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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen tours federal prison with "Talent Team"



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Senator Jeanne Shaheen, center, toured the Federal Correctional Facility on Thursday with nine members of the Berlin Federal Prison “Talent Team:” Chuck Henderson, left, Sen. Shaheen’s North Country representative; Paula Kenney, Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce; SAU #3 Superintendent of Schools Corrine Cascadden; Martha Laflamme, Vice President of Student and Community Affairs at White Mountains Community College; Mark Belanger, manager of N.H. Employment Security in Berlin; Economic Development Director Max Makaitis of the Androscoggin Valley; Judy Woodward, Financial Literacy-VITA coordinator at the Family Resource Center (FRC) at Gorham; Kathleen Kelley of the Coös County Family Health Services; and Executive Director James Michalik of the FRC at Gorham, formerly a state Family Court judge. Buffeted by strong winds, the group looked out toward the south and the Presidential Range and the WMNF. Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
November 03, 2010
BERLIN — U. S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen toured areas of the 99.99- percent-completed Berlin Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) on Thursday afternoon with members of the on-site Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff and local "Talent Team" members to hear details on their work to support the Androscoggin Valley community prior to the facility's opening.

As she toured the massive unoccupied $240 million facility, Sen. Shaheen asked construction project specialist and Kentucky native Jay Johnson numerous detailed questions that sprung from the knowledge she had gained as governor when the Northern N. H. Correctional Facility was opened in 2002.

The state and federal prisons are both located on the east side of East Milan Road, north of downtown.

As soon as the last of the paperwork is completed, the facility, designed to hold 1,700 men — 1,500 in the main buildings and another 200 in a work camp — will be turned over to the BOP's Northeast Region, headquartered in Philadelphia, Penn.

The on-site point person will then become supervisory contract specialist Pam Tharp, who relocated from Devens, Mass., to Bethel, Me., to assume this responsibility.

The prison will be immediately placed on "mothballed status" with an on-site "skeleton" staff of about 15 "to keep the lights on" over the winter, Mr. Johnson explained.

A Continuing Resolution passed by Congress is now paying for the ongoing operations of federal agencies, this because a formal appropriations bill was not signed into law by Sept. 30, when the federal fiscal year ended.

Before the next steps are taken to open the prison, "activation" funds must be appropriated in the FY11 budget to begin furnishing and "fitting out" the now-empty building and to recruit and hire the staff, expected to number 340 corrections officers. About 40 percent will likely be transferred from other BOP facilities and 60 percent to be hired from the region.

The jobs will be posted on the BOP website this week, but interviews are not expected to be held until spring.

The new high-security building, whose interior is painted light beige throughout, has incorporated LEED energy-saving features, including its orientation to the south to capture as much of the sun's heat and light as possible, Mr. Johnson explained.

He proudly showed off the as-yet-unfurnished warden's office, spaces designated for the business and human relations departments, and the central fiber optic control and communications center in which corrections officers will be able to view the activities captured by remotely operated cameras placed in strategic locations.

The tour group trooped quickly through some elements of the main correctional facility that is made up of three units, each of which has two levels.

Everyone had a chance to enter at least one of the small 2-man pre-cast concrete cells that will be outfitted with bunks.

Sen. Shaheen and others on the tour also got an overview of spaces designed for medical, dental, and psychological services, disciplinary single-man isolation cells, shower banks, cafeteria, kitchen, dishwasher room, armory, and ordinance storage, as well as classroom spaces where inmates can earn high school diplomas and learn English as a Second Language.

Talent Team members then had a chance to explain to Sen. Shaheen how area community agencies and nonprofit organizations have broken down the process of applying for work at the prison or becoming a vendor into manageable and easy-to-follow steps.

The Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce is now working on an on-line description of the several communities that make up the Valley to make it easier for BOP personnel coming from afar to understand their housing options.

"There's been lots of outreach," explained Judy Woodward of the Family Resource Center at Gorham.

"We have set things up for potential BOP employees so that they can easily go from A to B to C and not get confused by the requirements for criminal and financial background checks and physicals," said Family Resource Center Executive Director James Michalik.

SAU #3 Superintendent Corrine Cascadden of the Berlin Public Schools said that there are 84 fewer students in the system this school year than last and that she and the staff are eager to welcome the children of transients, some of whom have already inquired about the availability of high-quality programs.

On her daylong North Country swing, Sen. Shaheen also visited some of the city's housing being renovated under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, had lunch with Mayor Paul Grenier at Tea Birds, toured Gorham Town Hall, met with local elected and USW Local 75 officials, and spoke at the North Country Council annual meeting held at the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield.

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