Family Court and Juvenile Justice in D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/06/family-court-and-juvenile-justice-in-d-c-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

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

Judge Zoe Bush: Thank you.

Terri Odom: Thank you so much for having us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that’s correct.

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

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

Len Sipes: Direct service.

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

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

Terri Odom: Yes.

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

Terri Odom: Yes.

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

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

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

Terri Odom: Yes. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Tell me about it.

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

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Right.

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

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Terri Odom: But not everyone can do it.

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

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: But am I right?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think so.

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

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

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

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely

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

[Audio Ends]

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

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

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/05/fathering-court-in-washington-d-c-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Wow. Interesting.

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

Len Sipes: Yes, it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: I was going to ask about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Audio Ends]

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

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

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/11/success-of-community-courts-in-washington-d-c-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

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

Judge Russell Canan: Hello.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Okay, go ahead. Please.

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

Len Sipes: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Okay.

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

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

Judge Russell Canan: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Okay.

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

Michael Francis: And if I just may —

Len Sipes: Please, please.

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

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

Michael Francis: In the community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Michael, 30 seconds?

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

Len Sipes: Go ahead.

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

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

[Audio Ends]

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