Sheriff Michael Ashe is not a happy camper right now. Budget cuts to correctional centers across the state have hit home at the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow and the women's jail in Chicopee. Twenty-three newly-hired correctional officers and three counselors will be losing their jobs, and I'm sorry for anyone in that position.
Here's what Sheriff Ashe isn't talking about as he bewails job losses: more than half of the 1,900 inmates in the jails are there pre-trial-- not convicted of anything but unable to pay the excessive bail that a few area judges have been imposing. Every incarcerated inmate COSTS MONEY.
Now, we're not talking about your accused rapists, murderers and armed robbers, here, or even your Bernie Madoffs. We're talking about offenders whose maximum sentence is likely to be two years and under. Many of them will serve their entire "sentence" without ever being sentenced, because they can't afford bail.
Keep in mind that an unknown number of people awaiting trial and serving sentences are actually not guilty of any crime. Earlier this week the New York Times reported on new efforts to exonerate imprisoned people where there is no DNA evidence to go on.
“All these hundreds of DNA exonerations across the country have demonstrated to anyone who’s paying attention that there are far more innocent people in prison than anybody could imagine,” said James McCloskey, the founder of Centurion Ministries, an innocence project based in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, no one is likely to take extraordinary effort to prove the innocence of someone who will "only" lose two years of his or her life.
Both the men's and the women's correctional facilities are very overcrowded. Many educational and recreational programs can't take place because there's simply no room. The sheriff doesn't like this, either. He has a national reputation as an innovator to maintain and recent jail conditions have put a crimp in his plans.
One of my early posts on this blog was about the day the new women's jail opened. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, was operating by the principle, "If you build it, they will come"-- and how true that's proved to be! Especially now, when money is so tight, there has to be a better way to deal with people accused of low-level offenses.