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Decision on women's prison contract today

State House Bureau

September 18. 2013 12:39AM

CONCORD — The Executive Council will decide today on a $2.4 million contract with a Maine firm to design a new women’s prison in Concord.

The firm SMRT, Inc. of Portland, Maine, has extensive experience designing prisons, including several county facilities in New Hampshire and the women’s unit of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine.

“After a four-month selection process, the Bureau of Public Works Design and Construction recommends SMRT as the most qualified of the 10 firms that expressed interest in this project,” Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon said.

The $38 million project was approved by lawmakers this year after it was included in Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed capital budget. The project has been a priority of the Department of Corrections for a number of years, but finally won lawmakers’ approval this year.

The 224-bed women’s prison will be built on land behind the Men’s Prison in Concord. Corrections officials say the location will allow women to use some of the men’s prison facilities and avoid costly duplication.

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, corrections officials say.

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 structure will be designed to allow expansion to 350 beds if needed.

“SMRT has a sub-consultant that most clearly expressed an understanding of the challenges the site possesses and has proven local experience to address those challenges,” said Hodgdon, “SMRT sub-consultants had great local knowledge and experience.”

The new facility would replace the current women’s prison in Goffstown, which was to be a temporary solution when the state leased the facility from Hillsborough County in 1988.

Women prisoners at Goffstown filed a class action lawsuit last year, claiming they do not receive the same services, counseling and work opportunities available to men at the state prison in Concord.

A similar lawsuit was filed 20 years ago.

In July when she signed the capital budget bill, House Bill 25, Hassan said the new women’s prison will improve public safety and strengthen the state’s correction system, with modern facilities that will provide the same level of safety and programs offered at the men’s prison.

“For too long our corrections system has woefully neglected women,” Hassan said. “Through the capital budget, we are now able to build a long-overdue new women’s prison with facilities and programs that can help individuals safely move back into society when they have served their sentences.”

The design work is expected to be completed by December 2014, with construction to begin in spring 2015.

The new prison is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

The Corrections Department hopes to seek bids this fall for the construction of the facility.

The goal is to have the contract approved by the Executive Council early next year so the contractor can work with SMRT on the design.

The council meets at 10 a.m. in the Windham High School auditorium.

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