Suggestions for the upcoming audit of the Sex Offender Treatment Program

The sex offender treatment program in the Concord men’s prison received a scathing performance audit in 2012, and it badly needs one now. The Department of Corrections testified in both the House and Senate this year for a bill written by Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, HB 1113, to require another in-depth review of that controversial program. Behind the scenes Commissioner Bill Wrenn and his staff fought doing that rigorous audit for 20 months. But it is going to happen.

Over a hundred sex offenders were on track this summer to pass their minimum sentences without starting sex offender treatment. We have reason to believe the number of men behind schedule was twice as many as signed our petition. Their inmate leader, Derek Hamel, was still in prison this spring a year past his minimum sentence, probably payback for organizing other sex offenders. No sex offender can make parole without finishing this program. The men in limbo past their minimum sentences were costing taxpayers $3.5 million a year as of this summer, based on the average yearly cost of $35,000. That’s the cost overrun we have documentation for. It was probably much larger. 

Half the roughly 700 convicted sex offenders in prison four years ago were waiting for evaluations to start sex offender treatment. One therapist told the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant the program “had not been fully staffed for a very long time and there had been backlogs for many years.”  The 2012 report warned the state was losing a lot of money keeping these prisoners past their minimum sentences. The Department of Corrections, in response, vowed to hire more program staff and track the problem. They did neither. Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform has heard complaints ever since from prisoners and their spouses.

Commissioner Wrenn met with 50 of our members on January 20, 2015. He said there were only six men in the backlog, but he promised to double check and get back to us. He had told us the same figure three months earlier. His deputy, Helen Hanks, said the same thing three months before that. Wrenn ignored three follow up letters. Last May his secretary said he refused to answer any of our questions. He soon denied our request for his backlog data under the Right to Know Law, saying he lacked the information we wanted. If that was true, then his department lacked any management controls. But we think Wrenn had the data. It showed a problem than he would never admit. 

Two of our board members and Rep. James Verschueren met last July with the governor’s lawyer, Atty. Mary Ann Dempsey. Verschueren said he was filing legislation to require an audit. Dempsey told us Sept. 24 that Wrenn had hired three more therapists and cut the program from 18 months to six, while denying any backlog had ever existed.  

A large backlog persisted after this hiring spree. One of those new therapists soon quit, leaving the program understaffed again. Bill Wrenn  confirmed that loss at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Audits Committee on April 5, 2016. In addition, he announced the director of the sex offender program program had also quit. This upheaval should be one target of the upcoming audit. When an agency under pressure loses its manager, that process demands a full review. 

Wrenn testified that the backlog had been as high as 50 or 60 inmates, and that 15 prisoners are still going to pass their minimum sentences before completing the program. We believe his statement grossly underestimated the fiscal and human cost a rigorous five year audit would show. We believe the backlog has never been fewer than 50 or 60 people in recent years, and it was probably far larger. We know of too many inmates who left prison a year, two years and three years after their minimum sentences expired because of this mismanagement.

Two criminal defense lawyers in the past year successfully petitioned Superior Court judges to order more than a dozen sex offenders into treatment ahead of other prisoners on the wait list. Three months after the hiring binge the Parole Board demanded improvements to the sex offender program from Wrenn. The backlog was still stopping at least two prisoners per month from getting out, according to Parole Board officials. 

The Parole Board, by the way, defers in granting parole to a sex offender until the Administrative Review Board within the prison makes its recommendation on that person. Sex offenders have a de facto Parole Board they never meet with. It votes in secret for or against them. We don’t know if the Administrative Review Board also takes secret testimony from sex offense victims. It very well may. The Department of Corrections wrote SB 338 this term to let victims keep giving secret testimony to the Parole Board. The bill was tabled on the Senate floor after Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform testified against it. There is nothing in statute or rule making to support this opaque process. Sex offenders face two Parole Boards. The one with real power does not publish minutes. Nor does it exist in written policy. 

We went to the Joint Legislative Audits Committee twice hoping it would launch an audit of the sex offender treatment program. Sen. John Reagan, its chairman, killed our audit request at the committee’s Feb. 29 meeting. “It’s been successful in the House,” Reagan said. “It sounds like it will be successful in the Senate, and then that will be the law, and then it will be ordered.” 

Sen. Reagan made the Senate floor motion to kill HB 1113.  But he kept his promise to fellow senators to audit the sex offender treatment program through the Joint Audits Committee. It is a tragedy when inmates miss parole through no fault of their own. And it costs the state far more to house a prisoner inside the walls than on the outside. Much could be gained by finding out what went wrong with the sex offender program for so many years, how expensively it went wrong, and how well the program is working now. It doesn’t seem to be working at all.

Sex Offender Program Audit by the Legislative Budget Assistant, Nov.  2012

Observation No. 8

Provide Sexual Offender Treatment Services In A Timely Manner 

The DOC sexual offender treatment services program (Program) had backlogs of male inmates needing assessments and services at the NHSP IM. It is DOC policy "to provide all sexual offenders with access to appropriate sexual offender treatment services as clinically indicated. The goal of such services is to eliminate sexual victimization through responsible and ethical treatment of incarcerated offenders." During the audit period, the DOC provided male inmates with three levels of services: 1) an 18-month intensive sexual offender treatment, 2) cognitive behavioral treatment, and 3) relapse prevention treatment. Vacancies in Program staffing reportedly resulted in reduced services for sexual offenders. One Program employee reported the Program had not been fully staffed for a very long period of time and there had been backlogs for years. 


The Program Administrator reported staffing vacancies have led to backlogs in initial screening assessments, which determine the level of treatment each sexual offender needs. Priority was given to those offenders with approaching parole hearing dates. The Program Administrator estimated there were 350 sexual offenders waiting for an initial assessment as of July 2012. The DOC is required by Administrative Rule and DOC policy to have enough staff to assess inmates' needs for SOTS in a timely manner. Assessments should be conducted by Program staff whenever possible within two years of an offender's minimum parole eligibility date. 


There is no direct requirement for SOTS to be provided to eligible inmates in a timely manner (i.e., prior to their minimum parole eligibility date) like assessments. Program personnel, the Assistant Commissioner, the Director of the Division of Medical and Forensic Services, a Parole Board member and a Parole Board employee, and New Hampshire Legal Assistance lawyers stated sexual offenders had not been offered SOTS in a timely manner. By not offering sexual offenders court-ordered SOTS in a timely manner, sexual offenders may be less likely to be paroled when they reach their minimum parole eligibility date. As a result, the DOC may be needlessly paying for and keeping inmates in prison longer than necessary. In addition, if SOTS cannot be provided timely, sexual offenders may choose to serve out their maximum sentence, if completing SOTS does not have the potential to reduce their prison term. 

Program Changes In Calendar Year 2012

The DOC recently started to electronically track SOTS program data; in the past, tracking SOTS data was a manual process. Given staff turnover and lack of Program data during the audit period, it was difficult to determine if the number of positions assigned to the Program had an impact on providing services in a timely manner while the DOC operated the 18-month intensive program. In May of 2012, subsequent to our audit period, the Program reportedly stopped providing services in one of two units housing sexual offenders. According to the Administrator, the Program used to offer interim treatment services to inmates who were waiting for the 18- month intensive treatment to begin; however, this was discontinued because of staff vacancies. Additionally, the DOC started to implement a new treatment schedule having the potential to reduce the 18-month long intensive treatment down to an individually based treatment program which may only take six months. According to the Program Administrator, the reorganized program will still provide the same types of services, but in a shorter time frame. 


We recommend the DOC: 

*develop and maintain a system to identify, organize, and track inmates requesting SOTS assessments, along with their minimum parole eligibility dates, to identify backlogs in services; 

*include backlog information in its annual reports and in budgetary requests to the Legislature; 

  • establish specific policy goals and procedures for offering SOTS to inmates prior to their minimum parole eligibility date; and 
  • determine its staffing needs for the revised and shorter treatment Program. 

Auditee Response: 

We concur In Part. We concur with the recommendation to develop and maintain a system to identify, organize, and track inmates requesting SOTS assessments, along with their minimum parole eligibility dates, to identify backlogs in the system. The Department has already developed an electronic reporting system to track inmates pending the need for SOTS assessment to facilitate efficiency and accuracy in the system. A report is generated automatically based on information within our electronic inmate management system (CORIS). The variables included in the report are the following: offender name, date of birth, offender ID number, facility location, booking date, whether the offense is eligible under the sexually violent predator law, total number of sexual offenses charged, and most current assessment date. We will be adding the minimum sentence date to the report. 

We concur in part with the recommendation to include backlog information in the annual reports and in budgetary requests to the legislature. We do not concur that quality improvement measures of this type should be included in the annual report. However, we do include this information in our Continuous Quality Improvement Plan developed for each fiscal year. Since our newly re-defined SOTS curriculum and reporting system has been in place, we have demonstrated a higher rate of successful completion of the program and a higher number of assessments completed every week. 

We concur with the recommendation to establish specific goals and procedures for offering SOTS to inmates prior to their minimum parole eligibility date. We will modify our existing policy to reflect our department goal of providing the SOTS to inmates prior to their minimum parole eligibility date. 

We concur with the recommendation to determine the staffing needs as we implement our newly revised treatment curriculum

By Chris Dornin, co-founder, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, 603-228-9610,