LACONIA — In the course of planning a new county jail and community corrections program, the Belknap County Commissioners have taken the facility and programs introduced in Strafford County (Rochester) as a model.
Ray Bower, Strafford County Administrator, said that a new jail with 65 beds was built in 1985 with the expectation it would serve the county for 20 years. "It lasted three years," he said, "and by the 1990s was housing more than 100 inmates in overcrowded conditions.
The county commissioners, Bowers said, contacted the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), a federal agency that provides training and technical assistance to state and local correctional institutions. He said that the county commission decided to build what he called "our father's jail," by expanding the existing facility at a cost of $12.5 million.
Bowers said that the commissioners tailored the proposal to what they believed the county convention would accept — the least expensive alternative. However, the convention rejected the plan by a convincing margin of 28 to 7. Instead, the representatives directed the commissioners to design an integrated criminal justice program; that is, a new facility complemented by therapeutic and educational programming designed control long-term operating costs of incarceration by addressing recidivism and managing the inmate population.
A year later the commissioners presented the plan, which bore a $25 million price tag. Bowers said the convention approved the proposal by the same vote, 28 to 7, with which it rejected the first proposal.
Bowers said that the facility, with 500 beds, houses about 150 inmates from Strafford County and another 150 "boarders," placed there by federal and state agencies as well as other counties in New Hampshire. Since 2004, when the jail opened, the county has received $42.7 million in revenue from housing inmates from federal agencies and other jurisdictions. "That is 200-percent of the cost of the facility," Bowers said.
Meanwhile, Bowers said that with the programming provided at the facility the population of inmates from Strafford County has "remained flat." In addition, the county corrections department manages some 400 inmates in the community, 80-percent of whom would otherwise be incarcerated without the programming to return them to the community.