Sheriff Tom Hodgson: Legislature Squanders Opportunity to Save Taxpayer Money

The following opinion piece was penned by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson & has appeared in several county newspapers.

Both the House & Senate passed versions of the $5.00-per-day inmate fee yet the Budget Conference Committee decided to create a study group rather than save money for the taxpayers & teach inmates responsibility.

How much time does the Massachusetts Legislature need to study whether or not inmates should be recession-proof and whether taxpayers truly deserve to enjoy the benefits of a proven revenue stream?

In the Statehouse where the minds of those who pay attention are frequently boggled, we remain astounded that the Legislature’s conference committee recently decided to send back for study the budget amendment that would have brought some much-needed fiscal relief to the law-abiding taxpayers of Massachusetts.

The House and Senate recently passed their own versions of budget amendments that would have allowed us to impose the $5-a-day fee for inmates along with various co-pays for specific services provided for them. The competing versions were sent to conference committee to be cobbled into a single bill.

The Legislature apparently thought that six years was too short a span to allow it to comprehend the intricacies of a program that had already been in operation for a couple of years with a financial return to Bristol County taxpayers of $750,000.They buried the bill and said that they would visit it again in March of 2011. Now some might suspect that the Legislature buried the issue, but they are simply a slow study.

For nearly six years now we have been asking the Legislature to provide taxpayers the relief they deserve to help them deal with the rising cost of operating prisons by providing legislation to allow sheriffs to impose a $5-a-day cost of care fee. While we waited we realized that about $2,250,000 was lost to the taxpayers who are fighting a tough financial period on a national, state and local level.

It is time the Legislature admitted it is trying every way to avoid the admission that it does not have the stomach to pass legislation that would bring millions of dollars into the state at a time when we are warned that financial troubles seem inevitable in the next budget cycle.

Look. It’s simple. We have used the system. We are willing to share its complexities with anyone who wants to help even the uphill climb of the honest but burdened taxpayers.

It is getting to appear that the Legislature has more concern with the inmates than with the taxpayers of the state.

I call that troubling.

This fee is also part of Charlie Baker’s “Baker’s Dozen” of reforms for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

12. Charge inmates room and board – Between $10M to $40M in savings

There are more than 23,000 inmates in Massachusetts within the control of the Department of Correction and Sheriffs’ Departments. It seems reasonable and logical to charge these inmates a nominal daily room and board fee to help off-set the costs of incarcerating them. Inmates that are unable to pay should have their bills forgiven for good behavior after they are released. The Bristol County Sheriff’s Department has shown that this program can work, collecting $750,000 from inmates and forgiving bills for those with good behavior after released, before a court ruled that the state must pass a law permitting the collection of the room and board.…

PS – Although it’s been publicly discussed here on RMG over the past month, yes I do work for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office & am proud, privileged, and honored to serve Sheriff Hodgson, the residents of Bristol County, & the taxpayers of the Commonwealth – irregardless of party or affiliation.

About Brock N. Cordeiro