He made headlines Tuesday when he called for the arrest of elected officials of so-called sanctuary cities, but Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is no stranger to controversy.
Hodgson was appointed to sheriff in the southeastern corner of the state by former Governor William Weld in 1997 and quickly started drawing attention to himself and his get-tough corrections policies.
Just months in office, he banned television, weight lifting equipment, and smoking inside Bristol County jails. He eliminated coffee and orange juice in order to save money and has argued that prisons should be run as cheaply as possible, according to Boston Magazine.
A riot broke out in the Ash Street Jail rioted in 1998, and Hodgson defended the conditions as “perfectly fine.”
His next controversy came in 1999 when he implemented the “Tandem Work Crews” program as a chance for inmates to do work outside of jail. Similar programs exist across Massachusetts, but Hodgson made his inmates wear shackles while working.
The reaction was immediate and intense. Editorials across the country condemned Hodgson’s decision and the sheriff even received a fax from China decrying the “chain gangs” as a human rights violation.
Yet Hodgson persisted and the program continued until 2010, when it was struck down in court.
In 2002, his name was in the news again when started charging inmates rent — $5 per night spent in jail, a policy that was in place until 2004 when a judge struck it down.
Hodgson was again in the news when former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was jailed pending his trial for murdering Odin L. Lloyd in North Attleborough in 2013.
Hodgson showed reporters around the high-security wing that Hernandez lived in for eight months and would brag about how the former NFL player wasn’t allowed to watch football in his cell, was denied cake on his birthday, and was repeatedly given bland, unsatisfying food, according to Boston Magazine.
This kind of treatment is in line with Hodgson’s philosophy that jail should be made as unpleasant as possible so that inmates never want to return.
Hodgson, a self-declared lifelong Republican, has been a vocal supporter of some of President Trump’s most controversial policies, including his plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico.
In January, Hodgson offered using Bristol County inmates as laborers to save money on the president’s planned wall, saying he could “think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country.”
The American Civil Liberties Union called his proposal “inhumane and likely unconstitutional.”
Andrew Grant can be reached at email@example.com.