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By Karen Klinger An account of the development of East Cambridge by the city’s historical commission says land speculator Andrew Craigie played his part in 1813 by donating buildings to house the Middlesex County jail and courthouse there.

By 1841, though, the commission says matters had gone awry at the correctional facility, as evidenced by “social activist Dorothea Dix (who) was outraged by conditions in the jail and began her pioneering work in prison reform.” It seems some things never change.

On July 5, inmates in the overcrowded, asbestos-plagued building that houses the current jail rioted, flooding it when they broke sprinkler heads in the fire protection system, causing at least $400,000 in damages. Di Paola said the inmates, four of whom faces charges of malicious destruction of property, had been unhappy about the overcrowding and worried about rumors that the swine flu virus was sweeping through the jail after one man among them was found to be infected.

Officials said that when the rioting broke out the jail, built to house 160 people, had an inmate population that exceeded 400, all of them pre-trial detainees who have not yet been convicted of anything.

In conditions that likely would not surprise Dorothea Dix, they had to sleep in hallways, the cafeteria and even the jail’s chapel.

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