Training to be expanded for corrections officers, sheriff says

Apr 6, 2023

Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux has extended the training academy for new corrections officers from eight weeks to nine weeks to add classes focused on topics he said will better prepare them.

Classes will be added in de-escalation, dealing with mental illness, duty to intervene, and implicit bias, the The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday, April 6.

This expanded training, which Heroux pledged to do in his campaign, will begin with the  next recruit academy, which is scheduled to start Monday, April 24. 

“If corrections officers are trained in de-escalation, they will have the tools they need to do their jobs better,” Heroux said. “How can we expect a CO to do a tough job if the CO doesn’t get the training they need to do their job?

 “In the past, these topics were not taught to a level I was satisfied with,” Heroux said. “But now we’re making them a priority.”

 A class on de-escalation will run for six to eight hours. Duty to intervene class will be held for four hours while implicit bias and dealing with mental illness classes will be 3 ½ hours each, according to the sheriff’s office. 

Those topics will also continue to be covered in other recruit classes, including communication skills, use of force, suicide prevention, and cultural diversity. 

The sheriff’s office will also be adding training hours in defensive tactics, report writing, physical fitness, and suicide trauma awareness.

Preventing suicides among those in the custody of the Bristol County House of Correction, which has facilities in Dartmouth and New Bedford, was a major campaign theme for Heroux in his successful race last fall against long-time sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

Suicides at the Dartmouth jail have been at the center of statewide discussion for years. 

According to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, at least 16 people died by suicide between 2006 and 2017 while in the custody of the Bristol County House of Correction — the highest number in the state correctional system during that period.

Three deaths were reported in the jails in 2021. Most recently, an inmate died of a suspected suicide in the Dartmouth jail just two days after Heroux was sworn into office in January.

Heroux subsequently hired Lindsay M. Hayes, nationally-recognized specialist on preventing suicides in jails, to look into ways to reduce death in the facilities in Dartmouth and New Bedford. 

That report is expected to be publicly released after its completion. 

There will also be expanded de-escalation training during the required 40 hours of annual in-service training for current corrections officers, the sheriff’s office reported.

“This investment in training is really an investment in our communities as it will benefit our officers and the inmates,’’ Heroux said.