Wrenn opposes bill to block private prisons

It’ was a disappointing week in Concord. The House Criminal Justice Committee voted to kill a bill to bar the state from contracting with private prisons. Bill Wrenn, the commissioner of corrections, asked lawmakers to let him contract with a private prison if a fire or another emergency displaced a large number of inmates. The bill already allowed him to sign such emergency private contracts for three months at a time up two years. 

We fear private prisons will make another push to move into New Hampshire under a tough-on-crime president and Congress, and a Republican state legislature, governor and Executive Council. A huge coalition of nonprofit agencies, led by the New Hampshire State Employees Association, blocked private prisons from taking over four years ago. It was a long fight, and they almost won.

Lawmakers also heard testimony last week on two bills to change the way the state looks at marijuana, including decriminalizing it. This could be the year we see a repeal of the penalties on smoking pot. 

Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform takes no position on the crime bills with hearings the week of Feb. 6, which include these: 


10:00 a.m. Executive session on HB 350-FN, prohibiting possession of a firearm at a polling place; HB 643-FN-A, mandating the wearing of body cameras by certain law enforcement officers; HB 656-FN-A-L, relative to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.

1:00 p.m. Continued public hearing on HB 94-FN, prohibiting certain defenses in prostitution and human trafficking cases. 

1:30 p.m. HB 634-FN-A, repealing the penalty assessment on criminal offenses.

2:00 p.m. HB 351-FN, making a person who knowingly causes the death of a child guilty of capital murder.

2:30 p.m. Continued public hearing on HB 156-FN, including a fetus in the definition of “another” for purposes of certain criminal offenses.

 Wednesday Feb. 8 the House Criminal Justice Committee will host an executive session in Room 204 of the LOB to vote on four bills that CCJR wrote and recruited sponsors for.  They are marked below in bold text. We still need a volunteer to watch and report on those committee debates. 


Executive session on 

HB 106, relative to corroborating evidence in sexual assault prosecutions; 

HB 205-FN, relative to flying a drone above a correctional facility; 

HB 280, relative to attendance at an auction of property or contraband from a criminal forfeiture; 

HB 284, relative to jury instructions in sexual assault cases; 

HB 285, relative to the imposition of concurrent and consecutive sentences; 

HB 448, relative to certain ignition interlock violations; 

HB 526, relative to rules relating to prison rehabilitation programs and inmate health. 


Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017

Lawmakers will debate and vote on six bills starting at 10:30 a.m., one of which we wrote, HB 192.  It would require the Department of Corrections to get its administrative rules approved by lawmakers, the way other agencies do. I plan to watch the committee debate on HB 192, maybe our most important bill, which could force me to miss some of the important discussions in Room 204 on the four bills before the Criminal Justice Committee.

HB 192 came out of a two-year battle we won to ensure a performance audit of the prison sex offender treatment program. A damning 40-page report came out Nov. 18 and said the Parole Board was getting almost no information from prison officials to decide whether a sex offender should make parole. The Department of Corrections had adopted an internal policy in direct conflict with the parole statute. A little known prison board called the Administrative Review Committee was making the real parole decisions for sex offenders. More than 200 of them per year were missing their earliest parole date. And that crisis was a big improvement over the previous four years.

A legislative subcommittee voted last week to retain HB 192, which Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform wrote and recruited a strong group of sponsors for. That subcommittee result was a disappointment, but  not a huge one. Lawmakers plan to study the bill this fall after a crucial meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rulemaking. That meeting will be a showdown between families of prisoners and the prison administration over proposed rules for the sex offender treatment program. Our goal is to prevent the adoption of those rules. We’ll tell you the date of that meeting as soon as we know it.

CCJR member Richard Nowlin helped write this alert.

By Chris Dornin, co-founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform 603-228-9610, cldornin@aol.com