Massachusetts pre-release center
will house women

(MIDDLETON, Mass.) -- The Essex County sheriff's department will begin housing female inmates for the first time later this year when it is scheduled to open a prerelease center for women in Salisbury.

The 25-bed center will be located on one side of a building on Route 110 that until this past January housed a nursing home, Sheriff Frank G. Cousins Jr. said last week. The sheriff's office will lease the space from Link House, a nonprofit group that is purchasing the building. Link House will operate its own 20-bed halfway house for substance abusers on the other side of the building.

Currently, the Essex County Correctional Center in Middleton, which encompasses the county jail and House of Correction, and the county's Correctional Alternative Center in Lawrence, house only male inmates. Essex County sends all of its female inmates to the state prison in Framingham. As of last week, there were 164 Essex County women in Framingham.

The prerelease center in Salisbury, slated to open Dec. 1, will be modeled after the Correctional Alternative Center, a minimum security facility that houses nonviolent offenders who have demonstrated good behavior at the House of Correction in Middleton. Typically the inmates have substance abuse problems and are at the end of their sentences.

According to Cousins and Kimberly Jo O'Hara, an assistant superintendent in Middleton who will be director of the Salisbury facility, the sheriff's office will work with the staff at the prison in Framingham to select Essex County female inmates suitable for placement in Salisbury. (They will do the same at a new prison facility for women that the state has just opened in Lancaster. No Essex County inmates are yet in that facility).

The inmates at the center will be provided with a range of services to prepare them for life on the outside, including substance abuse and anger management counseling, basic life skills instruction, and a program that will give inmates private time to bond with their visiting children. They will also undergo drug testing and perform community service. Some will be in work-release programs. Cousins said the center will be staffed by correctional officers, but that most of the counseling will be provided by staff from Link House.

There has been periodic discussion over the years about a need for a facility for female inmates in the county. Cousins, first elected in 1998 after serving as appointed sheriff for a year, has made it a priority. He said he decided it was more cost-effective to open a pre release center than a regular jail or House of Correction unit because the center is focused on helping the inmates return to society.

"The key to this whole thing is to deal with people we feel we can turn around and keep them out of the system and keep them from coming back," Cousins said.

Statewide, there are a limited number of county facilities for women. Suffolk County has a unit for women within its House of Correction at South Bay and a unit for pre-trial detainees at the Nashua Street Jail. It also sends women to a privately run prerelease center in the South End and is set to open a program center in Jamaica Plain as early as next month to serve inmates from the prerelease center.

Hampden County, meanwhile, has a women's unit at its main correctional facility in Ludlow, which serves its own female prisoners in addition to most of those from Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Hampshire and Franklin counties house their own pre-trial detainees. Hampden County also has a women's minimum security prerelease center at Ludlow serving all four counties and a women's correctional alcohol center in Springfield that serves the four counties plus Worcester County.

Much of the initial cost of running the Essex County center will be covered by a $750,000 grant the sheriff's office received last summer from the US Justice Department, awarded through the state.

Link House already runs a halfway house in Newburyport that serves men with substance abuse problems who are making the transition back to society from an acute treatment facility or from a correctional facility. Cousins, who formerly served on the Link House board, said he decided to partner with the group this past spring after learning that it was seeking to open a similar halfway house for women.

The state has tentatively agreed to lease the space for the Essex County center from the Link House for $130,000 a year for five years, Cousins said. The lease will be final after the nonprofit group closes on the Salisbury property Oct. 20, he said.

(iSyndicate; The Boston Globe; Oct. 8, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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