E. Cambridge Jail Fully Staffed; Transfer of Prisoners to Begin

The East Cambridge Jail--the focus of a heated, two-year dispute between neighborhood residents and Middlesex Country--began operations with a full staff yesterday, but officials said the facility will probably not reach its capacity of prisoners for several weeks.

Sylvia Cegelis, a spokesman for Middlesex Country Sheriff Edward F. Heneberry, said this week the jail's staff completed training courses during the summer, adding that the county began routinely transferring more prisoners to the facility yesterday She said the county plans to house around 150 prisoners in East Cambridge.

Located on the top floors of the Middlesex County Courthouse, the jail has been operating since February As of yesterday, the county was housing 74 prisoners at the facility.

East Cantabrigians have strongly opposed the development of the facility since plans for the jail were announced two years ago charging that it would threaten public safety in the area and clog parking.

When the county transferred 37 prisoners to the jail in February, neighborhood residents won a Superior Court injunction on further transfers, citing an inadequate fire prevention system as a hazard to the inmates and the 200 employees in the other parts of the courthouse.

A board of inspectors from the state's Department of Public Safety denied the residents charges in early March, clearing the way for the building's use at reduced capacity until a complete staff could be assembled.

Cegelis said the tail will be used to house offenders with 30-, 60-, or 90-day sentences, but added that Heneberry could approve the facility for prisoners with up to 30-month terms--the maximum sentence allowed for offenders in county correctional institutions.

"At this time, we don't anticipate a change" in policy, Cegelis said

The prisoners will be transferred from the county's only other jail in Billerica but Cegelis said the facility's full capacity will not be reached for at least several weeks.

"I don't think you're going to see a mass transfer of 100 prisoners in the next day or so," she explained "It's going to take some time."

Neighborhood leaders said yesterday that there is little that residents can do to prevent the jail's full operation "At this point," said Frank Budryk of the East Cambridge Planning Team, "we're practically throwing our hands in the air.