Jail officer seeks burglary conviction pardon
A man who spent nine months in jail for a string of burglaries is seeking a pardon so he can spend more time behind bars.
Thomas Schoolcraft was a 19-year-old with a ninth-grade education when he pleaded guilty in 2004 to breaking into homes in several Seacoast communities. Since then, he’s earned a bachelor’s degree and has a job as a corrections officer at the Cheshire County jail, but he wants a pardon so he can further pursue a law enforcement career.
“I’m not claiming my case is a miscarriage of justice. In fact, the justice system worked swiftly and fairly in my experience,” he told the governor and Executive Council yesterday. “But like the last two pardons granted by the state in the last 30 years or so, I, too, have made great progress not only in staying away from trouble but turning my life around and finding the good that can come out of a bad situation.”
Pardons rarely have been granted in New Hampshire in recent decades. In the most recent case, a mother of three was pardoned in 2011 for a felony escape conviction dating back to 1982 when she climbed out of the window of a police cruiser. Keith McNeil was pardoned in 2003 on a domestic violence conviction that prevented him from deploying to Iraq with his National Guard unit.
Although felons aren’t barred from employment in New Hampshire’s county jails, Schoolcraft would need a pardon to work in a state prison, the probation or parole system or for other law enforcement agencies.
“This is a very unusual path, and it becomes very difficult to navigate with a criminal record, but to me, this is my way of giving back,” said Schoolcraft, now 28.
No one spoke in opposition to Schoolcraft’s request, but Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams noted Schoolcraft’s accomplishments are what the public should expect from a justice and correctional system that provides opportunities for rehabilitation.
“Compared to the peer group he came out of, he’s accomplished a lot. Compared to the real world? He did what we would want him to do,” he said.
Reams described Schoolcraft’s crimes, saying that although the homes he broke into were unoccupied most of the time, a woman was home sleeping during one late-night intrusion. Other homeowners were traumatized to discover their homes had been entered and their phone lines cut, he said.
“It’s much more upsetting to people than the system sometimes acknowledges,” Reams said.
Cheshire County officials stand firmly behind Schoolcraft’s hiring while those in other counties have proposed policy changes that would block those in his position from gaining employment.
“He is a pawn in an ongoing, difficult struggle,” said John Pratt, chairman of the Cheshire County commissioners. “We strongly believe that the house of correction must – and I emphasize must – stand for the proposition that lives can be reclaimed, that redemption is not a pipe dream.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan and the five-member council are scheduled to make a decision at their Sept. 4 meeting.