Boston – Yesterday the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security heard from State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) about his bill to prevent sheriffs from sending inmates out of Massachusetts without meeting certain requirements.
In January, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County volunteered his inmates to help build a border wall proposed by President Trump. This would effectively mean sending prisoners — many serving short sentences for relatively minor crimes — nearly 3,000 miles away, far from rehabilitation services and their loved ones.
Senator Barrett is the author of An Act protecting inmate safety and the expenditure of state funds (S.1279), which would prohibit any sheriff from sending an inmate in his custody out-of-state without meeting certain requirements.
Barrett said, “County sheriffs don’t spend their own money when they send their inmates to and fro outside of state borders. They are spending state appropriations. So of course there has to be state oversight.” He added, “The idea of sending inmates to the Mexican border to advance Mr. Trump’s political purposes at a time these individuals are ideally receiving rehab services is really bad policy. But the wall is real and Sheriff Hodgson’s intentions are genuine.”
Specifically, the Governor’s Office and the Legislature would need to receive 90 days’ notice in advance of any inmates being sent out-of-state, together with a detailed written plan and budget submitted by the relevant sheriff’s office. The sheriff would then need approval from the Secretary of Administration and Finance and the Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The bill adds an exemption to the 90-day requirement for a bona fide public health and safety emergency.
Unlike a House bill filed by Representative Cabral (D-New Bedford), the Barrett bill is not an outright prohibition on inmates being sent out of Massachusetts. A Sheriff would have the right to transport prisoners out of state to work on certain projects, if they meet the requirements set out in the bill. However, the additional oversight of these projects would protect inmates and ensure Massachusetts tax dollars are not used for frivolous means.