This story was updated on June 15 to include a comment from Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

Bristol County officials are investigating the apparent suicide of a 47-year-old inmate at the county jail in North Dartmouth, prompting renewed criticism of the jail’s management under Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

The death of Michael Ray, of Fall River, on Saturday is the second alleged suicide death this year and the 16th in Bristol County jail since 2006.

Bonnie Tenneriello, an attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services in Boston, said that Hodgson is shortchanging mental health services for inmates.

“Sheriff Hodgson prides himself on running a no-frills jail, and it shows in the lack of mental health care, the lack of programs and an environment that’s really punitive,” she said. “This is the kind of environment that mental illness and despair thrive in.”

Hodgson called Tenneriello’s comment “reprehensible” and said his jail is not failing to address inmates’ mental health needs.

Hodgson said his mental health staff is undertaking a full review of all 16 suicides, following an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting that was published by WGBH News in May.

He said the report is going to be completed within a few weeks.

“Mental health is doing an analysis. They’re going to look at all of them,” he said. “Is there something we could have done differently?”

The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that Ray was found alone in his cell, hanged, on Saturday morning.

He was transported to St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford and pronounced dead. Ray was awaiting trial on several charges of armed robbery and being a habitual offender, said Gregg Miliote, spokesman for the Bristol prosecutor.

Ray had been jailed there since September of 2015 and was in a general population unit, said Jonathan Darling, public information officer for the jail.

Ray’s attorney Heath Antonio was not available for comment. But his death adds to growing concern about mounting suicide deaths in the Bristol County jail and across the state.

At least 43 men and women have died by suicide in Massachusetts’ county jails since 2012, more than twice the number of suicides in the state prison system over the same period even though both house roughly the same number of inmates, according to a report released last month by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. And while state prison suicides have declined in recent years, the rate of suicides in the state’s 13 county jails has doubled.

Barbara Kice, mother of a 32-year-old man who died by suicide in the jail in 2015, said the state should investigate the mounting deaths in Bristol County. 

She wondered if Ray, like her son Brandon St. Pierre, had warned people of his intentions. Before St. Pierre died, he told a court psychologist that he was suicidal, information that was relayed to court officials and the jail.

"I'm angry and I'm sad,'' she said after hearing about Ray. "It shouldn't be." 

Bristol County accounts for about one quarter of all county jail suicides in Massachusetts since 2006 despite an inmate population that makes up 13 percent of the statewide total in county-run jails.

During an interview earlier this year, Hodgson and jail superintendent Steven Souza attributed the high number of jail suicides to the opioid addiction crisis and a lack of state funding compared to other county jails. But jail officials couldn’t say how many of the recent inmates who killed themselves were addicted to drugs.

The jail in North Dartmouth operates at 300 percent of design capacity, according to a report just released by the State Executive Office of Public Safety. Experts say overcrowded jails can set the stage for suicide, increasing stress on inmates and correctional officers.

The facility has three full-time mental health clinicians for some 1,350 inmates compared to Hampden County which has 10 full-time mental health clinicians for an average of 1,433 inmates, according to the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association.

State Rep. Christopher Markey, a former Bristol County prosecutor, said the state needs to assess county sheriffs’ mental health spending and services. Currently, county sheriffs receive state funds but have little state oversight.

“Every sheriff should provide (us) with how they are spending every cent. Then we can say OK, ‘What is your mental health contract? What are they required to do?’ That is the controlling issue,” said Markey, who now works as a defense attorney.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting is based at Boston University and WGBH Public Radio. Burrell can be reached at; McKim can be reached at For more on this story go to