Important crime bill hearings Tuesday, Feb. 17

Repealing mandatory minimums

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony at 10 a.m. in Room 100 of the State House on SB 197 to repeal a number of draconian mandatory minimum sentences passed under a tough-on-crime philosophy that has crowded our cellblocks and made them more dangerous. The bill has strong support from a bipartisan group of leading reps and senators, and it deserves to. A similar House bill by many of the same sponsors appears to have gotten glitched in committee. We strongly advise passing HB  197 and killing HB 506.

Changing the criteria for releasing parolees from supervision

The House Criminal Justice Committee holds a 10 a.m. hearing in Room 204 of the LOB on HB 472 to define the Parole Board’s criteria for releasing a parolee from community supervision before their maximum sentence expires. Today the board can waive up to  a third of the time remaining on the maximum bid merely if the person has stayed violation free. Such relief has been rare, however, because of the political backlash would be huge if an ex-offender screws up after getting a break like that. The bill tightens the criteria for the Board’s decision by saying it shall consider “..the conduct of the parolee while under supervision, the seriousness of the offense, the amount of restitution owed, and the wishes of the victim, if any.”  

That’s a much tougher law than we have now. We humbly suggest that a highly competent, non-political and scrupulously objective court imposed an equitable  minimum and maximum sentence based on the seriousness of the crime and all of its aggravating  and mitigating issues. Those have been fully accounted weighed once and for all. 

By the same reasoning, the Parole Board should never weigh the severity of the crime in deciding the fate of a parolee. Parole Boards across the country and especially in New Hampshire have been highly vulnerable to pressure from the media and public opinion. 

The same is true of the feelings of the victims so late in the process. The court fully weighed their loss and suffering in choosing a lenient or draconian bid for that prisoner.  The Parole Board years later should not consider the concerns of the victim in deciding the length of sentence. A judge did that in the fairest way possible. The wishes of the victim matter, of course, in setting the conditions of parole. That’s a matter of safety and peace of mind. Parolees often have limitations on contacting or living near the victim. 

But the Board’s overriding consideration should be the assessed risk the offender poses, if any. The law should carry a presumption in favor of releasing any low-risk offender who has worked hard to rehabilitate himself or herself. That means releasing murderers and sex offenders, perhaps the least popular group of parolees. According to all the journals of criminology, they both have extremely low same-crime recidivism rates.