Editor's note: The following is the first part of a two-part series looking at Manchester, NH's Valley Street Jail.
Should you ever invite me into your home, there's a good chance that if you have books on display, I will peruse the titles at some point during my visit - I'm nosy that way.
So when I came upon a bookshelf inside the common area of the women's cell block at Valley Street Jail in Manchester, NH, I was more than a bit curious. The small bookshelf contained more than a few Christian-themed books, including several Bibles and Chicken Soup for the Christian Woman's Soul. The most intriguing of the Christian titles, however, was this irrestable title:
On the secular side of the cell block's bookshelf were such tomes as the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the King's Men and, somewhat ironically, Trainspotting. ("It's more a 'what not to do' book," a guard told me.)
My peek inside the Valley Street Jail - officially the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections - came last week courtesy of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Greater Manchester program (now accepting applications for the Class of 2011!), of which I am a currently a member.
Aside from the books, the Valley Street Jail is a pretty bleak place.
"It's clean, but it's not a nice place to be," said Jail Superintendent James O'Mara. That said, he added the Valley Street Jail is still "the best correctional facility in New England, bar none."
The jail contains some 374 two-person cells in nine separate housing units. The cells are not overly spacious, as I found when when I stepped inside one to inspect:
A set of bunk beds, a sink and a toilet with no seat or privacy - not a place I would want to spend a single night, much less months on end.
If maxed out, the jail can house 743 inmates, but when I was there last Thursday, May 20, the population was only 586.
O'Mara said that the average length of stay for a Valley Street Jail inmate is 60 days. And he noted that the majority of the inmate population has not been convicted of a crime. Some 75 percent of inmates are pre-trial detainees, he said. Most are in county lock-up because they cannot make bail.