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Capturing a Probation Agency's Successes

On "D.C. Public Safety," Henrietta Meeks, left, and Beverly Pollard prepare to tell Len Sipes how drugs landed them in prison and how they intend to stay out. (Photos By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 5, 2006

Tim Russert's job is safe. So is Oprah's.

But John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted," might want to look over his shoulder, where if he looks really, really hard, he might catch a glimpse of "D.C. Public Safety."

Hosted by a former lawman who is spokesman for the District's probation office, the show is the first real foray into television for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

You can't call in the whereabouts of dangerous fugitives, as you can on Walsh's long-running Fox show, but if you have been looking for the story behind the criminals, "D.C. Public Safety" might be just what you've been waiting for.

It opens with a pulsating panorama of the District and the people of the agency in action.

Shown on public-access stations across the region and on the agency's Web site, , "D.C. Public Safety" is an effort to explore the criminal justice system, especially issues important to those living in the community under the agency's supervision.

"It's designed to cast offenders in a different light," said Len Sipes, the host of the program, planned to air quarterly. "We hear about their failures. . . . Here, we're trying to focus on their successes."

No wonder. The agency isn't in the news much, but when it is, it tends to command that attention under less than desirable circumstances -- such as when one of the thousands of people the agency is supposed to be supervising is accused of a crime. Its everyday success stories get little fanfare.

Don't expect to hear horror stories on "D.C. Public Safety." The first episode focused on the work of churches and other faith organizations in helping people adjust to life back in their communities. The second episode, which was recorded just over a week ago and will air soon, examines the special problems facing women in the criminal justice system.

Sitting on the set, waiting for his guests to arrive for the taping of the second episode, Sipes is the first to say that when the cameras start rolling, you shouldn't expect Mike Wallace reprising his interview with the Ayatollah Khamenei.

"It's a cable TV show. It's not '60 Minutes.' . . . All I am is an ex-cop with a couple of college degrees," said Sipes, a former Maryland state trooper.

But that doesn't stop some guests from fretting as if they were about to face an interrogation. And it's not the two ex-cons who are worried.

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