- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Most sexual offenders in the state’s prison aren’t released when they’ve served their minimum sentences because they haven’t completed a mandatory treatment program.

That’s the finding of an audit released Friday on the Department of Corrections’ sexual offender treatment program.

Men in the state prison for sexual offenses are required to undergo the treatment plan before seeking parole. Prison reform advocates have argued delays in the program unfairly keep people in prison and cost the state unnecessary money. The audit found delays are caused by inmate behavior and a failure to enroll people in treatment in a timely manner.

Roughly 750 men were in the state prison system for sexually related offenses as of May. Just 14 percent of prisoners included in the audit were released upon reaching their minimum sentences.

“Prisoners are entitled to ask for parole when the minimum sentence is two-thirds expired, and sex offenders never get to take advantage of that,” said Chris Dornin, the founder of New Hampshire’s Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform.

But lawmakers who heard the audit presentation said it should’ve focused more on the program’s effectiveness at stopping people from re-offending after they leave prison. The audit found the program has no system to measure whether the program is reducing recidivism rates.

“All we’re getting here is did they meet the timeline,” Republican Rep. Neal Kurk said. “From a legislative point of view that’s not the end goal.”

Helen Hanks, assistant corrections commissioner, said the department will soon have better data because it is implementing an electronic records system.

The audit found New Hampshire has fewer staff members dedicated to the program than neighboring states with fewer offenders. New Hampshire has five full-time positions dedicated to the program for about 750 people, and not all positions are filled. Vermont, by contrast, has nine employees for 500 inmates.

Data in the audit show the program is getting better at putting inmates into treatment on time. The goal is to assess inmates to see what type of treatment they need 24 months before they are eligible for parole. In fiscal year 2016, 88 percent of inmates were assessed in that timeframe, up from just 16 percent in the three years before the audit began. But only 50 percent of eligible inmates were enrolled in treatment 18 months before reaching their minimum sentences.

Some inmates aren’t enrolled on time or are kicked out halfway through the program because of disciplinary issues or refusing to be treated.

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