Oct 8, 2015

Inmates, Rescue Dogs Thrive in Worcester County Jail Program

Written By: Peter Schworm/ The Boston Globe

May 05, 2015


Matthew Witaszek (left) and Luis Maldonado let Remy and Gabe romp outdoors.

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.

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.

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

Governor’s First Opioid Crisis Listening Session…March 18, 2015

Members of the Public Gathered To Share Ideas and Perspectives regarding current Opioid Crisis
Submitted by the Office of Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis
The Stow Independent


As the number of drug overdose deaths in the Commonwealth continues to rise, members of the Opioid Crisis Working Group created by Governor Charlie Baker gathered this past Tuesday, March 10th at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester for the first of four public listening sessions. Hosted by Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, over 400 people attended the event which was designed to gather feedback and ideas on the best ways to halt the current epidemic.


Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis addresses the audience of over 400 people who recently attended Governor Charlie Baker’s 1st Opioid Crisis Listening Session on March 10th in Worcester at Quinsigamond Community College.


Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis addresses the audience of over 400 people who recently attended Governor Charlie Baker’s 1st Opioid Crisis Listening Session on March 10th in Worcester at Quinsigamond Community College.


“Today’s Opioid Listening Session in Worcester provided an important opportunity to have an open dialogue about the current opioid crisis. Citizens from across the county and the Commonwealth attended today’s forum, we heard from many community members as well as families whose lives have been impacted in some way by addiction. I am hopeful today’s discussion will help to provide crucial initiatives that will halt this epidemic.” said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis.


“In order to formulate solutions, we need to understand the depth of this devastating problem that is affecting families, friends and neighbors across the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services and Chair of the Working Group Marylou Sudders. “Today we had a chance to hear directly from those impacted by this issue.”


Governor Baker announced the 17-member Working Group on February 19th. The Group is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience related to prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery and support and law enforcement. By the end of May, the Group will submit a statewide strategy to combat opioid addiction and curb overdose deaths.


“Today in Worcester, we heard from community members, first responders, local leaders and families struggling with the devastating impacts of addiction. This event was yet another powerful example that the disease of addiction does not discriminate – it affects everyone from high school athletes to successful college students and mothers with young children,” AG Maura Healey said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this unprecedented public health epidemic, and we are committed to working together with partners across the state to attack this crisis head on.”


Records from the Department of Public Health show there were 978 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2013 – that’s a 46 percent jump from the previous year. In Worcester County alone, 29 people have suffered fatal overdoses since January.


“Sadly, with the current trends in opioid addiction there will be few families who are untouched by this epidemic within five years. As Sheriff, I see firsthand the devastating impact these addictions have in our communities on a daily basis,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis.


Public dialogues will be held in various parts of the state with the next one scheduled for Thursday, March 19 from 4-6 p.m. in the dining common at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield. A similar listening session will take place on March 26 at Memorial Hall in Plymouth from 4-6 p.m. The final session will be located in Boston on April 2 at a time/place to be named soon.


For those who cannot attend, an email box has been set up to collect comments at For more information about the public dialogues or the Working Group’s meetings visit

Oct 8, 2015

Inmates Help Uncover Leominster Sidewalks

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.”