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Critics Charge Sheriffs With Donations Conflicts of Interest

A conflict of interest arises from many political donations to sheriffs, including those from medical providers and bail bond companies doing business with them, charges a new report by watchdog group Common Cause, reports Reuters. Common Cause and Communities for Sheriff Accountability, a prison reform coalition, examined campaign finance reports from 2010 to2021 provided by a sample of sheriffs in 11 states, including in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Maryland. They found that about 40 percent of contributions, or more than $6 million, created a potential conflict of interest and incentivized incarceration in order to increase profits.

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The apparently conflicted donations came from a range of businesses, including construction companies that build jails, telecommunications companies eager to provide services in those facilities, and representatives of legal firms that represent sheriffs’ offices on misconduct cases. The contributions aren't necessarily unlawful. Keshia Morris Desir of Common Cause said her group's report “tries to shine a light on a blind spot in efforts toward criminal justice reform.” Corporations big and small see sheriffs as the head of a major bureaucracy, with lucrative potential, said the Common Cause report. Philadelphia’s longest-serving sheriff was sentenced to prison in 2019 for accepting bribes and personal benefits for nearly a decade in exchange for channeling more than $35 million in contracts and fees on foreclosed homes to a particular businessman. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is under a civil rights investigation for “deeply concerning allegations relating to conditions of confinement in its jail facilities, resistance to lawful oversight, and other misconduct,” the California attorney general’s office said last month. The investigation was prompted by the indictments of several top officials in relation to an alleged scheme involving the exchange of campaign contributions for concealed carry weapons permits.

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