Video: Making America Safe Again
This week on ALEC TV, ALEC Criminal and Civil Justice Reform Task Director Nino Marchese and ALEC Public Affairs Director Catherine Mortensen spoke with Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, the first Republican sheriff elected in Worcester, Mass. in at least 50 years! Evangelidis talks about reforms that saved tax payers money and made the community safer. Hear how he says we can Make America Safe Again.
Nino Marchese: I was really excited to see the work that you’re doing. You’ve been in office about 10 years now in Central Massachusetts. You talked about shaking things up to get these reforms. How different do things look today in Worcester compared to when you took office?
Sheriff Lew Evangelidis: For 50 years or so this department had been in Democratic hands. I felt it had a reputation about of being essentially a place for patronage and politics. I ran against the system and promised to clean up what I felt was a mess. And to do that, I had to establish some things right out of the gate. And I’m very proud of those things. First and foremost, was never accepting a campaign contribution from an employee of our department or their spouses. And there are hundreds of employees here, none of whom I knew. But the support I really wanted was from the people outside my window. I promised to raise the hiring standards where you have to serve your country, or you would have to have a college degree for us to hire you. So no more nepotism, no more family members on the payroll, no more nephews and nieces and cousins getting hired. Those days ended the day the people put their faith in me overwhelmingly to be their sheriff.
Catherine Mortensen: Tell us about a program called OpporTUNEity in which you allow inmates to develop and share their musical talents. How has that made a difference?
Sheriff Lew Evangelidis: As far as I’m concerned, that is not a partisan issue. I mean, good government, public safety, and rehabilitation of people is an issue that’s broadly supported by all Americans. Okay. I’m really honored to have a position where I can do those things. So I think it’s important to be tough. For a prosecutor, I’m very much I’m in favor of the death penalty in favor of tough criminal justice. And I’m also a believer in rehabilitation reform and second opportunities, especially if you paid your time.
So what we look to do is find the programs that give those to men and women who are willing to meet us halfway. We can’t coddle people who are incarcerated. We’re not here to be their best friends, but we’re here to hire the most professional people, bring in the most professional programming that will allow them an opportunity to turn their lives around.
We have looked for many ways, whether it be prison ministry programs that give people an opportunity to find God and turn their life around or it’s a drug treatment programming gives them sobriety to turn their lives around or it can be an educational programming whether it be a high set or college courses or vocational skills. We provide culinary programs and various job skill programs so you can get a job which President Reagan once said is the best social program which I agree with.
OpporTUNEity was a program that was presented to me by one of my local colleges. They had a program taught by the graduate students that they brought into the schools of Worcester County Public Schools, to teach kids particularly those who didn’t have exposure to music, expose them to music, so they can learn to play instruments write their own music, express themselves, and the approach we use the idea that this could be very good and beneficial for therapeutic for the inmate population, and I agreed very much so so we have about a 12 week program. The inmates come in to a classroom taught by graduate students. It’s going to be a national curriculum, so it’s already spreading across the country, but we were the first prison to have it.
The inmates to play instruments to write their music to express themselves. And at the end of this program, we put on a concert which is the film you had, we allow we allow it we don’t normally allow any type of contact visits, but if you enter this program, at the end of it, we put a concert on in our chapel, and we allow the inmates to have family members come and to hear their performance. What we found is this program is incredibly therapeutic for the inmate. Interestingly it’s just as therapeutic and beneficial for those who come to teach the program. They grow as people they learn a lot about it. So we found this program is beneficial for the inmate their soul, their their therapeutic benefits. And when they get out again, there it means we’re less likely to repeat offender changes people and we’re really proud of that program.
You’re absolutely right. I think a lot of us, especially legislators and government officials forget that nationally, about 96% of inmates are going to be released back into society. You know, we can’t just pretend like after conviction, even for a long sentence that the problem solver and you know, justice been served. And that’s the end of the story. And I think the programs that you’re leading are a prime example of why it is so important to pay attention to inmates. Whgat are the results you’ve seen from that how that’s affected recidivism rates?
Sheriff Lew Evangelidis:
Our recidivism rates have dropped dramatically as you can see from the chart.
Prior to COVID, we were saving Worcester County taxpayers a million dollars a year by taking inmates who wanted to participate in a program low risk, nonviolent offenders. to go into the community and perform work service. And in that time and year basis, they save a million dollars. I asked an inmate in this program, “How do you like being in this program?” We were out in the senior center doing some painting and he said,” Sheriff, I want to thank you for letting me be in this program. Because for the first time in my life, I get up every day and I go to work, and the community appreciates it. I feel good about myself. I can’t wait to get out and get a job. I never had a job before. And I want to I want to make my family proud.” The moral of that story is there is no dignity in dependence.