Bristol County Feature: Organizing for Correctional Justice

BY: MARLENE POLLOCK, COALITION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Bristol County for Correctional Justice (BCCJ) is an ad hoc, grassroots group that formed in 2017 to get elected officials to look into Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s abusive practices towards incarcerated people in his custody, and questionable financial practices, as head of the Bristol County House of Correction (BCHOC). What started out as community opposition to Hodgson’s plan to send people in his custody to build Trump’s wall, and his decision to have his personnel do ICE’s work in a 287g agreement (Jan. 2017), has built into far-reaching critique of almost every aspect of his administration.  

We found out that his suicide rates were astronomical among the other 12 county jails in Massachusetts; and as we interviewed people who had been in his jail, we found a consistent story of very poor food, a practice of withholding medications for people with seizures, HIV, diabetes, psychological issues, as well as non-existent medical care resulting in serious health consequences, exploitative phone call and canteen prices, and overuse of force and solitary confinement. Defense lawyers also told us of his refusal to abide by the Lunn Decision, a Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court verdict that restricted law enforcement’s holding of people without status who were released from any criminal charges. On further investigation, we researched and found Hodgson’s tight ties with white supremacist groups, like FAIR, and his most recent effort as the lead organizer to build support among sheriffs for Trump’s wall, on BCHOC stationery. In fact, he was at Trump’s side last week when the President vetoed the “no national emergency” bill.

Our strategy has been to call on many state elected officials to investigate him. We’ve written to or met with Attorney General Healey, Secretary Bennett from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Department of Corrections Head Turco, Governor Baker, and State Auditor Suzanne Bump. Only Auditor Bump so far has responded. Her office did a performance audit, publishing the results of a two year period (2015-17) this past February.  Not surprisingly, her office found serious flaws in the BCHOC’s finances. One item: the Sheriff had not paid the Commonwealth monies owed to it by ICE to house people detained by them. This figure was almost $350,000! In addition, information from some credit card receipts on taxpayer money spent was missing. Nor had the BCHOC negotiated in recent years with ICE on the costs for housing the people they detained. If these costs have risen, that means that Bristol County taxpayers are subsidizing ICE, rather than ICE paying for what it uses. The bottom line is that we need accountability on these ICE expenditures, including how many people are being detained and held.  

Ways to Get Involved:

BCCJ’s Outreach Committee is available for speaking to interested groups about the conditions in the BCHOC, our critique of Hodgson, and the need for citizens to know facts that are not getting to us as they should. The committee has plans to reach out to many cities and towns in the county to do this education and to ask people to help out in spreading the word.  

Contact Maria Fortes at 508-415-8385 to connect about this, as well as helping to pass the Safe Community Act, a bill that would keep ICE from circumventing the 14th Amendment protections.

BCCJ’s Legislative Committee is planning lobbying trips to our elected state officials offices in southeastern Mass (local or state house) in order to get 3 important bills passed that would greatly improve life for people incarcerated in all the jails and prisons in the state.  

Contact Marlene Pollock at 508-982-8751 for information on how you can help get these important improvements passed.

BCCJ’s Media Committee is looking at a possible cable show, as well as developing a strategy to get the word out to smaller, town-focused papers, and to monitor the op-eds to the Standard Times and other big city papers.  Recently, BCCJ’s op-ed on the Auditor’s Report made all 4 county papers – the Standard Times, the Taunton Gazette, the Fall River Herald, and the Attleboro Sun!  

Contact Eileen Marum at 508-748-1282 for information on this committee.


BCCJ’s Research Committee is looking into ways to get the word out about Hodgson’s known affiliations with white supremacist groups, as well as hoping to get more powerful media into looking at Hodgson in this area as well.  

Contact Julia Keichel at 508-636-3690 for more information on this committee’s activities.