HAMPDEN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi
Hampden County Sheriff’s Office
627 Randall Road
Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 858-0000 • http://hcsdma.org
Nicholas Cocchi began his career as a seasonal correctional officer with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office in 1993, working his way up the ladder over the years before being elected Sheriff. Since taking office in 2017, Sheriff Cocchi has expanded the office's level of community engagement, including taking on the opioid epidemic head-on. He started a medication assisted treatment program to help people battling addiction and he opened a substance use disorder treatment facility to help people involuntarily committed by the courts under the state’s Section 35 law.
Behind the walls of the facilities he oversees, Sheriff Cocchi has taken evidence-based programing, education initiatives, career training and job placement to the next level. Career training has expanded to include the high-paying forestry profession as well as advanced manufacturing, helping Hampden County boast one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country.
In the community, Sheriff Cocchi has uniformed deputy sheriffs engaging the public through community policing in Springfield’s Forest Park. He has also assigned uniformed staff to the Friends of the Homeless in Springfield in the coldest months to expand capacity at the region’s largest emergency shelter. During the most difficult parts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, he had staff helping every city and town in Hampden County with assistance ranging from the efforts of the Community Restitution staff to life-saving personal protective equipment.
Sheriff Cocchi earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Government from Western New England University, as well as his Master’s in Business Administration from Elms College.
History of the Hampden County Sheriff's Office
By the late 1650s, the colonial government decided that it required a jail house in Western Massachusetts as an option for punishment. On March 26, 1661, the General Court in Boston ordered Springfield’s magistrate, John Pynchon, to begin building a “House of Corrections” in Springfield.
The first individual recorded as having been committed to the “House of Corrections” on Maple Street was a 14-year-old servant girl named Katherine Hunter, who was sentenced to incarceration in 1671.
Four years later, Native American allies of Metacomet (aka “King Phillip”) burned the jail on Maple Street along with most of the town’s other structures.
The second jail was built in Springfield in 1680 at a cost of 60 pounds sterling. The first inmate was a fugitive slave, “Jack,” from Wethersfield, Connecticut, who was apprehended by the local constable and placed in the Springfield Jail in July of 1680.
The colonial government had appointed a marshal for the county in 1668. The men who served in that capacity were the chief law enforcement officers of the county until 1692, when the county created the office of “Sheriff” and appointed Samuel Porter Jr. to that post, in which he served until 1696. Early records fail to reveal every succeeding county sheriff, although we do know that Captain Ebenezer Pumry (aka Pomeroy) served as “High Sheriff” of old Hampshire County, of which Hampden County is currently a part, in 1722.
Fast forward to 1974, and enter Michael J. Ashe Jr., a social worker who unseated an incumbent sheriff. And in the years that followed, he completely transformed the correctional system in Hampden County in a way that changed how incarceration is viewed and handled not only in Massachusetts, but on a national platform.
Whereas his predecessors managed the Hampden County jail with military-style discipline, Sheriff Ashe’s motto of correctional supervision was “Strength reinforced with decency; firmness dignified with fairness.” From the beginning, his approach was to institute policies and treatment of inmates to dramatically reduce the revolving door of recidivism.
In 1975, Sheriff Ashe developed the Pre-Release Program in the old Sheriff’s House at the York Street Jail. The step-down model was new to corrections, and its development was a game changer in terms of getting people ready for reentry close to the end of their sentence.
In 1981, Ashe instituted the nation’s first Day Reporting Center, which closely supervised and supported community reentry efforts of inmates living at home at the end of their sentence. He also instituted the nation’s first correctional After Incarceration Support Systems Program to assist inmates during the crucial first months after their release into the community.
In 1986, Sheriff Ashe opened the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center to treat the underlying issue of addiction – a drastic shift from the national attitude of simply punishing the addicted.
All of these initiatives set precedent and have since been replicated nationwide with the support of inmates, their families and communities alike for the positive dramatic effect they can have on transforming lives and reducing recidivism rates.
After a decade of lobbying for a new facility to alleviate overcrowding at the York Street Jail in Springfield, Sheriff Ashe felt that the time had come to act boldly. On Feb. 16, 1990, Ashe dramatically commandeered the National Guard armory on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield in order to house prisoners.
Finding legal standing for his actions, Sheriff Ashe invoked the 17th century Massachusetts law that empowered county sheriffs to do so when there was an “imminent danger of a breach of the peace.” Sheriff Ashe argued that the severe overcrowding posed an “imminent danger.”
After this move and other iterations of temporary housing for inmates in Hampden County, the department finally was able to move into its new and current home in Ludlow in 1992. In October of that year, the first women inmates were moved to the new jail and women formerly housed at Framingham were returned to Hampden County.
That move along with Sheriff Ashe’s determination paved the way for the creation of the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center. Opening in 2007 and expanding in 2014, the facility specializes in gender-specific programming and houses female inmates and pre-trial detainees from Worcester County west.
Today, the WCC offers holistic, integrated clinical services including specialized programming for women affected by trauma, mental health and substance use issues, those who have been trafficked or exploited, and services for mothers.
Sheriff Ashe was honored June 30, 2014 during a White House ceremony that celebrated his 40-year career in criminal justice and recognized him as a “champion of change” in the area of inmate rehabilitation. Ashe was one of 15 people recognized under President Barack Obama’s “Champions of Change” program in the category of Expanding Reentry Employment Opportunities.
Also in 2014, Sheriff Ashe announced he would retire at the end of his term in 2016, paving the way for the eventual election of Sheriff Nick Cocchi.
Nick Cocchi began his career as a seasonal correctional officer with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office, working his way up the ladder to eventually be elected by the voters of Hampden County to serve as Sheriff.
Since taking office in 2017, Sheriff Cocchi has expanded the department’s level of community engagement, including taking on the opioid epidemic head-on.
He started a medication-assisted treatment program to help people battling addiction, and he opened a substance use disorder treatment facility to help people involuntarily committed by the courts under the state’s Section 35 law.
Opening the Stonybrook Stabilization and Treatment Center more than doubled the number of available substance use disorder treatment beds in the western half of Massachusetts. The program’s approach mixes evidence-based programming with mindfulness, individual and group therapy to treat the whole person and address underlying issues and unresolved trauma, which can lead to substance abuse in the first place.
The average length of stay is over 50 days as the program is not driven by insurance, resulting in a low recommitment rate. The program has since been heralded in national media as a way to make a dent in the addiction crisis and actually deliver clients back to the community on a solid path toward long-term sobriety.
Behind the walls of the facilities he oversees, Sheriff Cocchi has pushed programing and educational opportunities that have contributed to one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation.
Career training has expanded to include the high-paying forestry profession, as well as welding, graphic arts and advanced manufacturing.
Sheriff Cocchi has added a Marine Patrol Unit of boats to the waterways of Western Massachusetts, a Mounted Patrol Unit of horses to the streets and parks of the county and an Emotional Support Division of therapy dogs to help the staff, the justice-involved population and the public better manage the stresses they face.
The department has started running a Youth Leadership Academy summer camp under Sheriff Cocchi, which serves over 100 children in the greater Springfield area, many of whom have a parent incarcerated. This program spends 6 weeks over the summer bringing in guest speakers and presenters to give the campers a rich cultural exposure and mentorship experience.
And with an eye toward the future, Sheriff Cocchi is always looking at ways to fulfill unmet needs in Hampden County, and ensure the department is a nationally recognized leader in community engagement as it is with corrections behind the walls of its facilities.