Activists create first-ever statewide campaign to educate voters about Massachusetts sheriffs’ races.

County sheriffs to be elected for six-year terms this fall.

NORTHAMPTON – The Ad Hoc Coalition To Stop New Jails in Massachusetts has created extensive materials for voters in every county describing the role of sheriffs, county prisons and jails, and candidates for office. Lois Ahrens, founding director of the Real Cost of Prisons Project, originally organized the coalition to oppose the building of new jails in Massachusetts -- instead favoring community-based corrections and bail reform. After a bill to build a new jail in eastern Massachusetts did not move forward, coalition members decided to focus on the 2016 elections, which provide a critical opportunity to educate voters about county sheriffs. Sheriffs oversee the incarceration of over half of all Massachusetts prisoners and cost taxpayers more than a half a billion dollars each year.

According to Ahrens, “Massachusetts’ sheriffs have a lot of power and many responsibilities – for which they receive hefty salaries. They also basically run their own shows, with little oversight. That makes their constituents’ involvement all the more important. The 2016 elections are a once-in-six-years opportunity for voters to learn about what goes on in county prisons and jails, and to hold sheriffs or candidates accountable for those practices.”

The coalition prepared the following materials for each of the state’s 14 counties:

  • On overview of the role of sheriffs and county prisons and jails;
  • A fact sheet for each county, including the sheriff’s salary, number of employees, list of prisons and jails and number of prisoners held;
  • Slate of candidates;
  • Campaign contact information;
  • Candidate’s questionnaire.

Barbara J. Dougan, from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, drafted the materials with input from other coalition members. “We hope that voters will engage with the candidates. The fact sheets give voters a sense of the lay of the land in their counties. The questionnaire targets issues that have been identified by advocates and formerly incarcerated people. However, organizations that use the questionnaire can adapt it to fit their own needs and priorities.”

The coalition’s materials will be updated after the September 8 primaries to reflect the final slate of candidates.