BY CHARLES KELLEHER HARRIS
STONEBRIDGE PRESS CORRESPONDENT
If enthusiasm lends itself to a job well done, then Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis has what it takes.
“All I have to do is believe in what I do,” Evangelidis said.
And since taking his office in January 2011, Evangelidis has been very busy.
“I always have believed in taking on new challenges,” the sheriff said of his decision to run for sheriff after spending eight years as a state representative.
“I felt I had some innovative ideas I could bring to this job,” he added.
Previously, Evangelidis served as a district attorney in both Florida and Boston, and says that he has always enjoyed criminal justice.
The 52-year-old Worcester native said that keeping all of Worcester County safe is his key goal, but that involves more than simply locking up the bad guys.
“We are involved in the care, custody and control of inmates,” he said. “[But] we are also responsible for preparing them for re-entry into the community.”
With recidivism rates higher than 50 percent across the nation, Evangelidis has taken a proactive stance on reform and rehabilitation for the more than 6,000 inmates that go through the Worcester County House of Corrections each year.
“Crime doesn’t affect just one individual,” Evangelidis said. “It affects their family and the community. I think about that every day. My great responsibility is to reduce that likelihood.”
To that end, Evangelidis had introduced and promoted a plethora of programs geared toward not only helping to rehabilitate prisoners, but to deter future criminals.
Since some 90 percent of inmates are drug or alcohol addicts, effective treatments for addiction are a must.
Evangelidis and his staff have developed and implemented an anger management and relapse prevention program to inmates. This intense, 10-week course offers clinical assistance to inmates who deal with anger and addiction.
“I have tried as hard as I could to offer a disciplined approach to corrections,” said Evangelidis. “I think that it is our responsibility to offer these people help. When they do well, we all do well.”
The sheriff has also increased the number of inmates who participate in his Community Service Program. This program allows inmates to work at various locations around Worcester County, including town property and non-profit organization facilities. These screened and skilled inmates offer services ranging from painting to landscaping.
“It is a win-win,” Evangelidis said, highlighting that the program has saved several millions of dollars since its implementation.
But Evangelidis is quick to point out that inmates are not living the high life as many people perceive.
“We aren’t coddling people,” he said. “This isn’t a country club.”
Evangelidis did concede that he felt some sentencing and subsequent housing in the Commonwealth was “lenient.” However, Evangelidis’ control over such matters is limited as these standards are set by both federal and state agencies and regulations.
Evangelidis said that he battles with under funding. To help in that resolve, upon taking office Evangelidis consolidated and eliminated some positions within the complex, which employs some 500 people, in addition to raising hiring standards.
Evangelidis also discontinued the practice of his employees or their spouses being able to make donations to his campaign.
“There was [previously] a perception that favoritism was shown to employees based on the fact that they had made donations,” Evangelidis said. “Now, promotions are based solely on hard work.”
While some Worcester County defendants can spend several years in the House of Corrections awaiting trial, inmates who are actually sentenced to serve time there seldom face more than 2 and 1/2 years behind bars. Longer sentences are served in state prisons.
Evangelidis has also implemented an After Incarceration Support Systems (AISS) program.
(AISS) program. This program is designed to help ex-inmates makes a successful transition back into communities across Worcester County.
The AISS center, located in downtown Worcester, offers various resources such as housing, employment, education, mental health care and substance abuse treatment.
“Providing accessible reintegrative support services is a collaborative effort that will help meet the challenges of ex-offenders and make our entire community safer,” said Evangelidis.
But Evangelidis believes that prevention is also a key part of keeping Worcester County safer. To that end he has enacted a unique program that has been presented to some 60,000 students in Worcester County middle and high schools.
The Face2Face Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Education Program targets youth at their most vulnerable age typically when drug and alcohol abuse begins.
“Who better to bring the program to?” Evangelidis asked, “I want to get to the beginning of the problem and I can’t just walk the streets.”
During each presentation Evangelidis offers a blunt, forceful and informative glimpse at the aftereffects of a life saturated by substance abuse.
Included in these presentations is a unique opportunity for students, through advanced image processing software, to take a photo and then see what they could possibly look like after years of substance abuse.
This program has been presented to students in Southbridge, Auburn, Webster, and Oxford, Spencer, Charlton and several others.
Evangelidis’ office also participates in several community programs, including working with charities, non-profits and senior citizens.
Evangelidis gives clear evidence that he believes strongly that his responsibility of Sheriff serving some 180,000 residents of Worcester County, even with limited resources.
Surprisingly Evangelidis revealed that his biggest challenge was the outdated facility in West Boylston which was originally built in 1973 and then expanded to house more prisoners two decades ago.
“It [building’s condition] has a major impact on how we do business here every day,” he said.
He went on to explain that limited space and facility compromised expedient and safe processing and classification of the prisoners that flow into the jail daily.
For the time being, however, Evangelidis said he is dedicated to providing top notch service to both the inmates and there residents of Worcester County.
The married father of two said that he had definite plans to run for re-election in 2016 but did not comment about someday seeking higher office.