Proposed CCJR Bills for 2016
Here is a list of the proposed bills we have written and spent many hours seeking congressional support. There will be public hearings on each of these bills and it is imperative that we have huge turnouts for each and everyone. When available we will post the hearing dates on our website and send out email alerts to our membership. Please do your best to attend.
Sex offender treatment backlog still huge
By our count more than a hundred prisoners were on track to go past their minimum parole dates for lack of taking the sex offender treatment program, a problem CCJR has been working on for more than a year. Last January Corrections Commissioner Bill Wrenn told our board of directors and 40 of our members that this wait list only had six prisoners.
We advised him we have the signatures of scores of people attesting they are in this backlog limbo. Wrenn promised to find out what was going on for us. He has since given us no new information and refuses to meet with us, but he recently told the Parole Board he has hired additional staff to teach the program. In response, two CCJR board members sat down the other day with the governor’s legal counsel, Atty. Mary Ann Dempsey, to brief her on what we see as a crisis.
She had closely read our three-page memo summarizing the issue and promised to ask officials in the Department of Corrections for some answers. We have agreed to keep a low profile until lawmakers file two bills in September triggered by the backlog and the struggle over it. That legislation would hopefully improve the apparent mismanagement of this crucial program.Proposed Bill to set standards for Solitary Confinement in NH Prisons - (The entire bill can be viewed here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2014/HB0480.html)
(a) No inmate shall be committed to solitary confinement for in-prison disciplinary infractions for more than 6 weeks.
(b) The scope the infractions that invoke the use of solitary confinement shall be limited to only those offenses which involve violent behavior whereby the inmate in question is a danger to others or oneself.
(c) Solitary confinement shall not be used as a form of housing for inmates under the age of 18 years.
(d) No inmate with serious mental illness or other significant mental impairment shall be housed in solitary confinement.
(e) Prior to being placed or house in solitary confinement, an inmate shall be evaluated by a mental health clinician to determine if he or she is seriously mentally ill or has another significant mental impairment as defined in this section.
(f) In no case shall any degree of reliance upon solitary confinement be authorized by the warden or other prison official except after a hearing conducted by a properly constituted committee that reviews the evidentiary basis of the charges, adjudges the appropriate length of punishment and selects the type of solitary punishment unit to which the inmate in question is to be consigned
Let’s keep DOC honest and transparent
One of our wait list related bills calls for a quality assurance audit of the sex offender treatment program by the office of Legislative Budget Assistant. Its investigators have the skill and information access to probe a bureaucracy to its core, pinpoint bad practices and recommend solutions.
Our second bill would give the public greater access to quality assurance data from state agencies, the kind Commissioner Wrenn has yet to provide. We gave him a right-to-know request this spring for information on the backlog in the sex offender treatment program, but Wrenn's office said his personnel don’t routinely produce the materials we asked for. That means we won’t obtain them. Under current law it seems this tactic is legal, so we hope to change the law.
You as a friend or member of CCJR can show up for the public hearings on all three bills next January or February. We need to pack those meetings and invite the press to watch something worth writing about.
Six more legislative bills we seek sponsors for:
HB263 (2015) Abolish unconstitutional residency restrictions against sex offenders. The same bill last year left committee with 17-0 support, but got tabled without discussion on the House floor after a closed-door battle within the Republican Caucus. Rep. James Webb of Derry, who strongly opposed our bill, prevailed on House leadership to set it aside. But House rules allow us to bring it back in 2016 because it was never actually killed. The bad news is we expect a competing bill to impose three years of residency restrictions on every newly paroled sex offender. Let’s hope we can block it. Lower courts in Dover and Merrimack County have ruled that similar restrictions violate the fundamental right to property. If this hostile bill becomes law it will surely face legal challenges and litigation costs the State will have to absorb. http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2015/HB0263.html
This bill responds to the John Doe v New Hampshire Supreme Court decision early this year declaring the sex offender shaming roster on the State Police website to be an ex post facto punishment. Such retroactive punishments are unconstitutional. For a lot reasons it’s patently unfair to increase the allowed penalty for a crime long after it is committed. That was one of the American colonists’ big gripes with King George III. Our high court could have struck down the whole public registry statute, but left that job to lawmakers. Our bill gives them a way to do the right thing.
We helped pass the landmark earned time law of 2014, which lets a prisoner earn up to 13 months off their minimum and maximum sentences with the approval of their sentencing court. But judges have since rejected at least two inmates who had done enough self improvement to qualify for several years of earned time. Our bill for 2016 would take judges out of the earned time approval process, as in the early 1980s, when prison officials routinely granted up to 150 days per year of good time off their sentences to inmates just for following the rules. Our legislation will face opposition from judges and other supporters of so-called truth in sentencing. We might offer a compromise bill requiring a judge to award the earned time for any prisoner who, by concerted self improvement, has substantially reduced the danger he or she poses, regardless of what the crime was. The goal is to give every prisoner, especially the most dangerous, a strong incentive to use well their time behind bars. That’s a matter of public safety and prison cost containment.
Prisoners in Maine and Vermont can already vote by absentee ballot. Why should those states be far ahead of us in respecting the humanity of people in cells? Stripping the franchise from prisoners is a small but hugely symbolic part of the 19th century throw-away-the-key philosophy behind New Hampshire corrections. When inmates get to vote, it will be harder for lawmakers to ignore them and warehouse them.
We’ll pursue a bill 18 months from now that would give ex-offenders a better chance to find and keep a job. Today employers routinely ask a job seeker if they have any criminal record. If the answer is yes, the written application goes right to the waste basket. We’d like to take that question off the application form and bar the employer from asking it until later in the hiring process, and only then if the crime is closely related to the requirements of the job. We had prepared draft legislation five pages long for the January term, but decided to hold off for a year to polish the language, talk to other stakeholders and build public support for the idea.
HB 653-FN - AN ACT prohibiting the use of sex offender registry information for the purpose of harassing, intimidating, or threatening a registered sexual offender or offender against children, or any family member, employer, or landlord of such person.
Our other bills went nowhere last session
Our legislation to abolish the sex offender registration fee, post a warning against vigilantism on the sex offender registry, and give some lifetime registrants a chance to get off the targeting list all died on the House floor. In response, we posted an article on the CCJR website telling people how to contest the sex offender registry fee as indigents. We hope many folks exercise their right to ask for hearings before the State Police registry unit and appeal an adverse ruling to Superior Court, asking, of course, for a court appointed and state funded lawyer. Thirty or 40 appeals like that would offset the whole $93,000 a year that registrants as a group pay for the privilege of seeing their mug shots and personal information on very public display. For more information, go to http://www.ccjrnh.org/sex_offender_news/pay_50_year_rest_your_life_or_maybe_not.
Justice denied anywhere — diminishes justice everywhere." —Martin Luther King
Opponents of for-profit prisons mobilize
Prison Privatization committee goes out of business.
The alliance includes CCJR, the State Employees Association, the Citizens Advisory Council to the Women’s Prison, Families of New Hampshire Inmates, the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the League of Women voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Friends Service Committee. Two additional groups are working independently in the same cause.
The Legislative Commission on Women Inmates issued a scathing report on private prisons this week co-authored by Dr. Elaine Rizzo of St. Anselm College in Goffstown. New Hampshire Legal Assistance released its own similar study last fall co-authored by Attornesy Alan Linder and Eliott Berry. They dismissed as scientifically flawed several dozen cost studies funded by and favorable to private prisons. The few reliable studies comparing public and private prisons on an apples-to-apples basis show there are no cost savings from private prisons. Worse, they often have staffing problems and high personnel turnover due to low pay. Warehousing and violence are common.
National labor unions, the Sentencing Project and the Grassroots Leadership program are some of the out-of-state organizations helping us to build the case against prisons for profit. They have all played key roles in blocking recent prison privatization efforts in Michigan, Florida and Ohio. Those take-over drives were well funded by the for-profit prison industry, which has campaigned on behalf of tough-on-crime, truth-in-sentencing laws for two decades that have driven up prison populations. From their point of view, a growing prison census is a bull market.
Our coalition helped to kill a bill to extend the deadline of the legislative committee developing a long range plan to privatize the New Hampshire prison system. The committee issued a slanted preliminary report last December recommending the state outsource 1,200 inmates. The Senate put it out of business. Governor Lynch has agreed to meet with representatives of our group to present the arguments against letting profit-making companies exploit our inmates in dangerous facilities.
The Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services are still reviewing literally hundreds of pounds of bidding paperwork from four prison vendors. They hope to make some money off New Hampshire inmates by building and running a prison potentially big enough to draw prisoners from other states. The next step for the state is to hire a consultant to help evaluate and score the bids, then assist in drafting and closing the deal on a possible long-term contract for the Executive Council to approve or reject.
We hope the process never gets that far, and we’re pretty sure we can prevent a vote. But CCJR board members have met several times with all the councilors to let them know the pros and cons of the decision. Folks who follow our work should stay tuned for future forums on the issue. The coalition has begun planning some community educational events in Lancaster, Hinsdale and Manchester where vendors have bought options on proposed prison sites. If the choice ever reaches the Executive Council, we have asked it to hold a public hearing on a matter that affects so many fundamental rights.