By Scott Merrill

A person in New Hampshire who violates the conditions of their parole is very often referred to by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (DOC) as a “Community Failure.” For those seeking prison reform, terms like this can say more about a system that sets people up for failure by not addressing their needs – including substance misuse and mental health treatment – than the individual.

Joseph Lascaze, campaign manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire’s Smart Justice Campaign, says the term “community failure” doesn’t do justice to the difficult challenges parolees often confront on the outside – like finding transportation to court hearings or a mental health provider – or the rehabilitative paths they chose to receive parole in the first place.

“Failure is stopping and not continuing,” he says. “Everyone has had setbacks, but failure is giving up. Parole is about progress, not perfection.”

Lascaze, who was released from the New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP) in July 2019 after serving more than 13 years for armed robbery, began cataloging different barriers and challenges people seeking parole were facing while he was still incarcerated.

“People need resources to succeed,” he says. “Imagine a doctor who says their patients suffering from mental illnesses are community failures because they had one episode. That’s the lens the parole department is using for people who they say, ‘can’t adapt to the community.’ Based on the current tools and resources that are available, yes, they’re failing.”

New Hampshire Ranks Higher Than National Average for Parole Violations

In November 2023, the Committee to Study the Long-Term Impact of the New Hampshire Adult Parole System (the Committee) stated in its final report that the state’s criminal justice system is the default system for handling the pervasive and ongoing mental health and substance misuse crises.

The Committee – which includes New Hampshire State Senator Rebecca Whitley (chair), Joseph Lascaze, and others – was created following the passage of SB 251 in June 2023, which called for the Committee’s establishment.

According to data from the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), 67 percent of New Hampshire’s prison admissions for parole and probation violations are due to supervision violations despite data from the DOC showing the prison population has decreased (this number reflects first-time and repeat offenders). This is compared to 45 percent of state prison returns nationwide.

“Using this data, we really wanted to understand why that percentage is so high and to make recommendations that will create better outcomes for people under supervision,” says Whitley, who is also chair of the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee. “In addition to providing better outcomes for people, we want to make sure our communities are safe and that we are spending taxpayer dollars wisely. We heard startling numbers regarding how much it costs for [the DOC] to be the default mental health and substance misuse system.”

Parole Violations Cost the State Millions of Dollars

According to a 2021 DOC report, the average cost to keep someone in prison annually in the Granite State is $54,386 and it costs about $603 per year to supervise someone on probation or parole.

One of the CSG’s findings shows a small number of people with complex behavioral health-related concerns who are “cycling through” the county jails. These “high utilizers,” as they are referred to by the CSG, were 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for parole and probation violations.

The costs associated with this group of “high utilizers,” which make up nine percent of the county jail population, were approximately $25,436,527 or 29 percent of jail costs for fiscal year 2019. The CSG found that the estimated total cost of high utilizers between fiscal years 2019 and 2021 was $93,705,131 in terms of Medicaid spending.

“The CSG data suggests that our higher level of probation and parole violations is likely indicative of our state’s issue with responding to substance misuse and mental health needs in the community,” Whitley says, explaining the Committee recommends creating a transparent picture of why people return to prison. “This is really important for any sort of reform.”

Other recommendations discussed in the Committee’s report include the need for more structure in the parole system when weighing and evaluating factors associated with parole board decisions to grant or deny parole.

“There is a fair amount of discretion given in that system,” Whitley says. “I think there was clear consensus that we need more defined guidelines.”

New Hampshire Parole Board Chair Roger Phillips, who provided expert testimony to the Parole Committee, says other states like California have gone to what they believe is a more objective system where they rate each person on a scale of one to four.

“There are all sorts of criteria for parole board members to meet,” he says. “That would be a very lengthy and extreme process to use in New Hampshire.”

Parole Board Cases and Recidivism

New Hampshire ranks high compared to other states that grant parole. In 2023, 73 percent of those who went through the parole hearing process were approved, 12 percent were denied for having disciplinary tickets or other reasons, and others had their cases continued or postponed because they had not met necessary criteria.

“One of the major documents required is the behavioral health discharge summary,” says New Hampshire Parole Board Director Jay Mackey. “If that is not present, the board members have a hard time trying to make a decision as to what these individuals need when they parole out into the community.”

On December 22, 2023, there were 1,657 people on parole in New Hampshire according to Phillips. The number of parole board cases has decreased from 2,311 in 2018 to 1,750 in 2023.

One reason for the decrease could be lower incarceration rates overall for the last 10 years, Phillips explains.

“And of course, that was especially true during COVID times when trials weren’t happening as regularly,” he says.

New admissions at the NHSP have currently run between 850 to 890 over the past three years. This is compared to about 1,400 several years ago.

Mackey says the decrease in the state’s prison population and parole cases could also reflect the rise of programs such as the drug court and other diversion programs.

“COVID brought about a lot of different ways to sentence people,” says Mackey, who has worked for the DOC for 24 years. “Instead of incarceration, they’re put on probation and this process has stuck because we’re not seeing the numbers increase for intakes – and I don’t think we ever will. When I started with the prison, I think Strafford County was the only county that had a drug court.”

Mackey says he is conducting a study for first-time parolees released from a sentence in 2022 and that so far, the rate is 30 percent.

“We are not looking at parole violators that have been re-released,” he says. “Higher rates of recidivism come from those parole violators. Our study is just on those being released for the first time.”

Phillips says one of the myths about the parole board is that it can extend punishment.

“We are not a punishing agency,” he says. “We are here to decide whether a person is eligible for parole. If they meet the criteria, and they are eligible for parole, they should be paroled. When the court indicates someone has completed their minimum sentence, and if they’ve done all they can in terms of rehabilitation, they should be released.”

Are Prisoners Being Set Up to Fail?

CSG data shows that despite a high percentage of people being paroled in New Hampshire, many are returning. One reason for this, according to CSG Senior Policy Analyst David D’Amora, is the parole board’s structure.

In August, D’Amora told the Committee that on a national level, one of the problems with parole boards is that “they are law-enforcement oriented instead of using a case management model.”

The question that then arises is whether reincarceration is the solution for technical violations, D’Amora said. (See sidebar on this page.)

Releasing prisoners into the community is always a risk, Lascaze says, but finding solutions for the root causes of behavior must be addressed if the system is going to work effectively for people. A big part of this, he explains, is understanding the experiences of those who have been through the system. Challenges for prisoners released on parole range from financial literacy and connecting with medical and mental health services, to figuring out transportation for work or court hearings.

“All of these things are common barriers we always hear about – and they are real challenges,” Lascaze says. “In New Hampshire specifically, transportation is a big challenge. There’s no public transportation system in New Hampshire.”

Rehabilitation programs for those needing substance misuse treatment are limited due to a lack of Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (LADAC) and other staff,  Phillips says.

“In the past, all levels of care were addressed but now only the most severe level is being addressed,” he says, explaining this level of care can cause long setbacks – up to six months – for inmates as they complete FOCUS programing required for parole. “The Parole Board changed the time from six months to 90 days. They can now be released into a facility at a lower level and take courses on tablets.”

Lascaze says resources are needed to help with behavioral health and to foster social growth, as well.

“In a correctional facility, people are often socially stunted,” he says, recalling his own struggles with certain situations after his release. And in the context of recidivism for parolees, “This is a huge concern.”

Lascaze explains that administrative parole status is the preferred status for parolees because they are required to check in only once a year and can be digitally monitored at the discretion of a probation and parole officer. He believes these individuals should be allowed to have their parole terminated because their risk, he says, is very low.

Prison Reform In 2024

Whitley says Lascaze’s insights and personal experience on the Committee have been invaluable.

“He’s phenomenal,” she says, adding that decriminalizing behavior that is related to mental health and substance misuse is a key priority in 2024. “Instead of criminalizing drug use, the idea is to not saddle people with significant felony records when really what they need to do is go into treatment.”

Whitley is proposing a bill, SB 570, focused on first-time possession.

According to CSG data, Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than White people, despite relatively equal use.

“The same is true with arrests overall,” Whitely says, explaining that while Black people make up about 1.8 percent of the state’s population, they comprise 5.8 percent of all arrests and 6.6 percent of all drug arrests in 2020. “So there really is a racial justice issue, and a lot of our work is making sure that our drug laws and other laws are not being enforced with that racial bias.”

Moving Beyond Community Failure

In 2022 and 2023, 67.4 percent of parole revocations were termed community failures. Lascaze and others on the Committee believe many of these “failures” are being used for non-arrestable offenses such as associating with other felons or those on parole, and they highlight a lack of community options for parolees who should also be part of the process.

Lascaze stresses the importance of hearing inmates’ stories and their challenges.

“Commissioner Hanks made some exceptions to allow individuals who were working with the Smart Justice Program to work together in what was kind of like a mentorship program and people were opening up about their experiences,” he says. “They were relating to others who had been through the same life experiences who knew what they were going through.”

He describes the experience of an individual he worked with who had been incarcerated for 15 years.

“He had never seen his birth certificate in his life – never even seen his social security card,” Lascaze says, explaining the difficulties this posed in finding work. “We had to figure out that whole process.”

Lascaze says the last he knew, the man was back in custody.

“He got established, had a girlfriend and a place to live, and then things fell apart because he wasn’t getting the substance misuse treatment he needed because of Medicaid issues,” he says. “Once he stopped treatment, he got back into using.”

Phillips says addiction is a brain disease that often overlaps with mental health challenges.

“People must have the tools to get in touch with the adverse consequences of their challenges. If they don’t, they’re not going to change,” he says.

If the goal is for parolees to live an acclimated life, the only solution is to provide inmates with every possible tool and resource for success the state can provide, Lascaze says.

“I think that New Hampshire is waking up and seeing that we need to do something,” he says. “We cannot keep using re-incarceration as the answer to everything. I’m very optimistic that we’re going to see some results.”

Whitley says the Committee’s 2023 final report only scratches the surface.

“This issue is quite complex,” she says. “A bill is being proposed in 2024 to extend the Committee’s work due to the connections that were found between mental health and parole violations.” t

The next and final article of the NHBA Prison Series will focus on life after release from prison.times

Probation and Parole

Probation is a sentence ordered by the court which allows an offender to remain in the community with supervision and guidance of a probation/parole officer (PPO), under such conditions as the court may impose. For each offense, the period of probation cannot exceed five years for a felony and two years for a Class A misdemeanor.

Parole is a conditional release from state prison which allows an inmate to serve the remainder of the sentence outside the prison. To be eligible for parole, inmates must complete the minimum sentence ordered by the court and must show increasingly responsible behavior while in prison.

For individuals to remain on probation or parole in the community, they must comply with several conditions established by the court or the Adult Parole Board. When an offender does not follow the rules, a determination is made by the PPO about the best way to improve compliance. The PPO may issue verbal or written warnings or may report the violation to the sentencing court or parole board.

In circumstances requiring immediate action, the PPO or police may arrest the offender, or may request that an arrest warrant or capias be issued by the court or the Adult Parole Board.

At a violation (or revocation) hearing before the court or parole board, the PPO must present evidence to prove the offender violated the required conditions. Due process rights apply, and the offender (or attorney) may dispute the evidence.

Offenders who violate the conditions of probation or parole may be incarcerated in prison or county houses of correction. Intermediate sanctions, such as home confinement, are also available to promote public safety and provide restrictions necessary to control offenders. For a full list of community-based punishments visit

Suspended Sentences

Prisoners serving a minimum term of six years or more can apply for a suspended sentence reduction 12 months before they have served two thirds of their minimum sentence. The law, 651:20, is a way for prisoners to demonstrate rehabilitation and to reduce their time served.

Prior to 2021, those seeking 651:20 status couldn’t file a motion to suspend until they had served two thirds of their sentence; this resulted in people not actually getting out at two thirds of their minimum sentence due to the time required to complete the application process.

The flow of the parole pipeline – determined in large part by the availability of mandatory classes – favors those with lower minimum sentences, says Joseph Lascaze. He explains that individuals in the NHSP system are prioritized for parole based on the time remaining on their minimum sentence and that resident-to-facilitator-ratios can impact an inmate’s ability to receive mandatory classes.

Lascaze says a person sentenced to two years in NHSP for a first-degree assault who is required to take anger management classes would be given priority over someone with a longer sentence who has already served five years. And this, he adds, can lead to bottlenecks in the system and sometimes affects a person’s ability to utilize a suspended sentence.

“That person [with the shorter minimum] is going to be prioritized even though the other person who has already been there for five years may be mentally more prepared and more ready to accept what the program offers, and it could have more of an impact on their behavior because they’re ready to learn,” he says. “This is opposed to the person who’s only coming in with a two-year sentence who may say, ‘I’m going to get out in two years anyway.’ They may not be ready or at that point in time to accept the tools being given.”

Lascaze adds that a bottleneck occurs when people who are ready to be returned to the community are being stopped from returning.

“The priority isn’t to make sure the 651:20 works as efficiently as it possibly could, it seems,” he says. “There’s not enough movement. And you don’t have enough halfway houses and transitional centers for people to go to when they are ready.”