Opinion: False narratives surround Ash Street

Dec 20, 2021

To the editor:

By now, I believe most people in Bristol County and beyond can see right through Betty Ussach and her politically motivated rhetoric. Another week, another Letter to the Editor, and in her latest dispatch, she continues to wrongly portray the inspection reports from state agencies and conclude that the conditions at our Ash Street Jail in New Bedford are "inhumane."

During my first election, nearly 25 years ago, activists like Betty Ussach were calling for the Ash Street Jail to be closed suggesting that taxpayers should spend upwards of $30 million to construct a new jail facility that may look a little nicer but not function differently. They weren't protesting on behalf of the children being taught in school buildings that had been around since Ulysses S. Grant was president. No, they wanted to provide a more aesthetic environment for people who judges and juries felt should be held behind bars.

If Betty Ussach wasn't so desperate to create a false narrative to meet her political agenda, she would have taken the time to research and learn that schools, jails, restaurants, nursing homes and other commercial and residential facilities receive audits and reports from the Commonwealth's Department of Public Health that commonly show areas for improvement.

Let me be clear on that point. Inmates live at the Ash Street Jail. They eat three meals a day. They bathe, sleep, exercise and attend programs every day. They're joined by regional inmates, who are brought in by local police departments and spend the night before going to court. There are corrections officers, health care staff, maintenance workers and others in and out of the building every day. Any structure, whether it's a jail, hospital, senior living complex, nursing home, anywhere where people live, eat, bathe, work etc. will occasionally fall short of DPH's high standards. And these inspections give us and others the chance to see where we can do better, so I thank the DPH for highlighting areas for improvement.

Again, any building in which people live, eat, bathe, work, study, etc. is going to have minor shortfalls. It's a fact. If these areas for improvement were major and "inhumane" as Betty Ussach opines, the DPH would shut us down in a heartbeat. But you know why the DPH has never shut us down? Because the Ash Street Jail is safe, clean and secure.

I'm not privy to the inspection reports from other residential facilities, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts we fare pretty well in comparison.

Context goes a long way.

Betty Ussach has chosen to dismiss the results of our rigorous three-day national accreditation inspection as invalid or somehow flawed because Sheriffs Offices must pay the expenses of the accreditation teams, as well as the costs of issuing the reports.

The American Corrections Association is not a charity. It is an organization comprised of corrections and law enforcement experts and professionals from across the country that evaluate facilities, provide professional training and development, and share best practices. Those services aren't free, and they certainly aren't free to provide.

Goods and services cost money. That's a fact. DPH inspections cost money too, from the taxpayers' pockets.

To suggest that national accreditation from a national organization of professional experts is invalid because we had to pay for it is absurd, but not entirely surprising seeing the rhetoric and political agendas being floated by far-left progressive activists locally and nationally.

Betty Ussach is entitled to her opinion, but like it or not, my staff operate one of the safest, quietest, and cleanest jails in the United States.

And yes, it's also the oldest.

Thomas M. Hodgson,
Sheriff of Bristol County