What Works in Parole and Probation-3-DC Public Safety

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– Audio Begins –

Leonard Sipes: For our microphones in downtown Washington D.C., this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at out microphones for a third time, Bill Burrell. He is an independent Corrections Management consultant. Bill served 19 years as Chief of Adult Probation Services for the New Jersey State Court System and that’s really impressive thing to me, that he has one foot in the practitioner community and yet one foot in the academic community. From 2003-2007, he was a member of the faculty in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Bill is Chairman of the Editorial Committee for Perspectives, the journal of the American Probation and Parole association and he serves as a member of APPA’s Board of Directors. And Bill currently serves as a member of the Editorial Board for Community Corrections Report.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now up to 177,000 requests during the month of July for DC Public Safety. Once again, we’re profoundly just impressed by all the calls and letters, and emails, and the other communications that you’re providing to us in terms of what you like to see in the show, what you agree with, what you disagree with. Feel free to get back in touch with us. My email is leonard.sipes@csosa.gov; or get in touch with us through the comments box from the four websites for DC Public Safety, or follow me on Twitter at Twitter/LenSipes.

Bill Burrell, once again, we appreciate you being on the program. You’re the only person who’s ever done DC Public Safety three times.

Bill Burrell: Well, I’m honored to have that distinction. Good to be back with you, Len.

Leonard Sipes: Alright. We’ve been having a lot of fun and been getting a lot of comments as to how interesting the series of shows are as to what works, what works in parole and probation. Because the first show, what we did was we summarized the sense of frustration in the practitioner community as to the lack of specific guidelines as to what it is they could be doing, should be doing. We talked about the National Institute for Drug Abuse and the fact that they have very specific guidelines, they have everything down to a science as to assessment, as to what to do with that particular kind of individual, how long the treatment should be, the kind of treatment that the individual should undergo, what sort of aftercare that person should have. I mean, it’s down to a science and what we basically agreed to was the National Institute of Drug Abuse has been around for decades and the research on community-based corrections and specifically re-entry from prison is just beginning. Correct?

Bill Burrell: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. The second program we talked about a couple programs out there. One from the state of Maryland and one from the state of Oklahoma, as to what it is that they’re doing regarding re-entry and the fact that they have good documentation backing them up, and the fact that the Maryland program is available on our website for DC Public Safety and the link is directly there for that. This year what we wanted to do was to go over related modalities. Now what the heck does that mean? Well, we just talked about drug treatment, the fact that the National Institute of Drug Abuse, they have very specific guidelines as to what to do regarding drug treatment; but there are other modalities such as cognitive therapy that has been around for decades that should be able to guide us and does guide us in terms of the things that parole and probation agencies could be doing regarding parole and probation practices and offender re-entry. And Bill says he wants to discuss this from the standpoint of who, in other words, what kind of offender, what should we do, and finally, how should we do it. So Bill, take it from there.

Bill Burrell: Well, thank you. I want to summarize it and talk a little bit about the research that now falls under the label of evidence-based practices and prior to that was called what works and this is a rich body of research that goes back probably to the 70’s. So there’s a lot of research – part of the challenge is getting that research into the hands of the practitioners. So we’re going to talk about these three areas that you mentioned. Principles that have emerged from the research and the lead researches in this area are people such Don Andrews and Paul Jeandro, Canadians who’ve done some amazing research to refute the idea that there’s nothing you can do with criminal offenders to help them change their behavior.

We really have these three questions that you’ve identified. The first one is, out of these thousands of offenders that we have, and I think it’s important to understand that in most agencies and yours may be the exception, Len. Most agencies, case loads are too large to enable probation and parole officers to do effective supervision. So we need to do some prioritization among the offenders. Look at who’s in this case load and make some decisions about who to work with and then what to do. So the first question is who to work with, and here we’re guided by the risk principle. And this is a fundamental finding from the research that really is the core, the first thing we really need to start to look at. What is the risk level or the probability of a particular offender re-offending while they’re under supervision? And the technology for this is much like what the insurance companies use to determine insurance rates.

Leonard Sipes: Good point.

Bill Burrell: So it’s a sound technology, it’s not smoking mirrors. It’s been around for quite some time. So the first thing we want to look at is the risk level and screen out the low risk offenders. And again, depending on the size of the organization and the composition of the case load, it could be up to a third to a half of the offender population falls into this low risk group. And these have a very low rate of re-offending and trying to work with them will waste a lot of agency and staff time because many of them will be successful on their own. So it’s kind of like the needle in that haystack problem, there are some low risk offenders who will re-offend, but trying to find them will waste a lot of time and resources.

Leonard Sipes: There’s a book I read years ago called Radical Non-Intervention, the premise of the book was regarding low risk offenders – don’t do anything at all with them. The more contact you have with them, the more you’re going to end up violating them. And that’s a document that goes back probably 30 years.

Bill Burrell: Right. And that second point that you mentioned, the fact that we can actually make things worse by supervising and intervening with these offenders, is a critical point as well. So not only is it wasteful of resources, it also can make things worse. So let’s screen those folks out, put them in some sort of program or case load that’s very low in terms of resources, whether it’s automated key outs for reporting or some telephone reporting system, something like that, that gets them out of the regular case loads and devotes as little resources as we can to them. That leaves us with the moderate to high risk offenders and these are the people we really need to focus on, because these are the ones who are committing the crimes, got the longer records, the more intensive problems and really do need our intervention and assistance, and this is where we can really begin to show some results from the work that we’re doing.

Leonard Sipes: People who are the obvious risk to public safety.

Bill Burrell: Exactly. And in my experience in New Jersey, we had a population in the high risk category. They had a 44% failure rate, so 44% of them committed a new crime while they’re under supervision. So it’s kind of the opposite of the needle in haystack situation like shooting fish in a barrel, every other offender, in essence, was going to commit a new crime. So if we were able to target these individuals and be successful, we can have a significant impact on the amount of crime committed by these offenders under supervision. And I think those numbers polled pretty much across jurisdictions. You have a group of people that are pretty active in terms of committing crimes and you can target them and provide them with the right kind of services, you’ll have a significant impact on public safety.

Leonard Sipes: Because even if you can reduce it by 10% or 15%, that’s fairly significant in terms of the cost to the state alone; in terms of the recidivism, the amount of people coming back in the prison system. I mean, beyond sheer public safety and beyond sheer citizen protection, states are also struggling throughout this country, most of the states are struggling with budget. So the fact that fewer people are going to be coming back into the prison system is a huge plus in terms of managing state budgets.

Bill Burrell: Right. And I think that’s one of the factors that’s really driving a lot of the work in the field at the moment is, how can we save some money? How can we get people out of prison and put in them in the community yet keep the community safe? I think that’s where this concept of risk assessment, identifying those moderate to high risk offenders, that’s where you want to ply your resources. That’s the kind of strategy that’s going to produce the results that we’re looking for.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. The next category is what?

Bill Burrell: Well yes, now that we figured out who we’re going to work with, what are we focused on? What parts of their lives, the situations do we focus on? Because there’s lots of things that people assume are related to the re-offending. First thing most people think about is drugs. And the research suggests that there are a number of what are known in the literature as criminogenic needs or criminogenic factors. These are things that drive people to commit crimes. And included in there are substance abuse, but there are others that are higher on the list in terms of their impact. And the first is something we call antisocial attitudes, values, and beliefs; and this is just basically saying that offenders think its okay to commit crimes. So once you’ve taken away this social condemnation, crime is a bad thing, then it becomes the normal and accepted, and easy thing for them to do. So we have to begin to target in on these attitudes and values, and beliefs that they have. They also hang out with other people, pro-criminal associates, so they’re hanging out with people who share that value set so it’s kind of reinforcing.

They have a history antisocial behavior. They’ve committed crimes before. So you have a group of people with this way of looking at the world that says it’s okay to commit crimes. So one of the things that we have to begin to do is to work on that attitude and value set, and find new activities for them to engage in. That’s why employment is so important in our field, giving hopefully six or seven to eight hours a day where they’re engaged in some sort of constructive pro-social activity.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Bill Burrell: Okay. Then you have some of the other criminogenic factors include poor use of leisure time, family home problems, schoolwork problems, those kinds of things all contribute to this. So we need to be looking at the offenders and using these assessment instruments, because in addition to looking at risks, we have good, reliable, valid, user friendly need assessments that will identify the types of criminogenic needs and problems the individuals have, and can also begin to suggest ways to effectively deal with that offender and this particular set of problems that they have.

Leonard Sipes: Now the bottom line is it’s just that the assessment process, we really can – the research, I think, is abundantly clear. We really can assess an individual and we can assess an individual for the level of drug use, the level of antisocial personalities, the level of mental illness because we have a BJS report that suggests that an excess of 15% of offenders self-diagnose themselves as having mental health problems. We can diagnose all that. We can pretty much assess that with a fairly reasonable degree of accuracy and, from that, figure out who that person is, and what their future propensity is for committing other offenses; and create both a treatment and a supervision schedule strategy to meet that individual offender’s needs.

Bill Burrell: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: And we really can do that. I want to emphasize that the state of the research is such that the state of assessment,again, we draw from decades of research in terms of assessing a human person and that yet is another example as to the fact that we have decades of related research that we can draw from to help us come to grips with what we’re going to do with that particular offender.

Bill Burrell: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: And how?

Bill Burrell: Well, one point I want to add to your last comment about decades of research. And the fact is that none of these assessment instruments are beyond the capability of any probation and parole officer to use with the proper training and supervision. This is not – you don’t need a PhD, a MD, or any sort of D after your name to be able to use these instruments effectively, and to integrate them into the ongoing work of the community supervision officers now. So that’s good news. Definitely, we do not need to hire a whole slew of clinical psychologists to do this kind of work.

Leonard Sipes: Just a couple of years ago that’s exactly what we did and now it’s advanced to the point where the average parole and probation agent can effectively do it himself or herself.

Bill Burrell: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: Cool.

Bill Burrell: So now we’ve identified who we’re going to work with and with those individuals what we’re going to focus on, then the last part of the puzzle here is how to go about dealing. Because once we identify the problem, that’s great, but what do we do with them? And this is where the field of psychology has been so helpful to us. With this concept or this notion of cognitive behavioral interventions or cognitive behavioral therapy, I prefer interventions because our folks are not trained clinicians, so they’re really not doing therapy. But that doesn’t mean they’re on a lot of things that the individual probation and parole officer can do every day in routine context with their case load that can implement cognitive behavioral interventions.

So what we’re looking at – remember we go back to the idea of the offenders having a set of attitude, values, and beliefs, thinking patterns that lead them to criminal behaviors. Some in the field call them criminal thinking errors. So the challenge is for the officer to enter discussions with the offenders, identify these criminal thinking errors and be aware of what they look like and sound like, and identify them, confront the offender about them, talk about their ways of thinking about the world and thinking about individuals and themselves. Show them how these attitudes, values, beliefs and errors lead to them committing crime. Start to generate some possible alternative ways of thinking and acting, and give them some training, some coaching on new skills and behaviors. Give them an opportunity to practice those through role plays and role modeling, and reward them when they begin to talk the right way, to think the right way, to act the right way; because the way human beings change their behavior is they get rewarded. And, unfortunately though, a lot of the folks we had to supervise have been rewarded for the bad thing, they get status in their community for committing crimes, selling drugs, and things like,

Leonard Sipes: Well, violence is good. How many offenders have sat with me and simply said, “Mr. Leonard Sipes, violence is good. Violence is what protects you. It protects your property. It protects your girlfriend. It protects your mother. It protects the mother of your children. It protects your children. I mean, violence is a day-to-day commodity and I understand that you don’t get that but in our world, that’s something that does exist.” Well, that’s not something that you can take through life and do successfully and then expect to be any place else but behind bars.

Bill Burrell: Right. And one of the effective techniques that we have found is to start to talk with offenders about their goals and aspirations and desires for their lives. And interestingly enough, they have some of the same goals and aspirations as normal pro-social citizens. Maybe they want to reconcile with their kids. They want to buy a house. They,

Leonard Sipes: They don’t want to die.

Bill Burrell: Yeah, they want to own their own business, whatever it is. But obviously as you mentioned, someone living a life of violence on the streets is not building the framework or the foundation for being able to open their own business or buy a house or whatever.

Leonard Sipes: But the average person listening to this, who is not part of the parole and probation system, is simply going to say, “That’s ridiculous. Those are values that you’re brought up with in a household. Those are the larger values of society. Those are the larger values of religion. You mean to tell me that there are individuals,” , I’ve had this question lots of times, “,that there are individuals out there who really do not know that theft is bad, that violence is bad and that both are going to be a guaranteed ticket to something along the lines of prison or worse. The average person listening to this program right now is not going to understand why you need to help that person, re-train his thinking process as to the fact that just because you have a perceived insult that does not mean that you strike at another person. They have a hard time understanding why that’s necessary.

Bill Burrell: Well, you’ve really identified the difficulty or the challenge is that a probation or parole officer is working with an individual offender, even if they’re seeing them on an intensive supervision scheme of several times a week – that’s still only a fraction of that person’s waking hours, and they go back to the neighborhood, the community, the house, the apartment where they’re living, and back into that milieu of violence and crime, and drugs, and so on, so that part of the challenge is how to figure out ways to give them more time away from that that is in a positive pro-social type of activity. Work obviously is a big one; school for younger offenders. I’m a big fan of community service as a part of a sentencing scheme because, not only do they pay back, to some extent the damage done to the community at large, it also engages the offender with a group of pro-social people working in some sort of positive contribution, some activity in the community that’s valued. So they get some, again, exposure to other people that are living the kind of life we want them to be able to be living and keeps them away from the bad influences. I mean, it’s a challenge to try to talk to an offender and say, “Alright, all the people you’re hanging out with, you shouldn’t be hanging out with them anymore because they’re bad for you.” So this is a long process that a probation or parole officer has to engage in to begin to tap into the offender’s internal motivations, show how their thinking and behavior patterns are leading them to continued involvement with the court, and with the justice system, and preventing them from achieving the things that they individually have identified that they would like to be able to have in the future.

Leonard Sipes: And the bottom line in all of this is that cognitive behavioral therapy or thinking for a change, as it’s called in some places or just rearranging the thinking patterns of a criminal offender is possible, is doable, happens every day, and it happens in terms of the relationship between the parole and probation agent and the offender that he or she is supervising. It happens every single day and there’s decades of research that backs up the concept.

Bill Burrell: Yes, and you used the critical term somewhere there, Len, relationship. We need to focus on the relationship between the offender and the officer. The old kind of supervision where people came into the office, it was a five minute perfunctory contact. “Do you live in the same place?” “Yeah.” “Are you still working?” “Yeah.” “Been arrested?” “No.” “Okay, done. Go on the hall. Make a payment on your supervision fees and give me a drug test. See you in two weeks.” That’s not supervision. So we’re talking about changing the way the officers conceive of their role, one, as helping offenders to change and engaging them in a relationship, a trusting interpersonal relationship, and sometimes this is a hard concept for officers to swallow. But when you think about your own life experiences, the people that were influential in your life, that encouraged you to learn and grow and change were people that you trusted. An officer sitting there telling an offender, just lecturing them, wagging their finger at them, telling them, “Do this. Do that,” so on. We know that the offenders are not listening because they don’t believe that this person has their interests at heart.

When an officer can begin to build a solid, trusting relationship that tells the offender through deeds and actions, not so much as words, that the officers are interested in helping this person achieve some of these things that they’ve identified, and helping them change their behavior, then there’s some hope that the offender will listen and will actually act on the suggestions and the recommendations of the officer. But until we get to the point where we build these working relationship, working alliances, therapeutic alliances; they go under a lot of different terms in different literatures. But the fundamental thing is we need to begin to build that solid relationship so that we have a chance of influencing the offender’s behavior.

Leonard Sipes: I’ve spoken to more than just a couple of parole and probation agents in my career and my response to their negative reaction to this concept was, “Does this stop you from doing the enforcement actions?” You can do whatever enforcement actions you feel a need to do to protect public safety. That doesn’t stop any of that but at the same time if you’re going to talk to them, trying to gain their trust, try to depend upon research that’s been around for decades to help you reach him. You want him to go to drug treatment. We all want him to go to drug treatment. He, in fact, would probably like to go to drug treatment. His family wants him to go to drug treatment. But just really reading him the riot act is not gonna get him into drug treatment.

Bill Burrell: Exactly right. And again, the last point is critical to the role and responsibilities of the probation and parole officer. It’s not just monitoring contacts, monitoring compliance with condition that they’re enforcing it. They have what we call “Trail “˜em, nail “˜em, and jail “˜em.” But the job entails, in addition to monitoring, which is part of what we have to do, is helping the offenders to change; because if we don’t undertake some type of effort to get the offenders to change, then we’re literally just chasing our tails. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 30, 35 years, just chasing our tails, locking people up, they get back out. It’s a huge catch and release system.

They waste the money, waste lives, and I think from my background in the field, I think it’s a much more rewarding type of work to do. It’s harder, there’s no doubt about it. You have to think more. But I think that most people that I’ve met in the system have a basic desire to help offenders do better. What they’re wondering is, “How do I do that?” They’re not sure how to go about accomplishing that but they’re in the business because they do have some level of commitment to making the community safer, helping offenders change their behaviors so they’re just not caught up in this endless cycle of incarceration and supervision.

Leonard Sipes: And there’s really good research out there that basically says exactly what you’re suggesting, and that is it has to be a dual approach. It cannot be simply supervision. Supervision just produces more failure. That it has to be a combination of supervision and programs, and that if you dealt with the programmatic needs of the offender. In other words, if the person is mentally ill, for the love of good graciousness, please get the offender involved in a program that addresses his mental illness. Nobody is going to disagree with that. If a person has a long history of drugs and a long history of the drugs getting him involved in problems, get him involved in drug treatment. That seems to be a universal consensus of the research.

Bill Burrell: Yes. I mean, it is as simple yet complex as the statement. If these are the factors, these criminogenic factors, if these are the factors that lead people to commit crime, what we want to do is to mitigate, reduce, eliminate those factors so there’s reduced chance of people committing crimes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. We’re in the final four minutes of the program with Bill Burrell. Bill, the bottom line in all of this is that none of this, however, is neatly packaged in one particular place. Now, I can think of three or four research examples that basically say it’s got to be a combination of programs and supervision. And to those friends of mine in parole and probation agencies throughout the country who carry guns, who have law enforcement authority, and who believe that you really have to ride hard on the offender, I don’t disagree with that and I don’t think Bill Burrell disagrees with that and I don’t think the criminological community disagrees with that; but putting them in programs, getting them in programs is obviously best for all of us. But that’s not explained simply, quickly, neatly in a particular document to guide parole and probation people. It comes from a piece here, a piece there. It’s not explained in non-technical terms, in non-research terms. It’s not easily, neatly laid out for the practitioner. And do you ever see the point where we get to that document that provides a quick and easy access to the research and says, “Okay. In terms of lower risk offenders, here’s what we mean by lower risk. Here’s how you choose your lower risk offender, and here are the modalities that we suggest that you use. And here is the research that backs that up.” Are we ever going to get to that point?

Bill Burrell: Oh, I sure hope so, and I think at some point someone, some enterprising author will pull all that together into one place. I think that probably the closest thing to that we have at the moment is the Tools of the Trade documented and I see published in collaboration with the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation,

Leonard Sipes: And will be so cited in the show notes for this program.

Bill Burrell: Right. And I don’t think that the fact that it doesn’t all exist in one short, easily digestible document should deter people. I don’t think it takes a lot of work to find the materials that you need; and I would encourage people at the line level, the supervisory, managerial, level to spend a little time with the research, and particularly the work that the National Institute of Corrections has put out under their evidence-based practices and initiatives. There’s lots of good stuff, it’s all available for free on the web. It takes a little bit of thinking and such to integrate it, but again, as I mentioned earlier, none of this stuff is beyond the capabilities of all the staff. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a probation officer who couldn’t do this.

Now they may have a philosophical objection to it, they may feel that “Trail “˜em, nail “˜em, and jail em” is the way to go. So that’s a bigger question. How do you debunk some of those beliefs and those myths to show that if we’re really going to be effective, and effective meaning reducing offender failure, reducing new crimes, improving public safety, we have to go after the factors that produce the crime in a way that is likely to be effective. We can target people, let’s say we have a substance abuse problem, we can put them through a very rigorous drug testing regimen so we know exactly what they’re taking, when they’re taking, and how much they’re taking. But, that doesn’t help us because we’re not dealing with the underlying addiction problem and trying to change that. So I can’t envision a scheme where somebody would say to me, “Well, you know we’re not supposed to deal with these problems. That’s not the issue.” Yes it is the issue because that’s what’s causing crime and, if we’re in the business of improving public safety and reducing offender crime, we have to deal with those things.

Leonard Sipes: And it’s interesting that it’s taken on a greater emphasis, Bill, now that the states have run into the budget problems that they have and they simply cannot afford to revoke everybody that they have and they need to have alternatives or the states are simply going to go broke. That’s not from me. That’s not my observation. That’s the observation of budget directors in states throughout the country.

Bill Burrell: And if you look at the cost of incarceration versus the cost of community supervision, even if you took 30% of the savings that you would get by not sending somebody back to prison. So I think its averaging $75 dollars a day, something like that I think it was the latest Pew report and average for probation and parole is about $5 dollars a day. So let’s say you saved one year in prison, so there’s,let’s say do it on daily basis, $75 dollars a day, and it only costs $5 dollars a day to put that person on good quality supervision. Increase that by $25 dollars, only going to be a third of the savings from prison. You can imagine how much treatment, how much intervention, how much training, how much we could reduce case loads with that redirect and reinvestment of prison savings. That’s where,

Leonard Sipes: For the love of evidence, send some of the money back for programs, is the bottom line.

Bill Burrell: And the states would still save money. Here in New Jersey, the Parole Board just won an award from the Kennedy School of Government, the Innovations in American Government, for a program that reduces the numbers of parolees sent back to prison; and we are in this state, in the process of closing one of our prisons. The Riverfront State Prison in Camden is being closed and I’ll say this isn’t entirely the result of the parole board’s program, but I think it has a significant impact on the prison population. So when you close a prison, now you’re talking about significant savings.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, hundreds of millions of dollars every,

Bill Burrell: Exactly, yup.

Leonard Sipes: Because the average prison, when I was with the Maryland system, I think the average budget was about a $125 million dollars a year for the average prison, let alone the construction costs. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to continue this conversation with a variety of other people, in terms of what works with parole and probation, what works in terms of offender re-entry throughout this summer. We’re going to be talking to folks down at the Travis County, Texas, a probation program that Bill Burrell brought to my attention. They have a ton of documents that they have to offer to everybody and when we do that show we’ll put those documents up on the site. I hope to get in touch with the Oklahoma people and do a show with them, and talk to (again through Bill Burrell),and talk to them about their innovative program. We have a judge who wrote a piece for the Pew Foundation in terms of what works from his particular point of view, and what are the key ingredients in terms of any successful parole and probation program. And we’ll end this series on what works with a conversation with Associate Director, Thomas William of my agency, The Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

I know that Tom Williams was invited to go to China and deliver the major address just last year in terms of what works in community supervision. We’ve been discussing this concept, what works with Bill Burrell. Bill is currently a consultant. He served for 19 years as Chief of Adult Probation Services for the state of New Jersey Court System. From 2003 to 2007, he was a member of the faculty at the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Bill is currently the Chair of the Editorial Committee for Perspectives Magazine, the journal of the American Probation and Parole Association. He serves as a member of APPA’s board of directors. And he currently serves as member of the Editorial Board of Community Corrections Report. Bill’s email is William.burrell@comcast.net.

Bill, I just want to thank you profusely for coming on in this series of programs about what works. I find your point of view fascinating and very informed. So, I think you’ve really done a service to the community in terms of providing that overview as to what works. So I really want to thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank everybody out there for supporting DC Public Safety, up to 177,000 requests for the month of July. Get in touch with me at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov ,or comment in DC Public Safety in terms of the four websites that operate on to the banner of DC Public Safety. And please, everybody have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

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