Future use of Goffstown women’s prison site up for debate

  • The new women's prison in Concord is nearly complete; however, inmates will not move from the existing site in Goffstown to the new facility until additional security staff are hired. —Courtesy

  • The new women’s state prison under construction in Concord is shown earlier this year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A bunk bed is seen in a €œday room at the State Prison for Women in Goffstown. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Saturday, October 28, 2017

As the New Hampshire Department of Corrections prepares to relocate its women’s prison to a new facility in Concord, the future of the aging Goffstown building is uncertain.

“If we can save a building, we try to do it in Hillsborough County. But, we’re just not sure about this one,” said Toni Pappas, chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners have discussed using the old jail and soon-to-be former prison as a home for the county’s Substance Abuse Treatment Community for Offenders. SATCO is an intensive two-month drug treatment and education program for up to 40 inmates, and currently operates within the walls of the Valley Street jail in Manchester.

Additionally, the commissioners have taken note of the viable commercial property surrounding Goffstown’s correctional facility and say there is great potential for new business should the building on Mast Road be demolished.

Hillsborough County began leasing its former county jail to the state nearly three decades ago for use as a women’s prison. While it was first billed as a temporary plan, the prison has operated at that site ever since – and it will continue to do so until sometime next year.

The new women’s prison in Concord is nearly 90 percent complete and is expected to be fully constructed by year’s end, Assistant Commissioner Helen Hanks told lawmakers during a presentation Oct. 17. However, the building will not be operational for several months due to a department-wide staffing shortage.

The state’s Department of Corrections has struggled in recent years to hire enough officers to guard the state’s prisons in Berlin, Concord and Goffstown, and, as a result, has relied on mandatory overtime. The problem has deepened as officials look to fill 55 new positions in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, in large part so it can open the 101,000-square-foot women’s prison in Concord. The facility is triple the size of the Goffstown building.

Female inmates were promised a permanent prison in the late 1980s after a group of them sued the state and won. The lawsuit was filed after concerns arose about inadequate conditions in out-of-state prisons, and about women being so far from their families. Per a federal court order, New Hampshire opened the Goffstown prison, allowing for many women who had been incarcerated outside the state to return.

A new class-action lawsuit was filed in 2012, alleging the state failed to fulfill its obligation to provide female prisoners with equal housing and services available to men. The lawsuit was shelved two years later after legislators authorized construction of the new prison, which is behind the men’s prison on North State Street.

The transition from Goffstown to Concord has been a years-long process that was anticipated to wrap up next month, but has been met by wide-ranging delays. As a result, the state’s Department of Corrections has renewed its annual contract with Hillsborough County to lease the Goffstown building for just shy of $2.5 million until June 30, 2018. The lease has a 60-day opt-out clause.

Pappas told the Monitor that the county commissioners will do a full inventory of the Goffstown building once it’s empty to determine its reuse potential. While the county’s three commissioners have had some preliminary discussions about the future of the property, they have a long road ahead before they plan to bring a proposal to the full delegation – state representatives of the county who must approve all spending.

“We’d certainly want input from our department heads,” she said. “We’d come up with a proposal, maybe two, that would move forward for a full review by the legislators.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)