Epping police officer Aaron Filipowicz is among the police officers who have dealt with former jail inmates when they've been dropped off at the Epping Park and Ride after their release. (JASON SCHREIBER)
Drop-off sites for former jail inmates concern police, residents
BRENTWOOD — Epping police officer Aaron Filipowicz remembers the day he was called to a Mobil gas station in Epping after a woman from New York was released from the Rockingham County jail and dropped off at the Epping Park and Ride.
“She was lost, had no money and no means of communication. She was just stranded here,” he said.
The Hispanic woman, whose English was poor, had walked across Route 125 to the gas station and asked a clerk to call 911.
Not sure what to do with her, Filipowicz drove her back to the jail.
The encounter is one of many that police in Brentwood and Epping have had with former inmates who are released from the jail with no one to pick them up and no means of transportation.
Corrections personnel often drive those ex-inmates from the jail on North Road in Brentwood to the intersection of Route 125 where they’re dropped off next to the First Baptist Church of Brentwood.
Other times they’re taken a short distance north on Route 125 and let out at the state park-and-ride in Epping. The practice of releasing former inmates at the two drop-off sites has concerned police, residents and business owners in Brentwood and Epping.
“We’ve had several complaints. The people walk right up to houses and ask for a glass of water. Sometimes they want a ride or they ask for money,” Brentwood Police Chief Wayne Robinson said.
A mother of three who lives near the drop-off location in Brentwood said it’s unnerving to see former inmates being let out with nowhere to go.
She said they’ve asked to use her phone and her bathroom.
“I don’t know what they did to end up in (jail) for the night. It’s very uncomfortable,” said the 34-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified.
She said she’s seen the ex-inmates searching for cigarette butts outside the church and peeking in the church windows.
“I’ve literally stood out there and said, ‘You can keep on moving.’ Sometimes people have lurked for hours. I definitely don’t leave my windows unlocked,” she said.
She said she has complained to the jail and police.
‘Zero legal authority’
Jail Superintendent Steve Church said the jail allows the inmates to make unlimited calls to arrange for rides before they’re released, but a small number — he estimated under 5 percent — have no one to pick them up or offer help.
Church said the instant a person is freed on bail or released by the court “they become a free citizen, just like everybody else. I have zero legal authority to hold them. I have no choice but to put them out somewhere somehow.”
The jail has provided transportation to shelters or assisted with paying for taxi rides, but Church said that budget is limited.
Church said the former inmates are released only during daytime hours to ease some of the concerns.
“Unfortunately, most jails are set in a rural setting. We’re not Valley Street in the city of Manchester,” he said.
A problem for Epping
Epping Police Chief Michael Wallace said the jail’s practice has created problems for his town.
“Every time they drop someone off at the park-and-ride, we’re dealing with it,” he said.
Wallace said the former inmates often walk across Route 125 to a Mobil gas station, Market Basket, or the state liquor store, buy alcohol and start drinking.
“Before you know it, we’re getting called. It’s tying up our resources to deal with a problem that I feel the county should be addressing,” Wallace said.
Epping police sometimes bring released inmates back to the jail. They’ve occasionally driven them to other nearby towns as a courtesy, but Wallace said it’s not his department’s responsibility to give them rides.
Wallace said it’s time the county budgeted more money to help pay for taxi and bus fares.
“Dumping them off at the park-and-ride is not the answer,” he said.
Pastor helps out
Rev. John Hastings, pastor for the First Baptist Church in Brentwood, has dealt with several former inmates when they’ve shown up at his door after being dropped off. Sometimes, he said, they ask for money to get a ride somewhere or to use the church phone to make a call.
Hastings once gave a man a ride to Portsmouth and recalled a time when he provided money to another man who said he needed to get to South Carolina. Hastings sent the man on his way after they had a prayer.
He said he doesn’t believe they’re bothering the church, but feels it’s not the best location.
“You need to go to an area where there’s transportation,” he said.