Inmates at the Bristol County House of Correction may soon no longer see their visitors in person as the sheriff’s office looks to replace face-to-face visitations with video calls.
Currently, the facility has non-contact visits, said Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. Inmates sit behind a plexiglass partition and speak to their loved ones through a phone, which has been the procedure for 20 years, he said.
The change would mean visitors don’t even enter the secure visitation area, but instead sit in a separate building on the property and video conference with the inmates.
Darling said that a few things prompted the change, which will affect the correction house as well as the adjacent Women’s Center in about a month.
“Number one, it helps make our operation more efficient, we can cut down on the burden of officers scheduled to work at the secure reception area,” he said, noting that could lead to less staff and overtime. “Also, we’re doing this to keep contraband out of our facility.”
Visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs and other materials into the facility, Darling said, so keeping inmates and visitors in separate buildings would be a deterrent.
Attorneys would still be able to visit their clients in person, Darling said. Attorneys and inmates currently meet in a separate conference room to talk and go over legal paperwork and that protocol would not be affected.
In a staetment, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts called the move to cut off human contact "cruel" to inmates and their families and loved ones.
"As any Skype user can tell you, video communication may provide a benefit to people who are far apart or unable to travel, but it’s no substitute for being in the same room with a person you love," the ACLU said in an email. "What’s more, video communication can be prohibitively expensive. Lawmakers should act swiftly to pass legislation to ensure the use of video communication at facilities in Massachusetts doesn’t come at the expense of in-person visitation, and that fees for video visitation are reasonable."
Hodgson is somewhat of a controversial sheriff and previously suggested that his inmates provide the labor for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
Most recently, Hodgson helped state Republican Reps. Jim Lyons, Shaunna O’Connell and Marc Lombardo write and file a bill that would give local law enforcement the authority to arrest and hold individuals on an ICE warrant, directly countering a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling that says state law does not allow police here to detain immigrants without charges.