Sheriff candidate Michael McCormack


Michael McCormack of West Tisbury was first elected in 1998. A veteran of the US Marine Corps, Mr. McCormack began working in the county jail as a young man and has 25 years of experience in the corrections field.

Mr. McCormack has served on the personnel boards for the towns of Edgartown, West Tisbury and Dukes County, is president of the Endowment Fund for the Martha’s Vineyard Arena, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Chiefs of Police Association and has served as president for the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association.

He is married to May Lee McCormack. They have three children, Shawn, Steven, and Michelle.

You’ve been Dukes County’s sheriff for a very long time. How do you grade your performance?

I would have to give myself an A.

The best performance evaluations always compare accomplishments to previously set goals. I have met all goals that I set prior to my election: improving conditions for employees by adopting a mission statement and a set of core values, increased training, and improved the work environment, improving relations with the Island Chiefs by attending monthly meetings and serving as their Association’s president, establishing computer aided dispatching, establishing digital photo and data storage systems, and establishing an alternative to incarceration through an intermediate sanction program.

Please describe what you believe are your qualifications to supervise the sheriff’s department’s budget and the jail/house of correction.

The experience, knowledge, and leadership skills that I have developed during my career in the areas of personnel administration, finance, and correctional law make me uniquely qualified to supervise a 45-person department with a $3.5 million budget. I am especially proud that during the recent fiscal crisis, I was able to economize and prevent personnel layoffs.

Nantucket sends convicted felons to the Barnstable House of Correction, which appears to have space enough to accommodate Island prisoners. Comment on the option of using the current Dukes County facility as a central lock-up and jail, but sending people convicted and sentenced to serve time in a house of correction to the Barnstable facility, the way Nantucket does.

The Dukes County correctional facility is a community-based facility whose mission is to provide safety to citizens and rehabilitative programs to inmates.

Community based re-entry programming for inmates is the current accepted standard in corrections. Nantucket can’t house their own inmates because they do not have their own correctional facility.

Barnstable does not want our inmates, as we do not want Barnstable’s inmates. Furthermore, sending our sentenced inmates to Barnstable would reduce the funding level for the sheriff’s office, which would undoubtedly result in loss of jobs for employees and a loss of revenues for local vendors.

The Airport Master Plan, completed in 2002, includes a proposal to construct a new 79-bed county jail/house of correction to be built on airport property, to house male and female prisoners serving 2.5 years or less.

During the completion of the airport master plan you pressed the airport commission to set aside property for the construction of a new larger jail/house of correction. Do you continue to support the construction of a new facility on airport property, and of what size?

You have to remember that this jail was built before Custer’s last stand. Yes, I absolutely want a new, safe and secure facility, centrally located on the Island in a non-residential area. The airport property is suited to meet these requirements. Bed size should be calculated after decisions are made to determine who is to be housed in the facility and constructed in such a manner to provide for future expansion, when necessary.

Some high-profile prisoners have been sentenced to the Dukes House of Correction. These include the brother of Charles Stuart, a pedophile priest, and a Saudi prince. The public thinks the Dukes County House of Correction is an easy place to serve a sentence, so offenders want to serve their time here. Please comment on that perception.

Commenting on public perception is difficult. Believe me, incarceration is never easy. Basic individual freedoms are forfeited during incarceration: when one sleeps or awakes, what one eats, with whom one associates, separation from loved ones. Loss of privacy, especially when conducting toilet activities, may be the most glaring forfeiture. Incarceration is the punishment.

Island police say they are concerned that dangerous felons have been introduced to the Vineyard community through the Dukes house of correction. There have been several cases in which felons have requested that they serve their sentence on the Vineyard. Please comment on the extent to which the sheriff has control over prisoner assignments.

I don’t know where that came from. I have been president of the Martha’s Vineyard Chiefs for ten years, and this concern has never been brought to the table by any member of the association. The sheriff has complete control over transfers from other facilities but has no voice in who is sentenced to the house of correction by a judge. The acceptance of transfers from other facilities is based upon family ties to the Island or an acute need to provide protective custody.

Please describe current programs you would change or eliminate and new ones you would introduce. And discuss the differences in the sheriff’s job since the state takeover of the department.

I would not eliminate a single program. Since assuming office, I have developed programs that serve vital functions for community safety: Inmate Re-entry Programming (GED education, substance abuse counseling, life skills instruction, vocational training, community service), Community Corrections (a diversion program from incarceration for substance abuse offenders), Project Lifesaver (a search and rescue program for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia), We’ve Got Your Number (a house numbering program to assist first responders in locating your home in times of an emergency), and DARE Ropes Challenge Course (a program designed to instill self-confidence and teamwork among our youth). I will continue to improve these programs as well as seek new initiatives that will enhance community safety.

As to the second part of your question, only the funding source has changed during the transition from county to state government.