A rising inmate population at the Rockingham County jail has prompted a review of options to avoid overcrowding at the 31-year-old facility.
A jail that had nearly 90 beds when it was built in 1981, now has 387 and averages about 350 inmates a day, according to jail superintendent Stephen Church.
“We’ve been steadily going up,” he said. “Over the past two years, I’ve had to add bunk spaces. Bed space capacity has increased about 400 percent in 30 years.”
Although the size of the jail doubled in 1991, there are only 15 to 20 empty beds on some days, Church said.
“In a correctional facility, that becomes a dire situation,” he said.
That’s why a group of state lawmakers and county officials, led by Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow, is trying to come up with solutions. They include Church, Sheriff Michael Downing and County Attorney James Reams.
Major said the group has met numerous times over the past three months to study the problems. The options do not include costly alternatives such as expanding the jail, he said.
“To me, that’s not the (answer),” Major said. “I want to know if we are utilizing the facility the way we should be.”
No concrete solutions have been agreed on as the group explores various alternatives. Those include diversion programs, such as electronic monitoring of nonviolent offenders, he said. Inmates are allowed to be free as long as they are strictly monitored.
But about two-thirds of inmates at the jail are awaiting trial and must remain incarcerated, Major said.
“We have had people await trial for two years,” he said. “We have to do something to speed up justice.”
It costs $33,000 a year to house an inmate at the county jail, Major said.
“If we could reduce the population by just three, that would be $100,000,” he said.