Covid-19 shines a spotlight on conditions in jails

Apr 8, 2020
To the Editor:
Covid19 is shining a spotlight on conditions in our jails, and raising larger questions about the role of incarceration in our communities. Facing charges of severe overcrowding, D.A.s are asked to review whether prisoners are actually dangerous. If not, why are they incarcerated? Surely rehabilitation is less expensive and more effective.
A federal judge ordered release of detainees with no criminal charges or priors at the BCHOC ICE unit. He was “surprised...given the administration’s statement that ICE isn’t arresting such people.” Sheriff Hodgson is fond of saying he protects us  from “criminal illegal aliens”. We should begin to scrutinize this claim.
Many now slated for release from county jail are awaiting trial, often too poor to post bail. Doesn’t this suggest that alternatives to pre-trial incarceration should be sought?
Court action may be too little too late. A nurse has tested positive at the ICE unit where occupants bunk 3 feet apart, as do 64 percent in the House of Correction. Attorneys charge they lack such basics as soap. Hodgson’s defense is that they sleep head to toe. You do the math!  We are learning the hard way that the health of our prisons is also a public health issue. Likewise, opioid addiction is a public health issue. BCHOC does not offer comprehensive Medically Assisted Treatment.
In these days of pandemic, many reflect that we will be forever changed as a society. We have an opportunity to deepen into traditional American values of justice, fairness and community, but we must choose to do so and address needed reforms.
Amy DeSalvatore,
Fairhaven, MA
Bristol County for Correctional Justice