State House News, April 15, 2013

9:30 a.m. State House Room 103 
Plans for Women’s Prison
The Senate Finance Committee hears public testimony on the capital Budget, HB 25, which includes $38 million for a new women’s prison for 224 inmates.
11 a.m. LOB 204
Expansion of victims’ rights
House Criminal Justice Committee debates and votes on SB 136 to expand the rights of victims and their families. The bill as introduced had a problem the Senate removed. Originally it said representatives of victims, including victim advocates funded by the state, were entitled to all the rights of victims.
But SB 136 perpetuates an apparent bias in current law that defines the accuser as a “victim” as soon as charges are filed. If the accused has a victim from the outset, the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt has vanished. Likewise, the burden of proof is on the defendant, and not the state. That’s existing in the statute.

Wednesday, April 17

10 a.m. Rooms 205-207 of the LOB
Update on drug and mental issues
A panel of experts on mental health and substance abuse issues will make a presentation to both the House Criminal Justice and House Health and Human Services Committees.

Thursday, April 18

Giving the innocent $20,000 per year in prison
10 a.m. The full Senate votes on HB 247 to give someone wrongfully imprisoned $20,000 a year in compensation for their suffering and lost income. The Judiciary Committee voted down the bill 4-0 because nobody from the public attended the hearing. This writer showed up with written testimony looking for the hearing a day late. Three committee members have said they will consider speaking for the bill on the Senate floor, but it probably has a slim chance of passage. To reach committee members here is the mass email list:

Below is the case for HB 247 and the text of an appeal to Judiciary chairwoman Sharon Carson to give the legislation a second chance.



Testimony on HB 247

by Chris Dornin, founder, CCJR, 603-620-7946

This bill would give those wrongfully imprisoned in our state as much as $20,000 for each year they have spent behind bars. Current state law caps such compensation at $20,000 in all.

A newly established National Registry of Exonerations reveals that over a thousand Americans have been indisputably exonerated since 1989 from serious criminal convictions. Only one of those confirmed injustices happened New Hampshire, five years ago, and the defendant has never applied for compensation. The New Hampshire Board of Claims, in fact, reports that nobody has ever sought compensation here for wrongful incarceration. But with a criminal justice system very similar to that of the Federal Government and the other 49 states, New Hampshire cannot assume it is immune to the problem of wrongful conviction and the need to fairly compensate those harmed by it.

The primary goal of the law should be to make the wronged person whole, with suitable compensation for lost wages, safety, peace of mind, time with loved ones and other chances to pursue happiness. The current low limit in New Hampshire is unreasonable in view of the weak economy and the huge demonstrable harm done to the wrongly convicted.

Most other states compensate on an annual basis without a total limit. Among those which do have limits, the cap is $300,000 in Maine and $500,000 in Massachusetts. The federal compensation limit is $50,000 per year. Four states- Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina- compensate at that level. Notoriously tough-on-crime Texas pays $80,000 per year. Vermont’s compensation range is between $30,000 and $60,000 per year.

Thursday, April 18, 1:30 p.m. Room 206

Should we privatize foster care?

A commission set up by HB 572 to study public/private partnerships in the treatment of abused and neglected kids will hold its organizational meeting. This is not a crime bill, but friends of smarter criminal laws need to pay attention to this debate. Public/private partnerships can easily include vendors bidding to take over functions the state should never delegate to the for-profit sector. Opponents of prison privatization seem to have blocked that scheme after an 18-month struggle. Here is the same possible issue again.

Tuesday, April 23, 9:15 a.m. in Room 103 of State House

State to lay out plans for women’s prison

The Department of Corrections will present its capital budget, including the women’s prison and four new 64-bed halfway houses for men.