Dozen inmates on hunger strike in NH prison

July 16, 2010
By Trent Spiner
This comes from the Concord Monitor
 
Inmates are protesting the hot temperatures inside their cells.

A dozen inmates housed at the state prison’s most secure unit have refused to eat their last nine meals, launching a hunger strike to protest temperatures inside their concrete and steel cells, prison officials said yesterday.

Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said the inmates have told prison guards they will not eat until fans are installed in their rooms or nearby hallways.

Inmates were allowed to have fans before the recent string of hot weather but lost the privilege amid safety concerns, Lyons said.

“Many of the inmates were tearing them apart and fashioning them into weapons,” Lyons said.
The protest started Sunday with about 30 inmates, according to Kathy Green, whose daughter’s fiance is an inmate. She said some inmates have resorted to flooding their cells with an inch or two of water to cool themselves.

“These guys are sitting over there in pure sweat,” she said.

All of the inmates who are taking part in the hunger strike are being kept in the Secure Housing Unit at the state prison in Concord, Lyons said. Originally built in 1878, the prison has a number of different levels of security for inmates. SHU, built in the 1980s, is for the 100 most dangerous and uncontrollable inmates, Lyons said.

“Hunger strikes happen from time to time in that unit, and we manage it,” Lyons said. “Our history has shown that hunger strikes are fairly short-lived.”

Lyons said the inmates can only be force-fed if a court determines their hunger strike is life-threatening. In the meantime, prison officials are keeping track of how many meals the inmates skip and whether they are drinking fluids.

Inmates in SHU cannot open windows and must remain in their cells, usually alone, for 23 hours a day. Unlike inmates in the prison’s general population, they also can’t go outside.

Green, who lives in Pittsfield, said the heat has become unbearable for some inmates.

“They refuse to give them any type of air ventilation over there,” she said. “They are not asking for fans in cell, they want fans in the unit to move air around.”

She said her daughter’s fiance asked guards for a fan in the hallway earlier this week but was told the guards also have to work in the heat.

“They said they aren’t giving up until they get some air in there or they pass out and get taken somewhere with air,” Green said. “It’s going to boil over to all those inmates flipping out over there and starting a riot.”
Green said she would not disclose the name of her daughter’s fiance over fears that he might be transferred away from Concord.

Attorney Mike Sheehan, who met with a client at SHU this month, said the air inside the prison was stuffy and muggy.

“I’m terrible at guessing a temperature, it was just terribly uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s a concrete building with no (air conditioning) and after two weeks of this stuff, it has got to be miserable.”

Sheehan said inmates have vents in their rooms but those sometimes do not work. Lyons said they are working this week. He said there are no plans to add air conditioning to the unit, especially with the department’s electricity bill already topping out at about $6 million a year.

Read the rest here.

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NH prison reform bill close to becoming a law

April 23, 2010
Source:  Shira Schoenberg,  Concord Monitor

CONCORD, N.H. — The public would not see an immediate influx of newly paroled prisoners under reforms meant to lower the state’s population of inmates.

The New Hampshire House on Wednesday passed a Senate bill aimed at lowering recidivism rates. Because of a change in the House exempting some domestic violence crimes from early release, the bill now returns to the Senate.

If the bill does become law, the changes would be phased in gradually over several months.

While nonviolent offenders would be released on parole after serving 120 percent of their minimum sentence, that would only be the case for inmates sentenced after July 1, not those already incarcerated.

State officials praised the House vote as an important step toward reducing recidivism.

“I think that’s a strong statement that this is a public safety initiative that can make a difference,” said Attorney General Michael Delaney.

The bill mandates that parolees who commit violations serve 90 days in prison, whether the violations relate to misbehavior or a failure to complete treatment. Today, sentences for parole violations can be days or months, depending on the offense.

The legislation would establish more active supervision for people on probation or parole for the first nine to 18 months, depending on the crime, with a lower level of supervision after that. It would go into effect only for prisoners placed on probation or parole after July 1.

The bill would allow probation officers to impose a one- to five- day jail sentence on a probationer who re-offends, instead of keeping the person in jail for up to a month waiting for a hearing.

The next set of major changes would go into effect in October.

The bill states that all inmates be released on parole nine months before the expiration of their maximum prison term, which would create time for them to be monitored in their communities. The provision would apply to prisoners with at least nine months left on their sentences as of Oct. 1.

For sexually violent offenders, the county attorney or attorney general would be notified nine months before the prisoner is eligible for parole so the attorney could petition for an involuntary civil commitment if the offender remains dangerous.

Also in October, the state would offer an intermediate sanction program, which means if a parolee were threatened with revocation of parole, that person could enter a seven-day residential program in a halfway house instead of going through a parole revocation hearing and possibly returning to prison.

Because of the gradual nature of the program, it would take time for the state to see results. In fiscal year 2011, which begins in June, the state expects just 36 additional people to be released from prison due to the legislation. Last year, the state released 1,650 prisoners, of whom just over 1,000 were put on parole and 150 on probation, Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said.

The number is expected to jump to 342 additional inmates released in fiscal year 2012, then drop to about 150 for the following two years. The state plans to create a new community corrections unit as of July 1, and Lyons said another six case counselors would be hired by August to handle the additional population.

“The goal is they’d be successful within the programs being developed so fewer would be coming back to prison, to be released again,” Lyons said.

Delaney said much of the hard work remains once the bill becomes law.

Read the rest here.