LEGISLATIVE ALERT: Senate should pass HB1113 to audit sex offender program

This is the most important week of the Legislative term, and we are losing more than we are winning.  Here are three crucial bills at stake with lawmakers. Below you will find CCJR testimony on them. Act now. Write or call your lawmaker. Come to the two public hearings. Fight for a superb bill the Senate votes for or against on Thursday. We are almost out of time.

Tuesday March 29, 2016

  • Senate JUDICIARY, Room 100, SH Sen. Carson (C), Sen. Cataldo (VC), Sen. Daniels, Sen. Lasky, Sen. Pierce
  • 9:00 a.m. HB 1426-FN, relative to earned time credits for prisoners participating in educational programming.

Thursday, March 31

  • 1:00 p.m. SB 468-FN, relative to changes to the sex offender registry.

Thursday March 31 senate calendar

  • EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND ADMINISTRATION HB 1113, requiring a performance audit of the sex offender treatment program in the department of corrections. Inexpedient to Legislate, Vote 4-0. Senator Reagan for the committee

Monday, April 18, 2016

  • INTERBRANCH CRIMINAL AND JUVENILE JUSTICE COUNCIL (RSA 651-E), Room 204, LOB 1:30 p.m. Regular meeting.

Senate should pass HB1113 to audit sex offender program

Senate Committee voted 4-0 on Mar. 23 to kill HB 1113, which calls for an in-depth performance audit of the sex offender treatment program in the men’s prisons. We wrote this bill. The Department of Corrections testified for it, but it has fought the audit behind the scenes every step of the way for more than a year. We are quite sure they worked with key senators in private to kill this bill. Please ask your senator to vote for HB 1113 this Thursday, Mar. 31, on the Senate floor. It will take a lot of calls and emails. Here’s why we have to win.

The sex offender treatment program has been understaffed for years. It flunked an independent quality assurance audit in 2012. It would flunk this one. Well over a hundred men were on track this summer to pass their minimum sentences without starting this program. No sex offender can make parole without finishing it. The men in limbo were costing taxpayers $3.5 million a year, based on the average cost of $35,000.

We at Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform wrote HB 1113 to remove this costly backlog. We met with the governor’s lawyer in July. She soon announced the hiring of three staff to teach the sex offender treatment program. It would also last six months, not 18. One of those new therapists has already quit. And why gut a program that so recently needed to be 18 months long?

This is not the only recent failure of the Department of Corrections. It pledged to build a new women’s prison for $38 million. That cost has risen to $52 million, but the construction has been on hold for months. Whenever the new prison opens a year or three years late, it will be way too small.

We at Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform urged lawmakers to build much cheaper and more humane halfway houses and sober houses for women, along with a smaller prison. The agency can’t manage money or inmates. Please let your senator know how you feel about that.

Find contact information for your senator here. Use it today. http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/Senate/members/wml.aspx

An op ed by Chris Dornin


Testimony for HB 1426

Allowing  inmates to earn 21 months off sentences

By Chris Dornin, co-founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform

This bill builds on the recent success of dozens of prisoners in winning time off their sentences through hard work inside the walls.  Current law limits an inmate to 300 days of earned time off.  This bill expands that reward to 21 months, which is still a small part of most prison terms.  The bill also expands the number of ways a prisoner can improve himself to earn this time off.

Prison officials say they might have to hire extra staff to teach these committed students and workers. But that change might not cost the state extra money in the long run. The same prisoners would also leave prison earlier.  And they would have a lower recidivism rate because they would be more attractive in the job market. Getting and keeping a job are hard for somebody who has basically been out of work for 15 or 20 years.

It is worth noting the sponsors of this bill worked closely with the Inmate Communications Committee in drafting its text. In my experience with some of those inmates, they certainly deserve the opportunity the bill gives them.

One might say the bill is too kind to bad men and women. But note that lawmakers increased all new sentences by two thirds in 1982, eliminating a good time law that gave prisoners 150 days off their minimum sentences every year for obeying the rules.

Since 1982 lawmakers have steadily increased prison penalties and found many new punishments where there used to be none. The cellblock population has increased by about ten fold in that period. We need to swing the policy pendulum in the other direction.


Please kill SB 468, which may prevent anyone from leaving the sex offender registry. 

By Chris Dornin, board member, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform

Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, a New Hampshire non-profit agency working for smarter crime laws, strongly recommends the House Criminal Justice Committee find SB 468 inexpedient to legislate. On its face the law is unconstitutional. Its enactment will further violate the civil rights of registered citizens and will result in more costly litigation for the state.

Last year in Doe v. New Hampshire (http://www.courts.state.nh.us/ supreme/opinions/2015/2015012doe.pdf ), the Supreme Court found the state's Registry of Criminal Offenders to be an ex post facto violation as applied to the plaintiff in that case, and by implication, to hundreds of other registrants. The court noted the public registry has become ever more onerous in the last two decades. The court declined to say when the registry became punitive to the point of violating Doe’s constitutional rights.

This bill assumes the only ex post facto violation created by New Hampshire’s Registry of Criminal Offenders is the retroactive application of the 1994 law creating a registry.  But from the Doe decision it is just as likely the 2002 establishment of an Internet registry or the many requirements laid on registrants by the 2008 Child Predator Act would also fail an ex post facto test when applied to registrants whose crimes pre-dated enactment of the law. This bill does not put the issues raised by the Doe case to rest. It will fuel them.

The Court found in Doe that a lifetime registration requirement is excessive if the registrant no longer poses a meaningful risk to the public. Lifetime registration in such cases becomes wholly punitive. Although pop culture depicts sex offenders as incurable, their actual risk of re-offense is low. After 15 offense-free years a registrant's risk of committing another sexual offense falls to near that of the average adult male. A large majority of those on the registry pose no threat to the public and will never reoffend. The imposition of lifetime registration requirements upon them further punishes them for past offenses they have already gone to prison for.

The proposed law imposes harsh requirements on those few Tier III offenders allowed to ask for removal from lifetime registration, requirements which will likely fail constitutional muster. The costs of hiring an attorney, hiring a psychologist and paying for a treatment program fall upon the same people whose civil rights have been violated.  Only a few wealthy registrants will ever escape lifetime registration. The poor will register for life whether it benefits the public or not. Restoration of civil rights must not depend on the ability to pay.

The provision that courts must consider victim impact statements when deciding whether to take a former offender off lifetime registration shows the purpose of the registry is unconstitutionally punitive. What bearing can the retelling of decades-old offenses have on a judge's decision whether or not a registrant is rehabilitated? Insertion of such emotional testimony into what should be a dispassionate process invites judges to ask if  the offender has been punished enough for past acts.