DARTMOUTH – Before bringing state legislators and reporters into one of the housing units ravaged by inmates during a standoff at the Bristol County Jail last month, Sheriff Paul Heroux paused in front of the unit’s smashed windows, which appeared to be smeared with dried blood and/or feces.
While Heroux described how two inmates managed to jump over the railing that separated them from four corrections officers, who narrowly escaped as the inmates threw rolls of flaming toilet paper out the windows, everyone inquisitively stared at the smears until a reporter finally asked for a description of the elephant in the room.
“It is apple and ‘brew10’ or home brew,” Heroux explained to his invitees, which included Carol Doherty, a state rep from Taunton, State Representative Michael Day of the 31st Middlesex District, who chairs the state’s judiciary committee, State Representative Antonio Cabral of the 13th Bristol District, and news crews from Channel 5 Boston, WPRI 12 News in Rhode Island, and others. The tour was held on the morning of Friday, May 5.
Heroux then took the group into unit GA, the most damaged unit, where all the monitors hanging from the ceiling were smashed and a camera hanging prominently from a pole was covered completely with a white shirt and pair of black elastic waist-band pants. Strewed about the floor were Styrofoam cups, paper that was once wet and has since dried out into masses of white, wrinkly pulp, and brown paper towels.
According to Heroux, the damage to unit GA and the other unit involved in the standoff, GB, was approximately $200,000. Heroux said the standoff began after the inmates of units GA and GB were informed that they were going to be relocated to more suicide resistant units with locks on the doors.
According to Massachusetts law, it is considered cruel and unusual punishment – a violation of the Eighth Amendment – to “dry cell” a prisoner, or lock a prisoner in a cell that does not have a toilet. Heroux’s goal for the tour was to demonstrate to the legislature the urgent need for at least $5.5 million to install toilets in the 11 housing units that currently lack them.
“This was avoidable if there were locks on the doors,” Heroux explained during the tour.
The practice of dry celling prisoners was deemed unconstitutional by the Suffolk Superior Court in a 2004 amendment to a class action lawsuit filed against Heroux’s predecessor, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. According to prisonlegalnews.org, the original suit alleged that Hodgson overcrowded the cells and forced inmates to sleep on the floor in so-called “boats,” or portable bunks, and in common areas. This was just one of the lawsuits filed against Hodgson, who served as sheriff of Bristol County from 1997 to 2022.
A pro-Trumper whose 25-year career as sheriff was mired in controversy, Hodgson – who often sported a Confederate flag tie – offered to send inmates down south to help build Trump’s border wall; recently, he was accused of running an antisemitic advertisement.
Also, under his watch, the Bristol County House of Correction had one of the highest suicide rates among inmates in the state.
Heroux told those on his tour that back in 2001, when there was a riot under Hodgson’s watch, inmates took a prison guard hostage, injured three staff members, and managed to get onto the roof of the units, where they pelted large rocks at other employees.
Meanwhile, Heroux emphasized that on April 27, he quelled his uprising with a show of force, which resulted in no injuries to staff or inmates. He said that between 75 – 130 Department of Corrections (DOC) employees put the uprising to rest with a little patience and the help of CS gas and flash bangs. After the tour, Heroux played a video of the DOC employees in green uniforms donning helmets with plastic guards, carefully escorting prisoners – who were largely hacking and otherwise spitting up because of the gas – out of the unit. He pointed out one inmate in the video whose hands were handcuffed around his back by his buttocks because he had shoulder problems.
“This was very professional,” he said of the video. Later adding, “That’s corrections at its finest.”
As for whether the legislature is going to fork over the $5.5 million for the toilets out of their $56.2 billion budget, that remains to be seen.
After the tour, State Representative Antonio Cabral said, “These two units, it’s surprising the amount of damage there is.”
Nevertheless, Cabral was anything but definitive when asked if he will try to round up the legislative support necessary to raise the $5.5 million for the toilets. He said, “That’s a conversation we would have with administration and finance.”
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