Former superintendent at Merrimack County jail takes over at Valley Street jail

·2 min read

Aug. 30—The man who headed the Merrimack County jail for a little over a year has taken over the reins of Hillsborough County's Valley Street jail, the largest county lockup in the state.

Joseph Costanzo, 38, started his first day as superintendent on Aug. 22.

Hillsborough County officials had been looking to fill the permanent job since June, when Willie Scurry stepped back from the job he held for two years and returned to a position of captain at the jail.

Costanzo, who served for years as the second-in-command at the Merrimack County House of Correction, was elevated to superintendent there in June 2021.

He left that position for the job at Hillsborough County, where he will earn an annual salary of $130,000.

"As a corrections professional, it's always something I wanted to do: to come down to Hillsborough County," Costanzo said. A veteran of the New Hampshire National Guard and Operation Enduring Freedom, Costanzo had spent his entire civilian career at Merrimack County.

He rose from corrections officer to superintendent in 12 years.

Costanzo was one of six people interviewed for the job, said Toni Pappas, the chair of the Hillsborough County commissioners. Two were internal candidates.

"He was really the best individual," Pappas said. "He has experience, and he understands the health issues we have, COVID-19 for example."

Pappas credited Costanzo with implementing a program to privatize the nursing staff at Merrimack County jail, something that Hillsborough County will consider.

The jail currently operates under a bifurcated medical system. It hires an outside firm to provide physician services but has its own staff of nurses.

Most of the lawsuits against the jail stem from medical care. For example, Hillsborough County paid $875,000 to the parents of Nicholas Sacco, an inmate who died in 2019 from opiate withdrawals at the age of 24.

In such suits, lawyers claim the jail is ultimately responsible for the medical care of its inmates.

Costanzo said he will evaluate the medical department, which has recently turned to agencies and contract nursing to fill positions.

"We've had trouble hiring nurses," he said.

Costanzo said collaboration, transparency and teamwork will be at the forefront as he begins his job.

He said he will work with all factions of the criminal justice system, elected officials and community members, and strengthen the relationship with them.

But no significant changes are in store yet.

"I just started a week ago," he said. " I'm excited to familiarize myself with the team members, the facility and its operations."