New Hampshire’s criminal justice system could be improved by focusing on rehabilitation rather than incarcerating drug offenders, according to a panel of New Hampshire judges speaking at Plymouth State University February 12.
Dozens of PSU students packed into Heritage Commons to hear the first-hand experiences and opinions about the criminal justice system from the panel of jurists, including New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Timothy J. Vaughan, retired state Supreme Court Justice William F. Batchelder, state District Court Chief Justice Edwin W. Kelly and Steven McAuliffe, the chief judge of U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.
McAuliffe, the keynote speaker, said the public doesn’t realize just how many criminal cases revolve around drug trafficking and addiction and the impact that has on courts and prisons.
“People don’t appreciate how much of criminal activity is rooted in drug addiction,” McAuliffe said. “I would like to see the next generation come up with a solution of how to divert or rehabilitate drug problems that are fuelling criminal activity and incarceration.”
Judge Vaughn said Grafton County’s drug court, which emphasizes rehabilitation instead of prison, is cost efficient and helps people overcome addiction.
“It’s the right thing to do and it saves a lot of money,” said Vaughn. “It costs between $8,000 to $10,000 per inmate in the drug court program per year versus $38,000 to send him or her to a state prison or $26,000 to the Grafton County House of Corrections.”
Judge Kelly, who once presided over the Plymouth District Court, agreed that spending money to provide counseling to low-risk offenders and keep them out of prison should be the norm.
“It is not true that imprisoning people rehabilitates them,” said Kelly. “It is an old-fashioned notion.”
Event organizer Mark Fischler, PSU criminal justice professor, said the students have gained some valuable insight into how the judicial system works.
“At the end of the day we have a much better understanding of why people are in prison, and the role of each of the three state-level judges and a federal district court judge,” Fischler said. “It was a really good interactive experience.”
PSU political science major Stephanie Webb said she learned a lot from the panel about the aspects of their job and the criminal justice system we depend on.
“It was nice to get their direct perception,” Webb said. “Normally, we’d just have to hear something second-hand in a classroom or read it in a book –so that was nice.”
For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or Bruce Lyndes