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Proposed parole change draws ire of law enforcement

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

December 06. 2017 12:19AM




CONCORD — Parole officers and others in law enforcement are up in arms about a proposed change to parole procedures that they claim is too lenient on parole violators.

The New England Police Benevolent Association harshly criticized a Tuesday vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on HB 143, which gives the Adult Parole Board more discretion in deciding whether to send parole violators back to jail.

“Our concern is simply public safety,” said Brian Bernard, a vice president of the New Hampshire Police Association who represents parole and probation officers. “If these parolees are not sanctioned for their bad behavior, then the public remains at risk when they continue to offend without consequences.”

Adult Parole Board Chair and former House Speaker Donna Sytek describes the bill as a common sense measure that will enable the board to direct more offenders into drug treatment, rather than having them “spend 90 days cooling their heels.”

The way the law currently stands, the parole board is required to re-incarcerate parole violators for a minimum of 90 days if they were on parole for a sex crime, a violent crime, or if the parole violation was related to the initial offense or “offending pattern.”

The 90-day minimum is also required for all second or third parole violations.

HB 143, which passed the House on a voice vote, would strike that criteria, and leave the matter entirely up to the parole board if it determines “that a lesser period of recommittal will aid in the rehabilitation of the parolee.”

After passing the House, the bill was voted “inexpedient to legislate” by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but when it came to the full Senate, it was referred back to the Judiciary Committee on a motion made by Sen. Sharon Carson, a committee member.

On Tuesday, the committee voted to amend the bill to reinstate the criteria, but added a provision that gives the Parole Board wide discretion to suspend any re-incarceration for a parole violator if he or she “enters and successfully completes a residential or intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program deemed acceptable by the board.”

“Right now, the statute requires that a parole violator who comes back and is found to have violated his parole provisions goes back to the prison for at least 90 days,” said Sytek after the vote. “The original idea was that during those 90 days, they would get some kind of treatment, but that has never been the case; they are spending 90 days cooling their heels.”

Sytek said in many cases, the parolee needs substance abuse disorder treatment, and in some cases they are able to get a bed in a period shorter than 90 days. “So we want the ability to refer someone who is a parole violator who’s got a drug problem and has the ability to get a treatment bed, to be able to do so,” she said.

To the Police Benevolent Association, that still makes it too easy for the Parole Board to grant what Benard called “a free pass,” simply by agreeing to go to a drug or alcohol treatment program three days a week, no matter the nature of the parole violation or the underlying offense.

“Allowing parolees to remain free after violating their terms of release puts the burden back on the men and women who are desperately trying to keep the public safe by reporting the violations to the Adult Parole Board, which has ignored the rules and allowed these criminals to remain free,” according to the PBA statement released after the Senate committee vote.

Sytek says the parole board is trying to adapt to the opioid addiction epidemic.

“With the opioid crisis and so many of our parolees having substance abuse disorders, the opportunity for treatment is something the parole board is strongly in favor of,” she said. “We don’t know how long Medicaid expansion is going to be around to support the treatment that is currently available, so we want to get a many people into treatment as we can.”

The House and Senate must now reconcile their differences and pass an identical bill for Gov. Chris Sununu’s signature or veto.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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