According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, New Hampshire's prison population has more than doubled since 1990. The state's population has grown just a fifth during the same time period.
As a result, New Hampshire's prison system is facing overcrowding and rising costs.
The overcrowding in New Hampshire's prison system is due in part to the large number of returning inmates.
A report from the state Department of Corrections said nearly half of inmates released in 2014, the most recent year for which a study has been completed, have since returned to prison.
In 2010 the state Legislature tried to reduce overcrowding and recidivism through SB 500, a bill that transferred more offenders to community programs before their release date. The program was aimed at helping inmates transition, therefore decreasing the number of inmates that return to prison after release.
However, in 2011 the Republican-controlled Legislature repealed the early release program over concerns that violent offenders were released without adequate supervision. SB 52, the repeal bill, excludes "persons convicted of violent crimes and sexually violent persons from mandatory early release on probation or parole."
In recent years, the Legislature has also considered bills to reduce inmates' sentences in return for completing education and/or rehabilitation programs. Supporters argue that education programs help inmates reintegrate with society and therefore reduce recidivism. Opponents are concerned that victims and the public may not have a say in the reduced sentences.
From 2001 to 2016, the percentage of New Hampshire prisoners age fifty and older increased from 6% to 20%.
An older prison population means rising medical costs for the state. According to an October 2013 study from the Pew Charitable Trusts, New Hampshire has the second highest cost per inmate nationally.
One way New Hampshire manages the cost of older prisoners is a medical parole law, which releases inmates who are permanently medically incapacitated and pose no threat to public safety. The first inmate released in New Hampshire on medical parole saved the state $40,000 in medical costs that year. On the other hand, some argue that prisoners should not be paroled for medical reasons alone.
In 2012 four female inmates filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections charging that New Hampshire treats male and female inmates inequitably.
The lawsuit followed a 2011 report compiled by the New Hampshire State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, which found that female inmates in New Hampshire are housed in inferior facilities, offered less vocational training, and given inferior mental health treatment.
In 2013 the state legislature approved $38 million for the construction of a new women's prison in Concord. That prison opened in April 2018.
In 2012, the New Hampshire Executive Branch released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a private prison.
Supporters of prison privatization argued that a private company could solve overcrowding and inequalities, all while generating revenue.
Opponents of prison privatization argued that for-profit prison companies have a financial incentive to keep prisons full, contrary to the state's goal of rehabilitation. Opponents also pointed to studies of prisoner maltreatment in private facilities.
Four companies answered the RFP; the Executive Branch found that none of the proposals met legal requirements.
Some advocates argue that the prison population should be reduced by eliminating criminal penalties for drug use.
Given the large percentage of inmates suffering from mental illness, others argue that public mental health services are the answer to decrease the prison population.