Opinion: The primary responsibility of a Sheriff in Massachusetts

Jul 28, 2023

Recently two issues have attracted significant media attention regarding Sheriff Paul Heroux’s actions: the auctioning of the Shawmut diner and the discontinuance of a tracking program.     

Former Sheriff Hodgson who was mandated to rehabilitate those people sentenced or detained in the Bristol County House of Correction spent a significant amount of money on programs and services completely unrelated to this major function.

In 2014 The Shawmut diner was donated and re-located to the Faunce Corner correctional facility.  The announced, and much publicity generated purpose of this generous donation was to utilize the diner as a vocational facility to train the incarcerated the skills of cooking, waitering, cleaning and managing a food establishment.  

Unfortunately, the facility was never utilized, and sat idle these many years.  A wonderful opportunity to offer real life skills to many of the incarcerated who were ultimately released into the community that could have secured employment, was lost.

Undoubtedly the uniqueness of this acquisition would have enabled the sheriff to have garnered grant money to initiate and maintain this rehabilitative program all these years.  And with the decline of restaurant employees during the worst of the Covid pandemic, and presently, there would have been great opportunity for trained and released incarcerated men and women to become contributing members of the community.

If the diner had not fallen into disrepair and could have been salvaged without great expenditures and significant re-assignment of staff sorely needed during the transitional phase for structural changes and security, Sheriff Heroux would have done so.

At some point during this last decade the former sheriff instituted a tracking program for functionally disabled and the elderly who were at risk for wandering off and becoming lost. This program, according to Sheriff Heroux, was administered at eighty thousand dollars a year.  While this is a worthwhile service it clearly falls under the jurisdiction of other departments more equipped, trained and subsidized for this purpose. All funds diverted from the main purposes of rehabilitation, and lowering recidivism, reduces the safety of the community.

A sheriff cannot be a dispenser of services to the community while neglecting, or minimizing, his role as manager of a house of correction, for which he, or she, was elected. 

Betty Ussach, Dartmouth