Community service and volunteerism as aspects of restorative justice programming, which is designed to bring together all parties affected by the criminal activity in a non-adversarial way in order to encourage accountability and meet the needs of the victim and community in hopes of repairing the harm resulting from the crime, are important as they may mend and strengthen the social fabric, increase the safety, security and wellbeing of communities, and reduce recidivism and the risk of more serious crimes, studies show.
Prior to COVID the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office utilized its Minimum Security Building for both work release/reentry and community service programming. Community employment partnerships flourished with local small businesses like Lashaway Lumber, Outlook Farm, Diamond RV and Ralph’s Blacksmith Shop. These employers gave a foot-in-the-door opportunity to individuals working their way through the criminal justice system on their way to release. These partnerships gave individuals skills, incomes, responsibility, pride of work, networking connections and job references; all very much necessary for successful community re-entry.
That community service aspect directly benefited the local community and provided justice-involved individuals the opportunity to repay part of their debt to the community by giving back. So much of many recovery programs involve service components because we know that in giving back, we build responsibility, community membership and ownership of our role in the criminal act as well as ownership of our role in the redemption of that act.
During the early phases of COVID the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office shut down the Minimum Security Building, for safety purposes, as individuals were either brought back into the main facility, released on community monitoring status or stepped-down to the Bridge to the Future House. In doing this, both of these rehabilitation components, work release and community service, were largely stopped. They continued/resumed in very different iterations and in a much smaller capacity and not again in that building. The building sat empty for quite some time.
The Bridge to the Future House has been part of the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office re-entry program for the duration of the incumbent’s first term. The facility, or should I say we the taxpayers, have been paying $9,066/month, every month since FY2017, pay period 5. That’s just shy of $109,000/yr since then.
In June of 2021 the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office entered into a partnership with the Department of Parole to allow it to use the Minimum Security Building for recently paroled individuals. By the Sheriff’s own account (Hampshire Sheriff’s Office Facebook post dated June 30th, 2021), “these free citizens,” under the auspices of the Department of Parole, “will not be in custody of the Hampshire County Jail,” but, he states, “will be monitored by the Massachusetts Parole Department and subject to the terms of their parole.” Please note that a Hampshire Sheriff’s Office Security Captain and the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office’s only Licensed Clinical Social Worker oversee the day-to-day operations of this building/program, not an employee of the Department of Parole. By the Sheriff’s own account, Parole pays a small stipend for the use of the facility which is meant to cover staffing.
I think that assisting individuals with their successful transition back into the community is an important goal. I also think that the Sheriff’s primary responsibility is to the Jail and House of Correction and those housed within it. Not to the Parole Department, which has its own budget, resources, objectives and responsibilities. I think that the removal of the Minimum Security Building from the control of the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office, and the cessation of work release and community efforts as part of the facility’s overall programming, has been a mistake.
As Sheriff, I would:
Re-establish the Minimum Security Building as an aspect of facility treatment and programming.
Look into transferring the lease for the Bridge to the Future building to the Department of Parole if they would like to establish their own, independent transitional housing program. Then take back the $109k/year rental fee and re-invest it into evidenced-based program expansion or the expansion of wrap-around service for individuals incarcerated with the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office.
Re-establish and expand those work release partnerships to include ones that made use of the new technical and vocational certifications which would be created in a Sepeda Administration: hoisting, OSHA, agriculture, expand the current Serve-Safe program by establishing work release partnerships in the restaurant, catering and events industry.
Re-establish the community service aspect of treatment and restorative justice.
Many towns in this county have a need for community assistance in completing small jobs and tasks locally e.g. mowing public cemeteries, painting a bandstand or town common gazebo, repairing town ball fields/dugouts etc. For many towns, the means exist to do the work; you have the lawn mower, the paint, the hammer and nails. What many towns lack is the man power to accomplish the goals. For many towns, especially the smaller ones, DPW personnel are limited, tasks are many and priorities need to be made. The DPW Chief has a list of 100 tasks to be completed by maybe 2 people and they work 1 to 100. The Sheriff’s Office and those housed in the Minimum Security Building would be available to offer this manpower in the form of community service teams who partner with towns in working on that same list, but from 100 to 1. We take the small, but still important tasks, and help the town get them completed.
This provides a service component to treatment and restorative justice for those incarcerated, it offers tangible assistance to towns and residents in need, it gives incarcerated people the opportunity to get skills experience, network and possible job or character references, it establishes the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office as a community resource and it introduces the community to the incarcerated population in a positive way. Community members know the individuals are supervised in their work and are making an effort to provide a positive service to the community that is helping to support them. Knowing who people are helps welcome them into the community.
Corrections has long been moving into the community for care, and will continue to do so, but the Sheriff’s Office has done little to prepare the community for this transition. Focused efforts by the Sheriff’s Office to make the incarcerated population they care for and serve a visible and valuable part of the community can further ease the transition from incarceration to community living.
The Sheriff’s Office should be actively working to make the transition back into the community as seamless as possible. Like it or not, people are incarcerated in our society, less than previously, but the situation remains. Wrap-around services which address substance use treatment, mental health and medical care, support services, community safety net programs, housing, transportation etc are vital, but so is job placement, community reintegration and connection and the positive self-esteem linked to providing a valuable service where one lives.
Re-establishing a focus on work placement partnerships and community service will help lessen the stigmatization of corrections on those involved, by making them visible to the community and of help to the community. Helping the community establish a positive relationship with justice involved individuals, and thereby the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office, will help to further strengthen our goal of greater community corrections outreach, placement and services.