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Thomas Bowler: As Berkshire sheriff, I've seen this office do great work for inmates and the community. I want to continue that work

Twelve years ago, when I first ran for sheriff, the word “collaboration” was in every speech that I gave on the campaign trail. After a 24-year career in the Pittsfield Police Department, I was very aware of the needs of people I encountered every day, first as a patrol officer on the streets and then as a detective investigating major crimes. I also came to understand that no one agency in Berkshire County could go it alone. We all needed each other.

From my first day on the job as sheriff, my incredible staff and I began building strong and lasting collaborations throughout this community that would meet two very important goals: the first was to provide inmates at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction with the kind of support, programs and services that would enable them to leave the jail better prepared to live productive lives.

The second goal was to use the untapped potential of a highly trained corrections staff — augmented by an inmate labor force — to serve the cities and towns of Berkshire County in ways that truly mattered.

Today, our collaborations and partnerships include Williams College, which provides one of the more than 30 educational programs offered to inmates; Berkshire Community College’s welding and manufacturing classes, which add to the many work training programs offered at the jail; and work release programs at 11 local manufacturers, contractors and businesses, which often hire our inmates upon release.

We’ve created a first-of-its kind aquaponics program at our facility where inmates grow lettuce for their own meals and to donate to many worthy food programs. Other groundbreaking initiatives that involve strong collaborations include our Second Street, Second Chances program for formerly incarcerated, justice-involved individuals. The Sheriff’s Office, along with five great partners — BCC, Berkshire Museum, Community Legal, the Berkshire Innovation Center and Berkshire Health Systems — provide wraparound support services, case management and workforce training opportunities so that released inmates have a better shot at a successful reentry.

Another program that is a first of its kind among sheriff offices in the state is the medically tailored meals program, in which inmates work with a nutritionist to prepare meals designed for people with chronic illnesses who do not have access to healthy food. The partnership is a collaboration between the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and the Berkshire Fallon Health Collaborative, including BHS, Fallon Health and Community Health Programs. We deliver meals daily to people in our community, from Clarksburg to Sheffield.

During search and rescue events, community public safety officials rely on the trained staff and equipment provided by the Sheriff’s Office to find lost loved ones and to assist in other emergencies. Over the last 11 years, our inmate Community Service Crews have provided Berkshire cities and towns with 37,094 hours of labor.

How effective are we? Under my leadership, the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office has obtained top accreditations from the American Correctional Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act Commission. Known as the “triple crown” in correctional accreditations, these elite organizations confirm that the Sheriff’s Office operates at a very high level.

None of this would be possible without the skill, talent, dedication and sheer professionalism of the extraordinary group of men and women who work with me and who share my vision for turning lives around and improving our community. My deepest thanks to all of them.

I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has offered support for our efforts. I respectfully ask for your vote on Sept. 6.

Thomas Bowler was elected sheriff of Berkshire County in 2010 and has served two terms. He is running for reelection.

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