Democratic sheriff candidates square off

  • Kavern Lewis and Melissa Perry, who are candidates for Hampshire County sheriff, chat before the start of a candidates forum sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Melissa Perry, right, a candidate for Hampshire County sheriff, speaks beside other candidates Patrick Cahillane, second from left, and Kavern Lewis, during a candidates forum Tuesday sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette at First Churches of Northampton. League member Osa Flory, left, was the moderator. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Patrick Cahillane, who is a candidate for Hampshire County sheriff, speaks during a candidates forum Tuesday sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette at First Churches of Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kavern Lewis, who is a candidate for Hampshire County sheriff, speaks during a candidates forum sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Daily Hampshire Gazette Editor Stan Moulton, left, talks with Stephanie Slysz, of WHMP radio prior to a forum held for Hampshire County sheriff candidates Tuesday at First Churches of Northampton. They were part of a panel that asked the candidates questions. The forum was sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Patrick Cahillane, who is a candidate for Hampshire County sheriff, chats with Osa Flory before the start of a candidates forum Tuesday sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette at First Churches of Northampton. Flory, a member of the league, was the moderator. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Melissa Perry, who is a candidate for Hampshire County sheriff, speaks during a candidates forum Tuesday sponsored by the Northampton League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette at First Churches of Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

@mjmajchrowicz
Published: 8/17/2016 12:06:57 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Democratic candidates outlined their visions for the office of Hampshire sheriff when they convened for a community forum Tuesday evening before a full crowd at First Churches of Northampton.

Roughly three weeks ahead of the Sept. 8 primary, the field consists of three Democrats — Patrick Cahillane, Kavern Lewis and Melissa Perry — vying for their party’s spot in the general election, Nov. 8. There is also one Republican in the race, David Isakson, a Hadley police officer.

Meet the candidates

During opening statements, Cahillane touted his experience working at Hampshire Jail and House of Correction, rising through the ranks over a three-decade span to the position of assistant superintendent and special sheriff — effectively second in command of jail operations.

Lewis, an Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools substitute teacher, said there was a pressing need for the department to more actively engage with students and “youth.”

Perry, director of behavioral health nursing at Holyoke Medical Center and a registered nurse, said her time spent managing about 100 staffers combined with her “excellent” interpersonal and leadership skills, as well as her “humanistic” approach to rehabilitation and treatment, made her the right fit for the department’s chief law enforcement post.

Top priorities

When it comes to prioritizing on the job, Cahillane said it was important for department staff to maintain the momentum necessary to continue addressing the opioid crisis and mental health issues.

“We have lead in many of these aspects across the state, (and) we want to continue to lead,” Cahillane said. “I’ve worked day in and day out to make sure it is a better place for both the staff and the inmates. I want to continue to do that job.”

Cahillane also mentioned he is the only candidate in the race who possess the certification of correctional administrator, as designated by the American Jail Association.

Lewis’ top priorities as sheriff, he said, fall under rehabilitation as well as youth and community engagement.

“I think at this point in 2016, there’s been a lot of changes. And I think it’s important that we bring the sheriff’s department back into the modern day in the aspect of getting more involved in the community,” he added. “As we hear everything else that’s going on in the nation about the shootings — police versus community and community versus police — before it ends up in our neighborhood. We need to prevent that. We need to come together as one.”

For Perry, top priorities include fostering a positive and encouraging environment for jail staff.

“I think if the staff have that, it translates over to the people who are incarcerated,” she said. “I’d also like to promote more rehab (and more) post-incarceration programming as well as continuing to build affiliations with educational facilities, vocational facilities and other public agencies.”

Reducing recidivism

The candidates also sounded off on their ideas to curtail recidivism — the frequency of offenders who repeat criminal behavior after serving a sentence.

Candidates were told that, at Hampshire jail, about 20 percent of inmates who are released become repeat offenders and end up cycling back through the system.

Twenty percent may sound like a large figure on the surface, Cahillane said, but there have been times in the past three or four decades in which that number was as high as 50 percent.

Jail administration, he said, has worked tirelessly to reduce that rate. He also emphasized the importance of inmate participation in special programs in which folks learn practical skills and earn various certifications.

Lewis told the crowd that he would take a more individualized approach in assessing and determining programming for inmates, and thus curbing the number of inmates who re-offend.

“I think it’s important that … we get in these inmates’ heads and try and figure out what they specialize in, what exactly they can do and then piggy back off of that,” he said.

For Perry, she cited a $3.9 million grant she is now implementing at Holyoke Medical Center, where she works, that is aimed at reducing recidivism among patients with behavioral health and substance abuse issues.

“The key to our success thus far has been getting out into the community and meeting people where they’re at, going out into the streets and talking to people and seeing if there’s ways we can decrease barriers that make them come back in,” she said. “I would like to possibly explore that option in the correctional system.”

She added that she, like Cahillane and Lewis, supported maintaining educational and vocational opportunities within the jail.

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Moderators who prepared questions in advance include Stanley Moulton, Gazette night editor, and Stephanie Slysz of WHMP.

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com.




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