Ever wonder why the Cambridge District Court is located in Medford?

Until 2008, the Cambridge District Court, Middlesex Superior Court, Middlesex District Attorney’s office and Middlesex county jail were all located in East Cambridge at the Edward Sullivan Courthouse. The building is well known locally for its distinctive red stripe on the 17th floor; the courts and DA’s offices were located below the stripe, and the jail was located “above the red.”

However, the building, dating from 1971, suffered from a whole host of problems common to such brutalist style structures from that era, including asbestos, malfunctioning elevators, inadequate HVAC and inoperable windows. The building was deemed “sick,” and the cost of repair untenable.

In 2008, the courts and DA vacated the property; the District court is now in Medford, and the Superior Court and DA’s offices are in Woburn. However, from 2008 until this past weekend, the jail remained in use.

Jail, as opposed to prison, holds defendants who have yet to be tried and convicted. Whereas the jail had been constructed to hold 160 detainees, for years it had been severely overcrowded, often housing over 400. Without functioning air conditioning, conditions “above the red” were dirty and dangerous, especially at the height of summer.

This past weekend, all the detainees were moved to an expanded facility at the Billerica House of Corrections. The final closure of the Sullivan Courthouse promises more humane treatment for those, innocent until proven guilty, awaiting trial.