Corrections And Public Safety: Education, Health & Recovery Services among keys to rehabilitation of returning citizens
The following is a list of the five key initiatives that I am focused on as the Sheriff of Suffolk County. With our actions on these topics, it is my heartfelt belief that we will achieve results in the form of increased public safety throughout Suffolk County and beyond:
Care, Custody And Control
As the Sheriff of Suffolk County, my primary responsibility is the care, custody and control of inmates (those already sentenced) and detainees (those awaiting trial) who are held within our facilities – the South Bay House of Correction and the Nashua Street Jail. Essentially, what this means is that I am mandated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to maintain custody – or guardianship – of inmates and detainees while providing a set standard of care, which encompasses the overall health and wellbeing, and personal safety of our population. Control is the element that allows us to redirect behavior and work to change the way a person thinks and acts.
When a person is incarcerated for any length of time, depending upon the programs and policies enacted by the institution or facility they’re committed to, that person is going to return to our neighborhoods and communities in one of three possible conditions: they will either be the same as they were when they came in, worse than when they came in, or better than they were when they came in. As the Sheriff of Suffolk County, I am dedicated to providing the kinds of programming and educational opportunities that can help them to reenter our communities in better standing as contributing citizens.
Nationally, 1 out of every 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Eighty–five percent of domestic violence victims are women. Having served within the Department for over a decade, I have witnessed firsthand the rise in the number of female offenders coming into the system, many of whom carry with them the physical and emotional scars of trauma as the underlying root of the illegal activity that has led them to incarceration. In an effort to address both the victims as well as the perpetrators of domestic violence, we are bolstering our existing programming around violence prevention and recovery, and reaching out to community organizations to form partnerships aimed at extending services to these citizens upon return to their communities.
Some quick facts: In our facilities, the average reading and mathematics comprehension for inmates and detainees hovers between the 5th and 6th grade levels; In Massachusetts, it costs approximately $46,000 to incarcerate an individual per year; It costs just $13,361 to educate a child annually. Clearly, our priorities should be reevaluated when we as a society are spending more to lock people up than to provide the tools necessary for a good education and a positive, successful future.
As shown by numerous studies, the correlation between low education and high incarceration is as clear as the ties that bind success and achievement to a strong educational foundation. It is both my personal and professional objective to use all available resources to strengthen our educational programs not only for those who are receptive in our population, but also for our outreach to the young people within our neighborhoods to prevent them from ever entering our facilities and instead help propel them to success.
Mental Health & Addiction Recovery
Eighty–five percent of the inmates in our custody are committed for drug and alcohol related offenses. Approximately 42% of Suffolk County inmates present with some form of mental illness that ranges from mild personality disorder to major mental illness. Of that number, approximately 26% suffer from a major mental illness. The percentage of mental illness diagnosed in female inmates is approximately 36% higher than in male inmates. To meet the considerable challenges presented by these troubling numbers, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department has significantly increased inmate access to mental health services, but more resources are needed on the outside. I am advocating for more mental health and addiction recovery beds in our communities as both a means to actively support returning citizens in their successful reentry to the community, and also as a preemptive measure to prevent people from entering our facilities unnecessarily in the first place.
All of the efforts mentioned previously are part of a greater plan to reduce the number of former inmates who complete their sentences, return to the community, re–offend and find themselves back in our care, custody and control. Each year, nearly 3,000 inmates are released from the House of Correction, and over 95% of those inmates return to neighborhoods within a five–mile radius of the facility. Some of them have children to support, many of them have families that depend on them in some capacity and all of them have the need to reach some form of financial sustainability for survival. To this end, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department provides comprehensive programming and services designed to prepare these returning citizens to take advantage of the opportunity to begin leading positive, productive lives.