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August 13. 2012 10:21PM

Obama administration effort to steer funding to Illinois threatens NH prison

BERLIN — As hiring for the new Federal Correctional Institute-Berlin continues, a political battle is being waged over $14 million in Bureau of Prisons funding that could affect the opening of the prison.

Earlier this month, Congressman Charlie Bass released a statement saying that Attorney General Eric Holder is proposing to divert the money to help buy an Illinois prison.

“At this point, Attorney General Holder's attempt to reprogram funds to purchase the state-owned prison in Illinois has not been successful,” Bass staffer John W. Billings said in a written statement Monday. “His plan would not only impact the opening of the Berlin prison, but also new federal prisons in Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia.”

Billings said Bass is working with representatives from these states as well as members of the House Appropriations Committee to make sure this doesn't happen.

The prison was completed in November 2010 at a cost of $276 million. When completely activated, the facility will house about 1,152 medium-security and 128 minimum-security male offenders. It is expected to employ around 341 and pump $40 million annually into the local and regional economy.

City Manager Patrick MacQueen recently reported to the city council that the Bureau of Prisons expects to have 146 employees on site and 60 low-security inmates by Aug. 30.

On Monday, MacQueen said those first inmates will be in the satellite prison camp.

According to Diana Nelson of the New Hampshire Employment Security's Berlin office, there are about 86 staff on site now, with about 20 percent of them from the region.

“Right now, we're starting to see the results” of the workshops and job fairs held for local job-seekers, she said. She noted that the Bureau of Prisons is posting more and more job openings, including a vocational training instructor, drug abuse treatment specialist, and medical personnel. There is, she said, always a demand in BOP for correctional officers.

syoung-knox@newstote.com


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