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Women’s Prison Breaks Ground

N.H. Inmates Get Equal Facilities After Two Decades

Governor Maggie Hassan shakes the hand of Deputy Corrections Commissioner Michael Connor after the groundbreaking of the new Women's prison in Concord yesterday. Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester

Governor Maggie Hassan shakes the hand of Deputy Corrections Commissioner Michael Connor after the groundbreaking of the new Women's prison in Concord yesterday. Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester

Concord — About 100 people, including Gov. Maggie Hassan and several state legislators, gathered yesterday behind the Concord state prison to mark a moment more than 20 years in the making: the groundbreaking for New Hampshire’s first permanent, all-inclusive women’s prison.

“For far too long the outdated and overcrowded women’s prison has meant that we have woefully neglected women in our system,” Hassan said. “But with this new state-of-the-art facility, we will not only improve public safety, we will also restore fairness to our corrections system.”

A permanent facility was first pledged in the late 1980s, after a group of female inmates sued the state and won. Under a court order, the state began incarcerating female offenders in the former county jail in Goffstown, N.H. Though presented as a temporary solution, the jail has housed women ever since.

A new lawsuit was filed in 2012, alleging that the state had not fulfilled its promise to provide female inmates with housing and services equal to male prisoners. That suit was stayed last year when legislators authorized $38 million for the new facility.

Hassan yesterday thanked legislators from both political parties for coming together and helping the state avoid a costly legal fight. But she said the move was more than just a necessary legal step.

“Public safety goes beyond the dedicated work of our police, firefighters and EMTs, and it goes beyond our judicial system,” Hassan said. “It is critical to the safety of our communities that our corrections system has modern facilities to keep dangerous criminals off the streets, as well as programs and resources to reduce recidivism.”

The prison is scheduled to open in late 2016.

Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said site work would begin no later than today. Gilbane Construction Co., of Bedford, N.H., will oversee the first phase. SMRT of Portland, Maine, has designed the prison and will oversee its construction.

The $38 million facility will have four buildings, including a main unit offering round-the-clock health services, programming and education space, an indoor-outdoor visitation area, industries wing and secure housing pods. The prison will have 224 beds to start, but will be expandable to 350 should the need arise.

“We hope we never see that day,” remarked state Sen. Sylvia Larsen, vice chairwoman of the Capital Budget Committee and a longtime proponent of the project.

Larsen, a Concord Democrat, called on legislators to act further by providing enough money to adequately staff the new facility. Invoking the words of Nelson Mandela, she said, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest.”

The prison, which will be located directly behind the men’s facility, will have two general population units and one minimum custody unit. One of the general population units will provide enhanced services for inmates with heightened mental health and substance abuse needs.

Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn and state Rep. David Campbell also spoke at yesterday’s ceremony.