Opinion: Facts matter, Sheriff Hodgson

Dec 14, 2021

To the editor:

On Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021 a group of concerned residents marched and gathered at the Ash St. Jail in New Bedford to voice their concern about the inhumane conditions at this antiquated and dilapidated facility in New Bedford. Representatives of various organizations and churches participated, and several members addressed the group with information about the appalling state of this jail.

Despite Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s recent and past comments about the great conditions at the Ash Street jail and the and the positive accreditations he purports to have received from various organizations, the recent inspection report of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health belie his assertions.

As recently as a week ago and then again on Sunday, as he sat in his car observing the rally, Hodgson claimed that Ash Street has received many positive reviews. What he always fails to mention is that these organizations are supported by their yearly fees and other expenses paid by sheriffs, including Hodgson. 

The real unbiased and telling reports are produced by DPH which is mandated to conduct bi yearly inspections of all prisons and jails in the state.

On Nov. 23, 2021 the DPH conducted an inspection and released a report the next day that cited  over 82 health and safety violations at the Ash Street Jail. Included in these violations were damaged or dirty cells, unsanitary food handling, damaged mattresses, dirty shower stalls, and a host of other identified violations including “a main exterior door not vermin proof” in the food service area.

Additionally, and probably of most significance is that many of the cells and shower areas were “off line” and therefore unavailable for inspection.

Having been given notice of the impending inspection, it is reported from various sources, that the staff feverishly and superficially cleaned and painted sections of the jail and, it would appear, probably closed off the most offensive cells and showers to avoid being noted for violations.

It is too many years beyond the point where this unsafe, unhealthy and dilapidated building be closed down and no longer utilized to punish the incarcerated who are primarily pre-trial detained, being processed or serving sentences for misdemeanors. These people, who are housed in these appalling conditions, and the staff that work in this environment, should be transferred at once to other facilities.

Anyone who cares sufficiently about this shameful situation can write or call the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Sanitation Program, or their state legislators, to demand action to remedy this blight upon our county.  

All of the inspection reports from the Massachusetts DPH, through the years, are posted on line and clearly indicate health and safety violations, many repeat and never corrected.

Betty Ussach,