Senator Odell is Chairman of
the Ways and
Means Committee, and
member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development
Committee; Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy
Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight
District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont,
Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury,
Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity,
Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.
One of the major cost drivers of state government is the Department of Corrections (DOC). As across the country, the number of men and women incarcerated in New Hampshire has been growing dramatically. That has pushed the DOC budget over $100 million per year with a large workforce of corrections officers operating three major facilities.
And the prison population is predicted to grow at a rate of 3.8% per year unless some changes are made. Add together the population growth, normal inflation, increasing inmate health care costs and contracted annual pay and benefits increases, and you have ticking financial bomb. Legislators for a decade have known about the cost implications of an ever growing prison population but there seemed to be no solution. Finally, a Commissioner has stepped forward with a plan to slow prison population growth and thus slow expenditure growth.
Commissioner William Wrenn proposed and the legislature, through the new state budget, has created a Division of Community Corrections. Using experience in other states, the goal is to employ new strategies for managing offenders who are released into the community. The old approach is not working. Too many of those released commit crimes again or do not succeed on parole or probation.
The prison population today is about 2,800 and will grow to an estimated 3,400 in five years. If successful, the new program will drop that number by 2015 to between 2,000 and 2,300 inmates saving millions of dollars.
Men and women of the DOC Division of Field Services know the situation first hand. I met recently with Rudy Grzanna, Chief, Probation/Parole Officer in his spartan offices on Water Street in Claremont. Rudy, a Claremont native and current resident of Sunapee, oversees a staff of four who supervise 430 adults on probation or parole in Sullivan County.
Chief Grzanna has seen changes since he started his career in corrections in 1995. He reports exactly what legislators have heard from others. The lack of programming and training at the prison facilities, reduced over the years due to budget constraints, has an impact as those released often do not have the job or personal skills to succeed. Many lack family or positive local ties to rebuild their lives. Parole and probation, for some, is a “set up for failure.”
Today, about a quarter of those on probation or parole are women. That is up dramatically from what it was just a few years ago. And 90% of the cases are drug related with heroin and prescription medication use prevalent.
Chief Grzanna confirms the reality of the situation. About one-third of those on probation or parole succeed because of strong personal skills and community and family support. He cites one man who made a terrible mistake years ago, served his time and reports personally to Rudy every three months as he has for years. He has a job and family is not likely to make a bad decision again.
Another third likely will never develop the ability to overcome their addictions and bad behavior. They lack the willingness or capacity to make good decisions and will remain in the criminal and corrections world for all or most of their lives.
Then there is the third in the middle. They can make it and succeed but require drug treatment, close monitoring, drug testing, job training and assistance, or other help to get them over the line and out of the corrections system. That is the priority of community corrections. If it succeeds, lives of thousands will be more productive and the state will save millions of dollars. If it fails, a
predictable number of men and women will violate their probation and parole rules, will commit new crimes and remain long time burdens to communities and a huge cost to our state.
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Sometimes the smaller celebrations surrounding our national holidays are the best. Nearly 50 residents of Sugar River Mills Apartments, including more than a dozen military veterans, turned out for a 4th of July morning flag presentation and flag raising ceremony. It was an opportunity to remember the uniqueness of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress on the 4th of July, 1776. It was also a perfect chance to recognize the veterans at Sugar River Mills who like millions of others have served and sacrificed to protect our new nation created 233 years ago. Special thanks to Bonnie Tilton for her flag presentation idea and for working hard to make it a great success.
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With summer here, hopefully there will be time for farmers’ markets, community concerts, fairs and other traditional events. A stop recently at the 45th Annual Gilsum Rock Swap was a good start. A piece of legislation on the permitting of mines and quarries, SB 166, brought Jim Tovey to the State House. He has been a “rock hound” since childhood and owns the Tripp/Clark Mine in Alstead and concentrates on gem mining for finished jewelry that he creates.
Gilsum, Alstead and Unity have a mining heritage rather unique to New England. There are some old timers still around who once worked these mines producing feldspar and mica. Hopefully, as time allows, I will have a chance to visit JimTovey’s mining operation as well as catch up with the stories of some of the miners of the past. It is interesting to think of our region being a mining center.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951