Life Beyond Bars: How inmates prepare before being released

AISS is a sheriff's department program that help inmates back on their feet after being locked up

LUDLOW, Mass. (WWLP) – More than 15,000 people are in prison right now in western Massachusetts. The transition back into society is not an easy one. What we don’t see is how they’re preparing for a life beyond bars. The goal is to not end up back in prison. The sheriff’s department says they’ve found a program that works by investing in inmates.

Nearly 90% of inmates have drug addictions

6,000 men are locked up at the Hampden County House of Corrections in Ludlow each year, guarded behind barbed wire and cameras. What we don’t see is the constant struggle inmates have making the transition back into society, crossing the bridge from a life behind bars to a life beyond. The After Incarceration Support System, or AISS, is that bridge.

“We don’t want people falling off the cliff, if you will, when they leave us,” says Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, “because you and I both know at the bottom of that cliff is ambulances.”

The program helps inmates find a place to live, a job and with rehab after they get out of jail. Nearly 90% of the inmates have drug addictions.

Working for a Better Tomorrow

The goal is reducing recidivism – preventing ex-inmates from going back to jail. The program started 20 years ago, in 1996 and has worked with more than 20,000 inmates.

Jennifer Sordi, assistance superintendent of AISS, told 22News, “Our department’s philosophy is that reentry begins on day 1. So regardless what level of security someone is classified as, they have opportunities for programming to address the issues that lead them to incarceration.”

22News spoke with a man at AISS who wants to be known as Devin. Devin is a 45 year-old father from Chicopee who’s been incarcerated at least 6 times. Upon his last release, Devin made the decision to finally take his transition back into society seriously, and focused on working with AISS.

Inmates meet with a case manager at least twice during the months leading up to their release. Case manager Madeline Johnson of AISS says, “[It’s about] letting them know that there is a life outside criminal thinking and going back to what it used to be.”

Which wasn’t easy for Devin

Devin has been incarcerated for using and possessing drugs, whether that was heroin or cocaine. He said it wasn’t until his last time behind bars he started taking these services seriously. He said you can’t be forced into a program like AISS – they can’t drag you to make the change. You have to take the initiative.

22News asked Sordi if there is ever a point where case managers and AISS staff feel they’ve given an individual all the resources that they can, but there’s a point where the inmate isn’t receptive to the assistance, and AISS staff need to let the inmate go.

Sordi told 22News, “We’ll have a conversation with them, and say, ‘Maybe you’re just not ready. When you’re ready to follow through and meet the responsibilities of what you’re supposed to be doing, then come back to us.'”

80% percent of the inmates released are still out after a year. After 3 years, about 60% are still out.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Click Here for Part 2 of this report

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