PROGRESSIVE SHERIFF STEVEN TOMPKINS,
LEADING THE EFFORTS TO CHANGE THE LIVES OF INMATES
When we first heard of the successful efforts of Sheriff Steven Tompkins, the progressive leader of the Suffolk County, Massachusetts Sheriff’s Department, we felt compelled to share his story.
Under his leadership, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department has provided a mechanism for inmates to serve their time and take a broad step towards a brighter future for their lives upon release.
Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in 2013 after over a decade of service to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. Suffolk County is comprised of the cities of Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop (Massachusetts). His leadership and jurisdiction encompass the Suffolk County House of Correction, the Nashua Street Jail and the Civil Process Division. Over 1,000 staff members answer to his command and his duties include providing care, custody and rehabilitative support for inmates and pre–trial detainees.
Before assuming his post at the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Tompkins was the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs for the Dimock Community Health Center. Additionally, Sheriff Tompkins served for ten years at AT&T Cable (purchased by Comcast Cable vision) where he produced television programming and public service announcements for nonprofit organizations and successful political campaigns. While at AT&T, his skills were utilized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) where he was a field producer for FEMA’s internal television network and a press liaison for FEMA’s New England Region.
Sheriff Tompkins educational credentials include a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Boston College and a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs from the University of Massachusetts. He truly “walks the walk” of supporting higher education. His service extends to Roxbury Community College, serving as its Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees. The Sheriff is a visionary leader who brings a host of experiences and skill sets to the Halls of Justice in Suffolk County. His impact magnifies the importance of progressive strategies to reform those who end up on the wrong side of the law and underscores the power of preventive programming to deter negative life choices.
Sheriff Tompkins is no stranger to leadership, prior to his current post, Sheriff Tompkins supervised his own division and was a member of the previous Sheriff’s Executive Team, which shared responsibility for daily management of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department operations.
Sheriff Tompkins created the innovative “Common Ground Institute,” a vocational training and re–entry program that teaches marketable vocation skills in a classroom setting and allows inmates to hone those skills by renovating public lands and facilities throughout Suffolk County. One of CGI’s most unique features is its job placement component for graduates with employers who hire with full knowledge of the ex-offender’s criminal history. As Chief of External Affairs, his focus was on creating sustainable partnerships between municipal agencies, neighborhood organizations, civic associations, local businesses and crime watch groups. Ultimately, the work was done to grow community engagement and prevent youth from engaging in crime all the while improving reentry programs for ex-offenders.
A visionary leader, Sheriff Tompkins work also focused on youth violence and crime prevention. He created the “Choice Program” which sends trained officers into the schools of Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere to deliver on the program’s mission of helping young people make positive choices for future success while reinforcing the theme of respect for oneself and for others around them. Officers speak with students about a variety of topics specific to today’s youth including: the dangers of drug use and gang involvement, as well as the consequences of criminal activity. Students are also educated about the role of government and good citizenship.
Sheriff Tompkins list of credits include the popular “JailBrake,” a program that directly targets youth at risk for involvement in the criminal justice system. JailBrake is designed to help reduce the rise in violent acts committed by adolescents in Suffolk County and to curtail the increase in the number of young people being incarcerated by emphasizing the realities of imprisonment including: lack of control, lack of privacy, and responsibility for one’s own actions.
Most notable among the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department innovative programming is the High School Equivalency Test or the HiSET. This dynamic program champions education,
allowing students to earn their high school equivalency diploma upon successful completion. Largely recognized as a deterrent to gainful employment, HiSET equips offenders with the required High School Education that prevents many ex-offenders from seeking gainful employment.
Sheriff Tompkins offers a HiSET preparatory class that is attended voluntarily by inmates and detainees. The innovative program provides study lessons and a series of pre-tests to prior to the formal examination .
“The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department is its own HiSET test center and our staff works diligently to provide the academic support for our students to succeed,” said Jim Dizio Director of Education. Instructor Joel Hurwitz places an emphasis on developing his students’ knowledge in mathematics, science, social studies, reading and writing.
“This class prepares our students for the HiSET examination and, hopefully, for moving on with their careers in terms of the kinds of skills and knowledge we teach,” adds Hurwitz. “It is our hope that when they leave here, they will re-integrate successfully back into the community and that they will have the skills to move into a college-level class or training program to continue furthering themselves. We work on making sure that our students can write clear sentences, understand geometry, algebraic concept, history, civics and more.”
When asked about the value of being able to obtain a High School Equivalency while incarcerated, Dizio stated, “High school credentials have really become the minimum that someone needs for any sort of post-secondary training or certificate programs. So much of what lies ahead of our students falls back on them completing credentials like the HiSET examination.”
The overarching goal for the Department in providing not only academic instruction, but also vocational training, along with addiction recovery and mental health services, among others, is ultimately, to reduce recidivism. The aim is to prepare incarcerated individuals to leave with the skills and qualifications necessary to rejoin their communities and the workforce as seamlessly and successfully as is possible.
The successful HiSET Program can be adapted throughout this country in order to break the cycle of revolving incarceration.