Family Matters is a voluntary program under the Division of Re-Integration Services at the Suffolk County House of Correction, which was developed to assist inmates and their families with working toward positive relationships. The issues facing the currently incarcerated upon release are numerous, often confounding, and have a drastic impact on all of the connected relationships. In an effort to assist those in the care and custody of the Department to re-enter society more successfully, the program targets families because of the powerful role that they can play in supporting, guiding and inspiring the currently incarcerated upon their release.

Launched in 2015 by Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins, the program started with an event in which service providers across Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere came together to discuss how to better forge relationships with community-based partners. Since its inception, the Family Matters Program has evolved from its earlier role as an entity that primarily focused on providing referrals. The program now focuses on connecting families to resources that will help to stabilize the household for the release and return of a formerly incarcerated family member.

“The Suffolk County House of Correction has a lot of programming around workforce development, skill building, re-entry and education,” said Karla Walker, Director of Family Matters. “Our primary focus in the Family Matters program is reuniting children with their fathers and working on rebuilding relationships with family members they may have burned bridges with in the past. On top of all of the other programming that they are receiving while incarcerated, our program gives them a unique opportunity to learn about themselves in order to better navigate their family relationships.”

Through the building of intentional community partnerships, the Family Matters Program continues to create strong relationships with agencies to deliver services to families before individuals are released. In an effort to build positive rapports, incarcerated individuals at the House of Correction are introduced to a number of community support providers to whom they will later be referred upon their release.

“Thus far, the best thing to come out of this program is information sharing, and assessing what community partners and providers need to know when working with families of the incarcerated,” Walker said. “We have also found it helpful to survey the men themselves to see what their families need and have created meaningful programming that is tailored to their needs as individuals and their family members.”

Partnering organizations have included: the Home for Little Wanderers, Father’s Uplift, the Family Nurturing Center, Boston Medical Center, Whittier Street Health Center, Dorchester Bay Economic Development, Project Place, College Bound Dorchester and others, with plans for additional partnerships. With the support of Family Matters, participants have obtained resources to assist with their utilities, continuing their education, nding a place of employment, representing their child in receiving individualized services in school, and much more.