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NECN: Aug 16, 2013

(NECN: Mike Cronin) – An innovative new program was announced by the Worcester County sheriff’s office. It’s called “After Incarceration Support Services” or AISS, and the goal is to help male offenders who are getting out of jail rebuild their lives so they don’t end up re-offending and back behind bars.

Elected officials hope the opening of a small office will have big rewards in keeping offenders out of jail.

“Inmates find any excuse to fall back into a life of crime,” says Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, who marked the opening of the after incarceration support services center, located on Main Street in Worcester.

The goal is to prevent inmates from becoming repeat offenders.

“It’s a way we can kind of work with them after they’re released to keep them on the straight and narrow, keep our communities safer and also save the cost of reincarcerating people over and over again,” the sheriff says.

It’s a cost Evangelidis says is about $46,000 per inmate. Using this program, Evangelidis estimates it’ll cost less than $10,000 per person. The sheriff’s department is partnering with the Worcester Initiative for Support Reentry to help transition inmates back to the community.

“We’re really targeting housing, employment, substance abuse and mental health services. Healthcare… Get them into and connected to those services,” says project director Ken Bates.

The Health Foundation of central Massachusetts is paying $475,000 to fund the work for one year.

“We expect that success to draw changes in public policy in the next few years. We would expect the state to be looking at doing more in reentry,” says CEO Dr. Jan Yost.

There are similar programs across the country, which Evangelidis says are successful. He says they’ll begin working with inmates on a voluntary basis while they’re still behind bars.

“We can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves. That’s the bottom line here, but we know that there are inmates that are willing to be reached.”

Evangelidis says the program will play a role in keeping crime down, ultimately making Worcester County safer.

“Because if we help them, we make all of us safer and that’s the bottom line.”