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Senate subcommittee passes bill 15-1 that would activate long-dormant prison

(Washington, DC)  – The long-dormant federal prison in Berlin would finally open under a funding plan approved by a key Senate panel today. U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who has fought for funding of the prison, applauded the legislation, which was approved by a bipartisan 15-1 vote.  The funding bill must still be approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, which meets tomorrow.

“This is a very positive step for the people of Berlin,” Shaheen said. “This prison is ready to open, the prison system needs it, and the community wants it. It means good jobs in a hard hit area. I am hopeful that Congress will ultimately approve this funding plan so that this situation can finally be remedied.”

The completed prison has sat vacant since its completion last year because of budget cuts. In the meantime, maintaining the empty prison is costing the government $4 million per year.

Today, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies approved Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 funding legislation that includes $6.6 billion in funding for the Bureau of Prisons, and specifically prioritizes funding for prisons that have been completed but are awaiting funding to open. There are currently three such prisons nationwide, including Berlin Prison.

“This funding will ensure that our federal prisons are adequately staffed and enable the activation of new prisons that are currently sitting empty due to lack of funds,” a Subcommittee release said. 

The opening of Berlin Prison would provide a much-needed boost to one of the most economically distressed areas of New Hampshire. Opening the prison would give the community a $40 million economic boost and immediately create more than 300 jobs in a region that desperately needs them.

The 1,280-bed, medium-security federal prison was completed during 2010, at a total cost of $276 million.  The federal prison system is 35 percent overcrowded and needs the new prison to address safety concerns associated with overcrowding.

Senator Shaheen has fought for opening of the prison since its funding became at risk. She has appeared on NBC Nightly News and the Today Show discussing the issue, and has repeatedly pressed Congress and the Obama Administration to prioritize funding for it.