Date: January 23, 2004                                            Contact: Laura Kiernan
                                                                                            Court Information Officer
                                                                                            271-2646 x359

 

MEDIA ADVISORY

Judge DeVries Attends National Conference on Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Disorders



PORTSMOUTH—Judge Sharon N. DeVries, who presides over a District Court pilot project designed to expedite disposition of drunk driving cases, participated in a national conference focused
on the connections between substance abuse and mental health disorders.

     The conference was sponsored by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, the nation’s leading institution for ongoing judicial education. Judge DeVries’ participation was made possible by a scholarship from the State Justice Institute.

     Titled "Co-occurring Mental and Substance Abuse Disorders," the program, held in Reno last fall, was designed to enhance judges’ understanding of the two issues and their impact on cases and defendants in the justice system. Participants learn to identify and assess defendants with substance abuse and mental health disorders in order to select appropriate treatment and monitoring strategies.

     "This program allowed judges from around the country to exchange information and learn from our collective experiences," said Judge DeVries, who has served on the District Court for 15 years. In addition to classroom work, the participating judges attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose treatment program is often a part of sentencing orders, and they observed proceedings in a court that specializes in mental health issues.

     The non-profit State Justice Institute, headquartered in Alexandria, Va. was established by the federal government to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts. Institute grants are also intended to promote better communication between the state and federal courts to help resolve common problems.

     As part of the Portsmouth pilot project, the District Court devotes one day per week to disposition of cases in which a defendant has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. The pilot project, which also operates one day a week in Merrimack District Court, is funded by the New Hampshire Department of Safety and is intended to address both behavioral issues as well as penalties in DUI cases.

     The aim of the pilot project is to resolve cases expeditiously so that defendants confront issues involving alcohol abuse as soon as possible and begin treatment. Cases are completed within approximately 60 days of arraignment. Experts believe that speedy resolution of these cases, and immediate intervention on issues of both substance abuse and mental health disorders, reduces the likelihood that a defendant will commit another alcohol related offense.

     More information about the State Justice Institute is available at http://www.statejustice.org.

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