The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has formally begun a groundbreaking new initiative designed to reduce recidivism amongst young adult offenders in the New England’s most populous county.
The young offender unit is a result of a collaboration initiated by Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian with the Vera Institute of Justice. The MSO is the first local jurisdiction in the country to engage Vera as part of its Restoring Promise Initiative, which partners with state and local corrections agencies to transform living conditions for incarcerated young adults across the country in order to produce better outcomes for individuals and communities.
“With the launch of this unit, we are reimagining corrections,” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “We are pursuing a better, more effective approach to the way we deal with the individuals in this critical population with a goal of not just reducing recidivism, but setting these individuals on a path to a more successful and fulfilling life.”
The new P.A.C.T. (People Achieving Change Together) program is specially designed for individuals aged 18- to 24. The name was coined by MSO staff members who will work in the unit.
The first group of P.A.C.T. participants moved into the repurposed space at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction on February 5, with a second group expected to move in later this month. Programming in the unit will be specifically geared towards addressing issues impacting young adult offenders.
As part of a review of the Commonwealth’s justice system in 2016, the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) found 18-to 24-year-olds released from Massachusetts correctional facilities have higher recidivism rates than older offenders. CSG reported 52% of those released from houses of correction and 56% of those released by the department of correction were re-incarcerated within three years.
Nationwide, 18- to 24-year-olds comprise 10 percent of the population, but account for 21 percent of all individuals admitted to adult prisons each year. Additionally, young adults make up 28% of arrests and people in jail, and 1 out of 5 people in a prison or jail are between the ages of 18-24.
“With the opening of P.A.C.T., Sheriff Koutoujian, Special Sheriff [Shawn] Jenkins, and the team at the Middlesex Jail & House of Corrections are transforming the current correctional culture away from punishment and isolation, and towards equity, accountability, restoration, and healing,” said Alexandra Frank, Senior Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice. “Our work through other jurisdictions participating in Restoring Promise has already demonstrated that reimagining the approach to interacting with incarcerated young adults results in sustainable change for people who live and work in prisons and jails, as well as their families and communities. We’re so pleased to build on this and support Middlesex Jail & House of Corrections as they seek to provide meaningful opportunities for young adults to be successful.”
The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office also engaged Lowell-based UTEC as part of the new initiative. The MSO and UTEC have been working together since 2012 to provide reentry support for young adult offenders returning to the Greater Lowell area.
“Research on young adult justice has surged in recent years. The Middlesex Sheriff's Office is the first local jurisdiction to put some of these findings into action, and we're glad to bring UTEC's experience to their unit,” said UTEC Executive Director Gregg Croteau. “This is an important opportunity to innovate for young adults here in Middlesex County, and to establish a model that can be adapted by other partnerships too.”
In preparation for the unit’s opening, the MSO and Vera undertook an exhaustive planning and implementation process. The process included data collection, collaborative onsite research, immersive three-week training for staff and visits to the Cheshire Correctional Institution – the first department of correction facility to join the Restoring Promise Initiative.
“I want to thank our partners for their incredible support and our staff for embracing this shift,” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “We know we’re making history with this initiative, but it’s the future we’re focused on – the future of the young men in our custody, their families and our communities.”