Women Offenders

DC Public Safety Radio

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

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/02/programs-women-offenders-womens-reentry-forum-dc-february-14/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphone is Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer, talking about women offenders. My agency, our agency, the court services and offender supervision agency reorganized around women offenders a couple years ago. We want to talk about that and talk about upcoming events, www.csosa.gov. Marcia Davis, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Marcia: Thank you, Leonard.

Leonard: Marcia, you’re a veteran of these radio shows. You pretty much know what to do. We’re going to be talking about women under supervision, talking about their social characteristics. First of all, in terms of some stats, we have close to 2,000 women under our supervision services, correct?

Marcia: Yes, Leonard. We currently have 1,963 women on supervision which is about 15.5 percent of our population.

Leonard: We did reorganize around women offenders a couple years ago. We have a lot of really interesting programs that focus on the needs of women, correct?

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: Before getting into that, I do want to remind everybody that the purpose of this program today is to support an event on Saturday, February 14th from 8:30 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. where we will have a daylong exhibition of services and issues and support services for our women under supervision. It’s one of the most extraordinarily interesting things that I’ve ever seen in my 45 years within the criminal justice system. We do want to talk about that in a while.

First, let’s get back over to what we do in terms of the reorganization. I mean, we have a re-entry and sanction center which is, I don’t know of any other parole and probation agency in the country that operate as a center. It’s huge. We have an entire floor for women. We have developed gender-specific teams for women because we recognize that women need to be supervised/assisted in ways different from men. We have, now, a day reporting center which I think is really unique where it’s just a women’s day reporting center. We have WICA, Women in Control Again, that program. We have expanded that. We have done a lot of things in between all of that. Marcia, where do you want to begin in terms of talking about the reorganization of our agency around women offenders?

Marcia: What our agency did was, they went back and they looked at the research. What the research shows is that when women are on supervision, if you want your women to be successful, it’s important that you create programs that are gender-specific to deal with the issues relative to your females.

Leonard: Is it a given that that women offenders are different from men?

Marcia: The issues that women face are different from men. When we look at the profile for the female offender, a lot of our women, victims of childhood sexual abuse, they have low education, they’re homeless, they have low employment. Due to that victimization from their childhood, a lot of them as adults are still involved in toxic relationships, their children have been removed, they carry a lot of guilt and shame. These are issues that most of our men don’t face.

Leonard: We know that women do better under these circumstances when it’s a gender-specific program than when it’s not a gender-specific program. I think it’s safe to say … I’m not quite sure if it’s safe to say. I’ve been told that most parole and probation agencies throughout the country have not gone to a gender-specific program. We, at the court services and offender supervision agency, have. That makes all the difference in the world, correct?

Marcia: Right. The reason we have done that is because CSOSA is evidence-based. We are an agency that uses evidence-base …

Leonard: Practices.

Marcia: Right. Practices.

Leonard: The best research. The best research that unless you break it down to services specifically designed for women, the women aren’t going to be that successful. If you do that, they’re going to be more successful.

Marcia: Right. We are seeing the success with the women that we are supervising now. We are seeing the successful outcomes.

Leonard: It’s really amazing to be that we haven’t done this decades ago. I mean, every state in the country is talking about how many people are in their prison system, how difficult it is, how much it cost. If we can stabilize individuals in the community and give them the services; the mental health substance abuse, the group services, you reunite them with their kids, find housing. If we can do all that, we can reduce the load on the prison system throughout the country, plus, make safer communities.

Marcia: That’s one thing. When we look at the prison system, we can see that the population of our female offenders is growing. When you look at the prison system, the research shows that in the year 2000, the female general population had the fastest growing rate in the correctional institution. The annual rate for females, it was an increase of 3.4 percent.

Leonard: I think it was 2010 data that you’re referring to. That’s fairly a recent data. It’s the fastest growing correctional population, what they were talking about that percentage of the jail population. More and more women are coming into the criminal justice system and that can be addressed by giving them the services they need while on community supervision.

Marcia: Right. To avoid going to the prison system.

Leonard: Tell me if I’m right or wrong, we’re taking a look at national data now. Women have higher rate of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health problems, and profoundly higher rates of being sexually victimized, particularly, when they were children. The women that we have to deal with, they come out of the prison system where they’re on probation and they have to deal with all of these issues. The fact that they don’t have, in most cases, a good work history. In most cases, they don’t have a GED or a high school diploma. They’ve been battered, they’ve been beaten, they’ve been bruised by life and by those around them. Considering that most of them have children and we have a general stat that says it’s 63 percent of the people that we have under supervision, our parents, but I think that figure would be much higher for just the women population, how did they possibly succeed if they have all that to deal with when they come out of the prison system, when they come out of jail or we get them on probation. When they’ve got all that against them, how can they possibly succeed?

Marcia: Tackling those issues one at a time. In the gender-specific unit, we have programs to address all of those factors. We have programs. We have the Women in Control Again program. That’s a program that deals with women who are early in recovery. In that program, they look at things such as the self, where you’re looking at your family history, you’re starting to look at the trauma that the women have suffered. We also talk about relationships in that program. They can look at the relationships that women have with their families, the relationships that they’ve had with their partners. We look at sexuality and we talk about spirituality. Also involved with the WICA program, we’ve added a new group which is a trauma group to address some of that past and present victimization that our women deal with.

We have a daily reporting center where we have a group called, thinking for a change which deals with anti-social behavior and it deals with anti-social thinking. We have a vocational and educational program where we can refer them for an assessment and for job placement assistance. Also, where they can go back to school and they can work on getting their GED or their high school diploma. We have substance abuse treatment. We can refer them to our re-entry sanction center, where we talked about earlier, where we have a floor that is dedicated to our females. At the re-entry sanction center, our population, they can get a thorough treatment assessment and they come out with a treatment plan for a continuum of care.

Leonard: That’s a lot of services that most parole and probation agencies do not have. Now, let me ask you this. Years ago, I ran a group for males. Men caught up in criminal justice system and the Maryland prison system. I’ve sat it on groups for men in our agency and I’ve sat in with the groups for women within our agency. The women’s groups are profound. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. This is why I always like to talk to women under supervision that come from these groups on this radio show which we’ve done about, maybe, up to 10 times. They are profoundly honest at a certain point. Once they set me into the group and once I listened to their interactions with each other, they are profoundly, brutally honest. To sit there amongst these 15, 20 women listening to them talk to each other about their lives and about what’s going on is just the experience of a lifetime. Tell me about the group interaction.

Marcia: That was another reason why we needed to have the gender-specific groups. Because in the past, we have the co-ed groups where the women were mixed with the men. If you was to sit in that group, you would notice that the women would sit quietly. It would be a totally different group. In the gender-specific group, the first thing we let the women know that this is a safe environment where you can share. One of the main rules is that, what is said in the group stays in the group. We make it a point that anything that’s said in the group has to remain in this room and it cannot leave the room, so that they can feel safe enough to share those past stories.

Leonard: Those past stories are brutal. To sit there and one woman, basically, is struggling with getting to her appointments on time. You hear the other women basically saying, “I don’t want to hear that. This is your shot. This is your one shot to get clean, to get right, to get your children back. You can’t come in here and tell us about how difficult it was for you to make your appointments.” I thought that that was amazing.

Marcia: Although it’s a lot being said in the group, it’s also a lot of strength in the group. The women can see the resiliency from the other women. They can see, “Well, wait a minute. If she has this tragic story to share and she’s making it, hey, I can make it too. She said she was someone who share that, hey, I may have been molested, I may have been sexually abused, I may have been physically abused when I was 8 or 10, but I’m putting all that stuff in the past and I’m going to continue on. I’m not going to let that hold me back anymore. I want to get my kids back. I want to get a job. I want to get my education. I want to get a home. I want to complete supervision successfully.” That strength, it helps the other women and then they build off for that and they help each other.

Leonard: Critics of supervision, not necessarily within our agency but supervision across the board throughout the country basically say, “Look, Leonard, you’re asking way too much of individuals coming out on a criminal justice system.” I mean, here, we’re asking them to deal with substance abuse, we’re asking them to deal with mental health, we’re asking them to deal with their profound histories of abuse, we’re asking them to reunite with their children, we’re asking them to find housing, we’re asking them to find employment. We’re asking it awful lot and the new people who come into the group are saying, “There’s no way I can do this,” and then they’re sitting with their counterparts who have experienced all of that themselves and they’re doing it. They sit there and watch a new person watch everybody else. You can see the spark going off in their head saying, “Well, she is no different from I am and she is doing it. Why can’t I do it?”

Marcia: They know each other from the communities. D.C. is a small area. Some know each other from the community. They have seen the struggle that some of the other participants have been through. To see them go through that transformation and to see the new person, that gives them hope to know that they can do it too.

Leonard: Most of the women that I’ve encountered in the system, tell me if I’m right or wrong, are not necessarily coming from backgrounds of violence. A lot of it is drugs, a lot of it is theft, a lot of it is prostitution, a lot of it is creating some sort of disturbance in the community. Am I right or wrong about that?

Marcia: You’re right about that. A lot of that comes from the victimization. The past victimization that was never dealt with.

Leonard: When I flip that switch in saying, a lot of it is dealing with the men who were in their lives. When I was with the Maryland correctional system, how many women did I talk to who, basically, were in there for fairly long stretch is, under the premise that this guy says, “If you don’t take these drugs down Interstate 95, I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to hurt your children.” If I’m being stereotypical or if I’m wrong, tell me. A lot of this is due to the dysfunctional men that they keep in their lives because of their background. Am I right?

Marcia: Right. That’s the continuation of the victimization. They’re continuing in these toxic relationships.

Leonard: If they got those services that were necessary, and I always ask you and whoever else I’m dealing with and in the women under supervision themselves, what percentage of women would not go back to the correctional system if these services were offered not just in Washington, D.C. but throughout the country. What’s your percentage; the most of them would succeed, 40 percent, 30 percent?

Marcia: I would say, maybe, 40 percent. That would be 40 percent.

Leonard: Yeah. That 40 percent would not go back. We have a national recidivism rate in this country of about 50 percent. You’re talking about 40 percent not going back. That’s a huge difference. In essence, we can do a much better job if we put those services on the table. That’s the bottom line, correct?

Marcia: Yes. That’s the bottom line.

Leonard: I do want to talk more about under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency but we’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guest today, Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer with our agency, my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov is our website. On there, you will find the information about an event coming up February 14, 2015 at the Temple of Praise where we do a women’s re-entry symposium with the theme, Family Supporting Supervision Success. It is an extraordinary event. The public is welcome. If you have an interest in this issue, we encourage your involvement. Also, we want to talk about our city-wide re-entry assembly where we celebrate the success of our faith-base mentors and that’s Thursday, February 19, 2015 at a brand new location, The Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Again, you can find out information about all of this on our website, www.csosa.gov.

Marcia, we have gender-specific teams, we have the day reporting center. How important was that day reporting center?

Marcia: The day reporting center is very important because this provides the outlet for our women during the day. We have programming through the day reporting center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It takes out a large chunk of the day for our female offenders. It gives them somewhere that they can go. They can be safe, they can discuss their issues, they can get the services that they need. Throughout the reporting center, we provide vocational services where they can go for their GED assessment, they can go for job placement assistance. We have Thinking for a Change program. That’s the program that deals with anti-social behavior and anti-social thinking. We have a relationship group in the program …

Leonard: That’s important.

Marcia: … to help women who are involved in those toxic relationships. Our DRC coordinator, Ms. [Copeland 16:48], also will make referrals to our victim services program which is another important initiative that we’ve added. The victim services program helps victims of the domestic violence, get the assistance they need if they need to get civil protection orders or if they need to get housed and they will assist them through that process. Through the daily reporting center, we also provide tokens to our offenders. Those who are not financially able to get back and forth to the supervision office. One other important thing we do for our females is that we recognize them. Once a female completes any of our groups, we always hold a graduation so that we can recognize them for the positive steps that they’re making.

Leonard: Day reporting centers are there, traditionally, for those individuals who are unemployed and those individuals who are struggling. We provide them with structure and education throughout the course of the day. The interesting thing about what you’re saying is is that the day reporting center for women provides a sense of fellowship.

Marcia: Right. Daily programming. Yes.

Leonard: We run groups. Majority of the women that we have under supervision end up in groups, correct?

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: They end up within a group structure. This is a continuation of that group structure. When I go to the day reporting center for men, I don’t see a lot of group interaction. Once again, in terms of the day reporting center for women under our agency, there is a lot of group interaction.

Marcia: Right. There not only group interaction, they also refer to a vocational development specialist. They may go to the vocational development specialist to complete the educational or the job placement assessment. It was not just groups. They may go there individually or they may be referred to our center intervention team for substance abuse assessment.

Leonard: When I ran group a lifetime ago, people coming into the system, they were what I said they had, a chip on their shoulder, the size of the State of Montana. They were very difficult to break through. A lot of women are very mistrusting of us in the criminal justice system. How do you break through that history? How do you break through that hard shell of it so many women under supervision bring to the table? How do you break through all of that to the point where you reach their sense of humanity to the point where they would open up and share what’s happening to them now and what happened to them in the past?

Marcia: One of the things the agency did was training. They’ve trained all of the staff on cognitive, behavioral interventions, and motivational interviewing. Part of it just listening to the offender to see what their goals are and what their needs are from their point of view. Sometimes, when you just listen to see what their concerns are, that’s a lot to break down the barriers.

Leonard: You’ve got to admit, I mean, they’re not the easiest folks in the world to deal with or they’re new into the group setting.

Marcia: For women, one of the main issues is that their voice there is not heard. Once you listen and start hearing, some of the things that they say, just for them knowing that, “Hey, this person is listening. Okay. Maybe some of the goals that I’m including is being included into my case plan.” Those are things that are concerning to them.

Leonard: I’ve seen women, the new ones, it’s like, “My God, you’re asking me to do what? You’re asking me to deal with mental health, my substance abuse, my background, all of that and then you want me to go out and find work and then work with me in terms of the reunification with my kids. That’s overwhelming.”

Marcia: Now, one of the first things we do when an individual comes to a supervision, we want to do risk and needs assessment which is a comprehensive assessment so that we can determine what their risk to the community is and what their needs are. From that, we develop a case plan. From the case plan, we say, “What things you need to accomplish while you’re on supervision?” We set the plan and set target dates. Everything is not due at the same time. We will set a schedule and set a target date working with the female and realizing, “She’s not going to be able to do everything at one time especially if it’s someone with mental health needs.”

Leonard: It’s still overwhelming. I mean, that list by itself even if you stretch it out is overwhelming.

Marcia: We’re right here to work with them and that’s the most important thing. Not only that, when they’re assigned to a call service agency, we work in partnership with the call service agency. It was all of us working together for the success of the female even sometimes with their families.

Leonard: Marcia, how long have been doing this?

Marcia: For 16 years.

Leonard: 16 years. Is it 16 years with the court services or 16 years dealing with women?

Marcia: 16 years with court services, dealing with both men and women. I’ve been dealing with women for the last 6 years.

Leonard: 6 years. Do you ever go home and yell at people or kick the dog? I mean, your job is difficult.

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: You’re taking people who can be saved, who can lead a life where they’re tax payers and not tax burdens, where they’re parents and their kids aren’t elsewhere. That’s a huge task to break through that barrier and to find the services and to make that connection with women who have had pretty difficult backgrounds.

Marcia: It can be challenging at times. I come in everyday willing to give 115 percent. I have a good staff on my team. We have a good unit. I mean, I go home everyday. It’s challenging but I go home everyday and I go to bed. The next day, I’m up and I’m ready to do it all over again. I love my job and I love working with the women.

Leonard: It is hard for people who are listening to this program now to understand that within the criminal justice system, there just don’t seem to be an awful lot of successes and you can get burned out from doing this sort of a job. Most, if not all, of our staff that I’ve talked to are pretty enthusiastic about what it is that they do. When I walk in among these people under supervision and for them to smile at me, it’s just a real interesting experience. All right. Women in Control Again, that was a program that was put together by your predecessor, Dr. Willa Butler. It’s been expanded. One of the focuses here is on high risk individuals. Tell me about that.

Marcia: Women in Control Again is a program that was developed for females with co-occurring needs. Women in Control Again, it deals with high risk offenders who have substance abuse and mental health and is developed to help them make better decisions in the future. Under Women in Control Again, we have 3 groups. The first group deals with women in early recovery. The second group goes through the 12 steps, it goes to each one of the 12 steps, and the third group is our new piece which deals with trauma. From that group, we have a psychologist that comes in a clinical person. She comes in and she works with our females. At times, we can also get our females, if needed, individual counseling.

Leonard: One of the things I do want to point out that we reorganized around women, we reorganized around younger offenders and we reorganized around high risk offenders. Within that category of young and high risk in female, you can have cross over. That’s all part of the women’s program as well.

Marcia: Yes.

Leonard: The whole idea is to prioritize the people who are at greatest risk for reoffending and to make sure that they get the services that are necessary for them not to reoffend again. We take a look at our data and our data has improved in terms of recidivism, in terms of successful completion. Obviously, you all are doing the right things.

Marcia: Thank you.

Leonard: Tell me more about that. I mean, how does it feel to make that sort of a difference?

Marcia: It feels good. I mean, I know just as having a gender-specific unit, it really means a lot to our females. If you could just see their faces when we have the graduation ceremonies, even at our re-entry event, the upcoming event. At that event, we do a dress for success makeover to help prepare those females who are re-entering society, to help prepare them to return to the working world. Just doing that dress for success makeover to see the transformation for these women. We get clothes donated from organizations within the community. To see them go through this transformation, to get the business attire, to get the makeup, to get the shoes, and to do the fashion show, I mean, it’s really exciting.

Leonard: The bottom line behind all of this in terms of having a gender-specific program and having people specifically train to deliver that gender-specific program is that we can meaningfully intervene in the lives of the people under our supervision. We can end that whole sense of the never ending rate of recidivism, people in the system, out of the system, in the system, out of the system. We can really help people overcome all of that and we can really help people overcome some very serious problems.

Marcia: Right. At least to address some of the issues, some of the things that I’ve held back in the past such as the trauma, such as the unemployment, such as the low education and the substance abuse.

Leonard: As I have experienced, when you go in the groups or when you listen to women talk to each other about these issues, it is profoundly real or profoundly stark. When you interview women at these microphones, they are about as honest as honest can possibly be. I think the biggest difference between women and men is that women were more than willing to be honest.

Marcia: Yes. They are.

Leonard: More than willing to talk about the reality of what’s happened to them in their lives.

Marcia: Right. That’s only when they feel safe and comfortable.

Leonard: I want to remind everybody that we do have 2 events that are coming up. The women’s re-entry symposium 2015 with the theme, Family Supporting Supervision Services on Saturday February 14, 2015 from 8:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s going to be at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. Behind that, we have a city-wide re-entry assembly. That is where we celebrate the success of the mentors and mentees regarding our faith-base program. That’s going to be on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at the Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. You can find information about all of this on our website, www.csosa.gov. Our guest today has been Marcia Davis, supervisory community supervision officer dealing specifically with women offenders. Again, the website, www.csosa.gov. We’ll list all of the changes and all of the upcoming events and we encourage your participation. We appreciate you listening and we want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.


Women Offenders/Women’s Symposium on February 14

Women Offenders/Women’s Symposium on February 14

DC Public Safety Radio


Podcast available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/02/programs-women-offenders-womens-reentry-forum-dc-february-14/

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen, today we’re going to have a heck of a program on women offenders. Back at our microphones, Dr. Willa Butler, Willa is a Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. Willa worked for us running groups for women caught up in the criminal justice system for decades, invented those groups. Also we have by our microphones, Kelai and that’s not  her real name but she’s a woman in recovery. She’s formally on probation and she was homeless during that time with children. She’s currently a case manager for New Day and also a behavioral health specialist working in Washington, D.C., working in mental health and substance abuse treatment. To both of you, welcome to DC Public Safety.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Thank you.

KELAI: Thank you.

LEONARD SIPES: Willa, it’s great for you to be back. You’ve ran so many groups here for women involved in the criminal justice system. So give me a sense as to what it is you did for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, your former agency and the New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Thank you for having me back Leonard. What I did here at CSOSA, I was a supervisor and I ran the mental health women, gender specific group or team. And what we did, we had a program called WICA, Women in Control Again, which I designed and it addressed the vulnerabilities of female offenders. And I retired in 2011 and I transitioned over to New Day Transitional Home for homeless women and children. And there it’s a little different but almost the same. I work with homeless women and their children who have substance abuse and mental health occurring disorders. And the vulnerabilities are pretty much the same. We have wraparound services. In other words, we can refer the women out for GED, vocational, educational training. Like we said, substance abuse, mental health as well as permanent supporting housing. And we make sure that the women and their children, all of their needs are being met. And that’s what we do at New Day.

LEONARD SIPES: Kelai, tell me a little bit about what it is that you do.

KELAI: Thanks for having me as well.


KELAI: I also work at New Day as a case manager. And for me working at New Day I see things in both lenses because I was once a resident there. I graduated from that program. I’m a case manager there where I help others like myself try to get past their barriers and try to provide them with services and encourage them that if I can do it you can do it as well.


KELAI: And I work with a court service agency on behavioral health providing intervention within the community and providing services to individuals in need.

LEONARD SIPES: So the whole idea is that you’ve been through it, you’ve lived it, you’ve experienced it and you offer yourself as a role model to the women and children that you’re trying to assist.

KELAI: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: All right, before we get to the gist of the program, I do want to remind all of our listeners that we do have a Women’s Symposium coming up on Saturday, February 14th. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency will host a Women’s Reentry Forum entitled Lifetime Makeover. It’s going to be at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon. Again, Saturday, February 14th. Also the Citywide Reentry Assembly where we put together all of our mentors, so the mentors, the faith-based mentors who help people under supervision, that’s going to be on Thursday, February 19th, 2015 at the St. Luke Catholic Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. But let’s get quickly back to the reason why we’re doing this program, to support the Women’s Symposium coming up on Saturday, February 14th at the Women’s, again, Women’s Reentry Forum at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 to 3:00. Willow, the reason that we’re doing this symposium, that reason we’re talking about women caught up in the criminal justice system is why?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: The reason we’re doing the program is to, I guess, to give our audience and people an understanding of the female offender. And what we’re doing is, they’re coming home and what we need – services that we provide for them and to let them know that we embrace them when they do come home and to welcome them and to help them and to assist them in their new life journey. We try to address their vulnerabilities, like I said, in every area that causes barriers. We look at, like I said, the mental health, the substance abuse and whatever other thing that they may need, especially homelessness. Housing is very important for women. They’re coming home. They don’t have anywhere to go. They’ve kind of burned their bridges when they were home and a lot of them cannot go home. They need to be reunified with their children especially, we work on areas in that as well. Those are the things that women face when they come home and not even looking at the education and you need a job and you need a job while you’re on supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: While you were with us at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we were part; you were part of a reorganization of services to focus of high-risk individuals, younger individuals and women caught up in the criminal justice system. So we reorganized while you were here using the methodologies that you put in place. So there’s a great emphasis on women offenders that was not there before.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, and what we did, we went gender specific because we had the understanding that female offenders and men that offend, although they’re similar but there is some differences. Women, I don’t like to use the word needy, but their needs have never been met so, therefore, we have to reach out more to them. In other words, we have to spend a lot of time with them and we have more issues to address. A lot of times when women leave prison they bring their problems home with them. They don’t leave prison mentally. So that’s an aspect that we have to address. They have to worry about their children, are they going to get their children back first of all, because sometimes their children may be in foster care, they may be with a relative, they may not even know where their children are at this point. They need mental health concerns, that has to be addressed and they need also transportation and housing. And we look at transportation as something that may seem to be minute but when you’re looking at someone who has to go around to the city, a place that they haven’t been in a while because of incarceration, they don’t know how to communicate for themselves. They have — maybe a little barriers may come in life skills. So sometimes we like to take a case manager with them. We may use the word like a little parakeet to help them maneuver their way back into the system and not only the system itself but other services that’s here in the city. And that’s why it’s so important and also when women come in, come into your office you have to establish a relationship, a rapport with them because they like for you to sit down, they like for you to talk to them. They want you to know how am I doing today? You know, whereas, with me it’s different. They’ll come in, how are you, I got this, I got that, they’ll show you their paystubs, they’ll take their drug test and then they’re gone. You can’t cut or be short like that with the female.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: You have to spend a little more time with her and show her some love.

LEONARD SIPES: Well one of the things I do want to, before I talk to Kelai, is establish the idea that women under supervision have higher rates of substance abuse, have higher rates of mental health problems, they have children who they want to reunite with. So we’re not just talking about the woman herself, we’re talking the women and her children. But they also have outrageously high rates of being abused, sexually abused, physically abused, especially as children. Am I right or wrong?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, you are right. And the reason for that is, and we go back to the risk factors again, a lot of times the women as children they’ve been exposed to substance abuse. In other words, they viewed it, they’ve seen it either in the home, in their neighborhoods. They’ve been exposed to domestic violence and sexual abuse is there too. And these concerns, those three main concerns, as a child growing up they may not have been addressed and more than likely we’re finding out that they haven’t been addressed. So at a young age they start self-medicating themselves. By that meaning they use drugs out there. And then a lot of times when they do get incarcerated and they go through different type of assessments, they find out that there is a mental health problem or they have a diagnosis, Access One diagnosis of mental health, usually depression or bi-polar.

LEONARD SIPES: Kelai, one of the things I wanted to do is to establish the sense that if women got the services to address all the issues that we’re talking about, is there hope for them? Do they do well? So society is saying to itself, look, we have all of these issues, kids need school, kids who need GED classes, older people, we have lots of needs within our communities. So to give people a sense of hope as to providing the services to women who are caught up in the criminal justice system, do these things really work, the mental health, substance abuse, do they really matter?

KELAI: Absolutely. It really does because if it wasn’t provided to me I would probably be still using or probably dead. My needs were met this time around. I was on probation. Fortunately I had a good probation officer. She was caring and that matters too. She was very caring. And first, I just want to say, when I came out of prison, when I came out of jail, I had burnt all my bridges by then. So my mother didn’t want to be bothered with me. I was locked up during the whole pregnancy. So coming home now with a baby, I delivered my baby the day before I got out of jail.


KELAI: And during the time I was in jail I was really worried because I thought my baby was going to be in the system because who’s going to take my baby.


KELAI: Nobody knows I’m pregnant. I haven’t been home. You know, my family don’t know where I am and I’m ashamed, I feel guilty, I feel worthless, hopeless. And so I remember like it was yesterday, they called my mother and asked could I come back home and she said no. I don’t want her here.


KELAI: Because she’s going to come home and do the same thing again.


KELAI: So it so happens that I was able to go home. And I went home and, of course, I went home and she was nagging cause she didn’t have the understanding of the addiction. So she was very nagging and I said, you know what, I’m not going to let you drive me crazy. So I went to my probation officer and I explained to her, I said, if I stay there I’m going to use. And I remember she said, okay, have you been to a shelter before. I’ve never been into a shelter, so I went to the shelter with my baby and when I got to the shelter that’s how I ended up at New Day Transitional Home.


KELAI: I was in a shelter for 60 days and then I ended up at New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. When I got to New Day Transitional Home for Children, I’ve never, even my own mother, ever had anyone to tell me they loved me.

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah. And I think that, what you’re describing, is typical, Willa, is it not? What you’re describing, what Kelai is describing to us right now is so typical. Women get caught up in the criminal justice system because of all the things that they’re saddled with, they don’t see hope.


LEONARD SIPES: They don’t see a bridge.


LEONARD SIPES: They see themselves as, this is it, I’m going to die, my child’s going to die. I’m going to put a needle in my arm, I’m going to medicate, the child’s not going to be mine, they don’t see any hope beyond their current circumstances. Am I right or wrong?

KELAI: You’re right. And when you’re getting high your feelings are medicated, like you don’t care.


KELAI: Like, but when you stop getting high you have to face that reality.

LEONARD SIPES: Which is the scariest thing on the face of the earth.

KELAI: Absolutely. So all in all, if my needs weren’t met, if I didn’t have a place to go with my baby, that would have been another baby in the system. Not to mention my other child that’s now in college and she’s with me, we reunited at New Day Transitional Home, that I did not even know during that time I was out there drugging and locked up that she was trying to commit suicide several times.

LEONARD SIPES: Your daughter.

KELAI: Because, yes, because I wasn’t there for her. And she didn’t understand why I wasn’t there for her.

LEONARD SIPES: Now there are literally hundreds of thousands of women caught up in the criminal justice system all throughout the United States and if they were listening to this program, if we had these hundreds of thousands, if they were all mandated to listen to this program they would sit there and go, Kelai, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve been there and I didn’t see any hope or I don’t see any hope now. How do you provide women under these circumstances with a sense of hope that they can overcome all the different things? I mean, they’ve got to overcome mental health, substance abuse, a terrible job history, the process or reuniting with their children, finding a place to live, I mean, those are almost insurmountable barriers.

KELAI: Yes, because they need the services, they need a lot of places like New Day Transition and they need more Dr. Butler. And even women like myself today because actually when I got to New Day I did not even have a high school diploma. I didn’t have that. When I got to New Day I know that someone loved me and they care, I was encouraged to go back to school. I went back to school and got my high school diploma. I went back to school and got my CAC and some other certificates that I received while I was there and established my own credit all over again so I was able to get an apartment for myself and it was just awesome, you know. I never knew that people could – when I first got there and they was giving me a hug and I love you, it was so uncomfortable to me because I never got treated that way, you know, so it does matter and women do need love, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guests today are Dr. Willa Butler, Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children and Kelai, not her real name, she’s a woman in recovery, formerly on probation and homeless with a child. She’s now a case manager for New Day and a Behavioral Health Specialist working in Washington, D.C. We have a variety of events coming up. If you take a look at our website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, Court Services and Offender’s Supervision Agency, the Women’s Symposium on Saturday, February 14th, 2015. We will have a forum called Lifetime Makeover. It’ll take place at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. where there are going to be hundreds of women talking about the very issues that we’re talking about today. Also the Citywide Reentry Assembly coming up on Thursday, February 19th at St. Luke Catholic Church, where we have mentors who mentor to people on supervision from 6:30 in the evening to 8:30 in the evening. Both are extraordinarily powerful events. Again, you can get information about these and all the other activities for what we call Reentry Reflections 2015 at our website, www.csosa.gov. All right, Kelai, this is so important because there are all sorts of people out there who are saying to themselves once again, we have got kids to take care of, we have the elderly to take care of, we have the unemployed to take care of. Women who just have made their own bed need to lay in it. If you’ve done the crime you do the time. Why should I invest money, time and effort in women who are caught up in the criminal justice system? Nobody forced them to take drugs. Nobody forced them to sell drugs. Nobody forced them to take a beer bottle and beat somebody over the head. I have other things to worry about. I’m not quite sure that I care that much about women caught up in the criminal justice system. That’s harsh but that’s real. Talk to me about that.

KELAI: Well, I kind of disagree with that because for me, I’m one of those people that was out there and would do anything to get the drugs.


KELAI: So if I did not get the help that I need then I would be out there still doing it.


KELAI: You know, stealing –


KELAI: Probably robbing –


KELAI: You know, selling drugs.


KELAI: So people like me we do need help. That’s important. So we won’t get back in the system again, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. Right. And then you become a taxpayer instead of a tax burden and your children are taken care of.

KELAI: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: But Willa talk to me about that. You know, one of the things, if you take a look at research, most people caught up in the criminal justice system really don’t get the assistance they need. Only tiny percentages get substance abuse and mental health treatment. Only a tiny percentage of women out there involved in the criminal justice system are getting gender specific types of programming. Nobody’s, very few people are talking to them about their histories of sexual abuse or violence. If women got the assistance they needed, out of every hundred women involved in the criminal justice system, how many people do you think that we could reach to the point where they become productive citizens.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: I think we could reach almost all of them, maybe 80% or more, because it starts with love. You have to have the understanding of women in the criminal justice system and what they’ve gone through and what they need. When, like I say, you give them love, you let them know, first of all, that they are worthy. Their self-esteem is so low. You have to build them up. Build up their self-esteem, build up their self-worth and let them know that we’re here to help you, we’re here to assist you and we’re here to move you forward and to give them love and understanding of that. And it starts within, we have to teach the person how to work from the inside out. I tell all of my women at least spend at least ten minutes a day with yourself getting to know yourself, getting to understand, understand why I did this, why this happened to me. We don’t always know why this happened to us and we’ll never know why it happened to us, it just did. But God gave us something, God gave us the innate strength and we can build on our residual strength and that we can go forward as long as we have someone there to help us and to assist us to get where we need to be. And I just want to say earlier you said maybe I have something special and I believe I do have something, I care. I care and I love on these women because I see who they really are. I see the queen in them that God has made them to be. And all we have to do is let them see themselves, you know, is let me see me the way you do, you know, the way God sees me, the way you see me, the way my parole officer actually sees me. If I can see me for the me who I am I can go forward. And that’s what we do, we bring that out of them and we teach them how to love themselves, you know, love yourself first and then you can move forward and have that understanding. And sometimes women reach for love on the outside through their mates, their children or whatever, but we have to also have the understanding that that love comes from us as well within the inside. Once you start loving yourself and taking care of yourself you can move forward, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve sat in on your groups before and I’ve done a variety of radio shows with you. These are very powerful exchanges between women.


KELAI: Absolutely, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: To sit there and to sit in the group with 20 women and have them talk to each other about what it is that they’ve been through, it’s scary. I’m sorry, I mean, this is so profound and so real and so unbelievably overwhelming to hear what they’ve been through and what their backgrounds are. Yet those 20-25 women are sitting there helping each other, building each other up, pulling each other up, encouraging each other, that you sit there and go, my God, why haven’t we done this a long time ago.

KELAI: And just imagine if they get the support that they need. They can help each other and pull each other up, you know, and this will be great just to think of how many people that you have helped or became clean and sober that’s reaching back and helping other people.

LEONARD SIPES: But the woman is sitting there going I’m a drug addict, I’ve been a drug addict for 25 years. Nobody cares about me. I have two kids. I was abused as a child. I have no education. And to sit there with 20 other women and say, yeah, okay, well so was I and here’s where I am today. I mean, and to sit there and watch her face as they’re saying that, it’s overwhelming.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, it is overwhelming. And that lets them know that they can move forward no matter what age they are. You know, some women think I’m 40-50 cause sometimes women have spent a lot of time in prison. Then they’re going to come out and they’re older now and they seem like I’m just useless, I’m hopeless. And we’ll say no you’re not useless.

KELAI: Yeah.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: You still have some good years in you. You still can turn this thing around, you know. And just teach them to know how can we do it differently this time and work that way. You know, just do a blueprint of confidence and encouraging each other and building each other up all the time and make sure that you center yourself around positive people. You know, people that’s going to be in your parade, help build you up and that’s another barrier that the women face when they come home. A lot of times they may go back to that same environment and the people are doing the same thing, you know, we’re going to have to move them from that environment and that’s where the transitional homes come in and it plays a big part in that. We move them out of that old environment and put them in a more productive and constructive environment that’s going to help them move forward and become more pro social within our system today, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: This is a real controversial issue but I’ve heard it in your groups a dozen times of men in the life of the women under supervision, not very supportive. In fact, in many cases the reason why they’re caught up in the criminal justice system. How many women have I talked to who have said that I got a large bit, which is a jail term, prison term, because he told me I had to transport those drugs up interstate 95 or he’s going to hurt me or hurt my child. I mean, is that part of the reality we’re talking about, the men in the lives of the women that we have under supervision?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Well yeah, that’s part of it too Leonard, but actually it’s not as big a part as we may think it is.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: A lot of times the women do it because they have to do it. A lot of times when a woman is young, they had their children at a young age, they drop out of school, they don’t have any education, they’re really homeless, they’re even living with their parents or their significant other who they had their child by and they need, in order to take care of their child they start stealing, you know.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: And they begin to boost, I mean, that’s the only way they know how to take care of themselves or fend for themselves is to steal. I guess go outside the norms of society, not saying that it’s right, but when you look at the female offender crimes it’s really, I’m at a loss for words, but what we call paper crimes, you know, in a sense, stealing, crimes on persons I mean, right.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re not ordinarily the violent crimes that most of the men are involved in.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Right, they’re not violent crimes.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve heard somebody say to me that if we provided the services that were necessary, truly necessary, we could empty women’s prisons by a third, maybe even up to a half.




LEONARD SIPES: Now could you image all the millions, hundreds of millions of dollars that would save.

KELAI: I agree.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean, but the services need to be there. How do we convince people to support programs for women caught up in the criminal justice system? How do we do that?

KELAI: Well Dr. Butler made a good point just now. This, I just did not stop using drugs one time. You know, it took me three times before I stopped and the reason that I realize now – because I kept going back to the same place. I had no place to go so all I know was the same people that I get high with.


KELAI: And thinking okay, well I been clean for 30 days or 60 days, I can go around them now and I’m not going to use, but that was a setup.


KELAI: So it does make a difference when you remove yourself from people, places and things and go into a different area and form different friends in different areas where you can focus more on you.

LEONARD SIPES: Or guys say kick the corner.

KELAI: Right. Absolutely.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Right. Right.

LEONARD SIPES: Get away from all the associates that are leading you into all that sort of bad behavior.

KELAI: Yes, that is very, very critical. That is very important.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line in all of this, because we only have a couple minutes to close, to talk about the different programs that we have coming up once again, is that there is hope. I mean, people need to understand that there is hope. If women got the services, the gender specific services that they need, we could dramatically reduce their involvement in the criminal justice system.

KELAI: Absolutely.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Mmm-hmm, yes.

KELAI: Absolutely. No doubt.

LEONARD SIPES: And how we can convince people of that is something that I think all of us need to work on, right?

KELAI: Well I’m one.


KELAI: I’m one of them.


KELAI: Now I’m giving back. I’m reaching back and helping others. I’m one of them. I’m the prime example.

LEONARD SIPES: Do want to remind everybody that we’re doing this program in support of a Women’s Symposium on Saturday, February 14th at the, what we call Lifetime Makover. It’ll take place at Temple of Praise, 7007 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 in the morning on to 3:00 in the afternoon. It is really an extraordinary event. Again, Saturday, February 14th. On Thursday, February 19th, we will have our Citywide Reentry Assembly where we talk or deal with our mentors and the people under supervision. That’s also extraordinarily interesting. Thursday, February 19th at St. Luke Catholic Church, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today have been Dr. Willa Butler, she is the Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. And we’ve had Kelai and I really do appreciate Kelai you being here and testifying and telling us what it is that we really need to hear.

KELAI: My pleasure.

LEONARD SIPES: She is a woman in recovery, formerly under probation and homeless with children. And my heart goes out to you and I hope the relationship that you have with your daughter has greatly improved. She’s currently a Case Manager with New Day and a Behavioral Health Specialist working in Washington, D.C. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.


Woman Offenders-Upcoming Events-From Violence to Reentry-Interview With Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

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

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/01/woman-offenders-upcoming-events-violence-reentry-interview-lashonia-etheridge-bey/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen the program today is Women Offenders. We have an interview with Lashonia Etheridge-Bey; she is with the Mayor’s office on Returning Citizens here in the District of Columbia, www.oc, I’m sorry, orca.dc.gov. Let me give you a bit of background about this extraordinary woman and I think you’ll understand what we’re interviewing her today. Lashonia is a 40-year old Washingtonian who was born and raised in southeast DC. As a youth she made a series of bad decisions that landed her in prison for a violent crime where she spent almost half her life. Lashonia was a teen mom, a high school drop out where she was unemployed and addicted to marijuana. During her 18 years in prison she set out to rehabilitate and reform herself. She received her GED and began pursuing a college degree. She has been employed on a full-time basis, like I said; she’s enrolled in college. Last April she was hired as the Staff Assistant for the Mayor’s office on returning citizens, and like I said before, she’s in the process of completing her second year at Trinity University where she’s pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Relations. We have Lashonia here for a specific reason. Every year we’d have a series of reentry events and three this year. We’re focusing on women caught up in the criminal justice system and I’ll have the information about all three in the show notes. Lashonia is responsible for two, she will be speaking at the other on Tuesday, February 4th, the gender specific reentry conference at One Judiciary Square. That will be in the show notes, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And then we have women’s reentry forum done by my agency, Court Services, a super efficient agency. I can’t—Lashonia, I screwed up the name of my own agency, Court Services, an offender supervision agency on Saturday, February 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And then on Thursday, February 27th, the reentry forum, The Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers. Lashonia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: All right. That’s a huge introduction. You’ve spent half your life in prison. You came out. There was a film about Lashonia that I thought was extraordinary. And that will also be in the show notes, done by a person who’s been at this microphone before. A film, about a 15-minute film on your life and it struck me that your life has been a profoundly painful, profoundly difficult; you have heaped a tremendous amount of blame on yourself in the past. You have had to deal with animosity from your own children when you came out, you have two. The process of coming back out, reestablishing yourself, it was very, very honest, honest portrayal of who you are and what you are. Tell me about who you are and what you are.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Well, first and foremost, I’m a resilient woman who has had to overcome a lot of difficulties in my past, mainly my own challenges have been being destructive, being angry, being violent, being addicted to drugs. So I’m a woman who has had to face all of those obstacles and overcome them and I’m also a woman who’s continuously working to progress in terms of rebuilding my life. I’ve only been home for two years now. So pursuing my degree, I’m building my career, seeking to reestablish myself within my family unit and just taking it one day at a time.

Len Sipes: When I watched the video two things came at me pretty clearly. One was the level of self-blame that you have heaped on yourself and number two, you’re involvement in physical fitness activities. You are very fit and so exercise is part of your rehabilitative process.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, definitely. I always say that when I became incarcerated I attacked myself physically, mentally, spiritually and psychologically because I engaged in a lot of therapeutic programs. I was in a residential trauma program. I exercised. I pursued academic endeavors. I did everything that I could to rebuild myself in every aspect. So exercise has definitely been a huge coping skill for me and a way for me to deal with the challenges that I face whether it be challenges in school, challenges in my personal life. I love to run; I love to do strength training and all those things to help me get through those challenges.

Len Sipes: The crime that you were involved in, in Southeast DC was a very violent crime.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: So you went to prison for that. You spent half of your life in prison for that very violent crime but, again, I go back to how your own self-perception, the video is stark, the reality is certainly abundant in terms of how you felt about yourself. So where did all those feelings come from?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I mean, you called it self-blame but the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that I was responding to my circumstances and I pretty much built an image and a reputation and started to display behavior that I thought I had to display in order to survive in my environment. The fact of the matter is that I’m still responsible for the choices that I made. So even the violent acts that I brought on other people and in addition to the violent acts that was brought on myself, I put myself in those positions by the choices that I made, the people that I chose to be around, how I chose to respond to potential danger in my neighborhood. So I was never—I’ve always been one to just be responsible for my actions because I know at the end of the day everybody has a choice regardless of what situation they find themselves in. There are a lot of people that grew up where I grew up at who didn’t choose to become violent and commit crimes as a result of their environment and I did.

Len Sipes: But let me ask you a series of basic questions, substance abuse?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, I was addicted to marijuana and I had just began to smoke PCP around the time when I was convicted of this crime.
Len Sipes: When did you start doing drugs?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I started doing drugs I guess when I was about maybe 15, 16.

Len Sipes: Okay. How was your family life?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: My family life, I was pretty much raised by a single parent mom. My dad was always in my life, but my parents weren’t together. And I had a host of older siblings who were in and out of prison on drugs. I didn’t really have a lot of positive role models. My mom, obviously working and trying to take care of us, didn’t get an opportunity to really raise us and teach us the way I’m sure she would have liked to been able to. But I pretty much was drawn to the street as a result of that. And I grew up in a really tough neighborhood. I went to Hart Junior High, so all of the projects were surrounded by that school, that school was surrounded by all of the projects in that area, so—

Len Sipes: But the self-directed anger that I saw on the video, which again, we’re going to put the address of the video in the show notes, that came from where? I mean, there’s a certain point where it shows you coming out of prison. And it shows you reuniting with your kids, the difficulties of reuniting, the difficulties of getting out, the difficulties of going through all the things that you’ve gone through, but one of the things, the stark things, not to beat a point to death, was the self-directed anger. That you really had a lot of anger inside of you that you expressed to others when you were on the street and that you’re, you know, were expressing towards yourself when you got out. Where did all that anger come from?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I don’t know if it was necessarily anger that I was expressing. I just pretty much built an image because I had to respond to the violence in my neighborhood. So it was either you’re going to fight back or you’re going to get beat up.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: You’re either going to fight back or you’re going to run and I wasn’t raised in a family that allowed me to run home and run in the house and lock the door when somebody’s chasing me.

Len Sipes: All right. So what you’re saying is violence and the street culture was of a very logical process, a very logical decision based upon what was happening around you.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Definitely. It was what I was taught. It was what I was prone to do because for me it was a survival mechanism.
Len Sipes: For so many women that I’ve talked to before these microphones, they have been sexually violated, they came up in single-family households. I’m not asking whether you were or whether you weren’t. Substance abuse was very common. Most of the women that I’ve talked to who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it is a real struggle in terms of who they were at the time of that crime and can you talk to me about that. Am I right or wrong?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, fortunately for me I haven’t had that experience of sexual abuse and physical abuse in my family and growing up, but I did notice when I was incarcerated that the vast majority of the women that I was incarcerated with had that issue and had that trauma that they was dealing that lead them down that path of drugs and crime. With me, my trauma was violence. You know, violence inside my home, violence outside of my home and mainly the violence in my community. It was kind of like survival of the fittest. And like I said, I built that image to protect myself and at some point I had to live up to that image. And I was put in a position where I did something that cost someone dearly and I had to pay for it.

Len Sipes: But the process of—I’ve been to more than a couple women’s groups and I hear two things. I hear, again, just a lot of, you know, anger at the world, anger at themselves, anger at their families, anger at their friends. But, you know; now they have to deal with all of this coming out of the prison system. And there’s a certain point where I find that, and the research backs this up, that women do better than men coming out of the prison system. They do better in terms of rehabilitative programs. They do better in terms of recidivism than men because a lot of women come out and say to themselves, all right, this is my one shot. I have no other choice. I’ve got to make this work. I’ve got kids. I’ve got to reunite with my kids. I’ve got to establish a life for myself. Women have a tendency of making it work at higher numbers, better numbers, greater numbers than males caught up in the criminal justice system. But there’s still an unrelenting anger towards themselves and towards the world around them that they have to deal with before they get into prison, what brought them into the prison system and afterwards, right or wrong? Be honest.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Again, for me anger has not necessarily –

Len Sipes: Not necessarily for you, but for everybody.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Well I can’t speak for those other women. All I can say is that for me the thing that motivated me to get caught up in the life of crime that I was caught up in was more so pain and fear.

Len Sipes: Okay. All right. Most women coming out of the prison system have kids, correct?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And it’s very difficult, I mean, the average person coming out of the prison system has a very nasty background. They don’t have a lot of skills in terms of going out and getting a job. They have to deal with all of the issues that they have to struggle with personally. Mental health amongst women coming out of the criminal justice system is very high, mental health problems, higher than any other group. Substance abuse problems very high. They come out and they’re being reunited with their kids. They come out and they’re trying to find employment and they’re trying to find a way of sustaining themselves. It’s almost impossible to put all that together, is it not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It’s definitely a huge challenge. It makes me think about Zora Neale Hurston when she said that women are the mules of the world because in addition to trying to find your place as the matriarch of your family and rebuild your family unit, you’re also trying to rebuild your personal life and gain employment and maybe pursue your academic goals. And women, I think one of the biggest differences with men and women is the need to be safe. I’d like to think that men coming out of prison regardless of how much time they served are not struggling with whether or not they feel safe in an environment that has left them vulnerable and allowed them to be so severely hurt and afraid in the past. Then going in to a system that has further damaged them and further degraded them and coming home, I think that the need to be safe, the need to be a mother, the need to be, like I said, the matriarch of their family, the need to become independent but yet still establish healthy relationships. I don’t think that men, who are returning from incarceration experience that personal trauma that women experience.

Len Sipes: Most women coming out of the prison system have looked at me and said it’s almost impossible to do all this. It is almost impossible to do all this and people need to understand that regardless of how motivated I am not to go back, it is almost impossible to pull all of this off.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I would agree.

Len Sipes: And, statistically speaking, it’s correct.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I would agree and I’m one of those people who believe that I can do anything. I’m really convinced that if I put my mind to it I can do it. However, I would have to agree that in terms of me rebuilding my life and, you know, pursuing my academic goals and pursuing my career goals, those things have come easy for me, but the challenge has been rebuilding my personal life and my relationships. I mean, you’re only one person and there’s no way you can spread yourself that thin and put the necessary energy into all those different areas and be successful in every one of them.

Len Sipes: But isn’t it amazing where, two things, and they’re contradictions, almost impossible versus women do better than men coming out of the prison system. So almost impossible turns into possible turns into success for literally hundreds of thousands of women coming out of the prison system every year. How do you come—how do I or you or anybody else come to grips with that, almost impossible yet most women seem to find it in themselves to create a successful life after prison.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Resiliency. And I think the women that do become successful at reentry are the women that find a healthy balance between being a mother and being a nurturer and having healthy relationships and building a healthy personal life and doing those other things in terms of career and education. My director always says, and I’m always glad when he says it so that I don’t have to say it, as a man he always says that when women come home the first thing they think about is their children, but when men come home the last thing they think about is their children. And obviously that’s a blanket statement, maybe it’s a stereotype, who knows, but the fact of the matter is that men don’t necessarily have to allow that—don’t necessarily have that challenge of how am I going to rebuild my family, how am I going to regain my position in my family. Men don’t necessarily face that challenge, they can do all that other stuff, whereas, women they try to do it all.

Len Sipes: When I talk to my wife about it she simply says, well it’s simple, Leonard, women are better—smart than men. We have, ladies and gentlemen, Lashonia Etheridge-Bey. She is with the Mayor’s office on Returning Citizen Affairs here in the District of Columbia, www.orca.dc.gov. She and we are doing three events dealing with women caught up in the criminal justice system. Tuesday, February 4th, Gender Specific Reentry Conference, One Judiciary Square from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00. And then my organization, Court Services, an Offender Supervision Agency, and this time I said it without screwing it up Lashonia. Women’s Reentry Forum at the Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue from 9:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, always what I consider to be an extraordinary event. And Thursday, February 27th, Reentry Forum, the Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers, Union Temple Baptist Church, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. I’ll have all of these issues in our show notes. And, you know, Lashonia, this is just an amazing transformation for you, but it’s not just an amazing transformation for you, it’s an amazing transformation for literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of women coming out of the prison system every year. Seven hundred thousand people leave the prison system every year. Heaven knows three to four times that number come out of jails. So, and the research is clear, that the women do better if though they carry greater burdens. And both of us, I think, suggest that it’s because they come out having to take care of kids, 80% of people coming out of the prison system have kids, correct?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. When you came home and after watching your extraordinarily honest video, your kids were not kind. Even though you had a real good relationship with them and even though they visited you in prison, there’s a certain point—you said that you thought you were going to escape the dilemma of the kids dumping on you for being in prison. And even though they weren’t—they didn’t do it when they visited you, when you came back out it was a different set of circumstances, right?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. And I think that maybe to some extent they were empathetic towards my situation. So they were just nice to me when I was incarcerated. They never expressed anger or were ornery towards me. And in my son’s defense, he is just the most optimistic person I know and he has not expressed any harsh feelings towards me or been, you know, mean to me since I’ve been home. And I think that that has a lot to do with the gender dynamics as well because boys just love their moms for the most part. The biggest challenges have been with my daughter. She’s the older of the two and she has her own children, her own family, and her own challenges.

Len Sipes: She felt abandoned by you.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yeah, she felt abandoned.

Len Sipes: And she told you as much.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Mmm-mmm. She felt abandoned and we had one incident where she expressed some really harsh things to me and it was difficult. I got through it, I guess. I wasn’t really expecting it, but when it happened I just—I took it and I kept it moving.

Len Sipes: A woman coming out of the prison system has got to say to herself, you know, I’ve got to deal with mental health issues, not unusual, substance abuse issues, not unusual. We talked about it before in terms of sexual violence or violence in general in your case. So we have to deal with all that and then we’ve got to figure out how am I going to find work and I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to reunite with my kids and I’ve got to figure out a place to stay and I’ve got to deal with a lot of legal issues. And there’s a certain point where this is just too frickin overwhelming to comprehend.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: And so I run.

Len Sipes: So what?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I run.

Len Sipes: You run. You do run. How many miles a day?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I just run three miles a day only in summer and spring though.

Len Sipes: Just.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Cause I don’t run in the winter time, it’s too cold.

Len Sipes: The video shows you doing pull-ups and everything else. I mean, that’s your—that’s how you deal with it, how do women when they sit down after the first week or two or three and it really—all of this really sets in—how does a woman get up and go.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: And I have to admit to having a strong support system. I think I’ve really been blessed to be living in the District of Columbia, born and raised. And I thought when I came home I was going to relocate cause at the time my daughter was living in Richmond. But they say if you want to get a good laugh tell God your plans because my relocation was denied and my daughter ended up back home in DC and I’m back home in DC and I’ve had a phenomenal support system from Reverend Cooper, the people I met at the Reentry Sanction Center, even Nancy Ware, Cedric, you know, everybody has just always—

Len Sipes: The Director of CSOSA and the Associate Director of CSOSA.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, supported me in all of my endeavors and Director Thornton, giving me the opportunity to be the Staff Assistant at ORCA.

Len Sipes: The Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, yeah.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. Everything that I have been, you know, my support system and I have to admit, you know, even I have some family members who are there for me, but my support system has been community leaders and that’s been my rock.

Len Sipes: What does that mean to you to have the support of everybody?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It’s meant everything to me. It’s the reason why I’ve made it, you know. You asked me how do you get up every day, you get up every day cause you know you’ve got people that believe in you, people that call on you and people that expect you to show up. And, you know, being spiritually grounded, being a member of the  [indiscernible] of America and being able to, you know, when I first came home I was so busy trying to get my life in order I might have went to the Temple a handful of times. And since 2014 has come in, you know, I’ve been attending my meetings more regularly and just getting the nourishment that I need to face this daily drama that I’m living.

Len Sipes: So it’s faith in the fact that significant others have come to your rescue and have been your mentors and who have encouraged you to stay on the path.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Is that available to every woman coming out of the prison system?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I’d like to say yes if they’re open to it.

Len Sipes: We do have a faith based reentry program here under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and lots of churches, even and Mosques and Synagogues beyond that, participate in program for people coming out of the prison system. So it’s there but I’m not quite sure the average woman coming out of the prison system feels that. I’m not quite sure they share that experience with you, am I wrong?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: There are some—there’s a chance that some women may not be aware of the resources that are available to them and there’s also a chance that some women may not be open to that support. They have to be open to it. You know, I met Our Place DC staff members when they first opened up back in who knows what year it was, 2000 maybe, 2001, 1999, I don’t know. But some of those staff members who are no longer with Our Place.

Len Sipes: It’s a tragedy that Our Place is closed.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Are still in my support system.

Len Sipes: That’s one of the things that bothers me very deeply. Cause not only did I give money to Our Place DC and for people living outside of Washington, DC, Our Place DC was a comprehensive soup to nuts agency that dealt with every conceivable need a woman could have coming out of the prison system legal, being reunited with the kids, healthcare, substance abuse, mental health, sexual violence, it didn’t matter, they took care of it and they’re no longer here. And I don’t want to say that everybody else has picked up their pace, but, you know, there’s a lot of agencies here in the District of Columbia that really do support the reentry processes, are they not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: There are a lot of agencies. Our agency, obviously, is a District Government agency that’s responsible for men and women returning from incarceration. And I think that we have developed a really—we’re spearheading a really great effort to do more for women returning from incarceration as a result of the void that has been left by Our Place. My director has allowed me and supported me as I have developed The Wire, which is Women Involved in Reentry Effort and that’s a network of women who have successfully reintegrated into the community who have pledged their support to women who are currently incarcerated and women who are returning from incarceration. And we want to be mentors, we want to establish family reunification activities, we want to help raise awareness within the community about the needs of the women returning from incarceration. And we want to work with children who have mothers in prison who are facing the difficult task of just existing, striving, building life skills and things of that nature. So a lot is happening despite the fact that Our Place has closed and I just love the way you put it because, I mean, Michelle Bonner, the Our Place attorney was there with me at my initial hearing. Our Place was the reason why I was able to see my children once a year when I did see them, when they would come up to Danbury, Connecticut or they would come to Hazleton, West Virginia. And like I said the Our Place staff, even those who no longer work for Our Place are still a huge part of my support system. So that organization was just awesome in the support that they provided for women.

Len Sipes: We only have three minutes left. If these programs did not exist, if the faith based mentors, if the offices like yours in terms of all the other volunteer organizations did not exist, if there was no support mechanism at all for women coming out of the prison system, what would happen?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It would be tragic because recidivism would rise. Children would be further traumatized by the fact that their moms would come home and very likely go back. I mean, not only would it just drain the system itself, but so many women would be hurting and suffering so much without the support services that we have right now.

Len Sipes: When you’re talking through this program, and I always like to use the term Mayor of Milwaukee, I don’t know, it just rolls off the tongue nicely, or the aide to the Governor of Hawaii, when you’re talking to them about women reentry, what must they think about, what must they keep in mind?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: The children. I think that if everybody in America could keep in mind that when women are incarcerated they’re not just incarcerated women, they’re incarcerated mothers. Most of them are the primary caregivers for their children when they become incarcerated. So the children are then abandoned and pretty much left on their own to raise themselves. Even when they have a caregiver it’s not like having your mother, it’s not, you know, I have one young man, his mom is serving 30 years in prison, he hasn’t seen his mom in seven years and he was raised by an uncle who loves him dearly. And he said to me, I asked him how does he feel and he told me he couldn’t name—I gave him a piece of paper with a bunch of feelings on it, I said pick one. He said I feel all of them. I said well just pick—just tell me, pick one or two of them. He said I feel miserable. Fifteen years old. You know, it’s like he feels like his life is over. His life is just beginning. You know, and he’s suffering and paying for what his mom did. So I think that if people remember the children, support the children and support the women when they come home then we can help break that cycle of crime and incarceration.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line if we want to end the crime problem that we have, if we want to deal with the pain, I mean, I’m not making excuses for women being caught up in the criminal justice system –

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Right. Right.

Len Sipes: But there’s real pain, there are real backgrounds in terms of substance abuse, in terms of mental health, in terms of sexual violence and there are real kids associated with these women. If we want to put a stop to all of that and help everybody gain a good footing in life then they have to support reentry programs for women.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. You said it.

Len Sipes: That’s the bottom line, is it not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: You said it.

Len Sipes: All right. I’m going to give a long close to the program, ladies and gentlemen. I have just been just really pleased with Lashonia’s performance today and her willingness to be so honest. I really appreciate it Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens, www.orca.dc.gov. Again, the three events, Thursday—Tuesday rather, February 4th, Gender Specific Reentry Conference, One Judiciary Square, 10:00 to 3:00. Saturday, February 8th, Women’s Reentry Forum Lifetime Makeover, Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Thursday, February 27th, Reentry Forum, The Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers. All of these will be in the show notes. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Women Offenders-CSOSA Reentry Reflections 2013-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/2013/01/women-offenders-csosa-reentry-reflections-2013-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 program today is going to be about women offenders, always one of the more popular programs and one of the more interesting programs that we do. We have three guests with us today – Dr. Willa Butler, she is the Clinical Supervisor for Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women. She used to run groups and in fact invented groups for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Patricia Bradley, and she is going to be off of our supervision this September, thank God, and she is doing extraordinarily well. Marcia Austin is another person doing well, off in April, and we are here to talk about women, and women and crime, women and the criminal justice system. There is going to be an event coming up in Washington, D.C., on February 9th from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 in the afternoon discussing the Women’s Reentry Forum, 700 Southern Avenue in Southeast D.C. It’s part of the larger Reentry Reflections events held over the course of January and February. You can find more information about all of the events about Reentry Reflection, www. – my agency – csosa.gov; and to Will and to Patricia and Marcia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Women: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Len Sipes: That was a very long introduction. Willa Butler, boy, have you been around. You invented practically our women’s program here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, even to the point where it is now a priority for us to be sure that gender-specific programs are integral to what it is that we do on a day-to-day basis. You’ve invented groups, you’ve expanded groups, you’ve expanded services to women offenders. Why is the emphasis on women caught up in the criminal justice system so important, Willa?

Willa Butler: Well, I want to say thank you for having me back, Leonard. The most important thing to me, I have such a compassion for our female offenders because so long ago, when you look at the history, women have gone unnoticed or forgotten. As far as men are concerned, women were never intelligent enough to commit crimes therefore the system was not designed for them, and when you look at basic traditional counseling or even the system is designed for men by men.  And then over the years, in 1998, when the drug trafficking laws increased and women started going to prison for little petty crimes that listed them in the area of a king pin, then we had an over-flux. We had an over-flux of women to enter the penal system and it was like, well what are we going to with these women? Where are we going to put them? And it just gave us an understanding that as a parole officer during that time, how do we work with women? We knew it was something different but we didn’t know what the difference was, and I just studied it. I studied it and I investigated it, and I found out it’s that women are not needy, it’s just their needs were never met. And through law investigations and studying and having groups, gender-specific groups to address the vulnerabilities of women, we were able to develop the gender-specific programs for CSOSA, and from that came the Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women which is a reentry program for women coming home from prison because housing is a very big problem for women coming back home – housing, employment, it’s whole plethora of things that affects the female offender, but I could go on and on. I hope I answered the question.

Len Sipes: I think I just about cried when you retired from the Court Services and  Offender Supervision Agency and you went over with New Day because I had been dealing with you for the last ten years and it’s like what am I going to do without Willa Butler?

Willa Butler: Oh, thank you.

Len Sipes: So ladies and gentlemen, people listening to this program, I have had literally hundreds of women in the ten years that testify to the fact that Willa Butler has changed their lives, and Willa, I will always be grateful for your involvement in the criminal justice system. Before going on to the ladies who are our guests, I do want to very quickly run over some statistics. Men compared to women, women compared to men caught up in the criminal justice system – women have higher rates of AIDs, higher rates of mental health problems, much higher rates of physical and sexual abuse, much higher rates of physical or sexual violence. Approximately 7 out of every 10 women caught up in the criminal justice system have children, and women have higher rates of substance abuse. So there’s a bit of statistics or a series of statistics that does taught about, Willa, the difference between men and women offenders. Women offenders, they come out of the prison system or they come off probation, they have a wide array of problems that male offenders do not have, in fact they have more problems than male offenders, correct?

Willa Butler: Yes, it is correct. It just that they have more in a sense that although men go through the same things – of course they don’t have children – it’s just that women process it differently. When we start off at an early age, when you look at the criminogenic gender risk factors, when you take mental illness, we’ll look at that first because a lot of times mental illnesses stem from the trauma that the women have experienced as children and it was never addressed, or if it was addressed, it was addressed in a very negative way meaning that we’re not going to talk about it, we’re going to push it under the rug, what part did you play in it, it was your fault, and things off nature. And so what the women do as children, they carry that baggage with them. They carry at a young age the guilt and the shame that I have experienced that was placed on me. I did not cause this. I have no refuge, and the refuge that they find usually will come with the drugs or the substance abuse, somewhere, or in other relationships, somewhere where I can feel this void, where I could be loved, where I could be really taken care of. And a lot of times they get hooked on the drugs and then, like I said, the trauma goes unaddressed, and the trauma which can stem into mental illness, and then that’s not addressed.

Len Sipes: Sexual and physical violence is a common, common occurrence in the life of women offenders, and the vast majority of that takes place before the age of 18. Am I correct or incorrect?

Willa Butler: Yes, that is correct.

Len Sipes: All right. Before getting into the ladies, again, a reminder, our Women’s Reentry Forum, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is going to be on February 9th from 8:00 to 3:00 at 700 Southern Avenue in Southeast Washington, D.C. You can get additional information about all of the events that we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency on Reentry Reflections, a whole series of events dealing with the concept of reentry at www.csosa.gov. Patricia?

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: How are you doing?

Patricia Bradley: I’m doing great. How are you?

Len Sipes: I’m fine. Now, you’re off supervision, correct?

Patricia Bradley: That is correct.

Len Sipes: And you’re off supervision as of September 2012.

Patricia Bradley: That is correct.

Len Sipes: Congratulations.

Patricia Bradley: Thank you.

Len Sipes: What did it take to come off supervision successfully? All we ever hear are the negatives. All we ever hear from the media is the fact that the person did not do well. You’ve done well. What was the key ingredient in you coming through the criminal justice system, you coming from an incarcerative setting and doing well?

Patricia Bradley: It was easy for me. I can’t speak for a lot of the other women. For me it was real simple – support. A lot of women don’t get just moral, simple support. I had requirements. I had a one-year probation, that was my sentence, and it was simple. I was to report to CSOSA to do weekly [PH 0:08:41] urinals. I was going twice a week, and then I got a once-a week, and then it went to a month, and then it was phased out, and it’s just simple requirements. And sometimes, if you’re a substance abuse user, it can be difficult. First of all, you’ve got to get yourself together and stop using your substances first, you know. That’s step one. For me it was going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, meeting with my probation office regularly. I was scheduled to meet with him. And it just wasn’t hard. It was just something real simple, you know, and then me being a resident at out New Day too, Temple of Praise Transitional House. They helped also because that was one of my support mechanisms because without support, in some cases with some women like me, with not only just substance abuse issues, I also have mental health issues as well but you have to address all your issues.

Len Sipes: But look, to me the idea of a woman coming out of an incarcerative setting, coming out – she has kids. You have kids, correct?

Patricia Bradley: Yes, I do.

Len Sipes: Seven out of 10 have kids, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, not a lot of money, not a lot of support, that almost seems to be impossible to overcome all those odds, and the fact that you did it to me is courageous.

Patricia Bradley: Very – very courageous because there was a time, like I said, with the issues, because you can run into different issues. Just simple, something basic, is transportation to get to and from these places. I’m not embarrassed to say one of my sons was helping me with transportation. New Day, they helped, they had a transportation van that would take us to our appointments and different things that we had, and I think that’s where women, one of their biggest issues and biggest problems is just having their basic needs met, you know? Without that, you can’t be successful. You need help in a lot of these areas, and a lot of these programs that we do have, I think with the very few that we do have, in order to be successful, a lot of these women, including myself, they need help, you know, just simple resources, and for me, that’s how I became successful.

Len Sipes: How many kids?

Patricia Bradley: All together, six.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s a lot of kids.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: And they’re going to depend upon you either for financial or emotional support.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it’s just not you, it’s seven human beings – six kids and you.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: A lot of people out there listening to this program are going to say, “Hey, Patricia, I’m really sorry. You did the crime, you did the time, you committed a criminal act. I’m not putting a lot of money into you. If there’s money to be put, I’m going to give it to the school. I’m going to give it to the elderly. I’m going to give it to people from Hurricane Sandy. I not going to give it to you because you’ve been in the criminal justice system. You harmed yourself and harmed other human beings in the process. Why should I support programs for you?” So, that’s the question. Why should people support programs for people like you?

Patricia Bradley: I think we should be supported so that we can, you know, I know a lot of people don’t believe in ex-offenders being given a second chance. They think it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, but I’m here to tell them today that that is not true. Really, that’s kind of a tough question to answer but why not? I mean, one day, you never know, the persons who are saying that, they could be on the other side of the fence too because I never thought I would be an offender. When I had my incident, when I got arrested, I was like 44 years old. I’m now 46, and who would have thought I would commit a crime but I did, you know, so you never know. People really shouldn’t be so, you know, judgment because you never know.

Len Sipes: You never know.

Patricia Bradley: You never know.

Len Sipes: You never know. If you did not have the support either from New Day or from Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency – if you did not have that support, where would you be today?

Patricia Bradley: Being 100% honest you, I probably would have re-offended.

Len Sipes: You probably would have gone back to the criminal justice system?

Patricia Bradley: More than likely, I would say 100% yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Marcia!

Marcia Austin: Hey, Len.

Len Sipes: Hey, how are you doing?

Marcia Austin: I’m good.

Len Sipes: Good, and you were telling me before the program that you’re on supervision now. You’re going to be off supervision in April, and first of all congratulations for that.

Marcia Austin: Thank you, thank you.

Len Sipes: And what was your experience, Marcia? Again, this is a very emotional issue for so many of the women that I’ve talked to throughout the actually 20 years of sitting down and interviewing women caught up in the criminal justice system. They tell me often times very emotional stories, and you basically did the same thing before we hit the record button. Tell me a little bit about your background.

Marcia Austin: My background is coming up, you know, I was abused. I was told I was dumb and I’d never amount to nothing. I grew up with that, you know. I started using drugs to fit in, to have somebody to love me. I started going to jail. I started going to jail early in life because I thought being bad was the way I needed to be because that’s what I was told. I got locked up in 2008 for a stolen car and violation of probation. I got out in 2010. When I got out, I was homeless. I had nowhere to go. I was broke and lonely. I was sad. I was depressed. It wasn’t until that I met my probation officer, Miss Hunnigan, who introduced me to New Day 2. When I got to New Day 2, my emotions was going crazy because I felt caged in. I felt like I couldn’t get no help from them but I was wrong. I had a 30-day black-out period; a 30-day black-out period helped me to be able to map out my long-term and short-term goals. The 30 days allowed me to seek mental health and it helped me with anger management. We took parenting classes in New Day 2 and we prayed often. We had Bible study and we had church, and it helped me with my spiritual side of life. The love that I got from New Day 2, they encouraged me to go to school. They encouraged me to connect with my family, and that’s what I did. I went to school. I went to school for construction and I never thought that I would complete it because I was told I was dumb all my life. I did complete that class and I graduated, and the New Day team, Dr. Anderson and some of her workers, they came to my graduation. They gave me flower and candy, they gave me love and hugs, and I said, “If it feels this good being in love just by doing something good, if I can get this kind of attention, I’m going to keep going,” and that’s what I did. I’m in GED classes now and then I’m in SRO. SRO helps me save money, teaching me how to manage my money, and it’s the next step to getting my own apartment.

Len Sipes: I have two very quick questions for you and then we’re going to go for a break. So before you got involved in CSOSA and in New Day, you felt like what? Give me a quick answer.

Marcia Austin: I felt broken, lonely, on my own.

Len Sipes: And now you feel?

Marcia Austin: I have hope, you know. I feel smarter. I think that I can do anything. My probation officer – I have a probation officer, her name is Farmer, and she shows me much love. She encouraged me and let me know that I can do it, and that’s what I’m doing.

Len Sipes: Let’s go for the break. Ladies and gentlemen, you are listening to DC Public Safety. We are doing a program on women offenders. What we’re trying to do is support the Women’s Reentry Forum that we have every year in the District of Columbia. It is going to be on February 9th from 8 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon at 700 Southern Avenue Southeast in Washington, D.C. Again, it’s part of our larger Reentry Reflections, a wide variety of activities taking a look at reentry in the District of Columbia and throughout the nation. www.csosa.gov is the website to get additional information. Dr. Willa Butler, she is a Clinical Supervisor for Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women, and she used to run groups and invent groups and invent the women’s program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Patricia Bradley and Marcia Austin are our guests who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. Marcia, let me quickly get back to you. Many of the women that I’ve talked to over the decades felt as bad as bad could possibly be, as hopeless as hopeless could possibly be because of the abuse, of the sexual violence, of people calling them names, of people not lifting them up, and I see hundreds of women at this stage of their involvement real human beings. They go from not being human at all to being fully functioning human beings. Is that where you are? Is that where you’re headed?

Marcia Austin: Well, right now I’m right where God want me to be, you know. I’m peaceful, you know. I’m going through some changes but I can deal with it. I can deal with it because I talk about it. I have a psychiatrist. I can always call the staff at New Day 2 and get any kind of information and encouragement that I need. Like I said, I have a probation officer who just smiles when I come in, you know, that makes me want to continue me to good, who encourages me, who hugs me, something I have never had out of a probation officer before. I just want to give a shout-out to Ms. Farmer because she’s an awesome probation officer first, and Ms. Ishiman. But my biggest challenge this year was kind of like leaving New Day 2. I felt like when I leave there, that there was no more love and support but that’s a lie. I call them all the time and they still support me in everything I do, and I’m just going to keep on and letting the women know who’s in the criminal justice system that we need help and we can get it, you know. We just got to keep pushing on. We got to keep the hope.

Len Sipes: And if these programs were not there, where would you be?

Marcia Austin: I would be homeless right now. Without New Day 2, I would have been homeless. I was homeless before I got there. I was broken and depressed. I mean, I was going from house to house to house, you know, and I just thank God for Bishop Staples and Dr. Anderson and Dr. Butler for New Day 2 because I would be in the streets. By now I would be locked up, you know, because when I’m homeless, I steal, I have no food to eat, so when they accepted me into the program, I was the first female there, I mean, I just was shown incredible love.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to go back to you. Okay. So how many times have we done this sort of radio show? This is what, our tenth, eleventh, twelfth time we’ve done this sort of radio and television show, and every time you bring me women who were broken human beings and you’re now at the end of their supervision, at the end of their treatment programs. You bring me women who are repaired human beings. They’re taking care of their kids. They’re taxpayers. They’re not tax burdens. They’re not committing crimes. How in the name of heavens do we convince people that these are programs worthy of support?

Willa Butler: First of all, just listening to the stories here, it’s very rewarding for myself and to have the understanding, and I want people to have the understanding that a second chance is what it is. It is a second chance. We talk about keeping the community safe and reducing recidivism, and the only way you’re going to do that is to ensure that our women, they have jobs, that they’re able to sustain themselves, they can take care of themselves and their families. Just like both Patricia and Marcia were saying earlier, if they didn’t have a place to go, if they didn’t have income, they would go back to committing crimes again because that’s the way they know how to survive and that’s the only way that they have learned how to survive, and if we keep pushing them down and stereotyping them and saying that we’re not going to help you, all we’re doing is what, we’re throwing fuel into the fire, and we can’t do that. When a person is productive, you build self-esteem, they’re building their residual strengths, and like Marcia said and Patricia, “I can do all things,” you know, and that’s what we are promoting here, letting people know that we need their support. And while they’re at New Day 2, we have a lot of wrap-around services that they are getting involved in, they get their needs met, and then they come out and they’re working and they’re productive citizens again.

Len Sipes: The question becomes do we want a more dangerous society or do we want a safer society?

Willa Butler: Right.

Len Sipes: Do we want people paying taxes or do we want people taking our tax money?

Willa Butler: Right. Right. That’s right. We want what? – We want more people paying taxes. We want a drug-free and crime-free environment especially here in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: And we want kids to be taken care of.

Willa Butler: We want our kids to be taken care, and not only that, once we do that, we break that cycle of pain because it’s only going to continue to the next generation, you know, and that’s what we’re trying to stop. We stop here, as they say, the buck stop here, right now and here, and this is beautiful for me to hear these women and to know that not only have I played a part working with CSOSA but also at the Temple, at the Transitional Home, because we brought the same I guess techniques that I’ve used before over there, the Wicker Program, empowering women, and building them up, and letting them know, hey, I can do it. I can really do this thing this time. And like I always say – I know I talk a lot, forgive me – I always say that women are not needy. We always look at women as being needy. No, they are not needy. Their needs have never been met, and if you are constantly in a position where nobody is hearing you, nobody is giving me what I need to survive in this world; of course I’m going to appear to be needy. Of course I’m going to appear to be less vulnerable. Of course I’m going to seem like no, I can’t do it, but I can. I can.

Len Sipes: But the astounding thing to me is that it takes the criminal justice system to intervene in the lives of women? What about everything that happened beforehand? – And Patricia, I’m going to go – I keep giving you the touch questions, Patricia, so get closer to that microphone. I mean, you know, what is it? I mean, we’re the criminal justice system. I mean, it takes us to save you guys and get the programs together to allow you people to cross that bridge to being productive human beings?

Patricia Bradley: Unfortunately, it does, and that’s not really to me a good or bad thing because without it, somebody has to – we have to start somewhere and unfortunately it’s with the criminal justice system. The problem is in society, again, nobody wants to take responsibility for how everything is with the criminal justice system, the criminals themselves, but at some point we have to draw the line, you know.

Len Sipes: And at some point you have to either have the programs or it just continues and continues and continues, and then it affects the kids, your own kids, and then it continues with them. Somewhere along the line it’s got to stop.

Patricia Bradley: It has to stop. We could stop it now before it gets to the kids. The kids are our future, you know. If we don’t stop it now and if society try to get a grip on this, then the kids will be doing the same thing as the parents are doing.

Len Sipes: And this is something that we in the criminal justice system and in criminology have seen decade after decade after decade – women ignored, their problems ignored, and it just continues unabated.

Patricia Bradley: That’s right.

Len Sipes: So, okay, so I’m going to Marcia. We’re in the last couple minutes of the program, so speedy answers. I’m going to give you the same terribly rough question that I gave to Patricia, and that is so people are going to say, “Look, we’ve got all these fiscal difficulties. We’ve got all these budgets cuts. People are asking more of my tax money. Damn, I’ve got to give money to you all? Why? I’ve got schools it should go to. I’ve got my grandmother; she’s getting old, give the money to her. Why give it to ‘criminals’?” So answer that for me, Marcia?

Marcia Austin: Well for me, I am a criminal, I was a criminal, and I changed my life around through help. I mean —

Len Sipes: But you’re not a criminal now.

Marcia Austin: No, I’m not a criminal now but I’m a work in progress every day, first of all. I’m enjoying my life today but what I’m saying, without the support of the United States, we we’d be lost. Without the support of transition homes, without shelters and churches, we’d be lost. We need support, you know, because it goes deeper than just being a criminal. It comes from how we was being raised and what we was taught and the things that happened to us, and we just need support.

Len Sipes: Do you understand how much courage it took for you to do what you did in terms of your background and in terms of all the things that you suffered through. Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am full of courage” because it does take immense courage to overcome what you’ve overcome.

Marcia Austin: Only by the grace of God. Only by the grace of God, only by the programs and the help of the probation officers that encourage you. That makes a difference, it really does.

Len Sipes: The final couple minutes of the program, and either one of you can jump in – so we are going to be doing the Women’s Reentry Forum at 700 Southern Avenue Southeast on February 9th from 8:00 to 3:00, and we’re going to be bringing together hundreds of women caught up in the criminal justice system, and those hundreds of women, they need to hear what, for them to do the same thing, to have the same accomplishments that you two have had. What do they need?

Marcia Austin: They need hope. They need transition homes to be open. They need shelter. They need mental health help. They need clothes and the ways to get around to look for jobs. They need education whether they’ll be able to get it online, to put resumes online. Education is very important because a lot of us don’t have education, and we just need somebody to love us and to guide us and to take a chance with us, you know?

Patricia Bradley: I attended the Forum last year, I was there, and it was very nice. When the women come, what they need, they need information, and that’s what the forum has there. They had a lot of information because a lot of women don’t know, you know. You’re not going to get your answers until you get the information so when they come out; the information is there available for them. That’s what they really need is the information, and then they can pretty much take it from there once they’ve received the information.

Len Sipes: You’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. The program today has been on women offenders. We have been talking to Dr. Willa Butler, the Clinical Supervisor, Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women, Patricia Bradley, off of supervision, and Marcia Austin, soon to be off of supervision. And ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for the extraordinarily powerful stories that you tell, and it’s always the most enlightening and heart-warming of all the other interviews that I do, Willa, these programs on women offenders. We thank everybody for listening, we really do.

Willa Butler: Yes, thank you.

Len Sipes: We appreciate your comments. We appreciate your criticisms. We appreciate whatever information that you have to give to us in terms of new programs or suggestions for how we can do this better, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Research on Women Offenders-Justice Policy Center-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/01/research-on-women-offenders-justice-policy-center-the-urban-institute-dc-public-safety-radio/

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. Our guest today is Nancy La Vigne. She is the Director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute, www.urban.org , one of the premier research organizations in the United States, non-partisan. I think everybody at any level of government, federal government, state government, local government, has used research from the Urban Institute in terms of looking at whatever it is that they want to look at. They have an extraordinary reputation and one of the things that I want to do is to focus on a program that they did. It’s called…or a piece of research called Returning Home. Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry, which represents the only published empirical research with a good sample size, looking at the statistical differences between the experiences of women versus men as they come out of the prison system, thus the title of the show today is Research on Women Offenders. Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Nancy La Vigne:  Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Len Sipes:  Alright. Nancy, I said that you’re non-partisan, that you’re extraordinarily well-known. None of that, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration in any of that. The Urban…but from your lips, the Urban Institute does what?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, the Urban Institute was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, non-partisan research organization, originally designed to evaluate the great society programs of President Johnson, but it has since expanded to include both domestic and international work. We have ten different research centers spanning education policy, health policy, tax policy and, of course, I’m the head of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and within the Justice Policy Center we span a wide array of research from gang and youth violence prevention to courts and, of course prisoner re-entry is one of the cornerstones of our research portfolio in the Justice Policy Center.

Len Sipes:  I mean you’ve looked at law enforcement practices, correctional practices. Heck, you’ve even looked at cameras, speed cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh. Public surveillance cameras, yes.

Len Sipes:  Public surveillance cameras.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  I mean you’ve looked at just about everything there is to look at within the criminal justice system. I always find it delightful when I have an opportunity to talk to you, but this particular piece of research, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry, you’re talking about a piece of research and for the lay person out there, I mean it’s all sorts of research, some good, some bad, some empirically correct, some not empirically correct. What you have is a large piece of research and you’re talking about several jurisdictions where you take a look at men and women coming out of the prison system to establish the differences between their experiences and one of the things that is, I think, extraordinarily important from your research is the fact that there is a huge difference in the experience in men coming out of the prison system. Empirically, women have a greater degree of substance abuse, a greater degree of mental health problems. They don’t have the economic training or the job training before…

Nancy La Vigne:  You’re stealing my thunder here.

Len Sipes:  Oh, I`m sorry. I`m sorry; this is profound. There is a profound difference and I`m not quite sure everybody realizes this.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah. Well, let me start a little by explaining the impetus behind the larger study called Returning Home because at the time we launched it, which was now several years ago, there weren`t a lot of studies that looked beyond what we call recidivism. So there would be researchers who looked at people who were released from prison and determined what percentage of them ended up being returned to prison and with the available data they had, which was mostly administrative records from the Department of Corrections, they were able to say, well, people who were sentenced for these types of crimes or for this length of time were more or less likely to return to prison. That`s what I call recidivism studies, but no one had really done a re-entry study, understanding that re-entry is not a point in time. It`s a process, right? So no one had conducted the kind of study that looked at all the different aspects associated with re-entry success and failure and the only way to do that is to interview people behind bars and track them in the community after their release and interview them in the community as well. So much of the data that helps us explain re-entry success or failure has to come from the people who are experiencing re-entry.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  So that’s why we decided to launch Returning Home. It was a tremendous effort. It involved four different states and, of course, in one of the states we did look at women exiting prison, actually, two because in Maryland we did a pilot where we did a small sample of women there. We ended up looking in Texas because Texas had such a large volume of all kinds of prisoners leaving that we could get a sufficient sample size of women in a relatively short period of time.

Len Sipes:  Second largest correctional system in the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yes, but what we learned in Maryland about women in our pilot study, it was similar to what we found in the Houston sample and rings true when I have conversations both with women who have experienced re-entry as well as service providers who are supporting their successful re-entry. So I think there’s a lot to be said about the experiences of women that perhaps is understudied because when we think of re-entry we look at the numbers and we see that the vast majority of people leaving prison are male and while this is true, it’s also true that the share of women behind bars has increased at a greater rate than that of men.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: Over time. So even though they’re a small population, they’re an increasing populationand their experiences are different, as we’ll discuss in ways that I think have relevance for the development of re-entry programs that may often be overlooked if you’re only looking at a male population.

Len Sipes:  Now, in no way shape or form am I going to try to create a sense of sympathy or justification for crimes committed. If you do the crime, you do the time. I think that’s the prevailing wisdom in so many jurisdictions throughout the country, but women offenders are not only different from male offenders in terms of their experiences when they get out – tell me if I’m right or wrong; feel free to criticize me or if I don’t get it correctly – most women offenders, before they go into the prison system, have multiple histories of abuse by somebody. In my mind, so many of the women offenders that I’ve been in touch with throughout my now 30 years in corrections, were tragic figures. I mean they suffered immense abuse, sexual abuse. Rape is not uncommon not only by people who they know, but in many cases family members. To me, there is no wonder that the rates of substance abuse are higher, that the rate of mental health problems are higher because they come from such violent backgrounds and there is a huge difference between the violence that they encountered in their younger years versus males. Am I right or wrong?

Nancy La Vigne:  I would say that you’re right. I mean certainly women who end up behind bars have extensive histories of substance addiction and mental illness that are very difficult to disentangle from their personal histories of sexual victimization and it’s hard to know which came first, but you can understand how they’d all be interrelated.

Len Sipes:  Most of the women I’ve talked to tell very tragic tales. We’ve had many women offenders before these microphones and they have told, for public airing, their experiences and you just feel as if you’ve just gone through a hugely emotional experience after interviewing them. A lot of times after the program, I’ve said, “Do you really want this to go out on the air? Do you really…you have the choice. I won’t even put this out.” I said, “Do you really want to be that honest and that brutal about your background,” and a lot of them, to a person, they have said, “Yes. I want this to go out. I want to talk about this.”

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, I imagine in some regards it’s cathartic and also I think that a lot of women want to share their stories to shine a bright light on this issue and help people understand better that, yes, they may have committed crimes, but there’s a bigger story to be told.

Len Sipes:  And that bigger story, generally speaking, is not told, correct? I mean one of the things that’s astounded me in my years within the criminal justice system is how little the story is told. It’s as if we’re free to confront the massive amount of abuse and in many cases flat out child abuse in terms of the families that these individuals come from.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. I think that’s right. I’m certainly no expert on the child abuse and specific to women who end up being in the criminal justice system, but thanks for it. That’s right.

Len Sipes:  But before we get into the points of your research, I just wanted to sort of set a stage in terms of the fact that if people are wondering why there’s such a difference in between men and women coming out of prison, it’s my contention…you don’t have to respond to this. It’s my contention that it has much to do with the environments that they came from before they went into the prison system. I was reading in your report where there were two sorts of responses from men and women in terms of getting out. One was I want to control my own life. That was men. And women, I want to reunite with my children.

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh, it’s actually a little bit more colorful than that.

Len Sipes:  Oh, go ahead.

Nancy La Vigne:  So we, in the interviews that we had with people prior to their release, we had a question at the end, which is what survey designers would call an open-ended question, so we didn’t give them the answers. We invited them to come up with their own answers and it was what are you most looking forward to after your release? And, literally, and I’m not exaggerating, the most common answer among men was pizza.

Len Sipes:  Pizza.

Nancy La Vigne:  And second to that, calling my own shots and the single greatest, by a long shot, answer among women was reuniting with my kids. Seeing my baby again and it really speaks to different priorities as well as potentially different support systems.

Len Sipes:  The majority of women getting out of the prison system have children. I’ve seen stats up to 80%.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So, when they come out, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of substance abuse, not only do they have to deal with a higher rate of mental health problems, they’ve got to figure out some way to find work. Then they have less of a work background than men and they have to reunite with their children and somehow support their children. That stacks the odds against women offenders to a degree that it almost seems impossible that they can accomplish all that.

Nancy La Vigne:  No, it definitely makes it more difficult for women that when we compared women to men in our Texas study, we found that they were twice as likely to end up back behind bars than their male counterparts and clearly these challenges that are great for anybody leaving prison, but to know that they’re even more extreme for women, it’s…

Len Sipes:  They were twice as likely to return to Texas?

Nancy La Vigne:  Mm-hmm.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  Mm-hmm.

Len Sipes:  That’s truly amazing and do you think that the stats that you came up with in terms of your own research provides a bit of that explanation?

Nancy La Vigne:  Oh. Yes, for certain, particularly with when it comes to substance abuse. Women were more likely to engage in substance abuse following their release and we know, already, that they had more extensive histories of addiction. It’s very hard to address addiction behind bars, especially if you have a treatment program that doesn’t continue in the community. The research is very clear in that regard and so even if you have the best intentions and you do get access to treatment behind bars, if you don’t get in the community and you’re susceptible to all these temptations, you’re more likely to use and those who are more likely to use are more likely to end up back behind bars. The thing of it is, though, what we found in Texas and it’s hard to know how much this rings true in other locations, but in Texas we found that women were less likely to have access to substance abuse treatment even though there were much, had much greater histories and addiction levels.

Len Sipes:  It seems as if…again, I don’t want to go overboard with this. I talked about what happened before prison. Now, we’re talking about what’s going on inside a prison and the research focuses on leaving prison. They have greater histories of substance abuse, mental health issues, but they do not have the same opportunities that many male offenders have. They’re…

Nancy La Vigne:  To have treatment behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Again, it just seems that the deck is continuously stacked against women offenders.

Nancy La Vigne:  But it has real implications for policy and practice.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Nancy La Vigne:  Just to know that you can make a difference by giving these women more access to services and treatment behind bars. I mean, that’s huge.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, it’s huge. The research does indicate that not many people get any of these services at all within the custodial setting throughout the country.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right. Yeah and we’ve actually found that there’s a high degree of mismatch between those who get it and those who really need it as well.

Len Sipes:  Right and then…

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s not…that’s the scarce resource that’s not even well allocated.

Len Sipes:  That should be allocated towards whom?

Nancy La Vigne:  Those in most need and who they…the women.

Len Sipes:  But the higher risk offender as well as the women offender?

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely. I mean if you’re looking at, you know, you have a re-entry program. You want to look to medium and high risk because that’s where you can make the biggest difference.

Len Sipes:  In terms of going over your stats in Maryland, half the women we interviewed reported daily heroin use. Daily heroin use in the six months leading up to the most recent incarceration compared with slightly more than a third of men and half of women also reported daily cocaine use during that period compared with 22% of men. So we’re not just saying that there is a disparity between use. We’re talking about huge disparity.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s huge disparity. Now, the heroin use statistics may be unique to Baltimore, which has historically had a heroin…

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Nancy La Vigne:  But then that doesn’t seem to show any signs of subsiding, but still. I mean you see the differential between the men and women and it’s tremendous.

Len Sipes:  From a policy point of view, where do we go with all of this? I mean it’s pretty abundantly clear that we are ignoring women offenders. I read somewhere along the line that women do better in treatment programs than male offenders considering the fact that they’re 80%, I think. This is the figure that I’ve read, so just say somewhere between 60 and 80% have children. This means a lot to society to provide these programs because we can take them out of circulation, out of the criminal justice system, if they do better in treatment programs than men and all those kids suddenly have a source of income. They have their mom. They’re being taken care of. There are huge ramifications from a societal point of view in terms of your research.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah, I would agree with that. I’d also clarify a point that…

Len Sipes:  Please.

Nancy La Vigne:  Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around because we talk about children. We think that they’re minors. They’re children, right? But, actually, when we delved deeper into the issue of support systems for both men and women when they were leaving prison, we looked at family support and we asked people do you have someone in your life who is there for you, who supports you, who will provide housing for you, support you financially, etc. and we were heartened to learn that women did, almost as much as men. They reported roughly the same degree of family support but the sources of support were very different. For men, it was usually either kind of senior maternal figure in their lives – a grandmother, an aunt or a significant other, partner, sometimes a sister. For the women, it was typically their adult children. So when you talk about children, actually, a lot of these women have adult children. If you look at the average age of release, it’s something like 34, 35 years. Maybe a little bit older for women than men and they have adult children of their own who they are relying on to support them.

Len Sipes:  Good point. Good point. Thanks for the clarification. I do want to get on to the issue of family support and I do want to get on to the issue of the difference between men and women when they come out dealing with that level of family support, but let me reintroduce you; ladies and gentlemen, Nancy La Vigne. She’s the Director of the Policy Justice Center…Justice Policy Center – I’m sorry – for the Urban Institute here in Washington, D.C. www.urban.org, www.urban.org, so family support is crucial for all offenders coming out of the prison system. Your research shows that the greater the degree of family support while they’re incarcerated, the better they do when they get out, correct?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, actually, the greater the support post-release, the better that you do. However, that is predicted by more contact with family behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Right. If there’s continuous line of communication while they’re behind bars that paves the way…

Nancy La Vigne:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  For more communication, more interaction, more…

Nancy La Vigne:  More support.

Len Sipes:  Support, more cooperation when they get out. Most prisons are located literally hundreds of miles from the areas where these offenders came from.  In the District of Columbia, they all go to federal prison.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right. Most of the women are housed in…oh, I think it’s Pennsylvania and some of them as far as Texas.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hmm and West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas, but they are spread out all over the place, but even when the 14 years when I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, Hagerstown, Cumberland, the Lower Eastern Shore, they were within the state, but they might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right, in terms of transportation.

Len Sipes:  Right. Cumberland’s not easy to get to.

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  From the Baltimore, Prince Georges County areas where most of Maryland’s crime occurs, I mean it’s quite a hike to get to some of these prisons. So they’re isolated and they’re far away. How do you maintain that level of contact when you’re isolated and far away?

Nancy La Vigne:  Yeah. Well, it’s very difficult and we did have a family component of our Returning Home study where we interviewed family members and discussed both the challenges of staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones as well as the challenges associated with welcoming them back into their homes and communities and by far, the single greatest reason for not having contact with their incarcerated family members was the distance of the prison from home. Texas was unique at the time. They didn’t allow phone contact…

Len Sipes:  Really?

Nancy La Vigne:  With prisoners at all, which is stunning. So it was mostly letters. That’s it.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne:  I believe that’s since changed, although, in other states, other jurisdictions, you will hear complaints about the high cost of toll calls and it’s actually a tax on the inmates and their families, which I’ve heard some correctional administrators justify as the only means that they can have to raise funds to provide programs and services, but it seems a little bit wrong-headed to create barriers to contact with prisoners and their family members just to generate resources to serve them. It’s almost like they go against each other, those two efforts.

Len Sipes:  I think it’s the State of Washington and I read this just within the last couple of days is they’re now providing video contact between offenders and family members and that struck me as being the best of all possible worlds.

Nancy La Vigne:  That’s right and they’re looking into that for the DC code felons as well and it’s something that I would recommend as a great compromise given the distance. It’s really so disruptive to a family to set out to journey to a prison to see their incarcerated family member, not just the actual distance or cost of gas, but the nature of a prison setting is such that you never know when you arrive whether they’re going to be in lockdown and there’s no visitation. It could be either cancelled for the day or more likely what happens is they say we’re on lockdown. We don’t know when we won’t be on lockdown, so you’re just waiting and wondering what to do. Often, people bring children because they think it’s important for the children to see their incarcerated parent and yet, these environments aren’t kid-friendly.

Len Sipes:  No, they’re not. As somebody who’s been in and out of a lot of prisons, it’s downright brutal.  It really is for the family members and for the kids.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right, so video conferencing is a great way to achieve that family contact that’s so important in shoring up support on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Now, in terms of employment. One of the things that we find is that per your research is that they don’t have the same employment opportunities or backgrounds as males and they come out and that lack of employment and the lack of skills really hurt them upon release. I mean it just keeps going on and on and on in terms of the disparities between males and females.

Nancy La Vigne:  And that’s right and if you…it’s no surprise when you consider that if women have more extensive histories of substance addiction, they’re going to have more spotty employment history, so they’re already going into it at a disadvantage. Certainly, after release they’re less likely to find employment. Even those women who do find employment end up earning less than males at about $1.50 less per hour than their male counterparts and then – I know, I feel like a broken record on the substance addiction issue – but to me, I know a lot of people say the key to successful re-entry is finding a job and I always say, “Is it really?” Because what good does it do to find a job if you haven’t dealt with your addiction issues?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  It’s just giving you resources to go and buy drugs and continue your habit and soon enough you’re not showing up at work. You’ve lost your job. You’re committing crimes to buy drugs and you’re back behind bars.

Len Sipes:  Or your mental health issues.

Nancy La Vigne:  Right.  I mean most of us these days…I say us.  You and I, Leonard, are really immersed in this issue of prisoner re-entry, talk about a holistic approach that you can’t really just tackle prisoner re-entry by looking at one thing and certainly employment is critical but especially for women, you need to look at it holistically.

Len Sipes:  Well, I mean, look. Just the differences on employment between males and females where 38% of men had jobs lined up, 17% of women had jobs lined up before leaving. In the prison system 61% were employed upon leaving – men.  37% of women were employed upon leaving the prison system. Obviously, the stats show and I don’t want to beat this point to death, but I don’t want to leave it alone either. I mean the disparities between men and women are huge. I go back to the same thing I said before. They do better in programs than men. They have better track records.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think I know why.

Len Sipes:  Go.

Nancy La Vigne:  I think it’s because…one of the findings we had in comparing men to women is their expressions for need for help and…now, granted. We’ve already given a lot of examples of why women should need more help, but they’re also more willing to say I need help. So that’s a different kind of an attitude entering a treatment program knowing that you need help and admitting it readily and I think that makes you more open to receiving it and benefiting from it.

Len Sipes:  I did one year of jail or job corps where the younger individuals were given the choice by the court – go to job corps or go to jail. Seventy percent of the women that I encountered were wonderful compared to maybe 30% of the men. Now, that may just be my own internal bias, but the women that I encountered said to themselves, “I’m in a jam. Job corps can give me a skill. It can give me the tools. It could relocate me if necessary. I want to reunite with my kids.” The women were by far my best students.

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, you just referenced reuniting with children. I’m getting back to that topic. I mean, clearly, that women have a bigger stake in making good on the outside because of their ties to their children, whether they’re grown children or not. Certainly, if they’re minor children, they have even more of a vested interest and we even found that among the men in our research, those who had stronger ties to their minor kids…

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  Did better on the outside.

Len Sipes:  Did better. Everybody does better on the outside.

Nancy La Vigne:  More likely to get a job, more likely to stay out of prison.

Len Sipes:  They have the motivation and it’s the kids and family that provides them with that motivation and it’s the contact that they have while in prison that builds that bridge to that motivation.

Nancy La Vigne:  But make no mistake, I mean just having a child doesn’t give you that stake. I mean what we don’t know well, although, we know some from our research, is what those relationships were like before the incarceration. So in some cases, including in the case of women, they had very little, if any, contact with their kids because they were on the street.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Nancy La Vigne:  Someone else was caring for their kids and had been for some time now.

Len Sipes:  But the idea of being in prison and having the opportunity to contemplate who they are, where they are…

Nancy La Vigne:  What’s important to them.

Len Sipes:  What’s important to them. Where they want to go. Most of the individuals that I have met within the correctional system that is the first thing that they express. That they express a) regret for everything that’s happened and b) they really have this burning desire to reunite with their kids. I’m not quite sure, quite frankly, that that burning desire is there with the men.

Nancy La Vigne:  No. I think it’s not. There’s been some more qualitative research in the UK looking at fathers and trying to get them more bonding with their children prior to their release that suggests that it’s possible and that there are great benefits from doing so, but we’re starting at a different place, I think, with men than with women.

Len Sipes:  I think we’re starting at an incredible different place between men and women. Final couple of minutes – if you’re talking to the Mayor of Milwaukee, if you’re talking to an aide to a Governor in California, what do you say?

Nancy La Vigne:  Well, certainly, don’t cut your re-entry programs. We understand that financial times are very difficult right now and that it’s easy to think about the things that people don’t see as the easiest to cut, what to put on the chopping block. Are you going to close a prison? Are you going to cut a program? I would argue keep the programs in place and look at those programs and think about whether they are truly catered to the people that you’re trying to serve. In the case of women, I’ve heard some people argue that you can develop re-entry programs that are the same for men and women and I think that there might be some truth to that, but it doesn’t acknowledge the different way women approach treatment, approach learning and approach life. So programs that are more tailored to women who are leaving prison, I think, could really benefit them greatly.

Len Sipes:  About 30 seconds left. Are women the low-hanging fruit of the criminal justice system? Women offenders, are they the ones who, if you provided the resources, would get you a good bang for your dollar, a good investment for your correctional dollar?

Nancy La Vigne:   I don’t know that I can say that. I think that because of their extensive drug addiction histories, they’re a tough population to deal with. Certainly, the benefits can be great, but it might take more effort at the outset before you can see those benefits.

Len Sipes:  But if you have an impact with women offenders or offenders across the board, that can save states literally tens of millions of dollars.

Nancy La Vigne:  Absolutely and, of course, in the case of women, if you’re supporting their successful re-entry, you’re also supporting their families and kids.

Len Sipes:  Nancy La Vigne, the Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute.  Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on DC Public Safety. Before we go, www.urban.org, it’s the website for the Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your cards, letters, your phone calls, your emails, your suggestions, your criticisms. We appreciate your participation in the show and have yourself a very, very pleasant day.

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