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Bowler wrong about Franklin County women returning to Chicopee correctional center; Shugrue admits he was wrong about broken windows debate claims

A white man with glasses sits behind a wooden desk in an office
Josh Landes
Berkshire County Sheriff Tom Bowler.

As the dust continues to settle around Monday night’s Berkshire County sheriff and district attorney primary debates, a fact check shows that Sheriff Tom Bowler made a false claim. And DA candidate Timothy Shugrue is offering an explanation for his own inaccurate statement.

The debates on Pittsfield Community Television are making waves with just weeks until the September 6th Democratic primary. With no Republican candidates running, the vote will likely guarantee the Berkshires’ next sheriff and DA.

A flashpoint in the contentious campaign for sheriff has been the policy of holding Berkshire County women at a facility in Chicopee under Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi as opposed to the Berkshire House of Correction in Pittsfield. Chief Probation Officer of the Southern Berkshire District Court Alf Barbalunga is against the practice, and says he’d work to bring them back to the Berkshires if elected sheriff.

“This is pretty much a story of sheriff here that either is not equipped to do the job or does not want to do the job or somewhere in between," said Barbalunga. "I don't like hearing it. I don't like the usual rhetoric. Berkshire County is always underserved from Boston, we're kind of the redheaded stepchild, we can't handle it, we don't have the funding, we're not equipped. None of this is true. Every single study across the country says women are better when they're in closer proximity to their family, their loved ones, their resources. That's the bottom line. Franklin County Sheriff knew immediately that this was not the right fit for them, and they removed themselves from this agreement. There is a reason why.”

Sheriff Bowler, who is fighting for his third six-year term, responded.

“Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan took the women back to his facility because he was the first one to start with MAT, the medication-assisted treatment program," he said. "And ironically enough, he's sending women back to Hampden County, to Chicopee, because he cannot provide certain services or special needs, gender specific needs for those females. This is the best place for the females. We didn't rip out of their county. They have transportation issues that are being resolved, and this is not that we don't want to do the job. It's what's right for the women, not what's right for either one of us.”

WAMC reached out to Donelan to find out if Bowler’s claim that the Franklin County Sheriff intends to return women to the Western Mass Regional Women's Correctional Center in Chicopee is true.

In an email, Donelan told WAMC that Bowler was wrong, and that he has not moved any women back to the center and that he has no plans to. With regard to his own office’s ability to provide services to female inmates, he said “I believe we are meeting the needs of the women or I would not continue to have them here.”

Meanwhile, Pittsfield attorney Shugrue – who is challenging first-term DA Andrea Harrington – has responded to a WAMC story on his own false claim from the debates. Harrington accused Shugrue of endorsing the controversial practice of broken windows policing, a theory popularized by New York City leaders in the 1990s and since condemned as exacerbating systemic racism in law enforcement. Shugrue vociferously denied her claim, going as far as to say he had never said the phrase.

“I want to hear that tape, because never in my life have I said the word broken windows," said Shugrue. "That just hasn't come out. So that's the misinformation that comes out of this campaign.”

However, WAMC obtained a copy of Shugrue’s July 13th interview on WTBR’s “Morning Drive” where he both agreed about the effectiveness of broken windows policing and said the words himself.

“I think just kicking the can down the road's a mistake," he said. "I think it's important. And I agree with you, the broken window theory is a good example of that. It's that, I think you've got to really make sure that we look at stuff and address them, rather than just ignore them.”

In a subsequent statement to WAMC, Shugrue said he had forgotten about the interview, and upon reviewing it, admitted he had made a mistake by not making it clear at the time that he was opposed to the practice. He said he had repeated the phrase “broken windows theory” “in an effort to explain what was happening in the state of New York.”

Shugrue went on to qualify his disavowal of broken windows policing by saying that “attention to small crimes is not what was wrong with the broken windows policy. What went wrong was the harassment and harsh punishment. Poor people and small businesses need to feel and be protected, so, yes, we will pay attention to crimes that degrade neighborhoods and businesses and make people fear for their property and safety.”

You can read Shugrue's full statement here:

At this time, it is necessary for me to clarify a statement I made at the debate on Monday night at the Berkshire [Anthenaeum] in order to set the record straight. During the debate, my opponent indicated that I support the "broken windows theory", and further suggested that it would be a policy of mine if elected district attorney. Her charge caught me completely off guard and, at the moment, I had no direct recall of ever referring to this theory as anything that I would ever support. Shortly after the debate, I asked my team to help me put this claim into context, and now realize that I made a mistake in not making my position clear when I spoke with Bill Sturgeon during the interview which occurred in May, which is the incident that my opponent was referring to.

During the interview with Mr. Sturgeon, we spent time talking about criminal justice reform. In that interview, I was explaining my approach and Mr. Sturgeon said the term "broken windows", which was not a term that I would use to describe my own policy, but was a term that I repeated in an effort to explain what was happening in the state of New York. I did reiterate the interviewer's use of the term, "broken window theory" in response to one of his questions. To be clear, I do not support this theory and I missed the opportunity to clarify my position during the interview, which I recognize and take responsibility for. Attention to small crimes is not what was wrong with the broken-windows policy. What went wrong was the harassment and harsh punishment. Poor people and small businesses need to feel and be protected, so, yes, we will pay attention to crimes that degrade neighborhoods and businesses and make people fear for their property and safety.

Having the opportunity to clarify is important because I am able to develop my position in greater detail for the voters. If elected DA, I will pay attention to small crimes and hold individuals who commit those crimes accountable through diversion programs that are currently available but rarely used in the current DA’s office. This means those people could get the help they need which may have brought them to commit the crime in the first place. We can do this within our system now so that individuals can earn dismissal overtime while being accountable at the same time. I will not tolerate harsh punishments and harassment that came along with the broken windows policy. My approach is designed to help, both victims and perpetrators, not punish them. This current district attorney’s policy of ignoring property crimes and other misdemeanors does not help anyone, it’s the opposite, and does nothing to end the cycle that plagues our small businesses, neighborhoods, and overall quality of life.

My approach and position have never changed or waivered and will not. I do not support the broken windows theory.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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