NH Public Policy
New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies

New Hampshire's Prison Population, Post-SB 500

Executive Summary

Date: August 16th, 2013

In 2009 the State of New Hampshire asked the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center for assistance in controlling the rise in the state prison population and the cost of incarceration in New Hampshire. After the recommendations of the Justice Center were delivered to the state in early 2010, the General Court passed enabling legislation (SB500) and the resulting Justice Reinvestment Act provisions became law later that year.

Our simple descriptive analysis suggests that the Justice Reinvestment Act can be considered a success, as the state prison population declined in 2011 and state prison expenditures remained constant for two years. In addition, neither the crime rate nor county and municipal safety and correction costs increased, providing some evidence that public safety did not suffer and that costs were not simply shifted from the state to the local communities as a result of the reforms of SB500.

Despite this apparent success, concerns about public safety associated with the mandatory supervised release of some violent offenders, led the Legislature to amend the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2012 to give more discretion to the state’s Adult Parole Board. As a result, the number of inmates released on parole declined from 2011 to 2012. There has been a coincident rise in the state prison population. And because the inmate population is rising once again, it is likely that prison costs will also increase, wiping out the expected savings that the Justice Reinvestment Act had hoped to achieve.