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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Oldest men’s prison in Mass. to permanently close

The sudden announcement leaves the future of nearly 400 incarcerated men and an influential Tufts program uncertain.

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Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, a medium-security men’s prison, is slated for closure by summer 2024.

The Massachusetts Department of Correction announced on Jan. 24 its plans to close the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, a medium-security men’s prison, by summer 2024, falling in line with Gov. Maura Healey’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget recommendation.

Officials cited the state’s lowest prison population in the past 35 years and potential savings of over $200 million in operating, maintenance and capital project costs as reasons for the closure, per a press release. MCI-Concord — Massachusetts’ oldest men’s correctional facility — currently holds just under 400 men including those in support beds, operating at just 50% capacity for its general population.

Those statistics made the closure far from a shock to Mass. Rep. Simon Cataldo, whose district includes MCI-Concord.

“This was a smart move on a fiscal level and in terms of managing our population of inmates in Massachusetts, and I hope that we see more closures in the future as incarceration rates continue to go down,” Cataldo said. 

But capacity and costs are likely not the only reasons behind the shutdown.

“Whoever acted like they didn’t see this coming, didn’t live in the jail,” David Delvalle, a member of Tufts’ Class of 2026, said. “If you lived in the jail, you saw the sinkholes. You saw the water was messed up. … There’s asbestos in that jail. There’s lead in that jail. … That jail should have been closed 10 years ago.”

Delvalle was released from MCI-Concord in October 2022 after serving 7 ½ years of a 10 ½ year sentence and is now pursuing his bachelor’s degree on Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus after getting his start by taking classes through the Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College. TUPIT provides the opportunity for incarcerated men to earn a bachelor’s degree in Civic Studies from Tufts during their sentences at MCI-Concord.

Massachusetts DOC reported that Massachusetts consistently has the lowest rate of incarceration in the country — 122% lower than the national average. MCI-Concord’s closure brings further opportunity to change how prisons are conceptualized across the state.

“I think that our prison infrastructure is outdated for traditional maintenance reasons, but also outdated in terms of how we conceptualize a healthy and productive way to incarcerate people in a manner that will facilitate their reentry to the community,” Cataldo said.

According to Cataldo, MCI-Concord also occupies 64 acres of land that will now be freed up for alternative uses.

“There’s a major opportunity for housing in the region,” Cataldo said, “which has been a problem for economic development, and for quality of life and affordability in the region and in Concord itself.”

Despite the optimistic possibilities, the closure also means uncertainty in the future of the approximately 300 incarcerated men who will now have to be moved to different prisons across the state and the several programs that served them at Concord.

“My immediate initial reaction was worry for our TUPIT program,” Martha Pott, professor of child study and human development, who studies incarceration, said.

Delvalle’s TUPIT classes became a lifeline while inside MCI-Concord.

“I’ve never felt so seen and so heard in my life until I got around those people,” Delvalle said. “I bet my life on school. I literally put my everything into it, and it gave me so much fruit.”

But now Delvalle worries that despite the closure moving incarcerated students into cleaner, safer prisons, this move will jeopardize their degrees.

“Education is all some of these men have. It’s the only thing keeping them from not hurting themselves,” Delvalle said. “That’s their bibliotherapy: They get to write down their emotions. That’s how I cultivated my voice, talking about my most painful moments, to my most triumphant moments, to the day that my daughter was born. That’s what kept me sane while I was incarcerated — being able to pick up that pen and express myself through school.”

Despite fears for the future, Hilary Binda, founder and executive director of TUPIT, remains optimistic the closure does not mark the end of the program.

The state’s announcement about the pending closure of MCI-Concord was unexpected, but I am confident that the DOC will work closely with us to sustain our program,” Binda wrote in an email to the Daily. “We hope that TUPIT will continue to have enough classroom space to run the program, and that we will have access to our current incarcerated students. … The change will be challenging, but we hope to make it a change for the better — together.”

Sustaining TUPIT and other initiatives is being taken into consideration by officials as the closure is implemented.

“The [DOC] is developing plans to transition these programs to other comparable facilities in the system,” the DOC wrote in its press release.

Policymakers are also prioritizing continuing the programs offered at MCI-Concord. “As far as we can see right now, there’s a path forward for all of those programs to continue in new locations,” Cataldo said.

One remaining question is why MCI-Concord — located in an affluent community — was chosen compared to the state’s other aging and partially filled prisons.

“The state can get a lot of money by selling that property, … so I was a little suspicious of that,” Pott said. That prison is in [Concord residents’] backyard. It might be more in their consciousness than it will be if that prison disappears.”

When asked to provide further comment, the DOC referred the Daily back to its Jan. 24 press release.

Regardless of the motivations, the bottom line remains that MCI-Concord will permanently shut its doors this summer. But, it appears likely that programs including TUPIT will be able to continue their work in helping incarcerated students achieve their degrees and more.

“That’s what the world needs more of, love,” Delvalle said. “Whether it’s through education, whether it’s through just nurturing people. … That space in that classroom is bigger than just education.”

Editor's note: The article has been updated with a more precise figure for the MCI-Concord population. The prison currently holds about 400 men when including those in support beds, not 300.