CONCORD, N.H. — Site work will begin this summer on the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women. The new prison will replace an aging Goffstown facility that the state has leased for more than two decades. The decision was announced in late February, 20 years after the state was first ordered to provide housing equity to female inmates.
According to Assistant Commissioner William McGonagle, the new 224-bed facility, which could be expanded to serve 350 inmates, will be located behind the existing men’s prison in Concord. The state-owned land will be leveled to prepare for construction sometime in July or August. The state has retained Gilbane Construction and Portland, Maine-based SMRT Architects, which is currently completing designs on the new facility.
The state’s lease on Goffstown facility, located in Hillsborough County, costs an estimated $250,000 annually. The arrangement was intended to be temporary, and the crowded facility reportedly suffers from aging plumbing, poor shower ventilation, roof leaks and inadequate recordkeeping systems. In a 2013 interview with The Telegraph, Warden Joanne Fortier said that although the facility was intended to hold 100 inmates, the average 2013 population was 125. Fortier added that this number also represented a range of needs and security levels.
Select groups of stakeholders have been invited to view building designs at a series of meetings scheduled for March 10, March 12 and March 19. The first of these meetings will include Concord officials, the New Hampshire Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and members of the Capital Budget Oversight Committee.
The March 12 meeting will host members of the Department of Corrections Commissioner’s Advisory Group, the New Hampshire State Prison for Women Advisory Group, New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and the Inter-agency Coordinating Council for Women Offenders.
New Hampshire Legal Assistance will also be in attendance at the March 12 viewing. That group, along with members of the law firm Devine Millimet, first filed a suit against the state in 1994, alleging female inmates where not offered the same level of services or facilities as their male counterparts. According to the suit, male inmates across the state still have greater access to addictions counseling, job skills training, mental health services and education, while also enjoying better living conditions. The suit says this discrepancy constitutes a violation of the female inmates’ constitutional rights.
Though the state has acknowledged the suit, it maintains that a lack of proper facilities, funding and staffing are to blame. With the 2013 allocation of $38 million in funding for the new prison, the lawsuit was suspended with the cooperation of the authors.
Mental health advocates, representatives of the League of Women Voters, Families of New Hampshire Inmates and union representatives will attend the third and final meeting. Those with property abutting the new facility will also be invited. No construction timeline has been made public at this time.