Protestors oppose bills that would weaken bail reform 

  • Maggie Fogarty, New Hampshire program director of the American Friends Service Committee, (left) and Sara Smith, who described herself as a local Quaker, were out front of the State House Tuesday to encourage lawmakers to reject HB 1476. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Maggie Fogarty, New Hampshire program director of the American Friends Service Committee, (left) and Sara Smith, who described herself as a local Quaker, were out front of the State House Tuesday to encourage lawmakers to reject HB 1476. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/15/2022 5:02:46 PM

A group of New Hampshire advocacy and faith organizations are asking state legislators to reject two bills that would roll back reforms that were originally implemented in 2018 to address wealth disparities in the state’s bail system.

House Bill 1476 would mandate the detention of a person charged with a felony or Class A misdemeanor who is re-arrested while out on bail. Under an amended version of the bill, that person would be incarcerated for 36 hours without bail before a hearing with a judge. People out on bail who are re-arrested would also not be eligible for personal recognizance release.

Those charged with Class B misdemeanors, which do not carry jail time, who are arrested twice on bail would also have to go before a judge before being released.

Protestors outside the State House on Tuesday morning said that the bill would reverse measures that made the criminal justice system fairer for poor people and people of color.

Maggie Fogarty, New Hampshire Program Director of the American Friends Service Committee, said that the bill could especially harm people with mental health and substance abuse issues or those that are homeless. Fogarty views the bill as part of a backlash to criminal justice reforms being implemented around the United States.

“We as a country are learning that we don’t incarcerate ourselves out of underfunded, unaddressed social problems,” Fogarty said.

Sara Smith, who described herself as a local Quaker, said her faith was one reason she was urging lawmakers to reject the bill. Smith framed bail reform as an issue of fairness.

“It’s about the quality and fair treatment of people and, the belief that people should be given another chance,” Smith said. She said that New Hampshire is already grappling with the fact that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated in New Hampshire – and this move could worsen those statistics.

“I’m concerned if somebody is rearrested they could lose their ability to work and care for their family. A lot of their life will just spiral out of control, causing more problems,” she said.

Livia Gershon, a volunteer with the NH Community Bail Fund, wrote in an email statement that when people who are re-arrested are incarcerated, they lose contact with support systems and counselors.

“Most people we work with who’ve been arrested while out on bail are unhoused and dealing with mental or behavioral illness. The offenses they’re arrested for are often things like ‘trespassing’ at a bus station,” Gershon wrote. The bail fund paid cash bail for 47 people in 2020, and 14 people in 2021.

A broader bail reform bill has already passed in the Senate, which would require 72 hours of pretrial detention for those charged with any of 13 violent offenses, under the “rebuttable presumption” that the person is a danger to the public. Senate Bill 294 also adds more situations when a defendant would be held pretrial for lower-level offenses.

Gov. Chris Sununu praised SB 294 in his State of the State address, saying it would make New Hampshire safer.

Other supporters of the rollbacks include police departments and police unions, who have argued that the current law has allowed people who pose a real danger to communities to remain at large.

A group of faith-based organizations and progressive groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have said that HB 1476 would increase incarceration costs and that concerns about bail reform’s impact on crime are not rooted in data.

ACLU-NH Policy Director Frank Knaack wrote in an email statement that the state has seen declines in crime and arrest rates since bail reform went into effect in 2018, even in growing cities like Manchester and Bedford.

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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