UPDATE: Rats Overrun State Prison for Men in Concord, Conditions Called ‘Shocking’: Reports

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Nancy West photo

New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord

Editor’s note: Two hours after this story was published, DOC Commissioner Helen Hanks responded to the reporter’s questions in an “open letter” published below. InDepthNH.org stands by its story.


Rats, mold, and expired meat in the kitchen are among the many health and safety violations found during inspections at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord.

InDepth.NH.org obtained the most recent state inspection reports for the prison kitchen from the past five years through a right-to-know request showing repeated violations, including a serious problem with rats and mice.

Sources inside the prison, both among staff and inmates who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, have said large rats are rampant throughout the facility. They’ve also said the kitchen where meals are prepared for inmates is filthy and unsafe.

The Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment. 

UPDATE from editor Nancy West is in bold : Commissioner Helen Hanks and the Department of Corrections usually don’t respond to requests for comment from InDepthNH.org, but in this case two hours after this story was posted, a link to Hanks’ open letter was sent to the reporter, not this editor.

Hanks doesn’t deny the ongoing rodent problem and blamed it on many of the Concord restaurants closing during the pandemic leaving the prison the “only operational food sources.” She said there were a number of inspections that weren’t mentioned that had no “open violations.”

“The department began using a product called ContraPest in 2023, which has proven to be the most successful tool in battling the rodent issue in the kitchen. ContraPest, while not a poison, is a form of birth control for rodents, and we have noticed a significant decrease in the amount of rodent activity since the use of this product began,” Hanks wrote.

InDepthNH.org appreciates Hanks responding and is publishing her letter in full at the end of this story.

The reports from Department of Health and Human Services inspectors lend credence to InDepth.NH.org’s sources as the inspectors cited the facility for violations at every inspection since 2019. 

Rodent droppings were found in the kitchen food store room, and open food containers were kept on the floor in the 2019 inspection. The kitchen staff also had food stuff like chicken salad sandwiches kept on window sills instead of refrigerated, according to the report, and other meat and dairy products were also kept at higher than safe temperatures.

Additionally, the dishwasher did not get hot enough to properly sanitize items, and the general cleanliness was well below standard, according to the report.

Some of those items were corrected by the 2020 inspection, but again there were serious violations. Dented food cans were stored near steam vents, food was kept too warm, and the kitchen was generally uncleanable.

“In general the condition of the floors, walls and ceilings is deplorable. The furthest thing from smooth, sealed and easily cleanable,” the 2020 reports states.

The inspectors found some corrections throughout the 2021 follow ups, but the next full inspection in 2022 found insect infestations, improperly stored meat, and dirty equipment. One of the recurrent problems found in the inspections starting in 2019 is the lack of properly trained staff, and staffing was cited as an issue in 2022.

“Operations are an ongoing challenge to maintain adequate food safety due to poor physical facilities conditions and staffing shortages,” the 2022 report states.

The rat infestation was again the focus of the 2023 inspection, as the pest control company hired by DOC to remove the rats had “given up.” During the inspection, rats were seen in the kitchen area, according to the report.

“During the tour a rat was seen in the ceiling of the kitchen and then heard squealing as it appeared to be caught in a trap. Another rat had been caught in a ceiling trap just days prior,” the early 2023 report states.

While the DOC considered bringing in a rat terrier dog to hunt the rodents, the problem persisted throughout the year. The most recent report from November of 2023 found more evidence of an infestation.

“Rodent activity seems better but still a fair amount of droppings in serving line #3 in the concrete channel. Droppings in other locations may be old and were not cleaned up properly. There was also evidence of rodent urine as seen under a UV light in the serving line #3 channel and in dry storage on top of a 5-gallon bucket of food,” the November 2023 report states.

The conditions at the prison are an open secret in the state, though it does not make headlines or seemingly prompt any reform from state agencies.

“The state of the men’s prison is shocking. Overcrowding, understaffing, leaking roofs, mold, ancient jail cell locking mechanisms prone to failure,” said Rep. David Meuse, D-Portsmouth, a member of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The DOC is planning to renovate the kitchen at Concord, which may help the overall conditions in the kitchen, though staffing continues to be a problem for DOC. There are not enough corrections officers throughout the state and the department is burning through overtime pay. Meuse said administrators have been open with legislators about the challenges.

“As for DOC leadership, Commissioner Hanks has always been unfailingly responsive to any requests we have for tours, data or other information,” Meuse said. “On our tours, she’s been surprisingly transparent when it comes to showing us the deficiencies of the Men’s facility and how they create ongoing problems for inmates and guards alike. She and her staff have also been very responsive to requests for information when it comes to legislation.”

The following is Commissioner Hanks open letter:

Open Letter Response to InDepth.org 7/10/2024 article titled “Rats Overrun State Prison for Men in Concord, Conditions Called ‘Shocking’: Reports

Today’s article by InDepthNH.org, written by Damien Fisher, shares an irresponsible and one-sided article to garner fear and cause alarm. For starters, the article references inspection reports going back five years, however, fails to make any mention of the monumental steps that the Department has taken to correct issues. In fact, the Department has no open violations in the October 2021, September 2022, May 2023, July 2023, or September 2023 reports.

The article states “the Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.” Mr. Fisher sent an email to the Department’s public information officer inbox around 1:15PM without indicating any deadline for a reply, a standard practice among journalists writing a quick story. Yet the article was published on InDepthNH.org around 3:30PM offering the department a little more than two hours to reply.

Mr. Fisher writes that the facility has been cited “for violations at every inspection since 2019” which is inaccurate. Due to the hard work of NHDOC staff, contracted agencies and resident workers, the kitchen has corrected every noted violation on all kitchen inspections.

Rodents have been a significant issue at the NH State Prison for Men, one the department has spent a great deal of time and resources mitigating. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department was not experiencing a rodent issue. When many restaurants in downtown Concord closed down due to the pandemic, the prison became one of the only operational food sources and the rats sought out food at the prison.

Further, I have not been shy about publicly sharing my concerns and the tremendous efforts made by department staff to mitigate the rodent issue. For months, I shared updates at Governor & Council meetings about the progress made in both the kitchen and with the rodents throughout the men’s prison while also providing tours to legislators that have asked to see the kitchen firsthand. The department, along with the assistance of pest control vendors, has identified several exterior points of entry for rodents to enter the kitchen area and these holes have been sealed.

The department currently has its pest control vendor visiting the prison weekly to assist with checking the traps and making recommendations for additional remediations. The department’s vendor has even utilized rat terriers in an effort to capture rodents in the kitchen. While this attempt did lead to several captures, it was not the most successful method utilized thus far. The department began using a product called ContraPest in 2023, which has proven to be the most successful tool in battling the rodent issue in the kitchen. ContraPest, while not a poison, is a form of birth control for rodents, and we have noticed a significant decrease in the amount of rodent activity since the use of this product began. The department has implemented every idea presented to us by the vendors.

Starting in September 2023, the department began contracting with professional cleaning companies to provide deep cleaning services for the kitchen, not to replace the daily cleaning that occurs. At present, this contract ensures the kitchen is deep cleaned on a quarterly basis.

There is water leaking from the ceiling in the kitchen, which the department is currently managing by using tarps with hoses to divert the water into trash barrels, this has been frequently presented as imagines in the department’s request for capital budget resources. The leaking of the roof is currently being worked on as part of a separate capital project, where we are replacing the existing concrete walkway/plaza deck above the kitchen which doubles as the kitchen roof, which was a poor construction decision originally given our four seasons. This will include the removal of the existing walkway surface and insulation layers, repairs to existing drainage, and installation of new insulation and lock-down pavers.

While our current conditions in the kitchen at the NH State Prison for Men are challenging, the department takes this issue with the seriousness that is requires and is making every effort to address any concerns as quickly as possible while also recognizing we have a responsibility to serve more than 3,000 healthy and safe meals to residents every day.

We are excited by today’s Governor and Council vote to contract the existing $10 million allocated to begin the process of replacing the NH State Prison for Men. We are encouraged by the Governor’s continued strong advocacy, and the legislature’s recent approval of $40 million in bonding authority given to the Department of Corrections that will enable us to complete the planning and engineering for a replacement for the NH State Prison for Men. Prison design has come a long way since the NH State Prison for Men was built in 1878. The Department is excited that we are one step closer to providing a better environment for staff, as well as a more rehabilitative space for residents.

Helen Hanks



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