Deer Island Prison

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Deer Island Prison
DeerIsland prison1 Boston LC HABS ma1445.jpg
Location Deer Island
Coordinates Coordinates: 42°21′12″N 70°57′43″W / 42.35333°N 70.96194°W / 42.35333; -70.96194
Status Closed
Closed 26 December 1991
Managed by Suffolk County Sheriff's Department

The Deer Island Prison (c. 1880–1991) in Suffolk County, Massachusetts was located on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. Also known as the Deer Island House of Industry and later, House of Correction, it held people convicted of drunkenness, illegal possession of drugs, disorderly conduct, larceny, and other crimes subject to relatively short-term sentencing.[1] When it closed in 1991, some 1,500 inmates were being held at Deer Island.[2]


House of Industry[edit]

Originally, Deer Island's House of Industry (est. 1853) was an almshouse. It was one of several efforts on the island to accommodate poor children and adults. However, by around 1880 "without any change in the legal appellation 'House of Industry,' that term has come to be understood as designating its penal character."[3]

An article in the national Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine (1884) described the prisoners on Deer Island in the 1880s: "they in the main are from the lowest stratum of the cosmopolitan society of New England's metropolis, embracing representatives of almost every nationality under the sun, and from the shortness of the sentences, many being confined for 10 days only, for nonpayment of one dollar and costs for drunkenness, and none for more than a year."[4]

House of Correction[edit]

Prior to 1896, the Suffolk County "House of Correction was located in South Boston. ... By Chapter 536 sec. 15 of the Acts of 1896 ... all the prisoners sentenced there were transferred to the former House of Industry on Deer Island. ... The last inmates were transferred from the South Boston facility by October 1902."[5]

In the 20th century, the prison was administered by the Penal Institutions Department (c. 1941) and the Penal Commissioner of Boston (c. 1990).[2] In 1991 about 880 inmates were transferred permanently to the Suffolk County House of Correction in South Boston.[6] The Deer Island prison buildings were razed in 1992 to prepare for the construction of the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant, an outcome of the Clean Water Act.[7]

Noteworthy inmates[edit]

References in literature[edit]

In Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar, the protagonist, Esther Greenwood, visits Deer Island Prison.

Alternative names[edit]

  • Deer Island Jail, Winthrop[12]
  • Deer Island Penal Institution, Winthrop[13]
  • House of Correction at Deer Island[5]
  • Suffolk County House of Correction, Deer Island[14]



  1. ^ "In love, blue blood's daughter follows handless addict to jail". Jet Magazine. 1959. 
  2. ^ a b R. Tenaglia Jr. (1992). Court Commitments to Massachusetts County Facilities During 1990. Mass. Dept. of Correction. 
  3. ^ Justin Winsor (1881), The memorial history of Boston, Boston: Osgood 
  4. ^ "The Boston Institutions at Deer Island". Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine. 15 (3). 1884. Retrieved 21 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "Guide to the House of Correction records". City of Boston Archives and Records Management Division, Patrick T. Collins. Archived from the original on June 10, 2010. Retrieved January 16, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Facilities". Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. Retrieved 2012-05-08. 
  7. ^ Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), December 29, 1991; p.A10.
  8. ^ Tim Weiner (2012), Enemies: A History of the FBI, NEw York: Random House, ISBN 9781400067480, 9781400067480 
  9. ^ Douglass Shand-Tucci. The crimson letter: Harvard, homosexuality, and the shaping of American culture. Macmillan, 2003; p.241.
  10. ^ Clarke, Roger (2000-08-03). "Mark Wahlberg: The bad boy who rode the storm - Profiles - People". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Michael Jacobson-Hardy. Behind the Razor Wire in Massachusetts Jails and Prisons. Massachusetts Review, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1996).
  13. ^ "738 F2d 530 United States v. P Rendini". OpenJurist. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  14. ^ "935 F2d 345 Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts/rhode Island Inc v. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority". OpenJurist. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 

Further reading[edit]

Published in the 1900s-1930s
  • John Koren. Some statistics of recidivism among misdemeanants in Boston. American Statistical Association, new ser. 54, June 1901; p. 1-41.
  • Journal Forbidden Deer Island by Gerrish Peerless Master of House of Correction Censors News. Boston Journal, August 2, 1905.
  • McSwane gives up; He Got Away from Deer Island House of Correction, but Couldn't Swim Shirley Gut. Boston Daily Globe, Apr 16, 1906. p. 12.
  • Grand Jury Takes Trip to Deer Island, Inspects House of Correction. Boston Journal, August 16, 1907.
  • Corruption, extravagance; Charges Against Deer Island Prison. Ex-Rep Luce Says Releases Were Bought by Money. Should Verify Accusations, Martin Declares. Some Figures. Political influence. Boston Daily Globe, Feb 27, 1909. p. 2
  • Pigs Seved at Deer Island; Extra Liberties Also Given Inmates of House of Correction. Boston Journal, December 26, 1914.
  • "Solitary" Ends at Deer Island. Mayor Curley Orders Abolition of "Cruel" and "Barbarous" Practise at House of Correction. Boston Journal, January 29, 1916.
  • Bruke Now Head at Deer Island. Former Letter Carrier Succeeds Carlton L. Brett at House of Correction. Boston Journal, March 9, 1916.
  • German and Austrian sailors confined at Deer Island Prison. Boston Daily Globe, Apr 11, 1917. p. 18.
  • Will give holiday to 45 prisoners; Will Leave Deer Island Prison Today. Boston Daily Globe, Nov 28, 1923. p. 20.
  • Two escape from Deer Island Prison. Boston Daily Globe, Oct 4, 1924. p. 4.
  • George N Lykos. Deer Island House of Correction (thesis/dissertation). MIT, 1937.
Published in the 1960s-1980s
  • Massachusetts Acts and Resolves. 1968 Chap. 0363. An Act providing for work release programs at the Suffolk County House Of Correction And At The Suffolk County Jail. 1968.
  • Report of the Task Force for the Public Uses of Deer Island. Boston : Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Dept. of the Attorney General, 1976.
  • Brief Outburst at Prison Facility In Deer Island Being Investigated. New York Times, April 7, 1981.
  • Escapee rescued from Boston Harbor; an inmate from the Deer Island House of Correction was rescued from Boston Harbor early this morning by MDC Police after swam half way across the channel on two inflated inner tubes. Boston Globe, May 16, 1983. p. 1.
  • Judge to tour Deer Island, City Prison. Boston Globe, Oct 23, 1984. p. 40.
  • Joan Vennochi. Flynn supports a move of Deer Island Prison. Boston Globe, Jul 9, 1985. p. 1.
  • Jennifer Miranda Bryant. Power and patronage in a prison community : an ethnology of correctional officers at Deer Island (thesis/dissertation). Harvard University, 1986.
  • Diego Ribadeneira. Mistrial is declared in bribery case involving Deer Island Prison; Guard. Boston Globe, Jun 28, 1986. p. 74.
  • Massachusetts Acts and Resolves. 1986 Chapter 0658. An Act Improving Jails, Houses Of Correction, And Correctional Institutions In The Commonwealth. Dec. 29, 1986.
  • Linda K Holt. Suffolk County House of Correction at Deer Island : results of inmate survey. Boston: Massachusetts Dept. of Correction; Crime and Justice Foundation, 1987.
  • William F. Doherty. Move sought by 1992 for Deer Island Prison; U.S. says delay could hurt harbor cleanup. Boston Globe, Apr 16, 1987. p. 71.
  • Dianne Dumanoski. Judge sets '91 deadline for relocating Deer Island Prison. Boston Globe, Jul 7, 1988. p. 68.
Published in the 1990s
  • Peter Jacob Freed. The myth of inmate lawlessness : prison inmates' attitudes towards criminal justice : a case study at Deer Island Prison (thesis/dissertation). Harvard University, 1990.
  • Norma B Saba. Teaching urban disadvantaged prisoners : a case study (thesis/dissertation). Harvard University, 1990.
  • Doris Sue Wong. Deer Island freeze ordered. Boston Globe, November 16, 1990.
  • I won't budge til you name Brady Bunch, con tells cops. Weekly World News, Feb. 27, 1990; p. 3.
  • 'Dungeon' set for razing; Deer Island prison will give way to sewage plant. Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), Dec 29, 1991. p.A10.
  • Michael Jacobson-Hardy. Behind the Razor Wire in Massachusetts Jails and Prisons. Massachusetts Review, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1996), pp. 61–80.

External links[edit]