State House News, January 31, 2015

Bill would add woman ex-prisoner to crime commission

Please speak in favor of SB 53 on Tuesday, Feb. 3, to add a former woman inmate to the Interbranch Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 100 in the State House. As you can imagine, one who has lived in a cell knows things about prison that a cop, prosecutor, judge or victim advocate can never guess. The bill also sunsets the Interagency Commission on Women Prisoners, now that a new women's prison is being built, and transfers many of its former duties to the Interbranch Crime Council. An ex-convict serving on a prisons board would send a huge statement that New Hampshire can forgive, restore and respect people who have served draconian punishments for their mistakes. Many of these ex-offenders have the education and verbal skills to enrich conversations in the State House. 

Learn about courts that divert people from prison 

Dr. Doug Marlowe, a leading national researcher and educator in the drug court and problem-solving court fields will be coming to Concord on Tuesday, February 3rd, 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., room 210, LOB, to address NH legislators regarding the brain, addiction and drug court as an evidenced based treatment option for high risk offending addicts. This program is especially important given the rising number of individuals arrested for crimes associated with their substance use disorders and the opioid epidemic facing the state. If you have questions, address them to or Reps. Jack Flanagan and Stephen Shurtleff.

Bill abolishes $50 fee a sex offender pays to be a target

Please testify Thursday Feb. 5 for a bill that repeals the unfair $50 tax a registered  sex offender pays every year for the privilege of telling the whole world how to find them and their families. The public hearing for HB 587 starts at 1 p.m. in Room 204 of the Legislative Office Building.

Vigilantes have viciously attacked a dozen or more New Hampshire public registrants since the roster went on line in 2002. An ex-offender was murdered a year ago in Keene. An innocent farmer was mistakenly maimed in nearby Westmoreland by a man apparently looking for the registrant across the street. Lawrence Trant repeatedly stabbed a Concord public registrant in 2004 and tried to burn an apartment building with another seven registrants. “I hope I've done a service to the community,” Trant told the Boston Globe. “These guys are sexual terrorists.”  A chanting Manchester mob burned a scarecrow on the wooden porch of a female registrant in 2006. She was away, but her roommate watched from inside their home with her two young sons and a baby. That is life on the registry.

Sentinel runs story on vigilantism against sex offenders

A local lawmaker sponsors bills to protect convicted sex offenders

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 5:32 pm


A local lawmaker has sponsored several bills in the N.H. House of Representatives that would increase protections for people on the state's registry of sex offenders. Rep. Timothy N. Robertson, D-Keene, said he was motivated by information about two recent local attacks that he said may have been committed by someone who targeted people listed on the registry.

Robertson said he said he believes this is a common problem in the state. "They have been found guilty, and they have served their time," Robertson said. ""They don’t deserve to be targeted for the rest of their lives."

One of the four bills he's introduced would "(prohibit) 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."

A representative from the Concord organization Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, Chris Dornin, encouraged Robertson to sponsor that bill after he investigated the homicide of 48-year-old David E. Wheelock of Keene and an attack on a Westmoreland man that Dornin believes are connected.

Wheelock was killed in December 2013 at his house on Pearl Street in Keene.

He had been convicted of 28 counts of child pornography in October 2005, and those convictions are listed on the N.H. Department of Safety’s sex offender registry. Authorities have not identified a suspect or a motive in the murder, but Assistant N.H. Attorney General Benjamin J. Agati said last month that they are considering a theory that Wheelock’s sexual offender status made him a target.

Dornin said the possibility that Wheelock was targeted for being on the registry indicated a threat to other registered sex offenders.

"It underscores how punitive the registry is, and the unfairness of charging someone (just to make them) a shaming and violence target," he said.

Dornin cited another case in which he believes an attacker mistook a Westmoreland man on the sex offender registry for his neighbor. The victim, Walter Field, was attacked last year outside his house, and police said at the time that the assailant had been looking for another person. The assault left Field with fractures to his face and damage to his left eye, according to N.H. State Police Sgt. Shawn M. Skahan, who investigated the crime.

During the attack, one of Field’s brothers overheard the assailant make statements that led police to conclude Field’s neighbor was the intended target of the attack. Police did not release the neighbor’s name, citing safety concerns, but Dornin said he has spoken to the man, who he said is a registered sex offender.

Judge wrong on earned time denial

An OP Ed from the Laconia Citizen 

By CHRIS DORNIN, Guest Columnist | Jan 28, 2015

Superior Court Justice James O’Neill erred this month in denying convicted burglar Joshua Shepard a 300-day sentence reduction for earning an associates degree in prison and completing a parenting program and vocational training. As a former prison case manager, I can tell you this man has been a model inmate and poses little risk to society now. Shepard won his chance at early freedom under the landmark earned time law of 2014 that I worked on for three years as an unpaid lobbyist.

I can identify with Shepard. I was once admiring the Belknap Range when my wife screamed I was crossing the median. I just missed two motorcyclists head on, fishtailed twice and skidded to a stop, shivering. I looked back. It seems the bikers never knew what almost hit them.

Shepard did the same thing in 2006, but he was alone at the wheel and killed three bikers. He almost died from a ruptured aorta and other trauma. His two-second lapse was horrific, but it was normal. The New Hampshire Supreme Court properly vacated his conviction in 2009, ruling his error was not, in fact, a crime. He was cold sober and driving at safe speed in a safe car. The state never paid him a dime for wrongfully locking him in a crowded, violent, drug-ridden cellblock.

Yes, after his release he went back to prison for a string of burglaries and drug possession. His injuries and prison experience must have fed into that. Despite his tragic life, he needed to go to prison again. He had become a bad man. But he demonstrably changed during his second time in stir.

I can tell you firsthand that lawmakers were hoping judges would grant these earned time credits, no more than 13 months in total, to the few inmates disciplined enough to save all their pitiful prison wages for college tuition, win scholarships, and complete other training and programs.

Judge O’Neill cited Shepard’s failure to pay restitution for the burglaries. Was he unaware of the prisoner’s presumably catastrophic medical bills and $125,000 restitution order for the fatal accident? How do you earn a few bucks a week and pay off a debt like that?

O’Neill noted as well some minor write ups Shepard received in prison. Those are almost impossible for good inmates to avoid.

Finally, the judge has forgotten the knee-jerk truth in sentencing law of 1982. It repealed the 150 days of good time inmates received every year for obeying the rules. That benighted change increased all sentences by 67 percent going forward. It has cost taxpayers easily a billion dollars. It launched a prison construction spree. It enshrined a draconian 19th century punishment philosophy.

Judge O’Neill should ponder his own mistake. And the Parole Board should make up for it when Shepard comes before them almost a year late. Chris Dornin lives in Concord and founded the nonprofit agency Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform.

Help block a dangerous power grab against judges

TESTIMONY AGAINST CACR 8, January 31, 2015

By Chris Dornin of Concord, Founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform

Members of the House Judiciary Committee:

I am sorry I could not attend the recent public hearing on CACR 8 to voice my deep concerns about this proposed constitutional amendment. Its single brief clause would dangerously skew the balance of power among the three branches of government:  “All judicial officers shall be nominated either by the Governor or the Council, and confirmed by a majority of the Legislature in joint session.”

Such a change would politicize every judicial appointment. It would also dilute the already pitiful powers of the executive branch by setting the governor and the Executive council against each other. They would inevitably make competing nominations for the same court vacancy. The positions might go unfilled for months thanks to gridlock and dysfunction. The recurring constitutional crises would make New Hampshire a national laughing stock. The litigation among branches of government would cost a lot more than money.

Worse, giving the legislature veto power over judicial appointments would destroy the only protection we have against the tyranny of the majority, something that simply terrified folks like George Washington and Ben Franklin. It is true the U.S. Senate has such a veto power over the president’s court nominations. I’m not sure how responsibly the senators have used this privilege. But New Hampshire has the Executive Council to do that job, and it works well from what I’ve seen. Any governor is pretty shackled today. CACR would mummify the chief executive.

As a retired State House reporter, I can respect the lingering anger of lawmakers who remember the Claremont Supreme Court decision on school funding. I also watched the impeachment trial of Chief Justice David Brock.  Some lawmakers still think he should have lost his job.

As the founder of the nonprofit agency Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, I have seen the tyranny of the majority up close. The fear card against ex-offenders can sweep a political party to power. Individuals who demagogue the issue often win too. Thank goodness we have dispassionate and scrupulously nonpartisan judges to stand up for the liberties at grave risk in our declared and undeclared wars on terror, drugs and so many other things.

All that hard emotion has given us some feel-good crime laws based on scapegoating and misinformation. We have paradoxically endangered the public while burdening taxpayers with the rising costs of prison construction and staffing. The only worse policy than CACR 8 would be to elect judges by popular vote. Please consider this my advance testimony against that idea when it comes before you later this session.

In state after state with elected judges, the crime laws steadily grow more draconian. The pendulum of policy never comes back to the middle. CACR 8 would be almost as bad as making Supreme Court judges run for election and re-election, then pretend to have no ethical conflict in cases involving their major donors. Or even minor donors. 

CACR 8 would make pawns of the Judiciary, the Executive Council and the Governor. It would make kings of the House speaker and Senate president. No, on second thought. The Senate would have 24 votes and the House 400 votes in the confirmation process. This bill elevates the power of the House over that of the Senate. Ours would become a government with dangerously weak checks and balances, and a transcendent House of Representatives.  

AN ACT repealing the interagency coordinating council for women offenders and expanding the membership and duties of the interbranch criminal and juvenile justice council.
SPONSORS: Sen. Lasky, Dist 13; Sen. Kelly, Dist 10; Sen. Fuller Clark, Dist 21; Sen. Soucy, Dist 18; Sen. Boutin, Dist 16; Sen. Feltes, Dist 15; Rep. Wall, Straf 6; Rep. Wheeler, Merr 3; Rep. Gorman, Hills 31; Rep. Cushing, Rock 21; Rep. Baldasaro, Rock 5
COMMITTEE: Judiciary
This bill repeals the interagency coordinating council for women offenders and transfers its duties and certain members to the interbranch criminal and juvenile justice council.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Explanation: Matter added to current law appears in bold italics.
Matter removed from current law appears [in brackets and struckthrough.]
Matter which is either (a) all new or (b) repealed and reenacted appears in regular type.
In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Fifteen
AN ACT repealing the interagency coordinating council for women offenders and expanding the membership and duties of the interbranch criminal and juvenile justice council.
Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:
1 Department of Corrections; Administrator of Women Offenders and Family Services. Amend RSA 21-H:14-b, III to read as follows:
III. The administrator shall[:
(a)] prepare budget recommendations regarding women offenders’ program services consistent with the departmental budget cycle. The administrator shall also engage in budget formation, grant applications, and resource allocation activities related to women offenders as assigned[.
(b) Act as liaison to the interagency coordinating council for women offenders and the department of corrections].
2 New Subparagraphs; Interbranch Criminal and Juvenile Justice Council; Membership. Amend RSA 651-E:2 by inserting after subparagraph (y) the following new subparagraphs:
(z) The administrator of women offenders and family services, or designee, appointed by the commissioner of the department of corrections.
(aa) One former inmate of the state prison for women who is no longer under correctional supervision, appointed by the governor.
3 New Paragraphs; Interbranch Criminal and Juvenile Justice Council; Duties. Amend RSA 651-E:3 by inserting after paragraph IV the following new paragraphs:
V. Identify opportunities for interagency cooperation in the effective management of female offenders.
VI. Promote gender-specific interagency community treatment for female offenders and their children.
VII. Develop memoranda of understanding outlining “in-kind” services or cooperation to provide services to incarcerated women and their children.
VIII. Develop cross-training opportunities to foster understanding of system responses to the shared population across agencies of incarcerated women and their children.
IX. Develop gender-specific treatment for co-occurring conditions and a continuity of treatment from incarceration to community.
X. Coordinate interagency case management and re-entry planning.
XI. Assess the impact of incarceration on family relations during and after incarceration.
XII. Apply for and administer federal and private sector grants for the furtherance of the duties of the council and the development of gender-responsive, trauma-informed management of female offenders and their children.
4 Repeal. RSA 21-H:14-c, relative to the interagency coordinating council for women offenders, is repealed.
5 Effective Date. This act shall take effect 60 days after its passage.