Sheriff Steve Tompkins is a leader in the criminal justice system when it comes to understanding the heavy responsibility he has to keep his prison staff and those incarcerated in his facilities safe at all times. His protocol and programs are both innovative and the high professional standard he demands from his staff are the keys to his success as a law enforcement expert.

The Massachusetts Sheriffs are committed to serving the communities they are sworn to protect. This responsibility includes the health and well-being of their justice-involved populations and the dedicated men and women on their teams of corrections professionals. Every sheriff sees it as their duty to ensure that the public safety and public health needs of all who live and work within their facilities are fully met. That responsibility only grows during global emergencies, and the sheriffs are meeting the COVID-19 pandemic head-on.

Although the authority to release a detainee lies with the courts and the respective District Attorney’s Office, the sheriffs are committed to working with the judiciary as well as Law Enforcement partners to identify appropriate persons eligible for release. The priority of Sheriffs is always to have a re-entry release plan that helps individuals transition back into the community. A lack of community support services, particularly during a public health crisis, could set individuals and the communities up for failure.

“Clearly, we will work in concert with the courts and abide by any decision to release those in our care and custody, should they make that determination,” said Sheriff Tompkins. “But, one thing that should be of paramount importance to any such consideration is a careful assessment of whether those people targeted for release will be safer out in the streets than in our facilities.”

“It is critically important that they have access to the necessary health care, mental health and addiction recovery services, which we are fully equipped to deliver, and a safe, secure place to stay, because without those crucial things, the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 increases, along with the potential spread of infection to others in their radius.”

The Massachusetts Sheriffs and their staff are working tirelessly to safely manage their staff and inmate populations and to curb the spread of COVID-19 to their county jails and houses of correction. They provide an exceptional level of care in their facilities, and are prepared for public health scenarios such as this. The sheriffs have implemented proactive and strategic steps to limit the transmission of COVID-19 including:

  *   Providing in-service training on infectious diseases and emergency preparedness for staff before, during and after this crisis.

  *   Deploying enhanced intake screening protocols to evaluate new arrivals for symptoms of COVID-19 and limit potential transmission.

  *   Providing a high level of medical care for all individuals while employing specific protocols when potential or confirmed cases of COVID-19 arise.

  *   Engagement with medical experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) to ensure that their medical practices are maximally effective and responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  *   Encouraging staff and their justice-involved populations to follow the CDC-recommended practices regarding handwashing, social distancing, continuous sanitizing of facilities and general transmission prevention. Signage has increased throughout the facilities to serve as a reminder of these practices.

  *   Enhancing screening of staff entering the facility.

  *   Temporarily suspending in-person visits for families and friends while enhancing alternative means of communication. This includes a range of options such as additional phone calls, mail services or, where available, increased access to text messaging and video conferencing.

  *   Working with the courts, enhancing videoconferencing and teleconferencing technology to ensure that an inmate’s access to the court is continued.

In addition to strategic efforts the Sheriffs have implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities, the Sheriffs are working proactively with other law enforcement agencies and community advocates to review the individualized cases of those in their custody to ensure appropriate care and release information is provided.

It is crucial to each sheriff that every individual leaves their custody with an individualized and specialized care plan. Releasing individuals without that level of preparation would be a dereliction of the sheriff’s duty – and would not set up the justice-involved individual or their communities for a successful reentry.

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