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County commissioners to release grievance and jail security findings

Committee formed to investigate recidivism among county jail inmates

May 03, 2012
OSSIPEE — Carroll County Commissioners will be meeting with attorneys May 9 to learn the outcome of the investigation into the grievance filed against Commissioner Asha Kenney by one of the county employees.

It was beginning to look as though finding out the results of that investigation was going to take as long as the investigation itself, but after six weeks of trying to coordinate a meeting, Kenney has finally agreed to a date when she is available to meet with her fellow commissioners and the attorneys.

Commissioners have remained tight-lipped regarding the details of the grievance, only to say it was filed against Kenney and had something to do with her alleged conduct towards the employee.

Back on April 11, Sorensen publically announced the investigation was complete ("well almost"), and the one thing remaining was for the commissioners to agree on a date to meet with the attorney. Both he and Commissioner Dorothy Solomon were available for an April 18 meeting but Kenney refused to commit, stating April 11 that she would "have to check her schedule" and when pressed to let Sorensen know when she was available, she refused, stating she would contact the attorney directly.

She said she found it "highly unusual" that the attorney who investigated the merit of the grievance would not be presenting the findings and then attempted to deflect the attention away from herself by stating that she has brought up many issues to her fellow commissioners and they have "done nothing about them." Sorensen said at the April 11 meeting that the reason the investigator who prepared the report is not presenting the report is in case the matter ends up in court he could be called as a witness and have to testify. He admitted the process seems unusual but the explanation is reasonable.

The commissioners have also remained tight-lipped about what this five-month process will cost county taxpayers in legal fees or if there is any anticipated settlement as a result. It is expected that those details will be released to the public May 16, or as soon as possible, Sorensen said Tuesday.

Jail report

The release of another eagerly-awaited report is expected to happen this week. Back in early December, an inmate escaped from the county jail over a razor-wire-topped fence and was on the run before being apprehended a few days later after an extensive manhunt across two states. An independent investigation into the procedures in place, the response to the escape, and the how the construction of the facility might have made it easier for his escape was done by a former Hillsborough County jail superintendent. That report has been completed for a few months, leading the county delegation to approve money to make improvements to the jail recreation area. The remaining details of the report have been reviewed by the county sheriff and the county attorney. Last week Carroll County Attorney Tom Dewhurst met with the commissioners in non-public session to discuss what parts of the report can be released to the public. The results were expected to be released Wednesday after press deadline.

Non-public minutes

With pressure from the public and the press, the commissioners are ready to release some minutes of non-public meetings they have held this year. The minutes were divided into three piles, with each commissioner taking a pile and commenting on what could and could not be released to the public. Their goal was to release minutes regarding any issues that have been resolved and no longer need to be kept under the veil of privacy. Kenney serves as the clerk for the commissioners and last week announced that she had taken all of the commissioner's notes and suggestions and retyped the minutes into a format that could be released to the public. She was ready to hand them out last week but her fellow commissioners asked for an extra week to review what she had typed. They are expected to release the newly revised minutes this week. Reporters have filed right-to-know requests, asking for the non-public minutes from last year as well. Kenney said those will be revised next but gave no indication as to when they may be released.

Public comment

During the April 25 commissioner's meeting, Sorensen said the public comment period open at the beginning and the end of their meetings is a time when the public can make comments, good or bad, but is not a time when they can expect questions to be answered. On Tuesday, Sorensen said the commissioners offer a public comment period as a courtesy and it is not something they are required to do. While the meetings of public bodies must be open to the public, there is no state law requiring that they allow public comment. Sorensen said his "no questions" remark was not intended to dissuade citizens from asking questions but rather to curb the practice of questions being fired at the commissioners that they may not be able to answer immediately without further research. He said the intent is to be able to give the most accurate information rather than immediate information that might be misconstrued.

Over the past year, the public comment period has been, at times, extremely tense as accusations, conspiracy theories, eye rolling, threatening, and shouting, among other tumultuous behaviors have made good fodder for the press but also distracted the focus off the county business and have caused concerns about security with commissioners tempted to press the panic button and sheriff's deputies being asked to sit in on many meetings.

Old Nursing Home

As previously reported, the county delegation rejected a plan to begin renovations on the old nursing home that included demolition of the wings and the front of the building if commissioners didn't find tenants to fill the space by October. Sorensen and Solomon said they plan to continue to pursue possible tenants for the old home, including Solomon's interest in a homeless shelter or other services for veteran's and both commissioner's interest as well as most of the delegation and a group of citizens whose interest is focused on getting the UNH Cooperative Extension out of their rental space in Conway and onto the county complex. At the April 25 meeting, Ossipee Selectman Kathleen Maloney, who has also announced her intention to run for commissioner this year, asked what the holdup is with getting the Extension onto the county complex. Sorensen said that the previous delegation was very much in favor of the Extension moving to the complex and even voted their will but the new delegation has some members from the northern part of the county who are opposed to the idea, hoping to keep the service in Conway. A regular and very vocal attendee at commissioner's meetings, Wakefield resident Steve Brown, told the commissioners that "according to the RSA" the commissioner's cannot negotiate with the Extension or enter into any agreements because leasing of space on county property must go out to bid, a point Brown has made several times. Sorensen disagreed, stating that is only Brown's opinion. In checking the state law that Brown referred to, NH RSA 28:8-d, Use of Real Property, it appears that Sorensen is right. That law states "No officer or employee of a county may enter into an agreement with any other person for the use of real property owned by the county unless such agreement has been approved by the county commissioners and is ratified by a majority vote of the county convention and the executive committee of the county convention."

Jail recidivism

The first sentence of the mission statement for Carroll County House of Corrections (CCHOC) states that the mission of the jail is to provide a safe, secure, and humane environment for its staff and detainees and to ensure the safety and welfare of the community. There is second part that states the jail will offer an environment that fosters and promotes personal growth.

Talk of the rate of recidivism, also known as the number of times an inmate will re-offend and end up right back in the facility, has been ongoing for years. The jail superintendent frequently attends commissioner's meetings and his report starts with the census at the jail and lists individually how many times the person has been booked at the jail. The reports usually reads like, "individual booked for driving while intoxicated, booked three times in five years….individual booked for simple assault, booked 18 times in 12 years…"

Former state representative Susan Wiley has pled with the commissioners and the delegation on several occasions to take a look at the mission of the jail and what the county and the state can do to rehabilitate and mentor inmates so they are less likely to re-offend, a practice that could not only save the county money in the long run but offer inmates the ability to have the tools they need to make a better lives for themselves and, in many cases, their families.

A committee has been formed and has met once with tentative plans to meet next on June 5 at 1 p.m. at the county administration building. According to CCHOC Superintendent Jason Johnson, the committee consists of the county commissioners, county attorney, district court judges, superior court judge, as well as representatives from the public defender office, probation officer, diversion program, as well as the executive director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. The goal of the committee is to take a hard look at the statistics, hash out ideas for ways to reduce the recidivism rate, and come up with plans that could eventually have the judicial, jail, governmental, and business communities all working together. Surprisingly, Sorensen had announced previously that the next committee meeting would be open to the public. It does not appear under the NH Right-to-Know law that this meeting has to be held in the public view, making it open to filming, and it is not clear whether or not having it open to the public will hinder the type of open discussion that this meeting is intended to garner.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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