Norfolk residents are unhappy with the detention of migrants on prison grounds


Just a few hundred people attended the Norfolk Select Board meeting Wednesday night to voice concerns in regards to the state's plan to open an emergency shelter at the previous prison there.

Residents said they’re concerned about adding more children to the already overcrowded and underfunded school system.

“If that happens, there is no going back. “Our schools are already overcrowded, we have a budget problem – this is not a humanitarian issue, this is a math issue, this can't happen,” said John Semas, a Norfolk resident Boston 25 News.

Another woman said in a public comment, “Now we're thinking about adding more kids to our already overburdened teachers and expecting it to just work out?”

Others worried about bullying of the new students.

“As one of the few Black families in this city, I feel compelled to ask this question because I don’t want these children to be targeted,” one other woman said in a public comment.

But not everyone was against the brand new animal shelter.

“These people are desperate and trying to find a better life for themselves and their children,” said Taiese Bingham, a Norfolk resident NBC10. “This community talks so much about humanity, how great we are and how welcoming we are, and I found the exact opposite of that.”

The meeting follows Gov. Maura Healey's announcement Monday that the state will use the previous prison as a brief emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness, partially because of the influx of migrants into the state.

The Bay State Correctional Center was decommissioned in 2015 and stays in good condition, officials told the Associated Press. The shelter will house as much as 140 families or 450 people eligible for emergency assistance.

The site is anticipated to be operational next month, in line with the state. The state will remove barbed wire from the fence around the ability and the gates will remain open so families can leave and return if mandatory.

The shelter is anticipated to operate for six months to a 12 months.

Many people on the meeting also expressed concerns in regards to the impact of the influx of families on the small town of about 11,000 people.

“Background checks have been done on everyone,” James Lehan, a district supervisor for the town of Norfolk, said throughout the meeting. “There are no criminals. There are no sex offenders.”

Norfolk's fire chief told Boston 25 News that the town can also be expecting a 5 to 10 percent increase in calls, which could impact residents' response times.

Massachusetts state Rep. Marcus Vaughn, a Republican who represents Norfolk's ninth District, said WCVB He only discovered in regards to the plan on Friday. As the town tries to get money from the state, he urged residents to stay civil.

“At the end of the day, the community just needs to come together,” Vaughn said.

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