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Massachusetts DOC Will Close Long-Time Maximum-Security Prison

by Jo Ellen Nott

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) announced on April 7, 2022, that it will close one of its oldest prisons, Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) Cedar Junction, citing a falling incarceration rate and nearly $30 million in needed repairs.

The maximum-security prison designed to hold 568 prisoners has operated in Walpole since 1955, gaining notoriety in 1973 when prisoners rioted and refused to be locked in their cells, and later that year, when self-confessed “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo was murdered in his. It was originally named for the town, but Walpole residents organized a contest to rename it in 1985, saying its notoriety tarnished the town’s reputation. It now sits near Gillette Stadium, a massive $325 million sports complex opened in 2002 to host home games for the NFL’s New England Patriots.

The move comes at a time when the state’s prison population is at its lowest level in 35 years, falling 42% since 2012. Officials point also to their statewide effort to phase out solitary confinement as another reason to shutter MCI-Cedar Junction.

DOC said the closure will occur in three phases, the first beginning in the summer of 2022, when the diagnostic and reception center will move to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in Lancaster.

During the second phase, prisoners from the Behavioral Management Unit, a ward for those who represent the most serious security concerns, will be moved to other facilities.

The third phase, planned to be completed by 2024, involves the permanent dissolution of the Department Disciplinary Unit (DDU), another term for solitary confinement in which some prisoners are locked up for more than 22 hours per day.

Shutting down DDU comes after independent review of DOC operations by Falcon Correctional and Community Services. The consulting group emphasized that solitary confinement “minimizes the interests of rehabilitation and positive behavior change.” An investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2020 found that mentally ill prisoners did not receive adequate treatment and spent too much time in restrictive housing units like DDU.

State officials hail the closure as a milestone in their efforts to reform the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism. In a press statement, DOC Commissioner Carol Mici emphasized the agency’s mission to focus on rehabilitation as a primary reason for closing MCI-Cedar Junction and affirmed that the “subsequent consolidation of resources across fewer locations allows us to deepen our investments in programming, staffing and services.”

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