New Hampshire to end ‘pay to stay’ for inmates

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire is ending its practice of billing inmates and former inmates for the cost of their incarceration.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a measure last week repealing a 1996 law that allowed the state to seek such payments, which have amounted to an average of $102,000 per year in recent years.

The change, which takes effect in September, is not retroactive and won’t apply to the two inmates currently being billed. But the state recently ended its efforts to collect about $120,000 from a former inmate who had challenged the law in court.

Eric Cable, who served four years for negligent homicide, argued he was billed in retaliation for suing the state for alleged medical malpractice. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which had assisted Cable, said both sides have agreed to drop their lawsuits. Henry Klementowicz, the ACLU’s attorney, said he was glad to see the so-called pay to stay law “consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.”

“The pay to stay statute only made it that much harder for formerly incarcerated people in New Hampshire to get back on their feet,” he said in an email.

Cable, who was convicted in 2013 of causing the death of a Manchester man in a drunken boating accident on Northwood Lake, was released from prison in 2017. He said he is working two jobs to make ends meet.

“I couldn’t believe that after I served my time, the state was going to sue me for over $120,000. I’m very thankful for the ACLU for their efforts on my behalf and for their efforts for every person who has served their time and just wishes to live a peaceful life,” he said in an email sent by the ACLU. “I would also like to thank every legislator that listened to me testify and to Gov. Sununu for ensuring that this unfair law is not used ever again.”

Almost all states allow inmates to be charged for room and board or medical fees during their incarceration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law.

New Hampshire’s law allowed the attorney general’s office to seek reimbursement if it determined that a current inmate had sufficient assets to pay for all or part of his or her incarceration costs. Inmates who objected could request hearings, and courts were required to consider the inmate’s other financial obligations.

The provision regarding former inmates lacked the same safeguards, the ACLU argued.