According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Broome County Jail in Dickinson, New York housed an average of 500 inmates per day in 2017, an increase of 16 percent since 2008. All of these individuals are considered to be the responsibility of the Broome County Sheriff.
In the general election on Nov. 6, Republican nominee David Harder, the incumbent sheriff, will face Working Families nominee Matt Ryan, former Binghamton mayor, in the Broome County Sheriff’s election. The winner of the election will be in charge of 55 sworn county police officers and will be tasked with managing the Broome County Jail.
The election could have a significant impact on the jail, which has seen public backlash in the wake of inmate deaths and a 2017 lawsuit. Seven inmates have died at the jail since 2011, and a lawsuit filed by Legal Services of Central New York, a public defender nonprofit, alleged the sheriff and other jail officials regularly locked juvenile inmates into 8-by-10 foot cells for 23 hours a day, even after the Department of Justice banned the practice in 2016.
In September 2017, roughly 40 community members and Binghamton University students gathered outside the jail’s annual open house to protest conditions, citing the inmate deaths and the lawsuit. They also voiced concerns about medical treatment within the facility.
Additionally, the jail has faced criticism from bail reform activists, who say the majority of the people in the facility are there because they cannot afford to post bail.
Harder, who has been Broome County Sheriff since 1998, was a sheriff’s office detective for 25 years and initially said he would not run for re-election after winning the position in 2014. Now, he is running on a platform advocating for more funding toward mental health and addiction services within the Broome County Jail. Opponents to the plan say funding money should go toward community-based treatment instead.
Matthew Rosen, a senior double-majoring in political science and economics and executive board member of College Republicans and College Libertarians, said he supports Harder in the election because he believes in Harder’s tougher approach to crime.
“David Harder appears to be the more law and order candidate,” Rosen wrote in an email. “Law and order makes more sense to me. To make a long story short, this is similar to how Rudy Giuliani’s law and order position turned [New York City] from one of the most dangerous cities in the country, to one of the safest. A politically correct criminal justice system is usually unjust and less effective with dealing with crime.”
Ryan has no experience in law enforcement, however, he worked in the Broome County Public Defender’s Office for 15 years and was mayor of Binghamton from 2006 until 2013, when term limits prevented him from running for re-election. He is advocating for criminal justice reform and hopes to fight mass incarceration, which he said he believes is a problem across the United States.
William Martin, a professor of sociology at BU who researches mass incarceration, said the sheriff’s race is an important one, as the winner can greatly affect a range of legislation. According to Martin, policing has a direct effect on the community, including on students.
“It is important that students care about mass incarceration in the county, where the county separates the poor from the rich, including students and community members,” Martin said. “And, I think that most students do care about that.”
Martin said he is personally concerned about the current state of the jail, and feels reforms are desperately needed.
“The jail was expanded by $6 million in 2014,” Martin said. “It has the highest incarceration rate in the state [excluding New York City], has one of the highest death rates in New York and has been accused and lost lawsuits involving of medical and physical abuse. The attorney general of New York investigated and [the jail] was put under supervision of New York, and yet we have signed another contract with the jail’s medical provider.”