Editorial: No need to breach parolee confidentiality
In a provocative series of recent stories, New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Nancy West raised a question that lawmakers will no doubt struggle to answer. Should the state of New Hampshire make public the home addresses of and other information about convicted murderers and other criminals now out on parole in much the same
way it publicizes the whereabouts of sex offenders?
Or would doing so be unfair and work against the state’s responsibility to rehabilitate offenders and help them become productive members of society?
We believe the latter would prove true, but that doesn’t mean that New Hampshire’s ability to properly monitor and supervise parolees isn’t worth a look.
There are, West found, 43 killers serving a lifetime of parole in New Hampshire. Most were sentenced before 1983, when the state’s truth-in-sentencing law that mandates that inmates serve their minimum sentence was enacted and the sentence for first-degree murder was made life without parole.
The relatives of several of the victims of the paroled murderers want to know where the men who killed their loved ones are living and working. Chronic under-funding, they argue, has left the state unable to adequately rehabilitate inmates and provide sufficiently close supervision of parolees.
Those contentions are hard to dispute.
The state’s corrections system, although it has been improving, is incapable of providing inmates with the substance-abuse treatment and mental health services many of them need.
The parole system is under-funded, halfway houses, treatment centers and programs to help inmates succeed in society and reduce recidivism rates are in short supply. But the same system that lacks the resources to treat inmates would also lack the resources needed to maintain an accurate public list of addresses and other statistics about the nearly 6,000 people on probation or parole.
The sex offender registry, while it no doubt has some public protection value, has made pariahs of released offenders. Nationally, a big percentage of them are homeless or clustered in ghettoes created when communities draw lines around schools, playgrounds and the like. Some have become the targets of retribution. The same thing, we fear, would happen if more parole information, including home addresses, becomes public.
States differ when it comes to releasing information about parolees. Some do; many, like New Hampshire, keep addresses, employment status and other information confidential.
Since parole is part of an inmate’s sentence, parolees can’t be said to have completely served their time until the parole period has been met. But they paid the lion’s share of their debt to society while behind bars and deserve the privacy they’ll need to rejoin society and prove they’ve learned their lesson.
The law keeping parole records confidential should not be repealed.