President Obama is pushing to help former inmates, announcing this week a federal order to ban "the box" — that place on job applications where they ask if you’ve committed a crime.

Here in Massachusetts the box is already off the table, but state officials tell WGBH News they are stepping up efforts to help people transitioning from prison back into society.

In January, the Executive Office of Public Safety will open a new type of school inside the Boston Pre-Release Center in Roslindale.

The school will not open to violent offenders or sex offenders. Inmates will apply and enroll in the school a year from the date of their release. Reporter Tina Martin talked to Ben Thompson, Massachusetts assistant undersecretary for re-entry, who says in a given year over 400 inmates are released in Suffolk County.


Ben Thompson: Two things I think are really important, it’s the development of a moral compass, a belief in something. We need to develop support groups and links for a returning citizen so that when they return to my community, they have a support group that's already been developed while they’ve been at the school, because at the end of the day, if I’m going to spend 12 to 18 months with a returning citizen, I don’t want to hand them off to a community without support that helps them to continue to develop their moral compass.

Tina Martin: Piggy back a little bit off of President Obama’s comments this weekend, because he made some really specific comments about support for ex-offenders trying to get back into society.

Thompson: Well, I think it was some excellent statements made by the president but again the president focused on jobs, housing, which we know are important. He focused on the federal governments ability to say, 'We can hire you and give you a chance to impress us, or prove that you have the skills to earn a living,' and those are some of the things that I think we need at the state and the city level as well. He also talked about the relationship between philanthropic community and the support needed to help drive some of these programs that we’re discussing.

One of the things that we're building — one of the critical pieces of our reentry school — we're developing a public/private partnership. We have the state that’s funding a portion of the program, but we're also going to be looking at philanthropic support to help us fund the academic and vocational instruction that Ed McAdams my headmaster needs to make the school a success.

Martin: Talk to us about recidivism.

Thompson: Currently the latest research within the Department of Corrections shows recidivism over a three-year period from the time of release at 39 percent, which, quite frankly, it's quite good. Massachusetts has one of the lowest state department of correction recidivism rates in the country, but we can’t just say were satisfied with 39 percent and say were No. 1. Our goal is to cut recidivism to 18 percent and our goal is to see a corresponding decrease in crime and a corresponding decrease in prison costs as a result of the reduction in recidivism.