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Prison expansion and cost savings explored

January 26, 2011
BERLIN In a request for information report issued by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections recently, the state outlined cost-saving measures that, if implemented, would address the cost of corrections in the state and improve upon the infrastructure.

In July 2008, New Hampshire completed a comprehensive master plan for the study of the Department of Corrections' existing facilities. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the most cost effective means for providing current and future housing needs for the following 10 to 20 years. One of the recommendations from the study was the addition of male housing units at the Northern Correctional facility in Berlin.

The number of people incarcerated in state prison increased from 2,233 in 1999 to 2,917 in 2009. State spending on corrections increased from $52 million in 1999 to $104 million in 2009. While the number of people incarcerated has increased by less than half, the spending on prisons has doubled.

"Particularly in these challenging economic times, it is important for the Department of Corrections to take an in-depth look at all the services we provide to ensure we are delivering them in the most effective and cost-efficient manner possible," said. Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn.

Governor John Lynch weighed in as well. "I believe that it's important that we gather information on a range of corrections services so that we can make informed decisions that will be important to planning for the future of New Hampshire corrections system," said Lynch. "We owe it to the taxpayers to examine all of our options to ensure we can meet the long-term needs of the Department of Corrections as efficiently as possible."

The request for information seeks information about services (including programs to help reduce recidivism), transportation, case management, and the possibility of public-private partnerships to help fix the corrections infrastructure in the state. One of the suggestions for fixing the infrastructure is to upgrade and expand existing facilities, including the one in Berlin.

The Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility (NCF) opened in 2000 in Berlin. It is a 562-bed facility housing primarily medium and minimum custody male inmates. The facility is comprised of eight modular housing units of 30 to 34 cells per cellblock, which are double bunked. An additional 112 beds were recently added after converting one of the two gymnasiums to a minimum custody dorm. The prison employs approximately 200 people and the annual budget is approximately $15.5 million.

The request for information was sent to both public and private entities that may provide the Department of Corrections with information about the concerns they have. The goal is to get information concerning the development of new correctional facilities in the state, the development of a multi-state correctional facility, out of state placement (for adult males only), and the possibility of expanding the Berlin prison to house additional adult minimum and medium security population.

Jeff Lyons of the Department of Corrections stressed that there have been no changes made and that this is just to examine the economic feasibility of the potential changes.

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said that he fully supports efforts to expand the Berlin facility, but would want to make sure that staffing levels and overcrowding problems were addressed before moving forward.

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