Roxbury Probation Officer and Judge are recognized by legislator for their work with CHOICE
(Boston, Mass.)- Probation Officer Edith Alexander of the Boston Municipal Court (BMC)-Roxbury Division and Judge Pamela Dashiell were recently presented with citations from State Representative Chynah Tyler for their work with the CHOICE Program which now includes a meal program that feeds breakfast and lunch to participants and those who come before the court and are hungry. Alexander said 95 percent of the CHOICE Program participants-- men and women ages 17 to 24-- are homeless and have “no place to go or are couch-surfing.”
CHOICE is a comprehensive 18-month program to reduce recidivism among this group of young adults who are on probation at BMC-Roxbury. Tyler, Suffolk 7th District State Representative, presented Alexander and Dashiell with the citation on Friday. The district includes Dorchester, Fenway, Roxbury, and the South End.
Since the start of CHOICE in 2010, there have been approximately 150 participants. The feeding program started last fall and is funded by the Timothy Smith Fund which pays for breakfast and lunch prepared by the Haley House Bakery and Café in the Dudley Square area. Approximately 140 meals are served monthly. Breakfast is served on the first Friday of the month before court. Lunch is provided twice a month on “reporting day,” the day defendants are required to come before the court.
“The meals go much further. The lunches feed participants of the Bridges Program, Roxbury’s Mental Health Court, and are provided to anyone who says they’re hungry. There are people who come to the counter who have been in custody for four days and have not eaten,” Alexander said. “We realized the need for the program when it became apparent that the CHOICE participants were hungry, lethargic, or acting out because they were hungry. The feeding program is representative of evidence-based Probation where we meet the specific needs of individuals. The need for many is food and shelter.”
The CHOICE Program requires offenders who are on administrative and supervised probation to meet with Alexander, attend educational and job training programs as well as appear before Judge Dashiell. The initiative features an intensive three-pronged approach: intensive probation supervision and an in-court compliance component; education- attend high school or successfully complete the HiSet (formerly the GED) exam; and job training. Probationers, who are parents, must attend Parenting classes at the court. In addition to Probation’s key role, CHOICE’s collaborators include the District Attorney’s Office, Defense Bar and the Clerk’s Office.
"The CHOICE program is a vital tool at the Roxbury Division of the BMC Court that offers an alternative to incarceration for young adults who come in contact with the criminal justice system. Having a consistent support system creates room to make a tremendous impact in the lives of these young adults. I have witnessed first-hand the tireless dedication Justice Dashiell and Probation Officer Alexander put into CHOICE to ensure that a second chance is possible,” said State Representative Tyler.
“The CHOICE Program and its facilitators are meeting a critical need among struggling probationers in the greater Roxbury community. Both Probation Officer Alexander and Judge Daschiell are truly deserving of this recognition for their commitment, their leadership and their innovative approach to this work,” said Probation Commissioner Edward J. Dolan.
Alexander, who has been overseeing CHOICE for the past five years, said, “The young men and women in this program have a choice: they can get an education, stay out of trouble or risk jail time.”.
She added, “There is a therapeutic value to the program. Also, having them come to court and holding them accountable is a huge deterrent. Very few are on the re-offending track. If they are in high school, they have to graduate from high school to earn their GED (General Equivalency Diploma) or HiSet exam. If they have already graduated from high school, they have to consider community college or job training. Our number one goal for them is education. We also want them to lead a productive, successful life.”
Alexander meticulously tracks all 30 offenders currently enrolled in the program—checking in regularly with school officials, employment training agencies, and job sites to confirm the offenders are attending school, participating in job training, and/or reporting to work. She maintains an oversized chart with the names of offenders and their hour by hour schedules throughout the day.
The architect of the CHOICE Program was Judge Robert Tochka. Michelle Williams, Charlestown District Court Chief Probation Officer and former BMC-Roxbury Assistant Chief, also helped lay the groundwork for CHOICE which was established in 2010.