Published DateCONCORD — Following Governor Maggie Hassan's proposal to construct a prison for women in the coming biennium, Jeff Lyons, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, said yesterday that although no site has been chosen, the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street is "extremely low on the list of prospective sites."
Hassan included $38-million to build a new women's prison in the capital budget proposal she presented to the Legislature last week. "For too long our corrections system has woefully neglected women," she told lawmakers. "It is time, we cannot delay this any longer."
Lyons said that Commissioner William Wrenn would prefer to build the facility in Concord, where the state owns some 1,000 acres in the vicinity of the State Prison for men. He explained that with the two facilities in relative close proximity to one another there would be opportunities to minimize operating costs by sharing resources, services and personnel.
"We are pleased the governor has identified a women's prison as a high priority," Lyons said. "It has been the department's number one priority for the past eight years."
A new women's prison would be the first such facility in the state. From 1881 to 1941 female inmates were housed in the south wing of the state prison. When their numbers grew and space become short, they were sent to the Women's Reformatory in Rutland, Vermont, which closed in 1967, and then to the Massachusetts Correctional Facility in Framingham. Inmates brought suit and in 1987 a federal judge ordered the state to provide a prison for women.
The Laconia State School was among the first sites considered, but ultimately the state leased the vacated county jail in Goffstown as a "temporary" facility in 1989.
Instead, in 1990, despite resistance from Laconia, the state located a minimum security prison, the Lakes Region Facility, on the Laconia State School site. When that facility closed in June, 2009, a commission convened by the Legislature and chaired by then mayor, now City Councilor Matt Lahey to report on the future of the property, surveyed all state departments, including corrections, which responded that they had no use for the property.
Since 2011, the city has sought to acquire the site amid lingering concerns that it could again appear on a list of locations for a women's prison.