Candidate at a glance
Mayor of Attleboro
Bristol County for Correctional Justice; Working Families Party; Coalition for Social Justice; Justice for Massachusetts Coalition
Why are you running for Bristol County Sheriff? And why now?
I’m running for sheriff and I’m doing it now because I’m in my third and final term as mayor. I told the people of Attleboro that I’d be doing only two or maybe three terms as mayor. So my time as mayor is coming to an end. It just so happens that right now there is this race for sheriff. We need a sheriff who’s going to run a modern jail system. We need a sheriff who is going to really focus on rehabilitation; really think about decreasing recidivism; and really work in the best interests of the people of Bristol County.
I felt compelled to get into this race because none of these things are being done. We don’t have a modern jail system. We have a jail system where the current sheriff, the incumbent, basically says ‘I’m going to make your life miserable. And if you don’t like it, don’t come back.’ For people who have mental health issues or drug addiction issues, that’s not an effective strategy to reduce recidivism. I have experience working in a jail. I worked in a prison, and I’ve also got management experience as mayor of Attleboro. So I’m quite well qualified.
The current sheriff has presented himself as tough on crime and says hard time is the best deterrent to crime. Do you agree? If not, what would you do differently?
So the current sheriff has talked about being the toughest on crime. But it’s not effective. First of all, what does it mean to be tough on crime? If he’s talking about just making life miserable for people in hopes that they won’t want to come back to his jail system, that actually doesn’t address the risks of a person who’s there. It doesn’t really do anything for people who have drug addiction issues. It doesn’t really do anything for people who have mental health issues or who have anger management issues. There’s no research that shows that being tough on crime actually reduces crime. It’s a political talking point. That’s all it is. In fact, we know from the research that out of the three different things that can affect crime — whether or not you’re tough on crime, how quickly you’re punished, and then the certainty of punishment — we know that certainty is much more important than how quick you are punished or how tough you’re going to be treated. Because it doesn’t matter how tough somebody is on crime or how tough the sentence is. If criminals don’t think they’re going to get caught, that toughness doesn’t apply to them. And that’s actually what goes on here.
We have a sheriff who’s talking tough on crime and says that he’s a law enforcement officer, but we have local police to do that. The role of the sheriff, by statute in Massachusetts, is a very limited law enforcement authority. It’s not like your regular police; a sheriff can’t even issue a traffic citation. So the role of the sheriff in Massachusetts really isn’t about law enforcement. That’s one aspect of criminal justice. Another aspect, of course, is corrections. Corrections is about care, custody, control and rehabilitation. That’s the job of corrections. Law enforcement is about traffic stops, criminal investigations. Law enforcement is completely different than corrections, but Hodgson tries to blend the two of them. He doesn’t understand the job of a sheriff here in Massachusetts. And after 25 years, he really should. But a lot of what he talks about is just talk. He’s talking tough, but he’s not actually reducing recidivism.
How do you view the sheriff’s immigration policies, including offering to send inmates to construct the border wall and his operation of a federal immigration detention facility? Would you have done things differently?
The sheriff really doesn’t have anything to do with immigration. Now, Hodgson would probably strongly disagree with that. But let’s just face it, the sheriff has absolutely no statutory authority to do anything about immigration. It’s a federal government issue, not an issue for a Massachusetts sheriff. He doesn’t have the legal authority. So what the sheriff currently does is really just run his mouth. He runs his mouth on immigration. He might go down to Congress and testify about things. But he’s not actually statutorily allowed to do anything about immigration.
He had a contract with ICE. And because of the conditions of confinement, he lost that contract with ICE. He says it’s political. Other Republicans didn’t lose it. He says it’s because he was the most outspoken critic on immigration policy. What he’s basically doing is giving himself a big pat on the head and saying, ‘Because I’m so awesome I lost my contract because everybody else was threatened by me or they were jealous of me.’ Nonsense. The role of a Massachusetts sheriff is to run a jail. We don’t judge the people who are coming into the jail. We treat everybody the same. That’s not his philosophy, but that’s basic civil rights. And (by focusing on) rehabilitation (a sheriff) leaves immigration issues to the federal government. They have the statutory authority and the legal authority. That’s a federal government issue. It’s not an issue for a Bristol County sheriff. The only thing that we can do as a sheriff is really advocate. And that’s what Hodgson has been doing. He’s been an advocate, but he’s not actually getting anything done. He doesn’t have the legal authority to do anything. So it’s one of the biggest cons on the people of Bristol County to say, ‘I’m being tough on immigration. I’m keeping you safe.’ How exactly is he doing that? He goes down and goes to a border wall and gets a photo-op at the border. That’s not keeping anybody safe. He goes in front of Congress and advocates. Okay. Sure. Any citizen can do that. That’s fine. Go right ahead.
What will you do with the ICE detention facility now that it has been closed by the Biden administration?
Well, the ICE detention facility, we have to find out what we can do with that, or what we’re legally allowed to do with that. Right now, Ash Street is being used. It’s certainly an outdated facility. We also have the regular house of correction in Dartmouth. That population is well over its designed capacity. And so a lot of people have talked about, ‘hey, maybe we can close down Ash Street.’ That’s very popular for people to say. But if we take those people and just put them in Dartmouth, then what’s going to happen is you’re going to have an even worse overcrowding situation. And it’s already overcrowded, well beyond its designed capacity. I would like to see if we could put those inmates into the ICE facility. I don’t know if that’s allowed or not. I have to learn a little bit more about that. That’s potential space, though, to ease the pressure of the Dartmouth facility.
The Ash Street Jail is one of the oldest operating detention facilities in the country. Critics have called for closing it. Will you update the facilities? Should it be closed?
The Ash Street facility has a number of inmates in there who should be locked up right now. And when we try to close down a facility, we have to put those inmates somewhere. The sheriff doesn’t have the legal authority to just release somebody to the street. The sheriff doesn’t get to say, ‘I’m going to release this person early.’ That’s done by the courts. So if we were to close Ash Street, we would have to put those inmates somewhere. Right now, if we were to put them in Dartmouth, we would exacerbate the overcrowding situation. So we have to make sure we’re not going to try to solve one problem and make another problem even worse.
The information coming out of the sheriff’s office is very limited. I don’t know what his plans are for Ash Street. I do sympathize with the concern of overcrowding at Dartmouth. So, like I said, should we close it down? Yes. How do we do that? We have to do it right. I don’t think the current sheriff wants to close it down. He says two different things: he’ll say, ‘Ash Street is pretty much an unpleasant place, but it’s so clean you can eat off the floors.’ Well, which one is it? I mean, is it an unpleasant place or is it so clean? The inmates report mice and cockroaches all over the place. It’s really dirty and it’s really hot and unpleasant. And in one sentence, Hodgson says, ‘Yeah, that’s how I want it. If you don’t like it, don’t come back.’ And another sentence, he says, ‘I’m serious about rehabilitation.’ If Ash Street is a place for rehabilitation, you’re not going to get very effective rehabilitation when the people who are supposed to be getting treatment programs are constantly stressed out. Whether it’s for drug addiction or mental health issues, or anger management issues, you need to have the right atmosphere for that. You can still hold people accountable and run a correctional facility without the civil rights violations.
The suicide rate for inmates in Bristol County is higher than in other Massachusetts counties. Why is that, and what would you do to prevent suicides?
Fom my understanding of suicide — and I have a bachelor’s in psychology — it’s not that people want to die. It’s not that they want to kill themselves. It’s that they are hopeless that things are not going to change. If you have an atmosphere where you have a higher than average level of suicide, that’s basically a signal that it’s hopeless. We’re really trying to focus on rehabilitating people, releasing them back into society better. But if we have a high rate of suicide, that’s a real big red flag that the people who are there are feeling a lot more despondent and hopeless than in other places. Rehabilitation is not something that’s being seriously addressed in the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office. So you can’t say, ‘I’m serious about rehabilitation and sending people back into society better off than when they arrived,’ but then in another sentence say, ‘yeah, we’ve got the highest rate of suicide.’ I mean, the highest rate of suicide in the state actually is evidence that you’re not running a really good rehabilitative environment.
I would do things differently. You have to focus on discharge planning, setting people up for success when they’re being released. You have to focus on making sure they have housing; making sure they have health care, which includes drug treatment, mental health; making sure that they have a job and, if they don’t have a job, getting them the training for a job; making sure they have something as basic as an ID when they’re being released back into society. They have hope that they have a chance. If they don’t, and they just look at every day and it’s miserable, and they commit suicide, that’s a pretty good indicator that we’re not really running a rehabilitative environment. People might say, ‘this is a soft approach.’ The current sheriff talks about how he offers rehabilitation programs. He’s just not doing it to any serious degree. It is something that’s absolutely necessary for corrections, and we call it a house of correction to correct their behavior.