LUDLOW, Mass. (WWLP) – Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi is urging the courts to order GPS monitoring for people released from custody.
According to Hampden County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Robert Rizzuto, the order is an effort to balance public safety with the Supreme Judicial Court order requiring local judges to review cases in order to reduce the population of detained individuals for presumptive release from custody.
The GPS tracking would utilize equipment and software already owned by the department for its Day Reporting Program. The sheriff has the authority to exercise this option for sentenced inmates in custody. A court order would be needed for pre-trial men and women. Anyone releases by a judge due to the pandemic would be monitored by the sheriff’s office.
Rizzuto said the GPS monitoring system is a simple one-piece anklet that is charged on the body for two hours each day and can be monitored by software on the department’s computer system, via pager as well as a smartphone app. If ordered by a judge a person could be released but monitored and managed with a daily itinerary developed with the individual to determine when and where the person is allowed to go hour by hour. An exclusion zone could include certain areas of the town or city or the home of a victim.
This decision is followed by a lawsuit that was filed to compel mass releases from jails across Massachusetts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 3, the state Supreme Judicial Court ordered the Massachusetts Trial Courts to review certain individuals for presumptive release from custody. There have been 978 releases from county jails across the Commonwealth since, including 183 in Hampden County.
Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi previously voiced his opposition to early releases describing the preventive measures the department has been taking to avoid spreading COVID-19.
According to Rizzuto, when a COVID-19 positive inmate was discovered at the Main Institution in Ludlow in late May, Cocchi ordered testing for every person in custody at every one of the
department’s facilities. That testing revealed a cluster of 12 active cases at the jail in Ludlow. All the individuals who tested positive have since recovered and have been medically cleared.
Sheriff Cocchi’s concerns about early releases are mainly due to the lack of time to establish dependable release plans, the continuing difficulty in establishing bridges to community-based services for substance use disorder, and the level of seriousness of the crimes some of the people being released are accused of committing.
According to Rizzuto, since the SJC ruling, the courts have ordered the release of individuals accused of the following crimes:
- Aggravated rape of a child
- Paying for sex with a child under 14
- Failure to register as a sex offender
- Assault with intent to murder
- Assault & battery on a family/household member
- Assault & battery on a child with injury
- Assault & battery on a police officer
“I see this as a way to pump the brakes but also satisfy the court ruling to release people, all while taking an extra step to ensure the safety of the public as well as the person who is being released. When someone is released from our facilities, I feel a degree of responsibility for that person, even if legally they were released by a judge. This is a common-sense option to balance everybody’s concerns, and I’m offering to manage it with staff and equipment we already own and use,” Sheriff Cocchi said.
Trial court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey released the following statement in response to Sheriff Cocchi’s request:
The careful consideration of pretrial defendants for emergency release undertaken by the Trial Court has resulted in the release of several thousand defendants. The goal was to undertake this action pursuant to the Supreme Judicial Court decision as an emergency measure to prevent Massachusetts jails from becoming COVID-19 hotspots. It is a credit to the work of the Massachusetts sheriffs, facilitated by this reduction in the jail population, that Massachusetts has maintained relatively lower rates of staff and inmate infections than other jails nationally. To the sheriff’s first point, between the issuance of the SJC Order on April 5, 2020, and May 25, 2020, there were 1,818 releases of all types from county facilities statewide. In that same period, there were 46 re-arrests recorded for this group of individuals, a re-arrest rate of 2.53%. In Hampden County, the rate is 3% or 8 re-arrests out of 260 releases. With regard to the sheriff’s second point, the Massachusetts Probation Service (MPS), as a fully integrated component of the court system, supports both court operations as well as community supervision of some 56,000 individuals daily. Its state-of-the-art Electronic Monitoring Center monitors the movement, including exclusion zones, inclusion zones, itineraries and curfews, 24/7/365 of over 6,000 individuals statewide daily, employing technology identical to that of the sheriff. MPS operates a 24/7 Warrant Management Unit legally authorized to issue arrest warrants as necessary and to coordinate with state and local law enforcement in their execution. In addition, MPS, through its Victim Services Unit, is legally authorized to receive victim and witness contact information and is positioned to provide emergency notifications, as well as safety planning, notification, and other supports to some 6,000 victims and survivors annually.-Trial court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey statement sent to 22News