by Karima Amin
As we move forward to November 5, Election Day, I wonder how many of us are prepared to cast an educated ballot for the office of Sheriff? Given the problems we have witnessed at the Erie County Holding Center, during the last 8 years, while Sheriff Timothy Howard has been in office, makes it imperative for us to stop and take a serious look at what has been accomplished under his watch. All political candidates have mottos and watch words which define who they are, what they do, and what they plan to do. Sheriff Howard defines himself as one who exhibits “a reputation for hard work and integrity.” There are some who agree with this wholeheartedly and others who have good reason for challenging this definition.
Are you an educated constituent? Do you know who is running this time for the office of Sheriff? Do you know what the Sheriff’s duties are? In a recent interview, Sheriff Howard said, “My reputation speaks of hard work, honesty and straightforwardness. I support the constitution and all that it stands for.”
Those of you who have supported Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition may not be in agreement with what Sheriff Howard says about himself. What is more important, I believe, is not what he says about himself, but what he has done to improve our holding center in Buffalo and correctional facility in Alden. There have been no suicides this year but there have been 7 since the last election. The holding center has a “sparking new” reception area but what has been done to improve conditions for those who find themselves confined there? If the compliance reports being compiled there by the Department of Justice were shared with the community, perhaps we would know what is being improved and what the deadlines are and if the Sheriff is working with the Department of Justice and the Commission of Correction to provide the kind of professional and humane treatment for which we have been advocating. No candidate is really talking about the holding center and for many of us, conditions at he holding center are a major issue and central to this election.
Democratic candidate Richard Dobson
This time, Sheriff Howard is facing two candidates: Richard “Dick” Dobson, the Democratic candidate, and Bert Dunn, of the Law and Order Party. Both have worked for the Sheriff’s Department. Dobson says that ongoing problems at the holding center have had a negative impact on the morale of deputies “who put their lives on the line for the citizens of Erie County every day…. it is time to start putting policies into effect that will more closely protect our deputies…” Dunn, who lost to Dobson in the primary, hasn’t said anything about the holding center. In a recent interview with “New WNY Politics,” Sheriff Howard said, “One thing that some people don’t understand who have criticized us for our handling of health and mental health related matters in the Holding Center is that, by law, matters involving health, mental health, and upkeep of the county jails, outside of day to day maintenance, are the responsibility of the County Executive, not the Sheriff.”
Some may have thought Dunn was done after primary loss, but he refuses to be squeezed out-cs (photos- Buffalo News, YNN)
So there you have it: We have a candidate who is obviously more concerned about the deputies than the inmates. We have a loser, still in the running, who has nothing to say about the holding center. And we have an incumbent, Sheriff Timothy Howard, who has been cited by the New York State Commission on Correction for gross negligence and incompetence. A Sheriff who says, “It’s not my job.”
Whether these men show up at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too or not, we need to have a discussion about conditions at the holding center and what we expect in the future. The community must make its demands clear and hold our elected officials accountable.
Please join us for the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, which will be held on Monday, October 28, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm at 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: Karima Amin, firstname.lastname@example.org; BaBa Eng, email@example.com. 716-834-8438.
“God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through.” (Anonymous)