Addiction treatment unit expands to Concord men’s prison

  • The New Hampshire Department of Corrections announced the completion of a 80-bed Focus Unit at the men's prison in Concord for inmates suffering from substance use disorders. The specialized unit is now at all three state prisons. —Courtesy

  • The New Hampshire Department of Corrections announced the completion of a 80-bed Focus Unit at the men's prison in Concord for inmates suffering from substance use disorders. The specialized unit is now at all three state prisons. —Courtesy

  • Heidi Guinen, deputy director of forensic services, speaks on Sep. 11, 2019, to staff members and residents at the newly-opened Focus Unit at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 9/16/2019 4:53:33 PM

An intensive, structured treatment unit for inmates struggling with addiction, as well as concurrent mental health issues, is now open to as many as 80 men at the North State Street prison in Concord.

The New Hampshire Department of Corrections announced last week the final phase of the unit’s expansion, which made these therapeutic living communities available in all three of the state’s prison facilities in Concord and Berlin.

The unit uses group treatment and peer mentoring to help those struggling with a substance use disorder work toward their recovery, the department said in a statement. The program aims to help inmates build motivational strategies, alcohol/drug refusal skills, communication skills, increase positive family relationships and long-term problem solving and recovery skills.

Treatment is structured around a tiered-system concept with inmates wearing different colored armbands at each of the three stages of the program, said Heidi Guinen, the deputy director of forensic services at the corrections department.

Red bands are given to inmates beginning the program either because they were court-recommended or have entered voluntarily, and it is the most restrictive stage, lasting for up to two months. Blue bands are for offenders actively engaging in treatment over the course of at least four months, and black bands are for inmates who’ve completed the clinical phase and apply to mentor others through peer community meetings and by continuing to live in the unit.

“I am proud to be a part of the energy residents show when they are beginning to tackle the challenges of their struggles with substance use disorder and watching their growth and personal change,” Guinen told staff and residents during a meeting at the prison last week.

For those men and women who successfully complete the program, case managers and re-entry care coordinators are available to help them access appropriate outpatient support services after their release, staff said.

The corrections department’s first focus unit opened at the Northern Correctional Facility in Berlin in 2014 in response to an increase in positive urinalysis and substance use disorder prevalence in the state’s prison facilities. At that time, then-Commissioner William Wrenn said the unit aimed to” help offenders improve thinking and behavior skills while encouraging their ability to understand the connection between thinking, behavior, and consequences.”

Four years later, the dual-purpose focus and wellness unit opened at the new 101,000-square-foot women’s prison in Concord. For decades, women had been housed at a cramped and aging facility in Goffstown, which the state leased from Hillsborough County. The county has since demolished the former women’s prison.

The prison for men in Concord was the last to come on board this fall, allowing inmates who qualify to stay in the Capital City rather than compete for spaces at the unit in Berlin.

In addition to implementing drug treatment programs, the corrections department has launched in recent years new security programs designed to curtail illicit drug use and slow the flow of contraband inside its facilities. One year ago, the department began the process of installing full-body scanners at all of its facilities. It also started a canine program, employing dogs who are trained to detect contraband, including in inmate housing areas, mailrooms and visiting rooms.

The measures followed implementation in early 2017 of a stricter visitation policy that limited hugs to three seconds and prohibited kissing between adults. One January weekend, there were four overdoses – one of which was fatal – in the state’s correctional system, prompting administrators to call for tighter visiting restrictions that limited human contact. A similar policy, updated in October 2018, remains in effect today.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at

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