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January 06. 2013 6:03PM

Better punishments: A Hooksett case shows need

Dale Hemeon, 57, worked for the Town of Hooksett for 21 years, ending his municipal career as director of public works. Toward the end of that tenure, he thought it would be OK to take town property, such as leaf blowers, chainsaws and generators, for his own use. He even managed to abscond with a couple of trucks and a crane, which he was convicted of selling for scrap.

Those are serious offenses. Merrimack Assistant County Attorney Wayne Coull sought eight months in prison for four misdemeanors. Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smuckler gave Hemeon six months in county jail for the misdemeanor convictions. He also gave Hemeon one to six years in state prison, suspended for five years on good behavior, for his seven felony convictions.

At Hemeon's sentencing hearing, more than 30 people showed up to ask the judge for leniency. Among them was Town Council Chairman Jim Sullivan. They described Hemeon as a "good man" who made a mistake.

It seems to us that Hemeon's behavior stretched well beyond an excusable lapse in judgment. And yet we cannot help but wonder what good will come of putting the man in jail for six months.

We call our lockups houses of "correction," but very little of that goes on. Often, people convicted of relatively small crimes become hardened behind bars. They lose their jobs, and the loss of income can cause them and their families to fall onto public assistance. They get out, and their prospects are bleak. Sometimes they are turned from wayward but still mostly productive members of society into unproductive wards of the state.

Hemeon's case is one that suggests the need for alternative forms of punishment, primarily focused on restitution. Making people pay their debts to society through work and penance can be far more effective than simply locking them up - at great public expense - for a while. We need to explore this option more seriously than we have done in the past.


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