Money For New Men’s Prison Design, State Library Pass Senate Capital Budget Panel

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Paula Tracy photo

ACLU-NH's Joseph Lascaze is pictured testifying Thursday in front of the Senate Capital Budget Committee.


CONCORD – Helen Hanks, commissioner of the Department of Corrections, laid out a request for $40 million for architectural plans for a new men’s prison while a $1 million request for a new climate-controlled storage facility for the State Library was considered and also voted to ought to pass by the Senate Capital Budget Committee on Thursday.

Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said the money for the State Library is to properly preserve precious state materials while making room for more exhibit areas. 

A longer term look at what can be done for the library will come next.

Hanks said she is dealing with an 18th century building in Concord designed for far fewer people than there are now. About 1,000 men are incarcerated there.

She said it is important for the state to have a facility that is adequate not only for the inmates but those who work there. It is not air conditioned and the kitchen area is in particular need of structural repair or replacement.

Hanks said a more conducive environment is needed for education and programming with the hope of reducing the re-entry or recidivism rate, which in studies shows it is about 40 percent.

Joseph Lascaze, of ACLU of New Hampshire, opposed House Bill 476-FN as written.

A former inmate himself, Lascaze said the opposition is not about achieving improved living conditions which are “deplorable.”

He said he would prefer to see funding go directly toward current needs where there is water dripping from the roof into the building.

This $40 million is estimated to be about 10 percent of the actual construction costs and the bill makes a bonded appropriation of funds for architectural, engineering, programming and design and construction documents.

Lascaze noted Massachusetts has statistics showing the prison population trending down that should be considered.

He said he would prefer to see the money spent on fixing the kitchen which is in need of work.

In fact, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections reported a 45 percent drop in the prison population between 2013 and 2022 and a 9 percent decline in just one year, 2021-22.

But state Sen. James P. Gray, R-Rochester moved they spend the money, saying the concerns of the ACLU might be reviewed by a different committee. 

He noted if passed by the Senate, he would have the bill moved to the Finance Committee.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, was not in favor of the measure, though he said he has been dealing with this issue for 50 years and worked on a study in 1974.

“It has to be dealt with, I am not sure this is the way,” he said. On a vote of 4-1 it passed with D’Allesandro dissenting.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-Bradford, moved to pass SB 475-FN relative to designing a climate-controlled storage facility for the state library saying it was critical to future generations . 

D’Allesandro agreed, saying some of the state’s rarest articles dating back to the founding of this nation, need to be protected.

“We have to somehow deal with the water that flows through this building,” and the neighboring Spring Street, named that for a reason, not as a season.

“This is a treasure for the city, for the state. It is a wonderful building,” he said, “Yeah,  I think we ought to do it. The history of our state is very important.”

The vote was unanimous.

Stewart said by removing the materials off site, for what she envisions will be a 12,000 square foot structure near state archives, it would give a lot more room in the library for gallery space and exhibits.

The storage facility would still be accessible to the public, she said.

Stewart noted the state has hired a curator to put together themed exhibits, traveling exhibits and go to schools and public places to share the collections.

“Right now we have to hide it away so it does not get damaged,” she said. 

“Every fourth grader who goes to the State House should want to go to the state library. I think we can reimagine how the library serves the public,” Stewart said. “I’m really excited about this.”

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