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State joins national bail reform project

State House Bureau

March 19. 2018 9:55PM

CONCORD — New Hampshire is partnering with other states in a national campaign to reform a bail system that critics say discriminates against the poor and working class, fails to protect public safety and strains public resources.

Judge Tina Nadeau, chief justice of the Superior Court, kicked off the campaign at the State House on Monday, announcing a partnership with the national Pretrial Justice Institute and its “3 Days Count” campaign.

The name is derived from studies that show three days in jail is all it takes to turn someone’s life upside down.

The institute hopes to achieve bail reform in 20 states by 2020, based on practices already in place in states like Colorado, Kentucky and New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., which have reduced or even eliminated reliance on cash bail as a way to ensure defendants appear in court as scheduled.

So far, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Washington, and Illinois have signed on, according to Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, who was on hand for the Granite State launch.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure that dangerous people and the people with the highest risk of flight are the people being detained, and not people who simply can’t afford to post bail,” said Nadeau.

“This is the beginning of a long process. We are willing to engage in this kind of reform, but we want to have all the stakeholders — victims, law enforcement, defense — come up with New Hampshire’s idea for what will best serve our state.”

The options range from creating better tools for pre-trial evaluation of defendants to elimination of the cash or bond bail system.

“We want to take a look at what we are doing in the bail arena,” said Nadeau. “We are committed to implementing smarter pretrial justice policies here in New Hampshire. The 3 Days Count model will help us start the process of evaluating our current practices and determine the best ways to make changes and take action.”

The effort started on Monday with a presentation by Burdeen and others to the state’s Interbranch Criminal and Juvenile Justice Council.

“All across America, too many people who have not been convicted of crime are sleeping in jails simply because they cannot afford their freedom,” said Burdeen.

She cited research from a national study showing that as few as three days in jail leave many arrested people less likely to appear in court and more likely to commit new crimes, because of the stress incarceration places on fundamentals like jobs, housing and family connections.

“We don’t have a massive fugitive problem in the United States,” said Burdeen. “Most people come to court, and for those who don’t, it’s not willful. It’s typically either a system error or simply forgetting to come to court.”

New Jersey implemented bail reform in January of 2017, and over the last year reduced pretrial detention to about 5.6 percent of those arrested, issuing 44 money bonds out of 144,000 criminal cases, according to Burdeen.

Joining Burdeen and Nadeau for the project launch were Sarah Blodgett, executive director of the N.H. Judicial Council, and Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, an advocate of bail reform in the Senate.

“I’ve seen folks who were held pending their trial for no reason other than not being able to afford bail,” said Feltes, an attorney who’s done work for N.H. Legal Assistance. “They weren’t a danger or a flight risk, but they ended up losing their housing, losing their job, and their families suffered.”

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