May 12. 2013 9:52PM

Berlin prison filling up, slowly

Special to the Union Leader

BERLIN — There are as many staff members as inmates at the new federal prison off East Milan Road in Berlin, with 239 hired and working. That number is expected to increase to around 340 when the prison is fully occupied.

The Federal Correctional Institute Berlin (FCI Berlin) has a rated capacity for 1,152 medium-security inmates, and 128 minimum-security inmates. Early this month, there were approximately 160 in the medium-security level facility, and 80 inmates in the minimum-security facility.

According to FCI Berlin spokesperson Judith Nichols, “We continue to advertise for a number of positions including correctional officers, cook supervisors, teachers, recreation specialists, and health care practitioners.”

For most prison professions, new hires have to be younger than 37, so that they will be fully vested when they reach the mandatory retirement age of 57. Job seekers must first apply through the web portal at The salary range for a correctional officer is $38,619 to $51,193.

The facility, which cost more than $270 million to build, was completed in November 2010, but did not get activation funds until about a year later, due to Congressional budget stalemates.

The prison is using the city’s water and sewer, and when fully up and running, is expected to pay around $1.4 million a year for those services. That cash flow will help the city pay its amortization schedule, as it continues to upgrade those systems, officials have said.

The prison established an institution Community Relations Board in January.

“The CRB provides a means for mutual communications and support between FCI Berlin and the local community,” Nichols said.

Meanwhile, the state’s Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility, which opened in 2000, houses about 630 inmates. The facility was built for 500 medium-security inmates.

Former District 1 state senator John Gallus of Berlin said the prison was built with core facilities large enough to serve an inmate population of 1,000, so it could be expanded.

“It’s been talked about a number of times,” he said recently. “The resources haven’t been there.”

North Country officials were open to a new women’s prison in Berlin or Groveton, but that is not in the cards. State officials are focusing on a location near the men’s prison in Concord.

District 1 state Sen. Jeff Woodburn said that officials were concerned about female inmates being too far from their families.

“We couldn’t get Berlin closer to Hillsborough County,” he said, adding, “I think we could have beaten anyone else but Concord.”