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East Cambridge jail emptied, clearing the way for redevelopment

The East Cambridge jail long derided for its overcrowding and disrepair is now empty, ending all law enforcement use of the former Middlesex County Courthouse and clearing the way for the building to be redeveloped.

The two-day process of relocating the remaining 220 pretrial detainees to the Middlesex House of Correction and Jail in Billerica was completed early Saturday afternoon, Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian said in a prepared statement.

The jail, designed to hold 160 men, held more than 400 at its peak population, squeezing detainees into the top four floors of the 22-story courthouse. Koutoujian has previously said the jail’s elevators and heating and plumbing systems were unreliable.


The facility’s courtrooms have been shuttered for years; Middlesex Superior Court moved to Woburn in 2008 and Cambridge District Court relocated to Medford in 2009.

The structure is to be transformed by Leggat McCall Properties, a developer selected by the state, into high-tech office space, residences, and retail for an estimated $200 million.

Work on that project has been delayed by the objections of some neighbors and Cambridge city councilors, who say the 282-foot-tall building does not fit in the neighborhood of modest, low-slung homes and should comply with the area’s 80-foot height limit.

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