Representatives from Merrimack County voted last week on a proposal that would convert the old jail in Boscawen into a community corrections center for inmates. The new facility will provide inpatient treatment and housing for work release, helping to transition inmates back into the community. Superintendent Ross Cunningham is directing the project, and he spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about their plan.
How will this new community corrections center help inmates?
It’s our goal to work on their treatment and work with them to re-enter back into society. 85-90% of the jail populations in the state end up back in our communities. It’s our goal in Merrimack County to provide treatment for them and then work on re-entry back into society. And then after that, there’s a year of aftercare. So we support them in the community, provide a level of accountability, and help them transition back into society. All of that happens along with support of things like electronic monitoring and work release.
What kind of programs inside the new facility will be offered to the inmates?
We run gender-specific programming. For the women, for example, there are courses called “Seeking Safety,” “Thinking for Change,” and “Helping Women Recover,” and for the men’s track we have various courses along the same path. And we approximately treat them up to 200-300 hours of time, and that’s part of our programming mode. It’s 6-7 hours of treatment, 5 days a week.
Why are the programs gender-specific?
There is shown to be a better percentage of response when you treat genders independently.
For the different issues that they face both inside and outside of prison?
How long do inmates spend in the facility?
Our model will be 60-80 days of inpatient time (which we call “in custody time”). From there they will be transitioning back into the community. If they did not have employment, we would work with them to get employment; they would live in the facility and pay one third of their salary back to the county and then go out to work during the day and come back in the evening. If they did have a job and a place to live, they’d be out on electronic monitoring, with us supervising them for a period of time, and then coming back for aftercare. The aftercare component is very key to this program. Supervising up to a year in aftercare is the real crux of our programming. It’s very important that we do that for that period of time. It’s shown to have the best results.
How does this program compare to those in other states?
I have a similar platform that we’ve used in other counties. I came from Sullivan County, where we had a very successful project like this one. A lot of the models we’ve chosen to emulate are the best practices in the country. “Community corrections” is a concept that’s been around for years in corrections, but over the last 7-8 years it’s become a huge component of corrections. It helps to reduce the rate of returns into custody and the costs associated with it. We have made great strides here in New Hampshire, especially on the county jail level, to work on that.
Why is it important to have programs like this one?
It’s important because the people that come into custody deserve an opportunity. And this isn’t about being soft on crime; this is about giving people an opportunity. And that opportunity is to try to get themselves back on being a productive member of society. And these programs have shown to be effective when applied in the fashion we are here in Merrimack County, by at least 30%.
Is this intended for all inmates?
At this point it’s for “sentence defenders,” which is somebody we hold in the jail system who is pre-trial and sentenced. So this would be offered to a sentence defender, and it would be a package that includes the treatment piece, along with the supervision time and aftercare time when they are in the community.