Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson is facing new fallout on two fronts: A rights group is suing him and members of his staff, alleging that they illegally imprisoned an immigrant. In addition, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is calling for an investigation into the sheriff’s department, citing concerns about suicides and allegations of “harsh or unhealthy” conditions at two county-run jails.
Here is a look at other controversies involving the tough-talking, hardline sheriff over the years:
■ In 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against a $5-a-day inmate fee that Hodgson charged from 2002 to 2004. Under this policy, inmates who didn’t pay the fee weren’t allowed to buy candy and other items from the canteen.
■ In January of 2017, Hodgson offered up Bristol County inmates as a potential work force to then President-elect Trump to build a border wall with Mexico. “I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall,” Hodgson said at the time. Hodgson announced this offer soon after Governor Charlie Baker delivered the oath of office for his fourth six-year term as sheriff.
■ Bristol County accounted for about a quarter of all jail suicides in Massachusetts from 2006 to 2016, even though it holds 13 percent of the statewide jail population, according to an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, published May 2017.“There’s a point where, no matter how protective you are, that people who are often successful committing suicide never give you the indicators, never let you know exactly what’s going to happen,” he said.
■ In January this year, three inmates with mental health problems filed a lawsuit against Hodgson and other officials at Bristol County Jail for allegedly placing them in solitary confinement for at least 22 hours a day with little treatment for their conditions. The lawsuit accused the sheriff’s office of not assessing inmates’ mental health history before placing them in solitary. Hodgson denied the allegations.
■ In May, Hodgson faces another lawsuit, this time for the high costs of making phone calls from the Bristol County House of Correction. The suit alleges that the sheriff office’s contract with its phone company implied an illegal kickback scheme that’s responsible for nearly doubling the cost of calls made from county jails. When an inmate places a call in Bristol, the phone company — Secarus Technologies Inc. — charges $3.16 for the first minute and 16 cents for each additional minute. So a 10-minute phone call costs $4.76, according to an attorney for the plaintiff. A call from a state Department of Correction-run prison costs 10 cents a minute with no fee for the first minute.Sophia Eppolito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.