BY MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — During a visit to the Belknap County Jail Friday, state Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) was reminded of the shortcomings of the facility and shown the promise of the new community corrections center by his host, Superintendent Keith Gray.
In particular, Hosmer learned that rehabilitative programs, which will be the centerpiece of the new facility, are already achieving success at the county jail.
Gray said that with only one room that can be used for classes, and then only when it is not being put to other uses, the department is hard pressed to offer programming to address substance abuse and prepare inmates for employment. The community corrections center, he said, will include six additional rooms for providing therapeutic and educational programming while some space in the existing facility will be converted to serve similar purposes.
When Hosmer asked about the rate of recidivism, Gray replied that it is near 65 percent, which he said reflected the dearth of rehabilitative programming, including treatment for substance abuse.
"We haven't really done much until now," Gray said.
Tamara McGonagle, the program director at the Department of Corrections, who directs programming for inmates, presented data indicating the success of the limited educational programs offered at the existing facility. Since May 2010, 128 inmates at the Belknap County Jail have completed the General Educational Development (GED) program, 36 of whom have returned to jail, but only five of them for committing new crimes.
With a grant from the United States Department of Education, since October 2013 the jail has offered a program leading to certification by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which enhances opportunities for employment in the construction industry. Altogether, 102 inmates have earned certification and another 14 are currently enrolled in the class. Of those completing the program, 26 have returned to jail, 15 for violating their probation.
ServSafe, a program for food handlers administered by the National Restaurant Association, has graduated 222 inmates since August 2010, 43 of whom have been incarcerated again, 23 of them for probation violations.
Since September 2015 the jail has provided the training required to handle lead paint, which has been completed 57 inmates, only two of whom have returned to jail.
Gray noted that the rates of recidivism among inmates completing these programs is below that of all inmates and the number returning to jail charged with new offenses is even less.
Furthermore, Gray noted that the jail has recently introduced the Corrections Opportunity for Recovery and Education (CORE) program to address substance abuse and recently celebrated its first graduates. With abuse of alcohol or drugs commonplace among inmates, he said that expanding capacity for treatment will be a major feature of the community corrections center.
Hosmer said that although the Legislature has increased funding for treatment of substance abuse, he added "I'm not sure it's enough and want to see more money directed to the counties and the municipalities faster."
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