Recent Accomplishments

Two of our 2017 bills were retained for in-depth study
Two of our eight bills in the current session still have a chance to become law. Six others have died. Those are actually pretty good results for a legislative session. Thanks to our House Bill 544, lawmakers will closely scrutinize the prison earned time program this fall to see if the state should give more prisoners a chance to reduce their sentences by up to 21 months. 
The bill is retained in legislative committee for work sessions and possible reintroduction next January. Corrections officials say the bill would make them hire five more social workers and five more teachers. We dispute that enormous cost. 
Two versions of much the same bill written by the Department of Corrections have already become law, giving prisoners up to 13 months off their minimums in 2015, then up to 21 months off in 2016. Both times the reported fiscal impact was zero. Now the reported fiscal impact is catastrophic. It makes no sense.
The argument for HB 544 is simply a matter of fairness.
The Legislature passed HB 649, the first earned time law, in 2014. It allowed inmates to earn up to 13 months off their sentences through hard work to make themselves better people.  Last year’s HB 1426 increased the winnable time off one’s sentence to 21 months. Neither of those bills, mostly written by the Department of Corrections, included any fiscal impact. None. The department carried out both changes at no added cost to taxpayers.  
This year’s change was written on behalf of inmates by Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform. Inmates told us that many prisoners still lack a way to earn time off their sentences. The bill makes some modest changes to let them do so. We doubt the new language should cost a lot of money, since the first two earned time laws had zero fiscal impact.  HB 544 leaves unchanged the maximum earned time a prisoner can win. That remains 21 months.  The bill just opens up more ways to earn it. If the department is right about the huge annual price tag for this bill, and they can prove it, then HB 544 is a questionable bill.
Kill the bill and you face a huge problem.
But lawmakers will have to address the underlying problem some other way. Half the inmates are jobless and do little but wait to get out. The gyms close at 2 p.m. weekdays. The gyms are locked all weekend. The cellblocks are overcrowded, and one of the gyms in Berlin is full of cots men are sleeping in. These and other grim conditions make it so hard to hire staff that officers are working two, three and four double shifts per week. That is the most expensive way to run a prison. And the most dangerous. Please understand where these trends are headed. According to the Concord Monitor, the overtime allows half a dozen guards to earn more money than Commissioner Wrenn does.  
We hope lawmakers still have some time to stop what looks like a tragedy coming on. HB 544 would be a small step in the right direction. Even if it costs more in the short run, which we dispute, it could save as much as $60,000 per inmate who leaves prison with 21 months off their original minimum sentence. Let the inmate population continue to rise, and you face building another prison. On the other hand, HB 544 can reduce the inmate population responsibly. It would release folks who do something to better themselves while they are away from home and loved ones.
We have to fight for a good sex offender treatment program. 
Our HB 192 to make the Department of Corrections get its administrative rules approved by lawmakers stands a fair chance of being reintroduced next January. This legislation has already forced prison officials to get their sex offender program rules approved this summer by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. Prisoners and their friends need to pack that hearing and testify. 
They will take place before a special board with half a dozen reps and half a dozen senators that meets monthly. The bill is also retained in a separate House committee, a good result. We’ll let people know about these hearings when they are scheduled and we do hope you will attend.
According to deputy commissioner Helen Hanks, the proposed text of their rules is already on line at their website. This fall lawmakers will review our HB 192 in committee. We sure hope they reintroduce it in 2018.
Some suggested testimony on proposed correctional rules
What should people tell the rules committee about these sex offender program rules? We want the Department of Corrections to start offering sex offender treatment at least four years before a prisoner’s minimum release date, not two years. From 2012 to 2015, no sex offenders made parole at their earliest release date because the required program started two years or less before their minimum release dates and took too long too complete.  Last year the state beefed up the staffing for the treatment program under the pressure of the audit we forced to happen. But 86 percent of sex offenders still missed their earliest parole dates. In the last four years fewer than 4 percent of sex offenders have made parole on time.
Another delay is caused by the clandestine Administrative Review Committee. That’s a board with six women that makes the real parole decisions for sex offenders. We would like the state to abolish that board. Inmates never get to appear before it or answer its questions. Nor does it issue any written ruling. The audit of the sex offender program said this secret board makes the real parole decisions. In the process it steals the authority of the Parole Board, which has the force of law behind it.
We think the Parole Board under Chairman Donna Sytek does much better work than her board did before she took over. We trust them to do a thorough job reviewing sex offenders without a duplicate board that usurps the authority of Sytek’s group. 
We’d also like to get rid of the unreliable lie detector test that only those convicted of sex offenses must pass before being eligible for parole. Many inmates flunk the subjective test, one that sounds woefully unscientific to us. Test failure sets a prisoner back months until they can take it again. 
Finally, we question the value of the sex offender treatment program at all. We believe that legitimate evidence based treatment by qualified caring therapists can be very effective.  Helen Hanks told the House Finance Committee last fall she had no evidence this particular NH program offers any treatment value. She assumed it did, but she had no proof. 
Sex offender treatment is different than other therapies for adults. Sex offender treatment is a serious and encouraging process which focuses on learning specialized strategies for stopping abusive behavior, being accountable and taking responsibility for harm done.
There are treatment programs nationwide that do help people change their abusive behaviors and learn how to live safe and healthy lives. In fact, contrary to popular belief, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that sexual offender treatment reduces the risk for future abusive behavior. And when interventions are offered to adolescents and youth with sexual behavior problems, the likelihood of further abusive behavior can be dramatically reduced, or even eliminated.
Treatment for sexual behavior problems however is highly specialized which means that the professionals who do this work must have specific training in this area. Some mental health professionals know and understand these issues, but many do not have the specialized knowledge and background. 
CCJR has been very concerned that many of the therapists employed by the state prison do not have specialized training and are not licensed by or answerable to the NH Board of Mental Health Practices.   Another concern has been the use of shame based techniques which are counter productive to a therapeutic process.
Why retain the sex offender program at all?
Rep. Neil Kurk, chairman of the committee, insisted she come back with that evidence. She hasn’t done it yet. She should never get the new rules approved until she keeps that promise to Rep. Kurk. Why should inmates leave months or years late because they can’t get into a program that may be ineffective? Commissioner Bill Wrenn once told me he only uses treatment programs backed up by solid research.  Not this one.
This battle started three years ago, when Hanks told CCJR that only six sex offenders were in the backlog waiting for treatment. We fought for two years to get a formal audit of the program by the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant. Its findings were scathing. More than 200 prisoners were on track to miss their minimum parole dates last June because the program was so badly managed. 

Why do we care?
Sexual crimes are very serious and horrific crimes. “Society demands and deserves protection, and we all share the goal of ensuring that there will be no more victims of sexual crime. In fact, that is and should a primary directive.”1
According to Michael Hubbard, “. . . our society is also responsible for erecting many of the barriers that stand in the way of the recovery that sex offender therapists and our clients strive to achieve. “
We at CCJR want to ensure that anyone convicted of a sexual offense receives effective treatment so that when the leave the prison (as most will do) that they renter society with the tools they need to live an offense free life.
“Understandably, victim advocacy is far more palatable than the thought of treating a population that most would prefer to exile. However, the sad fact is that punitive barriers such as limited jobs, housing restrictions and sex offender registration raise significant risk factors for recidivism. These barriers often negate the efforts of sex offender therapists and those clients who possess legitimate desires to recover and return as productive members of society. In fact, our society may be contributing to future victimization — just the opposite of our primary goal.”2
Hubbard goes on to say, “As we all know, hopelessness is like a vampire to therapy. As our restrictive policies and biases feed that hopelessness, treatment and recovery are undermined, and relapse can become more likely. The short of it is that society’s efforts are based on a significant amount of misinformation and myths about sex offenders, and politicians and law enforcement officials often respond to the public’s demand for protection with tougher and more restrictive laws.”, that do little to keep our society safer and may actually cause harm.
Our other six bills all died.
HB 526 would have required that prison rehabilitation programs best serve inmates and give them a chance to reduce their sentences. Helen Hanks, the deputy commissioner of Corrections, told lawmakers the law already does what we’re asking for. Something odd happened after the public hearing. I left with the clear impression Hanks supported a bill amendment she suggested, and not killing the bill. 
HB 306 to require a judge to state the estimated financial cost of a sentence in the pre-sentence report. Our nonprofit organization wrote this bill to cause judges to think about something important every time they write a sentence. Each year a man or women is imprisoned costs taxpayers about $35,000 for that inmate. Worse, the officers we ask to keep the cellblocks safe are working two, three or even four double shifts per week. 
HB 285 to limit consecutive sentencing to two times the longest sentence possible for the highest grade offense charged.  Lawmakers apparently like the draconian sentences we have now. Over time they are creating ever more dangerously crowded cellblocks. Prosecutors like the current law. They can charge a defendant with multiple consecutive sentences as part of a plea bargaining process. Public defenders see little choice but to ask their clients to agree to terms. The defense lawyers could never defend everyone on their caseload at an actual trial. 
HB 282 to let the Department of Corrections allows work release for prisoners and places them in a halfway house, both without a judge’s approval. Lawmakers saw no need speed up the process of releasing inmates and let them serve more time outside the walls. 
HB 283 to define bodily injury in an assault as harm that causes permanent or protracted loss of health or function. The bill was amended at first into the current federal law, which is much worse than current state law. Having no bill would have been a far better result. We’re glad to report the bill simply died soon afterward.

HB 284 to make the jury charge more neutral for people accused of sex offenses. Victim advocates said they like the current law, which lets a judge at trial tell jurors that the accuser is already a victim. Our bill referred to him or her as simply he accuser, not the victim. One woman on the House Criminal Justice Committee said she would want the court to call her a victim if she were a victim. It never occurred to her that designation would be unfair and premature at trial before the jury makes a decision.
Feds seek crackdown on drug users
On May 12 Sessions ordered federal drug prosecutors to seek the toughest possible sentences. If they think lesser penalties might be proper, they will need special permission from a U.S. Attorney, an Assistant Attorney General or their designee.  
“Each United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General is responsible for ensuring that this policy is followed,” Sessions wrote in a press release, “and that any deviations from the core principle are justified by unusual facts.”
If that sounds bland, it isn’t. It represents a huge shift from the Obama era. Former attorney general Eric Holder has called the new policy “dumb on crime.”
 “It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach,” Holder warned in a press release, “that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”
1 Hubbard, Michael,  Sex offender therapy: A battle on multiple fronts, Counseling Today 2014

2 Hubbard, Michael,  Sex offender therapy: A battle on multiple fronts, Counseling Today 2014,

(Michael Hubbard is a mental health specialist with the sex offender treatment program at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore.


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:
  1. Solitary confinement employed in New Hampshire state prisons, such as within the “Controlled Custody Unit” and “Special Housing Unit”, have been subject to overuse in their application to in-prison disciplinary offenses and inmates known to be suffering from various mental health conditions.
  2. This bill would seek to define and limit the use of solitary confinement so that:

(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:

  1. Let a former offender help make crime policy.  One of our top priorities is a bill to add an ex-offender to the Joint Interbranch Criminal and Juvenile Justice Council, chaired by Judge Tina Nadeau. A former woman prisoner served well for many years on the similar Interagency Commission on Women Prisoners, which went out of business last year after the groundbreaking for a new women’s prison. Our legislation faces opposition. Commissioner Wrenn and Nadeau spoke against the idea before a House committee last spring. We’ll need a strong turnout of our people at the hearing early next year.

    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.

  1. Stop the sex offender public registry from applying retroactively. 

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.

  1. Let the Department of Corrections award earned time.  

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.

  1. Give prisoners the right to vote

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.

  1. Ban the Box bill for 2017

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

Justice denied anywhere — diminishes justice everywhere." —Martin Luther King


Opponents of for-profit prisons mobilize
Prison Privatization committee goes out of business.

Board members of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform have testified dozens of times this spring on crime bills, and we helped to form a strong and growing coalition against privatizing prisons. That battle has emerged as the key issue of the 2012 term for folks who seek restorative justice.

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.