FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 18, 2014
CONTACT: Peter Van Delft
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department recently held a community forum focusing on the Department of Youth Services, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the Massachusetts Department of Probation and the Massachusetts Board of Parole at Roxbury Community College’s Media Arts Center.
The forum, which was moderated by Sheriff Tompkins, served as an informative look into the functions of each organization, which included Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, the Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services Peter Forbes, the Commissioner of the Department of Probation Ed Dolan, and Parole Board Chairman Josh Wall.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department’s “Directions for Corrections” series was established to give recognized leaders and experts in the fields of criminal justice, education, business, politics, social work and religion the opportunity to offer their insights and perspectives on current and recurring issues. Using this series of forums, Directions for Corrections seeks to raise public awareness and increase individual and group participation in issues of importance to the Suffolk County community.
During the forum, District Attorney Dan Conley spoke about the role of the District Attorney’s Office and about the way in which he sees his mission.
“The District Attorney is charged primarily with prosecuting criminal cases within Suffolk County,” said Conley. “But, when I hire an employee to our office I always tell them that our job is to serve the victims of crime and hold criminals accountable for their actions. I like to emphasize the service to victims. We can always do a good job of helping vulnerable people who have been traumatized physically, sexually or financially.”
In response to a question raised by a member of the community, Parole Board Chairman Josh Wall defined what parole is and what qualifies an inmate to receive parole.
“The basic point about parole is that it allows someone to finish his or her sentence in the community,” Wall said. “So, that person still has a sentence, but is now supervised in the community by a parole officer. The most important thing that board members are looking for in an inmate seeking parole is what the inmate has done in the institution. We’re trying to identify the people that the Sheriff has prepared to live in the community. The second thing a member of the Parole Board would look for is the amount of crimes a person has committed. There are some people who are incarcerated in Massachusetts who have committed so many crimes that it wouldn’t be considered safe to have that person in the community before completing their sentence.”
Ed Dolan, the Commissioner of the Department of Probation, described the many functions of his organization, but also pointed out that his ultimate priority is the welfare of the people they’re working with.
“A person’s success is our success,” said Dolan. “We’re not in the business of catching people, we’re in the business of supporting people to change their lives, to get their offending behavior behind them, and really get them on the road to a full productive life.”
In addition to describing the functions of their departments, the panelists were also asked about how they were each addressing recidivism and reducing the number of people that become a part of their system.
Department of Youth Services Commissioner Peter Forbes explained, “Part of what we’re trying to do is deliver on academics, counseling, employment training, family engagement and essentially provide kids a positive experience for when they transition back into the community so that they won’t have to come back. To the extent that you can engage kids and get them to open up, you have an opportunity. The other thing we do is provide supervision in the community. We have caseworkers that work with kids from the point of commitment to discharge from the agency. They participate in the residential service plan and then they also do the transition piece. So, you can have a case worker who works with a kid for two or so years, and it’s a real opportunity to build a relationship that will help drive that kid to make better decisions.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Sheriff Tompkins expressed his gratitude to the panelists for participating and also to the members of the community present for taking an active approach in learning about how their justice system works for them.
“I want to thank these gentlemen for coming here tonight to our community to talk to us,” said Sheriff Tompkins to the 150–plus attendees. “It’s called ‘Directions for Corrections’ and we do this once a quarter at the Sheriff’s Department. We’re about bringing folks like these gentlemen into the community to talk to us, to listen to us and to be accountable to us.”
“Taxpayers pay all of our salaries,” Sheriff Tompkins continued, referring to himself, the panelists and other public officials. “At the end of the day we are your lobbyists. You get the government you deserve, so if you don’t hold us accountable to get the things you need for yourself, for your family, and for your communities, you may never get what you need.”