Editorial: Women’s prison poses new challenges to city
It is to Concord’s great credit that when the state proposed constructing a new $38 million women’s prison in town, it generated nearly no public outcry from residents resistant to yet another large state facility in their midst. To be sure, the new prison is long, long overdue, and there is real logic to siting it on land the state already owns behind the men’s facility on North State Street.
But, all that said, the new women’s prison could create new strains on the city’s social services budget. It would behoove the Concord delegation to the State House to play an active role in persuading state budget-writers to help the city cope.
Last month, the Executive Council approved a $2.4 million design contract for the new prison, which will hold 224 beds and replace the inadequate facility for female inmates in Goffstown. Construction is expected to begin in 2015 and finish in 2016.
Once it opens, some city officials and candidates for city office worry that it will make Concord even more of a magnet for new residents who will lean on city welfare services. In some cases, they say, the families of female inmates might move to town while their daughters or mothers are incarcerated, with the hope of keeping children close to their mothers. In other cases, they worry, inmates released from prison with few resources or options, may end up staying in Concord, not an uncommon phenomenon among the men at the existing state prison here.
Indeed, the men’s prison and the state psychiatric hospital already draw a considerable population of needy residents to Concord. And because the state has a poor track record in helping newly released inmates find a successful path and in providing adequate services for residents in need of mental health and substance abuse services, the burden on the city welfare and police budgets is considerable. Among the most grim illustrations of the issue: the city’s homeless population.
One suggestion from City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton, who is running for an at-large council seat in next month’s election: If Concord must be home to the hospital and two prisons, perhaps the state could move the women’s halfway house elsewhere, encouraging other communities to share the burden. Less disruptive but perhaps more profound in its impact would be a commitment from the state to adequately finance community mental health and drug and alcohol services – not just in Concord but across the state – and to redouble its efforts at serious rehabilitation programs for inmates and parolees, keeping them from ending up back in prison or burdening city taxpayers. At the very least, once the new women’s prison opens, city and state officials should work hard to track the impact on the city budget so taxpayers at all levels appreciate the consequences, planned and unexpected.
The state’s construction of a new women’s prison is a milestone. It will afford female inmates the same rights and opportunities as men, a goal three decades in the making. Concord shouldn’t become a victim in the process.