Bristol County, Massachusetts is a long way from President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. Nevertheless, prisoners in the Bristol County House of Corrections could someday find themselves hard at work on that wall, should Sheriff Thomas Hodgson get his way.
Speaking at Bristol Community College for his swearing-in ceremony this week, Hodgson—who was recently re-elected to a fourth six-year term—suggested that some Massachusetts inmates could help make Trump’s premier campaign promise a reality by providing free labor for the proposed wall, the Herald News reported.
“I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall,” Sheriff Hodgson told those at the ceremony, where he used prisoners building the border wall as an example of a broader initiative he called the “National Inmates’ Community Endeavors”—or Project N.I.C.E.
“Aside from learning and perfecting construction skills,” Hodgson explained, “the symbolism of these inmates building a wall to prevent crime in communities around the country, and to preserve jobs and work opportunities for them and other Americans upon release, can be very powerful.”
Hodgson has a long history of harsh anti-immigration rhetoric. Still, his latest proposal has caught many observers by surprise, and comes after a year in which the issue of prison labor prompted one of the largest penal protests in U.S. history. Starting in early September, inmates across the country launched a coordinated “work-stoppage” to highlight the unjust application of prison labor—the only form of legal slavery still allowed by the 13th Amendment.
While Hodgson’s theoretical Project N.I.C.E. would reportedly utilize inmates who volunteer for the border assignment, it’s not hard to imagine that the initiative—which, per Bristol County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Jonathan Darling, is still being drafted, and would likely involve a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency—could become a stepping stone to the creation of national works projects with forced labor, instead. In short: Using incarcerated slaves to build roads, bridges, and, yes, the border wall, too. The requisite building blocks appear, for the most part, to already be in place.
And, in fact, there’s some precedent for Hodgson’s proposal. In 2011, Arizona’s Corrections Director Charles Ryan suggested that prison labor could be used to help shore up that state’s border wall, telling the Associated Press, “we are a relatively inexpensive labor force. If we have the funding to do it, we’re capable of doing it.”
According to the Herald News, Hodgson will make a more formal pitch for Project N.I.C.E. at an upcoming National Sheriff’s Association meeting.
Note: the headline of this story initially said prisoners would be “forced” to build the wall. In fact, prisoners would volunteer for the job.