By: Jerry Robito – July, 2015
Working in corrections for over thirty-four years, I have seen countless inmates return to jail for opiate addiction related crimes. The problem today is how little is being done to rehabilitate these inmates in hopes of them becoming successful upon their release back into the cities and towns of Essex County.
The major focus should be on the inmates that are homeless and have no family support. These are the inmates that over the years have made it very clear that they are not looking forward to their release from jail, simply because they have no place to go. These inmates should be enrolled in the drug and alcohol program at the Middleton Jail. Only after successfully completing these programs, could they be eligible for the pre-release facility known as “The Farm” in Lawrence.
Obviously jails are overcrowded and there is a need for halfway houses to reduce the amount of overcrowding, but halfway houses should be for inmates that have no family or place to go.
I personally know several inmates that have supportive families with suitable residence that would gladly welcome them to live at home on electronic monitoring while serving the remainder of their sentence. These inmates’ work release paychecks can be placed in a savings account for after they have completed their sentence. With this money, they can get back on their feet, rent an apartment, and/or purchase a vehicle so that they can continue to work. The current practice by professional corrections staff of sending inmates out unsupervised on an electronic monitoring program to halfway houses that are located in drug infested neighborhoods such as the one on the corner of Oxford and Lowell Streets in Lawrence is not conducive to opiate rehabilitation. Recently, I was informed by a state parole officer that she pulled all of her parolees out of this halfway house due to the lack of supervision, as well as crime and drugs in the neighborhood.
I find it extremely unfortunate that inmates with family support are forced to go to these halfway houses that are owned by friends and contributors of Sheriff Cousins. These inmates have to pay rent to live there, and they receive no services other than transportation to and from work. After paying rent to live in these houses owned by Sheriff Cousins’ friends, they have no money left over to help get them on their feet in order to be independent and productive members of society.
I recently heard a story that was very disturbing. One of Sheriff Cousins’ friends who owns a restaurant in Newburyport, suddenly decided he wanted to open a halfway house in Haverhill. This individual has no experience in the field of corrections, but does have a very successful restaurant.
My question is, are these the type of people we as citizens of Essex County want running halfway houses that house inmates in an attempt to reduce recidivism? As a result of inmates living in halfway houses that are unsupervised by corrections professionals, the cycle of crime and addiction continues once they are released. Sheriff Cousins talks about detox beds to help with the recovery process, yet he allows inmates to work in restaurants that serve alcohol, another practice which is not conducive for rehabilitation. As recently as last month, a female inmate was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance as a result of becoming highly intoxicated at a restaurant in Newburyport that is owned by a friend and contributor of Sheriff Cousins.
The Essex County Sheriff’s Department needs new approaches in treating and guiding inmates with opiate and alcohol addictions once released. The Angel Program adopted by the Gloucester Police, as well as community anti-drug groups such as #TakingHaverhillBack, is a perfect example of a program that offers help without judgment. Referring inmates to these programs once they are released from jail is an important step in trying to reduce a former inmate from falling back into addiction and crime.
The most interesting aspect of working in corrections is that there is always something new to try in an attempt to reduce recidivism and improve safety for inmates, staff, and the public. The recent escape in Upstate New York should be a real eye opener to all corrections’ facilities throughout the country. This incident proves that if people who do not have the proper experience and/or training are interacting with inmates, the results can be extremely negative and often dangerous results.
Jerry Robito is a retired deputy superintendent for the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and was in charge of both the Middleton House of Corrections and the Lawrence CAC also known as “the Farm”. He is a candidate for Sheriff in the 2016 elections against incumbent Frank Cousins. Jerryrobitoforsheriff@gmail.com