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Bar News - March 7, 2008

Security Challenges at Merrimack County Courthouse



One chair sits directly outside a holding cell at Merrimack County Superior Court; this small area is where an attorney must confer with an incarcerated client.


Sheriff Hilliard stands at the sally port, which opens directly from the parking lot and gives rise to security concerns at Merrimack County Superior Court.

The overcrowding problems at the Merrimack County Superior Court on North Main Street in Concord are well-known to both lawyers and court personnel for the lack of conference room space and for shortages of storage and office space. (See also Bar News article of July 7, 2006.)

But lesser-known and potentially more dangerous problems exist in the building’s prisoner-handling facilities.

“Prisoner safety is a very real concern,” says Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard.  “The sally port [entrance/exit through which officers must bring prisoners to and from court appearances] is so exposed.”

The port opens directly from the parking lot, where civilian traffic could be a threat to both prisoners and escorting officers.  Inside the door a steep flight of stairs, often slippery in winter, descends to the basement holding cells There are only two of these cells, not large, each with one bench and a toilet.  Outside the door of each cell is one chair (see picture), the only place where an attorney can meet with a client, in full view (and hearing) of the perhaps 16 or 17 other prisoners in the cell

Sheriff Hilliard, whose office is also in the basement, said that in addition to the holding cell inadequacies, there are no separate facilities for women prisoners. “If the cells are full of men, we need to find someone to sit with the woman prisoner(s) in some other area.”



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