Chester still questions ex-prisoner house
By Kevin O’Connor
Staff Writer | June 20,2014
CHESTER — Plans for a local ex-prisoner “transition” house are starting to move forward, but that isn’t stopping this town’s Select Board from continuing to question the project.
The Springfield Restorative Justice Center currently rents two separate apartments in Chester but wants to consolidate its efforts by containing and monitoring three recently jailed men in a single location.
The center doesn’t need town permission to host ex-prisoners as long as it abides by all other laws as well as state corrections requirements that prohibit such a program in neighborhoods with schools, children or other safety concerns.
The center confirmed Monday that, despite some objections, it is seeking a rental property in Chester that would feature round-the-clock staff, video surveillance and a ban on alcohol and weapons.
In response, the Chester Select Board said Wednesday it would voice its concerns to an unusual source: the Select Board in neighboring Springfield.
The Springfield Restorative Justice Center, one of 19 such regional organizations funded by the state Agency of Human Services and its Department of Corrections, manages its money through an arrangement with the Town of Springfield, and its Select Board, in turn, appoints its governing Community Advisory Board.
“I still remain confused on who’s in charge,” Chester Selectman Derek Suursoo told his colleagues at their regular meeting. “I was going to let a sleeping dog lay, but I can’t. I think we need to start a conversation.”
“I don’t think we can just let this go,” colleague William Lindsay added. “We need to get into a discussion with the Springfield Select Board.”
Chester Select Board Chairman John DeBenedetti wasn’t optimistic about the outcome.
“I don’t think we’re going to change much,” DeBenedetti said.
But his colleagues voiced intent to continue on.
“I’m willing to ask my questions and put them on the record at the next meeting,” Suursoo said.
The center’s advisory board, for its part, is inviting Chester to appoint a community representative to its circle.
“Certainly there are many community members who are concerned — why don’t you work with us?” advisory board member Steve Matush told Chester residents who attended his group’s meeting Monday.
The center currently has three prisoners — two from Chester and one Londonderry — it could place in the proposed house. The plan has some supporters among local law enforcement and leadership.
“I’m not exactly sure how it all works, but the goal is a good cause, and it’s serving Chester citizens,” Selectman Arunas “Arne” Jonynas told his colleagues Wednesday.