The Hippo


Apr 26, 2019








Less staff at women’s prison
How the current Senate budget could affect staffing

By Ryan Lessard

 Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu proposed a budget that would have funded operations at the new women’s prison in Concord — due to complete construction this fall — to the tune of $48.7 million in fiscal year 2018 and $49.8 million in 2019. That would have been enough to fully staff the prison, according to the state Department of Corrections, but the legislature had different ideas that will mean less staff at the prison.

Budget talks
On May 31, the GOP-led Senate passed its version of the state budget along party lines and Democrats voiced their dissent in public statements. Some, like Democratic Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, said the budget creates an artificial surplus from unspent revenues to support the “ruse” that cutting taxes for the rich will grow revenues. Many pointed to things left out of the budget, like full-day kindergarten spending. But some of those are being addressed in separate legislation.
What the initial comments largely didn’t address was funding for the women’s prison, which was lowered from the governor’s proposal by the House budget that failed to pass and then further lowered by the Senate. Almost $2 million was cut from the governor’s 2019 budget for the prison.
Usually, the Senate spends more than the House, due to its traditionally higher revenue estimates. This year, that didn’t happen. 
Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester said Republicans in the Ways and Means Committee lowballed revenues, which he called “very unusual.”
“I think we had $20 million more to work with,” D’Allesandro said. “If you look at the economic signs, they were all good. We have a very low unemployment rate, our business taxes are producing significant revenue, real estate transfer tax is good. … I cannot explain it.”
As a result, prison spending went down.
How lawmakers arrived at their revenue numbers is unclear, but there’s disagreement between House and Senate Republicans. Reached by phone June 13 during a break in budget talks, Republican Rep. Kenneth Weyler, who serves on the House Finance Committee, said reconciling that difference was still a challenge.
“The last we heard, there’s still about a $40 million gap,” Weyler said. 
Originally, the DOC had planned to increase staff from the 40 or so currently working at the Goffstown women’s prison to about 117 by 2019 at the new prison. The new prison is twice the size of the old one and, once it’s built, DOC plans to move the women in Goffstown, plus the women at Strafford County Jail and at the Shea Farm Transitional Housing Unit in Concord, and the women they had to place out of state.
“We need the staffing to make sure it’s run in a safe and secure way,” said DOC spokesman Jeff Lyons.
He said when the House was drafting its budget, it had abolished about 20 nurse and correctional officer positions at the women’s prison. By the time it reached the Senate, budget writers appeared poised to do the same. 
“We were able to convince the Senate not to abolish them but to unfund them. Basically, what that means is we won’t have access to them during the coming biennium but the positions aren’t entirely lost,” Lyons said.
For this biennium, the effect is about the same — 20 fewer employees to provide medical care and ensure inmate safety — but keeping them in the budget will make it easier to lobby for funding in the 2020-2021 budget.
Weyler said the reduction in staff is based on the move to Concord being delayed and pointed to the request to extend the lease in Goffstown as evidence of that. He said it’s possible the new prison won’t be open until the next calendar year, so funding staff in the first fiscal year of this budget is not pressing.
“Eventually, we will hire those people,” Weyler said.
Lyons concedes that even if the DOC had the funding they asked for by the time they start moving inmates, they aren’t likely to have those positions filled. 
“All along, we’ve been having difficulty filling positions in the first place. So even if the [requested] budget was approved, we still can’t begin hiring until the beginning of the fiscal year,” Lyons said.
While the prison facility is due to be ready by October, training corrections staff takes several weeks. Lyons said he can’t give a firm date for launch of operations at the prison.
In the interim, having less staff will mean spending more on overtime, Lyons said. But there is a larger issue here: providing women with the same services male inmates get. That was the decades-old legal issue that led to the women’s prison in the first place.
“The original intent behind the lawsuit that was filed … was that the women need to have parity with the males,” Lyons said.
For D’Allesandro, that should make this project a priority.
“The prison’s completion date had to be moved up because they needed more money to finish it, so it’s been a challenge all along and we should be doing it right,” D’Allesandro said. 

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