Partner Spotlight: Northeastern University

November 9, 2015
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Howard B. Gill

Howard B. Gill and daughter Joan at State House hearings on Norfolk Prison Colony, Source: Norfolk Prison Colony Collection, Special Collections & University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries,

Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, or MCI – Norfolk, is a medium security prison in Norfolk, MA, with an average daily population of 1500 inmates. Though it is rated medium security, it also houses up to 98 maximum security inmates. Opened in the early 1930s, MCI – Norfolk is the largest state prison in Massachusetts. One of the notable inmates of MCI – Norfolk was Malcolm X, who was also a member of the Norfolk Debate Society while incarcerated. MCI – Norfolk was originally founded in 1927 as the Norfolk Prison Colony, the first “community-based” prison in the United States. The “model prison community” was conceived by sociologist and penologist, Howard Belding Gill, who was appointed its first superintendent in 1931. The first inmates were transferred to MCI – Norfolk from the State Prison at Charlestown.

Northeastern University students and local partners will uncover the history and explore narratives of those detained at MCI – Norfolk. Students will explore concepts of memory, heritage, place, and community, as well as current controversies, trends, and theories that continue to change the face of public history.

Facilitators: Martin Blatt, Professor of the Practice in History; Victoria Cain, Assistant Professor of History
Funders: Public History Program