What We Do - Summary

Our main task has been in advocating for changes within the NH legislation that focuses on rehabilitation, restoration and reintegration.  We are often at the State House speaking for or against bills that directly affect people being charged with a crime, inmates, and parolees. We draft our own legislative bills and speak for and against many others.  We often need help here!

Our group has been networking for almost 10 years with a dozen like-minded nonprofit organizations to educate the public, the press and lawmakers about restorative justice. That’s the kind that protects the public, offenders, their families and taxpayers better than warehousing people as long as possible at great expense until they go free, often worse off and arguably more dangerous than they went in. This joint effort has produced many positive results. Let me highlight just a few:

Earned Time Bill

As you may have heard our bill on inmate earned time was passed into law and signed by the governor. This will assist many inmates in getting out of prison earlier and reunited with their families.  This was one of our major accomplishments.

Repeal the Death Penalty

We fought hard against the NH death penalty and almost so it repealed.   Several CCJR board members have become active supporters of the New Hampshire Coalition Against the Death Penalty. That issue was one of our top research projects and CCJR is an official partner with the Coalition.  http://nodeathpenaltynh.org/organizational-members/

Shipping inmates to Other States

Back in 2011 both CCJR and an inmate family support group called Families Now Involved helped muster strong opposition to a bill that would have shipped 600 inmates out of state to the lowest bidder to help balance the budget.  At CCJR’s call forty people from the Families Now Involved support group showed up and told lawmakers they could never travel to Kentucky or Arizona to stay in touch with loved ones.  The coalition helped to kill a bill to extend the deadline of the legislative committee developing a long range plan to privatize the New Hampshire prison system and the shipping of NH inmates out to other states.

Compensation for Wrongful Incarceration

We wrote a bill this term to increase the payment to a prisoner wrongfully incarcerated. Today that person would receive a flat $20,000 award no matter how many years they served. House Bill 247 would pay them $20,000 for each year behind bars. The bill came out of committee with 10-9 support, but most members agreed it was the right thing to do morally. Opponents said the state has no money to make whole someone it has harmed so grievously. The bill passed by a strong voice vote in the House and went to the Senate Judiciary Committee where we hope it will pass.

Women’s Prison

We were instrumental in the planning of the new women’s prison and former board member, and ex inmate, Becky McGuire spoke to the state leadership about the need for specific programming that deals with women’s issues.

Sex Offender Issues

Recently we have been focused on laws that govern the conviction, sentencing and reintegration of people convicted of sexual crimes.

Stopping a badge-wearing sex offender vigilante

Thanks to several of our board members, a campus police officer from Plymouth State University has stopped demonizing sex offenders, deliberately or accidentally, at school assemblies all across New Hampshire. We know it happened more than once.

Detective Jennifer Frank reportedly humiliated both the children and victims of sex offenders at Fall Mountain High School and Cawley Middle School several years ago by projecting the Internet mug shots and rap sheets of local registrants in front of the school. The idea was to warn kids about the bad guys watching their Facebook pages from CyberSpace. 

That’s not all she accomplished. The tech-savvy kids instantly recognized the fathers of classmates and incest victims with the same last names as perpetrators. Some of them were traumatized, and then later bullied. We spoke to several students and their parents about it. The matter took us months of investigation, followed by some tough negotiations with a Plymouth State dean, to get the college to rein in its traveling Internet safety ambassador to public schools. The school never admitted wrong doing, but agreed to stop doing it. Our side decided to incorporate as Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform so we could better speak for 30,000 prisoners, parolees, probationers and their loved ones against the next demagogue. And the ones after that!

Raising money to challenge the sex offender public registry

In the same vein, we are trying to raise as much as $10,000 to help pay for expert witnesses in a proposed class action suit challenging the sex offender public registry.

Residency Restrictions

We are currently writing the last four towns with residency restrictions for former offenders and their families, informing them of the unconstitutional nature of these laws and putting hem on notice that they may face a legal suit. Our attorney will send this letter and we are prepared to take them to court.

DOC and Inmate Issues

While most of the efforts described involves NH laws and legislative fights, the majority if not all are on behalf of inmates and their families. We are actually deeply concerned and focused on the DOC system and the people they represent.

Inmates and their friends and family are the reason we do what we do. Frankly, good people can and do some dumb even very bad things.  We care about people and believe that everyone is worthy of forgiveness and a second chance. 

We also believe that family support and involvement is vital to any incarcerated person’s well being and their rehabilitation; as well as key to that person successfully reintegrating back into society – remaining crime free.

Weekly I receive desperate letters from inmates, call from spouses or parents concerning their loved ones. Issues involving prison and staff abuse, solitary confinement for months at a time, beatings, programming, etc.   In the last two weeks my office phone has rung almost daily with calls from inmates who are going over their minimum sentence due to the inability of timely SO programming.

On my desk sits 5 new letters from individuals about this programming issue.  We are looking into helping them with DOC intervention and possible court motions.

Inmate Communications Committee

Our Founder Chris Dornin regularly meets with the Inmate Communications Committee inside the state prison. This committee focuses on the needs and issues behind the walls and gives us keen insight.

While all the work on laws, and policies are vital and so important my heart is actually more interested in hands on involvement with people. As an ordained minister and professional counselor I have been involved with many parolees offering counseling, marriage and wedding services and simple friendship and encouragement. I have often written individuals I have heard or read about in the news facing prosecution or sentencing to Concord giving them what insight and advice I feel might be helpful. 

I receive inmate letters from Concord and all over the country and do my best to answer each and every one. 

My wife and I open our home for special gatherings of former single inmates and those with spouses for Christmas and other times of fellowship.  These have been special times of encouragement and support from people who share the same struggles.  They share openly with each their pain, fears, joys and successes. This type of support is invaluable.

I wish CCJR was able to do what we do and offer family support too.  Time, resources and volunteers are hard to come by. We are overwhelmed with more than we can do right now. 

In November our board traveled to Keene, NH. To meet with a group of local citizens (many on the state registry) about the murder of a Keene registrant and the mistaken attack of a neighbor thought to be sex offender.  There is a lot of concern and issues in that area.  We were pleased to have two state representatives and the Keene Assistant County Attorney join us.  We also met with the Keene Police twice in order to apply pressure to solve this case and prevent further incidents. 

My dream!

I would love to see CCJR grow large enough to actually have a down town office and not only continue what we do, but offer counseling and support services for inmate families.

There is a lot to do. The need is great! The work is often difficult!!  Yet, touching lives and be touched by them in return is a great blessing. There really isn’t any greater work than helping people turn their lives around, and seeing families healed and restored.  The past definitely doesn’t have to dictate the future!

We are in a tremendous battle for groups of individuals and their families most of society would rather forget, or better still lock them up for time and eternity.  On both sides of the prison walls I have been deeply touched by the lives and stories of people who have made mistakes and some who have committed horrific acts. 

While there are instances of people with severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking, most people with criminal convictions are redeemable. What they and their families long to know is that others believe in that possibility and there is a system that offers the opportunity. 

Good people do bad things, and prison alone will never change anyone for the better.  We need people to help stand in the gap and become a voice for logic, fairness, justice and rehabilitation.  Help us advocate for the best smart practices in corrections that actually work and keep the community safer.

I would like to invite you to attend one or more board meetings as our guest and I encourage you to ask specific questions of the board before making a final decision on accepting an official position should one be offered.

If you would are willing to that, please let me know

A two-year fight to block for-profit prisons  

We helped muster strong opposition to a bill in 2011 that would have shipped 600 inmates out of state to the lowest bidder to help balance the budget. Forty people from the Families Now Involved support group for inmates showed up at our call and told lawmakers they could never travel to Kentucky or Arizona to stay in touch with loved ones. 

The amended bill asked the state to seek bids from private prison firms to take over almost the whole corrections system. It also created a legislative commission that went through the motions of studying the issue for a year. We worked closely with the League of Women Voters, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, the Civil Liberties Union, the Defense Attorneys Association, the American Friends Service Committee, and the State Employees Association in fighting privatization on several fronts. The committee ignored their testimony and still recommended shipping 1,200 inmates out of state.

Our fledgling alliance met almost weekly for the following year to keep the state from accepting one of the four ensuing bids to privatize the New Hampshire prison system. The coalition became an informal organization called Prison Watch, complete with a savvy website and a public information campaign built around seven showings of the film “Billions Behind Bars,” a scathing documentary on prison profiteering.

The alliance went on to sponsor a bill this term to stop private prisons, House Bill 443, which prevailed by a vote of 197-136 on the House floor March 21, 2013. A related bill strongly backed by the same coalition.

Putting limits on solitary confinement

Two of our board members met during the fall of 2012 with the Civil Liberties Union to explore ways to control and monitor the state’s most aversive punishment short of the death penalty. The result was House Bill 480 to study the use of punitive segregation and impose strict criteria for its use. The Department of Corrections opposed the bill as unnecessary, but the committee retained it for further study this summer. That was a good outcome. A key issue was the complete lack of data on the state’s existing use of solitary.  Supporters will work with lawmakers and officials over the summer on a bill that could return to play in January.