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Dan Van Ness: New Hampshire legislature adopts important new victim rights bills

Jun 16, 2009

The New Hampshire legislature has created a victim’s right to access to restorative justice programs, provided for compensation to victims of costs related to that participation, and ensured that these are not restricted to victims whose position on sentencing is the same as the prosecutors’.

By Dan Van Ness

According to Susannah Sheffer, author of the blog maintained by Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR). the New Hampshire legislature has just adopted several important bills to expand the rights of crime victims in that state. These have now gone to the governor for signature.

One was the Crime Victims Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against crime victims based on their opposition to the death penalty. Dignity Denied: the Experience of Murder Victims’ Family Members who Oppose the Death Penalty, a report issued in 2002 by Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), documented ways that crime victims who oppose the death penalty fail to receive same rights extended to those who do. In particular, they are sometimes denied three rights: 1) the right to speak and be heard (by courts and/or parole and pardon boards), 2) the right to information (from prosecutors seeking the death penalty) and 3) the right to assistance and advocacy (by victim support services housed in prosecutors’ offices).

One of the authors of Dignity Denied was Renny Cushing, then Executive Director of MVFR. He is currently a state representative in New Hampshire and was the legislator who introduced the bills described in this article. (The other author was Susannah Sheffer.)

The second bill expands coverage of the victims’ compensation fund to include “a family member of a law enforcement officer, an inmate at a state or county correctional facility, and an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or who is not a legal alien.” It also expands the kinds of expenses covered, including “rehabilitative expenses, expenses associated with the victim’s participation in post-conviction proceedings and victim-offender dialogue programs or other restorative justice programs.”

The final bill added “the right to access to restorative justice programs including victim-initiated victim-offender dialogue programs offered through the department of corrections to the victim bill of rights and requires the office of victim/witness assistance to provide information on such programs.”

These are important developments. Have other jurisdictions adopted any of these measures?

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lisarea says:
Jun 19, 2009 10:44 PM

Dan, this is an excellent idea. I would like to see the legislation. Crime victims should have the right to participate in restorative justice processes. Lisa ReaCalifornia

BCN603 says:
Jun 20, 2009 12:50 PM

Hello, <br /> <br />I am pleased to see that PFI included the new victim’s rights legislation news on this blog. As you may know, NH has the fourth largest representative assembly in the world and each representative or senator only receives a $200.00 annual stipend. Our tax burden is among the lowest too. Consequently, our representatives serve the public but not for “career” political ambition. One of my representatives from Amherst is nominating me to serve on a Commission to “study” Capital Punishment. The Governor and legislature have come to terms on legislative matters about capital punishment debate and agree a commission should be established. Additionally, the new legislation about victim’s rights emboldens my case to establish a “Community Reparative Probation Board” in a property crime case here in Amherst. I have proposed the Community Reparative Probation Board as an alternative punishment in a specific case that is unfolding in the court this summer. The victim counsel has arranged a meeting for me to visit with the Board of Directors (victim) which is another encouraging event. I invite suggestions and assistance from others and may be contacted at <a href="&#0109;ailto&#0058;BNUrsus&#0064;">BNUrsus&#0064;</a> Thank you, Barry Nilson

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