Department Implements Innovative Improvements to Disciplinary Segregation Unit

The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department serves the urban area of Springfield/Chicopee/Holyoke in the western part of Massachusetts and is part of the Large Jail Network. Although the count has gone over 2000 in the past, there are currently 1600 individuals in the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, including both sentenced offenders and pre-trial detainees. In Massachusetts’s county correctional facilities, sentenced individuals are usually serving time for drug offences, burglary, larceny, driving under the influence, domestic violence, assault, etc., with sentences of 2 1/2 years or less. Those awaiting trial are often charged with more major felonies, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, etc.. In many states, everyone sentenced to one year or more is sent to state prison, so Massachusetts Sheriffs have in their sentenced population many inmates who would in other states be sent to state prison. In that sense, Massachusetts Sheriffs are “hybrids”, so to speak, whose experience is applicable to both county jails and state prisons throughout the country.

Up until January of 2008, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department maintained a Special Management Unit (aka Disciplinary Unit or Segregation Unit) that was similar in many ways to the 23-hour-a-day lockdown units in jails and prisons throughout the country.

Although its segregation unit had never been intended to be a long term, filled to capacity and beyond, major housing unit, it had become one over the years. It had become a repository for inmates who were difficult to manage in regular housing units, an out-of-sight, out-of-mind, jail within a jail.

We looked around and saw that while our philosophy of corrections was to “challenge” inmates to build a law-abiding life in a safe, secure, orderly, lawful and productive environment and to reward inmates for positive behavior, this philosophy seemed to stop at the door of our segregation unit where we had only “sticks”, so to speak, and no “carrots”. We saw that while our operational philosophy as a whole institution was not to hold people for the most amount of time in the grimmest possible conditions, with no immediate and accessible avenues to better their lot, an argument could be made that our segregation unit was operating on that premise.

It was also known that there is a concern that segregation’s isolated, stark environment may worsen the mental health of some inmates, exacerbating or precipitating mental illnesses in a process know as “decompensation”. We knew that any mental deterioration of an incarcerant takes not only a dire toll on the individual involved, but extracts a cost from those who work in our facility, as well as from the community when the individual is released.

In January of 2008, Sheriff Michael J. Ashe, Jr. formed a working staff committee with representatives from every security level and satellite facility
throughout the department, and from various areas of operations such as security, classification, human services and forensics, uniform and non-uniform, to thrash out proposed changes to the unit that would enable the Special Management Unit to be what it was meant to be: a place to address and improve problematic behavior, rather than a place to give it a home.

Ten months later the staff committee presented its hard-worked-to proposals to the Sheriff.

The first change put in place on the unit itself was to institute a behavioral program through which inmates can earn privileges in segregation and shorten their stay.

An evaluation system was established, based on inmate cooperation with unit staff and procedures, cleanliness and orderliness of cells, personal hygiene, and avoidance of actions or noise assaultive of others.

Segregation inmates who consistently achieve a positive evaluation are given extra time out of their cell, one at a time, in a cell that has been converted into a “wellness area”. This wellness cell was designed and created to best meet budget restrictions and pay close attention to the safety and security of staff and inmates. Exercise equipment in the cell includes a stability ball, medicine balls varying in weight and size, a foam roller, a stationary bike, and a mini-stepper. Free weights or a chin-up bar are not considered as feasible because of risks associated with the safety of officers or risks of injury to an inmate.

Segregation inmates with positive evaluations earn 1/2-hour stays alone in this wellness cell. 50% of segregation inmates achieve consistent positive evaluations to qualify for time in this cell and utilize the privilege.

Those who demonstrate sustained good behavior also have a chance for once-a-week group exercise in the facility’s exercise area when the area is not utilized by general population inmates.

Consistent positive evaluations can also translate into time off the inmate’s stay on the Special Management Unit. This bears some resemblance to the earned good time system in the larger jail, with the differences that there are no fixed amounts of time earned; time earned is obviously less because it is proportionate to the length of time in segregation; and early release is not to the general population,

but to a completion of the lockdown situation in a regular living unit until the full lockdown time is served.

We also decided to attempt to introduce some basic programs in segregation, and 70% of inmates receive consistent positive evaluations to qualify for these programs and utilize the opportunity. These programs include gang deprogramming, mental health, substance abuse, vocational counseling, employment and housing preparedness, and education. Inmates literally attend these programs in shackles and cuffs to assure the safety of staff, but they attend them nonetheless and are not disruptive. Although the content of the programming may not be as important to them as the time out of their cells, their attendance at these programs at least gives them an opportunity to spend time exposed to the solutions rather than the problems. In addition, the existence of such programs provides one more “carrot” of time out of their cells for inmates to earn through positive evaluations.

The weekly Treatment Staff meeting, attended by clinical, program and counseling staff, systematically reviews inmates to determine which inmates would be appropriate for Mental Health and/or Substance Abuse Programming.

We also utilize our mental health vendor for triage on the unit.

To counter the mental deterioration that can take place in lockdown units, inmates have access to in-cell programming for one hour, twice a week, through the use of an MP3 Headset System.

These headphones are best conceptualized as electronic books, and are programmed to offer inmates programs such as: “Alcoholism and Addiction Care”; “Surviving in an Angry World”; “Conquering Fears and Anxiety”; “Bridging Differences/Dealing with Transition/Avoiding Stress”; “Chicken Soup for the Father’s Soul”; “Family First”; and “Healing Anger and Depression”.

Also offered in these headphones are soundscapes from nature; “Introduction to Meditation”; “The Power of Simple Prayer”; “Relax Rx”; and classical and contemporary music, all of which can work against any possible mental deterioration.

These headphones were especially selected for their durability and the
fact that they did not lend themselves to be used or fashioned as weapons, in whole or in part.

The headphones cost only $33.25 per unit.

Headphones are offered twice-a-week, not only to those who consistently receive positive evaluations, but also to inmates who are struggling with mental health issues. Fully 80% of segregation inmates utilize MP3-headphones, and there has been absolutely no problem with their destroying or purposely damaging them. Inmates obviously value this privilege and are not looking to lose it by purposely mistreating the headphones.

In addition to the changes in the unit, efforts have been made in classification to hold down the numbers in segregation.

The uniform Captains of each housing unit meet weekly to develop a corrective action plan for each inmate in the Special Management Unit, which may include their early re-entry into lockdown in a general population unit.

The corrective action plan is continued once the inmate steps down to general housing from segregation, whether through early release or not, by staff holding a re-entry session with the inmate to discuss the inmate’s plan, expectations of the inmate, and support services available for transition to general housing. It cannot be overemphasized how essential face-to-face contact with the inmate is to establish their “buy-in” and to enhance their chances for successful avoidance of segregation in the future. Indeed, a lack of this connectedness to others is a primary reason why so many failed to get out, and stay out, of segregation in the past.

Step-down units are available in general population to allow inmates, based upon their classification and behavior, to move from Segregation to a general population pod, where follow-up in regards to behavioral compliance and program needs and expectations is monitored, including planning for After Incarceration Support Services.

Individual and group meetings with the inmates are sometimes necessary in order to cajole those who are appropriate to classify to general population to make the transition to move out of Segregation and inform them that staff support is available for this process. It is possible, as unlikely as it seems, for Segregation inmates to become “institutionalized” to the unit.

The above changes have resulted in considerably less inmates being held in the segregation unit, with no concomitant rise in assaults in the general population. In other words, our institution has evidenced itself to be capable of keeping more

inmates in the general population without making the facility and its staff less safe. Incidents in the segregation unit have decreased. Staff attitudes about working in the special management unit have decidedly become more positive.

We are satisfied that the changes we have instituted have resulted in our Special Management Unit being a place where we address and correct pathology, rather than a place to give it a home where it can fester and grow, breeding only frustration, stagnation and new crime.

These changes were broad and deep and consistent with the department’s philosophy of always striving for a positive, productive environment in the inherently negative business of corrections. We realize that not every institution seeking to improve its segregation unit would want to embrace and implement all the changes that we put in place. By the same token, we believe that any facility or department might consider some of the general and specific ways that we sought to make our segregation unit consistent with our overall effort to challenge inmates with the tools and directions to build a law-abiding life in an atmosphere as free from violence as we can possibly make it.

Anyone wishing to learn more about changes to the Hampden County Special Management Unit, can contact Public Information Officer Rich McCarthy at (413) 858-0126 or e-mail rich.mccarthy@sdh.state.ma.us

Sheriff’s Statement to National Commission

OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN CORRECTIONS COMMISSION ON SAFETY AND ABUSE IN AMERICA ‘S PRISONS

MICHAEL J. ASHE, JR.

SHERIFF OF HAMPDEN COUNTY , MASSACHUSETTS

As Sheriff of Hampden County , Massachusetts , I am primarily a correctional administrator. In Massachusetts , Sheriffs do not have patrol duties, and our major responsibility is to administrate the county’s jail for those awaiting trial and the county’s house of correction for those sentenced to 2 1/2 years or less.

Please note that in many, if not most, states, everyone sentenced to one year or more is sent to state prison, so that a Massachusetts Sheriff has in his custody many sentenced inmates who in other states would be in state prison. I therefore believe that a Massachusetts Sheriff is a “hybrid”, so to speak, whose experience is applicable to, and replicable by, both county jails and state prisons.

I have approximately 2000 inmates in my custody. Approximately 1500 of these individuals are behind our medium security fences, including 700 detainees awaiting trial and 800 individuals sentenced to 2 1/2 years or less. The other 500 sentenced individuals are in lesser levels of security, including a minimum security pre-release center; a regional correctional alcohol center, originally founded for Driving Under The Influence offenders, but now extending to other substance abusers; a day reporting center, the first in the nation, founded in 1986, whereby offenders live at home at the end of their sentence while being supervised and supported in their efforts to participate in positive community activities; and a community corrections center that serves as a locus point both for those given alternative, intermediate sanctions and for those seeking to successfully re-enter the community after serving their sentences. To be technically accurate, a very small number (approximately 10) of pre-trial individuals are in either pre-release or day reporting.

I have been Sheriff of Hampden County for over 31 years and herein hope to share my experience on the topic of oversight and accountability.

First let me point out that although we often hear that all the high-sounding vision statements in the world are just empty chatter without organizational follow through, it is also true that any successful correctional organization must be infused with, and guided by, a vision of what it seeks to be and, indeed, what it seeks not to be.

It is also important to state my belief that what ultimately makes a correctional institution work has to do with the hearts and minds and spirits of those who people it, not with bricks and mortar, shatterproof glass, pre-fab cells or organizational charts.

I am reminded of the old western movie wherein some cowboys are sitting by a campfire waxing philosophical, and one of them says, “The way I see it, what matters about a man is whether he keeps his promise.” Another cowboy says, “Well, that’s partly it, but it’s more than that: it’s who he makes his promise to.” So before I detail how we as an organization seek to fulfill our promise, I want to offer what, indeed, our promise is.

There are seven underlying principles of our vision of excellence in corrections at Hampden County that I would cite:

The first of these is “BALANCE”

Our motto of correctional supervision is “Firmness dignified with fairness; strength reinforced with decency.”

As with any correctional facility, our foundation is a safe, secure, orderly facility, but that is only our foundation, not the whole edifice. If you stop there, you miss a great deal of the challenge and energy and good efforts of corrections. The house that we build on that foundation, our daily operational practice, has to be humane, positive, productive, and permeated with a respect for the worth of every staff member and every inmate.

Like most of life, the answers in corrections will not fit on a bumper sticker and they do not lie at the extremes. We do not want to run hotels, but we also don’t want to run cesspools of stagnation, frustration and new crime.

Our second underlying principle is WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF NOT JUST INCARCERATION, BUT CORRECTIONS.

My average inmate is in his twenties; is a substance abuser; has dropped out of school before completing the 10th grade, and has a fifth grade reading level; has never lived a year of his life in a home with a middle class income; and does not own a motor vehicle. In short, an addicted, poor, undereducated, unemployed, unskilled young person.

Incarceration is about keeping that person in a holding pattern for a length of time, incapacitating him. Corrections, on the other hand, is about also giving that person the opportunity, the challenge and the responsibility to pick up the tools and directions to build a law-abiding life.

Our third underlying principle is that INMATES SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE TO BE POSITIVE AND PRODUCTIVE.

This paper addresses the subject of oversight and accountability, and I think there is always the premise that one cannot expect inmates to be held accountable if staff are not held accountable. I would like to submit that the converse is also true.

If you want to pay staff to supervise inmates who sit around all day watching Jerry Springer, don’t expect them to act like professionals.

The lives of those incarcerated are really the basic “product”, if you will, of a correctional facility, and unless one has an institution wherein the basic ethos is the betterment of that product, the whole enterprise has little meaning for its employees. Without that, they look to find their meaning in “us versus them” hostility, anger, abuse and violence.

At Hampden County, we expect inmates to be at work assignments or at programs like Substance Abuse Education and Treatment, GED Preparation, English as a Second Language, Victim Impact, Anger Management etc. for at least 40 hours per week.

In essence, we expect inmates to “answer the bell” for a productive day, just like we the staff are seeking to do, and just like they will have to do if they are to be productive citizens.

We have over 104 programs available to the 2000 people in our custody, and we make them accountable to utilize these programs to change their lives.

But more than that, we have in the last several years developed what we call a “Basic Intensive Regimen.”

The premise behind this “Basic Intensive Regimen” is solid, the logistic is simple, and it is, I believe, adoptable and adaptable to any correctional operation seeking to impact those in its custody.

The premise that we founded the inmate Basic Intensive Regimen on is that the time that inmates are most susceptible to change is when they first come into an institution and the full impact of their situation hits them. They are, for the first time perhaps in a long while, without chemicals to rely upon, street companions, and the “amenities” of their criminal lives. At this vulnerable and crucial time, their chief orientation can be to the informal inmate culture or it can be to the culture of life-change of the institution. Often the long-term programs that these inmates sign up for in substance abuse, education, work assignment etc. have waiting lists, and valuable and crucial time is lost.

Our Basic Intensive Regimen assures that offenders receive mandatory basic core programs for 5 weeks at the beginning of their incarceration. Core Programming classes focus intensely on substance abuse, anger management, cognitive thinking, victim impact, “Learn to Earn”, “Why School”, and beginning release planning etc. Uniform and non-uniform staff step up to lead these classes. In terms of deployment of staff, let us remember that someone conducting a class for these people is also supervising these people. Motivated uniform staff on the living units themselves can conduct these classes. Those inmates who refuse this mandatory core programming, or are disruptive to it, are assigned to our “Accountability Pod” as a consequence. This is a stark living unit with no amenities. It is not a disciplinary unit, and inmates can earn their way off this pod only by successfully participating in its program, geared toward life change.

The fourth underlying principle of our correctional operation is that WHETHER IT BE A STATE PRISON OR COUNTY FACILITY , URBAN, RURAL OR IN-BETWEEN, IT SHOULD BE PART OF THE COMMUNITY.

We have 500 volunteers representing 75 different organizations coming into our facilities. Many of these are faith-based.

For any given semester, we have 50-75 college interns representing up to a dozen colleges.

The idea is to bring the positive aspects and resources of the larger community behind these walls. We do not want to be a “fortress in the woods”.

We all know that beyond the assistance that this dedication and expertise gives to us in our good efforts, such openness to the community is a de-facto monitoring agent in oversight and accountability, adding 550 sets of eyes that those who would perpetrate violence and abuse must avoid; in a sense, 550 surveillance cameras from the larger community.

The fifth principle is that THOSE IN CUSTODY SHOULD BE KEPT AT THE LEAST LEVEL OF SECURITY THAT IS CONSISTENT WITH PUBLIC SAFETY.

We need a whole continuum of security levels.

We believe that the least level of security that an offender is on at the time of release, the better their chance to stay out of jail or prison. If this saves money that can thus be used to fight the sources of crime, and if this prevents crime because of the better chance at successful re-entry, then we must lead our public in seeing that lesser security is not a risk to safety but rather an effective public safety weapon. For every breach of trust or crime committed by someone in community corrections, a thousand crimes may have been prevented.

Release planning should begin on day one of incarceration and community re-entry must be gradual, supervised and supported. Networks must be established consisting of partnerships of criminal justice, social service, housing providers, employers, and other community resources to assist in re-entry. All that we do inside our fences and in our continuum of custody is geared toward successful community re-entry.

We began an “After Incarceration Support Systems” program, located in our Community Corrections Center , through which offenders can voluntarily stay involved with us for support during the crucial first months of re-entry.

The sixth principle is that CORRECTIONS SHOULD NOT ALLOW ITSELF TO BE A SCAPEGOAT FOR THE FAILURES OF THE LARGER SOCIETY.

Every correctional institution has a 100% failure rate coming through the front door.

Every other societal system – familial, educational, economic, religious etc, – has failed to successfully socialize the individual by the time that they are brought to our front door in shackles and handcuffs. I don’t recruit, and I don’t know any correctional institution that does.

Correctional institutions should be seen by the community in the same way that hospitals are. We want a hospital to be as effective as possible in treating illness and accidents, but we don’t blame hospitals for the illness and accidents they treat. If we want to seek to prevent those illnesses and accidents we do so in the larger community. By the same token, we shouldn’t blame correctional institutions for the social maladjustment and crime of the larger society that correctional institutions seek to address.

If we want staff to respect themselves as professional, we must insist that the community respect us for what we are, not blame us for its own failures.

Corrections is a “game of inches” that addresses damage already done. The ultimate answers to crime lie outside the fences, and when we pretend that they lie inside the fences, we avoid facing the real truths and finding the real answers.

The seventh underlying principle is RESPECT.

Not the misplaced and misused “respect” that inmates and staff confuse with machoism and pridefulness, but a respect by staff and inmates for the professionalism of the role of correctional worker; a respect for the humanity of all within the fences; a respect for the physical surroundings of the facility (ours has green grass and flowers wherever we can put them); and a respect, again by inmates and staff, for the authority invested in staff in the name of the people.

Having offered seven of the underlying principles that should, I believe, inspire a correctional operation, I would like to now offer systemic and replicable aspects of our operation that help us make these underlying principles part of our daily operations.

The first is that we have lessened, if not totally eliminated, the traditional chasm between security and human services in corrections.

Someone hired by us as a correctional officer can pursue two tracks in a work career: first) they can seek to stay in uniform and rise through the ranks from Officer to Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Primary Captain and Major; second) after serving as an Officer for a time, they can seek to become a Correctional Case Worker. These Correctional Case Worker positions are bridge positions that we’ve created. Correctional Case Workers join Officers and Counselors on 3 person teams in our living units. Correctional Case Workers are still in uniform, but their duties are partly officer and partly counselor duties, assisting both their team members. Our Counselor ranks are filled from these Correctional Case Worker ranks.

This career path from Correctional Officer to Correctional Case Worker to Counselor serves us in a number of ways. Since anyone interested in human service work must begin as an Officer, it expands the traditional correctional hiring pool beyond “law enforcement types”, if you will.” We hardly hire anyone anymore directly into counseling positions. Rather we tell would be counselors that they must start as officers. Fully 41.7% of our uniform staff now possess a degree in higher education. This expansion of the hiring pool has two advantageous results: first) the bigger the hiring pool, the better the caliber of people that are hired; second) the infusion of “human service types” into our officer corps mitigates the tough-guy, “us versus them”, one dimensional mentality that can support violence and abuse by staff.

Since most counselors now have gone through the academy with, and served as officers with, security people, the gap and animosity between security and human services is reduced, dramatically in our case, if not eliminated. Thus an ethos of impacting offenders positively, not just controlling them, can thrive better in a facility.

Another systemic effort is that we have adapted some private sector type incentives and attitudes as regards the work force.

By contractual agreement with our union, we give annual job performance bonuses earned by superior job performance evaluation, attendance, training and disciplinary records. Last year 74% of our officers received these bonuses.

We also give an annual bonus for passing a physical fitness test. Failure to pass this fitness test, which is scaled to age, can result in job termination. Will this work? Last year a total of 425 staff with inmate supervisory responsibilities were required to pass this test. 12 staff received medical accommodations; 3 suspensions were issued, and employees were reinstated after they passed the test; there were 0 terminations necessary.

What this bonus system works against is the stereotypical “gone to seed”, indolent, “keeper of the keys” correctional officer with no stake in his job performance or fitness.

We have a very extensive system of honors and accolades for officers, complete with a system of different colored ribbons to be worn on uniforms consistent with awards such as Officer Of The Year, Professional Excellence, Employee of the Quarter, Distinguished Service etc..

We also have a great emphasis on initial and on-going training. After a seven week training academy which emphasizes body, mind and spirit, new officers are assigned “mentors”, experienced staff that exemplify the modern professional correctional officer. Our belief is that, just as with inmates, if we do not seek to orientate them to our ethos of striving for excellence, they will soon enough be indoctrinated by our less inspired officers to an informal system of, at best, mediocrity. New officers meet with mentors on a monthly basis for the first six months of employment. After the initial six months, the mentor will then meet and check with their protégé every other month for the length of their first year of work. Our facility has a Direct Supervision/Unit Management mode of supervision, which, as I am sure you are aware, emphasizes interpersonal and communication skills for officers rather than physical force. I am sure that the Commission is aware of the benefits of Direct Supervision/Unit Management, and if you are not, the National Institute of Corrections in Longmont , Colorado is a good resource on this subject.

New officers (all officers for that matter) have a “Best Correctional Practices” manual at each officer’s station detailing how to handle their post and situations they might face. This manual was written by 64 of our newly promoted corporals.

After that, we, again by contract, have 55 hours of mandatory training for officers per year, much of which is accomplished in 26 bi-weekly one hour trainings that cover the whole gamut of our operations, not just those aspects that officers see as directly involving them. One example of the kind of creativity we put into these trainings is when we had former inmates who’d “made it” successfully on the outside, come back and speak to staff about how they continued a process began in the institution in successful community re-entry. The purpose of this training was to combat the phenomenon that officers often only get to see the failures, inmates who recidivate and return. We felt they needed to see and hear from some of the majority who don’t return.

To foster and encourage professionalism in our staff, we have also instituted written exams for employment (involving multiple choice answers to video correctional scenarios) and for promotion.

I really don’t know how an administrator could hope to oversee the troops and expect them to be accountable unless he had a “walking and talking” leadership style. I, as Sheriff, and thus Chief Executive Officer, if you will, of my institution, make regularly scheduled, pre-announced visits to living units where any inmate can meet privately with me to discuss grievances, concerns, requests whatever. I also do the same with line staff, whereby I regularly schedule appointments to meet privately with staff to discuss their career at the facility.

It is also frankly a fact that we have 24 hour digital video camera surveillance throughout the institution. Even with all the very human efforts that we can make, we should utilize modern technology in this very difficult business of corrections to have a video observation of conduct within the institution. As regards every forced inmate move, part of the special operations move team is a videographer who is expected to record every moment of the move in its entirety.

We also have an Inmate Grievance Procedure, carefully detailed to staff in policy and procedure and pro-actively communicated to inmates in their handbook. This is not an inmate protection in name only, but one that is written and observed, avoiding disregard and loopholes. If inmates want to make the case that they are being abused by staff, there should be a policy and procedure that treats such grievances with neither fear nor favor, seeking neither to give credence to unfounded claims or to sweep under the rug that which should be legimately and objectively heard.

I should at this time say that we have a very simple policy of longstanding at our institution that assists, we believe, tremendously in preventing inmate on inmate violence, and which is certainly replicable at any correctional institution in the land: We do not allow inmates to be in other inmate’s cells, no exceptions. Only inmates who reside in a cell can be in the cell, at any time. Being in another inmate’s cell is a major violation of disciplinary rules, treated accordingly. We cannot help but believe that this cuts down on inmate on inmate violence.

At our institution we have a system of rotation for officers’ assignments to post. Officers spend 6 to 9 months on a living unit assignment and one year on a non-living unit assignment, such as special operations, kitchen, medical, transportation etc.. We believe that this length of time accomplishes two things: It is long enough for a staff member to be part of a team, invested in a particular post, having a sense of continuity and ownership; but it is short enough so that particularly senior officers do not monopolize posts, establish “little fiefdoms” throughout the institution, if you will.

Finally, we are believers in, and practitioners of, utilizing the standards of the American Correctional Association and of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations in our daily practice. Adherence to, and auditing of, these standards help assure safety and fight unprofessionalism.

What has hopefully come forth in this paper is that an institution that has dedicated itself to the respect and humanity of all within its fences, inmates or staff, and which strives to infuse and implement daily organizational practice with that dedication can indeed greater serve the common good.

I look forward to broadening and deepening a discussion of these principles and implementations at our upcoming hearing.

Thank you for the opportunity and challenge to pursue excellence in the very difficult and very vital field of corrections.

Sheriff’s Statement on Offender Re-entry

Several bills are before the state legislature which relate to the re-entry of offenders into the community. I wanted to take the opportunity to convey to the citizens that I serve my vision as regards the best way that we can seek to accomplish offenders re-entering our communities as law-abiding, productive citizens.

I am in favor of the Sheriff’s Department of each county being the mechanism of prisoner re-entry into local communities, including state-sentenced prisoners who are returning to that locale, and I am in favor of re-entry being a gradual “step down” through lesser levels of security.

The Sheriffs’ Departments of our fourteen counties are the proven avenues for prisoners to return to the population centers from which they come. Because of the local and regional nature of Sheriffs’ Departments, no Sheriff’s Department facility or satellite facility is remote from our urban centers.

In addition to this geographic logic, all Sheriffs are constantly building upon literally hundreds of years of community partnerships. I have, for instance, at this present moment nearly 300 working partnerships with community agencies, organizations and institutions, all of which I utilize to help effect the successful re-integration of offenders into our local communities. In addition, my department is working daily with all the members of the public safety/criminal justice team in my region. These longstanding community relationships and partnerships are in some sense intangibles that one cannot replicate or replace by building a physical structure, or a system, or a bureaucracy. As I’ve said, the roots of these partnerships go back literally hundreds of years to the beginnings of our department in our county.

Sheriffs are experts at re-entry because they do so much of it. I am just one of fourteen county Sheriffs, and I supervised the re-entry of 2,362 sentenced offenders last year. The average time served in my institution is only 8 months, so I’m constantly working on offenders’ re-entry. Because we deal with offenders with shorter sentences, Sheriffs, more than any other correctional practitioners, live the expression that “Re-entry begins on day one of incarceration”.

The best way for our local Sheriffs to re-enter offenders is through gradually lessening levels of security, also known as community corrections/intermediate sanctions. Because there is a misconception that these community corrections/intermediate sanctions programs are soft on crime, I would like to address the efficacy, indeed the necessity, of community corrections/intermediate sanctions as part of a continuum of levels of incarceration in corrections. The truth is that, quite the opposite of being soft on crime, operations such as Pre-Release and Day Reporting are indeed crime-fighting tools. It is common sense that an individual who progresses through the system by productive and disciplined behavior and graduates to lesser levels of security, where he can be closely supervised for community re-entry, is less likely to return to crime and jail.

If common sense is not enough, I offer you the following statistics: In a study of releases from the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department in 2007, in the twelve months after release, 12.6% of those released from Day Reporting were re- incarcerated for a new crime, as were 14% of those from our Pre-Release/Minimum Security Center, and 14.7% of those from our Correctional Alcohol Center. Fully 20.7% of those who were released from our higher security main institution were re-incarcerated for a new crime. That means that those who were released from our higher security level, those who did not go through step-down lesser levels of security for re-entry, were re-incarcerated for new crimes at a rate 64% higher than those released from Day Reporting, 48% higher than those released from Pre-Release/Minimum Security, and 41% higher than those released from the Correctional Alcohol Center. How’s that for a testimony to the effectiveness of step-down levels of security in re-entry.

Each Sheriff should have the statutory authority to place each prisoner in his custody in the level of security that best serves both the short term and long term needs of the community. The long term safety of the community is best served by offenders’ going through the gauntlet of a continuum of lesser security levels, all the while closely supervised and supported in a gradual re-entry. That’s what works best and that’s what Sheriffs are trying to do on a daily basis.

Beyond the fact that we know that community corrections/intermediate sanctions fight crime, they are also extremely cost effective. Our Pre-Release program, because of its lesser level of security, costs less per prisoner than medium security, and our Day Reporting program costs one-fourth of medium security per prisoner.

As someone who has been a criminal justice practitioner for over 34 years, but also someone elected to office, I am no stranger to, nor opponent of, the rightful place of our political system in shaping criminal justice policy. Through their elected leaders and representatives, the public is able to infuse our laws with sound fiscal practices, to assure that we have the resources to back up our laws.

It costs in excess of $120,000 to build each hard cell, and $30,000-$40,000 a year to operate it. I believe that we should do all in our power to assure that these hard cells are occupied by individuals who require them.

We as a commonwealth have got to utilize demanding, smart community corrections/intermediate sanctions programs whenever we can or all our efforts at prison and jail construction will be as building sand castles against an incoming tide.

As in so much of life, the answers in criminal justice do not lie at the extremes, nor will they fit on a bumper sticker. We have to seek both common sense and balance in structuring a prisoner re-entry system that best serves the public safety in a real and sustained way.

Michael J. Ashe, Jr.
Sheriff of Hampden County

Text-A-Tip

Program Helps Police Fight Crime

Patrick Johnson, The Republican
December 6, 2009

SPRINGFIELD—In the three months since local law enforcement launched a text-messaging system for anonymous tips, the system has shown it can be an effective tool to fight crime.

Officials say the challenge now is to persuade the public to use that tool more often.

Text-A-Tip, a joint operation of the Hampden district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department and the Springfield and Holyoke police, allows people to send in anonymous tips via the text-message function on their cell phones.

Officials say that in its first three months, Text-A-Tip has generated about 50 legitimate tips. That works out to an average of about four per week.

“They come in spurts,” said Sgt. John M. Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet.

When a high-profile crime is in the news, the flow of tips is pretty steady, but when times are quiet, the flow drops off to a trickle, he said. “It’s not on people’s minds.”

Raymond F. Feyre, director of operations for Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett, said that technically and logistically, Text-A-Tip has lived up to its promise.

“It is a very effective tool for law enforcement,” he said.

The biggest challenge has been spreading the word among the general public about what Text-A-Tip is and how it works, he said.

“The long-term goal is to have it marketed so that it is a fixture in everyday life, so the general public becomes really aware of its function and use,” Feyre said.

Text-A-Tip allows people to send text messages via their cell phones to police. The prime selling point is the tipster can remain anonymous, the police cannot trace the message back to the sender, and there is no fear of anyone finding out.

In an age where “no snitching” is the code on the street, Text-A-Tip allows people to do the right thing without sticking their necks out.

Delaney said police routinely go through the crowd at crime scenes looking for witnesses, and just as routinely the majority of people in the crowd will say they did not see anything.

“People don’t help us not because they don’t want to, but because they fear retribution or being labeled a rat,” Delaney said.

“With Text-A-Tip, someone could be in the crowd texting us and no one is the wiser because it is so commonplace to see young people texting each other,” he said.

Sheriff Michael J. Ashe said Text-A-Tip is not only a good example of collaboration between his department and police, it is also a simple and effective way for the public to take back neighborhoods from lawbreakers.

Text-A-Tip was first promoted by Bennett’s office last winter. It cost $2,600 to launch and another $400 per year to run. The system is in use by 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada.

Text Box: See Text-A-Tip video at the Springfield Police Department link:
http://www.springfieldpolice.net/police/index.php

Text-A-Tip messages originating in Springfield or Holyoke are sent to a site in Canada where the tipster’s identity is scrambled. It is then routed to the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow, where a corrections officer will read it and forward it to Springfield, Holyoke or state police.

“Once you send it, they see it in seconds,” said Tony Bryant, director of information systems and technology at the jail.

Once the tipster’s identity is scrambled in Canada, it cannot be unscrambled, according to John Kenney, assistant superintendent of special operations for the sheriff’s department. “The anonymity is everything,” he said.

A call to 911 may be faster, but those calls are easily traced, Kenney said.

The long-term goal is to find funding to market Text-A-Tip, according to Feyre. But in the era of budget cuts, reduced resources and possible layoffs, marketing is not on the front burner, he said.

Kenney said he’d like to see Text-A-Tip advertised on the sides of PVTA buses or on billboards, but he concedes the money to do that may not be available.

For now, it is being publicized by word of mouth, in presentations at schools or neighborhood watch meetings.

There are plans to reach out to area high schools to promote Text-A-Tip, Delaney said. “That’s our age group that is going to be texting the most,” he said. “We’re trying to get the word out to them.”

How it works:

Text-A-Tip allows people to send anonymous tips to police over any cell phone that allows text messaging.

Text Box: TEXT TO:

Crimes
(that’s 274637)

Start your message with “Solve”

Here’s how it works:

· To send a text, messages should be addressed to “Crimes” or 274637, and should begin with the word “Solve”. This guarantees it will be routed to the Hampden County House of Correction in Ludlow and forwarded to the local police department.

· When sending in a tip, the sender should include the name of the community where the tip is relevant.

· Police recommend that people store the Text-A-Tip number in their cell phone contacts to keep it handy in the event it is needed.

· For now, only Springfield, Holyoke and the state police are participating, but Text-A-Tip is open for expansion to include other communities.