Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley (center) tours the Middlesex Jail in Cambridge Wednesday with Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian (left) and Rev. Richard Deshaies (right), the Catholic chaplain at the jail. Photo by the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley paid a visit to the Middlesex Jail in Cambridge Wednesday, a year after the facility reconsecrated its chapel.
O’Malley toured the jail on Thorndike Street in Cambridge, where about 400 detainees were being held awaiting trial, according to Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian’s office.
O’Malley met with several of the detainees at the jail and led a Mass for more than 20 people.
“The church wants to be present for people at times of difficulty in their lives and certainly prison is one of those times,” O’Malley told the Globe Wednesday before touring the jail.
Koutojian said he’s been working to make a series of changes at the jail to address the religious needs of prisoners.
Koutoujian said when he was appointed as Middlesex County Sheriff last year the chapel in the Middlesex Jail was being used as a storage room. Previously the chapel had been used to house detainees because of significant overcrowding at the facility, which was built to hold 160 detainees.
“I just thought that was wrong,” Koutoujian said. “I just thought a religious component is an important right for the men up here to right what went wrong in their lives.”
The Middlesex Jail sits on four of the upper floors in the 22-story Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse that housed the Middlesex Superior and Cambridge District courts before concerns about asbestos in the building drove the courtrooms elsewhere in 2008 and 2009.
Koutoujian said the chapel was reconsecrated a year ago and a chaplain now leads frequent services at the jail.
Combined with substance abuse programs and other educational programs, Koutoujain said he believes religion can play an important role in returning men to the community better than they were when they entered the jail.
O’Malley had previously visited the Middlesex County House of Correction in Billerica where about 55 percent of the prisoners identify themselves as Catholic, according to the sheriff’s office. The number of Catholic prisoners at the jail in Cambridge was not available because of more frequent turnover at the facility, Koutoujian said.
Other religious leaders, including a protestant chaplain, rabbi, and an Imam are brought in for other prisoners in the county, according to the sheriff’s office.