It’s been a useful exercise for me to try to keep track of all the new campaign filings via OCPF. One sees how many opportunities there are for challenging incumbents — forcing them to defend their records, and even extracting promises going forward. Sadly, on OCPF I see no challengers for any of the county sheriffs (am I looking in the right place?).
This is particularly regrettable in the case of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, whose “law and order” façade excuses a lawless, cruel, and indeed deadly management of his jails. He infamously offered “his” inmates to help build Trump’s wall, apparently imagining the inmates to be his personal slaves, to be lent out at his pleasure. What’s more:
He’s taken away television sets, reduced meal portions and limited recreation options. He has offered to ship inmates down to the Mexican border to help build the president’s wall and has tried to charge them $5 a day while they serve their time. Recently, he revoked face-to-face visitation rights for most of the prisoners under his watch to limit contraband smuggling, drawing the condemnation of multiple prisoners’ rights groups.
But his record is much worse than a flippant political joke. His callousness, particularly in use of solitary confinement, has cost actual lives — 16 to suicide since 2006 — according to a report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting:
Barbara Kice wants justice for her son, who hanged himself in 2015 in the Bristol County House of Correction. The jail, all by itself, accounts for more than a quarter of county inmate suicides statewide, and Kice thinks she knows why so many die: Jail officials do precious little to care for troubled inmates.
The Fall River mother filed a wrongful death suit late last month against Bristol County jail staff — and its tough-talking sheriff — claiming jail officials left him in solitary confinement the day after he had told a court doctor that he was going to commit suicide. He hanged himself with a bedsheet.
Hers is one of four current lawsuits against Hodgson.
And it’s not just inmates: WGBH’s Daniel Medwed says that between 2011-2015, 12 correctional officers in Massachusetts committed suicide. The dehumanization affects the jailers as well.
Exactly whom is this helping? In this era of re-examination of effective rather than repressive law enforcement; of greater mental health and addiction awareness, Sheriff Hodgson seems a retrograde, capricious dungeon keeper, not a responsible steward of public safety. “Old school” doesn’t excuse brutality and human rights abuse. Attention to mental health — access to treatment, addiction services (including antidotes), etc. — is a much greater protection to the public than creating more misery in jails.
And in the political sphere, let’s again take into account what political opportunities we have for reform, especially with three candidates for Suffolk DA, and a challenger to Marian Ryan in Middlesex. Compare to Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, who is setting new standards for progressive prosecution; for instance, calling for an actual accounting of the costs of incarceration for each case. I’d be interested to see what oversight AG Healey can provide for county jails.
Accountability is political, and the political moment is ripe for criminal justice reform. That means new blood with new ideas in public safety offices.