What Can’t (or Don’t) Sheriffs Do?

In continuing my themes of voter education and transparency, I’ve previously described (check my 5/17 post) what Sheriffs do and can potentially do.

Although there is definitely plenty of discretion within the somewhat narrow confines of custody and care of detained and sentenced individuals, there is plenty that Sheriffs don’t do, and can’t do, and that’s for good reason. Because we value civil authority and due process, we have a number of steps in our criminal justice system so that no one entity controls it all, and nor should they. Sheriffs don’t make laws. They don’t police the streets or make arrests (in Hampshire County). They don’t bring charges, conduct trials, decide whether someone is guilty, or hand out sentences. They don’t punish justice-involved individuals other than being the person in charge of the facility that holds people in custody. In other parts of the country, people running for Sheriff might try to beat the law and order drum, and hammer away at the issue of public safety, claiming to be the person who will keep the community safe. But in Hampshire County, the Sheriff’s ability to keep the community safe is really the quiet work that either does—or does not—get done. In deciding how the facility is run, how people in custody are treated, who gets access to mental health services, education, job training, and substance-abuse treatment, the Sheriff is the one who decides whether the period of custody will be rehabilitative or just serving time, or worse—further damaging to the incarcerated person. Note that I said ‘further.’ Because people coming into a correctional facility are already damaged in some way; the very act of committing crime is evidence of prior damage in this person’s experience. And the process of being taken into the system can be further traumatizing in itself. In Corrections, we hear a lot about trauma-informed-education, or trauma-informed-treatment, meaning that the more enlightened approaches to rehabilitation start from a place of understanding the trauma that may have led the person to this point, and using adaptive strategies to meet their needs. Practitioners who don’t fully understand the concept can sometimes misunderstand the intention; it doesn’t mean that we let the person off the hook because we know they’ve experienced trauma. Trauma-informed does not mean we excuse unacceptable behavior. A dear friend (a psychiatric nurse at the VA) once gave me an expression that has stuck with me and I continue to use often, one that she used with her patients: “Just because you have a diagnosis doesn’t mean you aren’t still responsible for your behavior.” It means we can understand with compassion, and yet we can still hold people accountable for their actions. The job of the Sheriff is to provide the tools, techniques, and resources to the people held in custody, and to hold them accountable for their part in their own rehabilitation. In doing this part of the job right, and in providing access and equity in these services to all—that is how a Sheriff in Hampshire County keeps the entire community safer. Because everyone in our county facility will return to our communities, and if taught well and given what they need to heal—not a facility. #KnowYourSheriff  #KnowYourNextSheriff  #YvonneForSheriff