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As Dartmouth jail exceeds 50 COVID cases, some allege lax response by sheriff

Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth
Courtesy Jonathan Darling, Bristol County Sheriff's Office
Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth

Fifty-three people at the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday. That total includes 47 people incarcerated and six security staff. Some at the jail say Bristol County isn’t doing enough to contain the outbreak, which began about three weeks ago.

One person who tested positive last week was hospitalized overnight before returning to the jail, according to Bristol County spokesperson Jonathan Darling.

Upon entering the facility, each person incarcerated receives two masks that they wash and re-use, said Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. He added that nurses monitor people for symptoms but do not routinely test everyone.

Those precautions are insufficient, according to William LaGrant, who is currently in a 30-person group bunk area at the jail. “There’s quite a few guys here that are worried for their health,” he said, adding that jail staff “are not separating us. We’re all pretty much two-and-a-half feet apart. Inmates have received no new masks or anything. Chemical supplies, bleach—nothing.”

Multiple people from LaGrant’s unit have been removed and placed in medical isolation with COVID-19 symptoms.

“People are coughing and sneezing all day long, and they still do not test the whole entire unit,” said Lewis Floyd, who is also detained in the group unit.

Hodgson said such comprehensive testing would be impractical. “We can’t swab every single inmate.”

The current outbreak is at least the second at the same facility since the start of the pandemic. “Periodically there can be these kinds of spikes and we take it seriously,” said Hodgson. “Hopefully we’ll get past this. We feel pretty confident in our protocols.”

Darling said Bristol County’s protocols follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “Our facility is being sanitized on every shift every day,” he said.

Hodgson does not require jail staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, despite widespread vaccine mandates in other sectors statewide. The sheriff does not collect data on the vaccination status of people incarcerated or working at the jail, according to Darling.

Daniel Ackerman has left CAI.
In his time at the station he reported on the South Coast. He came to the station from Minnesota Public Radio, where he reported on science and the environment. Daniel has produced audio documentaries on a motley mix of topics, from the science of sewage to the history of automobile license plates. He holds a PhD in climate change ecology from the University of Minnesota. Daniel was a 2021-22 Report For America corps member.