| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – For Sheriff Michael Ashe Jr., the chapter involving relocating the Western Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center to the North End of Springfield is closed.
Ashe released a written statement to the media on Oct. 15 in which he expressed one regret of not communicating better with the community that opposed the center.
Ashe wrote, “Now that the attempt to site Western Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center on Wason Avenue in the North End of Springfield is behind us, I wanted to take the opportunity to share with my fellow citizens some final thoughts on the matter.
“First of all, I know that some very good folks will consider themselves ‘winners’ because the siting was not successful, and I don’t begrudge them their feeling that way. For my part, I honestly don’t believe that there are ultimately any real winners if we fail to keep the good work of ‘Howard Street’ alive somewhere in our community.
“If I have one regret, it is that I didn’t better communicate to the people of the neighborhood that the Center would directly serve their neighborhood. Currently on my inmate census, I have 160 individuals who list a North End address as their residence and who will be returning to that neighborhood. The center would have directly helped these individuals be more successful in re-entering the community, in a gradual, supported and supervised way.”
Richard McCarthy, spokesman for Ashe, told Reminder Publications the sheriff still “strongly believes” the center belongs in Springfield.
McCarthy explained the location for the center, which was originally located on Howard Street in what is now the MGM casino campus, will go out to bid in the next month or so.
The center is currently housed at the former Geriatric Authority nursing home site in Holyoke. McCarthy said that already the program’s requirements are “coming up against the limits of the building.
He also noted the number of volunteers, who escort participants to counseling and medical appointments, has dropped because the center is in Holyoke, “tucked away from the center of Holyoke.”
McCarthy noted that about 63 percent of the participants are from Springfield, about 20 percent from Holyoke and the rest for other communities.
He said the goal of the new location would be to put it in the community to which the participants are returning upon completion of the program.
The suggestion has been made to move the program to the Hampden County House of Correction facility in Ludlow, but McCarthy said Ashe is opposed to that suggestion because it would lose the community aspect that is part of the program.
In his statement Ashe, continued, “Siting a correctional facility is always hard. Having been ‘through the ringer’ in our attempt to site our main facility in the 1990’s, I once joked in a speech that in an attempt to avoid opposition to sites in Hampden County, I decided to locate the facility in Timbuktu, but within the hour heard from the newly formed ‘No Jail In Timbuktu’ committee.
“Somewhere along the way a ‘David and Goliath’ story emerged regarding the attempt to site the Center in the North End, as if the Sheriff’s Department was some sort of Goliath. As we said along the way, the real ‘Goliath’ is substance abuse and addiction, which is destroying lives, and families and neighborhoods and communities.
“When all is said and done, (and all is said and done as regards the Wason Avenue site), my job, if I really want to serve the public good, is to find a home for the Correctional Addiction Center that was so successful and so beloved in Springfield for 30 years, and which was forced out by plans for the casino.
“One thing we do know – community corrections works. There is a 31 percent less return to jail rate for those released from our lower security operations than those released directly from our main institution in Ludlow. Gradual, supported, supervised, community re-entry is our best shot as a community and as a society of offenders leading law-abiding, positive and productive lives.
“A second thing that we know is that the center belongs in Springfield, where it has been successful for 30 years, where nearly two-thirds of those who are returning from incarceration come from, and which is the county’s hub of transportation and community resources.
“I will continue to do everything that I can to find a home for the Correctional Addiction Center, so that the ‘spirit of Howard Street’ is not boarded up like the building that once housed it.”