LACONIA — The Beknap County Convention got a close look at the Belknap County Commission's proposal to renovate the county jail and build a community corrections center at a public hearing last night, in anticipation of being asked to authorize an $8-million borrowing to finance the project next week.
Kevin Warwick of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., the consultant engaged by the commission, stressed "it's not abut the building, but about the programming inside the building." He explained that the community corrections center would feature a rigorous regimen of substance abuse, mental health and educational programs and services, which experience has demonstrated reduce the number of inmates who return to jail.
Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said that with just 34 full-time staff and an average daily population of 93, the Belknap County Jail has the fewest number of staff to its number of inmates of any county jail in the state. Perhaps more importantly, the jail has no substance abuse counselors, mental health clinicians or case managers. Referring to the treatment continuum that begins with the drug court and restorative justice, for those not incarcerated, he said that the county jail should be providing for the high-risk offenders requiring intensive treatment, but conceded "right now, we're not in the treatment continuum." Yet, he said, 76-percent of the inmates at the county jail are in need of substance abuse, mental health and educational programming.
The proposed community corrections center would provide 64 beds, of which 30 would be treatment beds (20 for men and 10 for women) and 34 work release beds (24 for men and 10 for women). There are no high security beds, which represent the most costly form of incarceration, in the facility.
The cost of the facility is projected to be $7,171,925, including a contingency of $700,000.The cost of personnel and programming would be another $650,183, some of which would be offset by increase revenue from work release programs and grants. Moreover, Commissioner David DeVoy said emphasis would be placed on hiring part-time personnel to avoid unnecessary health insurance costs. The estimated cost of renovating the existing facility, which would have 60 beds, is $1,159,300.
Warwick noted that the proposal is based on the experience of Sullivan County (Claremont), which opened a community corrections center five years ago. Since then the rate of recidivism in Sullivan County has dropped to 18 percent and a third of those who return to jail have violated conditions of probation and parole rather than committed new crimes. Meanwhile, 72 percent of the inmates at the Belknap County Jail have been there before.
"This is the right plan for the county," Warwick said, acknowledging that though modeled after Sullivan County, "it is really Belknap County specific." He added that the most effective means of reducing the rate of recidivism, managing the inmate population and easing overcrowding at the jail is to address the incidence of substance abuse and enable inmates to become responsible, productive members of society.
The county convention will meet on Monday, Nov. 2 at the Belknap County Superior Courthouse (6 p.m.) to vote on the resolution to authorize the sale of $8 million in general obligation bonds to finance construction of the community corrections center and renovation of the existing jail. A two-thirds majority, or 12 of the 18 members — all of them Republicans — will be required to authorize the borrowing.
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 333