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April 23. 2013 4:12PM

Senate panel voices support for plan for new $38 million women’s prison in Concord

CONCORD -- Members of the Senate committee that oversees spending on state capital projects expressed support Tuesday  for bonding $38 million for a new women’s prison adjacent to the men’s facility in Concord.

The state is being sued over conditions and programming at the current women’s prison in Goffstown, and, said Senate Capital Budget Committee Chairman David Boutin, R-Hooksett, it is “the most about the most deplorable place that I have ever walked in.”

The Department of Corrections plans to have the new 112,000-square-foot facility completed by Oct. 1, 2016.

The House already passed a $124 million capital budget that contains the $38 million requested by the Department of Corrections for a new 224-bed women’s prison and transitional facility.

Corrections department officials met no resistance when they brought their plan to the key Senate panel.

Assistant corrections commissioner William McGonagle said $2.3 million for site and design work had been previously approved.

He said the new prison will be built under “construction management,” which, he said, allows the plans to adjusted as it is built to keep it within budget.

Michael Connor, director of plant and property management at the Department of Administrative Services, said the construction management approach is estimated to save the state about $4 million over the traditional approach to new construction.

McGonagle said that with the women’s prison adjacent to the men’s facility, there would be “operational synergies.” The savings would include shared education and training programs, emergency services, medical and psychiatric staff, combined warehouse and maintenance operations and combined inmate transportation operations.

Siting the facility  near the men’s prison would also allow access to sewer and water lines and existing electrical transmission and communications lines.

The corrections department is also seeking $500,000 to convert to an electronic medical records system.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, supported the new women’s prison “100 percent,” but warned, “We need to do a lot of work beyond this” and develop “a strong plan” for the men’s prison system, which holds a combined 2,500 in mates in Concord and Berlin.

Morse said overcrowding, which at times has forced the department to double-bunk Berlin inmates in the prison gymnasium “is a major mistake.”

Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn agreed, but said the Concord men’s prison “is not crumbling away here. We put a lot of money into the infrastructure to bring it up to a level that is satisfactory for many more years to come.”

He said it could be an acceptable functional facility “for another 50 years or more.”

“We need to continue to work in the area of alternatives to incarceration,” said Wrenn. “But we’re still going to need a new women’s prison. The lawsuit is looming over us.”

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