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FAQs

Find the answers to frequently asked questions about why Virginia is right for the job.

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I thought the Sheriff was a law enforcement officer. What law enforcement experience do you have?

While the Sheriff is absolutely part of the locomotion of public safety, it is not a law enforcement role. The position of the Sheriff requires no law enforcement experience nor civil service exam to run for this office. The Sheriff is the administrator of the county jail, and the steward of all county level prisoners, responsible for care, treatment, rehabilitation and re-entry. The central contribution to public safety that a Sheriff makes is in reducing recidivism and preventing future crime by sending people home in better shape than when they came to jail. Human and Social Services administration consumes the vast majority of the Sheriff’s work, as Chief Rehabilitation officer for the county.

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The Sheriff’s department is a large and multifaceted agency with a budget of nearly $84 million. What experience and skills do you bring that will make you successful leading an operation of that size?

The Sheriff is the CEO of the department and, as such, sets the culture of the department and the strategic vision. The CEO does not manage each dollar spent but instead builds a team of people who bring their experience and credentials to meet the needs of a large multifaceted operation. I have built programs from the ground up and found important and creative ways to do big things with small money. Straight out of college, I founded an educational program inside detention centers in Ciudad Juarez, MX. I co-established a medical legal partnership in Brockton and founded a coalition of 30+ community organizations serving vulnerable families in Lynn that continues to grow seven years later. I have over 15 years of experience building teams of diverse backgrounds around a shared vision for change.

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How do you plan to change a culture of retribution that has been in place for so long and how will you get correctional officers to buy into that change?

Change is always met with resistance and, as a therapist, working resistance is not an obstacle to resent, but an opportunity to listen more deeply. I don’t just think I will be able to connect with and earn the respect of correctional staff, I know I will because it’s already happening. During the course of this campaign I have spoken with dozens of COs and many retired staff from the jail as well. The Sheriff isn’t just the steward of the prisoners, she is also the steward of the people who care for the prisoners. Jason Ebacher, a retired Assistant Superintendent at Middleton Jail said, “I have been out of the force for a few years now, and I feel like I’m only just now starting to heal from the experience.” 

 

People deserve to be safe while they serve their time, and staff deserve to work and grow in an environment that is free from violence. Staff deserve a leader that is accessible, that seeks out their feedback and recognizes their hard work in substantive ways. Staff respects a leader who holds themselves accountable. As I say to all the correctional officers I speak to, we will not always agree on the way forward, but people will always feel heard and respected deeply by me.

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People are incarcerated at the county jail while they await trial and some are charged with serious and violent crimes like murder and sexual assault. How could someone with your background ensure safety and manage a population like that?

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Social workers do some of the most difficult and gut wrenching work everyday including working with people who have committed heinous acts upon others and themselves. In my career, I have lived and worked in one of the most violent cities in the world, and I have treated individuals who are incarcerated and charged with the crimes mentioned above. The Sheriff’s job is to maintain order and an environment free from violence for prisoners and staff. The Sheriff must honor the justice system and due process by ensuring that people who are held in Middleton Jail are treated properly and adequately, and that their wellbeing is prioritized so that when they present in court they are able to stand trial. It is not the job of the Sheriff to operate above due process or the law.

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Why should calls be free to family?

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Calls from prisoners to family are an essential and a proven way to reduce recidivism. Currently in Essex County, all calls home to family cost exorbitant rates with many hidden fees by the for-profit telecom company that contracts with the Sheriff’s department. In addition to the fees for the company, the sheriff’s department takes a 35% kickback to use in its facility (austensibly for programming to prisoners). The Sheriff has the power to make calls free and to INVEST in lowering recidivism by keeping families connected during incarceration. But instead, our Sheriff not only charges families these fees, he also takes max campaign contributions from the telecom company he contracts with. If community safety were at the top of the priority list, he would immediately follow the science and make calls home free. As your Sheriff, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

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What is recidivism and how do you plan on reducing it?

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Recidivism is the rate at which people return back into the justice system in some way after being released from jail by reoffending, or other behaviors such as violating parole. For the last five out of six years our recidivism rate has been flatlined at 47 percent except in the most recent reporting period which was published during this election year and reports a slight drop to 43 percent. While the recidivism rate has remained stagnant, our spending for the department has skyrocketed from $63 million in 2016 to just under $84 million now. 

As Sheriff, I will first evaluate top to bottom the programming that is currently offered to keep what works according to the science and scrap what doesn’t. All programming that is authorized under my administration will be evidence based, and rigorously collect data so we know how we can improve and where we are making a difference.

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How do you plan to pay for all the programming and re-entry supports you talk about? 

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Recidivism is expensive. Every time someone is re-incarcerated, our tax payors pay $77k per year to house and treat people. It is not only in offenders’ best interest that we provide adequate rehabilitation and re-entry supports. It is in our financial best interest as well. According to The National Institute of Health, conservative estimates show that “every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. ” Essex county is ready for a leader who understands and leans into the science of rehabilitation and treatment as a public safety and cost saving investment, not an empty campaign promise. We deserve a leader who doesn’t waste hundreds of thousands in lawsuits by standing on the wrong side of reform. 

 

I plan to assess the entire budget and current expenditures to identify areas of overspending to make our initial programming is possible and over time we will see an increase in our capacity as we reduce recidivism.

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How will you respond to the needs of victims as Sheriff?

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The Sheriff is responsible for making sure that offenders present to court in the best shape they can to stand trial not just for themselves but for victims. When the Sheriff provides good treatment and care to prisoners, they are assuring that all the work victims do and risks victims take to seek justice is not wasted by an accused person unable to stand trial because of his/her mental state or medical health. As Sheriff I will use my skills and experience to ensure that victims have access to the kinds of restorative justice programs that have been used around the globe to promote healing and accountability. And I will remain laser focused on the job of reducing recidivism which, in turn, prevents future victims.