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Sheriff Candidates Discuss Incarcerated Women, Operations in Debate
By Brian Rhodes,
04:24AM / Tuesday, August 09, 2022
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Moderator Dan Valenti asked the candidates questions and allowed them to ask each other questions without time limits on answers.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The two candidates for Berkshire County sheriff, incumbent Thomas Bowler and challenger Alf Barbalunga, questioned each other on incarcerated women, operations and more in a debate on Monday. 


Moderator Daniel Valenti, who sponsored the debate, asked the candidates questions and allowed them to ask each other questions without a time limit on answers in the candidates' second forum. Bowler and Barbalunga both took part in July in a forum held by the Berkshire County NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and the ACLU of Massachusetts.


Bowler, who has held the position since 2010, said his experience in public safety sets him apart. 


"There's nobody in this room was more about public safety than I," he said. "I've spent 37 years in public safety. And we've forged, when it comes to public safety, a tremendous amount of partnerships and community partnerships throughout the county." 


Barbalunga said those looking for focus on fiscal stewardship, public safety and diversity should vote for him. He explained that being a sheriff has always been his dream career.


"I don't want to be a senator. I don't want to be the chief of police. I don't want to be president of the U.S.; I wanted to be sheriff," he said. "So every step of this way. Doing my good work is setting me up for this run. ... I've done the work. I worked for three different sheriffs in five facilities across the state."


Bowler asked Barbalunga about the incarcerated women of Berkshire County who are currently sent to the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center in Chicopee. Barbalunga criticized the decision to move the inmates and said the process of moving them back would begin his first day in office. 


"[There was] no thought process to families traveling down there whatsoever; three hours round-trip for sure, no thought process to different types of on-boarding and getting through to visit," he said. 


Bowler responded, saying the inmates in Chicopee are getting a level of treatment that they cannot get in the Berkshire County. He cited long-term residential care as an example.


"The services that they provide down there and the opportunity those individuals have is much greater than it would be back here," he said. 


Barbalunga also criticized Bowler's management during his tenure and the lack of diversity on his executive staff. He said he disagreed with Bowler's COVID-19 response and his decision to shut down several operations during the pandemic.


"You don't shut down operations. You don't shut down GEDs. You don't shut down therapy. You don't shut down volunteers coming in; that's your lifeblood of the community, and say, 'Hey, you can't come in anymore,'" he said. 


Bowler said he made the decision to shut down operations to protect inmates and staff from getting sick. 


"We shut down the visitations, we shut down people coming in to protect people from getting COVID. We had to protect our staff, our inmates, and each and all their family," he said.


When asked by Valenti who he supported in the district attorney election, Bowler said he supports Timothy Shugrue but would still support incumbent Andrea Harrington if re-elected. Barbalunga declined to say who he planned to vote for but said he has connections to both candidates and would support either in office.

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