Bristol County Sheriff Releases Suicide Report, New Ash Street Jail Closure Plan
Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux held a press conference on Thursday at the BCSO Main Campus in Dartmouth marking his first 100 days in office.
The Democrat Heroux assumed office in January after successfully defeating 25-year Republican incumbent Tom Hodgson in the hotly-contested 2022 election.
At the press conference, Heroux released the 64-page inmate suicide report, showcased new suicide-resistant bunk beds, revealed the organizational chart for the new Director of Inmate Services position, and highlighted the work the BCSO has done under his leadership to begin what he's defined as the modernization of corrections in Bristol County.
New Ash Street Jail Closure Plan
Heroux announced for the first time that he and high-level officials in the BCSO conceptualized new a plan to safely relocate inmates of the 135-year-old Ash Street Jail in New Bedford to the main jail in Dartmouth that won't require financial assistance from the state legislature and will allow the BCSO to close Ash Street in two years' time.
The original plan, which Heroux announced on WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight, involved retrofitting cells in available space at the Dartmouth jail, which would have cost around $8-$10 million and would require the state legislature to allocate the funding.
The new plan, according to Heroux, is to add locks and toilets to cells that currently do not have them in three separate cell units at the Dartmouth jail so they can house inmates who need the single cell accommodations that Ash Street provides.
Heroux said this can be done internally, without the legislature's help, using the $1.6 million in surplus from the jail's canteen.
Director of Inmate Services
One of Heroux's top policy priorities upon assuming office was to create a Director of Inmate Services that is a direct report to the sheriff and oversees the various programing and services provided to inmates.
At the press conference, Heroux reveled the organizational chart he created which maps out the responsibilities of this new position.
Heroux said the reorganization will not only allow BCSO Superintendent Steve Sousa to focus on his administrative tasks, but it will also make programming and inmate services more effective in helping inmates meaningfully enter society and reduce their likelihood of reoffending.
The sheriff also assured the media that the Commonwealth will provide him with the funding necessary add the needed staffing for this reorganization.
Ending BCSO Public Programs
Heroux announced that he is redirecting $1.5 million back into operations by ending or relocating programs which he said "have nothing to do with running a jail."
He is looking to relocate the "Are You OK?" program, which checks on seniors with a daily phone call, to a Council on Aging or a community organization that can continue its operation.
Other programs such as "The Comfort Dog" program is being repurposed internally, with the comfort dogs being retrained to be drug-sniffing dogs for the jail.
Some programs are being shuttered entirely, such as the "SLAM tours," which Heroux compared to the "scared straight" program and said is shown by empirical study to traumatize youth and be completely ineffective.
Inmate Suicide Report Released
The sheriff released a non-redacted version of the highly anticipated inmate suicide report done by nationally renown expert Lindsay Hayes, who evaluated the BCSO facilities last month.
Hayes' report provided 24 recommendations on how the BCSO can reduce its rate of inmate suicides, which has been reported to be the highest in the Commonwealth.
Heroux said that while inmates suicides are an unfortunate and not completely preventable occurrence in prisons, he believes that if these recommendations were implemented in previous years that some of the suicides that occurred could have been stopped.
Suicide-Resistant Bunk Beds
Heroux concluded the press event with a showcase of the custom-built suicide-resistant bunk beds. He noted that in Hayes report, it is found that seven out of seven suicides at the Dartmouth jail happened using the bunk beds.
With a white bed sheet in hand, Heroux demonstrated the various "choke points" in the old model of the beds that allows an individual to hang themselves with relative ease.
He then showed the new bed, which was designed in-house and has far fewer choke points, making a suicide by hanging increasingly more difficult and thus preventable.
Maintenance Director Chris Horta said the prototype for the suicide resistant beds was just finalized Thursday morning, so he could not give a dollar figure and timeline to retrofitting the entire stock of BSCO bunk beds. However, Heroux said he anticipates it can be done relatively quickly and cost-effectively.