Sheriff Thomas Hodgson sued over treatment of mentally ill inmates

By Douglas McCulloch | Jan 11, 2018
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch Sheriff Thomas Hodgson speaks at a panel on sanctuary cities at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on April 6, 2017.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is facing a lawsuit alleging poor treatment of inmates with mental illness.

The class-action lawsuit, filed on January 9 by three inmates at Bristol County Sheriff’s Office House of Corrections in Dartmouth, alleges the office’s policies and procedures in dealing with inmates with mental illness violates federal, and state protections and disability laws.

They are represented by two non-profit groups, Prisoners Legal Services and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee.

Particular attention is paid to the sheriff’s office’s policies in housing mentally ill inmates in segregation. The lawsuit describes clinical research indicating “persons living under segregation conditions, such as those at HOC, suffer serious psychological harm.”

Each of the three plaintiffs allege they were housed in tiny, segregated units for extended periods of time despite serious mental health issues and documented past instances of illness.

The lawsuit states plaintiff Megan Downey, 31, spends much of her time at the House of Correction in segregation for disciplinary reasons, such as receiving a book from another inmate and refusing to be placed in a cell with a woman who previously fought her. She claimed she received little or no mental health care and her depression and anxiety worsened since being placed into Sheriff’s Office custody in November 2016.

Andy Welch shared similar experiences in the lawsuit. The lawsuit said the 43-year-old suffered from childhood abuse and a history including a suicide attempt, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder. He said he was housed in segregation for prolonged periods of time and “at times became delusional as [his] mental health deteriorated.”

The lawsuit also alleges inmates in segregation face poor conditions, including small units, limited time outside of the segregation cells, denial of social, recreational, educational, and rehabilitation programs, and a filthy and noisy environment.

Jonathan Darling, spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, described the lawsuit as “frivolous” and said he expects a judge to quickly dismiss it.

He disputed the lawsuit’s notion that inmates do not receive adequate mental health care, pointing to the presence of nurses in each housing unit every day, and screenings upon intake to the jails.

“That’s one of the many lies and misinformation contained in the lawsuit,” Darling said.

He added that Bristol County Sheriff's Office facilities are accredited by both the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and are subject to annual inspections by both the state Department of Corrections and the federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He said inspections have never found deficiencies in physical or mental health care, and questioned Prisoners Legal Services’ intent in filing the lawsuit, as he said the group is working on criminal justice reform at the state level.

“It’s obvious they filed this lawsuit as a way to push their political agenda,” Darling said.

The lawsuit names Hodgson and Bristol County Sheriff's Office employees Steven Souza and Judith Borges in their official capacities.

The plaintiffs are asking to require the sheriff’s office to stop housing seriously mentally ill inmates in segregation, ensure they receive appropriate and necessary mental health care, appoint an independent mental health professional to ensure compliance, and provide court-appointed monitoring and attorneys with statistics and other documents to monitor compliance.

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