“The Next Door” and Women Reentry from Prison-National Criminal Justice Association

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Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Ladies and Gentleman, we have an extraordinarily interesting show today from the National Criminal Justice Association, we’re doing a series of shows with the National Criminal Justice Association looking at outstanding programs and pertinent issues regarding the Criminal Justice System, and what they’ve done today is to bring in the outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award winners, and I’m going to introduce three individuals; Pat Dishman, who is with the state of Tennessee, the Office of Criminal Justice Program. She is the Director. Linda Leather is the Chief Executive Officer, and she is with “The Next Door”, and “The Next Door” is a program for woman coming out of prison, coming out of the jail system. Also, we have the Chief Clinical Officer, Cindy Snead. She is also with Next Door and to Pat, and to Linda, and to Cindy. Welcome to DC public safety.

All: Thank you so much, good morning.

Len Sipes: Before we continue, a little commercial. We are way above 1,000,100,000 (one million/one hundred thousand) requests for the program. We’ve listened to every suggestion that you make, and we incorporate most of those suggestions you make into the show. Feel free to contact us at DC Public Safety through your search engine, or simply go to http://media.csosa.gov. That stands for Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the agency that I am with, and getting back to the program.

Okay, so the National Criminal Justice Association wants to feature dynamite criminal justice programs throughout the country and you guys run this program dealing with women and coming out of the prison system, coming out of the jail system. Linda Leathers, you are the Chief Executive Officer of “The Next Door”, Inc. Why don’t you start off the program and explain what “The Next Door” is.

Linda Leathers: Thanks, Len, we are so excited about this opportunity to tell the nation about “The Next Door.” We’re a residential transition center that focuses on the needs of women coming out of incarceration. It’s housing. It’s recovery-based. It works with workforce development. We work with the needs of addiction and the mental health needs. We really concentrate on giving the woman the greatest opportunity for success when she re-enters society. That’s our goal, that’s our mission, and that’s our passion.

Len Sipes: Cindy Snead, you’re the Chief Clinical Officer. That means that you have to diagnose and make decisions as to who these individuals are and what they need.

Cindy Snead: Exactly, and we make the assumptions that everyone coming into our system has a mental disorder or at least some underlying mental health needs, as well as an addiction to a substance, and most woman who have an addiction to a substance also have cross-addictions, such as sexual addictions, gambling addictions, etc.

Len Sipes: And I’m going to go to Pat Dishman, the Director of the Office of Criminal Justice Program. Pat, now, you are principally a guiding agency for the state of Tennessee in terms of guiding criminal injustice endeavors, and my guess is that you also provide funding, and you also provide some of the funding for “The Next Door.”

Pat Dishman: That’s correct, and we are very happy to be a part of that collaboration. The State of Tennessee, as many of the states in the country, are looking at ways to deal with the whole re-entry issue of people who have spent time in the Criminal Justice System, as they come back into society, and “The Next Door” offered us a wonderful opportunity to support that, along with services for woman who had been institutionalized.

Len Sipes: I’m going to give out some contact points now, (202) 628-8550, for the National Criminal Justice Association, www.ncja.org and for “The Next Door”, and this is simply if you are going to search for information on “The Next Door” and it’s simply, www.TheNextDoor.org, and do I have that correctly, everybody?

All: Yes, Sir.

Len Sipes: Alright, let’s get into the gist of the program, and what we have is a situation where woman are now facing an increasing rate of incarceration. There are a higher percentage of the prison population than ever before, and I’ve done some radio shows and television shows at DC Public Safety on women offenders, and one of the astounding things is the rate of sexual violence towards woman as children. The research seems to indicate that the majority come from backgrounds of neglect, abuse and sexual violence.

I sat down with a group of women offenders once time at a prison in the state of Maryland, in a pre-release center, and I was astounded when I heard that an awful lot of them didn’t want to leave, that in that institution they had their meals, they had the counseling, they were getting their GEDs, they were getting occupational certificates in the big jail. This is a prison. The pre-release center. There, they felt safe. There, they felt that the world would not abuse them. Outside, there were no guarantees. Any comments to what I’m saying.

Linda Leathers: Well, we hear the woman commonly say in our program there are worse things than jail, and what you’ve described, you know, is the true state of affairs for many of our women, and they don’t have safe places to return to, and many of their families are in active addiction. The stressors of, inasmuch as they want, and since we’re talking about women, we have to bring in the children factor. You know, most of our women have children. Statistically, I believe, it’s over 50% of the woman incarcerated, and I think that’s low. Women across the country have at least 2.5 children a piece, and given that, they will say, “I’m ready to go home to be a mother to my children,” but when they return without the proper support in those homes, their children themselves, and the issues related to parenting, become huge stressors that drive them back into addiction and many times back into the Criminal Justice System.

Cindy Snead: And I would say, Len, that we’ve served, with “The Next Door”, since we opened in May of 2004, over 475 women and over 88% of those women would say that they were traumatized. They were abuse was as children, and you are right, it is sexual, and it is horrible, and it was never treated, and so then we get in this cycle of having to self-medicate because I don’t know how to deal with my pain and then you do whatever it takes to get your next hit of drugs, and so it becomes a vicious cycle that leads to criminal behavior. Sometimes, we get a chance here, at “The Next Door”, to tell them for the first time ever that it wasn’t their fault and to help them get help from the core abuse that has caused them great, great pain in their life.

Len Sipes: You know people are going to accuse me of being a screaming liberal here, and I come from a law enforcement background as where I started off with the Maryland State Police before I left to go to college, and you know I can be quite a bit of a conservative on a lot of issues when it comes to the Criminal Justice System, but here is my guess, and any of you can jump in and/or say I’m wrong, but an awful lot, and I’m not making excuses for these individuals. If they have done the crime, they should do the time, but I found that the overwhelming majority of the women offenders that I have been in contact with, throughout my professional career, are not what I consider to be a danger to society. In many cases, they are acting out their own addictions, or acting out their own mental health issues and they are more of a pain in the rear to society, more than they are a danger to society, and if given the treatment services, mental health services, substance abuse services and if they are given assistance in terms of dealing with their kids, they will be taxpayers and not tax burdens. Response?

Cindy Snead: I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s absolutely accurate, and you know, if the world were perfect, we could get to these woman before they ever reached the Criminal Justice System in the first place, and the reality is that there’s a phrase, you know, when you go to prison, you’re rehabbed, and there is the other thought that you have to be “habbed” in the first place, and the women that are entering our criminal justice society, they don’t have the tools to survive on their own, and the majority of the woman are being incarcerated as a result of some drug-related offense, be it prostitution, or larceny or theft in order to obtain drugs, in reality, the majority of it is drug-related. I believe that it’s not enough to know that the woman uses drugs, and that’s what sends her to prison. You have to get to why she uses drugs in the first place.

Len Sipes: Right, and Cindy Snead, you are the Chief Clinical Officer, my guess is that the heart and soul of their substance abuse, and the heart and soul of their acting out, is the fact that they were neglected as kids, and in many cases hit as kids, and in many cases sexually abused as kids, right or wrong?

Cindy Snead: That’s absolutely true, and basically that is proven again and again, and really the women and the statistics of the women coming into “The Next Door” and moving into society after leaving our program mirror that of the prisons. I mean, that’s common sense, and that’s why a lot of our program has been set up as a recovery and we are in the system of care to address all of those needs.

You know, a mental health disorder or an addiction, to me, is not an excuse for bad behavior.

Len Sipes: And we have to get that point across. It is not an excuse for bad behavior. In all the ills of this world, and all of the millions upon millions of individuals who turn to our Criminal Justice System, I mean we can make excuses in terms of their childhood and their upbringing for probably the majority of them, but yet there is a certain point where society has got to say no. There is a certain point where society has got to say, the prostitution brings down my community, the drug use brings down my community, the other crimes you were involved in bring down my community. So I understand why people are saying, “Hey, you know, they committed crimes, for the love of the heavens, shouldn’t they be held responsible?” But, I think some of the scariest things that you can do to a female offender is to put them in treatment to confront what’s happened to them previously and to go through the therapeutic community, and to go through the drug treatment. That, to me, is the scariest thing, and is the harshest thing, in fact, that you can do, if you will, to these individuals, so I don’t know how, and I’m stumbling here. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but if there are people who want that pound of flesh for individuals disobeying the law, to me, that is the pound the flesh. To me, that is the most difficult thing they will ever do in their lives, confronting their past.

Pat Dishman: Len, I think you’re right, and from a state’s perspective, and I also think from a national perspective, the re-entry issue, which is really part of what we are talking about here, whether it is women or men, “The Next Door” is just a wonderful example of a program for women, and we really have to confront. I mean, not only is it the right thing to do, but also it is a hugely important budget issue for the country and for the state. Do we continue to build more and more beds, more and more brick and mortar, or do we really try to deal with the issue of recidivism and reduce that and get to the heart of the program and help people not re-enter the system once they’ve paid their pound of flesh, and they’ve left.

Len Sipes: I have a woman when we were serving warrants in a section of Washington DC one time, and I think she summed up the whole re-entry movement, in my mind, beautifully. She was a member of the community and she simply said, “You know, the ones that need the help. The ones that really want the help, need the help and are willing to change, help them, but the ones who aren’t take them. Get them out of my community,” and I think that’s the heart and soul of it, that there are literally millions of people who can be helped, and there are literally millions of people who probably, at this stage in their lives, are unwilling to be helped, so there should be the re-entry programs in place for those individuals who are ready to be helped.

Cindy Snead: I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think what you are describing, Len, is a point of readiness. You know, I can see a woman that says, you know, “I’m ready to change, and I’m ready to change this, that and the other, specifically, in my life,” but she goes out and commits another crime, is re-incarcerated, and I ask her again, “So, are you ready to change now?” and she says, “Yes, I’m ready to change.”

So many times, my experience has taught me that those points of incarceration are moments of opportunity and that they are safe off the street long enough to really work with that woman, engage her and encourage that change in her life, and as Linda said early in the program, recovery from mental illness is absolutely possible. Recovery from addiction is absolutely possible, and recovery from going out and getting that fast money versus trying to make it on minimum wage with two children, you’ve go a lot of societal factors that are working against you, but you know recovery is possible with the right people and the right system that never gives up on them.

Pat Dishman: And that’s reinforcement, also Len, of “The Next Door” for us, as a state funding agency. We are charged with, and of course the federal government continues to press this point, as we do in all the states, we don’t have the resources to place in programs that are not effective, that do not produce the outcome that we all need.

Len Sipes: That gets to the heart and soul of it. At what point can we, as governmental people, look the citizens square in the eye and say, “You know what, this program works. These people, a certain percentage, will become taxpayers instead of tax burdens. Your life is going to be safer because of it, and you are going to save money.” Can we do that? Can we look the citizen in the eye in terms of “The Next Door” Incorporated and say, this works.

Cindy Snead: I would say absolutely, and we show it through outcomes. We welcome accountability from all our funders. It’s important, and if we receive funding, there ought to be results, and we realize that, we welcome it, and actually we look forward to it because it allows us a greater platform to say, “Look what is happening.” I would just say, Len, 14% of the recidivism rates of women who come through our six-month program, and then leave our program after four years, 14% which is phenomenal.

Len Sipes: It is phenomenal. People don’t understand how good that is.

Cindy Snead: Right, because that 14%, that means that 86% are doing great and are working hard on their recovery, or if they’re having challenges, they’re calling back home. We are home for women, and programs like this can be established all over the country for both woman and men, because they just need a chance.

You said something earlier, that I just wanted to go back to. Our women are not bad women. They just make terrible choices, they want a second chance, and that is what we are here to give them.

Len Sipes: That’s the difficulty in terms of the larger discussion throughout the country, because, you know, and the people who have listened to this program have heard me give this example endlessly that my wife, who was the vice president of a PTA, said, “Why are we giving money to people who have harmed society? Why don’t we give this to the schools where we can wipe this out? We can do a much better job with our children if we put all this money into the schools.”

My mother, God bless her soul, said, “I’ve been through the Great Depression. I’ve been through the Second World War, at what point do we take care of the seniors of this country? Why is money going to people who have harmed other human beings?”

And the third question, is, okay, if these programs are so great, why aren’t they in every city and every community throughout the country?

So, there’s got to be a reason for the general reluctance, or we are just beginning to prove ourselves. I don’t know how to respond to all that.

Pat Dishman: I think it’s the second part, Len, that you just said. When you have so much as a funding agency, at the national, state or local level, tied up in, if you will, beds and/or bricks and mortar, I think it’s very difficult to find the dollars to either use on the front end of the system, which is prevention, which is what your wife is saying, obviously, and/or the backend which is ensuring that once the debt to society has been paid that services are available like “The Next Door” that are effective that can help to support those woman as they continue crime-free, hopefully, throughout the rest of their lives. It’s all a balance, and we never have enough money throughout the whole system, and I think that’s the best thing to say, at the time that you need it, but if we produce effective and support effective programs, then obviously one would hope over time that we can handle all of those budgetary problems in a way that citizens can feel good about.

Len Sipes: Ladies and Gentleman, you are listening to DC Public Safety. We have a program today from the National Criminal Justice Association. The National Criminal Justice Association has nominated this program for the Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award, and I want to give contact points out, (202) 628-8550, for the National Criminal Justice Association here in Washington, DC, www.ncja.org and the program we are talking about today is “The Next Door”, and you can find them through the internet at www.TheNextDoor.org, and do I have that correctly, everybody? We have three individuals: Pat Dishman, Director of the State of Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice programs; Linda Leathers, Chief Executive Officer for “The Next Door”; and Cindy Snead, Chief Clinical Officer The Next door. An extraordinarily interesting program. Cindy, do you go home broken-hearted at times in terms of all the stories of the individuals who come to you? I had a woman one time in a forum we were doing, stand up and simply said, “The woman I’m living with pulled a knife on me and my two children and told us to get out, so I’m now homeless with two kids, what are you going to do about it?” and that’s the day to day reality of women offenders coming out of the jail and prison systems. They have kids. They have the enormous responsibility of taking care of those kids. They want to be clean, but it’s very difficult making your way from point A to point B.

Cindy Snead: Yes, it is, and yes my heart has been broken many, many times, and I have to say that if I don’t feel their pain to a certain extent, then I’m impaired professionally myself, and that’s a dangerous balance, and trying to maintain self-care for all of our staff because we do put so much into the work of “The Next Door” and we believe every woman is worth another shot and another opportunity, so I will say, as well, that one of the things is that, the more you work with these women, and you mentioned earlier how this has got to be one of the toughest things ever to do, which is to face whatever caused that pain, and being here for six months in our transitional living program, you have an opportunity to really begin to work on that, and do it with a lot of support around, so it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid really fast versus ripping it off slowly and then beginning to dig into that wound, and what has caused that pain. The more you work with them, the more you figure out that they are not victims as they have seen themselves in the past, but they emerge as survivors.

I mean, the things these women have survived, every story that you hear is a privilege to hear, and it is just as painful as the one before it, and one of the things that “The Next Door” has really learned a lot in the past couple of years is that we need to put more of our injury into the intergenerational impact of addiction, and subsequently the crimes that come with that, and that means backing up and doing some prevention work with the children of the woman coming out of our programs, so we are really taking a strong interest in working with these little kids, and some of them are adult children of these woman, and try and help them learn how to talk to one another and help the mom explain where she has been and why she has been where she has been.

Len Sipes: Well, the research on the children of incarcerated parents seems to indicate a lot of this dysfunction, of early age of onset of drug use, of alcohol, and getting involved in the Criminal Justice System, so if there are 2.5 kids for every woman in the Tennessee Criminal Justice System, and I don’t know if that’s a national figure or a Tennessee figure, we are at the same time, I am assuming, addressing the needs of those kids by addressing the needs of the mother, and we do that collectively.

Pat Dishman: Exactly, Len, and back to that point of balance, I think that we’re trying to make certain that everyone gets the services that they need, but also the balance in regard to funding effective programs versus programs that are not as effective. I would just like to make the point, and I know your listeners are well aware of this, but struggling with funding at any time is always an issue, but lately during the last few years we have found ourselves in a situation of almost, for all spending in our country because of a our problems, where we are looking at perhaps reduced funding, and one of the things that we have been very concerned about with “The Next Door” is that if cuts are happening to our level of funding that we can use to support these kinds of programs, then what will we do to address the issues of the women and their children if we are faced with those kinds of real happenings that could occur.

Len Sipes: Well, you have federal budget cuts that go down to the state, and agencies like yourself, the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, virtually ever state in the country has a similar type of office where monies flow through. You’re supposed to coordinate the anti-crime effort in the state of Tennessee, as the other offices are supposed to create anti-crime efforts in their own states, and if you don’t have the funding flowing from DC, then you don’t have the ability, or you have less of an ability to fund innovative programs like “The Next Door.”

Pat Dishman: That’s right, and I would like for Linda and Cindy to talk a little bit about how wonderful their collaboration has been. Our office, the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, has used the Bar and Justice Assistance Grant to offer funding “The Next Door.” Now, I know that they also, because they have done such a good job of collaboration, and really using funds to leverage against other funds, they have money from different state departments, and I think Linda you also have another federal grant, but in regard to that Bar and Justice Assistance Grant, Len, we have seen that funding go up and down for the last few years, and unfortunately this last year, which was the Federal Fiscal Year 2008, we received reduction in that formula grant, and everyone of course, almost 67%, which is pretty staggering when you are trying to deal with how do we keep this money flowing to programs like “The Next Door.”

Cindy Snead: And I’ve said, Len, it’s so important that we provide housing with the supportive services. It’s not either/or. It must both, and with the Bar and JAG, I felt it was an amount of money for three years in which we could really invest in our substance abuse treatment, our recovery support services, and so we do believe as an organization, and we would encourage any organization to think about diversity of funding, but not all of any funding that is coming from one source, but this has been a tremendous source of funding for us that really established a program that has now become a national model, so groups, the treatment plans and the goal setting are all a part of this grant, and I will tell you we are so grateful for the accountability that the Criminal Justice Program demands of our program. I know that they are utilizing that money very faithfully, because the requirements of the program are great, and that is what should happen for government leaders and therefore, for taxpayers like me, it’s great to know that the money has been administered well.

Pat Dishman: And that actually gets to your point, Len, you can actually look at the taxpayer and say, “For this dollar invested, this is what we got back for you.”

Len Sipes: Yeah, and I think that’s probably the most important thing that we can do for the taxpayer because they are simply asking, “Where are my dollars going, and what is that doing to make me safer, and what are you doing to relieve the tax burden from me?” and I think that has to happen. But, now, to be perfectly fair, there are going to be a lot of people who will say, “Look, Ladies, if the program is that wonderful, why doesn’t the state of Tennessee fund it?”

Pat Dishman: Sure, absolutely, and it , Linda, I’m trying to think. I know you don’t have any state dollars from us. Are their state dollars from any other department at this point.

Linda Leathers: You know, we do. Again, diversity of funding from those private donations, corporations, foundations, some governmental, local, state and federal are so crucial to the mix, that we can’t get lopsided on any one of those. We do receive some money from the Department of Mental Health and Development. We do receive some funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) through the Accessed Recovery Grant, but the Bar and JAGrant has been most instrumental in helping us get to the point of building the quality program in which we are showing the outcomes and for which we definitely need for this society.

Pat Dishman: Len, your point about the state’s support, you are absolutely right, and what our job is, in this office, as in the other state departments, is to make sure that we are not duplicating services, to work together and to also have a team put our money, the taxpayers money in Tennessee that comes through Tennessee State Government, into the programs that are the most effective in that we can produce the best results for the least amount of money.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the whole idea behind all of the Offices of Criminal Justice Programs throughout the country, and I think there are different reasons why the National Criminal Justice Association is as interested in this discussion, because everybody understands that we have to maximize our dollars and we have to prove our worthiness to the taxpayer, and I think that as long as we do that, we are going to receive some support, and that’s why I think that the state of Tennessee and “The Next Door,” I think is a profoundly good example of holding ourselves, we in the Criminal Justice System, accountable because I think in the final analysis, if we can’t prove our worth, then it’s going to be awfully hard to go to people and ask for money. You got to prove your worth.

Now, we have two minutes. Ladies, any other final points?

Linda Leathers: Well, from “The Next Door” standpoint, it’s wonderful to see changes occur in the lives of women, because we know that transformation is going to work down to the families, so we are changing generational patterns, and that’s what funding does. That’s what peer relationships does, that’s what quality services do. We can’t say thank you enough to the Criminal Justice Program, to the Bar and JAG, and so many people out there that are working in the system and outside the system when they come out, to make a woman’s life successful when she come out.

Pat Dishman: And then what we are going to do, is that we are going to continue as a state to work, and obviously with the state dollars that we have, but also with the National Criminal Justice Association, as we continue to tell the story, as you have said, to the American Citizen about what is needed and how we can ensure that the money that is placed in our stead to use is used most effectively.

Len Sipes: Cindy?

Cindy Snead: Well, Len, I would say in closing that the message that I think that we are trying to communicate here today is that a woman is not her crime, and “The Next Door” exist to give the woman the tools to prove it.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ll tell you, I think that your program, and I’ve been in touch with other programs throughout the country, and a program here in the District of Columbia, and I think these programs are extraordinarily important. I think they allow an individual, if they are ready, to cross that bridge and take care of their kids. All of us in the Criminal Justice System have simply seen way too many kids go neglected, and we say to ourselves, that if we can somehow, some way deal with this problem of neglect and have people raise their kids responsibly and we can have a real impact on the overall issue of crime and justice within this country, and I think that’s what you are trying to do. You are trying to help the individual offenders cross that bridge and take care of their kids, and that’s what everybody wants. I think that’s the bottom line to me.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety Program of the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in Washington, DC. The program today has been coordinated by the National Criminal Justice Association, and their program “The Next Door” was their Outstanding Criminal Justice Program award winner. The contact points for the National Criminal Justice Association are (202) 628-8550, or www.ncja.org and for information about “The Next Door”, “it is www.TheNextDoor.org and to Linda Leathers, Cindy Snead and to Pat Dishman, thank you ladies.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is again DC Public Safety, and we do listen to every comment that you make. We take them into consideration, contact us at DC Public Safety through your internet search engine, or simply go and search for media.csosa.gov and have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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