Corrections officers warn low staffing plagues N.H. prison system

  • The Women’s Prison behind the State Prison for Men on North State Street in Concord is shown. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Monday, July 03, 2017

Corrections officers are warning of extremely low staffing levels at New Hampshire’s prisons as they work to secure a new union contract.

The union, which represents more than 380 corrections officers, is arguing that a shortage of trained officers forced to work thousands of hours in overtime is creating an unsafe environment for workers and inmates, according to a news release from Teamsters Local 633.

Union members have launched a campaign, “Safe Prisons, Safe New Hampshire,” to spotlight the issue.

“With staffing levels so low, New Hampshire prisons can’t effectively provide vital job training, education and other programs that help with rehabilitation and are essential safety tools to manage inmates,” Jeffrey Padellaro, who serves as secretary-treasurer and principal officer of the union, said in a statement.

As part of its grievances, the union points to low worker compensation as a key challenge to recruitment. State correctional officers start out making approximately $34,000 annually, which is $10,000 less than a starting police officer.

The state has men’s prisons in Berlin and Concord, as well as a federal prison in Berlin. The women’s prison is currently based in Goffstown, but a new facility is under construction behind the men’s prison in Concord.

Construction on the prison is expected to finish by November, but inmates likely won’t be moved in until 2018. That date hinges on when the department can hire enough guards, state Department of Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn said last month.

The women’s prison project has been plagued with delays since the beginning. In 2015, officials revealed construction costs had run over budget, asked for more money and predicted the building wouldn’t open until a year later than initially planned. The prison design was altered to rein in costs and then had to be sent out to bid again.