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Prison Life, New Hampshire State Prison

The New Hampshire Department of Corrections oversees four prisons, three halfway houses, and one Secure Psychiatric Unit (in Concord). Prison facilities include the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, the New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown, the Lakes Region Facility in Laconia, and the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin. The Lakes Region Facility is reserved for first-time offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes; the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility houses medium-security male inmates. It costs $19,888 per year to keep an inmate in prison in New Hampshire.

The men's prison in Concord, New Hampshire, is representative of the daily life of the average prison inmate in the United States. Upon order of the court, new prisoners are transported by sheriff deputies to the appropriate prison receiving facility. After arrival, the inmate is photographed, fingerprinted, and given prison clothing and toiletries. Prisoners must wear prison clothing and an identification card at all times. All new inmates are placed in a locked cell and are kept isolated from other prisoners until approved by prison staff for proper housing assignment.

During approximately 30 days in quarantine custody, called Reception and Diagnostic, inmates are interviewed and tested by a multidisciplinary team of prison staff. Inmates receive an orientation to prison rules and expectations, medical and dental exams, mental health assessment, religious and program orientation, and educational testing. After the diagnostic period is over, the offender moves to a correctional housing unit with similarly classified inmates.

Inmates are classified either C-5, C-4, C-3, C-2, or C-1 (C stands for "classification"). The C-5 classification is for dangerous or problem inmates. C-4 inmates are individuals who were C-5 but are working their way back to C-3 status, which is the general prison population. New prisoners are designated C-3 unless they break rules while in Reception and Diagnostic, in which case they may be classified as C-4 or C-5.

C-2 inmates are housed in a minimum security building just outside the prison walls; C-1, or work release, inmates are allowed to live in halfway houses. Though they are supervised by prison officials, they live outside the prison, preparing for reentry into the community.

Daily life for a C-5 inmate is spartan. The average C-5 inmate spends all but one hour in a cell located in the Security Housing Unit (SHU), a building separate from the rest of the prison population. A C-5 inmate has no cellmate and receives his meals in his cell. He may leave his cell for one hour of outdoor exercise a day in a cage outside the SHU. Also, for a few minutes a day, a C-5 inmate may be allowed to make collect telephone calls from a room located in the SHU.

Some C-5 inmates are allowed to work at sites located within the SHU; most of them make sheets, towels, or pockets for pants. C-5 inmates with work privileges are allowed to communicate with one another while they work. A C-5 inmate may keep reading materials. He may also watch his own television, but only when he has been in SHU for more than 30 days. Whenever a C-5 inmate leaves his cell, he is shackled by guards at the hands and feet and escorted until he reaches his destination.

A level of security more severe than C-5 is called "isolation." An inmate in isolation may not leave his cell except for one hour a day of outdoor exercise inside a cage. He may not watch television or listen to the radio and has one Bible for reading. An inmate may be kept in isolation for only a 15-day stretch, and he must be held in another setting for at least 24 hours before beginning another 15 days of isolation.

PROTECTIVE CUSTODY is a special classification that is similar to the C-5. Inmates in protective custody are segregated from the general population: they move about the prison in a group separate from the other inmates. Protective custody is reserved for those inmates who have requested it and have a valid fear for their safety.

C-4 inmates are held in a Close Custody Unit, which is also separate from the general population. C-4 inmates may have a few more privileges than C-5 inmates, but they do not have the full number of privileges enjoyed by the general population. They may work, they are not shackled as they move outside their cells, they may eat in the dining hall with the general population, and they have cellmates. Also, the C-4 floor plan is similar to that for C-3 inmates: each cell opens into a common area where inmates may talk and play cards or other games. However, unlike C-3 inmates, C-4 inmates may not lock themselves in their cells for privacy, they may work for only a short period of time at a specific work site, and they generally have fewer privileges and are more strictly supervised than C-3 inmates.

C-3 inmates comprise the general population. They may move about the prison facility unencumbered by restraints. They work at various jobs, some building high-quality furniture. Inmates can earn from $1.50 to over $3.00 per day, depending on the job. Those who perform highly skilled work, such as carpentry, may earn $3.50 a day. Inmates do not receive cash for their work; their earnings are banked in an account. Using their account, they may buy articles from the canteen, such as personal hygiene products, soda, candy, chips, and cigarettes. Inmates may smoke cigarettes in the common area and in their cells. However, if his cellmate objects, an inmate may not smoke in his cell.

An inmate may receive money from persons outside the prison, but he may not receive packages of personal items. He may not spend more than $200 per month, no matter how much money he has. He may buy items such as magazines, books, radios, and televisions, but only through the manufacturer.

Inmates on C-3 status enjoy the full range of educational and work opportunities available in the prison, and their days are often consumed by these activities. They may also use the law library for a certain amount of time each day.

An inmate's day begins at approximately 7:00 A.M. Those inmates scheduled to begin work before 7:00 A.M. are awakened earlier. The lights are dimmed around 10:00 P.M. and sometimes 11:00 P.M. on weekend nights. Except for C-5 inmates, restless inmates may leave their cells during the night to sit in the common area.

C-3 inmates move from place to place at the top of the hour; they have 15 minutes to reach their next destination. If they are tardy for any destination, they will be reported as being out of place. Being out of place in prison is a serious infraction. If the disciplinary board finds that an inmate was out of place, the inmate may lose the privilege to watch television, listen to the radio, or talk on the telephone. Repeated violations may result in transfer to C-5 status.


New Hampshire Department of Corrections. Available online at <www.state.nh.us/doc> (accessed September 2, 2003).

Santos, Michael. 2003. Profiles from Prison: Adjusting to Life Behind Bars. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

"Time in Prison." 2001. State of New Hampshire Department of Corrections (January).

In 1971, a bloody, day-long riot at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York sparked a reaction against rehabilitative ideals. More than 40 people were killed in the uprising in Attica. Shortly after the Attica riot, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began to transfer unruly federal prisoners to the Federal Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where they were held in solitary confinement. In 1983, after three killings in the prison, the prisoners in Marion were placed on permanent lock-down, making the entire prison a solitary confinement facility virtually overnight. Marion has remained on lockdown ever since.

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