- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Two former roommates who joined the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office about 25 years ago as deputies are fighting to control the agency in a race filled with charges of financial mismanagement and jailhouse favoritism.

On one hand, Republican challenger James Vickery, 48, has criticized Sheriff Stan Barry, a Democrat, for overseeing a department that has racked up more than $300,000 in credit card bills over the past four years.

On the other, Sheriff Barry, 45, who says the county encourages credit card use for some purchases, charges that Mr. Vickers wants to make life more comfortable for inmates, citing a letter that his opponent recently sent to an inmate.

Mr. Vickery’s letter, which came in response to correspondence from the inmate, attacks the sheriff for having “no interest in treatment programs, quality of life issues or rehabilitation programs for inmates.”

“Your letter shows a great deal of insight and you clearly are not intimidated by your situation,” Mr. Vickery told the inmate in his letter. “For you to make a difference you need to pass on your concerns.”

Mr. Vickery suggested the inmate contact a reporter and enclosed campaign material.

Sheriff Barry has seized on the correspondence in his campaign against Mr. Vickery, who served as chief deputy under former Sheriff Carl R. Peed. In 1999, Mr. Peed lost to Sheriff Barry, son of former Republican state Sen. Warren E. Barry.

“Prisoners should be treated fairly and get everything they’re entitled to, but I don’t think jails should be a nice place,” Sheriff Barry said. “My opponent wants to make living conditions easier for inmates, and I want to make the job safe for deputies.”

Mr. Vickers said he does not advocate cushy living in the jailhouse but thinks overcrowded conditions should improve.

“I got a letter from an inmate that was damning in terms of the operations of the Sheriff’s Office,” said Mr. Vickery. “I have heard a great number of these stories over the last three years. So I wrote the inmate a letter and I would do it again.”

Mr. Vickery has focused his attacks on credit card bills that were charged by the Sheriff’s Office, which he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The charges, according to Mr. Vickery, total $300,000 in three years and include payments to a craft shop and tractor supply company.

“I think the institution is really in jeopardy,” Mr. Vickery said. “There are serious ethical problems and serious structural problems.”

Sheriff Barry defends the credit card bills.

“The county policy clearly says that what we’re doing with the credit cards is allowable,” the sheriff said. “Each purchase was within county guidelines. It was for buying goods for our official performance and duty.”

Sheriff Barry said two big issues he wants to address if re-elected concern the county jail.

“One challenge is overcrowding,” he said. “The other problem we have is [the] mentally ill being housed in the detention center, and we’re looking at diverting them to treatment centers rather than keeping them in jail.”

Sheriff Barry said county law enforcement officials need to continue to prepare for terrorist strikes. “Public safety has changed, and that’s a direct result of September 11,” he said.

Mr. Vickery disagrees: “I don’t think terrorism should be an issue in the sheriff’s race. … I don’t think the Sheriff’s Office has been invaded yet and I don’t think it’s under attack. When the sheriff talks about national defense, my greatest fear is that he is framing the subject away from his primary responsibility.”

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