Changing New Hampshire’s bail reform system, which critics say allows dangerous criminals to walk free, is a top priority for both Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye.
“There should be outrage and appetite for change,” Sununu told WMUR’s Adam Sexton this weekend.
Sununu signed a bail reform bill in his first term after being assured it would balance public safety and the goal of avoiding putting non-violent offenders in jail for minor offenses. Instead, critics say, serious criminals are being released and reoffending.
“I signed it because it had the support of law enforcement,” Sununu said. “I said ‘Will this work?’ Everyone believed it would be OK, so we signed it. But we all see what was happening.”
Sununu was referencing the August murder of an elderly Manchester man by a suspect who had been arrested twice in the weeks leading up to the stabbing.
Manchester resident Daniel Whitmore, 75, was found with multiple stab wounds on a walking trail near Bradley Street in August. The suspect in the murder, homeless man Raymond Moore, 40, had been arrested twice last summer. Once in July in Nashua for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and again in August for another apparent stabbing incident. He was released from custody, and without bail, in both cases.
Manchester’s Democratic Mayor Joyce Craig took to Twitter to decry the state’s lenient bail system.
“Our criminal justice system cannot continue releasing violent offenders back onto our streets. I, once again, urge our legislators to act quickly and address this issue. The safety of our residents is at stake,” Craig said.
During his own WMUR appearance last weekend, Sherman also voiced support for changing New Hampshire’s bail laws to keep violent suspects locked up.
“Do I support rebalancing bail reform? Absolutely. Do I support protecting people from violent criminals? I always have,” Sherman said.
Sherman and Sununu supported the effort this year to change bail laws, but that proposal died in the legislature when the House voted it down. The bill lost support largely from Democratic members. Sherman said too many people did not seem to understand how the bill would work.
“The solution is we have to recognize — whatever we do for bail reform, we have to make sure the system will support it,” Sherman said. “That was the problem. The system did not support, with adequate scrutiny, who was being released and who was not.”
Sununu blames the left, especially progressive organizations like New Hampshire’s ACLU, for blocking the bail reform effort.
“You have the ACLU, these extreme left-wing groups that say they do not want to change anything,” Sununu said. “You have individuals that get arrested, they are getting out before the cop that arrested them has done the paperwork. It is messed up,” Sununu said.
New Hampshire’s ACLU claims the bail laws allowing more people to be released from custody has made New Hampshire safer. They say instead of finding ways to keep more violent suspects locked up, the legsilators should fund more community needs.
“Lawmakers should focus our limited tax dollars on investments that will actually make our communities safer and more just, like housing, transportation, and mental health and substance use treatment,” the ACLU stated earlier this year. “Pretrial detention has a devastating human toll. Even for a short period of time, it increases the likelihood of innocent people pleading guilty to a crime, loss of employment, income, and housing, and traumatic family disruption.”
The conservative Americans for Prosperity also opposed this year’s bail reform efforts, but it does support changes to the law. Ross Connolly, AFP’s deputy state director, said the organization wants to see bail commissioners replaced with magistrate judges when it comes to deciding who can be released and who needs to stay locked up.
“Pre-trial detention is a balance between public safety and the presumption of innocence,” Connolly said. “We understand the concerns with bail, and there is a way to address the issue without throwing out individual rights. Replacing bail commissioners with a magistrate system is a fix that all sides can get behind. A magistrate system will improve public safety, will pass the legislature, and will cost Granite State taxpayers less than other proposals.”