NH House told parole bill would not apply to violent offenders

By Grant Bosse on October 7, 2010
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(CONCORD) A controversial change in New Hampshire’s parole law that forced the early release of child sexual predators was pitched to New Hampshire lawmakers as only applying to nonviolent offenders. House records show that the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee believed Senate Bill 500 would not change the status of violent criminals.

Rep. Stephen Shurtleff (D-Concord) summarized the Committee’s recommendation in favor of SB 500 in the April 16, 2010 House Calendar.

The parole system will also undergo a number of reforms, but two very important facts will not change: violent offenders will still be subject to the jurisdiction and discretion of the parole board and New Hampshire’s truth in sentencing law will remain intact. Nonviolent offenders will be subject to release after serving 120% of their minimum sentence, including the disciplinary period required by law. (Emphasis added)

Shurtleff also writes that the bill was amended to exempt crimes related to domestic violence from the nonviolent category. Contrary to Shurtleff’s report, the new law removed the State Adult Parole Board’s discretion. It mandates the release of criminals nine months before the end of their maximum sentences in order to ensure that they were under supervision during their first months outside of prison.

In a recent Concord Monitor article, several supporters of the bill say they believed it only applied to nonviolent offenders. Senator Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) hopes to repeal part of the law when the Legislature reconvenes to consider several gubernatorial vetoes next week.

“My understanding was that it was for nonviolent offenders only. Upon a more careful reading now, I see there’s one part where it says all offenders, not just nonviolent offenders.”

Despite his earlier writing, Shurtleff now claims that the bill was always intended to apply to all prisoners nearing the end of their sentences.

“This was no surprise to anybody. As for dealing with violent offenders, that was the whole intent of the law.”

The bill has become a hot-button issue in the campaign for Governor. Republican challenger John Stephen charges Governor John Lynch with mismanagement, while Lynch counters that Stephen is trying to scare the public. When Stephen first raised his criticism in August, Lynch’s campaign accused Stephen of misleading voters, according to an August 13, 2010 article in the Union Leader.

Stephen spokesperson Greg Moore said, “Governor Lynch could have easily demanded that either all sexual offenders be made ineligible for early release or that he would veto the bill, but he didn’t. Instead, he signed a bill that made some sex offenders ineligible for early parole but left others eligible.”

“Gov. Lynch passed a law to increase prison sentences for sex offenders – and this law doesn’t change that,” Walsh said. “Sex offenders will go to prison, and they will stay there for a long time. It is clear that John Stephen would rather offer misleading attacks than realistic plans to help New Hampshire’s workers and families.”

While the new law counts on expanded supervision of newly released inmates, it does not provide any additional funds to establish those programs. Members of the Parole Board protested the new law, arguing it removes their discretion to limit parole to inmates willing to seek rehabilitation. The first wave of inmates to receive the mandatory early release on September 23, 2010 included four men convicted of sex crimes, including at least one unwilling to enroll in sex offender treatment after his release.

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