Courts and ACLU Propose End to 'Debtors’ Prison' in N.H.

Apr 22, 2016

Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

A proposed rule change to the state’s circuit court system aims to end so-called debtors’ prison in New Hampshire.

The change comes six months after a report from the New Hampshire ACLU found judges across the state routinely engaged in an illegal practice – sending defendants to jail who couldn’t afford to pay fines, often without an attorney present.

Since that report, the ACLU and the state's circuit courts worked together to write new rules that aim to ensure two things: that poor defendants have attorneys, and that they only serve jail time in extreme cases.

UNH law professor Buzz Scherr co-authored both the original ACLU report and the proposed rule change.

"Are there alternatives to sending this person to jail that might work?" says Scherr. "Could they suspend a portion or all of the fine? Could they do community service?"

The Supreme Court’s rules committee will have a public hearing on the proposal in June. The committee will then make a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which will make the final call.