Less than 24 hours after being sworn in, Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais was already at work on one of his top priorities: reducing crime on his city’s streets by fixing the state’s broken bail system.
Ruais led a bipartisan coalition of Manchester officials to the capitol Wednesday morning, where he laid out what he sees as the brutal math from lax bail rules.
“The reason I made this one of my first official acts is to highlight the importance of this issue to our city,” Ruais said. “In 2023, 813 criminals were arrested, released, and rearrested. Many of these criminals were not just arrested for petty crimes but violent assaults, robberies, and other serious offenses.
“There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that would have a more transformative effect on the city of Manchester than reforming our state’s bail laws,” Ruais added.
Since 2018’s controversial bail reform law, thousands of alleged Manchester criminals charged with violent crimes have been released without bail only to get arrested on new charges. Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester) said some of those suspects have been charged with murder.
“Eight is the number of times my constituent was stabbed to death by somebody already out on double-PR bail,” Berry said.
Ruais, a Republican, scored his upset victory over Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh in last year’s election by running on issues like crime, homelessness, and the city’s lack of order. The word is out on the street in Manchester that criminals get a free pass, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long warned.
“I recall being in a (homeless) encampment in Manchester and overhearing the residents in that encampment talking about no concern with breaking into cars, trespassing. There was no concern (because) they would be back out on the street in a couple of hours,” Long said.
Long is also a Democratic state representative.
The original bail reform bill passed in 2018 was aimed at keeping poor people who are charged with non-violent crimes from getting locked up because they could not afford a $100 or $200 cash bail, according to Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester). Soucy said even in 2018, she and other lawmakers were worried about the unintended consequences.
“This has been an issue for a long time,” Soucy said. “I was in the Senate when we initially enacted bail reform, and although well-intentioned, I think we all recognized this law needs fine-tuning.”
Ruais promised in Tuesday’s inaugural address he would champion bail reform and lobby lawmakers until they got it right.
“The fight for our security will continue today, it will continue tomorrow, and it will continue until everyone in our community feels safe,” Ruais said Tuesday.
Ruais made sure to get to Concord Wednesday, on his first full day on the job, to put friendly pressure on lawmakers as they opened their legislative session for the year. Two proposed bail reform bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, have a good chance to pass this session.
Ruais isn’t saying which proposal he prefers, leaving it up to legislators to do their job in crafting a bill that works and will pass.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to move its bill, SB-249, to the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Daryl Abbas (R-Salem) said it is past time for a bail reform bill that protects people.
“We have heard testimony for years in both the House and the Senate that we need bail reform. We have dangerous individuals committing crimes, being released on bail, and then immediately reoffending,” Abbas said. “No one should be denied bail solely because they cannot afford it, and this bill will not change that. This bill requires a judge to determine whether a violent offender poses a threat to the public before being released. Senate Republicans have been fighting for years for common sense bail reform, and we will continue to do so to keep our communities safe.”