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Sheriff To Politicians: Make Inmates Pay Daily ‘Rent’

Sheriff To Politicians: Make Inmates Pay Daily ‘Rent’

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The Boston Herald via YellowBrix

January 06, 2010

BEDFORD, MA – The state’s high court handcuffed a New Bedford sheriff’s bid to charge jailbirds $5-a-day rent, but the lawman is calling on Beacon Hill lawmakers to pass a stalled bill that would send the court ruling to the gallows.

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Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who says the nominal daily inmate fees could raise $10 million a year for the cash-strapped commonwealth, says the state Supreme Judicial Court erred by striking down his pay-to-stay program at the Dartmouth House of Correction. But, he says, the Legislature could make the ruling moot by moving legislation giving sheriffs the power to impose reasonable fees.

“Hopefully the Legislature will do the right thing,” Hodgson told the Herald. “The state of Massachusetts is losing millions of dollars by not having this acted upon.”

The SJC unanimously ruled yesterday that sheriffs, who oversee jailhouse budgets and manage facilities, do not have the authority to impose fees to offset the costs of housing inmates.

“Had the Legislature intended to authorize the sheriff to impose the challenged fees, it would have said so expressly as it had done with other fees,” SJC Justice Roderick L. Ireland wrote in the decision.

The ruling means Hodgson will have to pay back $750,000 in fees collected from inmates from 2002 to 2004 and held in escrow. Hodgson estimates that the state spends $35,000 a year per inmate.

Hodgson, a no-nonsense ex-cop who brought back chain gangs, yanked TVs from cells and has been criticized for overcrowded jails, contended that colonial-era law gave him authority to impose the fees. He says the SJC decision hits taxpayers in the wallet while inmates blow their canteen cash on sneakers and snacks.

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