Candidate at a glance

NAME:
George McNeil
AGE:
58
RESIDENCE:
Somerset
OCCUPATION:
Retired Somerset police chief
ENDORSEMENTS:
Local 4 International Union of operating engineers; Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association; State Rep. Pat Haddad
Campaign website
Facebook

Q&A
George McNeil

Why are you running for Bristol County Sheriff? And why now?

I’m running for sheriff because of the inadequacies of the current sheriff’s office. Sheriff Hodgson has been there 25 years. There’s a lot of bad things that go on there. He’s doing a terrible job. Over the years, he has a mantra of being tough on crime, which I don’t understand because he’s not a law enforcement agent. He is a person that’s taking care of the custody of people that are incarcerated in his jails. So it’s kind of impossible for him to be tough on crime, but that’s the term he uses. Through the years, even [when I was] police chief, I’ve seen how he doesn’t network with the police departments.

During my tenure as chief, the last three-and-a-half years, I was the president of the Bristol County Chiefs of Police Association. We had meetings every other month and we invited the sheriff a few times. He finally came to one meeting because we prodded him so much. Some chiefs had issues with his policies when intaking detainees that we had in custody; those issues were never addressed. If you’re the sheriff, you should be networking with your police chiefs every time they have a meeting, which he rarely did. Why? I don’t know.

But in talking to people that worked there over the years — and not just corrections officers but people who are working with addiction and mental health counseling and medical staff — people I know there said it’s terrible working there.

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?

They don’t treat the people properly there, including the corrections officers. I know some police officers that were [in the sheriff’s department] as corrections officers for a few years. They said it’s just a horrible place to work. Having all that in mind, a couple years ago when I was still chief, I said, “you know, I think the sheriff is up for reelection in 2022. I think I’m gonna take a shot at running against him.” Things need to change there. It’s just terrible. The conditions are overall, just awful. And I think there needs to be a lot more done with rehabilitation to reduce reoffending. The way you’re gonna reduce crime is to be smart on crime. And how you’re smart on crime is rehabilitating people so they don’t reoffend.

I appreciate the fact that there are people who are career criminals. Most of those are not incarcerated in a jail, because for jails in Massachusetts the maximum sentence is two-and-a-half years. Most serious felons are gonna go to state prison; not to a house of correction. But I do appreciate that there are some people who can’t be rehabilitated. But I don’t think there’s enough effort to rehabilitate those that can be rehabilitated, whether that’s through addiction or through mental health counseling or through vocations. People leaving there are not improving on themselves at all. They’re leaving there with nothing besides that they were just kept in a jail and treated poorly. That doesn’t lead to being safer, to having safer communities. It leads to reoffending. And that’s what they do. They reoffend. And they come back in and, and it’s a revolving door.

So the way to change that is to try to improve the people that are coming out of there. And also at the same time, improve the working conditions for the people working there, like the corrections officer, like the counselors who make it a better place to work. Because they’re losing corrections officers all the time, just because they’re forced to work so many hours and overtime.

They’re tired. They don’t have time to spend with their families. And it makes it unsafe because when you lose staff, you don’t have people to watch the people being detained. It makes it an unsafe environment for everybody involved, and they can’t run vocational programs because they don’t have staff to do it. So there’s a lot of things that need to be done there. And I only see the sheriff when he is running for reelection, put out things that he’s been doing, which he hasn’t been until it’s reelection time.

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?

There’s 16 people who have filed federal suit against the sheriff and other people inside the department for the way they were treated. I think he overstepped his boundaries with regards to that immigration policy. Right now, I think Plymouth County is the only facility that is still doing anything regarding immigration. I don’t think we should be doing that. A lot of people that they say were illegal immigrants weren’t. For some of those people that filed suit, we’ve come to find out most were not illegal immigrants. So checking status and having ICE check statuses and trolling through the Internet to find out who was in custody, I don’t think it’s a good thing for the sheriff’s department to do that. Since President Biden’s been in there obviously that’s no longer in effect.

What will you do with the ICE detention facility now that it has been closed by the Biden administration?

It might take some money, but I think it’s a good facility that we can use and probably retrofit to use it as a vocational facility or possibly a new jail. I think Ash Street should be shut down. It’s ancient. It’s on a main road. And it’s just an old facility. There’s only 700 people being incarcerated in Dartmouth right now; that holds 1,200. So definitely no reason why there has to be two jails open right now. We can consolidate, save money — save taxpayer dollars. It costs taxpayer dollars having lawsuits against you, too, whether you’re gonna vigorously defend your agency or not. A lot of times it doesn’t go to trial. So you’re paying tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, just to settle the suit. So this is costing taxpayer money that can, I think, be avoided.

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?

I think it’s old. It’s ancient. I think it should be closed — demolished — and probably something else can be done with that area. It should be shut down. I don’t think right now it serves its purpose as intake. So if we arrested someone in Bristol County, we would take that person there rather than to Dartmouth and they would be processed there. 

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?

Somebody very close to me works in counseling. He said he had lost one of his clients this past week. I can’t get into particulars, but that person passed away. Mental health issues aren’t being addressed. I think that’s significant. And a recent survey showed that over 50% of the people going into jails now have mental health issues, and they’re not being addressed. Addiction counseling was never a priority of Sheriff Hodgson. It just wasn’t.

I think on his website it said no free rides or something like that. And it shows the backs of people standing in line to get food. But you are not there to punish people. You’re supposed to be there for the care and custody of those people, and the better you try to help them to improve themselves, the better chance you have of them not coming back there. If you treat them poorly and you just let them off in a parking lot somewhere when they have no place to go, that’s just wrong. Period. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, it’s just simply wrong. You don’t treat human beings that way.

Email Colin Hogan and Eleonora Bianchi at chogan@newbedfordlight.org or ebianchi@newbedfordlight.org.


MORE ELECTION 2022 COVERAGE