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Saturday, January 24, 2015

By Samantha Allen




Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis talks about the Second Chance Act grant award.


WEST BOYLSTON — The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office accepted what officials say is the largest federal grant award they’ve ever received, with a plan to use nearly $750,000 to better inmates during their time behind bars.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded a Second Chance Act “Enhanced Re-entry Program” grant to the sheriff’s office totaling $749,924 to improve the facility’s programs for re-entry into the community. The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts will donate $375,000 toward a match required by the grant. The sheriff’s office has pledged $421,580 as well, bringing the total to more than $1.5 million. The Worcester County office was one of seven to receive the federal Second Chance award nationwide.

Officials say that in Worcester County, nearly 50 percent of offenders return to prison within three years of their release. According to researchers at Brandeis University, the Worcester County House of Correction is “on par” with other facilities in the state, with a recidivism rate of 40 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to Brandeis University’s Mary Brolin. That means in those years, an average of two out of five inmates returned to the jail.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance has partnered with Brandeis to study the implementation of these programs, according to the sheriff’s office, “to ensure the most effective use of taxpayer dollars as well as their efficacy and outcomes.”

Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis said Friday the solution to bettering society isn’t keeping prisoners for long periods of time. He said an improved program like this will help the county overall.

“Warehousing inmates doesn’t work,” he said. “We have people we need to put in prison …We have to be tough on crime, but we have to understand we have to be smart on crime, too.”

Sheriff Evangelidis said rehabilitation is necessary to help troubled people stay out of jail, but also to keep costs down for taxpayers. He said a person charged with breaking and entering can cost the system hundreds of thousands of dollars in police investigation time and resources expended through court, too.

Rebecca Pellegrino, special sheriff with Sheriff Evangelidis’ office, congratulated him on the grant Friday afternoon in the presence of U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, as well as Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.

“(The sheriff) has remained consistent to his pledge to make sure that every inmate who enters this facility is a better person when they leave,” Ms. Pellegrino said.

Donald Siergie, the sheriff’s office’s director of re-entry and reintegration, said in his mind, re-entry begins at “day one” at the West Boylston-based jail.

“We know this. We practice this model to some degree,” he said. “With the advent of these additional funds, this is going to get us to the next generation of re-entry here at the Worcester County House of Correction.”

Mr. Siergie said an average of 6,000 people come through the facility each year, though a majority of those inmates are pretrial detainees who will likely stay a short period of time.

“We need to focus on the people who will be here for 60 days to 2½ years,” he said.

With this money, a new orientation unit will be created called “the new man unit,” which will help assess inmates, as well as their mental health needs, when they come to the West Boylston site. That will lead, Mr. Siergie said, to the development of individualized plans.

In addition, a “Wiser Men” program will assist a minimum of 75 and as many as 100 sentenced male inmates with a medium to high risk of re-offending. The goal with those men will be to reduce recidivism by 50 percent in five years.

Those inmates will have pre-release services available to them including substance abuse treatment, vocational training, cognitive behavioral therapy, mental health counseling, and anger management and education services. Post-release services will involve care management to assist with housing, employment, access to health care, and addiction recovery for up to 12 months through Advocates Inc.

Mr. McGovern joked that perhaps members of Congress would benefit from programs like these to make them “wiser.” He said the program was important, especially considering how much money goes toward incarcerating criminals.

“State spending on corrections has skyrocketed from $12 billion in 1988 to more than $50 billion in 2011,” he said. “At a time when budgets are tight, we should look for innovative ways to cut those costs.”

Mr. Early called this grant an example of “good government.”

“(Getting $750,000) is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “The answer isn’t building bigger jails. No. It’s getting smart on crime, doing the right things, and this grant will do just that.”