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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hassan vetoes juvenile justice bill

CONCORD – A proposed overhaul of state services for troubled juveniles places too much emphasis on locking them up over rehabilitation, Gov. Maggie Hassan said Monday in vetoing the bill.

The measure (SB 391) reverses a state policy only two years old to move away from incarceration and craft a long-term plan for the secure, John H. Sununu Juvenile Services Center in Manchester that now houses fewer than 60 residents, Hassan said. ...

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CONCORD – A proposed overhaul of state services for troubled juveniles places too much emphasis on locking them up over rehabilitation, Gov. Maggie Hassan said Monday in vetoing the bill.

The measure (SB 391) reverses a state policy only two years old to move away from incarceration and craft a long-term plan for the secure, John H. Sununu Juvenile Services Center in Manchester that now houses fewer than 60 residents, Hassan said.

Only a decade ago, the Sununu Center had more than 120 juvenile offenders there which had led to talk among lawmakers of adding another medium-security pod onto it.

“Unfortunately, this legislation abruptly reverses state policy by once again isolating juvenile justice services from other services to children and youth, and it goes a step further by emphasizing the incarceration component of these services,’’ Hassan wrote in her veto message.

State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, was the prime author of the legislation to create a new state director of juvenile services and put that administrator in charge of programs for all 1,400 juveniles under state care, not just those in the Manchester lockup.

“Such a fundamental shift in policy comes with a high cost to both children and taxpayers and would take New Hampshire in the wrong direction,’’ Hassan said.

Carson’s district includes the town of Hudson. She could not be reached for comment.

The measure had overwhelming support in both branches of the politically-divided New Hampshire Legislature. The House approved the final product, 334-11; the Senate passed it without any dissent.

In the short term, the bill paid for this new administrator and support staff by shifting how the agency had to cut its spending $1.25 million in the current, two-year state budget.

But state officials maintained that, starting in mid-2015, this new administration would cost more than $225,000 a year.

Hassan said she would sign an executive order to accomplish one goal of the bill, to re-create and give new powers to an advisory board on juvenile justice.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas has committed to hire a private consultant to study how best to reform all services for juveniles, Hassan continued.

What gave this reform some early momentum was a bill to raise the age of criminal majority to 18 up from 17.

This would have meant 17-year-old offenders that commit violent crimes would no longer be sentenced to state prison but be sent to the Sununu Center.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly endorsed the policy last January but after budget concerns about it were raised, lawmakers set the bill aside.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter
(@Klandrigan).