Prisoner rights advocates push for audit of state’s sex offender treatment program

Last modified: 11/29/2015 12:36:39 AM
A group of New Hampshire lawmakers is requesting an audit of the state’s sex offender treatment program to address a purported backlog of inmates awaiting mandatory psychosexual therapy.

Chris Dornin, founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform-New Hampshire, said dozens of incarcerated sex offenders are currently approaching their minimum release dates but will be ineligible for parole because they haven’t yet begun treatment, which can last up to 18 months.

A bill pushed by Dornin’s group calls for an analysis of the “reasons for, fiscal impact, and human impact of the backlog of prisoners currently waiting to take the sex offender treatment program,” during the last five years, according to an early draft.

“We know for sure this wait list includes many scores of prisoners in danger of missing their earliest parole dates,” Dornin said in an email, adding, “Those who stay inside the walls past their minimum sentences cost the state far more than they would in the community.”

The Department of Corrections acknowledged delays in recent years, because of understaffing, but said it is aware of none presently.

“We review the files of all inmates who need sex offender treatment services at least two years prior to their minimum parole date and we put them on a waiting list at that time,” spokesman Jeff Lyons said in an email. “As beds free up, they move into the treatment program. There is no backlog.”

There are 675 incarcerated sex offenders in the state, all but five of whom are men. The treatment program has the capacity for 96 of them.

Many of those hundreds of offenders are serving out long sentences, and Lyons noted that there are many reasons why someone might surpass his or her minimum release date beyond the treatment component, such as behavioral problems or other disciplinary concerns.

Dornin, however, said 59 offenders have reported they are “on track to miss their earliest parole date through no fault of their own.”

“We have the names of many others afraid to let officials know who they are,” he said.

While eligible prisoners must be screened within two years of their minimum release dates, the department is not required to provide them with treatment within that time, according to a 2012 staffing audit by the Legislative Budget Assistant.

That may have costly and dangerous implications, the audit asserted, as some languishing inmates may choose to forgo treatment altogether.

“If (sex offender treatment services) cannot be provided timely, sexual offenders may choose to serve out their maximum sentence, if completing SOTS does not have the potential to reduce their prison term,” it said.

The treatment centers focus on relapse prevention through cognitive behavioral therapy and lasts between six and 18 months, depending on the offender’s needs. Lyons said the program has been understaffed in recent years, but is now fully staffed with five employees – four therapists and one person in charge of screenings and aftercare.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. James Verschueren, was unavailable for comment last week, but in an email to legislators earlier this month he said a constituent of his in Strafford County was an inmate and had “remained on the waitlist well beyond the time he should have entered the program.”

“He is part of what I am convinced is a large backlog of prisoners denied access to this obligatory treatment in a timely way,” Verschueren wrote.

Cosponsors said they hope a review sheds light on whether potential treatment delays have contributed to prison overcrowding, and if so, what can be done about it.

In the end, however, their legislation may prove unnecessary. Audit requests are usually made directly to a legislative oversight committee and then approved by the Joint Fiscal Committee, rather than through a proposed bill. Rep. Lynne Ober, a Hudson Republican and a member of the oversight committee, said the LBA has begun researching how long it would take to complete the audit and what exactly would be involved.

The committee could take it up later this year or in early 2016, Ober said.



(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)




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