by Ruth Miriam Sullivan


- Breaking the cycle: Roxbury initiates program for former inmates

- A history of change

Breaking the cycle

Roxbury initiates program for former inmates

Newly released inmates from the Suffolk County Jail at South Bay will soon receive help in their transition to the community through a new program coordinated by the Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury.

The Whittier Post Prison Release Collaborative (WPPRC) will assist released inmates with housing placement, job training, health care, spiritual counseling and substance abuse counseling, according to Frederica Williams, president of Whittier Street. She reached out to other community groups to form a coalition that will work with prison staff.

The program's goal is to prevent released inmates from returning to the lifestyle that led to criminal behavior, and to reduce the rate of repeat criminal offenses.

"This has to be a community issue that's addressed by the community," Williams says.

"Men and women are sitting in prison learning how to be a smoother criminal"
Haywood Fennell Sr., founder and chief operating officer of Tri-Ad Veterans, Inc.

A 1999 Massachusetts Department of Corrections statewide study showed that 23 percent of inmates returned to prison in the first year after release. The overall recidivism rate between 1996 to 1999 was worse - 45 percent.

At the community level, this pattern of release and incarceration threatens a neighborhood's vitality.

Roxbury, with its two-decade history of dedicated urban renewal efforts, is particularly vulnerable because a segment of its population has seen no alternative to consistent return to criminal activity.

Roxbury community leaders complain of increased crime, particularly in the area around the Dudley bus station. They say that prostitution and drug dealing have migrated there from the so-called combat zone in the Chinatown area after city government focused efforts to improve that neighborhood.

Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Square Main Streets, says vagrants come into Dudley station every morning, many on the "homeless bus," a shuttle she says transports shelter residents directly to the station.From there they fan out to the local neighborhood to drink and panhandle, according to Stanley.

"They get out the door and then it's all over"
Rabbi Robert Shapiro, chaplain at South Bay

The problem became severe enough for community advocates to convince the city licensing board to change the legal opening time of area liquor stores from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Civic leaders hope this will be a first step in reducing the atmosphere that encourages crime.

Loren Roberts of the Stanley Jones Clean Slate program - a member of the WPPRC coalition - says the problem lies with "street culture."

A former inmate himself, Roberts says the lack of post-prison release assistance drives inmates to return to "poor choices, the wrong environment, peer pressure, and substance abuse."

Rabbi Robert Shapiro, a chaplain at South Bay, concurs. "They get out the door and then it's all over," Shapiro says.

Haywood Fennell Sr. of the Tri-Ad Veterans League lamented the cycle that brings inmates from jail to street and back behind bars. "The community is being a dumping ground. Men and women are sitting in prison learning how to be a smoother criminal."

Fennell further blames the lack of effective inmate treatment programs for continuing recidivism. "They just sit around and twiddle their thumbs and return to the community almost the same as when they come in," he says.

Tri-Ad Veterans is a veterans' group concerned with the disparity in health care among veterans of color. It focuses on the incarcerated population. Fennell said newly released inmates are handicapped in their efforts to find work by Criminal Offender Records Information (CORI). CORI is a state program that makes criminal records readily available to potential employers, landlords and education administrators.

Tracing criminal records

The Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Unit is a division of the state Criminal History Systems Board.

CORI regulations allow organizations such as schools, day care centers, athletic teams and municipal government agencies to obtain information about an adult individual's publicly accessible criminal record.

Agencies requesting CORI reports can do so on an individual basis.Or, an organization may apply for a General Grant, which allows access to multiple simultaneous records once a set of guidelines is established.

For instance, a children's day care agency can access CORI records on any potential employee without applying for an individual request. Armed forces units can review the criminal records of potential recruits. Emergency shelters may access CORI records on potential employees and volunteers.

"CORI leaves almost no hope for really rebuilding your lives, leaving you marginalized with very little hope," says Fennell.
Tri-Ad Veterans hopes to ensure that CORI-related issues are addressed through the WPPRC.

Building Cities on God Ministries brings values training as well as logistical support to the WPPRC.

Darrell Lee, founder of BCOG, is an experienced consultant in organizational planning and is helping Whittier President Frederica Williams develop its program model while including spiritually based support.

Lee sees spiritual training as not necessarily religion-oriented. Rather, he believes moral values are often situational and can be changed.

"Environments where stealing is not necessarily a wrong thing if you have to steal to survive - hurting is not a wrong thing if you have to protect yourself," says
Lee. Moving away from that background and towards a goal-oriented lifestyle is crucial to avoiding criminal activity, he says.

In the end, that's what the issue really is: breaking down the ongoing subculture of crime that persists in the Roxbury community.




-Whittier Street HealthCenter

- Dudley Square Main Streets


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