New Prosecutors Elected in Two Populous New Hampshire Counties

Daniel Nichanian   |    November 29, 2018

This article originally appeared on The Appeal, which hosted The Political Report project.

Hillsborough County, New Hampshire’s largest, ousted its reform-skeptic county attorney Dennis Hogan. And Merrimack County, the state’s third-largest, elected Robin Davis, a public defender who was recruited through a last-minute write-in effort. (Davis and Michael Conlon, Hogan’s opponent, were both the Democratic nominees.)

Merrimack County: Davis put the opioid crisis at the forefront of her campaign. “This mindset that we have about crime—that if you commit the crime, you’re going to do the time—has got to change,” she toldtheConcord Monitor. “Just incarcerating someone is not going to change his or her behavior.” She called for devoting more resources to addiction treatment and to programs that enable people to stay in their communities.

“I think if you treat [addiction] then you won’t need to spend the money putting those folks in the jail,” she said during a candidate forum. “If you treat it, then … you’re keeping those folks with their families, with their children, you’re keeping them employed, but you’re keeping them supporting their families in their homes and things of that nature, and I think that’s a greater benefit to the community than just incarceration.” (You can watch her full answer here.)

Earlier in the forum, Davis had used the same logic to defend recent state legislation (Senate Bill 556) meant to increase the use of personal recognizance, which enables release without conditions. “Folks [held pretrial] were losing the very things that kept them connected to the community,” Davis said. “Anytime you can keep a person connected to their community, that’s a good thing.” Elsewhere, Davis talked of developing a sentencing program to alleviate immigrants’ risk of being deported, and she listed mandatory minimum sentences as one of the top issues facing Merrimack County.

Her opponent Paul Halvorsen deployed a considerably different view of the criminal justice system; he dismissed the idea that there is mass incarceration in the state, was critical of drug courts and bail reform, and spoke in favor of sentencing enhancements.

Hillsborough County: Hogan, the incumbent, ran as a strong defender of the state’s criminal justice system. Hillsborough “has applied the facts in each case to the law,” he said in answer to an ACLU questionnaire that asked him whether prosecutors contribute to mass incarceration, framing his role as a mere application of the legislature’s choices and priorities. However, Hogan opposed passage of SB 556 (the bail reform legislation) earlier this year, alongside all of New Hampshire’s county attorneys.
In his own answers to the ACLU questionnaire, Conlon (Hogan’s victorious opponent) speaks about the benefits of reduced incarceration and rehabilitative programs. But he does not specify what reforms he would implement. So I asked him questions about his views on SB 556, about the racial disparities in the county reported by NHPR, and about death penalty abolition. You can read Conlon’s answers here

Conlon expresses skepticism toward the death penalty without committing to backing its abolition; he also says that he would gather more information and engage in conversations about racial and economic injustice, though he did not outline specific policies. He also suggests that SB 556 may go too far. “I am not sure that SB556 addresses the middle ground between those two endpoints,” he wrote, referring to the overall goal to “minimize the burden of detention on our county resources while also balancing the need to keep our streets safe from dangerous offenders and ensuring that people are persuaded to appear and face justice.”