As campaigns for sheriffs gear up across Massachusetts, fewer than one-in five Massachusetts voters (17%) can correctly name their local sheriff, according to a poll released today by the ACLU of Massachusetts. The new data shows that Massachusetts voters currently have limited knowledge of sheriffs: Ninety percent (90%) do not know a sheriff’s term is six years—and a significant portion of voters (41%) do not know that sheriffs are elected and accountable only to voters. Only one-third (32%) think sheriffs have a major impact on the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.
The ACLU poll will inform a new statewide voter education campaign, building on the ACLU’s groundbreaking “What a Difference a DA Makes.” Through community events and voter outreach, the new “Know Your Sheriff” campaign seeks to build public awareness of the life-changing decisions that sheriffs make, and how voters can move sheriffs to make communities safer and more just for all.
“It’s time for Massachusetts to get to know our sheriffs,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “From increasing treatment options for mental health and substance use to rejecting policies that split families apart, these elected officials can set and carry out policies that make our communities safe and just for all. The civil rights and civil liberties of Bay Staters are at stake in these elections.”
According to the poll, voters prioritize providing mental health and drug treatment, education and vocational training, and reentry services over punishing people convicted of crimes. Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters say providing services for mental health, drug treatment, and emotional support should be a top priority for sheriffs who oversee people in jails and houses of correction. Eighty-two percent (82%) of voters indicate that sheriffs should offer substance use rehabilitation services to incarcerated people and believe that this is an important quality in candidates for sheriff.
“Public health is on the ballot this fall,” said Laura Rótolo, field director at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Sheriffs control conditions inside jails, including medical care and access to addiction and mental health treatment. Sheriffs also decide which education and treatment programs to offer, so that those re-entering their communities are prepared to do so in a positive way.”
The new poll shows a clear opportunity to increase voter engagement in Massachusetts sheriffs’ races: After hearing facts about the everyday impact that sheriffs can have on individual lives and in communities, 71 percent (71%) of voters say they are very likely to vote in the next election for local sheriff, a 26-point increase from the start of the survey (45%).
The survey, conducted by Beacon Research, interviewed 970 Massachusetts registered voters online. Slight weights were applied to ensure the sample accurately reflects the demographic profile of the Massachusetts electorate.
The ACLU is a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office. The ACLU’s goal is to promote voter education and voter participation.
For more information about “Know Your Sheriff,” go to: https://www.aclum.org/knowyoursheriff