“What Is a Criminal? Exploring Mass Incarceration in New Hampshire and the United States” was a series of seven events that took place in 2019-2020 at the University of New Hampshire. The series was organized by Katherine Gaudet, Alex Holznienkemper, Catherine Peebles, and Donna Perkins and funded by the Saul O Sidore Memorial Foundation, with support from the Center for the Humanities at the University of New Hampshire.
1. What Is a Criminal? (Roundtable Discussion)
September 17, 5:00-7:00 PM
MUB Theater I
83 Main St #323, Durham, NH
Our introductory session convenes a panel of UNH faculty and affiliates to lead an interactive discussion about the big questions of criminality. Who decides what crime is? Why does the United States incarcerate so many people? What is the purpose of punishment? How is the concept of personal responsibility affected by contexts of trauma, oppression, and mental illness? What responsibility does society have toward people who break the law?
Ted Kirkpatrick, Dean of Students, University of New Hampshire
John T. Kirkpatrick, a criminologist, earned his baccalaureate degree at Colby College in 1977 and his PhD in sociology in 1983 from the University of New Hampshire. Over the course of his career, he has served as a juvenile case worker, correctional officer in a maximum security prison for men, trained with municipal police officers at a state academy, conducted a comprehensive study of female criminal homicide, founded and ran a criminal justice research group, and worked for over thirty years with students at risk at the University of New Hampshire in his role as Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Kirkpatrick now serves as Senior Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students. His research interests included criminal homicide, information sharing in the justice system, and emergency preparedness and response systems in the post-9/11 world.
Blair Rowlett, Director, Strafford County Community Corrections
Blair Rowlett earned her Dual Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire in 2005. Shortly after graduation, she began her career at the Strafford County House of Corrections where she has become a decorated Correctional Officer. She then pursued a position with the Community Corrections Program to effect more positive change in the local criminal justice system, with a focus on the mentally ill population. Ms. Rowlett currently serves as the Director of the Strafford County – Rochester Mental Health Court. The program is designed to reduce recidivism, promote engagement in treatment, and improve the quality of life for its participants and their communities. Ms. Rowlett is a Mental Health First Aid instructor, a Trauma-Informed Response Instructor for Law Enforcement, and has created a curriculum for new Correctional Officers called “Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System.” She also speaks with local high school students about the programs offered in Strafford County and the importance of understanding how mental illness and the legal system intersect.
Amy Vorenberg, Clinical Professor, UNH Law
Amy Vorenberg was the founding director of UNH Law’s Criminal Practice Clinic and currently directs the Legal Writing Program. She began her legal career in New York as a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney. Later she worked as an Assistant Attorney General in New Hampshire before moving to the NH Public Defender’s office. She served for ten years on the New Hampshire Adult Parole Board. Professor Vorenberg’s teaching and research areas include Criminal Law, and Legal Analysis and Writing. She is currently co-authoring a textbook called Sexual Violence and the Law.
Subrena Smith, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of New Hampshire
Subrena Smith earned her BA in philosophy from Birkbeck College, University of London, and her M.A and PhD in philosophy from Cornell University. She has been at the University of New Hampshire since 2014. Her research falls within the philosophy of science and the philosophy of biology, focusing on human behavior and evolution, what counts as an organism, and conceptions of racial identity.
David Kurz, Chief of Police, Durham
2. Paying for Crime: New Hampshire Budget and Policy Priorities in Theory and Practice
October 15, 5:00-7:00 PM
MUB Theater II
83 Main St, Durham, NH
This panel will look for New Hampshire’s answer to the question “What is a criminal?” in the statements made by its budget and policies.
Helen Hanks, Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Corrections
Since 2017 Commissioner Hanks, New Hampshire’s first female commissioner of corrections, has overseen the state’s three prisons as well as its probation offices and transitional housing. She previously served in the Medical and Psychiatric Services department of the NH Department of Corrections.
Christopher Keating, Director, Administrative Office of the Courts, State of New Hampshire
Christopher Keating has been Director of New Hampshire’s Administrative Office of the Courts since 2016. Previously, he oversaw New Hampshire’s indigent-defense delivery system as the director of the Judicial Council, where he was responsible for the agency’s $25 million budget and was an advocate on behalf of adequate funding for legal services and equal access to justice. He began his career as a public defender in 1992, was the managing attorney of two rural public-defender offices in the North Country, and served for 11 years as executive director of the statewide Public Defender Program.
Chris Brackett, Superintendent, Strafford County Jail
In his role overseeing the Strafford County Jail, Superintendent Brackett is in a position to discuss how state policies affect (in intended and unintended ways) life on the ground in the correctional system. Superintendent Brackett has worked with the “What Is a Criminal?” course in the past, and impressed us with his thoughtfulness and candor regarding the trade-offs inherent in the justice system. The Strafford County Jail includes a “therapeutic living community,” which Superintendent Brackett oversees and budgets for.
3. Criminal Minds: Substance Use and Mental Health in the Justice System
December 3, 5:00-7:00 PM
It has become a commonplace that prisons are now our country’s largest mental health facilities. The rate of mental illness (including substance-use disorders) in prisons and jails is estimated to be between double and quadruple that in the general population. New Hampshire has the sad distinction of being at the bottom in the nation’s rankings of mental health and addiction recovery access; many of our state’s mentally ill people are being “treated” by the correctional system. Understanding the definition of a criminal requires understanding the role of mental illness.
Anne E. Parsons, Associate Professor of History and Director of Public History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Professor Parson’s new book, From Asylum to Prison: Deinstitutionalization and the Rise of Mass Incarceration after 1945 (UNC Press, 2018), analyzes the connections between the politics of incarceration and the deinstitutionalization movement of the mid-twentieth century. Her work emphasizes how the lack of community health services and the fear of mental illness created an epidemic of mental illness within the prison system.
Tom Velardi, Strafford County Attorney
Attorney Velardi oversees criminal prosecutions (with the exception of murder cases) in Strafford County. He has been a prosecutor in New Hampshire for over 20 years, and has helped to create alternatives to incarceration. He is a founding member and team member of the Circuit Court Mental Health Court in Rochester, and a team member on the Strafford County Adult Treatment Court. He also created the Habitual Offender Academy, which helps people with criminal records regain driving privileges.
Joseph Lascaze, ACLU-NH
Joseph Lascaze is the Smart Justice Organizer for the ACLU of New Hampshire. Having over 10 years of firsthand experience with the incarceration system, Joseph’s work now focuses on advocating for criminal justice reform in New Hampshire. A wholehearted believer in the power of community building, Joseph’s work is founded on the notion that those impacted by the incarceration system are best positioned to lead reforms of it. Under the ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign, he has collaborated on various initiatives with the NAACP, #cut50 and Lyft.
4. College Behind Bars Screening and Discussion
January 28, 5:00-7:00 PM
College Behind Bars, a four-part documentary film series directed by award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick, produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns, tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States, the Bard Prison Initiative. We will be showing a one-hour condensed version of the series, followed by a discussion with an alumnus of the program.
Featured Speaker: Giovannie Hernandez (Bard College ’17)
In his own words: “I was incarcerated for 11 years and 6 months. While in prison, I earned a GED, completed vocational training and satisfied other mandatory programs. None of this was as meaningful or as transformative as my pursuit of higher education.
“For most, prison is an experience without purpose. It is traumatic, exhausting and emotionally and physically damaging. Because our criminal justice system prioritizes punishment over genuine rehabilitation, prison often does not adequately prepare people to return to society. But I got lucky. While incarcerated at New York’s Eastern correctional facility, I was able to attend college through the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). It was one of the hardest challenges of my life. I took the same classes as students at Bard College — a private, liberal arts school in Hudson, New York.
“My educational experience before then had been almost entirely prescriptive. I knew school as a place where educators told me what to memorize, what to think, what to know. It did little more than make me a passive learner, a receptacle for information.”
Mr. Hernandez now works as an Operations Manager for the Code Cooperative, a community of people who learn, use, and build technology to create life changing possibilities for individuals and communities impacted by incarceration.
5. Scholar-Inmates: Learning while Incarcerated
February 12, 5:00-7:00 PM
Panelists will discuss models of creating connections between institutions of higher education and correctional facilities. Such programs emphasize that incarcerated people are also learners, and that they have much to teach students and faculty at colleges and universities.
Kathryn J. Fox, Professor of Sociology and Director, Liberal Arts in Prison Program, University of Vermont
Professor Fox studies social control and punishment, and her recent work has focused on outcomes in offender reentry programs. UVM was the first public institution to join the Bard College Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison; as one of UNH’s peer institutions, its experience is especially relevant to our audience.
Jeri Kirby, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Fairmont State University
Professor Kirby earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from West Virginia University and is currently an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Chair of the Social Science Department at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia. Dr. Kirby has a 20-year history of life and studies in incarceration, beginning with her own incarceration in the federal system from 1992-1994. After Dr. Kirby’s release, she quickly began her education with the focus of understanding and changing correctional policy. After being introduced to Inside-Out Program in 2008, she became certified and started her career as an educator behind the walls of prisons. She currently serves as the WV State and Federal Coordinator for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program and is a member of Convict Criminology.
Courtney Marshall, English Teacher, Phillips Exeter Academy
Committed to opening dialogues about race, gender and social justice issues, Courtney Marshall is an advocate for prison reform and is writing her first book, titled Apprehending Black Womanhood: Citizenship and the Carceral State. Since 2011, she has led literacy groups at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin, in hopes of improving prison life by bringing literature to inmates.
6. Could-Be Criminals: Strategies for Diversion
March 3, 5:00-7:00 PM
This panel will focus on efforts to block the many roads to prison. A potential benefit of exploring “what is a criminal” is that it becomes clear which people are most likely to gain that title. While diversion programs receive far less attention and support than incarceration, they shine a light on who becomes a criminal and what it takes to prevent that outcome.
Chief John Drury, Farmington Police
Chief Drury, in collaboration with the Dover Police Department, is overseeing a two-year pilot of the LEAD (Law-Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program. This program encourages alternatives to arrest for some lawbreakers, especially for crimes that result from substance misuse. Under the program, police officers may refer offenders to recovery programs or help them find housing rather than jailing them.
The Honorable Tina Nadeau (UNH ’85), Chief Justice, New Hampshire Superior Court
In 2006, Justice Nadeau spearheaded the effort to open a drug court docket in Rockingham County Superior Court and presided as the drug court judge for four years. Once she became Chief Justice, she secured federal funding for drug courts in two additional counties. Under Justice Nadeau’s leadership, a total of ten drug courts are up and running in New Hampshire. In 2016, Justice Nadeau worked with legislators to pass legislation for statewide funding of drug court in New Hampshire. As part of the statewide legislation, Justice Nadeau has hired a statewide coordinator and is working with all the counties to ensure they are complying with the National Standards for Adult Drug Courts. As Chief Justice, she continues to cover for other drug court judges at least once per month.
Criminal Justice Programming Coordinator, Strafford Co
Ms. Conway began working for Strafford County in 2002. She currently works as the Criminal Justice Programming Coordinator overseeing Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Habitual Offender Academy, Transitional Housing , and supervising Community Corrections such as pre- and post-trial bail release programs. She also oversees grants for such programs as the Supervised Visitation Center and the Family Justice Center, and collaborates with the COAST Bus to assist in county transportation efforts. Ms. Conway graduated from Plymouth State College with a Bachelors of Science degree in Social Work in 1997 and the University of New England in 1999, where she obtained her Masters Degree in Social Work. She is also a Certified Correctional Officer and Certified Public Manager.
7. Returning Citizens: Reentry and Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated People
April 28, 5-7 PM via Zoom
What happens when a person convicted of a crime has served their time? While prison time is often characterized as paying a debt to society, the bills keep coming. Formerly incarcerated people struggle with navigating the complexities of parole, finding work and housing under severe limitations, and readjusting to life “on the outside.” Our panelists will discuss the realities and possibilities of life after prison.
Donald Perry, Project Operation Change, Massachusetts
Donald Perry holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts. He is the 2016 recipient of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition’s Peg Erlanger Award for his work toward criminal justice reform. Donald is the founder of Project Operation Change, a statewide campaign in Massachusetts advocating for parole reform. In 2018, he graduated from the Leading with Conviction Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. The LWC Program is sponsored by JustLeadershipUSA, an organization that supports and trains formerly incarcerated people to become stronger and more effective leaders. Donald is currently a consultant for the Behavioral Health Justice Initiative Navigator Trainings at UMASS Medical in Shrewsbury, MA.
Valena Beety, Professor of Law, Arizona State University College of Law and Deputy Director, Academy for Justice
Ms. Beety’s work with the Innocence Project, which works to overturn wrongful convictions, gives her a special perspective on reentry. Her successful clients are retrospectively declared not to have been criminals, but they have served time in prison. The challenges they face upon reentry demonstrate the effects of prison itself, rather than the lasting label of criminal conviction.
Albert Scherr, Professor of Law, UNH School of Law
Professor Scherr is a nationally recognized authority on forensic DNA evidence and genetic privacy. He is a past president of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, and a former member of the ACLU’s national Board of Directors. He has lectured and taught on criminal law and on genetic privacy issues across the country to judges, lawyers and graduate and undergraduate students. He consults regularly with NH legislators on criminal justice reform and privacy issues.