County jailer rears number of prisoners will rise beyond repair

LACONIA — Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward told members of the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee last night that admissions to the county jail have increased from 994 in the year 2000 to over 1600 last year and that during the same time the average daily inmate population has shot up from 42 in 2000 to 113 last year.
He said that current capacity of the jail is 109 and that when the inmate population reaches that number there is no longer any floor space or bed space, which means that above that level the county has no choice but to ship inmates out to facilities in other counties.
Last summer there were as many as 140 inmates at the facility with 17 women prisoners housed in the gymnasium and upwards of 30 inmates were shipped to three other county correctional facilities around the state.
''When we get to April, May and June those numbers will spike and there'll be a lot higher spikes than last year. We'll have to ship them out because we have no space,'' Ward told committee members, who predicts even more inmates will be placed in other facilities in 2014 than last year..
He said that the average length of stay at the jail has gone from 15.3 days in 2000 to 37.4 last year and that whereas 150 women were admitted to the jail in 2000 there were 510 women admitted last year.
Ward said that over the years there has been only one area of reduction and that is protective custody cases, which dropped from 1,338 in 2000 to 650 last year, which he said reflects in large part a different approach to law enforcement during Laconia Bike Week.
He said that despite the best efforts to develop programs which would reduce recidivism that the space has not been available for them and the lack of programs is being felt.
''It's very difficult to run any kind of therapeutic model. You can't do it here. The inmates who need support have to go back into a mixed environment,'' said Ward.
"There's a cost of not doing programs. Our length of stay and populations are increasing because we're not doing these programs,'' said Ward, who pointed to successes such as parenting skills and education programs, as well as bracelet programs which allow for work release and a recovery court which is about to have its first graduates.
He pointed out that the bracelet program costs the released inmate $3,000 a year compared to $30,000 for keeping an inmate in jail.
He said that the jail is currently holding 33 people awaiting trial, some for murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and assault and negligent homicide, and they have to be kept separate from those who are being held for lesser crimes while serving sentences.
Ward said that an analysis of the projections made by the Bennett Report, which was used as a basis for designing a community corrections program, appear to have been on the conservative side. The report said that if jail admissions rise to the 250 per 10,000 level for the county a 240-bed facility will be needed, rather than the projected 180-bed facility.