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Controversial parole law goes into effect in NH

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press Writer / October 3, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—Robert Audette's son was convicted of setting fire to a vacant building in 2007 and is being released from prison nine months before his sentence is up as part of New Hampshire's new mandatory parole law.

Audette, of Hooksett, says he's glad his son, 20-year-old Robert Shawn Audette, is coming home this week, but he believes criminals should serve their full sentences.

"I'm kind of like being put in the middle of two places," Audette said. "Some of the sex offenders are coming out and that worries me. My son wasn't in for a sex crime. But what he did was wrong. They're put in for an amount of time and they should do that amount of time."

The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, mandates that inmates be paroled nine months before their maximum sentences expire. The goal of the law is to require supervision and treatment during that nine-month period, rather than let inmates leave prison answering to no one. The first inmates being paroled under the new law are being released Monday.

New Hampshire's law is not pioneering new ground. More than half of the states require community supervision for those convicted of some offenses and even more require post-release supervision for sex offenders, according to a survey by the Association of Paroling Authorities International.

Still, the law has been steeped in controversy and is fodder for political debates this election season, with attention riveted on six sex offenders whose victims were under 16 at the time of the crimes. A seventh sex offender was convicted of using a computer to attempt to lure a 14-year-old boy into a sexual relationship; the "boy" was an undercover detective.

Republican gubernatorial challenger John Stephen has called for repeal of the new law, saying he would never let sexual predators out of prison early; Gov. John Lynch said Stephen's position was an affront to the victims and victim advocates who lobbied in favor it.

Sandra Matheson, director of the Attorney General's Office of Victim and Witness Assistance, said the law not an early release policy -- it's a mandatory supervision policy.

"The alternative is they walk out the door and we have no idea where they are or what they're doing," she said. "Studies show that nine-month period is when half of recidivism occurs."

Gene Parker, who was convicted of sexually assaulting two young children in 1989, stated on his parole form he doesn't want to be released early. He said he has no one to live and would prefer to stay behind bars for his full sentence. "I want to max so I can save a little money up for when I get out," Parker wrote. He will be released later this month.

Anthony Blakney, convicted of nine counts of felonious sexual assault, was caught by prison officials with a "shank" -- a homemade weapon -- five days before his parole board hearing last month. It was just one of at least 20 disciplinary reports he received during his six-year prison stint. He was denied parole in 2007 because he refused to participate in a sex offender treatment program, and hasn't to this day. The parole assessment of him states that he is "difficult and disrespectful."

Blakney, 27, will be released Oct. 28 on "intensive supervision," meaning he will have a curfew, be seen more frequently by a parole officer and will have to enroll in a sex offender treatment program.

"You can make a case for either side," Parole Board Director John Eckert said, of the ongoing debate. "Is society best protected by having someone locked up? That's the safest bet. They're not going to create another victim while incarcerated.

"On the other hand some supervision, some accountability, those last nine months might stop some from offending in the future," Eckert said.

Eckert said that about 75 percent of convicts are paroled before they reach the last nine months of their sentence, if they have met program and treatment requirements and are well-behaved behind bars.

Not all the convicts have family or a home to go to.

Robert Richardson, serving a sentence for possession of heroin, listed a Manchester homeless shelter as his destination when he leaves prison Oct. 20. When asked who is available in the community to support him, Richardson answered with a single, misspelled word: "parol."

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