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Bipartisan effort to amend NH’s bail system passes after years of debate

Valley Street Jail in Manchester, New Hampshire
Zoey Knox
/
NHPR
Valley Street Jail in Manchester, New Hampshire

After years of debate and disagreement, a new bail reform bill is heading to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. House Bill 318 was approved by lawmakers this month.

This bill, in part, rolls back a 2018 bail reform bill that aimed to prevent people from being held in jail solely because they couldn’t pay their cash bail.

The 2024 bill would

  • Require individuals charged with one of 12 violent felonies to be automatically held in jail until they can be seen by a judge or magistrate. These individuals can no longer be seen by a bail commissioner.
  • Introduce three magistrates, an alternative to judges, who can hold arraignments as well, and could reduce the amount of time defendants are waiting in jail without bail
  • Appropriate $1.7 million to develop a bail tracking system to access an individual’s current bail status
  • Create victim notification requirements when people accused of certain crimes, such as stalking or criminal threatening, are released on bail 
  • Increase pay for bail commissioners
  • Establish a judicial training coordinator and training requirements for judges, magistrates, bail commissioners and other judicial employees

Rockingham Rep. Terry Roy, a Republican, is the chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. And Hillsborough Rep. Alissandra Murray, a Democrat, is the committee’s clerk.

The two New Hampshire lawmakers worked together to pass the 2024 bail reform bill. They spoke with NHPR’s All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa about their efforts.

Transcript

What was it like coming into the legislative session this year, knowing that bail reform efforts have failed for the last six years? Terry, let's start with you.

Terry Roy: I was nervous this year because we had actually worked on it last year, only to see it fall apart at the committee of conference stage with the Senate. And I was determined that this year it wasn't going to fail.

Alissandra, what was it like for you coming into this legislative session, knowing the history of this bill?

Alissandra Murray: It was very important to me. This was my first term as a state representative, and I was running in Ward 9 in Manchester, where just a few months before the election, we had a murder happen in our neighborhood. An older gentleman, Daniel Whitmore, was attacked by someone who had been let out on PR [personal recognizance] bail. And so that was something that was really important to people in my community, that something like that wouldn't happen again.

So I definitely went in with the intention to prioritize bail reform while I was in office. And I got very lucky that I was assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee, and that we had a chair who was so willing to work with people on all sides to get something to actually pass this year.

So the bill that was passed this year was pretty similar to previous versions that ended up getting killed. So what do you think was different this time around that allowed it to pass? Terry, I'll start with you.

Terry Roy: I think the big thing this time was we got everybody's buy-in up front and we worked with all the stakeholders up front instead of putting something together in a back room and saying, ‘here it is, take it.’ We started from the ground up, talking to everyone who would be involved in it, and made sure that they were okay with it before we went to the next stage.

I see you're nodding in agreement, Alissandra.

Alissandra Murray:I also think we took a really holistic approach. We looked at the technology that the police and the public defenders are using to communicate people's bail status. We were looking at the pay that bill commissioners are getting and how to retain bail commissioners. We were really looking at the whole picture and not just, ‘person commits X crime and is held for X amount of time.’

The two of you disagree significantly on many policies. What was it about this bill that made this compromise possible?

Terry Roy: Well, because we both care about people and we both care about the citizens of New Hampshire. And how we help them, we might disagree on, how to get there, but the end result, I think we both care about what happens to the citizens of the state.

And when I picked the special committee for bail, I specifically picked Alissandra because she was from Manchester. I mean, I don't really have a lot of bail problems in Deerfield, but I know that in Manchester and Nashua, our two biggest cities, they're dealing with these things. So I thought it was important to have her voice on the committee. Also, as someone who was younger—you know, someone like me, I'm kind of old and crotchety, I just lock them all up—she gives me a lot of different perspectives. She reminded me a few times where I was starting to stray a little bit towards holding people. She'd say, ‘Well, have you thought about [how] they're going to be able to afford that?’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah, you have a good point.’ So I wanted to have all perspectives when I put this together and I'm glad I did. It worked out good.

And Alissandra, what made working together with Terry possible?

Alissandra Murray: Honestly, I think it started from the very beginning of our committee, in the session starting last year. Terry made very clear up front that he wanted to have a productive session and not just sit and argue in committee all the time. So I think that went into the bail process, but was also part of our committee all along.

Michelle Liu is the All Things Considered producer at NHPR. She joined the station in 2022 after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
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