LACONIA — A key reasons why Belknap County Commissioners have decided to seek bids from architectural firms for a schematic design for a so-called community corrections facility is the success a similar program has had in Sullivan County (Claremont), which saw the recidivism rate drop to 17 percent, compared to a 74 percent rate before the facility was built and related new programs put in place.
Ross Cunningham former Sullivan County Superintendent of Corrections, who is now assistant corrections superintendent in Merrimack County, told commissioners when they met Tuesday that it required ''a leap of faith'' for the county to make the transition away from a conventional jail to a new philosophy of community corrections.
Cunningham, who worked with Kevin Warwick, president of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., to develop a community corrections program for Belknap County, said that while serving as head of the Sullivan County Corrections Department he and other county officials made 40 to 50 presentations around the county before the program was approved.
The project, which is the first of its kind in the state, represents a new direction in the handling of inmates for the county as it concentrates efforts and resources on re-entry instead of incarceration, according to Cunningham. He says that Sullivan County officials first discussed plans to improve facilities and programming in 2005, following a study that revealed more than 80 percent of inmates booked into the county jail required some form of treatment programming.
Sullivan County officials ditched plans for a new $38 million county jail in 2008 and opted instead to build a $5.6 million community corrections facility.
The 72-bed Sullivan County Community Corrections Center is a 20,000-square-foot facility which was built adjacent to existing county jail in Unity in 2009. The center has 32 treatment beds, 16 work release beds and 24 beds for female offenders.
Sullivan County also spent $1.3 million on renovations at the county jail, which holds up to 100 inmates.
The corrections center provides work-release opportunities and a focus on treatment and programming for inmates close to release, and is designed to better help inmates transition back into the community.
''I'm a believer in this kind of approach because I've seen then results it produces,'' said Cunningham, who says that a supervised transition back into the community produces better results for both the released inmates and the communities they return to.
''It's a partnership with local law enforcement and the service providers which can provide dramatic reductions in long term costs.'' says Cunningham.
More than $1.8 million in grants were received by the county between 2009 and 2012 which helped pay for the programs offered at the community corrections center, according to Cunningham, who said staffing for the Sullivan County Department of Correction was 35 to 37 people in 2008 before the project broke ground and has gradually increased to 55 staffers as of last year.
Warwick, who is a nationally recognized expert on corrections programming and served as a consultant for the Sullivan County project, provided information to the Belknap County Commissioners which showed only a 17 percent recidivism rate for Sullivan County for those who has completed the TRAILS (Transitional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills) program compared to 51 percent for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections and 52 percent for Carroll County.
Warwick also pointed out that the average prison population in Sullivan County has been consistently lower than projected since the center opened, with 100 actual in 2009 compared to an estimate of 123, 99 actual in 2010 compared to an estimated 128, 105 in 2011 compared to an estimated 132, 110 in 2012 compared to an estimated 138 and 106 in 2013 compared to an estimated 143.
He told Belknap County Commissioners Tuesday that ''doing nothing is not an option. Your situation if it remains as it is, will cause serious problems for the county.''
Commissioners voted that evening to seek proposals from architectural firms to develop a schematic plan for a proposed 64-bed community corrections facility as recommended by the consulting firm. The plan they presented would see 30 treatment beds, 20 for men and 10 for women, and 34 work release beds, 24 for men and 10 for women. The new facility would be built next to the current jail and connected to it through a newly created control room. It would have 22,327-square-feet and a suggested addition which would include a small 2,500-square-foot gym, 1,500-square-feet of administrative space which would bring the total space to just over 27,000-square-feet.
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