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Editorial: Sheriff Howard doesn't care that county jails are a mess

It’s demoralizing when your sheriff is either indifferent or uninformed about the performance of his operation. But such is the situation with which Erie County voters must contend.

When an oversight agency reported on his slipshod management of the county’s two jails, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard could bring himself only to deny what the facts have made abundantly clear. County residents deserve better than that.

Howard’s protest amounts to this: The state Commission of Correction is being mean to us. He didn’t put it that way, of course. What he said to county legislators was this: “I ask that this body remain open-minded to the possibility – at least the possibility – that the state is being picayune with certain facilities that have opposed their will in the past, probably none moreso than us.”

Keep in mind that this is the sheriff who presided over a high number of prisoner suicide and suicide attempts, whose office provided false information regarding the death of an inmate at the hands of jailers, whose office doctored reports about suicide attempts in a way that lessened official reporting requirements and who, despite all of this, has never accepted an ounce of responsibility. Not an iota. Maybe he thinks being chronically re-elected despite it all means it doesn’t matter.

It does matter. We have seen no evidence that the Commission of Correction is doing anything but demanding that this sheriff perform up to standards. That he isn’t was made clear – again – in February, when the commission issued this report, ranking Erie County jails among the five worst-run in the state.

Here’s how a professional might have responded to that criticism: “The commission and residents of Erie County know that I disagree vehemently with this assessment. Nevertheless, the commission has its responsibility and I have an obligation to take its conclusions seriously. Even though we don’t agree, I would never claim that we couldn’t make improvements. That’s always going to be possible. So that will be my goal and we’ll see down the road how the commission responds to those efforts.”

Oh, well. Erie County’s jails are a mess and the sheriff doesn’t care. Whatever happened to pride?

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