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Report Highlights Prison Inequity

The treatment of female prison inmates in New Hampshire is raising questions of civil rights violations. After a two year investigation, that’s the conclusion reached by the New Hampshire Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission reports that male inmates enjoy greater opportunities in everything from vocational training to mental health services.

JerriAnne Boggis didn’t have to see anything at the Women’s Prison to know about the problems in Goffstown.

“When we visited the women’s prison, the sheer noise, constant noise, we walked in, until we left... everybody is crushed together, and all of the announcements over the loudspeakers, it was just constant, constant, constant, there was no quiet.”

Boggins chairs the New Hampshire Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

She says the noise is the result of the cramped space where some 100 female inmates live on top of each other.

But this report isn’t about overcrowding.

Professor Jordan Budd says the report highlights the inexcusable inequities between the treatment of men and women, like the difference in vocational training programs.

“The industry program at the men’s facility in Concord, includes, a wood working shop, there’s an upholstery shop, there’s a plate shop, a machine shop, there’s an entire wing of the facility. The industry program at Goffstown consists of three sewing machines.”

The report concludes that the Department of Corrections isn’t giving women the same opportunities to improve job skills, shake their addictions, or confront emotional traumas.

The bottom line- it’s harder for women to land on their feet after they leave prison.

Given all that, the Commission says its little surprise New Hampshire is one of only a few states in the nation with a higher recidivism rate for women than men.

Of course, none of this information is new.

People have known about this situation for years.

“During the last three capital budget cycles we’ve put in requests of approximately $37 million dollars to construct a new women’s prison and a new transitional housing unit.”

That’s Department of Corrections spokesperson Jeff Lyons who says DOC agrees the Goffstown facility doesn’t adequately meet the inmates’ needs.

“Those requests have not been funded in the last three budget cycles.”

The question is whether this report, the latest in a long string, will prompt any action.

There’s little chance lawmakers will loosen their grip on the state’s purse strings to build a new prison in the near future.

Perhaps a lawsuit?

No one has filed one yet.

But Elliott Berry with New Hampshire Legal Assistance says that isn’t always the best route.

“What can happen with a lawsuit is you end up spending a lot of time and energy, all sides on the litigation as opposed to bringing about positive change.”

To that end, Berry says his office and the Department of Corrections are working together to improve substance abuse and mental health counseling services.

So far, Berry says he’s been impressed with the Department’s commitment to do the best it can with what it’s got.

At the same time, if significant changes aren’t made soon, Berry and plenty of other attorneys in the state know the state is susceptible to a damning lawsuit.

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