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Hundreds Have Utilized 2nd Street Program
12:05PM / Sunday, December 04, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — 2nd Street, an organization supporting formerly incarcerated men and women in Berkshire County, is making strides in the community since officially commencing operations on July 1, 2022. 
 
From July 1 through Nov. 16, 2022, 2nd Street met with 158 unduplicated clients, including 27 who engaged in programming on reentry self-management life skills, workforce development skills training and continuing education. In that time period, only one client returned to custody.
 
The product of a collaboration among community partners, 2nd Street is a facility where clients can get access to tools and connections they need to reenter the community and workforce of Berkshire County.  
 
The facility, located at the former site of the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction (BCHC) at 264 2nd Street, is a place where formerly incarcerated individuals can receive training on re-entry self-management life skills, progressing to workforce skills training and continuing education. It also serves as a point of intake for providers to make the first connection and set up a continuum of services and referrals.
 
"We've created a safe, inviting environment at 2nd Street, where our clients can share life experiences, join support groups, get counseling or just gather to appreciate the company of others in similar situations. It's a deliberately unintimidating place," said Executive Director Jason Cuyler, who is a 22-year employee of the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, most recently a case management coordinator. "The initiative is not just about preparing formerly incarcerated individuals to become productive members of their communities. It is also about educating and advocating for communities to look at this population — and embrace them — as capable of doing just that."
 
The idea of 2nd street began as a response to the continually high rates of incarceration in Berkshire County, a situation exacerbated by the opioid epidemic. Equally important, the recidivism rate in Berkshire County is 36 percent, one of the highest rates in the Commonwealth. Many formerly incarcerated people end up back in a correctional facility due to violation of parole and/or probation, while others find it difficult to obtain employment, housing, food and other basic needs and revert back to their pre-incarceration lives.
 
The project was conceived and designed by a working group made up of Berkshire County Sheriff's Office representatives, several formerly incarcerated individuals, other community members and community partners. Those partners include Berkshire Community College, Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Innovation Center, Berkshire Museum and Community Legal Aid, Inc.
 
"2nd Street is unique in that it is a private/public partnership. It's a perfect mesh of the two," Cuyler said. "We pull the resources together of multiple agencies, which work together to create a service plan so that the client only needs to tell his or her story once."
 
Organizers of the project studied the experiences of the formerly incarcerated to identify key services and resources to help achieve successful reentry and life success. These key factors, combined with the working relationship between 2nd Street and the Sheriff's Office, shaped 2nd Street's mission and objectives — particularly consistency in client services and a seamless transition of support during and after incarceration.
 
"2nd Street allows an individual who is leaving our main facility, as well as men and women from other local, state and federal facilities, the opportunity to receive a continuation of wrap-around services," said Pittsfield Sheriff Thomas Bowler. "This program will continue to provide the services they need and deserve to continue with a successful reintegration. It also provides services to those formerly incarcerated men and women who are back in our community but who are struggling day to day, providing a proactive approach to deter them from re-offending or relapse."
 
Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer, an early supporter of the program, said, "The city of Pittsfield enthusiastically supports the work of 2nd Street because we believe in its mission and power to transform our community. 2nd Street recognizes the inherent value, purpose and potential of formerly incarcerated individuals by providing them with essential resources to guide their next steps and future aspirations. We are so proud to champion this endeavor that is helping to build a strong and lasting foundation for meaningful and productive citizenship over time."
 
In December 2021, Berkshire Community College, as a collaborating partner and fiscal agent, received a grant of $240,300 through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Program from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, allowing 2nd Street to furnish its space; develop and expand community relationships; create its brand; secure a plan for fiscal management, governance and sustainability of its programs; and start welcoming clients. 
 
"Berkshire Community College is proud to be a founding partner of 2nd Street and to have supported the initial funding of this important initiative," said Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy. "We are committed to working closely with 2nd Street in our common mission to develop a trained workforce for Berkshire County. Educating and training students for stable employment opportunities is what BCC does. For formerly incarcerated individuals, it is an essential component of a successful and permanent reentry into their communities." 
 
On April 14, 2022, 2nd Street was awarded a $700,000 grant by the City of Pittsfield from its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, allocated over a three-year start-up period beginning July 1, 2022. The three-year period is intended to prove the concept that the availability of robust wraparound services in a one-stop, welcoming facility can reduce recidivism rates, contribute to a trained workforce and build community, Cuyler explained.
 
Client engagement and programming
 
Recent programming includes:
  • A presentation by Community Legal Aid and Committee for Public Counsel Services on how to appropriately engage with law enforcement, employers and landlords
  • Bi-weekly visitations by Berkshire Harm Reduction Mobile Services
  • A workshop on housing opportunities and a counseling session by Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority
  • A presentation by Community Legal Aid on how to seal your criminal record
  • Women's Mindfulness Group weekly sessions
  • A presentation by Berkshire Community College on tuition-free programs
  • On-site weekly office hours by Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority
  • Women's Aftercare Group weekly sessions
  • On-site weekly office hours by Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
  • Weekly support group by Living in Recovery
"If we can demonstrate to formerly incarcerated individuals that they are people worthy of an investment of time and resources, and that they are welcome to become productive members of our communities, we will succeed," Cuyler said. "If we have faith in them and are willing to invest in their reentry, perhaps they will have faith in themselves."
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