To The Daily Sun,
Much discussion and controversy has surrounded our county jail in recent months. As a candidate for state representative from Laconia I decided to visit this facility and tour the inside.
The jail is made up of a "hodge-podge" of several additions constructed over the years, making it a difficult place to process and house inmates. The jail was not designed for women, but about two dozen women are housed there — in the gymnasium. The jail was not designed for the mentally ill or drug and alcohol patients. The present jail does not meet the needs of housing the current population and providing space for essential rehabilitation programs.
One of the positive aspects of the jail's policies is to provide programs and activities to help ensure that inmates will not return. For example a GED is required of all inmates who have not graduated from high school. The jail does not simply "house" inmates. Programs are in place to rehabilitate inmates and make them useful in society.
The Belknap County correctional facility does not meet codes and standards that are available to make the facility safe and efficient. For example, this old facility does not meet nationally recognized standards for correctional facilities. It does not meet fire safety codes. As a former New Hampshire State Fire Marshal, it was my job to enforce the Life Safety Code. My consulting practice also focused on understanding and interpreting this major fire code. Special chapters in the Life Safety Code are devoted to detention and correctional occupancies. Our jail does not meet these provisions.
Also, the facility does not meet the provisions of the ADA — Americans with Disabilities Act.
A major problem with not meeting known codes and standards is that should something happen, Belknap County could be sued and might have to pay large amounts of money.
All of New Hampshire's county jails, with the exception of Belknap and Coos counties, have up-to-date, modern correctional facilities. Other counties have addressed and solved this problem. Why haven't we?
To me an obvious problem exists with our current jail facility. It should be easily addressed and discussed with an acceptable solution arrived at.
The question is clear and with a common-sense approach a solution should be easily reached. Of course, this would require that all commissioners and the convention truly understand the problems with the jail facility and are willing to solve the problem.
I would urge any new county commissioners and delegation members who have not seen this building to tour the jail to see for themselves the conditions of this facility before government work begins in January 2015. Superintendent Ward is more than happy to give tours.
Knowledge and cooperation are the keys to his current dilemma. I would like to promote this climate and help solve the jail issue.
Dr. Thomas Dawson
Candidate for State Representative