The tradition began under the colonial-era leadership of George Corwin, William Gedney, Thomas Wainwright, Daniel Denison and Michael Farley, and continues today under the watchful eyes of Robert E. Cahill, Thomas C. Goff and Sheriff Frank G. Cousins, Jr.
Initially, offenders from the county were housed at two separate facilities in Salem and Lawrence. The first Salem Jail was constructed to serve citizens north of Boston and was operational in 1638. Many historians say it was the first detention facility of its kind built in the country. Located at the corner of Federal and St. Peter streets, the edifice was made of wood, with additions built over the years to accommodate an expanding client base. Some scholars believe victims of Salem's infamous Witch Trials were incarcerated at the jail.
As the years passed, the jail began to outgrow its usefulness. In 1810, the Board of County Commissioners called for a series of meetings to ponder construction of a new jail made of stone. After a year of discussion, the commissioners voted to purchase a 3/4 acre site at the corner of Bridge and St. Peter streets, next to the original jail.
The commissioners went to work after they secured $80,000 to cover construction costs. Sometime in 1812, a foundation made of granite was set eight feet into the ground. The building was then sectioned off to accommodate 112 offenders. The first jail closed and the new facility opened a year later.
Housing offenders from the northern section of the county was created in Lawrence in 1853. The Auburn Street House of Correction initially cost $100,000. Through the years, enlargements were made that increased the capacity from 127 men to 237.
The jail, the country's second-oldest, was unique for its octagon shape and three-tiered wings that protruded north, east and west.
The Lawrence and Salem jails were retired after state officials deemed them to be out of date in the late 1980s. Offenders that had been housed at those facilities were moved into the state-of-the-art, $53 million Middleton Jail on Feb. 15, 1991.
The 10-building Middleton complex sits on 20 acres that overlooks the communities of Danvers and Middleton. It is adjacent to Essex Agricultural Institute and a parcel of land owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The facility opened with five hundred offenders. Today, it houses between 1100 and 1200. The central inmate housing area is enclosed by a pair of chain-link fences and is topped with coiled wire, motion detectors, and a specially-constructed lower segment that makes climbing over the fences next to impossible. The administration building, warehouse, and garage are located outside the fence.
The Essex County Sheriff's Department houses sentenced county inmates, pre-trial county inmates and sentenced state inmates. It also houses a handful of federal inmates.
The average sentence for a county inmate is nine months. The average sentence for a state inmate is six years.
The department processes over 8,000 new inmates per year. The average age of an inmate is 33. Thirty percent of the inmates do not have high school diplomas.