CONCORD, N.H. — Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation are looking for ways to get funding to open the still-vacant federal prison in Berlin.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen wants the Justice Department to include funds in the current federal budget to hire staff at the prison, which officials had hoped to have up and running this summer. She wrote a letter Wednesday to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
Work on the 1,280-bed prison was completed last year, and it will cost $4 million a year to keep it vacant, Shaheen said. Opening it would create 300 jobs and give the North Country a $40 million boost.
She noted that President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011 included the necessary funding to hire staff and purchase equipment for the prison to open.
The funding was not included in the final budget compromise in Congress. But departments have some discretion on how to spend certain parts of their budgets.
The prison is in the district of Republican Representative Charles Bass, who met with the new warden, Deborah Schult, on Monday in Berlin. He has corresponded with the federal Bureau of Prisons about what they need to be able to open, and plans to meet with Republican Reprentative Frank Wolf of Virginia, who chairs the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations, to explain the need for funding, a spokeswoman said.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, recently said she was told by the Bureau of Prisons that federal prisons are 34 percent over capacity, which highlights the need for the Berlin prison. She said she has been in contact with the bureau’s director on the matter.