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John Oscar Boone Dead at 93

Atlanta native was a pioneer and trailblazer in the U.S. prison system and for reform.

John Oscar Boone Dead at 93

by Patch Staff

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.

He was 93.

Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8 at noon at Friendship Baptist Church, 437 Mitchell Street SW in Atlanta.

A trailblazer, Boone was the first African American appointed to head a major state prison system in the United States, when he was named commissioner of corrections for the Commonwealth of Massechussetts in the 1970s.

At the time, he 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 is credited with 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.

“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.”

After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, John Oscar Boone joined the United States Army Air Forces in 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 then-Atlanta University.

'He was an unsung hero who will be truly missed,'— C.T. Martin, Atlanta City Councilman.

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 U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. 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.

Devoted to educating others about the U.S. prison systems, 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 remembered 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," Martin continued. "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.

Boone's commitment has been recognized with more than 200 awards and citations, including "Man of the Year" and "Newsmaker of the Year" by The Boston Globe.

Boone is survived by his wife, Alvia Alexander Boone; five children; 16 grandchildren; his sister, Lois Montgomery (Otis); sister-in-law, Alethea W. Boone, and brother-in-law, Cowan Brooks.

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