A look inside the GB housing unit after destructive incident

May 5, 2023

Two weeks after inmates caused an hours-long disturbance at the Bristol County House of Corrections, the smell of rotting fruit still lingers in the GB housing unit.

The odor emanated from illegal “hooch,’’ which uses fermenting fruit to make alcohol within the housing unit.

From outside the housing unit GB, multiple shattered windows can be observed, one with handprints smeared down the glass, another with trash stuffed between the glass and the bars.

The media received their first in-person view of the damage, estimated at $100,000 to $200,000, during a tour of the facility Friday, May 5.

Smoke detectors in the unit dangled from the ceiling by a cord.TV screens were shattered. Trash, mattresses and clothing covered the room. 

From May 5 to 7 a team of seven people spent 16 hours cleaning and making some repairs the facility. 

“Our maintenance guys did an amazing job,” Sheriff Paul Heroux said Monday morning, after he visited the housing unit to see the progress. “From Friday to Monday, it was like night and day.”

Officials also showed footage of the inmates being escorted out of the impacted housing unit by Department of Correction officers. The footage depicted inmates cooperating after six hours of mayhem.

The incident, which occurred on April 21, started around 9 a.m. ending around 4 p.m. The altercation involved 17 so-called “ringleaders,” of those, three were awaiting trial on murder charges, nine were awaiting trial on assault and battery charges and three were awaiting trial on firearms charges. All of the inmates involved are now awaiting charges regarding the incident.

The incident could have been prevented if the cells within the unit had locking doors, said Heroux.

The cells in the affected areas don’t currently have locking doors because they have communal restrooms shared by about 80 inmates. Per a 1988 ruling, locking an inmate in a space without a toilet is considered to be cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the 8th Amendment.

“I agree with the judge, but the decision then was [to]…take the locks off the doors. That was the wrong direction,” said Heroux. “They should have said, we’ll keep the locks on doors, but we'll put toilets in the cells.”

Heroux reported that the toilets and locks will be coming to the two affected housing units as a part of their repairs.

Toilets and locks would need to be installed in 11 of the 22 housing units used by both the men’s and women's facility. To fund all of the desired toilet and lock installation, Heroux said they will need help from the state.

It will cost about $500,000 to install toilets in each housing unit, totaling about $5.5 million, and it will cost “several million more” to install locks on the cell doors, Heroux said.

The incident started as a result of maintenance plans to reduce the risk of suicide, Heroux said, such as installing beds with fewer “choke points.’’

Inmates became upset when they were informed of plans to move where they would move to a different housing unit within the facility so the maintenance could be performed, Heroux said.

Heroux explained that he believes the inmates became agitated when faced with moving to a housing unit with locking cell doors.

“I think they just didn't want to move from one housing unit that doesn't have locking doors to a housing unit that had locked doors, I think it is just that simple,” he said.

He reiterated support for the decision to wait out the disturbance and call for assistance from other sheriff’s departments. He has no regrets about that decision.

Heroux said this is an issue of safety for staff and inmates alike.

“This facility is not as safe as it can and should be. It could be a lot safer if we had locks on doors. It could be a lot safer if we had more [corrections officers,]” said Heroux. “So, there are things we need to do to make it safer.”