Incumbent Tom Bowler Announces His Candidacy For Sheriff

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This is a campaign statement submitted by Bowler's re-election team 

Thomas Bowler is running for a third term as Berkshire County sheriff. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thomas N. Bowler, who was sworn in for his first term as Berkshire County sheriff in 2011 and was re-elected in 2016, has announced that he will seek a third term in office.
"I'm surrounded by an incredible staff who share the same vision and passion that I have," Bowler said. "Together, we've achieved many advancements at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction that are increasing the inmates' chances of being successful when they're released."
Bowler pointed to a number of programs and initiatives launched by his administration that provide opportunities for inmates to address the issues that put them behind bars, and to leave the jail with more effective tools to lead better and more productive lives. They include many educational and work training programs, medical and mental health services, and programs that help them reconnect with their families and be better fathers for those who have children.
"A full 90 percent of the inmate population comes in with a substance use disorder, and 80 percent of them also have a mental health issue," he continued. "We deal successfully with a whole host of challenges. If they come back, we start all over again because that's our job. We give the inmates every opportunity to succeed, and we hope they choose to be successful."
Since 2011, fiscal responsibility has been among the Bowler's top priorities. 
"Out of respect for our taxpayers, we have operated within the parameters of our budget since Day 1," Bowler said. "This is the only jail in the state that can make this claim. Taxpayers should be proud."
During his first two terms as sheriff, Bowler has introduced many new initiatives. Among his proudest is the aquaponics greenhouse, launched in 2020, where inmates grow lettuce and other leafy vegetables to eat at the jail and donate to the public. The program, which has a STEM curriculum, grows 2,400 heads of lettuce at a time, of which 250 heads a week are consumed at the jail. More than 200,000 heads of lettuce have so far been donated to community programs in all Berkshire cities and towns.
Another initiative, Medically Tailored Meals, is a collaboration among Berkshire Health Systems, Fallon Health, Mass Health, CHP and the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction. The medical and insurance components of the collaboration identify community residents with chronic disease who may not be able to eat the nutritious meals that keep them well. Under the supervision of a nutritionist, inmates at the jail prepare meals tailored for people with chronic illness, package and freeze them. Other jail employees deliver them weekly.
"The inmates have learned a great deal from this program, and it's a way for them to give back to the community, which is important," Bowler said.
"2nd Street," a new non-profit formed in collaboration with the sheriff's administration, will soon open at the site of the previous jail on Second Street and offer a full range of programs for released inmates and community residents. Service providers will be available for help finding housing or a job, how to establish sound finances, continued mental health counseling, educational opportunities and more. According to the Bowler, this one-stop location for necessary services will help inmates and others in need to get re-established in the community. 2nd Street will be funded with a grant from Pittsfield ARPA funds.
In addition to GED classes and other educational programs, Bowler has established partnerships with Williams College, in which a college professor and nine students come to the jail one night a week for classes, as well as programs with Berkshire Community College, which previously offered a landscaping program for inmates, and more recently, a welding program that provides basic certification in welding.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a true test for the Sheriff's Office, he said. While many businesses and services necessarily shut down or moved to remote work, the men and women of the Sheriff's Office answered the call every single day by reporting to work. Bowler said he took a proactive approach toward cleaning, sanitizing, masking, social distancing and encouraging vaccinations resulted in a remarkable 18-month period of inmates remaining COVID free.
"It's a testament to the employees' dedication that from the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 through September, 2021, not a single inmate was diagnosed with COVID-19," Bowler said.
Prior to the pandemic, the Sheriff's Office sponsored work release programs at such local businesses as LTI Smartglass, Unistress, SAMCO Industries, construction companies, and more.
"Many inmates were offered jobs after their release and are still working there," Bowler said. "In fact, several former inmates are now in a supervisory capacity in those businesses. ...
"The inmates participating in all of these opportunities are far better positioned with the skills needed to get a job when they are released ... The whole point is to build a safer, stronger and healthier community. We are not done yet."
Under Bowler's leadership, the facility has become a licensed treatment facility with the state Department of Public Health. As such, it provides all major medical treatments for inmates with addiction, including vivitrol, suboxone, and methadone, as well as counseling and therapy treatment.
In terms of fiscal programs, the jail's enrollment in the Green Energy Program seven years ago has so far reduced energy bills by around 50 percent. The ultimate savings for such programs is 60 percent. "We'll get there," Bowler said.
The Sheriff's Office continues to be a resource to all of Berkshire County and its public safety needs. Sheriff deputies are assigned to the Berkshire County Law Enforcement Task Force, the FBI Western Mass. Division, the Underwater Search and Rescue Team, the Berkshire Special Response Team and more. The Sheriff Office's Command Center is available and responds to all major crimes in the county, and Bowler said he remains fully committed to supporting all law enforcement needs in the Berkshires. "Our motto is: we never say no, we just go," he said.
Under Bowler's leadership, the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office has obtained accreditations from the American Correctional Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the PREA Commission for prison rape elimination. These elite organizations confirm that the Sheriff's Office operates at a very high level, having earned the triple crown of accreditations.
"I love going to work every day, and I know there is more that we can accomplish," Bowler said. "I thank every employee at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction who always dedicate themselves to do the best job possible."
Due to the high COVID-19 transmission rate in Berkshire County, Bowler has postponed any public gathering for supporters until it is safer to do so.

Tags: election 2022,   sheriff,   

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Pittsfield School Committee Sees $78M Budget Proposal

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The district is seeking a budget increase of more than 8 percent in fiscal year 2024, with a majority of the funding going to special education, career technical education, and contractual obligations.

The School Committee got a first look at the upcoming budget request on Wednesday.  The $78,310,016 ask is an 8.17 percent — or $5,911,754 — increase from FY23's budget of $72,398,262.

"Our goal continues to be to create meaningful and most importantly, sustainable change for the children of our city," Superintendent Joseph Curtis told the committee.

"Meaningful and sustainable change takes time. We are impatient because our decisions affect children's lives every day but any rush to change is reactive and typically is not embedded systematically. Changes that do not impact our systems are prone to quickly revert back to prior practice."

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