Opening of new Concord women’s prison delayed until 2018

  • Construction of the new women's prison continues behind the men’s correctional complex on North State Street in Concord on March 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Staff and wire reports
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The opening of New Hampshire’s new women’s prison in Concord will be delayed until sometime in 2018 because the state is struggling to find enough people to staff it.

The 101,000-square-foot facility was set to open this fall and is triple the size of the existing prison in Goffstown, which currently houses nearly 140 prisoners. The new facility has room for 224 women and will provide much-needed classroom space and health care facilities.

The $48 million women’s prison will be completed by mid-October, as previously planned, but will sit vacant until the Department of Corrections is able to hire the qualified staff needed to safely operate the facility, spokesman Jeff Lyons said.

The department requested funding for 75 new positions – including guards, nurses, teachers and other staffers – to be hired over the course of the next two years. The Legislature eliminated one position and left 19 of the 74 positions unfunded. That means the department can hire a total of only 55 new positions in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

“We requested the addition of new positions during the 2015 budget process, but that request was not approved. So the new women’s prison positions were not added into our budget until the current fiscal year,” Lyons said, noting the new fiscal year began July 1.

A total of 40 positions are funded at the women’s prison in Goffstown, and all of those positions will be retained when the new prison opens in 2018, Lyons said.

Hiring qualified applicants has been an ongoing issue for the department, so much so that officials are now turning to an outside advertising and marketing firm to assist with recruiting. The department must go before the Executive Council for approval of a contract. Companies have until Aug. 25 to submit their bids.

New Hampshire’s strong economy and low unemployment rate – tied for fourth lowest in the country – are making the task of finding qualified candidates more difficult, Lyons said. Additionally, new corrections officers have to have a clean criminal history and have good physical fitness, he said. They are also required to successfully complete a nine-week-long pre-service training academy and a four-week-long field training program in which they shadow an officer.

“Until all the positions are filled we will have to continue paying overtime,” Lyons said.

To make up for the systemwide staff shortage, prison guards have been forced to work overtime shifts. While employees are prevented from logging more than 16 hours in a row without an eight-hour break, many guards have to work double shifts multiple times a week, union members previously told the Monitor. As a result, department overtime spending has skyrocketed in recent years, from $3.3 million in 2009 to $9.1 million in 2015.

Lyons said the move from Goffstown to Concord will occur as quickly as possible once the new facility is up and running, and take place over several days.