By Douglas Giddens
Recently the administrative staff at the New Hampshire State Prison, in an attempt to prevent further layoffs, has thrown the prison into chaos. By fomenting dissension and intentionally creating a dangerous and volatile atmosphere, they hope that the increase in violence can be used to support the claim that reducing the number of correctional officers is contrary to the smooth running of the institution and the rehabilitation of its inmates.
During the week of June 15, eighty inmates were moved between units. The three units involved are Medium Custody North (MCN), Medium Custody South (MCS), and Hancock Building (H-Bldg).
MCN and MCS are primarily long-term housing units populated predominately by prisoners who are sentenced to ten or more years, who have stayed disciplinary free.
H-Bldg is a transitional housing unit dominated by prisoners who are new to the prison, transitioning back from a higher classification status, or who have not remained disciplinary free long enough to have earned one of the limited number of beds in MCN or MCS, or those who are participating in a residential treatment program, for which two of H-Bldg’s pods have been reserved.
When prisoners enter NHSP, they live in R+D (Reception and Diagnostics) until they are classified by psychological criteria as Predators, Prey, or Neutral. Predators are those who are more likely to cause physical, mental, or emotional harm on others. Prey are those who are physically, mentally, or emotionally weak and more likely to be subjected to such harm. Neutrals are not seen as being especially predatory or especially susceptible to predators. In school, there were the bullies, the bullied, and those who were neither. This is the same principle.
Once categorized, inmates are placed in appropriate housing units: Predators in MCN, Prey in MCS, and Neutrals in either one, often depending on the nature of their crime or the unit requested by the Neutral.
In H-Bldg, these classified prisoners are placed on specific pods, again based on these same criteria (Echo pod for prey, Foxtrot for predators, and Neutrals on either). Over the previous week, NHSP administration has seen fit to disrupt this equilibrium within the prison community. They have taken 20 prisoners each from MCN and MCS and swapped them with prisoners from the most violent and volatile pod in H-Bldg: Foxtrot.
Those chosen for this move from the long-term communities of MCN and MCS were not necessarily those who were problematic prisoners or disciplinary problems. Although some of these men were not model prisoners, they had not been in enough trouble to be expelled from these units under normal circumstances, and many of those moved were in fact model prisoners; men who had been disciplinary free for many years, who held steady jobs in the prison, and who were respectful to and respected by fellow prisoners and guards alike. Some of those moved didn’t have very much time left in prison and will soon be released. There were also those, however, who are serving long sentences with little hope of ever being released.
The propaganda being spread by prison staff is contradictory and confusing. The answers given by some staff members differ greatly from those of others. Some say the idea was to move troublesome prisoners from earned units, but many among those moved were model prisoners. Some say it was to move short-term prisoners from long-term housing units, but many among those moved had little hope of ever being released. Some say that it was long-term, non-problematic prisoners to “teach the new young inmates how to do time”, but the variety of moved prisoners shows the fallacy of this reasoning. Some ranking prison officials suggest that the goal of all of this is to unify the prison so that there are no “good” units and no “bad” units, so that all live in relative harmony. This idea, however, is contrary to all psychological patterning and has been attempted before by this prison with disastrous results.
The fact is that the moves were arbitrary. Model prisoners were whimsically moved for no better reason than that the Unit Managers felt like it. The whole idea behind these moves is to mix the predators with the prey and incite violence in an effort to justify the necessity of having so many unnecessary guards.
Before these moves, the most problematic prisoners were consolidated on Foxtrot where correctional personnel were able to keep a close eye on them. This arrangement, keeping these men under close supervision, allowed officers to prevent many problems and intervene quickly when necessary. Since the moves, these most problematic prisoners have been distributed throughout the prison population and, without the needed supervision, they have been allowed free rein to extort, abuse, and steal.
The first week alone saw more thefts and assaults than were perpetrated in the last six months in these units. The results speak for themselves; one prisoner who has had only one disciplinary infraction in 5 ½ years, and that 3 yrs ago, who is unlikely ever to be released, cut his wrists. He was found with massive blood loss over three hours later and was rushed to the hospital. Another prisoner was reassigned to Foxtrot where it was well know that he had enemies. Another man was attacked and brutally beaten by a group of gang members. These are only a few of many such incidents and, in addition, the prisoners were refused communication with mental health professionals who could have helped to ease this transition.
Are the prison administrators such sadists that they would knowingly and willingly endanger the lives and safety of so many men? Are those charged with the safety of these prisoners so desperate to prevent layoffs that they would sacrifice so many lives to achieve this goal? Do we really want such ruthless and inhumane people in charge of the safety of our state prison population?