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Stop Suffolk Regional Lock Up: Action Toolkit
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                                              STOP SUFFOLK REGIONALyhufrrrrrrtho Jo LOCK UP 


Background & What’s Happening

Breakdown of Response From Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department

Our Letter

Talking Points


Take Action!


On November 1, 2023 the Boston Police Department began enforcing the Wu administration’s ban on encampments. Although Mayor Wu claims no one has been arrested under this ban, the City themselves have shared that BPD has made 67 arrests in the area in November. Community members have been arrested for trespassing outside their assigned shelter and for open containers - charges that are included in the ordinance, and for public consumption, possession, or hand-to-hand transactions in the Mass and Cass area - which BPD began enforcing at the onset of the ban.

The Material Aid & Advocacy Program, The Mass Bail Fund, CourthWatchMA, and Families for Justice as Healing began observing and hearing from our members that those arrested were being booked at Nashua Street instead of BPD precincts at a shady, newly-created central booking and lockup specifically for unhoused people who use drugs in the Mass and Cass area, and others arrested on drug-related offenses. We quickly learned people are being denied access to bail, and have inadequate access to healthcare - including psych meds due to "staffing issues".

County jail population numbers in Massachusetts have decreased in the last seven years, but the biggest drops have been among the sentenced population. Looking at annual snapshots on January 1st from official data, the Suffolk County jail population decreased from a total of 1,413 people in January 2017 to 1,097 people in January 2023. However, in that same period, the pretrial population has decreased and then increased–in part because of the move of dozens of women held pretrial and serving county sentences from three other counties from the women’s state prison, MCI-Framingham, in October 2019 to the Suffolk House of Correction.

Still, many thousands more people churn through the jail on short periods of detention every year, and the vast majority of people held in the Suffolk jails are held pretrial–merely accused of criminal allegations and nominally presumed innocent–and are disproportionately Black and Brown. In the history of the regional lock up and related events (check out this timeline here), there have been many attempts by the Suffolk Sheriff's Department to build up the jail population. We know that this also is another such attempt.

After collecting concerns over the past month about the harms this process was creating, and in our urgency to stop preventable deaths from happening, we sent Mayor Wu, Sheriff Tompkins, and Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox questions and demands, with copies also sent to Boston City Council members. It’s an utter disappointment and shame that we have received no response or acknowledgement from Mayor Wu’s office, City Council, or the Boston Police Department.The only response we received was on December 8, from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department General Counsel, which included a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with an effective date of October 31, the day before Mayor Wu’s encampment ban began being enforced, for a detention agreement between BPD and the Suffolk County Sheriff. The weekly count sheets of jail populations show that, in anticipation of this change, dozens of people were moved from Nashua Street Jail to the Suffolk House of Correction between October 30 and November 6. The MOU enables SCSD to accept, detain, and house those arrested by BPD at Nashua Street Jail for $150/day. Also included in the SCSD email response was an agreement from September 1, 2023 between the MA State Police (MSP) and Suffolk County Sheriffs’ Department for a similar arrangement for people arrested by MSP to be held pre-arraignment.

Let’s break down Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office response:

From General Counsel of Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department Allen Forbes received 12/8/23


I’m writing in response to your correspondence concerning detainees held by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department (SCSD).


The SCSD recently agreed to house people arrested by the Boston Police Department (BPD) as they await arraignment on criminal charges. That agreement (attached) is similar to one reached earlier this year with the Massachusetts State Police (attached).      

Due to some misconceptions in your letter, it is important to note what these agreements do not permit.   The agreements explicitly forbid the detention of people taken into protective custody by the police under General Laws Chapter 111E §9A.  These agreements were not formed to criminalize addiction or to coerce treatment.  In fact, the vast majority of the arrestees brought to our facility by the BPD were arrested on non-drug-related charges.  

 The Sheriff’s Department has no involvement in the decision to arrest any of the individuals brought to our facility; we simply house those persons at the Suffolk County Jail until they are released on bail or are brought to court.   Also, the Sheriff’s Department does not accept arrestees in need of immediate medical attention, as they are transported by the arresting agency to a local hospital.

 Please note that none of the people held in the SCSD’s custody are asked to sign agreements “in exchange for treatment or housing” as your letter suggests. Women are held separately from men.

The SCSD’s agreement with the BPD keeps arrestees safer by ensuring they are supervised by staff with specific training and experience in monitoring the health and safety of people in custody and that they have access to on-site medical care and treatment that would not otherwise be available to arrestees held in local police lockups.  These agreements also support safer communities by ensuring more police officers are on the street and available to respond to calls rather than sitting in their lockups watching the arrestees.


Criminalization is costly and counterproductive - yet it is always funded! We demand an end to the central booking & regional lock up and criminalization of our community and for resources to be diverted and invested in the evidence-based solutions our community needs: permanent low-threshold housing decoupled from sobriety and shelter, the establishment of overdose prevention centers, and increased voluntary treatment on demand. Our solutions are possible!




Take action! Criminalization in our neighborhoods is connected to criminalization globally. The fight to end the occupation and criminalization of Palestinians is connected to carceral expansion that our neighbors in Boston and beyond have to survive. Email Mayor Wu, Commissioner Cox, Sheriff Tompkins and Boston City Council today and demand they stop their deadly central lockup and criminalization of unhoused people who use drugs and instead fund evidence-based solutions.


Mayor’s Office- 617-635-4500

Suffolk Sheriff’s Department- 617-635-1000

Boston Police Department- 617-343-4500


Hi, My name is __________ and I am a resident of _______ (Boston District). I am (share anything you feel is relevant about yourself). I am reaching out to demand Mayor Wu and her policing partners stop criminalizing unhoused people who use drugs and stop the creation of a regional lock up.


All evidence and our communities’ experiences shows criminalization of people who use drugs causes harm - including death and will not resolve the city-created crisis and circumstances people who use drugs are surviving in the Mass and Cass area, and across Boston.

As your constituent I am asking you to stop the creation of a regional lock up that has no legal authorization, stop the creation of any coercive treatment facility or expansion of section 35, stop the criminalization of unhoused people who use drugs, and instead invest in evidence-based solutions to homelessness and evidence-based services and support for people who use drugs. I am also asking you to respond to the inquiries made by organizing groups who care immensely about our community members. As a city taxpayer, I reject unilateral decisions being made by city officials that deeply affect all of us but at the least, we expect a response to inquiries about these unilateral decisions.  

Thank You,


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