A Massachusetts sheriff on Wednesday unveiled an outside-the-box proposal to help make President-Elect Donald Trump’s proposed border wall a reality — inmate labor.
Thomas M. Hodgson, who was sworn in to a fifth four-year term on Wednesday as sheriff of Bristol County, is pitching a plan to create a nationwide consortium of sheriffs who agree to make inmate labor available to respond to the aftermath of hurricanes and natural disasters — and for ambitious national building projects. One possible application would be to provide labor for the construction of a border wall.
“I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall.”
“I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall,” Hodgson said in a prepared statement. “Aside from learning and perfecting construction skills, the symbolism of these inmates building a wall to prevent crime in communities around the country, and to preserve jobs and work opportunities for them and other Americans upon release, can be very powerful.”
The spectacle of Massachusetts inmates working to build a “big, beautiful wall” is unusual for reasons of geography and politics. The border is more than 2,100 miles away, and Trump lost every single county in the Bay State. Bristol County, which borders Rhode Island, favored Democrat Hillary Clinton by 9 percentage points.
Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for the sheriff, told LifeZette that he expects the idea to draw some criticism.
“There’s always blowback with political stuff,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, what side it is.”
Hodgson already is known as an immigration hawk in a sea of amnesty supporters.
“He’s been one of the sheriffs who have been outspoken on the impact of illegal immigration,” said Federation for American Immigration Reform spokesman Ira Mehlman, whose organization favors stricter immigration enforcement.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the idea is likely to be unpopular only with voters who already oppose Hodgson.
“Sheriff Hodgson is very popular in Bristol County and widely respected around the state,” she said. “He does have his detractors, but they already disagree with him on immigration enforcement.”
Bristol County for years has had a robust work-release program that Darling said saved taxpayers more than $1 million last year by having inmates paint government buildings, cut grass, and perform other work. Inmates also have painted churches and performed services for nonprofit organizations, Darling said.
Hodgson is proposing a national version of the program called Project NICE, which stands for the National Inmates’ Community Endeavors. The program would link participating sheriff’s offices across the country. Darling said Hodgson hopes to make a presentation to the National Sheriffs’ Association this winter.
“What this program would do is sort of take that model and expand it nationally,” Darling said, adding that it would take six months to a year to set up.
Darling said the Bristol County program is limited to nonviolent inmates near the end of their sentences. It is voluntary, but Darlin said prisoners often view it as an opportunity to avoid a jail cell all day while learning a skill.
In the context of a wall, Darling said, it would be fitting if people repaying their debt to society for breaking the law contributed to a project aimed at promoting law enforcement.
“The sheriff was really interested in the border wall,” he said. “That symbolism, we think, would be important in their rehabilitation.”
Vaughan said inmate labor could save money while dovetailing with the national criminal justice reform movement.
"It's something the Trump administration should look into," he said. "This kind of combines Sheriff Hodgson's interest in [these] kinds of work programs with his interest in better immigration enforcement."
Mehlman, the FAIR spokesman, said he does not know about the legal implications of Hodgson's plan, but added, "It's certainly preferable to illegal labor."
Mehlman said it also highlights the holes in the argument offered by immigration advocates.
"When you have these employers who claim they can't find employees, there really are other options … There are huge, untapped sources," he said.
William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, suggested that perhaps illegal immigrants should be put to work on the wall as a deterrent to would-be illegal immigrants, who usually face nothing more than deportation.