Trip to China-What Works-Interview With Tom Williams

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I am your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Thomas H. Williams. Tom has been with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency since March of 2000. He is an associate director; he is in charge of the largest by far part of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. One of the reasons why we have Tom to the microphone is that Tom a little while ago went to China. He went to China to deliver a paper to an international organization that was delving into what works in terms of the criminal justice system. And Tom went to China to deliver a paper in terms of what works in terms of community supervision. Tom Williams, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thomas H. Williams: Well thank you, Len, glad to be your guest this morning.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Tom, let’s see-you went to China, and I’m not even going to try to pronounce the name of the city that you went to. Where did you go in China?

Thomas H. Williams: It was Punong, China.

Leonard Sipes: Punong, China. Okay. And you went there about a year ago or so?

Thomas H. Williams: In October-the 16th through the 19th of 2006.

Leonard Sipes: All right. That had to be an extraordinarily exciting trip.

Thomas H. Williams: It was a long flight though.

Leonard Sipes: [Laughs] How long was it, by the way?

Thomas H. Williams: Oh about 12 hours.

Leonard Sipes: About 12 hours, a long time on the airplane. And you were invited by the University of Maryland to go to China and do what?

Thomas H. Williams: Well actually the University of Maryland has a relationship with Shanghai University in China with regards to how do we identify leaders in the future. The University of Maryland in that program that they have, they have a reciprocal relationship where they will then do training in the classroom setting at the university. And I was asked to come along with a group of other folks to deliver a paper. And it’s interesting about the Chinese in that they are starting to go into the field of community corrections. As some of your listeners know, if you commit an offense in China, there’s only one alternative and that’s prison. And folks go to prison for a very long time, even for minor offenses.

Leonard Sipes: So there is no community supervision-it’s either not guilty or you go to prison?

Thomas H. Williams: Right. And that’s the way the statute is currently. And with the providences they have in China naturally, each local jurisdiction is governed by a province leader and then who gets involved in making the laws for that province. But the Chinese recognize that if they want to get into the issues of the western world, they really do have to change some of their processes. And one of the things that they are looking at very closely is community corrections. Even though they’re starting to get into that right now, they’re not certainly as heavily involved in community corrections as the United States or Canada.

Leonard Sipes: Or not involved at all, you’re being polite. [Laughs] Okay, so the point is that you either are declared not guilty or you go to prison. Now I’ve heard that the-I know that the rates of incarceration in the United States are some of the highest if not the highest within the western industrialized world. But I hear that China is one of the few countries that beats the United States in terms of rates of incarceration. And if you don’t have the opportunity to sentence to community supervision, then I can easily understand why they have such a high rate of incarceration.

Thomas H. Williams: Well they do. I mean, when you look at some of the offenses that are committed there, some of the drug offenses, what we consider very light activity with regard to prostitution, folks are treated very harshly in that environment. That’s not a criticism, that’s just a reality of the situation. And certainly crime is frowned upon because this is a very high social stigma associated with it. But one of the things that China is facing right now with the increase in industrialization and also profits that are coming into that country, certain folks are moving off the farms and then coming to the city looking for work and unfortunately it’s not like it is in the United States. If you and I decide well where we live is not the place where you want to go, you want to go somewhere else to live, we just kind of pack up the family and get in the car then take off. Unfortunately in that jurisdiction-or fortunately in that jurisdiction, however you want to look at it, if you want to go from one location to another, you need permission, you just don’t have the will to get up and then take off. One of the cities that I visited when I was there was Beijing, and as you know, the Olympics are coming, and before you could you could work in that particular section of town in that city, you need to get permission. You need to have a card to work and your family is back where they are and you are in a group of a large tent with other folks, and that’s how the work is being done. It’s a very different environment, very industrious people that are there. But they are looking at some issues right now as crime is starting to increase and folks are coming in. And how do you take care of that from a social standpoint?

Leonard Sipes: Right, if you’re moving people from one section of the country to the other section of the country, you lack all of those informal social controls that existed if you lived, say in a rural area, you’re suddenly coming to the city and things can get out of hand.

Thomas H. Williams: Well they can get out of hand very quickly. And as these things are getting out of hand, the local officials there-and it’s very interesting, you have very conservative folks who say, ‘you forget the crime, forget about it, let’s go to prison and then we hear from you some time down the road.’ But you have another group that’s a little more liberal in their orientation and they think, ‘everyone does not need to go to prison. And because of that we need to have some alternative program or system in place to help a person along similar to what we started in the United States and also I guess, the rest of world. In terms of being a little bit more liberal with certain offenses that people do commit.

Leonard Sipes: Well I would imagine that sort of like the United States, you simply can not afford to send everybody to prison. There is a certain point where the sheer fiscal reality of incarceration starts wearing down on the states-starts wearing down on the United States and starts wearing down on probably China itself.

Thomas H. Williams: Well, and you’re very right about that, even though there’s quite a bit of money that’s coming into that country (inaudible 6:23) an investment that’s coming into that country. I think from a moral standpoint and also from a humanistic standpoint, it’s not good public policy to put everyone in prison. And certainly there are alternatives to incarceration that that country is looking at. And that was one of the reasons I was asked to come to that country to deliver a paper on community corrections.

Leonard Sipes: Now part of your paper was What Works. Was it just the Chinese and the delegation organized by the University of Maryland, or was it a variety of people from a variety of countries?

Thomas H. Williams: There were a variety of folks there both from a speaking standpoint-speakers I should say in terms of presenting.

Leonard Sipes: But the audience itself was Chinese?

Thomas H. Williams: It was primarily Chinese.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: There were a lot of the students there, a lot of the government officials from the provinces.

Leonard Sipes: And how did they take to something to them as foreign as community supervision?

Thomas H. Williams: Well I thought they took it very well. I had several compliments certainly after I delivered my paper.

Leonard Sipes: Nobody booed you, huh?

Thomas H. Williams: No, they’re too polite for that. [Laughs]

Leonard Sipes: They’re too polite for that. [Laughs]

Thomas H. Williams: But one of the things I thought would be important is to give a historical perspective of how community corrections got started in the United States, and that’s what I attempted to do with my paper, is really defining parole and probation. Even in this country folks get parole and probation in terms of its orientation mixed-up or can’t really kind of get that together. So I gave an orientation of how parole and probation got started in this country. From there we went to-and I kind of thought about how do we migrate to the current system that we are on right now? And I thought there were like four different stages for which this country came through of community corrections. One from a humanistic standpoint, two through a therapeutic counseling standpoint, the third point that I tried to make in my paper was the community corrections officer as a broker of services or an advocate. And in the last stage I discussed-I had to do with the community correction officer as risk management. So when you take a probation officer or the strategy or P.O. the humanistic standpoint really came out of the era of 1841 with-in Massachusetts when we had our first person who is really known to be the origin of parole and probation in John Augustus. And John used to go to the court-sit in the courtroom and see defendants being sentenced for public drunkenness and other offenses. And he approached the court one day and said, ‘please, let me take one guy and let me see what I can do.’ Three weeks he came back to court, the court was so impressed, and that was really the origin of probation in the United States. Similar with parole was a gentleman by the name of Zebulon Brockway who was a penologist from Michigan, is really known as the father of penology I guess, or probation services in the United States. And I kind of walked through both of those two individuals through the paper and then kind of give a little synopsis of how we went through various stages of development in the United States again, from a humanistic standpoint. Therapeutic counseling, which came in around the 1920s or the 1950s with psychology as being-a psychologist rather, with the social aspect and the psychologist indicating that those are your major reasons for crime. Broker or advocate stage, which really came around the 1970s particularly with the quote unquote ‘war’ on poverty in the 60s and the 70s where the government really got involved in-I guess in helping folks who were less fortunate than others. So the agents or the probation officer really became an advocate for the offender for housing from an appointment standpoint and so on.

Leonard Sipes: And then we got into this whole thing of if nothing works..

Thomas H. Williams: Well it’s two interesting things that’s happened in the 70s which I think were critical during this time period in United States history, one of which is as you indicated, the What Works literature that came out with Martinson and Wilkes(ph) during that time in 1975, the paper was actually developed. But Martinson came up with a preliminary discussion of the study that the three of those gentlemen completed and then in that study what happened was that they looked at close to 231 studies indicated as a result to that when you look at criminal justice involvement with offenders; there was still a very high recidivism rate. So the conclusion was that none of these programs actually worked. But also in addition to that, in 1971 as some of your listeners will remember the Attica riots, up until that point there was a very heavy emphasis on what I call the single community correction strategy on rehabilitation. And the public which is (inaudible 11:20) by what happened in the Attica riots and as you know, several folks lost their lives in that riot. So when you combine those two things of the riots in New York, Attica, and also with the paper that came out-

Leonard Sipes: People simply lost hope.

Thomas H. Williams: They lost hope and the public opinion changed. And it’s almost like the pendulum switched. So you take the 70s where these two events happened that were critical. You have politicians all upset because they were hearing from their constituents about we gotta do something with crime. You had the influx of drugs that came in to the 80s, so then we started seeing a switch from indeterminate sentencing, which really gave the judiciary quite a bit of leverage in terms of how that person’s going to be treated from an institutional standpoint.

Leonard Sipes: And how early he would get out of prison.

Thomas H. Williams: With the parole commissions at the point saying, ‘okay, if you do certain things in prison, then I’m going to let you go earlier than that.’

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Thomas H. Williams: Or as some folks will say, ‘well there was an agreement when the person came in in terms of release,’ so the judge will sentence from a five to ten – five to twenty in that indeterminate range. And the parole commissions staff will then determine based on what was going on with that person while he’s in the institution, what progress they made could actually have an (inaudible 12:35) into the sentence reduction or sentence release, I should say.

Leonard Sipes: Before getting around to what’s going on today, when you presented this to the Chinese, did they comprehend what it was that you were talking about-because parole and probation was a volunteer movement. Like so many of the early aspects of corrections, it was religious-based.

Thomas H. Williams: True.

Leonard Sipes: Prison system was supposed to be a reformatory.

Thomas H. Williams: Reformatory.

Leonard Sipes: A penitentiary where you do penance.

Thomas H. Williams: Do penance, correct.

Leonard Sipes: It was a religious-based model which quickly changed, I think, after the first couple decades. But again, you have a reformer, Mr. Augustus, who comes in and tries to help somebody reform, and that was the beginning of probation. Did the Chinese understand-because I’m positive that their religious history has some basis in their own reform movements? Did they get it, is the question.

Thomas H. Williams: Well the answer is yes they did get it. I mean, they’re very industrious folks, but they’re also very studios as well so they certainly understood what I was discussing when we go from the history of how community corrections came into the United States. And the various aspects, what I call the various stages, of what this country went through to get to where we are right now. So there was a complete understanding of it even though culturally there’s different in United States and the relationship that the party has in China.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So we finally get around to the history and the development of community corrections and parole and probation, so now you get around to today and in terms of what works. So what works?

Thomas H. Williams: Well before we go into What Works, I think one of the things that was key in the United States in terms of really I guess spearheading the What Works initiative here was in 1997 there was a conference that was held in Seattle, Washington. And in that conference by the International Association of Community Corrections, they brought in some of what I call the heavy hitters: Buck England(ph) from California, Apogent Rowe(ph), (inaudible 15:00) from Canada, and that conference really was designed to look at the What Works literature. It was almost an (inaudible 15:08) of what would happen with the Martinson’s paper in 1975 that indicated nothing works.

Leonard Sipes: Because now they’re saying something does work.

Thomas H. Williams: Something does work. And actually two of the criticisms that you hear often about the Martinson paper is that number one, the studies that they looked at, because there was not, I guess, fidelity in the studies themselves, it was very difficult to determine-well I guess the conclusion, what it would have been because the stories weren’t implemented correctly with the fidelity that’s needed, that you really couldn’t make any conclusions from those studies. And they were poorly designed in terms of its applications, and when you have poorly designed studies you’re going to get pretty negative (inaudible 15:52)

Leonard Sipes: And Martinson backed away from his own statement-

Thomas H. Williams: He has.

Leonard Sipes: -on several occasions and basically said, ‘I did not mean to say nothing at all works.’

Thomas H. Williams: Right.

Leonard Sipes: But it had a huge influence on the field and it had a huge influence on the population, it was quoted endlessly.

Thomas H. Williams: And there’s no question about that. Lipton was also another person that was involved in that study with Wilson and Martins. And I think I was at a conference several years ago where he actually presented a kind of argument to his paper indicating that if programs are completed and designed with fidelity, and then also targeting specific criminal (inaudible 16:28) needs, then you are going to have better results.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and fidelity, you mean done correctly?

Thomas H. Williams: Done correctly with integrity and also targeting the right aspect that you’re trying to correct.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Because-I’m sorry.

Thomas H. Williams: No, go ahead.

Leonard Sipes: There’s this whole controversy of how much emphasis do you place on the lower level offender, and how much emphasis do you place on the high level offender? And the research basically saying that you get your biggest bang for your buck by going after that high-level, high-risk offender.

Thomas H. Williams: Well that’s true, and several points in going back to the 1997 conference that was held in Seattle really looked at five areas in terms of that whole conference and the discussion. One is assessments, you really need to determine who you have before you-and what kind of-through your assessment process, you’re going to determine what the risk level that person has and what that risk is to reoffend.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, well I’m going to stop you there. Can you really figure out, now remember the public doesn’t like this-

Thomas H. Williams: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -because for decades, people were being released from prison with the sense of he’s rehabilitated, and he goes out five weeks later and commits a terrible crime.

Thomas H. Williams: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: So the public doesn’t have a lot of trust with us when we say that we can gain a fairly decent sense as to what the offender is in terms of their level of seriousness, in terms of their future criminality. Have we improved in terms of our ability to assess a person to figure out who he is?

Thomas H. Williams: Well I think we have improved dramatically over the years and I like to look at our process as being one of progression in which we have actually put several building blocks in place to get us to where we are right now. I don’t want to kind of plug certain commercial assessment processes out there, but the LSI is one instrument that a lot of community corrections are using to actually determine the risk level. And we within this agency certainly developed our own instrument, but it’s built on 12 different domains when you look at both those static factors or those factors that don’t change when you look at risk levels of an offender. What I mean, a static factor is like age-

Leonard Sipes: Criminal history.

Thomas H. Williams: Criminal history, those things are not going to change, but also they give you some indication depending on where they are on the scale of this person’s proclivity to commit additional criminal offenses.

Leonard Sipes: We have a computerized scale now.

Thomas H. Williams: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Correct?

Thomas H. Williams: We do.

Leonard Sipes: The auto-screener, which pretty much assesses that individual and lays out how stringently you have to supervise him and what you can do to bring him along in terms of the social skills or employment or drug treatment.

Thomas H. Williams: We’ve been very fortunate within this agency with respect to the money that we receive from Congress. Before we actually implemented our automated version of our assessment process, we looked at the Canadian models. We looked at what they-look at in terms of quote unquote ‘best practices’ when you look at assessments. And we took the good that’s out there and then put it into our system. We looked at 12 different domains, looking at both the static factors and what we call dynamic factors, those things that you can have influence on. And then as a result of that assessment process, we will then have a level of supervision generated by our information system. And more importantly, we have what we call a prescriptive supervision plan. That is-as a result of that assessment process, we will then have goals for supervision written from the standpoint of what the offender has to do, not from the standpoint of what we call in community supervision offices here in the agency (inaudible 20:12) probation officers. But written from the standpoint of what the offender has to do and not from what the staff has to do.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. We’ve got another ten minutes so we’re going to have to hurry it along in terms of what works. So you assess the person-

Thomas H. Williams: Well, we do the assessment, I was talking about that, and we reference to the conference. The conference focuses on five points: assessments, treatment, drug testing or drug monitoring, also folks who (inaudible 20:38) disease, and also relapse. So when you look at those five points that was the basis of the conference.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: How do we actually develop systems around those five things that’s going to help improve success?

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: But the What Works literature looks at several points. And one of the points that’s key to that or one of the factors that may lead up a person to get involved in criminal activity again. What is his attitudes or her attitudes around employment, those things that you can change, education-certainly you can change that, peers association-sometimes we refer to it as criminal associates. That is when you’re grandmother used to say-

Leonard Sipes: Sure.

Thomas H. Williams: ‘Watch who you hang with because,’ or you know-

Leonard Sipes: ‘You are who you hang with.’

Thomas H. Williams: You are who you hang with. So if you kind of change that process-and also the thinking processes that a person may get involved with. That is a lot of times the offenders that we have are engaged in what we call criminal thinking, that is their associations will lead to things that will kind of get them into trouble. You and I would walk down the street and see a car door open, package on the car seat-we would probably open the car door, lock the car door so that doesn’t happen. A person that’s more-has a criminal event sees the package on the seat, car door open will actually open that car door and then take that package out.

Leonard Sipes: I remember talking to a person in the Maryland prison system who at one time said to me-who assaulted a woman who made a wrong turn up his street, and the sense was, ‘if she’s stupid enough to come into my street, she deserves to get what she got.’

Thomas H. Williams: Right.

Leonard Sipes: And I’m saying, ‘man,’

Thomas H. Williams: I know.

Leonard Sipes: Talk about somebody who needs to look at life a little bit differently.

Thomas H. Williams: A little bit differently, right.

Leonard Sipes: Yes. And that’s what you’re talking about?

Thomas H. Williams: Well that’s correct. We’re trying to get through the staff that we have and the trainings that they receive-is to try to get our folks that we have charged to supervise to look at life a little bit differently. And not so much look at life a little bit differently-

Leonard Sipes: But think about life differently.

Thomas H. Williams: And they’ll also act on that.

Leonard Sipes: Yes.

Thomas H. Williams: As part of the social learning theory for which all of our staff were trained on has to do with two different aspects, one of which is that people learn by observing. And in addition to that, people learn by the type of reinforcements that they have whether it’s negative or positive reinforcements. So if you can couple the observation and the positive reinforcing for what you want folks to do in terms of behavior change, you have to model that behavior. So if you could model the type of behavior that you want the persons-

Leonard Sipes: What do you mean by that, model the behavior?

Thomas H. Williams: Well for an example, if I’m an example for you in terms of-and sometimes we do this through role play in terms of modeling, if I got a beef with someone in the community and my first reaction (inaudible 23:16) look at that person’s history is to pick up something and knock that person in the head, where is that going to lead you? That’s going to lead you into difficulty.

Leonard Sipes: Obviously.

Thomas H. Williams: Right. So what you try to do is try to model-how do you deal with that anger? How do you deal with that aggression?

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: So let’s do a little role play and say well okay the guy comes down the street, he says something to you, and your first reaction is to get a pipe and knock him in the head. Well let’s try to think about that a different way.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s what we call cognitive reconditioning.

Thomas H. Williams: Well restructuring is a term that is-

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: But there’s a lot to cognitive restructuring, and it has to really deal with the way that the person thinks so that he doesn’t think in a way that’s going to get them into difficulty.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: In a very simplistic way of trying to explain this to your listeners there.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Thomas H. Williams: But those are some of the basic tenants that we in the United States and also with this agency, that we’ve been going through for the past couple years. Our What Works transition really has been in place for -I guess we’ve been on a four or five-year trek with this in terms of we brought in from the University of Cincinnati one of the top persons in the field to come in to talk with us, that’s the management staff in terms of the whole philosophy.

Leonard Sipes: Management staff here at Court Services.

Thomas H. Williams: At Court Services, correct. And then we went through a process where we had our line workers, another associate of (inaudible 24:38) came in and talked with us in terms of just the philosophy of it. Then we brought in another group that actually helped us through the day-to-day applications.

Leonard Sipes: The bottom line in all of this is that we’ve got to do two things and this is incredibly difficult to do. I’m not quite sure the public will ever understand how incredibly difficult it is to do. We’ve got to A: supervise, we’ve got to hold offenders accountable. We do that with lots of contact, we do that by enforcing the special conditions of the parole commission or the court. We have very good supervision ratios, in other words, we have where in many parts of the country, it’s a 150 parole and probation offenders to one parole and probation agent.

Thomas H. Williams: Right.

Leonard Sipes: Here we have 50 or less in terms of the ratio with our community supervision officers. So we drug test the dickens out of our offenders and we have lots of contact with them. And we’re pretty-we hold them accountable for their behavior and to enforce the special conditions. Consequently, at the same time, we know that the research, and tell me if I’m wrong, that you can not simply supervise them. The more you supervise them, the more you recidivate them, the more you put them back in prison, it’s like why have community supervision at all? So services have got to be their drug treatment, mental health treatment, anger management, day reporting-and there’s a lot more that I haven’t even touched that this agency offers. So it’s gotta be that combination of accountability and treatment, correct or incorrect?

Thomas H. Williams: Well you’re correct in that, and what you just referenced are some of the early intensive supervision studies. And part of the problem with some of the early intensive supervision studies was that they target the wrong folks in terms of they had lower case loads, they had a high level of contacts with the offenders. And then what we saw was a lot of folks get revoked and then go to prison.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Thomas H. Williams: The difference between that and I guess the process that we’re trying to implement here with Evans(ph) based practices is that you have to target the right folks. You have to target the right persons and you have to give the doses of treatment or program correct at the time that the person needs it, and you have to also remember that everyone doesn’t learn at the same level. So your programming that you’re trying to impart or the instructions that you try to impart has to be done at a level that a person can understand it and be receptive to it and then apply that. So that’s the difference between the early intensive supervision studies that were done by the Rand Corporation-well most of the studies were in California, but Rand was the group that actually looked at that, and for what we’re actually doing now. And that’s the market difference. And you’re right in what you’re saying, we as a community correction agency, the bottom line is can we slow the rate of return to folks going to prison? Because that’s eventually how we’re going to be-

Leonard Sipes: Right, and thereby protect the public.

Thomas H. Williams: Right. And I think from our standpoint, we’re making some very good headway in that process of really slowing the rate of return to prison for folks that we have under supervision. Still high in terms of revocation rate, but not as high as it really could be.

Leonard Sipes: And quite frankly, the evidence has been difficult throughout the country in terms of a variety of research that suggests that they still continue to go back to prison in high numbers. But we do have research on a part of the state of Washington that took a look at research across the country and throughout the world and come to find that quite a few of the programs that they looked at, including the model that we say that we employ, have some-can reduce recidivism.

Thomas H. Williams: Correct.

Leonard Sipes: Can reduce rearrests, can protect the public.

Thomas H. Williams: But you know Len, that’s right in terms of the Washington state study, and I would urge your listeners if they do have an opportunity to get on the website and then look at those studies, they’re very interesting. That doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the staff who can actually put the application in. And I would say from where I sit within this agency, you couldn’t ask for a better group of personnel to work for, they’re very dedicated, very intelligent, they know the information, they know the literature and they can apply it. And that’s why we’re seeing the level of success that we are right now.

Leonard Sipes: Well we have some of the best paid, literally best trained parole and probation agents slash community supervision officers anywhere in the country.

Thomas H. Williams: Well that’s true, they get paid well, but they also put out a lot too. And we’re very proud of the fact of the quality of the folks that we have within the agency and we’re also really proud of the fact that we are able to recruit from all over the country to come to work for us.

Leonard Sipes: Thomas H. Williams. Tom Williams, a true veteran of community corrections. Ladies and gentlemen, this D.C. Public Safety, I’m glad that you were with us today. My name is Len Sipes, watch us next time for another exciting podcast or video cast as we discuss important issues within the criminal justice system. Have yourself a great day.

[Audio Ends]

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