Patrick praises success of AISS program
By G. Michael Dobbsnews@thereminder.com
SPRINGFIELD It took Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe years to arrange for Gov. Deval Patrick to visit his After Incarceration Support System (AISS) program and the governor was impressed with what he saw on July 9.
Calling Ashe a "visionary leader," Patrick said the program was necessary for the 98 percent of the Commonwealth's inmates who will serve their sentences and be released. He added, "No one is getting the results he is getting."
Patrick said the success of the program is due in part "by collaborations that are broad and deep" with local businesses, hospitals and other partners.
"The notion of a 'whole person' approach makes perfect sense," he added.
Ashe, along with key members of his administrative team, gave Patrick a presentation at the W.W. Johnson Life Center on State Street, which is the home of AISS, and then a quick tour of the facility.
Ashe said the re-entry program is "a crime fighting tool." He said that 82 percent of inmates who go through the re-entry program have not been re-incarcerated after one year. Sixty percent of the inmates who have participated in the program have not returned to jail after three years.
Ashe added the re-entry program actually begins within 72 hours after an inmate enters the correctional center.
John Fitzgerald, assistant superintendent of Community Corrections, said that people shouldn't mistake the program as being soft on crime. "Don't confuse harshness with strength," he told Patrick. "These are not hug-a-thug programs."
Fitzgerald said assessing the inmates allows Ashe's staff to place the inmates in programs that will address some of the reasons why they may be in jail in the first place. He noted that in Hampden County 87 percent of the inmates are male; 40 percent are younger than the age of 30; 57 percent are minorities; 73 percent were unemployed at the time of their arrest; 48 percent have no high school degree or GED; 90 percent abuse either drugs or alcohol; 40 percent have mental health problems; 55 percent have no positive family support; and 40 to 45 percent have no stable home plan.
Determining if an inmate can be in a lower security bed has accomplished two things, Fitzgerald said. The jail saved more than $7 million in fiscal year 2012 by using lower security beds and the one-year re-incarceration rates rates have decreased. The money saved has been reallocated to fund the treatment of high security prisoners as well as community outreach programs.
Edward Case, manager of the correctional center's serious violence program, explained how working with residents and youth in neighborhoods such as South Holyoke can help prevent at-risk children from joining gangs and build support among adults for working with law enforcement in watching the neighborhood.
He noted that in South Holyoke, 62 percent of the children who live there have not participated in an after-school activity. The correctional center sponsors a basketball league, among other activities, to "steal the resource pool from the gangs," Case said.
Dr. Patricia Murphy, superintendent of the regional women's jail, explained that facility serves from around western Massachusetts as well as Worcester. She said that 90 percent of the inmates enter with drug abuse problems as well as mental health conditions.
Both male and female inmates use the AISS program, Jennifer Sordi, assistant superintendent of AISS, said. The program was first created in 1996 and moved to its current location in 2007. The program shares the building with a number of nonprofit organizations that serve the former inmates with programs.
Since 1996, more than 17,500 inmates have used AISS' services, Sordi said. While some were on parole or probation, the majority has been voluntary. She added inmates can use the center's services for their entire lives.
The center address employment, housing and heath issues, among others.
Patrick said AISS is a model for the rest of the state and said sheriffs across the Commonwealth and the Department of Corrections should collaborate together.
"Warehousing people is a failed strategy," Patrick said.