Revamping Cruel and Unusual Punishment in The Hampshire County Jail

Home to educational institutions, progressive ideas, and beautiful scenery, the Pioneer Valley is known for its pleasant, laid back way of life. Unfortunately, such a lifestyle doesn’t come without a price.

Structural changes in the governments of Amherst and Northampton have given rise to many changes in policy lately. Officials have made a point to reexamine archaic legislation and to re-work or dismiss outdated laws.

One policy in question is Article 34, Section G, of the Pioneer Valley charter. This Section permits the use of Despair Leaders in Hampshire County Jail. What these individuals do, is actively trying to conjure states of despair in the minds and hearts of inmates. Their job is essentially to eradicate tranquility, peace of mind, and other positive mental states from the prison.

In many cases Despair Leaders are professional psychologists or ex-CIA agents trained in the art of psychological manipulation. They sit in comfortable chairs outside inmate cells and pester them endlessly, using information from their files and personality tests, as well as conversation, to understand their assigned inmates, and tear them apart from the inside out.

Some argue that this is cruel and unusual punishment. Some argue that this is necessary to maintain the Pioneer Valley’s status as a wonderful place to live, whether cruel and unusual or not.

Amherst citizen Bill “Nerb” Elsasser weighed in. “What difference does it make?” he asked. “Walking around these streets and in those grocery stores, basically everyone is trying to be a despair leader, trying to make my mind confuse itself about itself. What difference does it make if people in jail need to deal with the same thing?”

The recent town committee meeting brought inmates and jail guards in to tell their stories. Much of the committee was unhappy with what they heard, but could not achieve the necessary number of votes to repeal the law.

I personally can relate with all sides here, Nerb’s side included.

For more articles by Common Observer, click here. To establish contact, email

Log-in or register an account to post a comment.