NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Newly-elected Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux pitched to lawmakers his plan to close one of the oldest-running prisons in the United States.
Heroux gave local elected officials and the media a tour on Friday of the Ash Street Jail, in the hopes that lawmakers will back his proposal to move those operations to a new location.
According to the sheriff, they plan to move the 100 individually-housed inmates to the former ICE Detention Center in Dartmouth or remodel an empty housing unit inside of the county’s Dartmouth complex.
The sheriff attributed the plan to the jail’s outdated and inefficient conditions, operational expenses, and lack of access to programming for the inmates.
The 200,000-square-foot Ash Street Jail first opened in 1888 and parts of the facility’s construction date back to 1829. The jail has housed a range of individuals over the years—from buccaneers who failed to pay a five-dollar debt to alleged murderers like Lizzie Borden.
Activists have called for the closure of Ash Street Jail for years. Heroux said earlier this month the suicide rate at the jail is nearly three times greater than it should be.
Ash Street Jail’s gas and electric bills cost around $10,000 each month in the winter, according to the sheriff’s office. The department also has to deliver meals between their main campus in Dartmouth and the jail, which are almost 12 miles apart. In total, the department said they travel 12,500 miles to the prison delivering meals each year.
The sheriff’s office said proposed former ICE Detention Facility is more environmentally efficient and climate-controlled. It previously held up to 132 detainees and was constructed in 2006.
Heroux’s plan to close Ash Street jail and retrofit a new space for the 100 inmates would cost between five to 10 million dollars. During Friday’s tour, Heroux asked lawmakers to find funding for a feasibility study for the proposal.
“It’s really worth the legislators time to look at that and the sheriff’s idea that we might appropriate sufficient revenue to conduct a feasibility study, that’s a good place to starts,” State Rep. Carol Doherty said.