Editor's note: This is one of two profiles of the candidates for Berkshire County sheriff in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary.
PITTSFIELD — It's a race that, if won, would deliver on a dream Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga says he's had for decades.
And with days left until the Democratic primary Sept. 6, Barbalunga sees a path to unseat the incumbent, two-term Sheriff Thomas Bowler. The primary will decide the race, because there are no other candidates from other parties running in November.
Asked why he seeks the office, Barbalunga recalls a childhood moment. He said he was about 8 years old when he asked his father's cousin, the late Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., former longtime Berkshire County sheriff, what he did for work.
Massimiano didn't say something like corrections, public safety or law enforcement, the candidate recalls. Massimiano said is job was "helping people."
Barbalunga says that shaped his vision of what a sheriff should be. "It means empathy," Barbalunga said. "It means treatment, more than the law enforcement putative aspect."
His campaign has been, in his words, a "90-day sprint" to the primary, one that started after he took a required leave of absence from his job as the chief probation officer of the Southern Berkshire District Court to campaign for office.
He broke his campaign down into stages and describes one of them as the process of "digging into" Bowler's policies "and what we call products."
"That's the bottom line," he said recently, describing how he views Bowler's performance. "We have a product, you get this much money and we push out a product. And we feel the product is flawed on multiple levels. And we illustrate that almost daily."
His team attempts to illustrate issues with press releases, numbering well over 20.
Barbalunga says his campaign seeks to show voters why they should care about the contest.
The sheriff's office largely functions to operate the jail facility on Cheshire Road and to retain custody of inmates.
The people incarcerated in that facility have been, since Bowler's first six-year term starting in 2011, men. A primary policy issue that divides the two candidates is where Berkshire County women should be held. Barbalunga is campaigning on a promise to have women once again held in the $34 million Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction, which was built under Massimiano and opened in 2001.
While Bowler says incarcerated women have access to needed gender-specific services at the regional facility in Chicopee where they're now held, Barbalunga says those services can be duplicated, then exceeded, in Berkshire County, keeping women closer to their families and their lawyers.
"We believe that the families suffer, the legal representation suffers, other ancillary agencies suffer ... with the amount of time they have to put into this," he said. "We believe our economy suffers in Berkshire County, hands down. We have clinicians and counselors here that are wonderful, that had jobs removed because we sent our women to Hampden [County]."
He indicated he would make adjustments to office staffing, salaries and fuel costs to meet the needs of incarcerated women locally at the Cheshire Road facility, without increasing the budget.
"Bring them back, give them better services," he said. "And then, when we adjust to redirecting financing — whether that's a grant, or personnel movements, we will even accelerate services after that."
He also wants to stop running programs from the old jail on Second Street in Pittsfield and move them to the building on Cheshire Road.
Barbalunga sees drug treatment, education and training as building blocks for people to get jobs after incarceration.
"If they don't have a job, I don't care what you're doing up there. Nothing is going to happen. They are going to be back to crime. People need to eat, that's a basic fact," he said. "They need to take care of their kids, they need a job."
Addressing the contentious tone of the race for sheriff, Barbalunga said it seems voters want candidates to be eloquent, and don't want them to "clash."
"Unfortunately, guess what, this is 2022 in America, and that ship sailed, which I can't stand. But it's illustrated by social media," he said.
He says his goal this summer, as a candidate, has been to "push out information" that illuminates what he calls "12 years of dysfunction" in the office of sheriff.
"That's one of the reasons I'm running ... I'm forced to step up," he said.