Boston Reentry Initiative Shows Signs of Success | City of Ideas

Posted 06/06/2016 by James Burnett

Sheriff Jail Garden
Suffolk County House of Correction Superintendent Yolanda Smith leads the Boston Foundation tour group to the jail’s urban garden, which is cultivated and maintained by inmates participating in the Department’s Urban Farm Program.  Photo by Peter Van Delft, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.

On a recent visit to the Suffolk County House of Correction, a Boston Foundation group, including President & CEO Paul Grogan, Natanja Craig, TBF's Director of Grassroots Programs, Dan Sherman, Director of Donor Services, and me, was shown this "gravity" at work. We were joined by a TBF donor and her colleague, and the tour was led by Superintendent Yolanda Smith and Assistant Deputy Superintendent True-See Allah. Our objectives: Not just seeing the place and how it functioned, but understanding the Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI), the jail's complex program by which qualified, willing inmates are put through the paces and rigorously prepared for life on the outside.

The thing is, as jails go, the Suffolk County Sheriff's South Bay facility is pretty run of the mill at a glance. Inside though, inmates are being molded, in a good way. They're being counseled vigorously. They're learning - job skills, interpersonal skills, parenting and basic life skills, etc. They're working on high school diplomas or GEDs. They're learning to garden through an urban farming program. Through the jail's Common Ground Institute, they're developing certifiable job skills like carpentry and being formally connected to employers on the outside.

Sheriff Jail Tour 1   Sheriff Jail Tour 2
Suffolk County House of Correction Superintendent Yolanda Smith and Asst. Deputy Superintendent True-See Allah lead a Boston Foundation group through the jail’s infirmary, where more than 20,000 medical appointments are held each year. Photo by Peter Van Delft, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.   Capt. David Granese, Director of the Common Ground Institute at the Suffolk County Jail, talks with a Boston Foundation group about some of the programming and job certifications available to participants.  Photo by Peter Van Delft, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department.

All of this adds up to a pleasantly surprisingly high percentage of Suffolk county inmates who get out of jail, integrate back into neighborhoods - yours, mine, and so on - and don't reoffend.

"We were very interested in seeing the work behind the statistics," Grogan said. "The recidivism rate is incredibly low - I believe in the 20 percent range, compared to well over 60 percent for the national average."

Numbers like that don't happen in a vacuum. So we salute Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins, Superintendent Smith, and Assistant Deputy Superintendent Allah, and all the deputies and civilian staff who through the BRI work to make sure inmates leave the jail knowing how to live on the outside and, hopefully, possessing the motivation, desire, opportunities, and will to stay out.

Seeing this important work allows the Boston Foundation to explore new ways to redefine social innovation and new ways to help another segment of Bostonians become lasting, contributing residents to the larger community.

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