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State looking to move detainees from facility in East Cambridge to Billerica

A corrections officer closes a security gate as Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, left, and Superintendent Scott Brazis, right, lead a tour of the jail on top of the old Middlesex County courthouse building in East Cambridge, which is for sale - including the jail on the top floors. Several developers have bid for the challenge of redeveloping the mostly-vacant concrete tower.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

A corrections officer closes a security gate as Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, left, and Superintendent Scott Brazis, right, lead a tour of the jail on top of the old Middlesex County courthouse building in East Cambridge, which is for sale - including the jail on the top floors. Several developers have bid for the challenge of redeveloping the mostly-vacant concrete tower.

The state is seeking to relocate more than 400 detainees from a jail in East Cambridge to the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica because of the deteriorating conditions at the facility.

The Executive Office for ­Administration and Finance has allocated $37 million for construction of two new wings at the Billerica facility, one containing 256 beds in double-bunk cells and another containing 240 beds divided among four open, barracks-style rooms.

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Currently, 415 pretrial detain­ees sit in cramped quarters at the former Middlesex County Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse, which is designed to hold 160 men in the top four floors of the 22-story building.

The courtrooms below have been shuttered, and the building put out to bid for redevelopment.

Scott Jordan, assistant secretary for capital finance, said the Cambridge jail is packed with men.

“They’re well cared for, the place is very clean, but it is very crowded,” said Jordan. “We look forward to getting them to a modern, safe, better facility.”

State officials met Monday with Billerica officials, including Town Manager John C. ­Curran, Police Chief Daniel ­Rosa, and a delegation of local legislators, who had questions about water usage and security at the expanded facility.

“They want to make sure that we understand — and we do — that the town already hosts a facility with . . . about 900 people there,” Jordan said. “They need to be assured that they’re safe when we add ­another 400 to it.”

Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian said the solution was not ideal, but that it was necessary to move the men from the overcrowded jail in Cambridge, where he said the elevators, heat, and plumbing are unreliable.

“If you can’t address the routine needs of inmates, it’s an unsafe situation,” Koutoujian said. As soon as possible, he wants to see a new facility for pretrial detainees in the southern part of Middlesex County, preferably one that, like the old Sullivan Courthouse, would combine the courts with the ­detention center.

In the meantime, detainees from Billerica would have to be transported to courts set up in rented spaces in Woburn and Medford.

Koutoujian said driving south, with the bulk of traffic, would mean these men spend more time on the road and less under lock and key, a safety hazard for correction officers and the public and an extra overtime expense for his department.

When the new spaces are no longer needed for detainees, Koutoujian said, they would be converted to other uses as obsolete buildings in Billerica are taken out of commission.

The new wings would be built in the back of the compound and would not be visible from the street, Jordan said.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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