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November 21. 2012 10:41PM

Pardon request delayed for corrections officer with conviction

CONCORD - The Attorney General's Office has temporarily withdrawn a pardon request for a convicted home burglar who went to jail and turned his life around to become a Cheshire County corrections officer.

Thomas K. Schoolcraft, 27, of Keene had his named placed before the state's Executive Council Oct. 19 for a pardon hearing by Attorney General Michael A. Delaney. But on Nov. 14, the agency withdrew the request without elaborating.

Ann Rice of the Department of Justice said Tuesday that Schoolcraft's pardon hearing request and that of James Russo, another pardon applicant, were pulled because there are already two requests for pardons on the council table.

She said they would be returned for consideration later when the backlog is cleared.

Some who believed that pressure from state correction officers who are not pleased with Schoolcraft's getting the job as a felon, had played a roll in the withdrawal but Rice said that is not the case.

Schoolcraft has worked the past 12 months at the Cheshire County Department of Corrections. He graduated in May from Keene State College with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, cum laude, and is now enrolled at Boston University, where he is pursuing his master's degree in Criminal Justice.

He was convicted of a Class B Felony, burglary. The offenses happened between December 2003 and July 2004 with thefts in Rye, Seabrook and Hampton. He pleaded guilty in July 2005 and sentenced to 12 months in the house of correction.

He said jail opened up opportunities for education. He said the burglaries at age 19 had "nothing to do with substance abuse in any way. I felt that as a high school dropout I would never be able to make anything out of my life.

"I made these choices because I thought I had no other viable options. This is not an excuse but rather a reason that motivated me to chose to do the wrong thing."

But 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.

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

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.

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.

"My career is being threatened because people are embarrassed that I've done something with my life," Schoolcraft said in an interview earlier this fall.

Schoolcraft could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

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New Hampshire Sunday News Reporter Nancy West contributed to this report. Paula Tracy may be reached at ptracy@unionleader.com.


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