National Crime Topics Dominate Essex County Sheriff’s Forum

Candidates for Essex County Sheriff, Democrat Kevin F. Coppinger and independents Mark E. Archer and Kevin Leach, took questions last night at Haverhill High School. (WHAV News photograph.)

National issues relating to where to place suspects who have been arrested but not convicted, privatization of prisons and mandatory sentencing took center stage during a forum of candidates for Essex County sheriff Tuesday night.

The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill, took place at Haverhill High School. It included Lynn Democrat Kevin F. Coppinger and independents Mark E. Archer, of Bedford and formerly of Lynn, and Kevin Leach of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Republican sheriff’s candidate Anne M. Manning-Martin of Peabody did not participate because of a schedule conflict. The forum was broadcast live by 97.9 WHAV.

An audience member question suggested criminal suspects who have not been convicted still face imprisonment among potentially dangerous inmates while awaiting trial. The questioner asked whether candidates would support legislative changes to address the problem.

Archer called for changes, saying the county House of Correction was designed to handle 600 people, but is often used to house three times as many.

“We’re warehousing people. We have over 1,500 to 1,800 people at various times being warehoused at the House of Correction not being offered the programs and services that they need to actually re-enter our communities and be vibrant members of our community.”

Coppinger said there are alternatives to imprisoning people awaiting trial.

“To use the office of Community Corrections. Perhaps, putting them on a (electronic monitoring) bracelet, these individuals on a bracelet, to get them back into the community.”

Leach did not answer whether he would support legislative changes, saying the sheriff’s department simply carries out the orders of the court.

Nationally, some have called for the abolition of privately-operated prisons. Opponents suggest too many people are improperly incarcerated simply to meet the income demands of private operators. All three candidates said they oppose such privatization, but for different reasons.

Archer said the issue for him is one of “accountability and transparency.”

“Jails should not be a place where they are for-profit.  These are human beings who are being housed in the jails.”

Coppinger said prison medical care is already privatized and it may already cost too much at $8.6 million annually. He said the biggest problem, however, is the cost of handing off prisoners between the House of Correction and hospitals.

“Hire two correctional officers on overtime to transport those individuals to one of the four local hospitals. And that’s a $3 million tab.” Coppinger said he would ask for an audit of these costs. The solution, he said, may be to hire a nurse and physician to handle minor illnesses at the prison.

Candidates did not agree on whether the legislature should continue to force judges to issue mandatory sentences.

Archer said minimum sentences should be repealed. He explained he worked as an undercover Massachusetts State Police officer and found “The war on drugs does not work” for those with addiction issues. He said he prefers probation and treatment programs for low-level offenders.

On the other hand, Coppinger said favors mandatory minimum sentences for major offenders especially in light of opiate-related drug deaths. However, he argued, laws revoking drivers’ licenses should be repealed. He explained society benefits when those in treatment are allowed to go to their jobs.

Leach said a community discussion needs to take place. “Is addiction a crime or is it a disease?” he asked. If there is agreement addiction is a disease, then offenders should enter secure treatment. Dealers, however, should continue receiving prison sentences, he said.

6 thoughts on “National Crime Topics Dominate Essex County Sheriff’s Forum

  1. Mark Archer is my choice. Anyone can say they are qualified, but few can say they are bipartisan. Mr Archer has the endorsement of the MA state police. He is a retired state trooper and an attorney.

  2. Interesting race to say the least. Finally people are able to understand what the Sheriff actually does. It is a big and tedious effort to house, care for, and manage not only the prisoners but the staff as well. It seems there are a lot of various pieces that all must work together for it all to work.

  3. it’s to bad that anne manning-martin could not make this event because she is the most qualified candidate. I saw her at NECCO and she was head and shoulders over the other candidates…the others are very unqualified….think & research before you vote…….

    • Anne Manning-Martin who chose not to participate in the Haverhill forum is surely not the most qualified. She has over 2 decades of experience in mid-level positions where she has worked hard I am sure. She currently manages a 24 bed unit at Shattuck Hospital. That is not comparable to Coppinger who has managed and been accountable for a multi-million annual budget and 200 employees. The Sheriff is an administrator who is responsible for a $66 million budget, over 600 employees and an average of 1200 inmates every day. Coppinger is the only candidate running who combines the administrative, budget management, law enforcement and public safety experience to bring needed changes to the Sheriff’s Department.

  4. Me Leach, let me get this right, addiction isn’t a crime, but what if the addict breaks into your house, steals your property and then buys drugs. Is that person not considered a criminal?
    People need to be held accountable.
    If the addict is taking his paycheck and spending his money on drugs and there is not a victim I’m all for rehabilitation.
    Punishment/rehabilitation and then more rehabilitation.