Sunday, April 7, 2024

Concord MA Prison to Close in 2024

Aerial view of MCI-prison, Route 2 rotary in front
Massachusetts officials are closing the men’s prison in Concord because of a decline in the number of men imprisoned in the state*, a long-term trend ongoing from a peak in 2012. For the ten-year span 2014-2023, the male prison population size fell by 42% to a total of 5,660. The decrease was much larger than the 25% decrease nationwide. One reason for the downward trend in MA is a 1/3 decrease in the number of released prisoners reincarcerated within three years of their release, i.e., fewer violation of parole or arrests for new crimes.

As mentioned in the title, one consequence of the downward trend is the decision to close MCI-Concord, the oldest currently operative prison in the state. The 350-400 men held there and some of the staff will be transferred to other medium-security facilities. According to Governor Healey, closing the facility will save $16 million dollars per year in operating expenses and avoid spending close to $200 million dollars on deferred maintenance and needed improvements to the facility. The closure, scheduled for summer 2024, follows the closing of the Cedar Junction/Walpole facility the year before.

Prisoners' advocates praised the move and said they hope some of the savings will be put back into programming, especially to help those incarcerated transition to life after prison. "The time is now to reduce our carceral footprint and invest in rehabilitation, re-entry, and community-based support systems," said Jesse White, policy director at Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts.

Not entirely surprisingly, the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union voiced opposition to the planned closure. Its stated reason was that transferring prisoners in large numbers will increase the risk of violence and other disruptive behavior at the new locations, placing officers’ safety at risk. Unspoken was a concern that consolidation of prisons would include staff layoffs, as had occurred with the previously year’s closure of Walpole.

As for the history of MCI-Concord, the original building at Concord opened in 1878 as the New State Prison, with Mexican War veteran General Chamberlain as its warden. Prior to that, state prisoners were housed at the Charlestown State Prison, which had become operative in 1803.  Massachusetts reversed itself in 1884, returning state prisoners to Charlestown and converting Concord to the “Massachusetts Reformatory" where young, male, first-time offenders would be held for their sentence but potentially released early to supervised parole. Around 1980 the reformatory designation was dropped and Concord became a medium security facility.

One of the inmates at Massachusetts Reformatory was Malcolm Little – 1947 and part of 1948 – in his early 20s at the time, who shortly afterwards converted to the Nation of Islam and took the name Malcolm X.

As for the future of MCI-Concord, the approximately 50 acres will be made available for development. The state will be meeting with community and other stakeholders about what will be done with the site. Concord officials are in a strategy stage. From The Concord Bridge, an independent newspaper started after the Gatehouse-owned Concord Journal ceased publication, “Housing? Commercial development? Municipal buildings? Are there historical preservation concerns? And what about doing something with that harrowing Route 2 rotary?”

At the state level, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance will facilitate the sale, lease or transfer of the property, a process that is expected to take years. Issues include how the prison’s wastewater treatment facility might serve the town’s future needs. Select Board members have pointed out that Concord already has several sizeable housing projects in the development pipeline, including affordable housing, so the prison site – close to Route 2 – might be a better opportunity for business development. The Board voted unanimously to set up a local advisory committee “that will bring together some of the expertise that we have in town and kind of flesh out what [Concord wants] to see there.”

Concord is also host to a minimum-security facility on the north side of Route 2A - the Northeastern Correctional Center – which houses 175-200 men. It will remain open for the foreseeable future. NCC encompasses 300 acres of farmland and provides inmates with work opportunities prior to being released from prison. NCC work opportunities include the Fife and Drum Restaurant, which is open to the public for lunch, Tuesday-Friday. Meal cost is $3.21.

Maynard lock-up behind what is now
the Paper Store building (emply)
Maynard has its own history of a lock-up. The position of constable was created at the first town meeting. Shortly thereafter the Selectmen authorized construction of a brick lock-up, 14 x 14 feet, behind what is now No. 2 Railroad Street. In April 1894 a two-cell lock-up, again brick, was built behind the Nason Street fire station. Photos in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society show it as a one-story building with a chimney for a coal-burning stove. This was in use until 1934, then closed when the police offices more to a building on the west side of Town Hall (later the town library, currently the police station again). The Nason Street lock-up remained unoccupied until demolished in 1984 for construction of the Paper Store building (currently empty) that replaced the fire station. The present-day police station on Main Street has lock-up cells for short-term use – it is not a prison.

 *And imprisoned women. The women’s prison population for 2023 was 201, all housed at a facility in Framingham. The count is down from 792 in 2014.    


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