Bristol Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson is threatening to close a 200-bed regional jail his department operates in New Bedford, saying Governor Deval Patrick has withheld millions of dollars from the outspoken sheriff’s budget as political retribution.
“It’s pretty clear what is going on here,” Hodgson said Monday in a telephone interview, several hours after he held a morning press conference at his office in Dartmouth. “These kinds of things don’t happen by accident: We got $2 million less than we did last year.”
Bristol lags behind six other major sheriff’s departments in state funding. But only one of those departments, Suffolk County, has more inmates in its jail, Hodgson said.
Bristol County houses 1,579 inmates. Suffolk houses 410 more and receives about $61 million more in annual funding. The Plymouth County Jail has 221 fewer prisoners than Bristol, but receives $6.7 million more.
“I don’t see any other option; we’ve looked at everything,” Hodgson said. “The underlying question is how this could be so outrageously disparate.”
‘These kinds of things don’t happen by accident, we got $2 million less than . . . last year.’
Bristol County was appropriated $28 million for 2013.
“There are certain situations that substantiate that this has to do with politics,” Hodgson said during the telephone interview, referring to differences he has had with Patrick.
He opposed Patrick on putting sheriff’s departments under state control. Hodgson also advocated for the US Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program to verify suspects’ immigration status, a program that Patrick initially resisted but that was passed by his administration. Hodgson referred to those issues in his letter to Patrick.
The governor’s staff disputed Hodgson’s assertions of political payback, saying that Patrick had proposed a budget that included $2 million more, but that proposal did not make it out of the Legislature.
“We make budget decisions based on facts, not politics,” said Jay Gonzalez, secretary of administration and finance.
“And the fact is that while we’d like to do more, fiscal realities demand that local and state agencies manage limited resources during these challenging economic times,” Gonzalez said. “Sheriff Hodgson is obligated to continue to provide necessary public safety services throughout Bristol County, and we assume he will meet this critical obligation.”
Hodgson said he sent the governor a letter Friday asking him to restore the $2 million, but has not heard from him.
“To ensure the public safety of the citizens of Bristol County, I find it necessary to call upon you to immediately correct the blatantly inadequate funding of our citizens, my staff and our inmate population.’’ he wrote.
Almost two dozen police departments in the county use the Bristol jail to detain pretrial suspects. Hodgson said that if the jail were to close, it would force those departments to house inmates in their own lockups and they would have to pay overtime to officers to monitor the inmates.