Protesters call for change at Bristol County jails

Jul 28, 2018

Through chants, speeches, and shouts, several dozen protesters hoped to send a message to the inmates and immigration detainees inside the Dartmouth House of Correction: You're not alone.

The protest, held on July 27 at UMass Law, was organized by Bristol County for Correctional Justice, a group advocating for better treatment of inmates within the Bristol County prison system.

It comes just a week after at least 60 detainees inside the sheriff’s office’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility organized a hunger strike, and two days after more than 200 inmates at the House of Correction protested the quality of the jail’s food by refusing to eat jail-served food -- although inmates still ate meals purchased at the jail’s commissary, according to a sheriff’s office official.

Inmates also felt the non-air conditioned jail is too hot, medical care is not adequate, and prices of commissary items are too high.

During speeches and through signs, protesters spoke of many of the controversies that have embroiled Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who has served as county sheriff since 1997. Protesters at times spoke directly to Hodgson himself, after he, along with the sheriff’s office public information officer, Jonathan Darling, arrived and observed the protest from across the street.

They brought up the various lawsuits Hodgson is facing -- wrongful death lawsuits relating to prison suicides, receiving kickbacks from the jail’s prison phone provider, civil rights lawsuits relating to the treatment of mentally ill inmates and immigrant detainees -- and the high suicide rate at Bristol County jails.

Dartmouth resident David Ehrens said Bristol County for Correctional Justice got the ball rolling on requesting a state investigation into the sheriff’s office. The group was one of several to submit a letter to Attorney General Maura Healey, prompting her to ask Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett and Commissioner of Department of Corrections Thomas Turco to investigate the jails, although that has yet to happen.

“One thing we wanted to do today is we wanted to tell the people over there that we hear them, we keep hearing them, and we’re not going to give up working on their behalf,” Ehrens said. “The other thing we want to do is reiterate to Turco and Bernett that they really need to follow through on this investigation the attorney general asked them to.”

The activist group began in 2007, amid a wave of lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s office. Drawn from members of church groups, the NAACP, and community activists, the group has also interviewed inmates and compiled its own report of conditions as reported by them.

After the protest, Sheriff Hodgson disputed the allegations made at the protest, and accused organizer Marlene Pollock of advancing an agenda.