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Arrogant commissioners continue to double down on jail proposal

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

I read with interest the Michael Kitch article (LDS 12/26) on the exchanges between Laconia Councilor Lipman and county Commissioner Philpot.

How did the Belknap delegation and the Belknap commission get to the impasse on the county jail wherein the public good is not being served? Councilor Lipman's concerns about the condition of the existing facility are valid and most of the Belknap delegation is motivated to arrive at a sensible and cost
effective solution to issues surrounding the jail.

A prior delegation authorized the hiring of David Bennett whose subsequent 165 page report is available on the county website. I have read this report thoroughly and intend to discuss its findings at a future meeting. From the Bennett report, the firm of Ricci Greene was hired at considerable expense. They presented one option for the jail: build one with design elements which are ultra expensive and which the presenters from Ricci Greene estimated would cost 42.5 million dollars to build. The jail's per bed cost is about 40 percent higher, for example, than the new state prison for women, which was authorized this year. There are many examples of more affordable new jails, which models the current commission has ignored. Indeed, when a planning committee member purchased, at his own expense, the manuals which contain the current guidelines for compliance with federal standards and suggested that a new jail could be built doe about 35 percent of the Ricci Greene proposal, his ideas were summarily dismissed. The gentleman in question is a person of
intelligence and probity who had taken the time to research several jails that were built to those standards and presented them as potential models for our county. The commissioners had zero interest in the work presented for their consideration.

In 2009. when Commissioner Philpot was vice chair, a report was sent to the Attorney General's office detailing the state of the county jail. These reports are, by law, supposed to be filed twice a year. Despite this requirement, there were no further reports filed until March of this year, when the condition of the jail was described as dire. Because the commission did not follow the requirements of the law, we cannot pinpoint the gradual deterioration of the County Drive facility but it does coincide with what Commissioner Philpot previously described as a four year planning process for a new jail.

Councilor Lipman made sensible observations about what the county should be doing to address the problems surrounding the jail, suggestions which the current commission will not follow. I will not be voting for an expensive and temporary solution which contributes nothing to a longer term resolution of our problems and call instead for the county to come up with specifications for a temporary pod which can then be placed out to bid. Certainly, this could be used to house the women prisoners whose housing is most inferior and which, in turn, would alleviate some of the overcrowding. The continued arrogance of the Belknap commission has resulted in their doubling down on a financially infeasible and unnecessary proposal.

Rep. Richard B. Burchell
Belknap 5 - Gilmanton