Opinion: Sheriff accountability must be reformed

May 3, 2022

To the editor:

Sheriffs should be held to the same law conforming, financially transparent and oath abiding standards as all other elected officials in Massachusetts.

Because the tenure of office is six years, and therefore significantly longer than any other position, it is imperative that sheriffs be subjected to more extensive scrutiny and oversight. And due to the fact that millions of dollars are funded for the operation of the facilities under their management, with minimal accountability, and that they are empowered to generate millions more in additional fees and contracts, it behooves the legislature  to impose stricter standards of auditing and reporting with real consequences for violative behavior.

The Bristol County House of Correction, under the stewardship of Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, has been a prime and continuing example of the most flagrant abuse of a system that contains virtually no accountability. 

Ignoring or violating the constitutional rights of the incarcerated, as remarked upon by various judges, costing the taxpayers possibly millions of dollars in litigative losses, exposing the staff and incarcerated to unsafe conditions, refusing to participate in proven drug treatment modes, offering few rehabilitative and reentry programs, all have accreted to the Sheriff’s dishonor and have left the community vulnerable to recidivism, high suicide rates and ever increasing taxpayer expenses.

Passing new laws and regulations without observable consequences will only perpetuate an ineffective and dysfunctional system. Massachusetts contains some incredibly talented and ethical residents, and their representatives, who can make a difference by creating and promoting evaluated programs that could become models for other states.

And Bristol County now has the opportunity to elect a new sheriff who understands that the system can, and should be, reformed. 

Betty Ussach,