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Home » News » Crime

November 03. 2012 11:39PM

Officials try to oust Cheshire County jail guard who has a record

Tom Schoolcraft's mission to turn his life around by working as a Cheshire County corrections officer in Keene so infuriated several jail superintendents across the state that they have been trying to take away the convicted felon's certification.

Their attempts - which have failed so far - also reinvigorated Schoolcraft's efforts to win pardons from Gov. John Lynch and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick for the middle-of-the-night burglaries he committed along the Seacoast when he was 19.

"It's a slap in the face to the corrections profession," said David Dionne, superintendent of Hillsborough County Department of Corrections in Manchester.

Dionne voted with the other county jail superintendents in favor of Schoolcraft's certification in June, unaware of his felony convictions. After finding out from a New Hampshire Sunday News article July 22 about Schoolcraft's efforts to leave crime behind and work in county corrections, Dionne has led the charge to take back his certification.

Schoolcraft, now 29, served eight months in the Rockingham County House of Corrections in Brentwood for his crimes. Since then, he graduated with honors from Keene State College, worked as a corrections officer in Cheshire County, and enrolled in a master's degree program in criminal justice at Boston University.

The County Corrections Certification Board, composed of superintendents of all 10 county jails, decided last month to take another vote on Schoolcraft's original certification; the result was a 4-4 tie. Betsy Miller, executive director of the New Hampshire Association of Counties, said it is the position of the NHAC board that Schoolcraft's certification stands.

Officers must be recertified every year, she said. The rules do not prohibit a felon from being certified as a county corrections officer, nor do they require convictions be disclosed to the certifying board, Miller said.

Corrections officers at New Hampshire State Prison cannot be certified if they have been convicted of a crime, according to Jeffrey Lyons, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. County rules will likely be changed to prevent felons from being certified, Dionne said.

"I want the pardon board to see that half the superintendents in the state want me fired, decertified," Schoolcraft said. "My career is being threatened because people are embarrassed that I've done something with my life."?

That the same superintendents who talk about rehabilitation want to block his efforts surprised him, Schoolcraft said.

"I've lived up to their goal and exceeded it, yet they are angry and embarrassed by my victory. This speaks volumes about those in charge of the corrections system in N.H.," Schoolcraft said in a letter to Lynch.

Dionne said he has worked for 28 years in Hillsborough County to improve the reputation of corrections officers.

"This was something that took years to build, and now just days to destroy," Dionne said in an email to his counterparts after reading the article.

Dionne is angry that Schoolcraft's boss, Rick Van Wickler, superintendent of Cheshire County Department of Corrections, withheld Schoolcraft's convictions when submitting his name for a certification vote in June.

"I call that deceitful," Dionne said.

Schoolcraft took a course from Van Wickler, an adjunct professor at Keene State College, then interned at the jail and later asked Van Wickler for a job.

Van Wickler declined to comment last week, calling it a personnel matter, but has spoken out in favor of Schoolcraft in the past, saying there is a lot riding on Schoolcraft's success for both of them.

"If I didn't give him a chance, and said I believe in rehabilitation, that would be a falsehood," Van Wickler said.

John Pratt, chairman of the Cheshire County Commissioners, supports Van Wickler and Schoolcraft.

"Our superintendent Rick Van Wickler was not as forthright with them (certification board) as they would have wanted. It's a battle of the superintendents and Schoolcraft is the pawn," Pratt said.

Schoolcraft wants to be pardoned because his convictions will continue to be public. If a judge were to annul them, they would be erased from his record. He would also have to wait another three years to petition for annulment in New Hampshire.

"I feel like I have overcome everything they asked," Schoolcraft said. "And I want to move forward with my career and give back to society."

For Dionne, it's a matter of conscience.

"I couldn't in good conscience support certifying someone with a felony record," Dionne said.

"If (Schoolcraft) had it annulled or pardoned, and then became a corrections officer, I'd have no problem."


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Nancy West may be reached at nwest@unionleader.com.


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