County decision makers told to 'wipe away everything we see on TV' about jails

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission took another step toward designing a new correctional system when Ken Ricci and Laura Maiello of Ricci Greene Associates of New York presented a profile of the facility to the Planning Committee, along with members of a community advisory committee and County Convention yesterday.
"You are building a new system," Maiello said. "Not just a new jail."
She recalled the report by David Bennett, the consultant the commission hired to develop a strategy for the Corrections Department aimed at who reducing the high rate of recidivism and the spiraling cost of incarceration. "Jail must become an alternative," he said, recommending changes in the criminal justice system with an emphasis on "therapeutic justice."
Maiello has written that inmates of municipal and county represent a transient population, most of whom are released within a few days of their arrest while the remainder serve relatively short sentences. These jails admit and release more than 16-million individuals each year and every month a number equal to those sentenced and discharged from state and federal prisons annually. Consequently, to reduce recidivism and control costs, as well as enhance public safety in the long term, she contends that jails must prepare inmates "to make a successful transition back to the community."
Apart from providing a safe, secure and compliant environment, Maiello said that the new jail must also have space for substance abuse treatment, behavioral therapy, mental health services, educational programs and vocational training.
The number of beds, Maiello said, is a function of the number of admissions and the average length of stay. She noted that by assessing the risks inmates pose and the treatment they require upon admission can not only match them to appropriate programming, treatment and supervision but also reduce the duration of their incarceration. She projected that with 200 admissions for every 10,000 people and an average length of stay of 35 days, a new facility would require 180 beds, plus five for inmates requiring medical care.
Mailello explained that inmates would be profiled according to some 13 criteria, including gender, risk, offense, and special needs, and separated appropriately.
A third of the beds, divided between 44 for men and 16 for women, would be dedicated to the community corrections program, for inmates awaiting trial, on work release or electronic monitoring and undergoing intensive treatment. The other 120 beds, 88 for men and 32 for women, would be allotted to maximum, medium, and minimum security inmates as well as those with special needs. A handful of these beds would also be designated for receiving and discharge. The beds would be divided between five housing units, two for men — one with 36 beds and another with 52 beds — and one for women.
"Let's wipe away everything we see on TV, " said Ricci. "Modern jails are very complex places, just as complicated as hospitals. You have a captive audience and are responsible for their health, education and welfare."
He stressed that the design must ensure security by providing clear lines of sight and minimizing the movement of inmates around the facility. For instance, making recreation yards accessible from the dayroom of each housing unit limits movement while offering choice to inmates, who are not compelled to wait for scheduled recreational a centrally located area shared among housing units.
Ricci said that a functional facility with sufficient capacity could be housed in a single story building. "However," he added, "it would be 770 feet long. The length of one football field, if you're the Jets." Instead, he suggested two floors, the first housing the community corrections program and the second the remaining 120 beds.
By not building on the site of the existing jail, Ricci said that the county would spare the significant expense of placing and supervising inmates in some sort of temporary facility during construction. The existing jail would be demolished once the new facility is complete. He said that the facility could be built close enough to country complex to easily share its infrastructure, particularly the kitchen and laundry that serve the nursing home.
Maiello said that the next step will be to estimate the cost of the project.
Ed Philpot, chairman of the commission, emphasized that Ricci Greene Associates presented a concept, not a recommendation, as a means of "getting to the scope and cost of the project."
Rep. Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) remarked that "some of the people will be living in a better facility than they were in before" and asked "what's going to make them want to get out?"
Maiello replied that from the moment inmates are admitted the process of preparing them to return to the community begins. "Expectations," she said, "will motivate them to leave."