More suicides on Tom Hodgson’s watch

New Bedford’s local paper, the Standard Times, reported another suicide of a young woman on July 3rd at the Bristol County jail. Her name is being withheld, but she was reportedly in the women’s’ behavioral unit inside the men’s facility at the jail’s Faunce Corner location. According to Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, “There was absolutely no indication to anyone. This was a shock.”

Like most of the many suicides that preceded it, it is being investigated by the sheriff’s own department. Reportedly, the Bristol County District Attorney is looking into the death as well. A year ago reporters from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) looked into the epidemic of suicides at the jail and the sheriff’s self-investigation. They described his process as essentially a whitewash, noting that “Hodgson’s report concluded that his jail staff did everything right in all cases.”

The Standard Times added a postscript to their suicide article with the phone number of the National Suicide Hotline. But this latest victim was not a member of the public with suicidal ideation. She was a prisoner at a notorious jail known for its extremely high rate of suicides, known for its deprivation of medical and psychiatric care, known for driving its prisoners to despair. The postscript should instead have been directed at the correct audience — prisoners — by adding the phone number of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division.

This was the second suicide in two months. On May 3rd, Mark Trafton was found in his cell at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Ash Street jail and pronounced dead by paramedics. Despite a social media discussion that described the man’s apparent suicidal intentions, a sheriff’s spokesman told a reporter from the New Bedford Guide that the man “didn’t give any indication […] to wanting to take his own life, nor did he have any prior history or exhibit any suicidal behaviors or statements since he arrived in custody.” The sheriff’s statement sounded scripted. “We offer our condolences to his family and we’re keeping not only them but everyone involved in this incident in our prayers.”

These latest suicides represent a return to Bristol County’s shameful record as the county jail with the worst suicide record in the Commonwealth. We renew our calls to place this facility in receivership. It is a failed correctional facility. The administrator shows more interest in making the talk show circuit to disparage asylum-seekers than in running a jail humanely and professionally. An interim warden should be appointed and a full, independent investigation of the facility should be conducted.

Legislators, the Attorney General, the State Auditor, the Inspector General, the Department of Corrections, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Governor — we have appealed to all of them to stop these suicides deaths by neglect and other abuses at the Bristol County jail. How many more are they going to ignore while paying lip-service to their public duties?