Ex-convicts complain of treatment after their release from jail at legislative hearings
CONCORD - Supporters of the rights of criminal offenders turned out at legislative hearings on procedural matters Tuesday to complain about the way they are treated after serving their time.
The House Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on bills to study the state's use of the sex offender registry and to add another means of notifying victims that an offender is up for parole.
Offenders complained that the sex offender registry overstates offenses in some instances, while parole advocates said that hearings sometimes amount to a new trial on the effect on victims.
The committee heard testimony at a hearing on a bill to establish a five-member study committee. The panel would be charged with looking into the way the sex offender registry is used and whether changes should be made in to provisions determining under what circumstances offenders can ask the courts to remove them from the registry.
The state registry provides for classification of sex offenders into general categories ranked according to the severity of the crime on which the offender was convicted. The hearing brought out a handful of sex offenders who testified of the hardships that being on the registry present, and supporters of strong requirements for registration of people convicted of sex crimes and its impact on their ability to obtain employment.
Laurie Peterson, a Manchester-area resident, told the panel that her husband was required to register as a tier 3 offender and said she knew firsthand of the difficulties that registration pose for the families of people convicted of sex crimes.
"Registration laws do not just target the offenders; they target everyone living in the home with the offender," Peterson said. "His or her children, his or her spouse, and even sometimes the victims of sexual abuse all carry the burden that public registration imposes."
But Amanda Grady, public policy director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence argued that New Hampshire's registry law was toughened a few years ago, with good reason.
"We were becoming a magnet for sex offenders," Grady said. "We need consistency with the rest of the states so that we don't become attractive for sex offenders."
Both sides will get an opportunity to argue for and against modifying the requirements for sex offender registration if the special committee is formed. A prior effort at a special study collapsed under the weight of the number of participants. The current proposal would create a committee of five lawmakers - three from the House and two from the Senate. Supporters said rather than make members of various interest groups members of the panel, it can operate more efficiently as a special committee of the legislature and call on others to provide input.
Parole hearing notice
The criminal justice panel also considered a bill that would change the notification requirements for parole hearings. Current law provides that the adult parole board provide notice at least 15 days prior to a parole hearing to the victim of the person seeking parole or the next of kin of a victim who has died.
Legislation filed by Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, would allow the notice to be provided by the state Department of Corrections as well.
Committee members noted that critics of the current parole system claim that the appearance of victims at hearings often turns a parole hearing into a new trial on the harms suffered at the hands of the convict, and that victims have already been considered by judges in imposing sentence. But Cushing told panel members that argument was misplaced in a hearing on his proposal to allow the notice of the parole hearing to be sent by corrections officials.
"This is about who notifies, not who has the right to be there," Cushing said. "It just promotes administrative efficiency."