The oldest men’s prison in the state will be closing this summer due to a significant decline in its population, according to the state Department of Correction.

MCI-Concord is currently operating at 50% capacity, with around 300 prisoners. The medium-security facility was built in 1878, and has partially fallen into disrepair, say state legislators.

“Amid the state’s lowest prison population in 35 years, this action reflects the Department’s ongoing efforts to enhance operational efficiency, advance cost-saving solutions, and deepen investments in programming and services,” said Jason Dobson, spokesperson for the Department of Correction, in a statement. The news was first reported by WBUR.

He said the department will begin the process of transferring correctional officers and incarcerated individuals by summer 2024.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, co-chair of Legislature’s criminal justice reform caucus, has been pushing for the closure for months.

“I think it was sort of the perfect storm. Given the budget challenges the state is facing the more state facilities that are unnecessary to be closed here, the more savings of money,” he said. Eldridge added that it costs about $15 million to operate MCI-Concord.

“That’s money that I'd like to see invested in programing, education and to communities disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration and not on imprisoning people,” he said.

In her budget for fiscal year 2025, released Wednesday, Gov. Maura Healey said the operating savings of closing MCI-Concord “can be reinvested in programming and educational opportunities.” She recommended putting nearly half of the savings toward reentry and diversion programming, and an undisclosed amount to the Parole Board for substance abuse disorder programming.

Eldridge also said that prisoners’ health and learning was of concern to legislators, and that the facility didn’t have the space for improvements.

“Just a few months ago, the floor fell out from some of the cells — and actually there are parts of the prison that are condemned due to asbestos,” he said. “It’s a very aging facility. It doesn’t really have the space for programming and education, which we’re advocating for every incarcerated person.”

He said the prison could close as early as June.

There has been a significant decrease in the state prisoner population during the pandemic, leading to other closures. Massachusetts now has the lowest rate of incarceration in the country. In June, MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole was shut down because of that drop, with the state calling it its lowest prison population in 35 years.

Some advocates are concerned about how the approximately 300 prisoners will be re-housed.

“My overarching concern is that DOC is over-relying on high-security prisons and not utilizing minimum and prerelease facilities, in a way that would best serve, public safety and the people who are incarcerated,” said James Pingeon, litigation director at Prisoners Legal Services. He’s specifically worried that many people will be sent to maximum-security prison Souza-Baranowski — a site that Prisoners Legal Services has supported shuttering.

“Many of them would qualify for minimum security, or even prerelease,” he said. You know, Souza-Baranowski right now has a lot of young men there who are serving short sentences, who then get released directly to their street — without giving them access to rehabilitation programing that they need to be successful in the community.”

GBH News previously reported that nearly one in five state prisoners are released from the maximum-security prison directly back into the community.

Arnie Stewart, deputy chief counsel for the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said the organization is glad the prison is closing and hopes any transferring won’t cause overcrowding or limitations in programming.

She pointed to the B.R.A.V.E. Unit, or ‘Building Responsible Adults through Validation and Education,’ for young fathers at MCI-Concord.

“It just started in April. I'm hoping that that will translate and move to other facilities,” she said, adding it was a brand new pilot only offered in the now-closing facility.

Advocates and prisoners are additionally pushing for the closure of the oldest women’s prison in the state, as part of a larger push to decarcerate.

Updated: January 24, 2024
This story was updated with additional details from Gov. Maura Healey’s budget proposal.