N.H. seeking $37m for women’s prison

By Norma Love
Associated Press / June 29, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn asked the state for $37 million yesterday to build a new women’s prison and halfway house that advocates say is long overdue.

Wrenn made his appeal on the opening day of the governor’s hearings on requests for capital projects for the 2012-2013 budget. The next governor will present his recommendations to the Legislature in February.

Wrenn tried unsuccessfully last year to win approval for the prison project. Advocates have complained for years that women need space for programs comparable to those offered at the men’s prisons in Concord and Berlin.

Wrenn’s request is competing for part of the $130 million in capital works funding that historically wins approval. Lawmakers could phase in his request by initially giving him money to design the prison.

Currently, 127 female inmates are housed in a leased facility in Goffstown, 27 are in the Strafford County Jail, and 57 are at a halfway house in Concord.

In March, an advisory committee that reports to the US Commission on Civil Rights heard from a series of state corrections officials, social service representatives, and attorneys on programs and services for women at the Goffstown prison.

The consensus was that the prison is overcrowded and unable to provide women with services such as vocational training, which the men’s prison in Concord has. Defense attorneys testified that the prison lacks adequate programs to rehabilitate the women.

Melanie Cooper, who served 15 months for her role in her stepfather’s murder more than two decades ago, told the committee that she had inadequate access to psychiatric care and little privacy with her attorney.

In making his renewed pitch, Wrenn said a new prison is needed regardless of a new state program to release inmates early and provide intensive supervision and treatment for those at high risk of offending again. Wrenn said the new women’s prison might not need to be as large if that program is successful and the inmate population grows more slowly.

Wrenn’s request is for a 328-bed prison and 128-bed halfway house. If approved, construction would probably begin in 2012.

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