Sheriff: Let inmates build Trump’s wall

Jan 5, 2017

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has a message to President-elect Donald Trump: Let Dartmouth's inmates build your wall.

Hodgson made the request at his inauguration ceremony on January 4 at Bristol Community College in Fall River, while introducing a prison work program he is proposing called Project N.I.C.E., or National Inmates' Community Endeavors.

Hodgson said he modeled Project N.I.C.E. after one at the Dartmouth jail, in which inmates participate in community service projects in the area.

The proposed program, which would be voluntary for inmates, would work with sheriff's offices across the country to transport Bristol County inmates to work on community service or infrastructure projects wherever they are needed.

That could mean inmates help rebuild communities after natural disasters. Or, if the Trump administration is interested, they could build the president-elect's proposed wall along the southern border of the United States, Hodgson suggested.

Hodgson was sworn in by Governor Charlie Baker for his fourth six-year term as sheriff of Bristol County. He ran unopposed for the position in November.

Speaking with reporters after the ceremony, Hodgson said he has sent the proposal to Trump's team, but hasn't heard back. He stressed that illegal immigration is a problem in Bristol County and across the country.

The sheriff said he does not expect that Massachusetts taxpayers would foot the bill for the program. Instead, he hopes the federal government would step in.

“I would expect, knowing we’re going to be able to save huge dollars for taxpayers in labor and get communities back on their feet, that the federal government will see this as a wise investment,” Hodgson said.

He has discussed the idea with sheriffs in Massachusetts, and a compact is being created, he said.

It is not the first time Hodgson has suggested or implemented something controversial. The sheriff garnered national attention in 1999 for what became known as his "chain gangs."

Hodgson required that inmates doing supervised work outside of the jail, whether painting or cleaning streets -- activities not unlike those proposed for Project N.I.C.E. -- be shackled together while working.

For many, the measure harkened back to the days of slavery in the south. Hodgson, however, balked at that idea, arguing that it would foster a sense of teamwork among inmates and help them gain life skills. The sheriff said Wednesday that the practice is still in use today.

During the inauguration, Hodgson laid out several other goals for his new term, including reintroducing a $5 daily fee paid by inmates, which was rejected in 2010 by the Supreme Judicial Court. He also said he plans to work with the federal government’s 287(g) program, which authorizes local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, and noted that he will focus on educating youth to keep them out of the criminal justice system.