Kevin Mulverhill: Four Stars, Three Hats

October 22, 2018

 

— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

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Notice the collar  Four stars.  It means he’s the sheriff.  In charge of this:

» 60 Corrections Officers
» 8 Deputy Sheriffs
» Clerical staff
» 1 full-time Substance Abuse Counselor (provided free by St. Joe’s)
» 2 full-time (I believe) Mental Health Counselors (contracted with Citizen Advocates)
» 1 Nurse Practitioner (I believe)
» 85 staff in all
» 127 beds for inmates
» separate accommodations for 20 to 35 female inmates (Sheriff Mulverhill instituted this)
» $6 million annual budget, where it costs $78/day to house an inmate:  1 inmate 1 year = $28,500, 127 inmates 1 day = ~ $10,000, 127 inmates 1 year = ~ $3.6 million

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Controlling crime in Franklin County ain’t cheap.  Six million just for the jail!  Then add the cost of state police, village police (several villages), Homeland Security, judges, attorneys, support staff, probation staff, buildings, blah blah blah — yikes!

Kevin Mulverhill oversees a big slice of the county crime financial pie.  He’s been doing it for the past 8 years.  He’s asking us to elect him for another 4.  Let’s take a close look at the issues, in no particular order of significance.

Issue #1:

Franklin County is one of the poorest counties in the state.  It didn’t used to be.  I mean many years ago when towns like Malone and Chateaugay flourished.  Back when dairy farming was profitable.  When the county was home to numerous mills and manufacturing and there were railroads for cheap and quick transportation.  Jobs were plentiful and decent.

Issue #2:

Drugs.  Booze.  I’ve discussed the former at length in these pages.  (See “Death by Drugs, Part I and II,” “Malone’s Jaw-Dropping Crime Statistics,” and “Why Charles Gardner Should be Malone’s Municipal Judge.”)

Issue #3:

Family, church, elders, school.  All four have lost much of their leadership and moral influence.  This would be difficult to quantify, yet it is so.  Also, having both parents working—our economy requires it, after all, if a family is to survive financially—means that neither mom nor dad is home for much of the time when kids are home.  Instead of mom or dad, there’s television, video games, the Internet, and Facebook.  This is a formula for behavioral disaster in children.

Issue #4:

For a variety of reasons, including #1 – #3 above, we are genetically selecting for (i.e., breeding) hyperactive children with poor executive control and function.  (Talk to any elementary school teacher who’s been teaching for several decades if you doubt me.  There are formal studies demonstrating this.)  The following, “ADHD is not just for children anymore,” is taken from the Attention Deficit Disorder Association website.

Issue #5:

Likewise for a variety of reasons, including #1 – #4 above, there is a great deal of what clinicians call “adverse childhood events,” especially among the poor.  Pediatricians and other physicians will tell you that these adverse childhood experiences are a time bomb affecting adult health, including mental health.

Issue #6:

As a former professor of history (Rutgers University) who has studied crime through the centuries, I can confirm what behavioral specialists have been saying for years, that much of crime is a result of mental illness.  Yes, even so-called white collar crime.  (Witness Bernie Madoff and his lunatic Ponzi scheme.)  You’re not going to find many Bernie Madoffs in the county jail, however.  What you encounter in the Franklin County jail inmate population is violent and clinically self-indulgent behavior. Issues #3, 4, and 5, above, have a strong bearing on #6:  mental illness.

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One can doubtless add to this list, though I think  these are the most salient issues.  That said, I would like to elaborate on #6.

It happens that I know about a dozen people who are habitués (frequent flyers) of the county jail.  Although I’m no clinician, I would say that virtually all of these dozen individuals are mentally ill to one degree or another.  They’re not evil and not even necessarily bad people:  just mentally ill. Jail, for them, is a revolving door.  In and out, in and out.

The term for this is “recidivism” (pronounced re-cid-e-vizm).

 

A more accurate perspective is the following:

 

Much of the work I published over the course of my career is considered “philosophy.”  (Indeed a number of my books have been used in philosophy courses in colleges and universities.)  In particular my handling of what’s called “world view”:  one’s concept of what it means to be a human being and what life and even the universe are about.  Men and women incarcerated in the Franklin County jail (as with every jail and prison) have a bizarre and really messed up “world view.”  Messed up to the point of being mentally ill.  Drug abuse is a symptom of their mental illness.  So is uncontrolled boozing.

I’m as much as saying that Sheriff Mulverhill and his 85 staff are running a 127-bed mental hospital—for dangerously deranged men and women.  I am also saying, by the way, that the Malone village police and other police throughout the county are, above all, mental health first responders.

1. The cops take these people out of immediate circulation.
2. The courts then assign them to a “time out” period of greater or lesser time.
3. The county jail is the place where they serve their “time out.”
4. Repeat #1 to #3 indefinitely (ad nauseum) for many individuals.  Chronic screw-ups?  Sure.  But we will make more headway if we say chronic, intractable mental illness.

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Consider this article published in 2010 in the open-source journal, BMC (Bio-Med Central) Psychiatry.  The article is considered a classic.  It focuses on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) among prison inmates.  (Click here to read the full article.)

Here is the crux of the matter, taken from the body of the article:

This study included an extensive diagnostic evaluation of ADHD and coexisting disorders among a group of prison inmates. . . . Almost all subjects confirmed ADHD of the combined type. Further, all subjects presented coexisting disorders. In fact, all 30 subjects presented a lifetime history of SUD [Substance Use Disorder], with amphetamine as the most preferred drug among almost two thirds.

In general, the subjects showed an early onset of abuse and antisocial behaviour. In addition, lifetime mood and anxiety disorders were obvious among a vast majority and treated among almost half of subjects at the assessment. Besides, almost one fourth confirmed ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder], much more common than we expected. On the other hand, psychopathy was present among only one tenth, which was less than we expected.

Further, personality disorders were present among 96% (22/23) of subjects. Among personality disorders, antisocial, borderline, paranoid, narcissistic, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder were most obvious. Further, there was a striking finding of this study; despite most subjects reported prior need of health services and educational support at school, few received a diagnosis of ADHD during childhood.

In summary, prison inmates showed severe symptoms and severities from ADHD, SUD [Substance Use Disorder], ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder], personality disorders, mood- and anxiety disorders.

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Focus on the sentence, above, highlighted in red.  Now force yourself to rethink the Franklin County jail—as a 127-bed mental institution with 85 staff, a $6 million annual budget, and patient-inmates who, in many cases, are chronic repeaters.

I agree, these people need incarceration (what I interpret as special housing), being individuals who massively, egregiously, and more often than not chronically break the social contract.  People whose normative behavior is “mayhem.”

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What can we do for such people besides take them out of circulation in “special housing” called “jail”?

My answer?  “I honestly don’t know.”  (Niels Bohr, father of quantum mechanics, once declared that anyone who thinks he understands quantum mechanics, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  I say the same of anyone with a glib answer to, “What do we do with these people?”)

Even so, it’s worth asking the question, though let’s not kid ourselves that the answers are simple.  The man with the 4 stars at the top of this page understands the gravity and complexity of the question and clearly has the experience and temperament to work toward realistic answers.

In every man there is a boy.  In every boy, a man. Kevin (2nd grade, above) was like other North Country boys.  Fishing and hunting with his dad and uncles.

In his teens he earned pocket money by washing dishes at John’s Restaurant and setting up bowling pins at the Knights of Columbus.  More exciting was playing hockey, baseball, and some football.  All the usual stuff.   (With a smile like this, there were probably one or two girlfriends along the way. He didn’t discuss those.)

Kevin Mulverhill

Kevin’s dad, Gary, was a DEC officer with a degree in forestry from Paul Smiths College and a graduate of the NY State Police Academy.  Not surprisingly, Kevin and his three siblings grew up with a great love for the Adirondacks—and exciting stories about poachers and other scofflaws. (Kevin is Irish on his father’s side and French-Canadian on his mother’s.  Stories in the Mulverhill household were likely told in the great Irish tradition of blarney and French-Canadian joie de vivre.)

Gary Mulverhill, DEC officer

The boy’s role model was Uncle Neil, his dad’s brother, shown here at graduation from the trooper Academy.  (Kevin fondly recalls the camaraderie among the troopers at family picnics and camping trips.  As a boy he would slip into his uncle’s bedroom and admire the uniform hanging in the closet.)

Kevin dreamed of wearing one of these someday.

Neil Mulverhill, NYS Trooper

The dream came true.  At age 23 (1988), Kevin posed for his own graduation portrait from the State  Police Academy.  Out of a graduating class of 119, he ranked #3. (The two officers who graduated ahead of him were single and lived at home with parents in the Albany area.  Whereas Kevin was married, and drove home to Malone every weekend to be with his wife and family.)

Kevin Mulverhill, NYS Trooper

Kevin wore the uniform with distinction for 23 years, retiring with the rank of Technical Sgt. (2010) in charge of all traffic control and logistics for Troop B out of Ray Brook. He became an instructor at the Academy, teaching radar operation, breathalyzer testing, and emergency vehicle operation to the young  recruits.

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Then came the attack on the World Trade Center.  Trooper Mulverhill was whisked off to New York City and made commander of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Officially he was the superintendent for the state police who now took over control of the Brooklyn Bridge, working side-by-side with New York City police and federal agencies.)  Regular bridge traffic was reduced to one lane, to allow rescue vehicles and personnel quick access to Ground Zero.  Nobody knew if there would be further sabotage.  All vehicles had to be checked. Everyone was on edge.

 

He vividly remembers visiting Ground Zero just days after the attack, a musty, moldy stench permeating the air. Smoke curling up from smoldering fires deep within the pile. Rescuers delicately picking through the massive rubble, looking for—heartbreak.  He recalls when the anguished decision was made to bring in the huge cranes to begin extracting great slabs of concrete and twisted steel—hope for survivors, gone.

Some memories are  eternal.

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This wasn’t Kevin’s first uniform.  Right after high school he enrolled in the criminal justice program at what was then called Canton ATC (now SUNY Canton).  When the opportunity came up, at the end of his first year, to put his academic training to practical use, he seized it. He became a Corrections Officer, learning the ropes in six weeks of intensive training at the Harriman Academy.

Sing Sing

His first posting, Dannemora. Four weeks in Little Siberia. Then Sing Sing on the Lower Hudson.  “A” block was 6 or 7 stories high, 102 cells long.  Kevin was still, basically, a kid—with a uniform, badge, and nightstick.  (This reminds me of the teenage boys who, with high spirits, boarded trains from towns like Malone in the 1860s to be cannon fodder in the fields of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg.)

He remembers an event at Sing Sing which I find revealing. A fight had broken out in one of the common areas. Officer Mulverhill was on duty with several other guards. Within seconds a crowd of shouting, gesticulating inmates surrounded the furious combatants—a mob of men who didn’t want the guards to intervene. Mulverhill knew his orders were to break it up—and so he waded into the angry horde, as I say, armed with nothing but a uniform, badge, and nightstick.  In the chaos, he suddenly had the sickening realization that his nightstick was no longer in its ring on his belt. A rookie—a 19 or 20-year-old kid—in the thick of a prison brawl in one of the most storied prisons in America—armed, now, with nothing more than a uniform and a badge.

Want to know what happened? Nothing! Nobody brought that truncheon crashing down on his head. In fact, just the opposite happened: he heard it drop on the linoleum floor. He picked it up. Unharmed.

Either the kid had a good angel or—this is my preferred interpretation—he had the respect and compassion of these men. Notice that he did not wade into the crowd, flailing away with his nightstick. Evidently they respected him for this—and refrained from beating him with his own nightstick when they had the opportunity.

To me, this speaks volumes. In the same vein, it’s worth pointing out that there were occasions in Kevin’s career as a state trooper when he had ample reason to shoot someone—yet refrained.  Where it was a judgment call—stomach churning seconds and minutes of not knowing whether to squeeze the trigger or not. He chose not to. He thought the crisis could be defused without deadly force. He was right.  In the two instances he described to me, he was dealing with a mentally ill individual.

Trooper Mulverhill was a first responder to what turned out to be a medical crisis.

In 2010 he changed hats.  From this one . . .

… to this.  Sheriff of Franklin County, NY.  A new hat and four stars on the collar.

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Kevin tells me that he learned in Corrections to be firm, fair, and consistent with his wards.  As the new sheriff of a jail with some administrative issues, he made it clear to his staff that (a) the officers were going to run the jail, not the inmates, and (b) officers were expected to do so with “care, custody, and control” foremost in mind.
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“Care, custody, and control” are all well and good, but what about the elephant in the room?  What’s he doing about this, I asked him? It’s the #1 question to ask of any candidate for sheriff.

The answer he gave resulted in a $200 check from my wife and me to his campaign. He is indeed aware of the elephant. In fact, the photo of Kevin at the top of this article was taken at an opioid presentation.  Kevin works closely with Suzanne Lavigne, Dir. of Franklin County Mental Health Services. Between them they created a mental health program for inmates. The jail contracts with St. Joe’s and North Star/Citizen Advocates for several, full-time substance abuse and mental health counselors. The substance abuse counselor is provided free of charge by St. Joe’s, as I understand it. If I heard Kevin correctly, daily they have 2 counselors from Citizen Advocates and 1 from St. Joe’s. He says the program is working well.

These plaques, expressing appreciation and certification, speak for themselves.
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I hope to see the collaboration between the Sheriff and St. Joe’s become even more comprehensive when St. Joe’s opens its new rehabilitation center on Elm Street.

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There’s more.  Here is Kevin’s election “palm card.”  It, too, speaks for itself.

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Kevin tells me that another of his goals is to put together a robust vocational program for inmates—again, addressing the thorny issue of what I refer to as the social contract: the need to work and live in harmony with one’s fellow men and women. A community, such as ours, is an ecosystem.  Balance, cooperation, and mutual interdependence are vital.  As individuals we are of little consequence; it’s the community that matters—all of us.

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I suggest an additional goal. An educational program for inmates. I realize this will take some figuring out from a pedagogical standpoint, since incarceration in the county jail is, by definition, short-term. Still, as a university professor who has taught in 2 state prisons, I believe it’s doable.

Watch this short video about Cornell University’s prison education program.  Amazing!
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Focus on the statement by Lucas Whaley.  (Once you open the video, use your mouse to drag the cursor to the 00:35 mark.)
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Then watch this one. Same program two years later (graduation ceremony 2016).
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“Kevin, I don’t see any big obstacles preventing us from doing this at the county jail. Do you?”
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Kevin & Shelley Mulverhill