LACONIA — Less than a week after temperatures in the attic space of the Belknap County House of Correction reached 110 degrees and women prisoners housed there were moved to the gymnasium, where mattresses were placed on the floor for them, the space is again being utilized, this time to house male inmates.
''We had to close the attic because it was too hot to have prisoners up there. But we had to open it back up on Monday. We had no choice because our jail population is up to 113 and we needed more space,'' Superintendent Daniel Ward told Belknap County Commissioners when they met Wednesday morning.
Ward said that in an attempt to cool down the attic, a back door was opened in order to allow air to circulate more freely and other steps were taken to try and alleviate the oppressive conditions.
He said that the only space in entire 87-bed facility which is air conditioned is the control center, which is air conditioned to keep the electronics from overheating, and his office, which is located adjacent to the control room.
''There is virtually no air circulation within the entire building,'' said Ward, who said that during the summer months an incredible amount of humidity builds up within the structure, so much he said that it causes all exposed metal to rust.
He said that during the summer the cells heat up and that the air becomes humid whenever showers are used. To compound the problem, the small amount of air which circulates throughout the miles of air lines within the building's control system is contaminated with oil, which entered the system through an air compressor, since replaced.
Ward said that the recent increase in jail population is being created by a number of factors, including seasonal ones such as protective custody incidents. ''We've had 50 people held in protective custody (because they were impaired) in recent months following Meadowbrook concerts,'' said Ward, who said that the most from any one concert was 10 people.
Also contributing to the increase according to Ward are longer pre-trial detention periods and state procedures on parole violations which see violators being held in county facilities to face the new charges brought against them rather than immediately being returned to the State Prison as parole violators.
Commissioner Steve Nedeau said that he understands that some inmates who would normally be sent to the State Prison because their sentence exceeds one year are still being held at the county facility.
Ward confirmed that was indeed the case, noting that one inmate in the Belknap County facility is serving three consecutive one-year terms.
Nedeau noted that after 12 months of holding an inmate, the county can bill the state for its costs if the inmate remains at the local facility.
''We're billing for them,'' said Ward. But Commissioner Ed Philpot noted that it didn't appear as though the state had money set aside to pay the county facilities.
Ward said that ''beds are being filled behind us,'' by actions at the state level and by sentencing practices which see those who might receive more than a year in State Prison receiving nine-month sentences in county facilities instead.
Ward also said that while the Belknap House of Correction is a minimum security facility it is ''still a jail'' and as such is still holding accused murderers and rapists who have yet to face trial.
He said that Laconia ranks as one of the top five in the state in property crimes and violent crimes and those kinds of offenders are being held locally, along with some drug-related offenders.
''We're a minimum security jail, but we're getting more violent offenders,'' said Ward, who said that he has had to create a new classification for inmates and there are now at least a dozen now being held are in the new higher risk category.
County Administrator Debra Shackett questioned Ward about the impact of the increase in prisoner population on this year's budget and Ward said that while he has spent just under half of the budget to this point he can't guarantee that he will be able to continue to hold the line.
He also told the commissioners that there are many other problems with the jail, including basement flooding with water bubbling up into the basement with ''little geysers coming through breaks in the concrete floor.''