Here you can find the full answers that Michael Conlon, the County Attorney-Elect of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, gave The Appeal: Political Report in answer to three questions about his views on criminal justice reform. You can read the accompanying story here.
Question: NH came close to abolishing the death penalty in 2018. If the legislature were to take-up such a bill again, would you support or oppose abolishing the death penalty?
Michael Conlon: When considering sentencing options and presenting information during a sentencing hearing we should seek to have as many options available to us. As County Attorney I will strive to ensure my Office argues for a sentence that is appropriate for the particular offender and the security of our community. Depending on the violation this may involve statutory restrictions or afford much prosecutorial discretion. Our country has a hard history with the death penalty, how it has been applied and to whom, and cases where individuals who have received that penalty were found to be innocent of their underlying crime after their execution. Additionally, it is well known to be a higher burden on the available judicial resources and generally accepted to be more expensive than incarceration. I struggle to find any reasonable justification to apply the death penalty when considering the historical, racial, moral and economic arguments against it.
Question: NHPR reported in 2016 that the majority of people held at the Hillsborough County jail were there pretrial. In 2018, New Hampshire adopted Senate Bill 556, which is meant to reduce the use of cash bail by increasing release on personal recognizance. Do you support Senate Bill 556 and its implementation? What is your position towards how frequently prosecutors should seek either to impose cash bail or to recommend that people be kept in detention before a trial?
Michael Conlon: When considering the issue of bail reform it is important to consider the impact to local law enforcement, victim’s rights and communication about release, and courts seeking defendants to appear in court and face charges. Generally the reduction of bail requirements can be a good thing as long as the concerns of those groups are considered and incorporated into the structure of the bail process. There are reasonable concerns for considering bail reform, such as ensuring that our holding facilities aren’t being unintentionally repurposed into mental care facilities or disproportionately causing underprivileged offenders to be incarcerated at length because they can’t afford what another person would consider to be pocket change. A prosecutor’s goal should largely turn on making sure the dangerous are detained and the rest are back at home as contributing members of society. I am not sure that SB556 addresses the middle ground between those two endpoints and I look forward to any opportunity to continue the conversation and ensure that we have a reliable, effective solution that provides solid analysis to make those decisions and minimize the burden of detention on our county resources while also balancing the need to keep our streets safe from dangerous offenders and ensuring that people are persuaded to appear and face justice.
Question: NHPR also reported on vast racial disparities in Hillsborough County; for instance, that African Americans were 5.8 more likely to be in jail there than white residents. What is your view of the roots of this disparity, and are there reforms or changes that you would like to implement to confront them?
Michael Conlon: The roots of this disparity are largely historical and is not something that is isolated to Hillsborough County in any way. SB556 bail reform was probably an attempt at addressing this concern, which I share. Crime happens in every community and it is the duty of our law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and bring violators to justice through our criminal justice process, however, different communities can sometimes bring different social stigmas along with them which can lead to a perception of criminal activity. This is a very important and sensitive issue and I don’t have all the information necessary to suggest specific reforms or changes at this time, but engagement with the community and ensuring that we don’t fall into a pattern of patrolling certain communities are reasonable starting points. Our nation’s history of racial injustice also created the consequence of economic injustice that is easily observable today and people in desperate situations can take desperate measures. In some way this seems like a symptom of another issue that needs a solution from another source, whether it’s City Hall, Concord or Washington. I welcome the opportunity to work with members of Hillsborough County and our community to ensure we have robust programs for people in those desperate situations and that through outreach we can try to prevent crime by providing a direction, solution or hope to those desperate situations. There is a lot of work to be done on this issue and we need to seek out as much input and information as possible and incorporate that into any decisions that are made.