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Barnstable County Sheriff's Office

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In The Press

Sheriff’s monthly column

for Cape Cod media

December, 2017


Problem-solving: A look back at a busy year

by Sheriff James Cummings

As 2017 goes into the books, a look back seems in order. As always, much has happened both inside the jail and out.

The year started with a bang, made possible by scores of loyal supporters and tens of thousands of voters who brought me to a January inauguration -- and my fourth term as your Sheriff bring many new (and some old) challenges.

One is the opiate crisis and the affect it has had on the inmates arriving here. More and more are in need of mental health and addiction services. As a percentage of the whole, it seems, fewer are willing to make the best of what is for them an unwanted situation.

In this regard, 2017 ended as it began, searching for ways to create beds for mental health inmates in an appropriate setting, not inside a county facility ill-suited for that population. In the meantime, shorter term, training specific to this issue was given to staff near year’s end.   The officer corps itself was also bolstered when 30 new correction cadets completed an early spring academy and reported for duty.

Meanwhile, as they were graduating, seven BSCO interns from Cape Cod Community College were just beginning an inaugural 22-credit program that will enhance their standing as future officer candidates. Some of the interns, in fact, were later offered slots in another new Sheriff’s academy, this one beginning in March.

I talked in my January inaugural speech about needing to expand inmate educational offerings, and we’ve made progress on that front. It began the prior year when we started giving pre-trial offenders the same opportunity sentenced inmates have to earn a high school equivalency diploma.

This past August, we did the same thing with our RSAT (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment) unit. Once chosen, our inaugural candidate, awaiting trial for third offense OUI, minced no words: “I’ve learned more in one week in RSAT,” said the 36-year-old Harwich man, “than I did in my first two months in a pre-trial unit.”

In October, with an assist from Gosnold treatment center, we were able to offer a trauma-sensitive yoga program to our women’s population and kicked off a second new program for female inmates as well. This one provides pass-along instruction to help their children avoid a drug-abusing life style.

For the fourth or fifth consecutive year, I again spread the good news about our success with the opiate-blocker drug Vivitrol. The biggest stage this year was in nearby Boston, where the National Governor’s Association sponsored a conference with the accurate if lengthy title: “A Learning Lab on Expanding Access to Opioid Disorder Treatment for Justice-involved Populations.” I joined fellow Sheriff Peter Koutoujian of Middlesex County on the dais and used the occasion to extol the virtues of Vivitrol to judicial, corrections, and public safety decision-makers from nine states. That was in June and later the same month Governor Charlie Baker weighed in where it matters most, awarding us a $179,000 grant to help in the opioid fight.

2017 was year of great individual achievements. In May, thirteen deputies won a prestigious State House Department of Correction award for helping disarm and end a dangerous, 7½-hour stand-off in Mashpee, where a dangerously-armed suspect had used his perch in an electronics store to announce he’d “kill the first cop who tries to enter.” (Cited were staffers Robert AHONEN, Jim ANGLIN, Peter BENSON, Jason BUMPUS, Chris CARD, Jeff CIAMPA, Chris EORDEKIAN, Kevin FERNANDES, Lou LANGTON, Pat MARTIN, Barney MURPHY, Paul RODERICK, and Ralph SWENSON.)

Next up was Deputy Eric Iverson. He was en route to check on his mother during a power outage on a late August night when he came across two men grappling in the travel lane of Route 6 (eastbound) in Yarmouth. He jumped in to help one, a State Police trooper, try to get control of the other, an OUI suspect. Reinforcements soon arrived and the marathon fight ended with the suspect secured and Iverson and the trooper “gasping for air.” But were it not for Iverson’s “selfless assistance,” writes the incident’s supervising lieutenant in an after-action report, “harm would have likely come to the trooper.”

The following month, two Sheriff’s maritime deputies aboard our patrol boat thrust the throttle to full-speed-ahead to reach a pair of distressed swimmers in a mere two minutes. And good thing skipper John Doherty and crewman Peter Benson did. The swimmers had been caught in a rip tide at Old Silver Beach in Falmouth and were barely clinging to the side of a small private boat that had also responded. The deputies tossed each water-logged swimmer a life ring and pulled them aboard.

In October, our special operations office provided critical information that helped secure the arrest of a dangerous felon on the State Police’s “Most Wanted” list. Thomas Vargus was arrested in Marcus Hook, a tiny hamlet in Pennsylvania, for attacking a dog and the woman walking it – wielding a machete in both cases. Good detective work in the line of duty.

The year saw another pile of “Inmate at Work” jobs tackled and completed. The numbers will be computed shortly after year’s end but this much I can tell you: Municipal and non-profit agencies on Cape Cod once again got plenty of donated inmate labor to help them paint and hammer, mow and rake, harvest and saw, erect and scrub their way through dozens of projects.

The final three months of the season brought out the best in our workforce. The same men and women who take public service seriously at the workplace pitched in to donate to Hurricane Irma victims in Florida. With help from Cape Cod police chiefs – who established drop-offs at their headquarters – we joined Sheriff Offices in Plymouth and Norfolk counties to collect 60 pallets of dry goods, non-perishable food, children’s clothing and household cleaning supplies. Teamsters from Local 25 donated the trucks and driving hours, and our brother and sister sheriff employees in Monroe County, Florida handled distribution at that end. It was a collaborative effort sorely needed by scores of grateful hurricane victims. It seemed those 18-wheelers had barely rumbled off when our employees were at it again for the Christmas season, donating toys and cash for this years chosen cause – Homeless for the Holidays. Charitably inclined constituents also dropped off toys and checks here at the jail, the latter totaling more than $1,000.

Saving the best for last, news arrived in late December that the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, had approved our application to join its 287(g) program. That means four of our deputies will learn how to identify, process, and when appropriate continue to detain those immigration offenders in our custody who have committed or are charged with serious crimes. The goal is straightforward: To enhance public safety by identifying aliens, lodging appropriate immigration detainers, and commencing removal proceedings on potentially deportable criminal aliens already booked into our facility.

And 2017 is now in the past. On to a new year, new challenges and the one constant that has marked my tenure here: A staff that’s taken to heart the advice of New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, they “do their job” and they do it very well.

News Release                                                           December 20, 2017

BCSO's 287(g) Partnership with ICE Approved

BOURNE – Today, Sheriff’s James M. Cummings received a letter from Corey A. Price, Assistant Director of Enforcement of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that the Sheriff’s application for participation in Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act is approved. 

This approval authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce selected federal immigration law.  ICE will provide the officers with training and authorization to identify, process, and when appropriate to further detain immigration offenders already in their custody. 

The goal of this program is to enhance public safety by identifying aliens, lodging immigration detainers, and initiating removal proceedings by issuing charging documents on potentially deportable criminal aliens booked into the jail facility.

Sheriff Cummings stated, “The 287(g) program is all about identifying criminality, not nationality.  The 287(g) agreement we requested to be a part of operates under a jail enforcement model, which functions solely within the confines of our jail in Bourne.  Under this model an alien must first be arrested by local law enforcement on other criminal charges and brought to the facility before any 287(g) screening activity takes place.  We look forward to working closely with our ICE partners to improve the public safety of Cape Cod.”

A review of the cases referred to ICE since January 1, 2016 are noted below (due to CORI laws, the names have not been provided):

►Of Brazil @ BCCF/Dukes 12/8/15 thru 5/27/16 serving 1 year sentence:  Photograph Sexual or Intimate Parts of Child / Child Pornography Possess  

►Of Brazil @ BCCF 4/6/16 thru 12/28/16 serving sentence of 9 months:  B&E Vehicle Nighttime For Felony / Abuse Prev. Order, Violation / Dangerous Weapon, Carry

►Of Ecuador @BCCF 9/5/15 thru 1/4/16 as jailer:  Rape OF Child With Force

Of British Virgin Islands @BCCF 7/22/16 thru 11/28/16 as jailer:  A & B DW x3 / A & B / Assault To Maim

►Of Brazil @ BCCF 11/2/16 thru 12/20/16 as jailer:  OUI Liquor / Negligent OP of MV

►Of Cape Verde @ BCCF  12/28/16 thru 7/3/17 serving  1 year sentence:  Identity Fraud / Credit Card, Improper Use of Over $250 x2 / Credit Card, Improper Use Of Under $250 x4

►Of Brazil @BCCF 3/20/17 thru 5/23/17 as jailer: Witness Intimidation / Threat To Commit Crime / A & B / Vandalize Property

►Of El Salvador @BCCF 3/6/17 thru 5/3/17 serving 60 day sentence:  Threat To Commit Crime

►Of Jamaica @BCCF 8/6/15 thru 4/5/17 serving 2 Year 6 month sentence:  Indecent A & B on Person 14 Or Over / B & E Building Nighttime For Felony

►Of Romania @BCCF 9/3/15 thru 9/12/17 serving sentences:  A &B DW / Leave Scene Of Personal Injury = 1 Year and Reckless OP MV / Kidnapping = 2 Years

Of Brazil @BCCF 9/1/17 thru 10/24/17 as jailer:  Rape OF Child, Statutory / Liquor To Person Under 21, Sell/Deliver

►Of Portugal @BCCF 7/6/16 thru 10/26/17 serving 2 Year 6 month sentence:  Larceny Over $250 / Dest of Prop Over $250, Malicious / Attempt To Commit Crime / Abuse Prev Order, Violation / Rec Stolen Prop Over $250

►Of Jamaica @BCCF 6/22/17 thru 12/1/17 serving 6 month sentence:  Resist Arrest / Rec Stolen Prop

►Of Brazil @BCCF 8/21/17 thru 12/5/17 serving 6 month sentence:  Drug, Possess Class B / Drug, Possess Class E / Drug, Possess Class C / Drug, Possess Class B

►Of Bulgaria @BCCF/Dukes 7/7/15 thru 7/24/17 serving sentences:  Negligent OP MV / Assault With Dangerous Weapon / Harassment Order, 2 Years and Photograph Unsuspecting Nude Person = 2 Years 6 Months

News Release

December 18, 2017

Another Country Heard From

For the past 11 years, Sheriff Jim Cummings has thrown his support behind Cape Cod Cares for the Troops (CCC4T) and its immense task of sending holiday comfort packages to our fighting men and women.

CCC4T, for its part, has given the Sheriff the privilege of including a thank-you letter inside each parcel, and this year brought a new wrinkle when another country was heard from, literally: Denmark.

“On behalf of the Danes,” writes an Army lieutenant colonel whose first name is Lars, “I want to thank you for your outstanding support. This is deeply appreciated and really comforts us.   It is very touching when people you have never seen are actually thinking of your wellbeing.”

Lt. Colonel Lars, who in his letter to the Sheriff describes himself as just another soldier “somewhere in the Middle East,” gets right to the point in explaining the common mission: “We are here to fight the beast of extremism alongside our American allies and friends.”

In his sign-off, below his name and rank, there is not the alphabet soup one is used to from an American soldier – where designations like brigade, regiment, and company (preceded by numbers) can be commonplace. Just one word: Denmark.

The tiny Scandinavian country and the rest of Europe, except neutral Switzerland, have joined the U.S. in the current military initiative against ISIS (Operation Inherent Resolve), according to the Defense Department.   That would be 74 countries in all. The Danish lieutenant colonel is assigned to an American unit.

Approximately 1,400 packages were delivered this year by CCC4T and about 28,000 have been since the first payload was sent overseas in 2004. This year’s batch was prepared and airmailed late last month.

Christmas Trees,
Wrapped and Ready

They come bearing Christmas trees – Members of the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office join officials at the Quashnet School in Mashpee as they prepare to deliver trees, live and wrapped, to several families who surely appreciated the gesture. The two from the Office of Sheriff Jim Cummings are John Gillen (far left) and Shaun Cahill (second from right). School principal MaryKate O’Brien is on the right and assistant principal Suzanne Avtges is in the middle.

Cahill and Avtges got the trees from Brian Morrison, a Barnstable police officer, who in turn got them from local business owner E.J. Jaxtimer. Morrison gave most of the trees to families in Barnstable, but because the police officer works closely with Cahill and Gillen he put some aside for Mashpee as well.

Sheriff Cummings's monthly column
For Cape Cod's Weeklies
December, 2017

What it is – What it is not

by Sheriff James Cummings

The national and local debate about immigration policy is often emotional (on both sides) and occasionally ripe with “fake news.”

Recently my office filed an application with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to participate in their “Jail Model” program.  There seems to be some confusion about what 287(g) is and what it is not.  Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce selected federal immigration law.

Specifically Section 287(g) allows the DHS and law enforcement agencies to make agreements, which require the state and local officers to receive training and work under the supervision of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  ICE provides the officers with authorization to identify, process, and when appropriate to further detain immigration offenders already in their custody.  For the Sheriff’s Office, this means those who have already been arrested, arraigned and placed in our custody by a state judge on a separate and unique local criminal offense.

The 287(g) program is all about identifying criminality, not nationality.  The 287(g) agreement we requested to be a part of operates under a jail enforcement model, which functions solely within the confines of our jail in Bourne.   Under this model an alien must first be arrested by local law enforcement on other criminal charges and brought to the facility before any 287(g) screening activity takes place.

The goal of this program is to enhance public safety by identifying aliens, lodging immigration detainers, and initiating removal proceedings by issuing charging documents on potentially deportable criminal aliens booked into the jail facility.

The Sheriff’s Office is not authorized or interested in patrolling our communities and detaining those individuals who are simply here illegally.  Such investigations and detentions are exclusively the responsibility of ICE.  The Sheriff’s Office role with illegal immigrants occurs solely within the inside of the correctional facility, thus there should be no impact to the reporting of crime in our community by someone who is here illegally.

Any immigrant in the Country illegally and who commits a crime here in Barnstable County and is held on bail or without bail for that crime would be held at our correctional facility until their local charges are resolved, and then they would be turned over to ICE for disposition of any immigration related  charges.  Should an ICE detainee be held at the correctional facility for any time related to their ICE issues, the federal government would reimburse the Commonwealth $93 per day, thus there is no extra cost to the taxpayers.  We also have the capacity (we have over 200 available beds) within our existing facility and the staff to participate in the 287(g) program.

In Barnstable County, I put the public safety first and foremost.  Following the law and working together with our law enforcement partners at the local, state and federal level to remove violent and dangerous criminals from the streets and neighborhoods of Cape Cod will be enhanced by the 287(g) program.   If you don’t like the law as it is, you should call your elected members of Congress.  In the meantime, I and all of my deputies are sworn to uphold and enforce it.

News Release
November 7, 2017

Inmates help parishioners' pocketbooks

Scraper inmate Jason Gulley, bottom man, joins top-man and fellow painter at work on garage next to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Pocasset. The church uses the 1½-story, two-car structure as sort of a grand storage shed, one badly in need of repair. Chosen colors: white and battleship gray.

This close-up better demonstrates the structure's shabby exterior being tended to by the five-man inmate crew. The three- to four-day job will wind up saving parishioners about $4,000, based on the value of volunteer labor as computed by a US Labor department formula ($29/hour).

Another top man/bottom man configuration, only this time it's two different inmates. Just to the right of the garage, as viewed here from backside, are 14 more or less full-size crucifixes. While the ritual (Stations of the Cross) is universal within church liturgy, having the crosses outside as well as inside is much less commonplace – especially in New England and other colder climes.

Volunteer parishioners Jim Gonet (left) and Joe Prioli make a mental note of something that will need removing from beneath the roof overhang – a hornet's nest! Prioli, incidentally, often sees inmate crews at another assignment in Bourne, restocking shelves at its food pantry on MacArthur Boulevard. "If these guys [inmates] aren't there when the truck comes," says Prioli, "it doesn't get unloaded." Food pantry volunteers help, of course, but Prioli's point was the critical mass brought by inmates.

News Release
November 7, 2017

New and Innovative Programs
at Barnstable County Correctional Facility for Female Inmates

Bourne – In an effort to provide innovative and effective treatment programs to reduce inmate recidivism, Sheriff James M. Cummings has added two additional rehabilitative programs for the female inmates at the correctional facility in Bourne.  Both programs are available to pre-trial and sentenced female inmates.

“While we usually only have a few dozen female inmates at any given time, it is critical to their recovery to search out and provide programs with proven results.   By adding a weekly trauma-sensitive yoga session and partnering with treatment staff from Gosnold, I believe we will provide additional resources to aid our female inmates to be more aware of the reasons they find themselves incarcerated and take positive steps to not repeat it.” said Sheriff Cummings.

Below is a summary of the two new programs approved by Sheriff Cummings:

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga for Women

The objective of trauma-sensitive therapy is not to access emotions or dredge up trauma memories, but rather to help participants heighten their body awareness—to notice what is happening inside their bodies—and thereby learn to release tension, reduce and control fear and arousal, and tolerate sensation. The practice is based on the growing understanding that trauma takes a heavy toll on the body and the brain. When the body absorbs and anticipates trauma, individuals are likely to experience hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and an inability to calm themselves. Trauma-sensitive yoga helps them learn to calm their minds and regulate their physical responses and, thus, their emotions. They're able to learn to recognize and tolerate physical sensations and thereby regain a feeling of safety inside their bodies.

Guiding Good Choices

Guiding Good Choices is based on the social development model and its primary objectives are to enhance protective parent-child interactions and to reduce child risk for early substance use initiation. GGC consists of a three-session, multimedia drug resistance and education program for parents of adolescents. The parents receive three sessions of instruction including material on the (a) identification of risk factors for adolescent substance abuse and a strategy to enhance protective family processes; (b) development of effective parenting practices, particularly regarding substance use issues; (c) family conflict management; and (d) use of family meetings as a vehicle for improving family management and positive child involvement. Each session runs approximately one hour in length.


Sheriff Cummings's monthly column
For Cape Cod's Weeklies
November, 2017

Recent crime reform proposal could do more harm than good

by Sheriff James M. Cummings

From my career as a Detective Lieutenant with the State Police of more than 20 years and serving as Cape Cod’s Sheriff for the last 18, I have seen the pendulum of being tough and soft on crime swing both ways.

Now, in response to the continued opioid drug epidemic and related rise in criminal activity, a number of proposals are being considered on Beacon Hill.   While this problem is certainly not new to Massachusetts, there now seems to be a rush to “get something done.”  While well-intended, I believe several of the recent proposals under consideration could do more harm than good.

One proposal that seems to be getting some traction is the elimination of “mandatory minimum sentences” for drug trafficking.  Despite what some advocates might have you believe, mandatory minimum sentences are not being handed out for non-violent drug users.  In fact, largely because of Governor Baker’s Landmark Opioid legislation there has never been more of a focus on drug treatment and jail diversion for those suffering from an addiction.

According to the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, a comprehensive review of their records show that prosecutors exercise their discretion with good judgment so that incarceration is reserved for only the most violent and repeat offenders.  Reducing prison sentences for drug dealers and traffickers will result in more crime, not less.

In the middle of this epidemic it is indeed prudent to be compassionate to those addicted, but also tough on the dealers and traffickers who are poisoning and killing our children.  For example, the current proposal at the State House calls for eliminating the lowest weights for cocaine from 18 to 100 grams. There is no credible argument that 18 grams of cocaine is intended for someone’s personal use.  With additional evidence of distribution, 18 grams of cocaine should be adequate proof that the defendant is a drug dealer and not just someone struggling with substance abuse.  To require the defendant to be in possession of 100 grams of cocaine to prove distribution has no basis in law or common sense.

Let’s remember that being sentenced to a House of Correction can have a positive impact.  At the Barnstable County Correctional Facility we run the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) Program.  This program is a military-based therapeutic community incorporating discipline, respect for authority and a coordinated approach involving treatment, education and security staff.  The treatment component integrates cognitive behavioral therapy, life skills training and substance abuse treatment. Using a structured curriculum proven by research we address relapse prevention for addiction and other anti-social behaviors.  For those who complete the RSAT program, less than 1 in 5 returns to the criminal justice system. This program works and should be a model how to address the problem.

Also being debated at the State House is the subject of retroactively eliminating mandatory minimum sentences.  This proposal would permit the release of hundreds of already convicted drug traffickers.   To believe that releasing previously convicted drug dealers and traffickers back into our neighborhood is going to reduce crime and help in the drug epidemic is illogical.

From my perspective, there is a clear difference from someone who develops an addiction and commits a non-violent crime versus someone who purposely distributes narcotics on our streets.  Yes, we should provide treatment in our community and correctional facilities for those who wish to recover from an addiction; however, compassionate treatment for a drug user should not translate into releasing dangerous dealers and traffickers from prison.  To keep serious offenders out of jail and reduce prison sentences for drug dealers and traffickers will result in more crime -  not less and will do nothing to aid in the recovery of those suffering from addiction.

News Release
Monday, October 24th 2017

Sheriff's vessel tussles with Canadian Navy (only a drill!)

BUZZARDS BAY – Lawmen playing the role of international pirates attempted to board a Canadian warship this weekend near waters off the Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse, but no one was hurt or injured because it was only a drill.  But that’s not to say plenty of sweat wasn’t expended on both decks.

The two vessels were underway at the time.

The role-playing “pirates” were actually assigned to the marine assault unit of the Upper Cape Cod Regional Special Response Team.

That left the sailors aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Moncton “frankly impressed by our ability to board and do it so quickly,” noted assault team officer-in- charge Christopher Eordekian, a captain with the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office.  His smaller “pirate” boat, meanwhile, the 31-foot sheriff’s patrol vessel, made for a realistic fit in its role of hostile boarders.

The Moncton, by contrast, is a 181-foot corvette, six-time as long as the Sheriff’s vessel but a step down from destroyers and frigates.  Its primary mission is coastal defense.  The ship was commissioned in 1998, coincidentally the same year the Barnstable County’s Sheriff was elected; it is the second Moncton to carry that name and is homeported in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia; namesake Moncton is one of the few other big cities in that providence.

Many of the 37 Canadian sailors took up battle stations at strategic firing points aboard the vessel as the “pirate ship” approached and boarding ensued.

Moncton steamed about 400 miles southwest to reach Buzzards Bay and its voyage is far from over.  Its annual sea training cruise in the Atlantic will take the crew much further south – to Tampa, Florida and the Caribbean, among other places.

US Coast guardsmen aboard its 45-foot shark boat out of nearby Woods Hole were briefed on the exercise and served in the safety vessel function.

"Hostiles alongside – Note shadows Sheriff's boat is casting on Moncton. Front shadow is the SRT officer holding pole used to affix ladder hooks to side of vessel being boarded. Shadow behind him is rifle-toting SRT member. Shadow behind that is the small foredeck of the boarding craft itself.

Ladder up – Which has the "hostiles" scrambling up the Canadian warship's side.

Coast Guardsmen from the shark boat working aboard the drill's safety vessel. "They did a great job," says Eordekian.

News Release
Monday, October 23rd 2017

Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office helps nab one of state’s “Most Wanted”

The Special Operations unit of the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office provided information that helped lead to the weekend arrest of Thomas Vargus in the small hamlet of Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania.

Vargus, 45, has been on Massachusetts State Police’s “Most Wanted” list since he randomly stabbed a dog in Taunton on September 18th and proceeded to assault the woman who was walking it.

He was arrested without incident after leaving a Marcus Hook diner with a convicted felon from the Pagan Outlaws motorcycle gang, a man who had shot and partially blinded a New Jersey state trooper. The man was sentenced to a federal prison on that charge and Vargus at the time was behind the same bars for federal narcotics crimes.

In last month’s Taunton incident, witnesses say Vargus used a machete in his attack on both the dog and the woman. Both survived and Vargus now faces charges for the vicious twin assaults.

Besides the Sheriff’s Office and Taunton and Marcus Hook Police, State Police in Massachusetts listed the US Marshals Office, Brockton and North Attleboro Police, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons as assisting agencies.


Sheriff Cummings's monthly column
For Cape Cod's Weeklies
October, 2017

Knowledge, interpretation, follow-through: The keys to inmate classification

by Michael Shea

“Knowledge is power” is a phrase generally attributed to Sir Francis Bacon and from where I sit my reaction is a hearty, “Amen.”

It aptly describes the “secret” to running this or any other inmate classification system inside a jail or prison. In this case, the more specific our knowledge of each inmate, the better. It enables us to take the critical next step, which is doing our best to house inmates in the right cell and on the right unit. Placement is everything.

Our correctional facility has 12 housing units, 300 “living” cells, and would bulge to 588 inmates at full capacity. Most cells are double-bunked but some are singles. Our current population hovers around 335, and as you might guess the higher the count goes the harder it is to successfully navigate what we call “enemy issues.” (They boil down to “a fight waiting to happen” and in those cases the odds are reduced when potential adversaries don’t share a cell. If they are housed in different units, the chance of a clash is virtually eliminated. Even better.)

Just as important is keeping a possible predator away from a weakling inmate. Again, it is the information gathered and correctly interpreted by my classification officers that is the first line of defense here. I phrase it that way because all officers who work inside the jail, and all civilian staff for that matter, are encouraged to pass useful intelligence our way. “If you see something, say something.” Works here, too.

We can never have too much information. Just not enough. The data we gather is wide-ranging: profile questions, family and background, medical and mental health issues, education, job skills, substance abuse history, and more. All go into the hopper.

There seems to be a curious carrot and stick approach to making effective inmate housing assignments. The stick was just mentioned – attempting to keep structural barriers between potentially combative inmates. The carrot is getting inmates into units where we have useful tools for life after jail (and they are of a mind to utilize them). Occupations of greater nuance would call it matching clients to resources.

This last is trickier said than done and is a relatively new challenge shouldered by our topnotch crew of classifying officers. That’s because Sheriff Jim Cummings, correctly in my view, is bringing the best of our treatment programs to pre-trial inmates.

Until recently, many were available only to our sentenced population. Now, pre-trialers can get their high school equivalency diploma, take part in our opiate-blocker Vivitrol initiative, and even be housed in the most therapeutic quarters we have, our Residential Substance Abuse Treatment unit. It’s a model being replicated nationally.

We also have treatment specialists and in-house teachers making the rounds in House 1, the section of the jail where we house those awaiting trial. While all “good stuff,” as the saying goes, the upshot for classification is even more occasions where things could break bad if we introduced the wrong inmate into an ever-changing mix.

You might think inmate classification is easier to do at these lower-level, county facilities. But you’d be wrong. At medium and maximum security prisons, you deal only with serious felons doing long stretches. While that doesn’t make them easy places to work, for sure, officers are at least dealing with a population that’s far less diverse. Here, on the other hand, while some serve sentences for drunk driving and the like, others await trial for murder, rape, or menacing weapons and drug offenses.

The job has also become more challenging because an increasing percentage of inmates are drug or alcohol-addled. More and more are mentally ill. Then there’s the explosion of opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil. We do our best to find them the right cell assignments, but some inmates don’t really belong here in the first place -- especially that mentally ill segment. I know the Sheriff is actively seeking ways to remedy this as well.

So there it is. Thoroughness, vigilance, and never letting your guard down. That’s inmate classification in a nutshell. About the same qualities first-rate line officers exhibit daily, in a place where an exacting eye for detail is like manna from heaven.

I wouldn’t say classifying inmates is easy, but it never hurts to make it look so. As a veteran of the trenches once told me back in the old jail: “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” Good advice.


[Michael Shea is a lieutenant who began his career with the Sheriff’s Office 19 years ago. In addition to overseeing classification, he’s manned almost every security post in the both the existing Barnstable County Correctional Facility in Bourne and its predecessor jail in Barnstable Village.]


Cape Cod Times
By: Madeline List
September 26, 2017

Donations will help Florida residents affected by hurricane.

BOURNE — The Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office has organized a drive to collect supplies for Florida residents affected by Hurricane Irma, Sheriff James Cummings said.

Sheriff’s departments across Massachusetts are partnering with the Florida Sheriffs Association to collect and distribute items to those struggling to rebuild after the hurricane, he said.


mashpee night out Cahill and Roth