Sheriff’s Department has multiple tasks


The Dukes County Sheriff’s department is responsible for the county jail, house of correction, civil process, and the Island communications center, which handles all emergency 911 calls and public safety communications and fulfills a variety of other programs and duties.

The department’s operating budget in the current fiscal year is $3.9 million budget. There are approximately 45 employees, a number that includes a full-time process server; 27 jail/house of correction staff; a DARE officer; 11 communication center staff; and five people assigned to the community corrections program.

Prior to 2010 the sheriff’s department was a hybrid organization that operated as a division of county government but was not subject to county control and received funding from a complicated mix of state and county sources. Legislation enacted last year put the sheriff’s department budget under the direct control of the state, and made employees state workers.The Sheriff and his deputies have no arrest powers.

The sheriff is elected by popular vote, to serve a term of six years. The salary for the job, set by state law, is $97,000. The current sheriff, Michael McCormack of West Tisbury was elected in Nov. 1998 following the retirement of longtime sheriff Christopher S. “Huck” Look Jr.

The current jail/house of correction is located on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. It was originally built in 1873 and provides secure lockup facilities for all six Island towns. It holds a maximum of 36 inmates.

County jail

The Dukes County Jail is for inmates awaiting court hearings or trial, and in some cases, those who have been sentenced to jail. By law, the House of Correction and the jail must be physically separated, but the state has granted a waiver to the Dukes County jail because of the physical layout of the antiquated building.

While prisoners usually sleep in different sections of the building, correction inmates and jail prisoners are sometimes together inside the facility.

There are very limited facilities for women in the building. Generally, only women who are arrested and will be arraigned the next day spend time in the facility. Women who are awaiting trail, and those ordered to serve a sentence, are transported off-Island, most often to the Barnstable County House of Correction.

House of Correction

The House of Correction is for people sentenced to a term of incarceration of less than 2.5 years. A sentence of more than 2.5 years must be served in a state prison such as Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) Walpole or MCI Concord.

In a telephone conversation Friday, Sheriff McCormack said there were 7 people in jail and 25 people serving time in the house of correction, of which three are prisoners sent to the Island from the mainland.

The three mainland prisoners include a Cape doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a botched abortion who was sentenced to the Island facility as part of a plea agreement, and two individuals accepted as transfers because of threats to their personal safety.

Off-Island concerns

In the past, the use of the facility to house off-Island prisoners has given rise to the notion that the Vineyard is a cushy place to serve time.

In 2005, the arrival of a member of Saudi Arabia’s extended royal family convicted of motor vehicle homicide and a priest convicted of child pornography put the Dukes County Jail and House of Correction in the media spotlight. Press reports and even some public officials described the house of correction as a country club, an assessment that Mr. McCormack strongly disputed.

Of more concern are those prisoners, some with long criminal records and violent pasts, who have no visible Island connections but are introduced to the Island through the penal system and then decide to stay on the Island.

An inmate classified as medium security may be transferred to the Dukes County House of Correction from another facility only with the agreement of the sheriff, or a specific order from a judge, Mr. McCormack said.

Life inside

There are four general levels of security at the facility.

Three maximum-security cells are segregated from the rest of the inmate population. These cells are used for inmates that pose some sort of risk to themselves or other inmates, or for inmates that have had some disciplinary action taken against them .

The medium-security section of the building is a barracks style facility with 10 bunks in a large room. There is a common room with books, a small television, and computers. The computers are not connected to the Internet or email. A washer and dryer are available to inmates.

Minimum-security cells are two-man cells that include a television.

There are also six pre-release cells, for inmates approved in work-release programs. The pre-release units are separate from the rest of the cells. They are generally larger, single-person cells. There is a common kitchen and other amenities designed for more independent living.

Inmates have access to a wide variety of programs, including high school classes, college courses, alcohol and drug abuse programs, parenting groups, anger management classes, job skills training, and bible study groups. All the programs are voluntary, but inmates are strongly encouraged to take part, and most do.Good behavior is encouraged in the form of various incentives and rewards such as lower-security cells with more privileges, and work release.

Community corrections

The Community Corrections Center program provides an alternative to a sentence in the House of Correction. Established by an act of the legislature, it is intended to relieve overcrowding in the state’s corrections system and deal with criminals in a way that costs less, yet still protects the public.

The program utilizes intense supervision through electronic monitoring, drug testing, and other methods. Last week, there were 20 people under supervision by community corrections.

Under the enabling legislation, people who commit sex crimes, crimes that involve a firearm, or crimes that seriously injure someone, are not eligible for the alternative program.

There are two levels of supervision. The Corrections Center tracks the highest level offenders 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with an electronic monitor worn around the ankle. These probationers must report to Community Corrections Center five days a week, and on two of those days they will spend time doing community service. They are tested for drugs and alcohol regularly and randomly.

The next level includes similar drug and alcohol testing and is designed for people who hold a full-time job. They must report to Community Corrections twice each week, and perform one day of community service.


Located in a small building near the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the communications center dispatches or facilitates radio communications for 65 separate agencies on the Island. That includes local and state police, fire departments, ambulances, emergency medical technicians, environmental police, animal control, harbormasters, U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha, local and state highway departments, water departments, lifeguards, and the Trustees of the Reservations.

It is staffed 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days per year by 11 full-time employees. At least two dispatchers are on duty at all times. It accounts for 18 percent of the total budget.

Other programs

Also under the sheriff’s supervision is the D.A.R.E (drug abuse resistance education) program. One full-time employee conducts drug abuse prevention and confidence-building activities in every Island elementary school.

One employee is dedicated to the civil process. That includes delivering protection orders, civil litigation notices, court summonses, and other documents.

The department also operates a patrol boat with two summer seasonal employees.