Trumpian excess has no place in Massachusetts

A Dartmouth House of Correction inmate, who asked to be identified only as Scott, 37, of Fall River, Mass., paints a fence at a drug treatment center in New Bedford, Mass., along with other inmates on a chain gang Wednesday, June 16, 1999. Convicted criminals laboring by the roadside, strung together with shackles and chains, are no longer ghosts of Southern-style justice as chain gangs are making a comeback across the country. (AP Photo/Julia Malakie)
Associated Press File Photo
A Dartmouth House of Correction inmate paints a fence at a drug treatment center in New Bedford, along with other inmates on a chain gang.

Beacon Hill legislators want to make sure Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s harebrained plan to send local inmates down to the border to build President Trump’s Mexican wall never materializes. Their commendable actions highlight the role state lawmakers can play in blocking preposterous Trump-inspiredattackson vulnerable populations.

State Representative Antonio Cabral, a New Bedford Democrat who represents part of Bristol County, recently filed legislation that would require that any inmate work program in Massachusetts be performed within the boundaries of the state. A separate bill, filed by state Senator Michael Barrett, would require sheriffs to get approval from state officials to send anyone in their custody out of state.

“It is the Legislature’s prerogative to create, design, and reform any kind of inmate work programs,” said Cabral. “We state lawmakers have the ability to prohibit or authorize those, especially when you’re using state dollars and the implications of transporting inmates, housing them, providing security, and the liability implications.” Cabral rightly argues that if the state is spending dollars rehabilitating inmates, communities in Massachusetts should be the beneficiaries of such work programs. If Hodgson wants to put inmates to work, at least it should benefit Massachusetts.


Cabral’s second proposal deals with a less inflammatory but similarly dangerous policy Hodgson recently enacted. The Bristol County sheriff signed an agreement with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to help enforce federal immigration policy in county jails. The partnership, known as 287(g), was also signed by Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald and requires some corrections officers to undergo training to interview immigrants and refer those who are in the country illegally to ICE for deportation. The bill filed by Cabral would prevent the sheriffs from using any state funds to carry out the 287(g) programs and closely monitor them to ensure they use only federal resources.

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“You want to agree with Trump? That’s great. But don’t use state dollars to carry out his policies and get your five-minute headline,” says Cabral. The state legislator is currently working with colleagues to find a way to fast-track these bills.

Targeting illegal immigrants and prisoners may score cheap political points, but no Massachusetts sheriff should be diverting taxpayers dollars away from county needs. Hodgson’s silly antics have served to expose shortcomings in state law, and the Legislature should take the opportunity he’s created to put some reasonable new limits on the treatment of inmates and use of public money.