Massachusetts Prisons and Jails
There are three kinds of lockup in Massachusetts—prisons, jails, and houses of correction (or HOC). Prisons are the worst, and frequently involve longer periods of incarceration. HOCs are for lesser crimes and are for sentences up to two and one-half years. Jails are where defendants are locked up pending their appearance in court, or where they are held pending the trial date if they are held on bail and can’t post it. Jails and HOCs can overlap due to overcrowding, and are frequently both called “jails.” If someone has already served a state prison sentence, they can be held in prison again after arrest pending trial if they are unable to post bail.
Each county has a jail and a house of correction that it runs for criminal convictions out of its courts. The prisons are run by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (and thus called state prisons). Only Superior Courts can send a defendant to prison, although both Superior Courts and District Courts can impose an HOC sentence.
Currently, an HOC sentence can be reduced in a number of ways. First, an inmate can earn good-time credit for avoiding discipline reports and for completing eligible programs and jobs. Up to half of an inmate’s HOC sentence can be reduced through good-time credits. An HOC inmate may also be eligible for early release on parole. Finally, many HOCs are required to release inmates early due to overcrowding in that county.
A prison sentence is always two numbers—the first is the parole eligibility date, and the second is the maximum sentence that can be served if parole is denied, or if parole is violated and the sentence has to be resumed. For example, with a 3 to 5, an inmate is eligible for parole after 3 years, but has to serve no more than 5 years. When a male defendant is first sentenced to prison, he is first sent to MCI Cedar Junction for classification, before he is assigned to one of the prisons. Female defendants are sent to MCI Framingham. Up to one-third of a prison sentence can be reduced by good-time credit.