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Violence reduction in America

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2016/04/reducing-violence-america/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have Thomas Abt discussing violence reduction in America. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction among other topics. Previously he served as deputy secretary for public safety to Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, as well as chief of staff to the office of justice programs U.S. Department of Justice where I first met Thomas. Thomas, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thomas: It’s a pleasure to be on.

Leonard: Thomas, I’m really happy to have you. You bring hard experience. You were one of the founders of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention for the Department of Justice and you’ve been instrumental in guiding the entire State of New York in terms of an innovative program. Violence is part of your forte, correct?

Thomas: Yes. It’s something that I’ve had the privilege to work on in a number of different settings.

Leonard: Okay. First of all, I want to talk about addressing violence across the board and how to address because the country has been involved in, I guess you could say, a discussion over the course of the last six, seven, to eight months we’ve had violence in Ferguson, we’ve had violence in Chicago, we’ve had violence in Baltimore. We’ve had this national discussion on violence prevention. As you well know, I call people before the program. I ask them and I’ve called four people from the law enforcement community, and they express confusion over what the public now wants us to do. Can you put all of these in terms of the focus on addressing violence in communities in the country?

Thomas: Sure. I can try. I think it is a very difficult conversation to have and we’re trying to have it as best we can, but the way the conversation about violence in the United States is currently being framed may be a barrier to making more progress. The current conversation that we’re having is very much and either/or conversation. Either you’re taking about police reform and the issues of police use of force, police lethality, those types of issues, or you’re talking about “black on black crime”, which I actually think is a problematic way of discussing it, but you’re talking about the issue of crime and violence in the community.

That’s a difficult framework that really pits anti-establishment voices which have some very valid concerns with more conservative, possibly pro-establishment voices. Instead of an either/or conversation, we need to have a both/and conversation. We can’t separate our concerns about crime control from our concerns about crime itself. The two go together. We need to think about both what the police are doing in terms of how they attempt to control crime and violence in a community in addition to the nature of the crime itself.

I think that if we can reframe this conversation, we can have a much more productive conversation that can give more guidance overtime keep our police professionals in the community who both want to change the way they do business and improve it, but they also have a job to do and they want to make sure that they’re keeping communities safe.

Leonard: You wrote an article called Integrating Evidence to Stop Shootings: New York’s GIVE (Gun-Involved Violence Elimination) Initiative. Discuss that with me briefly and then let’s take the conversation back to the larger national conversation because in your article it was rather straightforward. It was a focus on people. It was a focus on places. It was a focus on hot spot policing. It was a focus on police initiative’s research using evidence-based practices, going in and having conversations with troublesome people in the community, gang members in the community.

On one side of this discussion is a straightforward evidence-based approach and the other side of it is, unfortunately, race, politics, and people’s perception of what could be and should be. Let’s start off with the simple. There are ways of reducing gun violence. There are ways of reducing shootings. You were part of that platform and still are in the State of New York. Give me an overview of the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination Initiative.

Thomas: Sure. I helped establish GIVE, which is the Gun-Involved Violence Elimination, while I was working for Governor Cuomo, but just to clarify, I am now with the Harvard Kennedy School and I’m no longer working in New York, but I am still very much familiar with the program that we started.

GIVE is really, I think, an unusual effort in that it tried very directly to incorporate the best information that we had about how to reduce violence both gathering evidence and research, and looking at data, and then trying to translate that for the law enforcement community and others to make that information really accessible and easy to implement.

We did a six-month policy development process where we reviewed statistics, data, research from all around the country and identified some core practices that we felt showed what was most effective in reducing violence and crime, particularly as related to gun violence. We translated these down into three core principles. The first principle was in order to be effective, you need to focus on specific people and specific places.

All the research shows that crime is not evenly distributed. Crime is sticky. It concentrates in places and it concentrates among people. In any give community, when we think of a community as unsafe, that’s really an over simplification. In any given community that we think of as having a problem with violence, there are often two, or three, or maybe more spots, we call them hot spots, where crime and violence are highly concentrated, but they’re not concentrated throughout the entire community.

The same is true with people. A very small percentage of people, even in a neighborhood that we think of is an unsafe, are responsible for a significant majority of the crime and violence in those places. It’s very important when you’re working in an “unsafe” or high crime neighborhood to remember that the problem, even in that neighborhood, is not everywhere, and it’s not involving everyone. That’s the first principle. You have to focus on specific people and specific places.

Leonard: It’s not a community but specific places within that community.

Thomas: Exactly, and specific people. For instance, you have a very small perentage of your young people in a community. It is true that young men are much more likely to offend and be violent than young women, and it’s true that age range of maybe 14 to 24 is a particularly difficult and risky age range. It’s very important for members of the law enforcement and the community generally to understand that that doesn’t mean that every young man in a particular community that’s regarded as unsafe is going to be a public safety problem. In fact, it is going to be a very, very small number of young men. That really [counsels 00:09:01] against over broad mass arrest, zero tolerance approaches to law enforcement. It means you need to get much more targeted and you need to be much more specific.

Leonard: That addresses the larger issue that’s been going on throughout the country, but I take a look at your article and there’s been an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Everybody is taking their cue from the New York City Miracle. An 88% reduction in homicide, an 88% reduction in shootings where it rose 8% in the rest of the State of New York. People are saying to themselves, “Aggressive law enforcement in New York City is what created those reductions. Isn’t that a good thing for everybody?” That’s why law enforcement they’re saying, “Fine. It’s places, it’s people. We should be focused on specific areas, specific people,” but look what happened to New York City.

Thomas: Right. New York City is a very interesting example of how various kinds of legitimacy work together and how one type of legitimacy is not enough to have a successful crime reduction effort. There were, at least, three strands when we think about legitimacy that we need to break it down.

There’s legitimacy of effectiveness. Meaning do you do your fundamental job of driving crime down and violence down, and protecting the community? There is legitimacy as to lawfulness. Meaning when you’re doing that job, are you obeying the law and not placing yourself above the law or violating the law? Then there’s legitimacy of fairness and this is really a concept that’s been championed by Tracy Meares and Tom Tyler, they call it procedural justice. Does the community, even if you’re being effective and even if you’re being lawful, do they view you as being fair, and benevolent, and working in collaboration with them?

What we are seeing from the research is that you really need all three. In New York, you have the police being highly legitimate as a matter of effectiveness. They are arguably legitimate as a matter of lawfulness, although this has been disputed in the courts, but let’s assume for the purposes of this argument that they are.

That last strain of legitimacy, legitimacy as a matter of fairness, the perception is is that NYPD has not been acting in a fair and neutral manner. That’s a critical omission and that’s one of the real challenges that NYPD and, I think, that police are looking at. The NYPD is, I assume, I think, very surprised by this. They’re saying, “We’re doing a good job in terms of reducing crime and we’re doing it within the law,” as they perceive it, “What is the problem?”

The problem is is that they really haven’t listened to the community and really engaged on that fairness component of legitimacy and part of the issue is going back to people and places. The New York Police Department is very good about focusing resources in specific places. If there’s a lot of shootings in a particular area before this new era with Bratton coming in, so it was Ray Kelly era of a few years ago, they would flood those areas with police officers and do lots of what’s called stop and frisks, and people are probably very familiar with that term.

When there was resistance to this strategy and the community said, “Why are you stopping all of these people in our neighborhoods,” the answer from the NYPD was, “Well, this is where the crime is, and so we’re following the data, and so there should be no problem.” The problem was that as to place, but it wasn’t specific as to people. What they didn’t really appreciate is that even in an area that has a lot of crime and a lot of violence, most of the people living in that area are not involved. If you go into a neighborhood and treat everyone the same or, more accurately, every young man of color the same, you catch up in that broad net a lot of people who are not involved in crime and violence.

It’s really important to listen to the community. You have a lot of advocates, basically, pushing back on all types of police activity, but if you listen to communities what they’re saying is, “Look, there’s a small number of people in this community we want you to be very aggressive with, and we don’t care if stop and frisk them every 10 or 15 feet, but you need to understand our community better to know that one young man wearing baggy pants may be an active gang member and someone that law enforcement really needs to focus on. Another young man in baggy pants may be on his way to a job, may be on his way to Catholic school, may be on his way somewhere else. We want you to know our community and stay in your community enough so that you can make those critical distinctions.”

Leonard: Thomas Abt, before we go to the break, let me ask you a series of very quick questions and then we get into the larger conversation of what’s happening throughout the country. In essence, to all the people who are concerned about violence and violence reduction, we pretty much know from the law enforcement, criminal justice, parole and probation side. Correct or incorrect?

Thomas: I think it’s risky to say that we know anything with absolute certainty. All of this work is studied by social science and social science has limitations. I can tell you what we know best, but our information will evolve over time. I’d say there’s five core principles to reducing violence based on the best evidence we have today. In 10 years, this may evolve.

The first thing we know is that in order to reduce violence you need to be comprehensive. The police are a critical component of violence reduction, but they’re not the only people and that you need more than one program, more than one strategy, and you need more than one type of people involved.

The second thing we know is that if you have multiple players working together and multiple programs working together, it’s not surprise, they need to be aligned. The third thing that you need to do is be specific and that is that conversation that we just had about focusing on specific places and specific people.

The fourth thing you need to do is be proactive. You cannot wait until crime and violence occurs and then simply solve it by arresting, and prosecuting, and incarcerating your way out of it. You have to try to get ahead of the problem. Deter the crime before it occurs. Work with kids who are at risk for violence, and try to get them engaging in pro-social activities, and get them away from gangs, away from crews, and away from risky behavior. You need to get ahead of the problem.

Lastly, you need to focus on this concept of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not just about being effective but it’s also about being lawful and about being fair. Explaining why you’re in a particular community, what your strategy is, and really engaging with the community and other stakeholders so they know not just what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. We’re talking today to Thomas Abt. He is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches to violence reduction. Thomas, I’m going to summarize.

You gave a nice five-step summation of violence prevention. In essence, I hear two words coming out of this. One is fairness, one is quality. It’s not necessarily mass arrest, mass stops, but quality arrest, quality stops, and the perception on the part of the community as to whether or not they’re being treated fairly or not. Is it possible to break your discussion down into those two phrases?

Thomas: I think that’s a good overview. Obviously, if I was working on the ground consulting with a particular anti-violence task force, I might do that. It’s a fair overall summary.

Leonard: Okay. In essence, we have gone through the last 23 years of almost continuous reductions in crime. We have gone through, as we said in the article, an 88% reduction in homicides and shootings in New York City. Again, I go back to the conversations I had with people in law enforcement. They’re saying, “Well, you know, last year we were the heroes because we were sitting on top decades of reduction in crime. Now, we’re not. Now people are challenging the legitimacy of law enforcement and law enforcement tactics.” Is there anything that we can say to law enforcement officers who are terribly confused right now? It seems to me that your two concepts of fairness and equality seem to be the direction that we need to move in today.

Thomas: I think in terms of describing to the law enforcement community what happened, I consider myself a member of that community and I was surprised as well by the fervor that has really taken hold in the country. I think that one way to understand it is that we made a lot of public safety judgment calls in the late ’80s and early ’90s, in an era of high crime and increasing crime, and we thought incorrectly that crime rates were going to go up indefinitely. In the public safety community and in the broader public policy community, lots and lots of decisions and trade-offs were made in that context.

I think one of the things that’s exciting about this year and possibly years moving forward is we’re really starting a massive re-examination of all of those trade-offs, not just in terms of police using force but also incarnation and confinement rates, and lots of other questions. I think that’s a healthy thing because we are in a new era. Crime has been reduced 50%. Violence has been reduced 50% nationally. We talked about the tremendous success in New York City, but it’s happening around the country.

The first thing for us to realize in law enforcement is that times change and we need to change with them. We need to pay more attention not just to the legitimacy of effectiveness, but the legitimacy of lawfulness, and the legitimacy of fairness and realize, and this is very important, and it’s backed up by solid research, that all of these things are interconnected. If you’re perceived as fair, if you’re perceived as lawful, it will make your job catching bad guys easier.

It’s very important that we understand that this is not an either/or conversation as I said before. You don’t either make nice with the community or focus on catching the bad guys. The community is a key crime-fighting partner, and so the closer we work with them and the more effectively we work with them, the better we’ll be at catching bad guys.

Leonard: I had a conversation with a researcher from the Urban INStitute who stated emphatically, and it’s true, “We have never been safer. The United States has never seen such low rates of violent crime in our lifetimes.” In this year, we have never been safer in our lives. Thereby, you have people within the criminologic community, within the law enforcement community saying, “Wait a minute. We’ve given you the safest country in our lifetimes.” Suddenly, things have changed. What changed? What changed from the standpoint of the safest country, the safest decade, the safest year in our country’s last 25 years to this national discussion? What changed?

Thomas: President Obama actually talks, I think, quite well about this when he talks about progress in terms of racial equality. It’s important to recognize two things at the same time. Number one, in terms of public safety, that significant progress has been made; and number two, that we have a long way to go and that we’re not done. The fact that we’ve had significant progress in terms of making the country safer doesn’t mean that we don’t have more to do.

Also, it’s very important to remember that not everybody experiences public safety the same way. While listeners in suburban America may have one experience of public safety, listeners who are from or work in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage have a very different experience. For instance,  homicide for young white man and boys is the third leading cause of death, and that’s serious. For Latino young men and boys, it’s the second leading cause of death. For African-American young men and boys, it’s the leading cause of death and it causes more deaths than the nine other leading causes combined.

Leonard: In essence, what we need to do now is to come together for a conversation. We need to have an honest conversation where community members sit across the table with law enforcement officers to hammer out what it is that is susceptible in that community that until that power shift is very strong and very definitive, we’re not going to be able to solve this problem. We have a golden opportunity to solve it if we all agree to sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye, and have very honest maybe long delayed conversations that focus on your two main points, as far as I can tell, as far as I can see, fairness and equality.

Thomas: Yes. I think we also need to recognize that those conversations have been going on and there are lots of great examples of those conversations going well. Boston, in the 1900s, experienced the massive reduction in crime focusing the coming out of the Boston Gun Project with David Kennedy, Anthony Braga, and the Boston Police Department, but it was supported by the Boston TenPoint Coalition. A coalition of African-America community-based clergy, people like Jeff Brown, who were a critical element of that project and the overall effort to reduce violence success.

It’s not just about police, it’s not just about community. It’s about police, community, researchers, businesses, everyone coming together and working on the problem together. Again, it’s always about avoiding these either/or conversations. We can have a conversation that is just about police reform, but it’ll miss something. We can have a conversation that is just about crime in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, but that will also miss something. For our law enforcement partners, we need to reinforce the idea that you will be judged on not just how well you effectively reduce crime, but also how well you engage with the community and explain what you’re doing, and do that in a legitimate and lawful way.

Leonard: You did put it in perspective, and I thought it was powerful, because when you talk to people in law enforcement they will say, “I’ve been to the community meetings and I get yelled at, screamed at. Get them off the corner. They’re bothering people in the community. They are destroying the fabric of life. They are endangering our children.” A lot of folks in law enforcement is saying, “We have been listening to the community and the community has told us to take aggressive action.”

You’re saying that it really is a matter of not everybody in the community. You’re talking about very specific people and places, and that’s where the focus should be. That answers the folks in law enforcement when they express confusion. “Hey, wait a minute. The community told us to be aggressive. You’re saying the community told us to be aggressive towards very specific people and very specific places.”

Thomas: Yes. I think a lot of police forces understand that and those police forces, like the police forces in Boston, the police forces in Los Angeles, like many others, are not having the same problems that we’re having in Baltimore or we’re having in Ferguson. It’s very important to realize that there are lot of successful, highly effective, highly lawful, highly fair police departments that are really already incorporated these lessons. You don’t hear a lot about them because the community is not outraged by them.

Leonard: Because they’ve been doing it well all along.

Thomas: Maybe not all along, but they’ve certainly been doing it well for a number of years.

Leonard: The last 10 years, yes.

Thomas: There’s a responsibility to have a public conversation that goes beyond the police. It’s not just about how the police respond to this. There’s also a responsibility for journalists and a responsibility for advocates. Just as we can’t paint disadvantaged communities with a broad brush, we shouldn’t paint police officers with a broad brush. I think that they have a responsibility as well to understand that while we should keep the pressure on to introduce meaningful reforms to improve policing, the idea is not to attack policing or undermine it all together. I think that we need to understand that police are extremely important, and valuable, and honorable part of our communities, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold them to a high standard.

Leonard: Thomas, we’re going to have to close there because we are running out of time, but I do appreciate this conversation and the focus does seem to be on legitimacy, the focus does seem to be in fairness, and the focus does seem to be on equality. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to Thomas Abt today. Thomas Abt is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he teaches, studies, and consults on the use of evidence-based approaches violence reduction. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Violence Reduction Program-“DC Public Safety”

Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2010/12/violence-reduction-program-dc-public-safety/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today, we are here to talk about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. CSOSA is a federally funded parole and probation agency with responsibility for parole and probation issues in the great city of Washington, D.C. To talk to us about this program we have three extraordinarily interesting people. We have Zoë, and that’s not her real name. She is an individual under supervision of Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency to talk about her participation in the violence reduction program. We have Tanesha Clardy, and she is a community supervision officer, and we have Michelle Hare-Diggs, she is a treatment specialist, and to Zoë, and to Tanesha, and to Michelle, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tanesha Clardy: Thank you.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Thank you.

Zoe: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We’re going to start off with you, Michelle, and you’re going to explain what the violence reduction program is all about.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: The violence reduction program was put into place by CSOSA to, it’s to successfully help the offenders on probation to successfully complete parole and probation. There’s three phases to the group. Phase one kind of gets everybody comfortable with being in the group, comfortable with the group process, so we do a lot of, I guess I would say icebreaker exercises, which is treatment readiness exercises. That runs three weeks, and they come twice a week for three weeks, and then we move on to phase two, which is the meat of the program, and we do a whole slough of, we learn a whole slough of activities, and it’s not just violence. Most of the techniques can be used in everyday life: communication styles, different communication styles, relaxation techniques, so everything that we do in the group can also, it just doesn’t relate to just violence. And that phase runs 12 weeks, and they come twice a week. And then we move on to phase three, which is, the purpose of phase three is to help, we want the offenders to, in turn, want to be able to help someone else to successfully complete parole and probation, so we integrate them into community activities, and that phase runs six weeks, and they come once a week.

Len Sipes: So in essence, what we’re doing is helping people, the theory in criminology called cognitive behavioral therapy, where it’s sort of thinking through life’s event differently than what they’ve done in the past, and I would imagine that’s sort of what we’re talking about now, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it is how to stay away from situations of violence, potential situations for violence, how to extract yourself, how to deal with all of that in such a way not to land you back in the criminal justice system.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Exactly, and there’s situations where you can’t do that, how to make a better choice, what would be a better choice.

Len Sipes: A better choice. Okay. We were talking beforehand, my wife constantly tells me about better choices. I get angry at my daughters, and she’ll tell me to go cool off. I mean, this is sort of a lifelong learning situation for a lot of us, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. So it’s just situations where we try to, if you’re in a situation where you can’t just walk out, what would be the better thing to do, how to take a time out in your head. Some of the techniques sound corny, but they really work. Things that you would never think of, how to count to ten, and we hear it, but do we really do it? How to shout loudly, stop it, to yourself, so you’re able to not give yourself that continuous negative self-talk.

Len Sipes: And Tanesha, we’re going to go to you for the next question. You work with these women, the women offenders on a regular basis. Do you deal just with the women, or with the men, or both?

Tanesha Clardy: I deal with both.

Len Sipes: With both. Do you have any preferences over which group? Are women easier to deal with than men? Or do they, or they bring their own unique issues?

Tanesha Clardy: All of them bring unique characteristics to the program.

Len Sipes: Because the average person is going to –

Tanesha Clardy: What I’ve discovered is that women, they have different issues, totally different issues that come from, as far as growing up and being a female, you have molestation, you have rape, you have substance abuse, and you just have emotional, physical abuse. So those are different issues that women more deal with than men.

Len Sipes: And that’s pretty much clarified by the criminological literature, by all the studies basically, talking about the fact that women offenders, women caught up in the criminal justice system have much higher rates of substance abuse than men, have higher rates of mental health issues, and the rate of prior sexual abuse is astounding. It is one of the highest correlates or the things that are connected to crime, it is astounding as to how many women caught up in the criminal justice system come from that sort of a history, and the women offenders that I’ve talked to in the past, they’re, they’ve had a lot of explosive anger going on with them and throughout their lives, and a lot of it’s self destructive, which I would imagine a lot of the emotional issues and substance abuse issues come from that history.

Tanesha Clardy: True. It’s all about their defense mechanisms. It’s things that women internalize more, so when it gets to the point where you can’t take it anymore, it’s easier to just lash out, and so it’s probably easier for them to just, you know, commit an act of violence when they feel as though they have to defend themselves. They have to protect themselves, because here you are, you’re coming up against me. And so that’s what I’ve just, you know, just noticed on my women offenders.

Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this question now. We’re talking about basically a four month program where we take individuals with a history of violence, and we sort of restructure who they are and what they are in terms of their day to day ability to cope with the stresses of life. Correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

MD: But I think the group is, because it is four months long, it gives you time to really think about behaviors and how it may have impacted your decisions in the past, so that’s the real purpose of the group. We want you to see how your past behaviors now, how have they impacted your decisions, and for whatever reason, have put you on parole and probation, and how can you rethink those past behaviors, and how can we use them differently in the future to help us make better decisions.

Len Sipes: Right. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence, so this protects the public. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence because it protects the taxpayer, because the person theoretically does better, and the research indicates that individuals do better with these programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, or violence reduction programs. So this is a win-win situation for everybody. What we’re doing is helping people understand that the stuff that they’ve done in the past, they cannot continue to do in the future, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. And in turn, we also, not just for themselves, but because some, like with the women offenders, some of them are mothers or sisters, the skills that you learn, even again, they sound corny, but as you’re at home, I’m sure, they joke about it later on. Like, we did this skill. But if you really practice it, and this is something that you try to practice with your siblings at home or your children, or your significant other, it’s not something that they themselves are just learning, they’re also teaching others.

Len Sipes: And that’s important. I mean, what you teach individuals, they teach their sons, they teach their daughters, they teach their peers, a lot of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system who are now doing well, people sort of wonder, well, why are you doing so well? And one of the reasons why they’re doing so well is they’ve learned a new way of thinking about who they are and their lives. Most people don’t want to return to the criminal justice system. I get a sense that a lot of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system don’t quite understand how they got there to begin with. All they were doing were hanging out with friends, drinking a beer, doing whatever, and somebody said the wrong thing, and they lashed out. It’s not like they sat down and said, gee, I want to assault somebody violently with a beer bottle tonight. Stuff happens.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And stuff happens quickly.

Len Sipes: Stuff happens quickly. It happens rapidly. And sometimes you’re not even quite sure why you did what you did, correct?

Tanesha Clardy: Very true, very true. But I’m, I guess, that’s the benefit of the program, because instead of just reacting the way you normally would act, you sit back and you think about, okay, what is my next move? Like, you have to make a choice, and hopefully the choice is a positive one.

Len Sipes: All right. Now we’re going to go over to Zoë. Zoë is, what we said before the program, was the truly authentic person sitting in this room. The rest of us are paid by the federal government to do what we do on a day to day basis. Zoë, you’re here, because I’m quite sure you volunteered to be on the radio show, and just absolutely adored the idea of sharing your feelings with the public.

Zoe: Absolutely!

Len Sipes: Okay, cool!

Zoe: The public needs to be informed.

Len Sipes: Cool. Why does the public need to be informed?

Zoe: Well, because everyone that commits a crime or commits an act of violence isn’t a bad person. It’s just a way, you have to rethink the way that you’re going about things, think about how you’re going to approach this situation, and think about who you’re in the situation with. You can’t react the same to everyone, so that’s what I take most out of the group, that even though we’re not talking about something that directly applies to me, I can take the message out of that and apply it to my life, and it’s helpful.

Len Sipes: Well, what we’ve said before throughout the entire program is the sense that too many people are being caught up in too many acts of violence. They need, what we call in the field, cognitive behavioral therapy, what the other person, the average person listening to this program would be, come to you-know-what meeting, or come to reality meeting, or whatever, you know, our parents read us the riot act in the past, we got punished, we were instructed by uncles, aunts, others, people in the community that what we were doing was inappropriate. We had no business doing it. Are we suggesting that people didn’t grow up with those guidelines?

Zoe: Well, some people didn’t. Everyone didn’t have that uncle or aunt or cousins or family members around to give that positive reinforcement, or even still, just the things that you were doing wrong, no one told you they were wrong. No one really reprimanded you for it. So that catches up with you in the end, and pretty much here, we’re just reversing, kind of, the bad learned behavior.

Len Sipes: Well, there are two questions. Is it too easy to get involved in acts of violence?

Zoe: Yeah –

Len Sipes: And, you know, again, most of the people that I’ve talked to have been caught up in the criminal justice system, didn’t say, you know, I set out that evening to beat my brother over the head with a beer bottle because he insulted my wife. I mean, that’s not how it went down.

Zoe: No, it went down, in the flash of an eye, before you knew it, someone was hemmed up because of whatever internal anger that, well, that I had, this is my personal experience. Yeah, so before I knew it, I was already at a 9, and just that one little small incident just took me to 27 somewhere, and I ended up in the system.

Len Sipes: It was an explosion.

Zoe: It was an explosion.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been through the criminal justice system, and you have been through the violence reduction program –

Zoe: Currently in the program.

Len Sipes: You’re currently in the program, and what does that mean to you now?

Zoe: Well, for one, when we first started the program, I was kind of sketchy about, I just really didn’t understand why I was in the group, but now, I look forward to coming to the group. These are just people, these are my friends, now, actually, and we talk about different experiences that we have throughout the week, and it’s helpful. It’s really helpful. Whether I’m actually joking around, or we come in there and play around, but at the end of the day, all right, we actually got something out of this, and it’s valuable to put forth in your everyday life.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing to me, because that is something the average person doesn’t hear. The average person listening to this program is saying, wait a minute, people who are violent belong in prison. They don’t understand that the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the correctional system or in the street, they’re under parole and probation supervision. Parole meaning, they’ve come out of the prison system, probation means the judge decided to sentence them to a period of community supervision, and not necessarily prison, but prison’s always hanging over their heads. So the overwhelming majority of people caught up in acts of violence aren’t in prison, they’re in the community.

Zoe: Yeah. Your next door neighbor.

Len Sipes: Their next door neighbor, the person you interact with at the gas station, the person who serves you at your local restaurant, the person who hands you your dry cleaning, it’s one out of every 45 people in the community are under active community supervision. Now most criminologists have said, well, if it’s one out of every 45 under active, current community supervision with correctional systems, it’s at minimum one out of every 20. So you’re encountering people every day by the scores who were either once caught up in the criminal justice system or currently caught up in the criminal justice system. So these programs, this particular program, what does it mean to you, and what does it mean to public safety?

Zoe: Well, as far as public safety and, the program really just has people to, I don’t really –

Len Sipes: It’s a hard question. I’m sorry, it is a ridiculously hard question to answer. But I mean, the bottom line is, if more people were involved in programs like this, would there be less violence?

Zoe: Yes, there definitely would be less violence.

Len Sipes: Okay, and why is that?

Zoe: Because it changes your way of thinking about it. Change the way of thinking about the situations that you’re in, and things that may seem like a threat to take you from 10 to 27, they’re not, they don’t bother you as much anymore.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: I also think the peer interaction they’re getting from the group, the peer feedback that they’re getting, things that they would, there are situations where we’ll come out, somebody in the group will come up with a scenario that may have happened over the weekend where they didn’t think that there was any other way to handle it, and the peer interaction or peer feedback that they’re getting inside the group like, okay, maybe you could have tried this, you could have tried that, and then it seems more realistic. Like, okay, maybe I could have done that, where some people, sometimes you think, the only thing I could have done was hit this person or lashed out or cussed the person out, or have, however you may have acted before, the interaction that the peers give, the interaction in the group from the peers is just, it’s amazing. The feedback, well, next time, maybe you could try this, walk out, come back in, things that you would never think that you yourself could do, you know, they test themselves, and I really like that.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, and I’m going to reintroduce everybody here at the microphones today. Zoë, not her real name, but an individual kind enough to participate. She is currently in the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Community Supervision Officer Tanesha Clardy, and what most people call parole and probation agents, we call community supervision officer, and a treatment specialist, Michelle Hare-Diggs, all three are before our microphones talking about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Now ladies, I’m going to go back to my experience when I ran groups in the Maryland prison system, and one of the things that I discovered is how folks react in a treatment setting, and how they act in the community can be two different things.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, I think what makes this group unique, because I’m a treatment specialist and I’m not a CSO, they kind of see it as separate, so I think the group tends to be a lot more real. It’s not as, I think what most people would consider as fake, and Zoë, you can correct me if I’m wrong.

Zoe: No, I agree with you. I like, okay, at first, I wasn’t sure about it, but I like the fact that it’s, the time period, the length of it, because if we were meeting once a week for a month, I wouldn’t know these people, and I wouldn’t tell them anything. It wouldn’t be a conversation, it’d just be Ms. Hare-Diggs talking to us. She’d just be talking at us pretty much, vs. us interacting.

Len Sipes: A lot of people go through these programs because they’re stuck with going through these programs. How authentic is this? Any one of you can answer. How real is this? How deeply do we get into the lives of the individuals, and is there real change? That’s what the public wants to know?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, it is a real change, because one, you don’t have to be there. You can just be at home, and next thing you know, you’ll get someone at your door taking you back to jail. You don’t have to be there. But you come, and then you choose to participate. So you can come and not say anything, and you can come and share your experiences, so just by that, and just us learning to trust each other, we can talk about these things and throw ideas off the wall and give each other constructive criticism or just say pretty much whatever we’re thinking without it becoming an issue. So the fact that we have that freedom, that ability to just let it all hang out and put it out there. We get a lot of things accomplished. We talk about a lot of different issues, and we hear each other out. We’re more receptive to our peers, because they’re not someone talking down at us, they’re someone that’s going through the same thing I am.

Len Sipes: How scary of a place is that? I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been through drug treatment describing it as one of the scariest events of their lives, because they had to confront all the garbage that has gone on in their lives that calls them to be caught up in the criminal justice system. Sometimes treatment is not pretty. Sometimes it’s dragging a person through everything that happened beforehand and coming to an understanding that it doesn’t matter what happened to you beforehand, what happens is now and how to control yourself now.

Zoe: It definitely gets ugly at times where, you know, the group forces an individual to look at their own behaviors and stop putting the blame on everybody else, from the PO to their mother to, sometimes, it’s really difficult to look at your own behavior sometimes, so it gets ugly when the group forces that person to address and take some ownership in their behaviors.

Len Sipes: When I did group, it was like going to Mars in many instances because, no, you went to a different planet. You got involved in an extraordinarily intensive examination of people’s lives. In my life, the lives of the participants in the program, it was scary at times, because, not because of what they said, not because of threats or anything along those lines, but you dig deep into the individual’s life, and suddenly, they are dealing with issues of their past for the first time. They’ve never really dealt with them before. Am I right or wrong?

Tanesha Clardy: You’re definitely right, because I’ve definitely seen a change in, especially the females who weren’t very interested in being in the program at all. Like for Zoë, she definitely came a long way. She didn’t want to do the program, she didn’t understand why she had to do the program, she understood the charge, but to her, I’m not an angry person, I’m not a violent person, the situation happened, it is what it is, I just want to do this and get on with my life. But she comes to group, she actively participates, she’s very open, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and I’ve just definitely seen a positive change in her.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the most meaningful part of all of this. When you go through interacting with a whole bunch of people, and they come to understand what’s happened to them in the past, and they come to understand that they can control it, there are a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system who have been, I don’t know, I mean, ships on the ocean without sails. I mean, the wind’s just pushing them all over the place, and suddenly, they learn how to put up sails and move in the direction that they want to move in. Boy, that’s a great analogy, isn’t it? I just thought of that! And then there are people who are listening to this who are going, you know, Mr. Sipes, you’re so full of hooey, don’t you understand that they’re just jiving you, they’re just doing what they have to do to get through the program, and –

Zoe: Well, they show. When you show back up, and you’re locked up, it’ll show whether you got something out of the program or not, and it’s all about what you put into it. You can’t expect to, okay, well my life has changed, when you don’t even talk in group. You don’t even participate. It’s not going to happen. And they’ll see you again. So if you’re trying to put your best foot forward, just go ahead and actively participate, pay attention, try to get something out of it, and you won’t, hopefully you won’t have to be in the system again.

Len Sipes: My guess is that an awful lot of people involved in the criminal justice system could use this type of, who could use this kind of program, that this kind of program would be valuable to them. It’s just not people who are ostensibly “violent offenders.” There’s a lot of people with nonviolent charges who have a history of violence. And you, we can judge that through our own instruments. We’ve pretty much come to a good understanding here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency through our instruments as to who that person really is, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Correct. I think anyone can benefit from the program. You could probably benefit from the program yourself because it’s all about conflict resolution, different communication styles, and coping skills, because it’s nothing but a table that separates me from Zoë. I could have been in that same restaurant, and someone pushed me, and I turned around and slapped them, and here I am, I’m on supervision.

Zoe: That’s what happened. No, that’s what happened.

Len Sipes: Yeah, but that could happen to any of us. But I mean –

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It’s all about how you react and the choice that you make.

Len Sipes: And according to the research, most individuals who are caught up in the criminal justice system at the time of the arrest were under the influence of something. And most were young. So if you have a younger individual full of pee and vinegar who doesn’t feel that good about themselves, who –

Tanesha Clardy: Pee and vinegar?

Len Sipes: As Tanesha tries to recover from that statement, and, no, no, no, I mean, this is the reality of what we’re dealing with, is it not? I mean, tell me if I’m wrong. It’s, they’re young, they’re very emotional, they’re caught up in the moment, somebody has insulted them, or there’s a perceived insult, may be real, may not be real, and that person just explodes, and that person, they don’t have to be young?

Tanesha Clardy: No, they don’t have to be young. I mean, we don’t have many old people in our group, but there’s a few. Yeah. And they, they get just as much out of the group as I would, or as the next person. So you don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be a male or a female to get caught up in the moment, and next thing you know…

Len Sipes: But you do have to be willing to understand how you became involved in the criminal justice system, how you came to be arrested that evening, and that arrest is oftentimes just the tip of an iceberg. I mean, people caught up in the criminal justice system, they’re here for a burglary, but you know, they’ve been down the road before. They’ve been involved in the criminal justice system. We just don’t know about it. Most crimes aren’t reported, most reported crimes do not end up in arrest. I’m talking about national statistics, and most reported, even when they’re prosecuted, most felonies in this country don’t get prison time. So I mean, to be involved in the criminal justice system, you’ve really had to do something, or you did a series of things before they send you to prison. So, I mean, the point is, is that people are actively engaged in lots of different things that could get them involved with our agency or put them behind prison bars. I mean, it’s just not one instance in many cases, and in many cases, there’s a history of violence, there’s a history of crime, there’s a history of acting out.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right, the group also focuses on trying to get the individuals to understand what they did and how it has led, again –

Tanesha Clardy: Ownership.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Ownership, taking ownership to their behaviors, because a lot of things are learned behaviors, and they don’t see anything wrong with it, so we have to really focus on what you did and how it’s affected your life.

Len Sipes: And it’s not just, I guess the point that I’m trying to make, Zoë, is that it’s, in many cases, it’s not just one altercation. We’re talking about a history of inappropriate behaviors.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: So we try to focus on learned behaviors and unlearning behaviors, and it can be done.

Len Sipes: That’s the interesting thing where the audience does need to hear that. I mean, you can be 27-years-old, according to Zoë, you can be 47 years old, and you can have this whole life of not making the best of decisions, and you can come out of these sort of encounters making much better decisions. It does work, is the question the average person listening to this program is saying, ladies, does it work?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It does. I mean, it’s hard for an individual, if you’re 47, 27, whatever, if you’ve been reacting the same way your whole life to whatever situation, if you’re used to lashing out, holding off hitting somebody, smacking somebody, spitting, whatever, and then you’re in a group with other people who have the same issues, some of the similar, some of the same, similar incidents have happened, and you can hear how somebody else is able to react to a situation, it makes you think at some point, okay, maybe I can try that, you might, you might not want to try it the first time, maybe not even the second time, but the third time, be like, okay, I can try that, and then if it works, it works, if not, we use so many different skills, you can try a different one, a different type of coping skill –

Len Sipes: Like retreating.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Retreating, right. Or counting to 10, removing yourself, some people are like, I’m never going to walk out. I would never do this, and you just try something different. So every skill doesn’t work for everybody, but we, thinking errors, you think about, what have I been doing all these years, I’m sorry, what have I been doing all these years, and you have to think, how has it gotten me to this place? And I think that’s the biggest thing that we learn in group, so many, we do the same things over and over and over again, and if it doesn’t work, what can we do differently?

Len Sipes: I talked to a guy who went through this program who was telling me about being involved in a confrontation on the street, and for the first time in his life, he retreated. He removed himself from that situation. It was a tool that he learned in group, and he was able to use that tool and extract himself, and he simply said, my going back to prison is not worth an altercation with this idiot. And that was a huge revelation for this individual. It prevented a violent crime from going down. It prevented him from being further caught up in the criminal justice system. It saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of incarcerative dollars. That was effective. I mean, just simply saying to himself, I’m going to extract myself from this situation. I’m getting out. I’m not going back to prison.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And I guess another thing, when you have that peer interaction in the group, the peers tell you, it’s okay to walk away. It’s not such a bad thing. Whereas before, you might have said, I’m not walking away. If this is a way of living, you’re not used to walking away, you’re used to handling things in a violent manner, or in a physical manner, and you’re hearing everyone say it’s okay to walk away, you keep telling yourself that, and if my freedom is on the line, sometimes you need that, the cost, the interaction from your peers telling you, what’s the better thing to do in this situation?

Len Sipes: We just have a couple minutes left. Ladies, I mean, to me, this has been an extraordinary half hour. To me, it really has been. The two of you who are paid to be doing this, and Zoë who got sucked into it, but I mean, the explanation, the explanation is, I think, powerful, that people can change through the right kind of programs, and if we had more of these programs, more people could change. Is that overly simplistic? If you had programs in place for more people, we could, we could have a greater impact on public safety.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yeah, sure.

Zoe: Definitely. Definitely.

Tanesha Clardy: This is something that could be put into the community. It doesn’t have to be called a violence reduction program. It could just be at a community center, just have people come in from the community, sit down, just learn these different skills, like, be the bigger person. You don’t always have to, of course, defend yourself, but you don’t have to do anything drastic to where you’re going to actually hurt the other person, but just turn away, walk away, I have something to live for, I have a life, I love my freedom, so okay, I’m going to let you get away with this one, and I’m going to just keep moving, because I don’t want to go to my PO and be like, yeah, I got arrested.

Len Sipes: I’m going to let you get away with this one because you are of no consequence to me. I am of consequence to me, and I’m going to protect my kids. I’m going to protect myself, and I’m going to protect my family by getting out of it –

Tanesha Clardy: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Because, my man –

Tanesha Clardy: It’s not worth it.

Len Sipes: – you’re nothing to me.

Tanesha Clardy: I have way too much to live for.

Len Sipes: I have way too much to live for. So he’s not getting away, his opponent is not getting away with anything. He’s getting away with a much better life.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

Zoe: Right.

Len Sipes: And that’s the whole idea behind this program, right?

Tanesha Clardy: Yes.

Zoe: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Any final words? Before we close?

Zoe: Well…

Len Sipes: Okay, Zoë. You’ve got the final word. What is it? Is it meaningful?

Zoe: Well, the program is meaningful. I do appreciate now, I can say this now, once again. I do appreciate being chosen to be a part of it, just, just so I can see, okay, this behavior is not right. Something has to change. And now that I have some of the tools in place and some of the methods in place, I’m able to do that and not just take it to the extreme every single time.

Len Sipes: Well, for me, it’s been a wonderful half hour, ladies. I’ve really enjoyed this, and I think it’s been very meaningful, and I think a lot of people and the public are going to learn from it. Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, Zoë, who, it’s not a real name, but she’s a person under supervision with our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in the violence reduction program. We have community supervision officer Tanesha Clardy, and we have treatment specialist Michelle Hare-Diggs. Ladies, again, thank you for being on the program. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, radio programs from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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