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Press Release

For Immediate Release
January 28, 2014

Communications Office

Governor Hassan’s Veto Message Regarding SB 391

CONCORD – Governor Maggie Hassan released the following message after vetoing SB 391 today:

“By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, Article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on July 28, 2014, I have vetoed Senate Bill 391, an act relative to the juvenile justice advisory board, the policies and procedures of the youth development center and a reduction in appropriation to the Sununu Youth Services Center.

“The original legislation was well intentioned; however, a last-minute decision in conference committee resulted in a bill that I cannot support. As passed, Senate Bill 391 fundamentally shifts New Hampshire juvenile justice policy in a direction that could too strongly emphasize incarceration. This shift raises serious concerns and merits significant public debate and discussion, which unfortunately the final version of this bill did not receive.

“At the direction of the legislature through Senate Bill 349 in 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services has been working to integrate the Division of Children, Youth and Families and Juvenile Justice. That integration has not always been smooth, and it has also been challenged by legislatively mandated budget cuts specific to the Sununu Center. But, as the legislature decided just two years ago, there is significant value in integrating our system for helping children in need, and moving away from an institutional/incarceration model to the extent possible.

“This bill would require a separate director of Juvenile Justice, equivalent to the director of the Division of Children, Youth and Families. The legislation requires that the director of Juvenile Justice also be the director of the Sununu Youth Services Center.

“My office, and the department, had worked hard with legislators and supported a compromise that would have clarified the membership and responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and would have provided a meaningful opportunity for continued review and evaluation in the integration of these essential services.

“Unfortunately, this legislation abruptly reverses state policy by once again isolating juvenile justice services from other services to children and youth, and it goes a step further by emphasizing the “incarceration” component of these services. As a state, we recognize the potential long-term negative impacts of incarceration on the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

“While institutionalization is sometimes unavoidable given the danger some youthful offenders represent to themselves and to others, as a state we have worked to increase community placements and reduce the length of stays for children at the Sununu Center. Of the 1400 children currently under the supervision of juvenile justice services, only about 60 are in the Sununu Center.  Yet, this legislation places the director of the Sununu Center in charge of all juvenile services. Such a fundamental shift in policy comes with a high cost to both children and taxpayers and would take New Hampshire in the wrong direction.

“The original legislation began as an effort to re-establish and clarify the responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. That is an effort I do support, and I will work to implement to the extent possible that portion of the legislation through an Executive Order.

“In addition, the Commissioner of Health and Human Services and I share a belief that we do need a fundamental examination of our juvenile justice system and the Sununu Center, especially as we prepare to return 17-year-olds to New Hampshire’s juvenile justice system. Therefore the Department of Health and Human Services will engage an independent, organization with national expertise to conduct a review of the Sununu Center and juvenile justice services, and to make recommendations on how we can improve our juvenile justice structure, management and policies.

“An integrated, community-based approach is both the most likely to help youthful offenders put their lives back on track, and the most cost-effective for the state. This bill would undo our efforts to move in that direction. Therefore, I have vetoed Senate Bill 391.”