State audit of Hampden County sheriff gives departing Michael Ashe clean bill of financial health

LUDLOW — As Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe[1] prepares to step down after 42 years, a recent review of his office by state Auditor Suzanne Bump[2] shows no operational deficiencies or shortfalls within the department. The audit, released Monday finds no problems with operations of the department, no irregularities with finances or inventory, and says security levels are adequate at the men’s and women’s correctional centers and at the minimal-security pre-release and correctional addiction centers. The Sheriff’s Department budget of £71.7 million was described as adequate to cover its programs.

The report in full is just five pages long. Bump, in the two-paragraph executive summary, notes the audit was performed between July 1 and Sept.

30 and looks only at operations within the Sheriff’s Department under Ashe, and not any proposals being made by his successor, assistant sheriff Nick Cocchi[3]. “Based on our audit, we have concluded (the Sheriff’s Department) has established adequate controls and practices we reviewed that were related to our audit objectives,” the summary reads. “We did not identify any significant deficiencies in those areas.”

The most interesting part of the audit is perhaps how it originated. Bump notes that Ashe requested it. Ashe on Wednesday said he sought to have the auditor look at his administration one more time before his departure in order to see if there were any areas that could be improved before the start of the Cocchi administration.

“I felt that it was very important to have an objective, outside audit of our entire operations to ensure that if we had any areas in need of corrective action and improvement we could address these prior to the newly elected sheriff taking office,” Ashe said in a statement. “I am pleased to report we had a very successful audit which will allow Sheriff-elect Nick Cocchi to hit the ground running,” he said. Ashe announced two years ago that he would not seek re-election to the post he has held since 1975.

Cocchi, elected in November, will be sworn in as the new Hampden County sheriff on Jan.

4. At the end of the audit period, the Sheriff’s Department had a total of 972 employees and 1,535 inmates, and an annual budget of £153 million. As part of the audit, it reviewed 40 employees at random and found no discrepancies about about salaries, proper compensation or if each was supposed to be on the payroll.

Auditors also toured the four facilities were inmates are kept — the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow, the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee, the Pre-Release Center and the Western Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center in Holyoke. Each was found to be adequately secured to prevent escapes, each met the minimum standards for security required by the state, and each was in line with state and national inmate-to-staff ratios. A 2015 audit[4] conducted roughly one year prior to this most recent review highlighted the amount of money the Sheriff’s Department was spending on transportation[5], mostly due to shuttling inmates back and forth between jail facilities and court.

It recommended the jails look to use more video-conferencing technology to reduce costs and wear-and-tear on vehicles. The most recent audit makes no reference to the 2015 report or if any changes were implemented. The audit also makes no mention of the Dec.

2, 2015, escape of Ackeem Graham from the men’s facility in Ludlow, the only escape recorded from the secure facility in its 23 year history. Graham managed to walk out of a pedestrian sally port just before he was admitted to begin serving a one-year sentence for firearm possession. He was eventually apprehended and sentenced in October to a year in state prison[6].

Cocchi said that despite an escape from the main facility and two “walk-outs” from minimum-security satellite programs in the past year, he believes the department’s security is second to none. “Our security is as good as any comparable facility anywhere, if not better,” Cocchi said during an interview Wednesday. “Our No.

1 weakness is not structural, and it’s not programming. It’s complacency — because our facility is so secure,” he added. Cocchi said that he intends to establish monthly security forums once he is sheriff to examine any significant security breaches to improve measures and help his staff remain vigilant.

“Plus, if anyone knows security it’s me.

I’m a security guy,” Cocchi said, noting his rise in the ranks from a corrections officer to assistant superintendent before being elected sheriff in November.

Dec.

19 audit report of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department[7] by Patrick Johnson[8] on Scribd

References

  1. ^ Michael Ashe (topics.masslive.com)
  2. ^ Suzanne Bump (topics.masslive.com)
  3. ^ Nick Cocchi (topics.masslive.com)
  4. ^ A 2015 audit (www.mass.gov)
  5. ^ transportation (www.masslive.com)
  6. ^ year in state prison (www.masslive.com)
  7. ^ View Dec.

    19 audit report of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department on Scribd (www.scribd.com)

  8. ^ View Patrick Johnson’s profile on Scribd (www.scribd.com)

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