Atlanta Native John O. Boone, Massachusetts’ First Black Commissioner of Corrections Dies at Age 93

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    John Oscar Boone, Sr., a pioneer in the American Correctional System and the brother of the late civil rights pioneer Joseph E. Boone, died late Friday in Atlanta surrounded by family and friends. He was 93.

    Boone was the first African American appointed to head a major state prison system in the United States.

    He was credited for transforming the Massachusetts Prison System by pushing feverishly to ensure humane conditions for inmates and the availability of rehabilitation programs to keep the incarcerated of all races out of the system once they were released back into society.

    Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday, December 8 at 12 noon at Friendship Baptist Church, located at 437 Mitchell Street, S.W. in Atlanta.

    After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Boone joined the United States Army Air Forces of World War II. After the war, he returned to Atlanta and earned his bachelor’s degree from Atlanta’s Morehouse College in 1951 and later earned a master’s degree in social work from Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University.

    During his early career he served as Superintendent for the Lorton Federal Corrections Complex, Community Relations Officer of Corrections for Massachusetts, and Chief of the Classification and Parole Division for the US Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Mr. Boone was instrumental in the implementation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1965 and represented the United States in Vietnam as a member of the International Prison Evaluation Team.

    In the 1970s he was appointed the state of Massachusetts’ commissioner of corrections, during which helped craft national legislation aimed at providing resources for reform (LEAA), implemented a number of successful reforms, including work release programs for inmates. His leadership and guidance brought forth many innovative and progressive programs that are still in use today.

    “He was not only an inspiration to his immediate family but also to all of his extended family, including his nieces and nephews,” said niece Andrea Boone, Commissioner of Constituent Services for Office of the Mayor for the City of Atlanta. Andrea Boone is the daughter of Alethea and the late Joseph E. Boone, who passed away in July 2006. Atlanta’s Simpson Road now bears his name in his honor.

    “Uncle John and my father made sure the next generation knew of the importance of public service and fighting for the humane treatment of the least of these in society.”

    Devoted to educating others about the prison systems of this nation, Mr. Boone also served as Director for Crime and Corrections Research at the Southern Regional Council and served on the faculty of Atlanta University, Boston University, Clark University, and Northeastern University.

    Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin remembers Boone as a guiding force in his life and in the lives of others.

    “John was one of the most important people in my life,” Martin said. “He was responsible for 80 percent of my achievements. He was an inspiration and a mentor. He demanded that I become a certified social worker. He demanded that I become an activist in the community.”

    “He was my counselor and whenever I needed courage, I sought him out. The people of Atlanta never knew all of the great contributions that John O. Boone made to our nation and to the world.”

    “He was an unsung hero who will be truly missed,” Martin said.

    Mr. Boone’s commitment and dedication have been recognized with over 200 awards and citations, including Man of the Year and Newsmaker of the Year by the Boston Globe.

    John O. Boone, Sr. is survived by his devoted wife Alvia Alexander Boone, five children, sixteen grandchildren; his sister Lois Montgomery (Otis); sister-in-law Alethea W. Boone; and brother-in-law Cowan Brooks.

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