Democratic candidate Yvonne Gittelson joins Hampshire County sheriff’s race
NORTHAMPTON — Yvonne Gittelson believes that educational programs are the “golden ticket” to keep former inmates from reoffending and she hopes to bring that focus to the Northampton jail as the next sheriff of Hampshire County.
“I have plans for Hampshire County and I know we can do better,” Gittelson said during a Friday interview in the Gazette newsroom, promising to make a “drastic” impact on educational offerings at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction.
Gittelson, the corrections program specialist for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and a resident of Goshen, is one of four candidates for sheriff to date.
Sheriff Patrick Cahillane of Leeds, elected in 2016, is running for a second six-year term against Gittelson, corrections nurse Caitlin Sepeda of South Hadley and John Vanasse of Florence, an administrative lieutenant with the Springfield College Police Department.
Vanasse is running as an independent in the Nov. 8 general election. All other declared candidates are Democrats who will compete in the Sept. 6 party primary.
All three of Cahillane’s challengers worked under his administration at the jail at 205 Rocky Hill Road.
“I can tell you that the esprit de corps there is not great,” Gittelson said, referring to employee morale. “I see a number of really talented individuals not being allowed to showcase their talents and not being allowed to do what they can do, which they very much want to do, to make it a Cadillac of county houses of correction.”
Gittelson, a longtime K-12 educator and “political junkie,” served as the jail’s education coordinator from 2017-21 and described herself as a “progressive” and “one of the few people who actually brought money into the jail” by writing successful grant proposals.
Current law does not guarantee pretrial detainees access to courses in jail, she said, even though detainees often spend more time behind bars in Northampton than inmates who have been sentenced.
“Could we not take one or two of the pretrial housing pods and turn that into an education pod, where the teacher could come into that unit?” she said, also suggesting that inmates and detainees should have more access to technology so they can learn online.
She cited a 2013 study by the RAND Corporation that found people in jails and prisons who participated in educational programs were 43% less likely to recidivate than those who did not and they were 13% more likely to find employment after release.
For every $1 spent on educating incarcerated people, according to the study that Gittelson cited, a jail can realize $4 to $5 worth of cost savings during the three years after an inmate’s release. She said it costs about $120,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in Northampton.
“The average Hampshire County voter would say, ‘What are we getting for $120,000? What is the individual getting?’” Gittelson said. “What are we giving the justice-involved individuals in Hampshire County for $120,000? Not a whole heck of a lot.”
In her role at the state education department, Gittelson now oversees programming in county jails and state prisons that receive DESE funding and she is working under a federal grant to run programming in some Department of Youth Services facilities.
“I get to go all around the state, I get to see all the different programs, I get to meet all kinds of great folks and I get to see what’s possible,” Gittelson said.
Each candidate must gather 500 voter signatures in order to appear on ballots in 21 Hampshire County communities.