Inspection results in long list of health & safety concerns at county jail

LACONIA — A report from the Laconia Fire Department of a fire inspection conducted last month at the Belknap County House of Corrections identifies several problems with the facility, including the need to seal junction boxes in the electrical system to prevent short circuits and electrical shocks.
The electrical system, which is located on the floor above the inmate areas, is prone to flooding when there are problems with the heating system and water and concrete salts then enter the non-water proof electrical junction boxes and conduits, creating the risk of a short circuit, which could cause metal parts connected to the system to become energized, posing the threat of a severe electrical shock to anyone who came in contact the parts.
County Administrator Debra Shackett presented the report to the Belknap County Commissioners at their Wednesday morning meeting, noting that Facilities Manager Justin Muzzey was in attendance for the inspection and will address issues at the jail in a prioritized manner as funding allows.
Another problem the report identified is with the electrically controlled door locks which provide secured access to each area of the building. There have been issues with the reliability of the system the report notes, adding that in the event of a fire staff are required to access keys to open doors into exterior impound yards.
''This may take some time based on existing staffing levels and environmental conditions such as snow and heavy rain. Heavy snowfall may prevent the opening of exterior doors or security access gates.'' the report says, recommending that any remote doors should be provided with a reliable means to release locks on all doors and that the control system should be remotely located from the resident areas.
There is also a problem with the control room where staff reports that exterior smoke and odors emanating from the main door air intake/vent enter the room, raising the possibility that the control room operator could be incapacitated by smoke or other agents or that the space could become untenable.
There is also a deficiency in that there is no self-contained breathing apparatus for staff to use in assisting with evacuation of the building. The report recommends that equipment and training requirements for the staff should meet OSHA requirements.
It was also noted that several of the tamper resistant sprinkler heads in the sprinkler system, which covers 85 percent of the building, have been painted over and should be replaced to ensure that they function properly.
Another area of concern is with the use of circuit breakers to control the operation of heating units in housing areas. ''The constant use of these devices as operating switches may limit their effectiveness and cause premature failure'', which the report says could cause a fire in the building wiring or devices attached to the circuit.
There is also a health issue with inadequate hot water, according to the report, which says that none of the faucet sinks which were checked heated quickly enough or hot enough for proper hand washing.
''With these issues it would not be possible for inmates to properly wash hands after using the facilities. The nature of this facility along with the close quarters make the ability for proper hand washing a top priority in infectious control and the safety of the inmates, staff and community at large.''
There is also a problem with the showers, which have ventilation issues.
''Although the staff does a very good job cleaning these areas, it is clear there is a mold like substance in all the areas inspected,'' says the report.
In other business, Commissioners authorized Shackett to spend funds to become a part of the RDS (Retiree Drug Subsidy) program which is available to groups that provide a prescription drug program to their retiree groups that is equivalent to the Medicare Drug benefit.
It requires an actuarial attestation from the county's health care provider that the prescription drug program the county provides qualifies for the Medicare Retiree Drug Subsidy. There is a fee for that testing of $1,500 and a monthly cost of $1 per retiree per month. The total cost of the program should be around $2,000 with a the potential subsidy in the $20,000 to $25,000 range.