Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultBERLIN – Gov. Maggie Hassan has included $38 million in her capital budget for a new women's prison and State Senator Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton) yesterday said he believes Berlin is the best location for that facility.
"It's just a natural place for it to go," Woodburn said.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier supports Woodburn's proposal.
"I will welcome it whole-heartedly," said Grenier, noting the 500-bed men's prison the state built in Berlin in 2000 contains the infrastructure for a 500-bed addition.
While the legislature still has to approve Hassan's proposal, Woodburn said he is actively trying to build support for siting a new women's prison in Berlin. After enlisting the support of Grenier, Woodburn said he has spoken to Hassan and Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Morse.
"My feeling is we need to absolutely promote it and go after this project," he said.
The New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown is overcrowded. A class action suit has been filed against the state alleging the constitutional rights of female inmates are violated daily. The suit claims women inmates do not receive the same treatment, services, and housing as their male counterparts.
In her budget proposal, Hassan acknowledged the shortcomings of the women's prison. The state's corrections system, she said, "has woefully neglected women" and called for funding a new prison without delay.
Woodburn said he understands there is concern that Berlin is too far away to allow families of women inmates to easily visit. But he pointed out that has not been an issue with the men's prison.
The North Country senator noted Berlin already hosts both a state and federal prison and a 328-bed women's prison would fit in with those existing facilities.
Unlike the federal prison, there is no age restriction for working in the state prison system and a women's prison would create jobs for a wider range of residents. Woodburn pointed out correctional jobs are good stable jobs with benefits.
Grenier said a new women's prison in Berlin makes "a lot of sense for everyone involved". The state would get the new facility it needs and he estimated the North Country would get about 100 new jobs.
"I can't think of a quicker and easier way to create new jobs for Berlin than to have that sited here," he said.
Grenier said there have been informal discussions over the years about building a women's prison on the 114-acre site that houses the existing state prison and he said the council has generally been supportive.
N.H. Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons could not be reached for comment yesterday. But in a meeting with the city council in 2009, Correction Commission William Wrenn said he did not see Berlin as a good site for a women's prison. Woodburn said he will be meeting with Wrenn next week.