Ed Markey’s Claim That Solitary Confinement Connected To Race, Sexuality, Disability, or Immigration Status Is False, Massachusetts Prison Officials Say

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/08/08/ed-markeys-claim-that-solitary-confinement-connected-to-race-sexuality-disability-or-immigration-status-is-false-massachusetts-prison-officials-say/

U.S. Senator Ed Markey made a big claim about the prison system this week, but is it true?

Prison officials who spoke with New Boston Post say it isn’t.

Markey, a Democrat running for re-election to the U.S. Senate against U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III in the September 1 primary,  appeared in an online forum with former prison inmates on Tuesday, August 4, during which he claimed that prisons put people in solitary confinement based on their identity.

Markey made the comment in the context of noting that many prison inmates have problems with substance abuse.

“What happens operationally, however, is the prison system then looks at you and says, ‘Well, they’re black, they’re brown, they’re LGBTQ, they have disabilities — you know — they’re ICE prisoners, they’re immigrants, we’ll just put ‘em in solitary.’ That’s not realistic. You know?” Markey said during the forum.

A Massachusetts Department of Correction spokesman told New Boston Post that prison inmates in the state are sometimes placed in a cell by themselves for 23 hours out of a 24-hour period, but that it has nothing to do with race, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status.

“The Department of Correction utilizes restrictive housing only when an inmate’s presence in the general population poses an unacceptable risk to the safety of others, of damage or destruction of property, or to the operation of a correctional facility,” department spokesman Jason Dobson wrote in an email message Friday.

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson ripped Markey for his claim, saying that he was spreading false information to gain political clout. 

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Hodgson told New Boston Post in a telephone interview, referring to Markey’s charge about solitary confinement. “He’s playing to his base. He’s saying whatever he can to win over votes even if it’s not accurate.”

Hodgson, a Republican, explained that the Bristol County House of Correction, which he oversees, has special unit housing that temporarily segregates certain inmates from the general population, but that prison officials are careful about it and use it only in cases of dangerous behavior.

“If they’re in that status, it’s either for behavioral issues or for putting other inmates and officers at risk,” Hodgson said, referring to prisoners placed in solitary. “Every three days, a team reviews every single person that’s in that situation to determine their status — including their behavioral and mental health status. They determine whether or not the inmate should be in there or if they should be released from it.”

“This idea that there’s solitary confinement where people are locked up in there and given bread and water and that we’d isolate them just for the sake of isolating them is just inaccurate,” he added.

Hodgson said what Bristol County does is standard procedure across the state, and that Markey’s statement to the contrary is dangerous.

“That’s the kind of problem we have in the country:  we have elected officials that use whatever they think will play to the crowd they’re talking to and unfortunately, sometimes they incite those people by misrepresenting the truth because they think it’s gonna get them points with the crowd,” Hodgson said.

A spokesman for Markey’s campaign could not be reached for comment on Friday, August 7.