Inmates at Concord prison start fire in protest of new visitation policy

  • This Friday, June 17, 2016, photo, shows the guard tower at the New Hampshire state prison in Concord, N.H. Despite added security methods, prison officials say they are seeing more drugs being smuggled into the state's prisons. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 2/3/2017 11:30:58 PM

On the heels of a brief hunger strike at the state prison in Berlin this week, inmates at the Concord facility on Friday afternoon set a small fire to protest a new visitation policy  instituted at all three of New Hampshire’s prisons.

Staff at the prison got the fire under control before the Concord Fire Department arrived, New Hampshire Department of Corrections Jeff Lyons said, and nobody was injured. Thirty-nine inmates had to be evacuated because of smoke, Lyons said, but were back in their cells by the end of the day. There was no property damage.

“They’re in lock-down now as we investigate the matter,” he said Friday evening.

At around 2 p.m. on Friday, inmates in one tier of the prison’s close-custody unit started throwing paper and trash into the hallway outside their cells, Lyons said. That trash was set on fire, although it’s unknown how. Lyons didn’t know if the persons responsible for the fire had been identified. 

The incident is under investigation by the department’s investigations bureau and the Office of the State Fire Marshal, he said. 

The visitation policy inmates are protesting prohibits kissing and limits hugs to three seconds. It is the latest in a series of measures the department has put in place in an attempt to curb illicit drug use inside the state’s correctional facilities. Vending machines and board games were also removed from visiting rooms. 

Commissioner William Wrenn put the policies in place soon after four men in the state’s custody overdosed, one of them fatally on Jan. 6. It is still unknown how exactly the men got access to drugs.

The policy has received backlash. Former and current inmates have called the Monitor to voice their concerns, according to prior reports. Many said the policy punishes children and those who follow the rules without actually addressing all the ways in which drugs get behind prison walls.

Two hundred inmates participated in the food boycott at the Berlin prison, according to officials. That’s about a third of the facility’s population. Officials said things were back to normal by Thursday, and there were no reported injuries.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)




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