Prison Reform

LFDA Editor

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, New Hampshire's prison population has more than doubled since 1990.  The state's population has grown just a fifth during the same time period.

As a result, New Hampshire's prison system is facing overcrowding and rising costs.

Returning Inmates

The overcrowding in New Hampshire's prison system is due in part to the large number of returning inmates.

A report released in June 2012 from the state Department of Corrections said nearly half of inmates released from the state prison since 2007 have returned to prison.

In 2010 the state legislature tried to reduce overcrowding and recidivism through SB 500, a bill that transferred more offenders to community programs before their release date.  The program was aimed at helping inmates transition, therefore decreasing the number of inmates that return to prison after release.

However, in 2011 the Republican-controlled Legislature repealed the early release program over concerns that violent offenders were released without adequate supervision. SB 52, the repeal bill, excludes "persons convicted of violent crimes and sexually violent persons from mandatory early release on probation or parole."

In recent years, the Legislature has also considered bills to reduce inmates' sentences in return for completing education and/or rehabilitation programs. Supporters argue that education programs help inmates reintegrate with society, and therefore reduce recidivism.  Opponents are concerned that victims and the public may not have a say in the reduced sentences.

Aging Inmates

From 2001 to 2013, the percentage of New Hampshire prisoners age fifty and older increased from 6% to 21%. 

An older prison population means rising medical costs for the state.  According to an October 2013 study from the Pew Charitable Trusts, New Hampshire has the second highest cost per inmate nationally.

One way New Hampshire manages the cost of older prisoners is a medical parole law, which releases inmates who are permanently medically incapacitated and pose no threat to public safety.  The first inmate released in NH on medical parole saved the state $40,000 in medical costs that year.  On the other hand, some argue that prisoners should not be paroled for medical reasons alone.

Gender Inequality

In 2012 four female inmates filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections charging that New Hampshire treats male and female inmates inequitably. 

The lawsuit followed a 2011 report compiled by the New Hampshire State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, which found that female inmates in New Hampshire are housed in inferior facilities, offered less vocational training, and given inferior mental health treatment.

In 2013 the state legislature approved $38 million for a new women's prison in Concord.  That facility will share some staff with the men's prison in Concord to minimize costs.

The new women's prison is expected to open in 2016.  The lawsuit has been suspended during construction.

Prison privatization the answer?

In 2012 the New Hampshire Executive Branch released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a private prison. 

Supporters of prison privatization argued that a private company could solve overcrowding and inequalities, all while generating revenue. 

Opponents of prison privatization argued that for-profit prison companies have a financial incentive to keep prisons full, contrary to the state's goal of rehabilitation.  Opponents also pointed to studies of prisoner maltreatment in private facilities.

Four companies answered the RFP; the Executive Branch found that none of the proposals met legal requirements.

Other Alternatives

Some advocates argue that the prison population should be reduced by eliminating criminal penalties for drug use.  For more information, see the Marijuana Decriminalization issue page.

Given the large percentage of inmates suffering from mental illness, others argue that public mental health services are the answer to decrease the prison population.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Passed House

Allows the parole board greater discretion in choosing to recommit someone for less than 90 days for a parole violation.

Killed in the House

Changes the procedures for work release programs for prisoners, so that a prisoner must be in the last year of his minimum sentence, but the Commissioner of Corrections is not required to notify the courts and prosecutors of the release. This bill also allows release for higher education, not just employment or public service.

Killed in the House

Amends the Department of Corrections rulemaking authority over rehabilitation program standards to add the phrase, "to best serve the inmate population and to facilitate sentence reductions."

In Committee

Makes changes to procedures for awarding earned time credits to prisoners. Changes would include sentence reductions for each course successfully completed towards a high school diploma, for each vocational training program completed, for earning a master's certificate in correctional industries and for participation in other programs valuable to a prisoner's rehabilitation.

Killed in the House

Prohibits New Hampshire government from using private prisons. This bill also regulates immigration detention facilities, for example prohibiting the use of a private contractor for a detention facility.

In Committee

Establishes new standards and procedures for the use of long-term isolation confinement in state correctional facilities. For example, this bill gives inmates a right to a hearing before being held in long-term isolation.

Signed by Governor

Increases the amount deducted from a person’s fine for each day of a person’s incarceration from $50 per day to $150 per day.

Killed in the House

Limits the use of solitary confinement - for example forbidding solitary confinement for prisoners under age eighteen - and establishes a committee to study the use of solitary confinement.

Killed in the House

Requires the sentencing court to grant a prisoner's petition for earned time credits whenever the prisoner has substantially reduced, through self-improvement efforts, the threat he or she poses to the public.

Interim Study

Establishes a commission to study the feasibility of suspending Medicaid benefits when a person enters a state institution or county correctional facility instead of terminating such benefits.

Signed by Governor

Reduces prison sentences for prisoners who earn a Master's or Doctorate degree.

Killed in the House

Establishes a committee to study the use of solitary confinement in New Hampshire.

Killed in the House

Limits the use of solitary confinement - for example forbidding solitary confinement for prisoners under age eighteen - and establishes a committee to study the use of solitary confinement.

Killed in the House

Requires the prosecuting attorney to submit written justification for incarceration in order to sentence a non-violent offender to jail or prison.

Signed by Governor

Originally written to increase the amount deducted from a person’s fine for each day of a person’s incarceration. The Senate amended the bill to instead regulate body cameras for law enforcement officers.

Killed in the House

Increases the penalty for parole offenders.

Killed in the House

Establishes a committee to study state and county departments of corrections, particularly whether the county system is the most efficient option.

Signed by Governor

Eliminates some mandatory minimum sentences for driving with a revoked or suspended license.

Interim Study

Eliminates mandatory minimum sentences.

Signed by Governor

Establishes earned time credits for prisoners in education and/or rehabilitative programs.

Tabled in the House

Raises the age for delinquency proceedings from seventeen to eighteen years-old.

Killed in the House

Decreases the length of time served by prisoners with consecutive sentences.

Interim Study

Eliminates mandatory minimum sentences.

Interim Study

Requires probation violators to serve their sentences at a state prison facility, not a county correctional facility.

Signed by Governor

Makes some changes to parole and parole board procedures.

Killed in the Senate

Bans prison privatization.

Killed in the House

Authorizes earned time credits for inmates participating in rehabilitative programming.

Killed in the House

Requires prisoners age 17-21 to complete the requirements for a high school diploma or GED before parole or probation.

Killed in the House

Raises the threshold between juvenile and adult offenders from seventeen to eighteen years-old.

Signed by Governor

Repeals early release programs for inmates convicted of violent crimes.

Signed by Governor

Transfers more offenders to community programs prior to their release date.

Should NH reform sentencing and/or parole laws to decrease the prison population?

FOR
REPRESENTATIVES

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Comments

Rich Magoon
- Loudon

Sun, 11/24/2013 - 11:42am

  • Think.  There are two opposing view points. The popular and politically correct is that evil people belong in prison, especially sex offenders.  The opposing view point is rehabilitation, an unpopular view point, because no one has a universal answer.
  • Questions:  Which offender is a danger to society? What is the risk that society is willing assume?  The problem will only get worst. I suggest that we revisit our drug enforcement laws.
  • Legalize marijuana!   80% of our prison population is there for drug related crimes  Its been over thirty years ago that the US began its war on drugs.. At that time no one for saw the cost in lives and money.
  • Assuming that someone knows that he will not be denied medical care in prison, he/she intensionally breaks the law to get medical treatment. The state has created a situation where he/she will not be sentenced to prison for medical reasons. There has got to be an alternative solution.

The alternative solution is the prisoner's family and friend ties.  When the prison system breaks off the prisoner's roots, he/she is bound to return to prison life. The correctional system must do more to restore the bonding of family/friends with the inmate.

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Issue Status

Prison reform measures in the 2017 legislative session dealt with work release programs, rehabilitation program standards, and changes to procedures for earned time credits. See the Legislative History section elsewhere on this page for an update on their status.

Rep. Peter Schmidt, D-Dover, filed four LSRs having to do with the prison system: HB 755 relative to a prison's participation in the work release program, HB 756 relative to rules relating to prison rehabilitation programs and inmate health, HB 757 to require a judge to state the estimated cost of a prison sentence in the pre-sentencing report, and HB 761 relative to earned time credits for prisoners participating in rehabilitative or educational programs.

The 2016 session of the state Legislature passed and Gov. Maggie Hassan signed HB 1426, which gives earned time credits to prisoners participating in rehabilitative educational programming. See the Legislative History section elsewhere on this page.

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