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MCI Shirley Reentry Initiative Thriving Through Collaboration- Both Inside and Out
By Sheri Richard, CPO A/B, Housing Specialist, MCI Shirley
Published: 03/26/2012

Hands locked The MCI Shirley complex currently houses approximately 1500 inmates and includes an Assisted Daily Living Unit, Health Service Unit, and Special Management Unit. Due to the unique variables of the site, collaboration is of the utmost importance. MCI Shirley’s reentry initiative develops, implements, coordinates, and monitors a comprehensive reentry program. The program promotes a successful reintegration for positive behavior among former offenders when they return to society, which aims to reduce recidivism rates.

The reentry initiative is a true collaboration involving a number of disciplines, from the Correction Program Officer in the unit to the officer in the yard, Mental Health, Medical, Records, Spectrum, Discharge Planner, Parole, Chaplains, and Housing Specialists develop the best individual reentry plan for the offender. The Correction Program Officer is on the frontline and identifies individuals who require special housing placements and face difficult challenges. They assist the individual throughout his incarceration, identifying the best programming to address his needs, such as General Education Diploma, English as a Second Language, Correctional Recovery Academy, Fatherhood, Anger Management, and Criminal Thinking programs.

Closer to the offender’s release, the Spectrum Reentry Planner prepares him for employment by assisting him with his résumé, cover letter, application and other employment concepts, which enables the individual to release with a comprehensive employment portfolio.

The Housing Specialist is assigned to work with difficult to place inmates with severe mental health, geriatric and/or medical issues and Criminal Offenders Records Information challenges. The specialist establishes a working relationship with medical, mental health, discharge planner, and most importantly, the outside community programs and housing vendors to help the offender. Some of these are Department of Mental Health, Project Peer Connection, Mass Health, Regional Reentry Centers, SPAN, Corrections to Communities and Jeremiah’s Inn. This collaboration between the Housing Specialist and community programs secures the best possible placement for the releasing inmate.

The following are highlights from some of our outside vendors demonstrating that MCI Shirley’s reentry initiative educates inmates, eliminates barriers, and promotes a more successful reintegration, therefore reducing victimization and recidivism rates:

Jeremiah’s Inn – Walter Spencer, Executive Director:

“Jeremiah’s Inn has enjoyed a collaborative relationship with the reentry personnel at MCI Shirley and MCI Shirley’s Housing Specialist has been an active participant in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services by attending regional meetings of substance abuse service providers. Having a knowledgeable reentry person at these meetings helps open up communication between providers in the community and behind the walls.

It is always difficult to determine what elements will be the key to keeping someone from recidivating. While there may be some common issues that can be gleaned from the data and longitudinal studies, we must always keep in mind that we are dealing with people, human beings, and not cold data. When reentry people have an understanding of the different types of programs and the services offered, it assists and assures a smooth transition into the community.

Applications to Jeremiah’s Inn are reviewed by two case managers and once it is determined that the applicant might benefit from our program we attempt to complete a face-to-face interview. We find that this meeting helps put the applicant at ease, allows the opportunity to ask questions about the program and what to expect upon release and enables us to meet the person represented by the stack of paperwork in order to have a conversation about their needs and expectations.

All the work done behind the walls on educating inmates about the disease of addiction, the steps of recovery, and helping to build social skills and encourage positive behavior makes the transition less problematic and gives the former offender some foundation for life outside the walls.”

SPAN - Lynn Levy, Director:

“From the perspective of SPAN, a community based re-entry provider in Boston that works with approximately 1,100 reintegrating inmates a year, two significant things happen when we collaborate with the re-entry departments in the prisons. The first is that it makes planning, implementation, and the entire re-integration process more likely to succeed for the client. The second is that the process is made smoother and more effective for the staff as well. When we are on the same page, it’s possible to plan seamlessly, making sure the services are set up in a way that protects the public, meets the individual needs of the client, and that the process is accomplished smoothly.

Re-entry planning requires that action be taken both inside the prison and in the community, sometimes right down to the mode of transportation the inmate will be using on the day he is released. Confirming the actual release date as early as possible is crucial, so that we can make sure all the services are in place for the inmate. The more contact we have with the institutions, the more up to date information we have and the better we can forecast the offender’s needs.

We see barriers eliminated when MCI Shirley and SPAN collaborate to meet all of the offender’s needs: housing, treatment, support, etc. By assessing the offenders needs prior to release and continuing to support him in the community we create a safe and supportive atmosphere in which the offender can address his needs effectively.

While it is only a 39-mile trip between MCI Shirley and SPAN’s office, those 39 miles represent a life change not just a change in housing. Valuable information and education is provided inside the institution, but those lessons must be supported and reinforced to fit the offender’s new surroundings in the community.”

MCI Shirley would like to thank Walter Spencer from Jeremiah’s Inn and Lynn Levy from SPAN for their cooperation and contribution to this article and all the other community resources that help MCI Shirley’s reentry initiative to be a success.

Reprinted with permission from the March 2012 "Around the Block" a Massachusetts Department of Correction Newsletter


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