Testimony for HB 1531 (NH 2012)

4 minute read

HB1531 – 2012

Relative to prosecution for victimless crimes.

February 9th, 2012

Written testimony of:

Bill McGonigle

251 Croydon Turnpike
Plainfield

603.448.1668

bill@mcgonigle.us

Good afternoon, Madam Chair, members of the Committee:

I’m Bill McGonigle of Plainfield, and I am here today to testify in favor of HB1531.

I’m sure you’ll hear many important points today – about how Government is instituted to protect us from each other, that Just Government arises from the concent of the governed, and how the natural right of defense enables a Just Government to provide for the mutual defense. Our Constitution has specific requirements for just incarceration, namely to reform.

These are all good points, and true, however, I wish to add a slightly different perspective, from perhaps a more pragmatic angle. I will focus on that point and try to be brief.

I would like to bring to the Committee’s attention the incarceration rate in New Hampshire and illustrate how it compares to some other States and Countries around the world.

According to the standard measure, New Hampshire imprisons 220 individuals per 100,000 residents. That number in isolation has little meaning.


For comparison, Massachusetts has an incarceration rate of 218 per 100,000 – pretty similar. Yet, who would suggest that the level of crime is Massachusetts is similar to that in New Hampshire?

Further down the list we’ll find Minnesota at 179 and Maine at 151, but not before we pass the narco states of Mexico and Columbia, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey. To be fair, in Saudi Arabia, one might think the execution rates might keep the incarceration rate down, but Turkey hasn’t executed anybody since 1984.

Next we find Australia at 133, then Canada at 117, but not before passing the repressive regime of China at 122. France at 109 marks half the incarceration rate of New Hampshire. At this point we should stop to ask if New Hampshire is a place with twice the criminal activity of France. Below the half-way point we find Italy, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and Norway, then Finland below the 1/3 mark. All of these countries have abolished capital punishment.

So, what’s going on here? To be sure, New Hampshire isn’t the worst offender among the United States, and the US rate at the Federal level is much worse. But there’s clearly a problem here – New Hampshiremen aren’t somehow more evil than their European counterparts, and these European States aren’t suffering from rampant crime waves that we’re somehow avoiding with our overflowing prisons (as an aide: this is something to consider in light of County-level controversies about having to build new, larger prisons).

But perhaps incarceration rates correlate with reduced crime, so the State has a vested interest in such high levels? Again, this can be shown to be untrue by way of comparison. For example, when comparing crime rates between New Hampshire and Switzerland, major crime indicators are very close in scale (I have a data table in my written testimony with some figures for comparison). The similarity of the crime numbers between New Hampshire and Switzerland is likely more illustrative of a universal aspect of human nature than an effect of particular legal systems.

Because other Western countries prosecute victimless crimes less, they don’t have staggeringly different crime levels than New Hampshire, and the magnitude of the incarceration rate is shown here to not significantly reduce crime, we must consider the effectiveness of our incarceration rates, and the prosecution of, and imprisonment for, victimless crimes.

Now, it’s possible that the Legislature could spend the next twenty years going through the State’s Statutes with a fine-toothed comb to find all of the offending Statutes, and that’s probably a good idea anyway. Whether that kind of long-term project can actually be accomplished in a political environment where control of the Legislature tends to flip every four years and the parties tend to abandon the projects of the other guys – I’d like to think it could happen but I’m not really sure.

But in the meantime, this Legislature has the responsibility to ensure than injustice is not being brought upon the People of New Hampshire. With our existing Statutes, over that same 20-year period it’s very likely that the State will imprison hundreds if not thousands of individuals for committing so-called ‘crimes’ that have no victim, and it won’t reduce crime rates or protect other people. HB 1531 offers a way out of this bind by allowing defendants to offer, as a defense, that the alleged crime had no victim.

Besides saving the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money by not prosecuting and incarcerating all these individuals unnecessarily, it would start us down the path of bringing New Hampshire in line with more appropriate crime-control measures, as established empirically by the example of the entirety of the rest of the Western World.

HB1531 doesn’t instantly solve all of our problems – and I like to think it would be a stop-gap measure until our Statutes can be straightened out – but it does give the People of New Hampshire a realistic chance at a fair shake at Justice in our State, and as I hope I’ve shown here today, it does so without the risk of increased levels of crime.

Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions the Committee might have.

Incarceration Rates (per 100,000)

New Hampshire

220

Massachusetts

218

Mexico

200

Colombia

181

Minnesota

179

Saudi Arabia

178

Turkey

168

Maine

151

Australia

133

China

122

Canada

117

France

109

Italy

110

Austria

104

Greece

101

Republic of Ireland

95

Germany

87

Switzerland

79

Sweden

78

Norway

73

Finland

59

Japan

58

Syria

58

Pakistan

40

India

31

Crime Rates (per 100,000)

Murder

Rape

Assault

Robbery

Burglary

New Hampshire

1.00

31.3

100.4

34.3

413.3

Switzerland

0.65

6.94

127.79

36.46

641.64

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/nhcrime.htm

http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/fr/index/themen/19/03/02/key/02/straftaten_im_einzelnen.html