August 25, 2013

Pardon case stirs larger debate

A New Hampshire corrections officer raised the issue when he applied for recertification.

The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. - On the surface, Cheshire County Corrections Officer Thomas Schoolcraft's bid for a pardon for burglaries he committed as a teen seems like an isolated request by a convicted felon who wants to further his law enforcement career.

But months before he came before the Executive Council last week, his quest created a rift among county jail superintendents that almost cost him his job and spawned an effort to bar convicted felons from becoming county jail guards.

Tension lingers among members of the statewide corrections officers' certification board, whose 10 members include nine county jail superintendents and one captain.

Hillsborough County House of Corrections Supt. David Dionne said Friday he feels Cheshire County Supt. Rick Van Wickler deceived fellow board members by not informing them of Schoolcraft's felony record when he came up for recertification in January. Dionne said he learned of Schoolcraft's past through media reports on his petition for a pardon.

Dionne said the board voted to reconsider Schoolcraft's recertification and the result was a tie, meaning he failed to secure recertification. But the executive committee of the New Hampshire Association of Counties overruled the board, saying only the executive committee has the authority to change the rules.

Association of Counties counsel Betsy Miller said each county currently sets its own policy on hiring jail guards. The association is in the process of reviewing standards and rules that could change with executive committee approval, she said.

"It's no longer just Schoolcraft the person but Schoolcraft the corrections officer and symbol of a power struggle," said Cheshire County Commissioners Chairman John Pratt, who spoke on Schoolcraft's behalf at the pardon hearing. "He's a pawn in a much larger chess game."

Having a felony record precludes someone from being hired by the state Department of Corrections as a prison guard or as a probation or parole officer. Misdemeanor records are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

His lawyer, Richard Guerriero, says Schoolcraft wants to move back to the seacoast to be within commuting distance of Boston University, where he is pursuing a master's in criminology. He said the felony conviction goes beyond simply which counties will overlook it and which won't.

"It's not so much what their rules might prohibit as whether you're ever going to get an interview," Guerriero said. "I think it's a huge disability."


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