By Andrea J. Cabral
Sheriff, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department
February 27, 2004
Last year, more than 4,300 offenders completed their sentences at the Suffolk County House of Correction at South Bay and were released back into the communities. Statewide, more than 20,000 adults were released from state and county prisons. Sadly, studies show that more than half of those released will be charged with crimes or violate the conditions of their release within the first year of their freedom. These are sobering statistics. Without county corrections re–entry programs, the rate of recidivism would be higher.
At the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, nearly 95 percent of those we incarcerate live within 5 miles of the South Bay prison. We release approximately 300 inmates per month. Recidivism is a public safety issue. Those who re–offend have an immediate impact on the quality of life in our neighboring communities. We have a choice to release those offenders in the same condition in which they were received, or make an effort to offer them a chance at a life free from criminal activity. We choose not to abdicate our responsibility to help keep the public safe.
Research has shown that offenders who receive little or no post-release supervision or assistance are likely to recommit crimes and end up back in prison. Under the Department’s Community Corrections Division (CCD), programs are designed to deal with the underlying problems that trigger recidivism. As part of community corrections, offenders who pose a minimal risk to the public may leave the House of Correction and finish out their sentences while living in halfway houses under close Department supervision. They must follow a specific post–release plan of services and monitoring that includes:
The demands and requirements of community corrections far exceed those of traditional corrections. While in the community, the offender is provided with the tools and opportunities to make the right choices in real circumstances – choices for which s/he will be held accountable. Failure to meet these requirements has swift consequences, usually an immediate return to custody.
We partner with law enforcement, other government agencies and community–based organizations to ensure public safety while providing resources for the offender once they are back in the community. The Department has developed several programs to address the needs of the offender returning to the community:
This Center, located across the street from the South Bay House of Correction, provides a variety of vital services to offenders making the transition back to the community. The facility offers education, work skill development, drug/alcohol testing and counseling to approximately 400 men. Unlike traditional incarceration, offenders released to community corrections are provided with specific educational and work-force development opportunities designed to transition the offender back into the community as a responsible citizen.
The WRC is designed to meet the needs of female offenders. Education, treatment, and drug testing services are provided for female probationers, parolees, and Sheriff’s Department’s inmates on pre–release status. The center provides services during the day and the evening – to accommodate those individuals who work—and has a capacity to serve 50 female offenders at any point in time. In addition to the Center, the Department recently received a highly sought after federal grant to provide services to women offenders returning to the community. The Community Re–Entry for Women program (CREW) is collaboration between the Sheriff’s Department, Project Place and the South End Community Health Center. The CREW program develops a comprehensive job skills/life skills re-entry plan for female offenders at the House of Correction that will extend to our community partners once the women leave the House of Correction. This program will provide female offenders the kind of personal support and mentoring essential to successful reentry.
This national model partners the Sheriff’s Department with the Boston Police Department to target “high–impact” offenders for reentry services with two goals in mind: that prison does not provide anonymity for offenders, and that many of them will face significantly harsher penalties if they re-offend. The BRI offers a range of services that can assist offenders with their transition such as housing, employment, child support, treatment and mentoring. Other program partners include state and federal criminal justice agencies, social service providers, one–stop career centers, child support and mentoring.
As part of the Sheriff’s reentry program, inmates nearing their release date are transferred to special housing units within the House of Correction where they receive intensive pre–release services.
Male inmates who qualify for pre–release are transferred to a 45–bed halfway house in the community where they can work or obtain programming during the day, but report back to their rooms by night. Female inmates report to a 15–bed halfway house. This gives offenders a chance to reintegrate back to the community and act responsibly while also receiving treatment, mentoring, education or workforce skills.
Clearly, offenders should absolutely be accountable for the crimes they commit. Nothing about reentry programs is designed to minimize an offender’s personal responsibility for his or her actions. Given that we incarcerate thousands of people each year, we must also focus on effective pre and post–release programming that increases the chances they will not re–offend. In addition to the considerable cost of a single prosecution to individual victims, communities and the criminal justice system, it costs approximately $30 thousand per year to incarcerate one offender. Reentry programs are less expensive, can reduce recidivism and turn ex-offenders into productive citizens. In a state where we currently spend more money on corrections than education, they just make sense.