NBC's "Today Show" interviews Shaheen at the Northland Dairy



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One of NBC’s lead political reporters, Kelly O’Donnell, chatted with Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Monday afternoon before the cameras rolled for “Today Show” segment on how there are no federal funds available with which to activate Berlin’s brand-new $276 million federal prison with its capacity for 1,280 male inmates. Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
March 23, 2011
BERLIN — Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat in her third year in office, was videotaped at the Northland Dairy Bar on Monday afternoon by Kelly O'Donnell, one of NBC's lead political reporters, for a segment that will air on "The Today Show.

The new multi-million-dollar federal prison sitting vacant on the north side of the city has become a symbol of the Congress' inability to get an annual budget passed.

"We now have a state-of-the-art, $276 million prison that is sitting vacant," Shaheen said. "The federal Bureau of Prisons is spending $4 million a year to maintain an empty building."

These are the words that Senator Shaheen used to explain this travesty on the Senate floor. Her remarks were reported by New York Times' reporter Robert Pear who published them in his March 15 story: "Budget stalemate leaves chaos at many agencies."

It would cost $28 million to activate and operate the prison, bringing much-needed dollars into the local economy, Shaheen explained to NBC's O'Donnell.

"That's a relatively small cost," the senator said.

The northern New Hampshire economy is depressed because of mill closings, and opening the federal prison would bring 340 jobs with good wages and benefits to the Androscoggin Valley and have an annual $40 million impact in Coös County, Shaheen pointed out.

An area "Talent Team" has helped local people get in the queue for prison jobs and to learn how to go about providing services to the federal facility that has space for 1,280 male inmates, she explained.

But moving inmates into the correctional facility would not only help the local economy by creating jobs and purchasing services, but would also solve one of the real problems being experienced across the nation.

"We have 35 percent overcrowding in our prisons," Shaheen explained to her interviewer.

No funds being available for the prison has nothing to do with any partisan issues, Shaheen explained to O'Donnell.

Berlin's voters overwhelmingly supported its coming to town in 2003 on a second referendum. Two Republicans — Senator Judd Gregg, with the help of Sen. John E. Sununu — helped secure the federal funds needed for its construction, Shaheen explained.

The size of the federal deficit must be dealt with, Shaheen said. "There's growing agreement that there is a need to address the problem long-term," she said. "But there is a smart way and a not-smart way to do that. Smart investments and job creation, growing the economy here in New Hampshire and in our country, is the best way to deal with the deficit. Not having money available to open this prison is 'pennywise and pound foolish,'" Shaheen said.

People who are hoping to get work at the prison or who have been hanging onto their small business through hard times against the day the prison opens are now worried that they won't be able to hang on much longer, she said.

"We don't want talented people to have to leave Berlin or this part of the state," Shaheen said.

Asked by O'Donnell who is to blame for this predicament, the senior senator said, "I don't want to play the blame game; we need to work together in Washington to get a budget passed."

She told the two local reporters on hand that she hoped that having O'Donnell cover this story would help bring attention to it and help get the problem solved.

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