State House testimony against Joseph Foster for attorney general

Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform opposes the nomination of Joseph Foster for attorney general. Our nonprofit group is concerned about Foster’s role as vice chair of a commission a few years ago on expanded gambling. We think it underestimated the huge public safety risk of slot machines. With our apologies to Lou D’Allesandro, we want the next attorney general to repudiate any new revenue source that relies on gambling addiction.

To our knowledge Atty. Foster has never practiced criminal law, so we have to judge him by the crime legislation he championed in the State House. He was a prime sponsor on two of the worst: the child predator act of 2006 and the Internet predator act of 2008.

The child predator act as first written gave prosecutors the power to demand a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years against a high school kid who molests their 12 year-old cousin. The bill stripped the presiding judge of discretion about the length of sentence. That was a naked power grab for the executive branch over the judiciary.  Republicans are not the only ones who play that game in New Hampshire. Fortunately, the House moderated the bill in conference committee..

Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform opposes all mandatory minimum sentence laws because they fill prisons with people who deserve far shorter sentences.  The money wasted on prisons that make offenders worse could go to far better uses.

The same child predator act allowed prosecutors to keep some sex offenders in prison after serving their maximum punishment. Foster’s bill created a civil commitment process using a lower standard of proof than beyond reasonable doubt. The law allows the state to impeach a defendant with confessions made in the sex offender treatment program. Back in 2006, nobody could pass that program without making confessions. And sex offenders only made parole by passing the program.

Senator Foster presided at the Senate hearing on the child predator act. The transcript shows that he disputed testimony that sex offenders have low sex offense recidivism rates and that they benefit from treatment. If he still believes those things, he will have a hard time keeping his recent promises “to work hard every day to protect public safety and ensure justice for all of our citizens.”

Atty. Foster accepted without question the testimony of former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte that sex offenders with child victims have recidivism rates between  90 and 94 percent. She took those figures from a Canadian study by Ron Langevin that had already been thoroughly discredited by other scientists. The Canadian Journal of Criminology devoted an entire issue to debunking the Langevin research, even calling it unethical.

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies in the past decade show recidivism rates in the 1 to 5 percent range in state after state for new sex crimes in the first three years after release from prison.. A recent report by Florida sociologist Jill Levinson showed a cumulative new sex crime recidivism rate of 10 percent after a decade.

Foster seems unaware that nearly half the offenses against kids are committed by other kids. Family members and people trusted by the family commit almost all the rest. Foster would force incest victims to accept a minimum sentence of 25 years for a father or brother.

The Internet predator bill was no better. It was based on the myth that a digital mob of mean strangers is trolling cyberspace looking for kids to kidnap and murder. The UNH sexual violence research center has done some courageous research disproving that claim. Foster’s computer crimes law lets the prosecutor seek a 10-year minimum on each image somebody downloads. A 10-second visit to an illicit site could mean a 300-year sentence.

We at Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform understand that laws like these are popular with voters and party donors. We see nothing in Joseph Foster’s record that would solve the compelling problems in the criminal justice system. It is racist. The plea bargaining process is stacked against the accused and their badly underfunded public defenders. Elected prosecutors seek sentences as tough as possible to win re-election. And we are waging dubious wars on drug addicts, immigrants and sex offenders that scapegoat large classes of people, warehouse them for much of their lives and set them up to fail when they get their freedom back.