Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association Honors Individuals at Inaugural Law Enforcement & Corrections Award Ceremony

BOSTON - The Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association (MSA) proudly celebrated the outstanding achievements and unwavering commitment of law enforcement and corrections professionals at its inaugural Law Enforcement & Corrections Award Ceremony on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. The event, held at The Great Hall in the Massachusetts State House, honored recipients in 12 award categories for their exceptional dedication and service.

Award recipients and officials stand in front of a large group of honor guard members at the base of the Grand Staircase inside the Massachusetts State House.The award ceremony highlighted stories of heroism, dedication, and innovation within the law enforcement and corrections communities.

“So much of our work as corrections and law enforcement professionals happens away from the public and out of the spotlight. I’m happy that we’re taking a statewide look at these amazing individuals and their stories of bravery, as they save and change lives,” said Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi, President of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association. 

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey was the esteemed guest speaker at the ceremony, offering words of praise and gratitude for the award recipients.

“The law enforcement and corrections professionals celebrated today go above and beyond each and every day to keep our communities safe and strong. It is a privilege to honor their courage and compassion, and on behalf of Massachusetts, we thank them for their dedicated service to our communities,” said Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey.

The Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association commends these exemplary professionals for their dedication, professionalism, and service. Their efforts continue to inspire positive change, improving outcomes for those individuals returning to our communities, and making Massachusetts a safer and more resilient state.

Among those honored by the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association were six members of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office who on June 12, 2023 quickly responded to assist a colleague who was experiencing a major heart attack while on duty.  Corrections Officers Jonathan Manolakis and Brian Collins, Sergeant Chris DeBeaucourt, Senior Case Manager Corey Decker, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Justin Fagan and Assistant Deputy Superintendent Rick Vivier demonstrated exceptional bravery and skill when they rushed to their colleague’s aid, administering CPR and an AED to save the officer’s life.  For their efforts, the group was recognized as the Correctional Officers of the Year.

“In a moment of uncertainty and crisis, the actions of these men represented the very best of our profession,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian.  “Most importantly, this team ensured a beloved friend and colleague returned home to his family.  It was incredibly moving to have that officer at today’s ceremony to thank those who saved him.  We will be forever grateful for the heroic efforts of these truly dedicated professionals.”

Please see a complete list of the other award recipients below:

1.     Meritorious Service Award: John Birtwell (Plymouth County Sheriff's Office)
John Birtwell’s dedication to public service, spanning over five decades, was recognized for his contributions as a prominent reporter, Press Secretary for Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, and mentor, leaving a lasting impact on journalism, law, and public service in Massachusetts.

2.     Correctional Training Officer of the Year: Corrections Officer Gina Walters (Hampden County Sheriff’s Office)
Officer Gina Walters excels as a Defensive Tactics and CPR/First Responders Instructor and has made a positive impact on staff members, instilling departmental expectations and delivering exceptional training, shaping their success post-academy.

3.     Correctional Supervisor of the Year: Sergeant James Ridley (Essex County Sheriff’s Office)
Sergeant James Ridley exhibited outstanding leadership during critical situations, including performing CPR, administering Narcan, and stopping fights, demonstrating quick thinking and excellent communication de-escalation skills.

4.     Deputy Sheriff of the Year: Christopher Ellis (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office)
Deputy Christopher Ellis exemplifies dedication, contributing to the United States Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force and more specifically the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program (HIDTA). His contributions have helped apprehend high-risk fugitives, ensuring the safety and well-being of the community through his proactive approach and quick thinking.

5.     Jail Administrator of the Year: Assistant Superintendent Rachelle Steinberg (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office)
Assistant Superintendent Rachelle Steinberg is a dedicated public servant, pioneering treatment and reentry initiatives, emphasizing equality and inclusivity, and overseeing medical services, ensuring uninterrupted medical care for justice-involved individuals.

6.     Innovation of the Year: Internal Perimeter Security (IPS) Team, Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office
The IPS team implemented cutting-edge protocols, including mail scanning and advanced technology, transforming safety measures in the correctional facility, making it a safer environment for everyone involved.

7.     Strategic Partner of the Year: New England Culinary Arts Training Program (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office) 
The New England Culinary Arts Training Program, in partnership with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, offers a comprehensive culinary training program to chronically unemployed individuals, empowering them with culinary expertise and employment skills.

8.     Service Provider of the Year: Dr. Thomas Lincoln (Hampden County Sheriff’s Office) 
Dr. Thomas Lincoln's Public Health Model for Correctional Health Care has reshaped inmate health care nationwide, focusing on quality medical treatment, bridging health care gaps, and fostering diversity and equity in health care, improving the health of justice-involved individuals.

9.     Program of the Year: Supporting Transitions & Reentry Program (STAR) (Essex County Sheriff’s Office)
STAR provides support, supervision, and services to justice-involved individuals, aiding successful reentry into communities. The program's emphasis on clinical, educational, vocational, and employment support contributes to public safety and reduces recidivism.

10.  Employee of the Year: Superintendent Michael Colwell (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office)
Superintendent Michael Colwell embodies public service and correctional professionalism, reshaping substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health care for justice-involved individuals, setting a new standard for care in the industry. In addition to his role in Suffolk County, Michael is a crucial leader and advocate for all of our sheriff's offices.

11.  Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Award: Superintendent Michael Colwell (Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office)
This award recognizes individuals who embody innovation, compassion, and professionalism, leading the way within the field of law enforcement and corrections. Each year the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association will choose and honoree as the recipient of the Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Jr. Award. This year, this prestigious award was presented to Superintendent Michael Colwell an individual most deserving for his legacy of collaborative spirit, enlightened approach to justice, and leadership.


The Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association supports, promotes, and advocates for each of the 14 Sheriff’s Offices in the Commonwealth. The MSA facilitates cooperative and collaborative relationships among the Sheriffs for the purpose of developing standardized training, providing governance over shared projects, discussing operational best practices, and evaluating research and data on matters of mutual interest and concern. The MSA improves public safety by promoting a greater understanding of issues impacting the Massachusetts Sheriffs and by bringing together law enforcement and criminal justice professionals.

Photo Caption: Officer Brian Collins (front row from left), Assistant Deputy Superintendent Rick Vivier, Officer Jonathan Manolakis, Officer Ed Sullivan, Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Justin Fagan, Sergeant Chris DeBeaucourt and Senior Case Manager Corey Decker with honor guard members from the 14 sheriffs’ office in Massachusetts.  Collins, Vivier, Manolakis, Fagan, DeBeaucourt and Decker were recognized as the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association Correctional Officers of the Year.