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Bristol sheriff wants to replace in-person visits with video conferences

Bristol County Sheriff’s office

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

By Danny McDonald Globe Staff 

The Bristol County Sheriff’s office is looking to replace in-person visitations with video conferences at two Dartmouth facilities in a move that could affect about 900 inmates.

Jonathan Darling , a spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson , said the change would help prevent drugs and other contraband from being smuggled into the Bristol County House of Correction and the adjacent Bristol County Sheriff’s Office Women’s Center .

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Under the plan, which Darling said could go into effect in three to five weeks time, friends and family members looking to visit inmates would be taken to a separate building, where they would have a video conference with the individual.

Right now, most inmates are granted one hour of visitation twice a week, said Darling. Visitors and the inmates are separated by Plexiglass and communicate using a phone. Inmates have not been allowed to sit directly with visitors at either facility for more than 20 years, he said

The two facilities house both inmates serving sentences and those awaiting trial, said Darling.

Visitors have tried to smuggle drugs into a secure part of the jail by leaving illegal substances on their side of the visitation room. he said.

Video-conferencing would likely reduce the amount of drugs entering the jail, and potentially save the sheriff’s office money, said Darling. If there are less visitors in the two Dartmouth facilities, the number of staff needed for those facilities could potentially decrease.

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“We’re replacing a piece of Plexiglass with a video screen,” he said. “We don’t think you’re losing a lot there. We’re doing this for the safety and security of the inmates. The less drugs that are in the facility, the safer the inmates are going to be.”

Not everyone is welcoming the new policy. In a statement made to The Standard-Times, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts disapproved of the change, calling it “cruel.” Messages left with the ACLU were not returned Tuesday night.

The change would not alter anything about attorney visits to their clients in the Dartmouth facilities, Darling said.

The policy would be a first for Massachusetts, but it is fairly common in other parts of the country, he said.

Sheriff Hodgson is a controversial figure. He has said that inmates from the Bristol County House of Correction could help build President Trump’s desired US-Mexico border wall. He also said such inmates could help clean up disaster sites. He has also voiced support for the arrest of public officials who support “sanctuary city” pledges.

Last week, Hodgson was ordered to appear at a civil contempt hearing after he was nearly two hours late to testify in a federal smuggling trial.


Information from the Associated Press was used in this report Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com.