Bush proposes to slash Berlin, N.H., prison money

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – President Bush wants to eliminate funds earmarked for new federal prisons in New Hampshire and West Virginia, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd announced Thursday.

“It is absolutely shortsighted for this White House to try to take away the dollars, already signed into law, for the new federal prison,” Byrd said of the West Virginia project in a news release.

A proposed federal prison in Berlin, N.H., also is threatened by Bush’s proposal, Byrd’s office said.

The White House included a cut of $142 million from the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Buildings and Facilities program in a budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2007.

The cut comes at a time when the nation’s prisons are overcrowded, Byrd said. The Bureau of Prisons housed 26,000 inmates in 1980, compared to about 186,000 today. Ten federal prisons have opened just within the past year.

Michael Truman with the federal Bureau of Prisons said in an e-mail that even though the Bush administration did propose cutting $142 million in prison construction, “the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons plan to proceed with the procurement process and are hopeful of being able to award projects” in W. Virginia, New Hampshire in the coming months.

The 1,280-bed medium-security McDowell County facility would be the sixth federal correctional facility in West Virginia. It is expected to generate as much as $35 million annually for the local economy. It would be built at the Indian Ridge Industrial Park near the McDowell County-Wyoming County line.

The proposed prison in Berlin would be good news for the city, which is losing jobs with the closing of the Fraser pulp mill next month.

Byrd said he has enlisted the support of Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and others to fight the proposal. Gregg, who has been traveling overseas, had said in March that he was optimistic about the project and that $179 million was waiting to be used toward it. He expected construction to start early next year.

“Sen. Gregg, like Sen. Byrd, has been working with his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that the funds secured or the prison remain in place,” said Erin Rath, a spokeswoman for Gregg. “The schedule for the prison continues to move forward, as demonstrated by the public meeting held by the Bureau of Prisons this week.

“Sen. Gregg has met with the director of the Bureau of Prisons and has written to the Office of Management and Budget to show his strong support for these funds not being rescinded, and he will continue to work hard to ensure the funds he previously secured for construction of a federal prison in Berlin are there when the Bureau of Prisons and the city of Berlin finalize their selection of a location and move into the next step,” Rath said.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., whose district includes McDowell County, said he plans to partner with Byrd in the House of Representatives to block the White House’s plan.

“We are working together, using every resource at our disposal, to avoid any delay in moving the McDowell County federal prison forward,” Rahall said.


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