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Maine firm set to get $2.4 million contract to design new N.H. women’s prison

  • The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

    The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

  • The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

    The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

  • The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

    The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

  • The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.
  • The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.
  • The Women's Center, the female unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, was designed by SMRT Inc. and opened in 2002. SMRT Inc. is now in line to design the new $38 million women's prison in Concord, N.H.

A Maine company is set to design New Hampshire’s new prison for women, a $38 million project that will relocate female prisoners from Goffstown to Concord in about three years.

A $2.4 million design contract with SMRT Inc. of Portland, Maine, will go before the Executive Council tomorrow. If approved, the company is expected to complete plans for the new prison in 2014, with construction starting in the spring of 2015 and the new facility opening in late 2016.

The 224-bed prison, to be built behind the men’s prison off North State Street in Concord, will replace the current women’s facility in Goffstown and, state officials hope, resolve a lawsuit filed last year by female prisoners over their lesser access to treatment and other services compared with male prisoners.

“The time has really come for this project for New Hampshire. There’s no question about that,” said Arthur Thompson, an architect and principal at SMRT.

The firm has considerable experience designing jails and prisons in New England, and the state Department of Administrative Services said SMRT was the most qualified among 10 companies that bid on the design contract.

SMRT designed the women’s unit at the Maine Correctional Center that opened in 2002 as well as four county jails in New Hampshire, including the 237-bed Merrimack County House of Corrections in Boscawen that opened in 2005.

The firm’s architects offered a forward-looking perspective for that project, said state Rep. Katherine Rogers of Concord, who was then a county commissioner and later served as Merrimack County attorney.

“We tried to look at building a facility that would answer the needs of today, but be able to expand in the future at a lesser cost than if we had not planned for that. . . . They were really looking at not just what happens when we turn the key over, but what happens in 20 years,” Rogers said.

As for the result, she said, “We were very happy.”

The guidelines for the new women’s state prison call for the 224-bed facility to be “expandable to 350 beds” if needed.

Thompson said, in general, female inmates “come to a correctional facility with a very different experience than men. The majority of women, or a very high percentage of women, come from a greater or lesser experience of abuse,” and many require extensive medical and mental health services.

“The first thing you have to do is get the woman inmate to a position where she feels safe. This may be the safest place she’s ever been, sad to say,” he said. “That’s the first stage, and then the delivery of programs, behavior-based programs. Women seem to respond very favorably to behavior-based programs. . . . It’s more of a treatment model than a punishment model.”

The building alone doesn’t do it, Thompson said, but the design “enables those programs to be successful.”

Construction of a new women’s prison was proposed this year by Gov. Maggie Hassan and approved by overwhelming majorities in both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate. The new capital budget includes $38 million for the project.

The actual contracts, though, must be approved by the five-member Executive Council, which will meet tomorrow in Windham.

State officials plan to solicit bids this fall for a construction firm to handle the project, with an Executive Council vote on that contract tentatively scheduled for January 2014, said Jeff Lyons, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

That firm would then work with SMRT on the final design for the facility, assuming the design contract is approved tomorrow.

Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat, said the proposed contract “is pretty straightforward.” But he said he planned to ask Department of Corrections officials about their plans for transitional and newly released prisoners.

“Concord already shoulders an overwhelming burden of our state’s released and transitional population, and I think it’s likely . . . that that would increase” with the new facility, Van Ostern said.

He said he’ll ask officials to explore “how this will affect public safety and just general social welfare in Concord.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

$38,000,000 to make bad girls feel comfortable. I am sure that there will be perfect climate controls, widescreen televisions, a gourmet foodservice program, exercise rooms equal to most hotels and nice furniture in the rooms. In other words, they will just be behind a fence but living in comfort. Prison is supposed to be punishment not a Disney ride inside.

Does anybody know where the Executive Council's money tree is located?

Why is it that we seem to be using out of state companies when we need to get things done in NH? UNH hiring a NY firm for it's logo comes to mind. I find it hard to believe that the state of NH has no design companies that were capable of handling this. Many companies in NH have earned awards for their designs. So much for supporting local business.

So that comes out to roughly $450 per square foot, or, $180,000 per bed.

It would be cheaper to put the prisoners up in a 1st class hotel. If those are air-conditioners on the roof, they won't need a fence around the place. Women will want to go there. Home sweet home.

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