Attorney General Maura Healey is calling for an investigation into the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, citing concerns about suicides and allegations of “harsh or unhealthy” conditions at the two county-run jails that house some 1,005 pretrial and sentenced inmates.
Healey made the request citing stories by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting that ran in The Boston Globe and WGBH radio, which showed that Bristol County accounted for nearly a quarter of all the state’s jail suicides between 2006 to 2016 even though it housed just 13 percent of inmates.
Healey wrote a letter late last week to Daniel Bennett, secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, urging the state to investigate and, if necessary, take action to enforce minimum state standards. She said the “alleged failure” to meet health and safety standards should be a “significant concern” to the state and put taxpayers at risk of financial liabilities.
“Subjecting inmates to unnecessarily harsh or unhealthy conditions serves no valid public interest,” she said, offering help in an investigation. “My office stands ready to assist as needed.”
She also referred to lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s office alleging that mentally ill inmates are segregated for long periods of time, exposed to harsh conditions, and denied services. She said lawsuits are consistent with reports from her office’s Civil Rights Division about issues related to “inadequate mental health screening and treatment, denials of medical care (and) unsanitary conditions,” among other things.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson dismissed Healey’s letter Wednesday, saying it is politically motivated and an effort to intimidate “those who uphold the laws.” He said the state already audits the jail system and his facilities are accredited and inspected by national organizations and the federal government. He said Healey has never reached out to him with concerns and did not provide him a copy of the letter.
“It’s rank politics on the part of the AG,’’ he said in a phone interview. “She ought to be ashamed of herself.”
In a statement, the state Department of Correction said, “The DOC fulfills its statutory obligation to routinely conduct thorough audits at all county correctional facilities. In addition, any death (including suicides) in such a facility is investigated by the local District Attorney. The DOC will cooperate with any investigation undertaken by any other law enforcement agency.”