After 21 years working in jail management, Tom Diina began 2022 in a newly-appointed position within the Erie County Sheriff’s office as Chief of Community Reintegration. Tom credits the work of the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable’s Reentry Coalition for helping to inspire the creation of his new position.
“Sheriff Garcia is 110% committed to providing programming and opportunities for incarcerated individuals to put them in a better situation when they reenter the community,” Tom explained. “If we can use the jail as an opportunity to create linkage to supports and services, then we can potentially affect the likelihood of whether or not people come back to jail.”
That’s exactly the goal of the Reentry Coalition —to address Erie County’s above average recidivism rate and help individuals released from jail find accessible paths toward economic self-sufficiency and away from re-arrest. Tom has been committed to achieving this goal since he joined the Reentry Coalition as co-chair in 2017.
To date, Tom noted many highlights of the Coalition, including the sustained engagement by numerous partners— more than 85 stakeholders from community-based organizations, government entities, nonprofits and religious-based organizations. As a result of the Coalition, new partnerships have been created in the community and programming has been implemented within the jail.
“The jail works very closely with Peaceprints of Western New York, BestSelf Behavioral Health, who are two prominent members of the Reentry Coalition,” Tom noted. “And we have two federally funded second chance act grants, that resulted from those partnerships: Project Blue, which is our local jail re-entry program; and New Dawn, a program aimed at providing services for folks with a co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorder. Those were two huge grants that we were able to get and bring into Erie County. More than $3 million in second chance act funding has been awarded in Erie County as a result of our new levels of collaboration through the Reentry Coalition formed in 2017.”
Additionally, the Coalition opened the Service Link Stop just steps away from the Erie County Holding Center in late 2020 as a “one stop shop” for programs and services to help connect reentering citizens to housing, employment opportunities, mental health services and more. Tom is also hopeful about the Coalition’s focus on workforce development, noting that employment is a huge barrier to success for returning citizens and it is key they learn the skills necessary to obtain and maintain jobs in the community.
Tom’s job and his work co-chairing the Coalition go hand in hand and he is confident they will continue to complement each other to move ideas forward and improve outcomes for reentering citizens. “The Coalition has been the highlight of my career, to this point, and I think it will continue to be,” he said.