Oct 8, 2015
Written By: Peter Schworm/ The Boston Globe
May 05, 2015
Matthew Witaszek (left) and Luis Maldonado let Remy and Gabe romp outdoors.
WEST BOYLSTON — Luis Maldonado rummaged through a bin filled with plastic toys until he found Gabe’s well-chewed favorite. At the sight of the bouncy ball, the Lab-mix puppy jumped up with excitement, then bounded toward the jail door and the fenced yard outside.
Maldonado, an inmate at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction, followed close behind, holding the leash tight as Gabe raced ahead.
For the past few weeks, Gabe and a second dog, Remy, have had a home at this minimum-security section of the jail, sharing a dorm-style room with four inmates and becoming like mascots for convicts like 34-year-old Maldonado.
The dogs came from Second Chance Animal Shelter in East Brookfield as part of a new program with the Worcester County sheriff’s office, in which low-risk offenders in the work-release program help train rescue dogs until they are ready for adoption.
At the same time, the dogs have boosted morale among inmates, many of whom are nearing the end of their sentences, and reacquainted them with the daily responsibilities of civilian life.
“They put a smile on everyone’s face,” said Matthew Witaszek, who shares a cinder-block room with Maldonado and the rescue dogs. “The responsibility — it changes people. It’s good for this place.”
Witaszek, who has been behind bars for four years for breaking and entering, said his drug addiction sent his life into a downward spiral. Now 31, he is looking ahead to the next chapter — a halfway house, a job, a new start.
The dogs have brightened his days, he said, and given the inmates a new purpose.
“It helps me focus,” he said of training the dogs. “And not just on me.”
Bobby, an inmate at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction, shared space on his bunk with Gabe, a shelter dog.
Lew Evangelidis, the Worcester County sheriff, said the dogs quickly lifted inmates’ spirits and created a more upbeat atmosphere. While the dogs sleep in one room, they spend time with other inmates in common areas and often join them while watching television.
“Everyone can feel it,” he said. “Every correctional facility should have a program like this.”
A 2012 report from the state Department of Correction found that the evidence of canine training programs in correctional facilities had not been explored but that anecdotal reports were “overwhelmingly positive.”
According to the report, a medium-security prison in Oklahoma paired inmates with dogs and found that the program decreased depression and aggressive behavior.
As for the dogs, trainers “simply cannot dedicate the same amount of time to daily training as the inmates do,” the report found.
Evangelidis said he hopes the dogs will help prepare inmates at the Worcester jail for the routine demands of life after prison, easing what is often a difficult transition. He hopes to expand the program and determine its effectiveness by tracking recidivism rates among those who have helped care for the dogs.
Hilary Malloy, who oversees the program, said the dogs have brought out the best in the inmates. Everybody pets them when they pass, and even the “gangster wannabes” talk to them in a puppy-dog voice, she said.
Gabe bonded with Luis Maldonado.
The dogs, meanwhile, have thrived with so much attention. Both arrived at the jail with substantial behavioral problems, especially Gabe, the puppy, who was probably taken from his litter too early.
But with advice from shelter workers, the inmates have trained the dogs to behave.
“They’ve done a super job,” said trainer Joe Blancato. “I’ve seen incredible improvement.”
The dogs will probably be ready for adoption much sooner than if they had stayed at the kennel, workers said, clearing out spots for more dogs.
“It’s going to help us help more,” said Lindsay Doray, the shelter’s development manager.
Maldonado said Gabe was a “little hyper at first,” but has calmed down as he’s gotten more familiar with his surroundings.
“He’s a smart dog,” Maldonado said, smiling down at him. “He picked things up fast.”
Watching as the two dogs played, an inmate who gave only his first name, Bob, said taking care of the animals has been a lot of work, but it’s been worth it.
“It’s 24 hours a day with them, a lot of responsibility,” he said. “But you play with them and it cheers you right up.”
Oct 8, 2015
Oct 8, 2015
Oct 8, 2015
By Anna Burgess
Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — In the wake of this week’s snow storm, Leominster officials and residents got help with their shoveling from an unexpected source — the nearby prison.
On Wednesday morning, nearly a dozen inmates showed up in downtown Leominster ready to help the town with snow removal as part of Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis’ inmate work program.
The work program, which existed before Evangelidis but tripled in size when he took office in 2011, allows select inmates at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections to do manual labor for local communities and nonprofits. The inmates in the program are all nonviolent offenders who have been pre-screened and are supervised while working.
“Only our best inmates are part of the program,” Evangelidis said.
Kim Roy, the sheriff’s director of external affairs, explained that crews with three to five men go to a specific job every day, but this snowstorm was an exception.
“We have four inmate work crews out five days a week, and that’s ongoing throughout the year,” Roy said. “But when Mother Nature hits, the sheriff always makes the top priority to avail the work crews to help the municipalities dig out.”
Roy said two of the four work crews were sent to Worcester today. The other two crews went to Leominster.
“We get in this morning and we’re shoveling away, and all of a sudden the sheriff’s van shows up,” said Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella.
“We had over 30 inches of snow, and what a relief to see them.”
Over the course of the day, the inmates helped to clear several areas downtown, including bus stops, sidewalks, the courthouse steps and parking meters.
“The trucks can’t get everything, so these guys were able to go behind them and sort of clean up after,” said Mazzarella.
He said he was very grateful for their help.
“We thank the sheriff for automatically knowing that we could use the help,” Mazzarella said. “They worked hard. I don’t think they stopped for a minute. They were certainly providing a good public service.”
Evangelidis said he believes strongly that the work program is in the best interest of all parties.
“It all contributes to the idea of public safety,” he said. “Communities get to save money, and the inmates gain a sense of self-worth.”