Sheriff seeks apology from Massachusetts attorney general
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is demanding Attorney General Maura Healey publicly apologize to his staff after she asked for an investigation into the Bristol County House of Correction amid concerns about high suicide rates and the treatment of inmates with mental illness.
In a press conference on June 21, Hodgson said the allegations against him and his staff were egregious, and argued that Healey’s comments are based on political gain -- not the welfare of inmates.
“People who run for elected office hijack the office and use it for their own political purposes, demonizing the very people who are doing the people’s work and are working hard every day to reach the highest levels of excellence,” Hodgson said. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, happens to be my staff.”
The press conference was prompted by a letter Healey sent to Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Secretary Daniel Bennett, asking the department to conduct a thorough investigation along with the Department of Correction into the health and safety conditions at jails run by the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office. The office operates the Bristol County House of Correction on Faunce Corner Road in Dartmouth and the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford.
In the letter, Healey said recent lawsuits against the sheriff’s office have raised serious concerns about the conditions of confinement at the jails, and she said the suicide rate at the facilities is a problem. Healey said from 2006 to 2016, a quarter of all jail suicides occurred at Bristol County prisons. The prisons housed only 13 percent of the state's county jail inmates.
However, Hodgson disagreed, arguing over the past 20 years, the suicide rate in Bristol County is 8.5 inmates per 100,000. He compared this to the 2013 national rate of 46 inmates per 100,000 in local jails, as reported by the United States Department of Justice.
Hodgson also said the office is preparing to implement a pilot program which uses algorithms to alert officers about people who are potentially close to committing suicide. The program was developed by the jail’s health contractor, Correctional Psychiatric Services.
Back in February, seven suicides spanning from May 2015 to June 2017 prompted the sheriff’s office to revise its segregation policies and adopt better training on identifying illnesses and suicide risks.
Hodgson also said that the facilities are inspected regularly by the Nakamoto Group, which is contracted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This happens at the Bristol County Jail in Dartmouth, which receives ICE prisoners, but not at the Ash Street Jail, according to Hodgson. The DOC inspects all county facilities twice a year. The last inspection was completed in February.
Hodgson said he has spoken to Bennett and said he presumes there will be no further investigation of the county facilities.
Here is the link to the previous article about Healey's letter: