Earlier this year, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County -- Fall River, New Bedford and towns thereabouts -- offered to have the inmates of his county jail work on President Trump's proposed border wall. This would mean sending prisoners -- many of whom are serving short sentences for relatively minor offenses -- nearly 3,000 miles away. I object.
In response to the Sheriff's intentions, I've submitted "An Act protecting inmate safety and the expenditure of state funds" (S.1279). It would require county sheriffs to submit a plan, prepare a budget, and gain the approval of key state officials before sending inmates beyond our borders and away from drug and alcohol counseling, job training programs, and contact with family. I can envision state officials consenting to the occasional special case for out-of-state travel: if Rhode Island were to experience a natural disaster, Bristol County inmates in nearby Fall River might be in a good position to help out. But bonafide emergencies such as these would be rare.
I testified in support of S.1279 at a crowded hearing of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. It's drawing strong positive reactions. Most people don't like the idea of sending inmates to the Mexican-U.S. border to advance Mr. Trump's political purposes, at a time when offenders are paying their debts to society but also preparing -- we hope -- to rejoin it.