Until 2007, New Hampshire’s prison population had been on the rise. According to the New Hampshire Center for Policy Studies, its incarceration rates continued increasing in order to keep up with, and counter, the rising crime rates. In its effort to do so, New Hampshire’s legislature enacted Truth-in-Sentencing laws that increased the number of mandatory minimums. In addition to these laws, stricter penalties were enforced for probation violations. These measures caused extremely high crime rates and overcrowded prisons.
In 2016, New Hampshire legislature began enacting prison reform laws. In May, New Hampshire passed bill that allows for offenders to petition for expungement. In June, legislators passed two laws, one bill which expedites the expungement process, and another bill which eliminates mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders convicted of operating a motor vehicle illegally. These expungement laws make it easier for ex-offenders to get jobs after incarceration.
In 2017, Governor Chris Sununu (R) signed legislation establishing protections for juvenile offenders. This measure prohibits the use of handcuffs or shackles on juveniles while in court, sets parameters for room confinement, and prohibits any state or municipal employee from advising the juvenile’s parent or guardian from waiving right to counsel. This legislation respects the dignity of juvenile offenders in court and protects them from manipulation and exploitation that could hinder their case.
In 2018 New Hampshire passed legislation that has reduced the number of inmates entering prison by implementing programs like drug courts which are offered as alternatives to imprisonment. Since this legislation, New Hampshire jails have seen a decrease in the prison population.
In 2020, lawmakers introduced a new bill that would allow prisoners serving a suspended sentence to petition to reduce the sentence. If passed, this law would allow help reduce the prison population.
There is still much to be done in New Hampshire in the realm of criminal justice reform. Recent legislation enacts measures that attempt to reduce the prison population, while improving public safety and saving taxpayer dollars.
Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.