Join Me In Voting For Positive Change November 7th!

Sheriff Howard Must Go!

       Betty Jean Grant 

       Betty Jean Grant 

In my almost eleven years on the Erie County Legislature, no entity has frustrated or perplexed this writer more than the management (or the lack thereof), of the Erie County Holding Center. Among the issues: the non compliance of the Sheriff, Tim Howard and the then Republican County Executive, Chris Collins, to open the holding center to public scrutiny ; the federal government's inability to go in and ascertain for themselves how bad conditions were; legislators not being given the green light to tour the facility; and the taxpayers of Erie County who have been not well served by the current sheriff, who is now running for re-election.

Conditions for inmates have improved slightly since the Chris Collins days but that may be due to the fact that although the Erie County Legislature, that approves the holding center's annual budget, is controlled by a Republican majority, the administration that puts the spending budget in place is run by Democrat Mark Poloncarz. Even though conditions might be better for the inmates as a whole, there are still cases like India Cummings, Richard Metcalf and others who walked into the facility healthy, and left the holding center in conditions that ultimately killed them. India Cummings was less than 30 years old. Her death haunts me because she was a just few years older than my oldest grandchild when she died.

I will admit that she was violent, destructive, drug addicted and knowingly mentally ill. None of these conditions, individually or all of them, collectively, should have doomed her to a sentence of death before she went before any court or judge. Richard Metcalf, another detainee, is dead because the deputy sheriffs who allegedly put a spit mask on him, admittedly without knowing how to do so, ended up strangling him. These are just two of the twenty-two or so cases of abuse, deaths or suicides that are questionable under this current sheriff's administration.

I believe that the federal government needs to revisit the Erie County Holding Center and either vindicate or incriminate the current administration in order to re-establish the public's trust in this facility and its ability to protect our family members and the citizens of this great county while they are detained (not convicted) until their day in court. Another concern I have is how the monies derived from the Telephone Revenue Fund is being spent. This is money collected from the friends and families of detainees who call their relatives 'collect.' The phone service providers charge these family members two to three times what the call is worth, with the additional money directed into a special holding center account that was set up years ago, to spend to increase the detainees 'quality of life' while being a 'resident' of the holding center.

The revenue can be as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars. But instead of purchasing educational, recreational or nutritional items, or even better quality shower shoes, this revenue source is used to buy uniforms for sheriff deputies, patrol vehicles, office equipment for the sheriff's offices and other non-inmate related items. Years ago, the then Democratic Legislature tried to convince the Sheriff to reallocate this inmate-generated, telephone revenue financial resource stream to benefit the detainee but to no avail. Many suburban and rural Democratic legislators were not too open to providing the detainees with any extra level of comfort regardless of the fact that the money came directly from their relatives and not from the Erie County operating budget.

In less than two weeks, the voters of Erie County will go to the polls and elect a new sheriff. Will it be Democrat Bernie Tolbert or they will re-elect this current sheriff who needs to answer a lot of questions about the controversies regarding the holding center? The decision on who will lead the Erie County Holding Center for the next four years rest with you the voters regardless of whether you go out to vote or not. I don't know about you but based on the record and performance of the current sheriff, I am voting for change. I am voting for Democrat Bernie Tolbert for Erie County sheriff on Tuesday, Nov. 7th!