MA Students to Rally Tomorrow Against Chain Gangs

June 14, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, June 14, 1999

BOSTON–Demanding that chain gangs be kept out of Massachusetts, a youth group called ACTION For Justice will take part in a protest tomorrow outside a jail in downtown New Bedford.

The group, consisting of young people from Boston and surrounding communities and joined by representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International, and residents of New Bedford, said they will tell Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson that Massachusetts should not be going backwards into the new millennium.

Their campaign aims to raise public consciousness about the destructive social impact of the regressive “get tough on crime” mentality personified by Sheriff Hodgson.

“As far as young people are concerned, chain gangs are an idea whose time has gone — gone the way of lynching and slavery,” said Ravi Dixit of Boston. “Are the criminal justice answers of the 19th century — chain gangs, the death penalty and prison expansion — the best we can do as we move into the 21st century?”

Another ACTION for Justice member, Marisa Prince of Pembroke, added, “Sheriff Hodgson says that chain gangs will teach teamwork. But human beings don’t have to be chained together to work together.”

John Roberts, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said that the ACLU sees Sheriff Hodgson’s proposal as a backward step. “We abandoned public humiliation as a form of punishment when we stopped clamping people in stocks on the Town Common,” he said. “Chaining human beings together on public display shocks the conscience, and should be abandoned by the Sheriff of Bristol County.”

Joshua Rubenstein, Northeast Region Director of Amnesty International USA, added that “chain gangs by any name are inherently degrading and punitive in the way they humiliate inmates.”

Kazi Toure of the American Friends Service Committee compared chain gangs to the terror, torture and lynching used at the end of the Civil War to put the ‘newly freed’ slaves back in bondage. “It seems that Sheriff Hodgson might regret missing out on this period of our nation’s history,” Toure said.

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