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Alf Barbalunga: I want to bring a different approach to the Berkshire Sheriff's Office. Here's why and how

Since I started my campaign, I have often been asked why am I running for sheriff and why I would want to run against a longtime incumbent.

First and foremost, I want to protect my community. I was born here, went to school here, am raising a family here and I come from a family that highly values public service. I want my wife and children to feel safe wherever they go in Berkshire County, and I want that for you and your family, too. The fact is that one of the most likely individuals to commit a crime is one who has already committed a crime. As such, if we want to make our communities safer, we must focus on those already in jail. That is the realm of the sheriff.

I’m currently the chief probation officer of the Southern Berkshire District Court. I have a degree in business administration and have 28 years of combined corrections, law enforcement and public safety experience. I have dedicated my professional career to working with those who have already committed crimes to help ensure that when they return home — as almost all inmates do — they do not reoffend. The approach I have used exceptionally well is what I call the “anti-recidivism triangle”: providing individuals the necessary support for substance-use mitigation, educational enhancement and employment opportunities. If our goal is safer communities, we are best served by helping inmates find sobriety, form healthy self-identities and develop job skills so they can become productive members of our communities.

I have chosen to run against the incumbent for the following reasons. After watching him manage the Sheriff’s Office for the past 12 years, I know we can do better. Every day I work with probationers who have not received the consistent programmatic support they needed during their time in jail to successfully reintegrate into society. The current sheriff’s programs come and go, and outcomes are not tracked. Even such a basic metric as recidivism is not monitored. I will begin tracking recidivism rates and reallocate funds to help close the revolving door to incarceration.

I will reform management of the sheriff’s $20 million-plus operating budget, which he referred to during a recent debate as his “dynasty.” In 2016, Berkshire County had the highest yearly cost per inmate in Massachusetts at more than $87,000. Our jail is two-thirds empty, and the executive salary budget has become severely bloated with increasing six-figure administrative positions, some paying nearly $200,000 annually, including unnecessary perks like state cars and gas cards. Using cues from state studies on correctional spending, I will make sure the budget is directed toward programs, not executive pay and perks.

I fought the same fight as chairman of the Pittsfield School Committee, steering money to educational programming and away from management raises. Lastly, I will publish the budget to ensure taxpayers have the transparency they deserve.

I will return female inmates back to Berkshire County. The current sheriff sends female inmates, even those awaiting trial, to a jail in Chicopee, where they are often exposed to a more hardened class of criminal. He claims these women are better off. I agree with the experts that say that being a three-hour round trip away from their children, families, legal representation and homes is unjust and unproductive. We have the facilities and personnel here to successfully support these women close to their homes and their support networks. We want to improve their chances of rehabilitation, not make an already difficult situation even harder. Separate but equal is not equal.

I will do much better at increasing diversity within the executive leadership team and throughout the rank and file. As president of the Massachusetts Chief Probation Officers Association, I increased the racial and gender diversity of our executive leadership committee from 29 percent to 68 percent. I will prioritize diversity inside the sheriff’s office, including within the rank-and-file membership.

I will reduce inmates’ substance use problems. I cannot overstate how important it is that we take the opportunity while they are in jail to do this. In 2007, I helped create the Berkshire Partnership in Care pilot program to combat opiate addiction for those on probation. This was 12 years before the current sheriff followed suit, and only after a federal court case that put an end to his “abstinence and cold turkey only” policy.

As a local resident, I want the streets to be safe for my wife and children. To me, that’s a priority, and I want that for our community as well. It’s time for change. With your vote for me in the Sept. 6 Democratic Primary, I will bring justice that works to Berkshire County, and begin the hard work necessary to secure our safe future. Thank you.

Alf Barbalunga is the chief probation officer of the Southern Berkshire District Court. He is running for Berkshire sheriff.

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