HAMPDEN COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S AFTER INCARCERATION SUPPORT SYSTEMS PROGRAM (AISS)
WHAT IS THE AFTER INCARCERATION SUPPORT SYSTEMS PROGRAM?
The After Incarceration Support Systems Program (AISS) is designed to educate, prepare and assist the releasing inmate population with transitioning back into the community. Key components include 1) Working with the inmate within the correctional center, prior to release; and 2) Working with the offender post-release in the community with an emphasis on a continuum of services. The ultimate goal of the AISS relationship with the offender is to have a direct impact on the reduction of recidivism and an increase in public safety.
The After Incarceration Support System’s Program had its inception in August of 1996. At that time, AISS was located at the old York Street Jail and consisted of 4 staff. In 1996, the program served a total of 234 ex-offenders.
Since then, AISS has grown by leaps and bounds. In December of 2007, the AISS program moved to the WW Johnson Life Center, located at 736 State Street. AISS now has 20 available staff, and in 2007 was able to serve over 799 ex-offenders in our community component alone. Never static, this program is always actively evolving to better meet the challenges of offender re-entry as a vital area of impact on public safety.
AISS provides every sentenced offender in the main facility the opportunity to be released with an individualized release plan. Since the program’s inception 12,111 individualized Release Plans have been developed. A total of 1,242 Individualized Release Plans were completed with offender’s preparing for release in 2007. How do we accomplish the goals of the correction center component of AISS?
Inmates (as well as staff) are encouraged to utilize the Resource Room, which is located in the Program Building of the Hampden County Correctional Center. The Resource Room has open hours each week and is staffed by a Reintegration Counselor for assistance.
The Resource Room contains hundreds of brochures in both English and Spanish. The brochures are from numerous agencies regarding services they provide in the community. Some of the services emphasized include residential programs, clothing / food assistance, vocational training, parenting, substance abuse programs, mental health services, etc. There is also information available related to AA and NA meetings held locally in Hampden County.
For staff assistance in seeking programs to meet the offender’s needs upon release, there is a Computerized Resource Directory. This directory allows users to find detailed information on hundreds of agencies, the services they provide, as well as how the offender can access such services. Agencies are categorized by zip code specific to where an inmate may be released. Upon inputting said zip code, all agencies in that area will be displayed. Finally, the directory will allow the user to enter the inmate’s needs (food, shelter, counseling) and the directory will list all agencies that will meet that need.
Of note, the Resource Room also provides Reference Information Books including: First Call Books, Resource Catalogs, and Halfway House listings.
Release Planning Groups (RP I and RP II) are facilitated for inmates who have 90 days or less remaining on their sentences. These groups take place over a two-week period and during the Release Planning process, inmates are educated on the AISS program. They are informed of the assistance we can provide in the community and how to access our program when they are released from custody.
An inmate’s Release Plan is developed based on a questionnaire they are required to complete. The questions reflect areas that highlight both needs and goals the offender may have (self assessment). From their answers, as well as recommendations from the inmate’s primary correctional counselor, forensics, vocation and education departments, the Release Planning Coordinator then puts a thorough plan together. Some areas addressed on a Release Plan include employment, housing, education, substance abuse, support groups, mental health / health services, etc.
During the final phase of release planning (RPII), each offender has an opportunity to review his Release Plan and meet with a community staff member from AISS.
In addition to the Release Planning Groups, AISS staff also presents groups on various housing units to make a connection with the offenders. These groups take place on the Accountability Pod, Responsibility Pod (Pre-Trial), as well as the Short Term Pod. We provide every offender the opportunity to leave the Correctional Center with a release plan that is specifically designed to address the needs for which they were incarcerated. They are further encouraged to contact the AISS program upon their release.
In October 2007, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department started a new initiative by creating a Re-Entry Unit for offenders who were close to release (45 days or less) and would not be eligible to complete their sentence in a lower security setting. The AISS program took on a large role by assigning each offender housed on the Re-Entry Unit an AISS counselor who would work intensively with them to address case management issues related to their individual release plan. In addition, AISS provides a housing specialist and job developer to work one day a week on the Re-Entry Unit. Finally, offenders are released with an appointment to meet with their primary AISS counselor in the community, within 48 hours of their release from custody.
AISS IN THE WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS WOMEN'S CORRECTIONAL CENTER
During there first five weeks of incarceration, the women at WMWCC are introduced to a program called Discovery, focusing on the concept that release planning starts on day one of incarceration. AISS staff presents a group to the women encouraging the development of a release plan and the need for them to utilize their Correctional Counselors to assist them with such. The women inmates are also educated on the After Incarceration Support Services program and how to utilizes services upon their release.
Women inmates also actively participate in the Release Planning I and II groups 90 days prior to their release. RP I and RP II are facilitated every second and third Thursday of each month to ensure that every woman has an opportunity to attend. RPI group allows women to fill out their own needs assessment form along with dialogue with staff as to what they feel may be obstacles when they enter back into the community. AISS staff utilizes these questionnaires, case notes, and feedback from education, medical, and forensics, if applicable, to develop a final release plan that will be reviewed at the RP II group. On every plan, an offender is assigned an AISS Counselor to contact once released.
The After Incarceration Support Systems Program assists ex-offenders in all aspects of their lives as they transition from incarceration into the community. The majority of the offenders that we work with are faced with many issues ranging from addiction, mental health, lack of identifying documents, employment obstacles, financial concerns, limited education, poor (or none) housing situations, etc. They also cope with a lack of familial support, poor self-esteem, fear of failure, and a constant temptation to return to the criminal lifestyle.
In order to meet the needs of the ex-offender population, there are many ways AISS provides services. They are as follows:
New to the WW Johnson Life Center is the AISS Community Connections. The Community Connections occurs every Thursday morning and offers “one stop shopping” to meet the needs of the ex-offender who may not be able to make an appointment with AISS any other time of the week. The individual will complete an intake and be assigned a primary AISS counselor at that time. The Community Connections is set up with AISS program specialists, as well as various human service agencies that represent housing, education, employment opportunities, and health services.
AISS In the Community Offers…..
* Advocacy *Relationship Building *Decision Making Skills
* Mentoring *Role Modeling *Coping Skills
* Crisis Intervention *Networking *Case Management
*Accountability *Support Groups *Linkage & Referrals
*Intensive Outreach *Support *Education
Over 6,356 ex-offenders have actively participated in and received services
from AISS since the program’s inception in 1996.
Since October 2006, one AISS staff member has been assigned to work with offender’s who are deemed “high risk.” The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department has created an on-going list of inmates deemed to be high risk, based on their charges, criminal history and institutional behavior. This list is inclusive of every inmate that has been convicted of any type of gun charge.
While incarcerated the High Risk Release Planning Specialist will meet with the inmate to coordinate a release plan, based on the individuals needs. He will also schedule an appointment with the inmate to take place in the community within 48 hours of his release from custody. This population has been a challenge, although the statistics demonstrate that 50% of these offenders did follow-up with AISS in the community.
The AISS Graduation / Recognition Ceremony takes place every fall and has been traditionally held at the local Greek Cultural Center. The event allows the AISS participants to be recognized for all their efforts in taking positive steps to living a productive lifestyle free of criminal thinking and behaviors.
AISS actively participates in and sets up an informational booth at the annual “ex-offender” job fair held at Springfield Technical Community College. AISS provides Informational pamphlets, as well as answer any questions related to our program and services rendered.
If you would like any additional information about AISS, you can contact Assistant Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Sordi at 413-781-2050 ext. 8328 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org