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Prison Inmates Used to Build Trump’s Wall ‘Modern-Day Slave Labor,’ Says ACLU

A Massachusetts sheriff proposed that inmates from his county jail would be the perfect candidates to build President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed wall — an idea that has been likened to “modern-day slave labor.”

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a Republican, said last week during his inaugural ceremony, “I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts slammed the proposal.

In a statement on its website the organization wrote, “The men and women incarcerated at the Bristol County House of Corrections are mostly poor people and people of color. The idea of sending them to build a wall to keep out other people of color who are fleeing violence or devastating poverty is abhorrent.”

Bristol County is 84.5 percent white, 4.9 percent Black and 7.2 percent Hispanic. Massachusetts’ population is somewhat similar and is about three-quarters white, 8.4 percent Black and 11.2 percent Hispanic.

However, according to a report from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, in 2015 the state’s total criminally sentenced inmates were 42 percent white, 28 percent Black and 27 percent Hispanic.

Laura Rótolo, staff counsel with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in an interview with the Boston Globe, “The idea of using modern-day slave labor to send people thousands of miles away from their Massachusetts home to build a wall to keep out other vulnerable populations — it’s just preposterous.”

Rótolo called the idea “perverse,” “inhumane” and “most likely unconstitutional,” adding that the ACLU would take legal action if Hodgson moved forward with the idea.

“If Sheriff Hodgson follows through on this gimmick, the ACLU of Massachusetts is prepared to use every tool in our toolbox, including litigation, to stop him,” she said. “The wall itself … is based on racism and hatred, and no self-respecting Massachusetts official should have anything to do with it.”

Hodgson reportedly pitched his idea to the Trump team and has not yet heard a response.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, also rejected the sheriff’s idea.

“Right when we are seeing how angry and sad people are, to have someone from Massachusetts — which is not even a border state — make such a statement is beyond ridiculous,” she said.

Billy Pitman, a spokesman for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), said the governor had not been aware of the idea.

“The Baker-Polito administration is thankful for the valuable community service inmates in Bristol County have provided through work programs and would prefer they continue to offer those services closer to home,” said Pitman. “The administration has not been briefed on the sheriff’s proposal.”

But other state leaders have outwardly rejected the idea, including Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat.

“This proposal has no basis in law or, frankly, common sense,” she said in a statement. “Our sheriffs have led the nation in developing innovative models for successful rehabilitation and reentry. I hope this political stunt is quickly dismissed and forgotten.”​

Peter J. Koutoujian, Middlesex County’s Democratic sheriff, said his county would not take part in the plan.

“This is not something we would consider at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “With an average length of stay lasting less than a year, we have a brief window of opportunity to address the factors … that lead to a person’s incarceration. I would rather use the scarce resources and time we have to offer evidence based programming that has been proven to help inmates prepare for reentry.”

This is not Hodgson’s first proposed idea to be met with backlash. In 1999 he temporarily revived chain gangs in the state. At that time the ACLU of Massachusetts also slammed Hodgson, calling it “the kind of thing that brings up images of an era we like to think is gone.”

Between 2002 and 2004, Hodgson charged his inmates $5 a day as an incarceration fee. In 2010 The Massachusetts Judicial Supreme Court ruled the sheriff’s practice illegal; however, also at his inauguration ceremony, Hodgson said he would like to reinstate the program.

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