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Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early, Worcester Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, and Worcester Police Sgt. Stephen Roche, left to right, announce the new reentry initiative program in Worcester Superior Court Tuesday. (T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
By Gary V. Murray

WORCESTER — Federal, state and local law enforcement officials will join forces with social service agencies and others in an effort to keep high-risk offenders from returning to jail once they are released.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz came to Worcester Tuesday to announce her office’s partnership with the Worcester Re-entry Initiative Program, which is designed to identify high-risk jail inmates and offer them the tools they will need to stay on the straight and narrow upon their return to the community.

“We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smart and efficient when battling crime and understanding the conditions and individual choices which cause it,” the U.S. attorney said during a press conference at the Worcester Trial Court.

“We look forward to the interagency and community partnerships that will measurably contribute to a decrease in crime and improvement in the quality of life for Massachusetts residents,” Ms. Ortiz said of the fledgling program.

A collaborative effort, the Worcester Re-entry Initiative Program will combine the resources of the Worcester Police Department gang unit, the offices of the U.S. attorney, Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis and District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., probation and parole officials, social services agencies, educators, mental health professionals, substance abuse treatment providers and faith-based organizations to try to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety.

The list of participants includes the sheriff’s After Incarceration Support Services, the state Department of Revenue, Spectrum Health Systems, Valley Psychiatric Services and the Counseling and Psychotherapy Center, Worcester Community Action Council, Workforce Central, the WISR Program and Straight Ahead Ministries.

“As sheriff, you learn one thing: and that is that so many people come back to prison when they get out. We’ve got to try to stop that type of circle of recidivism,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.

An important component of the program, which is modeled after the award-winning Boston Re-entry Initiative, is to identify jail inmates who are at the greatest risk of re-offending when they get out and to offer them an opportunity to begin turning their lives around even before they are set free, according to the sheriff.

The pre-release assistance might come in the form of enabling an inmate to obtain his GED, offering advice on finding employment or providing needed drug or psychiatric counseling, he said.

“If he’s in a jail cell one day and on Main Street the next day, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Mr. Early said. “You’ve got to get to them before they get out the door. Are we going to be successful on every single one? Absolutely not. But we know we’re going to do better.”

Pre-release participants will be encouraged to forge relationships with individuals representing resources that will be necessary for success on the outside, including parole and probation officers, and will undergo “intense” supervision upon release from custody to ensure greater accountability, according to Ms. Ortiz.

“This innovative program’s effectiveness is built around providing high-risk offenders with a choice of not the usual carrot-and-stick approach, but that of a carrot and hammer, be productive or pay the consequences,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.

Those who are willing to accept the help being offered and continue to strive to become productive citizens will benefit, while those who return to lives of crime may find themselves serving lengthy state or federal prison sentences, he said.

The program got underway in July with eight Worcester County Jail and House of Correction inmates and it is expected to work with an average of 90 to 100 high-risk inmates a year.

The goal of the program is to help ex-offenders transform themselves into productive citizens and, at the same time, to enhance public safety by reducing crime, officials said.

“It really isn’t just for the inmates, it’s for their families, it’s for the entire community,” the sheriff said.