Sheriff Hodgson wins lawsuit alleging kickbacks from inmate phone service
A federal judge on Monday ruled in favor of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in a lawsuit that alleged he received kickbacks from Securus Technologies, a company contracted to provide telephone service to inmates at his jails.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani decided that the state Legislature gave Hodgson and other sheriffs the authority to generate revenue from inmate telephone calls.
Two years ago, prisoners’ rights activists filed a class action suit against Hodgson and Securus alleging the sheriff did not have the authority under state law to generate revenue from inmate telephone calls.
“For years, we have had to defend ourselves from unmitigated attacks by political activists who have been non-stop accusing us of ‘illegal kickbacks’ and profiteering on inmate phone calls,” Sheriff Hodgson said. “Now, the federal court has unequivocally told us that our actions were proper.”
"As usual, I will not hold my breath waiting for any apologies for all the hateful and defamatory comments made about the Sheriff's Office or myself," the sheriff added.
According to court records, Hodgson awarded Securus a five-year contract in 2011 that provided the sheriff’s office with two on-site administrators for $65,000 each annually, a $75,000 yearly technology fee and a 48 percent commission on revenues from the inmate calls.
In her ruling, the judge said the plaintiff’s concerns were timely but that the Legislature granted the authority to the sheriffs.
These policy questions are for the Legislature not the court,” Talwani wrote.
Inmates at the jail went on a hunger strike last month to protest the price of phone calls along with what they said are poor living conditions.
“We rely so much on our families, and we can’t even talk with them,” said Derek Luz, an inmate who helped organize the strike.
Currently, the calls are free, but Luz said they typically cost eight dollars each and expects that the free calls will eventually stop once the pandemic is over.
"My mother struggles out there, so I can only call her once a week,” Luz said.
Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jonathan Darling said the Sheriff's Department understands that inmates are frustrated they can’t see their families, but said the jail does plan to allow in-person visits again once there is permission from the state.
He added that those looking to make additional free calls can do that through their attorneys.