Thoughts on the Sheriff Race

Posted: 08/19/2022 19:17:38

Modified: 08/19/2022 19:14:12

After reading “The Sheriff Race Heats Up” by Brian Steele (August 6), I wonder how a vote for one of the candidates represents my interests as a member of this community. I’ve always found it strange that the sheriff is a political position. Are they aimed at punishment or rehabilitation or both?

Candidate credentials are largely irrelevant in the context of mass incarceration and injustices inflicted on vulnerable people and communities.

I am a nurse practitioner who has spent over 10 years providing care to incarcerated women through my role at a community health center.

Marginalized people are overrepresented in prisons and the prison system. Even in Hampshire County, jail is used to punish people for the consequences of mental illness, substance abuse disorders and homelessness. Health inequalities are linked to targeting by the legal system.

Two of Yvonne Gittleson’s comments are particularly puzzling. She mentions that 70% of prisoners in Hampshire County Jail are on remand, so innocent until proven guilty. A large percentage of those arrested cannot afford to post bail; the others are free until their court date. A person’s life and family can be destroyed overnight. Formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public and face significant barriers to work and education.

Gittleson is quoted as saying that female correctional officers can “very often lower the tension,” which I find irritating based on gender. She says she wants to see more people who “represent and look like those in detention”. Two people exposed to the toxicity of racism on either side of a cell wall, right?

All three cite budget and personnel issues affecting security. Research shows that correctional officers have high rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse and, in Massachusetts, a suicide rate six times higher than the general population.

In a policy document titled “Advancing Public Health Interventions to Address the Harms of the Carceral System,” the American Public Health Association advocates investing in communities and adopting an “abolitionist public health approach.” It’s time.

Ellen Miller Mack


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