Most Massachusetts Residents Can’t Name Their Sheriff

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Public News Service
By Lily Bohlke

Fewer than one in five Bay State voters can correctly name their local sheriff, according to a recent survey.

To fill that knowledge gap, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has launched a voter education campaign to raise awareness about the life-changing decisions that sheriffs have the power to make.

Sheriffs oversee roughly 6,000 people every day in houses of correction and county jails. Laura Rótolo — director of the ACLU of Massachusetts field team — noted that 670,000 voters in 2016 cast votes for other elected offices, but left the sheriff’s space blank.

“That’s over half a million votes,” said Rótolo. “People that got out of their homes, went to the polling location, and did not make a choice for sheriff. And sheriffs have a really important role to play in the criminal legal system, in public safety and in our communities.”

Rótolo noted that sheriffs get multi-million dollar budgets from the state Legislature, to then allocate toward various programming — from addiction and mental-health treatment to educational, vocational, or transitional programs.

Massachusetts sheriffs serve six year terms; the last time they were up for re-election was 2016.

In the survey, about two-thirds of voters did not think sheriffs have a major impact on the criminal legal system, but Rótolo emphasized that they do.

She noted that people in county facilities are serving sentences of two-and-a-half years or less, and it’s important to make sure they are ready to re-enter their communities.

“And they come back either ready to re-enter and to join their communities or having spent two and a half years without adequate education and treatment,” said Rótolo. “Sheriffs are the ones who make those decisions every day. And really it comes down to voters who are the ones who can hold them accountable.”

In 2016, not a single incumbent sheriff lost his seat, and only four even faced challengers.

This year’s Massachusetts primary election is September 6; the general election is November 8.


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