Walking through the bright white hallways of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility, Sheriff James M. Cummings stops at a door in front of the entrance to House 1, one of three main areas where inmates are kept. Sheriff Cummings lifts his hand and goes to press a shiny silver button on the wall. Before he has a chance do so, the door makes a buzzing sound. He then reaches for the handle, opens the door and walks in.
“They’re watching us,” he says.
Sheriff Cummings goes on to explain that there are workers in the command center overseeing the 456 total cameras that watch the facility on the inside and out. These workers are responsible for helping with the security of the facility, which includes unlocking doors throughout the building and letting people pass through as needed.
This week, the Enterprise received a tour from Sheriff Cummings to get an inside look at the facility and to see how the county’s jail operates. Here’s what we learned:
The Facility At A Glance
Located off the Route 28 rotary heading eastbound near the entrance to Joint Base Cape Cod, the Barnstable County Correctional Facility has been the home of the county’s jail since 2004 when it moved from its previous location in Barnstable. This Bourne facility can accommodate a maximum of 588 inmates, while the old location, which would routinely have 300 inmates, was only built to occupy 78 people.
“We didn’t have classrooms to do education and stuff in the old facility. Our medical unit was like a former closet. There was no real space,” Sheriff Cummings said.
Currently, the facility is nowhere near its capacity.
“It’s been fairly quiet with the pandemic, going from 425 inmates on average to 160, which we have this morning,” Sheriff Cummings said. “It is quieter.”
Sheriff Cummings cited a couple of factors for the current low inmate count. At the beginning of the pandemic, his staff worked hard to get those people on low bail charges or whose cases had been dismissed released from the facility. In addition, he also mentioned the courts being slower to reopen has delayed receiving potential new inmates.
Who’s In Here?
The Barnstable County Correctional Facility is both the county’s house of correction and the county’s jail. Inmates are separated by classification, as people in the jail are housed in one area and people in the house of correction are placed in another. The building itself is not separated between the jail portion and the correctional facility; the only difference is where the inmates are housed.
The jail houses both men and women inmates who are awaiting trial. Sheriff Cummings said these inmates could be in for anything from rape to drug deals to homicides. Once they go to court and receive their sentence, they will go to a state facility, especially if it is a bigger crime.
As for the correctional facility, this area also houses both men and women, but they have already been sentenced. The Barnstable County Correctional Facility has inmates who are serving 2.5 years or less.
Upon arrival at the facility, inmates are searched, fingerprinted, photographed, body scanned and medically screened for any injuries needing medical care. After that, they are advised of their charges and any potential for release. Their belongings are then packed up and stored away, along with their outside clothes, which are kept in a storage closet.
Due to the pandemic, any new inmates or those who leave for court and then return are subject to a two-week quarantine. This strict protocol has helped the correctional facility to have no inmates test positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic. Sheriff Cummings said about 40 employees of the facility contracted the virus but did not bring it into the facility, as they entered quarantine after being diagnosed.
Who Works Here?
Sheriff Cummings is the head of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility and has been in this position for 23 years. He was elected to the position in 1998, in 1999 was sworn in, and has subsequently been reelected three times. Before becoming the sheriff, he served on the Massachusetts State Police force, where he retired as a detective lieutenant in charge of detectives in Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties.
As for the rest of the staff, Sheriff Cummings said it truly takes a team. He has a special sheriff, a superintendent who helps with the day-to-day operations, an assistant deputy superintendent who oversees programming, and many other operational staff members. The sheriff’s department has 340 staff members in total.
Sheriff Cummings also acknowledged his medical staff, who play a crucial role in maintaining inmate health. There is a nurse on duty 24/7. There are two mental health clinicians on during the day and one in the evening. There is also a psychiatrist on call.
“They play a great role,” Sheriff Cummings said about the mental health staff. “I would say about up to 40 percent of the people who come here have some issue with mental health. They are certainly an intricate part of our staff and do a great job of treating those people.”
Life As An Inmate
There are three houses in the correctional facility where an inmate can be placed. Upon arrival at the facility, each inmate is assigned to the indoctrination unit, and a placement officer gets to know the inmate to see what issues they have and where they might be best placed within the facility.
In total, there are 12 different pods an inmate can be in. Pods are also broken down by gender, as the women’s pods are separated from a men’s pod by sight and sound. Female correctional officers work in the women’s units, while male and female officers can work in the men’s units.
These pods are the larger room to which the inmates belong. These pods have a larger open recreation room with tables, a couple of TVs and all of the inmate cells. One correctional officer works in a pod during the shift, and Sheriff Cummings said officers rotate which pods they work every three months or so. The days begin for inmates with a 5:30 AM wakeup when they are responsible for cleaning themselves, making their bunk and readying for the day. Lights are out at night by 10 PM.
While in the pods, Sheriff Cummings said this allows the officer to, in essence, do “community policing”—getting to know the inmates in the pod and stopping any problems before they develop or worsen.
The corrections officer is also in charge of allowing the inmate out of his or her cell and for any disciplinary action.
An inmate’s cell in the facility is roughly 120 square feet. It has two bunks, a stool with a desk surface, a stainless-steel mirror, a toilet, a sink and a small window.
Keeping inmates safe is of the utmost importance at the correctional facility, and Sheriff Cummings said the cells are as suicide-proof as they can be made. An example of this is that there is no glass in the cell, and the hooks for clothing only hold a small certain amount of weight before they go down (thus not allowing anyone to hang himself or herself).
“The main thing is safety—inmates and staff have all been safe,” he said. “We haven’t had any escapes or anything close to an escape. Those are all good things when you’re running a correctional facility.”
In the past month, each inmate received a digital tablet that allows him or her to make monitored calls and also has movie access. They do not have internet access, but they can still send emails, which are first read by the officers before being sent out. In the near future, Sheriff Cummings said he is hoping to get educational programs on the tablets and the ability for inmates to apply for jobs.
“I see it as a benefit,” he said of the tablets. “For one thing, it keeps the inmates occupied. It gives them contact hopefully with their families on the outside, which is a good thing.”
At the correctional facility, inmates may participate in a number of different programs that allow for the betterment of the inmates as well as a chance at rehabilitation and an opportunity to improve themselves while serving time.
The topics for these programs include Education, Financial Literacy, Health Awareness, Job Readiness/Employment, Medical, Parenting, Reentry, Religious, Inmate Treatment Programs, General Population Programs, Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, Vivitrol and Women’s Program.
Sheriff Cummings said education is key for many inmates, and the facility offers a chance to earn a HiSET, which stands for High School Equivalency Test.
“We found that if we can get an inmate a high school diploma equivalency before they leave here, chances are we won’t see them again,” Sheriff Cummings said.
Inmates who are in the jail, not just the correctional facility, are also eligible to participate in programs. Sheriff Cummings said this decision was made because sometimes an individual could be in jail, go to court and get sentenced to come back to the correctional facility where they have already spent time, yet would not have done programming.
“If we can help them with their issue while they’re here rather than waste their time, we will do it,” he said.
Once the tour was completed, Sheriff Cummings exited to his office, leaving the county jail in the capable hands of his staff.