Women in Berkshire County who are being held on bail are sent to a regional facility for females in Chicopee, instead of in their own county.
A report in The Berkshire Eagle examines some of the hardships this places on defendants, who have not yet been convicted, but are placed at least an hour form home.
Eagle reporter Heather Bellow said this system offers different treatment for men and women in the same situation.
Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle: What we have here, however unintentional, is a jailing system that puts women at an even greater disadvantage than men, because the men do stay in their home counties and do have better access to legal care. So it's a system that treats women differently than men.
Adam Frenier, NEPR: And to pick up on the point of legal care, Heather, what challenges do women who are in this Chicopee facility right now face in terms of getting ready for the potential trials or other legal matters they have to deal with while they're being held?
Well, it just makes it harder for attorneys to see them, and to drop off materials for them, and to talk to them. With attorneys who are already overwhelmed, inundated with case loads, you know, having to spend what is often a three- to five-hour trip to Chicopee, in terms of driving and visiting with a client, that does put a strain on that system.
And the attorneys that we spoke to across the board said this is definitely a problem and it definitely is compromising women's access to really high-quality legal counsel.
And you wrote that some families who have loved ones in the Chicopee facility are struggling to do so. Could you tell us a little bit more?
Right, so they're struggling to get to the jail. The jail, like all jails, has very specific visiting hours. And then, there is the phone system that these families and women rely on to stay in touch, and that can get expensive. It's 12 cents a minute at this particular jail in Chicopee, for instance, which is one of the lower rates in the state, but it still can add up for women who want to be in contact with their family.
There's one woman I spoke to whose husband is on disability. The phone costs are about $50 a week, which for them is real hardship.
For those who support this idea of sending women who are being held on bail to a separate facility, what are their reasons for this?
You know, this is the sheriff's argument back in the early 2000s when they were lobbying the legislature for the money to build the Chicopee jail, for instance. They said, at a regional jail we can keep all these women together and offer them really good programs. We can offer them some substance abuse treatment. We can do all these things for them. We can give them gynecologic services, we can provide very tailored programs for women.
And then also they said we don't have the logistical issues, we don't have to separate men and women, we don't have to separate the people awaiting trial from the sentenced population. And so all we can do now is just focus on the women and what they need. And so that's the main thrust of that argument.
Has there been talk either among elected officials, perhaps the new district attorney, Andrea Harrington, about finding a way to bring the Berkshire County women who are in Chicopee back to the county?
Yes, well both a former D.A. and current D.A., Harrington, say they support having women stay in the county. You know, a lot of public officials are pointing to what is a very large bureaucratic ship, a lot of state dollars, that it's just very difficult to kind of turn.
There are activists who say this could just give the sheriff another excuse to build more jails and to keep the corrections industry thriving. So there's a lot of disagreement about how this should go. Some people say that the money should go into the community and into resources to keep women out of jail. These are women who are mostly mothers, they have substance abuse problems for the most part, they are struggling financially and many of them have been victimized over and over again, particularly sexually.