner:   – considerable challenge. And I think really, what we found when it came to what employers were interested in, they just wanted to know if that person was in compliance.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Peter Willner:  With the conditions of their release.  And so I think a much more accurate way to describe what we’re talking about is to call it a certificate of good standing.

Len Sipes:  A certificate of good standing.

Peter Willner:  So, I –

Len Sipes:  That’s an important point.

Peter Willner:  Yeah, I don’t think an employer wants to know that somebody’s rehabilitated, I mean, appreciating what we’ve seen here in the District recently regarding you know, people who’ve been convicted of embezzling and all that who’ve never had a criminal record.

Len Sipes:  Right.

June Kress:  Right. When I said risky business, I meant that because the definition of rehabilitation is such a loaded definition open to you know, many, many different interpretations by many different people.  Opting away from using that term, I think is the way to go.

Len Sipes:  The conversations I’ve had to the employment, with the employment community – and we only have five minutes left in the program – I’ve had some surprisingly frank conversations with people in the employment community and they’ve essentially come to me and said, Leonard, what you just said a little while ago – if you tell me that the guy or the woman is a clean risk, will show up every day, will work hard, I’ll consider hiring that person.  I’m not going to say as a class I’m not going to hire anybody caught up in the criminal justice system.  You heard a lot of that, correct?

Peter Willner:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  I mean, it goes against the stereotype; I’m not going to hire you because you’ve been in the prison system.  Any employer sitting down at night and watching these network programs, Hard Time, Lock Up, I mean, how in the name of heavens do we ask that person the following day to consider somebody who is out of that environment.  If I sat there and I spent my night watching those programs, I wouldn’t hire anybody coming out of the prison system because that’s the stereotype I have of that individual.  But yet, surprisingly, the employers that I’ve talked to said, no, I will.  You’ve just got to make it easy for me.

Peter Willner:  Well, and I think that you know, a lot of the folks that we’ve talked to and I’m referring to former offenders, a lot of them have gotten to the point where they’re highly motivated people, that I think that they possess a lot of the attributes that employers are looking for and it’s a lot, you know, 50% of the game when you’re hiring somebody is, can you show up?  Will you be reliable?  Will you do what I ask, what I want you to do without a lot of fuss?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Peter Willner:  And I think there are a lot of people who have, when they’ve been in prison, they’ve had a chance to reflect and they are ready to make that next step and they’re highly motivated employees.

June Kress:  I would just add that they’re also – it can be extremely good role models for other people. They have been through challenges and have surmounted those challenges, and that to me is a very good role model.

Len Sipes:  Well, it just doesn’t have to deal with that particular individual because the great majority of the people under our supervision have kids.  So it’s just not him, it’s just not her, it’s them.

June Kress:  Right.

Len Sipes:  In terms of being a role model, in terms of setting an example, in terms of breaking a chain throughout the course of the years, in terms of just putting you know, them in a nice place to live and food on the table.  So much of this has real implications for the larger society.  But the sense that I got from the employers is, I’m not here to deal with the larger society, I’m here to make a dollar.  The great majority of hiring comes from the private sector and you’ve got to prove to me that this person is going to help me accomplish my purposes.

Peter Willner:  Yeah, I think that’s right but I think that, you know, I think you can’t discount that there are … I mean, not every private employer is exclusively motivated by the bottom line.  I mean, that certainly is a major factor in what they do but there are private employers who have a sense of moral justice and you know, what’s right and trying to promote you know, people and trying to help people and families, that can also edge your bottom line.  If you’re helping families near your neighborhood store, for example, if you can help them become more economically stable, that might have you know, longer term effects on your business.

Len Sipes:  I was being the devil’s advocate because I –

June Kress:  You know, I would, I understand though –

Len Sipes:   – I’ve interviewed those employers, I’ve interviewed those employers who sat through the microphones and said, it’s in society’s best interest for me to hire.

June Kress:  Well, but even if we all agreed that the bottom like is you know, making money, any employer who really, really gets it, knows that this is a worthy investment to get people back on their feet, to ensure that the taxes are paid – it all goes back into the community, which then helps their bottom line.

Len Sipes:  We only have a minute left, so to the Mayor of Milwaukee, to the council person here in the District of Columbia, to the congressional aides sitting there on capitol hill, what must they understand based upon your research?  Certainly, certainly the fact that this is in society’s best interest and they’re willing to hire if they’re given the right set of circumstances.

Peter Willner:  Right, and I think that there’s, that there are lots of people who are coming out of prison and jail who are at that point where they are ready to be contributing members of society and a lot of them are at the point where they would make excellent employees and be excellent contributors.

Len Sipes:  Peter, you’ve got the final word.  June do you have something quickly?

June Kress:  I would just add that to those mayors of Milwaukee and other jurisdictions, we would encourage them to have a community dialogue about collateral consequences like employment and all of the other collateral consequences of long-term imprisonment.  It’s good for the community to talk about this.

Len Sipes:  And I think what the Council for Court Excellence has done is extraordinarily valuable, not only to here in the District of Columbia but to this issue throughout the county.  I think you all have produced an extraordinarily important piece of research and we thank you for it.  Ladies and gentlemen, today our guests have been June Kress, Executive Director, Council for Court Excellence; Peter Willner, he is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Council for Court Excellence.  The report on employing offenders, Court excellence is one word.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We thank you for your letters, we thank you for your cards, we thank you for all of your input at the show – suggestions and in terms of ways that we can improve what it is that we do.  And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


GPS Monitoring of Criminal Offenders-Florida State University-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The program today, ladies and gentlemen, is on GPS global positioning systems or electronic monitoring. We have Bill Bales on from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. They just recently completed a study of 5,000 offenders in terms of the impacts of electronic monitoring and global positioning systems, and some of those results were pretty good. We also have Carlton Butler, a program administrator for GPS for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We’ve been doing GPS monitoring since 2003, so the whole idea, ladies and gentlemen, is to take a look at electronic monitoring, global positioning system monitoring, finding out whether or not it works to reduce recidivism. According to the Florida State University study, it does. And with that introduction, Bill Bales and Carlton Butler, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carlton Butler:  Thank you, Len.

Bill Bales:  Thank you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Bill, the first question’s gonna go to you. Now this is an impressive study. We’re talking about 5,000 offenders were part of the study, and then you do represent one of the premier research organizations in the United States, the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. So the thing that I find amazing when I read your report, is that reduce risk of failure by 31 per cent. You’ve reduced – the program, GPS program, electronic monitoring reduces absconding, it reduces revocations, it reduces new crimes. One of the really interesting things that I found is that it’s used as an alternative to prison in about a third of all cases. And considering how states are really struggling with their correctional budgets, I think all of that is a pretty impressive set of findings. So Bill, can you give me a sense as to the larger study and what it really means?

Bill Bales:  Certainly. Yeah, the study involved—and I think this is very important—it involved medium and high-risk felony offenders in Florida. And Florida currently has almost 3,000 people on electronic monitoring. Almost all of those are Global Positioning System cases, and we did a very, what I believe is a sophisticated study of complicated matching of offenders who were placed on GPS versus similar offenders not placed on GPS, and then tracked them. So essentially, we have what we believe is a very equivalent control and experimental group, and the findings are very robust in the sense that just over 30 percent reduction in the likelihood of failure for the same type of offender on EM as non-EM. So that – it’s a finding that again, is very unequivocal from an empirical standpoint, and we believe is very sound from a research perspective. And like you said, Leonard, we also found that about a third of these offenders on electronic monitoring would have been in prison if not for electronic monitoring. And we also found somewhat surprising is that when you look at the effect of EM on outcomes, it’s fairly similar across different offender types in terms of younger versus older, male versus female. Across offense types, we found very similar results, except for among violent offenders the effect was not quite as great, but it was still a significant reduction in new crimes and absconding and violations. So it’s not as though Global Positioning Systems are only useful and effective for certain types of offenders, it’s pretty much across the board. So that was a very positive effect.

Len Sipes:  Now the findings of the research are significant, because all of us read criminological research as it pertains to reducing recidivism, reducing offending, reducing new crimes.

Bill Bales:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And ordinarily, those results, if they are positive, range in the 10 to 20 percent. The outer limits of a lot of the programs that are used around the country are about 20 percent. I mean, you’ve reduced the risk of failure by 31 percent. That makes your study one of the most significant research findings in criminology regarding managing people on community supervision, correct?

Bill Bales:  That is correct, yes. You’re exactly right. There’s a lot of the empirical research in criminology, if we find effects of various types of programs and interventions, they tend to be fairly marginal effects, if any. So yes, this is a very strong finding. And I will also mention that this project was funded by the National Institute of Justice, and the initial report went through a very rigorous peer review process. So these are findings that have been sanctioned and approved by, you know, other experts outside of certainly our college here.

Len Sipes:  Right, you’re a part of the Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice funds research on the basis of – under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice. So generally speaking, whatever research they fund is peer reviewed and methodologically correct.

Bill Bales:  Right. Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct. Yes.

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we’ve been doing – Carlton Butler, program administrator for our program here in Washington DC under the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency–we’ve been doing GPS since 2003, correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. We have been.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Now when one of the things that I have found is that there’s just a wide array of evidence, there’s a wide array of stories in terms of the success of GPS. One that comes to mind simply in terms of apprehending an individual, we found that was a person that was involved in a series of sex crimes against young girls. And the picture was put out, and one of our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, recognized the face, looked at the GPS tracking system, was able to tie him in to exactly the locations and times that these crimes were committed, worked with the metropolitan police department, and arrested him. So GPS not only has a deterrent value, it has an apprehension value.

Carlton Butler:  Yes it does. Here in DC, Len, we have a partnership program with all our law enforcement partners. We call it the Crimes and Correlation Program, and in that program we offer limited access to our law enforcement partners, and they use crime data to help resolve crimes in the neighborhood. And under that particular case was one of those instances where the Crimes and Correlation Program worked very well.

Len Sipes:  And again, I think the point needs to be made is that law enforcement has access to our GPS tracking data. So not only do we, within the agency, keep track of individuals under supervision, law enforcement has access to that tracking data directly. They can see on any given day, if they have a suspect, where he’s been and where he is.

Carlton Butler:  That is correct, but they also use it for some extended purposes as well. In the District of Columbia, unfortunately there is some issues with gang interaction.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And they use the program to set up what we call global zones throughout the city, to help track who’s actually entering those zones, to be able to match individuals up who might be involved in gang activity, and/or new criminal activities. So they kind of use it to the extent where they do use it for tracking new crimes. But they also use it for crime prevention as well.

Len Sipes:  Bill, I’m gonna go back to you. Now your research shows a reduction in absconding, a reduction in revocations, of reduction in new crimes. Once again, I mean these are just extraordinary findings. It is just – GPS seems to be certainly something that’s gonna be used in the future. You also estimate that five billion offenders are electronic monitoring or GPS somewhere in the United States, correct?

Bill Bales:  I believe that’s the figure. I don’t recall it right off the top of my head –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Bales:  – to be honest with you. Yes, I know that it’s – certainly it’s expanding as, you know, correctional and preventative type of tool that’s available to various states throughout the country. And my sense is that it will be a method used more and more in the future because of its effectiveness, and the fact that it’s anywhere from six to seven times cheaper than sending someone to state prison or federal prison.

Len Sipes:  And we all agree that states are suffering. I’m not going to get into a debate about the efficacy of incarceration, I’ll leave that to others to decide, but we do know that states throughout the United States, virtually all of them, they’ve got to reduce the budgets of state agencies across the board. What I’ve read in my reading of newspaper articles and media reports, the budget cuts have been the prominent point of concern in the media. The budget difficulties with state agencies and local agencies, we have laying off police officers, closing down prisons, reducing the amount of people in the state attorney’s office and public defenders offices, and the states are saying, “Hey, we have absolutely no choice but to do this, because we’ve got to operate within the confines of the budgets that are given us.” So what this seems to say to me is that GPS is a viable alternative to use as those states try to figure out how to protect public safety, and at the same time, how to manage their own budget. That seems to me that GPS is certainly going to be part of that mix.

Bill Bales:  Yes. I would certainly agree with you 100 percent. There’s no question. Every state in the country is under dire, you know, financial straits at the moment, and Corrections, at least in Florida, the current budget is about 2.5 billion a year.  And it’s almost 10 percent of the state budget, and most of that is in the area of prisons. So certainly to the extent that you can reduce the prison population by even a percent or two, you can make a huge dent in the state budget when we have big deficits.

Len Sipes:  And out of pure curiosity, Bill, one of the things, when I read this study and it came out through the Department of Justice mailing list, I guess I’m a bit surprised that mainstream media has not picked up on this, that other organizations have not picked up on this, that again, the significance of these findings are I guess somewhat short of astounding. Are you getting a lot of coverage for the research?

Bill Bales:  Well, yeah, we’ve gotten numerous enquiries from just really a host of entities. Several states have contacted us that are considering either starting or expanding their GPS programs. And so, legislative bodies have contacted us, governor’s offices. Yeah, we’ve received quite a bit of attention because of the policy implications and the possible cost savings of this technology, which in the scheme of things is relatively new as a correctional strategy. So obviously we’d want more attention, but hopefully others will build on this research to the extent that researchers continue to find positive outcomes of this technology. My sense is it will get more and more attention from policy makers.

Len Sipes:  I guess my observation is that I’m personally surprised it’s not on the front page of USA Today. To me, after all of my years in criminal justice and criminology, to me this is one of the prominent, most significant studies out there. But one of the questions I want to put to Carlton, and Bill, you can chime in if you like, but let’s give Carlton the first crack at this, is that we’re not saying that this is a panacea. I mean, offenders cut these devices off all the time. They have to be recharged. You lose the GPS signal if you go inside of a building. There are ways, and we’re not to discuss specifically what they are, but offenders do try to defeat GPS devices. So this is certainly not a panacea. It’s certainly not foolproof, and it takes a tremendous amount of administration. You suddenly have parole and probation agents—in our case, community supervision officers—with a ton of data that they have to sift through. So this is not as easy as simply slapping on a GPS anklet on that person. Carlton, you wanna take a shot at all that?

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree this program is not a panacea. It doesn’t replace the supervision officer with their supervision duties on a particular offender. I would say, however, I think the technology has improved a great deal over the last at least three years, and I think that within the next year or so, we will probably see some more advancement to the equipment. What I mean by that is that obviously there are offenders who will attempt to circumvent the system, and because we know this exists, the GPS practitioners are working very hard with vendors to make sure that their devices are updated to be able to kind of help with those kinds of situations. One of the things that I know is prevalent most now in this industry is efforts to shield the device in efforts to jam the device.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And I do know that that is on the forefront of the vendors, manufacturers, to make sure that their device has the ability to detect those type of things. And I would also like to say too, there’s a national committee that was conformed by the National Institution of Justice, and it’s made up of 35 members. Out of that group, it’s probably, I would say, about 25 or 27 practitioners on that. In fact, Mr. [PH] Sanifield, who is the administrator, and I’m sure Bill worked with in Florida, is a member of that committee. And in that committee, we’re doing something unlike what has been done in the past, and that is we’re writing national standards for GPS. And the reason why we’re doing that, because as Bill said earlier in one of his statements, we see the technology or need for the technology to be increasing. And because of that, most practitioners right now who are trying to start up programs, don’t have a whole lot of information unless they reach out to one of their – someone that already has done. So, we hope that these standards will help individuals who want to develop or enhance their GPS program, because there will be a lot of data shared in these standards.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program, and let me introduce our guests—Bill Bales from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site for the Florida State University Department of Criminology is I’m gonna give that out several times throughout the course of the program. Carlton Butler is a program administrator for my agency, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We are the parole and probation agency here for Washington DC. We’re a federal agency, We just redid our fact sheet on GPS, which is gonna be on the main page of our web site, so if anybody’s interested in what it is that we do here.  Bill, okay; back to you. You’ve heard Carlton say that there’s a need for national standards, and the committee that he’s working with is there. There’s a need for national standards on GPS. Do you agree?

Bill Bales:  Yes, I think that makes total sense. It is like, as Leonard knows—I mean, as you know and as Carlton knows—it’s a fairly sophisticated technology. But based on our research–and part of that involved actually going out throughout the state of Florida and interviewing those probation officers and administrators, and also offenders—we found that they were well trained, and a lot of that had to do with the vendor themselves, that were very much involved with the community corrections folks that used this technology. And I think that was extremely advantageous, that they have a very close working relationship, and they have mutual goals in mind in terms of, you know, having this GPS system work properly. And the other thing that we witnessed, which was very positive, was there’s continuous efforts to improve not just the technology itself, but just the process of implementing and using this technology to keep offenders from violating. And so I think that’s a critical component of this, is the type of relationships and partnerships that the vendors and the correctional organization has. And one thing—and I’ll plug this just very quickly—the Department of Corrections did in Florida is they determined that so many of the quote “violations” that occurred while people were on GPS, were very very minor instances; like you mentioned, where the GPS device or signal was lost. So they worked with the vendor and implemented a monitoring center that the vendor maintains. And so all the alerts that occur go directly to the vendor, their monitoring center, and 99 percent of them, they can handle and clear without an incident. But the supervising officer is aware of those, but they don’t have to respond to them instantly. So, that’s been a tremendous assistance to the officers in terms of the time involved in working with their GPS case load. So, I think there are a lot of – there are numerous things, initiatives that can be used and expanded as this, you know, capability moves forward.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, that’s one of the things that you advocated and implemented here, is to have the vendor basically take care of all that minor stuff so the community supervision officers can focus on the big part of the violation.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, we did, Len. And also, one of the things that I read in Bill’s report, and that was one of the things that one of the probationary officer’s stated; they would have liked the opportunity to work with the EM program, actually in the unit prior to be given case loads of offenders on EM. I think that’s significant, because one, it gives them the training skill that they need; and two, it helps them to understand what some of the alerts that they actually receive, because oftentimes they get so many alerts and it’s so overwhelming to them, because there’s so much data for them to filter through. This is one of the reasons why we elected to go to the monitoring center, so that we would have someone that was a little more trained and a little more skilled to farm through that data first, before that data would be generated to the probationary officer, so they would know what to do with it beyond that point.

Len Sipes:  I remember talking to a reporter from Massachusetts who basically was a little upset with the system in Massachusetts–and that’s another story for another time–but basically talking about GPS as being over-sold and over-promised. And my sense was that well, how can you possibly over-sell or over-promise GPS? The offender can just snip it off and walk away from the unit. There are no guarantees on GPS, but this is why I was so excited about Bill Bales study, because it basically says, “Yeah, there are endless problems with GPS, there are endless complications, it’s hard to administer, it throws just an unbelievable amount of information.” Remember, the average parole and probation agent in this country sees that offender on a twice a month basis for two 15-minute interviews in an office. That’s what ordinarily happens throughout the United States. Now, you’re getting a ton of data, flow of data, every single day on every single offender who’s on GPS. That becomes difficult to deal with. But let me go back to what I originally said, and Bill, we’ll start with you. I mean, again, this is not a panacea, this is not – nobody should be selling this as something that’s going to quote/unquote “solve supervision problems”.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct, and officers told us that numerous times, that GPS is a tool. But you can never replace the responsibilities and efforts and the things that officers do to keep offenders from violating. And so while pretty much ever officer we talked to thought that GPS was a very effective tool at their disposal, you still have to have that one-on-one contact between the officer and the offender and the, you know, unannounced visits to their homes and their places of employment, and so forth and so on. So, yeah, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is just one tool that appears to be extremely effective. But we can’t lose sight of the incredible value that these officers bring to the table in terms of dealing with, you know, especially very serious offenders, many of whom, at least in Florida, 75 percent are sex offenders. And so, we can’t lose sight of the incredible work the officers do in this regard.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, you have essentially said the same thing, that in terms of the individual officers, it’s – you’ve gotta continue working hard supervising your offenders in person. You’ve gotta work with them, you’ve gotta get them involved in treatment programs, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re working, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re following the conditions of their supervision. The GPS system is simply nothing more than a tool.

Carlton Butler:  I agree, that it is simply a tool, and that is it’s data, as you said, it’s a lot of data that you have to absorb and try to dissect. But that’s all that it is, is data. That one-on-one contact with the offender tends to give the supervision officer a whole other realm of information that the GPS device will never be able to provide. What the GPS device pretty much provides is locations and maps of where the offender would actually frequent. But in terms of – and it might give them some information on new collateral contacts where they may have not known where the offender was going, of certain places he was going.

Len Sipes:  Or, if sex offenders are hanging out at playgrounds.

Carlton Butler:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And we also use this as a curfew. We can restrict them to their house, we can restrict them to their block, we can restrict them to a certain part of the city. And we can, as they comply with the methods of supervision, we can ease up on GPS supervision. We can give them more freedom and more flexibility to reward them for complying with the terms of their supervision.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, that’s true, and these are the types of things we’re able to do here in DC, that’s been very effective in my use of GPS.

Len Sipes:  Okay, gentlemen, we have four minutes left in the program, and I need 30 seconds to close, so that’s three-and-a-half minutes. Bill, where do we go with GPS? With your research, it seems to indicate that this has a major impact not only on state budgets, but it has a major impact or potential for reducing crime, for reducing problems under supervision. Where do we go to from here?

Bill Bales:  Well, I think certainly we need to continue to do the research. I mean, our research was but strictly in one state, and it was a population of medium and high risk felony offenders, so as you all know, GPS has been expanding to local jails and other types of correctional facilities. So I think that’s one area. I think the other area is in terms of the application of GPS to various types of offenders, and also the level of discretion that probation officers and administrators have in the use of GPS, because currently, at least in Florida, that’s all determined by the judge. And from what we observed in talking to people, was that something that the states and locals should consider is giving more discretion to the probation offices in terms of the application of GPS, in terms of when an offender needs to be on it, when they need to be off of it; and because they work with the offenders on a consistent basis, and they know when an offender may be going south, and when this tool could possibly be applied to prevent that from getting worse.

Len Sipes:  So more jurisdiction, more authority at the local level to make those decisions in the field based upon conditions and not necessarily what the judge has to say or what the parole commission has to say, to give that flexibility and freedom to the people in the field to make those decisions.

Bill Bales:  Right, yeah. There’s been laws, like the Jessica Lunsford law in Florida where it ties the judge’s hands as to who gets put on GPS. But as I know Carlton knows, every case is different, and what tool we need to bring to the table to, you know, reduce the likelihood of failure, is variable across different types of offenders, different situations. So I think the states, the policy makers, real need to look at this in a very objective way and say, “Okay, this tool seems to be incredibly effective. How can we apply it in a more reasonable, objective and effective manner to the right population at the right points in time of their supervision?”

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we only have about a minute left. That’s basically what you’ve said as well.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, it is.

Len Sipes:  That really, it really cannot be a hard and fast rule. It can’t be a hard and fast application that the community supervision officer/parole and probation agent needs to be involved in this, and really needs to make decisions in terms of when to apply it, when to take them off, how long to keep them on.

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree with everything that Bill has said. I do know that however with the Jessica law, there is a loophole in it that might present a problem. One is that from the time the individual comes off of probation and have life in GPS, there’s nobody to really supervise them after they come off probation or supervision.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  So hopefully they can fix that part of the law, because that’s been a challenge to the industry.

Len Sipes:  Alright, Carlton, I’m gonna give you the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We’ve been talking to Bill Bales, Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site is Also being with us today, or also on our air is Carlton Butler, program administrator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. The program administrator for the GPS program, The research that I’ve been talking about today it’s called “A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring”. Ladies and gentlemen, we do want to thank you for your letters, for your phone calls, for your e-mails, for suggestions in terms of what we can do to improve the show. Comments and criticisms are always welcome, and I do want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.

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