A new report released last week provides a detailed look at the graduation rates of low-income college students. At many colleges, low-income students graduate at much lower rates than their high-income peers.
ACLU-NH lawyers who released “Debtors’ Prisons in New Hampshire” Wednesday met today with top circuit court judges to focus on how to make sure no one goes to jail for being too poor to pay their court fines. Edwin W. Kelly, administrative judge of the Circuit Courts, disagrees with the ACLU-NH’s conclusion that judges routinely jail people who can’t afford to pay their court fines. Kelly said he doesn’t think the issue is a “systemic problem.”
But Kelly said it is important to work with the ACLU-NH to do “everything to protect the rights of people. I believe in any bureaucracy there is room for improvement.”
Kelly met with Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH’s legal director, and Albert W. Scherr, chairman of ACLU-NH’s board of directors and law professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. They specifically addressed possible changes to court protocols and a change to a court rule that would “make it clear that no defendant can be ordered to jail for nonpayment without counsel or written waiver of counsel,” Kelly said.
Roger Wood Indepth talks with founder Molly Bolster of the Gundalow Company. The Green Alliance salutes businesses that are environmentally friendly and offer sustainability initiatives to the area. Most recently recognized is the Gundalow Company, based in Portsmouth. Roger Wood indepthNH spoke with Bolster about the success of the nonprofit company’s newest craft, The Piscataqua. She talked about the emphasis on education and its financial accomplishments during his podcast.
What happens when a 22-year-old single mother of two toddlers who can’t afford to pay a court fine fails to complete 62 hours of community service instead? For Alejandra Corro, it meant being sentenced to serve nine days in Valley Street Jail in Manchester by Judge Thomas E. Bamberger in the 9th Circuit Court, Nashua District Division, on March 4, 2014. That was after Public Defender Ryan Guptil told Bamberger that Corro had completed only 20 hours of the 62 hours of community service because of a significant fire in her home that forced her to move six weeks earlier. (Click on story to hear court hearing audio.)
“How did that stop her from doing the community service?” Bamberger asked, according to a court transcript of the hearing. Corro wasn’t alone, according to an ACLU-NH’s report released Wednesday (Sept.
It appears that police departments in New Hampshire are cutting motorists some slack over the hands-free driving law. The state statute passed July 1st prohibits all use of hand-held cell phones, GPS units and other devices while driving, except in emergencies. Since the law went into effect, Dover police have stopped 214 cars and given out 25 summonses. That figure is lower in Portsmouth, where police have cited only three drivers from the 93 motorists stopped. State police in Troop A, based in Epping, have summonses over half the 414 drivers stopped.
A year-long investigation by the ACLU-NH found New Hampshire commonly jails people for failing to pay fines when they are too poor to pay them. It’s a practice that cost taxpayers about $166,870 in 2013, according to the ACLU report released today. “We found this practice to be systemic across New Hampshire,” said Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH’s legal director. “This was not limited to one rogue judge or court.”
An estimated 148 people were jailed in 2013 in violation of the law and U.S. Constitution, the report said. Bissonnette said those jailed were too poor to pay fines or did not pay a fee for the public defender who represented them.
The anguish comes through in people’s voices as they hear their fate for being unable to pay fines owed to the court in what the ACLU-NH says is an illegal and systemic practice by judges across New Hampshire. Click on headline to hear what it’s like in the words of Jayson Snow, Thomas Polito, Richard Vaughan and Bryan Sullivan to be sent to jail for failing to pay fines – and listen to the judges who sentenced them. Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU-NH, spoke of the harm to families when loved ones are jailed for failing to pay fines. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel. It takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”
“Being poor is not a crime in this country,” Chaffee said. These cases provide glimpses into courtroom across New Hampshire.