County Center to Aid Former Inmates Gets $240K State Grant
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A one-stop facility to aid former jail inmates in re-entering the community has received more than $240,000 in funding from the Baker-Polito administration.
The Second Street Second Chances (SSSC) initiative was awarded $240,300 on Thursday through the state’s Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Program.
The initiative will offer a wide array of post-incarceration services, case management, and workforce training from the former jail on Second Street, a symbolic location. The goal is to provide essential tools needed for success.
It is spearheaded by Berkshire Community College in partnership with the Berkshire County House of Correction, and the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
"We're very excited to be able to have the opportunity to provide services to those individuals that are leaving our facility and transitioning into the community, and it’s not just one service, it's having the opportunity to have in a collaborative effort, to have a number of providers available and accessible to these individuals," Sheriff Thomas Bowler said.
"Historically, and traditionally, if you hand them a business card and say, 'go see this person, they can help you out,' that doesn't work, but if you bring the individual to a venue such as Second Street, which we're excited about using Second Street also when you bring that person to the provider, it just makes an incredible difference in their success."
The new grant program supports projects and programming that bring economic opportunities to communities that are disproportionally challenged in economic growth, have high incarceration rates, and poverty rates.
Out of 65 grants totaling $20 million, this project was Berkshire County's only award. The funds will go toward programming, administrative costs, and enhancing a space within the building that is now being used as the sheriff's office.
The SSSC initiative has various collaborating partners with BCC as the fiscal agent for the grant and providing workforce training. Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Innovation Center, Berkshire Museum, and Community Legal Aid are also providing services.
"This collaboration is not just made up of mental health care and health care, but it's all about job opportunities, career opportunities, it's all about banking opportunities, finance capabilities," Bowler explained.
"It's all about housing, it's all about maybe getting landlords part of the Second Chance program to help with transitional housing, these are all the challenges that these individuals face when they go back out into the community, and quite frankly, it is challenges they've had for their entire lives but never been able to overcome those challenges."
During its startup period, it will be directed by Jason Cuyler, a case management coordinator at the sheriff's office. SSSC will have formal responsibility when the grant period ends on June 30 if additional funding is granted.
The idea was conceived by a board of directors comprised of community organizations and individuals who work in partnership with the sheriff's office and providers. They deliberated determining factors for a successful transition out of incarceration before creating the one-stop facility.
"BCC really got involved with it for a couple of reasons," Dean of Students Celia Norcross said. "One is we're constantly looking at ways to partner with the community, and also looking at ways to develop and re-enhance all of our community aspects."
Norcross explained that, later on, more educational components will be infused so that the individuals can participate in workshops and do projects that hopefully turn into portfolios or credits.
"It's really like this working matrix to help them get basic needs and empower them to get to the next parts of workforce development and education," she added.
Board member Mark Gold said this work is not just about changing life trajectories, but it is about building community. By improving their own workforce development skills, these individuals can in turn help improve the workforce of Berkshire County.
The grant was announced in early November with about a month until the deadline. The board gathered its resources, got support from multiple sources including Mayor Linda Tyer, state Sen. Adam Hinds, and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and submitted the application.
In that time, the board also formed a non-profit.
Funding has to be spent by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, and following that, the initiative will apply for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding as outreach will continue beyond establishing the facility.
Bowler is very proud of the board, providers, and agencies that stepped up and give "not a handout, but a hand up" to those in need.
"It's all about creating that safer, stronger, and healthier community because when you really look at this, in reality, these individuals are part of our community," he said.
"When they leave our facility, they go right back into our community, these are the people we run into it community events, grocery stores, convenience stores, and church events, and the more successful they can be, then the more successful our community is going to be as a whole."
Tags: House of Correction, inmates,