New Bail Reform Law Leaves More Behind Bars in Rockingham County

Sep 21, 2018

Credit Credit mikecogh via Flickr Creative Commons

A new bail reform law designed to prevent poor people from sitting in jail for not being able to post bail is now being implemented in New Hampshire courts.

Some county attorneys and others in law enforcement were skeptical of the new law, Senate Bill 556, and now some are saying the roll-out has been rocky.

NHPR's Peter Biello spoke with Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway about how the bill is affecting her office. Listen to the interview here.

Chief Andrew Shagoury is the president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and is concerned about the law being applied consistently across the state.

“They haven’t properly trained bail commissioners and judges” he said, wishing more training had happened before the law went into effect. He also noted that the new law may be costing the state money as police officers are required to come to more hearings.

Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway also said that the new law is consuming more time and resources in her office. They are now required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a person is dangerous before they can hold a defendant, which may require witness testimony.

With a short timeline before an arraignment, county attorneys have to ask the court to schedule an additional hearing in order to have time to call witnesses. In the meantime, Conway said, the defendant generally has to wait in jail.

“Here in Rockingham County we actually have more people incarcerated pretrial since the statute was enacted,” she said.

Although it may seem that the law has resulted in the opposite of its intended purpose, Conway notes that the law has only been in effect since August 1st. It is too soon to evaluate how the law is affecting the court system, she said, and she also sees some positive aspects of the bill.

“Prior to the statute, there were only certain crimes that people could be held without bail,” Conway said.

Now, with the new statute, they can hold people on a wider range of crimes as long as they can prove the person is dangerous with clear and convincing evidence.

Conway is encouraged that a new a commission was formed to consider elements of the bill, including pretrial risk assessment tools.

“I think that that's very positive and I'm encouraged that in the future either this statute will work or we can tinker with it a bit so that it will work even better.”

Associate Attorney General James Vara, a member of the commission, is glad the commission will be able to do a deep dive on the issue. He looks forward to being able to analyze data as opposed to relying on anecdotal information.

“I want to see what’s happening on the ground in the court system,” he said.

Although there is no statewide bail-related data from before SB 556 was implemented, Vara said it will still be helpful to view data collected after the law was put into effect.