Changing incarceration trends lead to prison closure

Changing incarceration trends lead to prison closure

Walpole will stop housing prisoners in 2024

Commonwealth Magazine
By Shira Schoenberg
April 8, 2022

THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT of Correction on Thursday made a surprising announcement: MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole will stop housing prisoners over the next two years.

The reason the department gave was declining numbers of inmates and increasing costs. Or, in DOC-speak, “a thorough assessment of decreased housing needs and the aging facility’s exorbitant maintenance costs.”

But in many ways, the closure is the result of a broader trend, which is the state’s move in recent years away from a “tough on crime” approach and toward a “smart on crime” one.

Democratic Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said he was “overjoyed” to hear of plans to close MCI-Cedar Junction. “This is a real watershed moment in the move away from mass incarceration to close a prison,” Eldridge said. “I am hopeful that the next phase is investing the money that’s now spent on Walpole prison into education, into training, and justice reinvestment in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs and the mass incarceration era.” MCI-Cedar Junction today is operating at 68 percent capacity, housing 525 inmates. It opened in 1955 and needs $30 million in infrastructure repairs to keep operating, according to DOC.

Within the next 60 to 90 days, a reception and diagnostic center, where inmates are held when they enter custody and evaluated to determine their security level, will move from Walpole to Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. Inmates in a Behavioral Management Unit will be moved to other units in 2024. A disciplinary unit will be closed after that, in line with the state’s commitment to phase out solitary confinement.

“This decision, and the subsequent consolidation of resources across fewer locations, allows us to eliminate redundancies and deepen our investments in programming, staffing, and services,” said DOC Commissioner Carol Mici.

The last state prison to close was the small, medium security Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk in 2015.

Lizz Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said her agency will be watching how the closure is implemented. She wants to make sure people admitted to the new admissions center at Souza Baranowski do not spend months under maximum security conditions if they belong in a lower-security facility. She wants to ensure the closure does not result in overcrowding elsewhere.

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