Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultBETHLEHEM – North Country state Senator Jeff Woodburn said his effort to persuade legislators and state officials to site a proposed new women's prison in Berlin is not receiving a favorable reception.
"We're not dead but it's not looking good," he said Friday at a meeting hosted by Woodburn and Executive Councilor Raymond Burton at the North Country Council offices.
Gov. Maggie Hassan has included $38 million in her capital budget for a new women's prison. Unlike other proposals that have repeatedly failed to get legislative approval, the House has approved the appropriation and there are predictions it will also pass the Senate.
But a legislative committee has recommended building a new 224-bed women's prison on the grounds of the men's prison in Concord. That location is also preferred by N.H. Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn.
Back in February, Woodburn announced he would lobby for a new women's prison to be located on the grounds of the men's prison in Berlin. He noted that the 500-bed state facility was built with the infrastructure to allow a future 500-bed addition. Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier threw his support behind Woodburn's initiative.
Woodburn Friday indicated the biggest drawback he is facing is Berlin's distance from the southern part of the state. Officials have argued it is too far from children and family members of female inmates who tend to come from the southern half of the state.
"We can't get Berlin any closer to Hillsboro no matter how we try," Woodburn said.
Pushing the legislature to act on a new women's prison is the threat of a class action lawsuit alleging the state does not provide female inmates with the same programs, services, and treatment options as male inmates. The suit has been stayed pending action by the legislature on the proposed capital budget request.
The current state women's prison in Goffstown is overcrowded.