During his nine years as sheriff of Middlesex County, Peter Koutoujian has made it a priority to help inmates re-enter society when they leave. Among other things, the former prosecutor has focused on programs to help people stay out of prison.
“If I can actually reduce recidivism by preparing these individuals for life back on the outside then I touch our communities in a myriad of ways that people wouldn’t expect,” he said. He pointed to how it improves community safety and lessens the burden on taxpayers.
“From my first day as sheriff, day one became the day that the re-entry planning started,” he said about his program at the Middlesex Jail and House of Correction. “In fact, we are actually working with people now even prior to their conviction.”
Koutoujian said they held the first Middlesex Correction job fair for inmates in December 2019. Not only does it give inmates confidence in themselves, he said, but also an opportunity to make connections with companies for potential jobs.
“I know that many people might say, ‘well it’s Newton they don’t really have any people becoming incarcerated or returning to the city,’ when in fact, that’s not true,” Koutojian said. “No one should believe Newton is immune to the impact of things that afflict society.”
Koutoujian said more job fairs are planned in the future.
“For people that have been incarcerated, you really want to allow them the opportunity for training and certifications in employment industries that will take someone who has been convicted of a felony,” he said.
Koutoujian said they offer educational programs for inmates including college credits toward Middlesex Community College, custodial certification, a digital printing program and vocational training such as the “incredibly successful” culinary arts.
Newton-Wellesley Hospital is among the employers in Newton with fair chance hiring policies in place to try and ensure they are not discriminating against applicants with criminal backgrounds.
Heidi Wilson, director of Communications and Public Affairs at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, said they offer work opportunities depending on the crime.
“Individuals with a criminal record may face some challenges reentering the workforce, depending on the industry they are seeking and the type of crime for which they’ve been convicted,” Wilson said in an e-mail.
Wilson pointed to how the type of crime and industry matter when it comes to opportunities. For instance, she said, financial organizations will typically not hire people whose crimes are financial in nature.
“All our candidates are screened after an offer is made and if something significant arises the Vice President of Human Resources at Newton-Wellesley is alerted,” Wilson said.
Wilson said issues like this would be dealt on a case-by-case basis.
About 70 million adults in the United States have been arrested or convicted, and many of them “are turned away from jobs despite their skills and qualifications” and this information can show up on a background check for employment, according to the National Employment Law Project. A 2015 report from the Sentencing Project said one out of three adults in this country “has been arrested by age 23.”
Veronica White, a defense attorney in Boston, said she doesn’t think there is a lot of support for those who get out of prison.
“When the door to the prison opens, many times so many doors are shut in their face and so many opportunities are lost just from the beginning,” she said. “That needs to change — it needs to change significantly and dramatically.”
A 53-year-old-man who lives in Dorchester said he spent 25 years in prison for drug charges when he was 19 years old and has struggled to find a consistent job since. The man, who is not being named to protect his privacy, said he dealt heroin in order to make ends meet for his family and has faced years of rejections from employers despite going through multiple rounds of interviews.
“Once you do time, you’re not only doing time incarcerated behind bars, I think you’re doing time as well in society also because society has never forgiven you for the crime that you committed,” he said in a phone interview. “It could be 1,500 years, you’re still going labeled that inmate with the docket number.”
Shayna Scott and Emma Goddard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.