New initiative aims to prepare for successful return to families, community
For the first time in more than 50 years, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has assumed responsibility for direct supervision of incarcerated women.
Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian has announced that, after months of planning and design, the office has established the new center at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction to serve sentenced females preparing for reentry into their communities and homes. Initiatives at the center will place a primary focus on family reunification.
The center opened March 1 with 11 individuals who were transferred from the state Department of Correction (DOC) to the custody of the Middlesex office. Under an agreement signed in February, females serving a sentence with the DOC are eligible to be transferred after a classification review.
“This initiative has been a fundamental goal of ours for several years,” said Koutoujian said in a March 1 news release. “At the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, we are known for our nationally recognized treatment programs and reentry initiatives, but we have been unable to offer these resources to women because they have not been in our custody.
“With this new center, we will not only be able to ensure women have equitable access, but will implement a gender-responsive approach to programming and treatment with a specific focus on family engagement and reunification.”
The Middlesex office has had a multiyear partnership with the DOC to offer some services to those awaiting trial on Middlesex County cases at MCI-Framingham and allow women convicted on Middlesex County cases to be considered for the electronic monitoring.
The prerelease center will provide sentenced females with greater access to robust programming at the Billerica facility, including:
- The nationally recognized Medication Assisted Treatment And Directed Opioid Recovery (MATADOR) Program.
- Educational programs, including college courses.
- Reentry planning, including enrollment in MassHealth, housing assistance and voter registration.
- Eligibility for consideration in electronic monitoring and work release.
Preparations for the launch of the program have been ongoing since last fall and included both physical and programmatic work. Among the most visible measures was work to a standalone building that has been transformed with new painting, flooring, lighting and household furniture in the bedrooms and common areas, as well as technological upgrades that include free access to educational tablets. The building includes a community room for face-to-face meetings with family and children that is being outfitted with books, toys and other resources.
As part of the planning process for the launch:
- Staff members held one-on-one meetings with all 11 individuals scheduled to be transferred. The meetings were designed to enhance the comfort of those set to be transferred as well as provide an opportunity to learn about the specific needs of each individual.
- Medical staff has reviewed records to ensure medications and other treatment needs will be ready upon arrival. The office has also enhanced medical services specifically for the female population.
- Nearly 80 staff members volunteered to participate in training focused on gender-responsive strategies, trauma-informed care and working with justice-involved women in a correctional setting.
In addition to resources and programs for participants, loved ones will also have access to the office's first-in-the-nation Family Resource and Outreach Coordinator who can work with families regarding questions or concerns and preparations for reentry.
“Over the past several months, we have undertaken a thoughtful and deliberative process to prepare for this transition,” said Koutoujian. “I want to thank our entire staff for their hard work, as well as Commissioner Carol Mici and her team at the Massachusetts Department of Correction for their ongoing collaboration.”
“I am pleased to embark on this partnership with Sheriff Koutoujian,” said Mici in the release. “After personally touring the house where our minimum and prerelease women will live, it accelerated my enthusiasm for the program that he and his staff have created. I am further encouraged knowing that the program fully meets the Department of Correction’s mission to provide care and programming in preparation for successful reentry into the community.”
In addition to sentenced females from Middlesex County, those from six other Massachusetts counties (Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk) may be considered for transfer to Middlesex based on multiple factors including the availability of specific community-based programs individuals may wish to participate in upon release, as well as proximity to family.
To learn more about the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office and our programs and resources, visit middlesexsheriff.org.
Feb. 24, 2021: Opinion: Why not release female prisoners safely?
This This news announcement was published Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
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