FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 23, 2014
CONTACT: Peter Van Delft
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins recently held a community forum aimed at identifying ways to improve and expand reentry services for ex-offenders while providing the general public with information about existing programs.
Held at Roxbury Community College, the forum was part of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department’s “Directions for Corrections” series, which 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.
The forum, which was entitled “Reentry: Building a Future,” was the sixth such event initiated by the Department since the community forum series first began in 2007. Moderated by Sheriff Tompkins, the forum featured the following panelists: Reverend William E. Dickerson, the Pastor of Greater Love Tabernacle; Charmane Higgins, the Executive Director for STRIVE; Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson; Suzanne Kenney, the Executive Director for Project Place; and Darnell Williams, the President and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.
In addition to questions posed by Sheriff Tompkins, community members also received the opportunity to present their questions to the panelists. Among the main topics of discussion were the importance of voting and being civically engaged (particularly for ex–offenders), education, and employment. In addition, the panelists spoke about the long– and short–term costs of incarceration, including the effect that it has on communities and the family unit.
With respect to addressing these issues from a public health perspective and allocating resources most effectively, Councilor Tito Jackson pointed to the responsibility of elected officials and business leaders in improving that dynamic.
“We have to change the mindset of the penal system and how we deal with these issues through public health,” said Councilor Jackson. “It’s going to take people in our roles, and other elected officials, to have the courage and innovation to open this Pandora’s Box. We also have to [eliminate] the special interest groups [around corrections]. There are a lot of people making a lot of money from these facilities.”
Charmane Higgins also emphasized the importance of helping ex–offenders to find their own voice so that their issues can be heard.
“We have to, as leaders, educate our clients that they need to become their own advocates, that they need to vote, and that they need to lobby,” said Ms. Higgins. “One thing I know for certain is that those who vote get heard. So, I would like to encourage all of us to vote for rising stars in our midst and give voice to the issues that we’re raising here.”
After thanking the panelists for offering their insights into the discussion, Sheriff Tompkins addressed the community members that attended and left them with some key points to take away from the forum.
“I would like to thank you folks for coming,” said Sheriff Tompkins. “You have to take away, implement and utilize the information that you gained tonight because if you don’t, we’ll be here again and again. I see this as a public health issue. In the Commonwealth, the percentage of Blacks and Latinos is about 18%. But, in my facility, the number is north of 65%. I have an affinity to that group, I look just like them. They are me and I am them.”
“I caught a couple of good breaks in life along the way and what do you do if you get a couple of good breaks?” continued Sheriff Tompkins. “You turn around and help others. That’s what we have to do. We have to keep our young people, our families, out of jail. These are our future leaders. Our future educators, politicians, entrepreneurs, astronauts, engineers, scientists, doctors and lawyers are being jailed. It’s not right and we’ve got to change that dynamic or, as a people, we are totally lost.”